The Breaking Point

Written by Aniah Hill

A screamed escaped out the small window 

above the ivory toilet

where she had tried to hide after breaking free

from her closet prison

He slammed her against the door frame, again and

again, until she stopped struggling.  Then he slapped her

across the face, into another state

of mind where everything was ringing warnings and 

all of existence was spinning out of control.  

She was tossed in the closet like a rag doll,

her bones collapsed into scraps and fragments of

spent fabric, unable to weaver herself

back into an action figure

Wanda heard her neighbor, who sometimes sold tickets 

to PTA events, slam her window against

the commotion. Glen was raging between rooms, ranting

about how he was God, and man

of the house.   Down the hall her three small children were crying.  

She heard her husband yell at them, scold them 

as if they were to blame, then yank the door closed to lock them 

in their room.  In a way, the best place for them.  

The safest place in what was unfolding. 

It had been hours since he had found the divorce papers, downloaded 

from online, and dated two years prior.  Stuffed in a Bible

she was so sure he would never open, but did

while searching for verse to support his distorted self-concept,

releasing the secret intent that had been brewing 

for six of their ten-year union.

Leaving him was always on her mind.  But the children

needed a father, who they love, no matter how bad he behaved, 

it’s better than none, or so she had read 

in an award-winning parenting

book.  So, despite the despair, 

she couldn’t make the decision to leave 

her husband who was her high school sweetheart,

she couldn’t swallow the fact that 

fairytales of endless love don’t exist in real life and

even if it did it wouldn’t whack you 

across your tender face 

Glen kept checking on her to make sure

her will remained beaten into submission

Any sign that she stirred inside the darkness

would bring him back for another slap or

slam against the wall, making sure not

to leave any bruises, a lesson he learned early on

to avoid evidence that he was more than just

a threat

At any sign of resistance Glen used the weight 

of his 5’7’’, 225-pound body against the door, sealing 

it shut. He would sit, for hours, leaning back

 grinning in satisfaction.

Wanda was mostly rolled in a ball, sobbing in a corner of cluttered

old clothes.  Forced into conversations with her gray suit and 

worn out dark shoes. Inhaling the musty smell of closed spaces,

pondering how it all got this far, 

how her true love could turn out to so abusive, 

how her life could be a gaslight.

Glen was a star

on the football field.  Cheerleaders from both teams chanted

his name during games. He was BMOC, big man

on campus.  So Wanda was surprised when his eyes turned

toward her quiet science, a nest of nerdy high functioning

autistic connections.   Her small frame and underdeveloped

bust made her less desirable than most of her more formed

high school classmates. She had blushed just to be considered.  

Her face flushed at his touch.

She was his queen, at first.  He bowed

to her every wish.  Kissed her hand

when they would meet.  Lavished her with

gifts and praise.  Promised they would be together


But worship fell into resentment, suddenly and without warning

when Glen woke up angry, the day of the wedding 

and even though Wanda’s favorite cousin flew in from Milwaukee,

Glen wouldn’t allow anyone to attend, so it ended up

an unwitnessed ceremony 

performed by a justice of the peace in a windowless 

home –turned- into -office on Clement St.

Up the long, narrow staircase of an old Victorian 

apartment building, they had come to purple and 

blue stained glass working as window, beautifully blocking 

out all light, leaving them standing in darkness.   The couple 

were led into an equally dim room to wait for the Justice, who appeared from what was probably remnants of the kitchen.  She was 

of a manly frame, with broad shoulders and a heavy gut  

There was not much emotion 

as she read what was legally required only, before making

the bland pronouncement that they were now man and wife

That day marked a change in Glen that became

his truth, an angry ooze of abuse 

slithering slowly, until the viscosity breaks

and the flow escalates.  A lot of movement around

immobilization, holding her down while hissing 

humiliation into her face.  Slaps for minor offenses like

talking out of order.  Kicks and drops

for forgetting groceries.  A head first

trip down the stairs after asking the wrong


Ten years later Glen had morphed into a monster.  An unstable

mangle of mania, flipped on and off like a light switch

that randomly chooses to flicker between reality and

insanity.  And this day the switch was flipped to manic.

With his eyes bulging wide, sweat dripping from his forehead

down to his chest, every word expressed as spit, sprayed

through tight lips

He pressed his body against hers

pinned her between his hot sour breath and the

wilted black dress with a cowl collar, reserved 

for funerals, wakes and graduations.  Then Glen grabbed

her scarlet silk scarf and quickly wrapped it around her neck

slowly tightening it into a knot that kept slipping 

as he maintained a deep gaze into her glass eyes

tired eyes about to across a line

Then, she ignited

Glen was so caught up in intimidating Wanda

into a breathless death that he forgot he had

testicles, vulnerable to frustrated kicks attacking 

his loin with vengeance.  He went down

to the floor and she leaped but tripped

over his flailing grip, her ankle planted

by pain that was rapidly burning into rage

But she still had one leg that was free and flexible

at the knee.  She drew it back, towards her chest

then let it fling forward, ninja fashion 

an arrow striking his bullseye of a face, forcing 

away his grip, freeing

Wanda, who fled to the kitchen.

She was waiting for Glen in the kitchen.  Armed with

Christmas china and crystal wine glasses, she pelleted

his head as soon as it peaked around the corner.  Service

for six blasted against body and walls, creating

a mist of fragments floating on fractured sentiments.  When it settled

both were still standing, facing each other, panting

Glen, piercing sharp eyes darting back and forth

Wanda, eyes steady and straight, her will wrapped around 

a butchers knife

She reached the thin at the end

And the breaking point shattered

into a place where nothing mattered

it didn’t matter if he killed her

it didn’t matter if she killed him

it didn’t matter if the children witnessed their parents kill each other

it only mattered that he would never strike her 

ever again.  

This was the end.

She lunged at him, tried to stab him in the heart

but he reached around and grabbed her missile wrist,

in the process sustaining a superficial scratch

then he disarmed her and she fled,

flung open the front door to find the police

responding to a call about a domestic disturbance

Wanda immediately broke down into tears, became almost

hysterical, barely able to put together a coherent statement

Glen flipped into the picture of composure, collected himself into  

rational, courteous and polite

He pulled the policemen to the side

where they had a man conference and shared

stories of irrational wives that lose control,

spitefully slash tires and arms but never

get charged

They handcuffed Wanda’s unexploded wrist behind her back

and led her past the whispers of nosey neighbors 

to a waiting police care, parked behind three ambulances 

that had been called to put a band-aid on Glen’s arm

The police and firemen shook hands with Glen

then the policeman with the pending divorce proceeding

gave Glen pamphlets and a form so he could register

as a victim of domestic violence

The police car took off with Wanda, still speechless, in the back.

About the Author

Aniah Hill is a native San Franciscan, creative artist and aspiring author. Much of her written work is based on lived experiences expressed as poetry and can best be described as creative nonfiction poetry. She has earned a Creative Writing Certificate of Achievement from CCSF, which laid the foundation for exploration into a new, second career in the literary arts. As a visual artist, she creates custom gemstone-based jewelry, crowns and crafts.

Two Rituals, Two Days, Same Me

Written by Corrine Hickey

It is a summer afternoon in Westwood, Southern California, and I am 19 years old. The air is hot, no hint of a breeze under the broiling sun. I walk downhill over jagged sidewalk, terraced by roots, to Ike’s Place, a sandwich shop. Sunlight streams across persimmon colored tile as I enter the store. 

In cut off shorts and a black t-shirt, I could be a customer, but I walk with authority past the register’s hungry line to the employee-only area behind the counter. First an apron. I pull a clean one off the rack and slip on the informal uniform of Ike’s Place. I tie the apron strings into a snug bow, double knotting for good measure. Next, a hairnet. I slip it over my ponytail exchanging smiles with a coworker as I smooth around my temples to tuck in loose frizz. Then I tell the iPad to start counting my $12 hours. Dodging my manager and the Dutch crunch roll on her spatula, I beeline towards the sink for some hot water, soap, and meticulous scrubbing—all 4 planes of each finger, hand, and wrist. I rinse then pat dry with paper towels, moving proximally from my fingertips—overkill for sandwich-making, but good practice. 

I pull on a pair of gloves and slide into place at the toppings station, another cog in the sandwich making machine. The air is warm and thick with tantalizing smells, toasting bread and melting cheese, which fade to aromatic background noise in about 10 minutes. Between sandwiches, I wipe my bread knife with a rag dipped in sanitizing fluid. Someone orders a gluten-free sandwich, which calls for rigid, food allergy protocol. My manager takes full custody of the order with rewashed hands and fresh gloves. To avoid contamination, I give the gluten-free refrigerator a wide berth along with the special counter next to it where my manager assembles the sandwich alone with deliberate movements, brows furrowed above her glasses.

On the steps of the froyo shop next door, a coworker and I chat over cigarettes. Back in the sandwich shop, we gear up again with hairnets and aprons. I repeat my ablutions over the sink, pat my hands dry (starting at the most distal point), and pull on fresh gloves. I head towards the prep table in back and narrowly miss a puddle on the floor. My shabby Converse are saved from the disgrace of smelling like pickles for a week, and I am spared a talking to about the importance of regulation, non-slip shoes. On the prep table, in a metal bowl, is a whole chicken, recently boiled and still steaming. Steadying the round mass with one gloved hand, I poke and prod my fingers into the squishy flesh, systematically shredding every inch of the gray-white meat. Across the room, someone mops up the pickle puddle.

At 8pm, we close up shop. While we consolidate and saran wrap ingredient tubs, my manager entertains us with descriptions of the pornographic tattoos she hopes to add to her already extensive collection. After cheerful farewells, I retrace my steps back to the room I’m subletting. The sun’s disappearance has done surprisingly little to alleviate the stifling heat hanging in the air. I arrive home covered in sweat, sit on the concrete steps outside my room, and light a cigarette, admiring the view behind my building. In patches of streetlamp light, I can see asphalt webbed with cracks, the hint of chainlink beneath a tangle of morning glories, and a nearby house that I adore because it’s painted an eye-singeing shade of nuclear-waste green that never fails to amuse me. At 2am, I lie in bed, enveloped in the sweltering heat of my tiny, airless room, listening to the whir of a dilapidated fan. 

The next morning is warm and bright, though the sun has only just poked its head out. I walk down the same cracked and uneven slope of sidewalk but on a shorter route to the UCLA hospital building. In pale blue scrubs, I could be an employee if not for the word “volunteer” on my badge. I walk with authority past the lobby’s empty chairs and take the internal elevators to the employees-only second floor. First a scrub jacket. I pull a clean one from a stack and slip on the informal uniform of surgical staff, trying not to explode with pride. Next, a hair cover. I slip it over my ponytail, exchanging smiles with a nurse as I smooth around my temples to tuck in loose frizz. Then I pull on a mask. Unwrapping a fresh sponge from sterile packaging, I beeline towards the sink for some hot water, soap, and meticulous scrubbing—all 4 planes of each finger, hand, and wrist. I rinse then pat dry with paper towels, moving proximally from my fingertips—overkill since I’m not scrubbing in, but good practice. Fluorescent light streams across the bone white linoleum as I enter the OR. 

I may have risen before the sun, but the surgical team never went to bed and are already well into a heart transplant operation. The room is icy and thick with caustic odors, burning flesh and acrid chemicals, which fade to aromatic background noise in about 10 minutes. The raw meat charring and an open ice chest in the room evoke momentary barbecue associations that are disturbingly at odds with the rest of the hospital scene. The donor heart is already on sterile ice in a sterile basin on the sterile back table. To avoid contamination, I give the sterile field a wide berth by skirting around the center of the room. Leaning over the body cavity, my mentor cauterizes an incision with deliberate strokes, his brows furrowed above his safety goggles.

I pull on a pair of gloves and station myself in a corner, staying out of the way of two nurses who have more legitimate claim to this territory. A surgeon scrubbing in offers me the back of his sterile gown, and I tie the papery strings into a snug bow, double knotting for good measure. The surgical team removes the bunk heart and starts implanting the new one, painstakingly stitching donor blood vessels to the patient’s existing plumbing. For hours, my mentor labors over the body cavity, statue-like in his stillness, apart from the slight movements of his busy hands, until a resident scrubs in to relieve him. My mentor steps away from the body cavity and comes back to life as the mask of concentration lifts from his face allowing personality to flood back in. He glances around the room as though just waking from a dream and notices me for the first time, standing 15ft away. With his eyes and a jerk of his head, he signals me over to a different corner of the OR. I head for the rendezvous spot and narrowly miss a puddle on the floor — blood from a detached suction hose. My shabby Converse are saved from the perils of bodily fluids, and I am spared a talking to about the benefits of protective shoe-covers. A safe distance from the sterile field, my mentor stands next to a table. On the table, in a metal basin, is a human heart, recently extracted and still pink.

“Pretty cool huh?” His eyes are laughing above his mask.

I struggle to keep my composure, afraid my head might just pop off from the excitement fizzing through my body. He points to different chambers and blood vessels, quizzing me on anatomy and explaining visible signs of disease. Steadying the bloody mass with one gloved hand, I poke and prod my fingers into the supple organ, systematically investigating every inch of the still warm heart. Across the room, someone mops up the crimson puddle.

In the physician’s lounge across the hall, my mentor and I chat over cups of coffee. Back outside the OR, we gear up again with hair covers and masks. I repeat my ablutions over the sink, pat my hands dry (starting at the most distal point), and pull on fresh gloves. While they suture and staple the chest cavity shut, a nurse entertains us by showing off the tribal tattoo he just added to his already extensive collection.

At 8pm, I call it quits. My mentor’s scrubbed into a mitral valve repair, so I leave without formal farewells and retrace my steps back to the room I’m subletting. The night air feels like an oven set to defrost after so many bone-chilling surgical floor hours. I arrive home fully thawed, sit on the concrete steps outside my room and light my first cigarette of the day, deciding that the view is somehow even more spectacular than usual. The green house in particular is looking extra pleasantly radioactive this evening. At 2am, I lie in bed, enveloped in the sweltering heat of my tiny, airless room, listening to the whirr of a dilapidated fan.

About the Author

Corinne Hickey moved to San Francisco in 2019 to study web development and find a tech job. Disliking the startup lifestyle, she quit her job and spent the last year working as a freelance and contract writer. Working on creative assignments for clients inspired Corinne to try writing her own stories in a Creative Nonfiction Writing course at CCSF. Originally from Ventura County, Corinne graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish. She has a wide variety of interests and would like to continue trying out different careers throughout her life. Most of her free time is spent reading fiction, but in between books, Corinne also enjoys gardening, coding, portraiture, piñata-making, and other arts and crafts. Recently back from a trip to Thailand, she is currently couch surfing in the outer sunset and applying to software engineering positions. 

Cootie Loved Be-Bop

Written by Gloria Keeley

Louis Armstrong changed all the brass players around, but after Bird, all of the instruments had to change – drums, piano, bass, trombones, trumpets, saxophones, everything.” –Trumpeter Cootie Williams

his trumpet could chatter like
echoes of Harlem
along the corridors of Nah’Leans
out the mouth of Route 66
the band in sync
the reeds pure weed
blowing notes off key
sublime like jazz
discs spinning
sax on wax
trombone slides
roller coaster rides
up the midway
down the scale
finger zinger
plucking largo, then stretto
snap of skins
like bowling pins
in a back alley
the drum-smooth paradiddle
pawing up the fence
man those cats could play

About the author

Gloria Keeley is a former student of CCSF. She attended classes in the late sixties as a Drama major. She was editor of Forum Magazine in 1969. She taught for CCSF for 35 years. Gloria is back attending CCSF as a student, taking writing classes. She hopes to get her creative writing certificate soon.

Thinking of a Place

Written by Peng Ngin

Jessica rolled down the window of the taxi. The air felt like a summer night in Philadelphia where she is from: warm, languid, still. The difference on this quiet road outside a coastal town facing the South China Sea was the scent—of perfumed blossoms mixed with rotting organic matter.  She tried to make out the shapes of the passing dark buildings and dark trees, partially lit by the headlights of their taxi. She turned to Jeremy who was looking at his phone. Can you see where we are?  We are out of range, he said.

The couple were on their way to Alan’s house. Or they think that is his name. They met him three days ago when they got off the bus. Jeremy saw him first at the terminal with a few other men, all armed with brochures offering adventures to the alighting tourists: scuba diving, island hopping, massage. He was lean and of medium complexion—like the other men with him. He wore a white t-shirt that read The War on Drugs. Hey, Jess, you have a fellow groupie in these boondocks. No way, Jessica said, wiping her brow and shielding her eyes from the slanting afternoon glare. The man wearing the t-shirt of Jessica’s favorite band did not offer a brochure as they walked by but said in accented English: Interested in the best tour of your life? They ignored him and started looking for a taxi. As though reading their minds, the man yelled above the din of the barkers: No need to get a taxi. Your hotel is over there near the pier. He pointed to a cream color colonial building with white window shutters. If you need anything, ask the hotel to ring Alan. Jessica thought: here we are, another tourist trap.

Traveling to Southeast Asia was Jessica’s idea. Both of them had an opportunity for an extended vacation. Jessica managed to get a long leave from her non-profit housing development job and Jeremy was starting graduate school in a few months. He would have preferred to travel to Europe or a Central American country like Belize. That is too easy, was Jessica’s response. Let’s explore someplace further, like Southeast Asia. But when they settled on this region, it was not Bali or Bangkok or Hanoi they travelled to but obscure destinations. This is a chance of a lifetime, to really be off the beaten path, she urged Jeremy.

And they sped through these destinations. This is awesome, Jeremy yelled as they rowed an unsteady boat among the mangroves at one island. He wanted to linger longer than her at the temple built into the side of a limestone cliff. At the last destination before arriving at this town, they slogged in the drenching humidity to a waterfall filled lake, after which Jeremy, recovering in the hotel’s lounge, asked: Is this what you wanted? Roughing it in these mosquito infested places? Reclining with ice packs on her ankles, Jessica offered no answer as she struggled to find a photo to post on her social media pages. Let’s take the bus to this town, she said. I have been thinking of this place. And showed him a one-paragraph description in the guidebook. But there is nothing there, Jeremy said. 

Indeed, there was very little to see or do in this seaside town. And it was small, so small that by noon the next day, they had run into the man they met the previous day twice—at the wet market and then at a café. He was with friends each time and waved without stopping. Jessica heard his friends laughing and calling him by a different name. Kilwan? Iwan? At the night market later when they were trying to decide on their dinner, they heard a voice behind them: It’s all safe to eat. What are you looking for? It was Alan. When Jessica and Jeremy looked at each other and shrugged, he said, come, I will take you. He led them to a table outside a restaurant. Sit, sit, he said. What beer would you like? 

Over a few hours, Jessica and Jeremy sampled everything Alan suggested. Some of the delicacies looked strange, unappetizing. Alan ate with gusto, pointing at each dish with his chopsticks, explaining what it was. In the end the Americans relished the stewed intestines, pungent tofu, grilled frog legs —and were surprised by their newfound fearlessness.

We saw you yesterday with the white t-shirt. Where did you get it? Jessica asked. Oh, the no to drugs shirt? Ha! It’s funny. I like the shirt. As you know, this government can execute you for selling drugs. He made a noose-like gesture with his hands. So, I am telling the government—now he raised a fist—I support your campaign! And he laughed. Jessica was surprised by the tour guide’s wit, his attempt at humor. He continued: An English chap gave it to me. Is it a rock band?  Jessica did not tell Alan that she had seen the band at least a dozen times. And she has never shared with Jeremy that at one early concert before they met, she danced and swung her elbows with a few guys around her—and kissed a couple of startled strangers. In later years, she liked recalling that evening when all these people caught her in the half dark as she flew around in the concert hall.

When it was time to pay, the tab was astoundingly low. Local prices, Alan beamed. We cannot thank you enough … that was incredible, Jessica said. And so, so interesting, thank you, she continued, clasping her hands. My pleasure, Alan smiled. What’s are you doing tomorrow? To which Jeremy said, we are not sure. Might relax by the pool. We Americans are not used to this heat. Alan waved his hand. No problem. Just ask your hotel clerk to call me if you want to take the boat to the islands. Or, there is a mansion you should visit. Just a short walk. I can take you. Not in the guidebooks. Or the internet.

They visited the mansion the next day. To reach it, they followed a faint footpath up the forested foothills, leaving the coast with its swaying coconut trees. What the hell, Jessica said, as they emerged out of the thick undergrowth to look up to a five-story mansion. The lower half of the building was covered with vines. Part of the roof had collapsed so that the top floor window shutters were silhouetted against the sky. It looked eerie and strangely beautiful, Jessica thought. They entered the wide entrance, its doors barely hanging on to the hinges, and immediately heard some stirring. Jeremy asked: is someone here? Come, Alan said and led them through a hallway littered with fallen plaster. As soon as he opened the door at the end of the hallway, the sound grew louder. Assured by how calm Alan was, they peered into the doorway. It revealed a blue tiled courtyard, baking under the midday sun. In the middle were eight, nine peacocks, with several displaying their feathers. Jessica and Jeremy uttered Oh simultaneously. How improbable, Jessica thought, a menagerie in the middle of the jungle. Take a look upstairs, Alan said, but be careful. I will wait here. 

They climbed the stairs to the upper floors. Jessica thought about the lives of the family who used to occupy the mansion (a plantation owner with two sons whose feuding families resided in opposite wings, Alan had explained earlier. Sad ending: a business failure, an attempted arson, and a suicide by hanging). At the top floor she stopped to wipe the beading sweat on her arms and face. She looked down at the courtyard and saw the peacocks were now gathered near Alan. She thought he must be feeding them but it appeared he was talking to them. Suddenly, he pointed his right foot out and then proceeded to glide across the courtyard with his hands slightly raised. The peacocks moved out of his way as he breezed by and then immediately followed behind him before scattering. It looked like a dance choreographed for ten: one human and nine birds. She watched this spectacle for a while and wondered if Alan knew he was being observed. Look, Jessica said, when Jeremy came to the window. He raised his eyebrows. Baryshnikov, huh?

The sight of Alan moving around in the courtyard with the peacocks made Jessica catch her breath. For a moment, she had this image of her floating above the courtyard, above Alan, and above the birds. And the feeling of looking down at this Asian man surrounded by his avian corps de ballet. Jessica felt her body quiver, her face tingle.

We saw you earlier with the peacocks. Are you a dancer? Jessica asked as they made their way back to town. Alan left out a chuckle. No, I am not a real dancer. I was just thinking about how a prince would move when he comes back to reclaim his lost country. In the opera. If we still have an opera. What opera? Jessica quickly asked. Our opera that has not performed for five years. We still have the costumes, instruments. And sets, is that what you call them—sets? Maybe we will not perform again. Why not? Jessica asked. It’s very difficult, he sighed. Young people do not want to practice, want to look at their phones all day. And no money for performance. Many stories were written by people here a long time ago. Will be gone. 

Jessica considered all this and thought, what a pity. She imagined a makeshift stage, constructed perhaps near the bus terminal, with flimsy chairs where toddlers sat on the laps of grandmothers—something that would bring excitement to the quiet town. You should come to see our costumes and sets, Alan interrupted her thoughts. Come to my house tomorrow night. After nine. Before Jeremy could reply, Jessica said, yes, we would love to come. She knew she had to see where he lived, what his real life was like—after a day working as a tour guide. But how can we pay you, Alan? You are spending all this time with us. He paused to consider her offer and said: After you see our sets and if you want to donate, that will be okay. Does not matter. Opera will likely not start again. Give what you can. But you have to come late. Not before nine.

They had been traveling in the taxi for a while; outside, the same dark shapes flew by. Looking behind, Jessica can barely make out the glow of the town lights. Sitting in the car in the dark in an unfamiliar place, Jessica wondered if they should be doing this. What if there is no one there? Suddenly a few lines from her favorite The War on Drugs song came to her: I’m moving through the dark … of a long black night … And I’m thinking of a place. The chorus lines of this song always transported her. Once, while she was listening to this track at work, her mind drifted with the dreamy lyrics, the quivering guitar chords, and when she came to, she found herself crying. Why the tears, she wondered? Was it the brief levitation of the music or is it because she found herself back in her dreary cramped office in downtown Philadelphia, back to the monotony of her unexciting job.

When are we going to get there? Jeremy asked, then yawned. She shrugged and wondered now: What does the inside of a local person’s house looked like. Who does he live with? She looked out and saw a few distant lights dancing in the dark as the taxi moved along. Dreamily, Jessica thought about one evening last summer when while sitting on a city park bench, she saw a swarm of fireflies around her. She had just left a cocktail party where barely anyone talked to her. But now, she was so enthralled that she laid on the grass to look up at the night sky through the swirl of insects, the constellation of tiny flashing lights. She could feel the wet turf on her back but she also felt afloat, being lifted upwards. She said to herself: This is beautiful … I am not drunk … I am not sad … this is beautiful.

The taxi left the paved road and slowed down as it rolled onto a gravel lane. Jessica could see a dimly lit building in the distance. Jeremy pressed her hand as if to say: let’s hope this is worth it. 

The taxi left them in a pool of darkness. They walked past an open gate and towards the light from a cinderblock house with an attached warehouse. Outside the front door were scattered mismatched sandals, a few potted plants, and a motorcycle, missing the back wheel.  They heard a dog bark in the distance. Then they heard a rustling and turned—to see a shirtless boy walk out of the darkness. He was about ten. What you want? He asked.  Alan, we are looking for Alan, Jessica said. Ewan? You look for Ewan? He replied. Yes, yes, Ewan, said Jeremy. The boy knocked on the door and whispered to someone inside. OK, come, he said and led them around the house to a door into the warehouse. 

When they entered the building the boy pointed to a few plastic chairs and Jessica and Jeremy sat down. The boy moved to the chair furthest from them and pulled his knees up to his chest, looking straight ahead, without an expression. 

On one wall of the warehouse were a few tattered posters of opera performers. On another were several framed faded photographs of sullen looking men. In the far corner were musical instruments, silk screens, and stools all covered with a clear plastic wrap. Perhaps, that is the opera set, Jessica thought.  Next to this pile was a red door that probably led to the living quarters. 

Sound of cymbals and gongs suddenly filled the room. Then a female figure in a blue and white costume appeared out of the red door. She took small steps to the rhythm of clapping sticks, and sang in a high pitch voice. Jessica could feel the yearning of her words—foreign words—and an aching lonely timbre that suddenly enlivened the tired dullness of the room. 

The figure waved her long sleeves that trailed on the floor when she put her hands down. Two curved feathered tails several feet long protruded from her jeweled hat. Jessica tried to find Alan’s face under the white rouge of this figure’s temple and nose ridge that contrasted sharply with her vermillion cheeks. Jessica reached for her phone and wondered if this was a good moment to take a shot.

But now the figure came closer. Jessica could see that the edges of the figure’s eyeliner curved up to make her eyes startlingly large and bird-like. Her thick eyebrows similarly curved upwards. Jessica looked at her eyes—Alan’s eyes—eyes that did not blinked, that looked back at the American tourist.  Jessica turned to check on Jeremy, who had an incredulous expression; she wanted to say: Alan. He is performing for us. Just for us.

What dance was he performing? Jessica wondered. A maiden in Spring wandering in a garden? A woman longing for a faraway lover?  And: Why such beauty? Why such beauty here in a godforsaken place? Who will tell the story about this solo opera performance in a place far from everywhere else? And how is it that she who grew up in a sleepy Philadelphia suburb is here watching this? She loosened her hair to cool herself as she thought of these questions.

The music abruptly stopped. Alan dropped his sleeved hands and turned towards the red door.  A man rushed in with a young girl and started shouting at Alan. The man was short and had on a Hawaiian shirt. He looked older—is he Alan’s brother? What did Alan do wrong? Jessica thought. Now the man pointed at Jessica and Jeremy as if to say, who are these people? Alan said something back and they proceeded to argue, the man shouting over Alan. Jessica could barely look at Alan’s face, whose make up was now streaked with tears, red and black bleeding onto white. The shouting became louder, angrier. And Alan was now kneeling on the floor with his costume in disarray around him. Then the man approached Alan. Jessica thought he was going to hit Alan, who put his hand over his head. But the man just stood there, his body visibly tensed with rage. He then walked to the pile at the end of the room, tore the plastic off, and proceeded to throw the drums, screens to the middle of the room. Alan screamed—and started sobbing. Jessica held on to Jeremy. The girl and the boy covered their faces with their hands, the boy shaking. For a few moments, the man just stood there while Alan continued crying. Then in a soft voice Alan said something to the man and, looking at Jessica, said: I will call a taxi. 

Jessica and Jeremy rushed out of the building. It was quiet out there as before. Jessica could feel her heart pounding. She folded her arms to brace herself—and then realized she was shivering. The terrible shouting started again, filling the enveloping countryside darkness. 

Jessica turned to Jeremy, whose face said: What do we do now? Down the road, they could see some lights, the lights of a house that they did not notice earlier, and they started to make their way there. 

About the author

Peng Ngin lives in the Richmond District in San Francisco. When the pandemic began, he started taking classes in CCSF — in horticulture, art history, and creative writing. He looks forward to taking more writing classes. Peng’s other interests include backpacking, attending indie music concerts, and volunteering at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. He works in finance.

Contest Winners (Nonfiction)

The best way to enjoy nonfiction is to take a breath and say, “Sh•t’s about to get real.” These writers capture stories from their lives and package them into hilarious and/or heartbreaking scenes for strangers to enjoy. Check out our favorites from this semester.

First Place
Two Rituals, Two Days, Same Me
Written by Corrine Hickey

The Breaking Point
Written by Aniah Hill

Written by Susan Stone

Got Poems? Get Paid!

The Academy of American Poets is offering a $100 prize to current CCSF students. Submit three previously unpublished poems and you could fatten your wallet while gaining national recognition.

Click here for details on how to enter (it’s easy, we promise). More information can be found at the Academy of American Poets website.

Contest ends May 5, so get writing!

Poetry for the People Open Mic Virtual Event THIS MONDAY (4/11), 6–7:30pm

The days are getting lighter as the world becomes darker. If you’re in the mood for a quick pick-me-up, join us at Monday’s open mic online event.

Current and former City College of San Francisco Poetry for the People students and faculty will share creative writing that points us towards the free days ahead.

When? Monday, April 11, 6–7:30pm

Where? Your choice! It’s remote, so wear (and drink) whatever you’d like

Who? Anyone can attend this event, which is brought to you by CCSF’s Women’s & Gender Studies Dept.

How to join? Register on Eventbrite

Poetry for the People Reading and Open Mic

Towards the Free Days Ahead
Feminist Creative Writing Series: Poetry for the People
Reading & Open Mic
Current and former Poetry for the People students and
faculty share creative writing that points us towards the
free days ahead.

Mon April 11 | 6-7:30pm |
Register on Eventbrite