Friday, December 27, 2019

What Happened on 12/21/19: Kristine Langley Mahler, Douglas R. Dechow, Julie Lunde, Erica Berry, Elizabeth Anderson

On 12/21/19, we invited writers and readers to write about "What Happened" that day, however they interpreted it, as an exercise in mass attention, and promised to publish as many of the resulting essays as possible. So here we go! For more details and a full list of the contributors, click the What Happened page.


I ignored the pork chop covered in the cast iron pan from last night’s dinner.

I opened all of the blinds throughout my house to welcome in the sunlight. That sounds like a metaphysical form of gratitude, but I hadn’t even pulled a card from my Moon Deck yet—I always open the blinds, going from room to room, turning off the overhead lights and bringing in the abundant sunshine. We get abundant sunshine here in Nebraska. People are always surprised when I tell them that.

Then I did go to my Moon Deck and drew out a card. It was a new one I hadn’t gotten before, and I’ve been drawing a single card from the 44-card deck each morning for the last three months. I get annoyed when I get the “I am courageous, steady, and strong” card again because I want the universe to tell me something different. I also get annoyed when I get the one about conscious eating, because invariably I have just warmed up a Pop-Tart in the toaster. But I got the Meditate card on the winter solstice, the one with the mantra “I am at home in my body and at peace in my spirit.” I was annoyed that something had awaited me in the deck but it turned out to be a boring reminder to love myself rather than some galvanizing truth.

I went downstairs and woke up my sleeping daughters, reminding my middle daughter of her impending basketball game, and we awaited the donuts my husband was obtaining for breakfast. He arrived home with ten donuts, a number that semi-annoyed me since everyone knows donuts are cheaper by the dozen, but there are five of us in my family and my husband told me he cut it at ten because he didn’t want me to get mad at how much he had spent.

My oldest daughter stayed home with me while the others went to the basketball game, and she organized my husband’s mess of papers sprawled across the floor next to his side of the bed into neat stacks with sticky notes on top. As she worked, I worded up a grandiose offer to allow her to “begin the lifelong adventure of Gone With the Wind” since her two-week holiday break had just started. I was her age, nearly twelve, when I read GWTW for the first time. I had been captivated by the elaborate social rules and the but-I’m-so-secure-I-can-defy-them rule-breaking and the extremely-attractive-in-his-restraint Rhett—three fixations which have remained for the ensuing 25 years, honestly.

My daughter answered, “No, not really.”

I was aware that I was shaping the day into a smooth-edged vessel to hold the moments that reminded me of the person I want to be. I thought about the scene from yesterday’s partial viewing of “The Nativity Story” where the three Wise Men were staring into a round basin of stars, a non-primitive planetarium, a pool reflecting the sky in a perfect, controlled circle. It was not a limitless lake or a sea stretching to the horizon with the stars a bar above. It was a window, and they watched what entered and what left. The beauty was in the excision and the focus.

My husband and I took our daughters to a birthday party at Coco Key, an indoor water park attached to the old Ramada convention center which has been outmoded by the CHI Health Center Convention Center and Arena. My thighs hurt every time I had to trek up four floors of stairs to accompany a daughter down the “Barracuda Blast,” a pitch-dark water slide, and as my tube unexpectedly dipped and sloshed, I was genuinely uneasy because I could not see what was coming.

We returned home, and because I was socially overstimulated after four hours of Being an Adult at a Child’s Birthday Party, I left to run a final Christmas errand. At Cost Plus World Market, I stood in line behind a man who was with his parents. I admired the man’s hair—bleached with scratty dark roots—but when he didn’t return my gaze, I felt scorned and I mentally dissed him. Who did he think he was, anyway, thirty-something years old and at Cost Plus World Market with his parents on a Saturday night? My ego died down and I realized I should have just complimented him instead of seeking correspondent admiration. I’d just wanted his hair for myself.

I finished the second half of “The Nativity Story” with my daughters. I was frustrated by how Mary’s only expression was a slightly constipated frown, and how she never thanked Joseph directly; I thought the actual Mary would have been much more grateful if Joseph really was as forgiving and selfless as he was in the movie.

My daughters went to their bedroom, and I walked upstairs. The kitchen counter was clear, no dishes, which meant my husband must have washed them all and put them away. He never mentioned the pork chop, but as I climbed into bed beside him, neither did I.

Kristine Langley Mahler is a memoirist experimenting with the truth on the suburban prairie outside Omaha, Nebraska. Her work received the Rafael Torch Award from Crab Orchard Review, was named Notable in Best American Essays 2019, and has been recently published in Ninth Letter, The Normal School, Waxwing, and The Rumpus, among others. She is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief at Split/Lip Press. Find more about her projects at or @suburbanprairie.


My day started a little before 7am. I’m not an early riser by nature, and I know that my parents and siblings would tease me if I told them I thought this was early. I’ve gotten up by 7am every day for the last eighteen months as one of my new life rituals, my morning pill. 
It’s a miracle drug for me. 

I crawled back into bed next to my wife, Anna, for an hour. It takes the drug an hour to pass through my liver, the body’s biochemical factory. I can’t eat for two hours beforehand and for an hour afterwards, so I lay there.

A sleepless hour later, I made my way to my sister-in-law’s cold kitchen. Brigid lives in her and my wife’s childhood home, a large, red-brick building that was a country schoolhouse for sixty years. Not much has changed from my first visit three decades ago. There are a few more houses down the road, but it’s still rural Illinois farm country, like my own childhood home. 

I ate warm oatmeal and drank hot tea, wispy tendrils of steam fighting with the kitchen’s chill air. I’m more than two-thousand miles away from where I live in Southern California and still more than one-hundred miles away from today’s destination, Abingdon, Illinois, where I grew up. Home home. Birthplace home. I’m looking for the right signifier for my part of the western edge of Illinois, where I spent the first eighteen years of my life. This is as close as I can get. Rare is the day in California when I can see my own breath, but here, it’s taken for granted, even inside, even with a fireplace. 

At fifty-three years old, I am diminished in the cold. I relished the Illinois Decembers of my childhood, facing them resolutely, embracing the short hours of sunlight, the haloed fog from my breath in evening starlight. Now, I shiver without end. Yesterday, Anna, hair wet from her shower mused, How did I survive this growing-up?

My wife and I waved goodbye to her sister, setting out on the next leg of our Christmas sojourn. It’s my first trip home since the last time I almost died. My neurosurgeon called the pain in my head a thunderclap headache. Though I love words, my tongue falters every time I repeat the diagnosis to family, friends, the endless parade of healthcare workers I’ve dealt with recently: Benign Perimesencephalic Subarachnoid Hemorrhage, the recent and unexplained bleed on my brain.

Route 29—a two-lane state highway—was our first stretch of road. The mid-day sun was bright. One long, gruelly, dreary Cirrus cloud hangs in an otherwise sparkling blue sky. The first farm we passed had a herd—nearly one hundred strong—of black Angus cows. I don’t remember ever seeing cows at this particular spot before, but of course, that’s what open spaces in downstate Illinois are meant for, herds and crops. 

The car warmed quickly, and I removed my gloves. They’re Anna’s father’s gloves. Easily forty years old at this point and possibly fifty, the black leather is still supple to the touch. I never met her father. Cancer took him when she was a college junior. No longer hidden for warmth, the ring on my right hand shimmers in the wintery sun. It belonged to her grandfather. I only met him once, but I’ve spent several years writing a book loosely based on his life. Her father and grandfather were both good men and the association benefits me. 

The glove and the ring remind me of how intertwined our families have become, a growing together that neither of us imagined at the beginning. My youngest sister has just returned from Chicago after spending two days with Anna’s aunt. The condo belonged to Anna’s mother, too, and my sister cared for Mary Lee in that condo when cancer came for her. My mother and Anna’s sister have traveled to Greece together, and before that, my mother and Anna’s aunt went to Iceland. We’ve all met in Las Vegas for Thanksgiving for the last ten years. 

Near Pekin, we passed a former distillery that advertises it makes “green” biofuels, ethanol. Anna said, The air isn’t as sweet as it used to be. 

If it’s the holidays, Anna binges on seasonal music, but when the all-Christmas, all-the-time station from Springfield turned to static near Peoria, we both knew what that meant: Classic Rock. 

For decades, on our drives from Chicago or Springfield, approaching Galesburg has meant returning to a steady diet of music from our high school days. In particular, 97X has been a constant. In high school, my locker number was 97, so I keyed an “X” next to the numbers. Boston, Tom Petty, Billy Squier, and AC/DC all made appearances, and Anna told me that AC/DC’s “Back in Black” was one of the first tapes that she purchased. Thirty years together, and I’m still learning. How much Van Halen do you have on your phone? Anna asked me. None. Seventeen-year-old me was embarrassed for adult me. 

We were both waiting for a song, any song by Bob Seger. Neither one of us is really a Seger fan, no concert ticket stubs or t-shirts in our unpacked boxes, but over the years, he’s become the one artist who’s a sure tell that we’re home again.

We didn’t need a reminder that this is the shortest day of the year. As we pulled into Galesburg at 4pm, the sun, low and western, hit us squarely in the eyes. The hotel’s shadow stretched out over the parking lot as we waited in the short registration line with other expats home for the holidays. By the time we settled in our room and I phoned my parents, it was dark out.

My father dropped the day’s first unexpected twist on me when he said that we were going to PZ’s for dinner. It’s a restaurant in the former Mac’s Place. It was a working-class bar back in the day, and I used to have to open at 8am on Saturdays to let in the railroaders already gathered in the parking lot. If I unlocked the door at 7:59, I received glares from guys who wanted their first beer and shot at 8am sharp, not 8:01. I couldn’t imagine why it was the choice for dinner so I searched the Google reviews and found them uniformly positive, with many from out of state. It didn’t jibe with my memories at all.  

As we got into the car for the drive to Mac’s (I’ll never be able to think of it as PZ’s), Seger’s “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” was just starting. No shit, I’m definitely older, and bolder me is in the rearview mirror. It’s the kind of serendipity that I live for, so I tell Anna that I’m going to end my essay at this point. That’s cheating. It’s only 7 o’clock, she said As ever, she’s correct.

In the metamorphosis from Mac’s to PZ’s, nothing really changed, but it’s all very different. There are more dining tables, and the tables for billiards and shuffleboard have been removed. It’s much brighter, but it’s the same bar and bar-back and poker machines. After chatting with people I haven’t seen in years, we were seated where the jukebox used to be. At least I didn’t have to listen to Clarence Carter’s “Stroking” five times.

The food—catfish, chicken, and prime rib—were delicious. The only disappointment was Anna’s, when her walleye came deep fried instead of grilled, but it’s still very good. A dear friend I made thirty years ago while tending bar at another Galesburg haunt is waiting tables tonight. Carolyn said that I hadn’t aged a bit, so I told her about my stroke, and she looked at me in amazement. Wow.

After the table was cleared, I told my parents, one of my brothers, and both my sisters that it had just hit me that thirty years ago tonight I would have been working the Mac’s Place Christmas Party. I looked over at the bar, wondering if the envelope of cash that I used to pay out on the poker machines was still part of the setup. I hoped to see a version of me, one with a cigarette in hand and a holiday party beer on the rail. Of course, he wasn’t there.

Douglas R. Dechow is the co-author of Generation Space: A Love Story and The Craft of Librarian Instruction and the co-editor of Intertwingled: The Life and Influence of Ted Nelson. His writing has appeared at The Atlantic, Scientific American, The Post Game, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Curator, and others. See more at




Coming into today, many experts thought it would be airplane seat 16G, a window, but the window lacked the usual sliding cover and only had a button to darken the glass. Still, a fleece against the window pane worked well as a pillow, though it soon became a lap pillow when the judge hinged at the waist like a laptop about to enter sleep mode, thus leading to actual sleep, which activity raised the question of whether an airplane seat on a long flight can really be called just a seat after all. By comparison, the padded booth at the McDonald’s in the Rome airport looked superbly comfortable, but the cushion was ultimately a let down, and immediately yielded to a hard bottom when the judge tried to sink in. As the family waited in this booth for Dad to return with McLattes, the judge began to cry and Mom put an arm around her shoulder.  When Dad returned they talked about breakfast foods while the judge wept openly and a fashionable Italian woman stared. The booth was inevitably disqualified, as a booth has multiple seating options and is not made for just one individual sitter in the way that most chairs are. The same was true for Terminal 1, Gate B1, the row of chairs behind the transit desk. These seemed at first to be classic chairs, arm rests, backs, seat cushions, regular height off the ground, but between the five chairs in this row there were only two legs, leading the judge to call it a bench in disguise. And so, the underdog by a long shot: the regular cafeteria chair in the airport food court, standard size, no chair arms, no give in the back. It had no outstanding features which is what made the judge like it best. In such a highly competitive category as “Chairs”, the winner is usually something glitzy, fancy, different; but due to the emotional climate on December 21st 2019, the favored contender was simply the one with the least surprises or obstacles to comfort. 


The judge’s hair was the blondest it had ever been and this was because she had newly dyed it yesterday. But Target didn’t have the right bleach the absolute fuck out of your hair color she usually deployed, so instead the judge had just bought the lightest shade in stock, Loreal’s Light Blonde 01 for people covering up their greys. But perhaps because the judge doesn’t have grey hairs yet it didn’t work quite as predicted, which she realized when looking in the mirror of the airport bathroom where she was first brushing her teeth and then blowing her nose. This was after the first flight from New York to Rome, but before the second flight from Rome to Sicily. When she asked her father about the color, he peered at her roots under the fluorescent airport lights and said, you dyed it green? To which her mom said no, I think she was trying to make it look blue, right honey? The record was finally set straight when Jessie, the sister, arrived, and sanity prevailed. Your hair looks grey today, she said, and so it was decided.*


The judge was hesitant to assess this category because she had recently done a very unsuccessful product review write-up, an “Oprah’s favorites but for regular sad people” email that she had composed and sent to her family the week prior. No one, not a single recipient, had responded or even acknowledged this thoughtful missive, which included total gems like Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights and the grocery store’s green scallions, #7 on the list, touted for “a fancier taste/feeling than regular onions but still pretty cheap.” Critics speculated that this category might be omitted, and it was in the face of these low expectations that the judge soldiered on. She considered a list of products that had either been bought on or significantly contributed to the day, among them: diet Coke from airport kiosk, outlet converter plug from different airport kiosk, the judge’s perfectly-sized carry-on suitcase, a laptop for writing notes, a fleece that could be used as a plane-wall pillow, a toothbrush, a set of new contacts, cheap headphones, a black turtleneck, leggings, two hair ties, and a pair of Nike sneakers. Ultimately she chose the winner based on its usefulness to the day at hand, the extent of the change it had made in the day’s proceedings—which led her to select prescription Klonopin, a small dose that helped her to release some of the morning’s anxious panic and sleep very easily once she boarded the plane.


The winning idea had been given to her yesterday but was proving to have value and additional insights today as well. Her friend Rachel, a social psychologist, had taught her about prototype theory and classical categorization methods, aka the ways we create boundaries around certain definitions.  What counts as a chair, a color, a product? One theory said that we consider the typical attributes of a category and then assess the attributes of a given object to determine if it belongs to the category. A prototype, then, was an object with every attribute, or the object someone might use to teach another person about the category; a sweater was a more teachable piece of clothing than a space suit, for instance. But, Rachel specified, those teachability assessments varied depending on age; a child would say the most prototypical Cheetah is the fastest one, while an adult would say the most prototypical Cheetah is the one that runs at an average Cheetah speed. This all seemed interesting and applicable to the end-of-year and end-of-decade lists circulating around the web, so after considering some other ideas—writing about airport greetings and goodbyes, or airplane food, or types of transit, or all the new people met in a day—the judge decided the best idea was to write about the most prototypical things of December 21st. The idea was not, as her parents suggested, to identify the best or worst of a thing, but simply to say whichever object in its category was most representative of the day, either through virtue of its complete mediocrity or else through its embodiment of an extreme. If this could be accomplished, the judge might be able to summarize a full day by describing only the cafeteria chair, the Klonopin, the sister, etc.—an idea so appealing that she pulled out a notebook and got right to work.


There was a lot of walking, a lot of logistical talking, a lot of eating, a lot of paying for last-minute purchases, a lot of waiting, a lot of standing in lines, a lot of checking times, a lot of contemplating future activities, and a lot of scrolling, Googling, and texting. The texts were mainly to friends the judge had stayed with in New York for the two days prior, December 19th and 20th, to thank them for the hospitality and kindness they’d shown her as she revisited the place where she, too, used to live. It had been great to see the friends and exciting to return to a place once called home, and yet she’d found herself immediately transported back to the thick depressive fog that had clouded her years living in that city. Now she tried hard to focus, on Italy and excitement and family time and how very lucky she was to be here, but the fear of a full relapse and the feeling of its close proximity basically short-circuited her brain so she could hardly think at all. She got on the plane and played half a crossword and listened to a meditation tape but still felt not that great so finally she went to sleep. When she woke up forty minutes later, the pain in her chest had virtually disappeared and her brain felt moderately clearer, so for the rest of the day she slept at every other possible opportunity. After the second plane landed, and after they took a taxi to the hotel and ate a quick dinner at a bistro recommended by the front desk and then trudged back to the hotel again, she finally got to fall asleep in a real bed, a hotel bed with stiff, clean linens, and just before everything blacked out she thought wow, sleep, I’m going to be totally out in one— and it was the last and best and most average and wonderful activity of December 21st, 2019.


When Jessie, middle sister, met the judge and family at the airport in Rome, the whole mood of the day lifted and a happy spirit returned to the travelers. Quickly they were smiling again and looking up Ethan Craft quotes from the infamous Lizzie McGuire movie set in Italy, and quickly after that the sisters were doubled over in identical, silent hysterics as they imagined performing the iconic Craft ‘Slow Curve’ to woo any cute Italian men they might meet. However, Jessie’s prize-winning sisterly qualities were called into question after she took a picture at an inopportune moment, a photo of the judge when she had barely awoken from a forty-minute nap on the plane. Her eyes were puffy slits and the weight of the head still resting in the palm produced a ludicrous, single-sided chipmunk cheek, and this was the photo that Jessie texted to Jennie, the eldest sister, who immediately replied thx. But Jennie could not make it on the family vacation this year, and, not being present on the day itself, was deemed ineligible for competition. The judge considered voting in favor of herself as sister of the day, but realized that she had only spent half the day as one, and half the day on her own; and, while the same was certainly true of Jessie as well, it was also true that, over the duration of this specific December 21st 2019 narrative, Jessie had been a sister for its entirety, and thus was unequivocally chosen as the sister of the day. 


Spaghetti was the obvious favorite, with outsiders forecasting an al dente slam-dunk. And with good reason; given a menu with every food in the world, the judge would choose pasta every time. Yet all bets were off when she boarded the plane to Rome and the vegetarian meal was you guessed it and of course it wasn’t any good, bland marinara with too much cheese, though the bite-sized salad that accompanied it and the tiny packet of Italian(!) dressing offered some redemption. At the airport’s food court she ordered a Zuppa di Fagioli which ended up being a basic bean stew. It was beginning to seem hopeless—and the judge considered naming nothing the winner—when they finally arrived in Sicily, and at the advice of the hotel receptionist, navigated through the cold to a small dining room where they were served plate after plate of bread, fish, cheese, and pasta. It was this final dish—basil, tomatoes, eggplant, carbs—that won the category and, quite frankly, the judge’s heart. The morning became more forgettable and the dad jokes became more tolerable after that. 


There was only one submission up for consideration, a blurry photo of Sicily at night (the sleep photo referenced in “Sister” was disqualified). A string of Christmas lights traverses the sky like a row of orderly stars who’ve come close for a visit; everything else except a bright street lamp is obscured by darkness. There’s no telling why the photographer picked this street, this moment, or this angle to preserve out of all the other streets, moments, and angles of the day, and it’s a bit of randomness to think that this image is the only one contained in the digital archive of this December 21st narrative. Of all the prototypes, this one meant the least, yet may prove to last as a reminder for the longest. It was taken at 7:55.

*After further discussion, Jessie informed the head judge that the hair did, actually, look blue under most lights; and while the color of the day had already been chosen, we are willing to offer an honorary second mention to blue as a consolation prize.

Julie Lunde lives in Tucson and is a nonfiction MFA candidate at the University of Arizona. Due to time travel (as well as travel across time zones), her December 21st only lasted for 18 hours.


It’s the first day in a week I have woken up in daylight, and the sun through the blinds is like a dog at my heel. When I am alone I am bad at sleeping in, the same way that when I am alone I am bad at eating slowly. I am too eager for the next thing. M has been visiting all week, though, and now he’s next to me, a warm blinking human. It’s our last day before we fly west, so on the one hand: laze; on the other: sunlight disappearing like ice in a glass, the shortest day of the year. Eventually we roll into our slippers.

M makes coffee while I check the mousetraps. For months, nothing, then this week—two. I am getting better at flinging their stiff little bodies into the snow. This seems like both a good thing and a bad thing. I do not want them to die but I do not want their shit on my counter. Once they picked up a tomato and dragged it halfway across the oven and when I woke up and saw it I wondered for a second what I had done. My landlord does and does not understand, just as my makeshift efforts to patch the holes with steel wool did and did not work. Etc. Today the traps are empty. I do not have to stand on the deck in my slippers, shivering and feeling bad. This is a small blessing.

For months I have been telling M about this neighborhood café that sells a tahini-smeared veggie-piled bagel. It reminds me of Portland and for the nine or so minutes I am eating it I am fully blissed out in this year of small-town life in northern Michigan. We tried to go last time M was in town but we got the hours wrong, and now it’s our last chance. A decade ago I watched a bald man on a stage tell the audience that everything good happened in the last 15 minutes of the middle-school dance, and that was just life—the best things happen when we know our time is running out. I’ve never forgotten that. Too many days go by like the first hour of the dance, trying to figure out where to put your body in relation to the other bodies, telling yourself you’ll do the thing you should do later, later, later. What this all means is that on our last day in Michigan we finally get the bagels.

I like your tote, the barista tells M. It’s from his local Portland co-op. M is good at talking and good at getting people to talk. He stands above you like a kind tree. Even though I’ve been coming for months I’ve only ever made small talk with this woman, and now we are hearing about how she’d lived in a small town in the Pacific Northwest and she is asking how long I will stay here and then a white-haired man in buffalo plaid who is sitting nearby eating his own tahini bagel starts talking about his own daughter moving to Oregon and pretty soon it feels like the whole place is talking.

These moments of communion seem to happen a lot up here, but I can never tell when one is coming until it has already cracked open in front of me. The other day in a department store a middle-aged woman with a pixie cut like a nub of charcoal sidled up to me and pulled up the back of her sweater, asking if I could read what size her bra was. I had to crouch under the tent of wool to glimpse the band, and all the while she is just talking about Christmas shopping for her daughters, as if this new stage of intimacy had just blown toward us like a change in weather, not like something we had made happen. Anyway. The café quiets down and the bagel is perfect. I watch M eat his in the sun and I feel very smug. Usually at noon I am in a classroom.

Later we go grocery shopping, we go to meet the other M at the bookstore and then for coffee, we walk past the Salvation Army bell-ringers, we go to the Post Office, I go for a run. All the skeletal bushes by the side of the bay are dripping in taffy-like ice, as if the waves just jumped up and froze, draping themselves over the sticks like a sheet over a child’s fort. I take a picture and then I take three and by this time the sun is nearly down and I’m tingling with cold, which is another way to say I’m tingling with life. I do not for a minute take my limbs for granted.

It’s dark by the time I get home so I stand and do the flamingo stretch in the yard, watching M wash dishes at the sink, watching the lights in my neighbor’s yard twitch with stubborn holiday cheer, knowing I have to pack my bag before the early-morning flight, knowing the fridge is hiding a few half-weird things we should eat before we go, knowing the next time I see sunlight it will be in another state, and the next time I see sunlight here in this yard it will be 2020 and I will be back to living in this house alone and isn’t there a noteworthy feeling at the beginning of the middle school dance too, that moment in the dark hallway right before you step into the bass and the disco-lights, when the hours are about to be very long so anything is possible and here your hands might be sweating but your body is not quite visible yet---here you can collect yourself, you can conjure yourself, you can let your whole self be just the sound of your heart in your ears in the dark.

Erica Berry is the 2019-2020 Writer-in-Residence and Teaching Fellow with the National Writers Series in Traverse City, MI. Her essays can be found in Gulf Coast, The New York Times Magazine, Colorado Review, Fourth Genre, Literary Hub, The Atlantic, Guernica, and others.


Today is the worst my anxiety has been since I started locking the gates for serotonin and norepinephrine six weeks ago. They say that it takes six weeks for antidepressants to start working, for the sunshine to prove its stability, and so far it had been going better than anticipated. I’d forgotten I would be visiting my parents in the golden window.
This anxiety is a pomegranate that I have microwaved for too long. It swells, constricting my breathing, and then begins to ricochet through my ribcage. I stared out the car window with my headphones in and no music playing. My mother is swearing, three curses per sentence, at all the passing cars. She thinks we’re going to be late to the Cirque de Soleil inspired symphonic Nutcracker performance downtown. My nineteen-year-old sister chatters placencies loudly to no one from the backseat, as if it helps. I broke out in aquagenic hives in the shower, bellybutton to elbows, this morning. I am silent. At home, before and after we are surrounded by bouncing and chattering three-year-olds, I do twenty squats every time the door is closed to give my heart a reason to be pounding.
Mom scratches her steering wheel to the tune of Last Christmas by Wham! between almost hitting pedestrians. Four hours from now, I will have done 185 squats, and the burn in my hamstrings will serve as my reminder of the shortest day of the worst year. I have become acutely aware of the feeling of floating in the front seat of the ruby minivan, and the feeling of floating when my mother talks to the woman in front of us at the theater about her three daughters. Every time Mom calls me “she” or “girl” the pomegranate spins for another minute in the microwave. Eventually, all that will be left is slush.
Tonight, I will teach my mother how to make bread in the way that I have taught myself and try my best to not melt.

Elizabeth Anderson is an MFA student at Northern Arizona University. They grew up in Portland, Oregon, but loves too many diverse biomes to consider one their primary home. They have previously been published in the Ohio Wesleyan Literary Journal and the Sturges Script. Their poetry won the Ohio Wesleyan Class of 1870 award in 2018.

Check back tomorrow to read more about What Happened on December 21, 2019. —Ander and Will

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