YARN http://yareview.net The YA Review Network Wed, 11 Jul 2018 12:00:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.7 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/#respond Tue, 10 Jul 2018 12:00:24 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9395 Our last story for the regular season — keep your eyes open for our Humor Contest winners in the next few weeks. In this lovely, lyrical tale, a troubled girl tries to find her way. 

By Milena Nigam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronnie shrugged.

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

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

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

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

“The temperature gauge is going crazy!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

“Who’s an asshole?” she asked.

Duncan knotted his thumb around each knuckle.

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

 


 

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

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

Shani stands up and crosses to the car.

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

“What happened? Your car broke?”

Shani nods. “The engine caught on fire.”

“What about your friend?”

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

“You want to wake him?”

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

“No thanks.”

The two women look at each other.

“You got anything in that car?”

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

“This is it,” she says.

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

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

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

“Shani.”

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

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

“Where you traveling from?”

Shani tries closing her eyes. It feels good.

“New York. State.”

“And you’re headed…?”

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

“Vegas.” She half forms the word.

“Lana, let the girl be.”

Shani hears Lana turn back in her seat.

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

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

“Dancer,” Shani mumbles.

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

Amy taps on her window.

“You hungry?”

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

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

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

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

“You drink coffee, Shani?” Amy asks.

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

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

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

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

“I guess.”

“Oh, shush,” says Lana.

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

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

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

“Yes, I slept,” she answers.

“You slept,” Amy says to Lana.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are my everything,” she says.

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

“Your mom and sister blame me for Janice.”

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

“Oh no you don’t,” said their father.

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

Submissions were sent.

Stories were compiled and read by our readers.

Laughter, giggles, and snorts ensued.

Choices were narrowed down.

Nisha Sharma selected the three best pieces.

Which means…

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

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

Without further ado:

Winner: “Tequila” – Laura Gonzalez

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

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

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

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

Rain

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

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

Dressing up as Groucho Marx

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

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

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

Rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Trish Knox

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Better than us!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s another crash from upstairs.

“You guys comin?”

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

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

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

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

I gather our plates and dump them in the sink.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“C’mon Kat,” Adana calls.

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

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

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

 


 

We all gather round while Nick and Lenny pick teams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kat?” Robbie whispers and slides behind me.

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

“Yeah, what’s so funny?” Sal demands.

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

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

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

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

Robbie rears back away from her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

His eyes drill into me.

I concentrate on the plate and wind up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mika nods. “Later.”

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

“Mom?” Robbie calls.

No answer.

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

I disappear to my room.

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

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

“Did you ask Dad?”

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

His mouth trembles.

“It’s ok, Robbie, she’ll be back.”

He breaks into quiet sobs.

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

“I ttthink…he kkkilled her.”

“No, Robbie. Don’t be silly!”

“I saw blood,” he wails.

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

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

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

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

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

I let out a breath.

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

“Nothing,” Lenny says.

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

I let out a breath.

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

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

“She has a job.”

He laughs this time. “What? Stripping?”

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

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

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

Nick shakes his head.

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

Nick looks at Robbie. Then at me.

He swears softly under his breath. “Fine.”

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thirty cents.” I chew on my glove.

He looks up with a grin. “Got it!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweat streams down my neck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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3 Poems by Cindy Baldwin http://yareview.net/2018/06/3-poems-by-cindy-baldwin/ http://yareview.net/2018/06/3-poems-by-cindy-baldwin/#respond Tue, 26 Jun 2018 12:00:12 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9303 Three poems by Cindy Baldwin

Redemption

you wake // to the tarry sky outside, an echo // of the heaviness in your arms [...]]]>
By Cindy Baldwin

Redemption

you wake
to the tarry sky outside, an echo
of the heaviness in your arms,
legs, eyelids,
each cell bound
in its own ring of pain.

The rain drips
from wet leaves, red leaves,
crimson against that sky,
bleeding across the green
still left there on the tree,
whispering
to the fire beneath your skin.

you want this poem to end
in hope, but death always comes
first: bending sickle
to the harvest, ripping
old from new
until the butterflies
fly free over new blossoms
in spring, and you
are made light again,
remembering what it is to die
and live, to die and live
each moment.

“Summer Leaves” © Masters Quill (https://www.flickr.com/photos/100720454@N07/9637350087)

The Day the Dolphins Came

They came in the twilight of early morning
     Black arcs slicing through the green-grey water, glistening
like obsidian in the dim dawn light. We waded in,
     pajamas saturated by the warm silk of the ocean,
arms outstretched, beckoning to those black fins,
     rubber skin, wide smiles. Dozens, hundreds, swam by us—
always just out of our reach.

At last we returned, wet through, clothes dripping
     huge spots into the sand. And as the morning light sharpened
we watched them swim away to the west
     shining, shining in the silver sea.

The ghost

She lives high up in the maple boughs,
not far from the azure-egged robin’s nest—
in the space between one breath and the next,
the place that is neither here nor there:

She lives, and sometimes when you walk
beneath her tree, you feel her fly down to meet
you, the soft brush of her silent silk fingers
against your thrumming heart

And in that moment you can feel it all:
the visceral sensation of your once-short limbs,
the quicken of the blood inside your veins
remembering, remembering what it was

To be small, to be held in the cup of the world
like a prayer, to drink the sunlight on your skin
and grow ever upward, questing always
for things out of reach of your small arms—

And then you are back to yourself, and leaving
behind once more in her dappled home
the sweet-souled ghost of the child you used to be,
wrapped in gossamer memory.

Cindy Baldwin is a novelist, essayist, and poet. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and daughter, surrounded by tall trees and wild blackberries. Her debut novel, “Where the Watermelons Grow,” will be released from HarperCollins Children’s Books on July 3, 2018. To learn more about Cindy, visit www.cindybaldwinbooks.com.

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Storm, A Castle by the Sea http://yareview.net/2018/06/storm-a-castle-by-the-sea/ http://yareview.net/2018/06/storm-a-castle-by-the-sea/#respond Wed, 20 Jun 2018 12:00:31 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9300 Two poems by Gina Pasciuto

Storm

she’s a force // to be reckoned with // a toss of her cascading hair [...]]]>
By Gina Pasciuto

Storm

she’s a force
to be reckoned with
a toss of her cascading hair
infects young hearts
one word
from the cherry lips
can heal
or cut to the bone
when she steps into a room
people sit up
and take notice
they want to catch her attention
to see recognition
in her deep blue eyes
she’s tough and she knows it
she knows how her presence
creates a full-on gale
and you are beginning to realize
why storms are named after people

“Untitled” © vic xia (https://www.flickr.com/photos/viictoria4/6656172923)

A Castle by the Sea

I told her once,
in a poem I’ll never let her read
because doing that would be
like taking a knife to my guts
and spilling them onto the ground
in front of her, blood dripping
on her stockings, and that would
be weird—I justify so many things
that stir the boiling pot of anxiety
in my head by saying they would
be weird—but I told her once
that I’d build her a castle in my mind
from my words alone
because she was in there so much
that she might as well have
a place to stay.

Imagine it—the perfect, creepy castle,
built from words, stanzas in the foundation
holding together towers of simile,
windows draped with imagery,
surrounded by the ocean of neural
processes that brought the whole thing
into being. Life came from the ocean once,
and now it’s what keeps her alive inside my head.
Sounds like something out of a book,
which I think she would appreciate.
if I ever let her read it.

But it stays here, locked up tight
in my own crumbling mental mansion,
because the ocean that separates us
is way wider than my thoughts
could ever conceive, and I’m sitting
at the shoreline with my toes in the sand,
tossing postcards into the salt breeze
and hoping they arrive at her door
like my love never could.

Gina Pasciuto is a junior at Fontbonne Academy in Milton, Massachusetts. Throughout high school, she has focused on rediscovering herself through poetry. Her work can also be found in the Spring 2018 issue of Girls Right the World, an online literary magazine created by and for young women. Outside of writing, she enjoys theater, karate, podcasts, and advocating for the LGBT community.

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Don’t Look Down http://yareview.net/2018/06/dont-look-down/ http://yareview.net/2018/06/dont-look-down/#comments Tue, 19 Jun 2018 12:00:46 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9336 In “Don’t Look Down,” you’ve got to face your worst fears — whether you want to or not. 

By Ekemini Nkanta

“Quantum Mechanics” © Jamie Wynder https://www.flickr.com

White walls are nothing but trouble. Trust me. I’ve woken up in enough hospitals to know this by heart.

Everyone always falls for the clean, scrubbed look. The cold emptiness never kicks in until it’s too late to turn back — and once you’re in these kinds of places, there’s no way out. Airplanes leave their terminals. Offices close their doors. Modern therapists seal you inside their spherical hubs and run virtual reality tests on you until whatever screws you’ve got loose finally settle back in. It’s just the way the system works.

The static crackling in the speakers means the system is waiting on me.

“Can we just get this thing over with?” I clear my throat, nervously wiping my sweaty palms on my bodysuit. “This ‘one-size-fits-all’ junk is really cutting off my circulation.”

I’m not even graced with a human response. A synthetic female voice pieces together her words in the awkward cookie-cutter style every robot uses, her voice resounding from the walls.

“Welcome to your first cognitive-behavioral therapy session with New Wave Technologies. Our simulation is designed to desensitize you to your fears through gradual exposure in a controlled environment. State-of-the-art equipment will be used to create your virtual reality experience. Responses will be monitored for subsequent evaluation.”

Evaluation? My shoulders sink in defeat. So I’m being graded? Please don’t let this be one of those pass or fail courses. I’ll be coming back here every week for the rest of my life.

“State your current disorder,” the voice commands.

My throat goes dry. I know what I have. Saying it aloud gives it too much power over me, makes it real, makes it my problem. My tongue scrapes like sandpaper against the roof of my mouth. Spit it out. Just say it.

“State your current disorder,” the voice commands.

My throat goes dry. I know what I have. Saying it aloud gives it too much power over me, makes it real, makes it my problem. My tongue scrapes like sandpaper against the roof of my mouth.

Spit it out. Just say it.

“Fear of heights.” I can barely hear my own voice over the sound of my own blood pumping.

“Your disorder is acrophobia.” The voice pauses to play a confirmation tone. “Your simulation will begin shortly.”

Before I know it, the entire room is humming. The projectors hidden behind the walls curved around me are hard at work. I recline my chair until the restraints dig into my stomach. Maybe if I lean back far enough I’ll escape my body — or at least this suit and all the sweat pooling in it. For heaven’s sake, is the temperature doubling by the second? My hands fumble around for the zipper, slipping and sliding and crashing into each other. They’re shaking so violently that they can barely grab onto the fabric. Out. I need to get out.

“Let me out!” The words slip free before I realize they’re mine. “Cancel simulation! End! Terminate! I don’t want to do this anymore, I don’t want to fall, I’m not ready, please—”

The walls reply by blinding me.

White light engulfs me from every angle. I go rigid, too scared to move an inch. Silence fills in the gaps between my ragged breaths. The wait feels endless.

And then the room comes alive.

Soft music fades in from the background static. I hear guitar notes being plucked from their strings by slow, careful fingers: gentle, yet deliberate. The highs and lows blend together until they’re nearly layered in harmony. A sigh I didn’t know I’d been holding escapes me, making my shoulders deflate.

I blink twice and the skies ease in. Cloud textures emerge from the walls of the sphere before being painted in a tropical wash of colors. The leaves of palm trees generate line by line, fanning out above my head. It drapes close enough to brush past my face with a breeze. When I reach my hand out to touch the ends, the space I close my fingers around is empty. No way… high-definition holograms?

The world continues to build itself in real-time, slowly surrounding me. Trees line themselves up along the horizon, twisting and turning in strokes of brown and green. Vines criss-cross over my head. Tiny droplets dance along them, splashing my cheek when the breeze picks up. I angle my head to watch the scene unfold and take a spray of mist to the face. My eyes close instinctively, the tension between my eyebrows melting away.
The details of my reality set in as afterthoughts. Beneath me, I feel a thin wall hugging the curve of my back, all the way down to my legs. I’m slowly rocking with the breeze. I lower my gaze to my feet and get a better look at what I’m resting on: a thin sheet cocooning my body in mid-air. My lips part in awe… and then terror.

I’m lying in a hammock.

The realization hits me hard. How far up am I? I jut my head out without a second thought. My vision warps in and out, stretching the ravine below me into an infinite drop. No, no, no… I bunch up the folds of the fabric in trembling fists.

“Looking down from Nevada Falls” © Ryan Grimm https://www.flickr.com

“Help!” My voice breaks the soundscape, cracking above the whisper of rushing water and the cawing of birds. “Somebody help me!”

Before I know it, the synthetic robot voice is jarring me back to reality. “Let’s start some simple breathing exercises to help you manage your anxiety,” she says.

My jaw drops, despite myself. “Are you kidding me?”

She ignores my attitude and carries on. “Take a long, slow breath in through your nose.”

“I don’t need breathing exercises. I need to get down!”

“Hold your breath to the count of three.”

The thudding behind my ribs grows stronger. “Please!”

“Exhale slowly through pursed lips, while you relax the muscles in your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach.”

I groan, feeling beads of sweat gather on my forehead. Years of artificial intelligence and millions of dollars in development, and their robot can’t listen?

“The goal is to overwrite your fear responses with healthy coping techniques,” she chirps in that indifferent, computer-generated voice of hers. “Cooperating will lower your stress levels.”

I throw my head back. It’s no use. She’ll just keep me trapped in the same loop until I either comply or some secret time limit elapses and I automatically fail. I search frantically for another way out, cycling through the options in my head.

I want to get better. I want to travel the world; I want to wake up one day in a real home and not a hospital bed. I want to see color —- no more white walls, no more holograms. But more than anything, I want my life back. If this is the only way to get it, then so be it.

I take my first breath.

 

Winner of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards © Alliance for Young Artists & Writers/Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Used with permission.

 


Ekemini Nkanta is a dreamer in the “city that never sleeps.” She’s graduating from Brooklyn Technical High School with no regrets, and was recently named a National Gold Medalist in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. This fall, she’ll be learning how to design games and apps at NYC’s College of Technology. You can watch her splatter paint everywhere on Instagram at @merakibyekemini.

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General Submissions Close for the Summer http://yareview.net/2018/06/general-submissions-close-for-the-summer/ http://yareview.net/2018/06/general-submissions-close-for-the-summer/#respond Fri, 15 Jun 2018 12:00:04 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9327

“Lupines” © Laura Williams McCaffrey

General submissions are now closed, but we’ll have lots of great stories and poems for you to keep reading through July, including our Humor Contest Winners.

Happy summer writing! We look forward to reading your submissions again in the fall.

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From Autumn to June http://yareview.net/2018/06/from-autumn-to-june/ http://yareview.net/2018/06/from-autumn-to-june/#comments Wed, 13 Jun 2018 12:00:23 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9319 In this powerful story by YARN alum Elizabeth Maria Naranjo, a young girl tries to make sense of a family secret. 

By Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

“new gournal” © oceanaria https://www.flicker.com

In fourth grade we made time capsules from cardboard tubes. Our teacher gave each of us a worksheet with pictures of rockets and we had to fill out all sorts of questions, like “My favorite food is __________” and “In ten years I’ll be ________.” My answers were “shredded chicken tacos” and “college somewhere in England.” The idea was there would be a record of who we were, and maybe someday someone would read it.

That same year I started writing in a diary, probably because I had a big crush on Ryan Garner and was too embarrassed to tell anyone about it. I got over my crush later that year but I kept writing about all the things I couldn’t say. Maybe if you were here it would have been different. We’d talk about things.

Anyway, I thought I’d write to you and then put the pages in a time capsule and bury it. So there’s a record.

I’ve lived all my life without knowing you. Fourteen years. I’ll still never know you, but at least now I know of you. You existed once, and nobody gave you a name, and I’m sorry about that. I did the math and you would have been born all those years ago in June. So that’s your name; I hope you like it. You’re June, and I’m Autumn. Your sister.

I should tell you about our mother. She’s a wonderful person, and I know she must have had a good reason … I’m sorry. That’s not what I want to say, it’s just that I’m trying to get used to this. It’s like taking two opposite things and trying to make them fit and make sense together, but there’s no way to do that. Let me just describe her to you because I’m sure you want to know.

Her name is Penny and she has auburn hair, the kind that’s like fire in the sun. She has brown eyes and I bet you would have too. She sings in the shower and she’s kind to everyone and her favorite book is Anne of Green Gables, which she reads to me every year in December.

Mom had been having bad headaches so she went to the doctor—this was about two months ago. It was actually two months, one week, and three days ago. She’s okay, they gave her some medicine and told her to take some time off work. But her appointment that day was first thing in the morning so she printed out her paperwork the night before and I happened to look at one of the sheets when I went to print my biology report.

I wouldn’t have read it if I hadn’t been so worried there was something she wasn’t telling me. About her headaches. Lucy Peterson’s mom died of cancer last year and Lucy said she had no idea it was cancer until almost the end. Her parents had said it was something to do with her mom’s liver but that she was getting better.

Anyway, I looked at the sheet—a medical history—and that’s how I found out.

Number of pregnancies: 2

Number of live births: 1

Have you ever had an abortion: Y

Date: Nov/2004.

I was born in November 2003. We would have been less than two years apart.

 


 

When I asked her why, I thought she’d tell me that she had no choice. That there was a medical condition or something, that it would have been dangerous. But that’s not what she said. She said, “It’s complicated.”

Everything’s complicated.

Like how I look at her sometimes when she’s making dinner and humming along to the radio or sitting on the couch with Dad and a bowl of popcorn, laughing and waving me over to watch some silly commercial, and I wonder How can someone with so much love in her heart not choose life?

Like how I believe in my own heart that it was her right to make that choice but I still feel so hurt because she chose to give away something that was mine, too, this one possible future that I would have wanted more than anything. Someone to share childhood with in all the ways you can’t share with parents. Because no matter how great they are, at the end of the day they’re still adults who have each other and you’re the kid.

In the past, when I asked Mom why she and Dad never had another baby, she always said because I was enough. She’d point out the things we would never have been able to do, like go to Mexico every summer. I love the beach there. The water is brilliant blue and the air is salty and you can spend the whole day just walking up and down the shore drinking bottles of orange soda and playing in the surf. Then you stretch out on a beach towel under an umbrella and doze in the shade with sand between your toes. Mexico’s my favorite place in the whole world, but I would have traded every single trip to the beach if it meant having you instead.

 


 

There’s a website that shows each stage of gestation, so I know what you looked like curled up inside our mother’s womb. Maybe you were only nine weeks, maybe ten, but you already had fingers and toes. Your eyes were fully formed, although you never got to open them. You had a little nose and earlobes and a mouth. You were amazing.

 


 

I’m not an unhappy person. I mean, I get lonely. My best friend, Kat, moved away last year, and I have lots of friends at school but we never really hang out after. If I’m not playing music or watching something on my computer then my room’s quiet because who would I talk to in here? I guess I didn’t think of that as being lonely before, not really. Not until now.

 


 

Our dad’s name is William. He’s a math teacher at the high school, and he tells really bad jokes. He gets freckles in the sun. I tried to talk to him about you since Mom doesn’t want to talk about it (I don’t blame her, I don’t), but he just said, “I’m sorry you found out about that, but it was something your mother and I decided together and there’s nothing to discuss.”

I know a little. I know that the year after I was born Dad lost his job and things got scary for a while. We had a different house then, a bigger one. I don’t know. I probably shouldn’t even be telling you this, I just wanted you to know that I could tell he felt bad and that’s why he sounded angry when I brought it up. Maybe he blames himself. I know he would have loved you every bit as much as he loves me. That’s really what I was trying to say.

 


 

A few things about me: I was born late in November, almost winter. Everything about me is winter. I stay up too late, and I like sleeping till noon on the weekends. I know all the constellations and sometimes after midnight I sneak out of my window and onto the roof to look at them. No one knows that but you. My horoscope sign is Scorpio which fits because Scorpios are ruled by the moon. I love the snow, but I bet you would have hated it. You would have been a summer baby, through and through. You would have dragged me out of bed every summer morning to run through sprinklers in our bathing suits and sell lemonade on the sidewalk. You would have been bright and full of energy and sunshine and everything I’m not and you probably would have really gotten on my nerves some days but I still wish you were here, June.

 


 

I’m going to wrap up this letter soon, but maybe I’ll write to you again some other time. I just want to get these pages in the capsule and find the right place to bury them, so we’ll exist somewhere together in the real world, and not just in my mind. I’m putting in a bunch of clippings from magazines of random things that remind me of you, or the you that I imagine you’d be—dark eyes with long lashes, freckles like Dad’s, a princess backpack with pony pins stuck all over it, glitter pink nail polish, sun on the water. A drawing I made of the two of us in the treehouse out back, where I sit alone sometimes in the afternoon reading, or at night, watching the stars. Now that I think about it, that would be the perfect place for this plastic box filled with memories that might have been—in the ground beneath the treehouse where we would have made so many of them.

 


 

Sometimes I wish I’d never found out about you. How you almost were. I hate to say that in case it sounds mean, but I want to be honest because sisters shouldn’t keep secrets from each other. Really, sometimes I wish I’d never known. Then I could pass the little middle schoolers waiting for the bus and not think, Maybe June would have had hair like that girl’s, like the color of sand. I could think of all the ways I’ve had a good life without wondering if I’ve deserved it. I wouldn’t lie awake at night wondering, Why am I here, and not you?

Why not both of us?

“red umbrella” © enki22 https://www.flicker.com

 


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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