“How pitiful then, that it had no idea about the devastation happening to its own species.” (Sean Taro Nishi)

Rachel Forrest pineinforest

Pine in Forest by Rachel Forrest

Rachel Forrest is a a painter based in San Jose. Her work can be found on her website.

Save the Sloths

by Sean Taro Nishi

The thing about non-profits is: the people who work there are always beautiful. It’s as if they’re giving back for their God-given gifts, paying it forward if you will.

Paying it forward is what made me seek out the Save the Sloths Foundation. A dead relative left me a huge sum of money with one request: that I donate at least part of it to a charitable organization of my choice.

So I looked through some brochures and saw one with a picture of a beautiful tall woman holding a baby sloth in her arms. The tagline said “Be a boss, save a sloth.” I was attracted to her immediately.

Another thing about beautiful people: they’re good for advertising.


“to the front of that line, pushing and shoving and punching and biting…” (Clyde Always)

Rachel Forrest VisualArts_An Out of Body Experience

An Out of Body Experience by Rachel Forrest

Rachel Forrest is a a painter based in San Jose. Her work can be found on her website.

Stella and the Fratboy

by Clyde Always

Once upon a time, in a rip-roaring party town set by the sea, there lived a stunningly beautiful siren named Stella.  Stella had shimmering sapphire eyes and shapely long legs and soft flimsy skirts and her armpits she never would shave (though she would shave her head down one side).  She lived in a battered and clunky Westphalia van with an old mandolin and an overfed goldfish named Fatty, who was never content with a sprinkle of fish-flakes, but instead, had developed a rather insatiable appetite for human flesh.

Now, it so happens, that one sweltering April afternoon, Stella had parked her van on the beach, positioned between the frozen margarita stand and the tiki-torch emporium and there, she sang out some notes while strumming away on the old mandolin, emitting over the scene of sun-bathers and surf-waders the most eerie and bewitching music, loud enough even to drown out the incessant robotic donkey-braying coming from the dub-step DJ booth.  Right away, a small crowd of funnel-clutching fratboys gathered around Stella, all swaying in their saggy board shorts and grinning and chuckling and flexing their pecs at her.

“Hey, boys…” Stella sang out at them with a tangy rasp in her voice, to which, they all replied in unison,

“Spring break bro! Whoo!”

She beckoned one husky and meaty, shaggy blond surf-jock into the van and looked on in grisly delight as Fatty devoured the boy in a single, gulping, schlorping swallow.  She then poked her head out of the window and called out a coy and sinister,

“Who’s next??”

The ‘bros’ all fought like wild dogs to the front of that line, pushing and shoving and punching and biting each other, until the strongest amongst them had elbowed his way right into the jaws of the goldfish before he could even say “duuuuude, what the fuuucccckkkkk!”  And so, it went, one after the other until Fatty was so engorged that he’d shattered his fish bowl and flopped out onto the floor, straining his gills and coughing up puka-shell necklaces.

Only a single fratboy remained, so Stella tried luring him in with a wink from her eye and a pucker from her lips but he stood there, frustratingly motionless, just stroking his flawless washboard six-pack, when suddenly, there came from the beachful of revelers, a giant, collective, blood-curdling scream, as a tsunami rose way in the distance and out from the depths of the ocean came the stark silhouette of a horrible, hideous, tentacled sea-monster!  Stella eyed the fratboy in the midst of this chaos but he showed not even a single sign of panic, in fact, he snapped his fingers twice, manifesting out of thin air a heavy and hefty golden trident — crusty with rubies and pearls, and then, with a few clever flicks of his wrist, he used it to cut the roof off the van as if it were merely a can of sardines. Then Stella looked on in horror as poor Fatty was gutted alive, releasing the hoards of spring-break-party-bros, all of whom ran for the hills, shrieking like ten-year-old girls, and then the fratboy tossed the carcass of the goldfish over his shoulder and the monster gobbled it up like sashimi.

Then the sea fell calm, and the monster retreated back into the deep, and Stella grumbled miserably at the sight of her mangled Westphalia van, until, this sea-faring demigod of a fratboy whistled a shrill ‘♪♫,’ summoning out of the foamy surf a chariot drawn by two-winged sea-horses, which swept Stella and himself off of their feet and into the air and over the choppy, blue waves, and for perhaps, the first time in her life, Stella felt kind of weak in the knees, as at last, this mysterious suitor finally spoke with rugged charisma and looking her longingly right in the eyes, he requested politely and oh-so-succinctly that Stella-the-Siren… ‘show him her tits.’

Clyde Always, for the promotion of bliss, writes and recites his own blend of tall tales and clever verses, as well as creates assorted works of surrealist beauty.

“‘Cause, I’m gonna snooze back some further in time and about forty, fifty miles north of here.” (Jeff Kaliss)


The following, “Family Affair” (script, excerpt), is an excerpt of a completed script by Jeff Kaliss.

Jeff Kaliss studies writing and jazz piano at CCSF after completing an MFA in Creative Writing at SFSU. His poetry appears in the Suisun Valley Review and he reads it around town. Jeff wrote a biography of Sly & the Family Stone and thousands of articles about music.

Family Affair

by Jeff Kaliss

FADE IN, over sound of an insistent rock drumbeat, to a scene tinted psychedelically:

PAN, hordes of slowly stirring sleeping hippies, most in sleeping bags across the occupied meadowland, some wandering half-naked, some smoking doobies. CAPTION: “Woodstock Music & Art Festival, Bethel, New York, August 16, 1969, 4 a.m. On stage: Sly & the Family Stone.” An amorous, still-sleepy HIPPY COUPLE, he black, she white, embrace as they listen:


What we would like to do is, sing a song together.
(Pause) But most of us need approval.

HIPPY COUPLE embraces, kisses, then turns their smiling faces towards the glow of the stage. CUT to CU of SLY STONE, 26 years old:


Most of us need to get approval from our neighbors,
before we can actually let it all hang down.

CUT TO HIPPY COUPLE. He looks down towards his midsection, looks at her, they both start laughing. CUT back to:


Now, what we’re gonna do here is a singalong. A lot
of people don’t like to do that, because they think it
may be old-fashioned. But you must dig that it is not
a fashion in the first place! It’s a feeling, and if it was
good in the past, it is
still good! So what I want you to
do, I’d like everybody to join in, when we say “Higher!”,
I want you to hold the peace sign up. It’ll do you no harm.

SLY starts to sing, against the continuing pulse of GREG’s drumming. INTERCUT with the hippy couple responding vocally and with peace signs.


(Chanting:) I wanna take you higher!


(Chanting:) Higher!!

Chant is repeated.


Way up on the hill! I wanna hear y’all!!

CUT TO dusky vista of hippie throng on the hill, some distance from the stage. Many more now are standing and displaying peace signs, as well as many more illuminated joints.

CUT TO entire Sly & the Family Stone band on stage. JERRY, on saxophone, and CYNTHIA, on trumpet, launch into the brassy instrumental tag from “Music Lover”, then transition to “I Want to Take You Higher”, with SLY taking the lead on vocals and keyboard, ROSE on backup vocals, LARRY on backup vocals and bass, and FREDDIE on guitar, along with JERRY, CYNTHIA, and GREG. During the performance of the song, we get to see all of them in closeup, intercut with shots of an audience reclaimed from the night, the Hippy Couple among them, moving to the music. We may or may not run opening credits and the film title here. On the chorus line, “Baby light my fire”, the Hippy Couple can do just that. On the extended chant of “Boom-laka-laka-laka”, CROSSCUT to:



“I may be as average as they come in so many respects, … but I’m not a dummy.” (Dana Wagner)

Old Town Parking_photography

Old Town Parking by Chiao En Huang

Chiao En Huang studies Graphic Design in CCSF. Currently, Chiao works at speciality coffee shop SPRO. “Obviously, [to] create is one of my biggest hobbies. I also do a lot of painting and drawing. Line (geometric) and color are two really big inspiration for me.” More work can be viewed at Chiao En Huang’s website:

A Simple Task

by Dana Wagner

Call me Kobayashi.

That’s what the short, clean-cut Japanese man in the dark suit had said when he’d given me the small package.  If his name had actually been Kobayashi, he wouldn’t have said it the way he had, but as I walked through the afternoon crowd in the Ginza district with the brown-paper-covered parcel under my arm, I was still wondering why he’d picked that as his cipher … and why he’d picked a cipher at all, an obviously fabricated pseudonym that had been completely unnecessary since I was highly unlikely to ever see him again.  It seemed pointless, a deception merely for the sake of itself.  Maybe that had been the point, simply to impress upon me how little I knew.  You do not know my name, he was saying, you do not know anything about me, and there is very little of this you will ever understand.

Not that I needed much reminding.  As a foreigner living in Tokyo, I felt uncertain and unwelcome even on the best of days.  The man allowed into the party solely because he could score something everyone there wanted, tolerated and even spoken to, but with whom no one wanted any kind of personal connection.  The Japanese would smile, buy you business meals, make small talk, get drunk with you, and play at being your guides through their complex society while they sought to exploit your knowledge of western markets, but they would never, ever let you in or do anything to give you any illusions about being truly trusted or included.  They barely let each other into their inner lives, and they weren’t about to shake off centuries of xenophobia and emotional repression for a nondescript American businessman like me.  I was no stranger to being the painfully self-aware stranger in their midst.  So why was it eating at me that this Japanese man of indeterminate age, whom I had never seen before and would hope never to see again, had bothered to give me a transparently fake name?

Because he had bothered.  That was the thing about the Japanese I dealt with in my business interactions, whether inside or outside the office.  They never bothered with anything gratuitous.  If they had to suck it up and place a veneer of hospitality on top of their forced relationships with the corporate emissaries of the West, they would, but they weren’t going to put anything more into it than necessary.  Everything they did and shared with a gaijin like me was a deliberate choice and had a desired purpose.  Often it was immediately clear to me what it was, sometimes it wouldn’t become clear until much later, and sometimes I would never figure it out.  But always I knew it was there.  There was always something.  If this squat Japanese man who’d pushed the package towards me across his desk had told me to call him Kobayashi, then there had been a reason, and I was focused on trying to puzzle out what it had been.


“This would be the perfect emoji for today.” (Kate Steinheimer)

Dimas Arellan strangers_Charcoal

Strangers by Dimas Arellan, charcoal

Dimas Arellan is a surrealist creature artist from Los Angeles who loves City College and all it’s colorful people and things.

Sardonic Face

by Kate Steinheimer

I’d like to invent a new emoji. One that says, “I can’t believe you just said that.” Or something like that. I could use it a lot, although I’m not sure exactly what it would look like. Maybe eyebrows slightly raised. Mouth pulled slightly to the side to look a little bit disappointed and maybe a little bit mocking. This would be the perfect emoji for today.

I use emojis in all of my texts and Instagram posts. A bunch of emoji key chains clink around on my backpack. I have an emoji rug, emoji pillows, and 20 pairs of emoji earrings, each with a different expression. Although they make my ears hurt if I wear them for more than one day, all of my friends are jealous of them. The main problem with emoji earrings, though, is that my emotions change so quickly that the pair I picked in the morning is never the right one by lunchtime, and sometimes not even by my first period advisory class. I have emoji leggings, too, but I haven’t worn them since Chloe told me they looked like pajamas.


“The Day After” by S. K. Lee


The Day After

by S. K. Lee

“Here you go, Cristina.” said Agatha as she handed me a cup of coffee. “Thanks, I could use some caffeine. I only got a few hours of sleep last night.” I said as I took a sip. The coffee was nice and hot, perfect for a cold and cloudy autumn day. “I don’t think my parents got any sleep at all.” I said as we began walking down the street. My parents and the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country had a rude awakening the previous night. A man who promised to round up and deport all of them, had been elected president.

“How are they?” asked Agatha. She had that familiar worried look on her face. I had seen it before when her daughter Annie had the flu. It warmed my heart to know I had such a good friend that cared about my family. “They’re scared.” I said as my voice began to tremble. “If he keeps his promise, my parents…my aunts…my uncles…they’re all going to be rounded up…and then…” I couldn’t finish the sentence. I didn’t want to even imagine what would happen to them. As I started to tear up, Agatha wrapped her arm around my shoulders to comfort me.

“Everything is going to be okay, Cristina.”

“How do you know that? You don’t know that, Agatha!”

“I know if he tries anything crazy, the people won’t stand for it.”

“The people? Are you fucking kidding me?! The people are the ones who just elected a racist, sexist, xenophobe as our next president! What the fuck is wrong with our country?!” I shouted as tears began to roll down my cheek. Agatha pulled out a tissue from her pocket and gently wiped away the tears on my eyes and cheek.


Screenplay: Out With Italians [Excerpt] by Tony Bianco




A small fishing town in the San Francisco Bay Area. December 7, 1941.


A small, simple apartment. LINO NOCCI, 35, wiry, handsome, a scar along the left half of his jawline, stands staring at his radio. An Italian-speaking announcer is talking about the Pearl Harbor bombing.

Il bombardamento di Pearl Harbor denudera il gran buffone d’Italia, Benito Mussolini. La debolezza di Mussolini sara esposto per il mondo. Il nemico di tutt’italiani, il pazzo detestato stara disfatto. Mussolini …

The announcer is cut off in mid-sentence. There’s KNOCKING at the front door.

Lino turns the radio’s knob but gets only static. The KNOCKING gets LOUDER.

(heavy Italian accent)
Why you no break down?

Lino Nocci. FBI . Open up or we will.

Who you are?

Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Lino hurries away from the door. (more…)

Forum Online– Fall, 2016

We are pleased to announce the winners of the first annual writing contest!

Poetry: Gloria Keeley for her poem, “Billie”

Fiction: Chandler Vannasdall for his story “End of the Line”

Click for more poems, stories, and photos from our fantastic Fall, 2016 authors to the right–under Who We Are!

And the amazing photo above, “Fall,” is by Suzanne Notario.  More photos by her appear in the genre sections!   Suzanne’s  first photography course was in Fall 2013 at City College of San Francisco. She discovered a whole new world of creativity, and has been taking photography classes here ever since.




 The winning poem chosen by Cullen Bailey Burns


By Gloria Keeley

Thelonious played Black Crow

low and slow

strange fruit still echoes

blackened in the cold hard sun

night fell on

the slip knot of moon

color lines drawn on

the maps of trees

roots unaware

magnolias budded white

sway with the gentle breeze

music of washboards and harps

far from plantation mansions

in the backwater’s dark strut with

the taps of shoes

before the wolves hunt,

the black locusts buzz

gospel singers tune

their collective voices

the fruit gathered neatly

beneath the darkening shade

headed toward heaven

the horns blow Dixie

And the winning story chosen by Jackie Davis-Martin!

End of the Line

By Chandler Vannasdall

Rambert sits cross-legged near the back of a crowded city bus. He dreads the long commute home, because after this bus reaches its final destination, he still must catch two more crowded busses before he can rest. He takes tiny sips from his flask, hidden in his sleeve, in order to ease the stress of his workday. Rambert looks up from the newspaper he just struggled several minutes to fold in the perfect shape for reading the article he saved to read last.

While carefully observing the long dark smudges of ink on his left hand, he notices just beyond his focus sits an elderly lady. She is sitting with her arms crossed over her chest under a faded pink shawl, her mouth tightly pursed in a scowl, and her hair curled up like that of a dainty but dedicated 1940’s housewife.

Rambert stares at her and begins to imagine all the horrible discomfort and displeasure that this old woman must feel, cramped into the same mechanic cage as he is. He begins to imagine how she must be so disgusted by the harsh reality of the four young school boys, giggling, huddled around looking at nude photos of the same celebrities in the same teenaged TV shows they will undoubtedly watch with their siblings when they get home. He imagines how her soft ears are getting bombarded with brutal words. People forming phrases so profane, and so near her head that she is forced to imagine the kind of violence these young people speak about to one another as if commonplace. Rambert wishes he could kick everyone of these people off the bus for the way they are behaving in her elegant presence.

The bus clears out some, and Rambert now lowers his newspaper without reading the article he had saved previously, uncrosses his legs, and with a sharp exhale begins to carefully walk towards the front of the bus. He glances a little longer than normal at each disappointing group of millennials as he passes them, believing that if he could position himself nearer to the old woman and match her disapproving scowl he will be able to save her from the struggle of her commute.

He finds an empty seat and carefully slumps back down into the hard plastic seats as he takes another sip from his flask, and crosses his other leg. Rambert is now so dialed in on defending the honor of the lady now just a few seats away; he notices a very young couple standing a block away on the bus route. The couple is smoking the end of a joint and caressing one another with glazed over eyes, smoke stained fingers gliding through one another’s hair. Rambert now sees that the young man is covered in piercings and tattoos and the girl is not covered in very much at all, and he now wonders what the sweet old woman must be enduring. Her feeble arms suddenly unfold and he shares his disapproval of the couple’s demeanor, because Rambert knows that the elderly lady stuck on this circus of a bus would never have tolerated this kind of public behavior and never stood for this grotesque display of mutual disrespect if only she could even still stand on a moving bus.

The same young girl, although at this point in the ride there are many empty seats, sits on her boyfriends lap. Rambert stares coldly and starts to even feel embarrassed for the old woman and her honor, as the young man sticks his tongue down the throat of his girlfriends and slowly slides his hand up her shirt. The old woman’s pursed lips now fall agape, in the uncertain shock and disbelief that Rambert feels he fully shares with this woman by now, and uncrosses his legs to match her physical response.

The bus is now approaching the last leg of the long route out of town, and the last of the rotten and unforgivable proprietors of these so-deemed public atrocities exits the bus. Only Rambert, the old woman, and the insistently unbiased driver of the bus now share the silver space. With the departure of the deviants and the last sip of his flask, Rambert is now able to relax. He uncrosses his legs, stretches his arms, picks up the treasured article from his perfectly folded paper and his eyes slide across the gray page in the total silence of the once chaos-filled chrome coffin the two quietly endured for over an hour.

Rambert begins to pack up his briefcase and buttons his brown jacket, noticing the bus slowing to approach the first station in his travel. He stands and walks past the woman. As he is passing he leans his head down, smiles sincerely at his stranger-friend and nods his head. Rambert steps carefully onto the dark wet cement, lights a cigarette and begins to walk to his next bus stop six blocks south.

The old woman is still sat on the bus Rambert had left moments ago, and is not moving even one of her meek, little muscles despite the once silent bus driver now shouting “Everyone off!” for the third time to an otherwise empty bus. The driver, now in her full state of frustration, walks back to the woman and begins to nudge her right shoulder, still speaking loudly at her “Excuse me!“ the old woman now slumps over onto the linoleum floor as cold as her flesh, eyes wide, and mouth still stretched open, and the bus driver’s mouth finally opens as wide as the woman’s and screams.

The ambulance arrives in a storm of red steaming mist, matching the brake lights against the fog on the back of the bus. A young man in all white is sprinting up the steps of the bus, skipping half of them and leans down immediately to remove the woman’s pink shawl and examine her. With water in his eyes the young man glances up at the bus driver and now softly speaks through his teeth, “Dead…for three or four hours”. And Rambert removes his hat and steps carefully onto his second bus, crossing his legs in the dotted reflection of the next ride’s rear window.

Short Story by Kendra Lindemann


By Kendra Lindemann

Grass smells different in the morning than in the afternoon.  Alexandra lay with her back to the sun and her feet flipped up, the slight flare to her jeans catching on the wind.  Before her was a necklace and the warm, vaguely damp grass.  She played the necklace over in her hands and closed her eyes.

She hadn’t wanted to, but she’d said okay.  She’d said okay and she’d kept saying that everything was okay.  She closed her eyes and felt the familiar edge of silver under her fingertips.  This was real.  This was something she could grasp and hold and that could bite if she so directed.  This moment, this moment was safe.

Safe.  A large dog trundled over to investigate her as she lay mostly still, a well-chewed green frisbee dangling from its mouth and moving as it adjusted its grip excitedly.  Reaching up, Alexandra scratched the dog under its jowls and smiled at the waving tail as it marked the contented departure of the dog through the overgrown green grass.  The field needed to be mowed, though it was not so bad.  Four inches long or six made very little difference.  Seven inches, though, that was too much.

Too much.  He’d been so gentle.  Alexandra plucked a blade of grass from the wet turf and looked at it.  The light caught the green in interesting ways, refracting into an almost pink rainbow.  Fascinating, she mused, how a thing who could look so different up close.  Fresh grass was supposed to be green, not so close to irridescent that it couldn’t possibly be real.

When she’d cried, he’d stopped and asked if she was okay.  She’d said yes, as she’d been saying, but he hadn’t continued.  He’d stayed close for awhile, just holding her in place and making soft shushing sounds.  When she’d calmed a little, the tears rolling down her cheeks silently such that he couldn’t see, he’d kissed the top of her head and left her there.  A yellow light in the kitchen had come on and she’d heard popping and shuffling.  A few minutes later, there had been pizza rolls and popcorn and her shirt was smoothed back in place.

Above her, a bumble bee hummed as it moved from one clump of clover to another, drifting to the left as it chased the firmly planted but gently waving flowers.  She smiled and looked up.  Across the way, a soccer ball danced across the field, several girls in bright pink and white chasing it while a matching set of french braids and ponytails dressed in sky blue charged from the other direction.  They would meet in the middle and send the ball toward one goal or another, depending on which foot made first and strongest contact.

Her stomach hurt a little.  Well, not her stomach.  Lower.   She’d tried eating macaroni and sourdough toast for breakfast.  The ache didn’t go away.  It was like when she put in pads but different, both worse and not nearly so bad.  The phone, discarded a few feet away where she’d abandoned it to think, chimed once.  He’d informed her that he had tickets to the game.  She didn’t do sports, not usually, and wasn’t certain what teams were playing.  No one she knew, she was sure.  But he’d invited her; he already had the tickets.  There was nothing else to do tonight and people would talk if she didn’t go.

Picking up the phone and dragging it across the turf as she propped herself up on an elbow, she gazed at the screen for a long, long time.  “Still there?”

He never used acronyms.  They’d only started texting a week ago and she had waited in the cafeteria earlier today for all the guys to leer and make their stupid comments and for all the girls to look jealous.  She could have hated him, then.  Instead… instead all was well.  Katy had asked if she’d had fun yesterday but there had been nothing suggestive about the way she’d asked, even if Alexandra knew she’d been a bit defensive.  She gazed at the phone and considered writing yep, followed by the send key.  Her fingers didn’t move and she looked up at a distant clicking sound as a bit of dust caught in her eyes and nose.

A large mini-van opened up, revealing an ice-chest of juice drinks and pre-packaged cheese.  Probably a few apples.  The sorts of innocuous things that meant a mom was dedicated to her daughter and to the team by extension.  The kind of attention that was great now and would be stifling later.  Alexandra wondered what it would be like to feel so stifled.  She’d be just as unable to talk about last night if she was, she mused, though for entirely different reasons.  Oh the humanity.

Humanity.  She’d seen humans on TV.  She’d talked about the alphabetical faces and what they meant.  He had stopped well before.  He had… and now he wanted to watch the game with her.  And he hadn’t told a soul.  And he had an extra ticket if she wanted to bring a friend.  A third wheel.  And it hadn’t felt as good as the movies said.  And the popcorn had gotten stuck in her teeth and the blankets had been wet after and he’d said there was shampoo and conditioner in the shower.  His hair was short; how had he known to have conditioner?  How had he known…

The phone chimed again and Alexandra realized she’d been staring at the bee for a long time now.  Her skin might even be a little bit burned.  It felt nice, and maybe, when it peeled, she’d be clean again.  “Are we good?”  Another chime.  “Say something.  I’m getting worried.”

She rolled over and tossed the phone in the air.  It came down to the side and she extended her hand to catch it.  Another toss.  Another catch.  Another toss.  This time she caught it with her left hand.  The tosses were growing wild.  She tossed it more gently and it landed between her shoulder and her head, a little away from her neck.  Fishing for it awkwardly, she sat up and watched the large golden-yellow dog lope toward where the frisbee had hit the grass and scratch at it, trying to get an edge so it would flip up and he could lift it.

Again, the phone chimed.  “We okay?”

That word again.  She hated it.  She hated that she’d said it.  She hated that she’d kept saying it.  She hated that he’d stopped and she hated that he cared so much it hurt to look at him.  She hated it and she hated him.  Except that  “Look, I didn’t know.  There are things I would have done.  We don’t have to do that again.  Ever, if that’s what you want.  I like and respect you enough to want to be your friend, anyway.”

A long text, this time.  She could picture him with his finger-length hair and his dark blue eyes and his chestnut skin and his high cheeks and beautiful, kissable lips.  His smell had lingered on her shirt.  She hadn’t washed that, yet.  Maybe that was the problem.  He’d looked so concerned, so worried that it had seemed his pain and not a reflection of her own when his gaze had reached her eyes.  Too much.  She watched one of the pale blue shirts shoulder-check one of the pink and white shirts.  The other girl went flying.  It was obvious she wasn’t hurt, though she played up a skinned knee as the ref blew the whistle and a friend from the sidelines helped to walk her from the field.

How he must be panicking, now.  She was one of the pretty and smart girls.  Not the queen bee and not one of the wasps that defended her, but popular enough to be an oscar winning victim.  She’d not meant to say everything was fine.  She’d not meant to do a lot of things, least of all follow the kid back to his house with the busted front lock and the thousands of carpet-stains.  Once it was happening, she’d not meant to cry.  Once she’d stopped crying, she’d not meant to feel worthless.  Once he’d wrapped his arms around her, she’d not meant to feel like she’d hurt him.

Another chime.  She held her phone up and squinted against the brightness of the sun.  “Do you respect me enough to be honest?”

Ugh.  Why wasn’t he just leaving her alone?  She texted back the word “Busy” and tossed the phone a little ways off in the grass, laying back down again.  Her skin felt tight, like maybe it really was burned a little.  Didn’t matter.  The heat was nice.

She closed her eyes.

Off in the field, the girls were high-fiving each other in the lineup, saying they respected their opponents.  There would be pizza and soda tonight and juice boxes in the here and now.  Even the losers had grins on their faces.  Everyone was a winner.  The dog’s excited footfall as it trotted after its frisbee again mixed with the music of another lazy bee and the phone made a ding sound followed by another chime.  She rolled over and picked up the device, noting her mom’s identifying picture in the corner.  “Working late.  Leftovers in fridge.”  “Gave the tickets away.  See you tomorrow in class?”

Well, there was that word again.  She hated herself for saying it then; she hated herself for saying it now.  There was no other phrase to use, though.  There was, however, a social constraint that begged compliance.  She would heat up leftover sloppy joe mix in the microwave and put it on fresh buns from the toaster onto a plate.  She could, if she wanted, make something fresh and original before slaving over the dishes.  She might even have enough petty cash to go out, or even call in sick and take some time away.  These were things she theoretically could do, though she knew she would not.  Instead, she gave the only answer that was acceptable.  She gave the only answer she could.  She looked at her mom’s line of text and flipped to the other.  On both, she wrote the same word.  On both, they meant the same.