The Creative Writing Class
Stray Bird - Pujan Baral
Two people, one being my grandfather, forced the ruthless goat in place. My grandfather held the two back legs while a man held the rope on the goat’s neck. Another man stayed back, ready with a bowl. My uncle grabbed the silver machete. One clean chop down the neck, and its head fell. The body of the goat quivered. The three men held the goat while its blood sprayed out into the bowl. The blood’s consistency was not as thick as I had imagined. The fluid was much lighter in color than my own.
My uncle skinned the goat with boiling water and a silver cup. I went with the others to clean the insides. The small intestine, a lengthy slimy tube, was sliced opened and gutted. The stomach had the texture of shaved testicles on one side and the anatomy of a honeycomb on the other. After being cleaned and fried, it was served over puffed rice and tasted delightful.
The next day, my friend had come over during the school break to play the ping (Nepali swing) and run around the village. In my garden, I stood on the rock platform to fill my cup with water. I grabbed the rusted dark orange cast iron handle of the water pump and pulled it. As I took a sip, my friend approached a grey baby bird as it ate grains on the ground. I watched him as he snuck up barefoot. The bird did not react until he was a foot step within reach. In an instant, the bird flew up. However, my friend’s hand was ahead of the bird’s instincts. He grabbed the bird midair and clutched it close with both hands. The bird was fascinating. He had left his mother to explore the world, just as I had been doing with my friend.
I wanted to capture this moment, so I locked it in a cage. We attempted to feed it rice, something I ate for almost every meal. I looked around to see if the bird’s family would save it. No birds came. My mother would be home from work soon. I had to release it. However, I wanted to free it only when the mother bird found her child.
I went past the barn. Ahead of me was an irrigation canal which led to a thick forest on the horizon. On each side of the canal were large fields of crops and a patched pathway on the sides. I moved ahead with my friend down the path and came to a crossroad. To the left of this intersection was a mango tree. Still, there was no signs of a mother bird, so we turned left.
My friend and I waited to decide whether we should free this bird. I searched around the tree for sticks and rocks. I told my friend to remove the bird from the cage and hold it in place. With a thin and dull edged rock, I pierced a line from its neck down. Laboriously, I stabbed the bird a few more times. The blood gushed out onto my hand and dripped down to my elbow. The color was much darker than the goat’s and more like mine. I kept the bird opened with the sticks and looked around inside its body. My friend asked if I would like to take it home to cook it over a fire. However, I felt disgusted by its insides. There was almost no meat or a body to it. It was just veins, organs, blood, and bones inside of a hairy shell. I had no use for the bird.
My friend suggested that we throw the bird away. I used some of the sticks to dig a small hole and left the bird inside. Its heart and veins poked out of the belly while its head rested back on the ground. I covered the hole with some dirt and pressed it down firmly with my foot.
Why Do We Need Water? - Frankie Andrews
Standing poolside in Florida, my skinny pale body is unable to throw itself into the deep end. I watch as the shimmering blue water obscures the bottom of the pool.
“Your sister is way better at diving than you are,” my dad says.
During the quiet school prayer, I become self-conscious when I open my water bottle. Despite my thirst, I would rather stay quiet and not draw attention to myself. People probably think of me as some kind of self-righteous idiot for drinking water. Lifting the cold metal to my lips, I cringe as the ice cubes in the container clank loudly. I glance around. I realize that no one is watching me.
I always hate the early mornings of the soccer camps. Whenever we get together at nine, we sit in the scratchy grass covered in dew. Now my butt is wet. I glance down to my shorts, I notice the darker mark. My mind races as I plan to cover my rear with my long soccer bag, just so the other campers don’t think I look like I wet myself. Why can’t we just stand?
“Shit,” my dad mutters to himself. Looking up, the four of us see the spot in the ceiling where the drip originates. Another drop hits the ground with a small thud.
“Didn’t the guy just fix i—" my sister asks. My mother shoots her a gance that plainly reads Don’t go there.
My dad climbs the stepstool and opens up the ceiling again.
It isn’t raining or foggy; it is somewhere in between the two. The cars in the parking lot are speckled with droplets that reflected the pale orange light of the overhead lights. The ground is slick with the kind of wetness you only see just after a heavy rain. The air feels with the weight of the water, almost as if it were going to drop it all at once.
We leave the doctor’s office in silence.
The initial pitter patter quickly turns to a thundering roar.
“Keep your eyes on the road,” my mom yells over the thundering rain. It is the first time I have driven on the highway, and the heavens have opened, welcoming me with raindrops that land like baseballs on the metal roof of the car.
Terrified, I grip the wheel hard, slowing down as the lane markers disappear from view. The frantic wiper blades are unable to keep up. Everything obscures
As we pull up the last of the crabbing nets, we watch as the fighter jets roar over the pier.
“Look, Frey!” someone says, pointing up. My toddler sister looks up, stunned at the rapid, loud machines overhead. Stumbling backward, she falls into the crab bucket.
A new ear-piercing sound booms across the pier.
On the day of my sister’s baptism, my family group gets split. Somehow, I—a four-year old—get stuck with the out-of-towners. Luckily, I know exactly where to go.
“Turn here,” “go there,” “that way,” I instruct from the backseat, confident of my skills as a navigator.
Not believing me, my uncle pulls over and asks a man mowing his lawn where the church is.
I am right.
I come up for air, breathing in a mouthful of salty water. Gagging loudly, I flounder around as my throat instantly becomes sore.
“You okay?” someone asks. I respond with the affirmative, “pat on the head” signal.
Hours later, my mouth still tastes like sea water.
I stand sodden on the soccer field.
This is genuinely hell on earth, I think, as my feet squelch with every step.
A sudden wind drives wind into my face, blinding me and freezing my face further. Every inch of fabric I am wearing is soaked through to my goose-bumped skin. I ask the referee how many minutes are left in the half.
“About 25,” he replies.
Beach, Ft. Myers, “A Poolside Jump”, circa 2008.
Blakefield, Loyola, “Soccer Camp”, 2013.
Blakefield, Loyola, “Yeti”, 2019.
San Pedro, Belize, “Mouthful”, 2018.
Baltimore, “Baptism”, 2004
Baltimore, “Fixing a hole”, 2014
Lutherville, “Appointment News”, December 1, 2015.
Maryland, “Filled Boots”, 2018
Pennsylvania, “That very dangerous drive”, 2017
Regis, Lyme, “Bucket”, circa 2007
Last Week in Second Grade - Henry Erdman
The fog on the bus window feels cool
on his finger as he wipes it away.
Two pokes and a squeaky
He drew that last week, too.
He sees the students climbing in:
his best friend, the energetic redhead,
then the fat blond girl who punched him last week.
Her dad punched her last week, too.
The bus rolls forward
His teacher waves, the old
one with a raspy voice,
She was diagnosed with lung cancer last week, too.
Traffic avoids a swerving driver
He sees her sunken
eyes like the bottles by her feet,
She ran out last week, too.
A beggar sits two blocks from the bus stop,
her dirty, calloused hands outstretched.
He and others walk by.
He ignored her last week, too.
He gets home to his mom,
her hug warm, her voice sweet:
“I love you, honey.”
She cried about that last week, too.
Late-Night Soirée - Clayton Canal
Patrick, David, and a woman
David explains Orthomolecular Psychiatry
he is as pink as the inside of a baby bird’s mouth
his words, like those protected on a screen, mean
Madeleine, the woman,
explains that Pat is
“a very tolerant husband”
but also, a tolerant friend
he tells her his dream
“letting David know he’s an idiot”
behind them, the walls say
“he’s a real nowhere man”
she says, “let’s go”
Stopped at the Red Light - Colin Haley
I have traveled this
road for many years. I have crossed many
to this light. Waiting and
Inspiration escapes me. I lack
experience. I need
Finally, I see a familiar
face. Then I hear a
It is clear now, I look
up and see green. On to the next
Barbeque - Braeden Rowley
Flesh torn from the helpless animal
Package the prime cut
Perfectly picked from the plethora of carnage
Take it home with other modified goods
The preparation commences
A match drops on the oak
A spark, a flame, a grill
Charred to a pink inside, with a dark shell
Served to the famished guests
Don’t forget to throw out the bone
October - Cameron Conte
Red, brown, and yellow
leaves begin to fall.
Dogs and children burrow themselves in
Lonely old people can’t wait to
see the smiles on kids’ faces.
Packs and packs of candy bought from
the local grocery store.
Newspapers, kitchen knives, and
pumpkin guts all over the kitchen table.
A crisp, cool morning is becoming
more common now.
The Sea of Aggy - Will LaMoure
“Did you hear me? I asked, how do you think he got up there, Theo?”
I hadn’t heard her the first time. I didn’t care to hear her the second time, but she blared it right in my ear. Made my eardrums buzz. She had a perpetual need for my attention, and would stop at nothing to gain it. God, I hated her. We’d had about two, three good years of marriage, but a marriage born of obligation won’t stay healthy long.
I’d gone up to her Pa’s place, a few years back, to settle a land dispute. He claimed he owned part of one of our pastures, which he damn well knew had been in our family for decades. Any ideas of a well-mannered dispute went out the window when a steer broke out the enclosure and ran right at his daughter. I didn’t want the poor girl to get gored, so I shot the damn thing right through the neck. He wanted to kill me for it, but she was so taken with me that I felt I had to up and marry her just to calm him down.
I tired of her quickly.
And yet there we stood, staring at the goat on top of our barn, equally perplexed as to just how on Earth he ended up in that position. His name was Aggy, named after Pop, and he was a filthy and sickly animal. I’d had him since I was a little kid, and he was older than time itself. At that point, he was more disease than goat, and we’d been expecting him to die any day.
“I uh, I don’t know,” I said. I had pulled out the ladder to try and get him down. Ari was holding the ladder, albeit poorly, and I was hunched over the roof of the barn trying to coax Aggy over to me. He looked terrible. He had blood leaking out of his nostrils, and the corners of his mouth were bubbled with foam. It hurt a little, seeing him like that. Aggy had been a good friend to me, back when we moved upstate. Pa was always out working, and Ma hadn’t been around since I was two. Aggy, quite honestly, was the only steady presence I had in my youth. I’d hang out in the barn with him and feed him dried up corn kernels. Every time he’d swallow one he’d make a clicking sound in his throat that made me laugh until my sides hurt. I convinced Pa to never take him out to slaughter. He’d put on his blood-stained overalls, and I’d hide in the barn with Aggy, crying for Pa to leave him be.
“Come on boy. Get over here. What you doin’ up there?” I slowly began pulling my leg up onto the roof, in an attempt to close some of the space between us. The denim strap on my shoulder caught on a shingle and made me lose my grip. I scrambled for a handhold and then heaved myself up. For whatever reason, Aggy didn’t take to that. He stamped his foot and reared his head back. Scared the shit out of me. Never seen him move that fast. He turned heel, and bolted straight off the roof. He hit the dirt with a crunch.
I clambered down, and ran around to the other side of the barn. There Aggy lay, his neck bent at a right angle, blood pouring out his mouth. The blood formed a little red sea on top of the dirt. “Aw fu—,” I said under my breath. Ari shuffled up behind me, and put her head on my shoulder.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. It’s probably for the best anyway. He was real sick,” she said. She always thought he was gross. I know she did. She always tried to get me to sell him or kill him or cut him loose. I’d never do it because he was the only real friend I ever had, but she never understood that and she never would. She could jump off a barn herself, and I wouldn’t shed a tear. I felt my eyes getting hot so I told her to go inside while I cleaned up the mess.
I stared at him for longer than I should have. I tried to force myself to just pick him up and dig a hole somewhere far away. I couldn’t do it. You dirty old bastard. Why would you go and do a thing like that?
Ari said that he wanted to go out on his own terms. Killed, not by God, not by disease, but by himself. A final and fatal display of power in the face of the inevitable.
I don’t know. I think he was an old goat with a bad sense of direction. Sure as hell wasn’t my fault.
On the Installation of Fire Hydrants: A Scholarly Examination of What the Hell These Things Are
- Henry Erdman
The Earth was created or something, and then fire hydrants plopped into the world. How do they get where they are? What even are they? If you try to take one down, not only is it tremendously difficult, but it’ll also spew water all over and make a huge mess. The installation of fire hydrants is a mystery that people don’t think too much about. The technical side will help us understand the process from a more practical perspective. Then, we can move on to the economic and theological effects of fire hydrants in our world. In this scholarly essay, we’ll examine all of these and more as we look at the oversized red garden gnomes of the globe. Are they any more than that? Could they hurt our society? Let’s find out.
So, first off, what makes up a fire hydrant? That’s easy enough: “Ductile iron…bronze… O-ring seals…thermoplastic polymer with high resistance to dynamic and static wear…stainless steel…electrogalvanized steel…[more] steel…[even more] steel…shoe coating…[and] paint” (“Metropolitan/M94 Hydrant” 3). The iron, bronze, and steel seem pretty standard, and I understand the paint. But where’s the water? You would think in a fire hydrant manual, you’d have something about water, but no! Instead, we’re putting out our fires with “shoe coating”! Fire hydrants obviously don’t have any shoes to coat, so I guess I’m going to assume that it’s talking about shoe polish. I never thought of shoe polish as a tool to extinguish fire, but I’ll defer to the firefighters on that one. If that’s what they use to fill up their hoses, then I’m all for it.
My big question, though, is what would happen if temperatures dropped to below freezing? I read once on a standard bottle of shoe polish, “Protect from freezing” (“Leather Cuir”). In somewhere like Florida, that’s not too huge a deal, but consider somewhere like Minnesota. What if they have a fire when all the shoe polish is frozen? Minneapolis hasn’t burned down yet, to the best of my knowledge. I mean, they have plenty of crime, of course. Their robbery rate is more than three times the national average (“Minneapolis Crime”). To deal with any arson, I guess they just mix in some antifreeze or something. Actually, since this is a scholarly research paper, I definitively state that the city of Minneapolis mixes antifreeze into the shoe polish in its fire hydrants.
Anyway, back to the hydrant itself. Now that we know what it’s made of and what it carries, time to delve into how it drops itself into place. I’ll be looking at the installation as detailed by New Braunfels Utilities, a utility company in Texas, New Braunfels Utilities. They have a document called “Standard Fire Hydrant Installation” that remarkably lacks imperative verbs. The only steps that actually instruct you to do something with a second person command are as follows: “Do not block drain holes” and “Weld socket 2 1/2’’ X 2’’ deep to 1’’ sch. 40 round stem extension, fitted on operating nut” (Amaro). Such high-level grammatical analysis of the installation procedure sheds some light on the process. Firstly, it shows that drain holes are critical to the functioning of a fire hydrant and are never impeded in the installation process. Secondly, it shows that the only active procedure needed to install a fire hydrant is welding, apparently. I thought there would be more to it, but JD Amaro seems to know what he’s talking about. He puts in lots of numbers that I don’t really understand, but they seem important. Still, what I take away as the most important part is the phrase “operating nut.” This means that the installer (the one operating the installation) must be crazy in some sense or another. This is why the average citizen struggles to grasp how fire hydrants are installed: It is a mystery known only to the insane.
So, where does this get us? Well, now we can start looking at the economic “benefits” of installing fire hydrants. Right off the bat, we start running into issues. They’re expensive to maintain, for one; each year, maintenance includes “recording various pressure readings, conducting basic lubrication, adding reflectors to increase visibility, and flushing the hydrants to remove sediment” (N). That seems like a lot of work to do for a bunch of welded tins of shoe polish. That work costs money, which becomes a real drain on the community, according to my scholarly mental estimation of the cost. Hydrants also pose a great risk to car drivers; stories are in the news all the time about people who run into them and cause a lot of damage. Take, for example, the geniuses in Minneapolis. Chartez Clark, a Minneapolis resident, was shot by some idiots nearby, and he still managed to hit one and cause fluid to spray everywhere and damage property (Tuss). Of course it wasn’t entirely his fault; it’s the hydrants that are just sitting there waiting for an unsuspecting (or dead) driver to plow into them and set them off on a property-ruining rampage. It should be pretty clear that they cause lots of harm.
Do hydrants have any redeeming qualities? I don’t really think so. Sure, they help put out fires, but fires are naturally occurring, environmentally beneficial events. Fires “return nutrients to the soil by burning dead or decaying matter. They also act as a disinfectant, removing disease-ridden plants and harmful insects” (“Climate 101: Wildfires”). Fire hydrants prevent this natural cycle from renewing itself, which means they actually wind up hurting ecosystems, which ultimately hurts the economy. Just think about it: would you want “disease-ridden plants and harmful insects” crawling around your neighborhood? I know that I certainly wouldn’t, and local residents that I interviewed (in a very scholarly and professional manner) expressed a similar aversion to these disgusting features (Erdman). This means that fires would actually improve the value of homes that they affect, contrary to popular belief. This benefit is repeatedly choked with the use of fire hydrants to circumvent nature’s path. No wonder it takes a lunatic to install one.
There’s one last important realm of thought that tells us a lot about fire hydrants: theology. The whole part about letting nature do its thing fits well with Taoism. Taoists strive to follow actions “living by or going along with the true nature of the world…letting things take their natural course” (“Concepts Within Taoism”). To put out fires, such an important part of nature, defies this. Christianity makes an even stronger case against fire hydrants. Hydrants extinguish fires inside buildings, but the New Testament says that the Holy Spirit enters into individuals through such fires: “It filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them” (New American Bible, Revised Edition, Acts 2:2-3). Had a fire hydrant been present at the Pentecost meal as described, the Spirit would not have been able to descend upon the Apostles as it did. Fire hydrants, and other such firefighting equipment, stands in this way directly opposed to the Holy Spirit, and consequently the teachings of Christian doctrine. It is impossible to support the Church as well as the use of fire hydrants.
So, to recap, fire hydrants are welded steel cans full of shoe polish that only crazy people understand. Even with installation aside, they are a burden on communities, and they happen to go against the teaching of multiple faiths. In short, fire hydrants are a significant problem for society. That is why, in my humble, educated opinion, I am advocating for a complete purge of fire hydrants from this nation. We cannot allow these terrible devices and dangers to persist in our communities. We should allow fire to take its natural course—so join me next time you see a fire hydrant in torching it to ashes for the good and safety of the world.
Amaro, JD. Standard Fire Hydrant Installation With 5” Storz Connector. 22 May 2012. New Braunfels Utilities, www.nbutexas.com/Portals/11/WaterPolicy/Series200/dwg/[2 40]%20STANDARD%20FIRE%20HYDRANT%20INSTALLATION_May2012.pdf?ver=2012-05-22-144934-973. Accessed 1 April 2019.
“Climate 101: Wildfires.” National Geographic, National Geographic, 2019, www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/wildfires/. Accessed 11 April 2019.
“Concepts Within Taoism.” BBC Religions, BBC, 12 November 2009, www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/taoism/beliefs/concepts.shtml. Accessed 12 April 2019.
Erdman, Will. Personal Interview. 11 April 2019.
The Holy Bible. New American Bible, Revised Edition, Devore & Sons, Inc., 2011.
“Leather Cuir.” Kiwi, Sara Lee Household and Body Care USA, 2000.
“Metropolitan/M94 Fire Hydrant.” US Pipe Valve and Hydrant Support, US Pipe Valve & Hydrant LLC, 2017, www.uspvh.com/support/specs-manuals/. Accessed 11 April 2019.
“Minneapolis Crime.” Places to Live, Niche.com Inc., 2019, www.niche.com/places-to-live/minneapolis-hennepin-mn/crime-safety/. Accessed 11 April 2019.
N, Allison. “Annual Fire Hydrant Maintenance.” Hendersonville North Carolina, City of Hendersonville, 11 April 2019, www.hendersonvillenc.gov/annual-fire-hydrant-maintenance-1. Accessed 11 April 2019.
Tuss, Vince. “Man Found Shot Dead After Minneapolis Crash Is Second in 2 Days.” StarTribune, StarTribune, 14 June 2017, www.startribune.com/man-22-id-d-as-victim-in-s-minneapolis-slaying-suspect-remains-loose/428288163/. Accessed 11 April 2019.
Picture Perfect - Cater Vogel
I was looking through some old bins trying to clean out the basement with Kate, and our twins were on the ground looking at mommy’s wedding dress which she’d pulled out for them. Charlie asked us what a wedding is, and Elizabeth asked Kate if she and Daddy could get married again, so she could see. I went to grab a photo book out of the bin next to me and sitting right underneath was this picture. It must’ve fallen out years ago.
Do you remember when we took this? It was the night before we all left, a couple months after graduation, probably the middle of August in ’89. We were at Tommy’s house, and it was late, and we’d all been drinking a bit. You’d just put your hair into a messy brown bun with that scrunchie I always held for you, and I remember you grabbed a camera and out of nowhere yelled “CHEESE!” The three of us barely had time to turn around before the light blinded our eyes. You smiled at me, and I wrapped my arm back around you. We waited for the polaroid to print and you fell to the floor laughing. They looked at you like you were crazy; I looked at you and smiled.
Chuckie’s there on the left. He didn’t have to turn much to look at the camera. Have you seen him lately? He looks great, got a wife and a cute-as-can-be baby boy that causes way more trouble than he should. He’s moved down to Atlanta to a nice house in the suburbs. Nick’s in the middle. I can see him now, pulling up in his Mustang. Who can’t miss riding in that? He’s still the bachelor-of-the-century, and that’s not changing anytime soon. And then on the right of course, there’s me. Looking back at you, wondering just how much I’m going to miss you. I know for a fact that’s exactly what I was thinking. We went back home that night, remember? My parents were still up, so we sat chatting until their wine-drunk selves slugged upstairs to bed. You slept over with me in the basement, but we couldn’t fall asleep until we noticed the sun trickling into the room through the window. The next day you left, and then I left, and then Chuckie and Nick left. And you moved on. And we didn’t. That was the last night we were all together. At least with you.
I know I’m going to regret telling you, but I never really got over us. I mean, I did, of course, because I’m married now, and I have two beautiful kids. But it took me a long time. Maybe too long. Around Christmas, when everyone comes home to their families, I’ll have Chuck and Nick over to my parents’ house. My parents still ask about you. We’ll all start drinking and my dad will have a scotch in one hand, the other pointing at us. “Have you talked to Emily? You guys used to be so close with her!” He thought of you as a daughter, and it hurt him as much as it hurt us when you stayed away. “Your mother and I didn’t even get a chance to say bye.” He’ll look at me, “What even happened?” I’ll think back to the last few hours I spent with you, the night before we left. It’s still stuck in my head, ten something years later. We stole the sleep from the night that we so desperately needed and chose to devote what little time we had to one another. Our bodies danced effortlessly around each other, as your skin brushed against mine. My breath fell heavily on your neck, your fingers crawling through my hair. It was my hand, wrapped under your side, that pulled you closer to me.
I know “first love” is cliché, but that’s how I still describe you. I miss talking to you. I miss us. I really hope you get this, because since I picked this picture up I just haven’t stopped thinking about you. I just wish that there was more. With you and me, and our… What the hell am I even doing right now? You’re never even going to get this.
* * *
I found this picture a few weeks ago. I was looking through some old bins trying to clean out the basement with Kate, and the twins were on the ground looking at mommy’s wedding dress. Charlie asked us what a wedding is, and Elizabeth asked Kate if we could get married again, so she could see. I went to grab a photo book out of the bin next to me and sitting right underneath was this picture. It must’ve fallen out after the move.
We haven’t talked since that last summer, but I’d love to catch up soon. The guys would have a blast if we all went out one night, and oh man, you’d have so much fun with Kate. She’s been dying to meet you. Let me know when you’re in town.
Old World - Mac Woolley
Kush wedges his skateboard into the crack between the blocks of the wall. Peter and I look up at him and burst out laughing. Then, without hesitation, he jumps right onto his board to free one of the blocks. Now that we had the block for our ramp, Peter suggests that we buy some concrete. We didn’t really know why, but we all wanted an excuse to use concrete. We hop on our boards and ride down the street to Ayd Hardware.
The lady at the desk squints at us through her flower patterned glasses as we shuffle down the aisles looking for a concrete mix.
Now the problem is transporting a block the size of our upper bodies all the way to the Stoneleigh tennis courts which are at least two miles away. The best way would be to put it on one of our boards. Peter instantly volunteers saying that his board is already screwed up. I help him plop the block onto his green grip taped board.
For the first few yards, Peter rides his board with the block on top. It wiggles and wobbles all over the place, and we all laugh. I take some pictures of him, and then he gets off the board to push it with his hands. The fun quickly fades and he starts to sweat and groan in the summer heat. After a few blocks, I start to push the board and rapidly join in on the sweating and groaning.
When we get to Stoneleigh, we realize we forgot about the super steep, crusty, and narrow path down to the courts. Kush and I both look at Peter, and he says he is just going to push his board down the path and hope for the best. I don’t have any other ideas, and I want to see what will happen, so I agree.
It gets off to a nice start. I grimace as the block bounces off and tumbles to the bottom. We run down to see the damage. It is still useable.
We find a spot that we think will be the most respectful to the tennis players. Then I realize our fatal mistake. We need water, a bucket to mix the concrete, and something to smooth the concrete with. Kush says that our friend Ryan was trying to hang out earlier that day, so we call him up.
Ryan rolls up to the courts with everything we needed. Peter dumps the mix into the bucket and stirs it together with a stick.
We start off by propping the block up at an angle with some sticks and rocks. We just use the concrete to fill in the gaps. At first, we take turns using a spatula to slap the concrete into place, but after a few scoops we end up just using our hands. In the end, it looks like an abstract art project made by a couple of uninspired middle schoolers.
Kush pulls out a quarter and sticks it into the concrete on the back of the ramp. He tells us that we should all put a token of ours to let people know that we built it. I reach into my bag and find a smooth rock. Peter pulls out what look like barbie legs. Kush and I burst out laughing, and Peter sticks the legs right in-between the quarter and rock. Ryan is off skating around in the back, and our punk-ass selves didn’t think he deserved to have a token put in our ramp.
I wake up late the next day and call Peter. The first thing I hear on the phone is, “DUUUUDE.” Kush and he got to the courts early and saw a guy riding a bulldozer. The ramp was destroyed and our mementoes were scattered.
Kush sends me a close up picture of the barbie legs in the wreckage.
Helmet - Braeden Rowley
I woke up from darkness to my Mom asking me if I were okay. I was disoriented and didn’t know where I was. After a few seconds, I realized that I was lying on the rough concrete of my driveway. Groans were the only thing that came out of my mouth. I eventually got up and hobbled over to my garage and sat down. My Mom was saying something to me, but her voice was muffled by my own thoughts as I tried to figure out what had just happened. I was interrupted by my father cursing at me. When I tried to look at him I saw only a grey blur. I started to panic. I couldn’t see. I tried to tell my parents, but they didn’t believe me. I couldn’t tell if they were mad at me or concerned for me. They helped me walk into the house and sat me down on a chair in my kitchen. I regained my vision and tried to gather my thoughts.
I tried to mutter, “I’m fine.” However, I couldn’t. In my mind the words were clear. But when I tried to speak, the words were slurred. At this point my parents knew something was wrong. They called an ambulance while I was falling asleep on my table. They insisted that I not fall asleep, trying to scare me by saying I would die if I fell asleep. It still didn’t work. After I woke up from my seemingly drunken sleep, I was helped onto and ambulance headed for Johns Hopkins hospital. I don’t remember much of that ride. The paramedics tried their best to keep me awake, but I faded in and out throughout the ride. I just kept staring at the light bulb on the ceiling of the ambulance.
I arrived at the hospital and the doctors informed me that I had suffered a severe concussion. That would explain my blurred vision, slurred words, and eventually my vomiting. After I was discharged from the hospital, my Mom and I had to wait for my Dad to pick us up on the sidewalk under an orange buzzing street light. During this wait I remember this woman ask my mother if she had a cigarette. She replied, “No,” and then proceeded to give this woman a lecture on why cigarettes are bad for you. I don’t think the woman really cared about anything she said.
Subway - Pujan Baral
“Ma’am, out of bread already?”
“Yes, a few frozen in the fridge. They’re ready.”
I yank the door
Open the cold box,
Ten rolls pant.
Two hands on the tray,
towards the metal door,
and step towards the exit
a grip tight,
but my two arms winged.
I ding the edge of the door —
Then, a swear
numbness in my ulna.
Smile on her
face, a stinging so humerus.
Sitting on a hill, overlooking a lake on the first day of spring - Clayton Canal
for the most part, disappointment
the sun has not come
up; the early, faint blue
turns to grey
chilly, but not cold; no wind blows about
the grass is not always green
yellow like straw
and hard, which brings a disquieting
crunch underneath feet
the trees barren
nothing punctuates the surface
of the lake
no shining glint lights up
an overturned rowboat
surrenders to tall grasses;
chipped paint, an indiscernible boat number
is the start
of a new beginning
The Waters of Lake Vivian - Collin Branam
In the dense forests of the Appalachians, the shade of the trees did little to protect from the sweltering summer air, still thick with the wet of yesterday’s rain. Allen Cobb, a young boy of ten, stumbled along after his older brother Lucas and their neighbor Arthur Somers. The three of them had met in the early morning—just before dawn—to set out on their adventure. What exactly they were looking for, the boys didn’t know.
It was nearing mid-afternoon when the trio came upon the lake. In all their years traipsing through these woods, none of them had ever happened across any sizeable body of water. A small stream or two, maybe, or some shallow puddles left by a particularly intense rainstorm. But this was something they’d never seen before, or even heard of. That excited them.
Arthur ran ahead, whooping with unrestrained delight as he rushed down to the lake, whereupon he stripped down to his underwear and began wading out into the water. Lucas and Allen weren’t far behind, and upon their arrival they quickly followed Arthur’s lead into the refreshing clear water. The cool waves lapping gently against their skin was more than enough to make them forget about the heat of the day, and the mystery of their discovery.
The three of them were lying on the shore, recovering from their long swim, when Arthur sat up to stare out at the lake. The smooth water rippled from the movements underneath the surface. Arthur got up and walked back to the forest’s edge. He searched along the ground for a minute or so until he found a well-sized tree branch. With it in hand, he made his way back to the water’s edge. Allen watched him lazily as he stood on the shore looking over the limb. Then, with all the strength he could muster, Arthur heaved the branch far out into the lake. It sank.
The sun was beginning to set as Lucas began getting back into his discarded clothes. He stretched and yawned, eager to head home, and looked over at his brother. Allen had fallen asleep quite some time ago, so Lucas picked him up and shifted him around onto his back. He called out to Arthur, who was still sitting by the shore of the lake. Arthur look back at Lucas with a start, as if he’d been broken out of a trance, but nevertheless got up and pulled on his clothes.
The three of them left the lake in silence, but it was unspoken between Arthur and Lucas that they would return. As the boys made their way back through the woods, they enjoyed the nighttime sounds of owls, frogs, and foxes. Back at the lake, where Allen’s clothes had been left for reclaiming on a later date and Arthur had spent hours gazing into the swirling crystalline waters, a tree branch breached the surface and drifted back to shore.
Diet Pepsi/Suicide - Mac Woolley
Suicide drop – the biggest hill in all of Glenderbrook. It was a straight three block shot that was coated with cars on either side of the road. The pavement was faded. It had bumps, potholes, and pebbles littered everywhere. There was even a dead bird that the Everly twins rubber cemented there.
Gil slowly pushed up to the hill in his fading white Converse that were a size too small. He was with his two friends, Rowan and Ethan, who he recently started riding around with on plastic planks. Ethan looked lanky as ever with tight pants glazed over his long legs. And Rowan had on his greasy “Blank Generation” shirt that he couldn’t be seen without.
Gil took a swig from his Diet Pepsi as he looked down the cliff of a street. His body swayed and his legs began to sweat. He looked over at his friends and their eyes were big. They looked like eager dogs waiting to be let out. Gil looked like a baby bird about to be pushed out of his nest.
Gil thought that riding down this hill was a rite of passage for all the kids of Glenderbrook; it was only a matter of time before he did it. But he couldn’t help himself from feeling uneasy.
“This looks a lot bigger from up here,” said Gil.
“Come on dude, people bomb this hill all the time,” said Rowan.
“My Mom said that my family has a bad history with this hill,” said Gil, bringing the Diet Pepsi to his mouth.
“Everyone’s Mom says that,” said Ethan.
Gil thought about all the stories he heard about Suicide Drop. Specifically the story of Bobby Buzz. When Gil was a little kid, Bobby had a horrific crash riding down. He bit off more than he could chew and an ambulance had to come because his stomach was all messed up, but people said he never learned his lesson for screwing around with Suicide Drop. Locals says that Bobby Buzz was never the same. He moved into the decaying house at the end of Forthmore after he dropped out of school, and no one really saw him again.
The boys spotted a neighbor walking her dog down the street. Gil recognized her immediately. It was one of the women his Mom played tennis with on Sundays.
Gil turned around to hide his face and said, “Shoot! I know that person. She might tell my parents what I’m doing.”
Gil drained his Diet Pepsi, but kept it in his hand. The other two laughed and Rowan said, “Gil, she went the other way.”
Gil stayed turned around and tightly gripped his finished drink.
Ethan walked over to Gil and said, “Look. We’re going into high school next year, and pretty much everyone rides this hill. I know my brother and his friends did when they were in high school.”
He took Gil’s Diet Pepsi, crushed it with his foot, and threw it like a saucer down the hill. It skipped a good twenty feet. Then it slid under a car and dropped into a storm drain. Gone. Like it never existed. Ethan raised his eyebrows at Gil, and they walked back over to the crest of the hill.
“Alright guys. Try not to throw up. Hahaha,” Rowan laughed. He dropped his board on the ground.
Gil and Ethan dropped their boards, too. They had a few yards before the hill went into its steep decline. Gil stepped on his plank, knowing he was completely unprepared for the road ahead, but didn’t care enough to stop. As Gil started to roll forward he took a quick glance back, and thought for a second that he could step off right now.
A Carefully Worded Exploration of My Greatest Character Flaw - Will Lamoure
There comes a time in a man’s life in which he must make a hard decision. A tough call that could mean the difference between life and death. And sometimes he makes the wrong decision. But never fear! The man is given another chance! And he still screws the pooch.
Now imagine that the man is given just about every opportunity to fix the error of his ways, and still he does not seize it. One might think that man is a moron, a buffoon, a bastard-man or a fiend, and one would be right about that.
As I sit here, on the floor of my bedroom, at twelve thirty four in the morning the day that my creative research paper is due, stark naked and with a pounding headache, I must ask myself a dangerous, terrifying question, a question that will force me to stare into the abyss of my own being: why on God’s Green Earth do I always, always, without fail, wait until the last possible damn second to do my assignments? If you’ll follow me into the void, dear reader, perhaps we can find out together.
The first and most obvious answer that comes to mind is that I have been terribly terribly busy, and I simply had no time to begin this essay! This would indeed be a falsehood. According to a message sent by Robert Schlichtig on the fifth on April, 2019, there was to be no homework assigned over the weekend for the senior class (and I’m pretty sure everyone else as well). My most valid excuse will now exit the building. I did next to nothing this past weekend, and multiple times, the thought crossed my mind that I should definitely begin that creative research essay, because it’ll take a lot of time and effort, and one must not wait until the last minute with these sort of things, especially not a college-bound boy like myself. And yet still, as I lay in my bed playing Minecraft that day and every day since, I told myself that I had time later, and I could still get the job done.
If you don’t know what Minecraft is, it’s described by the official website as “...a game about placing blocks and going on adventures” (Mojang 2019). You play as a little guy digging around, trying to find materials to make houses and tools and stuff, and making a life for himself in the cold forbidding world. If you want to build a house or something in Minecraft, it takes time, dedication, and a willingness to spend hours chopping down imaginary trees and breaking imaginary rocks to build a sanctuary for your imaginary little man.
I can do it for hours. There’s nothing particularly interesting about it.
In fact, it’s quite tedious and irritating at times, and yet I spent probably about 24 hours in the past week building and rebuilding homes. One tenth of that time could have been enough to get this paper done. According to an article by Lifewire.com, this isn’t super uncommon. A lot of people play the game simply because it’s relaxing. As author Michael Fulton puts it, “one of the major positives of playing Minecraft to relieve your stress is the lack of a goal to achieve. While many players create goals for themselves, there is no specific set challenge for a player to accomplish within the game” (Lifewire.com). There’s no pressure in Minecraft. Just the sheer emptiness of the world and the infinite possibilities that that provides. Essays and papers and math problems directly benefit me by my doing them, and yet I want nothing more than to put them off, because they represent the fact that there are preordained things in this world that I simply must do. If I can distract myself by playing a fun little game, then damn it, that’s how I’ll spend my time.
Well, see now that I’ve started writing, it’s going a lot faster. I think once I get the ball rolling on something, it takes less of an effort to do. If I know that it’s easier once I start, then the greatest barrier to getting something done is actually beginning it. The motivation to do anything I’m told to do is so miniscule that I wait until the responsibility bears down upon me like the 12 Plagues of Egypt. In a Calvin and Hobbes strip published on May 24th, 1992, Calvin stresses to Hobbes that one must be in the right mood for creativity, that mood being “last minute panic” (Watterson 1992). I love Calvin’s philosophy of letting fear of failure build up slowly until it’s too much to bear as a means of self-motivation. However, it’s just not conducive to the healthy, robust education that I so desperately crave! In a 2019 creative research paper, author, poet, and all-around hunk Will LaMoure stated that “one must not wait until the last minute with these sort of things, especially not a college bound boy like myself” (LaMoure 2019). What LaMoure means by this is that behavior like this is just too immature and decidedly stupid for a dashing, intelligent, and very likeable young man like himself.
In the end the only conclusion I can make is that I’m like this because I make myself like this. I’m resentful of the crushing responsibility laid upon me by my elders, and I attempt to distract myself from that weight by filling my time with easy, if not superfluous content. The only true motivation I can find to do any large assignments is the notion of impending doom. Is it masochistic? Is it pure laziness? Am I just a total moron? Had God cursed me for my hubris? Perhaps all of these things are the case, but more likely than not, it’s just habitual. Old habits die hard, and if I get to college and I’m still doing this nonsense, I’m royally screwed. If I’m to succeed, to truly grow as a person, I’ll have to accept the fact that maybe, just maybe, getting a head start isn’t such a bad idea. I won’t have to stay up until, what is it now, uh, one twenty eight in the morning, and I won’t be filled with a burning self-hatred whenever I finish an assignment. I have no one to blame but myself. What else is new?
Futon, Michael. “How Minecraft Can Be a Tool to Relieve Stress.” Lifewire, 20 Mar. 2019, www.lifewire.com/relaxation-factor-of-minecraft-3998314. Accessed 12 Apr. 2019.
LaMoure, William. “A Carefully Worded Exploration of My Greatest Character Flaw.” Will’s Paper. Originally published in Creative Writing Class, vol. 1, no. 1, 12 Apr. 2019
Schlichtig, Robert. “Mighty mighty Dons Seniors…” ONCampus Messaging, 4 Apr. 2019, loyolablakefield.myschoolapp.com/app/student#message /conversation/693630. Accessed 12 Apr. 2019.
Watterson, Bill. “Calvin and Hobbes.” The Washington Post [Washington, D.C.], 24 May 2019. Comic strip.
Playground at the End of Their World - Graham Lindner
A picturesque metal slide
stolen from a schoolyard
stripped to its aluminum core.
A broken ladder leads to a broken tire
twisted, mangled, flattened.
A surface corroded
still glimmers in the sun.
Wind whistles across cracked black-
top and carries through broken rungs
children’s playful screams.
As if their world has not already ended.
The Craigslist Scam - Ben Breschi
“Let me see this,” Mom said, yanking open the door to the balcony of our Sea Watch condo. There was a pause as she took a few cautious steps out into the piercing wind. “This isn’t beachfront!” The words came like a sledgehammer, shattering the thin glass bubble that was my perfect day. Mom poked her head back into the dimly-lit room.
“This isn’t beachfront!” she said again, as if we didn’t hear her the first time.
For a few awkward moments, no one responded. Dad made the first move and followed her onto the balcony, while my three siblings and I remained frozen.
“Look, you can still see the ocean,” I heard Dad say in his perpetually quiet voice.
“That doesn’t matter, Carl!” Mom said in her increasingly shrill one, reserved for times like these. She stormed back into the condo. I could almost see the steam rising from her ears. “And what is this?” She waved her hand across the room.
“Teresa said this was a family room!”
No one dared to speak. She was on a roll.
“You can’t even fit our whole family on that couch!” Mom pointed to the sole piece of furniture facing the television. She looked like she was about to continue, but decided against it. With one final huff, she stomped into the bathroom and slammed the door.
Dad slowly crept back in from the balcony, as if he were scouring the room for bombs. With a quick nod, he decided the coast was clear and closed the sliding door behind him.
“Don’t worry guys; it’ll be fine,” Dad said. “Just give your mother some time.”
So we sat on the sorry couch in front of the TV and stared at the black screen. I noticed that Mom was right; the couch only seated five of us. I thought about how cheerful we were just several minutes ago and how stupid I was to believe it could’ve lasted the whole weekend, even at nine years old. I kept hope that Dad could reason with Mom, so that we could all return to being happy again, however unrealistic that sounded.
Thanks to my dad’s extraordinary negotiating abilities, we got to bring our luggage back down to the car and see the Sea Watch disappear as we drove away. Fantastic.
On a positive note, Mom gave Teresa an earful over the phone, which diffused at least some of her negative energy. My parents decided that we were going to “try out” the Quality Inn on 54th street.
Seemed like a step down to me, but I didn’t say anything.
The Quality Inn was a two-story, sand-colored slab of a building with a vacant parking lot. If the Sea Watch were a castle, it was like the maid’s shack. The room there was smaller, and the furnishings less impressive. But in the end, the room directly faced the Atlantic Ocean.
We got everything we paid for.
Cassandra - Collin Branam
She sits in front of me in language arts
in second grade. I used to pull her hair
I wish I could go back to
when touching her hair was just
“boys being boys”
Now people would just think I’m weird—
I think of reasons to talk to her in class
“I dropped my pencil”
“What’s the homework?”
I don’t listen to her response, but
I stare at her lips as they move—
She raises one hand to answer the teacher
and with the other she plays with her hair
golden waves cascade down her back
there’s a glint of silver above her ear,
a small tool keeping the hair out of her face
It takes weeks to save the money
and even longer to work up the nerve—
On a hot day near the end of spring
I walk up to her at recess.
It feels like there’s a burning hole in my pocket.
She’s watching a bird splash around in a puddle
I stand next to her and she looks at me
with eyes like endless fields of green grass
my tongue turns to lead—
I blubber something stupid about hair and paperclips
before thrusting the gift out in front of me
We both stare at it in my hands
The heat rises in my face and I mumble
“It’s for you”
I stand, waiting
She reaches up to the clip in her hair
and touches it with delicate fingers
She puts her other hand in mine
Reunion - Graham Lindner
Jim Clark tried to point out all the historic landmarks along the cracked asphalt road. Well, historic to him. But his history was still history, right? Like the soccer field across the street. He still remembered the crackling sound the brown grass made the night his high school team won the state title. And the burger joint with the faded blue paint and the black and orange HELP WANTED sign on the door where he got his first job.
Sometimes he wondered what would have happened if he stayed at that job. Rising up the ranks was not even a question. He knew the owner, a middle-aged woman with a face more plastic than skin, liked him. She would always come up behind him and place her hands on his shoulders and comment on how his dishes were the cleanest and shiniest and how his arms flowed so smoothly when he washed the dishes, etc., etc. But alas! His destiny would certainly include bigger and better things, even if they hadn’t exactly shown up yet.
Once he thought a bigger and better thing had come. Under that old pine tree on the corner he had proposed to the “love of his life” and started a “new chapter.”
Or, so he told himself. Everyone warned him against it. Think about your future, they said. Take it a little slower. You’re just a kid. But technically, he was an adult, and he was tired of the old people telling him how to live his life. He believed in love, the kind of love for which people did incredible (and yes, possibly stupid) things. So, he bought a ring pop (with the unfulfilled promise to buy a real one when they got rich), bent down on one knee, and asked Jenny to marry him. One year, one un-used couple’s massage, one baby, and one divorce trial later he knocked on Mom’s door and asked for forgiveness. The only good thing that came out of that marriage was his daughter, Claire.
He looked at her smiling face in the rearview mirror. Wow, what a girl. Future world-class violinist (the instructor had said so herself!). Loved reading and playing outside and walking in the woods and excelled at all of them. And smart, too. Beyond her years, really. Got straight A’s in school, top of her class.
She deserved so much more than he could give her. He wanted to shower her with fancy clothes and shoes and gadgets and candy and anything else a 14-year-old could desire. Unfortunately, that job seemed to have fallen to Mike, or Mick, or whatever Jenny’s new husband called himself. Every time Claire got dropped off for the weekend outside his building, it felt like she had a new little gizmo in her fake diamond studded Barbie backpack. That’s really why they sat at a stoplight as he pointed out the little bits of history in their small town. He figured that if she learned about the importance of the large, persisting moments as opposed to the momentary, fleeting pleasures, then one day when she understood the intricacies of life as he did, she could look back and enjoy her time with him.
Dad, she might say, in that little-girl voice, while they sat discussing the financial matters of his wildly successful business. I’ve been thinking about all those weekends we spent together.
Oh, have you? he would say in a questioning, yet knowing manner as he lifted his eyes from a large book of numbers.
Yes, she would say, and I’ve come to the realization that those were the happiest times in my life.
I’m glad to hear that, he would say.
In fact, she would say, I enjoyed those times much more than any times I had with Mick. Or was it Mike? Ha ha, I can’t even remember his name. That’s how insignificant his impact was on me in comparison to yours!
Then he would pick up a glass of champagne (the $100 kind) from the mahogany captain’s desk in a toast. To the lasting memories!
He wished it were that easy now. Recently, he found it harder and harder to connect with Claire. He understood why. He wanted nothing to do with his parents at that age. All he’d wanted was to go to soccer practice and hang out with his friends at the park in the center of town. And Mom, the saint she was, had recognized that. She had once told him that when you have children, every other concern in life fades away. The child becomes the only true matter of importance. Everything you do centers around them. It doesn’t matter if you’re happy, as long as they’re happy, so Mom drove him to practice and dropped him off at the park and picked him up late even when she had to work early the next morning.
Even when he grew up, she still put him first. After Jenny left him, he showed up at Mom’s door with a large suitcase and nothing else. She looked at him with those pouty, sad eyes, the same expression as when he came home from school with bruises on his arms, wrapped him up in a hug, and pulled him inside the house. They sat together on the couch in front of a blank television screen for hours. He poured his heart out to her, and she sat and listened without a word. Never interrupted, never looked disinterested, never told him how stupid he was for getting married so young to a girl he barely knew. Without Mom, he wouldn’t have made it through the divorce.
He needed her advice now more than ever. He hadn’t been the most involved father, and Claire knew it as well as he did. Even with Mom’s help, the divorce hit him hard. He found more solace in the dim light of the town’s dive bar than in any comforting words or actions. After he missed a few of Claire’s recitals due to being too drunk to get off the couch, the invitations slowed. Even when he could force himself up, one look at his bloodshot eyes and unshaven face in the mirror convinced him to sit back down. After a while, the invitations stopped altogether.
Then came the incident. A family dinner, an attempt at normality for the sake of their daughter. Screaming, broken glass, shattered plates, all sorts of insults hurled back and forth (just like old times). A little girl cowering in the corner of the dining room, terrified of the scene in front of her. A second trial, all weekend visitation rights revoked.
Mom laid into him after that. For the first time in his life, she screamed, and screamed, and screamed.
“You need to get your life together! You have a daughter, for God’s sake! Make something of yourself for once!”
And he had. The next day he dumped out the liquor stash under the couch and threw away the beer in the fridge. Well, he sold the beer to some high-school junkie loitering outside the liquor store. But still! He must stay optimistic. Focus on the future, not the past, he always told himself. Now he had a (somewhat) steady job, his own apartment, and his own car! And most importantly, he had Claire back in his life.
Hence the reason for the car ride. He had fixed it up so perfect! Dinner at Giorgio’s, the fanciest Italian restaurant in town. (Ever since an Italian class in middle school, Claire loved all things Italy.) To top off the whole shebang, a big slice of cake for dessert (forbidden in Jenny’s household; Mike/Mick was some kind of health nut).
Oh, he could just hear the laughs and screams of joy they would share. Tears, maybe? Was this something little girls would cry over? He supposed not, but was it possible she would be so overcome by emotion at reuniting with her birth father that tears may flow? He liked to think so.
Claire, bless her heart, looked as bored as a little kid in Church in the backseat. He made sure she left all her gadgets and gizmos at home. He wanted her all to himself, at least for tonight. Deprived of all distraction, she sat there literally twiddling her thumbs.
The old station wagon grumbled into the restaurant’s parking lot. Jim saw Claire’s head perk up in the rearview mirror. Her face scrunched into that look Jenny used to make when something confused her.
What was this? she was probably thinking. Could this man, who’d been absent from her life for so long, be taking her to her favorite restaurant? They must just have stopped to get directions or something. But no! Here they go, out of the car, through the glass double-doors, up to the fancy man in a suit behind the wooden host stand.
A stone-faced waiter wearing a black tie seated them underneath a gleaming chandelier. He placed crystal glasses of water and steaming loaves of bread on the pristine white tablecloth. Then the menus, with swirling black letters and Italian words he couldn’t understand. Finally, heaps of pasta doused in red sauce and meatballs the size of a fist.
And the cake. Oh, heavens the cake. A swirling mound of white frosting speckled with little pieces of strawberries on the outside; perfect yellow fluffy cake on the inside. Greek poets could have written tragedies about the wars fought over the beauty of this cake. Zeus himself would have descended from Olympus to woo this cake.
The waiter placed a slice down in front of Claire. Jim stared at her from across the table expectantly as she daintily picked up the fork and–
Hold on. She wasn’t eagerly shoving unnecessarily large pieces of cake into her gullet. Nor asking for a second fork so she can eat faster. She didn’t even take a single bite. She just poked at it with her fork like a little kid poking a dead animal in the woods with a stick. Unbelievable. The most beautiful, delicious cake he’d ever laid eyes on and she just…
“Claire, don’t you like the cake?” he asked.
“I’m just so stuffed. I don’t think I can eat anything else,” she said.
Stuffed? What did that even mean? Could a kid her age even be stuffed? He thought kids just ate and ate and ate every time someone put food in front of their faces. Wasn’t there that article he’d read in some magazine at the doctor’s office about how teenagers’ stomachs could expand more than adults’ stomachs? Or was that for cats?
Cats or teenage daughters aside, how could she not eat the cake? Didn’t she realize how hard he’d worked to get to this point in this overly fancy restaurant with stupid fancy tablecloths and stupid fancy waiters and stupid fancy chandeliers? Or had living with Jenny and that rich fool Mike/Mick made her into one of those snobby little girls who always got what they want and never appreciated anything anyone ever did for them?
He would not have that. His daughter would not live as a stuck-up little prick who thought the world belonged to her and complained when people forgot to hold open the door for them because oh how hard and how unclean it would be to just open the door yourself.
“Eat the cake,” he said in the deepest, most authoritative, most fatherly voice he could manage.
“What?” she said. “But I told you I’m not hungry.”
“I said, eat the cake.”
“But my stomach already hurts, Jim.”
Did she just call him Jim? His first name? Did she just call the man who fathered her, changed her diapers, watched her take her first steps and listened to her first words, Jim?
He slammed his fists down on the table. “Don’t you realize what I had to do to get here? The struggle, the sacrifice, everything I gave up just to sit across from my stupid, ungrateful daughter who calls me by my goddamn first name!” He paused to catch his breath. “Get up, we’re leaving,” He threw the cash he’d withdrawn specifically for this dinner on the table, grabbed Claire by the arm, and stormed out to the car.
The car screeched to a stop outside Jenny’s new, three story, four-bedroom, three-bath house. Mike/Mick’s BMW sat in the driveway gleaming under the garage light.
Why do good things always come to bad people? People who tear apart fathers and daughters and turn innocent little girls into stuck-up –
A glint of light in the rearview mirror caught his eye. Then he heard a sniffle from the backseat. He turned around and saw tears running down Claire’s cheeks.
Something inside him broke.
He’d messed up. What the hell had he done, calling his 14-year-old daughter stupid and ungrateful? Getting angry with her for calling him by his first name when he’d been gone for how many years now?
He was stupid. The stupidest person on the planet. Dad always told him that one. Told him he’d never amount to nothin’ because he was lazy and worthless and didn’t put any effort into anything. And Dad always seemed to turn out to be right in the end.
No. He could not leave it this way. He would not let the one good thing left in his life, the only reason he still had left for living, slip away again. As Claire reached for the car’s door handle, he hit the lock button.
But no words would come out.
He wanted to tell her that he was sorry. Sorry for the missed recitals and birthday parties and holiday dinners.
He wanted to tell her that he loved her, that he was back in her life forever, and that everything from now on would be better.
He wanted her to understand that every time he laid awake at night staring at the ceiling with a bottle wrapped up in his arms, all he thought of was her.
But nothing came out.
“Jim?” Claire’s glistening eyes looked up from the backseat. “Can I get out now?” The locks clicked, and she left the car.
Jim pulled the car around the corner, turned all the lights off, rested his head on the steering wheel. He cried.
The Farmer - Frankie Andrews
“From dirt you arose and unto dirt you shall return.
It is birth, life, and death.”
At least, that’s what my father said.
A poor life, connected to the soil.
From childhood, my hands have calloused from rough utensils
In an age-old duel between man and land.
To some, life is ended in the crisp, blue sky,
But I know my end lies in the warmth of the brown ground.
And though I know the dirt gave me my life,
I will return the favor with mine.
Can’t Find my Mom in the Grocery Store - Alex Breschi
From day one,
I was constantly wondering around
an endless wasteland.
It’s one of the toughest things
anyone can go through, but
I learned a lot myself.
The hardest part was
the loneliness. It
made my skin crawl.