Posted on: February 26, 2015

Nessa prays in the woods, without faith, without any sense of proximity to God the Father. She grew up hearing that when we don’t have words to pray, the Holy Spirit would intercede on our behalf, but she feels nothing and cannot fabricate a spiritual sensation. Sealing her prayer with Jesus’ name feels like sending email straight to a spam folder. Nessa sighs, tilting back her head and studying the canopy above. She breathes in wilderness, closing her eyes as she imagines rooting down into the earth, becoming a tree, becoming old, being still.

When she was sixteen years old, an older woman at church sat next to her and said that she had a word from the Lord for Nessa.

“God only hears the prayers of the repentant,” the woman began, smug.

Nessa felt a sense of grief and hatred. Suddenly, there was an image of a baby in her mind.

“God wants you to know you weren’t alone when you had the miscarriage,” Nessa blurted out.

The older woman’s lips parted as she stared, knuckles turning white.

“God wants you to know he heard your cries, even though you hated him.”

The woman stood up and walked away.

Nessa always knew too much about people she didn’t know at all. Youth pastors and mentors would try to convince her that it was a gift, but she found it to be a burden. It seemed rude that God would tell her other people’s secrets like a teenage gossip. What good was her gift when all it did was make people uncomfortable?

Nessa opens her eyes and unzips her backpack, pulling out dozens of journals, flipping through one or two of them and scanning her handwriting. Over a decade of prayers are scattered across these pages, prayers for other people and prayers for herself. But the most heartbreaking secret that they kept was self-hatred, the number one lesson she learned growing up an evangelical. We are sinners. We don’t have an ounce of goodness in us because we chose our will over God’s will in the Garden of Eden. When Nessa would write, “Please, speak to me, Lord,” and receive no answer, she assumed it was because of her wretchedness. There must be some sin that keeps God from hearing her prayer. There must be something wrong with her.

“Your pride keeps you from repenting of your sins,” a woman told her once in bible study, her voice seething with the sweet undertones of jealousy. “Because you have a gift, you forget that you are a sinner like everyone else.”

She tosses the journals within a ring of stones on the forest floor, and covers them with pine needles. Nessa pulls a matchbook and mini bottle of vodka from her jacket pocket, spilling the liquor over the pile, then lighting a match. She places the flame in a space underneath, and smells the chemicals leach from the paper. The smoke is very black. Like her sins? Like her shortcomings? Like the void that Jesus had so much trouble filling?

“A prophet is not without honor, except in his own hometown,” Jesus said to his disciples. In one story, he visits his home in Galilee, but everyone mocks him. He was just the son of a carpenter after all, with questionable parentage. Who was he to think he knew the secrets of the universe and the will of God? Who was he to strut around thinking he could heal the sick and raise the dead? And he couldn’t do much good there because no one believed in him. His own people did not believe in him.

But sometimes people will believe in you, then use you. Nessa remembers the meetings behind closed doors with men who should have given her guidance. Instead, she was the all too eager student devouring every word and directive. She let them kiss her, and tell her that their flesh was weak. She let them touch her, and tell her this is why women cannot lead. She let them shame her, and tell her that it was her fault. The victim is always the one to blame if she doesn’t cry out in time. She’s to blame even if no one ever teaches her what the red flags look like in the first place.

As her journals take to flame, she remembers the darker years when she shut people out. She remembers begging God to take away her gift, demanding that he speak to her, to show her why she never fit in. She remembers weeping, rocking back and forth in the corner of her closet on so many nights, feeling like Jesus, feeling like Joel and Elijah and all the prophets who had a message to tell, and no one to listen. She remembers disconnecting from the present, dissociating from her existence. She remembers asking for death, and eventually trying to take it for herself. In strips of red across her skin and fantasies behind her eyes as she looked in gun cases, Nessa danced around the act of suicide. Could she convince herself to do it? Could she seduce herself to cave in as she had unknowingly done to all those awful men with so many highlighted verses in their Bibles?

Then, one day, it was over. She stopped praying. She stopped reading her bible. She stopped looking for a church that would accept her. She stopped trying to fit in. When people ask her where she is going to church, she stops saying, “Nowhere right now,” and says, “Nowhere.” Nessa stopped listening to people who had a word from the Lord for her. But it wasn’t because she was angry. It was because she was tired of being in a relationship with something that made her feel like shit her whole life. Like the boyfriend you make up because everyone else has one; he won’t satisfy.

Nessa watches the pages curl in torment. She loses faith in God, and gains faith in herself.

Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Blake Bronstad

Mr. Memory

Posted on: February 24, 2015

I found him sitting in the sand, watching the waves bob and weave their way through the rickety timbers that held up the decrepit old pier. His top hat and tails, the clothes that made him an institution up and down Venice Beach, were thrown next to him on the ground, ragged and threadbare. Smoke from his cigarette curled around his bald head, noxious little ringlets that replaced hair long vanished. The years had not been kind.

I didn’t think he noticed me until he spoke.

“You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory.”

Before he even finished talking, the images started to flash in my head. I saw a used bookstore I frequented during my teenage years, and Mindy, the older woman who owned it. I heard her voice, sweet and kind. “It’s different from anything Stephen King has ever written. It’s not scary at all. It’s so good, especially the first story, the Rita Hayworth one.” I saw the book, a dog-eared copy of Different Seasons with a slight tear on the left of the cover. Mentally, I flipped it open, scanning page by page, line by line, until I came to the part he quoted. The words unfurl across my subconscious like a banner towed behind a plane.

Other images popped into my mental slideshow, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, conversing in the prison yard, and Tara Milner, who was gracious enough to let me touch her boobs that day in her parents’ darkened basement, the movie playing on her old TV. The same Tara Milner who, seventeen days later, would scratch the word virgin off my life’s resume and who, fifty-four days later, would break my heart and crush my ego by breaking up with me for Brian Rivers, because she had heard a rumor and wanted to know if “bigger was better.”

This rapid-fire flood of memories--nostalgic, mundane, painful--passed through my brain faster than the time it took him to take a drag of his cigarette. It is something I have long grown accustomed to. Hyperthymesia, the doctors call it, a superior autobiographical memory. Every detail of every day of my life, nestled snug and secure in my brain, to be thought about, again and again.

“The first time I met you it was Ray Bradbury, now it’s Stephen King,” I respond.

He turns and looks at me. And though many years have past, I see recognition creep into his eyes. A wave of relief washes over me, and I know that I have found somebody who will understand.

“So, how was Medieval Times?” he asked with a grin.


The waves crash onto the sand with a thunderous clap and mammoth storm clouds hang over the Pacific. It is the first time I have ever seen the ocean and I am surprised by the sour tang of the briny sea air. My parents shuffle us along, prodding us towards our next stop on our whirlwind vacation of California, the infamous Muscle Beach at Venice. My brother, full of raging teenage hormones, is ogling the bikini-clad woman rollerblading up and down the boardwalk. For me, at this point still a good six years away from my summer dalliance with Tara Milner, these wheeled beauties are more safety hazard than sexual titillation. I spy a street performer on the pier. Dapper and debonair in his full-dress tuxedo, he is standing on a small stage in front of a hand-painted canvas sign emblazoned with the words:

The Incredible--The Indisputable--The Omnipotent
Mr. Memory

I mix into the small crowd gathered around him. He hands a woman a three-year old calendar. He asks her husband to pick any date.

“February twelfth,” the husband says.

Mr. Memory puts his hands to his temples. An image flashes in my mind. The word Wednesday, neon pink against a black background.

“In 1992, the twelfth of February was,” he pauses for dramatic effect. “A Wednesday.”

The woman checks the calendar and gasps in awe. The crowd roars its approval. He picks up another calendar, this one from 1990, and hands it to a teenage girl. He asks her mother for a date.

“June thirtieth,” she responds.

Once again he puts his hands to his temples, and once again I see a vision of a word.

“In 1990, the thirtieth of June was…”

He looks directly at me. I silently mouth the word Saturday. I see the shock in his eyes. He clears his throat and regains his composure.

“The thirtieth of June was a Saturday.”

“My God, that’s amazing,” says the girl, as the group breaks into another round of applause.

“Now for my final act, I need a volunteer.” He points at me. “You, young sir, could you please come up here?”

He motions towards a trunk sitting on the corner of the stage.

“That trunk contains books, forty-nine of them to be exact. Would you please open it up, select one, and turn to a random page?”

I rummage through the trunk until I come across one with a burning man on the cover. I pull it out and flip open the cover.

“Ah, Fahrenheit 451, a great book, that one. What page did you open it to?”

“Sixty-seven,” I mutter.

“Sixty-seven,” he whispers to himself. He closes his eyes, and begins to nod his head.

“They read the long afternoon through, while the cold November rain fell from the sky upon the quiet house…”

As my eyes follow along with the words he is reciting, I feel a hand on my shoulder and hear my father’s voice.

“There you are, don’t wander off like that. Come on, we have to go, we have dinner reservations at Medieval Times.”

Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Nathan Mansakahn


Posted on: February 19, 2015

“I needed that,” Jeff said, buttoning his boxer flap.

The woman crawling out from beneath his desk responded with a nod as she returned the hair tie to her wrist. She then fluffed her golden tresses until her previous volume was restored.

“Here,” Jeff said, flopping a wad of twenties on his desk.

“You already paid,” the woman said.

“I know. Consider it a tip.”

“We can’t accept tips.”

“I can keep a secret.”

“Clearly,” the woman said glancing at the family portrait on his desktop.

Jeff covered the screen with a new browser window.

“Take it or leave it,” he said, “I was just being nice.”

The woman grabbed the edge of the top twenty and shook it until the rest of the stack fell to the floor.

“Bus money,” she said, stuffing the bill into her bra.

“Suit yourself,” he said, opening his calendar.

The woman picked up her empty attaché case and headed towards the door.

“Oh, Jen, or whatever you call yourself,” Jeff said, “if anyone asks, you were interviewing me for the paper.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve interviewed plenty of men like you,” she said, exiting without another word.

Jeff minimized the browser once the door was closed. His eyes began to water as he looked into the digital pupils of his wife and children. The door handle began to turn again and he straightened his posture, wiped his face with his sleeve, and reopened his calendar.

“Who was that?” his secretary asked.

“Some reporter from the paper,” he said. “Apparently, I’m more interesting than I thought.”

“I could’ve told you that,” she said, closing the door and walking around his desk. “What’s this,” she asked, picking up the wad of twenties on the ground.

“Oh, must’ve fallen out of my coat,” Jeff said, fighting the urge to stare at the cleavage eclipsing his peripheral vision.

“We can use this tonight,” she said, hopping onto the corner of his desk with a seductive bounce.

“I’ve been meaning to speak to you about that,” Jeff said, eyes fixed on his calendar. “I’m afraid I have to cancel.”

“Oh poo,” she said. “Well, when do you want to reschedule?”




“I knew it,” she said, sliding off his desk with no excess jiggling.

“Cheryl,” Jeff said, grabbing her hand before she could leave. “I’m sorry, but, I just can’t leave my family. Please, be professional about this.”

Cheryl looked down at him, mascara streaking her cheeks, teeth chattering like maracas.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “there will be a very professional resignation letter sitting on your desk first thing tomorrow, ASSHOLE.”

The last word erupted from Cheryl’s lips like thunder, showering Jeff with tears, spit and a mist of eyeliner and lipstick. She stormed back to the door, wiping her face and sniffing back the flood of tears before returning to the lobby.

Jeff minimized the browser and locked eyes with his wife. “We needed that,” he said.


“One for the matinee,” Vicky said, grabbing a twenty from her bra and sliding it through the slot at the bottom of the ticket window.

A gust of wind from the street sent the bill fluttering around the kiosk. The usher grabbed at it like a money booth contestant.

Vicky apologized while taming her wavy blonde hair with the ponytail holder around her wrist.

“Theater three,” the usher said, pushing her change and her ticket stub back through the hole.

Vicky pounced on the bills before they could blow away, crumpling them in her fist until she reached the concession stand.

“I’ll take a small popcorn and a Coke,” she said, scattering the change above the Mike & Ikes and Milk Duds. “Diet. I meant to say Diet.”

The teenager behind the concession stand scoffed and emptied the cup into the trough beneath the sodas. He retraced his steps to the ice bucket, saving precious seconds by skipping the scoop and plunging the cup into the frozen cubes.

“Diet Coke, right?” he said before putting the cup back beneath the drink dispenser.

“Yes, positive,” Vicky said.

He set the Diet Coke nozzle to autofill and fixed her bag of popcorn.

“Butter?” he asked over his shoulder.

“Yes, please.” Vicky answered.

He turned around to make sure she wasn’t kidding

“I know, then why get a Diet Coke, right?” she said.

“I’m not here to judge,” he answered, setting the drink and the glistening bag of cholesterol in front of her. “That’ll be ten fifty.”

She slid him the wrinkled bills and gathered her snacks.

“You gave me too much,” he said, sliding two dollars back on her side of the counter.

“I know, consider it a tip.”

“We’re not allowed to take tips.”

“I can keep a secret.”

The teenager gave in and stuffed the money in his pocket.

“Straws are at the end of the counter,” he said.

“I don’t mix business with pleasure,” she mumbled, heading straight to theater three.

She sat down front and center, getting as close to Hollywood as she could. The lights dimmed and she took a giant swig of her drink, swishing it around her mouth until the carbonation ate away any lingering fluids on her teeth.

“I needed that,” she said.


Frank stopped his wheelchair next to the pet adoption trailer parked in front of Uptown Cinemas and waved a handwritten sign that read, Feed Vets before pets.

“Here,” a woman said, handing him a half-eaten bag of buttered popcorn.

“Gee, thanks,” he said, tossing it over his head into a puppy pen.

The tiny dogs abandoned their chew toys and attacked the puffed treats like Hungry Hungry Hippos.

“Fuck you,” she said, ripping the sign from his hand and flinging it over the trailer.

He laughed until his howls gave way to a hacking cough.

“I needed that,” Frank said, turning to look at the ravenous canines.

He noticed a sign on the cage that said NO POPCORN.

“I can keep a secret,” he said, and rolled off down the sidewalk.

Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph by: Chris Boyles

Flying and Falling

Posted on: February 17, 2015

I never understood why people kept birds. It felt wrong, seeing those creatures in cages. How can a bird live closed in? I used to dream of freeing all the birds. I explained this to my father at the zoo, as only righteous eight-year-olds can.

“I’ll release all of them and become a hero to the whole animal kingdom!” I exclaimed. To his credit, he didn’t laugh. He just pointed to a group of parrots.

“Where do you think those parrots are from, Leah?” he asked me.

“The forest,” I said, certain. I’d read books, after all.

“Not any forest around here. They’re used to warm climates. What would they do in the winter?” He rested a hand on my back as I turned away.

“I don’t know.” My eyes tightened in frustration. But I did know, and I hated it.

“They won’t make it. Is it okay to let them go, knowing they can’t survive outside?” He gave my shoulder a squeeze, but it didn’t help.

I nodded, hiccupping back tears. Even though I didn’t have the answer, I still hated seeing them kept from the sky.


Twenty years later, I made two decisions I regretted. One was agreeing to five tequila shots at my best friend’s bachelorette party. The other was wearing a tacky t-shirt claiming I was on Team Bride.

But I didn’t regret him. He was broad with buzzed hair and a strong jaw. With his sleeves rolled up, the edge of a tattoo peeked out. I was content to watch him joking with the bartender, his hazel eyes surrounded by laugh lines. Multiple shots of tequila made my staring obvious.

“Go up and talk to him,” the bride said.

“Oh no no no--” I shook my head. “Tonight’s about you!”

“Do it!!” she yelled. “It’ll be….my wedding present!!!”

I tried to be casual walking up to the bar. But I couldn’t ignore the hoots behind me. So, I sidled up to him and ordered water. Could I get away with a thirty-second conversation?

“Are you going to start a fight?” he said, turning to me.

“What?” I couldn’t believe it would be this easy.

“Well you have a bunch of women staring at you. So either you’re about to start a fight, or they dared you to come talk to me.”

I snorted water out of my nose. “Don’t know. Depends on how I feel when I finish this.”

“How long will that take?”

“How much time you have?”

I woke up the next morning with a splitting headache and his number in my phone.


In ninth grade biology I read a factoid about Peregrine falcons. They can fly up to 240 miles per hour, killing other birds in mid-air.

I wondered: was that death by falling, or by flying?


On our second date, we played pool.

“So,” I said, standing up from the table. “When did you decide to become a pilot?”

He laughed.

“Leah, you’ve set a new record.”

“For doing what?”

He turned from the table to look at me. “For taking the longest to ask that question.”

“So what do I get?” I said, grinning.

“You’ll have to wait and see.” His eyes made the promise clear as they roamed my body.

“David, I hate surprises.”

“I think mine can change your mind.”

I enjoyed the surprise, but he didn’t answer my question.


People always talk about about birds mating for life. Some species do form long-term monogamous bonds. But this choice comes with benefits. They often enjoy expanded territory. Long-term bonds also help them take care of their young.

Peel apart our words, our clothes. Survival is all that’s left.


It took four more dates and an hour in bed for him to open up.

“So, when did you decide to become a pilot?” I asked, tracing nonsense on his chest. He looked away from me.

“I didn’t tell you?”

“Nope, you distracted me with your pool skills.”

“Just my pool skills?” he asked.

“Stop changing the subject.”

“When I was ten,” he began, “my family flew back to Mexico City. My grandma was sick, and this was the last time we would probably get to see her. My parents gave me the window seat. You know, to distract me. The minute we took off, I loved it. The sound, the speed, the whole world felt brand new. I wanted to stay up there forever. But the flight ended. I came back down into the smog, the noise, the mess of it all. I knew then and there I would do whatever it took to get up in the air.”

“Do you still hate coming down to earth?” I couldn’t help asking, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. I wanted to run. I wanted to stay still. I’d known this combo before: it was too late to run. I was already caught.

He kissed me and began working his way down my body. “Depends on where I’m landing.”


The bird with the shortest bond is the ruby-throated hummingbird. Once the birds have mated, the male leaves.He doesn’t help build the nest. He doesn’t help keep the eggs warm. He definitely doesn’t help raise the chicks.

There must be an evolutionary benefit to leaving.


Three weeks later, he had to leave; his assignment was changing. He was going to be out west, close to San Diego. As apologetic as he was, I could see the excitement in his eyes. There were new places to see, new skies to explore.

It was a relief, really. I’d started throwing up every morning as accurate as an atomic clock. I took a test, but I already knew what the result was going to be.

So I didn’t groan about tender breasts. I didn’t admit that motherhood terrified me. Saturday morning I kissed him goodbye and went to the clinic, alone.

You can’t fly weighed down with secrets.

Written by: Katie Simpson
Photograph by: Sophie Stuart

The Story of Everything

Posted on: February 12, 2015

                                                           Continued from West and This is It

The pump clunked. Dena fought the urge to top off the gas in the rental car. The nozzle trigger went slack in her hand.

The tank can overflow if you do that. Trust the machine to know what you need. It's not the apocalypse, or anything. You can always fill up again.

That's what her dad had said when she was sixteen, before he got sick. He’d taught her to drive, pump gas, check the oil, change a tire. Everything you’ll need to know, he’d said.

But he didn’t know everything. Dena gave the trigger one extra squeeze. She’d learned there was a lot of variety when it came to apocalypses.

On the other side of the gas station parking lot, in front of the KFC-Taco Bell hybrid, Chris paced with his phone pressed to his ear. Even from a distance, Dena could spot the big-eyed, scrunchy-eyebrowed look of irritation he always wore when he spoke to his father. Dena swiped Chris's debit card. She punched in the PIN--1991. The year Chris was born.

What an idiot.

Chris stomped towards Dena, his rage undercut by the squeak of his ratty Chuck Taylors.


"What did he say?"

"He makes me insane, I swear."

"Did you tell him the new RV fuel pump's going to be way cheaper than paying for this rental car all the way back?"

"Yeah. He knows. He's going to help us out."

"Then why are you all arghghgh?"

"It's just like--now we owe him. He even said so. 'I've invested in your journey, and I want to see you make something of it.' Fuuuuuuck," Chris said, splaying his body over the hood of the rented Ford Fiesta.

Dena’s stomach gave an angry twist. The tornado of emotional options set its whirring path straight for Dena's gut. She could say: At least you have a father. She could say: I realize that my father dying of cancer does not make your relationship with your father any less real or difficult. She could say: Your dad’s right. What the fuck are we doing with our lives?

Instead she said:

"I think we should get some Kentucky-Fried-Tacos now."

Dena had met Chris’s father a few months before when he invited them to dinner. Chris had spent the whole day brainstorming ways they could get out of it and complaining about his father’s expectations.

“What, are you afraid he won’t like me?” Dena asked as they pulled up in his father’s driveway.

"No. It’s not that. But Dad’s going to want the story of everything. Of how we met. Our first date. That kind of crap."


"Just--it's important to him. So we're going to say we met on the quad and then I asked you out on a coffee date to Blackbird, okay?"

Dena and Chris had not met on the quad. They had met when Dena's usual drug hookup was low on supply, and he'd referred her to Chris. She grumbled at the inconvenience of it--Chris lived on the other side of town--but she'd spent the afternoon at her dad's chemo appointment, and she just needed to bliss out in her dorm room and stop feeling things.

And there was Chris. He believed in try-before-you-buy. He told her she was beautiful and intriguing. She told him about the shit day she'd had. He didn't try to fix her. He didn't say it would all be okay. He just said, "I think you should maybe stay here," so she did. And then she never really left.

So when they rang the doorbell and Chris's father answered, a salt-and-pepper Chris with nicer clothes, she'd gone with the story.

"He bought me a cup of tea and a muffin, and we just connected."

Chris's father had smiled. He’d poured more wine and told endearing Chris-as-a-toddler tales that involved Chris trying to flush foreign objects down the toilet or dumping an entire bag of flour onto the kitchen floor to make snow angels. He’d told his own stories: backpacking in Europe. Dropping out of school and getting really lucky in the tech boom. Healing from his divorce from Chris’s mom by getting into meditation and bluegrass music.

As Dena bit into her crunchwrap supreme, she decided that his dad’s "make something of the journey" spiel was just more of the same. The importance of the narrative. The story of how we met, the story of how we fell in love, the story of how we drove into the unknown and changed our lives.

But that’s not how our generation does it, Dena thought. "Going steady" begat "dating" begat "going out" begat "talking," and now most of the relationships Dena knew had been formed through a few flirtatious text messages, then hanging out until both parties realized accidental exclusivity had set in. And, so far, the other stories in her life had been just as haphazard.

Chris was three-quarters of the way through a bowl of potatoes layered with Kentucky fried chicken, corn, cheese, and gravy. He stopped to blow a straw paper at her.

Some rules stayed the same through the generations, though: when a person supports you through the death of your father, through the funeral, through sitting on the floor with a lockbox of insurance papers way beyond your comprehension level, that person gets to stay.

"Dude, I think this chicken-bowl-of-death was supposed to come with a cookie," Chris said.

“Short-shifted by the man!” Dena said.

Her phone buzzed.

R we ordering the part, or nah?

“Should I tell Jennifer yes, then?” she asked Chris.

“Word,” he said. “Let’s do it. Long live the Chinook. My dad owns us either way.”

“Trust the machine to know what you need,” Dena murmured.


“Nothing. Go get your cookie. Actually, make it two.”

Yup, order it, she texted Jennifer. She watched Chris approach the counter, then give his place in line to a woman with three little kids. His t-shirt was tucked into his ironic Pokemon-print boxers on one side. He talked to the cashier for a moment, then turned around and gave Dena a double thumbs up.

Long live everything. She gave a thumbs-up back.

Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Rob Gregory

Sunrise with Sea Monsters

Posted on: February 10, 2015

There was more blood than I had anticipated. That was one thing. Luckily, most of it kept to the sea, where it washed out into nothing. Into what? I suppose another tendril of life floating in that fabulous blue. It would have been a pity, I thought, to spoil the clean white of the boat. That cloudy, nursery blue that looked like New England. Planks for seats. A pity, sure, but necessary. Let’s not forget that he had it coming. Had it comin’ as they say in the south. I’ve never been there but I romanticize about the double-wide trailers on acres of wheat. Places that could hold a murder secret for years.

But back to the blood. Who knew? Such a little head. So much blood. More blood than anticipated, as previously noted. Don’t like to repeat myself often but that amount of blood is worth the sin. And how watery it was. I always thought it would be more of an ooze, but it’s very watery. Not at all viscid, but no, like vinegar. And the pure softness of the head? Incredible. We bump our way through life accumulating badges of scars of all shapes and sizes and the head stays on, egg-like and lolling. It is a shame that I couldn’t have taken more pictures. As a disciple of J.M.W. Turner, my darling Elizabeth would have no doubt appreciated the dissolving colors of the whole gratuitous mess - Turner of course being one of her own, of God and Queen and country. Or some such shit.

Remember that perfect time at the museum. The old train station - d’Orsay, you devil. Remember how we waited in line in the rain. And the way it felt when the rain ended and we came out of those artistic havens and were greeted with shining cobblestones below our feet. The rays of the afternoon light backfiring from the Seine back to Wayfarers. How France became Spain, and then we leapt into London? Remember that European happiness, how we called it the continent, how we drooled over ol’ J.M.W.’s Sunrise with Sea Monsters.

I revert back to art in her absence. Her favorite thing. How she thought she saw the world different because of Turner, Monet, because of Jackson Pollack; that sedentary drunk who dragged his genius with him through the mud. I was colorblind. Haha. Of course. But she loved the idea of two colors becoming one, and she would have enjoyed the artistic presence in that macabre boat.

She would have enjoyed it, I suppose, if she would have seen it earlier - before the clipping of her own banal life. Of course, without Elizabeth there would have been no Colin, no boat, no leaking body fluid, and most important of all, no tiny fishes feeding on brains! I am not a Godly man, but I am a jealous one. I did not stand under that Protestant steeple and mutter silly fairy tales for my constitution. For God’s sake! Marriage is marriage! What is this place where I have found myself? I feel that those around me are ogres. They are purveyors of poor taste and worse principles.

My libertarian desires, unfortunately, cannot hold a candle in the wind to those magisterial principles of honor and dignity. I mean that I do not blame my dear Elizabeth or her poor Colin for their actions. They are only existing. Or were. But no, while their actions do not elicit any moralistic repugnancies on my part, the severe consequences of those actions most certainly do. There can be, as my mother said, no civility outside truth. She was, of course, wrong. But there lies a faint trench of that aforementioned truth that runs through her elementary observation. Mainly, that if you’re going to lie and cheat, best to keep such surreptitious actions veiled.

Honest though, I think it was their stupidity that I could not forgive. To think that I wouldn’t have figured them out. Ha! Incredible idiots. As if I was blind to their lean-in conversations, that night at the Henderson’s party. Them out on the deck, me fondling my sweating cocktail; the lights of the harbor blinking like stars behind their laughing heads. As if their sideward glances would go unnoticed. Ha!

Though I must say, must give credit where it is due, no matter how posthumous it might be, no matter where it might land on that elastic rubber band of time. They did a fine job in their dogged proclamations of innocence. First her, in the study, with the rope. How even with her last gag she claimed, what? Virtue? And not only that, but confusion as well? And later he - bent over the bow of the boat - white shorts hitched above tanned legs and knees, dropping the anchor, unknowingly manufacturing a sort of tombstone somewhere down there in the shallows. How even after I’d hit him once, how he gasped and reached up for the boat. How he questioned my motives as the blood seeped out of him and became tangled in the waves and then gone into the deep.

So credit to them, for their perseverance to a lie. May they rest in peace.

Oh, dear. What a beautiful bird!

Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Blake Bronstad

Flick of the Wrist

Posted on: February 5, 2015

The house was empty. As Quinn walked through the garage she found that both of her parents’ vehicles were missing. Usually, by the time she walked back from school her father was already home and preparing dinner, cleaning the vegetables and ridding the meat of every ounce of fat. Her mother would then pull in the driveway 40 minutes later and review all of Quinn’s homework before stepping in to relieve her father of his cooking duties. Quinn had forgotten about the revealing of the new wing in her mother’s hospital this evening, which both parents were required to attend.

Her brother’s car was also nowhere to be seen, which meant he most likely stayed behind at school to help prep for play rehearsals. Either that, or he was busy getting high at his friend Pat’s house. He could get away with things like that.

Quinn had a reputation to uphold, a schedule to keep. Her entire life had become a dictated routine. Everything her parents expected of her, or everything she thought they expected of her, she became. Day after day she lost pieces of herself in order to fit into the mold that had been prepared for her. Her parents knew who she would be from the time she was conceived and had her every life decision mapped out in color-coordinated files.

In reality, Quinn didn’t know who she was anymore. The only thing she knew was that she needed relief from expectations – and she knew just where to find it.

Her first respite from parental pressure was an accident that occurred during her pre-bed shower – the only time that was hers alone. Quinn could wash and shave in just under ten minutes, so she used the rest of her time to remove every mask she wore throughout the day: the cheerleading captain, the Honors student, the “perfect” child. The steady beating of the water from the showerhead drowned out her sobs as she sat on the shower floor hugging her knees. As Quinn pulled herself up, she lost her footing and slipped backwards.

Once she sat up, she began to feel the tiniest ounce of relief. It started slow, the pain that ebbed through her every nerve dissipating. As she looked to the floor, she noticed a thin crimson stream weaving its way through the current to the drain. Reaching beneath her, she pulled her detached razor blade from the once supple skin of her thigh. It had embedded itself in her flesh after being knocked loose in her fall. Quinn was nervous at first, but she also felt a solace that was too sweet a drug to deny.

Instead of taking the time to write in her journal as she used to, Quinn now transformed her body into her journal; practicing calligraphy on her inner thighs and underarms as they became the alternating front and back pages, her wrists the footnotes.

Her mind was spinning, thoughts racing at a dizzying pace. Everything inside of her hurt, and the ache was more than she could bear. Quinn relished in the fact that today she had at least an hour to herself, if not more. She opened her bedroom door just enough to throw her bags from school and cheerleading inside, then headed straight for the bathroom. She turned on the shower, but not the fan. She liked the way the room filled with steam and made the air almost too thick to breathe. She stepped into the tub letting the near-boiling water scald her skin. As it cascaded around her, she let every thought she’d harbored and rejected throughout the day come rising to the surface. Every conversation in her mind that was stifled to pay attention in class, every dismissal from those around her, every emotion she had to cut off to appear normal, every twitch, tick, and anxiety attack she had to restrain; she let them all come flooding in. With every line she drew into her upper thighs she allowed it all to rise up in chaos and ooze out of her skin; her crosshatching marking every thought and feeling screaming for a way out. She shook less, she began to calm.

Finally, she could breathe.

She was able to concentrate on the sound and feeling of her lungs filling and deflating, like hearing music for the first time.

As she sat emptying herself beneath the steady shower, she felt the beauty of her etchings that followed the lines of her veins and sinews. Her body had become a braille novel, but she was the only one blind enough to read it.

By the time she pulled herself out of the shower the entire room was filled with a steamy fog. She loved walking through it, feeling high, as though she were stepping into a dream. She couldn’t help the smile as it spread across her face as she opened the door and it all came rolling out like an avalanche across the floor and down through the hall until it disappeared into the coolness of the fresh air.

The blood was still trickling down her legs as she walked to her room. She kept a drawer of fabric bandages to help the cuts clot and close. She had read up on how much blood loss was too much and how to take proper care of knife wounds. She was usually very careful, but on this rare occasion she had let herself go a little too far. She was glad to be able to let these fresh journal entries air out rather than suffocate and itch, hiding under her varsity sweatpants.

Quinn was so wrapped up in her release, she was halfway to her dresser before she noticed that her window was open. It wasn’t until she turned toward the gentle breeze that she recognized Celia sitting cross-legged on her bed. She watched her friend’s smile turn to shock.

“Quinn…What happened?”

Written by: Julia Hy
Photograph by: Jaemin Riley

Sunday Grease

Posted on: February 3, 2015

On Sunday she goes to Aunt Ida’s house, a sagging, brick-crumbling relic in a neighborhood once forgotten. Brighter lights and clean, modern lines encroach, gentrification threatening in the guise of “off the beaten path” Segway tours, microbreweries, and hot yoga studios where everyone pronounces bikram differently.

Winnie vomits in the bathroom of an artisan bakery that charges too much for soft, pillowy croissants and crumbling scones with dried fruit (even though they’re delicious). That’ll show ‘em, she thinks as she uses the back of her hand to wipe her mouth. A smear of dark berry lipstick leaves a stain she manages to scrub off, with a layer or two of skin. When the counter hipster asks if she wants anything, she gives a terse smile and politely declines as she stumbles out into the cold gray morning.

Its light is unforgiving, and the truths illuminated are harsh. Winnie barely made it; had she been a block closer to Aunt Ida’s she would have been puking in someone’s meager square of yard. Dewy grass mocks her, the frosted sheen perfect and undisturbed. There’s no place to hide.

Winnie cuts through the alley and climbs the narrow staircase to the back door. She wiggles the knob and presses her hip, a careful combination of moves that she’s mastered over years of refusing to come in through the front door like she’s company. Aunt Ida’s warm smile greets Winnie and she throws her black peacoat over a chair.

The soft orange light of the kitchen feels welcoming. Winnie lets her shoulders droop a little, feels the tension of warring self-doubt and self-pity roll off her in waves. This is home, and she doesn’t have to hide.

“Bacon or sausage, Winnie?” Aunt Ida asks. Pork fat sizzles and pops on the stove. Winnie smells hot buttered toast and strong, black coffee. Sticky syrup droplets trail from the kitchen into the dining room, and a cacophony of voices alert her to the fact that she is the last one to arrive. Aunt Ida does her domestic dance from stove to oven to toaster, the stained apron swirling around her like a redneck ballgown. Kiss my grits.

“Bacon, please,” Winnie says, “I’m craving bacon this morning. Can I take anything?”

Aunt Ida glances over Winnie, her eyes sizing up the burgundy skinny jeans and beige sweater. She grimaces at the exposed bra strap and nods to a plate of pancakes. Winnie avoids the syrup spills as she takes the plate into the dining room, her cousins cheerful and already busy eating.

Winnie still looks peaked, but she blames it on residual food poisoning and declares she needs a good home-cooked meal. Never mind that when she actually had food poisoning, she couldn’t look at anything other than a box of saltines without throwing up a little in her mouth. This morning she eats two short stacks of pancakes and half a dozen slices of bacon, the grease collecting in nooks like warm tidal pools. Fat and satiated, she sips her lukewarm, bitter coffee. Conversation flows around her.

Ida corners her when she slips upstairs to use her bathroom. She swings the door open, her niece yelping in surprise.

“Are you pregnant?”

Winnie stares at her.

“Your mother got the same cravings when she was pregnant,” Ida sighs. “Bacon so oily it’d slip through your fingers.”

“I’m not pregnant,” Winnie says.

“You sure, honey?” Ida says. “You can tell me. Everything’ll be fine, Win.”

“Yes, Aunt Ida.”


“I’m not pregnant. I wasn’t pregnant when you came in here, I haven’t gotten pregnant in the last thirty seconds, and you’re really freaking me out right now. Can I please pee?”

Ida stares at Winnie’s plump figure. The waistband of her niece’s skinny jeans have stretched out, and her calves look deflated. Ida nods and pulls the door closed so Winnie can finish up in peace. Ida sits on her bed. With John in it, it felt too small. Without him, it feels too big.

Winnie emerges and Ida opens her mouth to ask more questions.

“I’m hungover, okay? Jesus.” Winnie snaps before Ida can speak.

“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.” Ida shakes her head and pinches the girl’s waist. Her fingers are farther apart than they used to be, when she would do this as a joke and not as a test. She looks at the woman in front of her: smudged lipstick and concealer caked into wrinkles, dark circles peeking out from underneath. Her round, full cheeks are peppered with tiny freckles and fine flakes of dried mascara, detritus from a Saturday night out on the town.

Winnie will not look at her, so Ida inhales. She’s prepared to give advice when she smells the excess. Winnie’s perfume is strong, floral and fruity. It’s the too much of it that gives Winnie away; she wears more than she needs to and somehow it still isn’t enough, because Ida recognizes the smell her once-favorite niece is trying to cover.

This moment is so familiar. Ida lived it dozens of times, when her John would drag himself out of bed stinking of booze, his eyes bloodshot and his skin tinged gray. He’d spray his cologne before church but Ida could tell. The excess, the too much, would give him away.

It always does.

They say nothing to each other. Winnie cries, and Ida holds her in her arms. Ida tells the girl to take a nap, tucks her into bed, and makes her way back downstairs. Ida notices small drips of syrup, raised dots against the hardwood floors like Braille. She walks into the kitchen where towers of dishes have formed a metropolis on her counter. A tilted plate with a half-eaten stack of soggy pancakes threatens a slow, viscous slide.

Ida sighs and grabs a sponge.

Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Jaemin Riley

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