YARN http://yareview.net The YA Review Network Tue, 19 Feb 2019 13:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.9 The Writer http://yareview.net/2019/02/the-writer/ http://yareview.net/2019/02/the-writer/#respond Tue, 19 Feb 2019 13:00:00 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9639 A February pop-up — a story of love and writing by Daniel Craig Roche.

 

2008 was the year the number sixteen appeared on my birthday cake. A flame flickered above the number one and another danced on top of the number six. I couldn’t think of a decent wish, but everyone stared at me.

My friend Kathy sat across from me, her beautiful but sad eyes squinting at me from the other side of her thick glasses. Without saying a word, she forced me to make a wish that mattered, so I took in a deep, meaningless breath and blew the candles out. Small strings of smoke rose into the air and disappeared, much like the years those candles represented.

After the party, everyone left and Kathy stopped to talk to me before walking home. “What did you wish for?” she asked.

I wished for her to be happy, but of course she couldn’t know that. Her sad eyes would erupt into tears if she knew how I saw her.

“If I tell you, it won’t come true.”

That seemed to satisfy her. She wished me a happy birthday and walked home.

 


 

“Orionid Meteor Shower is Underway” © Jeff Sullivan http://www.flickr.com

My dad took me into the yard to watch the meteor shower that night. He let me drink a beer with him while tiny sparks of light streaked across the sky. The dark blue looked like the plate I ate my birthday cake on. It surrounded the moon in a cloudy mist that disappeared where the stars took over. Everything looked so big, making me feel small yet somehow important.

“You should take a picture,” Dad told me. His voice sounded distant even though he sat right next to me. “This is a big day. You’ll want to remember it.”

I snapped a picture with my phone. When I looked at it, everything seemed wrong. The stars weren’t there, and the moon lost its surrounding clouds of dark blue and purple. The picture looked more like a flashlight submerged in murky water than it did a vast universe harboring unknown worlds.

“It doesn’t even look like the same sky,” I said.

Dad sipped his drink. “A picture never does justice to the real thing.” He inhaled through his nose and I watched his chest expand. “Breathe deep,” he said. “Take a sip of your beer. Let your senses do the remembering for you.”

The sweet night air cooled my lungs but the beer tasted bitter. Maybe I didn’t like the taste as much as Dad. When he wasn’t looking, I dumped it out behind my chair.

Ditching my drink didn’t help. Something about the moment felt wrong. Holding the phone in my hand, I saw an image on the screen peering out from a three-inch window. Another spark flew underneath the moon, and I was glad my beer was empty.

 


 

2008 was also the year I learned how to drive. Dad handed me the keys one Saturday morning and told me to drive him to the diner. It became a ritual for the next six months. The endless pavement rolled underneath the car’s white hood. Dad and I enjoyed breakfast alone some Saturdays, but Kathy came for the ride most of the time. She started walking across the yard early almost every week just to meet us in the driveway. She still wore her thick reading glasses and she still needed to squint to see through them.

Kathy liked to quote book passages on our rides to the diner.

“Do you know who wrote that?” she’d ask from the back seat. I’d shrug my shoulders and notice her sitting back with her arms crossed. “You should read more,” she’d say. Kathy loved to tell me that, and she loved staring out the window afterwards, as though bored by my ignorance.

Books dominated Kathy’s life. Many people our age played video games or watched television. They looked at books as one might look at a chore. I wondered how books could be so bad when girls like Kathy ruined their eyes just to stare at them all day. “Reading is my escape,” she once told me. I could only guess what she meant by that, since she never let me visit her at home.

“Why do you need an escape?” I asked.

Her sad eyes welled up with tears, so I never asked again.

Making Kathy smile became a priority. Because of her, I worked extra hard in English class, writing happy stories and poems when the teacher gave me an assignment, and Kathy would listen to me read them then sit back with her arms crossed. She stared out the window in the classroom, much like she did on our Saturday morning car rides. I thought, one day I’ll get her to lean forward and watch me instead of the window. One day, I’ll be her escape.

Words were like particles to me back then, small things I could piece together to capture nature’s beauty. For me, writing was better than photography, because words floated around my head until the unseen hand of God put them in their proper order. I liked watching all those meaningless words come together into a sentence and form complex molecules with the twist of my pencil. The night sky went from an image on my phone to a vast universe that stretched onto the page like the shooting stars that fell on my birthday.

 


 

In 2009, I gave up writing about the universe because the words never fit together right. I stuck with all the cliché subjects, like teenage angst and love. I wrote about those things for fear of ruining the unknown world I cared about.

My English teacher asked us to write a description of someone we knew. Saturday morning came, and I chose to write about Kathy. She had her shoulder turned towards me most of the time, her eyes cast out the window. I made observations without her knowing it. Her hair looked blonde in places when the sun hit it, and sometimes the eyes behind her glasses shone with moist sadness. Some days they looked black and empty, but held my attention just the same. My words never captured how beautiful she looked, but my pencil captured who I thought she was — how I wanted her to be. We saw each other almost every day, and I still found her mysterious.

Kathy lived a couple houses down, so I saw her almost every day. She finally got laser surgery that reduced the thickness of the glasses she wore. She read everything I wrote and always leaned back in her seat and crossed her arms afterward.

“Starting to Write” © David Melchor Diaz http://www.flickr.com

“Write about me,” she told me one day. “I want to know how you see me.”

I never told her about my English assignment. She’d see it as an insult and scoff at me, making me wish I’d never chosen to write about her in the first place.

Because of Kathy, I thought teenage girls were the hardest people to please. She eventually grew agitated with me and stopped asking me to write about her. She even stopped coming to the diner with me and stopped sitting near me in class. She rarely left her house, which was odd, considering her need for constant escape. The sorrow in her eyes leaked into the rest of her body, her shoulders slouched and she walked around with her head down, staring at the ground as she made her way through the school’s halls.

I spotted her rummaging through her locker one day. “What’s your problem?” I asked.

“What’s yours?”

It wasn’t fair that she expected me to answer her question without answering mine first, so I did something terrible.

I walked away from her.

About a month went by and I wished she would talk to me again, but I was too shy to approach her again. One time I caught her attention and mistook her wide eyes as an invitation, but she returned her gaze to the window. I learned to stop watching her after that. She was impossible, so I gave up trying to make her happy.

Teenage boys are much simpler. We’re so easy to please. Take me, for instance. I just wanted to be with a girl and hold her hand.

I learned that younger girls didn’t like to talk about writing as much, so they were the ones I dated. They’d sit in my car with me while shooting stars zoomed through my body, then they’d lean in and kiss me. I refused to talk about writing with them.

One girl noticed my open notebook in the backseat of the car. “You write?” she asked. I placed my lips on hers before she could ask again.

Another girl took me by the hand and asked me to join her on the hood of my car. “Watch the stars with me, “she said.

I felt the churn of a twirling galaxy. The stars framed the black hole like a pair of thick reading glasses. The light stopped bending when she touched me. The moon was just a moon, and the clouds around it just gray wisps of cotton.

I couldn’t deny it any longer. I was in love, and not with the girl who lay next to me.

After that night, I tried writing about the universe again. The words flowed from me as though breathing out from my lungs. I scared myself and remembered why I stopped writing about it. Even if my tears dripped onto the paper, writing felt like taking something that didn’t belong to me, then screwing it up by piecing the wrong words together. Instead, I wrote about a smile I’d never witnessed stretched upon the face of a girl I thought I knew. The words looked pretty but none of it compared to a real smile. When I finally admitted that I could never write the sound of a young girl’s heart bursting with love, I put my pen and paper away.

 


 

Kathy walked across the yard one day because she read a book and the main character reminded her of me. She apologized for being so stubborn.

“I guess we have that in common,” I said. “I’m sorry, too.” I stuck my hand out for her to shake, but she shoved it aside and hugged me instead.

The shooting stars came back and wouldn’t go away. They persisted even when I felt her warm tears fall on my shoulder. I guess she was trying to ignore them, too.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

She nodded. “I am now.”

I don’t know what caused her to outgrow her awkward rebellion against me, but we both realized we could talk to each other about everything. We began spending every day together. Since she seemed so upfront and honest, I never asked her why she stopped talking to me. I was afraid to know.

Kathy was a mystery, and I decided that’s what I liked most about her.

In the fall of our senior year, we went to the cemetery and sat underneath a tree. We flung acorns into the bushes and talked about old times.

“You still brood a lot,” I told her. “I guess some things never change.”

She laughed at that. “Some things are best left untouched,” she said. “You changed, though. You were so different back then. I remember you always carried a notebook with you.”

I tried a smile, but the memories of having a pencil in my hand crept up on me. The black, star strewn world inside my head once forced my fingers into motion, endlessly plowing through the page with soft strokes of silver-gray. I missed it.

“You were always into writing,” Kathy carried on. “Do you still do it?”

“Not for a long time.” I tried forcing the memory of bitter beer from my head, but sparks lit across my black sky. “No one cares about writing, Kathy.”

“You care,” she said. “You always cared.” She flung another acorn and turned away from the woods. Her hand fell on my arm, and her sad eyes peered at me through the rim of her glasses. “I still want you to write about me. I want to know how you see me.”

Believe me, I wanted to write about her. I wanted to do everything for her, I just didn’t know how.

Kathy wasn’t like the younger girls, the ones who took me by the hand and asked me to sit on my hood with them. She was so much more. I wished I could find a way to tell her that.

 


 

That afternoon I contemplated love, because I didn’t know if I was in love with Kathy or with the way she made me view the world around me.

I did know that I enjoyed watching her play.

She climbed the tree like a little girl and swung her feet out from underneath a large branch. Her arms stretched out and plucked acorns from the leaves and tossed them down at me, then I caught a glimpse of laughter from behind her glasses. She climbed farther up as though nothing could ever hurt her, or maybe she believed I would always be there to catch her should she fall.

“Tree – Mendon” © Simple Joy’s http://www.flickr.com

I lay on my back and saw her move farther away from me, into the darkening sky where the colorful leaves swirled down to meet her. I heard her body moving with the wind, dancing with the leaves, and I wondered if I’d ever feel free enough to enjoy the world like she did in that moment.

Why couldn’t I learn how to surround the moon? If not for her, then for the shooting stars.

I didn’t lie to her about not writing, but I still kept a notebook in the back seat of my car. Every now and then I’d flip through the pages and imagine them filled with the universe, then a lump would rise in my throat. When I saw falling leaves, full moons or a pair of sad eyes, I felt a longing that would bring guilt along with it. All these beautiful things that could never belong to me.

 


 

A week after that afternoon in the cemetery, I could still close my eyes and see the leaves twirling through Kathy’s outstretched arms. My jealousy turned to anger when I saw all the things I loved moving with her — for her. She continued walking across my yard to meet me, and I would let her, despite her far-away stares, despite her crossed arms, and despite the ease with which she drew the entire universe into the palm of her hands.

She walked across my yard the day before Thanksgiving. She brought the year’s first snow with her. I watched the small flakes of white dance around her, much like the fall leaves in the cemetery. Everything moved when she moved. Seasons changed for her.

We sat in my car and our breath fogged the windows. She couldn’t stare outside anymore, only at me.

“I want you to write me,” Kathy said. Her arms were crossed to protect herself from the cold. I knew because she didn’t lean back in her seat. She leaned toward me, so I used my finger to write on the windshield.

Brooding, bossy, persistent.

She read the words and leaned closer. “I’m serious,” she said. “Write about me. What are you so scared of?”

“Nothing,” I said. “I just don’t care to write anymore. I don’t have anything good to say.” That was the first time I lied to her. My lips were thieves, stealing from the universe. It felt unnatural and awful. I remembered the snowflakes and the leaves, her joy when throwing acorns at me and how easily it all came to her.

I hated the way beauty moved with her, like she didn’t even try. Maybe Kathy deserved my dishonesty.

She held her phone out and pulled me toward her. “Don’t,” I said, then I heard the camera click. I blinked into her smiling face and waited for her to show me the picture.

“I’ll show you when you write about me,” she said.

I thought about what the picture might look like. If the colors would do justice to the real thing.

She fumbled with some buttons. “Which filter should I use?”

“Black and white,” I told her.

Her eyes scanned the picture as she scrolled through the samples.

“Black and white,” I said again.

She looked at me, and a sadness formed behind her glasses. “Fall leaves, summer grass. What good is a picture without colors?”

“Black sky. White stars, white moon. ”

She fumbled with some more buttons.

“Show me,” I said, growing agitated.

She used her finger to write on the windshield. ‘I’ll show you when you write about me.’ She signed her name underneath it and told me to do the same.

“You’re asking me to sign a contract with you?”

She placed her phone in her pocket and nodded. I don’t know why that picture felt so important. Maybe it was the smile on her face the moment she took it. I wanted to see her face that way again, aglow with joy and mischief, so I signed my name on the windshield, right next to hers. We had a deal.

Days passed and I still didn’t know what to write.

 


 

Gray clouds covered the blue sky and the cold wind blew snow across the grass. The haze of warm days removed itself from the air and painted a crisp picture of the stars above me. The air grew thin and cold when Kathy came to me a few days later.

“I still have that picture of us,” she said. “Did you write about me yet?”

“No,” I admitted.

She didn’t even flinch. “Let’s go back to the cemetery.”

By then the grass was stiff and it crunched beneath our feet. I wanted to lie down and freeze into the ground forever, then Kathy said, “Look.” She placed her phone in my hand and showed me the picture of her and me, black and white, sky, stars and moon. She left me standing there and walked toward our tree with her hair floating underneath a pink wool cap.

My eyes drew themselves to the palm of my hand, which held the picture of Kathy and me. I looked so far away with my jaw clenched tight, eyes dark. A hoodie cast a shadow along the sides of my face, hiding me from the world. Then there was Kathy, her white teeth contrasting with the eternal blackness in her eyes.

I wanted to crush the phone under my boot. All the shades of gray looked perfect. My face lost and agonized, but she made me beautiful. I thought of clouds, moon cotton of blue and purple. Then it started to rain. A cold drip rolled down the back of my neck, and another landed on Kathy’s phone, right underneath her grinning mouth. I could see its rounded edges, as eternal as the universe itself, then it tugged me back to that night with my dad, sipping beer and watching tiny sparks explode against the sky. In my mind I tasted the drink and loved the bitterness of it. Then I heard my dad’s voice, so far away in the wide open darkness.

‘A picture never does justice to the real thing.’

As I recalled the two candles from my sixteenth birthday, I realized the tiny dancing flames weren’t something that died away with a single breath. Fire isn’t something that had to end in smoke, it simply changed shape and floated away.

The rain came down harder. Kathy climbed the tree, laughing, her legs dangling. I paused, because I realized what she’d been trying to tell me. The stars, the leaves, snow and rain, even the fire, all raced towards the same place in time, because Kathy didn’t want me to simply write about her. She wanted to know how much I loved her.

Several frozen drops slid down my neck and woke me from my trance. It became clear that the tree carrying Kathy reached up toward the great sky that stretched over everything I knew and loved, and I could never let that escape from me again.

Another raindrop fell on the picture, but this one came from my eye, falling from the great big sky that lived inside my head. I slid the phone into my pocket.

“Kathy!” I ran to escape the falling rain and made my way over to her. “I want to write you,” I said. “I’m ready to show you how I see you!”

The wind picked up until cold bullets pelted against my skin. I raised my arms and lifted myself into the branches. My body wanted to be somewhere beautiful. The glow in Kathy’s face, the playful smile of her eyes, the relentless attention from the cold rain and the hollow roar of the wind. I had everything I needed but a pencil and paper. I would write from the universe in her eyes and describe the world exactly as she saw it. The oceans would breathe her name until she leaned into me with her arms uncrossed, waiting to fly above the trees. And if she never chose to love me I would still write for her everyday, because the night sky spread out inside of me and all my shooting stars fell for her.

“I want to write you,” I said again, my voice cracking while Kathy’s legs kept dangling. She found an acorn and plucked it from the tree, then flung it at me and laughed as the stars and the fire, the wind and the rain all closed in around us with the stroke of an invisible pencil, trapping us inside that perfect moment forever.

“Milky Way” © Chris Devers http://www.flickr.com

 


Daniel Craig Roche is a New England native with over thirty short stories, poems and memoirs published in both online and in print magazines, including “Ariel Chart” and “YARN.” His novel, “Corpse Lily,” is due for release in 2019 (Rhetoric Askew Publishing.) Learn more about him and his creative work at danielcraigroche.wordpress.com

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Interview with Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan, Authors of Watch Us Rise http://yareview.net/2019/02/interview-with-renee-watson-and-ellen-hagan-authors-of-watch-us-rise/ http://yareview.net/2019/02/interview-with-renee-watson-and-ellen-hagan-authors-of-watch-us-rise/#respond Wed, 13 Feb 2019 13:00:02 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9630 To continue to celebrate the release of Watch Us Rise, we were so pleased to offer an interview with Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan

Writing Process:
YARN: We’d really love to hear about the process of writing this unique book! How did you develop the story idea? How did you develop the concept for the blog of essays and poems?

RW: We knew we wanted to feature poetry in the book so as the story developed, we decided that it would be mandatory for all students to be in a school club and that each club would have to make blog posts. The blog really helped us shape the plot. We wanted to make sure no words were wasted, so even the comments section on the blog is crucial to the plot. The poems and essays the girls write are in direct response to what’s happening at their school, in their communities. The blog becomes a space for the girls to truly express how they feel. It’s the space they create to make their voices heard.

YARN: We’re so curious to hear how you worked together as writers. How was this process similar to and different from the ways you each usually work? Did you each choose your protagonist and stick in her point of view, or did you collaborate on both characters? How did each of your experiences with poetry inform your writing and your development of the characters?

EH: We truly wrote all of “Watch Us Rise” together. I wrote all of the chapters and poems from Chelsea’s voice and Renée wrote from Jasmine’s voice. It was absolutely a collaborative process – we created the timeline and storylines for our characters and wrote most of it in back to back desks in my living room. We would write chapters and then share with each other to provide feedback and next steps. It was such an incredible process — and made it feel much more like a dialogue. We really got to share ideas and plot points throughout — I loved the entire process. In terms of poetry, I really started out writing poems in middle and high school. It was a way to get my emotions out on the page, and for Chelsea, she uses poetry as a way to speak back to and challenge the world around her.

YARN: For each of you, what was your writing path? How did you first know you were “a writer,” someone who wanted and needed to write regularly? Once you knew, what did you do to make your dream a reality?

RW: I identified as a writer when I was very young. I knew I was a writer because even when given the opportunity to do something else, like play outside or go to the mall, I was content with my journal and a pen. I knew I was a writer because whenever something really good or really bad would happen, I’d want to write about it. By the time I was in eighth grade, I had written the spring production for my school. In high school, I was in journalism, wrote poetry for the literary magazine, and took writing workshops during school breaks and summer vacations. So in a way, I have always been a writer. Before any book deal or professional obligation to write, I wanted–needed–to write. Being a writer and an author are two different things. Once I realized that I wanted to get published, I took writing courses at The New School in New York City and that was life changing. I not only learned about the craft of storytelling, particularly for young people, but I met so many people who were pursuing the same dream. That was motivating and encouraging. We supported each other and shared resources, attended readings together and really immersed ourselves in the literary community. I think that, along with the courses, helped prepare me to be a published author.

EH: I also knew I was a writer from a very young age. I loved to tell stories and entered a writing contest in elementary school that was all about me and my best friend Sally, who was also my next door neighbor. I won the contest and remember feeling so proud that my words were being read. I have kept a journal since the 8th grade and have dozens of them that are full of poems, short stories and drafts of novels. They follow my entire life, and I always felt so comforted by words. They were a safety net for me, and a place where I could feel like myself. In high school, I auditioned for the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts and it changed everything for me. Kelly Norman Ellis was one of my teachers and she was living her life as a professional writer, so I wanted that life too. I got my BFA in acting at the University of Kentucky, and we got the chance to do experimental theatre and really write our own shows. I got the chance to do a solo show for my senior thesis and we also wrote a play called The Man Chronicles and debuted it in our black box series. To be able to collaborate with other artists and use my writing has always been essential. I went on to get my MFA at The New School and working with Sapphire, Dani Shapiro and Darcey Steinke helped to shape my vision for what I wanted my career to look like. It has been a long process for me, but I have tried to be steady and keep working toward building a community around me and staying focused on craft – figuring out the best ways to tell stories.

YARN: What advice might you give teens who feel that the writing assignments they have simply don’t allow them to express themselves most effectively? Maybe these assignments don’t address issues they really want to write about. Or maybe these assignments don’t allow them to write in ways they love to write. How might a young writer balance what’s required of them and pursue their writing passions when these don’t seem to align?

RW: I felt that way a lot in school and I think that’s why I always kept a journal and wrote poetry and plays on my own, without having an assignment from teachers. That’s the powerful thing about creative writing — you don’t need anyone to tell you what to write, you don’t need expensive tools to create. Just pen, paper, and imagination. I was always writing outside of what was assigned in class. And when it was appropriate, I made sure that school assignments included the voices of communities that were often overlooked.

YARN: What advice would you give young writers who’d like to #WriteLikeaGirl but aren’t quite sure what that means to them? How might they start to explore that aspect of who they are?

EH: I think the best advice would be to just start. If you can’t find your voice represented the way you want it to be, then start writing and finding a way to share that — starting your own blog, sharing it with your family and friends, on social media, at open mic events or talent shows. And if there are no events in your town or school, then start one! Find a crew of friends who are interested in sharing work and start a writing workshop. Ask a teacher to use their room after school, or a librarian to host a feminist book club or a space where people can gather and talk about what’s on their minds. You can also reach out to your public library or a local coffee house to see if you can partner with them. Try and find camps and programs where you can go to pursue your art — scholarships and contests — check out the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. You can chart your own path — and write your own stories. You just have to begin.

YARN: “Watch Us Rise” is so, so incredible in many ways. One of the things we loved was that the story offered an honest depiction of tough situations but also much that was positive — a vision of possibility for teens who’d like to create art, become activists, and form friendships and mentorships. Was this your intention? If so, why? If not, how did that aspect of the story become important as you wrote?

RW: We set out to write something realistic so that meant we needed to write about the everydayness of being a teenager—crushes, arguments with parents, angst with teachers. The tough themes, like Jasmine’s father having cancer and the tension at school, are there too because we know that life is often a combination of the bitter and the sweet happening right alongside each other. Even in turmoil—and sometimes because of it—we can rise. We can create, we can be a part of something bigger than ourselves. I don’t know if it was our intention to have this at work in the book but I know in our own lives, we’ve had to endure tough things while also being inspired to create and love. Maybe we instinctively drew on that for the characters in “Watch Us Rise.”

YARN: This book is an overtly intersectional feminist story. It offers political viewpoints, but it’s not a story in which characters seem to strictly follow one narrow political pathway. They have complex beliefs and behaviors. What choices do you think you made to ensure that the story had a defined political viewpoint revealed through the complexity of teens’ lives?

EH: We knew we wanted the story to be deeply rooted in the friendship between Chelsea and Jasmine. From there, we started to think about what they cared about and what was on their minds. We started to see them take shape – and poems about womanhood, beauty, family, race, identity and feminism (to name just a few), started to show up. Their voices kept getting louder and louder as they started to define what they believed in. I hope readers see that they are complicated, nuanced characters who are not perfect, and are struggling to find out how to be strong, independent women, as they are up against the machine of media telling them they are not enough. We wanted young women to see themselves as powerful and worthy of love and attention and healthy relationships in friendships and partnerships. To me, the political viewpoint is loving who you are and building a community around you who sees you — and loves you for who you are. And if those things are in place, you can really rise up and create the kind of world you want to live in.

YARN: 2018 has been called the second “Year of the Woman” thanks to much positive feminist activism and movements such as #MeToo. Did you draw inspiration from the cultural climate as you wrote? How do you hope the women of these movements and other women receive your book? What about men? Is there a message here for them, too?

EH: Yes, this book is definitely a response to the #MeToo movement. This is young women re-writing the narrative and putting themselves in the center of the story. In many ways it’s a message for young women to stand up for what they want — and that could mean talking back to the media, writing letters and starting campaigns to get more representation or disrupt the socially constructed ideas of beauty, or push back against racist and sexist stereotypes. And it is for everyone — not just for young women, but men too. We want them all to be in conversation with each other — to be telling stories and figuring out ways to dialogue and build together.

YARN: What challenges and possibilities did the choice of depicting the girls’ school blog pose you both as writers? Why integrate that format into the story? Had you considered any other formats?

RW: We thought the book would be less interesting if the girls just talked about writing poetry. The reader needed to see it. The blog became a tool to use to get Jasmine and Chelsea to dig deeper and let the reader in on what they are really feeling. The blog also helped the plot move forward. In the beginning, it’s a way of taking action. It’s using social media in a positive way. We wanted to show the possibility of what could happen in online spaces when teens use their voices for something good. The challenge was making sure the blog posts weren’t throw away pages, meaning, we wanted each blog post to move the plot forward in a meaningful way.

YARN: In the beginning of the story, you offer a quotation by Audre Lorde: “Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.” Why did you pick this quotation for the story, by this specific writer?

EH: I have always loved Audre Lorde. For me, she is one of the bravest writers I have ever come across. I am so moved and in awe of the truths she tells with her poems, and I wanted her voice to be one of the first ones we see. It acts as a bridge toward the kind of changes they want to see made. She is a voice that certainly guided me when I was a teenager, and I wanted the same for Chelsea and Jasmine.

YARN: What piece of this story or your writing process for the book most surprised each of you? What did you find yourself writing about or saying or learning that you didn’t know before you started or that you didn’t intend to write about or say?

RW: I’m surprised that Jasmine’s size became such a meaningful part of the story. In the beginning, when we were outlining, I thought more about Jasmine’s race and gender and was thinking about her character development that way. But with each scene I wrote, it became clear that there was something that was burning to be said about beauty and size. I love when stories take off and go in directions that were unplanned. Because of this, it was so fun to write the love story between Jasmine and Isaac. None of that was in my head at the start of writing Watch Us Rise. It all unfolded the more we worked on the story.

Other Books/YA stuff:
YARN: From this book and your other work, it’s clear you care about producing creative responses with communities of artists. What advice would you give those interested in getting involved with or starting communities of artists who work together and/or work to support each other?

RW: My advice is to have a listening heart and ask questions. It’s important to really listen to what the community needs and wants before coming in with an agenda. A leader can—and should—have a plan, a vision. But that vision should be a living thing that can be added on to, revised. I think that kind of leadership sets the tone for collaboration, conversation and a caring community. Gathering artists and asking them, What can we build together? is a good place to start.

YARN: Similarly, it’s clear you care about teens–particularly female teens–standing up for what they believe in and making active choices with those beliefs in mind. What advice would you give those interested in getting involved with a cause?

EH: I would say connect with the community around you. Start there. See if there are friends or teachers who are interested in the same causes and see what you can do collectively. Can you start a club, or find a meeting space? Do you want to raise awareness or funds, or both? Find a way to brainstorm your ideas and figure out a way to put them in motion. This could mean hosting an event or an open mic, a bake sale or a workshop. And then you could search for a local organization to partner with — or find ways to partner online if it’s national/international. You can start small with just a meeting or conversation and see where that leads you. Young people are doing incredible work all around the world — so it will be amazing to find ways of connecting and growing.

YARN: What are a few resources you’d suggest to writers who feel they want to grow, but they aren’t sure where they can get some help and support? (These might be books, articles, online classes, writing groups, blogs – whatever/whoever you think offers great support for writers.)

RW: These books have great prompts and have helped me get un-stuck: Writing from Personal Experience by Nancy Kelton and The Playful Way to Serious Writing by Roberta Allen. I also learn a lot from Poets and Writers. I love their writing prompts as well as their database of writing programs, contests, and literary events.

EH: Here are a couple of books that are essential for me, and an amazing online resource for young writers. Also, check out the resources in the back of “Watch Us Rise.” They are amazing!

Writing Down the Bones & Wild Mind – Natalie Goldberg
Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

YARN: What writers or books would you say have influenced you most as a writer? What books helped you become a writer or helped you realize you wanted to be a writer?

RW:
House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
good woman by Lucille Clifton
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

EH: There are so many books that have changed and shaped my life. I chose 10 that were truly transformative for me when thinking about storytelling in both fiction and poetry – books that made me see the world new and fresh – that made me ache and question and believe. Books that portrayed whole and complicated women. Books I keep with me always.

Tougaloo Bluse – Kelly Norman Ellis
Loose Woman – Sandra Cisneros
Mama Day – Gloria Naylor
Corregidora – Gayl Jones
The Moon is Always Female – Marge Piercy
Sula – Toni Morrison
Listen Up: Spoken Word Poetry – edited by Zoe Anglessey
The Black Unicorn – Audre Lorde
Bastard Out of Carolina – Dorothy Allison
good woman – Lucille Clifton

YARN: Are there any titles and authors you’d like to give a ‘shout-out’ to? What should YARN readers look for in their bookstores and libraries?

RW: So many! I’ll share some new titles that will be out soon. I’m very excited about India Hill’s debut The Forgotten Girl (Fall 2019, Scholastic), Karyn Parson’s How High the Moon (March 2019, Little Brown & Co.), and Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes (October 2019, Highlights).

EH: Yes! The more I read, the more I write! I have two daughters (8 & 5), and when they were babies and toddlers, I struggled to find time to read — and my concentration was being sabotaged! But over the last few years, I have returned to reading on a steady basis. I joined a book club three years ago (now there are three of us and it’s amazing), and it has become a constant for me. My reading life has gotten stronger each year and I try and read within and outside of my preferred genre. The books below are just a few that I love and that have helped shape my own writing or my own ideas of storytelling.

Vessel – Parneshia Jones
the black maria – Aracelis Girmay
God’s Will for Monsters – Rachelle Cruz
Arrival – Cheryl Boyce-Taylor
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé – Morgan Parker
The Poet X – Elizabeth Acevedo
If They Should Come for Us – Fatimah Asghar
eleanor & park – Rainbow Rowell
Starshine & Clay – Kamilah Aisha Moon
Piecing Me Together – Renée Watson
Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
The Mothers – Brit Bennett

 


 

Renée Watson is a New York Times bestselling author, educator, and activist. Her young adult novel, Piecing Me Together (Bloomsbury, 2017) received a Coretta Scott King Award and Newbery Honor. Her children’s picture books and novels for teens have received several awards and international recognition. She has given readings and lectures at many renown places including the United Nations, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. Embassy in Japan. In the summer of 2016 Renée launched I, Too, Arts Collective, a nonprofit committed to nurturing underrepresented voices in the creative arts. She launched the #LangstonsLegacy Campaign to raise funds to lease the Harlem brownstone where Langston Hughes lived and created during the last twenty years of his life. Her hope is to preserve the legacy of Langston Hughes and build on it by providing programming for emerging writers. Renée grew up in Portland, Oregon and currently lives in New York City.

Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer, and educator. She is the author of two poetry collection: Crowned and Hemisphere, and Watch Us Rise, an upcoming YA collaboration with Renée Watson with Bloomsbury set for publication in 2019. She has been on the po­etry faculty at West Virginia Wesleyan in their low-residency MFA program. Ellen is the Director of the Poetry & Theatre Departments at the DreamYard Project and directs their International Poetry Exchange Program with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. She co-leads the Alice Hoffman Young Writer’s Retreat at Adelphi University. A proud Kentucky writer, Ellen is a member of the Affrilachian Poets, Conjure Women, and is co-founder of the girlstory collective. She lives with her husband and daughters in New York City.

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Watch Us Rise — Outtakes http://yareview.net/2019/02/watch-us-rise-outtakes/ http://yareview.net/2019/02/watch-us-rise-outtakes/#respond Mon, 11 Feb 2019 13:00:44 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=9618 We’re thrilled to help celebrate the publication of Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan’s fabulous new YA novel “Watch Us Rise.” Renée and Ellen were kind enough to share some outtakes from the novel with us. Take a look — and go find this book!

Scene about the first blog entry for “Write Like a Girl”

Jasmine asks, “What should our first post be about?”

I reach into my book bag, and pull out a handful of Seventeen Magazines. “These,” I say, pointing to the covers. There are about ten magazines spread across the table. One headline reads, “Get the Perfect Skin”, and another “The New Hook Up Rules”. There are at least three that have something to do with how to shop for the best jeans and “How to look Hot, Hot, Hot.”

“What do you want to do with these?” Ms. Lucas asks, becoming curious all of a sudden.

“I was thinking maybe we can do a counter issue or at least a blog post highlighting what’s problematic about articles like these,” I say. “I always see them in the grocery store and in bookstores and they always make me wanna throw up. And then a couple weeks ago I was running with James, James Bradford – he’s my partner in gym, anyway, we had this long conversation about it, and I don’t think I’m the only one that hates these kind of messages. So I want to change the game.”

Jasmine looks through one of the magazines. “None of the covers have a dark skinned person on them, and none of them are my shape. I get it. So, what do we want to say?”

“I don’t know exactly what to say, but we have to start strong—for branding purposes but also to get people to want to come back and read our blog and care about the issues we’re posting about.” I flip through a magazine. “Maybe we shouldn’t start off with a regular blog post—like, not an essay or article-type post. That might seem too boring. I can write a poem.”

“You should definitely write a poem,” Jasmine says.

 

 

An outtake from Jasmine’s original open mic performance

Look at me. No, no—don’t turn away. See all of this.  All this fat girl curve, this belly, these hips. See me. Don’t just look at my face and call me pretty. Take all of me in and call me by my name. Jasmine. A delicate flower I am, but delicate doesn’t only mean breakable and fragile. I am delicate as in exquisite. All the parts of me that you can and can’t see are intricately woven to create this one-of-a-kind masterpiece. This, me.

This me, housed in this big body that does not fit in tiny spaces, extra small shirts, skinny jeans. This big body that does not fit your expectation. I am not depressed or sad, no low self esteem here for you to pity. And maybe that is why you don’t see me. Does my confidence cancel out my fatness? Am I supposed to be quiet and shy, ashamed to eat in public, embarrassed of the jiggle and shake my body makes when I dance? Watch me dance.

Don’t look away. See this fat girl joy. This, me.

 


 

Renée Watson is a New York Times bestselling author, educator, and activist. Her young adult novel, Piecing Me Together (Bloomsbury, 2017) received a Coretta Scott King Award and Newbery Honor. Her children’s picture books and novels for teens have received several awards and international recognition. She has given readings and lectures at many renown places including the United Nations, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. Embassy in Japan. In the summer of 2016 Renée launched I, Too, Arts Collective, a nonprofit committed to nurturing underrepresented voices in the creative arts. She launched the #LangstonsLegacy Campaign to raise funds to lease the Harlem brownstone where Langston Hughes lived and created during the last twenty years of his life. Her hope is to preserve the legacy of Langston Hughes and build on it by providing programming for emerging writers. Renée grew up in Portland, Oregon and currently lives in New York City.

Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer, and educator. She is the author of two poetry collection: Crowned and Hemisphere, and Watch Us Rise, an upcoming YA collaboration with Renée Watson with Bloomsbury set for publication in 2019. She has been on the po­etry faculty at West Virginia Wesleyan in their low-residency MFA program. Ellen is the Director of the Poetry & Theatre Departments at the DreamYard Project and directs their International Poetry Exchange Program with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. She co-leads the Alice Hoffman Young Writer’s Retreat at Adelphi University. A proud Kentucky writer, Ellen is a member of the Affrilachian Poets, Conjure Women, and is co-founder of the girlstory collective. She lives with her husband and daughters in New York City.

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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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