YARN http://yareview.net The YA Review Network Tue, 11 Sep 2018 16:45:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 Summer Break! http://yareview.net/2018/08/summer-break/ http://yareview.net/2018/08/summer-break/#respond Mon, 06 Aug 2018 12:00:10 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9439

© Laura Williams McCaffrey

That’s it for our 2018 season, folks. It’s time for us to kick off our shoes and go wandering in the summer warmth.

This has been another great year at YARN. We were so pleased to share incredible poems by teen writers Gina Pasciuto and Bessie Huangas well as Kelly Wisdom’s “Dressing Up as Groucho Marx.” If you miss us during our summer break, make sure to look back at all of our great stories, including the charming “A Little Bit of Magic,” the distressing “Don’t Look Down,” and the poignant “Switchbacks.

We held two contests this season, and the winners make for great reads. In case you missed our announcements, “The Survey” won our Halloween Fiction Contest, and “Tequila” won our Humor Contest. Many thanks again to our judges, Rin Chupeco and Nisha Sharma.

We also were honored to have an interview with Brendan Kiely about his new novel TRADITION and to publish outtakes from THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Make sure to read those if you haven’t already.

Have a great rest of your summer!

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Our Humor Contest Winner — Tequila http://yareview.net/2018/07/our-humor-contest-winner-tequila/ http://yareview.net/2018/07/our-humor-contest-winner-tequila/#comments Tue, 31 Jul 2018 12:00:40 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9430 Nisha Sharma, we present our winner to you, "Tequila" by YARN alum Laura Gonzalez! In all my seventeen years, I have always been second. Rosa, my twin, was twenty-two minutes older, and she has held those twenty-two minutes over me for our entire life.[...] ]]> With many thanks to our judge Nisha Sharma, we present our winner to you, “Tequila” by YARN alum Laura Gonzalez!

In all my seventeen years, I have always been second. Rosa, my twin, was twenty-two minutes older, and she has held those twenty-two minutes over me for our entire life. My parents always let her. It’s why I was told to play with obnoxious 5-year-old Gigi when we were kids. It’s why Gigi became my kind-of best friend and not Rosa’s.

Sometimes, Gigi could be a good friend. Other times, I seriously questioned it.

“Hey Teq,” Gigi started. “You heard it here first. You will never have legs like Rosa’s if you eat that second slice of pizza.”

“She’s not a model, Gigi,” I muttered. Gigi is one of the people who thinks my sister is more special than she is.

Gigi pursed her lips in response.

“She’s just my sister. My twin. My womb-mate. She’s like me; she’s not special.” I struggled to keep my tone light. Having Rosa meant having someone I’m compared to for a lifetime.

“How much older is she again?”

I shifted my eyes, looking at the guy at the next table inhaling his pizza.

“Twenty-two minutes,” I mumbled.

There’s a video. Rosa came out wailing, every baby muscle in her tiny, red face clenched. There’s twenty-two minutes of shaky, grainy footage of everyone crooning over Rosa. As she passes from the doctor to the nurse, to my mom, and back to the nurse, they fawn over her long eyelashes, her giant honey-brown eyes, and her permanent deep-set tan. They coo at Rosa as she howls. Twenty-one minutes later, you can hear my mom shout in agony, “it’s coming!” They referred to me as “it,” because they didn’t know what I was. Every time they did an ultrasound, Rosa’s fat head was in the way. The camera shakes, rushing across the hospital room, and goes back to my mom, whose face is twisted into pain. She gives a hard push; her body sags in relief. It’s silent. The camera shifts as my dad peers over at the doctor’s hands.

“Oh my God,” he says.

You can hear the panic in my mom’s voice when she says: “What?”

When my dad moves, you can see his face in the corner of the frame. He looks over at my mom, his eyes wide.

“She came out white!”

“Rose” © Toshiyuki IMAI https://www.flickr.com

Aside from our skin, we’re almost identical. At least, we were growing up. We had the same tiny frames with long arms and heart-shaped faces. We got the same chestnut brown hair from my dad and the same giant eyes. When we aged though, we began to wear our features differently.

Rosa’s long arms began to match her long legs, making her a great fit for ballet. She kept her tiny frame long and lean, and her perfection made sense. After all, my parents had named her after my mom’s favorite flower: a rose. Rosa. Rose in English. And she was a rose. She bloomed into a beautiful flower, delicate and graceful. When she danced, she leapt across the floor, a petal floating in the wind.

Meanwhile, I was named after my dad’s favorite alcohol: Tequila.

“Tequila!” © Kevin White https://www.flickr.com

Rosa was the clear favorite from the beginning. I know this because tequila wasn’t even the alcohol of choice to celebrate our birth. Instead, on the way home from the hospital, my Tío Alfred stopped and picked up several bottles of rosé. Apparently, no one even really likes tequila.

Rosa is the ballerina. She is beauty. She is grace. And if my parents would have dished out the cash for pageants, she would have been Miss United States. Rosa is the flower everyone wants. I’m just Tequila, the drink people drink, but no one actually wants.

 


 

“Look, I never said I wanted legs like Rosa’s,” I said to Gigi. I meant for it to come out confident, but instead, the words escaped my lips as more of a mumble. Not even I believed them.

I looked down at my plate. I’d just swallowed the last of the crust of my first slice. I stared at the second slice sitting on the flimsy styrofoam plate. Orange grease had pooled around the thick white crust and atop the only half-melted cheese. As mediocre as it was, it was the only meal I looked forward to. I’d been lucky enough to catch Loren, president of the vegan club, leaving the cafeteria with her bagged lunch and convinced her to grab her tray for me. She didn’t look happy to hand over a slab of dairy and meat, but she did anyway, making me promise to tutor her in calculus when I had the chance. Now, Gigi was making me feel guilty for the accomplishment.

Gigi twisted open the top of her thermos, which probably held her potato soup. I watched the steam snake up into the muggy cafeteria. There were always so many people in here; it was always humid. It didn’t matter what day it was or what the weather was like outside, I could walk into the cafeteria with perfect hair and walk out with a head of frizz. The least I could do is have a decent meal while I sat in humidity.

She raised her thick black eyebrows at me. She’d just gotten them done and they were perfectly shaped, not a hair out of place. “Look,” she said, lifting a spoonful of her chunky soup to her red-stained lips, “I’m just saying about the pizza because you told me to stop letting you eat anything that wouldn’t get you legs like Rosa’s.” She shrugged her bony shoulders, blowing air at the hot soup.

I frowned, leaning over my tray of pizza to get my face closer to hers. We usually sat alone together at lunch since everyone else we knew and half-liked had lunch a different period. We were stuck in the lame lunch period. There was no need to lean in, but the idea that the walls had ears stuck with me.

“I was drunk when I said that,” I hissed. She rolled her eyes, both at the fact that I was whispering and that I was using my drunkenness as an excuse.

“Drunken words are sober thoughts, my friend,” she sang.

I stared at the pizza slice a little longer. It was growing cold by the second. I lifted it up and took a pointed bite. Gigi watched, her painted lips set into a flat line. I had been drunk when I said it. Gigi had snagged us an official invite to one of the Foster Twins’ legendary parties. Afterward, I may have accidentally gotten emotional for a moment and said things about wanting to be my sister Rosa. It was the first I said anything about that out loud, and Gigi, though only remembering bits and pieces, would not let it go.

“Can we just not bring that up anymore? It’s old,” I said chewing. At this point, the pizza didn’t even taste all that great. The bread was too doughy and the sauce was too salty. Instead of putting it back on my plate, I scarfed the rest of it down. At least if I had a stomachache, I wouldn’t think about Rosa.

“Where is your sister anyway?” Gigi asked. She scraped her spoon at the bottom of her thermos, scooping up all the leftover soup and spooning it into her mouth.

I looked down at the orange pool of grease taunting me on the foam plate and shrugged. I did know. It was audition season, and my parents had flown with Rosa to New York for the week. I was in charge of feeding the dogs and finding a ride to the honors banquet since my mom accidentally took both sets of keys to the cars.

“Alright, well, when you’re done being a drag, let me know.” She shoved her thermos in her backpack and walked off.

I said nothing. I was still thinking about what to write for my salutatorian speech. No one knew I was salutatorian yet except for me and my counselor, who was the one to bear the dreadful news that I had missed the top spot by .002 points. It was no surprise. I was born for second place.

I got second place in the 3rd grade regional spelling bee. Second place at every middle school track meet. I had final answer at the championship round of the Genius Bowl and only got half credit on my answer, so I got us second place—sorry, team. All throughout high school, I’ve driven myself crazy for my grades, but I was born in second place. I would likely die in second place. In my casket, they’ll probably bury me with all my second place ribbons and trophies just to mock me.

First place just isn’t in the stars for me.

Before my family left, I’d tried asking them for help with my speech, but no one had helped.

“Do we know any Mexican authors? I need some quotes,” I asked.

My dad looked up from his book. My mom looked up from the ballet shoes she was sewing together. Rosa, sprawled out across the couch, didn’t move. Mom and Dad glanced at each other.

“I mean, I’m sure we do,” my mom said nodding at my dad. She was peering up at me from behind the purple framed glasses perched on the tip of her nose. She was only forty and had fought getting glasses. She didn’t want to look “old,” and in fact, the one thing she always swore she’d never do is let them sit at the end of her nose the way she was doing then.

I nudged Rosa’s freshly pedicured toes off the arm of the couch and sat down with my laptop, ignoring the scowl she cast at me.

“Okay can you tell me some?” I asked, poising my fingers above the keys.

They looked at each other again.

“I mean, ¿no puedes preguntar a Google?” my mom asked, finally speaking. Behind her, the TV beeped, bleeping out curse words from whatever Rosa was watching.

I rolled my eyes at Mom. She wasn’t tech savvy. She could barely work her phone, and she only used the basic functions of her work computer, yet any solution she provided always involved asking Google first, even if it was for a medical diagnosis, which, as a physician, she is actually qualified to make.

“You grew up in Mexico,” I deadpanned, and she rolled her eyes, going back to sewing Rosa’s pointe shoes even though Rosa could do it herself.

“I mostly read books written by Americans.” She stuck the needle in through the ribbon, concentrating on pulling the thread through, indicating to me that she had no answers. “America was cool.

I heaved a sigh. “Dad?”

“What’s this for again?” he asked. He shut his book, which I’m sure he was eager to do. He was studying for the GRE, having decided that he wanted to go back and finish his master’s degree, but he needed his GRE scores for readmission. He hated the math portion, and that was exactly the section he’d been studying at the kitchen table for days.

“It’s my speech for graduation.”

“You’re speaking at graduation?” Rosa perked up.

“Yes,” I said quickly and shifted my attention back to my dad.

“Why are you speaking at graduation?” Rosa drew her head back, her neat brows knitting together.

“Does it matter?” I snapped back.

“Why are you being so rude Teq?”

“I’m not rude; I just don’t want to tell you.”

“Well then tell us,” Dad answered, putting his pencil down. Rosa smirked at me.

I stood up and turned on my heel to retreat back to my room. “Forget it then.”

“You always get so upset,” Rosa muttered.

“Tequila, wait!” my mom shouted. I winced, the same way I did every time I heard my name. “Wait, I know a good book to look at.”

I stopped and turned around, waiting.

“How about ‘Tequila Mockingbird?'” She could hardly choke out the last of the title, instead bursting into the cackle that was supposed to be her laugh.

“Bye.”

“What about from a song?” Rosa jumped in. “‘Tequiling Me Softly With His—'”

I walked out, leaving my family laughing.

 


 

After school, I met Gigi outside her last class, knowing I’d be hitching a ride with whomever she hitched a ride from. Her mom didn’t trust her to drive, so she typically got a ride from Rosa and me or found a guy to open up his passenger seat.

“So what are we doing tonight?” Gigi asked. She dug the toe of her sneaker into the grass, gripping her backpack straps. She peered out at the sea of students that streamed out of the building. When I didn’t answer, she turned to face me.

I looked away, tucking a piece of my flat brown locks behind my ear. When I pulled my hand down, I saw the chipped black polish on my stubby fingernails. I didn’t want Gigi to come over. That’s what it was like like with a sort-of best friend. I only sort-of wanted her around. And as a half friend, I only told her about half my life. I wanted the honors banquet to be mine.

“I’m actually busy tonight,” I murmured. She let her jaw drop, her long earrings clinking against themselves.

“Are you actually doing something without me?”

I chewed my lip, fighting the urge to roll my eyes. “I’m going to the honors banquet.”

You’re graduating with honors?”

“Geezus, Gigi,” I muttered.

“How’d you swing that?”

I ignored her, instead pointing out Gigi’s lab partner whom she likes to flirt with sometimes. I didn’t know his name, but I knew that Gigi thought he was cute. Our school was big enough that there were still people she knew that I didn’t and vise versa. It was exactly how we’d been in this high school for four years and I wasn’t sure who Alex the Valedictorian was.

“Good choice,” she said, leaving the honors banquet conversation in the dust. She shimmied her bare shoulders, adjusting the straps on her shirt and started walking. “Hey! James!”

 


 

Mrs. Lima drives a giant Ford truck that’s lifted. It was the last vehicle I expected see idling at the curb. I hoisted myself up, careful not to flash the neighborhood. When I settled in on the leather seat, Mrs. Lima smiled widely.

“You look great,” she said. I glanced at her fluorescent orange wrap dress.

“So do you,” I answered. We were quiet as she stepped on the gas, pulling off the curb. The muffler roared when she tapped the gas. I jumped every time. She was so small in comparison to her giant truck. I wasn’t sure if she could see over the dash. I hardly could.

“So how’s the speech coming?” she asked, peering over at me.

I couldn’t decide whether to lie or not, so I told a half-lie.

“I’ve worked on it,” I said slowly. I did work on it, but all I actually had was a lot of paper for the recycling club.

She gave me a nod, clearly not satisfied with my answer. I turned to look out the window and squeezed my eyes shut. The sixty seconds we’d been riding together felt more like sixty days. She coughed. I squirmed. Words bubbled in my throat.

“So what’s your favorite popcorn?” I blurted. Her office was themed popcorn, and there was always an empty bag of popcorn in her trashcan. I was beginning to think that’s all she consumed. I figured if I could get her to talk about popcorn brands long enough, then hopefully, I’d save myself from the awkwardness.

I could hear the relief in the sigh she heaved.

“Orville Redenbacher actually!” There was a brightness in her voice. The bubble of tension had popped. “They’re really true to their brand, you know? Get most of their kernels popped and the butter is real. You can definitely tell. I used to think Pop Secret was good, but you know…”

I watched Mrs. Lima rattle on, nodding in appropriate places and fake laughing in others. It was a skill I picked up being Rosa’s sister. People always felt compelled to talk to me about how great she was. As if I cared.

I clambered out of the truck the second we pulled into the lot. We walked into the banquet hall, and I sat down at the top-two table, leaving Mrs. Lima to mingle. There were a few other students already there, milling around with their parents. Everyone’s parents were there except mine. I checked my phone. There were no texts from my mom. Or Rosa. Or my dad. Rosa’s Instagram showed a recent picture of the three of them grinning from the top of the Empire State Building and a picture of her doing some split move in the middle of Times Square. They were evidently having a great family vacation without me.

I shot off a text as we took our seats at the table near the podium. GLAD YOU’RE HAVING FUN. DON’T WORRY ABOUT ME. DOING WELL. I waited a second to see if I got a text back. Rosa’s phone was glued to her hands, so any time she didn’t text back, it was purposely. My phone was silent for a long minute before I slipped it into the pocket of my dress. It was one of Rosa’s dresses. Her closet was free for all when she was gone. It didn’t fit me the way it fit her, but still, I felt decent in it, and by the time I decided to change, Mrs. Lima had been parked outside.

I leaned over to my left, looking at the name on the place card next to mine just as the rest of the table arrived including Alex Sosa, the boy who had apparently beaten me by .002 points. I avoided his gaze, mumbling a hi his way and focusing on the old men Mrs. Lima was introducing me to. They gave me their congratulations. All their names sounded the same, so I couldn’t tell you what they did or who they were. Johns and Smiths and Joneses, and for all of five minutes as the catering service began serving food, they asked me and Alex questions like where we were going to college—we cast a glance at each other when we both said UT Austin—and what we were majoring in—biology and media broadcasting for him, engineering for me. They looked interested for a second but ultimately moved on to have their own adult conversation.

I snuck a glance at Alex. The birthmark in the center of his neck looked vaguely familiar as if I’d caught a glance of it as I filed out of one class and he filed in. Most times, I was too concerned about the grades on my quizzes to care about the people who weren’t in my classes, but I was definitely disappointed that never in my four years did I get a chance to have this guy as my lab partner.

I couldn’t stop staring at the sharp slope of his nose. The tip of it was slightly squared off, as if someone had pressed it and it never regained its shape. He turned to look at me, and I felt my face flame. The blush crept up my chest and burned my ears. It was exactly the thing that made me wish I had come out looking more like my family. With my mom’s olive skin and my dad’s brown tone, they’d somehow given birth to me, with skin so translucent you could see every vein snake across my thighs. Thinking about it, I pulled my dress down. Rosa had gotten all the melanin, just like she’d gotten the beauty and talent. People thought I was adopted. When we went to Mexico to visit family, they called me gringa. To my abuelo, I was La Gringa, Tequila. And to no surprise, Rosa was La Rosa Hermosa. The beautiful Rose.

Go figure.

“My initials spell ‘ass.'”

I jumped, feeling hot breath in my ear. I turned to Alex. His face was so close, I was glad I decided to pluck the stray brow hairs before I left and that I had popped a mint.

“Excuse me?”

“My initials spell ‘ass,'” he repeated. “Alexander Samuel Sosa. A.S.S. Ass.”

I glanced up at Mr. Ling, Alex’s counselor. He didn’t seem to hear.

“Okay?”

“Sorry, I just always thought it was a good icebreaker.”

I smiled, despite the fact that I was right next to the boy I’d lost the valedictorian spot to by .002 points. That was .002 points I would likely never get over, but his eyes were distracting.

“My name is Tequila, so I don’t think ‘ass’ is that bad.”

“Middle name?” he asked. When he blinked his thick lashes, I blinked back. He had the kind of lashes any girl would be jealous of. Wasted on a boy.

“Annaliese,” I said, pronouncing it slowly.

“So you’re Tequila Annaliese Tamez,” he said thoughtfully. He glanced over my shoulder at Mrs. Lima. “Together we can be ‘ass tat.'”

I giggled.

I don’t normally giggle, but I did because I’m a seventeen-year-old girl.

“Or ‘tat ass,'” I said.

He grinned, his thick framed glasses rising slightly on his face.

“How’d you know my last name?” I asked.

“You’re Rosa’s sister.”

I couldn’t help but grimace. I speared the grilled chicken on my plate, pretending it was Rosa.

Rosa could be Rosa without me. But somehow, I could never escape Rosa.

“She has a boyfriend.”

He shifted his eyes. His lips parted as he chose his words. I pursed my own lips, stuffing a forkful of chicken and green beans into my mouth. Rosa and Gigi both said I needed to stop eating so angrily in front of boys, but they didn’t know that most times, I used food to force down my words.

“Alright…” he said and trailed off, giving his head a slight shake before cutting into his own chicken.

I wasn’t done chewing before I spoke again. “I’m just saying, you know, in case that’s where you were headed next.”

You asked me how I knew your last name,” he said. “I had your sister for speech. She gave a speech about you once.”

My face flamed again. I didn’t know what to say. Rosa doesn’t have a boyfriend, but I still used the line any time any boy asked me about her. One of the many boys I’d deflected may have been her soulmate, but with all the hours she spent at the studio and stretching in front of the TV, she had no time for boys anyway.

“I know that,” was all I said before I fully invested myself in the plate in front of me.

Alex ate faster than me. I stabbed my last green bean, watching as the green juice splattered. He was sitting, waiting for me to finish.

“I think we should hang out after this.”

I already swallowed my green bean, but I still choked. “What?”

“I think we should hang out,” he said again. “After this.”

“Why?”

He shrugged, but he also gave me no reason to say no.

“Sure.”

 


 

An hour later, I asked to bail on the ride home from Mrs. Lima.

She frowned at the idea, glancing between the two of us. After a long second of thought, she smiled. “You know I’m glad to see you two putting this silly game of grades behind you. You should have seen the tension last year between—”

Alex cleared his throat politely. Mrs. Lima glanced at her left wrist, looking at a watch that wasn’t there.

“Anyway. Straight home, you got that?” she said. We nodded together. She shot her eyes at Alex. “I trust you, Mr. Sosa.”

He smiled a crooked, trusting grin, and we waited as she walked to her truck. When she drove away, I followed Alex to his car, Rosa’s wedges clacking against the pavement. My skin grew slick in the spring heat. I hoped my sweat wasn’t visible.

He walked slightly ahead of me, slowing down every few steps as if he kept forgetting I was there. He walked with a bounce in his step, and for some reason, that gave me butterflies.

He led me to a sleek black BMW, and I tried to hide my surprise but ultimately failed. Rosa and I shared my mom’s barely-used Honda. Well, it was mostly Rosa’s to get to and from ballet. It wasn’t special, but it was a car.

“Valedictorian present,” he said sheepishly, catching my face. He pulled open the passenger side door, letting me slide in first before jogging over to the driver’s side.

“This is probably the one thing my mom told me not to do,” I said as he started the car. The engine hummed to life. “Get in the car with a boy I don’t know. Late at night. All alone. That’s already three strikes. I’d be dead if she really cared.”

“If she cared?”

I shook my head, feeling the loose curls I put in my long, limp hair shake against my face. Thankfully, he ignored it, and changed the subject, asking, instead, what my favorite ice cream was. He maneuvered his car into the nearest Sonic, which was right down the road from the banquet hall. He pulled into the drive-through, gave our order, and after getting our ice creams, pulled out of the parking lot.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“My favorite study spot.”

“Which is?”

He cast his eyes over at me, raising an eyebrow.”You’ll see.”

“Don’t be creepy,” I answered, shoving a spoonful of ice cream into my mouth. When he smiled, I smiled.

 


 

His favorite study spot was somehow the old park on the south side of Round Pike. Two new updated play areas had been under construction forever, and they would likely be under construction for eternity. It was always deserted, sans a few dedicated runners, and it was next to the new airport.

“This place is your favorite study spot?” I asked. “There’s no WiFi.”

“WiFi is distracting. Plus, I get short bursts of study breaks,” he explained. He took his first bite of his ice cream. I felt bad that I was nearly halfway done with mine. I twisted my body so that he couldn’t see the contents of my cup. “We’ll wait for it.”

He led us over to one of the park benches. It was one of the newer ones installed. It wasn’t wooden, and it was larger than the old ones used to be. There were no graffiti tags on it. We sat silently for a while. It was dark out aside from the two park lamps, but the moon was full, hanging in the sky majestically, casting us a light glow.

“You know, your sister gave a really good speech about you,” he said. “The PowerPoint was good too. I’ve wanted to meet you since. I didn’t actually know you were my competition.”

“God, there was a PowerPoint?” I asked, mouth full of ice cream. I groaned. I ignored the part where he said he’d been waiting to meet me. All I could think about were the embarrassing photos that Rosa probably put in the PowerPoint. That was a very Rosa thing to do. She already unintentionally made me look bad, like the sucky twin, so sometimes, she made it a point to do it purposely too. “I don’t even want to know what the speech was about.”

“All good things, I promise,” he answered quickly. “It was mostly about how she thought you were the better twin. We were doing persuasive speaking that term. I was persuaded.” The corners of his pink lips pulled up.

I frowned. That was not a Rosa thing to do.

“I know this might be weird, Tequila—”

“Call me Teq,” I interrupted.

“I like Tequila.”

My heart fluttered.

“I like you,” he said. “Is that weird?”

His words took me by surprise, and I choked on my ice cream. I gulped and gasped for breath as it melted, finally sliding down my throat. It was weird, but it was only weird because I wasn’t the twin people liked. I wasn’t the rose, I was the tequila. Yet, here I was, sitting in the middle of a park with a boy who was professing his crush to me. And Rosa was a million miles away.

I opened my mouth to speak.

“Wait, here it comes,” he said.

On cue, in the distance, a motor gunned to life. The sound got louder, and we watched as a giant plane lifted into the sky, its engine roaring as it passed overhead, closer than I’d ever seen a plane fly. It was loud in my ears. The trees rustled; the wind howled. Alex peered up, his face in awe.

“Night bus” © Ray Wewerka https://www.flickr.com

We were quiet as the plane flew further into the sky. After a moment, he turned to me and said, “Those are the bursts.”

We were sitting close on the bench. I wasn’t even aware of when he’d moved closer. When he tilted his head down to face mine, his mouth was inches from me. Before I knew what was happening, he leaned in, putting his sticky lips on mine. He tasted like peanut butter.

He pulled away quickly, staring at me, searching my face.

“Did you just kiss me?” I asked. My voice had raised in pitch. It didn’t even sound like mine.

“I d-d—I did,” he stammered.

“You didn’t even ask!”

“I’m sorry,” he said, stumbling over his words. Even in the dark, I could see his tanned cheeks grow red.

“I mean, I guess you didn’t have to,” I admitted, feeling my own face grow warm. “I think I wanted you to do that.”

He nodded. I nodded back, pursing my lips together, trying to remember what his lips felt like. I was seventeen and got my first kiss from the boy who beat me by .002 points. I wanted to call Gigi to tell her I wasn’t boring. To tell her of my night of firsts. Of actual firsts.

“I’m not Rosa,” I said finally. I looked up at the moon, not wanting to look at his face. He nudged me softly. I tore my gaze from the moon to look back at him.

“I kissed you because I know you’re not Rosa,” he said. “I kissed you because you’re Tequila.”

My name sounded stupid in his sentence, but it also somehow felt right.

“If you were Rosa, we couldn’t be Ass Tat.” He laughed.

“Oh, so we’re a we? I barely know you,” I said playfully, but I didn’t know how to flirt, and it came off bitchy.

He shrugged. “We can be.”

My heart gave a little. I felt it tug and begin to melt at the same time. It felt a little like dying. “So,” I said, “should we do that again?”

He nodded. “Yeah, I think so.”

 


 

© Laura Williams McCaffrey

Two weeks later, at graduation, I was sitting down next to Alex on stage. We were squeezed between the class President and Mrs. Lima. I was gripping my speech in my hand, my palms sweaty.

“You got this,” Alex whispered into my ear. He gave my shoulder a quick bump. My skin burned beneath my robe where he touched it. We’d only been talking, or dating, or whatever anyone calls it now, for two weeks, but every time he was remotely nice to me—always—I remembered the sweet taste of peanut butter when he mashed his lips against mine the first time, and that made my heart skip enough beats to potentially kill me. This time, I wasn’t sure if my sweating hands were because of Alex, or the fact that I was about to give a completely impromptu speech in front of hundreds of people.

I teetered over to the podium, staring at the microphone and the sea of people. I cleared my throat.

“I was born for second place,” I started. My voice echoed in the loud room. I saw a million faces staring back at me. In one corner, a baby cried, and in another, someone’s phone went off. Rosa sat dead center, in the middle of the Ts, an empty seat next to her where I was supposed to sit. On the left side of the graduates, I saw my parents sitting together, my mom huddled in close to my dad, a smile on her face. I took a shaky breath and continued. “I was actually born in second place. To my sister, Rosa.” The crowd tittered. “And today, I had every intention of giving a speech about how second place has had its pros. Maybe I was going to throw something in about how its made me grow as a person.

“But second place sucks,” I said. The crowd laughed nervously. Rosa laughed. I glanced to my right, where Alex was sitting. He grinned at me. Mrs. Lima frowned, shifting uncomfortably in her robes. I turned back to the crowd. “It actually sucks really bad. In fact, I lost valedictorian by .002 points. And how does that not suck?” Mrs. Lima cleared her throat. Loud. I ignored her. ” I tried so hard for these grades. I did. Rosa, obviously didn’t try for hers”—cue eye roll from Rosa— “also, I didn’t even know I was in a race with Alex until the race was over. And I lost, you know, by .002 points.

“But then I started to think I really wasn’t in a race with Alex, and I didn’t actually lose. I know I’m supposed to relate this back to my high school experience and growing up —I’m getting there. All my life, I thought I was in this lifelong competition with my sister, Rosa. But we’re not in the same competition.” I shrugged. My medals clanked together. “Not even close. I guess in the end the only competition I had was myself. And, you know, Alex.” I flashed him a smile as he chuckled. “We’re going to leave high school and do whatever it is we’re going to do. Just know that life is really not a competition. Against anyone. You’re winning in whatever you do. So, in the famous words of Ice Cube, just ‘do ya thang,’ because that’s really all that matters.”

I paused as half the crowd erupted into a short burst of applause. Whether it was for my speech or for Ice Cube, I wasn’t sure.

“So with that,” I continued. “I’d like to thank all the teachers who let me grade grub on Friday afternoons and who accepted my extra credit work even though I didn’t need it. My parents, for giving me Rosa, and of course I’d like to thank Rosa, for giving me a reason to find something I could beat you at.” Rosa rolled her eyes with a smile as the crowd laughed. “My best friend, Gigi, who never let me forget that Rosa was better than me.”

“Oh my God, Tequila!” Gigi shouted from the crowd, which got another round of laughter. I smiled at her.

“But most of all, I’d like to thank Alex, for beating me by .002 points,” I said, looking back over at him. “Without you, I would have just given a boring valedictorian speech about the value of hard work.” He laughed out loud, and I grinned, wanting to run over and hug his stupid body and kiss his stupid mouth again.

“Congratulations,” I said. “We all just won.”

 


YARN alum Laura Gonzalez lived most of her life in Edinburg, TX and has been a self-proclaimed writer since she was writing about mermaids at age 6. Today, she holds both her bachelor’s and master’s degree from UTRGV. She usually writes when she’s supposed to be doing something else and is working on novels that she eventually hopes to publish. When she’s not writing, she’s probably reading or at the movies. She also thinks she’s kind of funny and can be found on Twitter at @iammlauraa

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One of Our Humor Contest Runners-Up — Citrus and Ash http://yareview.net/2018/07/one-of-our-humor-contest-runners-up-citrus-and-ash/ http://yareview.net/2018/07/one-of-our-humor-contest-runners-up-citrus-and-ash/#respond Wed, 25 Jul 2018 12:00:23 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9410 One of our wonderful Humor Contest Runners-Up, “Citrus and Ash.”

By Miranda Sun

 

“Cartagena Door Knocker” © GAC’63 https://www.flickr.com

Geoffrey lifted the knocker and brought it down on the witch’s door. Three short authoritative raps to get the job done.

Hardly a few moments passed before Owen shifted beside him. “Maybe she’s not home,” he suggested. “I can go peek in her windows.”

“If you want to get turned into a rat, go ahead. We’re here to conduct an investigation, and that means being professional and practicing something called waiting.”

Owen fidgeted, tugging at his yellow-thatch hair.

Geoffrey counted. One, two—

“Maybe you didn’t knock loud enough,” Owen said. “I can do it!” He darted forward and pounded on the door like he was trying to break it down. Then he opened his mouth and began to yell, “HELLO GOOD WITCH WE ARE FRIENDLY CITIZENS HAILING FROM THE ASSOCIATION OF SORCERY SCRUT—”

Noise from inside. The door swung open to reveal a young woman who did not look happy to see them.

“For the last time, I’m not buying those sugar-loaded traps you call cookies! They’re too addicting and my willpower is weak.” Then she seemed to realize they weren’t Knight Scouts, and adjusted accordingly. She brushed off her inky robe and ran a hand through her crow-colored mane. “Oh, hello, boys. What are you here for?”

“Good morning, Miss….” Geoffrey trailed off, but when the witch didn’t offer her name, he plunged ahead. The directory listed addresses of magical denizens, but not all of them had names attached. “My name is Geoffrey Chanong, and this is Owen Mettleby. We are junior investigators in the Association of Sorcery Scrutiny, as my colleague here just announced. We wanted to ask you a few questions about the flare in the sky from a week ago.”

“Oh, you’re from the ASS!” the witch exclaimed, and Geoffrey winced. “Well, come on in.”

The house was heaps bigger on the inside. Cool, musty air met their faces, as if the witch had never heard of opening a window in her life. Blocks of stone mixed with panels of wood arched up to a high ceiling of rafters, floating dandelion lights, and quite a few bats.

Geoffrey had to drag his gaze back down to the ground to avoid tripping over the mess. There were enough tables to hold a feast for a church, and all of them were full to groaning of objects of some kind.

“Potions” © Andreina Schoeberlein https://www.flickr.com

The witch led them through the maze with ease. They reached a table that seemed no different from the rest, but it was here that she stopped and picked up a tiny green six-legged lizard from a cage, stroking its head and cooing to it.

Geoffrey cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Miss—”

“El.”

“Miss El,” Geoffrey said, slightly peeved. “I wanted to start off our visit by asking your thoughts on the flare. I know you weren’t there that night, so I’ll go over the report. Nearby witnesses described the flare as an orange plume of light, tapered like a flame, maybe one hundred feet long, hovering about three hundred feet off the ground. A couple dragon riders from the League tried to check it out from the air, but their dragons refused to come too close to it. The flare burned strong for a few nights, but as of now, it has virtually faded away. Have you ever seen anything like that?”

Miss El paused, tapping her chin with a scraggly jade-painted nail. “Not in my lifetime, no.” Which could have meant anytime from the last twenty years to the last two hundred. Witches aged differently. “But my great-grandma, may she fly in peace, did tell me about one, once. She said it was the most phenomenal thing she’d ever experienced. Wait.” Her eyes lit up in excitement, and the lizard made a squeaking sound as her hand clenched around it. “What did the air around it smell like?”

Geoffrey’s brow furrowed as he flipped through his binder of notes. One of the witnesses had been very thorough with the details, which he’d thought odd. “Citrus and ash.”

The witch gasped.

“Here, hold this,” she commanded, dropping the lizard into Owen’s hands. Then she turned to Geoffrey. “That’s something huge! Don’t you see? This whole thing! Stars, minerals, hurricanes, the Galapagos….”

Behind her, Owen was holding the lizard as far away from him as possible while still in contact with it, nearly falling over as he craned his head back in fear.

“Yes?” Geoffrey said, still not sure what she was after.

She stared at him for a second, then, unsatisfied by what she saw in his face, whirled around and began riffling through her papers.

Owen had managed to flip the lizard upside down and was holding it by the tail with reluctant forefinger and thumb. The lizard was, understandably, quite upset, and was swinging back and forth like a pendulum, six hands waving, in an attempt to get back on Owen’s finger.

The witch turned to Geoffrey, arms full of disorganized papers. She shuffled through them again, then flung them into the air in frustration. Geoffrey jerked to the side as one sheet folded itself into an airplane and dove for his jugular.

“Natural things! Occurrences occurring naturally in nature. Oh, Mount Visny, you know what I mean!”

Geoffrey coughed. “I’m afraid I do not, Miss El.”

“If only I had a better memory! Or had listened more closely to my great-grandma. I was more interested in finding ways to make the garden mice do my homework, you know.” Her words dissolved into unintelligible mutterings.

The lizard was now a miniature emerald tornado dangling from Owen’s hand. Geoffrey eyed it and decided to back away a couple feet.

It was clear Owen was terrified beyond thinking, and his arm couldn’t stretch any further. Geoffrey witnessed the exact second that Owen, not knowing what else to do, decided to let go just as the lizard’s spinning reached its peak.

Fate had been set into motion. Or rather, the lizard. Legs flailing, the tiny reptile flew right at Owen’s face, and stuck.

The boy let out a scream, which immediately convulsed into a gag as the very, very long tail went into his mouth. He flung himself backward, in what could have been a commendable attempt to get away, had the thing he was trying to escape not been on him—or by this point, halfway in him—and he crashed into a table filled with magical stuff. The entire thing collapsed. Papers flew everywhere. There was a crunch, a crack, and a soft bloopf.

The noise brought Miss El back into the present. Her eyebrows shot toward her forehead, like crows trying to fly off, and she moved with purpose towards Owen, who lay spread-eagled in the middle of the sundered table and scattered sundry—which, considering the state of the rest of the house, quite went with the decor.

“Where’s my lizard?” she demanded, hands on her hips.

“I….” Owen’s lips flapped, trying to form a sentence, but the next thing that came out of his mouth wasn’t a verb, but a burp.

The room was silent as the sound floated up to the ceiling and bumped against the rafters, scattering a couple bats.

“You what?”

“I….kinda swallowed it,” he said, turning as green as the unfortunate lizard. “I think I felt all six feet slipping down my throat.”

The witch stood stock-still for a second, then lunged forward. She grabbed Owen by his mop and crammed her fingers into his mouth, impressively getting in all the way to the elbow.

“Not the—hurk—hair!” he wailed around her arm.

“Oh, blast your stupid hair,” she snapped. “It doesn’t matter when you just murdered my lizard in cold blood!”

“I wouldn’t say murder….maybe manslaughter,” Geoffrey mused, watching the witch root around inside Owen like she was digging for potatoes. “Lizardslaughter?”

“Hehe, in cold blood. S’funny ’cause—” Owen paused to scuffle with his gag reflex before plowing on, his words coming out distorted. “—’cause it’s a lizard which means it’s cold-blooded.” He giggled.

It was a mistake.

The witch removed herself from Owen’s esophagus and stepped back, nostrils flaring as she inhaled. She seemed to swell to twice her size, like a cat arching its back and puffing up its fur. “Do you think this is a joke?” she snarled.

He backed away, still burping, but now also hiccuping in fear.

“Stop! Burping!” She smacked him on the arm. “Do you know what burping means in Kaisong? It means you enjoyed the meal! You uncultured reptile swallower! I’m going to get Petunia back even if I have to cut you open, and by Mount Visny, I will.”

Geoffrey surveyed the unfolding scene with interest. The witch had Owen by the neck and was actually lifting him a couple feet off the floor. She was so worked up about the so-called murder of her lizard that it appeared she was ready to commit actual murder. He might have liked to see what happened next, but they were here on a mission, and he was going to accomplish it.

He approached the two the same way he might approach a werecat under a full moon. “Miss El,” he began. “I apologize for your sudden loss, but I also still need to ask you about—”

A hand shot out and grabbed him by the collar. Geoffrey’s cordial sentence screeched to a halt.

“Don’t,” the witch hissed, pitch-black eyes locked on Owen’s terrified face. “As you can clearly see, Mr. Chanong, I’m in the middle of something.”

She let go, and Geoffrey retreated at a pace that was appropriate and he definitely did not show his fear.

Owen gulped, his dragon’s egg bobbing in his throat. “Please, Miss El! I-I didn’t mean to, I swear! If you want, I can buy you another lizard, or maybe—”

The witch dropped him, disgusted.

“I hope she lays her eggs in you. She was due soon.”

“Noooo!” Owen moaned. He looked like he was seriously considering grabbing a sword from a nearby table and splitting his belly open. “Get it out get it out get it outttt! I don’t want six-legged reptile children crawling inside me!”

“You should have thought of that before you ate my lizard!” Miss El shouted at him, storming away. It would have been an impressive exit had she not had to constantly zigzag due to the tables, so that she rather looked like an angry top spinning this way and that.

The door to another room slammed. Geoffrey gazed down at Owen in exasperation.

“How do you always get yourself into situations like this?” he said, offering a hand.

Owen let himself be pulled to his feet. “I don’t know,” the boy muttered, his shoulders drooping like a wilted dragon flower.

“Well, we still have to finish our investigation, so here’s your chance to make it right.” Geoffrey clapped him on the back. “Come on. Through the tables we go.”

They found the witch in what had to be the kitchen, plowing through a carton of caramel-and-spider-leg ice cream.

“What?” she said. “I eat when I’m stressed, okay?”

They stared at her, and she sighed and gestured for them to sit.

Geoffrey took a seat at the mahogany table. “We’re not here to cause trouble for you, miss. We simply wanted to carry out our duty for the Association of Sorcery Scrutiny.”

“Yeah, my ASS,” she muttered, and Geoffrey groaned. “You may not have wanted to cause trouble, but cause it you did.” She aimed daggers with her eyes at Owen, pointing her spoon at him like a knife. “You come into my house and you eat my pets.”

“I only ate one!” Owen protested. “Pet, singular!”

“There were going to be more! She was going to lay eggs, remember?”

“No, don’t remind me!”

“Hang on, let’s get back on track,” Geoffrey said. “Miss El, I remember you were talking about how your great-grandmother witnessed something like the recent flare, and it had something to do with natural occurrences?”

“Yes,” Miss El said, tearing her eyes away from Owen. “Oh! Natural phenomena, I meant.”

“Okay, we might be onto something there,” Geoffrey said, his voice encouraging. “What kind of natural phenomena, do you think?”

“I feel sick,” Owen moaned.

The witch shoved a spoonful of ice cream into her mouth and swallowed audibly. “Good.”

“Miss El?” Geoffrey prompted.

“Ones that….” She seemed to be thinking, straining to remember. “Ones that were special. Didn’t occur very often, maybe only once in a lifetime.”

Geoffrey flipped through his notes. He didn’t see anything about once-in-a-lifetime natural phenomena. To be honest, his hunch had been that it was a signal from a covert magical organization, relaying a message that no one but the sender and receiver could interpret. Wizards, witches, and sorcerers were always fighting with one another. This was way off what he’d expected, had turned into something else. Much like how this visit had gone.

“I’m going to need more than that, Miss El.”

“Well, I really don’t remember that much….Wait! My great-grandma kept a journal. Maybe she wrote something about it.” The witch dashed from the kitchen, and returned after some time with a massive tome.

She plunked it onto the kitchen table, sending out a draft of dust. The table groaned under the weight.

Geoffrey and Owen watched as she flipped through it, muttering to herself.

“Comet” © Jonah G.S. https://www.flickr.com

“Wizards’ Day….Saint Ogs….Found it!” She jabbed a triumphant finger at a page written in elegant, flowing ink. “Here she describes an orange plume in the sky.”

Geoffrey leaned in and read, “‘Two hundred feet off the ground, fifty feet from beginning to end.’ This one was smaller.”

As his gaze traveled down the page, his mouth fell open. Owen, who had always been the faster reader between the two of them, beat him to the punch.

“‘Seven days later, Mount Visny gave birth.'”

The old witch’s words hung in the air.

Owen broke the silence. “A week after the plume. That’s like….now, isn’t it?”

Geoffrey checked his records, even though he already knew the answer, and nodded silently, not knowing what to say.

“Okay, but your great-grandma lived to tell the tale,” Owen said, turning to the witch. “She lived! So it can’t be that bad. Right?”

Miss El hesitated, and at that moment, the ground rumbled. A crack ran through the wide window pane. A dish slid from the cupboard and shattered, shards skittering across the tiles. From the living room came the distinct sound of countless piles of stuff falling off tables.

“Hopefully,” Miss El said, eyes darting to the door. She looked like she wanted to check on her things, but was aware there might be bigger problems at the moment.

There was a loud boom in the distance, and Geoffrey was afraid he knew exactly what it was.

“I’m going to be sick,” Owen said, and promptly threw up.

“I need to contact the Association,” Geoffrey declared, standing. Better late than never, he supposed. At least he could explain why the volcano was exploding, and how they might have known in advance.

Miss El gasped, and Geoffrey looked to her, but she was staring at the ground where Owen was bent over.

A tiny green six-legged lizard sat on the floor, shell-shocked and covered in stomach fluid, but none the worse for the wear.

“Petunia!” she cried, scooping the creature up. A quick rinse in the sink, and she was cuddling the lizard against her cheek.

“Chinese water dragon” © Tom Woodward https://www.flickr.com

“You’re….welcome,” Owen mumbled.

“Oh, don’t you start,” she snapped, aggressively petting the lizard’s head. Then her eyes focused on something outside the kitchen window, and her mouth fell open.

She moved toward the cracked glass, and they followed.

Above the trees ringing Miss El’s house rose a thick tower of smoke, gray as a dying man’s breath. This was no plume, no candle flame. It was the color of iron, the shade of terror and disaster and waiting too long.

The witch flung open the kitchen window, and a fresh breeze rushed in, perhaps the first in a century. Geoffrey breathed in, then wished he hadn’t.

The air tasted of citrus and ash.

 


Miranda Sun is eighteen years old. Her work has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and published in “Glass Kite Anthology,” “Polyphony H.S.,” “Blue Marble Review,” “Inklette, “TRACK//FOUR,” and more. She is an alumna of the NYS Summer Young Writers Institute and the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. She loves lychee bubble tea and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

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Blitz, Magical Thinking http://yareview.net/2018/07/blitz-magical-thinking/ http://yareview.net/2018/07/blitz-magical-thinking/#respond Tue, 24 Jul 2018 12:00:44 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9379 Two poems by Mureall Hebert

Blitz

“It’s a blitz!” she wailed under the strobe light // looking [almost] beautiful // and limber // and wild // and free. [...]]]>
By Mureall Hebert

Blitz

Mother strung blackout curtains
to the ceiling using clothespins and duct tape
     and duct tape
          and safety pins
               and nicotine stains
          spit up
          balled up
          up chucked
and sticky.
“It’s a blitz!” she wailed under the strobe light
     looking [almost] beautiful
          and limber
               and wild
                    and free.
Her tube top caught on the
               corner
of her chest. Heart-beat,
     rib-thump,
     rump-grind,
     silky, slick
     skin.
Her wine came in a box
and showered from her lips
     a fine bouquet: 1988, San Jose
     plucked from a flea-market bin.
Pills and wine and music and pills
     and
wine and music and pills
     and
why not,
     why else,
          and who the hell cares?
I could sell you for a dime
     or more wine
if you’d just stand still     long enough     for me to catch you.
But no!
     I lodged myself
in a | crack |
     under the stairs.
caterpillar, cockroach, baby doll where are you?
Hours strolled by
and by and by the large man who came to rescue me
was not a man
but a jackal
dressed in pinstripes
charcoal
and ashes
on his soul
spouting fables
of new homes,
chandeliers,
and swimming pools
f i l l e d     with twenty dollar bills.
But the | crack | suited me fine.
I was a caterpillar,
     a cockroach,
          her baby doll.
and she cried as the jackal ate me
     —sob, sob, sob—
     but her tears
     stuck
     halfway
     down
     her
     face

“hard light” © relaxkid55 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/32183619@N05/5403105505)

Magical Thinking

Janie believed
in magical thinking

so when her boyfriend
spread her arms

and asked if she’d like to fly
she took it literal

when she saw the syringe
in his hand she ran

away from the sharpness
of his suggestion

thinking if she could get
ahead of the wind

it would lift her to the sky
but the best she could do

was a series of petite allegros
that left her breathless

Beautiful sighed a homeless man
on the corner
She’s Venus come to life.

But no one heard him
past the scabs on his lips

Alone in the bustling streets
Janie bent

hands on knees
and let her heart lub-dub

against her ribs
A coin glinted

among dirty wrappers lining the gutter
Miracles happen Janie said

She spent the money
on a tin of ravioli

eating dinner on the edge
of the Seine

By morning she was gone
leaving behind an empty can

and a homeless man’s memory
of a girl who could soar

Mureall Hebert is a writer and editor near Seattle, Washington. Her work has appeared in Five 2 One Magazine, Reflex Fiction, Apeiron Review, The Blotter, Yellow Chair Review, decomP, Crack the Spine, Lunch Ticket, and Bartleby Snopes, among others. She holds an MFA from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. You can find her online at @mureallhebert.

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Paleontology, Foxes http://yareview.net/2018/07/paleontology-foxes/ http://yareview.net/2018/07/paleontology-foxes/#respond Wed, 18 Jul 2018 12:00:05 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9375 Two poems by teen writer, Nandita Naik

Paleontology

In a nightmare, I mend my sutures // with wildflowers, kneel by the river // and drink. [...]]]>
By Nandita Naik

Paleontology

T-Rex © NoIdentity (https://www.flickr.com/photos/noidentity/2689960735/)

At a museum I saw the remains of a T-Rex
with its eyes stolen away,
an ancient arrow silvering its throat.
There is always a hunter
and his hands. Cold fingers
learning to strangle the night
and everything else they cannot tame.

My hair falls, clogging
the rivers under my floorboards.
As I weaken, my eyelids heal
and I harpoon my fingers
to remember the sea.
When a hunter forgets his hands,
he demands my face.
I could build pearls in the spaces
between your teeth, love.
The rest of me eclipses into feverish dreams.

In a nightmare, I mend my sutures
with wildflowers, kneel by the river
and drink. But I have learned the hard way
how soft my skull is. But I know enough
to only drink when the skinned-knee forest
grows heavy with child: lurching into springtime,
my voice birthing itself again and again.
One day, I must stop singing
because of a hunter and his hands.

But in prehistoric rocks,
my hands keep the beat.
Even when my body fossilizes,
dreaming of amber.

Foxes

Dear Mama,
Last night I sewed daisies to wet concrete, saw the flowers twist
themselves to stew. There is nothing fizzy
about any of this. I lied. The flowers caged themselves
the way I feel up the floor every day for mines,
if only to cradle one and throw it to the foxes.

Out of the fur of so many foxes,
I crocheted a doll and named it Mama.
It looks nothing like you, but it’s mine.
I made it beady button eyes and twisted
off its hair. When it rains, the puddles touch themselves.
When it rains, I bathe in Alka-Seltzer fizz

and find ways to seduce boys with fizzy
hair. They help me, all the dead foxes.
They help me plan, even as they hammer themselves
into deeper holes. I never believed you, Mama,
when you said you were coming back. Maybe that was your twisted
way of triggering the mines,

of setting the stage for an explosion–mine.
I play at church to stop the psalms from fizzing.
I sneak my doll into the pews, make her twist,
hold her leg above her heart. So many foxes
out hunting for you, Mama.
I’m praying that they find you by themselves.

The foxes sing of how they fed themselves
with Alka-Seltzers and untouched mines.
They still chant your name, Mama,
a nameless thing fizzing
through their throats, silvering the quiet. Still the foxes
translate my hands into bruises, make fingers scuttle and twist.

When you left, I commanded my doll to twist
everything you ever wrote. Ciphers too cold to know themselves,
too weak to crowbar a jaw. All my favorite foxes
drowned clutching babies. They were trying to mine
the riverbed for gold that fizzes
out of their hands–but what can you do, Mama?

I love foxes more the harder they twist.
Pause the scabs in you, Mama. Don’t let them close themselves.
Tell the mines under your bed to keep fizzing.

Nandita Naik is a high school junior at Proof School forthcoming/published in Blue Marble Review, Polyphony HS, Crashtest, the Rising Phoenix Review, and Canvas Lit. Journal. She will attend the Iowa Young Writer’s studio this fall.

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eulogy for dying pine, anatomy http://yareview.net/2018/07/eulogy-for-dying-pine-anatomy/ http://yareview.net/2018/07/eulogy-for-dying-pine-anatomy/#respond Wed, 11 Jul 2018 12:00:01 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9353 Two poems by Taylor Fang

anatomy

your faceless blue shadow // mauled on the water, // yawning in the waves, // makes me wonder [...]]]>
By Taylor Fang

eulogy for dying pine

I once held the shadows
in your knotted hands to mine,
blemished sap on our wrists,
dust up our nostrils,
knowing where my arm ended
and yours began

to lose children.
a carpet of needles, of bark

that still fissures
the newsprint of my feet,
fragile skin, flaking lovers,
full of sky and fringe
and charred horizon—

deforming my ankles,
my mouth, your fate.
because you are dying,
and the skies are full of them.

but don’t bleed
for the stratosphere twisting,
writhing, leaving behind wax,
scales of fish, plaster like rubble,
your skin. bleed

for your sap
in the milk between body and ghost,
coffin and cupola, worms that eat
your succulence.

hold onto my wrists, my ankles,
your roots. your sockets
unraveling, burying pine cones,
leaving the corpse behind—

we live in the undergrowth
but there are no graves here.

“loveless” © Robb North (https://www.flickr.com/photos/robbn1/4045930375/)

anatomy

your faceless blue shadow
mauled on the water,
yawning in the waves,
makes me wonder what
a broken piano tastes like.

what a broken body sings.

fingers spotting ripples,
calico syphons on your body,
your ghost, swallowing
unhinged limbs, protruding sockets,
keys spilled down every valley
in your spine,
up your fibula,
through your sternum

clouds that never let go
of the corduroy sky.
this sky. this catacomb

of gilded reflection, painted
frog eggs, anemone bleached
to the roof of your mouth, your cavern,
your ridged channels of cracked

teeth I stick to mine with my fingers
nimble and fleeting, catching
the strings the screws one at a time
wires bolts hammers
keep falling

apart. and the felt, sculpted
with my fingers
like sea urchin bones.

scoop out clavicle, femur, scapula
from socket, brittle sternum
to cartilage, licked
white with blood cell blossoms.
beethoven down your broken
collarbone.

and black and white
to cut off your patella
with a single slice, still straining
bach out of the air

cracked jaws choose to bleed.
your arms like fish, transparent,
thrashing in the waves—
skeletons of music sheets.

Taylor Fang is a high school student living in Utah. Her works have previously been published in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Sprout Magazine, Moledro Magazine, and others. Besides poetry, she enjoys debate, piano, and tennis.

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Switchbacks http://yareview.net/2018/07/switchbacks/ http://yareview.net/2018/07/switchbacks/#comments Tue, 10 Jul 2018 12:00:24 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9395 Our last story for the regular season — keep your eyes open for our Humor Contest winners in the next few weeks. In this lovely, lyrical tale, a troubled girl tries to find her way. 

By Milena Nigam

Shani hears the other car before the headlights break around the line of trees. It makes a shaking sound like a box of sand in constant rotation, and the sound stays soft even as the car approaches. She’s traveled more than 1,300 miles over the past few days, sitting next to Ronnie in his beat-up Saturn, the muffler roaring their passage across the country. Ronnie’s not a friend; he’s a ride just a few years older than she is, and now the Saturn is toast and they’re stranded somewhere in the mountains. Shani’s untethered, sitting on the side of the road on a dirty Mexican blanket, folded and folded again and smelling thickly of damp cardboard and smoke, while Ronnie’s passed out in the mossy grass. Her loose insides shake around quietly like the soft-sounding car driving up. On the other side of the country, her little brother, Duncan, sleeps locked up in a school for boys.

“Country Road” © Nr. Nixter https://www.flickr.com

Earlier that day, driving through Colorado, Shani was quiet and Ronnie was chatty.

“I love canoe camping,” he went on. “Have you tried it? My dad used to take me through the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.” Ronnie tapped twice on the rearview mirror.

Shani stared out the side window. She could see that Ronnie looked over at her but she kept her gaze on the corner of the car hood. A leaf was trapped at the joint, fluttering with the car’s velocity. All around them were the gray-brown skeletons of standing dead trees. Shani had asked someone about the trees at a rest stop miles back: Colorado tree die-off. She looked for signs of regrowth closer to the ground, but the forest around them was colorless and barren.

“I saw it once, from the air,” he said. “I was on a plane with my mom and stepdad. Flying to visit my stepdad’s parents in California. We lived in Boston then. Anyway, below the plane was this endless plateau, literally carpeted with trees. So soft-looking, right? It went on and on; we must have flown across half of Pennsylvania. And the canyon cut through it the whole way.”

He scratched his nose. When he wiped his finger on his shorts, Shani wondered if he was wiping away snot.

“I couldn’t say anything to my mom. You know. You can’t talk about good times with the dad in front of the stepdad.”

“My stepmom’s OK,” she said. There were no other cars on the road.

Ronnie shrugged.

“Hey, I’ve been wondering. What kind of stone is that?” he asked her. “It matches your eyes.”

The stone is howlite, a cheap healing crystal dyed a cloudy purple she wears on a long chain. Her eyes are also a cloudy purple, but they gray up when she’s angry. Duncan and their father have straight gray eyes. Her name, Shani, means red.

They’d been climbing the gentle switchbacks all afternoon, and the sun was just beginning to pink up through the hollow evergreen silhouettes lining the road. Something pulled away from the car near the fluttering leaf. Shani pointed at the hood.

“Is that smoke?” she asked, and Ronnie looked down at the dashboard. He hit the steering wheel.

“The temperature gauge is going crazy!”

Dark smoke, suddenly everywhere, wafted out the hood seams, the sharp odor slipping through the vents into the car. Shani felt a slow flickering in her chest. She rubbed her fingertips together, and through the thickening smoke they saw a turnout. Ronnie swung the car off the road.

“Let me out!” she yelled, and they leapt from their car doors.

A flame peeked out from under the hood, then spread quickly along the perimeter. Shani’s bag had been on her lap, so she grabbed it, along with the blanket that was serving as the passenger seat, and ran from the car in her sandals.

Ronnie risked an extra moment to pop the trunk and save his cooler. The flames jumped and reached, and then, uneventfully, crept back down to close up quietly and disappear. In the end, nothing in the car was damaged, except for what was under the hood. The ground off the road was covered in a cool moss, and Shani wondered if that had saved the forest from a massive wildfire.

“Shani, have a beer,” Ronnie said, once they knew the car was shot. She shook her head no. He was short—elfin—and wore his curly brown hair tied back in a purple bandana. Even after four days on the road, his face was as hairless as a boy’s. The chemicals in the air made them both gag when Ronnie popped open his first can of beer.

Now, late at night, the strange car’s headlights bounce and grow in Shani’s face and bathe her limbs in yellow. She holds her breath. Her long legs are scabbed and picked over, leaving shadows of gray scars on her skin like charcoal rub almost erased. She covers her eyes and looks through two fists. The vehicle isn’t going fast, and it slows and stops just past Ronnie’s discarded car.

Ronnie’s shoes are across the paved road where Shani threw them, although they’re barely visible in the dark. The breeze has carried the smoke from Ronnie’s burnt out car into the tree branches, and Shani doesn’t know if they’re still in Colorado or if they finally crossed over into Utah.

A plump arm reaches out the driver’s window and a woman’s head, unable to turn all the way around, crams through.

 


 

“What do you think?” Shani had asked her brother, Duncan, when she told him she was thinking of leaving Cortland and driving west with a stranger named Ronnie. She was worried about going so far away without him, leaving him behind in his new school.

In just four months, her brother had grown half a foot and now hung uneasily over Shani. He ran his thumbs in and out of his fingers while they stood together. Other adolescent boys in uniforms sat around at tables. There was a dullness to that dark indoor space, the dormitory’s common room. Shani had had to leave her necklace with security at the front office.

Duncan replied in his deepening voice, “I think they’re all assholes.”

A carpenter bee, trapped inside the room, knocked into the stained glass window behind Duncan, its nugget of a shadow cutting through the narrow slice of green sunlight on the stone floor.

“Who’s an asshole?” she asked.

Duncan knotted his thumb around each knuckle.

“Dad. Teachers. No matter who you think you want to be, they tell you you’re wrong. They tell you you’re joking yourself.” The bee buzzed past them and disappeared. “If you stick around here, you’ll always be who they say you are.”

 


 

“You need some help?” the woman calls back from the stopped car.

Shani sits in the night for a moment longer, glances at Ronnie sleeping in the grass. She can’t hear him snoring anymore, but his back rises up and down with pillowy breaths. Shani stretches out her legs and slips on her sandals, brushing off the translucent yellow hash marks still on her big toes, leftover from finals. It’s highlighter not nail polish, and it seems to glow in the dark. Ronnie hadn’t known she was in college the semester before. That’s not necessarily what people expect of her. Besides, she’s still just seventeen; she left high school after three years with enough credits and good enough grades to go right to SUNY Cortland.

Shani stands up and crosses to the car.

“You and your friend need some help?” the driver asks. She has a thick face and razor short hair. The person in the passenger seat pushes in front of the driver, peering out the open window. Both women have leathery tan skin that looks flat in the moonlight; the passenger wears glasses. She speaks.

“What happened? Your car broke?”

Shani nods. “The engine caught on fire.”

“What about your friend?”

“He had a few beers after the car died,” she says.

“You want to wake him?”

Ronnie was harmless enough and had bought her coconut donuts at rest stops when they shook out their cramped legs, but he means nothing to Shani.

“No thanks.”

The two women look at each other.

“You got anything in that car?”

Shani holds up her bag. It’s shapeless, taupe hemp weave, large enough to hold some clothes and a face towel, soap and toothpaste. She has $280 tied up in a bandana.

“This is it,” she says.

“We can drive you as far as Salt Lake City. There’s no cell service out here. We’ll call highway patrol for your friend the next time we stop for gas.”

“OK. But he’s not my friend,” she tells them. The driver of the car nods. Shani leaves the blanket in the dirt. It belongs to Ronnie.

“I’m Lana,” the woman in glasses says when Shani takes her seat in back. “My partner’s Amy.”

“Shani.”

Shani tucks the seatbelt shoulder strap behind her back and lays her head against the door. She pulls at the frayed hem of her shorts and adjusts her bra. The inside of the car smells like oranges. Amy turns the key and the shaking sound starts back up. Outside the car window, Ronnie’s canvas shorts bunch up on his butt like a pile of crumpled paper bags. The moon hangs at an angle above the skeleton trees.

Lana turns around, faces Shani. She pushes at the center of her glasses. She and Amy are both pudgy, but Lana is the rounder of the two. Her shadowed mouth twitches sideways.

“Where you traveling from?”

Shani tries closing her eyes. It feels good.

“New York. State.”

“And you’re headed…?”

Shani’s head grows lighter, seems to lift up into the nearness of sleep.

“Vegas.” She half forms the word.

“Lana, let the girl be.”

Shani hears Lana turn back in her seat.

“I just want to know a little about the stranger we have in our car.”

“Are you a runaway, kid?” Amy asks, her voice full and heavy, deep like a smoker’s.

“Dancer,” Shani mumbles.

 


 

When Shani was in her second semester of college courses, Duncan punched a middle school teacher, then stole their dad’s truck and crashed it into a dumpster by the bus station. They sent him away to a school for delinquent boys. He was only twelve. The administrators at the new school labeled him a flight risk.

“He was the best of us!” Shani screamed at her stepmom from the front yard after her dad drove off in the smashed-up truck with Duncan. Large, flat snowflakes fell singularly from the sky, icy flowers that stilled against Shani’s hot skin before vanishing into melted nothingness. A neighbor down the street was burning leaves and the sweet, brown smoke caught in Shani’s throat. She clawed at her necklace, felt like someone was gripping her trachea; there was nowhere for the air to come in. She choked out, “How could you let Dad take him away? Take him away from me?”

Her stepmom stood crying with her hand on the rusted storm door handle, her body deflated into herself. Shani pushed past her and ran into the house, kicking a hairbrush under the couch and grabbing a paper Weis Market shopping bag from the hallway. She threw clothes into the bag. Her textbooks tore through a different bag so she wrapped them in her jacket. She chewed into the side of her mouth, the bloody saliva tasting like pennies.

As Shani left, her stepmom was sitting on the front steps. It was colder, and the falling snow clung to spikes of yellowed grass.

“How will you pay for your classes?” her stepmom asked quietly from behind her.

“Why do you care?” she replied, leaving shallow footsteps in the light snow cover.

For the rest of the semester she slept on different couches and saved up money from her waitressing job. It wasn’t enough for another semester, and after finals, Shani knew she was done.

“Las vegas showgirls performing at the Sahara casino, 1955” © Kristine https://www.flickr.com

A friend told her about Ronnie. He was headed west on an adventure, bumming around after college graduation. Shani shopped for a small travel bag and left her used books on the edge of the sinks in the second floor bathroom at SUNY Cortland’s Memorial Library. She had danced through high school, so she thought she would audition to be a showgirl in Las Vegas, with a back-up plan of waitressing or even stripping if she was that desperate for money. It would be easy enough. The boys she’d been with were so clumsy. What did it matter, standing up in front of a room of them, taking her clothes off? She’d heard some club owners made the girls kiss each other to bring in bigger tips.

 


 

The car with the three women stops a few hours later, just as the sky lightens into the thinness of early morning. All around, the trees stand fuller, alive, their needles bursting and blue against the disappearing night.

Shani’s neck is stiff and her body temperature cool; Amy’s left her car door open while she pumps gas. It’s a Chevron station, and country music is piped through speakers. The lyrics, a man singing about his truck, hang like moisture around the edges of the car. Shani’s heavy bladder aches.

Amy taps on her window.

“You hungry?”

Shani shakes her head and frowns. “I have to use the bathroom,” she says, and jumps out of the car.

The indoor lighting in the mini-mart is disorienting, and, at first, Shani can’t find the women’s room. She slinks down the nut aisle and past the red hotdogs turning slowly in their steamer, beads of sweat pooling on their skins. The cashier points her past the beverage coolers without looking up from the TV, and Shani grabs her crotch and bites her lip, but she’s too late. She wets her underpants before she can lock the door and unbutton her shorts. It’s cramped in the stall as she steps out of her clothes and balances her bag over her head so it doesn’t drop into the toilet.

She wraps the soiled underwear in paper, pushing it deep into the metal sanitary napkin can. The lid scrapes white lines across the back of her hand. The ventilation fan hums. Embarrassed, and worried that Lana and Amy will get tired of waiting, Shani doesn’t bother changing into new underwear. Instead, she just steps back into her jean shorts and pulls them up over her bare skin. She wipes her thighs dry with rough paper towels at the sink, and in her hurry lets the sheets flutter from her hands to stack up messily on the dirty, peeling bathroom floor.

When she returns to the car, Amy’s on the payphone. She’s holding a tray with three cups of coffee and a bag of gas station pastries. Her hand is thick and masculine, and she wears her t-shirt sleeves rolled up to her pits. Lana’s in the driver’s seat, adjusting the mirrors. Amy walks with Shani back to the car. They are the same height. The song that’s playing now reminds Shani of “White Christmas,” from her stepmom’s Elvis Presley collection.

“You drink coffee, Shani?” Amy asks.

“Thank you,” she says. “Sorry I took so long.” The paper cup burns hot through her skin. Birds nest silently in the support beams above the gas pumps. Shani’s eyelid starts to quiver. For days now while Ronnie drove, she’s slept in a car. All she wants to do is keep sleeping.

“No rush. I figure we still have about six more hours before we reach Salt Lake,” Amy says as they get back in their seats.

“That much?” says Lana. She takes off her glasses and cleans them on her shirt. Shani thinks the women are both in their fifties, older than her dad, who would never tolerate a couple of lesbians. Lana drinks half her coffee quickly, yet when Shani brings her mouth to the rim of her cup the steam is too hot for her to take even a tiny sip. “The scenic route only makes sense during the day, I guess,” says Lana.

“Life’s a journey.” Amy turns from Lana to Shani. “Right, Shani?”

“I guess.”

“Oh, shush,” says Lana.

“Shani’d still be on the side of the road if we hadn’t climbed that mountain last night.” Amy looks again at Shani. “I let highway patrol know about your friend’s car, by the way.”

Shani wonders whether Ronnie’s still passed out in the grass, his bandana wet with dew. He’ll probably check to see if she stole any of the beers when he wakes up and finds her gone.

“It sure is pretty here,” Lana says, indicating beyond the gas station. “Shani, did you sleep at all?”

“Yes, I slept,” she answers.

“You slept,” Amy says to Lana.

“I know. My leg fell asleep. It felt good to stand up and stretch. Shani, you let us know if you need anything back there.”

Amy puts her head on Lana’s shoulder, and Lana scratches her partner’s short hair with the pads of her fingers before turning on the ignition. They get back on a state road, shaking toward the moon that’s fading into an outline in the brightening sky.

“Driving down the Switchbacks on the Burr Trail in Utah” © Road Travel America https://www.flickr.com

After some time, the mountains begin to stretch out around them, and the road ribbons back and forth in switchbacks; the green forest has grown sparser. Ronnie was wrong last night when he thought they were almost in Utah; here they are—Amy, Lana, and Shani—still weaving through the Colorado Rockies. They open their windows, and the thin air spins wispy clouds into threads as the car pushes forward. Lana sings some of the lyrics to a Red Hot Chili Peppers song. Shani’s shorts rub uncomfortably against her skin and she wishes she had put on a new pair of underpants at the gas station.

“I don’t think they’ll be happy to see us,” Amy says, looking out the window.

“Who? My mom?” asks Lana. “Courtney? Who won’t be happy?”

“They always put on a good show. You like to think it’s real, but it’s a show, Lana. Even Courtney. It’s just a show for you. They let me see right through it.”

A motorhome bends with the road toward them, and Lana slows their car into the turn. Shani’s low in the backseat and can’t make out the driver when it passes. Up ahead, there are white patches of snow balancing against the rocky mountain faces. Shani has never before seen a landscape like this one. With fewer trees at the higher altitude, the terrain feels desolate, like the moon, but the snow shines like ice.

Lana hasn’t responded. Amy reaches over, puts her hand on Lana’s.

“You are my everything,” she says.

Lana gently lifts her wrist from the steering wheel, nudging Amy free. Amy looks away.

“Your mom and sister blame me for Janice.”

“Blame you for what?” Lana asks. “For cancer?”

“They loved Janice. Like a daughter and a sister.”

Amy shifts in her seat, lengthens her back. Shani puts her empty cup around her nose and mouth, breathes in the tepid memory of coffee.

“They wish she was still here with you. Instead of me,” Amy says, her deep voice raspy and incomplete.

“Shhh,” says Lana. Her hair is a mix of gray and ashy brown. “You saved me, Amy. You saved me.”

 


 

There was a time when Shani’s little brother had a buzz cut like Amy’s. When lice went around the fifth grade, Shani’s stepmom took an electric razor to Duncan’s hair and shore it down to the scalp. He had a purple birthmark behind his ear that no one remembered from when he was a baby. It looked like a dog on its back, at least that’s what Shani told him since he’d always loved animals.

Duncan had been the kind of kid who liked to snuggle, who tucked his body into Shani’s while she watched TV or did homework. When she started dancing more seriously, Shani would have him lie on her back, his little boy weight pushing her into a deeper stretch. He would sing songs from school in a whisper in her ear, a toneless little bird. They’d rest like this in her room while their father stomped his feet and scraped chairs across the floor outside Shani’s door.

After the lice incident, Duncan would rub his shaved head against Shani’s bare feet, tickling her with the pointy stubble. He told her his scalp itched as the hair grew back. It made him jumpy, he said, like he wanted to hit someone.

Shani knew what he meant. When she was in high school, she would hold a lighter to the pads of her fingers. The burning would travel her body, first tingling the length of her thighs, then buzzing at the bottom of her earlobes, finally splitting into her fingers like snake bites. She learned how to feed the flame at just the right distance to watch the blisters color and raise. If she could count to four slowly after the blister started to form, the smell of burning skin would make her lightheaded, like she was floating.

 


 

In the middle of the morning, they pull over into a picnic area. Amy thinks they have finally crossed into Utah. Salt Lake City should be less than two hours away. In the distance there are towns bumping up in the lower valleys.

Lana gets out sticks of beef jerky, pita bread, a carton of hummus from a small cooler in the trunk. They fill their coffee cups from a pump sticking out of the gravel and scrub their hands under the flow of ice cold water. There’s a picnic table made of rotting wood and covered with sprouting lichen. Ronnie’s blanket would have been nice to spread across the bench.

Lana walks down a long, worn path to the compost toilet.

“The bathroom looks pretty decent,” she calls back to them, shouting across the distance and pantomiming her words. She waves her hand. “I’ll join you in a minute.”

Amy straddles the bench, bites off a piece of jerky. She has a tattoo of a flaming sun on the top of her foot.

“We can get comfortable. She’ll be in there for a while,” Amy says, pointing the jerky toward the bathroom.

“Yellow Wildflowers” © Thomas Huston https://www.flickr.com

Tiny wildflowers dot the ground. The grass is green, plentiful. They’re at a lower altitude now.

“So what’s your plan, Shani?” Amy asks. “Have you thought about California, instead of Vegas?”

She shakes her head, picks at the perimeter of a scab. “Should be a lot of jobs for dancers in Vegas.”

“Hmm. Maybe.” Amy pushes the hummus and pitas toward her. “Make sure you eat something.”

Shani looks out over the valley. Her fingers play with the edge of a pita, and after a while she breaks off a small piece. She chews slowly, carefully. Amy gets up to refill her water. There is a sweetness of pollen that rises in the breeze, and mountain birds chatter from the grasses.

Maybe she should think of California. She could see the ocean for the first time, and stand next to those giant trees. As of yesterday, the only concrete plan Shani had was to stop in on a friend of Ronnie’s once they made it to Nevada. But she’s got a new ride now.

The breeze picks up, and Shani’s hair blows in front of her face.

In California, she could get a job as a dance teacher. Help little girls in pink leotards reach up to the sky as high as they can stand on their tiptoes. She could get an apartment in San Francisco, and Duncan could live with her, go to college if he wanted when he was old enough.

Shani pushes the hair out of her eyes. She swallows a bite of pita. Down below, the valley looks never-ending.

“You know,” she says to Amy, swallowing again, “I took Italian in college.” Her stomach jumps around, buzzes with lightness.

“Yeah? I was guessing you were still a little young for college.”

“Not that young, I guess. My little brother Duncan’s still in school, though.” Shani pulls at the howlite. “I wanted to see what it felt like to be someone else, you know? Italian, maybe.” She laughs at herself, and looks away. The vastness of open space is dizzying. Shani wants to fill herself with endless gulps of air. In this moment, she feels like she really could be anyone. Do anything.

Amy nods. “I can understand that.” Amy chews the last of her jerky. She brushes off the table top in front of her, breaking the brittle frills of lichen with her thick fingers. “Lana’s worried about leaving you at the Greyhound in Salt Lake. You know, just on your own. We talked about it while you slept this morning.”

The lightness in Shani’s stomach shifts, drops to her groin. They’ll be in Salt Lake City too soon.

“Vegas. California. Either way, you’re kind of young to be traveling so far on your own. Might get lost. Or hurt.” Amy sips her water. Shani stills her breath. “Your younger brother? Maybe he wants you home,” Amy says.

“I’m not going home,” she says. But she feels shaky. What’s Duncan doing right now, locked up in school? A bird dives behind the picnic table, and Shani grabs for the bag of pita. Her necklace flicks up, stinging her skin when it hits her back in the chest. She holds the pitas to her shirt. The breeze wraps her dirty hair across her neck.

“I could guess that,” Amy says, unstartled by the bird. Her eyes are kind, the skin loose beneath her lower lashes. “You know, as you get older, you make your own family. It gets better.” She smiles, adds in her deep voice, “You might meet an Italian to run away with.”

An insect buzzes at Shani’s feet. It darts under the table, then is behind them. Amy slaps her neck. “Ow. Mother f—” She scrunches up her face, starts rubbing. “Lana?” she calls out. “Lana, you almost done in there? I think I’m stung by a bee.”

“Are you OK?” Shani asks, standing up.

“It’s nothing. If the stinger’s in there—” she makes a scraping motion with her splayed fingers— “I get real itchy.” Amy’s skin marbles, flushes red. “It’s nothing,” she says, but then she calls again for Lana. She says to Shani, “I’m just— I’ve got to ask Lana to help me with the stinger.”

Shani’s tongue is dry and smacky from the bite of pita. She tries to get more saliva in her mouth by swallowing and sucking at her cheeks.

“Don’t worry,” Amy says, getting up. “It’s really nothing. Lana?” she calls again and starts walking away from Shani.

The tiny communities are scattered below at the bottom of the mountain pass. The path to the toilet is worn and pebbly where others have tread, and clover grows in clumps all around. The sound of Amy’s voice is an echo swallowed in the flapping breezes. Lana, shut up in her stall, feels a mountain range away.

 


 

Many years ago, when Duncan still lisped his s’s and r’s and followed Shani around like a baby goose, they found a nest of bunnies behind the shed where their dad kept his tools and lawnmower. The mama rabbit had dug underneath the foundation, and the pile of tiny, sleeping rabbits pulsed like individual cells of a single organism in the dirt pocket she had carved out for them. In the dappled shadows, the nest was a pile of soft round rocks radiating heat. Duncan ran on little legs to the house to tell their dad, his joy streaming from his face like sunshine.

When their father walked outside with Duncan, Shani watched his boots. Shit kickers, people called them. They were what men wore. Their father kept his laces threaded tightly and double-knotted. The toes were stiff and round and the color of mustard.

“Oh no you don’t,” said their father.

He didn’t pause. He walked right up to the hole with Duncan and started pounding into it with the toe of his boot. Pound, shift his weight; pound, shift his weight. He had to hop back a bit when his heel got caught in the tightness of the nest, but then rammed his body weight again down through his foot. A high-pitched sound exhaled from the pile of bunnies, and then there was only the pounding of the boot. A grown rabbit jumped out from behind a bush. It darted in zigzags across the yard and disappeared into a denser patch of grasses.

Duncan stood frozen with his pudgy hands in front of his mouth. Behind them, Shani pressed her fingernails into her thighs, tugging and tearing at tiny bits of skin until she could feel the thin wetness of blood smearing under her touch. When he finished, their father hosed off his boot and left it to dry in the sun.

 


 

Shani doesn’t like the feeling of being alone. Without Amy sitting and talking with her, she can’t remember what it could be like to move to California instead of Vegas. There’s no place for Duncan in Las Vegas.

She kicks her sandal in the gravel and looks at Amy’s car, then past it. The women are standing outside the toilet stall. Lana is leaning over Amy. They aren’t paying attention to Shani.

She scrapes up a handful of gravel. She cups her hand and walks slowly to Amy’s car. Her cut-offs scratch at her crotch. A run of dried pee reflects flatly off her thigh. The gas tank is missing a cover, and she unscrews the top.

“2011_2207 – Random Textures_5” © Ben Hosking https://www.flickr.com

She’s thinking that she needs more time with Lana and Amy. She doesn’t want their ride to end at the Greyhound station in just a couple of hours. She doesn’t want to go home. And she doesn’t want to be a stripper at a casino. The women can help her with a better choice.

Shani makes a shallow funnel with her fingers and lets the sand and gravel sift into the gas tank. Sand falls around her bare toes, around the dusty hash marks from finals. When the breeze blows her hair in front of her nose, she smells the smoke from Ronnie’s car last night. The fire under the hood had scared her. While she and Lana and Amy wait for a tow truck at the picnic spot, she can tell them how scary it had been, how they had almost started a wildfire.

She scrapes up another handful of gravel and tries to fill the tank some more but most falls to the ground. The top grinds against the dust and sand when she closes up the tank with trembling fingers.

Shani’s heart thumps deeply in her chest. She thinks of Duncan’s prickly scalp, of his foot on the accelerator of their dad’s truck before he crashed it at the bus station. As she swallows and wets her tongue, she wonders what Lana’s girlfriend before Amy looked like before she got sick.

She trusts Amy that the bee sting is no big deal. Lana will get the stinger out. Maybe they’ll figure out what Shani did to their car, but it won’t be right away. She’s glad she told Amy about taking Italian.

A large cloud blows across the sun, its journey reflected on the ground: the coolness of shadow running over the picnic table, the grasses, the women’s car, across Shani’s eyes. Higher in the mountains the snow glitters in unencumbered sunlight. Down in the valley, Shani imagines the trees are leafy and green.

 


Milena writes fiction, creative nonfiction, and the occasional poem. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in “Pithead Chapel,” “Slice,” “Full Grown People,” “The Fourth River,” “Hippocampus Magazine,” and elsewhere. She is a nonfiction editor at the online journal, “Halfway Down the Stairs,” and has recently completed a short story collection. Please check out her newly minted website, www.milenanigam.com.

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The 2018 Fiction Humor Contest Results are In! http://yareview.net/2018/07/the-2018-fiction-humor-contest-results-are-in/ http://yareview.net/2018/07/the-2018-fiction-humor-contest-results-are-in/#comments Thu, 05 Jul 2018 16:12:50 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9393

“Medal!” © Ruth Hartnup https://flic.kr/p/cykWRy

Submissions were sent.

Stories were compiled and read by our readers.

Laughter, giggles, and snorts ensued.

Choices were narrowed down.

Nisha Sharma selected the three best pieces.

Which means…

The time has finally come to share the results of our FIRST EVER Fiction Humor Contest!

Thank you to everyone who took the time to submit a story. Humor is not an easy art form. It takes timing, ingenuity, and thinking way out of the box. We were beyond impressed by what came our way.

Without further ado:

Winner: “Tequila” – Laura Gonzalez

Runner-up: “Citrus and Ash” – Miranda Sun

Runner-up: “The Day I had my Oatmeal Privileges Revoked” – Audry Dubois

We will hopefully be publishing these stories during our off-season – so you can have a few good laugh during these summer months –  so keep an eye on the website and on social media.

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Dressing up as Groucho Marx, Rain http://yareview.net/2018/07/dressing-up-as-groucho-marx-rain/ http://yareview.net/2018/07/dressing-up-as-groucho-marx-rain/#comments Tue, 03 Jul 2018 12:00:24 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9350 Two poems by Kelly Wisdom

Rain

Sheltered, I sit // beneath a saturated sky. // A hundred perfect watery circles // pound politely on the windshield. [...]]]>
By Kelly Wisdom

“Androgyny15” ©RAZ Zarate (https://www.flickr.com/photos/127612900@N02/15692214164)

Dressing up as Groucho Marx

My sweet-sixteen hair
dyed beetle-body black
confirmed me as Groucho
when my friends and I
took parts for our
1920s project.
With oil-dark,
center-parted hair
I copied his glasses
and moustache,
his suit and cigar
his tricks and his snark.

All I wanted was
to try things on—
black hair
boys’ t-shirts
backless dresses
Karen’s velvet top
her brazen walk
Groucho’s indifferent cigar flick.

All I wanted
was to perform
a thousand daily
experiments
on myself
and feel as free
as I did that day
in clothes not my own,
trying on someone new.

Rain

Sheltered, I sit
beneath a saturated sky.
A hundred perfect watery circles
pound politely on the windshield.

Once, we wandered
Spring Garden Street
while it showered, giddy,
high in every sense.
Your Aphrodite hair
clung to freckle-flecked cheeks.
We skipped to the Citgo,
bought beer as dawn broke.
Smoking, I waited at the sidewalk,
watched you pour yourself
over the counter at the poor clerk.
I craved your thin bones,
envious of elbows, hips, ribs,
pelvis jutting from dripping jeans.
Walking back, our clothes held us earthbound.
We released them at the apartment door,
floated into the room in our underwear,
the wet wind following after.

Surely we loved then,
two tender, curveless girls drinking,
soaked with new rain?

Now, the clouds hover overhead,
pattering tempo swells against glass,
traffic surges forward,
slick with water
as I sit inside
bone-dry.

Kelly Wisdom teaches English at a community college in North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and two rescue pets (dog/cat). She holds an MFA in Children’s Literature from Hollins University and an MA in English from the University of North Carolina – Charlotte. Her writing has previously been featured in Atticus Review and Sanskrit Literary Arts Magazine.

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The Game http://yareview.net/2018/06/the-game/ http://yareview.net/2018/06/the-game/#respond Wed, 27 Jun 2018 12:00:09 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9361 Kat, Nick, and Robbie face tough fights -- and try to find the best way to win. The bottle left on the kitchen counter is never a good sign.[...]]]> Kat, Nick, and Robbie face tough fights — and try to find the best way to win.

By Trish Knox

 

The bottle left on the kitchen counter is never a good sign.

Nick slams the fridge shut, rolling his eyes at me, and nods in the direction of the stairs. Mom and Dad’s voices trail down from behind the door of their bedroom above us. Nick reaches around to the counter and turns the radio up, but their voices raise with the volume.

“Old radio” © Mor https://www.flickr.com

I shrug at him. Same old song, another day. A K-Tel commercial tells us not to miss summer hits of ’74, coming soon. Nick cranks the radio even louder as ‘Burning Love’ by that Elvis guy Mom loves so much kicks on.

I don’t know why our parents think we can’t hear them. The walls of these houses are as thin as those model kits my brothers play with. So thin we can hear the Mulligan family next door when their dad knocks them around. We all pretend we don’t see the bruises on Lenny the next day.

“Don’t we have anything other than bologna?” Robbie’s in this eight-year-old whiny stage, and it drives Nick crazy.

“No, we don’t have anything else.” Nick yanks open the fridge and tosses a bottle of mustard over to Robbie. “Eat it or starve.” The bottle plops in Robbie’s lap, the cap pops off, and a streak of yellow squirts onto his shirt.

“Why’d you do that?” Robbie starts to cry.

“Don’t be such a baby.” Nick snatches the bottle back.

“It’s okay, Robbie, it will come out,” I tell him. I jump up, nudging Nick as I lean over the sink to grab the dish cloth. “Leave him alone,” I mutter to my older brother. He towers over me, rail thin in scruffy jeans and a white t-shirt. The other kids teased him when he shot up last year, calling him Bean Pole. Which meant he had to win a few fights before they finally stopped.

The air conditioner propped in the window rattles on, but even that can’t drown Mom and Dad out. It can’t mask the humidity seeping in from outside, either, dampening the stale smell of breakfast mixed with whiskey and burnt toast.

“When is it going to change, Tommy?” Mom wails.

How come she can’t figure out things are never going to change? Even I know that.

“Jesus, there’s no milk,” Nick mutters. His feet slap through the water collecting on the cracked linoleum beneath the leaking fridge. He sits down across from us, his sandwich piled high on a plate.

Dad’s voice is slurred. “Whaddya want from me, Lizzie? You’re never happy. Always sssomeone, sssomewhere’s doin’ better than us.”

“Better than us!”

There’s a crash. My eyes meet Nick’s. Dad’s throwing things again.

“You’re damn right they’re doing better than us. Do you know what it’s like to go to the bank to get money for groceries? AND THE TELLER SAYS THERE’S NO MONEY IN THE ACCOUNT!”

I’m pretty sure the entire street heard that last screeching line. I should’ve known finding that bottle at ten a.m. meant there’d be one helluva fight by lunch time.

“I know you’ve been talkin’ to . . . to . . .”

“To who, Tommy? I don’t talk to anyone.”

“To that guy at . . .” His voice trails off.

“Oh, for god sakes Tommy. Who the hell has time to talk to anyone?” Mom’s half laughing, half crying.

“I know you, Lizzie. I know everything about you. Even when we do it, I know just the way you want it.”

“That’s it. I’m outta here.” Nick pushes off his chair.

There’s another crash from upstairs.

“You guys comin?”

Robbie starts to cry again. “We can’t leave Mom.”

“Don’t be such a chickenshit, Robbie. She’s fine. Besides, he’s too far gone to hurt her, he’ll be crashing soon.”

Robbie turns panicked eyes to me. “Kat, we can’t leave her!” He crosses his arms, the tears rolling down his chubby cheeks.

“He’s never done anything to her before,” Nick tells him. “With any luck, by the time we get back he’ll be passed out. Let’s go.” He heads toward the door.

I gather our plates and dump them in the sink.

“C’mon Robbie.” I take him by the hand. When Nick stops in the front hall to grab a bat and ball and his baseball glove, we grab ours too.

Outside, the Toronto humidity has hit record highs. Heat shimmers off the pavement at the same time it presses down on us, so thick you could swear you can see the wavy lines of it.

“I’m going to see if the guys wanna play. Tell Lenny, and I’ll meet you at the park.” Nick swings the bat over his shoulder and heads for the overgrown field across from us, Robbie trailing behind him.

I watch them go. Robbie looks so small. He rubs the tears from his eyes as he follows Nick. I cross our front yard to Lenny’s house. Through the screen door I can see him sitting in his kitchen.

He jumps up, poking his head out the door. “Yo ‘sup?”

“There’s a game on. Nick’s already on his way, meet us there.”

He bends down to grab his glove. Within seconds, the screen door slams shut behind him and he’s off after my brothers.

Nick and Lenny look out for one another. Like when Nick told Lenny that Robbie was being bullied at school by the oldest Maricano kid. They followed that Maricano kid home one day. Lenny caught up to him on the Queens Drive overpass and pushed him against the railing, his arm in his back, pressing his head down toward the rush of the creek below. Then he dangled him over the railing and told him he better stay away from Robbie. After that, Robbie didn’t have any more trouble from anybody at school.

I walk down the line of houses and round the corner. I can smell Mrs. Santini’s tomato sauce wafting out to the street. It makes my mouth water, and my eyes too—just thinking of the Sunday dinners we used to have at Nana’s and Grandpa’s. After Nana died, that’s when things got worse in our house. It was like Mom came apart, little by little, kind of the way the tile keeps peeling away by the fridge.

Two doors down, Mr. Pesatano is washing his brand new Eldorado. Dad says he must be getting mob money to be able to afford a car like that.

At the end of the street I run up the stairs of the last house on our block. Adana’s family are gathered in their kitchen. Her abuela and abuelo live with them.

Abuela greets me at the door. “Estás justo a tiempo para los huevos.”

I think I dream about Abuela’s huevos. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing like them in the entire country. She does this thing with salsa and sausage. The best ones are served up when they take me camping on summer weekends. Maybe it’s just that all food tastes better cooked over an open fire. Adana’s family cook like they’re expecting a small country to join them at their campsites.

“We were just sitting down. C’mon.” Adana knocks her sister’s arm to make room for me at the table.

They chatter on, all of them talking at once. Adana has three little sisters. I take the salsa passed to me and smother my eggs in it. I love eating at their house.

Their voices are raised. Adana gives me a grin. “Papa says if only I could get extra marks at school for having a smart mouth.”

I smile at her dad. His eyes have wrinkles around them, the kind that make it look like he’s always ready to break out in laughter.

“huevos” © jeffreyw https://www.flickr.com

He gestures to the platter of eggs. “Más. Comer,” he tells me. He rattles off something else in Spanish.

“He said to tell you you’re too skinny, you need to eat more.” Adana laughs.

We help clear the table. Everyone’s still talking as Adana heads for the door. She shoves her feet into her earth shoes. I want a pair just like them but Mom says they cost too much money. Adana grabs her glove from the bench. “Let’s go. Game’s on, right?”

“Nick’s trying to line everyone up. But we need to stop by my place first. I forgot my cap.” I give her the excuse and head toward my house, making her wait outside on the front step because I want to go back in and see if the fight has finally fought its way out.

Dad’s slamming around upstairs, but there’s no sound from Mom. Lately, I’ve become more outspoken, not caring if I end up on Dad’s wrong side too. “Why are you letting him talk to you like that?” I asked Mom last week when he flew into a rage, sending the dinner table and everything on it crashing to the floor.

I stand in the front hall, listening, but all I hear is him, raging. I’m happy to see Mom’s purse and shoes at the front door, she’ll probably head out for groceries to let Dad cool off,
assuming there’s still some money for food.

“C’mon Kat,” Adana calls.

I slip out the front door. We head across the field, down the hill into the ravine. We’ve slayed dragons by this creek. We’re not the kind of girls made for skipping ropes and dresses. I like the way the world grows black with shadows when we’re caught in the rain down here, that half spooked feeling I get until we finally break through the trails and can see the backyards of our neighbors.

We reach the creek. The water level is so low in mid-summer that we skip along the rocks scattered across the water bed and climb the embankment on the other side. As we crest the hill I can see Nick’s had success getting everyone out on the baseball diamond.

“Took you long enough,” he says as we join them. His arms look scrawny. I feel a sliver of guilt at the lunch I just feasted on at Adana’s.

 


 

We all gather round while Nick and Lenny pick teams.

“I’m taking Adana,” Nick says right away. Adana gives him a small smile. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that Nick and Adana seem to have a crush on each other.

Lenny picks Tony and Sal. They live around the corner near Adana, and they’re only a year younger than Nick and Lenny. Like us, they’re semi-detached neighbors.

Nick picks me, which is how we like it because I pitch and Adana will catch for me. We go as a pair, and everyone knows that. I don’t even remember how we slid into this best friends-baseball-dynamic-duo-like-we-were-born-at-the hip-thing, but we’ve been friends since Miss Carmichael sat us beside one another when Adana’s family moved in around the corner and she showed up to class one month into seventh grade.

I poke Nick. “Don’t leave Robbie until the end,” I mutter to him.

He scowls at me. “Don’t tell me how to build my team.”

I can’t help but smile at how Robbie’s face lights up when Nick calls him next.

The sand kicks up, the smell of it mixing with summer and sweat as our game gets going.

I’m on deck, our game barely underway, when I feel the stillness around me. Even the heat has slowed. When I look around I find we’re pretty much surrounded. A group of kids I recognize from the projects on Trethewey are standing at the fence along the third base line, watching us. They’re laughing.

And then, as if a whistle goes off, they wander onto the field, all together, in one graceful line. While everyone in our subdivision backing onto Black Creek is from somewhere else— families from Italy, Ireland, Portugal, South America—the projects are mainly filled with families from Jamaica. One time I asked Mom why that was but all she said was, “It’s just the way it is.” I didn’t know how to tell her that doesn’t seem like a very good reason.

We go to the Catholic school up the road, but we’ve landed in their public school ball diamond to play. Lenny, Tony and Sal run in from the field while Nick comes off our bench. The guys line up across from one another, staring each other down. I hang back. I can tell Nick and the guys are primed for a fight.

“Kat?” Robbie whispers and slides behind me.

“Hey,” Lenny says to the tallest one, who wears a purple knit hat. “What’re you laughing at?”

“Yeah, what’s so funny?” Sal demands.

“Who says we’re laughing at you?” the one in the purple hat asks.

Robbie’s stage whisper isn’t really a whisper. “Dad says we’re not supposed to play with . . .” I bump him with my hip to quiet him.

It’s true. Mom and Dad have warned us away from the projects kids, notorious for their gangs, but I don’t really see what all the fuss is about. Nick and Lenny have been in enough close calls with the cops. There was that brawl just last week where two guys landed in the hospital.

One of the girls with braids wound tight to her head, brightly colored beads woven through each strand, leans right into Robbie. “Hey, baby boy. You playin’ too?” she asks.

Robbie rears back away from her.

“You all here to play ball?” Nick asks them.

Purple hat crosses his arms, looks Nick up and down. “Yah man. We’re ready.”

Lenny smirks. “You guys really think you can beat us?”

“Baseball Glove” © Snapmann http://www.flickr.com

Sal snorts beside him. “Most of them don’t even have gloves.” He smacks Lenny’s arm. “This is gonna be easy.”

Purple hat has a permanent scowl on his face. They call him Mika. He turns to his buddies and they huddle together. Mika does all the talking. Lenny and Sal edge closer to them, looking for trouble, and just as I’m sure a brawl is about to break out, Mika and his friends turn almost as one again, and head out to the field, taking up their positions.

But in the first inning, even our sluggers can’t hit the balls Mika pitches at us. We’ve all been playing together since we could walk, and they’re already wiping the field with us.

“Look at that guy, catching that fly ball with his bare hands.” Nick can’t hide the admiration in his voice. “Running like a gazelle.”

The girl with the braids, they call Taniyah, catches the ball at second base and tags Lenny out before he can get back.

We find ourselves taking to the field with no runs scored. It doesn’t look so easy now, I want to tell Sal.

 


 

When they come up to bat, they jump on my first two pitches and before I know it, they’ve got two men on base.

Mika steps to the plate. He glares at me. He’s got a scar running down his right cheek. It matches the one across Nick’s right eyebrow.

His eyes drill into me.

I concentrate on the plate and wind up.

At the crack of the bat I have just enough time to raise my arm—half in cover, half in attempt to catch the ball in a line drive for my head. I hear the slap as it lands in my glove.

I look up in time to see Sal and Lenny charge the plate.

“Hey, easy.” Mika raises his hands and backs off. “You put your chick out there, she better be tough enough to take it.”

His teammates come off their bench. Nick wanders over and pins Sal and Lenny with a glare. “We don’t fight during the game. You guys wanna fight—we’ll take it over there.” He points to the ravine. “After.”

Taniyah laughs beside me. All of us girls have gathered at the pitcher’s mound to watch. “The boss told them.

Adana smirks. “Don’t let Nick hear you call him that or we’ll never hear the end of it.”

Taniyah glances over to the street where a cop car slows down, stops, then continues on.

“Hey, Mika,” she calls. When he looks up she nods toward the cops.

“Followin’ us everywhere,” she mutters. “Can’t hang at home, can’t hang here.”

“Why are they following you?” I ask. I’m a little worried. It will be tough to explain to Mom and Dad if we’re pulled over by the cops and questioned about god knows what.

“Girl, they don’t need any reason. They just always think we’re up to no good.”

Between innings we pass them our gloves. As Lenny says, if we’re going to win this thing we want to do it fair and square.

Now we’re really playing, there’s no our streets-their streets; no blacks versus whites. No cops pulling anyone over just ’cause. Here is our game. Our own rules made up on our own field.

The game goes into extra innings until we pull it out in the tenth. When Nick slides into home plate to win it, Robbie runs from our bench, tackling him at the plate.

We line up to shake hands. “Game two tomorrow. Ten a.m.?” Nick says to Mika.

Mika nods. “Later.”

 


 

“Did you see the way they caught the ball?” I ask Nick and Lenny. We jog down the slope, Robbie jumping across the creek bed ahead of us. He slips, teeters, and then his foot slides off a rock into the water, soaking his shoe.

“You’re such a spaz,” Nick yells at him. He turns to me, “Yeah, you and Adana will need to step up your batting game. They got power hitting, even their girls are hard core.”

“Even their girls,” Adana and I mimic him, rolling our eyes behind his back. Taniyah and the other girl on their team, Devan, have some serious batting skills, but Adana’s just as good. I’m not known for my hitting but I’ve seen Adana knock it out of the park on more than one occasion.

The rest of the way, the talk is about getting a street game of team tag going in the creek on the weekend.

At home, we pile into the front hall, dumping our gear. The kitchen is exactly as we left it at lunch time.

“Mom?” Robbie calls.

No answer.

Nick shrugs at me and kicks off his shoes, heading into the living room. He turns on the new color television Dad brought home only a couple of weeks ago. We all know he was able to get it because he won at the track. None of our friends have a color T.V. yet.

I’m turning to head upstairs to check on Mom, when an announcer’s voices stops me. “We interrupt this program for a special news bulletin. A short while ago, U.S. President Nixon resigned. After months of speculation . . .” He carries on talking about Watergate and impeachment.

Only last week Dad said Nixon’s a crook and a liar and he deserves whatever he gets.

 


 

Upstairs, I stop outside Mom and Dad’s room. The door is slightly open and I peek in. I can only make out Dad snoring away in bed.

Robbie looks up from his spot on the couch when I wander back into the living room. “Where’s Mom?”

“I don’t know.” I hate that my voice sounds as babyish as his. She should have been back by now. I head to the kitchen to get dinner started, clanging the pots, loud, on purpose, hoping I wake Dad up, because why is he still sleeping like the dead and where’s Mom?

After dinner, Nick slams out of the house. I watch him through the window as he crosses our yard to Lenny’s place.

I disappear to my room.

“Kat?” I look up from reading to find Robbie in my doorway. His voice cracks, “Do you know where Mom is?”

“No, Robbie, I don’t know.” I try to keep the worry from my voice.

“Did you ask Dad?”

I sigh. “Well, he’s still sleeping. Just like Nick said, he’s probably been passed out for hours.”

His mouth trembles.

“It’s ok, Robbie, she’ll be back.”

He breaks into quiet sobs.

“Hey, kiddo.” I pull him into my arms.

“I ttthink…he kkkilled her.”

“No, Robbie. Don’t be silly!”

“I saw blood,” he wails.

My heart drops and I swallow. “Where did you see blood?”

“In the bathroom. He did something to her.”

He’s freaking me out now. “Show me,” I tell him.

He takes me by the hand and leads me down the hall. He stands outside the door, quiet sobs shaking his shoulders.

Dad’s razor blade and some bloody tissue lie on the counter.

I let out a breath.

“Dad just cut himself shaving, Robbie.” In his state, it’s a wonder he didn’t slice his cheek open. “Honest, everything’s ok. C’mon, let’s go outside—I bet you still can’t beat me at jacks.”

I wonder where Mom went. A little tremor of worry skitters through me.

 


 

Robbie climbs into bed with me in the middle of the night. Dad hasn’t come to; the only thing telling us he’s still alive are the gargantuan snores coming from their room. I think back to Mom’s purse and shoes at the door. She’s left before, but she always took us with her.

I switch on my transistor radio stuffed underneath my pillow. I pull Robbie close and fall asleep curled around him, my heart beating in time with his.

In the morning, Mom’s still not back. We barely speak to one another, silence allowing us to pretend nothing’s terribly wrong in our house.

Just before ten a.m., I follow Nick and Lenny into the ravine. Adana’s behind us teasing Robbie about his new mullet haircut. He wants so badly to be one of the big boys. I’m not really paying much attention, I’m worried that we haven’t seen Mom since yesterday afternoon.

I squint ahead of me, distracted by a glint of sunshine bouncing off something Nick passes to Lenny. I peer closer as I jog up to them and nod at the knife Lenny’s slipping into his pocket. “What’s that?”

“Nothing,” Lenny says.

“It’s not nothing. Why do you need a knife to play a baseball game?”

“They’re gonna have more guys today. I heard them complaining after they lost,” Nick tells me. “We need to be ready.”

“I’m not playing if you guys are going to turn this into a knife fight.”

“Mellow out, Kat. It’s just to be ready, that’s all. I’m not gonna start anything.”

I don’t like the look on Nick’s face or the glance he exchanges with Lenny. They’re all psyched up, and I don’t know if it’s for the game or the promise of a fight.

 


 

Nick and Lenny are right. Mika and Taniyah’s team is full of new players; they outnumber us two to one.

“If something starts going down, you and Adana take Robbie and book it,” Nick tells me.

He turns to Lenny. “We need Saunders and Keys tomorrow.” Jimmy Saunders and Ricky Keys are older than Nick and working for the summer, but they’re our heaviest hitters and scrappiest scrappers. Keys has already done time in juvie.

Mika stares at Nick as we huddle at home plate for the coin toss. In Mika’s eyes there’s a mixture of mistrust, the always on-guardedness that says he needs to be ready for a fight.

In the end, there’s no need for a fight to break out, we battle it out on the field. Leon, the one who catches with his bare hands, is another of their sluggers. We hold them off until Mika wipes up in the 8th with a grand slam. I know as soon as the ball leaves my hand it`s over.

Their guys do a happy dance, carrying on at home plate. Taniyah wanders over to our bench to return the ball from the outfield and rolls her eyes at me. “They act like this is the World Series.”

I shrug. I figure they should be hoisting Taniyah; she’s the one who loaded the bases so Mika could win it.

She reaches out with a playful tip of Robbie’s cap, “Slugger in the making, aren’t you?”

We agree to meet for the tie breaker tomorrow, which is a good thing because it’s Saturday, and Saunders and Keys can make it.

We’re silent on the way home, at least no one says that I lost the game for us.

 


 

“Look who’s here.” Nick nudges me as we cross the field and our house comes into sight. Aunt Marisa’s car is in our driveway. Her voice carries out to us as we climb the steps, and we stop on the porch to listen. I peer around Nick to find Dad slumped at the kitchen table.

“You need to leave the house, Tommy. Today.” Aunt Marisa stands over him. “Lizzie will keep the kids.”

“Mom’s with Aunt Marisa!” Robbie whispers, a smile breaking across his face.

I let out a breath.

Aunt Marisa’s wearing Jackie O sunglasses and a jumpsuit, looking like she’s ready to go to the disco. I always think that beside Aunt Marisa our mom looks faded.

Dad snorts. “How’s she gonna do that? She got a magic money tree she hasn’t told me about in the backyard?”

“She has a job.”

He laughs this time. “What? Stripping?”

“You’re such an ass, Tommy. We both know she can do a lot better than that. She’s finally getting away from you; I’m taking the kids to her. Now.”

Nick swears and yanks open the screen door. “I’m not going.” They both turn to stare at him standing with his hands on his hips in the doorway. “I can’t miss my paper route, I need the bread.”

I swing around at a small mewling noise from Robbie, one that sounds like Lenny’s cat when it got trapped in the tree in our yard. His voice is barely a whisper. “You . . . you have to come with us, Nick,” he squeaks out.

Nick shakes his head.

I wait. I will him to say yes. We stick together, the three of us. That’s what I want him to think.

Nick looks at Robbie. Then at me.

He swears softly under his breath. “Fine.”

He stalks across the room. Dad rears back as Nick shoves his face right up into his and pokes him in the chest. “You’re crazy. And you need to get the hell out of here so we can come home.”

We’re halfway across town in Aunt Marisa’s brand new Camaro when Nick punches the door. “We’re going to miss the game. There’s no way we’ll win without your pitching and my hitting.”

I wait a heartbeat for one of his put downs, but none comes. He just said we can’t win without my pitching. I let his words slide around in my head and settle in my heart. I don’t let on how much they mean to me.

 


 

Mom runs down the steps as soon as we pull into the driveway. She doesn’t look like she’s slept at all. Her black hair is tied up in a floral kerchief around her head. She hoists Robbie into her arms. He buries his head in her shoulder as Mom tells him, “I missed you.” Her eyes meet mine and then Nick’s. “I really missed you.” She ruffles my hair as we follow Aunt Marisa into the house. “You look after your brother, Kat?”

I swallow down all my questions starting with why she left without us and nod up at her.

There’s air conditioning in every room at Aunt Marisa’s and Uncle Mark’s. And new carpet. They always have new something. Dad hates going to their house.

Robbie doesn’t leave Mom’s side all night. Later, after my brothers are in bed, I crawl out to the landing on the second floor. Mom and Aunt Marisa sit on the front porch, smoking, a pitcher of wine between them. The crickets are as loud as thunder in the late evening heat. Mom’s voice carries up to me crouched on the landing.

“That lawyer told me to go home to my husband and come back when I had a job and some money.” Her voice cracks on her words. “He said he’s seen women like me and I’ll end up on the streets with my kids. Go back home, he told me, flashing his gold cuff links at me.”

“You’re not going to end up on the streets, Lizzie,” Aunt Marisa tells her. “And that guy’s a horse’s arse. We’ll get you a better lawyer.”

 


 

In the morning, I slip out of the house before anyone wakes up. I have a plan, but I’ll need to work fast.

A little later, when I burst in, Nick and Robbie are still in their room. “I got us bus tickets and the map,” I announce, dumping my purchase onto their bed. I used up almost all my savings. “We can get to the game in time if we leave in a half hour.”

Nick examines the map while Robbie jumps on the bed. “We’re going to the game!”

Nick’s eyes meet mine. “You’re pretty decent, Kat.”

That’s two compliments in less than twenty-four hours from my big brother.

 


 

I lean my head back against the bus seat, sandwiched between Nick and Robbie. I’ve estimated it should take us forty minutes to get home. We left a note for Mom telling her we’d be back this afternoon.

“End of the line,” the driver calls a short time later. Too short. I look at my watch. It’s only been fifteen minutes. I frown and peer out the window. Nothing looks familiar.

“What are we doing here?” Nick asks. “I thought you said you bought tickets to get us home.”

“I did,” I tell them, but the bus is emptying and when we make our way down the aisle to the driver to ask him, he grunts at us. “You were supposed to get on the express bus. Take bus thirty-two from here.”

We file off the bus and stand on the street in the middle of nowhere, no money, no plan, because the one I thought I’d so cleverly calculated has just driven away leaving behind the stink of exhaust.

“Hang on,” Nick says. He dumps his backpack onto the sidewalk. “How much do we need?”

“Thirty cents.” I chew on my glove.

He looks up with a grin. “Got it!”

The bus takes forever to come. Robbie keeps asking what time it is, hopping around from foot to foot, until Nick finally tells him to shut up.

“They won’t wait and we’ll forfeit,” Nick mutters.

It’s nine forty-five when the bus finally pulls up.

It stops at every red light. Robbie asks what time it is every five minutes.

We stand up as it drives past the plaza with our pizza hangout.

As we get off, Robbie trips on the bottom step and lands on his knees. Nick bends down and one-arms him to his feet. “C’mon, Robbie. Don’t you start,” he warns as Robbie’s eyes fill with tears.

It’s five past ten. We’ve got two blocks to go before we get to the park.

Nick slings Robbie onto his back and starts to jog. I run along beside them. We round the side of the school to the playground. They’re all standing out on the field at home plate. I can make out Lenny and Sal, their arms crossed. I pray they haven’t forfeited yet.

Sweat streams down my neck.

We keep running. Blood trickles down Robbie’s leg from his fall off the bus.

Adana looks up and screams. She breaks out in a sprint toward us.

Robbie bounces on Nick’s back, thumping him. “We made it! We made it!”

The guys turn as one to peer at us. They high five one another and follow after Adana to meet us.

Lenny hoists Robbie onto his shoulders and we all jog back to the field, running like champions, like we’ve already won the game.

I look up to find Mika, Taniyah and their teammates charging toward us. Nick stiffens beside me.

“Baseball field” © fideru https://www.flickr.com

They pull up short in front of us. Mika’s smiling. They’re all smiling, like they’re as happy to see us as our own friends. Taniyah gives a whoop and high fives Robbie. The beads in her braids click together like a song. She turns to me. “You’re here.”

“Well, I couldn’t let you girls be so badly outnumbered.”

Adana hugs me. “I didn’t know what happened to you. I stood at your door for ten minutes this morning, but no one came.”

“I thought yo mama didn’t let you out to play today,” Mika says on a laugh as he offers his hand to Nick.

There won’t be any need for the knives after all. No matter who wins, there’ll be no fights. Game on.

 


By day, Trish’s head is full of marketing jargon and keeping up with the event company she owns. But the evenings are for stories and poetry. She’s had a short story published in “Commuter Lit,” an online literary journal. You can find her on Twitter @TrishWrites1 and her blog where she joins poetry challenges at trishwrites1.wordpress.com
She lives in Toronto with her husband and three grown children.

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