Kingdom Come

Posted on: October 29, 2014

I’m way too early, waiting for a group of hipsters I met at church to meet for brunch. And I’m feeling sick to my stomach, like I shouldn’t be here. This restaurant used to be an auto shop. You should have seen the beauties that would be parked out front, the size and shine of the rims, the incredible paint jobs. But then the owner couldn’t afford to stay in the area. He had to close up shop because someone made an offer on the building, someone who wanted to sell expensive tacos. Here I am, about to drink the koolaid and sit with a bunch of assholes who are gonna just take Instagrams of their food after they’ve staged the plate, mimosa, and their vegan clutch just right.

It’s called gentrification. Makes the whole damn thing sound sophisticated. Just a handful of years ago, this part of town was “the hood.” People - white people - didn’t live up here because it was too dangerous, too dark. But then white people started running out of places to live. They had to start moving into the run down houses on the east side. They had to start shopping at the ghetto grocery stores and stopping in the corner stores run by immigrants. It went from dangerous to cool real quick, from dark to light - dark to white.

What happens is the kinda-broke white kids start moving in and they get to know the neighbors. They start to realize that there’s a code, like don’t park in front of someone else’s house even if it’s a public street. Say hello when folks are sitting on their porches lest you be shunned. Don’t pay the transgender prostitutes any mind. They’ve got work to do and you hanging around with your jaw dropped is costing them money. Eventually, the kinda-broke white kids make friends with their black neighbors. And despite themselves, the black neighbors drop their guard and invite them to the block parties.

But eventually, the rich white kids catch on.

They move their tech start-ups to cheaper commercial spaces in what was once the dangerous part of town. They open up their bougie coffee shops and gourmet sandwich dives, and finally the kinda-broke white kids can get a job closer to where they live. But the rent’s going up every year. Organic is showing up at the grocery store, and stay-at-home moms are requesting the baby food they usually buy from Whole Foods. The micro-brewed IPAs are taking up the shelf space once reserved for Icehouse. The six pack of ramen noodles for a dollar are sitting next to some cinnamon-sprinkled pita chips that cost more than a pound of ground beef.

Those kinda-broke white kids start to resent the crokie-wearing, Sperry-footed, Land Rover-driving entrepreneurs, just like the black neighbors used to resent them. And all of a sudden, city government gives a damn about the playground getting a facelift. There’s festivals at the park, and more cops are patrolling the blocks. It’s finally starting to look good around here, but only because white people with more money are showing up. When it was people with less money - and before that, black people with less money - nothing got done. Cops turned a blind eye, unless a kid was busting a sag too low and hustling across the street. Then they had something to keep them entertained.

I’m feeling sick because gentrification isn’t just affecting the neighborhood where I live. It’s infiltrating my faith. There are apps for Jesus, guys. I’ve heard the preachers say that we have to make Christ relevant to the times. We have to use today’s technology to reach the lost. And when I put that check in the offering plate - or rather, make my tithe via PayPal - I can’t help but cringe when I realize it’s going toward a new sound system. I can’t help but imagine my Lord and Savior face-palming himself because he didn’t have a place to lay his head. He didn’t have a place to call home.

But as soon as the crew walks in, I’m all smiles and easing into conversation. I’m recommending the kimchi beef taco and fawning over the trailer a girl shows me of a Christian women’s conference she’s attending. She tells me I should come and shoots me the link via iMessage. The sweat erupts in my armpits when I read the pricetag and realize the cost is over half my rent. I’m trying my hardest to blend in, but I can’t afford their manicures or their perpetual Stitch Fixes. I don’t say enough can’t even’s to keep up. I don’t have an Etsy shop and I’m not internet famous. And I don’t think they care, but just being around them makes me care.

Because I’m the kinda-broke white kid.

The bill almost breaks my bank because someone decided we’ll just all split the bill equally, and three girls felt like each of their mimosas should also come with a bloody mary and some more tapas to share. After brunch, everybody wants to keep hanging out, keep drinking and talking about life and bringing Jesus glory, keep spending money I don’t have. And I have to politely decline for the hundredth time. And they’re starting to catch on. They’ll probably stop asking to hang. And I’ll probably stop asking them to come over.

When I get home, I plop down at my desk and look down at my open Bible. I’ve highlighted so many verses, written so many notes in the margins. I’ve copied so many of the words that Jesus is supposed to have spoken, the words in red, the words that bring life. But I can’t stand to look at it. I can’t stand that I’m being pushed out of my faith’s territory, and that my poor, brown, homeless savior is being replaced by someone whiter, someone richer, someone cooler than a man who died for a kingdom that didn’t come.

Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

She Whistled in the Night

Posted on: October 16, 2014

I had been working the overnight shift at the Windsong Assisted Living Home for just shy of two months. Once I adjusted to the hours and the smell, a smell of atrophy that was somehow also antiseptic, I had grown to really enjoy it. By no means was I thinking of it for a new career, but it was the best in the long string of bad jobs I had since I left the Army.

The residents all varied in age and ability, and in their propensity for conversation. Most of the ladies were genial and would gossip and flirt. The men treated me with a polite indifference, until they found out I was a vet. And there were a few, I quickly learned which ones, who were so lonely after being unceremoniously dumped by their families that would latch on until I feigned an emergency just to escape their room.

And then there was Manon Pelletier. Never once had she uttered a peep. Until now.

“Could you leave the curtains open tonight please?” she asked, her voice a hoarse, cracked whisper.

She was a tiny speck of a woman, just wrinkles and bone, really. Every night when I came in to her room, she would be hunched in her chair, bundled under her tattered, old blanket, staring as images flashed across her television. And every night my “How are you tonight, Ms. Pelletier?” fell on deaf ears. Or so I thought.

“Sure thing, Ms. Pelletier,” I said, shocked at her request. “You want to see the lights?”

Due to a spate of recent solar storms, the news was reporting that the Aurora Borealis would be visible as far south as the Mid-Atlantic, and up here in the northeast kingdom of Vermont, they were forecasting quite a spectacular show.

“Have you ever seen them before?” I asked, trying to coax a little more conversation out of her.

She gave no response. I went on doling out her meds in silence, and then, just before I was about to leave, she spoke, her voice growing stronger and taking on the French Canadian lilt that is common this close to border.

“When I was a girl they would call us half-breeds, my sister and I. Our father was Québécois, and our mother was Inuit. We lived with her people when I was small. Every night we would watch in silence as the lights danced across the sky. They were beautiful, but we were afraid.”

“Afraid? Why?” I asked.

“There is a saying the Inuit have. The great peril of our existence lies in the fact that our diet consists entirely of souls. You see, we don’t believe in God, but we believe that everything; man, walrus, caribou, whale, seal, everything--has a soul. And when they die, that soul is released. That is what you see at night. The lights are the souls of the fallen, of the dead. And it is said if you whistle at them, they will come down and take you away forever.”

“Whoa. That’s crazy.”

For the first time her gaze deviated from the TV and over to me. Her eyes held a fierceness, a spark that belied the deteriorated state of the rest of her body.

“You don’t believe me.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not calling you crazy, but…”

“It’s ok. I understand. But I am going to tell you something, something I have never told anyone, not my husband, not even my parents. When I was a girl, things were simple. Simple, but not always good. There was a man, my mother’s uncle. He was a bad man. He did bad things to my sister. She was twelve, two years older than me. I would pretend to be asleep, wishing he would leave her alone, but in a way, thankful it wasn’t me.”

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered.

“One night after he left our room, I saw her sneaking out. I followed. The lights were brilliant that night, swirling on the horizon. When she began to whistle I got scared and ran to her. She was crying. When she saw me she yelled at me to go back home.”

Tears started to well in her eyes, and she stared ahead blankly, searching her memory for details about that long-forgotten night.

“She said she couldn’t take it anymore… I wanted to stop her… She made me promise that I would go back home…”

I took her fragile hand in mine just before the dam burst, unleashing a lifetime of tears.

After a few minutes, she regained her composure.

“As I ran back home, I heard my sister start to whistle again. A harsh, frigid wind kicked up. I could hear something behind me, like the sound a train makes as it splits the cold, still air. I threw the blankets over my head and cried myself to sleep. In the morning, when they discovered she was gone, I told my parents not about the lights, but about my mother’s uncle. We left for Montreal soon after that.”

“I’m so sorry,” I repeated, not knowing what else to say.

“I’m very tired now, could you help me to bed?”

“Of course.” I hesitated. “Ms. Pelletier, do you still want me to leave the curtains open?”

She smiled at me.

“Yes, please. And thank you for listening to my story.”


I closed her door and walked back down the hall towards the front desk. Out the dining room window I caught a glimpse of shimmering green light. I turned out the lights and stood at the window, transfixed, as the Aurora, ethereal and electric, swayed in the night sky like whispers of smoke off some unseen, supernatural campfire.

I don’t know how long I was watching or what made me go check on her, but as I approached her suite, I heard a high-pitched whistle. I struggled with my keys, searching for the one that would unlock her room. The temperature dropped as a cold draft rushed out from the beneath the door. The whistling was joined by another noise, a hushed murmur that rose up into a throbbing, unsettling hum.

“Ms. Pelletier? Are you alright?” I screamed as I pounded on the door.

And then, just like that, it was gone. All of it. The whistling, the hum, the cold.

When I finally got the door open, Manon Pelletier was nowhere to be found. Her bed was a jumble of diaphanous sheets, soaked through with sweat. Her window, closed and locked when I left, was open. And out in the distance the lights danced on.

Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Erin Notarthomas


Posted on: October 14, 2014


Their bare feet have hardened like leather from seasons of traversing the forest. Another dry twig breaks underneath a carpet of burnt citrus leaves.


The muffled crunch of their walk continues, with more attention paid to buried tree limbs. They are unavoidable, almost undetectable. Periodically a snap or crack will elicit the same harsh shushing from their leader.

When she thinks they have gone far enough, the leader signals the other three to stop.

Fingers of moonlight probe the forest floor. Their bouncing shadows stretch, mingling with those of tall, spindly trees. A breeze whispers the promise of dense fog in the morning, and they shiver. The red, chilled tips of their toes peek out from under the robes, thick and dark and warm.

They have arrived.

Each member of the coven takes her seat on her own flat stone. The four of them form a tight diamond against the wide circular fire pit. Burnt metal, almost buried by the detritus of autumn, winks in the luminescence. They clear the pit with care and consideration, piling the leaves and twigs next to them on the stone.

The leader’s hands move with a confident cadence. In the still of the evening, she coaxes a fire to life. Each woman nurtures it with an offering from the pile they gathered: bundles of twigs, or armfuls of crumbling leaves that catch fire and scatter ash and embers.

Throughout the evening, the leader will pull larger branches from behind her stone seat and feed them to the fire. None of the members of the coven will remember seeing the branches before, and will forget to ask her if it was foresight or magic.

When their faces grow warm from the fire, they begin the ritual.

“You got it, right?” The leader turns to the one with dark skin and eyes like glacial ice, blue and cold and piercing. She nods and pulls the worn canvas bag out from underneath her robe. She sets out the ingredients with painstaking precision.

“And you brought the rest?” The leader turns to the one with pale skin and a layer of freckles so thick it could be armor. Her small hand pulls the sticks out from a disproportionately large pocket. She passes them around and they each take one.

“Now?” asks the smallest one, the quiet one, with wide, muddy brown eyes and an upturned nose.

“Now,” the leader agrees. They each hold an object, once soft, that has grown rigid in the cool night air. Above them, a storm of wings erupts, and they cannot tell if they hear bats or owls, or something darker.

“Eye of newt,” the leader says. They pass around the plastic bag and skewer a white, pillowy proxy for their spell ingredient. It transforms in the flames, bubbling and charring.

“Dragon’s scale and willow root!” They chant together as they pass around Hershey bars and demolish them piece by piece. Golden graham crackers snap in half, and their imaginary spell produces something real and wonderful.

The taste is warm and sweet and decadent. It bursts with the first bite, and marshmallow sinew cuts sticky trails against their chins and robes. Mixed with the smoke and ash, they will have to scrub away residue the next morning before dutiful, prim appearances at church.

They continue the process as their supply dwindles. Laughter turns to cackles. Spells become songs. They grow frenzied and mad, consumed by their lust for sweet, dark power. Their energy spills into the night and they dance around the fire, cavorting among friends, sisters, and smoke.

Skewers are abandoned when the ingredients deplete. Offerings made have reaped their reward: euphoria on a dark weekend night, when the forest fulfills its promise as a safe haven for those with the desire to cast incantations and witness the spark of magic.

It leaves as quickly as it came. They slump against the cold stones as the fire becomes a pitiful collection of embers. In the excitement, the leader forgot to feed it more wood. It is cold, achingly so.

“Time to come back inside.”

The man comes to them when they are too exhausted to make note of it. The members of the coven protest in mumbling half-yawns, and he relents. He wraps them in plaid wool blankets and brushes the dust off their terry cloth robes. He places black pointed polyester hats on the stone surfaces. The hats wiggle from a mediocre breeze.

The man stokes the fire. He shivers and stamps his feet, his breath a warm cloud suspended over them. An owl hoots in the distance as he huddles on the stone next his daughters, the leader and the smallest member of the coven. They share pitted dimples, widow’s peaks, and the thickest blanket.

He watches them with tenderness and builds the fire back up to its glory, log by log.


“It’s sacrilegious,” Sarah stands on the deck, gazing to the edge of the leaf-strewn lawn where the girls still doze on the stone benches. “We shouldn’t have taught them that word. ‘Sleepover’ is one thing, but ‘coven’ entirely another.”

“It’s literally child’s play,” John says.

Sarah glances over at him, her mouth turning up in a smile. He puts his arm around her and gives her a kiss on the head. Her hair is shot with strands of gray that gleam in the soft orange of the sunrise.

“I can make them breakfast,” Sarah says into his chest, “you’ve been up all night.”

“Nonsense,” John argues, “I’ll make them oatmeal pancakes and heat up some of your apple cider. A perfect fall breakfast.”

“They’d rather have hot chocolate with chocolate chip pancakes,” Sarah says, cocking her head in the way he finds irresistible.

“Maybe you should inventory the pantry,” John chuckles, “because I think our daughters and their friends ate their weight in s'mores last night.”

“To be young,” Sarah murmurs.

“Younger,” John corrects, “and metabolically gifted.”

They clink their coffee mugs together and wait for the girls to wake.

Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Angela DeRay

1:1 - Erin Notarthomas

Posted on: October 9, 2014

Interviewed by Dot Dannenberg
Today on 1:1, Dot Dannenberg chats with Erin Notarthomas, the multitalented photographer behind “Brothers” and “Hands.” In addition to photography, Erin performs as Wrenn, her musical alter-ego. Her first album, “HI,” comes out this November.

1:1000: What's your favorite photo you've ever taken?

ERIN NOTARTHOMAS: Oh man… I am always the worst when it comes to picking favorites. I feel like my favorite photograph that I have ever taken is constantly changing. I don't even have a favorite color. I suppose it is a toss up between three of my more current photographs: the portrait of Chris & Ella Pitzgerald in their kitchen, the portrait of my friend Jordana with a large piece of fabric wrapped around her head, or the picture of my sister Maddie under a glossy shroud with the wind blowing and two tiny clouds in a dark sky serving as the background. When I think of all the pictures I have ever taken (which is probably up in the thousands), these three stand out the most to me.

1:1000: Your photography, to me, seems to capture these sometimes ghostly, small moments of stillness: sheets in a heap, a dog perched at the top of a staircase. In contrast, the music I've heard of yours feels a lot faster--quicker. You've got beatboxing in there! Do you think you have two different artistic personas with your photos and music? Or is there a connection?

EN: I don't feel like I have two different artistic personas… but then again, maybe I do. Who knows. All I know is that everything I make is a part of me and a part of how I am feeling. If you took bits of my photography and bits of my songs and put them together, it would become pretty easy to figure out the type of person I am and the things I am constantly thinking about. There are so many layers to a person. Each work of art, each song… they just reveal another one of the many layers that make me who I am.

1:1000: Know thyself, they say. How, exactly, does one get into beatboxing, by the way?

EN: Not too long ago I was in an a cappella group called Noteworthy. There were the "go to" girls that did the beat boxing for most of the songs, so I never really bothered giving it a shot until we had this gig around Christmas time. Both of our beat boxers were not able to make the gig, so we were just going to do it without the VP (vocal percussion). Beatboxing didn't seem like a difficult thing to me, so I just decided to do it during one of our songs at this Christmas gig. Turns out I was pretty good at it. And that was that.

1:1000: What's your favorite song you've written, and what's it about?

EN: Haha, another favorite question. This is constantly changing as well. But today I am very fond of my song "Sunrise". It's about a suicide note sung by the person who has written said note and who has already committed suicide. I wanted to write a song that could maybe explain the reasoning behind suicide in a beautiful way. It seems morbid, but when I listen back to this song I don't feel like it is depressing or scary. It has something sad, yet beautiful in it. After the death of Robin Williams and of a family friend's brother, this song means even more to me today than it did when I was writing it. I wanted the words to bring some sort of comfort to anyone who has suffered from this kind of loss. Suicide is a difficult thing to swallow.

1:1000: It really is--and it’s great that you don’t shy away from the tough stuff. I think we need more of that and fewer albums full of breakup songs (sorry, T. Swift). But from the tracks of yours I’ve heard, your work is anything but conventional. Especially in songs like "Wild Card," I'm reminded of Ani Difranco on her Educated Guess album--who would you claim as your musical influences?

EN: The only person that I am consciously aware of being influenced by is Paul McCartney. I am sure that there are hundreds of artists that have subconsciously inspired me or crept into my songs… it's inevitable. We are influenced by everything around us every day. But I try my best not to focus on being like anyone else. I just want to be me.

1:1000: You mentioned in a conversation with Pastel that your songwriting process is pretty organic and "sometimes a song just happens and you go with it"--how does that compare with your artistic process for photography?

EN: It's pretty much the same… any time I have ever tried to plan out a picture, it doesn't turn out the way I wanted it to. My best photographs are the ones that just happened. The lighting and the subject and the moment just come together perfectly, and it happens. Inspiration hits you out of the blue, and you just have to follow your instincts and go with it.

1:1000: At 1:1000, we're obviously very interested in collaboration--what's it been like collaborating with your boyfriend Chris Padgett on your album?

EN: Chris and I have had some struggles trying to work together, but there is absolutely no way I would be doing what I am doing now without him. Chris and I play two different styles of music and have different ways of working on music. This has caused us to bump heads now and then. But when it works, it is extremely rewarding. Chris is one of the most talented guitarists I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, and I am so blessed to have his experiences to help guide me through this process. We haven't written any songs together yet, but I am hopeful that one day we will be able to. I am pretty shy with my writing process. I usually go into hiding until I have a song. I play it for him. He tries out some stuff on guitar, and I tell him which riffs I like and which ones I don't, and that's how we work currently.

1:1000: You turned to Kickstarter to fund your first album, HI--what was that experience like?

EN: To be honest, the idea of it really made me uncomfortable at first, but it ended up being great. I just finished school… there was no way I was going to make enough money to get an album out at the rate I wanted to do it on my own. So my good friend suggested Kickstarter (something I had never heard of before). I was shocked when we reached the 5,000 dollar goal… I was even more shocked when we went 3,000 dollars over that goal with a few donations outside of the Kickstarter website. The best part about it was that people weren't just donating to my project, but they were also reaching out to me. My Facebook inbox exploded with encouraging messages from close friends as well as from people I hadn't spoken to in years. Kickstarter was and still is a humbling experience. These people didn't have to give me money, but they chose to support my dream. I will never be able to thank them enough.

1:1000: What has the recording process been like so far?

EN: This is my first time in a real studio. It almost feels like I am on a movie set or something. All the buttons and knobs and colored lights and instruments… it's a dream. I am soaking up all that I can from this experience. Recording is so much fun, but it's also a full time job. We go into the studio around 9:30 in the morning. Sometimes we take a 30 minute break to grab food, and we usually don't get home till past midnight. But I wouldn't have it any other way. I love working this hard. Every now and then, we have a couple of bad hours where it feels like nothing is getting accomplished and we keep doing the same take over and over again. But then there are days where we can cross so much off the list. The album has violins, cello, piano, trombone, trumpets, drums, guitar, etc… so just getting the instrumental tracks laid down has been a huge task. Now we are at a point where the only thing left to do is lay down the master vocals. I couldn't have asked for a better first-time experience. I love the people I am working with. I love the atmosphere. I love everything about it. I really am living a dream right now.

1:1000: Well, I for one couldn’t be more excited to hear what this dream produces. To close us out, give us a little dream-life philosophy. What mantras are you living by lately?

EN: Be limitless.

Wrenn’s album “HI” comes out November 7. Hear more songs and follow all the latest on her website. To see more of her photographs, view her portfolio here.


Posted on: October 7, 2014

“I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be.” - Joan Didion

I. Hands
You sit in church with your mother, examining her hands. The preacher talks about Christ nailed to the cross, and you run your fingers over the lines in your mother’s palms, wondering which one is the lifeline. You hope it stretches forever. Eternal life. You take the rings off her fingers, try them all on. This is how you’ll look when you’re married. This is how you’ll look when a man buys you jewelry. When you’re old enough to be trusted not to lose it, your grandmother buys you your own gold ring with your birthstone clenched in microscopic prongs. During the sermon, you push your ring down over your mother’s pinky finger, where it jams against the first knuckle. You lace your fingers in hers. She never tells you to let go. She never tells you to be careful with her jewelry. She never says, “Give me my hand back” so she can turn the pages of the hymnal, thin and translucent as insect wings. Your mother is both outside your body and still part of it. You own this hand as much as you once owned her milk, as much as you once owned the blood that pulsed through the rope connecting her body to the floating, vulnerable mass that would become yours.

II. Second Hand
Your neighbors come over with two black trash bags of old clothes. They’ve been shopping in Atlanta and have all new things for school this year. Your little sisters attack the bags like wolves to wounded prey. It’s a name-brand explosion. Overalls from GAP Kids. Leggings from Limited Too. Ribbed turtlenecks from Lands’ End. At four-foot-something and well over a hundred pounds, none of it fits you. You’re at the beginning of what will be two decades spent bulging. Your sisters spin into the living room, twirling ruffle-trimmed denim jumpers and cheerleader skirts from the private school spirit shop. You sit on the couch with your mother, who squeals over her own good fortune at money saved. You tell yourself you’re too good for second hand. That this is the perk of being the oldest. You keep telling yourself that.

III. Handiwork
Your mother takes up cross-stitching. She makes a beautiful sampler for each of her children—your long, full names, your dates of birth, the cities in which you first appeared. She frames another: Home is Where the Heart Is. Charmed by jewel-toned embroidery floss, you beg for your own kit. You mangle your first project and resort to using the thread to make friendship bracelets. Your mother makes a new sampler and hangs it in the den: Insanity is Hereditary. You Get it From Your Children.

IV. Let’s give a big hand for…
Self-esteem culture! You are the proud new owner of a marble pedestal topped with a gold, plastic softball girl! You have participated, if not achieved! Appreciate yourself and move on.

V. Handsome
He is the boy in your class who brings squid for lunch. His father collects Porsches and his mother was a state beauty queen, but he’s considered that-weird-boy by all of your socially-adjusted classmates. For show and tell, he brings his pet tarantula. You’re a little freaked out, but totally intrigued. You say nothing, harboring your secret crush. A few years later, you hope he will ask you to prom. You end up going with girlfriends. Then, finally, he transfers to your college. You’ve spent the last year abroad, and it’s left you thin and cultured. He’s spent the last year lifting weights. He’s given up spiders in favor of snakes, and this time, you reach into the aquarium unafraid and let the boa constrictor wind itself around your wrists. You carry it, the live version of an expensive handbag, as you follow him out a window onto the roof, where you talk and smoke. He’s tall. He’s still weird, but the socially-adjusted girls from school are living out their drug habits and tech-school dreams elsewhere, and you two are here, in this moment, just as you’ve always been, yet transformed. You wait for him to kiss you. He never does.

VI. Hand Job
You know you were thinking it, perv.

VII. Handle Your Shit
Improve your time management. Set alarms. Wake up when alarms go off. Make plans and think backwards from the time you’re set to arrive to the time you should leave. Pay your bills. Keep your cellphone connected. Keep your lights on. Don’t let your landlord stack your belongings in a gutter. Don’t engage with harmful people. This includes relatives who stress you out, the boyfriend who cheats on you with that sorority girl in your poetry class, and the friend who eggs you into making bad hair dye and alcohol decisions. Speaking of substances: clean out your body. If you’ve got a habit, make sure it’s not noticeable.

VIII. Handshake
On your first day of work, your boss takes you around to everyone’s cubes. On the walls, you pass photos of these strangers’ children, motivational quotes, lists of deadlines. You remember that in prison, an inmate will refer to his cell as “my house.” Your boss introduces you, and you shake hands, repeating name after name that you won’t remember. When you meet Rebecca (or was it Sharon?), she tells you your hands are ice cold. You apologize. “Whatever,” she says. “I have hot flashes, so it’s fine.”

IX. A Warm Handoff
Translation: passing the buck.

X. Panhandler
You’ve learned to appreciate the hustle. Especially the panhandlers with hungry dogs. A man with a shepherd mutt holds the door to McDonald’s open for you, then says, “If you get any change, I could sure use it.” You buy him an Egg McMuffin, then spend the rest of the day oscillating between questioning your resolve and questioning your motives. You use everything you’ve learned from the internet and lean into the discomfort: you are privileged, you are basic, you are too old for Forever 21, but not old enough to be taken seriously. You decide there is nothing self-righteous about making a commitment to feed homeless people, even the sly ones. Near work, you pass a man rattling a cup of coins, and you go into 7-Eleven to buy him a slice of pizza. You splurge: pepperoni. When you offer it to him, he grimaces. “No thanks.” You sit on a park bench and eat the greasy, cheesy bites, blowing your daily calorie target. You wipe the film from your fingertips onto your silk blouse. Hands down, this is what you deserve. 

Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Erin Notarthomas

Where Are You Going?

Posted on: October 2, 2014


Marshall’s right eye opens to see if the voice came from his bedside or his dreams.


His ear leads his eye to the privacy curtain on his right.


“Hello?” Marshall answers.

“There ya are!”

“Are you sure?”

“Am I sure, what?”

“That I’m the person you’re looking for?”

“Are you the man attached to that beeping box on the other side of the curtain?”


“Then you’re exactly who I’m looking for!”

Marshall’s eyebrows dive towards his nose, both eyes wide open.

“May I ask why?”

“Course ya can! As a matter of fact, I’ll see your question and raise you one of my own.”

“Which is?”

“Where are you goin’?”


“WHERE are you goin’?”

Marshall would pinch himself, if he could move anything beneath his collarbone.

“I am afraid you are mistaken, sir. I am bound to this bed until the moment that beep becomes a prolonged shriek.”

“Then I REALLY hope you know where you’re goin’.”

Marshall’s eyes roll towards the top of their sockets, his brows unfurling like caterpillars climbing his forehead.

“Is this an afterlife conversation?”

“Yeah buddy.”

“Then leave me out of it.”

Marshall doesn’t bother to close his eyes, perfectly aware his request will go ungranted.

“Well who else am I gonna talk to about this?” the stranger asks.

“The night nurse.”

“Come on, now. You know she ain’t ready for this talk. She’s not a day over twenty-five, and fitter than a fiddler on a treadmill.”

“She’s still probably more interested in this conversation than I am?”

“How you figure?”

“That cross that’s always bouncing off her breasts.”

The stranger laughs through his nostrils like he’s stifling a cough.

“You think I’m tryin’ to evangelize you or somethin’, don’t you?”

“Would I be wrong?”

“About as wrong as it is to judge people.”

Marshall squints his eyes and purses his lips, preparing to return fire on this unwelcomed inquisition.

“So, is that a no, because what you just said sounded like scripture?”

“Yes, Mr. Beeps. Your salvation is restin’ squarely on your own two shoulders.”

“Then why did you ask me that question?”

“Curiosity, I guess. Haven’t you ever been in a airport bar, sippin’ a overpriced beer, wonderin’ where the person sittin’ next to you is headin’?


“Then what do you do to pass time at an airport?”


“About what?”


“Like Ender’s Game?”


“Then what?”

“Text books. Research papers. NON-fiction.”


Marshall contemplates giving sleep another try.

“Well hell, now I find you even more interestin’,” the stranger confesses.

Marshall exhales until his lungs are as thin as his necrotic limbs.

“Are you being serious right now?”

“As serious as whatever ailment’s got you laid up on the other side of this curtain.”

“Just my luck.”

“Guess so. Anyway, I’ll ask you again; where are you going?”

Marshall grunts, the jets of air from his nostrils tickling his chin before crashing into the lifeless terrain of his upper chest.

“NOWHERE,” he spat. “I am going nowhere; just like you, just like your ancestors, just like the dinosaurs, and just like every living organism that came before them.”

“Well now that’s just not true, Mr. Beeps.”

“Cite your source.”


“Where are you getting your information?”

“My own two eyes.”

“Are you being facetious?”

“I don’t think so?”

“Then what do you mean, your own two eyes?”

“Well, I don’t see no t-rexes walkin around.”

“All right, I apologize. I will be going somewhere. I will be going six feet below the surface of the Earth, three feet to the right of my grandfather, and several hundred feet above a bunch of dinosaurs that died thousands of years before me, just–like–you.”

Marshall counts each second of the stranger’s silence like a boxing referee determining a knockout.

“Nah,” the stranger responds.


“Nah. That’s not where I’m going.”

“I hate to burst your ignorant bubble, sir, but yes it is.”


“You can’t just say, nah."

“Sure I can! Just like you can say all that scientific stuff you just said.”

“It’s not the same.”

“How not?”

“Because you’re being a stubborn child. You’re just saying nah because you don’t like the answer. There’s no evidence to support it.”

“You’re right about the not liking your answer stuff, but I can tell you’re smart enough to recognize a grown man’s voice when you hear it.”

“And I can tell you are dumb enough to turn your back on the facts.”

“Now why you gotta get all mean about it? We’re just talkin’.”

“EXACTLY, and I’d rather be sleeping.”

“That’s what that hole next to your grandpappy is for. Humor me for a little longer.”

“Why don’t you humor me for once?”

“How do you suppose I do that?

“Tell me where YOU are going.”

Marshall mentally crosses his arms in total self-assurance.

“Well, to be honest, I don’t know what’ll happen to me once I die anymore than those wigglin’, screamin, and pissin’ little things in the nursery know what’s comin’ to them once they pop out of their mamas’ vaginas, but I like to hear other people’s opinions about it.”

“Well, you’ve heard mine.”

“I sure have.”

“And how do you like it?”

“I don’t.”

“Then I’m sorry for wasting your bar stool.”

“Bar stool?”

Marshall wishes he could throw his hands up in frustration.

“The airport bar metaphor.”

“Oh, right. No way, José Cuervo. You’ve been excellent company.”

“I doubt it.”

“Seems like you do that a lot.”

“Such is science.”

“I suppose so. Anyway, it looks like your plane is fixin to take off.”

Marshall notices the increasing speed of the beeps coming from his heart monitor.

“Fly safe,” says the stranger.

Marshall ignores his well wishes and focuses fully on the rhythm of his heart.

“And remember, every flight lands somewhere,”

The beeps meld into a constant squeal. Marshall squeezes his eyes shut like he’s plunging into a swimming pool. His breathing stops, the sound fades, and he wonders where he’s going.

Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph by: Jaemin Riley

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