Read an Excerpt
Written in the Dirt by Timothy Cahill
The light grew brighter, filling my eyes until I could see nothing of my surroundings. Giving my horse a gentle tug, I brought her to a halt and reached down for my canteen. I gulped a mouthful and noticed there was hardly any water remaining. I had never grown used to the infernal heat that permeated everythingheat that stung your eyes, pierced your skin, spurred every sweat pore on your body into overdrive. It was enough to damage a man's wits and destroy his will, which was, of course, exactly the point.
I blinked my eyes hard until the white blur began to dissipate and my vision came back into focus. As I had come to expect, there was not really anything to see; the light-brown dirt stretched on for miles, creating a panoramic spectacle daunting enough to inspire second thoughts about even bothering to survive. Heaving a deep sigh, I glanced down at my empty canteen and swore. I had filled it only a few hours after sunrise, yet had only taken four gulps during the day to finish it. There was evidently a leak. Nothing to panic about, I reminded myself, removing the brown broad-rimmed hat from my head and wiping my brow. According to the directions the fellow at that post office gave me, I should reach a settlement by dark and restock my supplies. I could certainly afford some new equipment. Heading out here was the best business decision I'd ever made.
With this thought, I reached into my saddlebag to pull out the earnings from my stay in the last settlement. Not bad for a single day's work. And one buffoon had even given me what looked like a gold Spanish medallion. I didn't know much about its worth, but, from what I'd heard, they can fetch a pretty penny at a pawn shop. That old sap hadn't been able to see much farther than his nose. He must have judged by the size that it was an ordinary quarter. I admiringly tilted the gold coin in my hand and rolled my eyes over the strange engravings.
'Pardon, mister?' My daydreaming was cut short by what I suspected was an apparition. As the figure on horseback drew nearer, it became apparent that he was quite real.
'Why, mister, you're a doctor, perhaps?'
'Mighty perceptive of you,' I allowed, casually slipping the money back into the saddlebag. 'How'd you figure that one?'
'Praise God in heaven!' the other rider exclaimed, his eyes wide and his demeanor somewhat manic. 'Why, I saw that black bag, looked like the one the doctor back home carries with him, and I just knew! It's nothing short of a miracle, finding you way out here . . .' The man caught himself from rambling and took a deep swallow. 'I've got a serious problem, mister. My li'l girl's so sick I'm afraid she ain't gonna make it another few days.'
'Fortunate that I came along when I did,' I noted with a curt nod, allowing my instincts to return. This, after all, was business. 'Whereabouts is she right now?'
'We sure weren't about to push on all the way to the settlement at Oak Creek, so I put up camp just over them hills,' he jerked his head to the south. 'It's been three days now, and we're mighty low on food, but if we push on, she ain't got a chance. Please, mister?'
I looked him in the eye and nodded grimly. 'No guarantees, sir, but I'll do what I can.' I gave him an encouraging nod, at which point the man spurred his horse, leading me at a speedy gait to the camp.
When we arrived, I noticed that the flaps of the tent were drawn closed. Dismounting with great urgency, the man held his hand out in a halting gesture. 'Better let me go first, mister. In this state, she's liable to scream if she sees a strange face.' He rushed inside, and I could hear him murmuring reassurance in the universal tone parents use to comfort sick children.
I slipped off my own horse, lifted my sleek black bag off its back and stole a glance at the tent. I quickly pulled the sack open and scoured through it until the appropriate vial was on top. This sell should be simpler than most, I told myself confidently.
'She's feeling a littler calmer now, mister,' the man noted, leaning out of the tent. 'You can come in.'
I gripped the bag firmly in my hand and walked in, ducking under the propped-up flap. It was fairly dark inside, the only light coming from a freshly lit candle. The dwelling was plain, with a small blanket doubled over on the ground to serve as a bed. On it rested an angelic little girl, no more than six or seven. Her face looked pale, and I could hear rough, guttural wheezing with every breath. The poor thing was lying on her back, staring forlornly at the top of the tent, her eyes open but her expression blank. She grasped a rather large, tattered shirt that was serving as a blanket, and she occasionally shivered. The sight was almost enough to bring a tear to my eye. Almost.
'This been going on for long?' I asked the father, with a professional edge to my voice. 'Days? Weeks?'
'Well, we been stopped here just a little while . . . couple a days,' he replied hesitantly. 'She hadn't been doing very well early on either, but it just got worse,' he added.
I nodded confidently and placed my hand on her forehead. Drawing it back quickly, I proceeded to lean over the young girl and peered deeply into her eyes. She appeared to be conscious of her surroundings, but seemed confused by her condition. Needless to say, so was I. Not that it really mattered. 'Well, sir, these are less than ideal circumstances for a complete diagnosis, but I'd be inclined to call it an advanced case of Dutch Fever.'
'Is it . . . serious?' he asked, gulping. His eyes were wide and full of hope. Gotta love the easy jobs, I told myself with an inward grin. Most of 'em are buying things they won't ever need: boot clips, glove strings, saddle cream, and so on. But if they need it, well, there isn't even a challenge. Truthfully, you could fool most of the people I do business with by telling them the word 'gullible' was written in the dirt.
'I won't lie to you, sir,' I said, my mouth locked in a solemn line and my eyebrows narrowing. 'It's a tough illness to fight off, but I've got something here that's had some success over in Cireves County.' I reached into the black bag, careful not to open it all the way, and pulled out the vial of purple liquid. 'Now, hers is a pretty tough case, so I'm gonna give you this whole vial. You give her a mouthful every two to three hours, and I bet she starts clearin' up in a few days.'
He clasped his hands around the container of homemade cough syrup and looked up at me with intense gratitude. 'Oh, thank you, mister. You truly are a godsend!' He blinked hard and gulped once more. 'We ain't got much money. How much do I owe you for this?'
'It's a pretty costly bit of medicine,' I remarked with a frown, subtly eyeing the humble surroundings, 'but I wouldn't want to drive you broke now. How much can you afford?' Always let the poor give what they can. If they've got it, they'll hand over more than the rich will ever consider.
'Why, I left my money out in my saddlebag!' he exclaimed. 'Was 'fraid the camp would be robbed while I was looking for help. Hang on there.' As he scurried out of the cabin, I looked down one last time at the young girl. Placing my hand on her forehead again, I couldn't help but hope the darn cough syrup did something to help. Her body seemed to have stabilized a bit since I had first come in; the wheezing had disappeared entirely. Perhaps she had drifted to sleep.
'Here you are, mister,' the man said, clasping my hand against his to pass over the coins in his palm. I smiled graciously and slipped them into my pocket. Noble men don't count their earnings in front of others.
'It's a pleasure I was able to help someone way out here,' I said, patting the fellow's shoulder. 'It's a good thing I came along when I did.' I let out a contented sigh to signify that my work was complete, nodded to the concerned father and strode quickly back to my horse. Taking a glance at the sun, I smiled at the thought that I might yet reach the settlement by nightfall.
* * *
'Pretty shabby canteen you're carrying there, fella.' The comment was made by a street merchant as I dismounted in front of the local inn. 'I could sell you a nicer one for a quarter,' he added enticingly, handing me his product.
The price was a tad steep, but I needed the canteen. 'Sure,' I agreed with a nod. 'Just picked myself up some cash.' I reached into my pocket and groped around for a quarter. Finding one, I handed it to the peddler and wrapped the canteen strap around my neck. 'Good day, sir.'
'Now, hold on there,' he demanded, pulling my shoulder back with a jerk. 'I ain't never seen any money like this. This ain't no good.'
Giving him a scowl, I snatched the quarter back and held it up to the light. What the . . . ? In my hand I held a gold Spanish medallion. 'Now hold on,' I said aloud, confused. 'This was from my saddlebag when . . .' I stopped in mid-sentence as the realization struck me like a rock between the eyes. I didn't even need to check my saddlebag to know that it was empty.
Noble men don't count their earnings in front of other men, but I had been counting my money that afternoon, and there had been someone watching. It had all been perfect. Too perfect. The man entered the tent first. He went outside to get his money. A sick little girl who wasn't too sick after all.
There was no use going back to the camp. Con men move quickly. I should know. One thing's for sure, though: I'm not ever again telling anyone that the word 'gullible' is written in the dirt.
Eggplant Parm by Melissa Sowin
On the night of the blizzard,
I'm locked in my house with my mother and her boyfriend.
I used to cry at the sight of his curly brown hair,
but now I am making dinner with a man for the first time:
Just me and him
My smile real as we cook eggplant parmesan:
First, protecting sliced eggplant with a coat of flour.
Then, letting the slices sizzle in oil until they are golden brown on the bottom.
I flip the eggplant over, looking at it as if it were just born.
Next, he and I spread tomato sauce together,
forming a comfortable padding for freshly sprinkled parmesan cheese.
When dinner's out of the oven, we sit:
a candlelit table set for three,
garlic bread made by mother,
salad, pasta and the main dish made by us.
Outside: two feet of snow.
Inside: three friends with napkins on our laps,
passing the salad, twirling separate spaghetti strands into a bond around our steel forks.
Even the Devil Waits in Line by Axel Arth
I stood in line, waiting for my pizza. It was yet another Saturday night, and I was, as usual, alone. And let me tell you, it wasn't for lack of trying. It was more for lack of someone else trying back.
And it didn't really help that I knew almost all the people who worked at the pizza shop. Whenever I'd made it to the counter, I'd have to put up with the jeers of my fellow jerks from behind the counter. For some reason, I never brought up the fact that they were the ones working on a Saturday night, and I was the one who could be doing somethingif I had a life to be doing something with, that is.
But tonight, something different happened. Due to a large storm on its way, everyone was wanting a pizza to kick back with, throwing off my time frame. That, and a party had come in and taken up residencea party of ten yelling children.
The line was now fifteen minutes long, and the building was getting hot. The sound of screaming children didn't help my mood. It was shaping up to be a night I was going to have to hurt someone, and that someone would most likely be me.
I was almost to the point of choking one of those damn rugrats if they touched me one more time, when I began to mutter to myself, Damn kids, going to break something. Jesus, if only they'd shut their little mouths . . .
And it was then that the stranger in front of me, the one in the ominous trench coat and black fedora, decided to speak to me.
'You know, I don't think He'd be the best person to help you right now,' he said, over his shoulder.
I stood silently, not knowing who he was talking about. He turned to face me and continued. 'Jesus, I mean. He loved children. I've never been able to figure out why, though. Pesky little brats. But, hello and, you are?' he said, extending his hand.
'I'm Axel,' I said, caught off guard by his up-front attitude. This was getting very weird, very fast. 'And you?'
'Well, I have many names. You can call me Lucy.'
'That's an interesting name,' I said, not really wanting to bring up the fact that I knew a kid with that nickname, and he wasn't exactly someone you'd want to be compared to.
He took off his hat, but his short red hair didn't even move. He reached up with one of his gloved hands and stroked his short beard. I began to blush, remembering the small piece of peach fuzz I had growing beneath my chin. And something I'll never forgethis eyes were like black pits, sucking in the light.
He continued, 'You know, there's an easy way out of all of this.'
I braced myself for the worst. This guy was going to start selling me some piece of junk, and I was going to be stuck listening to him until I got my pizza. Trying not to let this show, I said, 'Really? What's that?'
'Simple. Find an exit,' he said with a stupid grin. I let out an uncontrollable laugh, not expecting anything even half as stupid. When everyone in the store stopped looking at me, he continued.
'But, seriously, I can help you out. And for a reasonable price, too.'
Here comes the sale, I thought. 'What can you do? And how much will it cost me?'
'Look over there,' he said, pointing to the parking lot.
My internal monologue continued its rant. A car salesman? Car wax? But I saw something I never expected.
It was another pizza place, just like this one, only different. There I was, sitting in a booth. A girl I had been chasing after was sitting on the other side. We were sharing a pizza. And it looked like we might be sharing a little more than that later. It was amazing. It was exactly what I had been looking for.
My eyes glued to the image, Lucy continued, 'That's just the beginning. It can all be yours. Money, fame, all you have to do is ask.'
This wasn't any jerk trying to sell me car wax. This was Satan. And he was offering me a deal.
'And the price?' I asked, trying to concentrate, but not succeeding. The vision in front of me was filling my brain, making it hard to think.
Lucy let out a big sigh. 'Honestly, you're not a stupid kid. What do you think it is? It's your soul.' I could tell that wasn't the question he'd expected me to ask. 'Sometimes I ask myself why I even bother with you mortals . . .' he muttered.
'So, I give you my soul, and I get everything?'
'Yes, that's the deal.'
The image of the pizza place disappeared, and I felt empty, like I had to have that again.
'How do I seal the deal?' I asked, ready to get this over with.
'Right here,' he said, pulling a contract and a pen from his coat.
I bent down, ready to sign. This was the life I wanted. This was how it should be. It's all I would ever need.
But a thought popped into my head: What fun would that be? Half the fun is the chase. It'd be a lot easier, but not nearly as much fun. Let life come as it may. I straightened. 'I'm sorry, Lucy, but I think I'll pass.'
His grin grew even wider. 'Good. You're the kind of guy I like to see get away from me. And besides, The Man Upstairs has plans for you.'
I stood, shocked. 'Plans? Like what?'
His grin continued to grow. 'If you had sold your soul to me, you'd know by now.'
The rest of the wait passed in silence. Lucy was leaving with his order, when I stopped him. 'Hey, you've been nice about this whole 'soul' thing. Do you mind if I ask one more question?'
'Not at all. What is it?'
'Why did you wait in line? It's not like anything was stopping you from getting what you wanted.'
'It's like you said. It's not fun if it's just handed to you. That, and like tonight, I can sometimes get a soul out of it. Now hurry, your pizza's getting cold.' With that, he turned and walked out the door.
I stood there, staring, not quite believing what had just happened. The jeers from my friends brought me back to reality, and my life was normal once more. For a while, anyway.
Speak to Me by Joyce Sun
speak to me i want you to touch me and i want you to touch your hand to mine and lay them, palm to palm, i want to relive that night on Broadway again,
(night on Broadway, yes, your hand in mine i could hear your heart beating amidst the neon lights),
i want this to be that summer again, i want
i want i want so many things i want to be famous. i want to be rich.
i want to go down in history, i want millions to look at me and say, she is all that i aspire and yearn to be, she is the embodiment of my desires, i want to be just like her.
i want to be a god to millions. i want to live forever, and i,
i just want you to speak to me.
Looking over Gaza by Kerry E. McIntosh
'I look at the sky; I look at the people.'
Arien Ahmed, Palestinian, would-be suicide bomber,
upon deciding not to detonate her explosives
(Newsweek, June 2002)
I gaze out the window at my tiny view of the world. People are walking down the road that skirts the sea. The sun, deep red in the evening sky, is slowly lowering itself over the horizon of lapping waves. I look at the sky. I look at the people. In my mind I can still see, with vivid detail, all the people at the coffee shop this morning, and I wonder what would have happened to them had all gone as planned. The pregnant woman quietly sipping the cappuccino; the group of students talking and joking; the stressed clerk with the oversized uniform; the little girl holding the juice.
Amid the faces flashing in front of me when I close my eyes, I see the little girl's the clearestas if her exact image is etched deep inside my mind. Her olive skin and flowing chestnut hair. Her hazel eyes, afire with life as she tilts her face back, peels of laughter resonating from her youthful, ebullient grin that only falters momentarily when her juice bottle crashes to the ground. Where would she be right now had my mission succeeded? And what about the many others waiting in line for coffee that morning?
Dead. All of them, dead. The bustling scene I had walked in on this morning would have ceased to exist had one more second gone by. The windows would have been shattered, the tables overturned and the unused coffee cups stacked beside the counter would have all been frozen in time like the pottery in the picture of the ruins of Pompeii I had seen in a history book. I remember looking at that picture as the missile came through the roof of the school. As the white dust rained down over our heads, I remember closing the book and huddling under my desk, fearing I would soon be living the picture on the page. But that day, I had gone to al-Aqsa instead.
A pit was forming in my stomach. I realized that I would have made the people in the coffee shop live the picture on that page had I acted in accordance with my prescribed fate. What if the girl who dropped her juice bottle were my little sister? What if one of the young men standing in line were my husband-to-be? Or worse yet, what if the lady sipping the cappuccino were me, five years from now, pregnant with my first child and unaware that an attack had been planned against me?
Crazy scenarios popped into my head like swiftly falling raindrops on a tin roof. Situations, some incredibly far-fetched, some realistic, about the lives of the people I would have killed, invaded my thoughts faster than I could stop them. I had been tormented with fear ever since a bomb had fallen on my neighbor's home the first year I'd lived in Jabaliya, so what kind of fears would the young clerk have felt if a bomb had gone off at her workplace?
The easy part about being a martyr is that I never would have had to handle thoughts like these, I realize, reminding myself that I, too, would be as nonexistent now as the people at the Starbucks. Guerrillas and snipers must be hardened, able to kill and then suppress all remorse for their actions until such feelings become extinct, and they can go on and kill again. Yet, martyrs need not suppress their remorse over the lives of those they have taken. Yes, to be a guerrilla or a sniper took a certain type of person, but anyone could be a martyr. A martyr could have been me.
Depending, of course, on the martyr's mission succeeding. If it fails, and she gets the chance to reflect on what she's done, all is rapidly negated. I never should have been apprehended this morning, I told myself. It was a fluke that the soldiers were patrolling the Community Square. I sighed, feeling that the mere hiccup in the system that allowed the soldiers' presence was hardly the real reason I had not completed my mission.
Knowing I could not continue this frail half-truth, I finally allowed myself to admit the real reason I had been caught: I never should have paused to look at the people, especially after being told countless times that a martyr must never stop and look. Yes, due to my mistake, due to looking, my destiny suddenly wasn't my destiny anymore. Because I had looked, suddenly my destiny, and that of the others at the Starbucks that morning, was altered. My moment had not come this morning, as I had assumed, but instead was now undetermined.
Leaning against the sandy plaster wall of my cell and gazing out at the sunset, I find myself questioning more than I ever have. I wonder what will become of me. The Israeli Defense Forces do not treat would-be martyrs kindly, I am sure. Because I am young and a woman, I am hoping the tribunal will be less harsh, but my hopes may be in vain.
Back in Jabaliya, I've heard all kinds of stories about what they do to Palestinians in interrogation rooms, and I know it is wishful thinking to hope that they will not do the same, or worse, to me. And for my familyI shudder to think what the soldiers will do to my family. My family knew nothing of my decision to join al-Aqsa. I told no one. I believed I was destined to be a martyr, yet now, as I stand here in my cell, I know that I had lied to myself.
I should get used to this cell; I'll be spending a lot of time in cells. I wonder if I'll ever be allowed to return to Jabaliya. Probably not. Yet if I do, I think hopefully, if I ever return to my people, I won't go back to al-Aqsa. Martyrdom is not my destiny. Even if the soldiers invade again, even if life is miserable and my family again has no money, I won't take another chance at martyrdom. I will not try it again and succeed the next time, for even if I weren't alive to feel the remorse for my actionsoh, I shudder to think of the consequences anyway.
Sometimes our decisions may seem like what is bestour destinies seem set in stoneyet these same decisions may seem foolish, if not ghastly, in retrospect. The little girl with the juice, the young men laughing in line, the clerk who typed my name, Najat Rashaad,* into the database, and the slim guard who exposed my false destiny with the words 'By the order of the Israeli Defense Forces of the Territories, you are under arrest'I, too, could live like them. Like the child who dropped her juice, I, too, could learn to laugh off the bad times, recover from life's messes and go on another day.
I look out my cell window, knowing that the small view of the road and the dunes and the water meeting the horizon is the only view of the world I'll have for several days, at least. It is all I need to see to remind myself that, yes, the world is turning, and, yes, life is ever-renewing, and each sunset is both the beginning and the end of good and bad days.
I look to my future, and although it may seem bleak, I know I have one. And as the sun sets over Gaza this evening, my destiny is as open and broad as the sea in the distance. I'm looking toward tomorrow, a tomorrow that this morning I never expected to see.
Hunger by Leslie D. Johnson
A hungry wolf is tearing at my gut.
He growls with restlessness
Circles in me three times,
Plops his heavy firmness down
To slumber, until
He wakes and growls again.
I think of how he got inside.
Ironically, this has nothing to do
With what I ate,
But what I did not eat.
I swallowed this beast with the regrets
Of the lunch I sorely missed.
We wait until supper, agonizingly delayed.
Temptations dwell in the air; corn and roast meats.
Wolf gives a leap, thunder rumbles in me;
He wags his tail, beating heavily against my insides,
Whines and begs, paws the pit of my stomach.
We sit, licking our chops.
Anxiously, he bolts
Devouring the very essence of his destruction
For when he eats, he grows smaller,
Satisfied to be put to rest.
Still he greedily aches for more
'Don't wolf your food,' says my father.
Like Raspberries with Milk in the Summer by Leah Multer Filbrich
The can was cold under her fingers. They were pressed up against it by his hand, entwined with hers. She drove the car easily with one hand; it was a trick best learned through practice, and he liked it, so she practiced. Occasionally she pulled her hand out of his to steer around turns or through intersections, and he would frown, but she just kept staring ahead. The road was illuminated by her headlights, and the moon shone over the hills. The night sky was not black, only a very full blue, a canvas for the silhouettes of the tall pines they passed. Snow banked the sides of the roads, mixed with pieces of dead grass and dirt. The little lights on the dashboard blinked red and green, casting a ghastly glow on her hand as she raised it to steer around a curve. He frowned and turned to look out the window. After a moment, he took a sip of his soda and sighed.
'Coke is my favorite kind of soda,' he said, turning to her. 'What do you like best?'
She had been about to put her hand back down, but when she opened her mouth to answer his question, she shut it abruptly and, startled, dropped her hand to her lap and looked perplexedly at the road ahead, as if it were some kind of giant maze and she could not discover how to get out. After a few minutes of silence, he looked out the window again, and she raised her hand to grip the steering wheel tightly. She tipped her head to one side and smiled slightly.
'You want to know what I like best?'' she asked. 'Well, then, I'll tell you.' He looked over at her and started smiling, then, chuckling to himself, he reached for her hand. The headlights caught a sign on the side of the road, and, grinning almost maliciously, she flicked on her blinker and slammed on the brakes. He jerked his hand back as the car flew around a corner.
'Where are you going?' he asked. The skin on her knuckles was white. 'Stick to the main roads. You'll never make it back home before nine.'
'I'll go fast,' she said as the car sped along. Pieces of newspaper scattered from the road. The moonlight shone directly on her face now, and she looked thoughtful for a moment, then very intent as she stared at the road.
'What I like best is at the end of the day when I'm tired and thoughts stream meaninglessly through my head. I'm all ready for bed, and I go in my dark room and close the door. One of the best things in the world is closing the door on a darkened room. I like the way my long white nightgown flows over my body. I like how it touches me only in a few places. I like to raise my arms above my head and sway and dance rhythmically in the dark, like I'm dancing to slow African drums. I like to collapse on my bed and look out the window. I like to see the stars, the moon's tears, and they taste like raspberries with milk in the summer. I love to see the moon cry. I love the taste of solitude. I like the dark, and I like myself.'
They drove the rest of the way in silence, both staring ahead. They passed a little house with the lights on, and inside she saw a little girl playing the piano and a man giving a little boy a piggyback ride.
'I never liked soda very much anyway,' she said. 'I've always preferred a warm cup of tea.' One tear fell from her eye, rolled down her cheek and under her shirt. He said nothing. When they pulled into his driveway, she threw the car into park.
'Well, I'd better be going,' he said. 'I do love you.' He leaned over and kissed her gently on the cheek, seeming not to notice the dampness.
'Yeah, well, that happens sometimes,' she said.
'Good night,' he said, getting out of the car.
'Bye,' she said. He shut the door, and she put the car in reverse. She watched his back as he walked up to his house. A dog barked. As she turned to check the road, a stray curl fell in her face and she brushed it away absentmindedly. The car sped down the road, and she was alone. The moon and its tears shone brightly over the hills, and her headlights illuminated the road ahead.
The Other Side by A. G. McDermott
If I told you that I miss my station wagon most when I think of the evening steaming in summer city traffic with a pouting now ex-boyfriend when
I suddenly realized that it had long been too dark for sunglasses and, clipping an ear, snatched them from my nose and flung them over my shoulder, then in the rearview mirror watched them crack and crumple and slide down the window glass all the way at the back
or that I never considered religion until
I was sent to Catholic school and,
obliged to cross myself and hypocritically intone an 'Our Father' each morning,
promptly identified myself as an implicit atheist and with a sixth-grader's self-assurance unlocked the closet door but crouched inside amid my armory of arguments,
'confessing' only to the curious;
and that even after breaking through the suicidal crisis I was powerless to reason my way out of that spiritual quicksand until
I grasped a rope in a book on quantum physics
or that the other day in homeroom when some guy I only vaguely recognized called across the room wanting to know first my position in the class then my GPA and SAT scores and though he and his friends were rather rowdily impressed and suggested I should strut down the hall with a 'number one' index finger held high
I just wanted them to shut up before gravity and the rushing wash of emotion defeated surface tension and my eyelashes for control of a certain stinging salty solution
would I be more human or stranger still?
That Slight, Slight Noise by Kristopher Dukes
I flushed, washed my hands and dashed into my room to catch the phone on its fourth ring.
'Hey, Mary, it's Mommy.'
'Oh, hey. How are you?'
There was a near inaudible sigh. 'I'm fine. How are you?'
'I'm good. So, how's everything going?'
That slight, slight sigh again. 'Oh, it's okay. I was calling you because I got an e-mail address. You can send me a message, I won't be able to reply, but you can e-mail me telling me to call you or something.' Her words nearly slurred, but the thought that she might be drinking faded quickly because I wanted it to.
'Oh, okay, cool.'
'All right.' I jotted the information on one of the pink Post-its that decorated my desk. 'Okay, got it.'
'If you have time tonight, e-mail me, and I'll call you later to tell you if I got the message. I'm not sure how it's supposed to work.'
'Sure, I'll e-mail you. So, how are Uncle Paul's kids?' My mom babysat for her brother's two elementary-school children.
'Oh, they're good.' There was another slight sound in the background. I could hear, or maybe I just imagined, her molars grinding or her lips smacking. 'Shelly and Jacob brought home their report cards today.'
'Oh, yeah? How's the weather? Is it cold yet?'
Those slight, slight pauses. 'Yeah, well, it was thirty degrees this morning.'
'Oh, wow,' I said, knowing I was the patronizing California daughter. Thirty degrees did sound cold, but so did a lot of things. 'Did you know Grandma and Grandpa Snyder came to visit?' I wanted to suck my words back in as quickly as I said them. It was hardly a big deal that my dad's parents came to visitthey often didbut Mom had been wanting to see us lately.
'Oh, yeah, Steve told me. Are they still there?'
'No, they left Tuesday.'
'So, are you guys still trying to come out during winter break?'
'Oh, I think so. We're still trying, but we have to start paying for car insurance soon. And then, I went to take my driver's license test, but they told me I need driver's training since I'm under eighteen, so now we have to sign up for classes and it's more than a hundred bucks for each of us.'
'Yeah.' I heard what annoyed me, but what I liked to pay attention to: those slight, slight personal noises.
'Well, I'd really like to see you guys.'
'Yeah, me, too. I'd really like to go down there soon.'
'I'd like to visit you guys in California.'
'Yeah,' I said, almost uncomfortable. There was what was best for everyone, and then there was what meant a couple of weeks of smiles between welcoming and departing tears.
'Oh, yeah, I wanted to tell you guys, with my disability, you should be able to apply for more grants. I was trying to work it out for Steven, but with you it'd be easier if you just listed me as your parent. Because with Dad and Christine's salaries . . .'
'It's too much for scholarships!' I interrupted with a laugh, and then wondered if I shouldn't wish to suck back that comment and laughter, too.
'Yeah. 'Cause I'm not getting anything. Someone should get something outta my disability.'
I giggled again, pretending her comment was a joke. My laughter covered those slight noises.
'So anyway, could you remind Daddy to get my Section Eight application? I left him a message but . . .'
'You know what, maybe you could get it. Just call up the welfare office and ask for housing authority.'
I scribbled on a pink Post-it as my eyes let me know they'd enjoy tears spilling out. 'Okay,' I said, thinking I controlled my voice.
'All right, honey.' She yawned in the background. 'I'm going to let you go now; I need to get to bed.'
'Yeah, it's late over there, huh?' I tried to steady my wobbling voice as shady, transparent thoughts of my mother's, not just lost potential, but wasted and solid talent was so apparent in this phone call.
'Yeah. I need to wake up at six.'
'Well, all right, Mommy.'
'Good night, honey. I love you.'
'I love you, too. Good night! Take care.'
I hung up and went back to the bathroom to take my shower. I looked in the mirror as my face began to scrunch, trying to squeeze out the tears. Ridiculous black tears trickled down my cheeks. Earlier that night I had reveled in perfecting my Halloween makeup.
I got in the shower and sobbed, hardly weeping, though. My face continued to scrunch in sobs and laughter as I thought cynically about my little moment. My pitiful mother, my pitiful mother, it's so sad, all that could have been her life. I know lots of people with such wasted potential, but this is my mother. You're a lucky girl if your biggest problem is being sad about your mother . . . Yes, lucky, thank you, Lord. I know so many people have it worse than me, but stop crying, oh, now you're laughing, yes?
My face convulsed again as I realized how uncommitted I was to this moment, this being one of the very few times I cried and wanted to let 'it' all out. Let what all out? my mind demanded. Where is this crying getting you? How is this not just a big distraction (oh, the evils of the word!) from all the things you'd like to accomplish?
I knew I'd write this down, and I laughed, but what might have been audible was drowned by the shower. I bet you're just clinging to this moment because you just want something to write about, my mind insisted. I laughed and sobbed again.
I got out of the shower and brushed my teeth. I smudged the mist on the mirror so I could see my face. I was always interested in how my face looked before, during and after a good cry. I liked my wrinkled brow and ruddy complexion against the white, white bathroom walls.
I went into my room and saw my computer waiting for me, waiting for me to process my little conversation-turned-moment into neat black words.
Oh, but my curling hair couldn't wait. Before I blow-dried it, I tried to reflect more on my mom's misfortune, but I'd already mentally and emotionally filed that experience under 'Not-Really-a-Big-Deal.' I was disappointed in, but proud of, myself. My, what large emotional defenses you have, I thought. I grinned at my still-wrinkled brow and still-pink face. It contrasted nicely with the beige, beige walls of my bedroom.
Click Three Times by Sarah Nerboso
The smell of exhaust fumes and echoes of flat wind lashed against her back. Facing the deserted farm, something inside her twinged, tugging her toward the house. The last time she was here, Aunt Em had still been alive, although even then shades of decay were spreading.
She walked off the dirt road and passed through the gate. It slammed behind her with a sudden bite. A guilty gust blew the front door open in apology. Two steps and she stood in the threshold. Gray dust carpeted the floors, wall, cabinets, lamps. Brown light seeped in the windows. No place like home. Stepping gingerly, trying not to disturb the cobwebs, she entered her bedroom. Aunt Em had made it into a guest room, and her crisp, sparse touch still stained it. Devoid of doggie smell, shed hair, with a made bed, the room somehow remained her own. The window was wide open, allowing the same sun and air from her childhood to fill her. At the foot of the bed was the wooden chest Uncle Henry had made for her, now warped with time. She sprung the chest open, using spontaneous impulses long left idle. Beside several boxes, on top of winter underwear, her old blue and white checkered pinafore lay. It was slightly frayed at the ends, but still bright, still her favorite. Her cheeks flushed with a rush of memories as she lifted it. Standing in front of the long mirror, she draped the dress and whirled, phantom braids catching the wind.
Her knee-length skirt didn't really provide enough leg room to spin in, and she staggered to a halt. Her hand lingered on her chestnut hair. She had shucked it off three years ago; now it was barely long enough to touch the back of her neck. With furtive glances about her, as if the crows were peeking in, she pulled the blinds down, one hand closing the door on her way. Now, truly alone, she kicked off her pumps and wriggled out of her skirt. The pinafore required tugging to fit over her white blouse, and it was a bit snug. As her head peeked over the neckline, a faded green shoebox in the chest caught her eye. She hungrily seized the box and tore it open.
The flash of red momentarily blinded her. Eyes squeezed closed, shoe shapes danced across her lids. Blinking, she moved the shoes out of the sun, hesitating to put them on. Had they always been so gaudy, so bright? Her stomach twisted. They looked like showgirl heels, a cheap showgirl at that. How could she ever have mistaken those sequins for rubies? These hand-me-downs, her inheritance from a fluke accident, why had she even kept them? She must have had a reason. Forehead furrowed, she struggled to remember. Someone had even tried to kill her for them. Why hadn't she just given them away? And there were witches. A blond witch tearing them off a dead woman, giving them to her. Something happened, two sisters ended up . . . dead? Murder? She shook away these flashes of the
forgotten with two violent flicks of hair. Enough of that; it wasn't her fault. Her eyes refocused on the shoes in her hand. She tightened her grip. No one would see if she slipped them on, just for a little while. Reverently, she lifted the precious, garish shoes.
Perfect fit like always; no toes or heels had to be severed to pry the beauties on. Over her dark nylons, the shoes shimmered happily. Eyes on her feet, she rose and let the dress swoosh about. She grinned, thinking how she must look exactly like she had when she first wore these shoes, minus a couple of inches of hair. She hoped she had a bit more of an experienced air than her younger self, that clean, naive thing whose veins practically burst with American idealism.
Laughing, she confidently turned to look in the mirror once more. But the reflection that met her gaze wasn't dressed in blue and white. The ghost in the glass had such assurance it bordered on arrogance. Her pointy chin was stuck out, matching her equally sharp nose and hat. Beneath her black frock, ruby slippers peeked out. Eyes locked on both sides of the mirror, viewer met reflection. Slowly, with terrifying realization, the woman in the room went ashen as the reflection's olive complexion went from vivid green to a pale, sour shade. Murderer regarded her forgotten victim, two mouths forming a single 'O' . . .
Dorothy's scream rose, only to be swallowed by the twists of dead air that circle over Kansas.
©2008. Stephanie H. Meyer, John Meyer. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Teen Ink: Written in the Dirt. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442