Reasons to Hate the Sky

reason 1: at six or seven

we were given balloons and told

that god might enjoy them.

i cried in anger while i watched

my nephew and niece reach past the car 

window, turning palms to cerulean, releasing 

ribbons from their ignorant fingers. somehow, 

even then i felt that they would never 

reach their destination

reason 2: after feeling the sun 

after months of clouds, i welcome the rage

of having lost something

reason 3: there was a day when i felt

lilac coat my eyelids while the day

shattered in slow motion. this went on 

every twenty-four hours. sunset

sunset. sunset.

reason 4: we have enough blue 

in the world as it is. i have loved this color 

too long to blink it beautiful again. 

bluebells have raised me

to know that the farther you move 

from the sun, 

the darker you become.

reason 5: looking up i grow

dizzy. we cannot tilt our heads 

without seeing evidence of our planet 

rolling. this turning always 

feels downhill

reason 6: a flattened happy birthday

beneath a tire’s heavy print. 

all it’s good for now is burial

reason 7: how the ocean can’t be what it is

without the sky as a backbone. we must move

according to our spines. a great white

leaps, mouth up to take a seal in its teeth

and i think how fish and birds are both

swallowed against the same background

reason 8: the balloon, trembling

within the car, tail wrapped around 

my careful fingers. feeling its oxygen 

as a promise of deflation, it wonders

if i’ll keep holding on

while it withers

Photography by Sumner McMurtry

O’Hare is a Circle of Hell

It is December in Chicago.    

When I step off the train, there’s a palpable cold. The car pulls away, and all the air suddenly goes with it. I follow the other hollow-eyed travelers to the escalator; only small children and middle-aged women with something to prove take the stairs. When I get to the top, I dig out my paper boarding pass. I’ve never trusted the mobile ones. The few times I’ve used them, I end up killing my battery. The whole way through line, I’m terrified that the phone will die at the exact moment I reach the TSA officer, so I constantly tap the screen back to life whenever it goes black.

            Terminal 4. I squint at the sign above me, which reads Terminals 1-2-3          5. I feel my eyebrows lock in a furrow that won’t be undone. Around me, bodies mutter and part. Somewhere, a busker is playing a dirge. Slowly, the number 4 starts to flicker in between three and five, a weak neon beacon. I follow where the arrow points.

            I’ve only brought a single backpack, and I wonder if it looks suspicious. But I’m only traveling from Chicago to St. Louis—a mere 30 minute flight. Lesser beings would have driven, but when December in the Midwest is a choice between abject misery and utter misery, you take your chances. The security line snakes around to the accursed Spirit Airlines “service” desk. Bodies looking for human assistance and bodies waiting to be stripped of their shoes, hats, boots co-mingle. Three drug hounds patrol lethargically.

            As soon as I get in line behind a family of four, I begin to strategize: Liquids, laptop, Kindle, shoes, coat. But over the course of an hour, which is how long it takes to get to the part of the line where this process begins, things start to go wrong. There’s so many people that more and more get shunted to the metal detector, which you think would make the line go faster. But it seems as though no matter which line I’m in, there’s an abundance of things that make it move more slowly: A man’s taken all off his coat and shoes even though he’s clearly over 80 and is slowly and painstakingly folding them to lay into a tray. A kid gets loose and runs through the backscatter machine, so it has to be recalibrated it several times. A TSA agent opens a bag and finds a forty of Mickey’s in it. “Sir,” he says without emotion, you have to toss this or drink it.” Without hesitation, the gentleman in question drinks half and throws the rest away.

            When I finally get to the backscatter machine, I spread my feet and hold my hands up over my head as though I’m at a stop and frisk. “Higher,” the TSA agent says, and I raise my shoulders, feeling my t-shirt start to hover above my gut.

            The agent beckons with a skeletal finger. I lower my arms and walk through, but he holds up a hand for me to wait. I should have put on more deodorant or at least used the stuff that says its made and tested in laboratories. The clinical smell would be fitting in this labyrinth of which I am but one rat waiting my turn to access the cheese cubes. After a few moments, he waves me through, several blessings be upon me. Other passengers are furiously pawing at items, as if everyone’s flight is in exactly ten minutes. I shoulder my backpack and gather my various detritus into my arms like babies. I redress myself, but I’ll never regain any sense of pride.

            Where is terminal 4? I go from person to person to ask this question. I even Google “Ohare help” and manage to find some sort of hotline, but am told that there is no information for terminal 4.

            “As in, it doesn’t exist?” I ask.

            “As in, I can’t help you,” the operator says tersely, hanging up on me. By now, I’ve sweated straight through my Led Zeppelin tee, but I’m trapped inside winter apparel until I die of dehydration or get to my gate, whichever comes first.

            “YOU ARE LOOKING FOR TERMINAL 4.” That voice. At once familiar, unnerving. Many decibels too loud, strained as though the speaker had never heard of an “inside voice” or at the very least, had always had to compete with a screaming crowd.

            I turn to see a man—an 80s Adonis really, blonde hair teased out like a halo around his head. He wears a tank top tucked into tight stonewashed jeans. And he’s tan and glistening. So very tan and glistening. In addition to his strange appearance, the man has absolutely no luggage and no coat. I try not to stare at his nipples, erect from either cold or perhaps it is simply that his skin was too tight and muscly to contain itself.

            “YOU ARE LOOKING FOR TERMINAL 4!” he yells again.

“Me?” I say like an idiot.

            “I’LL TAKE YOU,” he says.
            This seems strange, but I’ll be honest reader—I am desperate. Before I arrived at O’Hare, which now seems to be days ago, even years, I imagined what it would be like. Sure, the TSA lines would be long, but once inside, I’d make my way to my gate with an hour to spare, then order a coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts (1 cream, 1 sugar, perfectly mixed by a machine designed to do exactly this), drink leisurely, take a PPP (pre plane poop), and get back to the gate as they start to call for passengers.

            “FOLLOW ME,” orders my overly energetic guide. 

            I do as he says. He leads me past the Cinnabon, where the line stretches beyond what I can see. All the nearby tables are crowded with patrons who chomp the sweet buns mechanically one after another. We pass the lactation room where a crying woman is trying the door, which appears to be locked. She’s knocking, pressing her ear to the door, waiting. She walks away, circles back, and repeats these desperate motions. We walk past restaurants where people are eating expensive hot dogs and flavorless pizza that costs $25. A teenager almost runs me over as she walks briskly with her head down staring into her phone, then looks up desperately. She’s searching for an outlet that will never appear. As we pass the Sunglass Hut, an older woman is trying out one pair of glasses after another, never satisfied by what she sees in the tiny mirror she has to squat to look into. She can’t find the right pair even though her flight to Florida is in an hour and she needs to, at all costs, protect her eyeballs.

            My guide notices me watching these events and says, “DO NOT TRY TO REASON WHY. THERE IS NO HOPE FOR THEM. WE WALK. I NEED FUEL.”

            My brisk walk turns into a gallop to keep up with him.

            We stop at a Starbucks. The sea of people part before my oiled-up guide. I attempt to meet their eyes in apology, but they are shriveling away from us like the sad seaweed people in The Little Mermaid as Ursula’s shadow passes over them.

            “MACCHIATO. CARAMEL” my guide booms at the barista who honestly doesn’t seem shaken. Maybe he’s used to the ever replenishing supply of weirdos here.

            “Name,” the barista asks holding a sharpie over the cup.

            My guide replies, “I, HULK HOGAN, AM THE ONLY ONE.”

            “Pick it up over there,” the barista says.

            Later, a voice calls out “caramel macchiato for Hoke!” My guide picks up his drink, inhales the steam deeply, and booms, “SMELL IT, WARRIORS.” I honestly can’t say who he’s talking to, but I realize we still haven’t made it to Terminal 4. He seems to sense my unease and places his giant hand on my shoulder like a lead weight. “THANK YOUR CREATOR, LITTLE SQUID, WE ARE NOW GOING TO TERMINAL 4.”

            Minutes later, we round a corner. The lights are flickering in this hallway like a David Lynch movie. It seems relatively abandoned for O’Hare’s usual bustle. We’ve run out of restaurants: A solitary Quizno’s sits at the entrance to Terminal 4. Years of neglect have not been kind to this forlorn sandwichery: Faded etchings depicting demonic hamster-men decorate the walls. The stench of roasted porcine flesh fills the air. This terminal seems oddly narrow: A series of dark arcades. A wall monitor comes into view: Abandon all hope, you who enter here. My guide shouts, “WE ARE ABOUT TO ENTER PARTS UNKNOWN.”

            Although we have entered the place that I had thought was my destination, the feelings of loss and despair do not leave. And my glistening guide shows no signs of ending his guidance. He keeps striding along into the terminal with purpose. And so I follow him into the darkened hallway. When he finishes his drink, he crumples the paper cup, arm veins bulging, and throws it to the ground.

            “Hey,” I start, about to scold him for littering, but the cup rolls toward the wall and disappears into some black, endless abyss that swallows his transgression.

            He sees me staring and shrugs – at least, I think he does, for it is impossible to distinguish his shoulders from his neck. “I HAVE ACCEPTED MY FATE, TRAVELER, WHAT ABOUT YOU? HAVE YOU ACCEPTED YOUR FATE?”

            What had the fates dealt me? It is then that I do start to smell it (Warriors). I taste it—that hunger for a $30 sandwich gnawing at my bones, but I feel I must press on. I turn back to look behind us, but my guide grabs my arm with his tyrannical grip. “YOU SEE NOTHING,” he simply states. Existentially, the words stung. But he was right. If there was anything back there at all, it was only endless bathroom lines, drinking fountains whose filters were always on red alert and needing to be changed by a night janitor who never appears. Indeed, there is no greater sorrow than to recall our times of joy in wretchedness.

Although the journey here had been harrowing, nothing prepares me for the sights of terminal 4. As I follow on the heels of my steroidal guide, things start to look more familiar, but uncannily so. There are now gates on either side of us, but I shudder looking upon those waiting there. A group of ragged travelers have built a trash can fire to keep themselves warm, but the sprinkler system periodically erupts to extinguish the flames, so they continually throw items out from their carry-ons to stoke it back to life. “Why don’t they just move the trashcan?” I ask my guide, watching the Sisyphean scene.

“THE SCREEN,” he yells, pointing to the flight status monitor, which shows that the flight has been delayed five hours, but continuously updates to say it will only be five minutes more. I now understand that they cannot move for fear that their flight will leave without them. So, they huddle together in their misery forever.

Over the loudspeaker, Styx’s Come Sail Away plays. My guide tenses, and I wonder if he too has always thought that Styx was too hardcore of a name to be responsible for such a lively song celebrating the following of one’s dreams.  Perhaps this infernal dichotomy is why the song has been banished to Terminal 4 and karaoke bars. At the next gate, I see a man watching advertisement after advertisement waiting to use the free wifi. Each ad is increasingly more annoying. The man starts to sing jingles to himself, occasionally letting loose a maniacal laugh, his eyes never leaving his laptop screen.

We pass by the chair massage place where the cries of passengers rise up in an opera of pain (I assume because their 30 min massages are $100), children with soot on their cheeks chew on the foliage of decorative plants. I look at my boarding pass, crumpled in my hand and damp with sweat. Gate X8. I am here. I look up at my guide, who begins to launch into a speech as though he has a camera trained upon him. He begins with a loud and vigorous snort. “AS YOU TRAVEL BY CONVENTIONAL MEANS, THE NORMALS YOU TRAVEL WITH EXPERIENCE MALFUNCTIONS. ALL THAT IS LEFT IS TOTAL SELF-DESTRUCTION…”

I stop listening. My stomach is growling like a hellbeast, and I want nothing more than to get on the plane and eat my pittance of dry pretzels or, if I am blessed, speculoos cookies. Will I leave limbo today? The worker behind the desk wears the navy blue of American Airlines, the scarf around her neck a river of deep red. She picks up the intercom and puts it to her mouth. My own mouth is dry; I am neither dead nor living. I am in some kind of eternity. Praise be upon Group 9, I silently pray, those behind families with small children, active military, and those of the endless large carry-on. May we again behold the stars.

Photography by Sumner McMurtry

The Girl

            “Hi beautiful angelfish! Have you had a mermazing day?” The words vomited out of her mouth as if she rehearsed them religiously before my brother and I arrived. 

            “Yeah it’s been pretty good,” I tossed in to the stale air of that apartment room on the second floor. I was taught to treat everyone with respect. Had my mothers’ voice not have been disturbing my quiet thoughts, I would have walked right through the door without hesitating to ignore the girl. That’s what she was to me. The girl. 

            I dropped my things on to the carpet next to the couch. It was a dull couch, smelling as if it was something they got for free somewhere, maybe sitting at the end of a long driveway with a “please take, it’s free!” sign leaned against it. Cigarettes, cheap ones, and the stench of a litter box protruded my nose. They didn’t have a cat. I had no other options, being that the living room consisted of the couch, a small tv on a stand, and now my stuff, so I sat down. 

            “So glad you could make it baby, where’s Daniel?” The words fell off my dad’s lips in one long breath, slurred together as if he was talking in cursive. 

            “He was right behind me, should be in here any time now.” As I glanced around locking my eyes with anything other than my dad’s, the door opened and my brother walked in. I could tell he didn’t wanna be there. I couldn’t say a thing though. I didn’t either. The corners of his smile stayed pointed down, just like they were stuck. And he never lifted his head completely straight up anymore; he just lifted it high enough to see you. 

            I stayed put on the couch for a while. I had nothing more to do other than find something interesting on my phone. There was a boy I went to school with. I threw myself all over him even though his hair and his voice bothered me. I didn’t mind; I took what I could get. You would think a 12 year old girl would be getting lost in a diary or in a game. I was getting lost in people, creating versions of the ones around me that were better than they really were. It was easier that way. 

            My dad came near to me, falling into the space to my right. I didn’t want him to get close; that’s when I cold see his eyes. They were foggy and shadowed like when you’re driving late at night in the rain.  The car headlights uncover only a few feet in front of you. The rest is hidden and dark and not a place you want to shine a light. 

            I could tell when he opened his mouth. The smell still assaults me and it’s been 8 years. I can’t smell alcohol without feeling as though I need to tie my heart together with a rope to prevent it from falling apart all over again. I smell alcohol once and then I smell it everywhere. I create the smell when it’s no longer there, determined to find someone new to blame. Marsala wine. He was drinking Marsala wine. I could tell because he made Chicken Marsala all the time. I could never forget the way he cooked the mushrooms, garlic, and thyme in a blend that tasted better every time I put it in my mouth.  His favorite part was the alcohol. 

            He placed his left hand on my legs for far too long. He laid his head on my shoulder, “I love you baby. I loveyou, I love youIlove you. So glad you’re here baby. You’re here, on Christmas, Eve. I love you.” He spoke to me in a tone that made it hard to understand who he was trying to convince. I knew he loved me, but the more he said it the less I knew. 

            The girl stayed off in the corner of the kitchen for a while. My eyes would catch her pacing during commercial breaks of River Monsterson Animal Planet. I really didn’t care to see some guy catch the world’s most venomous animal by hand, but it put my dad to sleep. 

            The interruption of her shrill voice woke my dad from his nap. “Rheanie, let’s play a board game or something.” 

            The 4 of us made our way to the kitchen table. It was bigger than I thought it would be. It filled all the space allotted for a dining room. I couldn’t tell you how long we played Pirate’s of the Caribbean Yahtzee, or what we ate for dinner that night. But I remember the girl’s face. She was 21, barely. She appeared as if she was 13. Her glasses were brown and the frames were thin. Her hair was pulled back in to a low ponytail containing her stop sign strands. I was a child and even I was judgmental of her Sleeping Beauty t-shirt. Her mermaid-scale pants. Her purple shoes. It didn’t make sense. 

            She would bite her nails starting from her thumb to her pinky and back again. My body knew she was nervous before my head did. I couldn’t shake off my thumping heartbeat and my bouncing leg. 

            “Come here baby, come here.” I hesitated but obeyed my dad’s command to come sit on his lap. The closer I got, the faster I wanted to run. I didn’t want to smell him again.                   

            I sat across his legs, our bodies making an x. He laid his hand on my legs for far too long. He pulled the hair off of my right shoulder, and tucked the locks behind my ear. His breath was warm and rich. His lips lined my ear and his new catchphrase started as a whisper.

            “Renee, you are so selfish. You are so selfish. You are so selfish. I want you to know that. Daniel, you know your sister is selfish? You are so selfish Renee.”

            “Dad, enough, Please stop.” My brother released the words I couldn’t. It didn’t change a thing. 

            His whispers grew in strength. “You are so selfish. You’re such a butthole. Why do you have to be so selfish Renee? I want you to know you’re a selfish butthole.” 

            I ached. I had never ached before. I also froze. I caught a glimpse of a passing car outside the living room window. Where were they going? To dinner? Home? I wanted to go home.

            “Renee you are so selfish.”

            “Dad let her go. Renee come on, Renee come on, Dad stop, let her go.”

            I tried to stand in reverence to my brother’s wishes. I couldn’t move. My dad had his arms wrapped fully around my chest and back. He was squeezing, and tightening, and fixing his grip. He was holding one wrist with the other hand, using his joints as support. 

            “Dad, that’s fucking enough!” 

            I shook and bent like a fish in someone’s hand. I leaned forward and back, and forward and back. 

            My dad soon released, as if he was unaware that he had a hold on me for so long. I stood and ran with sights on my brother’s long arms. 

         “Dad. What the fuck! I’m so, damnit. I can’t do this!” My brother slammed his hands to his temples, running them along his head. His fingers gripped, pulling so tightly on his hair that his head lifted. His eyes pointed to the ceiling but they remained shut. 

            The girl sprung from her chair as if she was chained and they finally broke. “Let it out, Daniel, let it out. It’s okay.” 

            I looked at the girl. Her eyes swelled and her face became the color of her hair as if they had bled together. There was no longer a line to separate the two. The girl was red. Red. 

            “We come all this way to see you, dad, and this is what you do? You act like this? I’m so fucking done dad.” My brother paced the tile floor for so long a pathway began to form. Like years ago when travelers made their way through the forest in the same spots leaving trails of where they had been. 

            “You’re drunk. You’re so drunk, you’re always drunk. I can’t stand to be around you anymore, I can’t do it.” 

            It was in this moment I witnessed what it looked like to watch someone lose themselves. My brother was collapsing under the weight of all that second floor apartment kept concealed. I wanted to stand there in awe of him yelling at my dad for hours. I didn’t want him to stop.

            I turned to face my dad, preparing myself to see him retaliate. But, he remained in the chair. He sat there unaware. Daydreaming, probably, about when we would finally leave. If we left he could get in his car in search of something stronger than Marsala wine. He could approach the girl again, and he could shower her in affection and assault, compliments and attacks, sex and abuse. She was already red.

             I didn’t care for the girl, so I was ready to leave.

My father turned his head in my direction. His face was pointed toward my feet, but his dirt eyes lifted and landed right on mine. I couldn’t look away. I forgot how. 

            I saw myself being carried out of Walmart on a summer afternoon. I was being held as if I only weighed 2 pounds. My dirty blonde hair was flowing over the back of my father. I was almost asleep, getting lost in his arms and tangled in his Jesus tattoo. I felt heated fingers press against my cheek. My father brushed my hair off of my right shoulder, and he tucked the locks behind my ear. 

            “Renee, we need to leave now. We can’t stay, can’t stay here like this. I don’t care if we leave before we planned to. It’s really time to go.” 

            I broke the daze between my father and I and turned to gather my things. I hadn’t stayed long enough to take anything out, so it was accomplished in an instant. 

            “Here, take all of yall’s gifts. Please take them I’m sorry we couldn’t open them.” The girl hurried around, throwing a stack of presents in to one larger cardboard box. Did she think that’s why we came? Did she think that’s what we wanted? Was she jealous that we could leave that place and she was stuck?

            My brother approached me, enclosing my baby hand in his. His hands were wet and balmy and safe. We exited the second floor apartment, fleeing toward the steps, skipping 2, and then 1, and then 3. We were running and rounding the corners of the buildings. His blue car was lost in a field of others who were unlucky enough to call the vicinity around that second floor apartment home. I wanted to keep running until my ankles disintegrated. I wanted to run out in to the street alongside the cars. I wanted to run through the red lights and back again. I wanted to run back in to that apartment building and break my dad in to a thousand shattered pieces. And then I wanted to run those pieces of him to the bridge above the interstate and release them. 

            But my brother and I got in his car and we went home. Neither of us said a word.

            I still feel my dad’s arms around me. Tightening, squeezing, gripping. I’m always reminded of how I can find security in his large arms but I have yet to fully trust them again. How am I supposed to be held by the man who gives me the reasons to need an embrace?

            I still feel my dad’s hand on my legs for far too long. Never crossing the line but coming close enough that it’s only blurry now. He tells me I look beautiful and it makes me feel violated. To wear a crop top, a swimsuit, or a tight dress is something I try not to do around him. He fell in love with the girl and got turned on when she would come home in her Minnie Mouse sweatshirt and Ariel hair. Why should I expect him to look at me like I’m just his daughter and nothing more? I know he would never take anything too far. But, has he thought about me the same way he thought about the girl when he saw her for the first time when she was 17? Does he look at his daughter and see the same thing? 

            I still feel my dad’s hand brushing back my hair. I feel it maneuvering the locks in to place behind my ear. I hate the way I look with my hair behind my ears. I feel like a doll. I don’t feel like a daughter. I don’t want my hair pushed back anymore. 

Art by Sarah Simic

To the Girl in my English Class

You belonged to the moon

Hidden behind your eye’s blinds

There was no sunlight peeking through

small spaces, I didn’t know you

But I knew this much:

You have a tongue that traps your words 

Silenced stories waiting to be discovered 

And hands that hang like the pill bottles I once knew 

Mocking me — a mind of a puzzle

with mismatched pieces 

Doubled vision


And biting air against pale sickly skin 

I loved you 

And perhaps I was the only one who did

This made me want to pull you out of your own shadow

and show you the other side of the moon

If only you would listen

Kisses of cocaine 

The touch of ecstasy

Cracking knuckles and dry nailbeds

Discolored skin

We were once lovers 

But we taught ourselves to be strangers 

We were silently intimate 

I saw through your painted canvas

full of inviting colors 

You were not good although you wanted to be

Beyond your voice you were begging

To be heard

To be saved 

To be seen. 

A hall full of mirrors 

Our other halves follow us 

Footsteps with a delayed echo

A smell unable to be pin-pointed

although it seems familiar 

Tip-toeing through the shadows 

A motionless light at the end 

Only one of us will ever touch 

Photography by Sumner McMurtry

Black Lace

I was packing my travel bag when a reassuring thought came to mind. You can never go wrong with black. No matter what a lady looks like, wearing black underclothes will always make her feel beautiful, and I did. I looked at my under-dressed reflection and felt a feminine beauty radiating along my curves, exaggerated by black lace.

I put on my work uniform and grabbed my bag. I took one last look at my bedroom before heading off to work to confirm that nothing seemed out of the ordinary. That my bedroom looked like any other normal person’s my age. I passed my parents on my way out and told them goodbye. I reminded them I was spending the night at a friend’s house after work, which was a lie, but they would believe it all the same.

The next four hours I spent making pizzas and coming up with more alibis for what I was about to do. The trick to them was to include an embarrassing or slightly incriminating detail, but never including the full extent of what really happened. It was a busy shift as usual, but the other cook, Dan, helped keep me from getting bored. We would always insult each other and tell ridiculous stories of our past inebriations to pass the time. It was his turn to share and he described in detail how he had once taken LSD and had managed to set a mouse on fire, consequently setting fire to his bed. We had gone back and forth “spilling the tea” as we called it. And though I didn’t tell him my secret plans for the night, he could tell I was withholding some information from him. He knew a little about my coworker and I’s escapades, but not this one in particular. The time passed quickly, and I started going over the steps to the plan in my head. The anticipation consumed me, and at eight I clocked out. Before I left, I glanced over at my coworker and gave him an encouraging smile, knowing he was feeling the eagerness, too. Most nights, I barely saw him at work because he was delivering. Other nights, he was my boss and it was just us in the building for the most part. He liked to surprise me while I was working, sometimes by leaving a bottle of whiskey and a dozen roses in my car. I’m no alcoholic, but that’s when I knew he loved me.

After work I drove to my friend’s house and got changed. She answered all my questions while I braided my hair back. She was excited for me and offered some advice from her own experiences. The nervousness that pulsated through my veins made me feel euphoric. I liked this feeling. It was the kind that made me step through unknown doors out of pure curiosity.

A knock at the door interrupted my thoughts and signaled for my leave. I handed my friend my phone, instructed her to keep the tracker on, and said goodbye. My parents never understood privacy or boundaries during my teenage years, so they made me keep a tracker on my phone. I couldn’t turn it off without them immediately finding out, so to get by it, I would leave my phone hidden in places that I would reasonably be. My dad also had his police friends keep an eye out for my car while they were on patrol. Unfortunately, I had the only 2003 Mitsubishi in Lebanon with illegal tint on the windows. I found out about this after one of them spotted me at a convenience store known for selling alcohol to minors. After that incident I made sure to also leave my car behind in my reckless adventures.

Rushing to the front door, I was greeted by my partner in crime. We got in his car and quickly drove away. “This is going to work,” I said. He smiled and kissed the back of my hand. “Also, I hate the lack of tint on your windows,” I claimed. He began to laugh, and I began to live.

We ended up at a hotel that night which all felt extravagant to me. There was king-size bed draped in white blankets against one of the walls, and I wanted to climb right into it. We settled in and talked about everything that came to mind for what seemed like hours. It was when we were talking closely in the middle of the room when I asked him, “are you sure?” He responded, “I am if you are.” I pulled my shirt over my head and dropped it to the floor, revealing my black bra. As I stripped, every chain that ever held me down finally broke, and I was utterly free. The look on his face told me that a lady could never go wrong with black.

I always managed to stay a few steps ahead of my overprotective parents. And I chose to keep them in the dark about my relationship for six months, long enough for them to be unable to take matters into their own hands, but also long enough to leave me in a broken state of almost constant paranoia. I still lay awake some nights wondering what I would have done if everything fell apart during the human resources investigation. I remember the fight or flight response that surfaced in me when my boss blocked me from walking into the kitchen to clock in. How she called my name firmly signifying that I could not leave. I felt like I was just a mouse in the lion’s mouth, and I could either give up and be eaten alive, or I could stay smart. Before I even sat down at the table she was calling me to, I chose to fight for what I valued so deeply above anything else. And I fought hard.

“Can you tell me why there is a rumor going around that you’re dating one of the managers?” she asked. “I’m willing to bet you’re guilty from the smirk on your face” She said more harshly.

That always seemed to happen when I got scared. A smirk that presented a confidence in me that only I knew was false.

“I can’t imagine who would have started that rumor, or why they would start it in the first place.” I said sharply.

She kept throwing accusations at me, and one after another, I deflected them in the hopes that somehow through all of it, I could keep my job.

She started to speak again. “People are scared to work with you. Morgan refuses to work alone with you, so you can’t work Monday evenings anymore.”

“I’m sorry she feels that way, I don’t understand what I did to upset her. I do hope whatever it is can be resolved.” I said insincerely. I knew that Morgan reported us, and she feared what I might do in retaliation. For the record, I have never threatened to retaliate against her. She was insignificant to me as she was just a small beginning to an inevitable obstacle, I understood that.

Sam asked me, “Do you not want to be friends with her? It makes work easier when coworkers can be friends.”

I hesitated for a moment and looked down at the table. I wondered what I had gotten myself into, and if I could deal with the possible consequences. Every scenario that I thought could possibly happen began to blur together in my head. I kept telling myself that as long as I didn’t admit to anything, nothing bad could happen.

“In all honesty, Sam, I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to make money,” I responded.

I felt guilty for saying that because there was never “all honesty” with me during this period of time, at most there was “some honesty.” My boss made me sign some paperwork, stating that I had nothing to do with any rumors, and that I was not sexually involved with the manager accused.

She spoke again, subconsciously letting some of her anger slip through her teeth. “Look, I know you’re guilty. You’re going to ruin lives. You know that, right?”

This statement awakened every nerve in my body. Was it true? How could my actions ruin lives? I was finally happy and adored life for once. So, I chose to believe she was wrong. I leaned forward, and through my equanimity I said, “But can you prove it?”

Afterwards, she allowed me to clock in, but it didn’t erase the harsh tension the investigation uncovered that was now between us. My partner had to deal with the rougher parts of it, though, for the time being we both were safe from the consequences of our actions. But my boss was right. She and a couple others lost their jobs, and that place was never the same.

I have often wondered if my parents would have understood the fight I put up to protect someone so important to me, or if they would have disowned me for all that I did unbeknownst to them. On the surface, I was a “straight A” student who could do no wrong; but I was truly living a double life, and I loved it. My parents no longer knew me, but I knew myself better than ever. My whole life, I felt that the world moved too slowly around me, and I yearned for something to speed it up. At seventeen, I found a scandalous love that set me free from the slow-moving earth beneath my feet.

Sometimes, I feel remorse for what happened to some of the others, but if I somehow had the choice to go back in time and do it all differently, I wouldn’t. These actions led me to my soulmate, and collateral damage is simply a price some people had to pay for attempting to stifle a love so rare. Often, I wish I could hear just one more of Dan’s stories, and maybe tell him one in return. A lot of us had to leave that sad little pizza place, but sometimes I still hear my former boss’s voice telling me that I’m going to ruin lives. But here we are three years later happily living ours.

The Beginning of the End

Larry reaches over to hold Sue’s hand. She moves away so it seems like the dog is pulling the
leash. It doesn’t matter that the neighbors see Larry’s car and know he’s spending the night,
there’s something about the neighbors actually seeing her with Larry and looking like a couple
that troubles her. This is just the beginning of their romance.

“Did I tell you about that student going on and on about how his short story is like Game of Thrones during workshop last night?”

Larry nods his head negatively, but says nothing, and Sue knows he’s nodding to let her know he knows she pulled away.

“Another student said that show used too much gratuitous violence, something we’ve been discussing this week, and an argument broke out about how people like the show for way more reasons than that, and, you know, there’s always those that get biblical about everything. We were getting sidetracked from commenting on his story and I blurted out that the Game of Thrones was like Genesis, except, since the Bible is supposedly true, when the father gets drunk and rapes his daughter, it’s real there, and stated as a fact, not as gratuitous violence.”

“Seriously, Sue, you said that? How’d that go over?”

“Not so great. A couple of students gave me a quick thumbs up and others were probably wishing they had caught me saying that on their phones.”

“They didn’t, did they?”

“Who knows?”

“I bet that was quite the class.”

“Maybe it is my last class and I will get my termination papers in the mail today. Joys of being an adjunct.”

Larry wants to say more but a neighbor walks by with his dog and Sue leans over to pet his dog while the neighbor pets her dog. The neighbor usually has two dogs, but the older dog hasn’t been doing well, and Sue’s not sure she wants to ask about Beanie.

The neighbor sighs, then says, “I buried Beanie last night.”

Sue reaches over to hug her neighbor and Larry feels like he should say something. “Did you put him down?”

The neighbor starts crying and walks off while Sue quietly mumbles how sorry she is about Beanie. After the neighbor is out of ear shot, she looks at Larry and says, “What the fuck kind of question is that to ask someone about their dead dog? Is that what you say to people when a family member dies? Do you ask them if they pulled the plug?”

They walk the next block home in silence. When Larry gets in the car and backs out of the driveway, they both know this is their end.

73 Degrees

When a Tennessee breeze
Brings a lull to our chilled
I step outside.
73 degrees and dropping,
I am waiting
For memory to melt me
Dethaw the deep-freeze
Inside my skin.
At 73 degrees and climbing,
I thought ice could never
Creep in through
Our fault lines. Abigail would walk
From Barrett Drive to meet me
As I walked Fairview
And we met awkwardly
And easily
In the middle.
73 degrees and steady,
I was a girl who felt
As strongly as any girl
Of sixteen
Nineteen now and don’t know how it all
My Honeysuckle changed to Henbit
Far too late
To fall out of love with its fake taste.
73 degrees and dropping now—
I’ve learned to wear a coat at last
Against our Tennessee breeze.
I slip my flip-flops from my feet
And surrender my skirts to warmer days.
I love the warmth I keep with me—
But tomorrow
I must protect it.
63 degrees,
53 degrees,
40, and dropping.

Honey Queen

it tasted like a bee hum in the mouth
brush of silk wings against tongue
stinger embedded in cheek lining.
that’s what happened when i swallowed
something that didn’t belong anymore
to my gluttonous stomach
the residual honey clinging to my teeth
a sour-sweet reminder of the sphere
where i was queen

Metaphor for Lilies (Covid 19)

if it wasn’t for the old ones,

we’d be dancing through this sickness

with zinfandel wine and stacks

of rice, beans, coffee, milk,

all the necessities to survive


while making a cup of coffee i wonder

if our grandmothers will die before we are able

to buy them any more flowers.

every Easter my mother gives Grandmama

white lilies, which could represent doves, signs

of salvation, or any kind of metaphorical bullshit.

i’ll add my own metaphor: my grandmother’s face,

planted in soil. three lily faces are sleeping

inside a plastic pot

first face: she stands in blue skirt and white blouse,

brown curls gripping cheeks younger

than mine are now. did the photographer

add that pink blush to her cheeks?

does she know what is coming?

second face: she stands against the background

of dark kitchen cabinets, wearing the same kind

of white blouse but her hair isn’t brown anymore,

graying against the whole-body fever

blush of her skin in middle age.

can she feel the sickness creeping closer?

third face: she wears a pink jacket over the white blouse

and holds a birthday present, peering past pale tissue paper

because she can’t remember that she already

opened this one, so she will reopen

the truth of the future and keep

forgetting it

I wonder if she knows

that we have kept away because we love–

isn’t that the way it goes? we keep away

from what we love to keep it safe?

I bought an orchid and watched it slowly wither,

turning black, first the flowers, then the leaves,

as it sputtered dead on the kitchen stove

I’ll go to the edge

of my grandmother’s driveway, waiting

until it’s safe to see the lilies again, withered,

but still hanging on, reaching

their petals toward my waiting body

from behind the screen door,

that lonely picture frame

Troubled Dogs

will we have time for our hands

to roam wherever they need?

along night air and balcony railings,

damp noses sniffing the air for intruders,

mayflies whispering against the knuckle of your 

ring finger for three quarters

of a second

we remember the freedom of being strays,

how loneliness stays as ticks and fleas.

we can’t outrun good intentions.

someone is always a phone call

away from what they call 

our salvation

if i had an insect’s body 

i would whisper with my wings 

like a dog whistle that only you can hear,

telling you we have to leave this place.

but as it is, we fill these canine back 

alley corners better than anyone else

we are dogs feeding                              

from the same bowl. you growl,

i whine. our teeth are our defense.

if we are chained, we will be loud about it. 

snapping teeth. bristled backs. we have

no other options

we want to be found. we don’t want

to be found. if chains are gone 

then we will have the memory of chains.

if hands are the reason for chains,

we will break hands

and remember them as fists

we stand in the rain

of our own frightened smell,

keys rumbling in our bellies.

troubled dogs will always belong 

to their original masters.


We’re not in L.A. anymore—but

inside your car it’s the same car

that sputtered across the 101 with 

out air-conditioning and a broken radio. 

Even the insects still want to live inside.

We are taking Lula to see 

Pirates of Penzance. 

You mutter the usual.

But I know you remember,

last summer—how we listened 

to mariachis on Olvera St. 

while Lula ate paletas.

She had to try every flavor, she explained,

& of course you let her, shaking your pockets

free of coins, curly head bouncing away,

before you told me you were moving back, 

to live with your sister—to kick. 

The Cape is hot this summer. We are sweating. 

Only yourwindow rolls down,

& I want to say:

When we were young, do you remember?

Our pirate ships? Our duels? Our songs?

I want to ask. But I don’t.

Inside the open ashtray, 

between us, the moth settles in.

Lula—in the backseat, tells us 

not to stop its fluttering.

It’s an angelo, she says. It will flap

back to god and tell on you. 

The first time I caught you in the bathroom,

your eyes were so red, I thought you’d already disappeared.

But it’s taking years. We are still here now with the trees 

flashing past us. You fade slow. A rose above a mirror.

NOVUS Literary and Arts Journal
Lebanon, TN