A Strong Foundation

Posted on: November 26, 2013

“That’s one heckuva fall,” Dale said, looking up towards the sky.

“Sure is,” answered Ernie, emptying the contents of his shovel into the refuse bin. “You know that building ain’t even legal?”

“What’chu talkin about?”

“It’s bigger than any building in this area’s s’posed to be.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t know? Sumpin’ about the foundation bein’ too weak.”

“Then how’d they get to build it?”

“I don’t know the reason, but I betchu anything there’s a dollar sign attached to it.”

“Well, looks sturdy enough to me.”

“They always do, until they don’t.”

Dale turned on the hose and washed the remaining cloth fibers and DNA down the storm drain.


Shelly woke to a text from her sponsor.

I covered for you, AGAIN. You HAVE to be at the next meeting or you’re going back to rehab. They sounded serious this time.

Shelly scoffed and tossed her phone across the room.

“What the FUCK?”

She propped herself up on her elbows to find a man she didn’t recognize writhing in pain on the antique area rug she bought at a Sotheby’s auction. She just laughed and fell back into her Egyptian cotton sheets.

Shelly pulled her comforter over her head to drown out the album that had playing been on repeat since the party moved to her place. It was her album, and it was the reason nameless faces were sleeping off various substances in every square foot of her penthouse apartment.

Despite her inability to play a musical instrument or carry a tune, Shelly had successfully released a 12-track party oeuvre that conquered iTunes in less than 24 hours. Some would say it was a dream come true, but Shelly could never tell the difference between reality and her dreams.

Since the day she was surgically removed from her mother’s womb, Shelly was given everything but adversity. She was born in the hospital wing of her parents’ Southampton home and wrapped in the finest hypoallergenic blanket an offshore bank account could afford.

Shelly recreated the scene as she bundled herself in a silk throw blanket and headed to the bathroom. Years of private ballet lessons served her well as she tiptoed through the minefield of half-naked bodies, empty bottles and drug paraphernalia.

She bounded into the bathroom, closed the soundproof door and cherished the escape from her own auto-tuned voice. As she turned toward the sink the delicate fabric slid off her left shoulder, exposing half of her body.

Shelly paused and studied her reflection in the mirror. She let the rest of the blanket fall to the white-marble floor and scanned her skin for imperfections. There was no sign of the lower-back tattoo her father had lasered off the same day she got it. There were no scars from the breast augmentation or nose readjustment she received on her 18th birthday. The only blemish on her velvety skin was the beauty mark above the left side of her lip.

“God DAMN,” interrupted a man who had been admiring Shelly from the bathtub.

“Rude,” she responded, calmly reaching for the blanket.

“Like I haven’t seen it before.”

“I was too fucked up to even remember that night.”

“Aren’t you always?”

Shelly flipped him off and left before he could say another word, soon realizing she traded one obnoxious voice for another. She covered her ears and shook her head back and forth until the sloshing fluids in her skull drowned out the monotonous beat of track 8, “I’m Not Sorry I Party.”

Through her blurred vision she spotted a joint nestled behind the ear of a passed out partygoer by her feet. Hands on her ears, she gracefully retrieved the rolled paper with the toes of her right foot. She remained balanced on one leg like a stork as she bent over and brought the joint to her mouth without ever letting the music slip through her fingers.

Shelly maintained her grace as she searched each room for a lighter, eventually spotting a golden Zippo standing on a shelf next to the porch door. She jeté’d between the unoccupied patches of carpet until she came within arms length of the lighter.

After she snatched the gold case during a pause between songs, the lighter’s absence brought the other items into focus. Specifically, the photo album chronicling her greatest childhood achievements. She grabbed it and fled to the porch, where she sat on a lounge chair, lit the joint and proceeded down memory lane.

She opened the book to find her eight-year-old self staring up from the back of her purebred-horse, Sebastian. That year she and Sebastian won first place at the Youth Dressage Festival, although, most of the credit belonged to Sebastian and his team of world-class trainers.

She took another drag and flipped to another random page, this one containing a picture of her and her prom date in front of a private helicopter. Shortly after their departure, Shelly was caught straddling said date on the headmaster’s desk. The hormonal teens got a lecture and the teacher who turned them in lost his job.

Shelly continued alternating between tokes and page turns, each image reminding her of her immunity to hardship. Once she ran out of pictures, she noticed a billboard promoting her latest fragrance, Dangers––which she had yet to smell. She stood and walked towards the banister on the balls of her feet, staring at her massive portrait until she felt the subtle chill of polished metal permeating through the silk.

She lifted her right foot and rested it on the bottom rail. She repeated the motion with her left; then again with her right; then her left; then right; then left, until her entire weight was balancing on her arches.

She took a deep breath, leaned forward and began her descent. She looked for the net or fireman or superhero that would save her from harm, but all she saw was pavement.

She was confused. She was afraid. And for a split second, she was alive.

Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

Hide and Seek

Posted on: November 19, 2013

The tub smelled like Lysol when Jeremy climbed in. Dana must have been up before sunrise cleaning. He thought of his own tub, back in his studio apartment, the rainbow of mold he was accumulating. First the black kind and now an orange-pink kind around the drain. But he could eat out of Dana’s tub if he wanted. He thunked his skull against the tile wall a few times.

You’re an adult. You’re an adult, too.

He could hear the twins counting in the hall.

“Twenty-seventy, twenty-eight, thirty! Ready-a-not, here we come, Uncle Jeremy!”

“Let’s get him!”

Their bare feet pitter-pattered up and down the hardwood floors of the hallway.

Dana’s twins had never heard of hide and seek. Their eyes stretched wide as he explained the premise, the rush of the hunt already winding them into a frenzy. Dana’s twins hadn’t heard of a lot of things. They had only wooden toys. No plastic. Dana was afraid of hormones and over-stimulation, and said that certain toys just didn’t fit “the aesthetic she was going for.” The twins weren’t allowed to watch television because of something about pixels and ADHD.

All of this, of course, was documented on a list Dana handed off to Jeremy before she left for the weekend.

“No sugar, no caffeine. And no chicken nuggets,” Dana had said.

Jeremy nodded.

“Once kids eat nuggets, they won’t eat anything else,” Dana laughed.

“Sure,” Jeremy said.

Kitty wasn’t eating gluten, and Huron should have soy instead of regular milk before bed.

“Got it,” Jeremy said.

Jeremy had spent most of the last decade resenting Dana for making him look bad. He’d heard somewhere that parents’ satisfaction with their grown children depended on a set of factors including the child living in close proximity, being married, achieving a successful career, and producing grandchildren. Jeremy was a sea of negatives. He moved to New York after college, just like everyone else, where he worked intermittently as an underpaid hotel concierge. His girlfriends were also intermittent, mostly manic types who turned out to be more interested in being interesting than spending time with him.

Dana had the career, the husband in finance, the twins.

But while Dana and her husband were in LA for some coworker’s black tie, no-kids-allowed wedding, Jeremy had the twins, trying to curry favor. He needed some brownie points before he dropped the bomb on everyone about his whole legal situation. It had just been a little bit of coke. He’d had enough money to post bail, but his sentencing date was coming up, and he was pretty sure without help from Dana, he wouldn’t be able to afford the kind of lawyer who would get him out of doing 180 days in county jail. It was the baggies and the scale that would do him in—the cop had accused him of dealing because of paraphernalia alone.

The bathroom doorknob rattled.

“Uncle Jeremy! You in here?”

It was Huron. He was caught.

“I found you, I found you!” he said, bursting into the bathroom.

“You got me, Huey.”

“Now we gotta find Kitty!”

“But you and Kitty were both seeking. Where did she go?”

“She’s hiding too. She’s a better hider than you.”


Jeremy darted through the labyrinth that was Dana’s pristine house, checking under beds, in the linen closet.

“Kitty!” Huron called. “Kitty come out!”

“Kitty! Game’s over!” Jeremy rounded a corner into the living room. The sliding glass door was open about six inches. “Huron, come on.”

He yanked his nephew by the wrist and went outside onto the deck. Huron continued to call for Kitty, more chant-like now, repeating her name over and over in between deep gulps of air.

“Stop it, Huey.”

Jeremy slid his hand into the pocket of his jeans and pinched the baggie inside.

Get through this. Later. When Kitty’s found and they’re both asleep. You are an adult.

Dragging Huron, he headed for the street. He considered ringing the neighbor’s bell, but then figured that might get back to Dana. Better not to have any witnesses to his failure at the one responsibility of babysitting—keep track of the kids.

Two responsibilities: keep the kids alive.

“I don’t like hide and seek,” Huron whined.

“Me either, buddy.”

They checked the ditches, the bushes, the park down the street. The guy in the ice cream truck said he hadn’t seen her.

“Ice cream is full of processed sugar,” Huron said.

“Helpful,” Jeremy grunted.

It had been thirty minutes. Sweat crept up Jeremy’s back. An hour. They went back to the house and searched again. Nothing. Huron fell asleep on the couch, and Jeremy moved him to his bed. Jeremy went back to the bathtub and climbed in. He took the baggie of coke from his pocket, licked his finger, and stuck it in the baggie. He swiped the powder on his gums, then knocked his head against the tile a few more times.

Shit. You are a grown-ass man sitting in a bathtub. You are a grown-ass man outsmarted by a four-year-old. Get it together.

“Anybody home? Police!”

Double shit.

Jeremy tripped out of the bathtub and toward the front door.

The cop had Kitty by the hand. She was fine. She was perfectly fine.

“Good thing she knew her address, right? Are you her dad?”

Jeremy’s lips felt a little numb.


“Jeremy’s my uncle!” Kitty said.

Jeremy pulled Kitty to his side, positioning her in front of the pocket where his drugs were stashed.

“Mind if I come in?” the cop asked.

“Okay!” Kitty chirped. “You want a snack?”

The cop laughed. Jeremy managed a grimace.

“Your neighbor over on Iverson found this little lady picking flowers in her yard—didn’t know who she was.”

“Well, thanks, officer. I was…just getting ready to call 911, actually.”

The officer squinted at him. Jeremy knew this drill. Checking for red eyes, for balance, for any disoriented behavior. Any sign he couldn’t be trusted. He pulled Kitty closer.

The officer’s eyes then redirected to Dana’s foyer—the Manet print of the naked woman picnicking, staring straight out, the parquet flooring, the ridiculous chandelier, the rug from India.

“Well, you all have a good one, then,” the cop said. He tipped his hat and left.

Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe


Posted on: November 14, 2013

She believes that life is good while he believes that life is not any particular thing. How long has she felt this way? It’s been a good fifteen years since the church thing. Fifteen years since she started waking he and his younger brothers on Sunday mornings and ten years since she stopped trying and let them make their own decisions about it. Before that there’s no telling. He assumes she’s felt this way all along and religion simply extracted it, like a nurse taking blood. But people turn to church for a reason. Hell, let’s be honest. People turn to church because something has happened or something is missing or because that’s just how it’s always been. In the end, is it going to matter? Religion or no religion, she is happy when her children are happy. It sounds conspicuous, but the degree to which she has fused her children’s lives into her own cannot be overstated. She has a most important thing, and the fact that her son knows this and believes it so unconditionally attests to her skills as a mother.

She says that she counts the days since he has been gone, and he has been gone a long time. He knows that she’s kidding but there’s something in her smile that hurts him. Pain births humor and he knows pain props up her smile. He will take bits of this pain back with him along with her smile, and maybe a hundred dollar bill. Don’t tell your father, she whispers as she slips the cash mischievously into his palm. It’s nothing less than beautiful when his father repeats the action five minutes later. Don’t tell your mother.

She says that she knows and has accepted that he’s not coming back, but he doesn’t believe her. He doesn’t believe her because he knows what that lie sounds like - he uses it all the time. She believes that he will come home. For a myriad of reasons, most having to do with family, she believes he will come home. Most of the time he knows he’s never going back. Nothing personal, it’s just not who he is. But then he remembers the night he called her and told her he was thinking about coming home. He asked her to talk to Dad about the job. She refused, acting in direct opposition to her desires. Is there a more honest representation of love? He gets older and tries not to make such declarative statements as he’s starting to suspect most of them will eventually turn on him.

And after all of it, he is selfish. Selfish as he has always been and perhaps always will be. So selfish that it became a running family gag. In typical fashion, he rushes to fix his flaws, but knows deep down that this is impossible. He believes in nothing over the power of the conscious mind and so he wants to believe that he can take control of his own personality, but goddamn, there are certain things in life that simply cannot be grasped or handled or morphed. His brain is neither Play-Dough nor Plato. Once he was too young to care, and hopefully one day he will be too old to care, but for now, he has nothing to do but care. He works to become the man he wants to be, but he’s worried he won’t recognize the final product. It’s in this context that she shines brightest. It’s in the hour-long phone calls and it’s in her honesty with him, something that he would never have expected but would never, ever trade. It’s right there on the surface, his definition of home.

They used to go to movies. He loves movies, thinks they mean more than they do, and she does not. And yet she went with him to the apocalypse movie that said the F-word over fifty times. She really does not prefer the F-word. She went with him to see the movie with the child soldiers and the drugs and the violence. She really does not prefer child soldiers or drugs or violence. The list goes on. They never saw a Meg Ryan movie or a Sandra Bullock movie or an underdog movie or a feel-good movie. And still she tells him constantly, every time, that she misses going to movies with him. But she hated those movies. He asks her if she goes to see films with her girlfriends, or her sister, or her husband. She replies that it’s not the same. What’s not the same? You don’t even talk in a movie. He thinks about her going to a movie alone, sitting there in the darkness, and he has to stop because it will make him cry and he is not in the habit of crying for no reason. He vows that eventually they will go see a movie that she wants to see. It’s the least he can do.

He wants her to know that it’s not all about his father, regardless of how it appears in his writings or songs or conversations. With his father there is ego, respect, gratefulness, stubbornness, and a whole host of other issues that he has yet to unpack. And he wants her to know that its not that those things do not apply to her, only that with her they come under a fresher and more hopeful light. Because of their soft edges, they are easier to swallow. And above all else, he wants her to know that he thinks of her often, though his actions sometimes do not align with this theory. His actions are often flippant and cruel, but never, ever malicious.

He wants her to know that when he sees a wheat field, or a picture of a wheat field, or a drawing of a wheat field, he thinks of home and he thinks of her. He wants her to know that she is home. They are one in the same. They are inseparable. And in the end, words do not do them justice.

Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

Small Things

Posted on: November 12, 2013

“Where to?”

Emir’s passenger was dressed in a handsome light grey suit. It fit him well. Emir owned a suit too, but his jacket sat too broad on his shoulders and fell too far down his thighs. He only wore it on special occasions.

“Chase Manhattan Plaza,” the well-dressed man replied. “So, where are you from?”

Emir glanced at his rear-view mirror, smiled and replied, “Istanbul. Turkey.”

He enjoyed chatting with passengers, but never initiated conversations himself.

“I’ve never been to Turkey. Went to Israel a few years back, but that’s the closest I’ve ever been. You miss it?”

“Oh yes, of course.”

“I respect men like you. My grandfather came here from Italy without so much as a penny to his name, but managed to put my father through college and business school. Whenever I visited him as a kid, all he could ever talk about was how everything was better in Italy.” The man in the grey suit paused before continuing, “I can’t imagine having to leave New York City, let alone the States.”

He was looking out the window as he talked, watching Bleecker Street slowly pass by.

“What would you miss about it?” Emir asked.

“The City? Everything. The people, the sounds. But I think, most of all, I would miss having amazing pizza on every corner. I’m not even kidding. New Yorkers don’t realize how good they have it here. And believe me, I know. I’ve been all over the country and the world for business. No other city compares.”

“I think your Italian grandfather would disagree,” Emir joked.

The man laughed, “You’re right. He would’ve. What about you? What do you miss most about Turkey?”

Not a day passed that Emir didn’t think about his home country. He thought about Turkey because he was terrified of forgetting. It was only five years ago that he left Istanbul for New York City, but the haze of time was already setting in.

When is mother’s birthday? His little sister, Azra, was usually the one to remind him. What was the name of that sweets shop near his old school? He wasn’t even sure he ever knew the name of that shop, even though he had frequented it nearly every day.

Sometimes Emir closed his eyes and imagined his younger brother, Derin, working the family’s chestnut stand on the darkened, cobblestone streets of Istanbul. He imagined his father sitting by Derin’s side, reading his newspaper, making small talk with the patrons, and making sure Derin didn’t overstuff the small paper pouches that held the chestnuts.

Emir could hear their conversation.

“Go home father, I can handle the chestnut stand on my own,” Derin would plead.

His father would reply, “Home? And what will I do there? Listen to your mother scold me for leaving you here by yourself? At least here I can read my paper in peace.”

Emir would imagine this, and the sweet, nutty scent of the roasted chestnuts would fill the stale air of his apartment as if he were right there, cobblestones beneath his feet.

“Emir,” his father would say, looking up as he approached, “you know what I mean, tell your brother I would rather die than stop working.”

Derin would roll his eyes and ask, “This is working?” He’d point to his father seated next to him, newspaper open in hand. And Emir would laugh.

That’s how Emir reminded himself, “This is what life was like.”

Turkey was a part of his history now, and he often took the sadness of that fact out on his adopted city. He felt jaded by the people whom he thought too rude and the streets that he thought too crowded.

He shared a small studio apartment in Sunnyside with two others, cousins of cousins of cousins or something. They slept on mattresses strewn lazily about the studio floor and erected makeshift room dividers from salvaged garment racks and old curtains. They bonded over their shared longing for Turkey and lamented over the irony that, in a city so large, they could feel so lonely.

Emir already knew the answer to the man in the grey suit’s question, but he thought a moment before replying. “The smell of roasted chestnuts,” he responded. “My father owned a chestnut stand. I worked there with him until I was a teenager, but I never forgot the smell. My father came home smelling of it every night.”

The man chuckled, “Nostalgia’s devious isn’t it? We always long for the sweet honey of it, but we always forget about the sting of the bees. You’re here in the States for a reason right? I can’t imagine making a living off of chestnuts was easy.”

That evening, before returning home, Emir stopped at his favorite Turkish restaurant in Sunnyside.

“Emir!” Toprak, the owner, shouted as he walked in. “Where have you been my friend? Is it just you tonight? Where are your cousins?”

“I’ve already eaten, I just want to order some roasted chestnuts, to go.”

It was in Turkey that he had his last roasted chestnut. After eating them for years from his father’s stand, it felt unnatural to pay for them.

He didn’t go home right away and, instead, found an empty bench underneath the 7 train overpass just a few blocks from his apartment. As he peeled back the warm, woody shells of the chestnuts, the 7 train rumbling overhead, he took in the neighborhood. It was late, but the storefronts and food carts still illuminated the streets. The early autumn evening was still alive with activity, a chorus of traffic, conversation, and laughter hanging festively in the air. To Emir’s left, down the block, was Jeremy’s bodega where he bought coffee every morning. Just beyond that was a hookah bar where he often passed the time chatting with his two cousins, his friends, about nothing at all.

For the first time in five years, as Emir ate his roasted chestnuts, New York City was transformed. He was home.

Written by: Sam Chow
Photograph by: Becky Lee


Posted on: November 7, 2013

Robbie leaned in the passenger door, wrinkling his long nose. Trace had one tanned arm slung over the faded top of the car.

“It looks like someone died in here, Trace,” Robbie said.

Trace took in the wretched interior with a critical eye. The stuffing spewed out of the cloth seats and there was the faint reek of decay in the air. “I’ve been looking for this car for years, Rob.”

“You’ve been looking for a car somebody’s grandpa doesn’t even want?” Robbie shut the car door with a creak and folded his arms on the weathered, rusted top. “You’re going to spend the money you saved—that you worked your ass off for—on this?”

“Maybe I am.” Trace struggled to close the driver’s side door.

Robbie laughed.


Poking around an engine with his older brother, Jack, in the driveway was one thing; overhauling an entire car was another. If it wasn’t rusted or corroded, it was rotten. The headlights seemed to be the only thing that worked. All summer, the most anyone saw of Trace were sneakered feet sticking out from under the Chrysler New Yorker. His friends laughed at his single-minded mission to resurrect the old car. Robbie kept him company for the first week, making suggestions and asking him if he’d been back to the future yet. Trace threw a wrench in his general direction, swearing as grease dripped into his eye for the thousandth time.

Trace sat on the driveway, feeling the heat of the concrete beneath his legs and the warmth of the metal door against his shoulders as he leaned against the old Chrysler. Shuffling steps caught his attention and he scrambled to his feet, wiping sweat and grease on his jeans.

“Ma, go back inside, it’s too hot out.” He gestured back to the house.

His mother cocked her head to one side and held something out to him, her hand shaking. Trace took the beer from her and swallowed past the lump in his throat. He and Jack always had a beer after a long day working on Jack’s car.

“Thanks, Ma.” He twisted the cap off, taking a long pull.

The cold liquid trickled down his throat and he felt the weight of it settle in the pit of his stomach. His mother’s mouth twitched in a parody of her old smile, her pre-breakdown smile. Jack’s smile. She fluttered a skeletal hand at him before scooting back up the driveway in her worn slippers. Trace rubbed his hand across the peeling paint on the rusted hood of the car; the condensation on his hand left a smear that quickly evaporated in the late afternoon heat. It was impossible to tell which shade of paint came first. He squinted up at the sun and drained the rest of his beer. There were still hours of light left. He crawled back under the car.


“You have got to relax,” Robbie said, handing Trace a beer. “It’s supposed to be a goddamn party.”

Trace tried to conjure a smile, switching the beer from hand to hand without cracking the tab. He resisted the urge to check his watch.

“Well if it isn’t the grease monkey,” Carl said. “Sure is a lot better view than the undersides of a heap of junk.”

Trace followed Carl’s gaze to the girls lounging near the pool. A few of them looked up and smiled. Trace waved—he vaguely recognized one or two. He opened his beer and took a gulp to keep from answering.

“What’s with him?” Carl asked Robbie.

“What’s been up with him all summer? First time he’s been away from that damned corpse of a car.”

Trace looked down at his watch. He’d been there fifteen minutes. He took another swallow of beer; the taste of aluminum overpowered the cheap brew.

Carl turned back to Trace. “What brought you out, anyway? Get tired of looking up the same skirt?” He grinned.

“She’s getting body work done and a paint job—stuff that needs a professional,” Trace said, feeling the thin beer can flex beneath his fingers as he tightened his grip.

“Not the only one that needs a professional,” Robbie said.

“What’s that?” Trace set his beer can carefully down on the table.

“What’s with you, man?” Robbie asked. “You search junk yards like you’re on a mission from God and then you buy a rusty Chrysler for chrissakes. If I didn’t know any better I’d think you’d gone crazy like…” Robbie stopped, his freckled cheeks flushing.

“Crazy like who, Rob?” Trace felt the muscles in his jaw contract. “Crazy like my mom?”

“Robbie didn’t mean anything.” Carl sidled between them. “We just missed seeing you around is all.”

“Sure,” Trace said.

He let himself out of the back gate and walked the five miles home.


Two weeks later, he could hardly believe his eyes. There she sat, shiny coat of red paint looking like melted candy poured over her, the upholstery inside as smooth and flawless as a Playboy centerfold. Trace slid into the seat and flipped down the visor. He looked at the picture of him and Jack, arms flung around each other’s shoulders. Growing up, Jack had pictures of cars taped all over his walls—but one predominated. The Chrysler. Trace never understood it; there’s the Mustang, the Impala, the goddamn Ferrari, he’d always say. Jack simply shrugged, and said, “She’s my favorite.”

The engine thrummed as Trace turned the key. His gaze returned to the faded photo taped to the visor. Its corners were curled from the time spent in his wallet. Ten years time. He smiled and, for a moment, he was the boy in the photo again. He felt a desire to glance over at the passenger seat so strongly that his hands froze on the steering wheel. With the windows down and Jack’s favorite cassette in the refurbished player, Trace inhaled deeply before shifting the car into drive.

“She’s all yours,” Trace said.

Written by: Hannah Sears

Photograph by: Emily Blincoe


Posted on: November 5, 2013

Norah fell asleep with the tip of her nose pressed against the nape of Stacey’s neck. They spooned beneath a thin beige sheet as Manhattan’s winter chill crept in and mingled with the dry heat of the radiator in their tiny apartment. When Norah woke up the next morning, she could smell the scent of Stacey’s shampoo on the pillow. They had been dating for six months when they decided to live together. Norah was a college dropout working at a coffee shop in the East Village and Stacey was a dental student at Columbia University. They seemed an unlikely pair on paper, but laughter and wine dotted their i’s as moonlight and introversion crossed their t’s.

Norah watched the steam rise as she showered, washing away the previous night’s lovemaking. Their relationship was racing forward like the A train on a good day. Stacey’s parents invited Norah over for Thanksgiving and marriage was already a topic up for discussion. A few of their friends thought they were moving just a little too fast and some thought the educational disparity guaranteed trouble, but they were a seamless fit, not easily torn by societal norms.

However, a thin strand of insecurity hung loose and vulnerable from Norah’s ego. She stood in the doorway of their bedroom, holding a mug of peppermint tea up to her lips while staring at the stack of letters on a shelf above Stacey’s desk. Norah always wondered who they were from and what they said. She never saw Stacey touch them, but they weren’t accumulating dust either.

For the first time since moving into Stacey’s apartment, Norah was alone. She grabbed the pile and sat on the bed, starting from the bottom and slowly working her way to the top. The letters professed love, missing you’s, and I hope I see you soon’s, each signed with “L. Hines.” Every note was a dot on the timeline of a two year long relationship, the last one postmarked only two months earlier. Norah’s tea was not hot enough to melt the lump forming in her throat.

She placed the stack back on the shelf with care and noticed a blue spiral bound journal. Anger and curiosity prompted her hands to pick it up, open it, and place it on the desk. She sat down and glared at the first and only entry recounting a trip Stacey had taken to Idaho with this other lover eight months ago. She described the quaint bed and breakfast where they stayed for a week and referred to her companion by initials rather than by name. The entry ended abruptly, sandwiched between two photographs of the landscape and their accommodations.

Norah leaned back and stared up at the ceiling, conflicted by both the urge to scream and cry. She knew she should give Stacey the benefit of the doubt, to wait until she got home so they could discuss the matter like a mature and loving couple. Jealousy overrode ethics and common sense as Norah grabbed her peacoat and one of the letters from the shelf. Racing downstairs to the lobby, she disregarded the security guard’s greeting and went outside to hail a taxi. She read the return address from the envelope to the driver and they headed south, past the university toward Morningside Heights.

When the taxi pulled up in front of the apartment building, Norah looked up at the many windows of its facade, wondering which one harbored this mystery woman. She paid her fare and got out with some reluctance, shutting the door only when the driver hollered. She made her way up the steps and scanned the tenants’ names posted by the call panel. Running her tongue over her teeth, she pressed the button next to “L. Hines” and waited.

“Yes? Stacey?”

The voice belonged to a man.

Six seconds of eternity floated by before Norah cleared her throat and called back, “Uh, no. This is Norah. Stacey’s girlfriend. Is L. Hines there?”

The nausea formed heavy pools of saliva in her mouth before the man said, “This is he. What do you mean her girlfriend?”

Norah shook her head, wrought with dizziness and disbelief as she backed away from the call panel and sat down on a cold concrete step. She slumped forward and put her head between her knees, feeling the urge to vomit before she heard an all too familiar voice.

“Babe,” Stacey said, walking up from the street, her voice dripping with guilt and shame.

Norah didn’t look up. She knew she sat between two lovers as she heard the door open behind her and the shuffling of feet. She could feel his glare burn through her back and straight into Stacey’s heart, the disgust in his mouth as palpable as the vomit threatening to fill hers.

“You’re gay? All this time I’m wondering if you’re sleeping around with some asshole on Bleecker Street, but it’s worse! You’re a lesbian!”

Stacey stomped up the steps, brushing Norah with her coat and retaliated, “What difference does it make if I’m with a man or a woman? I swear, Liam, you're so insecure!"

“Insecure? Gee, I wonder why!"

Norah took her time standing up, bracing herself with the railing as she descended to the sidewalk. She didn’t bother to look back as the volume of their voices escalated. Pulling up her scarf over her face and stuffing her fists in her pockets, she walked toward nowhere, remembering the relationship she ended after meeting Stacey. He was a nice man with hazel eyes and ginger hair, who always kissed her goodnight beneath her left earlobe, who always thought they would last forever. Norah didn’t tell him that her someone else was a woman. She just said thank you for the memories and that she’ll always love him. The sob erupted from her lips as she realized her experiment was not worth leaving him.
Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

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