YARN http://yareview.net The YA Review Network Sun, 02 Dec 2018 13:00:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.9 Our Pushcart Prize Nominees http://yareview.net/2018/12/our-pushcart-prize-nominees/ http://yareview.net/2018/12/our-pushcart-prize-nominees/#respond Sun, 02 Dec 2018 13:00:39 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9550

Once again, we’re thrilled to announce our nominees for the Pushcart Prize Anthology. Each year, small presses nominate many wonderful stories and poems for publication in this distinguished anthology.

It’s always such a pleasure to reread our season’s stories, and it’s always so difficult to decide on a few to nominate. With these nominations we hope to see our YA writers represented alongside their peers who write for adults. 

Congratulations to our winners!

 

Short Fiction:

Poetry:

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Celebrating YARN Alums http://yareview.net/2018/11/celebrating-yarn-alums/ http://yareview.net/2018/11/celebrating-yarn-alums/#respond Tue, 27 Nov 2018 13:00:15 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9519 During the off-season here at YARN, we’re busy preparing all the goodies we’ll be sharing with you come 2019, but as the end of the year approaches, we wanted to highlight some of the new YA novels some of our fantastic alums have released in 2018. Perhaps one of these would be perfect for someone on your holiday shopping list!

Margarita Engle is an award-winning author and the current Young People’s Poet Laureate. Her latest novel-in-verse, “Jazz Owls,” came out this spring, and is a gorgeously-written glimpse into the WWII-era Zoot Suit riots. As if that isn’t enough, the book also features the absolutely lovely artwork of Rudy Gutierrez. Check out some of Margarita’s poetry here and read more about her and her work in our interview.

 

Kwame Alexander is probably best known for award-winning middle grade novels, such as his Newbery-award winning “The Crossover,” but did you know that he also writes YA? His most recent YA novel-in-verse (co-authored with Mary Rand Hess), “Swing,” came out just last month, and it simply sings with mellow jazz, best friendship, and life-crunching crushes, and no spoliers here on YARN, but that ending!

 

Sonya Sones is well-known for her hard-hitting YA novels-in-verse, and her most recent, “The Opposite of Innocent,” is no different, capturing the #MeToo movement through the eyes of a young teen in a story that was very personal for Sonya to write. Check out the interview we did with her that includes some of her poems.

 

Mackenzi Lee is the NYT best-selling author of the hysterical historical, “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” (read an outtake here!), and we lucky readers can now get our hands on its companion, “The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy,” a marvelous romp featuring the Gentleman’s sister, Felicity. While Gentleman Monty was (and is still, in Lady) in love with his best friend, Percy, Felicity learns to embrace her asexuality.  

 

Anna-Marie McLemore is the award-winning author several gorgeous YA novels that feature LatinX and LGBTQ characters in worlds simply dripping with magical realism. Her latest, “Blanca & Roja,” is Swan Lake retold in the way only Anna-Marie can, with sisters, love, and all kinds of magical surprises built in. Find out more about her and her work in our interview here!

 

Nova Ren Suma is the NYT best-selling author of The Walls Around Us, and her latest, “A Room Away from the Wolves,” came out this fall to great acclaim for the signature thrills and chills that readers adore about Nova’s work. You can find our interview here, and also be sure to check out the new YA journal, Foreshadow, she recently launched with Emily X. R. Pan.  

 

Lamar Giles is an award-winning author and founding member of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement. His recent anthology, “Fresh Ink,” just came out this summer and features stories by some of today’s most popular authors including Jason Reynolds and Nicola Yoon, and his next YA, “Spin,” is right around the corner with a January 2019 release. In the meantime, read our interview with him here!

Happy shopping, and above all, happy reading!

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The Lost Girls http://yareview.net/2018/10/the-lost-girls/ http://yareview.net/2018/10/the-lost-girls/#respond Wed, 31 Oct 2018 12:00:37 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9462 YARN alum Elizabeth Maria Naranjo offers up a wonderful creepy, bittersweet tale, which was one of the runners-up chosen by Rin Chupeco for last year’s Halloween Contest. Enjoy! 

By Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/kVv8AvoKJ7g

He’d never been to the ocean and didn’t know what the waves sounded like when they broke against the shore, but Timothy knew they didn’t sound like the voices of girls. Sometimes the voices from the smooth pink mouth of his conch shell cried, and other times they screamed, and yet other times they spoke words but he couldn’t understand what they were saying. The sounds were muffled as if heard through a wall. His sister’s room was next to his upstairs, and when she was on the phone with her friends or having a slumber party he heard sounds like that—far away and watery.

Timothy was seven years old but he was six when his sister Fay gave him the shell. He remembered it clearly because it was last Halloween and the first time he’d gone trick-or-treating without his parents. They’d left Fay in charge. She had turned fourteen that May and taken a babysitting course over the summer. So his parents had started dating again and going to special places for dinner while his sister watched him. And that Halloween they’d gone to a party, although it seemed like his dad really hadn’t wanted to go.

“It’s one thing for Fay to watch him here,” his dad had said. “But out to trick-or-treat? That’s too much responsibility.”

“Oh come on, Jim,” his mother said. She’d had her regular two glasses of wine with dinner and was applying a fresh coat of red lipstick. She’d dressed up like a pirate wench—with a black bodice trimmed in red lace and a silky black and red skirt that fell to mid-calf in the back and rose to mid-thigh in the front. Her boots had spiked heels three inches high. She finished applying her lipstick and leaned into her husband, grinning. He took her by the shoulders and held her at arm’s length.

“I don’t feel like going, I told you,” he said. “Let’s take the kids out trick or treating. We’ll have plenty of time for Halloween parties in a few years, when Timmy’s older.”

She pouted. “But I won’t be able to wear this in a few years. I’ll be too old and fat.” She blinked at him, waiting, and he sighed.

In the end they had gone to the party.

 


 

When their parents drove away, Fay smirked at Timothy and said, “You better not be a sissy tonight.”

He didn’t say anything. Fay’s best friend, Stacie, showed up about a half hour later.

“Ooh, we get to baby-sit?” she said. Stacie was tall with frizzy black hair that she always pinned on one side with a big purple bow. She liked to touch Timothy—she patted his cheeks and ruffled his hair and squeezed his arm, but not so hard that it hurt, like when Fay did it.

“What are you going to be for Halloween, Timmy? Where’s your outfit?”

“He’s going as a baby,” Fay said.

Timothy told himself he wouldn’t cry. “I’m not a baby,” he said.

“Of course not,” Stacie cooed, glancing behind her to glare at Fay. “Girl, what’s the matter with you? It’s Halloween!”

“Yeah, and we’re stuck with the brat.”

“I’m telling Mom you said I’m a brat,” Timothy said, feigning bravery.

Fay darted over so quick that he shrieked, and Stacie stepped in front of him. “Come on, Fay, quit it. It’s no fun watching you pick on him.”

“You don’t know what it’s like having a little bratty brother,” Fay snapped. “You got sisters. But whatever, I don’t care. You get him dressed then. I’ll get the wine.”

Stacie took Timothy’s hand and led him to his bedroom, where she pretended not to notice the scarecrow costume hanging neatly from the doorknob of his closet. She pulled open the bi-fold door and began rifling through his clothes, saying, “Hmm” and “I wonder where Timmy’s costume can be?” Timothy, accustomed to her gentle teasing but never quite knowing what to say to her, came over and silently pointed out the patchwork overalls and oversized straw hat.

“Oh, isn’t that cute!” Stacie said brightly, and he smiled a little.

She helped him with the outfit, covering her eyes dramatically when he stepped into the denim pants but looping the straps over his shoulders and snapping them into place. Then she led him to the bathroom and applied the paint for his black nose and rosy cheeks. “First red,” Stacie murmured, pressing her thumb firmly on his cheekbone and rubbing it in a circle. “And then black.” She dabbed his nose with her pointer finger. The greasy paint, which smelled like crayons, made Timothy’s cheeks itch. “Don’t rub or it’ll smear,” said Stacie, not unkindly.

Fay appeared in the doorway then, looked stonily at Timothy in the mirror. She held two tall glasses of red wine. “Come on,” she demanded. “We’ve only got a few hours. Let’s get this party started.”

 


 

Timothy sat on the sofa by the front door, swinging his empty candy bucket—a jack-o-lantern with bottomless black triangle eyes and a gaping black mouth. The girls sat in the kitchen, drinking his mother’s wine, their laughter growing louder and louder. They’d dimmed the lights in the living room and shut off the one outside so kids wouldn’t stop for candy. Timothy could hear the laughter and shouts of children as they passed, and he felt bad for being one of the lonely dark homes on the street. He set his jack-o-lantern down and sifted through the big ceramic candy bowl, picking out the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and eating them one by one.

Fay had said she was too big to dress up in an actual costume, but she and Stacie spent a lot of time fixing their hair and makeup. When they finally crashed into the living room, shrieking and laughing wildly, Timothy thought how pretty they looked. Shimmering arcs of lime-green shadow swept over Stacie’s eyes and her lips were glassy pink. She’d wrapped a bright lilac scarf loosely around her neck. His sister was dressed in a denim skirt and a black leather jacket. She’d painted her lips a color that looked both black and red, and teased out her dark hair like a rock star. On her feet she wore baby blue ankle socks and the ruby slippers from last year, when she’d dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

Fay stood over him, smirked and said, “Time to go, farm-boy.”

 


 

Timothy held the slim black strap of his bucket nervously in both hands and tried to remember to say his “Trick or treats” and “Thank yous” at each house. The girls wouldn’t go with him up the driveways or across yards; they stayed on the sidewalk, making silly hooting sounds and waving their arms like ghosts when other kids walked by.

He tried not to be scared, but some of the pathways were too dark—lit only with tiny orange bulbs—or the ground seethed with billowing gray fog, like a graveyard. One porch was circled by a low stone wall lined with jack-o-lanterns. The candles inside them flickered so that their eyes looked alive. Phantom music drifted from unseen speakers, slow strings punctuated with high staccato piano. Timothy stood halfway across the yard, unsure.

“Hurry up, T,” Fay jeered. “Don’t be such a sissy.”

He didn’t want to be a sissy, but anything could jump out from behind that stone wall, where candlelight danced and beckoned from the shadows.

Timothy summoned his courage and took three giant steps. The toe of his shoe had just met the cement lip of the porch when an ear-splitting cry pierced though the hypnotic music, and Timothy cried out too. He stepped back and tumbled hard to the ground, his candy spilling out over the lawn, and then he burst into tears. Stacie was there in an instant, grasping him from under the arms and trying to haul him up, but she was laughing uncontrollably, and he heard Fay from the street, breathless with her own laughter.

“Oh my god, holy shit, that was funny!” Stacie said, and she knelt and hugged him, trembling with giggles. “I’m sorry, Timmy. Really I am, but it was funny, holy hell, you’re not hurt are you, sweetheart?”

Timothy blubbered that he was not hurt but all he wanted to do was go home.

“It was just some scary music,” Stacie said, picking up stray pieces of candy and plopping them back in the bucket. Timothy managed to get to his feet, feeling more foolish than anything. “Here.” She handed him his bucket. “Let’s have some of your candy. That’ll make you feel better.”

She led him to where Fay sat, smoking, at the edge of the property on the same low wall. His sister patted his shoulder amiably. “No worries, T,” she said. “Years from now, you’ll look back on this and laugh. Hey, can I have a candy too?” Timothy chose a sweet for each of them and peeled open a bite-sized candy bar for himself. Once the chocolate hit his tongue he really did feel better.

Fay was straddling the wall, her skirt hiked up to her panties. She leaned far back and swayed. “It’s so beautiful and perfect out here at night. I feel free, like no one owns me anymore and I can do anything, go anywhere.”

Stacie snorted. “You talk such shit.”

“Fuck it. Go anywhere.” Fay leaned over and vomited into the yard, and then her voice bubbled up through sudden tears. “I fucking hate my life. Everything.”

“Girl, you got it good, come on.”

“You know what. Maybe this is it. I’ll disappear tonight like those missing girls from Brayle.”

Photo by Andrei Lazarev on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/SaR-gt6A4uA

“Don’t talk about that, you’ll scare Timmy.”

“You’re not scared, are you, T?”

He didn’t know what to say, then Fay swung drunkenly toward him, nearly knocking him down. She slung an arm around him and pulled him close. “That’s my brother there,” she said. “He’s tough, man, and he ain’t scared of nothing. Right, T?”

Timothy could feel the gallop of his sister’s heart, and he said, “I’m not scared.”

Fay slid down the wall and sat in the grass. She tugged Timothy’s hand and he sat with her, shivering from the cold. A thin jagged cloud speared through the center of the moon. “Years ago,” said Fay, “two girls from Brayle Middle School were out trick-or-treating in this very neighborhood. And they came to a haunted house on the lawn—like one of those you get from the Halloween store. Only this one looked homemade—plywood and cardboard and black paint, with dead leaves scattered around and spiderweb strung everywhere. The strange thing was no one lived on the property then, just like no one lives there now. It’s that old abandoned house on Thistle Street. No one lives there, and no one knows who set up the haunted house the night those girls vanished. But it’s gone up every Halloween since—every Halloween—daring anyone to enter.”

Timothy knew the house Fay was talking about. It was two stories high with a pointy roof and lots of windows, but none of the windows had glass, so when you passed by it looked as if it were staring at you with its empty black holes. Staring.

“The haunted house stretched halfway across the yard and had all sorts of twists and turns so you could get lost easy, and there was no light at the end of the tunnel, right? Because it was night, Halloween night on a new moon. One of the girls was too scared to want to go in there, but the other girl kept pushing her to do it. So they went in. And they never came out.”

“Where’d they go?” Timothy said, afraid he was asking the wrong question and the girls would laugh at him. But neither girl laughed.

“No one knows,” Fay said ominously. “They just disappeared, and they haven’t been heard from since.”

Now Stacie did laugh, but at Fay. “What a bunch of bullshit. Don’t listen to her, Timmy. The only thing scary about that house on Thistle is the stoners who party there every Halloween.”

“No, I’m serious. This really happened; it was like three years ago, before you moved here.”

“Whatever. Urban legend crap. Those girls ran away, and everyone knows it. Can we go now?” Stacie stood and wrapped her arms around herself. “I’m freezing. And hungry. Timothy, you got enough candy, right?”

Timothy had enough of everything. He was miserably cold, and his stomach was erupting in flames with all the candy he’d eaten. His head pulsed with the image of the abandoned house on Thistle Street; he could see the black cloth stapled hastily to the walls of the haunted house flapping in the wind. He could hear the screams of the girls forever trapped inside of it, swallowed in time.

“Yeah, let’s go,” Fay said. “You know what. We’re gonna go check that house on Thistle Street.”

Now Timothy’s stomach turned to ice.

“Girl, you crazy?” Stacie said. Her eyes had flown open wide, and she was shaking her head vehemently. “No way, we gotta get your brother back—”

“I’m going,” snapped Fay, “with or without you. I’m done with this trick or treating baby shit. The real party’s over there. Come on, T.” Fay pulled Timothy roughly up to his feet, and his candy bucket knocked over. Stacie knelt and scooped the candy back in once more, muttering. Then she straightened up, glared at Fay, and said, “Fine. But this is the stupidest idea you’ve ever had, and that’s saying something. That party’s bound to get busted, you know.”

Fay didn’t answer her. Timothy, not having a choice in the matter, followed his sister, praying for his parents to show up. They’d drive back early and see the three of them walking the wrong way, too far away from home, and make them all get in the car and then he could be safe in his bed and sort through his candy (counting the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and setting aside the Lemonheads for his mother, her favorites).

He remembered last year, when he’d dressed up as Darth Vader and carried around his green light saber. Even though he knew Darth Vader used a red one, green was his favorite color. His mom had held his hand and walked him up to every porch and he hadn’t felt scared at all, except maybe at Mrs. Baker’s house when Mr. Baker had jumped out from behind the hedge dressed head to toe in black and holding a real chainsaw. His mother had screamed and then her screams had turned to laughter—high and hysterical—and Timothy hadn’t even had time to realize he was scared before that laughter made everything okay.

Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/BdsYLQKk71w

Timothy shuffled his feet quickly, trying to keep up with Fay. They passed by fewer and fewer groups of kids trailing parents, and more kids that looked almost like grown-ups, some in costumes and others in street clothes. Fay and Stacie spoke to some of them and soon their group of three turned to half a dozen, and then a dozen. The girls pulled at his costume and exclaimed over him the way Stacie sometimes did, and then they forgot about him. He began to fall behind. And then they were there, at the house on Thistle Street.

A thrill of fear shot through Timothy’s heart at the sight of the haunted house. It was a ramshackle construction of posts and cardboard, tarpaulin and sheets—unbalanced and derelict like the house itself. Scattered around the property were older kids in small groups, smoke curling up from all of them. The smoke, which was both familiar like his father’s cigarettes yet strangely sweet, wafted thickly over Timothy and the newcomers. No one was particularly loud, and the mood seemed almost somber; the loudest sounds emanated from around the haunted house—a gothic mix of creaking doors, moaning winds, ghostly laughter and echoed howls. Timothy shrank back and whimpered aloud despite his best efforts not to do so.

Fay heard him. “Oh come on, T,” she said. “It’s just some stupid Halloween CD.” She turned to Stacie. “Let’s go get a drink.”

Timothy watched the girls cross over onto the dilapidated lawn, following trails of smoke, toward one of the larger groups. He sat on the cold sidewalk, drawing his knees up to his chin, not wanting even his toes to touch the edge of the property. He watched as heads turned toward his sister, warily, and then someone pointed in his direction and Fay turned. She called out to him: “T, get over here. Now.”

He stood and walked over, shivering and clutching his candy bucket. The sounds of shrieks and shaking chandeliers and staccato laughter grew louder, and Timothy became aware of a dull hot ache spreading from his heels to his eyeballs. He spoke for the first time in an hour: “I’m tired,” he said. “Can we go home now?”

One of the boys laughed and blew a jet of smoke at him. “Hey,” he said to Fay, “why don’t you take your brother through the haunted house? That’ll wake him up.”

As if on cue, a real scream—high-pitched and terrified—ripped through the night, and two girls and a boy dressed in a grim reaper cloak came tearing out of one end of the haunted house. Fay threw her head back and laughed. She was holding a paper cup and amber liquid sloshed over the rim. Timothy took a step away from her, but she reached out quickly and snatched his hand.

“I don’t want to go!” he said. “What if we get lost like those girls…” All of the kids were laughing now, except for Stacie, who gazed at him vacantly but with an oddly sad smile. She took a deep drag off of a fat cigarette and then passed it to the girl next to her, who wore fairy wings and a lot of drippy makeup. This girl said, “Aw, he’s afraid of the lost girls. I heard they actually ran away and all that other shit is made up to scare little kids. Hey, kid, it’s just a stupid story. Those girls were fucked up, man, and they took off on Halloween night, that’s all.”

But Timothy knew better, and as Fay dragged him toward the haunted house on the lawn of the house on Thistle Street, he heard his own screams mingling with the girls’ inside and knew he would never escape and he would be trapped with them forever.

 


 

Photo by Kamil Feczko on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/BdlDv9YychU

Shrieks. The buzz of a chainsaw. Pounding feet. Laughter. Darkness.

The shrieks were his. And then they weren’t. He didn’t know if he wanted to be found.

Timothy had managed to break free from his sister’s grip but he hadn’t been able to find his way out. He could hear her calling to him but he didn’t know from where. He’d tried crawling through the passageway, but he couldn’t see anything, and when his cheek brushed against a wispy thread of spider webbing his bladder let go.

Timothy curled into a ball and cried. He shut his eyes because whether they were open or shut the darkness was the same. He wondered if this is what it would feel like for eternity. Because he knew he wasn’t leaving. He’d done something wrong and this was his punishment.

A heartbeat pulsed in his throat, and then pounded in his head, and then surrounded him—his whole body—boom boom boom. More screams. More laughter. Timothy slept, his body curled around the smiling plastic pumpkin bucket halfway filled with candy. He slept and dreamed of a river of blood that carried him home.

 


 

Later that night, after a half-hysterical Stacie had pulled him from the haunted house and carried him home, after he’d fallen asleep in his scarecrow costume with the red paint mixed with tears smearing his pillow, Timothy dreamed of the haunted house, and his own cries were strangled and silent as he stared down endless black tunnels of space, where he caught drifts of girls’ hair sweeping around corners and heard the buzz of a chainsaw and grinding sounds and splatters and the pounding of heavy feet chasing, in front of him, behind him.

At one point he woke to Fay in his bed, her face inches from his own and also streaked with dirty tears. “I’m sorry, T,” she whispered. Her breath was sharply sour with alcohol and vomit, and her hair hung in strings around her face. “I know I’m a bad sister. I’m bad all around. You love me anyway though, don’t you?”

He whispered that he did, and this was true. She laid her head on his thin chest and began to cry, and he patted her hair and fell immediately back to sleep.

He woke to Fay pressing something hard and sharp into his palm and his hand automatically closed around it. He opened his eyes. “The shell of light,” she said in a slurred voice. “I named it that because I used to think it glowed like the moon. I thought it was a magic shell. But now it’s yours. When I was little, oh, I was little too you know.” She squeezed her hand around his fist and he winced at the pain as the points of shell dug into his palm. She was hurting him but he knew she didn’t mean to, he knew that. “When I was little I used to try and hear the ocean coming through it. Did you know that, T? That you can hear the ocean in seashells?”

He nodded. “I knowed that but I never had one.”

“Now you do, T.” She leaned over the bed and threw up, and he felt bad. He’d been sick last winter with the flu and then it turned to pneumonia, and he’d thrown up a lot. It burned and you felt like your heart was on fire. Fay laid her head on his pillow and closed her eyes. “The shell of light never worked that way for me. I heard other things. But you keep listening,” she mumbled. “You keep listening for the ocean, because that’s where I’m going soon. The ocean. And then when you hear the waves in your shell you’ll hear me. You’ll know that’s where your sister is.”

“Okay.”

They slept.

 


 

Fay wasn’t there when he woke up the morning after Halloween. Instead, his father slept in a chair in the corner of his bedroom. Timothy watched him for a moment, his head fuzzy, trying to work out why his father would be sleeping in his room. Then Timothy remembered the shell. He blinked down at his hand, which was still folded around it, and saw that it was a very pretty shell—the color of pearl unfurled from a deep salmon pink. He brought the shell up to his ear and was horrified to hear not the waves of the ocean but the screams of the lost girls. He started to shriek, over and over, and then his father was there, his warm hands cupping Timothy’s face and a look of utter devastation on his face, as if he were in pain. That scared Timothy more, and he dropped the shell and cupped his hands around his ears and cried, “What’s wrong, Daddy? What’s wrong with me?”

His father held him and murmured that nothing was wrong with him, that Daddy had made a mistake, that was all, it was Daddy’s fault and he shouldn’t have left him alone with Fay.

Timothy stopped crying, remembering, and he said, “Fay throwed up.” He leaned over the bed searching for the proof of this, but the carpet was clean.

His dad said, “I know, honey. Don’t worry about your sister, she’ll be fine.” But Timothy thought of Fay crying and saying how she wanted to disappear, and he wasn’t so sure.

The following Halloween, Timothy chose a pirate costume, and his father fitted the eye patch and helped him adjust the wig of natty hair. Timothy’s mother went out alone. When his father finished circling Timothy’s eyes with thick black liner and said it was time to go trick-or-treating, a voice called from the top of the stairs.

“Wait. I want to see T.”

His father peered stonily up the staircase. “You’re not going to upset your brother.”

“I just want to see him a sec. Come on, T.”

Timothy wrested his arm from his father’s grip and dashed up the stairs. His sister led him to her room and sat on her bed facing him. She hadn’t dressed up this Halloween at all. Her dark hair was freshly cut, lopped off to her shoulders, and she was dressed in a T-shirt and jeans as usual. Her window was open and the room smelled faintly of sweet smoke. “T,” she said, putting her hands firmly on his shoulders. “You still have my shell, don’t you?”

Timothy nodded, deciding not to correct her in that it was his shell now, she’d given it to him fair and square, but he figured she knew that.

“What do you hear when you really listen?” she asked.

He hesitated, wondering if she knew. Then he said, simply, “Screaming.”

This seemed to startle her, and then she sighed and looked toward the window. “Yeah,” she said softly. “I guess that does make sense.” Then she did something strange; she pulled him to her and kissed him, right on the mouth—one firm, quick kiss, and then she hugged him. “Not even Stacie comes around anymore,” she said. “And Mother hates me. That’s okay. Because you love me, don’t you, T? You always loved me no matter what.”

Photo by Aaron Mello on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/BdlDv9YychU

Timothy nodded, because this was true. He always would love her, although he would never see her again after that night. She disappeared on Halloween, the same as the lost girls of Brayle—vanishing like a phantom with the new moon, leaving no trace for anyone to find her.

But whenever he brought the shell up to his ear and listened—really listened— he could hear his lost sister in the echoes of that faraway fold in time where the screams had turned to the sound of waves breaking against the shore.

 


Elizabeth Maria Naranjo is the award-winning author of “The Fourth Wall” (WiDo Publishing, 2014). Her short fiction and creative nonfiction have been published in “Brevity Magazine,” “Superstition Review,” “Hunger Mountain,” “Hospital Drive,” “The Portland Review,” “YARN,” “Literary Mama,” and several other places. She lives in Tempe, Arizona, with her husband and two children. Find more of Elizabeth’s short stories on her website: www.elizabethmarianaranjo.com.

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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 Nandita Naikas 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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