Excerpt from The Storytaker

Scratch, scratch, scratch. Click, tap, tap, click. 

Pencils on paper. Fingers tapped table-tops with no particular rhythm. The days were too short and too valuable to make music while deep in thought. 

People scrunched up their faces, which were red and frustrated. Tongues bled under the pressure of teeth. No one spoke, no one looked at anything but the swirls of marble on the ceiling and the notebook in front of them. Everyone was in their own world, even while so close together, and they had to keep it that way. 

Little dictionaries lay on the desks, people’s hands ripping through them like wind. Their gazes darted up and down the pages, becoming desperate. Some spent hours on a single sentence, a comma, a conjunction, an adjective. It was common knowledge that a good use of adjectives was a way to get through the day alive, or at least with a less fatal punishment. 

Shelves and shelves of dull-colored books lined the Sanctuary of Word. Some of them didn’t have pages yet, just covers waiting to be linked to a story. Others were half full. Then there were some gaps in between the books. I shivered at the sight of these lost stories. 

Someone vomited all over their notebook, bits of half digested food bleeding through their carefully selected words. They didn’t look much older than me. The person, whose gender I couldn’t tell from rows and rows away, muttered something under their breath, something like a number. Then they just stared into their ruined notebook, eyes full of fear and irritation. The Writer glanced up at the clock overhead, anticipating their coming doom. 

It was a solid hour until midnight, but here, the minutes rushed by as quickly as fire catches. 

I wanted to comfort them, but I felt as though there was a wall between us, like the screen of a mirror. That mirror being what held the reflection of my future self. 

1,000 words per day. Starting from age thirteen, this was life. Tomorrow, I was set to become one of the thousands of Writers who struggled to write marvelous tales every day. I would pick up a pen and start to write. One of those many seats would be mine. 

“It’s just two pages!” Ms. Penn, the head of the house I lived in for my earlier childhood, had taken to assuring me ever since my twelfth birthday. I would never forget that morning, when I’d woken up screaming from a dream where my hands became spiders and I couldn’t write, and then a Guard beat my head with a book until I woke up. 

Ms. Penn never helped with her attempts to comfort me. They just made me think about how much she was wrong. She hadn’t mentioned the additional 130 words I had to write to live in a decent place without rats crawling around, which was practically everywhere except the Sanctuary’s boarding houses on the edge of town. Ms. Penn also failed to bring up the fines you’re given for spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors. Then, and most terrible, the Block, where a Writer went when they had nothing left to write, or couldn’t come up with anything good or sensical. Those people were known as Blocked. Their books were removed from their shelf, the words inside of them concealed from the world forever. 

I swallowed hard, balling up my writing hand, my right, into a fist. I dreaded the moment it would hold a pencil, the words it would be forced to etch onto the page. After years and years of tossing and turning in bed, dreaming up stories I’d write in this hall, nothing seemed like the one I really wanted to write. I knew I’d have to write something. The only way to escape this was to finish one’s story, usually hundreds of pages long, have it released to the public, and have people know who I am. There was no other way. 

The clock tolled eleven, time for me to go through the door all the way down the hall. At least that was what the letter I received that morning had told me to do. I didn’t know what was to happen, but I had a feeling I was going to be meeting a Storytaker. 

The Storytakers ruled the Empire of Word, and controlled the Guards. They decided the fates of all Writers, and the values of their stories. Rumors told that the burning of bodies in the Block below the Sanctuary, and the paper from the stories burned by the Storytakers in their tower above was why this place usually smelled strongly like smoke and ashes. 

I walked slowly down the aisle separating the rows and rows of desks. People muttered abstract words and metaphors madly to themselves as they watched me pass, no doubt planning to use my image for one of their stories. In this place, so dull and fear-filled, there was no way to get inspiration other than from your own writing or people coming in from outside. 

I finally reached the end of the hall, and the door, which was not just a door, but a gigantic book. It had a shimmering gold cover and I could see coarsely cut pages sticking out from the top along with a pale red bookmark with the words “Take the Pen” written in puffy gold letters. 

I looked around at the rows of Writers closest to me. No one glanced up from their work, now used to my presence. Shouldn’t I ask one of them if I could borrow a pen? What if I surprised them so much with my question that they forgot an important idea they had? I didn’t want to be the reason someone got sent to the Block that day. 

I glanced back at the sign. Take the pen, take the pen… I began to search. Under the shelves, near the door. Beneath the desks, making sure my shoes didn’t squeak against the floor and cause a disruption. I began to get frustrated. Was this a test of intelligence, or just a simple thing I had to find to get in? Would I be fined with words if I couldn’t figure this out? Yes, that was probably it. An attempt to mess me up on my first day. 

I pictured it in my hand, ball-point, gold as the book. Don’t ask me why, but somehow imagining things gets my thoughts straight. What did I want? A pen. Where could I find it? I didn’t—

Click. Shuffle. Shuffle. 

The bookmark slipped into the book and disappeared. The bookshelves beside the book slid sideways. In response to having more room, the enormous glowing cover of the book opened to two blank, slightly yellowed pages. 

I pressed my hands against the smooth parchment. I twisted my head around to find the people were still not looking at me. Did they have to deal with the same mysterious entrance the day before their ceremonies? I returned my focus back to the open book, tracing my hand to the place where the pages were bound together. There was no opening, no way to worm my way through. I started turning pages, which were heavy and easy to crease due to their intense largeness. And then, after what felt like hours of turning, I reached the back cover where, sure enough, was a little gold door. I pushed on it and it gave way, creaking on hinges of gold coil. 

I laughed as I stepped through. I was coming through a book! Could I possibly be inside a story? 

Creak. Whoosh. Creak. 

The pages of the book all fell into each other as the book closed with a loud thump and the bookcases slid back into their places. The back cover of the book gleamed. But from what light?

I whirled back around, seeing a fog of eery white light hanging in the air a few feet away. 

I walked towards it. With each step a slight whirring in the distance got louder and more intense, while the light or fog or whatever you call it denser and overshadowing the looming darkness. 

I turned my head every which way, expecting to see a Storytaker’s eyes staring back at me mysteriously.

I’d never seen one before, and no one had ever described them to me. There had been stories about people who’d died out of terror in a Storytaker’s presence. Even though there was no saying whether or not these stories were true, there was no denying that they were creatures most people in the Empire did not want to meet.  

The white haze continued on. I walked faster and more impatiently now, the humming growing louder, almost like the very projected purr of a cat. Suddenly I realized I was passing through a ball of the pearly white fog, in the center of which was the most peculiar fountain I’d ever laid eyes upon. 

The water was the same cloud-white as the light that had led me there. The liquid moved around in waves, hence the sound of an animal in content. The waves were bodiless dancers. They crashed, circled around each other, dived deeper into the water and produced bubbles which rolled around on the surface like marbles until they hit the walls of the fountain. I squinted at the walls, which seemed to be made up of books with heavy stone covers so tightly connected that no water leaked through. Without realizing I was doing it at first, I reached out and touched some of the water riding a wave. It was warm and soothing. I took only a drop or two out on my finger, and realized that even though I’d brought it out of the light, it was still the same white it was in the pool. The substance was almost like milk, although it smelled of ink and parchment dunked in a contaminated lake. 

I wiped the substance off on my dress, a white stain soaking into the fabric of my skirt. Maybe the liquid was contaminated. 

“It is the Wordpool,” said a voice behind me. I had no time to murmur a greeting before I was face-to-face with a stout man in a pale navy suit and thin wisps of white hair peeking out from behind two small, triangular ears. His eyes were worlds of white, thin of a mouth and pale cheeks rid of any redness or emotion. In his hands was a single pen dripping with jet black ink. I watched as he leaned over the pool and touched the tip of the pen to the water, writing upon the surface. 

Venus 

He stopped suddenly, watching as a white wave carried my name away. The ink fought against it, weaving for a moment around bubbles and small ripples and waves in an attempt to escape. But it could not fight against the oncoming larger wave, which pulled it down into the water without mercy. 

For a few seconds afterward, the water was slightly grayer than before, but even that took its turn to fade. 

“A reminder that all stories will be gone someday, as they all follow the tides of fate and, of course, time.”

But that wasn’t a story! I wanted to protest. 

He continued, “The Wordpool also tells us that we have more stories to write. There will always be a blank page for humans to fill. We can’t ignore emptiness, no, blank pages create voids in our hearts and cracks in our character. Our job is to turn the emptiness into somethingness, although we become part of the emptiness in doing so.”

He knows, I thought, the reality settling in like a storm cloud in the horizon of my mind. He knows it’s only a matter of time before I go to the Block. 

I followed his thoughtful gaze to the blank body of water and I suddenly realized that yes, it would be so satisfying to cover it up with words. It became so frustrating to just stand there and watch the blankness that I forced myself to look away. The man noticed my averted gaze and nodded. 

“Although, what really and truly is empty is up to the Writer. And of course, the Storytakers.” 

I ran through his speech again, fast forward to the very last word. I was pulled out of the philosophical tangles of madness I’ve just been bombarded with. “Wait— aren’t you one?”

“A Storytaker? No, I am your Counter. During inspections I will ensure you have written all that is required. The Storytakers are much too busy to explain to a child the importance of the Fountain.” 

“So why am I here then?” I asked, ignoring his insult. As much as I enjoyed coming here through a book and listening to this mysterious man’s narrative, more appealing was the idea of going back to the apartment complex and getting settled in my new home. 

He narrowed his eyes at me. 

“You are here,” he replied, in a reprimanding tone, “to complete a task. It is a way to set you on your journey to Writerhood.” 

I looked at him skeptically. Could it be more confusing than the one I had to do to get in there? And I still didn’t know what had triggered the book to let me in. I’d never heard of a book taking pity on someone before. Ugh! I didn’t think I could take any more puzzles today. They criss-crossed in my mind, overlapping like the lattices of a pie. 

But the man did nothing but simply give me the pen, the actual pen he’d used to write my name. 

I held it in my hand. It was smooth and silver, heavy. I felt a strange energy rushing up my arm, my throat, into my brain and back down again. I had no idea what its purpose was. 

I looked to the man for further instructions. 

“Write something.” He said it so simply, hurling the unexplained phrase at me like I knew he would. 

 

“Where?” I asked. “And what?” My politeness had somewhat gone out the window since I’d learned he wasn’t one of the most powerful and revered beings in all the land. 

“One word,” he replied, “Right there.” He pointed to the fountain, which at the moment contained only a few soft ripples, as if waiting for me to approach. I looked at the liquid parchment, and back at him. 

“But it’ll just go away after I… The word will be gone and won’t matter?” 

He didn’t say anything, but when I kept looking at him he finally decided to elaborate.

“It will matter to you.”

The pen suddenly felt much heavier. 

“After you write, you may leave the way you came. The door will be open,” he instructed as I stepped towards the fountain, the pen shaking in my hand, little droplets of ink shimmied up my arm. 

“And remember this: While creating something out of nothing, be sure not to lose yourself if you wish to have your way.” 

He disappeared behind the now thick curtain of white and then became one with the darkness. 

I was alone. I stared at the water. 

I reached over the lipped rim of the fountain and positioned the pen above the center of the mountain of white liquid. My hand had stopped shaking. The energy running through me all rushed into it, steadying it, empowering it. 

I took a deep breath. 

And I lowered the pen to the water. 

Written by: Emily Maremont

Art title: Eyes on Sunset

Artist:  Brooke

50 Love Letters

Cast of Characters

JANA An older professional woman

SISSY A young woman, probably a college student

SAM A hippie looking young man

MADDY A middle-aged woman

Setting: The N Judah Muni train in San Francisco. 

Time: Present

At Rise: JANA has been sitting on the train for a while holding a shoebox tied with a ribbon on her lap.   JANA appears anxious & upset.  SISSY is sitting next to JANA absorbed in listening to music through her ear buds.

MADDY is sitting behind JANA and SISSY.  SAM is standing in the aisle between their rows.

 

JANA

Bet you can’t guess what I have in here.

 

SISSY (ear buds in)

What? (Takes one ear bud out)

 

JANA

Bet you can’t guess what I have in here.

 

SISSY

(Looks down at box) 

Shoes?  I love shoes.  Where’d you get’m?

 

JANA

No, love letters.

 

SISSY

Oh, must be a lot of’m.  You can barely keep the lid on.

 

JANA

That’s right—50 in all plus birthday cards and Valentines and postcards.

 

SISSY

Unhuh.  (Putting ear buds back in but Jana stops her)

 

JANA

Would you like to read one?  They’re genuine.  Alex was the first big love of my life, 40 years ago.

 

SISSY

That’s O.K. They’re private.  

 

JANA

I know but just pretend they’re on the internet.  Here (opens the box).  Pick one.

 

(SISSY can’t help looking in.)

 

JANA

Just like picking a card.  Go ahead.  It’s alright.  I’m a Professor.

 

SISSY

Is this some sort of study?

 

JANA

Yes, no, not exactly.  Just go ahead.

 

(Delicately SISSY reaches in and picks out an envelope and looks at it.  JANA reads the date as SISSY does)

 

JANA

January 8, 1976.  That’s a really good one.  Right around his birthday.  Alex was so in love with me.  Go ahead, open it up and read it.

 

SISSY

(SISSY reads the address) 

It’s addressed to “Miss Jana Beautiful St. John.”

 

JANA

I know.  Sometimes he addressed my letters that way.  

 

SISSY

Nobody’s ever addressed me that way (opens the envelope) There are two letters in here.

 

JANA

Sometimes I got two at one time and then I’d get mail from him twice in one week.

 

SISSY

 Huh.  (Pulls out one letter and starts to read silently)

 

JANA

Will you read it to me?  I’d like to hear how it sounds.

 

SISSY

Are you sure?

 

JANA

Please. I think it might be therapeutic. I mean enlightening. There’s nothing explicit in them or anything.

 

SISSY

“I’m writing to you from Econ class, so boring.  I’d much rather occupy my thoughts with you. Saw Annie the other day and she was impressed that I was reading Anais-

 

JANA

-That’s  (correcting her pronunciation) “Anais” 

 

SISSY

-Anais Nin since she said it’s hard to even get her books here.” (looks to JANA for clarification)

 

JANA

She was a very controversial writer in her day— rediscovered by young feminists in the 1970’s — sensual and very sexual like Henry Miller, only for women.  You probably don’t know who he is either.  There was that movie, Henry and June about Nin’s relationship with both him and his wife, June.  You can probably get it on Netflix. Very racy stuff.  Whooh. Still kinda makes me blush. 

SISSY

Should I go on?

 

JANA

Please.  Sorry.  I’ll try not to interrupt so much.  You’re doing beautifully.

 

SISSY

“Not sure what I might do when I graduate.  Although the job in advertising your friend mentioned is tempting, I don’t know if that’s right for me.”

 

JANA

A friend of mine was so impressed with him when he came to visit me that he offered him a job in SF when he graduated.  Can you believe it? (Announcing this more loudly than realizes) He had me waiting for him and a job offer.  

 

SAM

(Standing up between their seats.  Notices SISSY and has been listening in on their conversation) 

I wish I’d had an offer like that.

 

(Train stops abruptly and SAM has to maneuver to maintain his upright position)

 

JANA

Nice balancing.

 

SAM

Thanks.  I call it “subway surfing.” 

 

JANA

I mean, I came out here with nothing from “Nowhere,” Ohio and he still wouldn’t take a chance with everything going for him.

 

SISSY

And considering how he feels about you.  Check this out: “I was driving in the car the other night and that song came on the radio by Bob Dylan: I’m singing along: ‘If not for you, babe, I couldn’t find the door. Couldn’t even see the floor.  (said simultaneously with SAM singing) I’d be sad and blue, just wouldn’t have a clue.’ 

 

SAM 

(Singing with SISSY

‘I’d be sad and blue, just wouldn’t have a clue.’  Oh, sorry, please don’t let me interrupt.  

 

SISSY

(Continues somewhat annoyed with SAM) 

“That’s really how I feel sometimes without you. But the great thing is we’ve got all the time in the world.  Take good care of yourself. Love you very much, Alex”

 

JANA

“All the time in the world.”  That part really gets me.  

 

MADDY

(Middle-aged woman sitting behind SISSY and JANA)

 So what happened?  Sorry, couldn’t help listening in.  

 

JANA

(Excited recounting of these events) 

We had this torrid two-year long distance romance, cross country visits, all kinds of plans, and then he dumped me.  We were so young but he was the only man I was ever sure I wanted to marry.

 

SAM 

You mean you never loved anyone else?  Man, that’s so …

 

JANA

No, no, not at all.  I just never was as sure for a lot of reasons.  I mean I’m a feminist and marriage is a patriarchal institution.  Although now that gays and lesbians can get married it seems like more fun.

 

SISSY

And you were maybe hung up on this dude?  Did you at least talk about it?

 

JANA

Honestly, I thought at first he might be right.  We were too different.  Then I realized how much I loved him and tried to work things out but it was too late.

 

MADDY

Do you think there was someone else?

 

JANA

Yeah, his mother.  She didn’t want me taking him away from her.  I think too that it’s a lot easier to leave a happy home than an unhappy one.

 

SAM

Whoa, I never thought about it that way.  I bet his father was a real asshole. (Looking at SISSY and JANA)   Oh, excuse me. 

 

JANA

No need on my account and he was just that thanks to his Irish love of whiskey.  Alex felt he had to stay home to protect Mom.  A steel magnolia if there ever was one.

 

SAM

Sort of like my family.  Watch out for dear old dad.  Home sweet home, ain’t so sweet.

(Continues balancing act)

 

SISSY

That sucks.

 

MADDY

Can I see one?

 

JANA

Sure.  I have to get rid of them.  They’re like chocolate to me.  Here (holds up box to MADDY)

MADDY

(picks one) Thanks.  (feels it)  Feels fat and juicy. (Settles back in her seat to read it)

 

SISSY

Yeah, why are you reading these now anyway?

 

JANA

I found them in my basement when I was looking for something else.

(SISSY looks at her suspiciously)

 

JANA

It’s true, I swear. They were in an old box of travel stuff.  Reading them, I sort of fell in love with him all over again.  They’re not that well written but they’re so romantic.  I was thinking sharing them would snap me out of this lost-love-road-not-taken nostalgia jag I’ve been on.  You know, break the spell.  

 

(JANA holds up the box to SAM, who takes one)

SAM

I’ve never seen one of these.  Not even emailed.  I’m not very lucky in love.

 

SISSY

Like who is?

JANA

I wonder now what that even means.  I had to get them out of my house.  

(During JANA’s speech SISSY, MADDY and SAM each become absorbed in reading a letter.)

 

JANA

I got on here because I thought I’d ride to the beach and build a big bonfire and watch them go up in glorious flames, but I thought about how windy it can be and trying to start a fire and not having any matches.  Then I thought I’ll throw them in the ocean and they’ll be like little paper boats going out to sea, like Buddhists do on New Years, but I imagined them floating back to me all soggy and getting arrested for littering. (Notices they are all intently reading the letters) 

 

MADDY

It’s Alex’s birthday.  He says your letter is his best gift.  He wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t remember where the other gifts you gave him are and goes looking for them.

 

JANA

Oh, god.  We gave each other Sierra Club books, On the Loose, Not Man Apart.  We’d seen those places together, you know, got scared by a bear in Yosemite, fell in love in Big Sur. Sigh.  

 

(Train stops and everyone is so caught up in letters that they almost loose balance as the train jerks back and forth)

 

SISSY

He used this guy, Buckminster Fuller, who ever he was, you recommended, in one of his Econ papers and got an A.  

 

JANA

Damn right.  Look him up.  One reason I loved Alex.  He took me and my ideas seriously.

 

MADDY

He sounds pretty serious here.  Says he doesn’t mind getting up early in the morning thinking about working for “our” future.

 

JANA

Yeah, we had a future there for awhile.

 

SAM

Travel plans to Europe.  That’s on my bucket list.

 

JANA

That killed me.  He went to Paris with someone else a few short months after we broke up.  And you’re too young to have a bucket list.

 

MADDY

I didn’t want to say anything, but I knew there had to be someone else besides dear old Mom.

 

JANA

But he’s never admitted it.  His break up letter sounded like another person wrote it—very matter of fact.  Basically, “You go your way and I’ll go mine.”

 

MADDY & SISSY

(Simultaneously) 

Bastard.

 

SAM

But still very Bob Dylan.

 

JANA

Right, but not much consolation.

 

SISSY

Can I read the other one in this envelope?

 

JANA

Sure, it’s yours now.

 

SISSY

I can’t keep it.

 

JANA

You’d be doing me a favor.  I don’t have room in my heart for these letters, especially since they don’t mean anything to the sender anymore.  

 

SAM

How do you know?

JANA

I went home for my Aunt’s funeral.  I looked him up because- you know, even though we hadn’t seen each other in a long time.  Now he’s so Mr. Conservative Businessman, still very handsome and distinguished looking.  So I told him about the letters.  He thought he only wrote four or five.  Had no idea what was in them.  But he confesses to me he still loves me, wishes he had married me and moved out here all those years ago.   

 

MADDY

Oh my God, so what happened?

 

JANA

Nothing. (pause)  I forgave him.

 

SAM

So why don’t you call him?

 

MADDY

Would you take him back?

 

JANA

Only problem is he’s on his second marriage right now and he neglected to contact me after the first one broke up.

 

SISSY

Why didn’t you say that in the first place.  Throw these out and get yourself a therapist.   Further research is not needed.  

MADDY

She’s right.  He’s had enough chances and if he’s like most married men, he’s not leaving wife number two.  But I’ll take a few. I used to have Marty’s love letters, that’s my husband, but I burned them that time we broke up before we got married.  These kinda remind me of that passion we had, you know, might be good.

 

SISSY

Aghhh!  What is it about old people and passion?  Why do you have to talk about it so much? 

 

JANA

(Offering MADDY the box) 

Please take as many as you like.  And you’re right.  He’s not going anywhere.   And I have a very good life here.

 

SAM

I’ll take some.  (Reaches into box) They’re a trip. He kinda reminds me of myself, if I’d been born back then, and if I’d stayed instead of leaving home.  I used to have somebody back home, too.  But I disagree with the ladies.  He told you how he felt about you for a reason.  Find out why.

 

SISSY

Alright.  I’ll keep this one for you and look up those authors.  It is educational. And it ‘ll remind me not to live in the past, even if it comes up and bites me in the ass in the present (Really talking to Jana when she says this).  (Starts to gather up her stuff) This is where I get off.

 

SAM

I’m outta here too.  Take care.  Feel good.  You inspired a man to write all this.

 

SISSY

I can’t imagine anybody ever loving me this much, even for a little while.

 

SAM

They will, if, you know, you just give’m a chance.  (Starts toward the door but stops)  I think we should leave one right here for someone to find and experience what it’s like-

 

SISSY

-to be young and dumb? (laughing)

JANA

Why not?  Who doesn’t need to be reminded what it feels like to be young and in love?

 

(SAM puts a letter on one of the seats)

 

SAM

(To SISSY as SAM exits the train with her) 

Come on.  Let’s go.

 

JANA

Thanks, you two.

 

MADDY

You know, I think I’ll take a few more for my friends.  It’s been a while for some of them.  I’m gonna get off and just walk for a while.

 

JANA

(To MADDY as hands her some letters)  

I know it sounds crazy but I really think he loved me then and he still does.

MADDY

I can believe it but maybe he can’t handle you loving him that much in return.

 

JANA

You think so, really?  His mother didn’t even love him best, after all he did for her.  She preferred his older brother.  I don’t know about his children.

 

MADDY

Well, it might be a grandchild who teaches him how to be loved.  

 

JANA

I wish it could have been me.

 

(MADDY and JANA get off the train)

 

MADDY 

Goodbye. (Waving letters at JANA)  Thanks for the letters. (Exits)

 

JANA

Bye.  Enjoy them.  

      

(JANA opens the box to pass out letters to people as they walk by.  These people are on not stage but in the audience.)

 

(To first person) Hi, pardon me.  Would you like a love letter?  Might spark your imagination.  No, no, not pornographic.  Sorry.  O.K. I understand.  Sorry.  

 

(To second person) Would you like a love letter?  Yes, to keep.  I need to get them off my hands and I just can’t throw them away, you know.  Thanks.  

 

(To third person) Would you like a love letter?  Why?  Because they’re full of love and it seems a shame to waste all that love. (pause) Sure, you can take two.   

 

(JANA freezes with hand outstretched with letters in it.  Black out)

 

Written by: Mercilee Jenkins

The Body of Stone

The island had been declared “surplus federal property” for five years, the legal way of saying it had been hollowed out and deserted of soul. The government had spent years trying to keep its “worst of the worst” inside. But when we returned as the island’s rightful owners, the same government wanted to keep us out. The soullessness was now something to be protected.  Throughout it all, the only beings that came and went as they pleased were the birds (including the namesakes of the island, the pelicans).

Fifty years later, you can only tell we were ever there from the graffiti on the watertower. Some might have heard a few headlines through their headphones on the audio tour; maybe that Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda visited us to draw attention to the cause. But fewer people know that we children were there too, and no one at all but me knows what really happened to Yvonne.

She and I met in the morning by the schoolhouse, under the bright gray January blanket of clouds. Yvonne wore her mother’s blue sweatshirt that sagged below her waist. The sleeves flopped beyond her hands as she bounced down the road. On the days when she wore a denim jacket and an orange bandana headband like the adults, she looked older, maybe even sixteen. Someone old enough to actually understand what exactly our parents meant by “fascist,” or why Nixon was one. But today, Yvonne simply wore a bright orange hair clip instead of the bandana.

I called her name above the roar of the bay winds whipping across the island, and she turned my way with stray hairs flowing across her freckled, smiling face. We had just learned that we had today off from school, so the possibilities were endless.

On school days, one of the adults might teach us how to make beaded jewelry (the traditional Ohlone way with clam and snail shell beads, not with European glass beads). Or we’d get a history lesson, like when Yvonne’s father, the leader of the whole occupation, told us about California’s history. My heart shriveled in fear when he introduced our class to the state-supported death squads who killed thousands of our people so that white men could search the Bay for gold. My trembling hand grabbed Yvonne’s during his story, and I worried that the squads might return someday. But she sat up straight and narrowed her eyes like the squads had never left. Like she was staring them in the face.

My favorites of the school days were when we learned the legends of our ancestors. Back home, I was partial to stories of the future: for weeks, I’d pretended myself as the Indian priestess who married Captain Kirk on a recent episode of Star Trek. My parents didn’t like that episode (my mom said something about “perpetuating noble savage narratives”), but I was just happy to see an Indian in space. I wondered: maybe if retaking this island within sight of San Francisco was too controversial for the white world of the U.S., there might instead be a new planet out there that we could call our own? If we could wait that long, maybe everyone could all get along? Still, as much as I preferred to imagine the future, I enjoyed the wonder of the old legends more than the horror of history lessons.

First, there was the Miwok legend of the creation of the world. According to the legend, water covered the entire world, except for Mount Diablo as the first spot of land. Then, our class learned the Chochenyo legend of Kaknu and the Body of Stone. Kaknu was part human, part bird, and a great hero. Despite being a powerful fighter, he knew no fight on the surface of the earth would free his people. So he folded his bird wings inward and dove down, through the sky and deep into the earth to the underground lair of an evil king. The lair was littered with the bones of Kaknu’s people, who the evil king was holding captive and feeding to his minions. Kaknu confronted the king, who had a body made of stone, and Kaknu defeated him in battle by striking the weak spot on his neck. Only then was the world above safe for Kaknu’s people to live freely.

On that cold January morning, Yvonne skipped over to me and playfully twisted her body back and forth, arms wrapping around herself one way and then the other. “Mount Diablo?” she asked me right away, shorthand for our secret game. While the other kids usually threw footballs on days off, we’d developed our own game based on the Miwok legend. We pretended that history was quickly reversing, like spinning a record around in the wrong direction and listening to the music backwards. The world was reverting back to being covered in water as it had been at creation, and we had to climb higher and higher to avoid the bay waters creeping up the island. Had this been back at school in the city, we’d have been too old for playing pretend. But the roaring wind, the lifeless prison buildings at the hilltop, and the oblivious city in the distance stirred something mythical into the air that allowed us to be however old we felt like being.

“Let’s do it,” I replied. We raced down to the docks, where our game began.

The docks were always busy, with boats delivering donations of food and supplies throughout the day. Our security force, which called itself “The Bureau of Caucasian Affairs,” staffed the docks to make sure no threats made it ashore. The Coast Guard had initially tried to blockade us, but eventually its boats just sat back and watched us from afar. I didn’t like the idea of them overseeing us all the time, but my mother said that I’d get used to the surveillance. “They are trying to scare us away with their eyes,” she said.

A particularly high wave rocked a boat carrying boxes of canned food. Yvonne and I stared as the wave grew and grew, ever taller until it was a tidal wave, splashing up on the dock toward us as it sought to cover the whole world. We scrambled up the hill, skidding on asphalt, hoping to outrun the next wave from the grasping bay. “Careful!” an adult yelled after us. “We’re avoiding the water!” Yvonne yelled back, and we ran on.

The next building up the hill was the officer’s club. The abandoned remains of a bar, a dance floor, and a bowling alley haunted the inside of the building.

“What is it?” Yvonne asked as I stared through its windows. “What do you see?”

The lingering traces of life and joy from the empty social club swirled together, and materialized into a group of ghosts. No whispers of isolation or genocide hid in their shared laughs, quick kisses, or intertwined hands; instead, the betrayal and pain of their world was fermented into a delicacy and splashed into their clinking glasses. They drank to the blaring, blissful promise of liberty and justice, for all– all at their party.

“Ghosts,” I said, turning to Yvonne with my eyes wide. “They want to trick us into their ghost world and trap us there. It looks fun from the outside, but you get caught and never want to leave.”

Yvonne grabbed my arm and tugged. “No! I won’t let them get you!” The gusting wind pushed us toward the door of the club, but we held on to each other and managed to escape farther up the hill.

At each bend in the path, we stopped to catch our breath and spoke through the same script: “It’s so beautiful up here.” “I can see Oakland.” “Wait– did you hear that?” “It’s the ocean. It’s still rising!” “Run!”

A few breaks later, our uphill dash ended at the cellhouse. The only way to keep going up was to go inside and climb up its three stories.

“We have to be quiet in here,” I whispered, sensing the spirit of isolation inherent in the walls.

Yvonne nodded back. “The evil on the island is at its strongest here,” she agreed.

We ducked inside the cellhouse entrance, but froze at the echoing footsteps of a prison guard ghost. If he caught us, we might be whisked away into his past, locked away from our families in the present. We pressed tight against the wall. Our breathing quieted and we squeezed each other’s hands, palms sweating.

When the footsteps receded, we took off for a spiral staircase down the row of cells. It was too far for a single dash, however, so we turned a corner and hid again to catch our breath and listen if the source of the footsteps had heard us.

Heart pounding, I looked to my side. I peered inside a tiny nine-by-five foot cell, trying not to awaken the dormant bones of the skeleton still trapped inside. “Corrections,” they were starting to call prisons recently. I swallowed. Could there be something inside me that was wrong, and needed correction? I thought of the Coast Guard drifting in the bay, and feared that the white world could find something, if it wanted to hard enough. My stomach sank.

They called this place The Rock, I suddenly remembered, and a chill went down my spine. “Yvonne,” I said. “The Rock. The Body of Stone.”

Her face froze and she grabbed my shoulders. She locked eyes with me. “We have to go. Now.”

I desperately wanted to go too, and for this all to be over. I envisioned our walk back down the hill to the schoolhouse and to the world of our parents, then back to the world of our old schools in the city. Maybe it would be less scary to learn real history after all. I’d had enough of the legends coming to life.

Yvonne had a different destination in mind, however. She looked around the corner for anyone approaching, then raced up the nearby stairwell.

“Yvonne!” I called. “Where are you going? I thought we were going down now!”

“No, we need to go up!” she yelled. “Otherwise the Bay will swallow us or the ghosts will trap us or the Body of Stone will–”

“That’s all over!” I said. “At least it’s over for me.”

“It’s not over!” she said. She slipped on a stair in her excitement, then recovered and raced further upward.

“Yvonne, come back!” I said, climbing a few stairs after her.

She reached the top level of cells and ran along the row. At this point, she was as high as any of us was ever going to get.

No one has ever believed me when I tell them what I saw next. Yvonne lost her footing a second time, this time sliding dangerously beneath the railing. I screamed her name, and she tried to hold on to something, but she slid completely out. Out, into empty space.

The only ones that could come and go freely from the island were the birds, I remembered, as Yvonne suddenly began to transform. Her tangled brown hair twirled into elegant white feathers, and the loose clothes hanging from her arms unfurled into graceful wings. For a moment, I thought she would spread her wings to descend safely. Instead, I saw her eyes narrow as she held her wings in tightly, and dove ever faster toward the hard concrete of the prison floor.

My scream tore out of my face. “Yvonne!”

Somehow:

Yvonne flew past the floor, slicing through the solid ground and burrowing deep into the Earth.

As an adult found us and yelled in the echoing cellhouse for a first aid team, Yvonne’s fall finally came to a stop in a vast cavern. The cavern was filled with human bones, thrown there by the white death squads a hundred years before. “Help! Is anyone here?” she yelled. But her voice echoed in the cave, without a response. I heard her voice and those of the first aid team echoing, but I could only shudder in a corner.

As her father held her motionless human body on his lap in a small boat and the outboard motor roared back to the hospital in the city, the Body of Stone emerged from behind a pile of bones with a stomp that shook the whole cavern. He roared at her, and she shivered. The roars filled my head for countless nights.

As her grieving parents decided to stay in the city, leaving the occupation without its leader, Yvonne fled from the Body of Stone and hid in a side cavern. Left without her, I had no games left to play anymore, on the island or otherwise.

As the rest of the occupation gradually withdrew from the island, leaving it deserted and lifeless once again, tears of despair seeped from Yvonne’s eyes. The stomping of the Body of Stone grew closer and quaked the rock against her back. On a boat back to the city, I wondered if it would be the rising water, the ghosts, or the prison that would catch me first.

Then:

As the occupation of the island inspired the growing Red Power movement across the country, Yvonne wiped her tears away, noticing that her arms were still wings. She then realized who she was: Kaknu, the bird-human hero. She helped me realize who I was as well: someone who didn’t have to wait for a new planet to fight for fairness. I created a new major for myself once I got to college, gathering and preserving my people’s stories.

As activists occupied more of our historical lands and won legal victories for Indian education, healthcare, and religious freedom, Yvonne fought the Body of Stone, evading its blows with her wings. She found a bow and arrow left in the cavern, and shot the Body of Stone in the weak spot on its neck. It fell with a monstrous thud. I had not been able to join her in the fight underground, but I was able to join it in the university halls. Maybe the fights were one and the same, after all.

All the while, Yvonne kept the ghosts of the academia parties from luring me into their insulated world, and helped me outrun the waves and cells that had chased us.

But what I wished for more than anything was to feel Yvonne tug at my arm again. To see her bounce down the steps calling my name. To hear her asking me, “What do you see?”

To be however old we wanted to be.

Written by: Matt Luedke

Matt Luedke is a former editor of Forum who continues to be inspired by the writing community he’s found through CCSF. He has also been published in Prairie Light Review and Ripples in Space. Links to his published works are at mattluedke.com.

Art title: Mountain on Ashes

Artist: Xiao Xiao

Xiao Xiao is from Xiamen Island, China and has called California home for the past decade. She studied Computer Science and just started to take classes in photography. She loves to think about co-op living, mental health, and living between two cultures. Find her at @xiao.xiao.o_o

 

Escape Artist

The moon was an escape and a trap. My life is this way; frying pans to fires to frying pans.

I shook a frying pan full of eggs over the burner. Rick, who lit his cigarettes from the stove, pushed me aside, leaned down, blond hair hanging over the flame. He singed a few hairs up front but didn’t catch fire. It was hard to tell what was lighting what, the flame or the man.

Rick and I lived together. He was a heat-seeking missile, and I tried to stay out of his aim. The house sweltered when he was in it. He rarely wore a shirt. I used to love the scar that ran over his pectoral muscle, passing close to the nipple. “A shiv made from a toothbrush,” he’d said proudly. The bullet he wore around his neck on a chain swung near the blue-yellow flame. It was a live bullet. “It’s for a certain someone,” he often said. “I’m saving it.” Longingly, I watched it swing. Swing-swing. But it didn’t go off.

I went to the moon to escape Rick. It wasn’t a prison yet. 

The moon was just a couch in the mudroom that had nothing else in it but a dart board. No darts, bullseye worn almost to invisibility, but still there. Still there. Flame and cotton and needle were involved by this time. After injecting myself I curled into my own mind on the couch. And swing-swing went the bullet of my mind over the flame that was Rick. Someday it would go off, straight into him and out the other side.

He stood talking. You burn the toothbrush bristles so they melt into one, rub the sides against a rock until you get a blade that cuts. He touched his scar. When he spoke he spat out great raspberries of flame, or so it seemed to me. They curved, those flame-words, beautiful, solar flares through the skylight’s night sky, not so much meaning anything as embodying meaning itself. 

“Look at the state of you,” he said into my face. “This is some disgraceful shit.” Smoke billowed, dragonlike, from his nose. I smiled. He’d been cremating me, a little each day, and soon I would be nothing but ash. But on the moon-couch, ice crystals formed on my body, and for the duration I was protected from the heat.

 

I got a taste for the cool at work. I worked at a construction site, often just a grinning hole in the earth, where I sometimes showed prospective buyers the shapes made by construction tape and explained their potential. The foreman thought I had the right blend of street smarts and refinement because I came from education but I’d been living rough for years. I could talk to the crew in clipped, slangy patois out of one side of my mouth and I could talk serious of the building’s integrity and practicality out the other. 

Things started to slip long before I was fired. At the market I thumbed the embossed numbers on my credit card before handing it over. My father sometimes paid it off, sometimes not, and I wouldn’t know until I tried. I began to forget the names of people I was talking to, and to break off mid-sentence and stare, and to sidle in with dirty, wrinkled shirts. I styled my hair in cornrows, but I had white teeth that were straight like tombstones and that counted for something out at the site, where I existed between two things. I was an ambassador between creation and consumption, and the politics of each.

Before things started slipping I sat on some sandbags. Right and left foot swinging in the August heat. Swing-swing. Star came by. Star handled heavy machinery like the rest of the men. She said “What the fuck” about my bruised eye and mouth. I shrugged, too lazy and sad to make up a story. No mistaking the provenance of that kind of injury.

“Ever been to the moon?” she said. She tossed me something, a bag with a little trapezoidal pill that was strangely cold to the touch. In an alley behind the site I crushed it and inhaled it. There was a gift shop across the way full of figurines. A terrible pain shot down my throat and into my brain, but then, all at once, I traded places with myself, and where my feelings had been I now had the power of freeze. The figurines in the gift shop began to move. There was a sea lion, and a bear, and a stag. They turned toward me as one, then changed places while I stared. They were either glass or wax or maybe ice, like my hands and feet. When I opened my mouth, I swear icicles fell to the ground with the angel sound of breaking glass.

“What is this stuff?” I asked Star back at the site.

“Ice-nine,” she said. “You like it?”

“Like in the book?” I said.

“What book?” Star eyed me in a way that could have been wry or angry or covetous. I traversed the rest of the workday in delirium.

I was out of the frying pan. I didn’t need Rick, der freischütz, his bullet staring at me like a third eye from his chest like it had special plans for me. 

After work Star took me to a building with other people in it. Star said, “What’s up,” and it wasn’t a question, and the black man with the one blue milky eye said “What isn’t,” and it wasn’t a question either. We sat in a little Bermuda triangle and watched our thoughts eddy around the drain and disappear. Star had huge arms with big muscles and each had a tree tattoo that was really a woman. Across the street was a travel agency with a sign in neon that read, What is Jesus doing today? Just a question, no answer.

The walls and windows rimed over with ice while we sat like chessmen.

I could fuck Rick when I was on the moon. Fate is chiastic and has its own bilateral symmetry, is what I was thinking while Rick’s cheeks pinked. I made an X behind his back with my arms. Fate is the good curve on the axis that has an equal and opposite bad. The thought was the kind I had while we were fucking; abstract to the point of meaningless, but I could kill time looking for meaning in my sentence-mazes. Rick couldn’t follow me here, so I was alone. I was empty on a cosmic scale, but dark matter hunkered, humming, in the crevasses, watching, intelligent and dangerous, seething with potential energy.

Why stay with him wasn’t even a question. He was the parasite I lived with. His inane violence—his general inanity—was a chronic condition. He was a sad and fragile man who was made strong by fear, and I found this impulse useful. Sometimes my anger was the engine that kept my life moving, and kept catastrophe idling.

“I’d die without you,” he whispered into my neck. Head on his chest, I imagined my hair burned into a toothbrush shiv, honed and entering his flesh, cutting deep and permanent.

 

“Welcome to the moon,” said Star every time I met her in that apartment, which I realized was where she lived. She moved the beaded curtain aside for me. The beads in her hand were music. I felt the beads shuddering through my skull.

“The moon and Mister,” said Milk-Eye Man, and his eye was a moon that looked everywhere and nowhere. One eye vicious, the other eye frozen in benign surprise.

“That’s his name?” I said.

Mister and Star and I mainlining ice-nine in the dull hours of the day. Blankets and beads strung between doorways. Each shot was a brick in my palace of ice and quartz. My mind was the Fortress of Solitude. The center of the palace had a dead lake. It was liquid mercury, trapezoidal in shape, and disappearing into it meant complete invisibility. An ordinary tree grew on the roof garden above the travel agency, but while on the moon it became a great portentous flame tree. The flowers fell orange around its base, and strange, pendulous fruit like testicles dangled, swinging. Swing-swing. Little acrobats did a ladder act down my spine in rhythm with the swinging testicles and the thoughts in my head were the bubbles in a glass of champagne; sometimes they dislodged and I watched them rise and surface and pop, and then I no longer remembered them. 

“Why don’t you move out?” Star indicated the finger bruises like a necklace stretching ear to ear and behind the ears.

“Moth, flame?” I guessed.

“Naw,” she said.

I thought. The thought slid around the ice in my brain. “He’s my punishment,” I said finally. She didn’t ask for what. We all have that unforgivable thing. She reached across and caressed me. “Let me be your punishment,” she said. She pulled me next to her. She had hard and soft parts on her body. I liked the difference. Being with her was a terrible thing, and darkly pleasing.

Mister coughed once, a sound that seemed to come from far away.

“He’s going to kill you.” She whispered. She sounded more excited than sad. 

“Or I’ll kill him,” I said.

“I’ll back that,” she said.  “Tell me how to help.”

Out of the fire.

 

In the cool I could stow my rotten-lemon memories or look at them head-on and it made almost no difference. My mother’s first suicide attempt became the size of a suitcase that fit neatly into the overhead bin. Or I could pull it out, examine the contents, rummage and rearrange, check items off the list. I found her. I was seven. The bathroom, all white, with a Jackson Pollock of blood sprayed on the wall. It was beautiful. Sick, I looked at the bloody artwork. Mom held her arms to quell or hasten the bleeding and looked, imploring, into my eyes. I dropped my Powerpuff backpack and we looked at each other for an ice age before I started screaming. The event split my life in two. To this day I toggle between the halves.

The second time I was called out of school. Before my father sent a car, a nurse talked to me. Your family needs you right now, and I nodded and swung my legs beneath the office seat, swing-swing. I  couldn’t stop wondering what my mother’s eyes had been imploring, that first time. Please help me or please let me die—which one? Your mother needs you to be a big girl, said the nurse. How? SWING-SWING until a loose leg of the seat broke and I fell to the ground. The nurse wiped my cut, placed a Band-Aid over it.

The third time I had almost finished my dissertation, entitled By Tooth and Talon: Unimodal Narrativity in the Spatial Replacement of Colonized Bodies. 

My father’s text message: It’s happened. Come home.

I still don’t know what he meant. I never went home. She’s still a Schrödinger’s mother, alive and dead simultaneously. Mom… mom, says my sobbing heart. Forgive me, mom. But I feel nothing, I just know “mom” is the shape my feelings would take if I had them.

Pack the suitcase. Put it away. Light the lighter, boil the pill. Another brick in the palace of ice.

 

Star and I were fired at the same time. The only surprise was how long it took management. In the office, a melancholy man missing almost all of his hair wanted to teach us a lesson.

“How many days has it been since you’ve been to work?”

He waited. Star made a show of counting off on her fingers. 

When it became clear he expected an answer, I said, “Thirteen?”

“That’s right. Is that acceptable employee behavior?”

This time we remained silent.

Mr. Melancholy cleared his throat. “OK. I’m letting you go of course. I’d offer back pay but you frankly haven’t earned it.”

Star and I left the site in a strange glee. We got immediately cool in her apartment.

“You ever ‘jump the moon?’” she said. Her tree trunk arms loose behind her head in our makeshift hammock—blanket tied to girders.

“What’s that?”

“That’s when you mix ice-nine with firefly. It’s hardcore. It’s off the hook.”

Mister said, “Don’t do it, girl,” and his non-milky eye had real concern in it.

I sighed a long sigh. I was happy with the current arrangement. But I wasn’t.

We jumped the moon. Star mixed it up and I felt it flow through my queered veins, and I said, “Today’s the day.”

“What day?” she said.

“Chekhov’s bullet,” I said.

“You mean—”

“It goes off today,” I said.

While I watched the flame tree became something else. A gale force shook its fruit and leaves. The air turned violent in my throat. A strong wind could topple all of this, all of us, the whole fucking city, the grinning construction site that never became a building, this House of Fecklessness, exploding all the figurines in the gift shop, until all that was left was myself and Rick, his screaming jack-o-lantern face and endless consuming need and the freshness of his fire. The dead lake within me became a churning ocean, sweeping me up on my feet.

The tree out the window swung its pendulous fruit until the wind stripped the leaves and fruit and sent them hurtling through space. My heart was the wind, a wind that screamed, destroying and purifying as it went.

“Let’s go then,” said Star, her face going malevolent with love.

We went to my house.

Rick was watching Complete Blackout on TV.

“That’s him?” Star said, incredulous.

“Who’s this,” said Rick.

Star feinted at him and he recoiled.

I pushed her aside, got up into his face. I breathed on him, and he stepped back. 

“Come on,” I said. “Put your hands here.” I indicated my throat. “See what happens.”

Rick whimpered. He shook his head.

“Do it,” I ordered, and he stepped forward, pressing his thumbs into my Adam’s apple, rest of the fingers behind my neck. Squeezed. Before my eyes went dark I saw him start to cry.

My head tipped up. I was close to unconsciousness. I wasn’t sure if I wanted him to kill me or Star to kill him before she killed me. I let my hands fall to my sides. Clouds began to fill my ocular cavities. Sounds pulsed. I felt confusion. I felt relief. I felt, strongly, that a change was cresting very nearby. 

“Mom,” I tried to time when my body gave up.

And then Star was beside us. I fell to the ground with a slap. My breath was ragged. The ice-nine and firefly zinged in confusion around my body, into my hands and toes and brain, through my spleen. My body was a city. The arteries were clogged with traffic. The city of my body was about to explode. Sewage, building pressure, was about to erupt through all the city manholes over the buildings and cars and foliage and people. I don’t know what she meant, I thought crazily, I don’t know what she was trying to say.

Star punched and punched. She was wearing brass knuckles. I didn’t know when that happened. She punched Rick into a rag doll. Stop, I said, but didn’t because no noise came out. 

“Motherfucker,” said Star. She was kicking now with steel toes. It wasn’t Rick she was kicking. It was someone else.

I grabbed the not-kicking ankle and she stopped, breathing hard. I shook my head. I think I shook my head.

She got the message. She sat. She started to cry. I didn’t know if Rick would survive but he wasn’t dead yet. His ribs heaved. His lifeless bullet had broken from his neck and lay inert between us. All three of us were sad and small. Rick with his bullet, Star with her brass knuckles, me with my smug masochism. We all enact our revenge on a weaker one. We were a rock-paper-scissors of deferred misery.

“She’s dead,” I wheezed. “I know she’s dead.”

“She’s dead,” Star said through her sobs. “He killed her.”

“She killed herself,” I said.

Star nodded. “Maybe,” she said.

We weren’t talking about the same person. It didn’t matter.

“Don’t leave,” Rick said in the tiniest voice. “Please don’t leave me.”

He wasn’t talking to me.

Above us all, the real moon swept through the frame of the skylight. It pinned us to our lives like insects pinned to felt.

Written by: Saramanda Swigart

Saramanda Swigart has an MFA from Columbia University, with a supplementary degree in literary translation. Her short work has appeared in Oxford Magazine, Superstition Review, The Alembic, Border Crossing, Ghost Town, The Saranac Review, and Euphony. She lives in San Francisco and teaches at City College of San Francisco.

Art Title: Splitting Headache 

Artist: Suzanne Notario

My photographic journey started seven years ago when I took my first photography class at CCSF. This course ignited my passion for making pictures. It has become a way of expressing myself while capturing moments in time with my camera. 

 

Unscheduled Stops

Click. Click. Gear shift. Gear shift. 

Entering Seattle City Limits.

It was 2:59AM.

 

Inside a 1995 Mitsubishi Eclipse, a passenger was staring out at the steel and asphalt of I-5 glimmering with the remainder of what had been torrential rain. Often, this section was snarled with traffic, but the streets were empty, and the night was growing no younger—they were not so young themselves, certainly not young enough to drive with such fearlessness, he nearly 30 and she 25, the best of friends, with few responsibilities and plenty of time, it would seem.

Gunmetal melts to red in the near distance—the shimmer of rain caught the lights of brakes, and if one could listen to each car perhaps there would be a collective “Ugh, why?? It’s 3AM!” She said it too, for they had been unlucky enough to find themselves parked on the University Bridge, which at least has a stunning view of the city from pole position in this more-boring imitation of a race track starting lineup.

 

Click. Click. Sparks, and a brief glow.

The incense of a clove cigarette drifts sweetly out the window into the night. 

It is 3:07AM.

 

“I can see the apartment from here,” said she, pointing.

“Too bad. We live on the bridge now. We’re never going to get out of traffic.” He ran a hand through his hair.

“They died the way they lived. Stuck on the bridge for no reason.” She exhaled the smoke through the window, watching the wispy grey embrace the greater charcoal of the sky.

 

Klaxon. Static. BZZZZZZT.  “MOVE IT ALONG!” 

 

A sleepy, rain-dotted police cruiser’s light bar flashed as its associated cop blared its siren to life and waved them through. She had leaned out the window to take a photograph of the night sky, but been cut short by the end of their unexpected sojourn upon the high bridge that carried I-5 south into the city center. They had begun to reopen the bridge, one car at a time, with no explanation given as to why traffic had been stopped. It did not matter, The Mitsubishi Eclipse, urged forward by its impatient driver and passenger, left the others behind, and the lurid light of brake lamps gave way to sodium streetlight and sudden darkness under the Roanoke underpass, where suddenly time stopped.

 

It was 4:01AM.

Click. Click. The track ended and eternity began.

Ink-dark rainwater, unshimmering and unlovely, lay in wait there, and by its leave were the tires sundered from the grip of asphalt. Gone was the hum of the road, and after a split second eternity, angular momentum took care of the rest—thrice it spun the surprising lightness the Eclipse across all the lanes—of traffic, had there been anyof the still-empty fore-dawn freeway. The crush of metal and concrete never broke the silence, for though the nose of the car comes into contact with the concrete retaining wall, it is with an almost comical, gentle “bonk.” No more force than a high-five or a fist bump. Astonished, they stared at each other. The track changed. Traffic approached.

 

Click. Click. He restarted the engine, and shifted.

It was 4:03AM.

And all was well.

Written by:  Kristin Wenzel

Writer, artist, Tolkien scholar, world traveler, updog enthusiast, amateur karaoke idol—your local art-weirdo and brunch-loving, fun-having extrovert.

 Art title: BART Train of Sardines

Art by: Bianca Joy Catolos

Bianca Joy Catolos is a graphic designer based in the Bay Area  with a passion for drawing and illustration. She illustrates to document memories, stories, and assets of life in a quirky, abstract and colorful way to share and commentate how she sees people and world. Bianca is a digital artist with a traditional background in painting and often mixes the two to create endless worlds and scenes to fuel the imagination.

The Prophet

When I met him, I thought Larry was my dream guy. He was intense and intellectual, and he wasn’t very tall, but I could get past that. I could get past a lot of things about Larry, from his attitude toward wait staff—impatient—to his taste in clothes—lacking—and even to his penis size—underwhelming. What I liked best about Larry was the way he talked about Heaven, like we were both going to get there, like this crappy college town we were still chained to as restless thirty-somethings wasn’t all there was out there. I hadn’t much thought about it before, but what Larry said made sense to me—I’m not a homosexual, I only drink a beer or two on weekends (and on weeknights when I really need to, which really isn’t as often as it used to be), and I even have my own Bible. See, the thing about Larry was that he believed in me, got me to think about what I could be and where I’m going instead of what I am and where I’m staying. That kind of thinking is important to a person like me. Keeps me moving through the world so I can focus on getting to the next one.

I remember Larry used to talk a lot about deserving. What he deserved, what I deserved, what humanity deserved. Larry said he deserved a lot; I don’t think I deserved much, but Larry said I deserved him, and that was good enough for me. He’d leave small tips at restaurants and say that was what poor people deserved. I didn’t really understand that, but Larry told me I’d get it someday when I got to Heaven. He also said I’d understand why he shouted at women in short skirts out the window of his van, and why ancient civilizations like the Aztecs and the Egyptians fell. It’s all about deserving, he told me, deserving and sin. The less you sin, the more you deserve. Simple as that.

Larry used to talk to Jesus a lot. I’ve talked to Jesus too, but he never talked back, not like he did to Larry. Larry told me that Jesus explained things to him in a way that opened his eyes to the whys of this world.

When I asked Larry why he told me these things, he said it was ‘cause he needed me, that I had a part in all this. I was the clay to his pottery wheel, and he needed to open my eyes before he could be sure he could open anyone else’s. He needed to be sure he could do it and do it right before he went out in the world and spread the Word as Paul reincarnated (I tried real hard to find my Bible after he said that ‘cause I couldn’t remember which one Paul was, but I realized it didn’t matter; all that mattered what that I believed Larry was Paul, and since I knew Larry, I supposed I knew Paul too).

I asked Larry how long it would take before I was “finished,” before he could go out and tell more people what Jesus was whispering in his ear.

“Soon,” he told me.

“How will you know?” I asked.

“I’ll know,” he said, “and you’ll know. It could be tomorrow, or it could be months from now, but we’ll know when we know.”

And that was good enough for me.

And for several weeks, things went on like that—meaning, nothing much changed. Larry and I were still having the same conversations about Jesus and Heaven and deserving, and he was even starting to talk about moving in together—Jesus told him that would be alright, so long as we continued to keep the premarital sex to a minimum, only when he absolutely needed it. Larry gave me one of his Bibles to borrow until I found mine, and I finally figured out who Paul was. Things were like they were supposed to be.

One evening, I had been digging around really diligently in my apartment, and I finally uncovered my dusty Bible at the bottom of a box of old books and photographs in my closet. I decided to go over to Larry’s apartment and return his Bible right away, since he would probably be needing it to study up for the next time Jesus gave him one of those pop-quizzes he likes to give on the verses. So I drove over, went up the stairs, and knocked on the door. There was no answer, but I knew that the lock on Larry’s door was broken and he hadn’t had time to call the locksmith to fix it, what with all the talking to Jesus he’d been doing lately, so I just let myself in. I heard noises coming from Larry’s kitchen that sounded like he was watching pornography on his laptop while making dinner again. Jesus told him that was alright too, so long as he absolutely needed it. So I followed the sounds and walked straight into the kitchen, but when I saw Larry in there—Heaven forgive me—I dropped the Bible.

There was Larry with another woman bent over the countertop. When they heard the heavy Book hit the floor, they both stopped their noise-making and looked over their shoulders at me in shock.

“What are you doing?” I demanded.

“I’m doing Paul’s work,” he answered. “This is the only way to teach the truth.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, not expecting to understand his answer.

“It worked with you,” he replied simply, and I did understand.

“Did I deserve this, Larry?” I asked in a small voice.

He didn’t answer this time. He just looked at the woman and continued to thrust, right in front of me.

And that, friend, is why I stabbed Larry twenty-six times with a meat fork. If you ask me, he deserved it.

Written by: Kayla Wilton

 I received my English degree with a Spanish minor from CSU Stanislaus in spring, 2019, and I will complete my creative writing certificate at CCSF in spring, 2020. Writing is my passion, but I also dabble in drawing, painting, photography, and performance. My work has appeared in Penumbra Literary Magazine

Art title: Bird of Pride

Artist: Travis Yallup

Travis Yallup is a contemporary realist who lives and works in San Francisco. He has studied art at various colleges and universities over the past eleven years and has developed a preference for drawing and painting in a variety of mediums. His  focus usually comes from life, photos, and collages and he often draws an inspiration from influences such as Andrew Wyeth and Vija Celmins.

Getting Fragonard’s Goat

A cabinet painting, measuring only 12″ by 7″ in Gallery 7 of the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, is half the size of a neighboring Watteau (1684-1721). The artist, 38-year-old Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), was Watteau’s true successor as a specialist in romantic comedy. Both artists exemplify the French Rococo’s appetite for depictions of contemporaries at play on the fields of Love—not some noble Baroque ideal impossible to attain and doomed to a tragic conclusion, but as a non-binding contract for mutual pleasure apt to produce double entendres and slapstick. Fragonard is especially gifted at composing scenes of bedroom farce.[1] The Useless Resistance (La Résistance Inutile)[2], a slap-dash oil sketch painted around 1770, was once more accurately called Jeune femme frappant un garconnet avec un oreiller (Young woman hitting a little boy with a pillow)[3], because while that physical gesture is clear, everything else is ambiguous. A more literal title would be The Satyr split in two, but that would spoil the viewer’s enjoyment of a long-fuse punchline that depends on patient perusal and appraisal of the scene. Fragonard uses composition, value, brushwork, non-finito, and his familiarity with classical Graeco-Roman mythology, to tease the viewer into a consideration of sexual desire as an infuriating yet potentially endearing faux pas.

Why do people fight in a boudoir? Perhaps to determine what constitutes pleasure and negotiate limits. Fragonard shows a dominant female figure in a blaze of light on muted ground, upper right, facing an indistinct body lower left, half-in, half-out of frame. A discarded peignoir drapes a chair, right foreground. The seated nymph, legs under her, having wound-up to throw a pillow, tilts her head with a look half-fond, half-annoyed, that suggests familiarity. Her radiantly blonde hair, creamy flesh, white nightdress—all rendered in palpable brushstrokes—initially blind us to any surrounding shadowy behavior. Interpreting the vestigial daubs, left: with tousled hair or feathered cap, in turquoise jacket with lacy sleeve, a boy hides his face from her (but not us) behind a barrage of bedclothes. What is going on? A showdown in the boudoir: a proposal and a refusal.

Not far from Jeune femme, somewhat obscured by a reflective plexiglass case, is a terracotta figure, only 12″ by 18″, by 27-year-old (Claude Michel) Clodion (1738-1814): The River Rhine Separating the Waters (1765). The two works have much in common. As an idealized avatar of gender, Rhine is as manly and muscled as Jeune femme is doll-like and pert-breasted. The less intimate Rhine is caught in a similar moment of physical exertion: his waters alone can divide the territories of the West-bank Gauls from the East-bank Germans.[4] Arms fully extended over a head thrown back with mouth agape, his hands gripping the cosmic water urn, he lies on his side on the rough rocks of the riverbank, stretching out his lean torso, the crux of his rippling thighs hidden by a river plant’s long clinging leaves. Shifted to a vertical position, Rhine’s urn would look not unlike Jeune femme’s pillow—except he hangs on as it gushes willy-nilly, while she must throw hers. Both figures are heroic: active, decisive, in control of a volatile situation—incarnating the energy and urgency of their virtuoso creators.

The advantage of Clodion’s terracotta in modeling the human form is its soft, warm plasticity, plus a 360-degree view from the feet up of Rhine’s shapely legs scissor-kicking the air. The back reveals how vigorously Clodion worked the clay, poking and slashing the rocks, prefiguring Rodin’s fingerprints. The advantage of Fragonard’s oil is mystery, as veils of color are applied in layers from dark to light. Atop a base coat of sepia, he lays down tangible brushstrokes in a muted palette of rose, gold, and green to surround and contrast Jeune femme in her “painted-on” nightgown. A closer inspection of the dusky bedclothes, lower left, reveals the presence of a third wheel, making this a ménage à trois, or threesome. Hidden in plain sight below the boy’s torso, sketched-in with a few flicks of the brush, are the shapely hindquarters of an ungulate or hooved beast (surreptitiously nuzzling its way under the bedclothes, perhaps searching for, or already nibbling, a parsnip lure). Further right, the sepia peaks[5] of a pair of horns under the sheet betray the mystery guest: a goat. What a cheeky prank to play! No wonder she’s throwing a pillow. Or is there more to it?

Besides being everyday barnyard creatures, goats have a surprisingly sacred Antique Greek pedigree, having been sacrificed on altars at civic theatrical festivals featuring tragedy (literally, “goat song”), comedy, and satyr plays[6]. A satyr is half-goat (legs), half-human (torso), being one of those creations “which represented, in the Greek imagination, the irrational elements of human nature, the remnants of animal impulse that the Olympian religion had attempted to sublimate or subdue,” as Kenneth Clark notes in The Nude.[7] Both Fragonard and Clodion, as winners of the Prix de Rome, were sent by the Académie Royale to Italy for years of study, which included copying antique sculpture.

For Clodion, satyrs became something of a specialty.[8] Although it’s off-exhibit, the Legion owns a variation on this theme: Nymph and Satyr (1776), a 14″ x 9″ terracotta of a gleeful young satyr hunkered down with a nymph astride his shoulder. This very soigné work, betraying no mark of its maker’s hand, is a miracle of comparative anatomy and over-determined sex roles: male muscles devolve into hairy goat hindlegs and hooves, while Nymph’s smooth limbs are tender-skinned, limp, and sprawled. Satyr’s contracted body looks set to suddenly spring, while his groggy passenger lolls: Nymph with her high, pubescent breasts and childishly open eyes and lips, holds the Bacchante’s grapes signifying intoxication. Although elevated in her ecstasy, she depends entirely on his desire, and is reduced to its object. There’s no real mystery here, only a sublimely skillful rendering of two erotically charged bodies in flagrante delicto[9] of kidnap, rape, or ravishment in the euphoric Eleusinian tradition. In the year of the American Revolution, Clodion announces a regression to Neo-Classicism, a stultifyingly square-edged suppression of the subtle, supple, subversive Rococo that runs from Marie-Antoinette through the Directoire into the long night of Empire.

Fragonard prefers to tease his viewer with an innovative look at the battle of the sexes, using the same composition. Tipping the Clodion on its side in a truly revolutionary gesture, he levels the playing field: Boy’s face atop Goat’s derrière vs. Nymph. By deconstructing the Satyr, he demystifies male sexual arousal and relocates lust in the goat which enables Nymph to set her own erotic agenda. Because his sketch is fundamentally farce, he delays the viewer’s aha moment. Strategically highlighting Nymph, he forces us to backtrack right to left, following her gaze and Boy’s outstretched hand. Postponement of pleasure is integral to Jeune femme’s charm, which is thus not called, “Young woman thwarting ambush by boy with goat.” Towering over him, in full possession of her wits, and looking more like an older sister than a girlfriend, Nymph delivers her “Non.” Perhaps the lad is mocking her dawning eroticism—budding like her breasts—even as he discovers his own. So she lashes out, in embarrassed self-consciousness, with a soft weapon. He lies doggo, but once her temper subsides, he might continue to push the goat. Where will it end? Perhaps in better mutual appreciation.

Fragonard’s inventions did not spring full-grown from his paintbrush. François Boucher (1703-70), working for La Pompadour, had previously blurred gender boundaries[10] in an adolescent wet dream of sexual equality, sprinkled with lesbian proclivities. Fragonard expands this vision through an evocation of shared emotions and reciprocal desires, proliferating charming images of happy heterosexuals at play in the bosom of Nature modeling the latest Paris fashions. This feat of léger-de-main exemplifies the je ne sais quoi of the French Rococo so admired and feared around the globe. By splitting apart the venerable mascot of classical male lust into component parts—boy’s breast and goat’s hips—the painter transforms the randy, leering letch into a naïve supplicant, unsure of himself and a bit abashed by his own impulses. Further, he portrays the nymph not in a moment of abandon, submission, or complicity, but registering her displeasure. Fragonard reinterprets classically irrational urges in a visual conundrum of sexual attraction that lets us laugh at Love.[11]

 

[1] Anne L. Schroder, “Fragonard’s Later Career: The Contes and Nouvelles and the Progress of Love Revisited,” The Art Bulletin 93, no. 2 (June 2011), 150-77.

[2] Other Fragonards of the same title have different compositions.

[3] Pierre Rosenberg, Fragonard, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art (1988): 310.

[4] According to the website of the Kimbell Art Museum, which owns a similar statuette, the Rhine “grips the mouth of the urn, causing the water to flow in two streams. The subject derives from the Roman historian Tacitus’s Germania (A.D. 98) and alludes to the Rhine dividing the territory of the Gauls on the west bank from that of the Germans to the east.” https://www.kimbellart.org/collection/ap-198405, accessed November 11, 2019.

[5] Peaks emblematic of erection.

[6] A fascinating genre of Greek play beyond the scope of this paper.

[7] The Nude, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books (1959), 358.

[8] “While the depth of Clodion’s experience with the imagery of Greek and Roman art can hardly be overstated, the deliciously charged rhythms, only hinted at in the reliefs on Roman sarcophagi, are entirely his own. Clodion made such works for the delectation of connoisseurs during his stay in Rome from 1762 to 1771.” James David Draper, “French Terracottas,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin XLIX, no. 3 (1991/92), 25.

[9] “In the very act of committing a misdeed” or “in the midst of sexual activity” and “literally, while the crime is blazing.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/in%20flagrante%20delicto, November 24, 2019.

[10] Melissa Hyde, “Confounding Expectations: Gender Ambiguity and François Boucher’s Painted Pastorals,” Eighteenth Century Studies 30, no.1 (1996), 25-57.

[11] Unless PC has corrupted our wits.

Written By: Erin Blackwell

Photos By: Erin Blackwell

#TheGreatConspirator

The hall is dark. The mood is blissful. My breathing is natural. Relaxed.

In community with 49 others, my body is gleaming, serene. Glowing. Suddenly my mind veers off. My thoughts race back to Trump’s remarks earlier today during his celebratory speech—the day after his impeachment acquittal—flaming, toxic, hazardous. Vile.

Only the tranquil voice of my yoga instructor stops me from falling into an agitated state. Towards the end of practice, as he walks around the studio contemplating bodies laid down in “savasana,” resting pose, he thanks the class for joining “the conspiracy of yoga.”

Conspiracy. My third eye chakra jolts into action.

He explains its Latin roots, conspirare; con– (“with, together”) and spirare (“to breathe”): to breathe together. So I breathe—deeply, consciously. I came to practice this evening seeking solace from a day—no, a week—no, a year—three years—of being bombarded by constant claims of political conspiracies.

Trump claims that the Russian collusion investigation, “the witch hunt,” conspired against him; that Democrats, “the deep state,” conspired against him; that the press, “the enemy of the people,” conspired against him; that judges, with “an absolute conflict,” conspired against him; that his former lawyer, who “lied a lot,” conspired against him. An unknowing participant in a different kind of conspiracy, I now lay momentarily at ease.

My yoga practice is usually a special time to consider, to imagine, to believe. But this evening, it all feels just like an inconsequential sequence of poses that don’t quite distract me from our cruel political reality. After four or, worse, eight years, we’ll start moving on from Trump’s Doctrine and begin healing the many social, environmental, and moral wounds he’s inflicting on our country and the rest of the world. Trying once more to be considerate, to be imaginative, to be a believer, I deepen my “pranayama,” my breathing. In, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight; hold; I breathe calm in between my thoughts; hold; out, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

My instructor’s striking of the singing bowl that marks the end of yoga practice takes my mind to a contemplative threshold. My thoughts take an imaginative leap and ride the crescendo sounds into a harmonious reality.

*

In this alternative reality, Trump discovers the conspiracy of yoga, but instead of launching an investigation, he sees an opportunity for himself. Without consulting his advisers or his family, and careful not to alienate his base completely, he becomes a devout Christian yogi. True to his nature, he anoints himself The Great Conspirator during a ceremony hosted by Chief Justice Roberts at the Supreme Court, promising “to lead the nation with equanimity, love, and compassion for all.” Trump celebrates the occasion with one of his classic Twitter compulsions that ends with an iconic 3 a.m. tweet, “I’m #TheGreatConspirator.”

To comply with his first executive order as The Great Conspirator, he leads a daily yoga practice from the White House, in the Rose Garden. The 30-minute yoga session—short because, after all, he still has to run the government and lead the free world—is broadcast at 12Noon EST on C-Span, all network television stations, and all social media platforms. This program signals real change to his opponents and supporters.

Flanked by members of his inner circle, whom Trump calls “warriors,” he opens the session with a brief silent meditation and then guides the streaming audience through “Virabhadra” poses: warrior one, two, three, reverse, and humble warrior. Humble warrior in particular requires an incredible amount of strength and balance alongside a great measure of humility. Stepping into a modified runner’s lunge, he bows forward tucking his chin to his chest, and with his hands clasped behind his back, he reaches forward. This pose proves to be Trump’s biggest challenge, for his ego and hair struggle to surrender. Ultimately they do, and soon he masters all five poses.

Monday through Friday, video cameras catch members of Trump’s cabinet and the Republican party rushing through the West Wing with gym bag in tow, untying their ties, and loosening their blouses, heading into the Roosevelt Room just opposite the Oval Office for a quick change, and stepping out all decked out in yoga outfits.

Attorney General Barr favors a pair of knee-length shorts and a long sleeve shirt; Secretary of Education DeVos prefers long leggings and a rather simple short sleeve top; Secretary of State Pompeo chooses a slimming color block set while Vice President Pence goes modest with track pants and a dark t-shirt; and Senate Majority Leader McConnell dons old school sweatpants and a sweatshirt. They all wear their red, white, and blue uniforms proudly and sponsor satellite sessions at each of their offices every week.

Flexing his newly acquired power of gentle persuasion, Trump compels the nation in just one month with calmly crafted daily tweets, to join the yoga program which he trademarks as The Great Conspiracy. Ratings for the daily yoga session in the Rose Garden break previous C-Span, network, and cable ratings. Riding Trump’s wave of favorability, The American Heart Association, in partnership with Yoga Journal, launches a new public health campaign of awareness and action against high cholesterol. In honor of the #TheGreatConspirator’s healthy achievements and well-being, the campaign is branded Trump Your Cholesterol. The campaign first aims to target two of the most affected demographic groups in the United States: white adult women who are among Trump’s staunchest supporters, and Hispanic men, ironically Trump’s most targeted group before his enlightenment.

*

But thoughts of Trump’s bombastic and divisive accusations in real life ricochet off my mat and jerk my mind back to reality. I breathe in, slowly, hold, slowly, I breathe out. Again, in, slowly, hold, slowly, out.

*

Inspired by the success of his domestic Great Conspiracy program, Trump, always willing for more, sets his sights next on the international arena. Hoping to help repair the damage he caused in the last three years, he crafts a new conspiracy doctrine of unity, truth, and reconciliation. He begins a world tour coaching other world leaders on the theory and practice of non-denominational yoga, so they too can develop their own great conspiracy. Still the most influential political figure in Europe even during her lame duck term, Angela Merkel agrees to be his co-host for the European leg of the tour. Trump wraps up the tour with a bilingual Spanish-English summit in Mexico.

Always thinking about branding, on his way back to the U.S. Trump asks Ivanka “Yael,” his favorite child and herself a Jewish convert, to file an amendment to his trademark, minting The Greatest Conspiracy—a classic Trump move, to better position himself in history’s grace among the greatest U.S. presidents.

Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, saving the state of the union. Franklin D. Roosevelt created the New Deal in 1933, saving capitalism. Donald J. Trump launched The Greatest Conspiracy in 2020, restoring our moral compass.

*

The dissipating sounds of the singing bowl gently carry my mind back to my resting body. As I roll to my right side into a final fetal position, I contemplate the awesome beauty of that fleeing alternative reality, and I loathe the gruesome one that awaits me outside the yoga studio. A made-for-tv reality in which Trump unleashes the wrath of his social media followers on anyone he labels as Never Trumper, takes funding away from healthcare and education to build a wall on our southern border, limits environmental protections, and detains immigrant children in makeshift cages. A reality in which the “prana,” life force, is depleted from our
moral authority.

TRUMP RENDERS MOST CHARGES AGAINST HIM A HOAX. ON TELEVISION, RADIO, AND TWITTER, HE CONJURES UP “NASTY” ATTACKS AGAINST HIM WITH HIS UNIQUE FLAIR FOR SUPERLATIVES AND ALL CAPS. IT’S EXHAUSTING, EVEN CONTAGIOUS.

The mood is dark. The nation is lamenting. My breathing is shallow. Desperate.

Written By: Francisco Delgadillo

Visual Art “Spitblossoms Gift”

By: Spitblossoms, AKA Carlos Benjamin Ortega-Haas

CCSF student, Bay Area born and Tijuana-raised, Spitblossoms is a visual artist and successful musician who has always found joy and meaning in realizing his artistic visions and sharing with a community of artists. For Spitblossoms, art is a meditation, release, source of pride and sustenance that helps him perfect his vision, overcome hardship, and continue to push forward to achieve his goals and dreams.  

D minor

It plays who, when, where I am. Maybe why.

They call it being in your “late teens.” As if your adulthood were somehow hurrying to arrive, to get past the protected pop songs of childhood and into something serious.

I’m in my late teens, in the evening, late in the year, which means it’s already darkening and cold down Main Street, with not many people walking with me towards what can be seen and heard of the sea my town looks out on. But that’s okay, because this is between me and the sea. Well, it’s probably between me and girls, not one particular sophomore at Bar Harbor High School, but girls in general. All of them that are out there on the ocean, somewhere unreachable.

And what’s playing, in my heart or my head or wherever it is we carry it in us, is César Franck’s Symphony in D minor. It’s on heavy rotation in there. I can’t remember who’d introduced me to it—it wasn’t my piano teacher mother. But on our last semiannual trek to see the relatives down in New York City, I’d acquired the LP recording of the work, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini (entreating passionately, in the cover photo, with closed eyes and open hands) on the Angel record label (yes!). And I’d listened to it, again and again, until it had become me, and where it was I was growing up.

Passing the closed office of the Bar Harbor Times and all of the small shuttered shops, I look upwards at the blue-blacking clouds and see the wailing melody and the sad sodden chords of the Symphony’s opening movement, and I feel as though I have company, something grand which understands me, something I can’t expect from my parents, or anyone else. The music draws me like gravity down the sloping last few blocks of Main Street, past the cold shoulder of Agamont Park, to the intersection of West Street, which at its eastern end provides parking, in tourist season, for those spectating the town wharf and the Porcupine Islands on Frenchman’s Bay. (Franck was a Frenchman, though his surname reflects his Belgian-German background.)

And there are Franck’s endless modulations, as if he were looking at his orchestra through a musical kaleidoscope, constantly turned to tumble the key signatures, even when the shuffled colors, as in this movement of the Symphony, are mostly in shades of blue. They’re like my tumbled thoughts as I amble on.

Why do I think about all these things, when it seems like no one else is bothering to? Why is it so hard for me to say what I’m thinking, to put all the different parts together so they make sense, so they can be part of something I can do something with? Why can’t I find anybody to talk about it all with, so maybe I could learn how to think about and talk about it all? Especially girls, because I’d like to be able to be with girls, and talk with them, maybe do other things with them. Why can’t I talk with my brother or Mom or Dad, about girls, and about all the other stuff? They don’t understand. And even if they did understand, they wouldn’t care. Would it be easier just to sit down and write about it? I’ve tried, but it’s not easy, and I’m always afraid that my brother or Mom or Dad will find my journal and read it and make something bad of it, because they don’t understand.

When these thoughts come through me this way, I can almost hear them, as if they were coming from someplace else, they almost sound like music. Why wasn’t I born to be a composer, like César Franck?

Where West Street ends, the Shore Path begins. Right now, it’s where the second movement of Franck’s Symphony begins. Harps and strings, and it’s so romantic, so romantic. The Shore Path is the Lovers’ Lane of Bar Harbor, Maine. You take girls out there, whether they’re tourist girls or town girls, you take them out there, at least when the weather is warm enough. And if you don’t have a car, where maybe you could just stay parked by the wharf and make out, or begin to make out, if you don’t mind some people looking at you. Out along the Shore Path, you’ve got more privacy, you’ve got the big outcrops of rock you could both sit on, right beside the water, or you could stretch out on one of the big lawns of the rich people’s summer houses, or you could find some side path into a shadowy grove of trees.

But it all leads to mystery, doesn’t it, to plucking at bra straps like the strings of those harps, hoping she likes it, hoping she likes you. Would she also need to like classical music? Or, when you’re out along the Shore Path with her, does that sort of thing really not make any difference? Can you take off all your thoughts and worries, the way you’d take off your clothes? I wonder if César Franck ever got to do that, way back then.

Written By: Jeff Kaliss

Jeff Kaliss was raised on the coast of Maine, He brought his lifelong love of music to a continuing longtime gig as journalist and author, and more recently returned to San Francisco State University to complete an MFA in Creative Writing. His Certificate in Creative Writing from CCSF is imminent. 

Visual Art “BART Platform Waiting Game”

By: Bianca Joy Catalos

Bianca Joy Catolos is a graphic designer based in the Bay Area  with a passion for drawing and illustration. She illustrates to document memories, stories, and assets of life in a quirky, abstract and colorful way to share and commentate how she sees people and world. Bianca is a digital artist with a traditional background in painting and often mixes the two to create endless worlds and scenes to fuel the imagination.

Myrtle Avenue Dirt

Thanks for sending me back to all that is fresh, where I can still see it and smell it and feel it across these scores of years. As you read me, as you hear me, do I hold your hand, and are we seven years old again? See: that’s me, the chubby kid with the black hair, on my lawn over there, in front of 2 Myrtle Avenue. I’m looking over at 4 Myrtle Avenue, because I know what I want is already skipping down her steps. That’s Allison Hodgkins! My very first girl next door! She knows I’m waiting, and she knows it’s the first sunny morning after the first sprinkly afternoon of a springtime in the State of Maine. And she and I will go together for the delight of the dirt in front of our two houses, dirt made moist for mudpies and smiles. Will you go with us? Do you think girls make better mudpies? Allison says so. And Allison’s not afraid of getting dirt all over her girly clothes, even if Mrs. Hodgkins will give her hell for it. Will you get dirty, reader? We’re all making memories with our mudpies, full of the fertile, fun smell of the dirt which can grow things, full of the squishing of our fingers, full of the gladness of the sunshine, which will greet us and will bake our pies. Allison, and all of you, are you giggling with me? The dirt will be waiting for us, for always.

Written By: Jeff Kaliss

Jeff Kaliss was raised on the coast of Maine, He brought his lifelong love of music to a continuing longtime gig as journalist and author, and more recently returned to San Francisco State University to complete an MFA in Creative Writing. His Certificate in Creative Writing from CCSF is imminent

Visual Art “Meteoroids” By: Xiao Xiao

Xiao Xiao is from Xiamen Island, China and has called California home for the past decade. She studied Computer Science and just started to take classes in photography. She loves to think about co-op living, mental health, and living between two cultures. Find her at @xiao.xiao.o_o

City College of San Francisco's Literary Magazine