The Scent of Lavender Petals (or Mary)

By R.C. Carter

The wicker chair creaked on the porch as Idris Schopenhauser pulled his stomach in and pushed his shoulders back. He foraged through his pants pocket for his matches, his tobacco pipe on its side on his knees. With an unsteady hand he brought the pipe to his lips, striking the match against the between his ring finger and thumb. He hovered the flame over the tobacco, the brown leaves burning as he inhaled. He coughed, cleared his throated, waited, then coughed again and grunted.

A shuffle of feet echoed off the wooden floor. Mary, in a long grey dress, rubbed her greasy hands on her white apron. She curtseyed, her gaze meeting his for a moment before fixing her eyes on his breast pocket.

“I heard you, sir.”

“When’s dinner going to be ready? I had a long day today. You understand, Mary.”

Mary stared at his pocket for a moment longer before looking over her shoulder at the stove. The water in the pot hissed and spat, hot bubbles rising to the surface.

He nodded without looking at her, striking another match against the box between his fingers.

Mary went inside. She wiped her damp forehead on the back of her hand. She pushed the ledge of the window over the sink up again, though it was already as high as it could go. The air was thick with a hot, pungent dankness. She twisted her face towards her underarms. She had showered yesterday, but she smelt just as everything she did.

Beads of sweat trickled into her eyes. She squeezed them shut. A blonde woman basked in the sun, smiling, her arms raised above her shoulders, her palms open and chin tilted up. She picked up the yellowed book off the chair beside the lavender flowers, reciting strange words by a playwright who lived long ago. It was the last literature Mary heard that was not Biblical.

“‘Do you not know that I am a woman? When I think, I must speak.’”

The words twisted her stomach in knots. Mary grew dizzy, heaving. The Church and her neighbors had told her that this was shame, something all women were was supposed to feel for their bodies’ inherent sinfulness. But Mary had no aversion towards her body; strong and capable, it had willed her through countless days when her mind could not. She breathed in, the words still echoing as the scene faded.

Mary slopped a few carrots onto the wooden board, cutting them into thin slices. She dumped them into a bowl of ice and placed the bowl on the silver platter alongside Idris’s tea, bread, butter and beef stew. She dropped the knife into the soapy water bin, and it sunk slowly to the bottom. Mary watched her reflection in its silver sheen; her hair was limp, her face sunburnt and moist. But her eyes were different than the other women’s she had seen. Hers lacked fear. Some disease had infected the people around her, moving between them like a worm in the earth- her eyes were different because she saw it.

Mary curtseyed again before placing the tray on the small wooden side table besides Idris. He stared straight ahead, puffing his pipe, mindlessly tugging his beard. Mary got on her knees. She bowed her head into her chest she drew herself between his legs, her forehead inches from his groin, but not touching it. The air grew more stifling, the smell of perspired skin and moist cloth forcing its way past her closed lips and filling her mouth. She breathed as little as possible through her nose, forcing her spine to curl. She smelled just as she did. The routine was always the same, every evening when Idris returned home from work.

Idris took a small sip of tea and put it back down. He dabbed his lips on his napkin before eating. At thirty-three he was now an established gentleman, a high ranking Ministry member with two cars and his own house, but only one woman, Mary. Most other men had at least three to five- one to three for household duties, older women with grey in their hair, and shriveled wombs, though not much older than Idris; and one or two for childbearing, usually women who had just started to bleed, cursed with Eve’s Burden, to those a little younger than Mary. Idris’s friends from the Ministry said Mary was a poor housekeeper and worse cook, and almost too old to bear any more children, but Idris wouldn’t hear any talk of getting another woman. He was loath to share her with anyone; for her own good, he said.

Mary had served Idris since she was five and he was eight. She started by making his bed in the morning, cleaning up his toys in the afternoon, and washing his clothes at night. When Mary was thirteen she finally bled. The red spot in her undergarments ignited not images of Adam and Eve, but curiosity about her body. But Mary had to be silent. She wove together the loose threads of Idris’s old shirts to plug herself with, washing her stained clothes and bed sheets in the dark morning hours when everyone else was fast asleep. But Idris’s mother caught Mary washing her linens on her third month and locked her inside Idris’s bedroom without food until she was with child three days later. Idris’s son was now away at school, learning about the Ministry where Idris worked; Mary pictured the boy at his wooden desk with a pencil, taking notes on mastering households and women. Mary had only spoken to the boy when necessary, and the boy only knew her as Mary the servant, his father’s most prized possession.

Mary had never said a word or acted out against Idris or his parents, nor had she ever gave her opinion or disagreed with the Schopenhausers. She tended to Idris’s son, she was obedient and submissive without fault, a model woman of silence. And so she sat still between his knees with the setting summer sun against her back, not even stirring to wipe the sweat from her brow.

She knew when to get up to take the tray away. She had spent her life patiently waiting.

       *************

Mary stirred the lavender scented bathwater as lavender petals floated in a long circle across the rim of the tub. Idris undressed, handing her his clothes as he stepped inside. She placed the clothes at the foot of the stairs to be washed before she went to bed.

“Mary, come. I wish to have a conversation with someone of the fairer sex.” He sighed, sinking into the steaming water.

She knelt beside the tub, her chin tucked into her chest. He motioned her to come closer, so his lips almost pressed against her neck.

“Mary, do you know why I would never dream of getting a second girl? Have you ever wondered?”

Mary remained taciturn, not letting any emotion contort her face, shaking her head.

“It’s because of the way you smell. Isn’t that funny?” He paused, pressing his finger on a petal. “Especially- although it repels me on some level- when you have not bathed. It is the smell of work, – hard, menial, repetitive labor. It is the smell that best distinguishes those who work with their minds- reading, writing, counting money- men, like me- from those who work with their bodies- cooking, cleaning, bearing children- women, like you. But you are the only woman I have smelled that captures this distinction so perfectly.” He closed his eyes, running his soapy hands through his mass of dark curls. “I’ll be in the bedroom soon.”

Mary, her head still bowed, curtseyed and left the bathroom. The smell of lavender permeated the hallway and she lingered, inhaling the scent.

                                             *************

Idris arrived home from the Ministry in the late afternoon. He took his seat in the wicker rocking chair, his stomach in and shoulders back. He rapped his fingers against the wooden side table. He handed his pipe to Mary to be refilled. She packed the tobacco tight, keeping the soft, brown leaves away from her nose.

Idris puffed on his pipe and cleared his throat. “Mary, I don’t think I’ll want dinner tonight. Just stay out here, by my side, and keep me company.”

He looked up at her. She kept her eyes on his breast pocket before she knelt down, drawing close to his groin without touching it. He took a deep breath in and sighed, stroking her head and twirling her blonde hair around his finger. He took out the small, leather bound bible he kept in his pocket, flipping through the pages before he spoke.

“‘But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. I suffer not a woman to teach, not to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.’”

Mary breathed in little sips. Her heart pounded against her ribs, her lungs hot from the lack of fresh air. Mary closed her eyes. The blonde woman was no longer smiling, but screaming as two men in black robes, wearing crosses, stormed across the yard, knocked the book out of her hand, and dragged her across the yard, crushing the lavender flowers. Another scream rang out alongside hers, the cry of a young girl, repeating one word, the name of the woman.

The woman disappeared inside a black car. The young girl never saw her again.

                     —————

When the sun set Idris stood and went back inside the house. Once his footsteps echoed off the top stair Mary rose and locked the door behind her. She went into the bathroom and drew the water for his bath, scattering lavender petals on top. Some floated on the surface while others sunk to the bottom. She closed her eyes and inhaled, straightening her spine. The pain in her stomach was gone, and her body felt strong and capable.

Idris came in and undressed. Mary didn’t put his clothes by the stairs but dropped them at her feet, only turning to lock the door.

“Mary, why didn’t you leave my clothes…” He stopped, waving his hand. “Never mind. Come sit.” He tapped the rim of the tub.

But Mary didn’t sit. She tilted her head up and looked down at him so their eyes met.

“‘Do you not… know that I am a woman? When… I think, I must …speak.’”

Her voice was quiet and awkward, breaking at the wrong syllables, but the echo from the walls made it loud and coherent. Idris sat still for a moment, cocking his head to the side.

“Mary, you have purple eyes. Were they always that color, or did I just never notice?”

He chuckled, then laughed and kept laughing, flailing his arms in a fit of hysterics, splashing hot water onto the floor. His shrieks stung her ears, but she didn’t shirk away. His cheeks were shining and bright red, his blue eyes wet with tears.

“Jesus, Mary! You have purple eyes! Purple like the petals…”

Mary felt like her tears, hot, sweating, pouring down herself, visible liquid shame. She saw it, Idris saw it, and so did the sunny blonde woman from years past. Mary closed her eyes, her hands around Idris’s throat cutting off his laughter. He thrashed and kicked, gurgled and spat as she forced his head underwater. Petals splashed onto the floor. One landed in her hair as a stream of hot water burned her cheek. But her grip was strong; she kept her chin up and her eyes fixed on his. His swollen face turned deep red, then bluish-purple. He gave one final jerk and was still. Mary released him as he sunk to the bottom of the tub with the rest of the petals.

She opened her eyes, raising her arms over her head, her palms open, inhaling the sweet musk. There was another voice, deep and booming. Mary fell on her knees to the floor.

“‘Do you not know that I am a woman? When I think, I must speak.’”

 

RC is a writer and musician from Connecticut. She has a penchant for all things dark and weird, and loves Lovecraft. You can follow her on Facebook  and on Twitter.

Serenity

By Jennifer Benningfield

         “Ideal weather” is a myth. So the absence of wind that night represented nothing more than a kindness to the sensitive skin of my face.

         Sometimes I feel an intense gratitude that I lack friends who can reach me in the proverbial “hop/skip/jump.”

         “So what’cha been up to lately, Ally?”

         “Well, I watched a marathon of some ghost hunter show on TV, and while I’m pretty sure those guys are con men at worst and gullible morons at best, some of the stuff they do is pretty interesting. Like, trying to communicate with spirits? Anybody can try that. So I’m gonna try it, this Sunday Sunday Sunday. And if I dig it, I just might do it again.”

         I can imagine the reactions–glances askew, snickers barely stifled. Understandable. At first, even I was aghast at my own ghoulish interest. The day after I decided to dare, I attempted to find sufficiently dissuasive reasons NOT to, worried that I would be disrupting a peace beyond my comprehension. But I stuck to my pop guns: I’m gonna go record EVPs in a graveyard near my apartment. An undertaking that while frightening on the face (to some) strikes me as banal. What’s so special about being intrigued by spiritual plurality, of wondering about worlds beyond ours without discernible beginning or end?

         My curiosity has always bested my trepidation. (As my brother’s since-age-eight till-age-whenever limp can attest.) I’ve been through thirty-two years of knowing that I know nothing much. People who say, with total certainty, that ghosts do or do not exist tickle me. How do they know? All we have are hunches, vibes, anecdotes, and severely limited study data. For every yes comes a no, for every no arrives a maybe, and let’s be real, you can’t even put twenty people in a room, show them a turtle, and get them all to agree on what color it is.

         Standing at the corner of 3rd and 4th Streets, St. John’s Cemetery takes five minutes to reach, on foot. Coming from my apartment on 5th, I entered via the north gate. (The 3rd Street entrance is the main one, an attractive brick arch surrounding an iron gate.) Thursday 10 PM is never a hopping time around these parts, which was not only helpful for eliminating ambient noise, but kept me from feeling self-conscious about my gray sweatpants/sweater ensemble.

         Among the dead stashed within St. Johns are a handful of Revolutionary War soldiers, fifty Civil War vets, and dozens of men who fought in a World War. I agonized over the strained, haunted words I might pick up, the answers I didn’t want. It bothered me–still does–to consider that physical death does not guarantee the serenity unattainable in corporeal form.

         I glanced over the gravestones, wondering: Are they occupying a placid paradise, a wretched inferno, or something else entirely?

——-

         Some women knit. Some women hike. Some sell antiques, baked goods, advice, their bodies–anything to endure the crisis DU JOUR. I have no go-to release, not since a sobering doctor’s visit marked the beginning of the end of my passionate affair with fatty foods. I suppose I could have taken up smoking, or scrapbooking, but those activities involve me spending more money per week than I need to (not to mention leaving the house more than I want to). Whatever distractions I call upon, whatever decompression chamber I enter, I demand one-time payment and a one-person limit.

         Controversy only adds to the appeal.

         The more I looked into recording Electronic Voice Phenomenon, the more I couldn’t resist taking a shot at it. Online are dozens of sites devoted to the pursuit, with “proof” in abundance. For craps and chuckles, I listened to some EVP files uploaded onto the Internet.

         EVPs fall into one of three categories. Class “A” recordings are the goal, the Grail–immaculate quality, words loud and clear. “B” recordings are much more common, apparently–audible, but in need of enhancement via computer software. Lastly are the Class “C” recordings, of such poor quality they’d be accurately deemed “steaming gobbledygook.”

         No one who appeared to be a serious “hunter” boasted about capturing a “Class A,” I noted. Some of the “B”‘s were intriguing, but far from definitive proof of life after death. The “C”‘s were the worst things I’ve heard outside of spoken Turkish.

         These websites have forums, of course, where believers and skeptics alike clash over the very idea that the dead can speak. One poster’s passionate, paragraph-free retelling of a fruitful trip to an abandoned school (numerous Class B’s featuring children’s voices!) will be meticulously rebutted by someone drunk on 200 proof Logic, someone whose post will begin with some variation of–“Well, my Caspar-loving friend, there are all sorts of gadgets taking up valuable air waves, see….” He (I know, damn my assumptions) will then proceed to explain how static, rather than providing an energy that can be harnessed and utilized by otherworldly types for communication purposes, actually fools the listener into thinking they are hearing speech.

         The frequent rottenness of the faceless aside, doubters serve a grand purpose. Indeed, most of the so-called “evidence” for paranormal occurrences is easily explainable as entirely earthly. But, we must all remember–once people stop asking questions, they stop finding answers.

         One poster on a forum asked: “Do magnetic fields mess with the brain and create the illusion of apparitions or do apparitions cause the fluctuations in the fields?”

         A fair question, one that cannot be answered to the satisfaction of a critical thinker–that’s all I needed.

         I went into this expecting nothing. So if “nothing” was what I wound up with–no skin lost. Still, in the interest of a good foot forward, I ordered the Spirit Box SB-11-8130 digital voice recorder after research convinced me it would be a nice device for an incipient hunter of residual energy.

         The Box was the only thing I took other than myself that night, clutching it in my right hand as though it received energy from the firmness of my grip. I traversed the  narrow concrete paths for a few minutes. The lack of wind kept the trees still; the grass struck me, alternately, as black or dark green or dark blue.

         Every dozen feet or so, I tugged at the hem of my sweater, hating how it tried to chum up with the flesh of my stomach. (My fault for inhaling a cherry fruit pie and glass of whole milk before heading out.)

         The dim moon rendered the floral arrangements colorless. I had to bend and squint to discern the names carved into stones. Although, really, the letters meant less to me than the numbers.

         Some depressed me (1865-1868, 1940-1987) but not as profoundly as the fact that human beings are not even equal in death. For every grave without a single flower is one with three baskets overflowing. For every stone lain flat along the earth is one shooting skyward, shiny and ornate, wider and taller, proving how loved the deceased were, how fortunate, how valuable, and how tragic their passing away was, so much more tragic than, say, Johnny Flat-Stone over there.

         A part of me–a considerable part, that part which still pulls at imaginary pigtails while ruminating over the reasons the 1980s represented the apex of American culture–hears the word GHOST and refers to the iconography of Halloween, those sheet-draped essences floating in the air, arms held out at the sides–kinda cute, kinda hair-raising, kinda not what a ghost really is, if a ghost really is. I suspect the dead continue on in a perpetual fog along staggered paths, no concept of time and no time for concepts. Once dead, we are nothing but what we were, and what we will be is no longer a concern, as it is no longer a possibility.

         I’d turned right, towards the 3rd Street entrance, when some limbo dweller shot a foot out, pitching me towards the pavement. Luckily I caught myself with both hands, saving my knees and/or head from even minor damage. A lesser broad would have tucked fuzz and Flo Jo’ed the scene. Being a greater broad, I took a few seconds to recuperate and proceeded towards the center of the graveyard.

         I was twenty feet from the main office building, mind occupied with thoughts as to what their carpet situation was like, when the next stupid scare happened. My cheek felt as if it had been struck by expectorate. I reacted in a normal manner, yelping and reaching out to grab some air.

         T’was a raindrop. Just a raindrop.

         I rubbed all four of my cheeks and peered at the peaks of the evergreens that looked so gorgeous in their daywear. A willow beckoned me from fifty feet away. It provided shade for a dozen or so final resting places, and I decided to make that my “spot.”

         No sooner had my back hit bark, then the desire to acclimate myself to my immediate surroundings brought me onto all fours. I made my gradual way to the grave directly ahead of me.

 

1935-2007

 

         It didn’t jut up from the ground; it was one of the humbler markers, belonging to a Driver 8 who took his final break the day before my big 3-0. I did not know him, he did not know me, but the thought that this evening’s experiment might change that  somewhat imbued me with an embarrassing warmth. Anticipating a sinkhole’s emergence, I scuttled backwards to the base of the tree.

         Reverie helped steel my reserve. I envisioned myself marooned on an island, just me, a tree and a jacked-up walkie-talkie. My jaw tightened from the yearning to hear the songs crooned by those trapped and timeless troubadours. The muscles in my forearms went momentarily rigid; I was overcome, briefly yet acutely, with the admixture of hubris, elation and dread that could only be felt by the last living person on the planet.

         Success depended upon presence. Negativity and aggression are to be avoided. Respect is vital. As there exist mean, untrustworthy people on the planet, there are bound to be specters of unpleasant demeanor, who might view me as a breather, a beater, with a sense of entitlement I’m too dense to appreciate, who might consider my visit as a sort of home invasion. (I would have been greatly tickled to pick up a “screw you, bitch.”)

         A warm greeting, an icy threat, secrets tips and tricks, the location of the treasure–I had no clue what I would capture. I wet my lips, adjusted the hem of my sweater,  and switched on the Box.

         I asked each query calmly, leaving seven seconds of silence in between each, since it’s my favorite number.

         “Anyone here?”

         “Hello. Hi. My name is Ally. Short for Allysa. Two L’s. First time here, in case you were wondering. But enough about me. Who are you?”

         “Was anyone here an only child?”

         “Does it bother you that people step all over your final resting place?”

         “Does it bother you that many people doubt your existence?”

         “Is it better, where you are?”

         “Does anyone here in the air tonight know the Muffin Man?”

         “If Allan is here…do you have anything you’d like to say?”

         “Okay, that’s all. Time to bid you fine folks adieu. Thank you for listening. And, hopefully, for talking.”

 —–

         This life–this upright, uptight life–isn’t so terrible. A world of spleen in the soup and gremlins on the wing seems appealing when ennui hurls a high ‘n’ tight one, but enough baleful glances from resentful sideliners has given me a profound appreciation of the old routine, moving from one chalky outline to the next, tapping and rapping with the other names and numbers.

         It was 11 when I arrived back at the apartment, the next pitch still a half hour away. (Had it been midnight, I still would have resisted the temptation of a thin thing under me and a thick thing over me.) I downloaded the recording onto my Mac. I knew nothing other than I would give it a fair listen. (I fancied myself impervious to the temptation of auditory pareidolia. I have no agenda, after all.)

         I’d grabbed some free audio analysis software from a site that took pride in assisting “ghost hunters on a budget.” (How many multi-millionaires/billionaires unwind with trips to haunted houses/abandoned asylums/graveyards?) As anticipated, the majority of the 112 seconds was gobbledygook. Here and there, I thought I could make out short intelligible bursts, but I suspected I was indulging in wish fulfillment.

         Then there was 1:01-1:02. Within this second-long span, I heard a male voice “answer” my final question–gruff, gravelly, begrudging. I enhanced the audio; the extra filtering robbed the voice of its “charm” but made the “words” much clearer.

         Three words. The three that save the day, sweeten the pot, spin the world. Easy to say, difficult to feel…unless they’re difficult to say, easy to feel.

         Everyone’s different.

         I should be delighted to have captured a “Class B” on my first attempt. I’m not.

         Dead two years, and now he tells me.

         I’ve played that 1.2 second part 528 times in four days (per the exceedingly helpful software). I’ve reached the point of constant return, where I have to listen before my first coffee of the day and before my last conscious action of the night. Forget auditory illusions; I’m beginning to see things in the sound waves. Iced-over cauldrons, a mountain of unused trash bags, a dancing dog, a sleeping fish.

         Did I really hear what I thought, or only what I longed to hear? Strike that second one; I haven’t craved that particular approval since I entered grade 9 and stuck the desire to hear him say a damn thing ever again underneath my desk like a tasteless wad of gum.

         At times I want to invite someone else to check it out, but, who? I could send the WAV file to a friend, with a minimum of preamble and no leading language, and then what? Emojis and memes. I could send the WAV file to a family member, but that would require I grudgingly acknowledge a blood tie. I could share the WAV file with strangers online, and then immediately begin slicing my wrists with used toothpicks.

         No. No to all of that. Whatever I heard, whatever I thought I heard, is mine. Simultaneously the best and the worst secret I will ever decide to keep.

         Before my maiden voyage, I was undecided as to if there would be any to follow. I know, now, with certainty.

Jennifer has been in the (mostly) benevolent thrall of words since receiving “Green Eggs and Ham” as a birthday present. She is either writing, reading, or in a situation where she wishes was either writing or reading. Currently, Jennifer is working on her first novel. Her blog can be found here.

Popcorn

by Roberto Reyna

Martin rolled off his bed, firmly planted both feet on the ground and felt the soles of his feet press down on the floor. A consistent glow filled the room, originating from a bedside lamp with a shade that seemed comically large. Outside, the boy’s home was already asleep, his eyes took a few moments to adjust to the shift in light, then he was off.

The stairs groaned louder than they ever had before, annoyed at the child’s rudeness. The final step decided to retract by about two inches, causing Martin to slide off, sending a shock of pain up from his heel into his hip. Martin did not blame the step for reacting so coarsely in a situation that could’ve been solved by a civilized conversation. Martin was a smart boy, he knew that not all household objects could be reasoned with.

The kitchen was lit by streetlights that leaked in through the windows and digital clocks that blinked an inaccurate time. The actual time was a mystery to Martin, but it didn’t really matter, it rarely does. He made his way to a cabinet and woke the hinges, quickly reaching into the darkness, immediately locating a bag of microwave popcorn. The bag read ‘Microwave Popcorn’ on the side that was meant to face down during preparation. If this label were indeed the bag’s face, it would need to be able to hold its breath from anywhere between two and a half to three and a half minutes—an impressive feat. After disposing of the clear plastic wrapping surrounding his treasure, Martin opened the microwave door and carefully positioned the bag, possibly face-down, as instructed. The door closed with a snap and in no time at all, the warm light covered the boy’s face as he sat and watched the bag rotate.

A steady drone emitted from the machine, and Martin watched carefully, inspecting the bag’s constant movement, never disrupting his gaze with even so much as a blink. Suddenly, a pop, another pop, and another. The pops quickly overlapped and sang a symphony that must’ve been unique to any bag of microwave popcorn to ever have popped before. A slight smile found its way onto the boy’s face as he closed his eyes and enjoyed the music, he swayed slowly, releasing his body to its natural movement in accordance with the sound. The pops sped up, slowed down and then sped up again, a display of their complete spontaneity. Steadily, more silence filled the space between pops, until the sound stopped all together. Martin pressed a red button on the microwave and took a moment to collect himself. He stood up and made his way back up the stairs, careful not to be tripped again.

The next morning, the house was early to rise, and with it, Martin’s mother. She made her way downstairs, greeted by warm rays of sunshine filtering through the blinds of the kitchen. She bent over to glance at the microwave, opened its door, removed the bag of popcorn, and muttered under her breath, “Not again”.

Roberto is a student at Haverford college who has always had a love for fiction. He can be followed on Twitter or Instagram, or contacted directly (rfreyna@gmail.com).

A Party Without much Leg Room

by Soup Martinez

Forrest B. Speck boarded the Tuesday Evening Seven O’ Clock Flight from Dallas to Newark at precisely 6:43pm. The cabin was already half full with Customers. Customers, because, nit-minded as it may sound, the chief concern of the operating entity, with It’s Name pasted, infringing upon the ever-innocent gaze of Terminal 6 patrons, in Shiny Yellow on the starboard side of Airship B-12774, was the money and not the leg room of its everything-but-first-class Customers. 28 inches, to be exact.

Though Forrest had been at times known to occasionally play a humorous video from his full-volumed-phone sans earphones while using a public restroom, the general remark regarding Forrest, of those in his consistent and immediate presence, is that he was ‘perhaps forgettable’, and that ‘you almost wouldn’t notice him if you weren’t paying attention’. He liked it that way, to use a quite Frannyan term, being wholly a nobody. Because nobody bothered a nobody. And Forrest had much more pressing things to do than be bothered, most of the time.

Forrest, like any other red-blooded undergraduate, was only slightly insane in a few minor and irrational ways, but you couldn’t tell by just looking at him. Forrest’s latest insanity came in the form of a letter he was carrying in his sport coat pocket. It was his 28th consecutive hour of carrying and reading with near-religious fervent said letter. This letter signified the apparent end of the one-sided admiration that was his relationship with a girl he met at school, one Catherine Rider of Dallas. He had read the letter so many times that he could nearly recite it, though, to his judgement, it was nearly twice as long as it needed be relating what it will. 28 hours of unbroken, inanimate sadness thinking about things that never were, and probably never will be.

Forrest found his row already inhabited by one other individual. A thirteenish looking girl with straight brown hair, shoulder length. The girl appeared just old enough to board a flight by her lonesome, but not without her Polly Pocket doll, which now occupied all her attention, and covered any possible hint of unconfidence that would normally seize a girl of her disposition. Forrest did not greet her as he placed his bag in the overhead compartment and took his seat.

Forrest sat in 12D with the girl to his immediate right, 12E. The second Forrest sat down three things happened in such a remarkably short time frame that he almost literally jumped as if they had happened at the exact same time. The first two things involved Catherine. The third did not.

First, he retrieved the letter from his coat pocket and re-read it with the sincerity of a five year old.

 

Forrest,

I’ve been sick to stomach aches over you for the past 3 days, it’s not your fault but it is because of you. I am glad you told me how you feel. You have to know I care about you and appreciate you so much, but you’re my friend.  I couldn’t go on a date with you, even if I tried. I want you to know it doesn’t make me feel good to say this, and I don’t want it to hurt.

Love,

Caty

 

The worst part about the letter is that it didn’t help change any of the ways he thought about her, and she really only needed to say ‘Stop talking to me’ to make her point. He wasn’t exactly in love or anything, but he definitely like-liked her. And to know that she still cared about him and appreciated him did nothing to quell that emotion in the least sense. He was going to like her no matter what she said, he already knew that. Exactly how she told him the feeling was not mutual was of little relevance. But there was little use in being pedantic at this stage. All the imaginary conversations he’d had with her in his head for the past 28 hours still went exactly the way he wanted them to, and he still thought about her in all the ways someone ought to think about someone with whom they are in deep, deep like. It’s too bad most things that go on inside people’s heads don’t happen. It probably wouldn’t fix everything, but certain people would be a lot more happy. Something about the letter made him feel like the only soul on the planet. All that remained for him was to read, continue to be lonesome, and read until he forgot what she looked like, sounded like, smelled like, or anything else about her. He was determined to read this letter until she became more like words on paper than a real person in his mind.

This thought was immediately complicated by the second of the three near simultaneous events, a slight buzzing sensation in his left pocket. It was a text message from the same girl.

 

Hi! Guess what song I have stuck in my head.

 

The message, more unexpected than Forrest would readily admit, excited his senses and made him feel immediately less lonesome. In a way it made him feel a sort of hope, accidentally of course, but a real hope altogether. He undid his lousy fold out table, placed the letter on it, and held his phone with both hands, taken by the fresh opportunity before him. He still had a few minutes before the flight attendant came through the intercom and asked all passengers to please turn off all electronic devices, and he could respond before then saying something like his flight was about to take off and he couldn’t wait to hear exactly what song was stuck in her head. Of course, that would require a few minutes of crafting a delicate message. One with not-too-much sincerity to seem as though he still was in deep like, but not too much insincerity as to seem like he was only going through the obligatory motions of feigned interest.

He also didn’t have to respond right then, but the remaining options if he took that route did not have quite the same luster to him. He could respond after the flight, some three plus hours later. Or not respond at all. But is anyone ever okay if you don’t respond to their text? or at least respond within a timely fashion? especially when the issue at hand is something a fleeting as a song rattling around somewhere in the Temporal Lobe?

This thought flood took about 3 seconds to pass through one ear, tickle his Prefrontal Cortex, and exit the other ear. In that time the third and final event of his almost immediate sequence of events happened.

The girl, seated to his right, had now replaced interest in her doll with interest in his letter, laying unguarded on the lame excuse for privacy attached to the seat back in front of Forrest. The worst part was that she was not the only one feasting their eyes on his now unprivate unlove letter. The doll had shifted in her hands, and it too was staring, with an oddly cubic gaze, at his letter. The girl was squinting, the way Forrest’s mother would, examining one of the many cuts he got on his limbs as a youth, apparently trying to make out exactly what was meant by the letter writer’s coupling of the two most puzzling phrases to a teenager. ‘I care about you and appreciate you’ and ‘I couldn’t go on a date with you’.  

“Please turn off all electronic devices”.

Forrest snatched his letter, stuffed it in his pocket, grabbed his bag, and walked, phone in hand off the plane.

He was almost certain he did have that message posted somewhere near him, or at least he must’ve looked like it, because as soon as he read the text message he noticed the girl on his right, in the middle chair of his row, reading Caty’s letter that he had placed on the fold out table in front of him. The contraption was a lousy excuse for privacy. But Forrest was wrong for thinking he would have any privacy on an airplane in the first place. Especially if he was sitting next to a pre-teen girl.

Forrest, without attempt, had been noticed a few too many times on this flight for his fancy. (why had he been noticed?)

Forrest was travelling home, alone, after the spring semester of his second year at the esteemed Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

This was a fact that simultaneously relieved and distressed him.

He was being noticed, which meant in some way he was bothering the otherwise very Tuesday equilibrium of the surrounding passenger’s evening flight. Not to bother, and not to be bothered, was the guiding principal of Forrest’s life. And he was in fact breaking his own cardinal rule.

But his being a perceived bother came as a slight relief to Forrest. It relieved him because it quelled the ever hanging, like the smell of properly baked bread or well popped popcorn, fear of being absolutely and totally forgotten. But it distressed him because it reminded him, despite his years and years of trying, that he was still, indeed, to someone a bother. As his mother remarked semi-annually (OR ‘with a jello like consistency), “Forrest, if you would just quit bothering me about … (the bureaucracy of the College of Liberal Arts and your pedantic English professors, (something more daily, regular, odd ??) … I could get some things done around this home.” Of course it was a well-known fact that he couldn’t just quit, but clearly this bit of knowledge had not yet spread enough to reach the far side of the house. Such incidents occurred no more than once every quarter, and of the few prides left in Forrest’s life to be nearly wholly considered a person-who-is-not a bother was by far his crowning achievement.

People  (the girl reading) can’t just know about this stuff without asking first. It’s bothersome.

And the worst part about it is, I didn’t even try to become like this, it just happened.

It’s hard to paint a convincing picture.

The less sideways thinking part of Forrest knew that his hope was tainted with spot and blemish. If Forest had a permanent market, and the urge to tell the entire world how he felt in this particular moment by writing a message on his forehead it might have read something like this:

I am an Idiot. Please take advantage of me.

 

Soup is a writer from Austin, Texas. Some of his favorite things are listening to Hamilton and avoiding direct sunlight. Some of his least favorite things are loud noises, and being noticed. His first book, a collection of essays titled ‘Dreams Like Air‘, will be out whenever he finishes it. Maybe this summer. Follow on Instagram, and you can send your questions or comments to wmartinez323@gmail.com

Three A.M. High

By Nicole E. Woolaston

There’s a certain element of New York City that can only be seen between the hours of one and about five a.m.  The deeper into the city you go, the more interesting the crowd becomes. Around 42nd Street used to be a hellhole: sex shops, prostitutes (both male and female), twenty-four-hour DVD stores. Then Mayor Edward Koch cleaned it up. Now, it’s just another tourist trap.

I found myself wandering around the Village around a quarter to three. There were a lot of young people out; college kids with no place in particular to be. And tourists….you can spot the tourists. They’ve got “from out of town” written all over them. They just look out of place. Sometimes I think about going up to one of them and asking them what the hell they’re doing out in the city at such a late hour? Are they completely unaware of how dangerous the city can be, especially to one who doesn’t know anything about it? It was the same way, when I went to City College. You could always tell, which students were from New York, and which ones were from Montana or some damn where.

I moved past all of the tourists and college kids, and entered a tattoo parlor. I knew the guy at the front counter: a burly guy named Jerry. He nodded his head when he saw me. “Hey, man,” he said. “What’s up?”

“Not much,” I said. “I was wondering if you could work on my tattoo?”

“Sure,” Jerry said. “Your wife’s middle name, right?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I wanted you to fill in the letters.”

Jerry gestured for me to follow him towards the back of the parlor. Another one of his artists emerged from behind a curtain, and nodded towards me as he walked past. I turned in time to see him walk behind the front counter and stand.

I took a seat in Jerry’s chair, and sat back. Jerry got all of his tools in order, and pulled out a small, yellow cigar box. I’ve seen this cigar box many times before. It’s where Jerry keeps his “good shit”. He removed the contents: a dime bag and some rolling papers. As he carefully rolled a joint, he looked up at me, and asked, “You want?”

Of course I want. “Sure, man,” I said.  He passed the joint to me, and dug into his pocket and pulled out a lighter. He lit it for me, and I took a drag, and leaned my head back. I rolled up my sleeve, and exposed my half-completed tattoo of “Delcina Marie”. Weed and ink are my new things.

Jerry went to work, and I tried to pretend that needle he was using to fill I the letters didn’t hurt like a mother fucker. The weed helped a little…a little. It’s one of those pains that won’t kill you, but it hurts just enough for you to acknowledge its happening. Like a minor toothache. You may not need to see a dentist yet, but the pain is there.

Jerry asked me how my band was doing. I told him, we weren’t doing anything at the moment.

“What’s the matter?” Jerry asked. “Writer’s block or something?”

“Yeah, you could say that,” I said, taking another puff. “Nick is the one who writes most of our songs, and he’s been having some trouble lately. We’ve all got shit to deal with. I found out my father isn’t really my father.”

Jerry paused, and looked up at me. “Say what?”

I forced a smile. “Yeah, man,” I said. “It’s complicated, but it explains a lot of things, you know?” I took another puff. “My whole life, my father treated me like shit, and now I finally know why. I’m not his son.”

“Wow,” Jerry said. “That’s heavy, man. That’s really heavy. You okay?”

“I’m getting there,” I said.

Jerry finished my tattoo, gave me some A&D ointment, and covered my arm with gauze. He does really good work. I shook his hand, and told him I’d probably be back again for something else. I had already finished my joint about an hour ago. I walked out of the parlor, onto the street, and looked around. There were even less people out now. I knew if I walked to Astor Place or Union Square, things would be busy. I took a deep breath, and started walking. A homeless guy stumbled up to me, and asked if I had any change. I dug into my pocket, and handed him a ten. He smiled at me, and thanked me over and over, before wandering off into the night.

I thought about my tattoo. Delcina Marie.  Dee was probably wondering where I was. At that exact moment, my cell phone rang. It was Dee, calling me as if she was telepathic. I cleared my throat and answered her call.

“Hi, honey,” Dee said, with a sigh. “Just making sure you’re still alive.”

“I’m alive, all right,” I said. “Sorry I didn’t call you sooner. I’m just walking around the city, but I think I’ve had enough, now. I’m gonna head to the subway.”

“Okay,” Dee said. “I’ll be up.”

“See you in a little while,” I said. “Bye.” I ended the call, and I knew she was pissed at me. She won’t stay pissed at me for very long, but I do shit to make her worry about me and that’s not fair to her. I’m an ass sometimes. Then again, I guess every guy is an ass.

As I headed down into the nearest subway, I decided to stop at the all-night convenience store on my way home, and pick up some gum. I’m pretty sure my breath still smells like my three a.m. high.

Nicole is an author and artist from New York. She has been writing and creating since early childhood, and is the author of four different series. Most of her work is a reflection of her interests in Japanese anime, manga, and punk rock. You can check out her website, find her on Facebook or Twitter, or email her at woolent@hotmail.com

A Wayward Ant

by Jordan Mazzella

(For everyone whose mind is as entropic as mine is.)

So I saw this ant crawling on my folder in the computer lab, right?

I flicked it off and the little guy fell onto the desk.

Now she’s crawling along the paper I have in front of me, pausing occasionally, as if stopping to read the genius on the page as I attempt to relate this experience of watching her march directionlessly through whole paragraphs, scrambling across margins and stopping coincidentally at periods, as if those were the juiciest morsels of the prose.

I succeed in committing to page directionless drivel; the only thing I am capable of.

I was told to write structure; structure is what everything needs, structure is what I need, direction is what I need.

The ant is crawling across the keyboard, resting on the backspace key,

making her way around the letter keys at seemingly random intervals that happen to coincide with when I deign to tap said key, like it’s playing whack-a-mole with me but

she got the rules backwards,

so I’ve got the mallet, but I’m trying to avoid her.

Now she’s crawling over the computer screen, and I begin to realize that that’s what

real

directionlessness is: it’s that ant that, for all her effort, still cannot find the colony.

It’s this thought that paralyzes me as I write;

the moment’s as cathartic as those fucking douchebag friends of mine who disappear to LA on some bullshit spring break trip and then insist that it “changed their life.”

I’m pretty sure I’d dig some Pacific pussy myself, and there are cool concerts and comedy clubs out there, and I would appreciate weather that doesn’t make my nose drip like an uncared for leaky faucet at all times, but I sincerely doubt I’d have some epiphany and come back and join the circus or something.

Even the aforementioned douchebags haven’t really changed: they came back to New York, just as expected, with some fun stories and the illusion that their lives have been irrevocably altered.

I want to meet the people who never come back;

the people who left as unlearned neophytes and became infected by the call of the vastness of the World. The people who call home anyplace they can plant two feet for a night.

Not some backpacking idiot or some recent college grad who wants to “Kerouac it” for a summer.

No, I mean the people who never come back.

They belong to the world now,

and their lives are as limitless as the cosmos, those same cosmos that they look up at wonderingly, and which look down at them judgmentally, saying to them,

“you think you’re so special because you don’t have a place to call home? You can’t call everything home, and, in fact, you are homeless-ish: you can always crash at mom’s place for X days, dad will always float you X dollars because you’re too busy

“finding yourself”

to find a fucking job, and your friends have surprisingly comfortable couches;

some of them will even share their beds with you, and all that that may or may not imply.

But fuck the stars, the stars are impotent and pompous assholes, you are a wanderer, a true vagabond.

This I continue to believe as I continue to see this ant, who will never again find her colony, explore the world laid out before her:

at present, this desk I’ve been assigned to, where I began to write this very poem, or criticism, or whatever this is; this piece held together so tenuously you could barely call it cohesive at all. How did this ant get in here?

Perhaps it was outside mere hours ago, walking up someone’s shoe, or maybe it accidentally fell from a low branch into some kid’s backpack. Maybe you had a melty lollipop in some pocket somewhere and she decided to scout the area before sending the news to her comrades that she’d found food. One chance encounter and before you know it her life is lost, here I am crawling along my folder, here she is flicking me off, here she is crawling along my notes, her screen, my brain, her ideas; I’m infesting my mind. She’s all I can think about, forsaking all else. Every thought is meaningless if it does not follow the wayward wanderings of this ant.

Then again, maybe this is what structure is:

direction.

This ant has no purpose, that becomes evident almost immediately, nor does it know where it is going or what it wants, but

I just keep on going, keep crawling, keep scrambling across the keys because

I can’t ever stop, where can

I stop, there is no where to stop, so why stop at all?

All I can do is wander on and on, wherever my senses lead me, although even they have no idea where I’m going, and this is where

I rule because my anonymity empowers me,

I might die crushed between two carelessly overlapped wires,

I could be flattened by the thud of a stack of papers or a book dropped accidentally or purposefully on top of me, it’s possible

I could simply be

crushed

by the sole of a shoe, a shoe whose wearer knows where he is going, soul with purpose.

As it is,

I might wind up impaled by the “h” key, a step too slow to evade an overzealous tap of the key, as emphatic as the word emphatic itself.

I’m a quotation mark spattered across the page, an organic typo, a genetic misanthrope.

I will die, never knowing home, or food, or rest, or love ever again.

Love me, and let me rest.      
Jordan is an author and assistant teacher living in Brooklyn, New York. His works have been featured in The Brooklyn Review, as well as the Brooklyn College English Majors’ Zine and Hunter College’s OliveTree Review. You can contact him via email at nycstreetpoet@gmail.com, and he can be found on Facebook, as well as on WordPress.

Scars

By Rachael Abrams

The first week that he and I had sex, my boyfriend accidentally rolled off the bed and scraped his back on the corner of my bedside table, leaving a deep gash that eventually became a faint purple scar. The initial pain was pretty bad, I assumed: post-coital, he leaned over to grab some tissues from my table and leaned too hard. He and I looked closely to see his shredded skin, a tiny wrinkled beige strip, hanging from the Ikea table.

Although not noticeable until he takes his shirt off, I know as soon as I see it that he has the scar because of me. I have mixed feelings about that – he has a medical condition and thus has already been scarred up from surgical procedures along his otherwise perfect abdomen since he was a baby, and now here I am, tainting another otherwise perfect canvas, on a guy that I had only just started seeing. Now, regardless of whether or not we stay together, I’ll have marked him in some way. Have I trapped him, in this way? It almost isn’t even fair on my end. But every scar tells a story, and I have plenty of them and stories to match. I suppose it’s only fitting, though, because I want to be a permanent part of his story.
Rachael is a self-hating freelance writer that can bite through most things. She likes comedy writing, is an HBO enthusiast, and master of making inappropriate remarks seemingly on cue. She hates the heat and would probably live in an igloo if it were cold enough. You can find her on most social media, including her Twitter here.