LRR 2015

Letter from the Editor

This journal is dozens of worlds stitched together. It is places and smells and characters and colors falling over one another when the pages close and bursting outward when the pages open. Press your nose to the binding and close the pages around your ears. Are you here yet?
These stories are our lovers, are our children; they keep us up at night. We dream of them and they, we hope, dream of us.
These characters have belayed into the crevices of our brains; they have taken on lives of their own inside us. They look out of our eyes, chins on folded hands, and we are learning, slowly, how to look out of theirs.
These images have left shadows on our retinas; the negatives dance across the insides of our skulls. We reach out to them, call to
them, ask them not to fade away.
There is room for you here – empty pages, insides of covers, outsides of margins.
Come in.
Come explore.
We want you to get caught up in the collision of words and worlds with us. Bring your writing, bring your friends.
If you find or leave something on the page, we hope that means you will come back to it.

Thank you for experiencing this journal with us.

– Lauren Silverio

 


Prize Winners

The Wallace Stevens Poetry Prize

Given by the Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., for the best group of poems by a graduate or undergraduate
Abigail Fagan, First Place
Marissa Stanton, Second Place
Michael Stankiewicz, Third Place

The Jennie Hackman Memorial Award for Short Fiction

Awarded in memory of Jacob and Jennie Hackman for the best work of short fiction by an undergraduate
Loriann Dozier, First Place
Stephanie Mei Koo, Second Place
Joshua Couvares, Third Place

The Edward R. and Frances Schreiber Collins Literary Prize

Given by David and Emily Collins for the best poem and best prose work by an undergraduate
Catherine Hires, Prose
Zachary Bradley, Poetry

The Aetna Creative Nonfiction Award

Given by the Aetna Chair in Writing to support excellence in undergraduate creative nonfiction
Eleanor Hudd, Undergraduate First place
Abigail Fagan, Graduate First place

The Long River Graduate Writing Award

For the best piece of writing in any genre by a graduate student
Kristina Zdravič Reardon

The Long River Art Award

Anton Nikiforov, Photography

Gloriana Gill Art Awards

Hunter French, Illustration
Rebecca Allen, Photography


Staff

  • Editor in Chief
    Lauren Silverio
  • Managing Editor
    Martina “Mick” Powell
  • Online Editor
    Katie Loughrey
  • Designers
    Rachael Conti
    Hunter French
    Jocelyn Lau
    Hannah Lucca
    Samantha Weiss
  • Poetry Editor
    Joshua Couvares
  • Fiction Editor
    Shannon Hearn
  • Fiction Panel
    Emily Chiarelli
    Stephanie Mei Koo
    Theresa Kurzawa
    Tania Rivera
    Katherine Tibedo
  • Creative Nonfiction Editor
    Marissa Stanton
  • Nonfiction Panel
    Nikki Barnhart
    Caitlyn Durfee
    Erin Frawley
    Katie Loughrey
    Lauren Silverio
  • Translations Editor
    Caitlyn Durfee
  • Interviews Editor
    Nikki Barnhart
  • Social Media Coordinators
    Magdalene Manu
    Sofia Filan
  • Art Liaison
    Hannah Lucca
  • Faculty Advisor
    Penelope Pelizzon

Wallace Stevens Poetry Contest, 1st Prize

Abigail Fagan

September 18th

Before they put the yellow sod back on
they asked if we’d like to take little clumps
of earth and help put him to rest,
fingerprinted bits to keep him
in the ground in the urn in Montana
where it’s cold underfoot and always dry.
We nodded and took lumps of earth
from the wheelbarrow. They sat
between our fingers like ice cubes,
cold as our wet chilled cheeks,
blue like the urn we circled with
our close-toed black shoes. We knelt
and placed our cloves of salt-watered dirt
in the hole. I put the dirt in my pocket first,
and it turned into dust in the warmth.

 

 

Wallace Stevens Poetry Contest, 2nd  Prize

Marissa Stanton

Where are you from

Silvana is talking about America,
my bike is between my skirt. I try to guess her age.
Later, I ask if she thinks the man next to the door is—
we talk, half-shouting in the café. Where is your daughter, now?
I’m mostly speaking to stones behind a fresco.
I’m still not good at it. But I want to make the most of my time.
Rilke talks to me the way I talk to myself.
In Connecticut lonely, dreaming about my ceiling,
I’m learning to see. I don’t know what it’s about.
Leaning into a city from another one, my neck
sticks out over the Atlantic. I try to belong
to where I place my feet, but they don’t know the difference.
The truth is I don’t miss people, the truth is I miss.

Wallace Stevens Poetry Contest, 3rd Prize

Michael Stankiewicz

Last Coyote

for K.E.J.
Despite the buckshot of light from the sky’s many barrels
we can’t see them circling Boulder Ridge
at three o’clock in the morning.
You and I, blanket wrapped in the center of what you call
the moonfield—an abandoned soccer tract
where I’d played paintball as a kid.
Twelve years separate a paintball to the ass
from the truer peril of coyotes. When I used to worry about falling
victim to this town this is not what I imagined.
Yet from the part of my mouth
favoring the bitten cheek,
the bleeding tongue,
I enter into their conversation with a howl.
You laugh.
When I swerve to miss a coyote on the ride home
we’re still holding hands,
only I don’t miss and it’s not a coyote
but a girl dressed like a dog.
In high beam holy glow we come roadside
to a place where clairvoyance is a biting mosquito and we’re doing everything
wrong. You are without understanding
firing a paintball gun long after the whistle has blown.
My facemask is off.
You are still laughing.
You once told me you’d die
if a boy ever wrote a poem about you.
Be done with it
then.

 

Jennie Hackman Memorial Award for Short Fiction, 1st Prize

Loriann Dozier

Floating

The woman tells her it will all be alright.

She smiles when she says it, so the infant believes her, because the woman doesn’t smile often. The lines that the sudden curvature of her mouth create are strange, alien to the small blue eyes.

The woman is sitting on her large, billowy bed, covered in white, downy blankets. The blue silk nightgown she wears does not fully cover her pale breasts, tinged lavender under a web of light purple veins. The infant’s mouth waters at the thought of the warm creamy fluid. She emits a howl, because her stomach hurts, and makes a loud gurgling sound. The woman glares at her from her cross-legged perch, and something in her dark eyes tells the infant to stop, to calm herself.

The woman’s pale hand reaches up, twirls a piece of hair, the same golden color as the light flooding the brilliant white room. She sighs heavily before reaching into her nightstand and removing a sheet of paper and a silver pen. She bends over the blank page and begins to fill it with black ink. Her hair tumbles over her shoulder, rests delicately on the bed beside her while her hand flies across the paper.

The infant stares up, her eyes searching for something new to observe. There is a pink monkey revolving around her head, its arms curved until its hands nearly touch its feet, a smile stitched in gray onto its round face. Next comes a giraffe of the same color, with gray spots and a long elegant neck. Then a pink lion with a fuzzy gray mane, and a zebra, its legs positioned in a stance of peaceful rest. They spin slowly over her, revolving in the soft breeze of the ceiling fan. Floating, like the stray fluff of a dandelion caught in the wind. Her eyes follow their motion. How can they fly like that? She reaches out her plump hand to try and catch the lion; she wants to pet its soft hair. But she misses, and the lion drifts, unaffected, onwards in its circular journey. The infant giggles at her fruitless attempt and extends her arm to try again.

The laughter draws the woman’s attention to the bassinet. Her face softens; the creases in her forehead and around her mouth relax. She folds her paper in three sections, sets it on the pillow, and rises from the bed. Her blue nightgown swings as she walks, and suddenly she is pulling it up over her head, exposing her shapely thighs, her once flat stomach now flabby. The small infant hand reaches out to trace the jagged pink lines on her hips and stomach, but she intercepts the tiny fingers, picking up the baby and cradling her in her arms, as though it were a natural thing for her to do. She places her full lips on the baby’s soft forehead and runs her long, thin fingers through her curls. She pulls the child closer to her, inhaling through her nose.

This affection is uncommon for her, and the feeling of her lips on the infant’s skin is foreign and peculiar. She squirms and begins to whine until the woman grabs hold of the small wrist and tightens her grip. Her fingertips gradate from white to pink as she squeezes, and the baby quiets. The woman relaxes, and suddenly her eyes are dripping like the silver spout in the bathroom, emitting sparkling droplets of water and spilling them over onto her ivory cheeks. Her pink lips open and she sighs heavily, pulls the child in tighter to her naked breast.

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry, baby girl.” Her voice is oddly warm. The child looks confused as to who is speaking. It is so different from her other voice, the shrill, angry voice that she uses when she speaks to the man. She had used it this morning, before the man grabbed his bag and the glittering dangling keys he sometimes let the child hold. He had slammed the door as he left.
But this newfound friendliness in her voice is comforting, and the baby feels for a moment as though she is back home, back within the womb, nestled snugly in her tight little burrow and curled almost perfectly into a ball. There she was warm always, soothed by the woman’s body heat, her stomach always satisfied by their shared nutrients. She remembers the sound of the man’s gentle, kind voice lulling her into a calm serenity. Sometimes she misses it, that closeness, the tranquility of darkness. But then her curiosity takes hold, and she is in awe of her surroundings, and the slippery yet strained 11-hour journey to get to the pink ruffled bassinet nearly seems worth it.

The woman shifts the infant in her arms, fits the pink toothless mouth on her full right breast, and allows her to suckle for a while
until her stomach fills and her eyelids droop heavily. She wants to remember this feeling, this closeness to another human being. She had felt it before, before the baby that was supposed to make her feel whole. Before her body sagged and before her chest ached constantly. She remembers feeling it with her husband, though it was so long ago. She’d felt it when they sat on the couch together, each afraid to move so as not to lose that feeling of their skin pressed against the other’s. Felt it when they talked for hours into the night, laughing at the things their pretentious parents would never have understood and confessing their secrets to one another. Felt it when she would look up from her book to find him staring at her with a soft grin on his face.

His face. Now she imagines his face, pale and thin, clean shaven and asinine. The thought of his muscular form, hard and unaffected by parenthood, makes her chest ache and her eyes fill with hot tears. The woman feels about him now the way her mother had always felt towards her father: jealous, angry, and hateful. She can’t understand it, because she had never felt kinship with her mother, yet she is like her. But some part of the old her still exists, because she detests her revulsion at her husband’s character and searches for some sliver of the affection she’d once held for him.

Maybe it is the man’s fault. Maybe somewhere in the jumble of bills and career advancements and late night business dinners, he’d forgotten how he once loved the woman, forgotten what she needed. Maybe it is the infant’s fault. Maybe it was that she was supposed to feel satisfaction with the child, but when she looked at her she felt imprisoned. Maybe the woman did not have room enough to love two people with such intensity, and so her soul had shut down completely, unable to choose between her husband and her baby and unable to love them with equal force.

The infant can feel herself drifting, and she fights to maintain consciousness. She doesn’t want to sleep; there is too much to see. The woman swaddles her into a new soft outfit. It’s pink, like the animals that tease the baby by floating above her bed. Then she carries her down the stairs.

In the living room, there is a long table, an assortment of glittering bottles filled with clear and gold-colored liquids. Balancing the drowsy infant in one arm, the woman selects one from the array, then places the opening to her lips and drinks. The baby whimpers, struggling to keep awake. She cannot see her mother’s face from this position, only the hygienic cleanliness of the room: the perfectly spotless white carpet, the gleaming, dustless surfaces, the white and gold couch with the throw pillows that the woman doesn’t allow anyone to sit on. The infant remembers the strange encounter a few days prior. “Stop, you’re gonna ruin it,” the woman had exclaimed to the man when he tried to prop his feet up. He had tried to kiss her then, playfully squeezing her side, but she pulled away from him coldly, a look of utter disgust fixed on her face. He threw up his hands, his gold ring glinting in the artificial light of the lamp overhead.

“What the hell?”

The woman ignored him and stood, moving around him skillfully to adjust the pillows and straighten the books on the coffee table. Her face remained stony as he spoke. The man closed his eyes as he shook his head, exhaled loudly through his nose. “I don’t even know how to touch you anymore…” The woman paused at this, biting her lip. Then she returned to her cleaning as he stood and left the room.

Now she sits on the couch, observing the ornate embroidery of the fabric. And then she begins laughing as she pours the amber liquid from her bottle onto the cushions, shaking her head and muttering “6,000 dollars for a fucking couch…” The baby watches
as the fluid pools in the grooves.

The woman stands, moving quickly to the large mirror hanging on the wall. She watches herself. Plays with her hair, dabs at the puffiness under her eyes with her forefinger. She pinches her pale cheeks until they glow and flush with color, and then she forces a smile, her straight white teeth revealed from under the curtain of her pink upper lip. She runs her free hand along her hips, grimacing at the small mounds of excess fat that now invade her shape. She cups a breast in her palm, testing its newfound weight. Has she always looked like this? Has she always looked so old? She couldn’t have. The man used to tell her she was lovely, used to ask her to wear the red dress with the slit in the side, used to kiss every inch of her body before they made love. She misses the way he used to look at her. She misses the way everyone used to look at her. There are more tears, and she smiles through them, though some roll down her cheeks and into her mouth.

In the kitchen, she straps the infant into the car seat before setting it on the floor. The baby kicks her feet in excitement at the prospect of riding in the car. It’s always warm inside, and music fills the empty space within the vehicle in a way that cannot be replicated within the house.

But instead, the woman exits through the door that joins the kitchen to the garage, and returns with a length of something thick and bright yellow in her hands. She pulls a kitchen chair to the center of the room and stands on her toes to latch this over the white ceiling fan, tying knots and pulling on the length. When she attempts to get down from the chair, she holds the length in one hand, testing the strength of her attachment. The baby can hear the faint clanging of the light pull against the bulb, and it reminds her of the sounds the man’s keys make in her hand.

The woman nods at her work, satisfied. There is a loop at the end of her contraption, swinging back and forth in mid-air. The baby’s blue eyes follow it as it moves. The woman turns and sees her, and her damp face contorts into a pathetic smile.
“It’s better this way,” she whispers slowly, and though she stares in the infant’s direction, it is unclear if she’s talking to her child or to herself. The woman moves toward her then, the flesh of her naked body rippling with each step.
“I love you,” she states, although it sounds like a question. She bends over the carrier and kisses the infant on her cheeks, her lips, her eyelids, her nose, before turning the carrier to face the opposing wall.

The wall before the baby is a pale green, light and delicate. There is nothing to be seen on it except for a picture, directly in the center of the space. The infant recognizes the faces of the man and the woman. Her mother’s eyes are closed, her nose wrinkled, and her mouth twisted in that foreign curve that is her smile. The man’s arms are around her, his face pressed close to hers, his lips resting on her cheek. Her graceful hands rest on the arm that surrounds her chest. Here, they are frozen in a moment that the child has never witnessed: both equally offering embrace, and both accepting their mutual affection. She giggles at the picture; she likes seeing this woman, so distant from the one she knows who is always crying, always angry. So different from the woman who stared blankly from the doorway at the sobbing infant in her crib one evening, refusing to change the soggy diaper. So opposite to the woman who tried to avoid kissing the baby’s small soft face. This woman in the picture seems like she would have changed the diaper; she seems like she would enjoy kissing the baby’s velvet skin.

Behind the carrier, there is the sound of wood scraping against tile, the same sound the chair made when the woman dragged it across the floor. And then there is an earsplitting clatter as something slams onto the ground, and low guttural sounds, throaty and raspy. The baby’s tiny heart begins to race and she lets out a cry, pathetic and shrill. But then she notices something new on the wall.

There is a dark moving image next to the silver framed portrait. The image is hollow and featureless, but still filled with motion, painted somehow on the green wall against the illumination of the sunlight through the kitchen windows. It is a large shape, long and slender, swinging in mid-air, leisurely revolving at the end of a thick line. The infant’s blue eyes grab hold of it; it’s floating, flying through the air like the monkey and the lion. She giggles as she tries to grasp at it, catch it in her hands. But again, she misses, and her hand comes back filled with nothing but the emptiness of air.

 

Jennie Hackman Memorial Award for Short Fiction, 3rd Prize

Stephanie Mei Koo

Lights in the Night

Her bedroom lights haven’t been off for twenty-four years.
Oh, it is silly, isn’t it — to be scared of the dark? Yet here she is, shivering in her nightgown, far too tired to go to sleep.
She likes to think she is a reasonable woman. Those superstitions did not haunt her when she was younger, and why change now? Eighty-four is far too old for change. Eighty-four is far too old for such nonsense.
But she’s only that strong woman by the light of day. In the day, there are grandchildren and daughters and sons. There are hugs and simple I love yous and crayon drawings presented to her with proud smiles. There is the warmth and the smell of grass, and the colors, bathed by the sun, shine down on this moment, on this pedestal of her life.
She can’t see them at night.
In the night, he visits. His winter skin glows. He’s younger
and his eyes are sharp, but his words are sharper and her heart is a soft peach.
She tries to remember a time when they were happy.
You’re eighty-four. You’re supposed to be happy, she reminds herself sternly. The next thought is softer, sad:
Why can’t I be happy?
She shudders and tries to close her eyes, but she knows fully well that she’ll never get a good night’s sleep with the light on.
***
“Who are you?” he barks. “Get out of my house!”
The doctors said he wouldn’t be able to stand after the last episode, but he sure as hell is trying.
She blinks back tears that won’t fall. “It’s me, hun. It’s me.” But who are you?
He shakes and he stutters but she can’t tell if of anger
or something else. She reaches for the phone – to call the police or the hospital?
“You aren’t my wife,” he manages to say. He is sitting down again but somehow this is worse. He is shaking his bottle at her. He’s not supposed to drink. “My-my wife’s twenty-two. She’s perfect. Not old. Not like you. I don’t love you.”
“Please remember,” she whispers. She hates this. She hates his
twisted smile. She hates the tone of his voice. She hates standing
here, quivering against a wall, a wailing cave-canary. She hates
herself for wanting to hate him. Because she can’t. Not when this
man here isn’t him.
Or is it?
The man laughs. It’s a crow’s laugh; the sound hurts her ears.
“Go away, Stella.”
The doctors say he needs to be monitored 24/7, but she flees before he could destroy her further. She knows it’s futile.
She has given up on telling him her name isn’t Stella.
***
Small fires wink at her atop a cake and she kills them with a swift blow. Ghost-smoke trail from the candles and the room is
suddenly dark. She doesn’t care.
She can feel him beaming at her and he pulls her in for a hug.
“Happy—wait, how…” He shakes his head. “What’s…?”
Her eyebrows push together slightly and her delight feels like it was blown out, too. “What?”
He shakes his head again; his lips purse. “Nothing… Stella.”
She laughs at first. “I’m not ‘Stella,’ silly. Who’s that?” She stops laughing when she sees his green eyes cloud. Then they clear and he kisses her greying hair and she rolls her eyes.
“Happy birthday, Ellie-bean.”
***
Her husband comes home late nowadays. “Just work, Elle,” he
calls it. “It’s busy at the office.”
“At 2:24AM in the morning?” she wants to protest, but he looks so tired, so worn out, (so guilty, but she doesn’t want to dwell on
that), so she just motions him into her arms.
He grasps her like she’s a lifeline. She squeezes back.
One night she stepped out of the tub and her raisin-skin did not swell back. One day he woke and his hair was eaten by the pillow.
Yes, they’re still chasing their kids around, but soon enough Peter and Elena would be out of the house and on their way to their own lives.
“When things calm down,” he promises, “we can travel the globe. Like we said we would when we were young.”
“I’d love that,” she whispers.
“And I’ll always love you.”
Elle chooses to believe him.
***
“Wow,” Peter says. “Is that my sister?” The five-year-old peers at the pink bundle in his mother’s arms. Elena squirms, and Elle shifts the baby to keep her calm. Beside her, her husband laughs.
He chuckles. “Of course, silly,” he says, and ruffles their son’s blond hair. He’s taken after his father with his looks.
“That’s my sister!” he asserts.
And this is my family, she thinks.
***
Her brown eyes study him when he sleeps and observe the gentle rise and fall of his chest. His warm breath just barely reaches her face. He’s not smiling— but he’s not frowning, either. She decides that he looks calm.
Elle smiles slightly at the sight of glasses still on his face. They help me see in the dark, he had insisted, accompanied with a wry grin tugged across his lips. She had laughed and told him there
was nothing to see in the dark, turning off the light before climbing into bed.
The rhythm of his heartbeat lulls her back into a sleepy mood; she’s neither awake nor truly asleep. The sun from the window has not yet reached the bed, and she knows that when it does, it’ll cast its light on his hair: a golden halo.
She counts the freckles that scatter from his jaw to his shoulders, almost blending with his tan summer skin. There were twenty-four. Was it normal to want to kiss every one? Would it wake him up; would he squirm? She presses her lips to one on his shoulder to test it out, but he doesn’t react. So she inches her way up to
his jaw, watching for a reaction. She leaves a promise behind with every kiss.
“Hi,” he whispers, sleepily, stirring at her touch.
“Morning,” she replies. And Kyle smiles, as radiant as the sun behind the curtain, and Elle smiles back.

 

Jennie Hackman Memorial Award for Short Fiction, 3rd Prize

Joshua Couvares

A Tie

Another shot. Tequila dried onto his knuckles, his fingernails. When he makes a fist, the skin between his fingers sticks together, like his hand’s one ball of flesh and bone.

It tastes like an extra-bitter version of Vicks nose spray is dripping down the back of his throat, the nervous up-and-down of his heel, the stick and unstick of his shoe against the grime on the bar floor.

He catches her watching him, like she’s calculating something out in her head, figuring the odds to a game he doesn’t know he’s playing.

Adam wonders how this would all end if it were a movie. But every time he plays it out in his head, the ending always changes.

“We shouldn’t do this,” she says, her hands resting on Adam’s belt. Her other hand pushes him against the siding of the building, its cold ridges digging into his shoulders.

It’s like he’s getting plowed into over and over again by a car made up of these little lines of white he keeps putting into his body, leaving less and less of him intact with each hit.

She’s laughing, leaning against the bar counter, staring right at him. Why’s she laughing?

It’s starting to occur to him that that’s what him and Rachel have been doing to each other for months—going at one another until there’s less and less of them left.

His phone buzzes. It’s his mom. He ignores the call, turns his phone off.

Adam’s gin and tonic slips out of his grip, all four dollars worth of it spilling out on the bar floor.

“I’ve never felt better,” she says.

Adam pictures Rachel middle-aged, married. What will she think of him then?

She says, “How good do you feel right now?”
She says, “How good is it to be in college?”
She says, “How good is to be this young?”
She says, “How good is it to be alive?”
She says, “How good would it feel to fuck right now?”

It sounds like a dare she wants Adam to take.

Adam’s almost sure he could have her right now, could bring her outside behind that parked Honda Civic where there’s nobody watching, could lie her down on the cold ground and dirty her dress, could feel his hands smear into the warmth between her legs, could feel the stretch of her panties while he slides them down her bare thighs, could feel the ache in his knees against the hard asphalt, could feel her small hands under his shirt so cold it burns his back, could hear the small slap sound of their bodies against one another, the heat and electricity of their hips and the screwed-shut eyelids and the tight breaths and stiffened limbs and loss of control.

“Here? In this parking lot?”

“Let’s be adventurous,” she says, her fingertips squeezing their way into his underwear.

Why not have her? He wants to fuck everything. He’d fuck the whole world if he could, because it seems like it’s always been
trying to do the same to him.

But Adam keeps seeing her middle-aged, married with kids—older.

And what about the abortion she had to get because they’d been sleeping together, and what about the condom he doesn’t
have, what about her boyfriend—and his friend—Tyler, and what would his mom think if she knew what he was doing?

His belt’s undone. She takes his hand, guides it between her legs, under her dress.

He doesn’t want this. He knows that, but he’s already doing it, and it feels good, how can he stop now? It’s different. It’s the
same—same bodies, same tits, same ass. But different. He tries to get it over with as fast as he can, but his body is so deadened with alcohol and coke it takes an eternity, and when he finishes it feels like a tired yawn lost in a sea of noise. He gets up off the parking lot pavement, wipes off his penis with his hand, buttons up his pants, and looks at Rachel: she’s got that crooked twisted smile of hers. Like she’s happy because she knows she’s doing something wrong.

Never again, he tells himself.

 

The Edward R. and Frances Schreiber Collins Literary Prize for Prose

Catherine Hires

Cold Water
An Excerpt

Nia was still sleeping when I woke up. She was snoring loudly as I crawled my way down the rickety ladder that supported my lofted bed. I walked past her bed, her open mouth smushed ungracefully against her pillow, and made my way into the kitchen. I turned on the sink, pulled the hair out of my face and stuck my mouth in the stream of cool water that poured out from it. Rubbing my eyes, I walked over to the wide double windows of the living room and opened them. It was sunny for late September, and the chill of the breeze made the hairs on my arms stand up as it wafted through the screens. I was still in my going-out clothes from the night before: a black tank top and a pair of short-but-not-like-slutty-short shorts. There was black soot on my knuckles where I had rubbed my eyes from the mascara I had forgotten to take off.
I ambled toward the bathroom. The muscles in my calves and thighs were sore and tense, like I had been driving all night. I plopped down on the toilet seat and focused on my toes for a few seconds before I noticed the blood in my underwear. Blood in underwear is not foreign territory for any woman; it’s usually more annoying than it is upsetting. You’ve either lost a pair of underwear or you have to spend a good seven minutes at the sink scrubbing them in cold water. The blood in my underwear was less alarming to me than the clumps of almost-black mulch that were also gathered there. I could smell them from where I stared down at them: the smell of grass and woods. The longer I stared, the more I smelled: cigarette smoke, muddy petrichor and wet pavement, twinged with subtle notes of iron and cheap beer. I staggered off the toilet seat and looked at myself in the mirror. The eye makeup I had smudged clouded around my eyes like black-brown bruises. I leaned into the sink and got close to the mirror, running my ring finger along my bottom eyelid to wipe away what little waterproof eyeliner I could.
I looked down my legs for bruises, but I wasn’t really searching for evidence. I was as pale as I was the day before, remarkably markless. My quietly aching legs remembered the previous night before my brain and hands did, even as I stood at the sink scrubbing my underwear with the useless coconut-lime hand soap we kept there. The water made my knuckles almost numb as the black stains on them washed away. I let myself believe that the cold was why my hands were shaking for a full minute before I
gave up on the stain and turned the water on in the shower.
I got into the shower with the intention of cleaning myself, but I just sat in the bottom of the tub while I waited for the hot water to turn cold and then warm again. The water intensified the smells in my hair, which had been matted with dirt and cinnamon whiskey. I let the foulness float away with the steam as I tried to cobble together some image of the night before that didn’t frighten me. Moments drifted in and out of my mind and melted together like the water pelting and rolling off my body, which looked even paler against the navy shower curtain.
I could remember everything to a point, but I couldn’t locate that point. The images were crisp when I closed my eyes, but blurred when I tried to string them together. My whole head, heavy with the post-drunken stupor that I was pretty well used to, felt vaguely disconnected from my neck. I remembered taking jelloshots, but the plastic flavor in my mouth tasted alien to me. I could remember avoiding someone, I could remember Taylor backing her car into a dumpster on the way out, and I could remember that I had forgotten my mostly empty bottle of cinnamon whiskey in the back of her car. I could remember kissing in the cold darkness and saying no and a hand over my mouth and again across my left wrist and cackling hysterically as he tried to put my shorts back onto me while I lay in the dirt. Sitting there in the shower, I laughed a little when I remembered that he tried to put my pants back on, and how bad a job he did of it.
By the time I got out of the shower, I had given myself a thorough, meticulous, mostly frantic scrub. Toweling off under the fluorescent bathroom lights, I felt less clean than I felt raw and red, like all my skin had been under the sticky part of a Band-Aid I had just ripped off. The tremor had left my hands and some tears had unwillingly made their way down the shower drain. The ache in my legs had crept its way up into my brain and I imagined it lining my skull, thick and black like the sludge you see on pictures of smokers’ lungs. My fingertips felt unfamiliar as I walked them over my flesh, trying to remember where the pieces of myself fit.
***
I walked out of the bathroom wrapped in my big orange towel. Nia, who was now awake but still sprawled out in her bed, with her laptop on her belly, said, “Girl, you need to take shorter showers. How was that party last night?”
“The party was pretty shitty, actually,” I answered, getting dressed in the corner.
“You got back pretty late last night for a shitty party,” she replied, not looking up from her computer screen.
“Yeah, well, Taylor may or may not have backed her car into a dumpster on the way out.”
Nia snorted. “Are you serious?” she asked, looking up and patting the Bantu knots on her head in disbelief. “How many people were in the car?”
“Eight.”
“Damn,” she laughed. “Is her car alright?”
“Yeah, believe it or not it looks completely unscathed.”
“Lucky,” she said. “But where was this party again?”
“Willy Oaks Apartments.”
“And what was shitty about the party?”
“Um,” I started. “Well, I didn’t really know the guys who were throwing it, you know? Also this weird fat guy was following me around all night and it was creepy.”
“Oh-kay. Why was he following you around? No offense, but you were wearing that huge flannel when you went out.”
“Well, there was a Star Wars poster in the apartment and I made a joke about it, and it was like this guy had never spoken to a female who had seen a Star Wars movie before, and so he followed me around all night trying to get me wasted.”
“Ew. Sexually repressed, over-attachable dorks are the worst. And he was fat?”
“Yeah, pretty fat. Kinda like a shiny, sweaty fat dude.” Nia squinted and stuck her tongue out. It was astonishingly pink against the brown button of her face. I laughed a little. “I’m going to get breakfast with Haley and them. You wanna come?”
“Look at me,” Nia replied. She was covered in blankets and propped up by at least five pillows. “I am not moving. Go.”
“Ok,” I laughed quietly, walking away. It was strange, but I was surprised by how easily I was able to pretend that it was a completely normal Saturday morning. The nagging pains in my thighs were my walking reminder that it was not a normal Saturday morning. Still, it was easy to fool Nia, and, waiting outside my on-campus apartment building to join a gaggle of brunch-craving college girls, I hoped that eventually I would find it just as easy to fool myself.
***
I was watching Haley apply a mildly disturbing amount of cream cheese to her bagel while I listened to her and Britney argue about the events of the night.
“You did not make out with Brian and Claire at the same time, Britney. Nope. No.” Haley was saying, flatly, her voice low and
cloying and her eyebrow cocked defiantly.
“Actually, she kinda did,” Rachel interjected, taking a bite of sausage as she gesticulated. “I saw it. Still not convinced it was a
good decision though.”
“It was a good decision!” Britney said, with a flourish of her small hands. “We have gotten over all of our past grievances.” She
ran her hand through her electric pink hair. “Besides, it’s whatever, so.”
“That’s a really strange way of solving problems with your ex and his girlfriend.” Haley laughed. “You’re a stone cold slut.”
“Baby, I know it!” Britney joked.
“I am getting more tea,” I said, getting up. I had been sitting there for fifteen minutes listening to them prattle about nothing. I had thought that listening to them talk about nothing would be comforting in its simple single-mindedness, but after a while, annoyance broke through my private catatonia. The low hum of the dining hall was mainly composed of people talking about nothing. I felt mildly guilty about judging them harshly, but at the same time I was looking for anything to be even remotely angry about. I wasn’t going to give myself the room to think about my situation, at least not outside the walls of my small bathroom.
“I need more OJ,” Haley said, rising. She walked in step with me. “So,” she asked.
“So?”
“So did you have sex with that guy?” Her eyebrows were raised to match her playful smirk.
“Kinda yeah,” I sighed. I was trying my best to look aloof and nonchalant as I refilled my mug with hot water.
“Dude, quit walking around like a zombie,” she said.
“Regretting sex is like one of the main parts of being…” she paused, looking up for the right word. “One of the main things about being a part of our generation.” She laughed. “Besides, if you don’t regret it, you probably aren’t doing it right.”
“That’s healthy,” I said dryly, following her to the juice counter.
“I went on a run this morning while you were sleeping. Don’t tell me what’s healthy,” she grinned at me.
“Fuck you.”
“Shut up, bitch,” she replied. I rested my forehead on her shoulder while she refilled her cup.
***
In bed that night, I spent the majority of my time attempting to sink into my mattress. I couldn’t sleep for Nia’s snoring, but my mind was buzzing like a fly around a piece of meat. I thought that if I could build a wall around myself, somehow white out the memories I didn’t want, I could keep from rotting. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to invite that insincere “talking is healing” attitude from anyone I knew. Lying there, face close to the ceiling, I thought about what it meant to be a victim. I couldn’t be a victim if I refused to allow that night to exist in my mind. It couldn’t have been a crime if I wanted it, so I convinced myself that I wanted it. It took almost no effort to drop into the lie, to deny myself the thoughts I didn’t want to be thinking. I decided my brain was a malleable thing, to be sculpted and molded into the shape that I found most comfortable. I decided that my memory was an uncertain mechanism, and that the truth was not important as long as I avoided it.
Haley had watched me be led away by the hand at that party. I let myself believe that if she ever learned what happened, she’d blame herself. I let myself believe that forgetting was a way of protecting her from guilt she shouldn’t have to bear. It was a convenience that, in protecting her, I was protecting myself. I dreamed a million reasons to keep everything inside, not a single one of them was the fear that was slithering into my heart – that I was weak, and that my body was not mine.

 

The Edward R. and Frances Schreiber Collins Literary Prize for Poetry

Zachary Bradley

The Scientific Process

Ants can withstand 5,000 times their weight,
a strength attracting the envy of man.
But still, even the strongest backs can break.

I glue heads to a centrifuge and wait
for the force of spinning to make neck snap,
“Ants can withstand 5,000 times their weight.”

We’re making new robotics and they’re aimed
to kill because weapons are in demand.
We know even the strongest backs can break.

In Giza, they dragged limestone blocks for days
and died piling them into ant-hill-stacks.
Men can’t withstand 5,000 times their weight.

It’s a wonder built and polished by slaves,
three tombs for pharaoh’s bones with jewels in hand,
because even the richest backs can break.

A sultan scraped away the limestone face
and now the stones are lining his mosque’s halls.
Ants can withstand 5,000 times their weight,
but still, even the strongest backs can break.

The Aetna Creative Nonfiction Award, Undergraduate 1st Prize

Eleanor Hudd

The Aetna Creative Nonfiction Award, Graduate 1st Prize

Abigail Fagan

September 18th

 

Before they put the yellow sod back on
they asked if we’d like to take little clumps
of earth and help put him to rest,

fingerprinted bits to keep him
in the ground in the urn in Montana
where it’s cold underfoot and always dry.

We nodded and took lumps of earth
from the wheelbarrow. They sat
between our fingers like ice cubes,

cold as our wet chilled cheeks,
blue like the urn we circled with
our close-toed black shoes. We knelt

and placed our cloves of salt-watered dirt
in the hole. I put the dirt in my pocket first,
and it turned into dust in the warmth.

 

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