07 Nov

Interview: Siobhan Hebron for Post-Trama (Art Exhibit)

Interview with Siobhan Hebron for Post-Trauma, Art Exhibit for Keck Medicine
by Julianne Carew, Fiction Editor

 

I first heard Siobhan Hebron read her work at a compilation reading of artists with chronic illness. The reading was as eclectic as it was moving, but what I immediately noticed about Siobhan was her in-your-face attitude about illness and the language that surrounds it.

Her short essay, “Hair,” was not about the devastation of losing what most women consider their crowning glory, but instead, about the many other aspects that make living with a chronic illness a reality. Aspects like uncertainty, and the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of it, and the way even devastating news can be turned into art.

At twenty-seven, clad with black leather boots, and a fashion sense that could only be described as effortless, Siobhan Hebron is not your typical cancer patient. She’s a modern-day Gloria Steinem of illness whose mission is to shed new light on the subject, and revolutionize the way we discuss chronic disease.

I sat down to speak with her at the USC Keck Center, where her latest show, Post-Trauma, is currently being exhibited.

 

Can you tell me a little bit about your diagnosis?

 

I went to the urgent care and I told them that I had been in excruciating pain for four days. The first urgent care didn’t take me seriously. They gave me a prescription for Norco, and told me to come back in twenty-four hours if I wasn’t feeling better.

 

I decided that wasn’t going to do it, so I went to another urgent care, and they agreed with me that something was wrong. They told me I could have a blood clot, or a brain tumor, but it was very unlikely. They decided to look into it and perform an MRI.

 

What do you think the difference was between the first urgent care, that didn’t take you seriously, and the second one, that did?

 

It’s going to sound really funny, but the first urgent care was a male doctor and the second one was a female doctor. The second one was also, specifically, a head and neck urgent care. I went to them and told them, you know, look, this is what they did for me yesterday and I’m not better. I need help. I’m in too much pain. But that was my first set of concrete circumstances of male versus female pain and treatment management. I think a lot of times, doctor’s prejudices are subliminal. They don’t realize that they treat a man or a woman differently. It’s not because they want to be mean. It’s an unconscious thing.

 

Once you were diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor, what happened next?

 

The doctor’s wanted me to do chemotherapy. But when I was trying to decide what kind of treatment plan to go with, they were also saying that I needed to decide, being a young adult, whether fertility was an issue for me. They told me that in the next couple of days I needed to decide if I’d like to freeze my eggs, and if I did, they’d need to start on that right now.

 

What did you decide?

 

I did not do it, for several reasons. Children have never been something that I wanted, neither before, during, or after cancer. But what I took real issue with was the fact that they were essentially saying, “You need to make this decision right now, so that we can move forward.”

 

At the time, I was thinking to myself, okay, first of all, I’m trying to make one major decision right now, which is whether to pursue treatment for cancer. You can’t ask me to make another giant life decision on top of that. Also, this is a much different decision than if I were a man. If I were a man, this would be an inexpensive, non-invasive treatment. As a woman, it’s extremely expensive, it’s invasive, it’s potentially dangerous. It was that implicit bias that they didn’t take into account for me as the patient.

 

As a patient, and as someone who has been heavily involved in the healthcare system, what do you recommend could be done to bring awareness to medical misogyny, especially since you mentioned it is mostly subliminal?

 

I think visibility is critical. When we’re still not in a place to where people are comfortable with talking about illness in an everyday conversation, the burden is on the sick person to educate the healthy people. I think that’s why I’m so cognizant of, and so specific in my language about it, and why I make art, and why I write about it, and why I think it’s so important to be open, and have a really open dialogue about things like that.

 

What does the word cancer mean to you?

 

Is it really crazy if I say it means life? I mean, it is my life now. I just went to a wedding this weekend, and I met a whole bunch of new people, and everyone’s asking you, oh, what do you do? What do you do? What do you do? And that’s such a hard conversation for me to have. Right now, I do cancer. That’s what I do. This was especially true a year, or two years ago, when I was smack dab in the middle of treatment. And even though I’m not actively in it right now, it is still so present in my life, in every way, shape, or form.

 

How did being diagnosed with cancer effect your life?

 

It threw everything up in the air. Before, I went to UCLA. I double majored in art and art history. I graduated in four years. I did the whole thing, and I was fully on track to pursue art history, not art. I was not going to pursue a studio practice, at all. So I was looking into graduate programs for art history. I was looking to go the Ph.D. route. I didn’t know fully what I was going to do, but that’s what I was looking at. I knew I was going to take at least two years off in between, just after talking with professors and everyone, so that’s kind of where I was. I was in those years off, when this just came out of nowhere.

 

It really did stop everything. It didn’t change anything biologically or physiologically about me, that would make it impossible for me to still pursue that. I still absolutely could get my Ph.D., but it transformed everything so utterly and completely, and pretty immediately I decided, no, I’m not doing that. I don’t want to do that anymore.

 

How did the uncertainty of cancer effect your art?

 

I think the uncertainty, in the beginning, affected the medium the most. In the beginning, right after I was diagnosed, I started making stuff mainly in video and performance. When I was in school, I stayed away from that at all costs. Before my diagnosis my art was very object-based, painting, sculpting, drawing. I wanted to make things.

 

Once I was creating stuff based on my diagnosis, and thinking about my body and a lot more about this uncertainty and where I was, I didn’t want to make anything so permanent. I didn’t want to make anything that someone could hold in his or her hands, or that could be put on a wall. My art became something that had to be experienced in real time and space. For someone to be a witness to my art they had to be there at that time, in that place, and witness what my body was doing.

 

Were you insured at the time of your diagnosis?

 

Yes. When I was diagnosed I was twenty-four, and this was in 2014, right after Obamacare was originally passed. So under Obamacare I was still insured under my parents. And knowing me, having never have been sick, if Obamacare had not been passed, I would have thought, ugh, I’m too young. I don’t need insurance right now. I probably just wouldn’t have done it. So it really, truly, saved my life

 

What do you have to say about what’s going on in healthcare now?

 

It’s appalling, and terrifying, and will murder millions of people. It’s inhumane. On election night, healthcare’s the only thing I thought about. I kept thinking to myself, “I’m dead.”

 

Who do you think will be most effected?

 

I think the poor will be effected. I think all minorities will be affected. The disabled will be effected, the chronically ill will be effected. The elderly will be effected. Pretty much everyone who is not a rich, white, healthy straight male will be affected. Pretty much everyone who is not the spitting image of a congressman will be affected.

 

What do you think we should do from here? As an artist, and a patient, and someone who this effects directly, what would you like to see to make people aware?

 

The calls, the emails, the protests, the things like that. Making art is my outlet for it. But I think anyone who is dealing with issues like this, if they’re comfortable with it, and if they’re in a safe place to do so, I think it is really important to be visible.

 

It’s so misunderstood, what it takes to live with an illness on a daily basis, and to make that visible to others. Obviously, if you don’t live with it everyday, you’ll never understand it fully. But if you can make people see deeper into that situation, and have more empathy for it, it can only be better for everyone.

 

People only believe you can either be alive and well, or sick and dying. But people have a real issue with being alive and sick. I think the more people talk about it, and are visible, and see people being alive and sick, and see that we are viable human beings, the more beneficial it will be. Yeah, we’re alive, and we’re sick, and we’re going to continue to be alive if you’ll let us.

 

Do you think there’s anything the government can do to redeem itself with regards to healthcare? What would you like to see happen?

 

In a perfect world they could get rid of the American Healthcare Act, and work towards bettering the current system. Because it is working, it is good. It’s not perfect, but, it is the most effective healthcare system this country has ever had. Instead of tearing it down and starting from scratch, let’s start from where we’re at. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. So let’s focus on making it better.

 

Where does your health stand now?

 

My health is currently stable. The tumor continues to be stable. I am doing MRIs every twelve weeks. I go in for the scans and then I meet with my neuro-oncologist right after, and he goes over it. It’s so funny that I’m a visual artist and the only way to monitor my tumor is through visual means.

 

Artistically, what do you see yourself working on in the future?

 

I still have a great desire to do some kind of durational performance, potentially, over years, where it’s some kind of using up of the body, over time. Truly, my body feels like an art object now because of what’s happened to it, and it also somehow feels like so much has been done to it. Oddly, I feel closer to it, and somehow, more distant from it. It feels almost like it did in the beginning, like my body is some potential object to be used up for art.

 

____________
Siobhan Hebron
@shebron
siobhanhebron.com

She graduated from UCLA in 2012 with a B.A. in both Art and Art History. Her work engages in feminist social practice, directly embracing community and collaboration, and functions within the idea that a radically honest dialogue is needed to change the socio-cultural perception of health and illness.

 

____________
Julianne Carew
Fiction Editor, East Jasmine Review

Julianne writes new adult and literary fiction. She is currently trying to find a home for her first novel, Why Paintings Fall. She lives in the Los Angeles area, but travels all over the world collecting stories. Her work is featured or forthcoming in The East Jasmine ReviewLiterally Stories805 Literary MagazineBewildering Stories, and in numerous anthologies.

 

 

07 Nov

Fiction: Leave It At The Altar by Jasmine Wade

Leave It At The Altar
By Jasmine Wade

 

Planning dates with my boyfriend Henry was always an ordeal. For one: he never showed up anywhere on time. So, a show or movie was out of the question. Two: our illnesses combined were like a herd of cows blocking the road to Normal Dateland. He suggested an action movie, a concert, and crowd watching at Fisherman’s Wharf. None of those were viable options because of my hallucinations. I suggested nachos and drinks at a local bar which he couldn’t do because of his bipolar medications and their oh so pleasant side effects.

This sort of thing was not an issue when we met. We had both been in a psychiatric hospital hidden in a wooded, secluded part of Northern California (civilization was at least 20 miles away). Paramedics wheeled me in on a stretcher. Joey stayed by my side while the nurse gave me a tour and took my bra (“The underwire is dangerous, dear”) and deodorant (“because of an incident with an alcoholic”).

Henry was the first fellow patient to talk to me. He was about my height (short for a guy, tall for a girl) and wore the same blue Cal hoodie the whole week he was hospitalized. His brown baldhead shined under the fluorescent lights. I tugged at my hair, which desperately needed a relaxer, and tried to look somewhat presentable.

“What are you in for?” he asked.

For a second, I thought about lying and saying something less stigmatized like depression or anxiety, but something about his smile made me want to be honest. “Schizoaffective disorder. Meds stopped working. You?”

“Whoa, schizoaffective. That’s schizophrenia plus bipolar, right?” He held a hand over an open mouth. I nodded. “I’m just regular old bipolar. Went off my meds.”

“Naughty boy.”

He chuckled, and the fat of his belly jiggled like it was laughing too.

That was three years ago. I’d managed to stay out of the hospital since then. Being healthy involved a balancing act between my two boyfriends: Henry and my illness. Both required respect, attention, loyalty, and tenderness. The madness was more demanding. It decided where I went, what I did, and who I did it with. If I stepped out of line, didn’t give it the attention or care it felt it deserved, I was punished with visions of pedestrians on the road where there were none or creepy crawlers on the walls, the ceiling, my skin. It was abusive but there was no breaking up, no moving away, no hiding.

But still, I dreamed of a normal boyfriend and a normal romance. That life would be like a really boring movie, but we would be enthralled with it and each other. Normal life (house, marriage, maybe a kid or two or three) was the altar, and I was the pilgrim walking many miles to get there. My illness, however, put up road blocks and detours to make the journey seem endless and the destination impossible. Henry was my golden ticket. Because he had a mental illness too, we’d be more understanding of each other and make better caretakers. He would take my life to the next level.

Joey plopped next to me on the couch. He tossed his leather jacket on the floor and flexed his chest muscles under his white tee. “Why don’t you just stay in? Order Chinese and watch a movie on Netflix.”

That’s what we always did, and I was sick of it.

“Then, go out the next morning to some public place. Like the Botanical Gardens. That shouldn’t be crowded on a weekday morning.” I stared into Joey’s eyes. The blue of his irises and the white skin of his eyelids were blurred slightly, my clue that he was a hallucination. But, in that moment, he was also kind of brilliant.

“How about we stay in tomorrow night?” I suggested to Henry. “We can order Thai and watch that World War II movie you wanted to see. I have to work the next day but the day after that, we can go to the Botanical Gardens.”

“Sounds perfect. And maybe over the weekend, we can drive up to see the Redwoods and walk along the beach.”

“I’d love that.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow at six.”

Six o’clock came and went with no Henry. I practiced pitches for the arthritis medications I sold to doctors during the day. I went over the index cards I kept in my car. Dr. Herman was a big fan of Crossfit, so I would mention the squat challenge I did the month before. Dr. LaSalle hated exercise junkies, so I would bring the double fudge cookies from the bakery she liked. Dr. Harbinger did a juice cleanse during the second week of every month, so I’d scrap the treats for that visit and bring detox tea instead. Dr. Singh’s daughter was preparing to go off to college, so I would be extra sympathetic and bring apple tarts. I went over the science behind the medication until I could pronounce all the terms perfectly.

I worked until ten o’clock and then started my nighttime routine: meds, bedtime yoga positions, herbal tea, and a book. I curled under my covers and tried to focus on the words on the page and not my irritation that Henry didn’t show up. (I was really looking forward to sexy time.) Part of me was used to it. He was a freelance photographer. When he was healthy, he traveled the world taking photos. When he wasn’t, he stayed at his mom’s house in Oakland. I didn’t know if it was his personality or his job, but he had this idea that he could sweep in and out of my life whenever he pleased. It upset me, and it upset my other boyfriend, the madness, who needed a predictable routine to lull it into dormancy.

As the meds and tea began to work their sleepy time magic, statistics ran through my mind. An old psychiatrist once told me, sixty percent of schizo-types functioned at a diminished capacity. They were greeters at grocery stores and had family or the state taking care of them. Ten percent were institutionalized, unable to leave hospitals without a judge’s approval. Ten percent were dead at their own hands. And twenty percent were out and about, holding down jobs and attempting to blend into mainstream society. I was one of the fortunate twenty percent, but that wasn’t guaranteed to last for the rest of my life. If I messed up badly enough, I could have another psychotic break and get knocked down to diminished status. I’d gone over these statistics a million times.

Similar racial statistics and their accompanying mantras—Talented Tenth, twice as good—were the rope at the end of a finish line that kept moving. And yet, I kept trying.

At three ‘o clock in the morning, loud booming knocks hit my front door with an impatience I could feel under my covers.

“Someone’s at the door, sugar pie,” Joey said. He stretched his legs from the papasan chair in the corner of my bedroom, as if he was also waking up.

I paused for a second, thinking maybe the knocks weren’t real. I froze, my head just an inch away from the satin pillowcase. The knocks came again, so loud and impatient I was sure the neighbors would wake. The cold air hit my feet first when I threw the blankets off of my body. Something’s wrong, I thought. As I walked to the front door, images of fires, earthquakes, freak tornadoes in San Francisco whirled through my mind. I imagined the end of the world. (Assassins also entered my mind for an instant, but what assassin rings the doorbell?)

I peeked through the peephole and flung the door open when I saw who it was. “Henry? What are you doing here?”

I took a good look at him. His eyes drooped, and he wasn’t moving like himself. He seemed slower, heavier.

“My mom kicked me out.” His voice trembled. “We had another fight. She said she’s tired of playing caretaker or some nonsense. She’s too old or whatever. I’m too much or something. I don’t really want to talk about it.” He sniffed.

“So…” The unspoken question hung in the air. I needed him to ask me, especially when I saw the two large suitcases and duffel bag sitting on my porch.

“Can I stay here for a few days? Just until I can find some other place to rent.”

“Just a few days?” I imagined my other boyfriend roaring with rage. Moving in? It would destroy my routine. But Henry was my actual boyfriend, accompanying me to the Altar of Normal. (Plus, moving in was a super adult move, right? Definitely something normal people did.)

Henry blinked back tears. ” I’m so tired. I think I need a day to rest. Or two days. Two days to rest and then two days to find a place.”

It didn’t feel right. But what could I say except, “Okay, baby, come on in.”

He pulled his suitcase right to my bedroom, threw his stuff onto Joey’s chair, and then crawled into bed on my side.

I watched Henry fall asleep almost immediately–something I had only known men to do.

Joey zipped his leather jacket up to the middle of his chest and shoved his hands into his pockets. “You should have talked to me about this first.”

“This is what adult couples do. They move in together,” I whispered.

“He’s not like you.”

“I know him better than any other guy I’ve dated.”

Joey snorted. “Yeah, all three of them?”

“Shut up.” He was right though. I’d been on more medications than dates. (Shit, I’d been hospitalized more times than I’d had orgasms of the non-vibrating variety.)

A shadow passed on the wall as Henry rolled over. “Who are you talking to?” he mumbled. He didn’t stay awake long enough for me to answer.

I crawled into bed next to Henry and tried not to toss and turn even though I couldn’t sleep. Just when I closed my eyes and began to drift into dreamland, my alarm blared. I caught it as quickly as I could and started going through the motions of my morning routine. When I got back to my bedroom after a shorter run than usual, Henry was awake, still in bed, and staring at the ceiling.

“Come get back in bed,” he said in a pitiful, whiny voice.

“I can’t stay with you. I have to go to work.”

“Come on, play hooky.”

“No.”

I peeled off my running clothes and hopped in the shower. The water–as hot as I could stand it–beat against my skin. I had to stick to my routine. I couldn’t play hooky. The potential for chaos in my mind was so great that my world had to be as orderly as I could make it.

I stood before my closet in just my lace panties, wondering if the sight of my almost naked self would get Henry out of bed. He didn’t seem to notice. I put on my tan skirt suit and pink blouse. In the kitchen, I made a kale, strawberry, and blueberry smoothie with almonds. Half went in a travel cup, and the other half went in a glass for Henry.

“I’m leaving,” I said as I placed his glass on the end table next to him.

He mumbled something.

“Pull the blanket away from your face so I can hear you, please.” I add the please a second late.

“I feel heavy.”

“Are you depressed?”

His body moved under the blanket in what looked like a shrug. “Probably.”

“Then, you need to get up.”

I knew mental illness demanded that I do the opposite of what my brain told me to do. If my brain told me to trust what I saw, I had to be a little suspicious. Henry’s brain was telling him to sleep all day. He needed to do the opposite.

“Go for a walk,” I said. “Head down to that grocery store you like and pick up some veggies to go with dinner.”

“Goddammit, Dawn.” He kicked at me from under the covers.

I walked out of the room without saying another word. I tried to remind myself of all the things I liked about Henry. He was smart, funny, and sweet. He never showed up on time, but when he did show up, he usually had flowers or something else to make me smile. He thought it was cute that I had a flat screen TV mounted on my living room wall even though I didn’t watch TV. (I liked the way it added to the decor of the room.) I needed to be patient with him. After all, if the roles were reversed, if my madness were out to play, I would want him to be patient with me.

We were a perfect match. We would take turns playing caretaker. Give a little, get a little. I told myself this over and over as I drove to the VA Medical Center in Oakland. By the time I pulled into their parking lot, I had calmed down.

Men in wheelchairs and on canes hung out in the grassy area outside the main doors. I nodded and smiled at them as I walked in, even though my stomach twisted in knots. All the pain in their faces and their bodies made me feel like my samples of arthritis medication were insignificant. Inside the lobby, my heels clacked against the orange tile.

There was no one at reception. I looked around and a middle aged woman walked up wearing a white coat and carrying a clipboard. She was dark-skinned with a cheerful, round face. “Hello,” she said. “How may I help you?”

I held out my hand to shake hers. “I’m Dawn, a rep from Mantex Pharmaceuticals. I’m here to give some samples to Dr. Herman.”

Instinct told me to look her up and down, but instead my mind wandered to what Henry was doing. I hoped he had at least moved from the bed to the couch to watch Netflix on his laptop.

“Oh, Dr. Herman just went into a meeting with all the other doctors. I’m on my way there now. I’d be happy to drop off the samples.” She reached out her hand. “Unless you needed to talk to him?”

Henry needed to snap himself out of his depression before it got more intense. There was a way to head these things off. Didn’t he know that? Why wouldn’t he let me help him? “No, no,” I said to the woman. “I mean, talking to him would be ideal, but if he’s in a meeting, I’ll call him later and make an appointment.”

“Great. I’ll take the samples to him.” The woman stepped a little closer, her smile widened.

I stared at her for a moment longer than was appropriate. Something didn’t feel right. “Thank you,” I said as I handed her the bag. Maybe I could convince Henry to cook some comfort foods with me. Mashed potatoes. Fried chicken.

The woman took the bag and shuffled down the hall. I started to walk back through the lobby towards my car. Maybe I could convince Henry to go to a movie with me. Or sex! Sex was good for depression, right? (Although I wasn’t sure how it would impact his man parts.)

Just before I walked back out the front doors of the clinic, I looked over my shoulder at the woman who took the samples. Damn, I should have gotten her name. New doctor meant new contact and new index card. I was off my game. She was pretty far away, but her shoes looked awfully comfortable, like slippers. I stared at her feet as they moved farther and farther down the hallway. She was probably wearing some comfortable brand of loafers.

Back in my car, I pulled out of the clinic parking lot. As I approached a red light, a green hatchback appeared in front of me. I slammed on the breaks wondering where the hell the car came from. The silver car behind me laid on the horn. I glanced in the rearview mirror. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” I muttered. When I looked back in front of me, a second later, the green car was gone. I looked in all the lanes–no green car. The light was still red. Down the streets, back in the rearview mirror–no green car. I froze. The light turned green, and I didn’t move.

The green car was a hallucination. Not too bad, it happened from time to time. But it got me wondering about the woman at the clinic. Was the clipboard she was holding a little blurry? Was the white coat slightly out of focus? Who did I give the samples to?

“You should go back and check,” Joey said from the backseat.

“No, that would make things worse.”

“You gotta do something to cover your ass.”

The silver car honked again, and the world came back into focus. I moved through the intersection just as the light turned yellow.

I debated going back, but it would be worse for me to go back and admit I gave samples to a hallucination, right? Instead, maybe no one would even know I was there, and I could schedule an actual appointment with Dr. Herman. Or maybe I could say I gave them to an orderly whose name I didn’t catch. Either way, I had options.

I was about to go pick up some food to take to the next doctor on my list, but I realized I left the other packs of samples at home. I sped back and ran up the driveway as fast as I could in heels. I prayed Henry was at least sitting up.

I didn’t notice the blood at first. I tracked it halfway down the hallway before I noticed my shoes were sticking to the floor. I turned around and almost screamed at the sight of bloody footsteps. I recognized my small shoe-shaped prints in the blood, but there were larger prints with red toes on my hardwood floor.

“Henry?” I followed the bloody toes through the hallway to the entrance of my bedroom. The door was closed.

Joey breathed on my neck. He reached his white hand toward the doorknob, and I followed with my brown hand.

The trail of blood led from the door to the bed, where Henry was a lump under the covers.

“What happened? Are you hurt?”

He poked his head out. “Everything hurts.”

“I know, baby, I know.” I sat at the foot of the bed, wishing I could see under the covers, unsure of how to get him out of his cocoon. “But there’s blood on the floor. Where are you hurt?”

“Everywhere.”

I reached up and started to pull the covers away.

Henry’s hand flew near my face and dragged the covers back. I propelled myself backward, trying not to get hit.

I passed the green smoothie, untouched, on the nightstand as I left the bedroom.

Glass crunched under my feet when I stepped into the kitchen. My mouth opened and closed as I searched for words and breath. Every dish in my cupboards was on the floor in a heap of broken glass. Blood mixed in with the shattered pieces and trailed out of the kitchen.

Joey came in behind me. The glass didn’t crunch under his feet. “This, my dear, is what we call a 5150 kind of situation.”

A 5150 involved a call to the police, who would come and investigate the situation. They would inevitably deem Henry “a danger to himself or others” and cart him off in handcuffs to the nearest hospital for a psych evaluation. He would ride in the back of the cop car, sliding around the seat with every turn, unable to brace himself because his hands would be cuffed behind his back. He would be “escorted” into the hospital, with anyone watching unable to distinguish him from a criminal. He would be forced to disrobe down to his underwear in front of the cops and bear the cold, sterile hospital air in just a gown. The cops would tell the nurses to chain him to a bed and station a guard outside the door. It was humiliating. (Believe me, I knew.) It was the sort of thing that damaged the soul, and would definitely damage a relationship. I could not convince my black self to call the cops on my black boyfriend just because he broke my dishes.

I rushed back to the bedroom. The smell of decaying fruit hung in the air. But my nose adjusted after a few seconds.

“Henry, we have to talk. Do you know what my kitchen looks like right now?”

He rolled over so he was facing my direction even though his head was still under the covers. “It was an accident.”

He accidentally broke all my dishes?

“The first one was. An accident, I mean. I’m not sure what happened after that.”

“Is there anyone I can call for you?”

“I’m between treatment teams.”

“The whole team?” We were marching into dangerous territory. No treatment team meant no therapist, no psychiatrist, no professional support.

He poked his head out. His eyes were red. “I can get better on my own. I just need time. You know how this is. Sometimes you just have to ride it out.”

The smoothie on the table had begun to separate into its different elements. The green of the kale sank to the bottom while the oil from the almonds rose to the top.

“Can I look at your feet?” I said in my sweetest voice. I tried to channel the psychiatric nurses, who have amazing abilities to get uncooperative patients to follow orders. “I want to help you.”

I pulled the comforter up from the bottom. Mental note: remake bed.

Streaks of blood dripped down the sheets and the bed skirt onto the floor. Henry’s feet were covered in blood in varying degrees of dryness. It was caked between his toes. It oozed from cuts on the balls and soles of his feet. Shards of glass jutted from at least a dozen places on each foot.

“You don’t feel this?”

“I don’t feel much of anything.”

I stopped myself from rolling my eyes. (Did he really have to be so dramatic?) Impatience returned with Joey, who sat in the chair in the corner. The smell from the sour smoothie returned, and I caught a whiff with every breath.

I needed to get the glass out of Henry’s feet before it got infected. I grabbed tweezers from the bathroom.

I pushed the tweezers into his skin on either side of a shard of glass and pulled. The tweezers screeched against the glass, like nails on a chalkboard, but it didn’t move. I moved to a bigger piece. Slowly, the glass separated from flesh. A trickle of blood flowed from the open wound.

Joey had moved a little closer. “Hmm. Gauze?”

The blood dripped onto the sheets and then onto the floor. Mental note: clean floor.

I ran out of the room, slamming the door behind me, and sprinted toward the kitchen. I tiptoed over the glass, grabbed my first aid kit and my hot pink toolbox from under the sink, and ran back to the room.

The stink of the smoothie smacked me in the face when I opened the door, but I didn’t stop. The kale had separated from the red and blue of the berries. I’d never been more disgusted by the color green. The bedroom felt like it had shrunk to half its original size.

My heart pounded. In the back of my mind, I heard my therapist telling me to slow down, take a break, relieve some of the stress. But I couldn’t. Henry needed me to get the glass out of his feet.

My phone rang. I panicked, knowing it was work. They were undoubtedly wondering why I had missed the rest of my meetings. Or maybe it was about the VA Center. Nausea turned my stomach (the smell plus anxiety was a bad gastrointestinal mix).

I focused with a set of hot pink pliers on one of the small pieces near the ball of Henry’s top foot. My hands shook too much to get a good grip. My brain felt like it was swelling, pressing against the edges of my skull. I was getting overloaded. I leaned back, shook my head, and felt a drop from the ceiling land right on my forehead. Just as I looked up to see where it came from, another drop hit my eye. I wiped my eye and saw paint swirling around on the ceiling, as if a large child had finger painted up there. The greens swirled with the blues and reds. Drops of paint fell and landed on me, dotting my tan suit jacket.

The pressure in my brain intensified. I took a deep breath and peeled my suit jacket off and tried to concentrate on Henry’s feet. My madness was awake and roaring. I’d upset the delicate balance of my brain chemistry. My illness collided with Henry’s in my tiny bedroom, and it was hard to breathe. I knew I needed to take a step back, let my brain heal, keep from going too far, and prevent getting knocked down to diminished status. I would rest after I handled Henry’s feet.

I pulled out a couple more shards of glass and glanced over at the untouched smoothie. The kale seemed darker, like it was rotting. My stomach heaved.

I extracted piece after piece of glass out of Henry’s right foot. The sheets would be soiled forever. Mental note: Toss sheets.

I pulled and plucked until there was just one shard left. It was tiny and hidden right in the soft tissue of his arch. I leaned forward, gripping his ankle with one hand. My face was just inches away from the glass, which was getting harder to see as the sun began to set. I pushed the points of the pliers into Henry’s foot and didn’t grab the glass the first time around. It was like those carnival games with the claw and some nice, shiny, unattainable toy sitting in the bin. Henry groaned. I pushed the pliers back in. Henry screamed, jerked his foot up, and kicked me right in the face.

I fell off the bed, stunned. I felt my face. The glass left in his foot had scratched my cheeks, chin, and nose. I couldn’t tell my blood from Henry’s blood from the “paint” on the ceiling.

Joey crouched in front of me. Neither of us said anything for awhile.

My cell phone rang again. It was my boss Larry’s special ring tone. I wondered if it was about the VA Center.

How was this my life? Covered in blood, sitting on the floor of my bedroom with a sick man who doesn’t seem to want to do anything to make himself better. And all my dishes were broken. Mental note: buy new dishes.

“This isn’t working,” I told Joey.

Joey tapped his thigh. “You’re already in relationships.”

He was right. I was stuck in the miserable relationship with my illness. Henry had his own extra girlfriend. Maybe we couldn’t all be in the bed together. There wasn’t enough room. The road to the Altar of Normal had cracked, bent, warped and it felt like my brain was following suit.

Henry and I couldn’t be together anymore. A familiar ache—loneliness, fear—grew in my chest. I had planned out the whole normal life with Henry (house, marriage, kids, dogs). The collapse of the plan ushered in a panic that my life would never be what I wanted, that I would never have someone, that my madness would always be my closest companion.

“Focus,” Joey commanded.

And so, I did.

Mental notes: Call Larry and tell him I took a sick day. Call Dr. Herman and make an appointment. Get the glass out of Henry’s other foot. Make dinner. Buy more kale.

Throw away the smoothie.

The smell assaulted my nose as soon as my thoughts turned to the smoothie. I grabbed it and stomped toward the kitchen. I forgot about the broken glass and winced when I stepped on it. The glass fell out of my hand and smashed against the tile. The green liquid mixed with the red and white checkers of my kitchen floor.

Clean up the smoothie. Take the sheets of the bed. Clean up the glass in the kitchen. Get the blood out of the rug in the bedroom.

My phone ran again. Larry was calling.

I wanted to scream. I opened my mouth and the walls of the kitchen bent inward. I closed my mouth and the walls bounced back to their original place. I blinked once and then again, harder.

“I’m done,” I said aloud.

Trembling, I found my cell phone in my briefcase by the front door. I went to my living room and curled my feet under me on the couch. I dialed 911.

“Hello? Yes, I would like to…I need a…” My breath caught in my throat, and the tears started to come. “My friend…” He’d been reduced to that. He was no longer lover, boyfriend, hopes for normalcy, plans for a good life, golden ticket. “My friend is bipolar, and I can’t help him. Can you send someone?”

____________
Jasmine Wade
is a fiction writer.
jasminewade.com
Jasmine Wade is obsessed with the ridiculous, and oftentimes traumatic, trials of growing up. Her short stories have appeared in Drunken Boat, TAYO Literary Magazine, Lunch Ticket, The Copperfield Review and others. She is an alumna of VONA/Voices and Mills College’s MFA program. She has won the 2016 Edward P. Jones Short Story Contest and was a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Founding Members Award for College Writers. When she’s not writing, she’s usually buying or reading more used books than she has space.

06 Nov

Fiction: “Interview” by Jonathan Harper

Interview
by Jonathan Harper

 

Of course it’s him.

It takes only a second to cycle through the rolodex of my mind and match the name with the face. Stanley. Jones. Name as bland as the gray suit he wears. I stammer, I almost tangle my feet.

“Danny?” He says my name like it’s up for debate. In another life, I would have simply walked out of the room.

We stand in his fancy office, windows overlooking the bustle of K Street. He’s done well for himself: the executive desk, framed degrees, the plastic plants. All the signs point to the level of upper-management where you’ve been successful enough to just coast by the rest of your career. Stan’s got that pleasantly plump build, his face soft and his hair fully grey. He looks like somebody’s dad. On his desk sit a trio of picture frames featuring his wife and children. They arch out like a ward against evil.

“Jesus, Danny. It’s really you, isn’t it?” He thrusts his hand at me and I hesitate before shaking it. “I had no idea!”

Who’s he trying to fool? I’m here for a job interview and my resume is spread eagle on his desk. It clearly lists where and when our paths have crossed.

“You look great,” he gushes. “Haven’t changed a bit.”

Liar. I’m thicker in the gut with a receding hairline and crow’s feet. My blazer is borrowed. And ill fitting. I got a tattered JanSport backpack holding my portfolio: over a decade’s worth of web designs and marketing kits and anything else I could think to throw in. I don’t just want this job. I need this job and I’m trying not to show it.

We’re still shaking hands after several seconds, like a test of willpower to see who will let go first. Stan’s face is jubilant. “Do you still keep in touch with the others?” he asks. The corner of his mouth starts to twitch while I try to guess which names he wants to hear. “Didn’t think so,” he says. “That’s a shame. We’re lucky if we find a group like that once in our lives.” Then comes the silence. He let’s go of my hand. “So, what have you been up to all these years?”

I hand him my portfolio, take my seat, and watch him toss it aside. “Straight to business. I like that,” he says.

The way he acts would make you think this interview was just a formality. He starts with the most banal questions: Where do I see myself in five years? How do I overcome challenges in the workplace? He feeds me each answer. The design department, he assures me, is self-sufficient. It just needs a manager to ensure deadlines are met. My portfolio remains untouched.

The way Stan speaks is rehearsed and phony and full of generalizations. Soon, he quits asking questions altogether, talks about the company like it’s one of those ominous evil corporations straight from an 80’s sci-fi flick. And he’s just one of the henchmen. When it’s obvious he’s lost my attention, he knocks on his desk to bring me back in. His hands are large, well manicured nails with age spots around the knuckles.

To think, he used to make my cry with those fingers.

**

My last vivid memory of Stan, eighteen years ago: he was spit-roasting me with another one of his chums in the back of the Greenpeace outpost. I was sprawled over a table among random papers and Styrofoam cups, the three of us sweaty and stoned and out of our minds.

“I’m doing this for the planet!” I hollered and both of them laughed before they put me back to work.

This was back during my political days, when I was a twenty-four year-old professional intern, ready to get elbow deep in whatever cause would take me on. This was when Stan was a bushy-haired organizer, a guy who knew how to motivate. His friend – another one of the foot soldiers, the kind who rotated in and out whenever it was convenient.

Back then, every week was about signature collections and databases and long strings of credit card numbers. I never knew what became of all this data. I started in Stan’s office because I needed work experience and a reason to live in the city. I stayed because of the people and the drugs and because together, we were humanity’s last stand against environmental annihilation. How many nights did I spend in the break room, talking about carbon emissions and big business schemes, conspiring against the enemy and “motivating” the allies. I thought, as long as we didn’t save the world, this could go on forever.

**

The job interview doesn’t just end, it fades out slowly. Before I know it, Stan is talking about the good old days, lamenting the loss of lower rents and the late night parties. But what he really means is he misses his youth. I was once part of it. He wants to know when I became a graphic designer? Where am I living these days? Do I still go out to the bars on 17th Street?

“Tell me something,” he says. “Something dangerous and true.”

I say, “The oceans are rising at a current rate of 3.3 millimeters per year.”

He pauses and forces a chuckle. That’s no longer his department. “Oh we had fun back in those days. Now it’s just work, work, work.”

I look back at the family photos: the two little boys in matching bow ties and monstrous grins. The wife looks … sweet. I grimace. It’s involuntary.

“You know I can’t hire you,” Stan says. His voices dips back to that cold informality that years ago I grew to detest. He’s not supposed to say that. “I’m not supposed to say that,” he says. “But I don’t want to string you along. The thing is I see you as a doer, not a manager. You understand that, right?” He gives that tilted-head sorry look, because I should have understood the moment I walked through his door. “We do take on freelance work. I can send your portfolio to the marketing department.”

He wants me to stay seated, to barter for the job. Just like I did when the internship ended. That was a terrible day. He sent me home, back to Kansas City, without so much as a letter of recommendation. Now, I don’t take the bait.

All I can do is let it roll off me with a shrug and explain that I have enough freelance work. But what I want to tell him is that I need the health insurance, the 401K, all the stability I should have had while doing the odd jobs that people like him leave unfinished.

“There’s a happy hour next week. You should come with me. I’ll introduce you to a few people. Sometimes, it’s all about who you know.” Asshole. He knew what he just said. “Let’s talk about it over drinks. My treat.”

He extends his hand again. I do not take it, but then I do. He’s all transactional, ugly and charming.

“I could use a guy’s night out,” he says. “Just like the good old days.”

I’m sure we remember the good old days very differently. For me, they were full of men like Stan, who believed compromise equaled defeat, so they set the bar low enough so they wouldn’t have to do it. They were the ones who hired me, used me like a sponge and sieve for their momentary fascinations, each one ending up as a trophy line on my resume. When I shake Stan’s hand, I feel all of them there asking in unison, “Didn’t we use to play together?” As opposed to work.

They are like children to me now.

____________
Jonathan Harper
is the author of the short story collection Daydreamers (Lethe Press), which was a Kirkus Review’s Indie Book of the Year for 2015. His writing has been featured in such places as The Rumpus, The Rappahannock Review, Chelsea Station, and in numerous anthologies including The Best Gay Stories series. Visit him online at jonathanharper.com

13 Jul

Fiction: Fireflies by Nicole Sharp

Fireflies
by Nicole Sharp

Fireflies blink on and off in the overgrown Spanish moss trees outside my bedroom window. My brother used to tell me that if I ever got lost, all I had to do was find the fireflies that winked and blinked in the long green hair of my trees. He told me that the fireflies would be my own personal beacons of home.

When I was younger. When I sat on the front porch with my grandmother who told stories of her childhood. When my skin stayed sticky in the height of the summer months. When I had faith in my widowed father who liked to bring his dates home. When life was a perfect blend of all these things, I had faith in my fireflies.

Daddy’s found a wife since then, since I was younger. Actually, he found himself three wives since then. They were all the same. They loved him at first, smiled at him in the mornings over the kitchen table. With grandma sitting next to me, her head bowed in prayer, I watched the looks between my daddy and his new wives. They loved him at first. They would smile, unashamed about the night noises that banged and screamed from daddy’s room. Daddy used to stare at the red lipstick painted on his new wife and lick his lips like he could taste it.

“Amen,” Grandma would say. We’d all eat biscuits and gravy and grits with a lake of melted butter in the middle.

When grandma died we’d eat Captain Crunch or peanut butter toast or leftovers for breakfast. Grandma never taught me how to cook. I go to the grocery store and don’t know what to buy. The shiny wrappers look more appealing than the stacks of earth tones in the produce section. I buy the shiny packages. No one complains. But most of the time I miss steamy grits with a lake of butter and heavenly biscuits.

Doreen, who laughed like a frightened bird, was daddy’s first wife. After mama, so I guess Doreen was really daddy’s second wife. Carla, who chain smoked cigarettes in her bathrobe while sitting in the kitchen, was his third wife. Tammi, with an ‘i’, who rearranged the living room furniture every afternoon, was his fourth wife. I didn’t like any of them. What they thought of me I didn’t much care. We passed each other like strangers on a street.

Daddy spends most of his nights back at the bars now, looking for a fifth wife. I sometimes wish he’d bring home one that could cook grits the right way.

Somewhere in between the second wife and the third wife, grandma died. We put her in the back yard in a pine box daddy and my brother built. We could have buried her in the cemetery, but that wasn’t how my people did things. That’s what daddy said at least. We buried her next to my favorite dog that was killed when my brother was learning to drive the pick-up and my mama who died bringing me into the world.

A preacher came out and said a few prayers over grandma’s box. He held out his hand to daddy, to console him, to shake like a man, but daddy just grunted and walked away. I took the big hand instead. The preacher gave me a sad smile and I regretted putting my hand in his. I pulled my hand away and he asked me if I’d be okay, nodding toward our house. Nodding toward the screen door that was slamming with daddy’s anger. I didn’t answer, just turned and walked away. I wanted him to hear me slam the screen door closed too.

Soon after grandma the muggy swampy heat of the summer brought Tammi who rearranged the furniture. It also pushed at my brother who announced one night that he found Jesus and was going to become a preacher man.

Daddy just stared at him, the night he made the announcement. Daddy shook his head. I looked between them and didn’t know what to do, so I bit my lip and looked out the window at my fireflies. We stood in our silent triangle for years, weeks, moments. I looked out at my fireflies winking at me in secret codes I didn’t understand. My brother moved to leave and our triangle shattered.

Three days later, wife number four stood at the front door and looked at the furniture that had been rearranged so much I no longer knew where it had started. She sighed and told my father she was leaving. He muted the TV from the chair she was sitting on and nodded his head. I thought maybe he’d say something, but he just turned the volume back up then. She looked at me then, into my eyes and smiled. Then she asked daddy why he always forgot he had a daughter.

I didn’t feel forgotten. I had the house with the graves of the people I loved, I had my own room. I had quiet nights when daddy left to look for a new wife. I had my fireflies. I didn’t mind being invisible to him. I knew it was better than being as visible as Sally. Her daddy saw her all the time and reminded her of her existence every chance he got. Sally always talked about leaving while she hid the newest bruises on her face with her hair.

I’ll leave one day too, I suppose.

That’s what daddy said one morning when I stared at the back of the glossy Fruit Loops box. You’ll leave and go away and marry a man or get a job and move to a bigger city.
I thought about that for a long time.

Does it bother you? I asked.

He shook his head.

I didn’t think so. He had more important things to worry about, he needed a woman with red lips to sit across from him in the mornings.

But you can always come back here, this is your home. Not much of one, but it’s yours. You’ll want to come back and visit one day, he announced.

I thought then, I might leave. And if I got lost I could always look for my twinkling fireflies.

I was gone the day daddy brought home his fifth wife. I never knew what she did.

 

____________
Nicole Sharp
is a fiction writer.
nicolesharpwrites.com
She swigs coffee the way a dehydrated sailor with scurvy would whiskey. The writing of Arrested Development gave her faith in humanity once again. She is a purveyor of the perfect Italian Cappuccino and world travel. And after all these years of writing, she’s pretty sure she’s just trying to write one good sentence.

22 Jun

From Our Archive – Fiction: “Coconut Oil” by Ayobami Abedayo

Coconut Oil
by Ayobami Abedayo
(as printed in Volume I: Issue I – May 2014)

When you first said you were in love with me, I thought it was one of your many jokes. I thought you were trying to help me forget the boyfriend who had just ditched me because my scores beat his in class. So I laughed and thought that you were such a wonderful friend. You laughed too but when I turned to look at you, your eyes couldn’t meet mine.

They are not meeting mine again now, those brown eyes that have made me forget to breathe so many times. You face the door, running your hands over the tips of your dreadlocks. This short version sticks up on your head like you’ve just had an electric shock and I resent it. You cut the dreads low just before the first time we broke up. And as I ran after you that day, I longed for the tresses so I could pull you back to me with them.

You take a step towards the door and I am afraid you will walk right through it, creating a replica of the you shaped vacuum that is already in my heart. Then your shoulders heave and I realise you must be shedding silent tears that mirror the ones cascading down my cheeks. It soothes me that you are finally falling apart after months of telling me to get myself together and move on. I step closer and hug you from behind. I link my hands across your navel, thrilled that leaving me devastates you too, even if just a little.

‘We must do this for the future.’ You say, placing your hands on mine.

‘And what happens to our own bloody future?’ I scream so loudly that my words hurt my ears.

‘You know better.’ You reply moving your palm over the back of my hands in a slow caress that I want to feel every day of my life, a caress that I don’t want any other woman to experience.

‘We don’t need to have children.’ I say this to startle you. Though I have agonised over the thought for months, it’s the first time I am suggesting it.

You turn to face me. Your eyes are dry, calm. You have not been crying after all. I loathe you for this. This calm you have displayed since we both learnt that we share the AS genotype just weeks after our traditional engagement. This calm that you have the audacity to maintain even today, the day we had planned to get married, the day I should have become Mrs You. But then, do you even remember? I loathe myself even more for the tears that are welling up again in my eyes.

You wrap your hands around my waist, lean close and whisper into my ears, ‘Tell me you really mean that and I swear I’ll stay.’ I should lie to you, make you stay, but your breath is tickling the nape of my neck and my mouth forgets to mould the lies. I say nothing and just listen to the glorious sound of your breathing.

Good bye.’ You say and pull away, breaking my bliss.

We have acted out this scene so many times that I’ve lost count. It has always ended with me running after you, blubbering that I couldn’t let you go. You always came back in, and for a few weeks we would be together. Until one day you would say we couldn’t keep deceiving ourselves or that it was over and the drama would begin again. But not today, your dry eyes have drained me of the strength to chase you.

I wipe my cheeks with the back of my hands as I watch the door slam behind you. Then I go to my room and pick up the framed picture on my bedside table. My head is bent over yours in the picture, my hands are in your hair, your face is slightly upturned and your dreadlocks are going in every direction. Your roommate took this picture when we were in the university. You were about to graduate and I still had two years to go in medical school. It was the day you wrote your final paper and I had come to your room to congratulate you, to ask what you wanted as a graduation gift. You reached into your cupboard and handed me a bottle of coconut oil. ‘Rub this in my hair,’ you said.

Time slowed to a crawl while you sat on the floor with your head between my thighs. I rubbed the oil into the kinky roots of your hair, wondering why you were so quiet, wondering why my legs were shaky. Your roommate came in the moment you said you had something to tell me. He captured that moment for us with the canon camera he always wore around his neck. Later that night, you told me you had been in love with me since we were in secondary school.

I dismantle the picture frame allowing the glass pane to clatter to the floor and shatter. I rip the glossy photograph into tiny shreds. You are standing by the bed when I turn to throw the picture’s pieces in the dustbin. We stare at each other for a while.

‘Did you forget something?’ I ask, startled that you came back, stifling the urge to run into your arms.

You walk to the door briskly as though my words are propelling you away from me. You stop when your hand touches the doorknob and start wailing. You wail and curse. You hit the door with your fist and feet. And then suddenly you fall silent and come back to me with halting steps. You stop at the foot of the bed.

“Come. Please.” You croak holding out your arms.

I walk into your arms, hold your face against mine and your tears fall on my cheeks. I close my eyes and inhale the scent of coconut oil in your hair. In this moment, there are no genes, there is no future, no past, there’s only you, your tears on my cheeks, the scent of your hair intoxicating me and your arms holding me as though you would die if you ever let go.

 

____________
Ayobami Abedayo
@ayobamiabedayo
www.ayobamiadebayo.com
Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s stories have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, and one was highly commended in the 2009 Commonwealth short story competition. She holds BA and MA degrees in Literature in English from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife and has worked as an editor for Saraba magazine since 2009. She also has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia where she was awarded an international bursary for creative writing. Ayobami has received fellowships and residencies from Ledig House, Sinthian Cultural Centre, Hedgebrook, Ox-bow School of Arts, Ebedi Hills and Siena Art Institute. She was born in Lagos, Nigeria.
____________
**Feature image used at the top of this story was sourced from this website.
15 Jun

Poetry: ‘If We Travel To A City’ & ‘The Thing About Snowflakes’ by Marc J. Cid

If We Travel to a City

If we travel to a city
I will not want to leave
until my bones ring
with the rhythm of its streets
the cadence of its concrete
the chatter of its cobblestones
Until four corner skylines tattoo
the inside of my eyelids
Until I’ve tasted a city’s morning breath
cold, coughing, the calligraphy
of its awakening
the lullaby litanies
of its sunset shuffle

If we travel to a city
I will want to stay until
my heart files its name
under “Home”

 

The Thing About Snowflakes

The thing about snowflakes
is that when we are stepped on
we get flatten-packed into solidarity,
become aerodynamic substance amassing inertia.

When they try to crush snowflakes, we gather
side by side and back to back and face to face,
merging into snowballs. And the thing about snowballs
is that we ferment momentum, generate acceleration, grow gargantuan.

When they stomp down on snowflakes
they call down the blizzard,
and soon they will reap the avalanche.

So let them clench their tiny hands around crybaby sized ski poles
and try to ride this storm out.

Maybe they’ll make it to the bottom of the mountain.
I doubt it, but even if they manage that much,
our white powder demolition stampede
will swallow the streets and drown the town.

And the thing about snow is that it’s H20
by a particular name and physical state,
and the thing about H20 is that whether
raindrop or ice crystal or snowflake,
H20 when flying free deconstructs light,
reveals white light is comprised of every color.

And the thing about people, is that we aren’t photons,
and when you combine us together we do not blend into white.
We are a hundred thousand shades of brown,
an earthen gradient, a topsoil mosaic, every stratum stacked
atop the previous ever more vibrant, ever more diverse, howling with the sound
of bitten back words finally freed, intergenerational grievances given voice spiraling skywards
where they have taken away so many stars from the night, but have you ever driven
out from under the excess umbrella of domesticated lightning, have you ever seen
the creamy glean of infinity in the Milky Way, will multitudes and myriads
and countless totalities of stars, of cultures clashing clinking combining frighten you like it does
these jackbooted snowflake stompers, unheeding, being swallowed
by the shadows of storm clouds they have summoned with their self-servicing, dead-end dance?
Or will you and I and all of us remember this time, when the thaw begins,
that none of our colors fade, all these colors of ours do not run.

Or will you and I and all of us remember this time, when the thaw begins,
that none of our colors fade, all these colors of ours do not run.

________________
Marc Cid
is a poet currently living in Downey, California. He tends to write and perform poetry that leaves his listeners split on if they’re supposed to laugh or not, and to feel kind of bad if they do laugh. This is intentional. The trick to doing this without being a stereotypical offensive comedian is in taking care to note who is placed at the end of the punchline.

09 Jun

Book Review: Clifton Snider’s “The Beatle Bump”

Book: The Beatle Bump by Clifton Snider
Genre: Poetry
Reviewer: K. Andrew Turner
The Beatle Bump, by Clifton Snider (Los Nietos Press), is a work of adoration, contemplation, and emulation. Written mostly after the murder of John Lennon, Snider explores the playful lyrical style of the Beatles in his own songs. He digs into the roots of the Beatles, how they started and who influenced them. But above all, this is an ode from a fan to the musicians themselves.

 

Through exploration, Snider brings up letters that would not be out of place in the here and now. Love letters to Ringo and George, by fans that want nothing more than recognition and that ardor returned. Perhaps looking into our pop culture boy bands of the last few years: One Direction, N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men, etc will yield similar letters. All these bands have their loyal followers, their fans that scream and shout and oftentimes lay bare their feelings freely, and some say excessively. Perhaps the only thing that has changed is our attitude for those women (in particular) that simply throw themselves at these stars. Snider never judges these Beatlemaniacs, as his poetry feels right on the edge of the precipice. He understands why we fawn over such innocent-seeming men and why they pull us in with magnetism.

 

Each poem reflects hours of listening to music, absorbing, jamming along, and feeling in those deep moments spent late at night wondering just how someone so far away, so distant could “get” you. In some of the song forms, he playful enters the arena of lyrics riffing on some of the nonsense but provocative stylistic choices.

 

And Snider reflects on the darkness that follows each Beatle around, from drugs to loss, and death. He explores, throughout the book, how he was affected by each Beatle, by the band as a whole, and by the world-wide impact the band had. In the later poems, when he explores Liverpool, with each snap of the camera and each line of the poem, the reader comes to understand, full-circle, the brilliance and the nostalgic pangs of a young man desperate to connect to something that so powerfully impacted him.

 

This work is phenomenal in and of itself, and any fan of the Beatles, or music history in general, should pick up a copy. Those who have been transfixed by music or any fan of a band will understand the deeper meanings here as well.

 

____________
K. Andrew Turner
@KAndrewTurner
Publisher, East Jasmine Review
writes literary and speculative fiction, poetry, and dabbles in nonfiction as well. Growing up in the foothills of San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California has influenced his writing style and outlook on life. So far, his writing has appeared in Chiron Review, Carnival Magazine, Creepy Gnome, Lummox, A Few Lines Magazine, and publications by Bank-Heavy Press. K. Andrew Turner is a creative mentor and freelance editor, teaches creative writing, and is the publisher and founder of East Jasmine Review. www.kandrewturner.com
08 Jun

Nonfiction: Memory Loss by Sara Marchant

Memory Loss
by Sara Marchant

I am sitting on the bumper of my husband’s truck, waiting for him to finish his post-lunch cigarette and let me in the vehicle, when a luxury SUV stops next to me and an older Japanese lady puts her head out the open window and hails me. She hails me by name. It is summertime in Southern California and I am in an asphalt scented parking lot, choking on second hand smoke, overly full of turkey burger– surely I’m hallucinating this stranger calling my name.

“Sara!” She calls again, despite being two feet away from me. “Isn’t that you?”

“Yes,” I say, looking around. I am the only person, except for my husband who has retreated further under the shade of a straggly tree to avoid detection, who she could possibly be addressing.

“You are Sara, right?” She has noticed my confusion.

I admit that I am. My husband, using my distraction to take advantage, lights another cigarette. “Do I know you?” I finally ask.

It is entirely possible that I do know her. Or did know her prior to 2003 when I suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car crash. This has happened before. A woman came up to me in public and chatted, naming several friends we had in common. I played along, not wanting to let on that my faulty brain had erased her from my memory. A phone call later that day to one of the friends mentioned revealed that while not close, this erased woman had been a friend. We attended events together, went dancing. She had told me about her abortion, our mutual friend reminded me, and I cried with her. I cannot remember her at all.

“Yes! Sara!” This lady exclaims. “We used to be next door neighbors in Alameda. Alameda, California? You and your husband, Steven?”

I take a breath, relieved. I don’t even know where Alameda is, let alone recall having lived there. “Oh, sorry,” I say brightly. “My name is Sara, but that’s the only husband I’ve ever had.” I point and my husband (not named Steven) salutes her with a head nod and a wave from the hand holding his cigarette.

She does a double take and then looks extremely doubtful. “Oh,” she says as if that means something. “Oh, I am sorry.” She looks at my husband again, then back at me. She looks like she’s about to say more, but instead drives away.

“That was weird,” I say as my husband throws down his unfinished cigarette and finally lets me into his truck.

“She didn’t believe you,” he tells me. “She thinks you are the same Sara who lived next door to her and you’ve never told me about your other husband, Steven.” He is driving as he says this, calm, but still smiling. My shock pleases him.

“I have to call my mom,” I say, and do so.

“That’s ridiculous,” my mom replies when I ask her if I’ve forgotten another husband, another marriage, an entirely different life in an unknown town. “Of course you’ve never been married before, and where is Alameda, anyway?”

Her annoyance is so everyday normal I am relieved, and get off the phone. My husband doesn’t know how my stomach tightens each time a forgotten person re-enters my life, how my heart seems to gush with liquid for a shattering moment, and saliva fills my mouth in panic.

Have you ever lost your purse or misplaced your car keys in public? For a few heartbeats your world stops– and then starts again when you remember the purse is hooked on the back of the restaurant chair or your keys are in your other pocket. Imagine your purse is your brain, your car keys are chunks of your life. Pieces of me are gone and, as far as I know, they aren’t coming back.

It is a hot, sweaty day but I had goose bumps as I questioned whether there had been an entire life forgotten. It wasn’t me. I wasn’t the Sara who had been married to Steven and lived next door to that nice Japanese lady in Alameda, California. But it could have been.

I could have another life somewhere in Alameda with my husband Steven. Perhaps we have two and a half children and a lakeside cabin we visit on weekends and hobbies we enjoy together. Maybe Steven is a rich orphan and I am an only child and we take our beautiful, healthy children out on our speed boat every chance we get. But how could anyone forget a life like that?

In the years to come, Steven, my ‘other husband,’ will become a third presence in my marriage. My husband will use him as a scapegoat. Mud tracked into the clean house? That was Steven. Who ate an entire chicken meant to feed the guests at dinner? Obviously, Steven.

I use Steven, my imaginary husband, as a measure against my real husband. Steven always called when he was going to be late. I never had to ask Steven to take out the trash, he just did it. Steven’s parents were nicely dead. Steven didn’t have two ex-wives running around town. Steven didn’t have three grown children from a previous marriage. Steven had healthy sperm.

We are very careful to never mention Steven around my mother. She finds Steven creepy.

____________
Sara Marchant 
received her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing & Writing for the Performing Arts from The University of California, Riverside– Palm Desert. Her work has been published by The Manifest-Station, Every Writer’s Resource, Full Grown People, Brilliant Flash Fiction, and The Coachella Review. Her work is forthcoming in the anthology All the Women in my Family Sing. She is the prose editor for the literary magazine Writers Resist.

01 Jun

Fiction: Ida Untold by Trista Hurley-Waxali

Ida Untold
by Trista Hurley-Waxali

I stop before I reach our hotel to admire a window display. I remember running into this men’s boutique by my husband’s request, to find a tie for a new hire for a dinner meeting. I met them in the lobby with the dark brown silk tie and folded it for the new hire in front of a hallway mirror. My husband watched as I glowed with pride. The gesture was always something I envisioned doing with our son, if he never grew wings.

I blink away the memory and keep walking, here is not about the once past but rather the present meetings to future gains. That’s what we promised each other when we booked this trip. We made a promise to work on ways to communicate and to reconnect to what we had at one time. We want a new pair of us, a pair that we can both be proud of.

“Hey babe, I was just thinking of you.” I say into the phone as it vibrates in my jacket pocket, picking up on my headphones.

“Are you at the room?”

“No, just walking back now, have some goodies for tonight.”

“Yeah about tonight…”

“Are you going to be late? Because that’s fine, I really am behind.”

“No, I can’t make it for aperitifs, I have a call that I have to do with the guys here and then a dinner got scheduled.”

“Oh, of course a dinner.”

“Look, you know this was work for me.”

“I know. It’s fine.” As the words leave my mouth, I know it is, I really do think it’s okay, “I’ll just have the room service we ordered then.”

“Oh shit I completely forgot.” I listen to him put his face in his hands, pinching his forehead. He did forget, I know that sound.

“It’s fine, I’m probably going to send out a few emails and read the English-only paper I found at the newsstand. Not to mention finish the champagne for two.”

“Well, why don’t you save me a glass for when I get back? And maybe a couple strawberries too?”

“Sure, I can do that. I’m going up the elevator, so we’ll text soon?”

“Okay, love you.”

“I know, I love you too.” I hang up. I’m not at the hotel. I’m not at the boutique. I’m at the cemetery.

I walk past the marble monuments, lined so close that there remains no gaps for the cats to squeeze through. Some have candles that remain unlit and pooling dust after months. Some have dried flowers hanging from the locks and some appear freshly laid. The tombs with candles are designed with a sliver for people showing respect to stick a lit end to illuminate. It’s a bright afternoon where any candlelight gets dwarfed but the gesture speak volumes. Some family names repeat and others have lines of poetry. There is a strong sense of pride for family name, where these grandchildren children are either grown or have too past away. I look in my grocery bag and see the chocolate ice cream bars are starting to get squishy. At the exit I bow my head to show respect to all the souls, never the religious type but always respectful.

A few blocks away I am back in our penthouse suite. I have just enough time to put my items in the fridge before room service rings at our door. The waiter comes in and arranges the items we ordered on the table and leaves the bill next to the coffee maker to be signed. I walk upstairs to change out of my jeans and into a black maxi skirt. I drop my purse on the bed and take out my lipstick to apply another coat. I may have no one to wear it for but I feel more beautiful with the matte red hue.

“Can you open the champagne, I really don’t want to make a mess.” I ask as I’m walking down the stairs, he nods and takes the bottle from the chill bucket. We are both standing anticipating the pop. I smile, “thank you.” I over-tip for the service and he smiles back. The door shuts and I hear nothing for the next hour besides champagne filling up my flute.

After I pour my 3rd glass I open the fridge door to take out a box of rose petals I bought from the florist. A cheesy gesture I knew would get an easy laugh. I miss watching my husband’s mouth, opening and releasing the scent of sour breath from after too many flutes of champagne. I sigh and open the box. The petals smell of summer romance, wreaths high on the walls of new homes and like our wedding boquet.

The day of our wedding seemed to have snuck up on us, spending weeks in bed comparing, him about my hair and my hands and me about his chest and bony nose. He told me he’d spend his whole life spoiling me with love and tokens from new cities. We made promises to each other, knowing we’ll evolve with some promises kept and others went broken. I feel my phone vibrate in my cardigan pocket. An emoji of a sad cat followed with the line: stuck in this meeting, rather be with you. I drain the glass and look at the time. He’s not going to make it for the arrangement of sweets or the petals, he’s not going to be back here till late at night.

The 4th glass I pair with the pastry basket and fruit that was set to ruin dinner, the spread that now became my dinner. I specified for the yellow tart over the blueberries and flan, knowing he doesn’t like items too heavy. He never relished in the weight of a good pastry like how he never relished in my affection of longing. I sit on the couch to admire the bright autumn sun hovering over the cemetery. The rays of the sun look as if they are reaching down and touching the tops of the mausoleums. It looks so warm, so comforting, so welcoming for those lost and past souls. A clear and present path laid out, if only they were ready to look.

Now on the 5th glass with a steady buzz, I respond back to his text:

“Sad face, I’m going to have a hot shower.”
5:50 pm

But I’m not going to be the one who showers, no, these souls in the cemetery will be the ones who get showered. That’s what I should do, shower them with fresh rose petals. I will raise them from their sleepy states and feel their warmth go through my body. I open the balcony door and step out 12 floors up.

 

“I’m sorry, I want to make it up to you.”
6:00 pm
“Brunch tomorrow? Somewhere nice outside of the hotel.”
6:03 pm

 

“Sure.”
6: 05pm

“ok I’ll make reservations tonight.”
6:08pm

 

Translation: he’ll find a spot nearby that we can easily walk in. We always walk in and we always order a bottle of win. Those gestures I know will never change but those gestures are in place so we don’t have to talk about the elephant in the room. So we don’t have to talk about when I want another.
With an hour left till sunset, I lift the 6th flute to feel the bubbles on my nose, the smell of luxury. The balcony table is small but stable enough to not move in the breeze, not a harsh wind like you get from the tunnels between buildings on the street and nothing cold that forces me to run back inside. I have the box of rose petals in my hand and I open it up to take out petals between my fingers. Soft like youth and still damp from the fridge.

As I drop each petal-one at a time, I watch the red notes float down in different directions. Some towards the cemetery, some towards the building across the street and some just straight down. Each dependent on the moment the wind blows. When the wind doesn’t blow- there’s no direction, leaving the petal’s destiny to rest on the sidewalk for one of the many small dogs in this city center to poop on. He calls when I’m a third of the way through the box, the time I stop wanting to hear the excuses. The phone stops ringing, voicemail. Oh, looks like he no longer wants to leave a message, perfect. I step back inside our room and finish a raspberry tart and pour out the rest of the bottle. I come back out for the sunset with the lipstick stained flute, leaving behind my phone.

As I’m leaning on the frame of the balcony door, I look at my empty dark green bottle, my half eaten strawberries and my pastries. I see the plates on top of each other on the table and only my napkin sprinkled with pastry shell flakes. Where two napkins were ordered to be together but only one gets used. The 2nd third of the petals I drop from the railing and I each land on the ground. My chest gets smacked with the shock of the fall, the fall coursing up my spine and into my frontal lobe. Where all I see is the end, where all I can envision is the pavement. I look for some air and move towards the edge to hang over the balcony. Lying there between the floor and the bottom railing.

I’m holding the last third of the box taking deep breathes. For I’m going to try and maybe guide these petals. Maybe give some souls an alternate path. I drop each one when I feel the wind on my skirt, hoping some petals will fall on balconies like this one or in neighboring units. It’s late and I hear the street stir with couples heading out for dinner. I don’t get up or move away from the edge, away from wandering eyes but rather I extend my arm to dump out the rest of the petals. As each one glides with the wind, moving by found souls who can smell the bouquet. I lean over the edge to follow the red matte blanket and grow my wings with ease.

____________
Trista Hurley-Waxali
@tristaisshort
is an immigrant from Toronto, who finally listened to her parents advice and moved South. She has performed at Avenue 50, Stories Bookstore and internationally at O’bheal Poetry Series in Cork, Ireland and a TransLate Night show from Helsinki Poetry Connection. She writes weird short stories and is working on her novel, At This Juncture.

31 May

Critical Listing: Summer Reading 2017 Asian American Edition

Because it’s the last day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and because the last few days have been filled with lists of Asian Pacific American Writers that you should be reading, here is a list of what I thought were well-curated lists and author features on this topic. It also helps that friends of mine were featured on these lists, and some of these lists were written by friends. If you’re looking for things to add to your Summer Reading Lists, please consider picking books and authors recommended in the links below.

1) Beloved Asian American Literature You Have To Read — Curated by Karissa Chen (@karissachen)

In the end, I simply decided to highlight some of the contemporary literature that has meant the most to me personally, with a greater emphasis on books that have been published in the last few years. Of course, this means I’m leaving out a good number of books that I’m sure would belong on someone else’s list. This also means the list skews heavily towards literary fiction, which is what I tend to read the most. I hope that one day Asian American literature will be so commonplace and so widely read that to try to compile a list like this will seem silly. Until then, I humbly submit twenty of my favorites, and hope this acts as a jumping off point for those looking for great Asian American writers to read.”

2) Books Featuring Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders For Kids and Teens — Curated by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang (@fkwang)

For Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, NBC Asian America took a look at a few new books for children and young adults by Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) writers, finding a growing number of young adult novels, middle grade readers, picture books, fantasy, and graphic novels.”

3) ‘Groundbreaking’ Asian American Poets to Read with Immigrant and Refugee RootsCurated by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang (@fkwang) & Bryan That Worra

“2016 was a groundbreaking year for many of our members in the Southeast Asian-American poetry community,” Worra told NBC News. “We’re seeing a generation of poets from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and elsewhere fully coming into their voices, drawing on their experiences as refugees in a time when we need those voices most as we confront the current conflicts around us. I’m delighted to see so many not only using their voices to discuss the past, but how it weighs in on the present and the future we might all build together.”

4) The Subversive New Generation of Asian American Writers — Curated by Karan Mahajan (@kmahaj)

“In 2008, Wesley Yang published an essay in n+1 about the Virginia Tech mass shooter; fierce, analytical, and dangerously confessional, it had a testy Naipaulian energy. Other nonfiction writers have come up concurrently or followed suit: Jay Caspian Kang, Hua Hsu, even provocateurs like Eddie Huang and Amy Chua. In fiction, Hanya Yanagihara, Ed Park, Jenny Zhang, Tao Lin, Tanwi Nandini Islam, Alice Sola Kim, Alexander Chee, and Tony Tulathimutte are renovating an ossified genre with outrageous and sometimes hypersexual scenarios. (Kang is a correspondent for VICE on HBO; Huang is the host of the VICELAND show Huang’s World; Lin, Islam, Park, and Tulathimutte are all occasional contributors to this website.) Zhang and Islam also exemplify a style of online confessional essay-writing that draws blood—and thousands of politicized readers.”

Cherisse Yanit Nadal
Editor-in-Chief 
East Jasmine Review
@cherisseyanit || @EJReview