Sunday, July 15, 2018

July 15: Erin Rhees • Will Slattery • Ellen Sprague • Shell Stewart Cato • Laura Swan • Cassandra Kircher • Amy Probst • Ashley P. Taylor


Today we present ten more dispatches from June 21, 2018 to you. More details on the project here, but, in brief, we asked you to write about what happened on one day in June, and are publishing the results, largely unedited, through July 16th.
—The Editors



July 15: Erin Rhees • Will Slattery • Ellen Sprague • Laura Swan • Cassandra Kircher • Amy Probst • Ashley P. Taylor • Shell Stewart Cato





ERIN RHEES

On the morning of June 21, I woke just as the pale grey light of morning filled my room. I got up, washed my face, and patted it dry with a hand towel I accidentally stole from my mother’s house—it somehow found its way into my luggage. I just returned from two weeks away at my parents’ home. My three siblings and I congregated there after the expected-yet-somehow-unexpected passing of my grandma—my dad’s mom. “Passing away” is a strange euphemism, as if she’d just passed into a different room instead of a different world. Hopefully somewhere, rather than nowhere. I’ve always believed in heaven. But she knows now, whether she’s wrapped in golden light with her husband and siblings, or not. If anyone was going to heaven, it was her. I learned, after her passing, that she made a birthday cake for every member of her religious congregation. Over the years, she made hundreds of birthday cakes, took meals to neighbors who had new babies, who lost babies, or who had sick babies. She canned peaches for family, took the extras to people who seemed a little down. In her old age, she hand-fed deer in her backyard—a thought that both delighted and terrified me in equal measure.
     After I washed my face, I dressed for the day in a dark blue jumpsuit I bought online on a whim. On the model, it looked chic, effortlessly cool. On me it looked ok, a little like a toddler onesie, but it was lightweight and airy, and it was too hot for jeans.
     I sat at my computer and tap tapped on my keyboard. I highlighted and erased large blocks of text. Then quickly undid erase. Then erased again.
     After writing next to nothing for nearly an hour, I stood up and buzzed about the kitchen, threw a handful of frozen blueberries, a cup of spinach, and avocado in a blender. I sliced the tan-grey skin from a ginger nub, smelled the sweet spice as its skin fell off my knife. I dropped it in with the other ingredients, heard its satisfying little “plop” and turned it on. As it whirred, I packed my bag for my meetings at school. I was on break between semesters of my graduate program and teaching. In a week, I would begin teaching another section of freshman writing.
     The day was usual, mundane even. The afternoon was a whir of meetings, dropping off books at the library, then driving home in the dry desert heat of Northern Utah. My blue jumpsuit clung to the sweat trickling down my back. My hair wilted in the heat, little wisps of baby hairs curled around my temples. I held crumpled tissues in each hand to lessen the heat of the steering wheel. Even the backs of my knees felt hot.
     When I arrived home, I opened the freezer and stood in front of it for a few minutes, then ran an ice cube along my neck.
     I sat down at my computer again, this time willing myself to write something. Anything. I typed the words, “write something down,” then stifled a giggle.
     In the evening, my husband and I prepared dinner together. I held a round radish with my fingers, sliced it into pink rimmed moons with the other hand, little pools of purple bleeding onto the cutting board. We both used to hate radishes, until one day we didn’t.
     While my husband and I cooked, my brother sent me a text with a photo of my grandma during World War II. Her dark hair was set in glossy, shoulder length waves. Her red lips curled in a soft smile. She waited for my grandpa, who was serving in the war, for two and a half years. When he returned, they married and had five children. After 38 years of marriage, my grandpa died of a rare form of sarcoma and my grandma never remarried. She was alone for another 34 years and fumed at anyone who called her single. She always wore her wedding ring, but stopped wearing red lipstick—my grandpa’s favorite. The night she died, she kept saying how she was trying to get home. She put on red lipstick and sat in her high-backed pink chair. She passed away in her sleep shortly after.
     It sounds fantastical, too peaceful to be real, but it really happened that way.
     That night, as I laid in bed next to my husband, I looked at that photo of my grandma on my phone. My husband rolled over onto his stomach, as he always did at night, pushed his pillow up over his head, and exhaled a little vowel of relief. I turned my phone over. The room went dark without the glow of my grandma’s photograph. As I closed my eyes, I imagined her sitting in her chair, that deep red lipstick feathering into the small lines around her mouth, the folds in her face softening as she fell asleep.

—Erin Rhees





WILL SLATTERY

Summer is a hazy, liminal sort of non-space for me—it always feels like a little caesura, an ephemeral reverie, a gap in between the content of my life, whatever that may be. I’ve spent so much of my life now (as a child, as an undergraduate, as a grad student, as a high school teacher) wedded in one form or another to the rotations of the academic calendar that I struggle to think of it any other way.
     I wake up mid-morning, see that Melania has done something obnoxious, and then drive to the high school I teach at, grabbing some gas station pizza and one of those Starbucks espresso canned drinks on the way. I’ve been teaching a creative writing summer camp (the first one ever offered by the school I work at) for several days now.  It’s a small camp, just me and about 10 students, ranging from 5th grade to 10th, for 4 hours a day.
     The camp offers up more difficulties than I expected (keeping that wide an age range occupied for that long is very hard). Still, the whole thing is pretty chill: they free-write while I play instrumental covers of pop songs, we work on some illustrated erasures using a giant pile of markers I found in the teacher’s lounge + a giant pile of old lit mags I had in my apartment, and then the kids do writing exercises in which they write letters to famous people. We take a break, get snacks from the gas station next to the school, and look at yearbooks for a while.
     A student asks me who my favorite member of BTS is. I truthfully but unhelpfully offer that I don’t have one, on account of how I only dimly even know that BTS is a K-pop boy band, and I have almost no real knowledge of that genre. The students are shocked that I don’t know anything about K-pop. Everybody their age knows K-pop, they tell me. Lately, this has been the primary way I notice that I am getting old: the shift in cultural reference points.
     Camp ends at 5:00 PM, and as I’m cleaning up the room I notice for the first time this week the hunk of canvas drop cloth attached to the door. Every classroom in our school has something similar--a curtain, a piece of fabric, a section of cardboard, a bunch of construction paper, something—on the inside of the door, so that we can cover the window in case of an active shooter. This one is brightly painted, in order to look like a rainbow. I shut the lights off and head home.

—Will Slattery

Will Slattery helps curate things here at Essay Daily. He tweets on occasion: @wjaslattery.





ELLEN SPRAGUE

French Fry Fail

When your first big marital fight is about French fries, you shouldn’t be surprised that your brother-in-law, a witness, is worried that the marriage won’t last. But when that fight is two-plus decades behind you and that same brother-in-law claims he just ate the best French fries ever, you take a risk. Despite those two decades of relative tranquility, French fries continue to tempt the fates in this marriage.
     I hadn’t thought much about Shake Shack until local and social media insisted I take note that the restaurant now had a location in St. Louis’s Central West End and that I should expect to wait in line for their supposedly famous food. Now I was hearing this from family. Still, I harbored two resistances to Shake Shack: 1) the repulsive “everybody’s doing it” phenomenon and 2) long lines. I’d learned about the lines by binge-watching Bosch, where the crusty, eponymous detective puts up with the Shake Shack lines because it means spending time with his daughter. I would get to spend time with my husband, so maybe it would be worth it—for French fries.
     I have the summer off. My husband had a rare weekday off. So at 4:30 pm, a time Google metrics assured us was a slow time for business, we arrived having sharpened our appetites with a very light lunch. The first time I went to Shake Shack, there was no line. Having waited in over 20 lines in 19 hours of trans-Atlantic travel just days earlier, I was ready for this. And clearly, not everyone was doing it. I could proceed.
     Inside the shiny and high-ceilinged establishment and on the far side of the crowd controlling stanchions and dividing ropes, a trainee staffed the cash register. Black shirt. Black baseball cap. Green burger logo? Definitely green Shake Shack worker and customers. Over his shoulder I saw mounds of golden fries, ready to go.
     Since we had a little time, I told him it was my first visit to Shake Shack. His blank look told me he was unmoved. I dragged suggestions and answers out of him. Single or double? What’s the special sauce? You see, I was trying to be a good customer, not the controlling type I usually portray. I was trying to be agreeable, something that’s hard for me when I’m nervous about getting what I want. Ask my mother-in-law, and she’ll confirm that I can’t go to Panera without noticing some mistake or inconsistency (don’t get me started on the tiny baguettes they serve these days) or some process they could do better. If only I ruled the world.
     My husband was still ogling the menu on the wall, so I ordered my burger and added fries. “Fresh fries, I hope,” I said with one of those smiles I give when I know I’m telling someone how to do his job but don’t want him to know it.
     “Uh huh” or “Huh?” he might have said.
     Moments later he confirmed that the two people across the register from him had requested three orders of fries. “Uh, no, just two.”
     At our table, we were confused about why we didn’t have drinks yet at least. We spotted a manager interviewing someone in a neighboring booth. The pager buzzed.
     So my brother-in-law had promised us hot, crinkle-cut fries—“the best ever,” he said. What I conveyed to our table in exchange for the buzzer was below standard then. Okay, it wasn’t even close, and it wasn’t a surprise. Once again I’d predicted the failings a restaurant worker although I’ve never been one and have determined I’m not really suited for customer service in the food industry. And once again I would suffer for it.
     For what was not the first time in our marriage, we returned lukewarm fries and demanded hot ones—“fresh” ones, if you can call them that. We didn’t even discuss it. Well, there was some tension in determining which of us would do the returning. I was afraid I would say something mean. It’s happened that I have behaved badly when it comes to French fries—perhaps more so than my husband, if we’re being honest.
     We resigned ourselves to starting our burgers—my double with the perfect toppings. “How did you get pickles and lettuce?” my husband asked. Another casualty of the trainee, who didn’t ask my husband what he wanted on his burger after I had placed a precise order for myself. There may have been brief pouting.
     Burgers depleted, I went to check on the fries where two employees were lollygagging. Anyone not making fresh fries is a lollygagger. I was nice. Honest. We drained our drinks. We pretended we were fine. I realized that the TV my husband was watching had subtitles while mine didn’t, and it started to make sense why he was so interested in it. A good 15 minutes after we had re-ordered and seen others come through the now-forming line, our hot fries were delivered with no particular fanfare. And behold, they were very good.
     “Best ever”? I don’t know. I prefer hand-cut fries myself, with crinkle-cut and steak fries in a tie for second. And my husband and I are on track for our 24th anniversary, despite the ever-lurking danger of French fries.

Ellen Sprague

Ellen Sprague's essays and translations have appeared in Emrys Journal, The Laurel Review, and Asymptote Journal. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She writes personal essays, translates from French, is learning Slovenian, and teaches both academic writing and creative nonfiction at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois.





LAURA SWAN

I tried on 9 personalities on June 21, 2018.
     My day started too early, the sky almost light enough to read by, if it weren’t for the morning fog already making the air heavy. Still thick with sleep, my mind was straining to hold on to my dreams but the bite of mint toothpaste jumpstarted my brain. I abandon the nonsensical Cher lyrics to scan ahead to the day’s schedule and plans, the hours that are already booked and plotted.
     I slipped on my yoga pants and my Healthy self. The local class is small and I am the youngest person by 15 years, but I am probably the least fit attendee. Tree pose is tough, and I’ve learned to hone my focus here. We end with bridge poses that feel amazing on my lower back, and I feel the bliss of an empty mind for almost eight whole seconds during final relaxation.
The drive to work is quick, and so is my transformation into Sarcastic Comic. I regale my coworkers with a self-deprecating story of how I attempted to hang three pictures in my bathroom and failed hilariously in my use of a level. Leaving the room with laughter behind me, I settle into my office’s desk chair and shrug into Robot mode.
     For the next few hours, I am functioning only on logic and routine, problem solving via flow chart and following procedure. My fingers move the slides on and off my microscope and my eyes skim over millions of cells in a practiced method, finding what does not belong. My job is a never ending Where’s Waldo, having trained my eyes to see instead of look, and now Find-A-Word Searches are no longer fun. But who I am does not matter, only the cells, and we all look the same under the microscope.
     Today I am only at my desk for a few hours, I get to leave early. I start the two hour drive still mostly in machine mode, thinking of the route I will take and calculating if I have enough gas for a round trip. As I settle into cruise control, the options for my auditory entertainment are plentiful. The radio scans across the stations and I am quick to select any song I know, belting out the lyrics and cranking up the volume for my favorites. This is when I feel the most like myself, whoever she is.
Once I was out of range of my pre-set buttons, I turned on the podcast I had started earlier in the week. I was listening to old Pottercast episodes from 2005, when the Harry Potter phenomenon was in full swing. These episodes had been recorded before all the books had been published, and I enjoyed listening to the passion of the fans. I have an intense desire to slip backward in time, and for a moment I feel sixteen and giddy again.
     My destination is a coffee shop, but I arrived thirty minutes early and decided to investigate a gourmet popcorn shop in the same plaza. Dark chocolate salted caramel popcorn melted on my tongue, and I considered the trip worth it, regardless of the meeting’s outcome. I selected a seat in the empty coffee shop and then consciously decided on a personality to wear while meeting the doctor. Should I be cool and aloof? I wanted her to like me, but this was not an interview. I settled on effusive and engaging, with a hint of humble, my best ‘Charming The Mom’ self.
     Doctor R reminded me strongly of a childhood friend’s mother: bony and eccentric but constantly smiling and oozing compassion. This doctor had started a foundation aiding women in a third world country, providing women’s health and maternity services. Cervical cancer is preventable, treatable, curable, and I wanted to put my skills to use. We were on the same page, we shook hands, and agreed to email and start working on the paperwork.
     I got back into my car and drove across town, slightly tweaking the personality to be ready to be Darling Niece for my great aunt. Prepared to be helpful and patient and full of family gossip, I let myself in to my aunt’s condo. She sat in the family room, surrounded by years of photographs and pleased as punch to have me visiting. We talked all about my meeting and my china pattern, and Aunt C promised to tell her daughter that I was to have first dibs on her Ivy Corelle when she died. After discussing the health status of every relative we had in common, we went to dinner. Over fried potato skins and chicken sandwiches I told Aunt C all about my sister’s new boyfriend and listened to her stories of my grandmother as a young woman.
     With a hug and promise of staying in touch, I left her house with a lipstick print on my cheek and a can of pop for the road. I put on my Wife persona and called my husband, letting him know I was hitting the road and promising I would call him if I got sleepy while driving.
     Alone in the car and tired after the long day, I was surprised that my mind turned to the story idea that had been growing like mold in a back corner of my brain. As the sun set and I headed home, I dove into the disjointed imaginings that are the dramatic scenes, constantly shifting perspective and adjusting the plot. I enjoyed the Author self, as she is fickle and never seemed to stay long.
     Though my speed was the same as earlier in the day, the now dark surroundings obscure landmarks and make it hard to perceive my progress. It seemed sudden when I spotted the sign for my exit, and I was both relieved and faintly disappointed that the journey was over.
      My day ended too late, I knew I would be quite tired at work the next day. I went through the motions of my nightly ablutions and shed my many personalities the same way I shed my dirty clothes. I dropped heavily into bed and drifted into sleep, wondering who I would be tomorrow.

—Laura Swan





CASSANDRA KIRCHER

Woke up before alarm, before Kevin. Remembered I’ve been misspelling pika for a very long time. Showered. Made coffee in a machine that didn’t exist last time we were here. Took crowded bus to the airport. A one-hour ride. Looked out the window the whole way and practiced saying every number we passed. Wondered why I never learned any higher than 69. Funny, that number. But it’s true: the seventies, eighties, and nineties are harder.
     At the airport I rented a car. It surprised me that I knew the vocabulary since I’ve never rented one here. The driving was easy. That surprised me too. We made the 11:00 a.m. tour, and it was pretty much as I expected: the tower, the solitude, the space where Montaigne would have shelved his books. The views. The tunnel beside his bed so he could communicate with his wife sleeping on the floor below him. I hadn’t known about that. Before the tour ended, all six of us, plus the guide, were locked inside the tower by accident. I wanted to say that there were worse places to be stranded, but I didn’t know how.
     On the way back to Bordeaux, we filled up with gas at a place where four pumps weren’t working, and I avoided English. From the airport it was all a breeze. Kevin and I were able to sit together on the bus and I realized that women in France might have smaller breasts and that might be why I felt comfortable. I liked being with strangers on a bus. The kid with the cleft palette. The woman in the wheelchair who could back up fast. I could have been either of them. 
     Before returning to the apartment, we stopped at Paul’s and I did okay ordering two quiche and a baquette. When I went into Monoprix for lettuce, Kevin stayed on the street watching France beat Peru.
     It should have been a quick trip for lettuce, but it wasn’t: I was stopped by a man, my age, who, at first, I thought wanted money, but he didn’t. He kept speaking in English, so I’d understand, and I kept speaking in French, so I’d learn. He wanted me to buy soap or toothpaste for his organization to distribute to gay youth shunned by their parents. I did. I didn’t have the words, but I decided to tell him about my son.

—Cassandra Kircher

Cassandra Kircher's nonfiction has recently been nominated for Best American Essays and a Pushcart, and has appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, South Dakota Review, Cold Mountain Review, Flyway, Apalachee Review, and others.  She is the winner of Flyway's 2010 Notes in the Field contest and teaches at Elon University.  





AMY PROBST

It was a time when my garbage cans were full of stink and wiggles from missing trash day two weeks running. Today was another chance and I shot out of bed twenty facebook-surfing minutes after the alarm went off, when I heard the garbage truck on my street. The dogs staybed in bed, the cans made it to the curb. I also dragged out a 6’-round Oriental rug off the back deck railing, tragically exposing a thriving society of ants and their cup-of-rice-sized huddle of infant eggs.
     Plus, one day the previous week, I'd walked by my Jeep in the driveway, which I only use in Winter months, and saw its windows covered thick with flies, from the inside, like a horror movie, and the consequent hero's journey inside turned up the frozen raw meat patties I feed my dogs, pruchased in January and left until the present heat wave had turned it into a leaky, bloated, baby-fly-nourishing bag of raw heat meat, and that bag was in one of the two-week-old trash cans, as well.  Baby flies, by the way, are maggots, which I saw none of in the Hour of Jeep De-flying, but I did see several more little bundles of symmetrically aligned, exru, thin oval eggs, like anorexic rice grains with Dwarfism. And how tragic, really, the generations of flies in my Jeep this summer before I'd noticed the Amityville scene going on: born in a Jeep with windows rolled up in a summer swelter warranting Head Advisories—don't pump gas today, stay in the air conditioning, hydrate the elderly —only to lay eggs of their own and then die.
     Exhausted from these brushes with nature that made me a monster, I wrote my Morning Pages like a good first-week Artist's Way student, went to a new yoga class that didn't happen because I was at the wrong location, then talked on the phone for an hour and 39 minutes to a sober friend struggling to keep the bottle away.
     Again exhausted, I went to the backyard with my dogs and a book and stared at facebook until I dozed off.  Came inside, worked on a training program for a client who thinks all training materials should be done in PowerPoint, then dashed off to a Drum Corp show with my sister, mother, and newly minted high school marching band niece, Gina, after dropping her sister, Bailey, off at circus school for contortion class.
     The drive home was long.
     My dogs were happy to see me, and I them.
     No larvae were present upon my arrival.
     A decent day.

—Amy Probst

Amy Probst rescues worms from puddles.





ASHLEY P. TAYLOR

Nothing smelled that day; if it did, I don’t remember it.

My alarm went off at 7:20 but I stayed in my twin bed, the coolness of my fan and the cover of my top sheet balancing each other, for another hour and a half. When I sleep in like that I get up feeling like I’ve arrived in heaven, but if I don’t start doing something within an hour or so, I fall into a lazy, guilty depression that’s difficult to reverse. Every hour that passes, I feel further behind.
     I ignited the gas beneath the kettle, put two tablespoons of Café Bustelo into my French press, and fixed a bowl of Rice Chex. Once the water boiled, I filled the French press to just below the lip and carefully, slowly pressed the lid down on top. Success! No spillover. While the coffee steeped, I ate my cereal and streamed HBO’s Big Love on my laptop, floating each woven grain pillow in a kiddie pool of skim milk before swallowing as on screen, proverbial shoes dropped and dropped. I slurped the remaining milk and took my bowl back to the kitchen, where I fixed my coffee.
Sometime after coffee, in the lime-green section of my notebook, I made a list: schedule MRI; cut my nails; shower & shave. I was also planning to talk on the phone with a friend and go to a literary salon, called Les Bleus, in the evening.  A freelance journalist, I was between assignments but not really looking for a new one, as I would be leaving for a short vacation trip the following week.

In the same notebook entry, “Thursday, June 21, 2018,” I wrote down what had happened the day before: how I’d been in a blue mood, had started my period, had walked from my Brooklyn apartment to Prospect Park, where I’d begun reading the Philip Roth story “Defender of the Faith” from the collection Goodbye, Columbus. I think I finished the story on the 21st, which may be why it preoccupied my entry that day.
     In “Defender of the Faith,” a young Jewish soldier at a U.S. training camp tries to win sympathy and favors from his sergeant (also Jewish and just back from World War II in Europe) by making shows of piety and asking for accommodations, supposedly so that he can practice his faith. From the beginning, the sergeant dislikes this trainee and doubts he’s telling the truth, but they continue uneasily along until an elaborate falsehood—the trainee forges a letter, supposedly from his father, regarding the camp’s non-kosher food—seems to set them apart. For a while, it seems as if the trainee has learned his lesson, has learned restraint.
     Near the end of the story, the trainee, having minded his own business for some time, approaches the sergeant again and asks the sergeant to let him and his friends leave the camp for a belated Passover seder at his aunt’s house. The sergeant resists at first but, as usual, relents in the end. When the trainee gets back to camp, he approaches the sergeant at his bunk and they have the equivalent of a heart-to-heart, which the sergeant actually enjoys—he mentions having “a homey feeling.” It’s in this setting that the trainee gets the sergeant to tell him where he and his friends will be assigned as soldiers: the Pacific Theater. It’s a moment of sadness for both parties. Changing the subject, the sergeant asks after the leftovers he’d been promised from the holiday meal and the sergeant pulls out an egg roll in a paper bag. The trainee had been mistaken, he says, the invitation was for the following weekend—so he’d probably be asking special permission to leave again—the aunt wasn’t home. The sergeant realizes that there was no invitation to begin with and effectively says to hell with the trainee.
     Some days later, the sergeant sees that the trainee is the only one of his number not assigned to go to the Pacific. The trainee has gotten someone else to make an exception for him. When the sergeant realizes this, he makes one last call on the trainee’s behalf—in order to make sure that the trainee is sent to the Pacific—and claims on the phone with a higher-up, in a nice touch, that this is a favor to the trainee, who can’t stand not to fight after his brother died out there (lies of the sort the trainee might tell).
     The story bothered me because it was obvious that the sergeant liked the trainee, though the trainee drove him crazy, and that the trainee’s efforts, however manipulative, to create some kind of special connection with the sergeant had worked. The relationship, not of chumminess but of a fly and the person swatting it away, became familiar despite the sergeant’s best efforts to prevent it; the sergeant knew the boy and what he was likely to do and say. Something about that nineteen-year-old constantly piping up about Jewish traditions reminded the sergeant of himself and his past. Near the beginning of the story, for instance, as the trainee and his friends walked off to Friday services, their departing sounds reminded the sergeant of his childhood: “But now one night noise, one rumor of home and time past, and memory plunged down through all I had anesthetized and came to what I suddenly remembered was myself.” The connection between the trainee and the sergeant wasn’t just the product of the trainee’s brown-nosing; it was that the sergeant saw himself, before the war had hardened him, in the trainee, and it was to that past self that the sergeant felt so much tenderness. The satisfaction of sending the trainee potentially to his death was not total.
     I felt a certain sensitivity to the story because it reminded me of my own past, of a time I went too far in pursuing some kind of closer-than-average relationship with a higher-up—a professor—and ended up cast off, though I also had plenty of reason to believe the professor still liked me to an extent. What made me sad reading the Roth story was the way the sergeant believed the trainee had learned his lesson, forgave him—and then the trainee just blew his second chance and went on to manipulate someone else. The professor also forgave my missteps, before the final one. I felt the sergeant’s mental anguish as he tried to decide whether to believe the trainee; I saw the way the sergeant thought about the trainee even when he was being gruff or they weren’t speaking, and even after the trainee had gone and the events were just a story. It bothers me to think I might’ve caused the professor similar worries—or that she might not have been able to turn off her thoughts about me quite as easily as “casting off” implies.
     So, on the summer solstice, I was still thinking about something that happened nearly seven years ago. That’s not unusual.

According to my notebook entry on June 22nd, I did as planned on the 21st. I probably cut my nails over a piece of newsprint from the London Review of Books, then folded the paper around the clippings to throw it out. This is the best method I’ve come up with for not getting nail clippings everywhere. Cutting them on the round black dining table I share with my roommate and sweeping them into my palm seems distasteful. Your roommate’s bodily waste does not belong on the dining table (or on the kitchen counter). An alternative, cutting my fingernails on my own desk and sweeping them off, means in practice that the clippings accumulate in the crevice near the desk’s edge, something distasteful even to me. Despite my interest in the writings of Jenny Diski, who chronicled her death in the LRB, I haven’t read enough of the LRB subscription my parents gave me to justify it, so in collecting nail clippings, I’m glad to use it for something.

The morning of June 21st, I was thinking about revising a short story in order to submit it somewhere with a July 1st deadline. It’s possible that thinking about the story discouraged me from getting out of bed with the alarm. I aimed to finish the revision before my trip, but I was feeling down about it, unsure if it could be saved. What I had already written, which my writing group had faulted for its lack of propulsion and conflict, was ornately finished. One thing connected to another the way I had it. I was unwilling to rewrite the original story, which had become the middle section of the new draft; it was either frame the story to make it work or give up.
     “I was craving satisfaction,” I wrote in my notebook, “and since [the story] wasn’t satisfying, and I’d decided against the kind of marathon work session that might have made it satisfying [ie., skipping the salon], I went for my run despite the heat and sun (the running path itself is not shaded) and the knowledge that all the away around plus to and from [the park] was a lot for someone who hadn’t run at all since this winter and not a long run since—”

After the run, my thoughts turned to the literary salon and the phone date. I hadn’t spoken with this friend in a long time and, in particular, not since I’d spent nearly a month in the hospital and had had three brain surgeries, “revisions,” as they’re called, of the shunt that treats my hydrocephalus. After the hospitalization, in April, I’d spent a month at my parents’ house and farm in Kentucky. So I’d been out of commission for a while. My friend, an editor, had offered me an assignment while I was away, but I’d turned it down. After my trip, I told myself, I’d get back to it. We arranged the call to fit neatly before the literary salon, which was yet another reason to follow through and attend. So I showered and shaved, careful not to nick the pimples from the poison ivy I’d picked up in KY, put on a light blue-and-white zigzag-patterned dress, and got on the subway a few minutes early so that I’d be near the salon when my friend called, at 7, and would be on time to the 7:30 event.
     I was feeling quite put together—early, seated on a clean rock slab near a flower-filled bit of landscaping—as I waited for my friend’s call. I took a selfie and made it my Facebook profile picture. When I asked my friend how she was, she told me that she wasn’t so great, that a fairly close relative had killed themselves. I had imagined that the conversation might focus, to some extent, on me and my recent ordeal. Yet here I was, alive, recovered, about to go to a fancy-sounding event. I was glad that I had not let more time go by without checking in with my friend.
     She was talking to me from a park, she said. She mentioned something about taking off her uncomfortable work shoes. I chimed in that although I was wearing flip flops my uncomfortable shoes were in my big yellow bag and I would soon put them on. After we hung up, I crossed the street, leaned against a telephone pole, kicked off an orange Teva and tried to smoothly replace it with a cream and electric-blue sandal. The crisscrossing ankle straps made smoothness impossible—they made a circle barely larger than my ankle; they caught my toes. I describe these sandals as “good for standing around in,” and that was exactly what I planned on doing in them.

At the Les Bleus destination, a friend from my writing group followed me in the door. “I’m going to give you a hug,” he said, and did so. It was a welcome back. Then we started up the stairs, still talking, until my legs complained, I slowed down and declared, “This is exercise!” But it was worth it to get ourselves up high.
     The salon was on a rooftop deck. There was rosé and there were DIY Aperol Spritzes with strawberries floating in them and we had a view of a sunset that progressed along with the schedule of the evening. Each reader had a different backdrop in the photos I took. But the sunset wasn’t behind the readers, at least not from the side where I sat, so there were no complicated color changes; the sky just got darker blue.
     As for conversation, I found out how one Les Bleus friend had been in a bad bike accident, riding around Prospect Park. I learned the story behind the name Les Bleus. I also heard about a gala to raise money for a literary journal that had happened the night before and felt a sense of having missed out—what’s that called?—though I could have gone if I had been willing to pay for a ticket. I’d seen, on Instagram, that there was a black-and-white backdrop sort of like what you might see at a film awards ceremony; I’d seen pictures of writers I’d heard of posed in their gowns before it. I wondered, had I gone, if someone would have taken my photo there and thought about how embarrassing it would be to expect to have one’s photo taken and then learn that you weren’t known enough for that, or something, that not enough people would recognize you. Back at Les Bleus, open to everyone, I wondered: Is this the real thing, a real literary party? Because if they’re letting me in . . . The real thing is a fantasy only, a fantasy of exclusivity. Of course I’m not in it.
     One attendee talked about a trip would soon take, within the U.S.; her children, U.S. citizens, having heard about immigration officials separating kids from their parents at the border, were afraid they might be taken from their parents if they went to a new place.

At some point that evening, I started reading “Epstein,” the next story in Goodbye, Columbus after “Defender of the Faith,” and it reminded me of my short story in that it involved grown children returning to a childhood home and people sleeping in other people’s rooms, children’s rooms still theirs in name and in decoration, though the children have grown up, moved out, died. Unlike my story, I noted with envy, Roth’s had conflicts, and sex, and death, not just characters thinking of the possibilities of those things.
     My poison ivy, I noted, was still spreading.

—Ashley P. Taylor

Ashley P. Taylor is a Brooklyn-based writer of journalism, essays, and fiction. Her essays have appeared in LUMINA Online Journal, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Brooklyn Rail, Entropy Magazine, and Catapult and have been listed as notable in Best American Essays 2016 and 2017. Her short fiction has appeared in Vol. 1 Brooklyn and Joyland.





SHELL STEWART CATO

Osage Orange at Summer Solstice

Memories lie slumbering within us for months and years, quietly proliferating, until they are woken by some trifle and in some strange way blind us to life. —W. G. Sebald, Rings of Saturn

21 June 2018

A man walked up to me today. I was sitting cross-legged
under my favorite tree. I was also doing research for a story
on my favorite tree on campus. It’s my favorite tree because
it’s:

1.
Got so many names—like me—I am Shell I am
Shelly I am Mama I am Mac I am Teacher


I am Kudzu  I am Bones I am Skelly-ton
(in order of importance) I am me
It is Osage orange it is mock orange it is hedge
apple it is horse apple it is Bois d’arc (bow-
dark) in the Delta where I’m from it is
green monkey brain tree

2.
Got so many uses—like me—I can dance I can
write I can paint I can teach I can birth I can
love I cannot sing the Osage orange’s wood it
can make canes make flutes make bows
make war clubs for the Osage to hunt its fruit
can scare away roaches away spiders also if you
grind up the fruit you can dig a little trench
put the fruit in you’ll have a row of hedge apples
a hedge of hedge apples a living fence

At this point in my research, that man walked up to me asking about my new electric bike parked under my favorite Osage orange. I am holding an Osage orange leaf and a piece of Osage orange bark I ask him if he knows some bike paths around here he said yes he told me how to ride off the mountain he said he rides sometimes to his mother’s in Petersburg his wife picks him up

I ask him if he knows about Osage orange trees. he said yes he grew up sixty miles away his father planted these trees they have big thorns he said see? yes I see I said I am trying to make a story about them I said here’s a place where a branch was cut two thorns are still there sideways almost



like a cross he held up a branch said crown of thorns? that’s it I thought my story I thought he said we call it a hedge apple it makes natural hedges because of the thorns see? we cut the wood for fire it burns hot he said it’s hard he said bois d’arc means wood of the bow I know I said bois means wood in French I know I said the duh means of I know I said then I said the arc means ark like Noah’s ark I said no he said it means bow my father called our place Bois d’arc Hills Farm he said the wood is orange it turns yellow when it is old

I asked him if he ever threw the apples. he said of course I found my story I thought he said his brother ten months younger they would roll fruit down the hill oh I found my story I thought it’s like bocce ball I said yes he said but we rolled to see who could roll the farthest I said oh and you knocked the other apple out and that’s who won like bocce ball I said smiling he said if you rolled it in a ditch and it went farther it still counted I did not say oh it was not like bocce ball we rolled it to see who could roll it the farthest he said oh I said

he said once when I was nine I stepped on a fallen branch and lodged a thorn in my heel I said oh I said I bet that hurt he said yes I said I bet it hurt getting it out he said they never got it out I said I bet they tried a lot your parents with tweezers and a needle I said how sometimes you have to hurt people it’s for their own good even your own child I said but sometimes a child doesn’t remember it that way only the hurt is it still in there I guess so he said looking like he hadn’t thought of his thorn in the flesh for years

I have lead from a pencil in my palm I said my mother has lead in her arm he said I thought lead paint he said my mother has lead in her arm from a shotgun oh I thought but didn’t say it

I said oh I was supposed to meet you God does this for me this was supposed to happen I said tell me your name again you have a lot of stories you helped me so much now said he you’ll have to decide if it’s true oh I said oh I said oh I thought


—Shell Stewart Cato


Shell Stewart Cato teaches American literature and first-year writing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She writes poetry and flash, but considers this piece a new venture into genre—the photo poetry essay.





Check back for more dispatches from June 21, 2018 tomorrow. —Editors

Saturday, July 14, 2018

July 14: Verity Sayles • Margaret Foley • David L. Garcia • Joshua Unikel • Denise Wilkinson • P. A. Wright • Tracey L. Kelley • Natalie Wardlaw


Today we present ten more dispatches from June 21, 2018 to you. More details on the project here, but, in brief, we asked you to write about what happened on one day in June, and are publishing the results, largely unedited, through July 16th.
—The Editors



July 14: Verity Sayles • Margaret Foley • David L. Garcia • Joshua Unikel • Denise Wilkinson • P. A. Wright • Tracey L. Kelley • Natalie Wardlaw 




VERITY SAYLES

I like the sound of saying, “I’m from Seattle,” more than I like living here. Yes, it rains a lot. No, I haven’t gotten used to the grey.
     I wanted this city for the coffee shops. In line at Victrola Coffee, Jason and I run into, Jane another teacher from his school and we chat about how wonderful the summer is for teachers—we can sleep in, have time for coffee in the morning, put away grading and turn to the life that stacked up over the past nine months. Jane is here with her mother, and she introduces her to Jason who then turns to order, mindful of the growing line of patrons behind us. Worried Jane had forgotten my name, as we’ve only met once, I introduce myself.
     “I’m Verity, Jason’s girlfriend.” After a moment’s pause I fill the space, adding, “I’m also a teacher.”
     “Well, yes, I thought you must have more of an identity than that, right?” Jane’s mother laughs. It takes me a second to realize she is referring to my immediate identification as “a girlfriend.” Perhaps she thinks I only see myself as an accessory. Perhaps this was her opportunity to remind a young woman to see herself as more than an attachment. I had an urge to explain to her I hate the term, “girlfriend” and I don’t even know why I used it. I want to show her the feminist pin on my backpack, tell her Jason and I did the Women’s March together, and went to see Hillary Clinton. She’s unintentionally hit a nerve.
     I do feel attached (too much?) to Jason after moving to Seattle, his city, where he lived alone for years before we met. I have been dreading his leaving for the summer, dreading being left to roam aimlessly uncoupled in a city which, even after two years, feels closed off, unfamiliar. I have been acting like I’m being abandoned, looking for his sympathy, telling him, “It’s always easier to leave than to be left.” I don’t say, “I’m worried when you leave, I’ll realize you’re all I have here.”

I wanted this city despite warnings of the “Seattle Freeze”—the coldness newcomers feel, the difficulty of making friends.
     I try a new Yoga studio and the slim, blonde instructor checks me in on an iPad.
     “Verity.” She pauses, running over it. “Hm. I’ve never heard that name.”
     This is not a compliment so I avoid saying thank you and say something like, “Yes, it’s different.” She nods and tells me where I can grab a mat. This is the distant coolness of Seattle interactions. No follow up about my name, what it means, if she likes it.  As we take to our mats, the yoga instructor reminds of the Solstice today, perhaps now is time for a change. I’ve wondered about this through the winter rain—not if change is necessary, but how.

I wanted this city for the water.
     In order for the boats on Lake Union to travel out to Puget Sound, they have to pass through the Ballard Locks. A boat enters the lock, the doors close, and the boat waits while the water level drops and salt and fresh water are exchanged. We climb down the tiers of grass lining the canal banks so we can have a view of the process. The grey of the winter months has almost passed—patches of sunlight reveal every few minutes in a cloud break. I lie on our blanket and hope for full sun. It’s officially summer, shouldn’t we be getting a return on the endless rain by now?
     It seems antithetical to call the freeing release of boats to the sound, “the locks.” Perhaps, when they return from fishing trips to Alaska or boating around the San Juan Island and sail back into Lake Union—a lake bound on all sides by the city—the term “locks” is appropriate. When I moved here I imagined sailing and kayaking and long beach walks picking up driftwood and bits of kelp. I imagined smiling at the waves through the rain.
     Jason and I watch the boats from our blanket, eat cheese and bread, drink wine and nap—buzzed with our books over our chests. Steeped in moments like this, I think this place is perfect. I can be happy like this. I can be happy here. Two years ago I thought I was falling in love with a city, but really, I was falling in love with the man who introduced me to it--who pointed out buildings and told stories, who drove me from coffee shop to coffee shop, who read books for as long as I needed to write.
     Carrying the blanket, lightened cooler, and books to the car, a ragged man stops us. “What do you all have in your bags?” He asks, pointing a dirty finger at my canvas tote.
     “Blankets, picnic things, you know.” I say, almost wincing—no he probably doesn’t know.

I keep a hand on Jason’s knee as we drive to caffeinate away the sun-sleepy afternoon. In the Italian espresso shop, we sit with our books, occasionally reading a line or two aloud. A man drops two packets of gum on our table with labels saying, “I am deaf and selling this gum to support my family, please give $2 or $3 dollars.” I pocket the strawberry gum and give him $2. Most people look through him. A self-preservation technique. The man touches his hand to his lips and opens it in a thank you.
     Later, on the sidewalk, Jason said, “I choose to believe that guy is deaf.”
     “I guess I didn’t think otherwise. But deaf or not…he is selling gum.”
     Jason shakes his head—sympathetic, sad—a gesture we’ve mirrored hundreds of times. I tell Jason that I’ve been trying to switch my language from “a homeless person” to “a person who is experiencing homelessness.” In this way, person is the defining subject, homelessness is temporary. Jason thinks for a moment and agrees, it’s a better construction.
     “I admit, I heard about it from someone else.” I say.
     “It’s still a good idea.”
     I didn’t know about the homeless crisis in Seattle. Or maybe, vaguely, but not up close. In the mornings, grubby sleeping bags and thick blankets curl in the doorways of unopened shops. Sometimes men are tucked under a city sapling, sometimes they lie directly across the sidewalk. Once we walked by a man out cold on the sidewalk. My head turned and I tugged us backward. Jason tried to call to him, “Hey man, hey man, you okay?” When he was unresponsive, Jason got the police, found someone to help him up. Tent and cardboard dwellings grow and recede on lips of earth above highway on-ramps, shuffling men with matted hair carry cardboard signs, stand at intersections, ask for help, state identities: veterans, Christians, jobless, single, kids at home. They’re often the only people I see in the early, dark mornings on my way to the downtown bus stop.
     “Should I bring granola bars in my backpack?” I asked Jason in my first weeks here. “What if someone is just hungry?”
     Jason gives money to a few, specific people when one of us has cash, like the man with a speech delay outside Bartell’s who has trouble asking for change. Sometimes when Jason buys six or seven bottled smoothies for lunches, he’ll hand one to the man asking for money at the entrance on Bellevue avenue. When I first saw this gesture he said, “Sometimes guys have gotten annoyed, turned it down—they want money, not juice.” He shrugged with the resignation of someone who had lived in this city for nine years, who’s watched the rents skyrocket and tent cities spring up quicker than apartments.
     I’ve stopped crying as much as I used to about the volume, the overwhelm.

I pop the strawberry gum and we walk to the candy store. Jason has never seen the original Willy Wonka and I’m delighted for a rare chance to introduce him to something, to tell him knowledgeably that you can’t watch Willy Wonka without candy.  In the middle of filling a basket with Red Vines and Violet Crumbles, we see a crowd go by. Marchers with signs about immigration.
     “I though the march was happening on June 30th…” I said. We both looked at the brown paper bag. Guilt runs through me.
     “Do you want to walk for a while?” He asked, sensing.
     We step out on the street and into the march. This is not the first time I have joined a surprise movement in Seattle. A few days after Trump was elected, I left Jason eating a burger to join a throng of people with bandanas around their mouths, yelling up at the lamp-lit houses, “Get out of your houses and into the streets!” At the time, I thought this event was monumental, couldn’t believe Jason would miss it.
     The priests in front of us wore cassocks. As we passed by Annapurna Nepalese restaurant one said to the other, “That smells so good, it’s making me hungry.”
     “We’ll have to wait.” The other one said and chuckled.
     We took in the signs: Keep Families Together. Immigrant Rights Are Human Rights. An old woman had a sign pinned to her back, reference Melania Trump’s coat saying, “I really do care!” Families ran into each other, mothers and fathers pushing strollers with small children in hand. Protests seem like the Seattle equivalent of the neighborhood block party.
     Jason held the bag of candy in one hand and my hand with the other. The night was beautiful, the type of long, golden evening of Seattle summers had been promised during the deep rainy chill of November, December, January, February, March, April, and May. We walked for a mile or so, eventually peeling off to cut one block over and walk back up through Cal Anderson park. Gutter punks cradled their small dogs on the grass while across the path techie bros play with a golden retriever puppy.
      “Who said this quote J,” I quiz, “‘Do you watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it.’”
     “I don’t know…”
     “It’s a character in a great American novel which neither of us teach it.”
     “The Great Gatsby?”
     “Yes, although, I might be misremembering Daisy’s line...”
     “We didn’t miss it today.”
     No, we didn’t miss the longest day of the year.
     But, I still can’t shake the feeling of watching for something, always missing it.

We stop at the Thai place and I order take out, giving Jason’s name instead of my own.

It’s just easier this way, I tell myself.

—Verity Sayles

Verity Sayles's work appears in The Normal School, Passages North (blog), Proximity, Punctuate, Crab Creek Review, Under the Gum Tree, and others. She earned her nonfiction MFA from Oregon State University in 2016. She writes and teaches high school English at an independent school in Seattle, Washington.





MARGARET FOLEY

I am up around 6:30. This is my new habit because I am trying to go to sleep earlier, wake up earlier, and use the quiet time of the morning to drink coffee, think, and work without interruption for a few hours.
     This goal is upended an hour later when my daughter, Sarah, who is home from college for the summer, texts me from her bedroom upstairs that the tennis lessons she teaches have been cancelled for the day because of the weather and that we should do something together.
     We eat a leisurely breakfast, make a plan, and get ready. I open a closet and look for cardboard, go into the basement and grab a couple of wide-tipped markers from my husband’s workbench, and throw them into the backseat. We do a couple nondescript errands, eat lunch at a deli, and then head to #OccupyICEPDX.
     A few days earlier, a group of activists began to occupy Portland’s ICE building, moving tents onto a strip of grass next to it, putting up signs, creating communal spaces, and blocking the building’s entrance. The building, which takes up a whole block not far from downtown, looks nondescript from the main street, with only its address is large letters and numbers along the side. It is only when you turn the corner that you see the guard gate with a fenced driveway. Detainees are brought in here, processed, and then usually sent to a long-term detention facility in Tacoma, Washington.  It is usually a quiet corner, but with #OccupyICEPDX, it has become very active.
     This is not the first time I have been to the camp. I have been twice already, but this is the first Sarah has been. Each time, it is busier. At the entrance area to the building, a small bookcase has become an altar, filled with candles, for nightly vigils. Reporters are roaming around. Tents physically block the driveway’s gate; and a group of people are set up to help those who show up for appointments. The building, which has been temporarily closed because of the protest, has its entry doors and windows covered with signs, and a big X made from tape covers the door. The side street and main street are filled with people holding handmade signs with slogans such as “Immigrants Are Not Criminals” or “You Have Blood on Your Hands” with “blood” written in red glitter.
     The building’s wall ledges along the main street have signs left behind for other protesters to use. I see someone holding the sign I left a couple days earlier, “PDX Is Supposed To Be A Sanctuary City.” Sarah has made her own sign, “Hugs, Not Handcuffs,” a reference to the fact that workers are not allowed to comfort children in detention. I grab “Make Cruelty Unusual” and stand beside my daughter with a group on the busy corner of the main street.
     Our goal is to interact with cars driving by. Many honk and wave; some look away, and some deliberately ignore. The most interesting is when cars are stopped at the light at our corner, and we try to get reactions by holding our signs out more toward the street. A woman, who is driving a business van, rolls down her window and gives us a quiet thumbs-up. “I’m not supposed to be political at work,” she says. “But, I support this.” Another driver does the opposite, rolling down his window to make sure we see him shaking his head.
     We stay for a little over two hours before putting our signs on the ledge and heading home. Sarah, who is studying ways to reform our criminal justice system and has long been interested in its toll on women and children, takes a few quick photos of some of the signs before we leave. “I’m glad we came,” she said. “More people need to know this kind of stuff is going on.”
     We say goodbye to our corner friends; we plan to come back, so we might see them again because by standing there, we have all become members of a larger community of people who want to say, “Not in my name.” 

—Margaret Foley

Margaret Foley is a journalist, writer, and editor living in Portland, Oregon, whose work has appeared in a wide range of publications. You can read more of her writing and connect with her at http://www.margaretfoley.com or @mfoleypdx.





DAVID L. GARCIA

On June 21st, 2018 I woke up, I showered, I caught the bus to work. The MFA program’s Admin Director was out visiting his parents in Louisiana, and Professor Madden was leaving that morning for his own cross-country summer trip. I had the whole office suite to myself for the rest of the week, so I spent the morning trawling through YouTube and rereading Pitchfork’s Top Tracks of the 2000s. I turned up my desktop speakers and listened to Boxer by The National again.
     Emma hates The National because her ex liked them and because they perpetuate toxic masculinity, which is true enough. There’s a bunch of nameless Dylanesque “you’s” throughout their catalogue and I’m more than certain that Nate Berninger’s quivering baritone and his band’s understated, idiosyncratic hooks have been used by countless millennial men to console themselves for things they should not be forgiven for. Nonetheless, when your father sends you a clipped email letting you know that he has nothing more to say to you, Boxer by The National is a gift from God, a warm bath of wallowing that does to your problems what a six-hour stint in a crockpot will do to a slab of chuck.
     I shut it off around 10 because Emma showed up from the DMV or wherever and was ready to train me. She shows up whenever because it's the summer and students aren't here and she’s leaving for grad school soon anyway. I’m taking over her job, in the newly consolidated Honors College, because the admin has requested budget cuts and the MFA program is too small to justify a full-time assistant. I am about as thrilled as one can be for a job that they do not know if they will hate yet. We sat in the cafeteria and discussed the academic year, orientation and campus visits and such. I’ll have to handle all that, and I'm sure I will. I ate one of her breakfast sausages.
     We went back to her office and sat across from one another at her desk. Three people we graduated with just put out this webseries, and our social media pages had been full of promos for it. I hadn't seen it yet, so Emma pulled it up and we talked about it.
     She had to go move her car, so we walked half a block to her Honda and drove it to a new parking space. Neither of us could find a reason to leave the car, so we sat there for 20 minutes, on the clock, her smoking and me reminding myself that I should not smoke cigarettes. I mention that I called Kaiser to set up a therapy session, and she told me that that was a good thing to do, and that reminded me of this bit by the comedian Emily Heller:
I think therapy is great. I think everyone should be in therapy. Don’t do it for yourself, do it for your friends. They don’t want to hear that shit anymore.
I started laughing so Emma pulled up a video of Heller performing the bit on Conan. We watched a few of the recommended videos before forcing ourselves out of the car. I realized after stepping out of the car that that was maybe the most content I had felt all week.
     I went to lunch at the McDonald’s. I hate that I did, but when you have an eating disorder and are relatively broke and are filled with a desire to get as far away from your office building as possible on your lunch hour, you take the bus to the McDonald’s. I ate a Triple Cheeseburger and a 4-piece McNuggets with Honey Mustard. Self-hate engulfed me the second I stepped back out onto the sidewalk. I got back to campus and took a few extra minutes to sit outside on a staircase in the cool San Francisco sunlight, because I knew no one would be expecting me.
     I had forgotten to find something to put on the MFA program’s social media accounts, so when I got back I toggled through LitHub and The Millions and the social media accounts of local bookstores, looking for a public reading or author birthday or book-themed listicle to post about. I couldn't find anything literary worth sharing, so I retweeted the campus bookstore because they were having a sale on Macs. Emails arrived and I deleted them. My business manager returned three invoice requests, so I revised them and sent them back. I left at 4:45, because no one was there to tell me not to.
     I sometimes bring weed to work to smoke when I walk home. Before I leave in the morning, I roll up a pre-rolled joint from BASA, already sheathed in a plastic tube, inside a Ziploc bag. I put that bundle inside one of those airtight pouches dispensaries give you and then put the whole thing into the zipper pocket on the backside of my book bag. I unwrapped the joint and walked home.
     I got home and took off my shoes and belt. I took a long pull on one of the bottles of water I keep in the mini-fridge that I keep telling myself I need to remove from my bedroom. I realized that once Emma leaves I will know no one in San Francisco with a car.
     I do this thing when I get home where I finish any leftover food from the previous night: the last third of a bag of Hershey’s Kisses, or the four remaining slices of Trader Joe-brand prosciutto. I’ll drink more water and take a few puffs of vaporized weed oil. I mostly lay on my bed because I don't have any comfortable chairs in my room.
     Around seven or eight, I got up and put my shoes and belt back on and put in my earbuds and went for a walk. I do this most days. After the immediate joy of walking in your front door after work, I get antsy. I hate just laying there, the room getting darker and darker. I start to feel like an opium addict in the 1800s, unable to stand up and leave the den. Going for a walk creates the illusion of progress.
     Of course, if your only goal is to fill time, leaving your house can be risky. I never seem to have a plan, just vague desires that I will almost certainly overcompensate for. I might buy more weed. I might walk to China Beach, hidden among the rich people’s houses, to stare at the Bridge, or to stare at the fog that’s hiding it. I might catch the 38 going up the hill to the V.A. Hospital, so I can get off at Clement and walk home downhill. I might go to the Grocery Outlet. I will almost certainly buy more food, which I will bring home and mentally refer to as dinner, despite the fact that it will be close to 10 when I get back.
     That night, I left kind of early, around 6:30, and because the sun was still up, I went to the Safeway out by Ocean Beach. I took the bus to Cliff House and walked down the hill along the beach, so I could see the water and the encroaching marine layer. The fog mellowed the sunlight, giving us all a perfect view of the remaining smudge of orange. Everyone along the shore stopped and watched the sunset, because it's rare that you’re able to see the day’s literal end, one last glimpse of the sun as it shrinks and flattens into a strip and finally drops behind the edge of the world.
     At Safeway I bought a tray of poke from the seafood section. It was marked 50% off because it was going on 8 and the Safeway can’t sell raw fish the day after it was prepared. My friend Brian used to work there and told me that people won’t buy it because it feels depressing and wrong to buy raw fish at a discount, even if it's only an hour older than it was when it was when it was displayed in a heap behind the fish counter. I also bought a bag of Chicago Mix popcorn, which is half cheddar corn and half caramel corn.
     I went home and ate the poke and half the bag of popcorn and then laid down. I probably masturbated. I fell asleep around midnight.

I remembered most of this five days later, on the 26th, and then more sixteen days later, on the 3rd of July.
     I’d like to think that there is something missing because of that gap, some literal experience or specific emotion that I failed to capture, but that’s not true. I’m pretty certain Madden could give me a book explaining why that is not true.
     The stream keeps flowing and the suns keep setting. I found a book in a Little Free Library about how to make the most of your twenties that gave me a decent hit of enthusiasm for structure in my life that may or may not last. I started the job and the job is fine and sure, it may eventually not be, but it is now and that feels good. My brother’s having a baby so I went home for the baby shower over the Fourth of July weekend. My dad and I are fine, I guess, until we won’t be or one of us dies. I bought groceries yesterday and I’ve been eating a yogurt every morning. Kaiser sent me a list of referral psychiatrists. I picked one at random and got her voicemail and left a message that I assume will be returned. If it’s not, I guess I’ll have to call the office again.

David L. Garcia

David L. Garcia is a twentysomething administrative assistant living in San Francisco. His writing has appeared in SF Weekly, Los Angeles, and The Bold Italic.





JOSHUA UNIKEL

I bought a muffin and a double Greek coffee. I past the bakery on my way into town. I got it to go, eating as I made my way into town. I was starting to memorize the way from my Airbnb to the archive downtown. I drank more coffee there. The staff let me have coffee with them in the courtyard before they opened for the day. Someone brought cookies in a tin and passed it around. The courtyard and series of connected buildings was part archive, part place of worship, and part historical museum on Crete, the largest island in Greece. It was the only synagogue still standing on the island after the war, and it was the only place I had found any information about the community before, during, or after. I hung around the office after coffee, talking to the resident historian Katerina for most of the morning and afternoon.
     I had a list of questions that I never asked. Katerina was forthcoming and factual, telling me what I wanted to know and more. Though in her informed way she was careful to mention every small uncertainty. It was part of her training as a historian but the more she talked the more it felt like part of how she processed it all. Crete was one of the hardest hit in Greece, she said, and, Nearly 100 percent, she said. That’s why we say around 270 people drowned on the ship, she said, and the three lists we have don’t all agree, she said. The only way we can know for sure how many escaped or hid is to get their personal accounts, she said, and the more time that passes the less likely that is, she said. Our estimate is that 70 fled, she said, and 4 that we know of went into hiding on the island the day of the invasion, she said. I stared at the blue and yellow multicolored pattern on her computer mouse and other objects in the office for most of our conversation. I had trouble actually facing the information I was looking for, and I couldn’t look people in the eye when something was remotely troubling. I told her that in the States we had a saying: Sometimes you get what you ask for.
     The restaurant across the street hand-delivered food to the office if you asked. I ordered stifado and baklava, eating while Katerina and I talked. I asked her about the Enigma Machine and if she thought the British knew what was on the ship before they torpedoed it. I’d read that it was hit twice: once to strike and again to capsize the ship. I was taken by the names of the two ships: the Tanaïs and the HMS Vivid. Katerina said I was looking at the wrong thing. It was late in the war, she said, and there were many ships like the Tanaïs sent by the Nazis. What’s more important, she said, is that the community had been arrested and detained three years earlier, and it’s likely that they were only put onto the boat in June 1944 because the Nazis knew they were going to lose the war and had enacted their Final Solution. That was June 9, 1944. The anniversary had just past. It was June 21, 2018.
Katerina and I finished talking around three when she left for the day. The synagogue closed at six. I spent those last three hours in the archive reading and staring at the box fan on the floor. I took photos of documents and books I wouldn’t be able to find again. One of the groundskeeper’s sons was playing with his pet baby duck outside of the archive when I left. I walked to the beach. I wanted to watch the waves. I wanted to fall asleep for days under an umbrella listening to the tide. I couldn’t sit still. I set up on a beach chair and swam out farther than I should have, out toward large rocks that looked like broken hands from a distance but up close they were just crags patched with algae. Standing and leaning against one of them, I wanted to swim out into the open ocean as far as my body would take me.
     I didn’t go anywhere. I stayed on the rock just staring out into the open horizon of the Aegean Sea and eventually swam back to shore. I laid in my beach chair reading Sebald’s Austerlitz, having brought it because I wanted to study its relationship between text and image. I hoped to come up with a theory of how it made meaning between them. I hadn’t come to Crete to study Austerlitz, though, or research the Occupation. I came to study Greek design history and its relationship to the Phaistos Disc. I was interested in the use of movable type almost two thousand years before Gutenberg’s famous printing press. I forgot about it all when there was so much absence in the Historical Museum of Crete.
     I met up with Konstantin for dinner at eight thirty. He was an expat from Hamburg who had been active at the synagogue even though he was a self-proclaimed atheist. I met him earlier that afternoon when he stopped into the office to drop off a map he’d made for a memorial walk. We ate slices of pizza for dinner on the Venetian wall out in the harbor. The sun had gone down. We sat on the wall, eating and talking about European history and trauma. I watched the waves break along the boulders lining the far side of the wall, the barely visible water tossing over itself in the dark.
As we walked back I noticed for the first time that the lighthouse—though lit from below with amber stage-lights—went unlit every night I was there. As we walked into town I kept looking over at it. At times it looked like it was just permanently shut off and other times it looked like its beacon window cast out a circular, dark gray beam into the night. None of the tourists or locals sitting in the tavernas in town or walking along the harbor seemed to notice. Konstantin and I walked back into the city to the Airbnb where I was staying. It was above a nightclub that was blaring dance music and putting on a bright lightshow for no one. The bartender scrolled through something on his smartphone. The bouncer was smoking his cigarette slowly. Konstantin and I agreed to stay in touch.
     I was binge-watching a Netflix series, getting through an episode or two each night. It was a documentary about a murder and its aftermath. In one of the episodes I watched they were debating the weapon or weapons used to commit the act. Evidence had been hidden and kept from the jury during the trial. A lawyer said that, Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, and the phrase resonated. I remembered one of my peers in a philosophy class as an undergrad saying it once, and it stuck with me. I liked how cryptic and straightforward it was. I liked its chiastic structure and how Greek its syntax was. I liked how satisfying a fifty-minute Netflix episode could be.
     I called my girlfriend on WhatsApp. She asked me how things were going with my trip, and I asked her how things were going with packing up her apartment in Houston. We joked about how much pizza and pastries we were going to eat when we met up in Rome in just over a week. She promised to take me to the Birthplace of Za, as she called it, a pizzeria in Naples that claimed to have invented the margherita pizza. She was coming to Italy do research, and I was coming to see her on my way home.
     She said that I sounded tired, and I said ten or fifteen more minutes. We got off the phone an hour or so later. I told myself I not to check my phone again. I checked my phone for texts and emails. I laid in bed thinking about trains. I thought about how the entire first act of Austerlitz felt like it happened in a train station and how unrelated that felt at first except for the central role that trains in Europe played during the war. I’d seen each train line mapped out in Gilbert’s Atlas of the Holocaust. It was in the synagogue’s archive, and I looked over its abstracted maps feeling as though I was looking through a pathology textbook. I was astounded and sad thinking about Sebald’s use of indirection. I laid in bed trying to formulate a theory on the complicated way he used photographs, at once illustrative and full of artifice. I thought about Emmanuel Levinas’ concept of “enigma.” I thought about the lecturer I’d heard years ago who talked about the photographs. She referred to Roland Barthes’ concept of “punctum.” I kept thinking about a tightrope walker, that crushing but brief image Sebald lays out early in Austerlitz. I thought about the ends of that tightrope walker’s pole glinting against the abyss, as he calls it. I thought about the phrase that that lawyer on Netflix used about absence and evidence, and I thought about how my girlfriend said “Za” and how Katerina said “enacted.” I thought about an artist who renamed himself the letter “El” and a novel without the letter “e.” I thought about maps and erasure. I thought about the bar downstairs and its wild lights, and I thought that if I didn’t stop thinking I’d never fall asleep and I needed to fall asleep.

—Joshua Unikel


Joshua Unikel works at the intersection between literary and visual art. He is the co-editor of No Quo: Attempts (DesignInquiry Press, 2017) and Beyond Category (Hobart and William Smith Colleges Press, 2015). He also serves as a contributing editor of Seneca Review.





DENISE WILKINSON

June 21 is my father’s birthday. His favourite colour is yellow, like the sun, which shines for the most hours on his birthday than any other day of the year. This is wonderfully ironic because Dad prefers to stay out of the sun.
     On this particular birthday, he and my mother drive me an hour and half to Saskatoon for my oncologist appointment. I tell my dad it is good luck for me to have my appointment on his birthday. This is my fourth visit to my oncologist, a check-up since my current cancer management plan is watchful waiting. It’s kinda like being out, minding your own business on a Friday night, when things go sideways and now some scary chick thinks you hit on her boyfriend and all your friends are warning you to watch your back. This woman, let’s call her Brenda, has a proven history, so it is just a matter of when, and as a result, you just spend the rest of the night waiting and watching for Brenda to attack. Except, this isn’t just for one night—it’s for the rest of my life. If you want a more to the point explanation, the good luck version is my cancer is slow growing. If you want the sit in the shade version, it is Stage 3: incurable. Like the longest day of the year, it will last, and potentially so will I, much longer than other cancers which either go into remission or take out the host, like Brenda would do.
     Our first stop in Saskatoon is at NorDon Medical because my mom needs supplies. Mom has been cancer free for over ten years, but her survival came at the cost of an altered life-style. I go into the store with her because, as usual, I drank too much coffee. Mom goes to the counter and announces me, like I’m a celebrity or something. Whereas I might have sheepishly requested directions to the bathroom, Mom declares, “This is my daughter, Denise!” I smile awkwardly and wave. I have no idea why these people would care who I am, but my mom thinks it’s important, so I guess that’s kinda sweet, in a weird way. Actually, that sums up my mom: sweet and weird. I inherited the weird part, but I also got a touch of my dad’s lack of patience, so I am weirdly impatient. I believe God brings trials into your life to help teach you things you need to make your life ultimately better: enter wait and watch cancer. What a guy. I can’t help but think, one day, a long, long time from now, when I die from something other than this disease, he’ll announce my arrival into heaven in much the same way my mom introduced me at the medical store. Then, because he has an amazing sense of humour, he’ll say, “It’s about time you got here!”
     After the introductions at the medical supply store, we do some shopping and grab lunch at D’lish by Tish, where they serve gargantuan vats of homemade soup for $10. Dill pickle is my favourite so far, but today I order bison stew soup because it is National Indigenous Peoples Day. I know, I know—food is pretty surfacey stuff when it comes to understanding a culture, but what they hey, I also ate feta cheese in Greece and pizza in Rome, so I am equally surfacey with all my cultural appreciation.  The restaurant looks to be an old house converted into a coffee/soup/panini/dessert spot, and the bathrooms are gender neutral. They have a big sign which reads “Love is love” and lots of decorations for Pride Month. It’s half way between the university where my eldest is going next year and his new condo, so I can picture him sitting here with his friends which makes his leaving home a little easier. Today we sit next to the wall-size map of the world, and I look for the Azores where my grampa spend some of his time during the war. It’s right where it was the last time I looked: in the middle of nowhere. I have difficulty eating—going to the oncologist always makes me nervous—but I pretend I am fine. It’s just another check-up, right?
     Mom sneaks a quick puff on our way back to the car, and, as usual, I resist saying anything about how she survived cancer and actually quit smoking during her months in palliative care so WHAT THE HELL IS SHE DOING SMOKING AGAIN!!!!!! and we head off to the Cancer Centre. Dad spent months in Saskatoon when Mom was in the Royal University Hospital, which is attached to the Cancer Centre, so I assume he knows where he is going. However, this time, just like my last appointment, Dad turns too early into the parkade and has to ask directions which he doesn’t seem to listen to, then turns the wrong way into a one-way lane and Mom and I are ever so helpful yelling “No—wrong way!” so Dad, patient as he is, drives a bit faster scaring the you-know-what out of me as he whips around corners still the wrong way and finally backs into a spot right next to the Cancer Center door.
     Check in is much more calm, and I’m off to do blood work. I’m always amazed at the little needles and skinny tubes they use to collect my blood. When I used to donate blood, before blood cancer put me in the category of permanent deferral, the needle was about the size of a straw, but these ones are so teeny, they look like a toy. I love watching the nurse find the vein, which is an art given how difficult mine are, and then slide the needle into my skin. Today the nurse has some difficulty, and has to dig around a bit. I am fascinated by how she pokes around inside my elbow-pit to find the right angle so the blood will flow. I’m caught between staring at my arm because I love it, and looking away because I don’t want to make her feel nervous or like I’m judging her for not getting it; hardly anyone gets my vein on the first try.
     Next we shuffle to the waiting area for Dr. MacKay and Dad tries to hook up to the free Wi-Fi, which turns out to be more difficult than finding my vein. Since Dad is hard of hearing, Mom tells him everything at least three times, so I sit back and watch as they stand before the posted password and try to work it out. It doesn’t hook up immediately, which causes my father great consternation. There is an elderly couple sitting a few chairs to my right, and the woman keeps telling the man to make sure to tell the doctor how hot he gets and that he takes off his clothes wherever he is. The man says he has nothing to say to the doctor. The woman says it is his appointment, and he has to tell the doctor how hot he gets. And so they go, repeating varying versions of the same conversation. I get up and walk to the wall of information pamphlets, and take a bookmark which outlines how to deal with cancer related fatigue. Then I grab a brochure on cancer and smoking, and deliver it to my mom. I know she won’t read it, but I do it anyway. As predicted, she holds it for a few minutes and then passes it back to me.
     After waiting over an hour, which is odd at the Cancer Centre, I get my other stats taken—blood pressure on the low side, weight on the high side—and have my pre-appointment interview with my doctor’s nurse. I go through the list: I am feeling more tired than usual, I have a rash on my arm, I found a new lump behind my ear, night sweats are worse, my throat has been sore lately but it could be allergies. Then Dr. MacKay comes in and greets me as Mrs. Wilkinson, which makes me smile. I think the person who treats your cancer—the one who first confirmed you have lymphoma and explains how it isn’t curable but is treatable—should feel free to call you by your first name, but she is lovely and respectful and younger than me, so she calls me Mrs. Wilkinson. She has full lips with no lipstick and big eyes which I concentrated on as I tried not to cry the first time we met, and a calm, kind demeanor. She treats me like an intelligent, powerful person, not an invalid patient, which I appreciate. I hop onto the bed and she checks the nodes in my groin area which is super ticklish so I try not to wiggle. She checks my arm pits which aren’t ticklish but are a bit sweaty, and I wonder if she thinks it’s gross to touch so many sweaty pits every day. She washes her hands before she checks my neck, which is where I found the first lump, and asks me where the swelling has been lately. I show her and she feels again, telling me those are my salivary glands. Then she asks about the new lump and I point to the crease where my left ear meets my neck, and she says it’s not a lymph node but likely a cyst. I’ve lived in this body over 47 years and suddenly I feel like an alien in it—how can I know so little about it? She suggests options, which involve waiting, because it isn’t good for my body to have lots of scans. Chemo, which will eventually be my treatment, will make me tired so it isn’t a great idea to treat cancer related fatigue with something which will make me tired. My blood looks good, she tells me, and I haven’t experienced any unexpected weight loss (damn it!) so we agree I should come back in four months for another check-up. But, she is pregnant, so I will be seeing a different doctor then. “See you in a year,” she says, as she leaves the room, and the permanency implicit in that statement settles in. I am in this for the long haul. She expects me to be alive and expects me to still have cancer a year from now. I get to continue to be alive, and besides being really tired, I feel pretty good, so why aren’t I happier?
     When my husband texts to find out how the appointment went, I reply “Same ol’ same ol’” to which he answers, “Well that’s good I guess.” He’s taking care of things at home, making sure our youngest gets to beach volleyball. I’m supposed to meet friends for a drink later, but I’m out of energy. It’s not just my body, but my brain which gets tired these days, the cancer taking up more space than it deserves in my thoughts. I need to figure out a way to live with it, a way to be patient and accept it so I can enjoy the fact that I am alive. However, on this sunniest day of the year, cancer is casting a large shadow. Tomorrow will be a bit shorter, though, and maybe so will the time I spend in the restless shade of cancer.

—Denise Wilkinson

Denise Wilkinson writes to figure out life. She hasn't got it yet.





P. A. WRIGHT

I awoke in Mom’s house. The Atlantic ocean’s surf pounded the sandy shore a half-block away. The nonstop ritual began long before I was born and will continue long after my ashes dance in the winds of time. If there was comfort to be found there, it escaped me.
     There was work to be done, blame to be accepted, indifference to experience, and no chance of avoiding abuse. The assisted living spokesperson arrived at one o’clock and Mom had to be somewhat presentable.
     After a few shots of OJ, I took my pills. Take your meds: live a long life. Live long enough to be a pain in the ass to your kids. Though I have no offspring, I vowed to be a pain in someone’s tuckus after I admitted growing old.
     “Mom,” I said with zero compunction after I’d traversed the house to her adopted bedroom off the kitchen. “You have to get up.”
     “Go away!” she bleated.
     The bedroom was smallish, about a third the size of the master. It smelled. She lay in the pajamas that she’d worn for the past three days, not snoring, not sleeping, just slowly dying.
     You don’t realize what a moment really is until you’re confronted by one and there’s no doubt you’ve reached a mile-marker you can’t understand or fix. I stood in the enormous kitchen with my back to Mom’s bedroom. My fingers rubbed my forehead. There’s no training for this. You can read books till you’re blue but until it’s your parent bitching at you, accusing you of plotting to put them in a home, of needing you so much it terrifies them, it’s all theory.
     I fixed myself some lunch, I don’t remember what. There isn’t much I know beyond the routine: Put food in front of Mom. Watch it sit there till long after the first glass of wine. Turn the TV down when she falls asleep. My heart was breaking in ways I had no idea it could. My wife came downstairs. I thanked God she was with me. Could I do this alone? Maybe, but Mom’s needs scrape my insides raw and my wife's the only person who can apply the salve.
     Here’s the pisser: my dad died years ago, long before they were done enjoying new friends and neighbors. Mom joined the Wacky Widows Club and partied for over a decade. Then, like a stone skipped on the water of a calm lake, she sank into a depression she couldn’t escape. She was done.
     What do you do in that situation?
     The assisted-living spokesperson’s visit went as expected. Mom was sober, wary, and steadfast in her refusal to budge from being “on the cusp” of moving into a home. She reclined on the beige sofa that was her throne, heard the woman out and said she’d think about it.
     The plastic goblet in her hand wiggled immediately after the lady left.
     “Pour me some wine, please.”
     I did, knowing she’d crawl further into the bottle as the sun crested the sky and sunk into the horizon. Glass after glass of golden elixir dulling her pain. Food an afterthought. Sitting on the couch watching Judge Judy and The Price Is Right, and all manner of shit TV. I could say nothing. My hangover prevented me from a coherent argument.
     I could barely concentrate with the guilt of enabling her whispering in my ear: “She’s got cancer. Let her go.”
     How do I do that?
     My wife and I made dinner. We dined. Mom wined.
     I returned to my studio to write. To bleed.
     God help me

—P. A. Wright





TRACEY L. KELLEY

Mala

One.
     One stone.
     One bend forward.
     One straight step back.
     One lift to look up and beyond.
     One long angle, both feet, both hands.
     One foot forward, then the other, fingertips aside toes.
     Lengthen, rise up, stand tall, palms together, gaze ahead, breathe.
     Two. 
     Counting before or after doesn't matter. Just move the stones. Five in a row to keep track. Earthy hues smoothed by the river. Each rubbed softer with worry. Stones don't matter, either. Pennies will do. Beads, too. Peppermints.
     Solstice. The longest day above the line. The closest relation to the sun. Greeting this shift in the universe with perseverance and deliberate motion: yoga. These are Surya Namaskar, or Sun Salutations. Speed doesn't matter. The breath, movement, sweat, and yes, pain, does. Salutations to acknowledge a chance to connect, challenge, succeed. Salutations to say "I will" or "I can" or "I tried." Arms lift and open to the sky. Hands and feet lower and root into the earth.
     Two down, 106 more to go.
     Two per minute may be fast. One per minute may be slow.
     Regardless, the rest will take a while. But it's the longest day.
     A mala strand, with 108 beads, circling a larger guru bead. Crafted of sandalwood or Bodhi seed. Lapis lazuli blue or royal amethyst. Crystal. A mantra repeated with the touch of each bead. Ancient yogic texts reference 108 marma points, or sacred places, of the body. Science averages the distance of the moon and the sun to earth as 108 times their relative diameters. So on this day, 108 movements yokes these and other elements of tradition. Perhaps superstition. Dedication.
     I can. I will. I tried.
     Forty-three.
     Form is softer, less aligned. Shaky arms plank a mere moment before release. Standing and resting more. Gulps of water whenever another is done. Ragged breath is slower to calm, regardless of the even counting for inhales and exhales. A towel to dry slick palms. Perspiration smelling of yeast between breasts. An hour gone of the longest day.
     Forty-four.
     Move down the first stone in the row. Start again with this visual. Five more until 50. Four after that to the halfway mark.
     Focus.
     The question of why. No one cares as much as you. The world as a whole doesn't understand 108. You're not Hindu. You don't study the ways of the sadhus, the yogic holy ones. Who does this? There's not a prize at the end. Enlightenment is ethereal. Satisfaction is a question—is it ego? More questions. Should this want be fulfilled? Is the challenge reward enough? The world as a whole doesn't understand the mountain climber. Marathon runner. Yogi. 
     Sixty-five.
     One every three or four minutes now. Muscles tense and spark. Shoulders burn. A sharp tingle behind the eyes as the head throbs. Another towel along the mat to catch every drip. Standing tall is the only relief. Stopping would be okay. Nothing lost. I tried. But the row is incomplete.
Drink. Blink twice. Ease arms overhead, fold forward once more.
     Sixty-six.
     Slide down a stone.
     At one time, you stopped caring. It was fast becoming bunk. The designer clothing, celebrity workshops, and expensive retreats in exotic locations. Westernized for entertainment. Bridal yoga. Yoga and wine. Goat yoga. You were never a purist, but it seemed to lose significance, reverence. You stopped caring enough to let all that go. Regular practice allows for little victories. Lets light in, forces darkness out. Just move. Release.
     Eighty-eight.
     Easier with eyes closed. Not as dizzy, less sweat. Walk a little after standing, just a couple of feet to the left or right. The coolness of early morning fades in the heat of a brightening day.
     Eighty-nine.
     I will.
     In the end, the rest doesn't matter. Each body has its sheaths; every person does the work to pass through them. This is what it means to be present. This electricity, this "aliveness." The "I will" mantra is fuel for the engine, the kriyas that force energy to spiral from the base of the spine, the primal red root, igniting every chakra point along the way to the crown of the head. Orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, violet. Emotions, creativity, love, communication, intuition, and acceptance. A cleansing. Bliss.
     One hundred seven.
     Fire in the chest. Ammonia in the nose. Stabs of hunger pierce the belly. Muscles seizing. Hollow at the back of the throat, scorched since the last of the water at 99. Rock back and forth, heel-to-toe, sweep the grime and salt and stench off your shoulders, between finger webbing, around your neck. On the longest day, just this day, you stepped outside the ordinary. Allowed your body to be the gateway to mind over matter, a spirit with purpose.
     Lightheaded. Blurry. But there's a quickening. Nearly done.
     Breathe. It hurts. Ears ring as the pulse surges.
     Arms up, exhale down, knees buckle.
     Three stones in a row, two above.
     One more. Fuck me. Come on.
     I tried. I will. And I can.
     One hundred eight.


—Tracey L. Kelley

Tracey L. Kelley shares stories, teaches yoga, and helps people listen. Her award-winning writing appears in a variety of forms, including essay, short story, online, magazine, broadcast, and podcast. 





NATALIE WARDLAW


—Natalie Wardlaw


Natalie Wardlaw is a cartoonist, artist, and writer currently living in Austin, Texas. She enjoys hand-spinning and other antiquated crafts such as weaving, letterpress, analog photography, candle making, and writing in cursive. Natalie is avoiding social media, but can still be found there from time to time @natalie.wardlaw. 





Check back for more dispatches from June 21, 2018 tomorrow. —Editors