Wednesday, July 4, 2018

July 4: Ida Bettis Fogle • Rhys Fraser • Judy Xie • Melissa Mesku • Ryan Kim • Helen Betya Rubinstein • Caitlynn Martinez-McWhorter • Susan Briante • Samantha Jean Coxall • Patrick Collier

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, for the next month and change, roughly ten a day. If you wrote something (it's not too late!), send us your work soon.

—The Editors

JULY 4: Ida Bettis Fogle • Rhys Fraser • Judy Xie • Melissa Mesku • Ryan Kim • Helen Betya Rubinstein • Caitlynn Martinez-McWhorter • Susan Briante • Samantha Jean Coxall • Patrick Collier


It’s 5:40 a.m. and my husband is stirring. Our circadian rhythms are diverging lately, but this is a little early even for him. I fall back asleep until the sound of the back door at 6:30 wakes me with the reminder that he is making a two-hour drive for a work meeting in St. Louis. Ah, there’s a real reason he was up so very early. I allow myself a moment of midlife crisis over failing to have a career that includes conferences in other cities.
     My phone takes itself out of its nightly scheduled Do Not Disturb mode and pings with seven messages from my son, who felt moved to share the existential crisis he was experiencing in the wee hours. I reply with what I hope are bolstering statements. 
     After I shower, I listen to radio news while I’m getting dressed. I still use a real radio in my bedroom—not connected to the internet. Koko the gorilla has died. I’m hit with a wave of sadness. I hear how immigrants are being treated and I’m glad I did the encouraging someone else thing before this. 
     While having cereal and tea, I send off emails to my elected representatives urging them to DO SOMETHING. Then I read my received emails. Another writing rejection. It’s an “encouraging” rejection, telling me my piece almost made the cut. Do they really mean it, or is that just what editors are putting in their form letters these days?
     My walk to work is pleasant. So noticeably pleasant. It’s been almost unbearably hot the past few days, but we finally got rain, accompanied by a cool front. All of the plants are fresh and perking up, and so am I. 
     Today is a short work day for me at the public library where I’m employed. Five hours—9 to 2. I work 30 hours per week, plus extra hours when I can get them, plus a second online transcription job, done on a per project basis. I arrive at work, noticing the staffing on the schedule is a little thin. Oh yes, some of the librarians are at the ALA Conference in New Orleans. How could I have forgotten? I even told one of them yesterday to say hi to Michelle Obama for me. (Ms. Obama is the keynote speaker this year.) I allow myself a second moment of midlife crisis over career things, etc. etc. But then I have to do real work.
     I spend several minutes trying to help an older lady get her email open, but she can’t remember her password. I walk her through the password recovery process, which I have to figure out from scratch because she has some obscure email service I’ve never worked with. She says she’s had the email address forever, but doesn’t use it often. Her current phone number isn’t connected to the account, so our attempts fail. I set her up with an appointment for a one-on-one tech help session later in the week. She needs someone who can sit with her and walk her through an online chat session with her email provider to get things straightened out. 
     I spend the next few hours helping the variety of people that keep my job so interesting. I help someone find ESL materials, and get angry all over again about immigrant detentions. I have to keep that to myself, though. I accept donation of books, routing it to our Friends of the Library group. Relief washes over me as I see clean books, with no sign of mold and non-yellowed pages.  
     On my break, I read a few pages of Barracoon. I’m not to the narrative yet, because I’m a reader who reads all of the forwards and introductions and postscripts and footnotes. 
     While I’m standing at the Welcome Desk in the lobby, a highly visible spot, I get a tickle in my nose. I try to be as discreet as possible when I can no longer avoid needing to blow it. This is my least favorite spot to work., due to the fishbowl feeling. Thank goodness we rotate desks and never have to be at this one more than an hour at a time.  My hour today is from noon to 1, meaning I get to speak to all of the delivery people bringing food to coworkers and groups using our meeting rooms. 
     Shortly before I leave work, I tidy our New Books area, choosing books to place face-out. I select as many blue covers as possible for prominent display in a superstitious bid to help the Kansas City Royals break a long losing streak and win a game tonight. As soon as I arrive home, I change into a Royals t-shirt to re-inforce the effect of the blue book covers.
     My 20-year-old son—he of the late night crisis—is home. I have a tense conversation with him about his short-term life plans, in which I waffle between complete acceptance and being a hard-ass, unsure what’s best in terms of parenting an newishly adult person who is experiencing health difficulties, but also could probably be doing more in terms of getting his act together. Or maybe he’s doing all he can. How can I know?
     I scan through the slim pickings in our kitchen. Feeding a 6-foot-tall college student is no small undertaking, and I’m perpetually surprised at how quickly we run out of food. We have some frozen fruit and some plain yogurt. I make smoothies for both of us, plus a peanut butter sandwich for myself. He’s already been eating. 
     My husband comes home earlier than I expected, cramping my style. Now I have to worry about whether I will appear antisocial if I want to focus on an online class I’m taking or put on my headphones and try to pick up some transcription work. I spend half an hour or so at each, anyway, making a few dollars on a couple of short jobs. I don’t think I can focus on any creative writing project at the moment.
     I start thinking about dinner early since everyone is home. I look through our meager cupboards again. I try to send my son to pick up a grocery store pizza, because they’re on sale. When he doesn’t want to go, I hate him a little for a minute. I feel since I had to spend several hours of my day talking to people, I shouldn’t have to do that any more until tomorrow. I deliver a brief, muttered oratory about all of the chores I do to keep the household going.
     My son packs up his laptop and leaves for the library. My husband goes somewhere unannounced.
     After they’re gone, I do wimpy exercises with four-pound hand weights while watching an episode of Parks and Recreation. I recall the show gets better after the first season. Then I catch up on five Words With Friends games, all the while wondering when my guys are coming back and what that means for dinner. I hate them both for thirty seconds for leaving me hanging with so many of the practical decisions so much of the time. Then I hate myself for thirty seconds for hating them. Because what if something happened to either of these people that I love so much?
     I look at social media and see terrible comments about immigrants. I wonder why there is so much hate in the world. 
     I leave social media and check on the Kansas City Royals’ schedule. They’re not playing tonight. The out-facing blue book covers entirely wasted!
     What to do with myself? Hold on—the husband is back in the house. He was just out in the back yard this whole time. But now he’s putting on his bike helmet and going out the door. Maybe I should get some writing done while he’s gone. No, wait. He’s back in the house again. I should talk about dinner with him. I’m instantly tired even considering the dinner discussion, so I leave it unhappened. He goes back out the door. I order pizza delivered, even though I haven’t budgeted for it.
     While I’m waiting, I make the Duolingo Owl happy by practicing Spanish for ten minutes. Then I write for a few minutes. 
     When the pizza comes, I panic over choosing a tip amount. I haven’t ordered food delivered for a couple of years, at least. I don’t know how much is standard. I don’t want to be like my dad, who thought to his dying day that leaving a quarter on the table for the waitress was appropriate because that was a decent tip back in the 1950s. I settle on three dollars and hope that’s not cheap-skating it.
     I eat while watching a YouTube video of an interview with Michelle Obama, so I can pretend I’m at the ALA conference. It’s a video I’ve had bookmarked to watch for a while anyway. The guys both come home and snag their pizza with no thanks to me for doing the hard work of calling the restaurant. A little later, my son tells me that when I asked him to go to the store, he’d just gotten a rejection email for a job he interviewed for and that’s why he was in a bad mood. We have a good talk about overcoming rejection. I hug him. He still lets me hug him. 
     I look at grocery ads and make a shopping list for tomorrow. The evening has disappeared. A thought occurs to me that I should have done some housework at some point today, but it seems a little late for that now. 

—Ida Bettis Fogle


It all fades away, and while it is fading I…
     I wondered if I have trouble making things special, as in this day which has already half-happened without really anything at all to write about, apart from the nothing itself, as in the nothing that takes the place of something (i.e. something interesting) to write about.
     I was and am and will have been anxious about today (i.e. June 21st, hereon ‘The Day’, about which we are supposed to write); looking at the forecast (my schedule), I could already anticipate the lack of something notable. No plans, no arrangements. I hadn’t necessarily planned to amplify mundane goings-on into ‘profound’ observations, that was very much the last port of call, but as it happens, we will be lucky to even have any goings-on to consider mundane in the first place.
     I wake up around 10am and look at Instagram for a while. There are small sections of the carpet under the bed that have been eaten by moths, like lakes dotted across a landscape you see from the plane window. The carpet is a huge, tall wheat field for them, they become fatted with the abundance.
     The moths intrigue me, strange, delicate creatures to which I have no conscience in killing. Chameleonic, they will assume the colour of the fabric they ingest, and they make an odd, Klimt-gold smudge on the wall when you swat them.
     I will be honest, I don’t know if we were supposed to write everything about ‘The Day’ during the day; I’m writing this bit the day after (hereon ‘The Day After’), trying to remember ‘The Day’. I made scrambled eggs and black pudding for lunch, up here in Scotland you can buy black pudding everywhere, they even sell huge battered batons of it in chip shops. I don’t know who could eat that much black pudding in one go.
     For the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on a piece called In the Shadow of Absence, I think it’s a novella but at the moment it’s really not much at all, a modest sheaf of handwritten pages. I’m scared to type them up in case they’re bad. Each day I either work on it or think about working on it (guess which usually wins). ‘The Day’ was no different; I thought alot about working on it, but didn’t think it would make the grade for my little piece about ‘The Day’; ‘The Day After’ would be a much more sensible time to work on the piece, except I am now writing about how I didn’t work on In the Shadow of Absence yesterday (i.e. ‘The Day’) today (i.e. ‘The Day After’), because I realise there wasn’t really much else to write about regarding ‘The Day’, as it turns out.
     That might not be true though, let me think.
     Eventually I make it outside. I was going to watch Denmark vs Australia, but I decided against it. The stairwell of the flat smells a little like burnt butter, an odd, hot smell. Walking past the glass door, I think to myself that the old man with the zimmerframe will be dropped off soon by the asian man who drives the minibus, usually around 4. I’ll watch France vs Peru at 4. The back door has a stiff lock. I drink my tea and read a little, the sun and the wind are both gentle, there is a glare from the sun shining against the white paper. A white feather floats through the thin limbs of the trees. The mug is white with a large black X on it. Is that a letter or a Roman numeral, I’m not sure. These things can happen on any day.
     I am reading Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes, ostensibly as research for In the Shadow of Absence, although at this point I am not entirely clear what aspect of the text it is supposed to inform. I’ve got to the bit where Roland is staying in his dead mother’s flat looking through old photos of her, trying to find her real likeness, the photo that shows “the truth of the face I had loved”. Spoiler alert: he finds it, it’s called ‘The Winter Garden Photograph’.
     I’m lying on the grass outside, reading this bit of the book, during ‘The Day’. Again, I’m writing this bit ‘The Day After’, thinking how I too was trying to find the real likeness of something, the real likeness of ‘The Day’. Sitting here now ‘The Day After’, wishing there was something magical to pluck out, some heautoscopic perception of the self or a vision of the world inspired by the apex of sunlit hours. In Greenland the 21st is a national holiday, called ‘Ullortuneq’, everyone dresses up and has a party. The red semicircle on their flag represents the the sun setting in the ocean. If I were spending ‘The Day’ in Greenland it would be much more profound, I think, I’d be much more likely to feel something spiritual, about the world or myself.
     We drive to the pool before dinner. My goggles mist in the water while I’m swimming. The longest day. I remember sitting in the sauna after the swim and thinking of something great to anchor the piece on, but realised I had nothing to write on. It’ll come back, I thought. It didn’t, and now all I have is the memory of having forgotten something good to write about.
     Still, though, I’m starting to think there’s a quality in the slowness, the not-quite-nothingness.
     Back home, I lie still on the bed and watch a moth fluttering across the room in the orange light of the sunset. It reminds me of the feather earlier in the day, being gently blown through the limbs of the trees, a kind of cliched observation now to remark on things floating around in the air with no obvious purpose, but in the orange light of the sun, at the end of the longest day, ‘The Day’, it seems meaningful to me, it feels nice, for a moment.
     It is something to hold on to.
     ...hope to retain a few pieces of dust, a fragment, to help us remember.

—Rhys Fraser


A strange pattern filters across your eyelids. If I were younger, I would burrow into the bed of your arm, hum a drowsy no. But I recall that summer does not last forever—it drops down to cumbersome feet where the ache from previous day wear curls anxiously against painted toes. Your warm claustrophobia, as broad as the endless sky, spans down my neck. I throw off the covers and exchange our suffocating incalescence for another type of toasting. Where, I am greeted by the glaring noon, with the streets of Tianjin rotting of sun and blister. Its oppressive heat wraps around us as the thick blanket of smog settles across our shoulders. I find that I cannot shake the layers of rolling dust. And so the day comes down gentle in its infinite suffering, the slight sensation of discomfort—a constant companion. Under the pinch of the beating sun, we swelter into gasping weeds. No rain. No tears. And yet, the forecast for today is somber. 
     Today, I visit a stranger.
     The sky is heavy with bands of black iron. I have begun to know the air, dust-thick and fog-like as it hovers between heaven and hell. The streets line with industry while its homes stand on stilts, a symphonic churning that promises of beginning. But none of this began in cites, so the dead rest in the gardens of Eden. Decorated in flowers and lost prayers, they bloom in the saline and sunlight expelling oxygen in small breaths. I stare at the glistening tombs, a sundred matrix, of forgotten voices, rising up one by one in a chronicle of stone. My grandma rests among these groves, a myriad in the greying trees and crying colors. We face her portrait, and I am mutely reminded of the separation between here and there. Here. A sky of rolling wants—sunk down from work, tireless work. The screech and halt of development : angry. in its carving of new skylines. relentless. in its scrubbing of pastor and field. Walk this path with your feet padding the shifting dirt. Watch it turn to stone. Watch it fill with gravel. There. A land rolling in dreams. angry. in its lines that cut, cut, cut. relentless. in its coping of burgers and endless highways. Stare at foreign face. Live in foreign home. Watch as a girl walks into the sea-hopeful. A boy parked in a red Toyota driving off the dock because that’s where the dreams are—under millennium of buried sand and forgotten cities. But here I am, lost on the edge of a wave, wanting all of it to be mine. But it isn’t. But it can’t be. But I barely recognize her.
     But you do. And your smile flickers in the wake of the shaking day. And suddenly I feel like a stranger locked in a moment, intruding on a timepiece. And I think, this must be it: you, electric-flecked leaving with sunny tears, trailing down the crinkles along the outskirts of your temples to a sunkeness right below your lashes, right before they fan into flame. I reach out, trace your palms. It’s the simple things. So we search for broken memories surrounded by the sweet scent of incense curling into the still air. We rot under a sun of blooming should haves, could haves, would haves.
     You light a cigarette. For her. And then for you.  The day gathers in its heavy lens, through which the crowd of smoke becomes home. I see you blurred, packed in a sweaty sanctuary- your arms raised wailing with the effort. You take another drag. Your hands tremor with the lonely chasm between heaven and a cursed Earth. Nai Nai is smoking with us. She is propped against the gravestone secure, locked in a memory. Where there is no hiding from day—no denial of birthright, no question of home. Just you, standing here, with the light fading in snatches, char- dimmed. Until it’s just your face, smoldering under the lean afternoon sun. And the soft embers, ever gleaming, begin to eat up the cigarette placed under her portrait. We leave. A half- smoked cigarette: its dying embers, glowing faintly, closed in evening’s palm.

—Judy Xie

Judy Xie’s writing has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards; she has won a Gold and Silver medal for her works. She was also part of the TSP Speakeasy project and enjoys writing both poetry and creative fiction and has been published in Polyphony Hs. She attends Mountain Lakes High school in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey and will be graduating in the year 2020. 


Twenty June Twenty-Firsts

I have been cataloguing my days, off and on but mostly on, for over twenty years. Today is as good a day as any to revisit them, these cryptic notes, these echos from past selves.
     On this day in 1998, a fragment of a quote from Kafka—something to the effect that he’d rather have a page of good writing than a day of beauty. I remember thinking, man, I love you and I love writing, but you could not be more wrong. You are as wrong as the day is long—and it’s the solstice.
     On this day in 1999, I started summer school at community college, my first day of what we sardonically called “the thirteenth grade.” I had recently stolen the Suede album Head Music and decided on the drive to school that henceforth, if I ever had a song in my head that I didn’t like, I would consciously switch to the first track, “Electricity.” Somehow this actually stuck; I listened to “Electricity” in my head earlier this week. 
     On this day in 2000, I was reading A Language Older Than Words. It felt monumental at the time—exceedingly significant—devastating—even life-changing. As it turns out, it was. Twenty years later this book and the author’s other twenty books still break me and build me back up. I still have this one on my shelf. I think I even paid for it. 
     On this day in 2001, I had heard there was a total solar eclipse going on, maybe in Africa, and it pained me that I was twenty and still stuck in my hometown. Two months to go...
     On this day in 2002, while walking from Ashby to the Berkeley campus, I thought about Kant—“one is conscious of oneself only as one appears to oneself.” I thought of the absurdity of identifying with one’s own face when one’s own face is something we can’t naturally see. I became possessed by an intense curiosity about the era before mirrors and glass, and wondered how people self-identified before reflective technologies. By the time I got to work, my cynicism kicked in; people probably crowded around ponds and cisterns of water, preening.
     On this day in 2003, I studied Hungarian while my roommate was out, went to a meeting about the housing co-op we were starting, and then packed up to go to Sacramento for a direct action and a protest march. I remember hiding my studies because it felt immoral, shameful, to spend time learning esoteric things while the world was what it was, and was at war again. I consoled myself with the idea that, if I made myself effective enough in fighting the system, I’d eventually have plenty of time in prison to fritter away studying agglutinative languages.
     On this day in 2004, I arrived back to Seattle after a seventeen hour Greyhound bus ride from Oakland. It was an emergency trip—the payphone calls during this phase of my polyamorous relationship were getting too expensive. I had ridden down from Olympia with the Rad Dyke Plumber, but for all the times I went up and down ‘Hometown Interstate 5,’ getting a ride back with a stranger from Craigslist failed me only this once.
     On this day in 2005, after visiting Timm in Sweden, I was listening to Kent on my Discman and looking for apartments in Ballard, in Seattle, so we could move in together and have a quiet little Scandinavian life.
     On this day in 2006, since moving back from Eastern Europe, I still had no job, but that didn’t stop the motorcycle dealership from giving me a full line of credit. I’m the proud owner of a 125cc scooter which I cannot stop riding. Five days in, I haven’t yet left the Seattle city limits but I’ve already racked up 200 miles. It takes five afternoons at different cafes to finish Snow by Orhan Pamuk. 
     On this day in 2007, I was reading Lisa’s copy of White Noise, and my still-favorite beat up copy of Ramble Right by Amber Gayle.
     On this day in 2008, I was in Austin. Wasting time, really, trying to beat the heat at a dodgy hostel. It was either that, or continue to drive around which I’d already done for months, or go back to Fort Worth where this hedge fund manager I met a few weeks ago had a fancy hotel room I could join him in. But I knew I’d be in Fort Worth for the next year anyway, for work—my first real teaching job. This is my last chance to be free, I thought, trying to muster the energy to care. 
     On this day in 2009, I was living in my car again, somewhere in New Mexico or Arizona, but I didn’t write anything down. 
     On this day in 2010, I was living in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, with the guy I’d met in Fort Worth, Texas. I didn’t write anything down. 
     On this day in 2011, I was in self-imposed exile from myself, which is to say I was in LA and didn’t write anything down. 
     On this day in 2012, I may have been in NYC, Seattle, LA or NorCal—not sure, and does it matter? I was in the trenches too long. PTSD. Nothing I wanted to remember; nothing was written down.
     On this day in 2013, I worked from home in the apartment I just moved into, the one I’m in right now. I know this only from emails I sent; nothing personal was written down. 
     On this day in 2014, and 2015, and 2016, and 2017, I worked from home, or from a coworking space, or from Berkli Parc, the Lower East Side Cafe near me that is no longer there anymore. I don’t know whether it was a Tuesday or a Sunday on any of these dates, and it doesn’t matter because I did the same thing every day: work. Sure, in those years, I traveled some. Here and there. Spain and Italy and Ireland; all the Western states. But not on these dates. Because I only tend to document days that are novel, and working every day maybe can be but emphatically isn’t. They were good days though. They all are now. Now all I want to do is work because there are other things I’m trying to accomplish—it used to be hard to focus because there was too much fun to be had and too much rabble rousing to do—also because my focus was on every problem in the wide world and not on my own life—I was always grateful and mission-oriented but I was never happy or at peace—travel is a drug—novelty is a drug—novelty isn’t so appealing now because it distracts me from my mission—on the outside my life looks boring but I’ve never felt so capable, even more capable than I felt all those years yelling in crowds and hurling my body against the state and flinging my life to the far corners of the earth. I work now because I finally can. But nothing was written down. There are two reasons to not document: you can’t, or you can’t be bothered. At least this was the latter.
     On this day, today, June 21, 2018, nothing much happened. I could chronicle it, but it’s minutiae. I’ve already said too much and painted in too broad of strokes to go switching to pointillism now. But I’ll try: no dots, just dashes—I took the B train at Grand Street and had my cowboy breakfast on the walk from Bryant Park to Times Square—I worked through lunch teaching myself VueJS in preparation for the rewrite of our codebase—I listened to the Invisibilia podcast and posted a letter to Sonya on the way home—the Melania jacket thing really drove me mad, madder than I usually get, so I banged out an article on it—I “researched” this piece you’re reading by turning my book of days to June 21 where I can plainly see the last twenty years of today at a glance (cheating, I know) and I was super butt hurt that I hadn’t written anything at all on June 21 for the last ten years—Geoff Dyer, upon reading through one of his old journals, wrote, “How funny, to end up being one’s own biographer, to have to resort to the kind of research required by writing someone else’s life,” but for me, it doesn’t feel like someone else’s life, it feels like mine, mine, mine, no matter how different I am or how butt hurt my sixteen year old self would feel about me now, these old selves are my riches, my greatest wealth—I feel so pregnant with riches that I’m not interested in acquiring any more—now I think Kafka was right about the page—Kristin sent me a picture of her fresh baby and I felt grateful that I don’t have one—I sat down to eat a steak salad my boyfriend made for me and we watched a documentary about a man who most likely killed both his wives and then an old episode of Big Mouth because it’s hilarious—and at 11:30pm I put my feet up on the trash can in the kitchen and drank two Bitburger tall boys and we chain smoked and talked shit and laughed and played Clash Royale until my phone died and we went to bed. 
     Writing this, I just realized that, like Gary Shteyngart said yesterday about his new piece in the New Yorker, that I, too, managed to combine the unlikely worlds of hedge funds and Greyhound bus travel. Of Sweden and the Southwest, of novelty and drudgery, activism and angst. Days of beauty and of barely caring. This kind of thing happens when you look at your life in cross-sections. Incongruous bits of this and that. Jarring changes in setting and mood. Bizarre twists in plot, radical character arcs. The way they clash is deeply compelling. The hidden symmetries and accidental harmonies build and break like waves. And a bottle you once flung at the sea comes back to you bearing a message. There is one reason to document: to honor your life. You throw the bottle to sea, trusting you will hear its message one day. When it comes back it will sound familiar, but distant, like an echo or a shell pressed to the ear.

—Melissa Mesku

Melissa Mesku is a software engineer, entrepreneur and writer in NYC. She is the founding editor of New Worker Magazine, The Void, and ➰➰➰.


The events of the morning of June 21, 2018 are so tedious I’ll breeze past them to the part of the day I wish to remember in clearer detail. Perhaps “tedious” is a disrespectful word. After all, this is how my partner felt she was treated storming from the Pancake Haus before our coffees even reached us.
     We had a crab dinner at my uncle’s. He bought six discounted dungenesses at the Chinese market which really weren’t that fresh. The meat was floppy and unsweet. But we were happy to all be together, myself and Abi, my brother and his partner, my uncle and aunt, my mother, my beautiful cousin, and a socially awkward newcomer just emigrated from Korea in search of UX work in Seattle. We crowded around the table, elbows knocking as we worked at claws and meaty shoulder joints, grinning over the heads of our white guests. Whenever my brother and I bring home girls (who are invariably non-Asians) my family has the tendency to softly prod in search of discomforts. Having been raised in the desert, it was Abi’s first time eating crab.
     "Fork or chopsticks?" My uncle, the chef, posed before the meal.
     "Uhh," Abi swung her eyes towards me.
     "It’s eat with your hands." I whispered.
     Abi grinned and proudly announced to my uncle with phony twang, "I’m Appalachian people. Hands is how we eat."
     I watched all evening as my aunt quietly slipped extra crab meat onto Abi’s plate (she was slowest at cracking the shells); as my brother put his arm around Abi in the kitchen; as my beautiful cousin tried hard to laugh kindly at Abi’s nervous stories; as my mother—dressed very elegantly, even imposingly—softened her suspicious looks at Abi as the others welcomed her shy offering of herself.
     I’d been quick to anger in the morning, when she stormed away at Pancake Haus. In the corner booth of the restaurant, we whisper fought the ethics of hitting your kids—a staple of my own Korean rearing. I cursed, accusing her of high-horsedness. I seethed as the mostly elderly Caucasian clientele stretched their wilted necks to catch snippets of our interracial couple’s drama. Of course I grasped the value in Abi’s point, "Why inflict pain when you can find a non-violent, a smarter alternative?" But in her tone I couldn’t help identifying the implicit suggestion that her culture was better at raising its children than mine, even if it was completely imaginary.
      I abandoned her in the parking lot, and almost didn’t come back to find her afterwards. We’d been at each other’s throats several times this trip already. This is what happens when two people dating suddenly spend every waking moment together. When one comes to meet the other’s family for the first time after only a short six months.
     Watching Abi flail at the center of my gregarious family, darting her anxious, smiling eyes from inquiring person to person, I perceived all the work she was doing. All the work I was not. I loosened the petty, tightened fist inside my chest, and gave myself a mental spank on the nose.

It’s late, and we’re in my father’s den-turned-bedroom, where I stay summers from graduate school. It’s musty. The adjoining bathroom is twenty years cigarette-smoky. The mismatched furnishings—cold bed, a desk without a chair, aluminum shoe rack, tatty maroon ottoman, empty man-sized gun safe, pencil sketch of a cow’s head—give a strong sense of the room as afterthought. Abi is snoring annoyingly on top of the sheets I aim to get under. To distract myself, I reach for a previously unnoticed photo album on the shelf above. I open it.
     An old photo album, especially when unexpectedly encountered, has the eerie ability to remind you: You are not you. At least it can disrupt the solid sense of your memory as a reliable construct for meaning making.
     In the photos, my family appears to be on a roadtrip. There are frequent shots of us leaning against railings with waterfalls, ocean views, grounded jets, and oxidized, Korean-looking statues in the background. For some reason, I count sixteen photos of just me and my mother clinging to each other in unremarkable doorways. It makes me wonder the reason. I realize how stylish my mom the architect was in her thirties, before her vanity calmed down. She has a high bowl cut hairstyle, and the most blasé sunglasses. Yet she smiles. My brother is three-ish and heart-achingly shy, his eyes make me want to cry. My dad is fatter and happier.
     In almost every photo, I’m making a face. Demon, imp, gargoyle, fiend, gremlin, scamp; these are the moods I pitch at the camera. This is the only part of the album which resonates with my recollection of childhood. Always dicking around.
     I come to a series of four photos which tell a story of my brother and me. We’re standing in the grass with a mountain looming starkly behind us. We’re wearing matching red hoodies, his sleeves droop over his hands. I am a full half-torso taller. In the first photo, I am very nice with my hands on his tiny shoulders. He looks blandly happy. Photo two, I’m starting to pull back his hood; Evan is suspicious. In the third photo Evan is crying, his arms sticking out helplessly, as I tug roughly at his hairline with the flats of both palms. I look very fucking entertained. I remember then, the feeling of younger brother as plaything. How fun a game it was to win his trust, then violate it, then also, I remember the fear and hatred for my father when he whipped me afterwards or slapped my protesting mouth so suddenly I barely knew to scream.
     In the fourth photo, Evan is alone with the mountain, his hands in little fists, his hoodie unzipped, wearing a look of betrayal at whoever was taking the photo who didn’t intervene.
     A loud snort returns my attention to the sleeping girl curled on top of the sheets beside my legs. She shifts a tad and makes a face like she’s having a bad dream. I shut the album, stretching to return it gingerly to the shelf, then place a soft hand on the skin of her thigh. It’s warm. Her face slips back into placidity. Her breath evens. I flick off the lights and find my way back to her in the dark.

—Ryan Kim

Ryan Kim is a fiction candidate at the University of Arizona. He is a 2018 Kenyon Young Writers Fellow.


Around 7:30am it was gray and unrainy. I lay on my mattress on the floor of a dorm room and looked out the window, deciding not to run, because I had run the previous two days. I’d write instead, I thought, but stopped, too hungry for breakfast, after barely a page. By 9am it was raining lightly; by 11am it was storming in a delicious way; at 11:30, when I should have left for the doctor, it was flooding; at five before noon, when I finished some edits and got downstairs, I realized I’d forgotten the keys to the car I’d been planning to ride my bike to, and decided just to bike the whole way.
     The construction on Dubuque terrified me, as it had terrified me on Monday: no shoulder, no sidewalk, and a deep puddle that crossed the whole street. Muddy water shot up around me; I worried about hydroplaning while squeezing my brakes. On Foster, the sidewalk puddles were too deep to bike through. I passed the so-called Peninsula and the dog park. The bump onto the pedestrian bridge clanked my rims. Across the river, more construction. BE NICE! a flashing sign warned, then, TAKE TURNS! I thought of the caption I might write—surprisingly urgent for Iowa—or no, surprisingly frantic, or stern—but knew I wouldn’t post a picture or a caption, because my phone was out of memory.
     Locking the bike to a fat pole under an overhang, noting my fancy raincoat was soaked through, I remembered the time hospital staff had prohibited me from parking my bike anywhere other than a faraway rack, and I’d nearly cried. I remembered the time I couldn’t figure out how to get out of Ophthalmology, and how, behind the disposable sunglasses I’d tucked behind my actual glasses, I had cried. Now I imagined asking for a towel inside. If they said no, I thought, I’d cry, and if I cried, my crying would be ridiculous, self-inflicted just like those other times.
     No, the receptionist said, they didn’t have a towel. What about paper towels, I tried. Um… in the bathroom, she said. I took off my sandals and turned them upside down in the waiting room, then walked barefoot into the bathroom and squeezed the cold water from my dress into the toilet. It seemed weird to lock the door while I did this, so I didn’t lock the door. It seemed wrong to waste paper towels, so I used just one to wipe my legs, the brown kind so thin it falls apart when it’s wet. I didn’t cry.
     Within ten minutes I was naked from the waist down, dress bunched up and cold under my back. I’d done ultrasounds before, years ago, but I’d forgotten the particular terror of letting a stranger see a part of myself—the insides—that I can’t see and don’t know how to read. She asked if I took birth control and I asked why she was asking. I like to ask, she said. Then she pointed her wand at my cervix, said, This is your cervix. This is your uterus, she said. I’m measuring your lining. This is your right ovary. Now I’ll get your left. Oh, she said. I wonder if you just ovulated. Do you feel any pain when I do this? I’m trying to see around your bowels, she said. There’s nothing emergent, so you’ll hear from your doctor in a week.
     It was over quickly, and outside it had stopped raining. The air was soft. There was my bike by the door. I wiped the seat with a lumped-up napkin from my backpack, feeling pleased I’d saved it, and decided to visit Trader Joe’s. The truth was I was excited to go in, I thought of it as a treat, though I’ve avoided the chain as a matter of principle since 2007. Too noisy with text is what I usually say (like being inside a commercial; the walls are screaming), meaning that the packagedness of even the vegetables, the tireless profusion of marketing, the approach to food as food-concept—all of it offends me. Still, I’d been craving a bag of mango-pineapple-macadamia trail mix for more than ten years.
     They no longer sell that trail mix, it seemed, but the news wasn’t so disappointing: it meant I had even less reason to ever return here. I lingered in the trail mix aisle holding a package of fruit-and-nut disks, date-hazelnut-cacao, wondering if I should buy them as desserts for my July hiking trip, if they were too heavy or if their packaging was too bulky, then deciding my sister, who lives near a Trader Joe’s anyway, might prefer another flavor instead. I searched for unsweetened chocolate bars and found only unsweetened cocoa powder, three dollars for an amount that usually costs six dollars if not eight. Not all baking cocoa is created equal, the package says on its side. (It would turn out to taste as though it had been mixed with baking powder.) I bought some nuts for nut-pricing’s sake.
     Outside, I ate a banana I’d taken from the dorm cafeteria that morning and Googled “black hole ovary,” then “ultrasound ovary normal” and “ultrasound ovary cyst.” The pictures that came up were too varied to have meaning. I called the blood donation center and asked if I could donate blood even though I’d had a tetanus shot in the last two weeks, and when they said yes I asked if there were blood drives anywhere other than the hospital. Not until July. It was drizzling, and now it started to rain hard. I put my phone in my damp raincoat pocket and began the needly ride home. In front of a Days Inn I said Fuck when a man almost took a right turn into me. On Dubuque I took my time through the muddy puddle, a line of traffic behind me, and yelled What the fuck! when I saw that a construction truck was blocking the first available entrance to sidewalk. I thought I might write a letter to the city, protesting the lack of sidewalk along that stretch of almost-highway, then wondered how much time that would take away from all the other stuff I want to write, and all the other letters to the city that should be written and read.
     Upstairs I peeled off my dress and raincoat and underwear and hung them up and showered, water hot, but didn’t wash my hair. Then I sat naked with the door locked and curtains drawn and wrote in the afternoon dark, parting the curtains every now and then to check the puddles, the easiest way to see if it was still raining. It was. I was hungry for five o’clock dinner and restless afterward. I might want to go to the Prairie Lights reading, I told A., and she asked me why. It could be useful for my project with N., I said. M. texted and said the scene was sad, hardly anyone there, the audience half campers. I walked over, imagining that the tops of my femurs were massaging the part of my belly that was swollen from bowels or uterus, and arrived fifteen minutes late. The reader looked at me for a long beat, making it clear he had seen me walk in and wanted me to stay. Never do that, I told myself—Never make someone who walks in late to a reading feel seen—but later I thought it might have been an effective sales strategy. The reader wasn’t reading; he was talking about his life as a gay man who’d come out late. Now he was in his seventies and had been out for thirty years. As a teenager, he said, his “man-boobs” had given something away about him that he hadn’t wanted given away. I wondered what a period gives away, and began to take notes. Secrets need to be lanced. Thought I had to do drag to fit in. I looked in the mirror and I saw my mom. Vulnerability is a path to courage. Conflict is a path to growth. Having a period as a hiddenness, coming out. When he opened the floor to questions, teenagers kept raising their hands and saying, as a start to their questions, I’m gay. I’m gay and I’ve been out for two years and I want to know if you have advice for finding love. He told the story of his first boyfriend, who’d picked him up in a locker room and shown him his erection in a bathroom stall, how he hadn’t expected love from the encounter but love had happened. I thought to myself, this answer is great.
     M. and I walked back to the dorm. Someone looked at my ovaries today, I told her, and when I tried to describe the unpleasantness of lying there watching someone see things in you without knowing what they’re seeing, she knew what I meant. It was cold in the dorm lobby. We tried to hold a game night but no one wanted to play. We started playing ourselves, but then M.’s dog came over and we sat on the floor with it and said, We should sit on the floor more often. I went upstairs a little before 10:30 check-in. P. asked if they used saws for open-heart surgery in the seventies. all my raindrops in the puddle, I texted the counselor group, lying on my belly on the mattress on the floor, thinking I’d fall asleep early. S. instructed M. and M. to up their metaphors. I opened my computer to shut it down but started searching for campsites for July and then it was 11:30. In bed I finished R.’s book, shut the light, and lay awake for a longer time than I have in months, wondering why I was awake and then knowing why, seeing and re-seeing those images of hidden parts of me, parts I can’t understand.

Helen Betya Rubinstein


It is raining as my mother and I turn onto the long gravel drive littered with dead tree limbs. I have to get out of the car to move them so they do not scrape along the bottom of my low Civic. June 26th is a dreary day, lending to the house’s instant personification. This house is sadness. It is hopelessness. It is acceptance.
     My realtor meets us at the door. He is young, and awkward, and omits a false “niceness.” I sense he is the type who is well-versed in passive aggressive maneuvers. Showing me this house, today, is one such tactic. This house is in my price range after a recent price drop. It meets the requirements I have for lot size, bedrooms, bathrooms, and basement. However, this house is in disrepair. It does not have flooring in a third of the rooms. The ceiling in the main living room shows signs of water damage and leaks. My realtor wants me to reassess my standards. He hopes seeing this home will cause me to abandon my already few minimum requirements.
     I text the man I have recently been “seeing.” He lives three hours away (and four states). Our “relationship” is new, undefined, but casual at best. He frequently voices his distrust of marriage, and his dislike for children. He is negative and jaded about almost everything; yet, I’m intrigued by him, so I pretend those two things, things I want very badly, are not necessary. I text him: “House hunting is a lot like dating. I’m told my very minimal standards are too high, and I’m impractical.” He responds: “Very true.”
     The house has seen an addition built over the garage, and another in the opposite back corner. There are pockets of house that seem to appear out of nowhere. When you enter into what resembles a walk-in closet of one room, there is a door that opens to stairs which lead to another room. Several of these rooms do not even have drywall, and many look as though they haven’t been touched in at least a decade. I’m disoriented as I try to find my way back to the main section of the house, and use the light of my cellphone to guide me.
     As I stand in the main living room and look up at the huge cathedral ceiling with gorgeous exposed cedar beams, I am struck by the realization that this house was once really something. The remnants of décor scream 70’s. I can almost imagine the main room being filled with swanky men and women wearing bell bottoms. I’m brought back to a scene from Boogie Nights where Roller Girl skates around guests at a house party.
     I enter the back wing of the house, which is one of the other additions. It consists of a large bedroom and a second bathroom. I nearly gasp when I see the only piece of furniture left in the entire house. It is a metal hospital bed. A bed like this is all too familiar to me and my mother, as we acted as caregivers to my grandfather just a year earlier as his dementia worsened and he was placed on hospice. I knew from the tax information that the owner of the home was a senior. Her name was listed also. She must have lost her partner in this room, though taking care of them until the end, the way my grandmother had cared for my grandfather. There is a sinking feeling in my chest, and I leave the room to find the last section of the house I have not yet explored.
     After opening several doors which turn out to be closets or pantries, I finally find the entrance to the basement. There is no light, and I once again use my phone flashlight. My mother and my realtor follow. We cannot step too far off of the last stair, as an inch of standing water has collected on the concrete below. From my perch on the last step, I can see a washer and dryer placed on high wooden blocks. The unfinished basement has always been a great symbol to me. Where I grew up, this symbol was one of the middle class and the “American Dream.” New families bought homes with unfinished basements, with intentions of one day finishing them. They held onto dreams of what these basements could become. A home gym or rec-room? An additional family room? A home studio? A children's play room? An extra bedroom? Of the unfinished basements I knew as a child, most remained unfinished. I knew that these remained unfinished because other expenses always arose, but part of me wondered if the homeowners didn’t secretly intend for this. By postponing the renovation, the basement can still be all of those things one wants it to be. It is the real-estate equivalent of Schrodinger’s Cat. The dream is more important than the reality.
     I think about this as I look for my first home as a single woman. There are obvious reasons for buying which include building equity, having a sense of permanence in one's living situation, and no longer needing to pay rent. However, I think what makes the process so urgent, and so important, is something altogether unrelated. I realize I only want to buy myself an unfinished basement. I want a home to act as the blank screen to project my dreams onto, regardless of whether or not they ever come to fruition.  

—Caitlynn Martinez-McWhorter

Caitlynn Martinez-McWhorter is a Lecturer at University of Wisconsin-Waukesha and UW Colleges Online. She once spent over $5,000 in vet bills to repair a pigeon's butt, is the voice of a popular children's toy, and has potty trained a wombat. 


Midsummer Day 


I wake from a dream I do not remember, hear the last bars of a song before the station ID and the news of the new Executive Order in which we have no faith. The local reporter explains she waits outside the immigrant child detention center to speak to someone. When the police come, the women reporter tells us she asks the officer to ask questions for them. She reports the police have not been able to talk to anyone in the facility either. These days silence seems as important as the information we may or may not receive. Unanswered questions, unsaid words, carry their messages like shadows: halfmoons in the mesquite’s shade during the eclipse with which I began the first day of classes last year. 
     I shower. My skin dries, my hair curls in the drought air. When I cut off a string from my black t-shirt with the metal scissor I took last week from my father’s desk, which was once his father’s (the heirlooms of the working class), I remember a dream from last night in which I unpacked my suitcase and found three such scissors (black metal, worn, old) and knew I had taken too much from my father’s house. In my family, this is an old story.


In the coffee house, the air conditioner hisses like a band of cicadas, and the white boys stare into their laptops. The man reading Anne Rice mouths the words to the song “Nowhere to run to…”
A woman with the long brown hair on the leather chair leans in toward her friend who is talking. 
     The astronomer from the documentary Nostalgia de la luz tells us that because light’s lag moving across distance, we are always looking into the past.
     It’s 10:44 am. I have answered several emails. I text with friends: one in the DMV in Dallas trying to get her license renewed after it expired during her chemo; another in a hotel room in New York questioning the limits and contours of her marriage.
     I call my 87-year-old aunt who, until last week, had been my 80-year-old father’s main caretaker when he grew sick last year. She says she went to my father’s house today, took the walker that my father was using because she is thinking about her future. Everything we do or say is time stamped. 
     “The visible is thick, but it can always be got through,” writes Brenda Hillman.
     Last week, when my father was dying in an emergency room across the country I lay very still on my living room couch with my arms folded across my chest (as if I had died, were dying as well), and I told my father (silently and across a vastness) that I loved him and I forgave him and I thanked him and he was not alone.


In the coffeeshop they play The Marvette’s “Destination Anywhere.” It’s 1:18. Farid joins me for lunch: eggs and ham over kimchi. We talk, check emails on our phone: models for the possible, places we might go. The temperature rises to 102, won’t stop until it gets a few degrees higher. The Dow closes down 24,461. Global stocks fall with the U.S. dollar. A crack on the floor stretches toward my table. Farid leaves. Another song. And the woman with the straight brown hair and her talking friend have gone.
     If we witness our lives through a hole shaped by our prejudices and perceptions, I witness today through a hole in the shape of my father, in the shape of the life of man who is no longer here.
     Sophia’s poetics essay recounts the journey of the Voyager spacecraft: “We were throbbing, grasping at the wrinkled edge of our own limits.”
     When I sit in the radio studio, the air-conditioner makes a sound like thunder from a far-away storm.


It’s 5 o’clock, but the streets feel half drained. On the east coast, it’s 8 pm: the time I learned to call my father after he started going to bed early because he was always tired.
     My house is empty with not calling, so I try Farid at a roller-skating birthday party with G. While pop music jingles in the background, I tell him I don’t want to lose you.
     The Buddhist reminds me the glass is not half empty or half full, but always already broken. The universe is expanding. A pot of water boils on the stove.
     After dinner G practices Kung Fu, takes a shower, let’s me brush her wet hair as she hangs her head off her bed while her father reads Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Mrs. Weasley tries to discourage Ron, Hermione and Harry from going off in search of the horcruxes instead of going to back to school. And this is what we do as parents: retell the story, try to keep our children from danger. And when no parent hovers above us? A kind of loneliness and freedom? A release and absence?—Not yet for my daughter who asks her father after he’s closed to book to sit with her in the dark of her bedroom a little longer.


After G edges to sleep, I make her lunch. I read the section in Nanni Balestrini’s Blackout about the 1977 New York City blackout and uprising. All over the country this week, people have been assembling inside and out, all over the country a series of detention centers for people who have made an impossibly desperate journey from worse to worse. In the coffee shop earlier today, I wondered whether or not there was a movement to demand my university divest from the prison industrial complex, and I wonder for a moment when I will look in it.
     I catch a glimpse of the sapphire sky, still white gold at the horizon like an old wedding band. If my broken toe did not hurt I would run out into the longest day’s last light.
     Instead, I slip into bed where we watch the video from The Carter’s new single on F’s phone. Farid says his favorite part is when on a staircase in the Louvre in front of an angel statue, Beyoncé whips the skirt of her dress into wings.


In the dream, Farid and I drive in a convertible, maybe near an airport, because big concrete planters line the road. I turn to the right, look down the street. The space shuttle ascends like a plane taking off with a fiery engine glow. 
     Instead of white, it’s navy blue.
     Instead of “USA,” it’s marked with the words “American Airlines.”
     I implore Farid to look. The spacecraft rises slow toward an unknown destination into a blackness pin-pricked with light from a past that will never return to us.

—Susan Briante

Susan Briante is the author of The Market Wonders (Ahsahta 2016). She teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Tucson. She is the daughter of Rosemarie Briante (1937-2014) and Nicholas Briante (1937-2018).


Sometime around 6:30 a.m. I find myself standing in my apartment complex’s courtyard as the dog sniffs and mouths at the ground, searching for the yellow mesquite pods that he enjoys crunching between his teeth. It’s been at least ten minutes of this. I tug his leash and finally, blessedly, he lowers his hind legs into a squat and wets the dirt.
     Back inside, consider slipping back into bed. On a normal day, I’d do just that and lie sprawled on the cooling sheets, dog curled against my side, pink snout snuffling into my armpit until the sunlight through the window burned just a little too hot. But I’m five days deep in a summer cold and comfort is quite elusive these days, so I forgo the lie-in in favor of a cup of tea which is really just a vehicle for coating my throat with a quarter of a bear-shaped bottle of honey. The dog licks at my bare feet as I move through the kitchen.
     I recently bought an herb garden kit from Target and the four metal tins sit on the single sunny windowsill next to the kitchen sink. In the store I had imagined that the type of woman who keeps an herb garden is one whose laundry moves swiftly from machine to dryer to closet as opposed to it sitting in limbo in a basket blocking the hallway. This woman probably does Pilates in the morning and makes blog-worthy meals with (fresh, not frozen) vegetables. The easy domesticity of tending to my own garden enticed me. It seemed like a quick ticket to feeling more like a full-fledged adult, as if the rather low-stakes responsibility of raising a couple of seedlings from flat earth was all I needed to do to in order to cast off all of my bad habits and immaturities. Plus, all of my friends take care of plants and I wanted to be like them.
     Check the soil in each tin with a finger while the kettle heats. Only two of the four herbs have sprouted, though I don’t know exactly which ones because I neglected to label any of them. I hope one is cilantro. I have a store-bought bundle of it slowing rotting in my fridge. In one of the tins, the pale green shoots fall limp and budding leaves tangle together. I try to gently pull the stems from each other like I might do to untangle my own knotted hair, but my touch only causes the stalks to snap. Quickly give up and mentally note this as a problem for a later date.
     While I am sipping weak tea, my father drops off a variety pack of sports drinks from Costco that he picked up for me on his way to see my sister and her baby. We don’t hug for fear of my germs hitching a ride on him but he pats the dog as he leaves.
     Sort through some drawers. For weeks now I’ve been attempting to sift through the five years’ worth of odds and ends that I’ve accumulated since moving into this apartment. I find it hard to throw things away these days, entirely too afraid of tossing out something with a secret significance that I can’t yet see, and I curse past me for not binning the bulk of these unneeded belongings before the distinction between trash and treasured memory became so blurry.
     The reason for this reluctance to let go is that there’s not a single space in this apartment that doesn’t bear the mark of my mother who died suddenly in April of last year. She assembled the furniture and painted the walls mossy green and hung up the geometric paintings that I’m not particularly fond of. I can’t convince myself to take the paintings down and replace them, but I’ve switched their places. As I move through the rooms, I find the ghost of her in the little things that she left behind. Printer paper patterned with notes written in her tight scrawl. Clothing borrowed from her closet that I didn’t get the chance to return. I have no real need for these, but how can I pack them away into black garbage bags and not feel like I am losing something sacred? This I agonize over as I pick through a storage cube of binders.
     I throw away a couple of spiral notebooks because the pages almost reek of teenage angst and decide to break for lunch. I drive too far to a Hawaiian restaurant and order curry and rice to go. I feel sheepish doing so, as I imagine that I am the only person who could walk into a place advertising lush salads and rice bowls piled with vibrant, fleshy fish only to order curry on such a scorching afternoon. The hostess tells me to be careful not to tip the container, but I’m not careful and it goes flying out of the passenger seat at the first left turn I make as I drive back home. 
     I eat sitting on my living room floor and push the bowl to the middle of the table where my dog can’t reach.
     Resume cleaning. I play a comedy podcast hosted by a man whose father wrote a series of absurd erotic novels. Each week the host reads a chapter while two cohosts chime in to point out the moments when the prose is painfully unsexy. It’s easy to laugh. There’s no method behind my movements. I drift from one room to the next, often leaving stacks of half-sorted mess that I’ve deemed too mentally distressing to take care of at that moment. I find another card signed by my mother. My fifteenth birthday. I snap a picture of the note inside and hang it on my fridge. I need more magnets.
     At some point late in the afternoon, I realize that my reluctance to throw anything away is born out of a desire to memorialize this space. To leave it exactly as it was when she last walked the same hall and breathed the same air. My life has split into two parts: when I had a mother and when I didn’t. I am reluctant to let go of “before”: before the death and before I knew the acidic burn of grief. I don’t want to leave my mother in the past.
     Too many days inside has me feeling restless. The dog feels the same. I can tell because he stares at me with his wrinkled face from the mat in front of the door. He looks like an old man. I know he wants to roll in the damp grass, feel wet sunshine soak into the fur of his back, but his allergies are acting up. His nose has been dripping all day. No romping in the grass, then. I meet his stare (as best I can—he is walleyed) and hope that my that my face reads to him as sympathetic: I’m sorry, but this is for your own good. To ease my own guilt, I take him for a ride in the car. 
     As we return home, my friend calls from San Francisco, where she is walking by the Painted Ladies on the way back to her hostel. I sit cross-legged in the middle of the carpet while we talk about writing and burritos.
     Feed the dog kibble that stinks up the room like salmon. Feed myself reheated leftover curry. I run a bath too full and too hot and sink down into the water until my skin can’t stand it and the dog is impatient with the want to touch me. His need for my company despite my current state of stagnancy makes me emotional: oh, how I love this frog-faced little creature that shares this messy home with me. I lie naked with him on the couch where he falls asleep while I watch a cooking competition on television. At 10:30 p.m. I scoop him up under my armpit and carry him to bed. We curl up together, my fingers feeling for the thumping of his little heart. The air conditioner kicks on and I breathe in the cool rush of air, holding it in my lungs, thinking of dead herbs and birthday cards.

Samantha Jean Coxall

Samantha Jean Coxall is an MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Arizona. She writes about spooky forests, family tragedies, and Bigfoot sightings. She lives with a deaf French Bulldog. 


From the clock-radio, a female newsreader announced, “President Trump held a rally of his supporters in Duluth, Minnesota.” A crowd chanted in the background.
     “Every time he needs an ego boost he holds a rally,” she said, her eyes still closed.
     I went to my study to check the window screen. Two wrens had been building a nest between the screen and the window. They had been getting in through a bird-sized hole in the screen. I’d blocked the hole by wedging a picture frame against it.
     Nothing had moved since yesterday.

We walked in light rain to the car, carrying bags—each of us a small bag of clothes and a briefcase with a laptop, notebooks, things.
     On the interstate, a flatbed truck carried large plywood boxes, belted to the bed by thick straps. It splashed spray on our windshield and veered slightly into our lane to avoid a breakdown where the highways split.
     She drove. I munched a chicken sandwich and sipped coffee from a thermal mug.

At the airport, I peed and got a New York Times. The lead headline read: “In Retreat, Trump Halts Separating Migrant Families.” A sidebar headline beneath declared,
Incivility Infests
Divided Nation
In Era of Trump.
     Also above the fold: “Whites a Minority in the U.S.? The Transition is Accelerating.”; “Economic Surge Gives President More Firepower in Trade Battle.”

On the jetway, one man in front of me wore a short sleeve, button-down shirt festooned with sharks. The man in front of him wore a short-sleeve, button-down shirt festooned with cacti. The man behind them wore a shirt advertising a brew pub. The woman behind them, her hair done in tight corkscrew curls, wore a flowing, beige t-shirt dress.
     Boarding, I snagged my bag’s strap on a first-class arm-rest walking by. A seated young man freed it for me, but his look when our eyes met seemed hostile.

I sat by a window in a row of two next to a man with short cropped grey hair, middle-aged (like me). Neither of us are broad-shouldered, but still I pulled my arms and shoulders inwards and kept them that way.
     I dropped a pen as I was situating myself (reading glasses, notebook, book, highlighter, pen, all from the flapped compartment on the back of my canvas brief case). He caught the pen as it bounced on the edge of his seat and handed it to me.
     Later, I noticed the smell coming from him—faint but clear—indicating heavy drinking last night.
     But I felt grateful to him for catching my pen.

In Atlanta, having missed our connection, we got quick and courteous help, got re-booked.
     She got on her phone to revise our rental car order and was told the car would now cost $500 for two-and-a-half days. We did some quick not-quite math: hours lost or saved, expense.
     We went back to the desk and re-booked again, helped by the same woman, a black woman in her thirties, carefully made up. Again, kind, in focused good humor, courteous, quick. “Sorry again guys,” she said as we walked away.

Four hours to kill. We wandered, looking for a good place to sit and work.
     In the Plane Train, in the corner, a middle-aged man and woman, he with his head shaved and wiry arms heavily tattooed, she in a cold-shoulder blouse and short shorts, kissed and clung to each other.
     Four seats down, past the doors, a young Latina airport worker stood behind a borrowed wheelchair in which a white woman sat. The woman in the chair wore a flowered blouse and black slacks, her wide sunglasses pushed back on a mop of dyed, rich brown hair, cut in bangs.
     The woman behind the chair scrolled through her phone. She wore a purple shirt with the slogan, “Another day in Paradise.”

I sipped a cappuccino and wrote this, my laptop perched on the corner of a wooden café table to make room for hers, our screens just about touching.
     The Atlanta airport has good wifi. The internet told me there are seven species of wren in Indiana, all of them insectivorous.
     The internet told me the Plane Train is really what it’s called. Capital P capital T.
     I opened up some resumes and started a spreadsheet and worked.

In an airport seafood place, we ate crabcakes and talked about a baby present. The baby and his parents will be showered with toys, books, and baby things. Should we set up a 529b? A trust? Savings bonds?
     I peeked over her right shoulder, looking for World Cup scores.

In the bathroom, the ambient music—characterless smooth jazz—was loud enough to rise to the level of consciousness. I waved my hand to activate the automatic faucet.
     Outside, a young man leaning against the wall pointed to the spot next to him and said, “Here, bruh.” He seemed to be looking at me, and for a second I thought he wanted to sell me something. Then I realized my mistake and stood, looking up and down the concourse, noting how clean and bright the space appeared.
     This triggered memories. The airport in Dubai, with the look and feel of a casino merged with a high-end mall, with beautiful women spraying perfume. And, years ago, a student from Kyrgyzistan describing his route home from the U.S., expressing his preference for flying via Athens rather than Moscow. “In Moscow, the airport is full of people who want to rip you off.”

Beyond the tall windows, outside the air-conditioned bubble of the airport, it clouded up, rained, cleared. The sun shone on jetways and fuel trucks and baggage carts, casting shadows.

Are wrens migratory? I wondered.
     The internet told me that some migrate and some live year-round in the deep southern U.S., Mexico, and Central America. The migrators winter in the upper south and fly north to a breeding area that begins in Kentucky, just south of Indiana. On the map, the breeding area was red; the band they migrate through—a narrow strip extending from north Texas and Oklahoma through the Carolinas—was yellow.
     The internet told me that wrens like birdhouses, are “remarkably tolerant of human behavior,” and are passerines—perching birds.
     This confirmed what I had seen.
     A window screen with a bird-sized hole in it would present itself as a kind of birdhouse.
     Yesterday, when I was scooping out the nesting materials and putting them in a garbage bag, one of the wrens sat in the branches just a couple feet away and chirped angrily at me.
     Later, when I had covered the hole, the bird returned periodically and stood up on the screen, its little passerine claws threaded through the holes, and looked around, quizzically.

Back on the plane, I read, retreating into a bubble of my own.
     In Eric Bulson’s Little Magazine, World Form, I read, “Modernism’s magazines, where so many writers were published, were subject to the laws, timetables, and business practices of transnational movement; some of them stopped dead in their tracks, but this provided, in the end, different strategies for interactions between magazines which, in turn, influenced how certain works could and could not travel the world.”
     In Philip Roth’s Everyman, I read, “The diamond merchant who came most frequently, and whose migration route had carried him and his family in only a few years from Warsaw to Antwerp to New York, was an older man dressed in a black hat and a long black coat that you never saw on anyone else in Elizabeth’s streets, not even other Jews.”

I pulled out the New York Times and did the crossword puzzle. Thursday puzzle: medium hard.
     Twenty across: _____ flu. Answer: “Asian.”
     The airplane flew from the wren’s year-round zone through its migration zone and back into its wintering zone.

An elderly woman with a mane of white hair, waiting for the bathroom beside our back row, started a conversation. “Are you going to Allentown? Are you from Allentown? I’m just visiting, in Wind Gap. I’m from Florida.”
     She wore a white top and a long beige skirt. When she passed by, a faint scent suggested she was wearing an adult diaper.

We descended through turbulence. My sinuses ached slightly from dry air and the pressure change.

We carried our light overnight bags and heavy briefcases through the small, dumpy regional airport. The carpeting had an alternating pattern of checks and solid color blocks, all in the palette of faded jeans.
     In the rental car line, one party stood in front of us: an Asian man in his late 60s, perhaps, and a young woman, maybe his daughter. She spoke to the rental car clerk and translated for her father. The rental car clerk was a round-faced young woman with brown hair and sharply drawn eyebrows; a long brown cardigan was wrapped around her shoulders.
     The father and daughter were wearing jeans. The blue of their jeans was much richer than that of the carpet.
     They had come, not from a flight but directly to the airport, to look into renting a car for him for two weeks in July. A long discussion ensued about how it would be paid for and the merits and costs of various levels of insurance.
     I thought, the young woman could do all of this on her phone, but I’ll be patient.
     My wife said, “I’m not counting the minutes.”
     In halting English, the man said to the clerk, “How much with insurance again?”
     The clerk answered, and my wife mouthed along, “One thousand one hundred and ninety nine dollars.”
     I thought of the Richard Brautigan story “Complicated Banking Problems.” The narrator goes into a bank to cash a check for something like six dollars. Every customer in front of him in line has a strange problem that necessitates long consultation. One has a bird on his arm that he wants to deposit in the bank.

Outside, in the fresh air for the first time in ten hours, the sun shone on the nicest day I’d seen in more than a week. It felt just slightly warm; wispy clouds alternated with pale blue in the sky.
     I drove our rented Corolla through a moderate Allentown rush hour, swerving with the freeway through construction zones.
     Her phone told us how to get to the house, leading us through residential streets lined with mid-century brick houses with small, neat yards.

We hugged and kissed our niece, the new mother. The baby, enjoying his sixth day outside the womb, slept in a souped-up infant seat with a motorized base that was moving him in a soothing, swaying, side-to-side, up-and-down pattern. His left fist was pressed into his face, scrunching up his features.

We sat on the couch and took turns holding the baby. He was born two weeks early and is small. I noted that his little forearm is the length of my index finger, his little foot the length of my thumb.
     I stroked his feet and his limbs and his belly. I lightly stroked the fine down of his blond hair. The ridges of his skull plates jutted slightly, making a V behind his forehead.
     He slept on, occasionally putting his hands on his head and face, giving him the look of an agitated old man.

Our niece’s is a household in which the default is for the TV to be on, with the sound low, often with no one watching.
     Now the evening news was on. A Texan in a cowboy hat was saying that immigrants come into our country illegally and create a burden on our taxes. “Schools, medical care, everything.”
     I gently squeezed the baby’s little foot.

We hugged and kissed my sister-in-law, the new grandma.
     Our niece, who had a difficult labor and a c-section, was feeling better for the first time since the delivery. She talked, telling us everything that happened. She described the pain of labor as a combination of burning and the need to “take a huge dump.” She described the feeling of having the baby pulled from her. She described them placing the baby on her chest, her arms strapped and tethered to IVs, unable to hold him.
     She talked more in the three hours we spent at her house than she had in the twenty-eight years I have known her. She was relieved and feeling better physically and on a very low dose of Percocet.
Her husband flitted in and out of the room, sitting for periods, then getting up and tending to things, putting things away. He’s handy and hard-working, even when he’s at home. When we pulled up, he had been installing a new latch on the gate outside, fiddling with electric drills and bits.
     On the TV, a graphic read “Police Shooting Protests.”

We hugged our nephew and his wife, the new uncle and aunt, she herself four months pregnant. They came in bearing trays of food and a plastic drum of cookies.
     Food arrived from an Italian joint: a pizza and meatball parm sandwiches and calzones. The new uncle held the baby while everyone else went back and forth to the kitchen pass-through, filling plates and plastic cups.
     We debated eating outside. The new mother said the baby shouldn’t be outside for a week, to avoid environmental toxins. The new father said, “Are you kidding me? Babies have been outside for thousands of years. Babies used to be born outside.”
     The new aunt/expectant mother said, “Yeah, and a lot of babies used to not make it to adulthood.” Everyone laughed.

Everyone talked about the night of the birth; they had all been in the waiting room while the new mom pushed and suffered and had surgery. They described the waiting, and the awkwardness with the soon-to-be-new grandfather, who is long-divorced from the new grandma and estranged from his son (the new uncle).
     The new mom described again the pain of labor; she described the night her water broke, puttering around the house for a half-hour before waking her husband.
     Her husband described the sight of the C-section, the doctor and nurses manipulating his wife’s innards, repositioning them once the baby was out.

People started yawning.
     We took turns holding the baby. The new father and the new uncle/expectant father talked about the relative merits and costs of baby surveillance devices.
     The new father talked about travelling to Greece next spring; discussion ensued of the practicality of bringing the baby—and bringing along the new grandma, to help with the baby. The new grandma detests flying.
     We hugged the new uncle and aunt/expectant parents, and they left.
     Those of us left behind yawned more, and more frequently.

We drove 10 blocks, through silent residential streets, to the new grandma’s house, where we were staying. Inside, I was nodding on the couch in less than five minutes.
     We carried our light overnight bags and heavy briefcases upstairs to what used to be the new mother’s bedroom, when she was a child. A poster hung on the wall, a photo of a mother giraffe kissing a baby giraffe, above the legend “The first kiss.”
     We lay down in twin beds pushed together. I fell asleep clutching her arm.

—Patrick Collier

Patrick Collier is Professor of English at Ball State University and director of the Everyday Life in Middletown project.

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

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