Honey Candy

by Elmo Ishii

When Todd asked Abigail to be his wife, she crawled out of the balloon-suspended basket and into a free fall, breaking both legs, her pelvis and, as Todd would never have the privilege of pointing out, her hymen. The pain of recovery was long and grinding, but she didn’t complain. In fact, she was pleased; it wasn’t a suicide she wanted, but a wheelchair.

She loved Todd. He was small and timid, but clever enough to tease her—she liked that. He didn’t care for other people and she liked that too; she wanted him to care for her and her alone. She loved his thick-strung red hair and smoky lips, how they shared the same birthday and weren’t too proud to take the train or tip street-dancers. She loved him and would never leave him, but lived in fear that at any moment he might forget her entirely. She fell from the balloon to end the uncertainty, convinced that after a few months of elevators, graceless kisses, and coworker pity-whispers, Todd’s love would lose its pulse and she’d be free.

But Todd found the life that blessed his laden love well worth its inconvenience. Wheeling Abigail here and there had made him stronger. Once rawboned and brittle, he found a sense of accomplishment in filling out his shirts and even began a daily routine: twenty minutes jumping rope, twenty push-ups, twenty sit-ups. When they went to the movies they parked in blue without a worry, and never had to sit too close to the screen. Doors were held open when they approached buildings and stranger-made apologies seemed sincere. People talked kindly to him, and when he worked nights at the call-center he began talking kindly to people. He listened to Abigail and wrote down her more beautiful insights in a lined notebook—what she’d say about God and other unseen things. He attended his soul, seeking counsel from men of greater faith. One Sunday he found the closest congregation to his apartment and spent the afternoon laughing and crying in tongues with the pentecostals. He arranged a weekly visit with the pastor and was always punctual. Todd washed in his wisdom and left their sessions dripping with a more determined devotion. His pity for Abigail soon bloomed into exhausting patience.

On their twenty-third birthday he missed his own party to help her try on dresses at the department store—her birthday wish. He plucked her from the dressing stool and paraded her about the displays, weaving through whooshing racks of things she couldn’t afford. Abigail blushed at his cartoon strength and caught the glances of walking shoppers, winning their jealousy, she hoped.

He spent his days at her apartment and would stay at her side for hours, finding fresh ways to serve as she plucked at her online assignments. He’d wheel her to the window to see the clouds burn cherry-purple, arrange for visits from loved ones, bring her newspapers bursting with golden tulips. Her sisters gushed when they came to meet him, saying he was too good to be true. Abigail shook her head and grinned, but soon wondered if he was too good to be true to her.

She spun in worried circles until the room stank of charring rubber, questioning his goodness before the tulips needed water. She convinced herself that his tenderness was building toward something terrible—perhaps the day of her healing, when he would realize he had confused pity for passion and leave her apartment, taking the tulips and forgetting her entirely. She would be left to wither, her bottom melting each day more into the chair until it was rendered geriatric. These suspicions made his companionship something to avoid. Sometimes she’d pretend to fall asleep in hopes of his leaving, but he would stay another hour humming, holding her bare ankles, rolling her back and forth on the hardwood.

Do you love me, Todd? she asked one day.

I love you, yes. Very much.

Why?

Why do I love you?

Yes, why?

Todd didn’t know why. She was beautiful and fragile and they had read the same books. Her nose turned at its end like a trumpet and he could run his fingers through her black hair all day without drawing any grease. Though buried deep in plaster casting, he remembered her pale, balletic legs with fondness. She loved him and when she told him so for the first time his contents wobbled with familiar warmth. She had a way of looking at him that made him feel like he could play the stock-market. She trusted him because he respected her. Even if her healing bones could have born his body, he wouldn’t have suggested sex. Todd was not a virgin, but Abigail was and wanted to wait—he liked that. There was a curious open-endedness to each kiss that marked her purity and he liked that too. He had lost all interest in other girls, and in conversations with female coworkers would ask safe questions about the weather that week or what they thought of the new headsets. They could tell he was happy, and if yesterday one of them had asked if he loved Abigail he would have said yes. Now he wasn’t sure. The next few nights at the call-center, he posed the question to customers until his supervisor sent him home. Why do I love her? Why do I love her?By the time he saw the pastor on Sunday, the question was shorter.

Do I love her? I’m

Perhaps, he said, Or perhaps you love serving one of the Lord’s wounded lambs.

So you’re saying it’s not Abigail? You’re saying I love God?

I’m saying you’re a good man.

Plodding the three blocks home from what would be his last meeting, Todd was unhinged. At once he missed Abigail and felt relief at the thought of never seeing her again. In his apartment he draped himself over an armchair and smoked a pair of cigarettes, bathing in the lamp-light. It was unreasonable—unnatural to expect one to wait so long for lovemaking, he thought, and went to sleep wondering what other worlds awaited him.

* * *

Abigail had been dreaming about God since Todd stopped coming by. She had the same dream twice a week, but each time would wake not knowing if the memory of having dreamt it all before was just a consequence of the morning delirium. She dreamed that God drew from her mouth a silver finch and locked it in a cage. Her knees could bend and she could run, so God hid the cage in a cobwebbed hole. She crawled inside, worming her way toward the song of the finch. She crawled for days, for years, to the end of the hole, to a circular room with banana-spotted walls. The floor was carpeted with honey candy and from the walls stuck thick ice shelves, each stacked with glass bottles of water. The hand of God hung where chandeliers do, holding high the cage between thumb and forefinger, the silver finch turning about, croaking her tired song. Abigail reached to free her, but in crawling had forgotten her legs and how to use them. Sprawled upon the floor, she stuffed herself with honey candy and drank glass-bottled water until she grew too bored for breath.

How can I help you today?

It’s me. Todd, it’s Abby.

I really shouldn’t talk at work.

I haven’t seen you in months.

Can you please hold?

A jazz ensemble squeezed through the tinny speaker. She dug a green heel into the hardwood and twirled in her unzipped birthday dress.

Abigail?

I’m here.

I can’t talk right now. Why don’t we meet this week?

Sure, she said.

Saturday? Evening-ish?

Afternoon.

I’ll be at your place at two o’clock.

No. Meet me at Blithe Park—the aviary. I’m walking again.

Todd detoured on his way to their meeting, then only blocks from the park. He stopped to rescue a haggard pair of misioneras who had stranded themselves on the median divider in a sea of unholy traffic. They kissed his hands and, linking arms, ushered him into el Salón del Reino to be counted among the one hundred forty-four thousand souls Jehovah soon would save.

At the aviary, flushing in the afternoon swelter, Abigail rediscovered the pleasure of leaning into a flaccid chain-linked fence. She leaned through hours, birthday dress glued to her naked body, waiting to forgive her Todd in maple-shaded passion. Soon shade yielded to the going sun and she limped the twisted path through the canopy, lapping ferns and giant flowers. The birds hushed. A pair of hooded vultures landed behind her softly, then followed on foot. A melba finch joined in line, then a sunbittern. An eastern screech owl, a white-headed buffalo weaver, a domestic chicken. Tails brushed and claws clacked, but not a yawp from the procession—even the swan geese yielded. An egret flew above the nonsense in winged expanse. Abigail watched as the large slow thing would lift, then pale before the netted dusk; its flight reduced to such clipped circuits. Then Abigail turned and beheld the aberrant parade of birds. Good Lord, she said. Their heads cocked, eyes all agog. A child stood at Todd’s ear translating the discussion about La Atalaya when la puerta del Salón del Reino se abrió de golpe. El hermano who had been sitting outside keeping watch entered, flapping his hands.

Aves! Vengan ya!

The congregation moved into the parking lot. El hermano and the child were pointing toward heaven. Birds flocking by the hundreds, gathering into a great column of kinds and colors, rising in the evening black. They were silent but for the heavy murmur of wings. They circled and spun above a parking structure then doubled in the bright reflection of the hospital, peeling backward en masse and up again. Others in the street began to watch. Two policeman were atop their cruiser, laughing and weeping, gesturing to the angry drivers to exit their cars and look! All were still with wonder and all joined in a whining boo when the birds flew out of sight as if onward to a long migration. But a distant drone of squawks sounded, then grew loud and impending. From the darkness they returned, pouring over the buildings in garish honks and trills. They were calling all birds—seagulls, pigeons, crows—to join their pageant. They soon were countless and in an instant broke into a swarm of terror and droppings, like bats. Then gone. The traffic resumed. The congregation rose from their knees and set to gathering up the best fallen plumes.

Todd was running to the park. Two employees stood at the open gate of the aviary when he arrived; one clawed and bleeding, the other fumbling with a radio—both frantic. He asked if they had seen a black-haired woman with a cane, maybe crutches. They didn’t answer. He stumbled along the unlit paths and through the trees calling her name, but she didn’t answer.

He was tired and had slowed into a nervous walk when he reached the black pond at the heart of the park and saw the egret. It was so enormously white in the smooth and moonless reflection, he first thought it an angel. From high above the treeline it fell like a howling star, then spread into a glide, a slow landing. It stalked with backward knees, it’s head a snake, floating. Then snapped downward, emerging polished with water, a dark fish speared on its bill. Todd watched the great bird as it left the shallow edge for the shore, turning itself toward the trees in an attitude of sharing. High, high above the egret in the ladled crook of a eucalyptus was Abigail cradling a large red hen, singing.

 

 

Elmo is a Christian. He enjoys playing the piano.

Story Circle

By David Bankson

 

Tell of darkness in a coal miner’s heart,

balsam fir sapling surrounded by ancestors,

 

all the hearts of man expelling words

of warning. Say the house’s roof

 

is a den of illicit activity. Invoke

empty stone wells & death masks,

 

cracked teeth, a sunset stained with wine.

As another night ruptures in the throat,

 

scream the primal truth–though stories

are honey, let us grasp the barbed wire tonight.

Beside an Accent Chair, in December

By Alexandra Palmer

 

The year we moved to Ohio, I noticed

she stopped painting her nails. On days she wore

her hair back (no ribbon, no curls),

I often used the word nice. Moths were getting warm

in the corners of our laundry, lazing in Josephine’s car seat,

nesting behind the throw pillows.

 

Yet, even on Monday evenings, we went driving.

She would turn on Rachmaninoff and blush.

 

That night she had fallen in with three cups of chamomile

tea, which she sipped for the aches. It was so late

she had let Tess out and back in again.

Those erratic spaniel ears, doused in slush, smacked her calves.

She toweled the dog dry and led her to bed.

It was long since her hands had sunk into hot water.

She didn’t see me come downstairs for an orange, a book,

to bring her to bed. From the living room, I heard her

sit down heavily, and the accent chair shhhed that I should wait.

 

On our mantle hung boughs of bald cypress, which she had clipped

several days after Thanksgiving. Their tang

collided with soot, cologneing her hair; gossip between

that ashy breath and the oily tree enticed her to come,

caress one of the green sleeves. She bent to it. The needles clung to her skin.

Bits of resin fondled her fingers, a shimmering, gamey balm.

A Dream Variation in the Style of Jørgen Leth

by Maren Loveland

Here is the perfect woman. Here is the perfect woman. Watch her. Watch her as she bites into the thick peel of an orange, pulling it off with her deftly moving fingers to reveal eight plump wedges whose color melts like marmalade in the sunlight. Her eyes gleam as each slice slips down her throat. Watch the vitreous juice drip down her palms, her wrists, her forearms, her thighs. How does she function? How does the perfect woman function? We will investigate that here, now, sometime.

This is what she looks like. Here is the cavernous curve of her ear. Here is her upper lip with two points, like the peaks of freshly whipped egg whites. And the other lip. A fledgling crescent moon, the color of rhododendron petals in summertime. Look at her eye. Look at the eye of the perfect woman. Notice the faint scar above her eye, the unintentionally self-inflicted scar. Watch the gold-flecked silken liquid fall from her eye. We do not know why the perfect woman cries this way.

The perfect woman is in a room. The room has no edges; it is limitless and eternal and made of glass. It is full of nothingness and everythingness, encompassing her presence, both corporeal and ontological. Watch her as she dances without any music. How does she move this way? Watch her touch the velvet ears of rabbits and medium-sized dogs. Four labradoodles limned in buttered light make their way across her path. She presses her ear against the ribcage of a greyhound named Emily, who is dead now. Why does she feel these things? Why is she moved by them? Even she does not know and does not wish to know.

Watch her fall. Watch her as she falls to the ground, entangled in her limbs, again and again. She falls into the ground, and the grass makes painterly stains on the knees of her jeans, eternal scars of viridity. The perfect woman is thinking about Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Volume 2, her aquiline nose so brilliant, and her sinewy arms wielding that incredible sword that slices and stabs and kills. The perfect woman now sinks down into an old second-hand floral couch covered in stains, right next to her sister. Her sister inhales deeply from a poorly wrapped homemade joint and exhales the billowing smoke from her nostrils, filling the dimly lit garage of pink light with the vibrant scent of weed. It emanates into the sisters’ fingers and hoodies and brains. The sister wants to watch the film Primal Fear. The sisters fold their heads into each other, like two sleeping mourning doves at daybreak. How does the perfect woman feel? She feels fear, and peace.

THE PERFECT WOMAN

THE PERFECT WOMAN

THE PERFECT WOMAN

THE PERFECT WOMAN

THE PERFECT WOMAN

THE PERFECT WOMAN

THE PERFECT WOMAN

THE PERFECT WOMAN

THE PERFECT WOMAN

THE PERFECT WOMAN

What is this music that’s playing? It’s “I Know It’s Over” by The Smiths. Who is this voice that is speaking? It’s me, the writer.

The perfect woman says: “Today I experienced something which I hope to understand in a few days. I looked in the mirror and saw a nun who chastised me for calling my mother a bitch when I was a teenager. I looked in the same mirror and cried because I hated my face. I was surrounded by darkness. I don’t know what it is supposed to mean.”

What is the perfect woman thinking about? Love? Death? Soggy toast on the sidewalk? Cigarettes? Apple cake? Misogyny? Sex? Violence? Robin’s eggs? The nails at the hardware store? Racism? Anger? Spearmint? White peaches? Is she thinking about peace? Egg yolks? We do not know what she’s thinking about, but we can guess.

“What is a perfect woman? Is it that dark-haired Danish beauty, who sinks into her skinny shoulders and traces her fingertips along her knees? Whoever you are that’s talking, you’re wrong about me. It can’t be me because I wipe the residual toothpaste around my lips onto the bathroom towel instead of just washing it off in the sink, and my mom kicked down my bedroom door after I slammed it in her face, and I haven’t returned Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot to the library for three years. I wished for the death of the grandfather who groped the women of my family.” 

 The perfect woman lies on her belly while she slumbers. She dreams about rigatoni pasta and fires and golden retrievers. She rests on her stomach while watching the film Milk with her younger sister, clutching a pillow in her arms. The sisters don’t look at each other. They go to a dingy Waffle House and cannot make eye contact, but when the old server with the spider limbs grabs the sister’s shoulder, the perfect woman wants to bite through his wrinkled hand and crack the bones. The perfect woman says nothing, just watches, because she believes she is helpless. Now, look at her drive the car, the 2001 Honda Civic. Look at her while she mouths the words to a 10,000 Maniacs song and sinks into the purple midnight horizon electrocuted by neon signs and the blurred light of floating streetlamps, into the nothingness and everythingness.

“I can remember my mom coming out of the bathroom crying for no reason. I think it was because of miscarriages or cheating or something like that; I can never know for sure. These unspoken moments of pain drift in the wind of eternities and memories, never comprehended. They can’t be understood in a few days, or weeks, or years, or lifetimes. They have the consistency of Greek yogurt as I try to get those viscous pieces of reality out of my head and into the street where I can feel them in between my toes and under my heels as I try to walk away unscathed.”

July Overture

by Amanda Hall

The rain pours off the roof, sliding to the corner and fountaining over the edge of the rain gutter. I balance on the edge of the sandstone wall around the garden box, grabbing onto the steel post with one hand and reaching out with the other. My mouth attempts a smile. Cold, wet rain dumps onto my arm, cooling my skin and dissipating an unbearable July heat.

So many days of heat, made worse by my nausea. The past four weeks melted me into a pool of skin and hair that only liked to eat fruit and drink ice-cold water. But a few days ago, my nausea lifted—only what came next would be worse than my nausea.

Three times before. Not always in July, though. This would be the fourth. Perhaps the last. I would flush another failed fetus away, along with another bit of my happiness. Brutal July heat outside. Miserable July heat inside.

But rain. Rain brought relief. I ran inside to open the windows, outside to lift my face to the heavy drops. Inside to start the dishwasher, outside to sit on the steps and watch the lightning. My shirt sticks to me after standing in the outside shower.

I used to be scared of thunder. I used to be scared of being pregnant. But people change. I changed. I learned to find comfort in thunder, in the rain that followed and the drink it provided to a very dry land. I learned to be happy with this pregnancy, with the possibility of loving a child again, trying to find a bigger car, putting off graduation for just one semester.

But thunder doesn’t always bring rain.

This afternoon storm touches my skin. Each drop a comfort. Each gust of wind nature’s embrace. This is the only thing that has gone right. So much heat brought wildfire and drought. So much brokenness, a failure that follows me inside. Haunts me. Brings me to the ground in a motionless heap. Now, the high temperatures dissipate.

Rain is like music. The overture a sonata, thunder in the background. Lightning far away. It builds. Becomes a trio when the water erupts from the clouds. Sometimes soft, sometimes heavy. The music plinks on glass and metal. Splashes the cement. Creates a cacophony of sound that seeps through my clothes and chest and heart.

How can my heart still beat when the baby’s does not?

The rain starts to slow. I don’t want it to end, or to feel like an end. Instead, I want a beginning. I want to start over. I push past the thick air around me and walk directly into the rain as it turns to a drizzle. I speak to it, tell it to keep going.

Don’t leave yet.

 

Repentance

by Heather Talbot

Ellen paused for a long moment on the porch. She stared at the chipping, white paint on the door, gathering her strength. With a slow deep breath, she turned the key, opened the door, and walked inside.

“Ellen? Ellen is that you? Ellen?” a voice called to her as soon as the door creaked open.

“Yes, Mom. It’s me. I brought lunch.” she answered.

“Why don’t you ever knock? How am I supposed to know whether it’s you or some criminal?”

Because criminals don’t have keys, Mom, Ellen thought. “I brought chicken and a salad. Are you hungry?” She set the food down on the side table and hung up her coat. She turned and looked at her mother with a steady, practiced smile.

“Chicken? Again? Bleah. And you know I hate salad. Why are you always bringing damn salads?”

“Because Dr. Porter says you need to eat more vegetables and avoid fatty foods, Mom. I’m following the diet plan he gave you.” How many times were they going to have this conversation?

“Why can’t that damn doctor let me die in peace? If I want to eat nothing but lard until I keel over, what’s it to him?”

Well, maybe tomorrow I’ll bring you a jar of lard then. “It’s still warm. I cooked and brought it right over. Let me go get the TV tray.” Ellen walked into the kitchen, and grabbed the folded tin TV tray, brown and harvest orange, probably some kind of kitschy collectible by now, and walked back into the living room. Her mother was sitting in the worn brown recliner, head drooped, a light snore drifting from her. Her white, wiry hair stood in wispy clumps around her head. In the lamp light, it glowed, like a halo around her head. There’s irony for you, Ellen thought. Her mother’s pale nightgown hung loosely on her thinning body, draped with the skin that was stretched to fit the rolls of the body she once had. Her oxygen tubes had slipped, again, and were now sitting just above her lips. Ellen quietly moved the oxygen tank to the side of the recliner, unfolded the tray and placed it over her mother’s knees. She tucked the tubing back around her mother’s ears and wriggled the nose piece back into place. Her mother’s head jerked and with eyes opened as wide as her sagging eyelids would allow, she glared at Ellen.

“What the hell are you doing, Ellen? Are you trying to kill me? You just can’t wait for me to die, can you?”

Ellen suppressed a sigh and repasted her smile. “I’m just fixing your oxygen, Mom.” She picked the food up from the side table and took it into the kitchen. She removed it from the Tupperware and placed it on a plate with the brown flower borders and filled an avocado green melamine cup with water.

“Here you go, Mom.” Ellen placed the plate of food, water, and silverware on the tray.  The chicken was already cut into bite sized pieces, the salad carefully pre-shredded. She had learned not to do those things in front of her mother. Let her keep some semblance of independence.

Ellen sat in the recliner next to her mother. It still felt odd to sit in it. Her father had never let anyone sit there. She still expected to hear his gruff voice ordering her out of his chair. She watched carefully as her mom picked up the fork, hand shaking, struggling to stab a piece of chicken, then slowly bring her trembling hand to her mouth. She looked so frail and small. Not like her mother at all, really.

“It’s dry. And it needs salt. Get me the damn salt.” It’s definitely still her though.Ellen went into the kitchen and got the salt. She set it on the tray.

“I want you to take me to church tomorrow. Eight o’clock mass at St. Agnus.”

Ellen stared at her mother. It’s happened. She’s lost her mind.

“Mom, you haven’t set foot inside St. Agnus since… well, since, um, well since…”

“Why are you stuttering like a damn idiot? I know when I went to church last. I want to go tomorrow. If you won’t take me, I’ll find someone who will!”

Who would that be? No one but me will come here anymore. Not since Dad died. You’ve chased them all off.

“I’ll take you, Mom. Whatever you want. I’m just surprised. Do you want me to come over early and help you get dressed?”

“Nah. The morning nurse from hospice can do it. Don’t want to be a burden.” Ellen sat down on her dad’s recliner. Her mother took another unsteady bite. Ellen looked into the blank screen of the console television.

“Mom, why do you want to go to church tomorrow?” Ellen asked.

“It ain’t any of your damned business! You always were one to stick your nose where it don’t belong.”

Ellen looked at her feet, waiting for her mom to finish eating. They sat in near silence; the only noises were her mother’s labored breathing and the occasional scrape and clink of the fork. Ellen’s thoughts drifted around the room, latching on to fragments of memory. Being scolded for eating in front of the television set. For getting messing up the doilies on the arms of the couch. For chewing too loudly. Being scolded for just existing, it seemed. Hours of piano practice; she couldn’t quit until each scale and song was perfect. The time she and Matthew brought home Shadow, a stray they had found by the creek, and her mother screamed at the sight of the dirty mangy thing rolling on her immaculately kept shag carpets. She had yelled herself hoarse at the two of them, made them scrub the carpet until their hands dried out and cracked, but she let them keep the dog– outside in the shed, but even that concession had shocked Ellen.

“I don’t think the Church even cares anymore if you marry a Protestant.” Ellen was startled by her mother’s voice. “Priest told me I’d go to Hell. Mama told me I’d go to Hell. Wouldn’t even come see her grandchildren. Called you unbaptized heathens. And now the Church don’t even care.”

Ellen looked at her mom. “So why go back? You always told us the Church was just a bunch of superstition and nonsense.”

“Why do you have to question everything I do? I want to go to church. That’s all you need to know, damn it.” Her fork clanged loudly on the tin tray. Ellen couldn’t tell if she’d dropped it or thrown it.

“Are you done eating, Mom. I’ll take your plate if you are.”

“Yeah. Take it. Chicken’s dry anyway.”

Ellen picked up the plate and fork, leaving the water, hoping her mom would drink it later. She took them into the kitchen, scraped the food into the trash, and washed the dishes.It’s been 60 years. She always said she didn’t care. She always said she was better off. Is this some kind of death bed repentance? When did she ever feel she needed to repent of anything?She dried the dishes, put the plate and fork away, and carried the Tupperware back into the living room.

“I’m going to go Mom. The night nurse should be here around five. Do want me to turn the television on?”

“Nah. Nothing good on anymore. It’s all trash. I’ll just take a nap.”

“I’ll see you in the morning for Mass.”

“Don’t be late. I don’t want to be late.”

“I won’t be, Mom. I promise.”

Ellen put her coat on and started towards the door.

“It’s different now, you know, at the Church. Maybe now they’ll forgive me.” Her voice was low and quiet.

“I don’t think you have anything to be forgiven of Mom.”

“I gave up God for him. And then he left me.”

“He didn’t leave you, Mom. He died.”

“What’s the difference? I’m still alone.”

“You’ve got me, Mom. And Paul and the kids. And Matthew’s coming for a visit next month.”

“Hmmpf” her mother grunted and looked away.

“I can stay, if you’d like.”

“No, no. You go. I don’t want to be a burden.”

“You’re not a burden, Mom.” Ellen placed her hand gently on her mother’s. Her mother did not pull away.

Ellen took off her coat and sat down.

 

 

Heather Talbot is an English major with a creative writing minor at BYU. She has an extraordinarily supportive husband, four kids, and two dogs. This is her first time being published.

Bad Hair

by Cicily Bennion

My wish for society is that someday we will collectively choose to elevate girls and women with bad hair to their rightful place at the top. There would be no more looking askance at thirteen-year-olds with asymmetrical pompadours. Instead, we might enroll them in a special leadership course with an emphasis on geopolitical issues. A woman with a bad haircut is a woman who is willing to take risks. She is independent, a little impulsive, and—in many cases—frugal. She is farsighted, prepared to live with her (or her stylist’s) mistakes. She understands the impermanence of hair. It is almost certain that, on more than one occasion, she has looked in the mirror and shrugged, reassured by the knowledge that hair grows back. She bears with patience the arduous period that is the transition between a pixie cut and a well-groomed bob, and she has no qualms about repelling men who prefer longer hair.

Of course, not everyone sees it this way. Take, for example, this curious series of events: a month after the 2016 presidential election, The Cut reported that hairstylists in Washington, D.C. were seeing a surge of women coming into the salon to demand drastic changes, often opting for shorter or darker hair. In interviews, these women explained their motivations. One said, “I wanted to do something defiant,” while another said, “I don’t want to be that person people see as sexual; I want to be seen as strong” (Mitchell). But here’s the interesting part: just two days later, a man who calls himself “Bushrod Washington” published his own report of these events in The Federalist Papers, a right-wing media outlet. This article included the same quotes from the same women but this time with snide commentary and a headline that read “Weepy Leftist Women Cutting Their Hair, Traumatizing Their Children In [sic] Post-Election Trump’s America.”

Paradoxically, it is exactly this sort of vehement disapproval which gives bad hair its power. When I say “bad hair,” I am referring not only to those haircuts which are poorly executed or objectively unflattering but also those haircuts which subvert a set of expectations––whether it be those of the beauty industry, of friends, of family, or the likes of Bushrod (shall we call them weepy right-wing men?). I don’t know if those women originally quoted in The Cut ever found the second article, but I assume that if they had, they might have felt discouraged or upset. Ultimately, though, Bushrod’s outrage at a few women who went against the norm by radically altering their appearance stands as evidence that bad hair is indeed powerful.

So I consider myself lucky to be numbered among those women who have worn particularly bad haircuts. I hold this in common with nearly every wildly successful woman, including Janet Reno, Joan of Arc, and Gwen Stefani. Whether by becoming the first female attorney general, leading the French army, or standing as the voice and face of ’90s female angst, these women have each broken their own glass ceilings. I have not yet broken any glass ceilings, but I have been blessed with a certain restless disposition that lends itself to these sorts of endeavors. This restlessness manifested itself early in life when, a few days before I was to begin kindergarten, I snipped off a large section of fine, blonde hair from the back of my head.

When I confessed to my mother what I had done, she glanced up briefly from the bills and responded with a curt, “No you didn’t.” It wasn’t until I turned to leave that she, seeing the damage for the first time, screamed. A stylist finished the job later that afternoon. The end result earned me the nickname Mushroom Head at home and was the source of significant confusion for the elementary school librarian who, having thought she’d spotted a rowdy boy, scolded me for standing in the girl line on the first day of school.

I count this experience as one of my greatest blessings; if it weren’t for the irresistible compulsion to cut my hair at the tender age of six, I may never have been brave enough to do it again at sixteen. It was then that I took a love of Twiggy and a photo I’d clipped out of Vogueto the salon with my mother’s words ringing in my ears: “Please don’t do it.” But I was sixteen and disobeying was my prerogative. When I came home, I was missing about ten inches of hair, which I had donated to the cleanup efforts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. My mother, upon seeing my new haircut, said only, “Boys aren’t going to like you anymore.”

To her credit, she was right. Boys didn’t like me anymore. In my small hometown, rumors circulated about my sexuality. The cute New Zealander in my class, with whom I had been flirtatiously texting, grew distant, and I soon heard that upon seeing my new hair, he’d asked a mutual friend “what the crap” I’d done to my head. When I learned of this, I promptly ended our flirtation by sending him a text message that said only “Screw you,” which was, at sixteen, the strongest language I could muster. After that, I went on with life, people found other things to whisper about, my hair grew, and the rumors dissipated.

There were, of course, other bad haircuts in my life. Too many to list, even. And when they weren’t bad haircuts, they were bad hairstyles, such as my experimentation with gray hair or my late affinity for tight curls (fortunately, these were not simultaneous endeavors). Looking back, I feel my experience with bad hair is best summed up by invoking Emerson: I cannot remember the bad haircuts I’ve had any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.

I’ve tried a few times to write a nice, neat paragraph here to sum up what my motivations really are for being a serial hair cutter, but the truth is that I don’t know. Maybe I want to be one of those women who belongs at the top—brave and indifferent to what other people think. Perhaps I like the sense of power it brings. When masses of hair fall to the floor, I find that it feels like ultimate control, ultimate autonomy, ultimate exhilaration. Or maybe it is a way for me to claim what’s mine, all these hairs on my head. I obsessively twirl and twist them between my fingers; the way these fine strands together form a smooth cord never fails to comfort me, so I spin and rub my hair hundreds of times a day. When it’s long enough and I think nobody is looking, I take a strand and rub it over my lips—eyes closed, intent on feeling each individual silk against the thin skin of my lips—and slowly, I begin to blow the air from my lungs, first a small stream, then a great sigh, and as I do, each hair flies up and away like a downy flare only to gradually and inevitably fall back to the place where it’s tethered.

 

 

Works Cited

Mitchell, Heidi. “The Post-Trump Haircut.” The Cut, 5 Dec. 2016, thecut.com/2016/12/women-make-dramatic-beauty-moves-after-trumps-victory.html. Accessed 6 Dec. 2018.

Washington, Bushrod. “Weepy Leftist Women Cutting Their Hair, Traumatizing Their Children In Post-Election Trump’s America.” The Federalist Papers, 7 Dec. 2016, thefederalistpapers.org/us/weepy-leftist-women-cutting-their-hair-traumatizing-their-children-in-post-election-trumps-america. Accessed 6 Dec. 2018.

On Spokesmen

by Kelly Burdick

Google Assistant is an artificial intelligence built to answer your questions and make using your phone easier. You can ask it to check your emails, search for a song, or even play games with you.

One of my favorite features of Google Assistant is the suggested questions it offers. There’s a bar that has from two to ten questions or commands that it is programmed to respond to. One suggestion that is almost always present is “What do you do?” It might also have suggested commands like, “I’m bored,” which will pull up a list of games it can play with you. It might suggest, “Restaurants near me,” or “Show me my texts,” or other mundane, secretarial tasks.

But other questions also pop up, and these suggestions put forth so much more than I’d ever think to ask. If I select one, the suggestion bar will be filled with more odd questions like it, leading me into a rabbit hole of intriguing questions. Here is a list of suggested questions to ask my Google Assistant that I have collected and rearranged:

What do you like to eat?
Where do you like to travel?
Where do you like to run?
What was your childhood like?
Where did you grow up?
What is your ancestry?
Do you like your family?
What’s your life story?

I am unsure if these questions are representative of the most commonly-asked questions from users, or if they represent questions that programmers have specifically curated. Either way, I’m slightly disturbed by how many of them are based on the fundamental misunderstanding that Google Assistant is not a real, physical being with emotions, preferences and hobbies. But these questions make me think, leave me wondering, and sometimes even make me laugh. For example, the comedic timing of the order that these suggestions appeared in was spot-on. In their original order:

“What can you do?
Can you laugh?
Can you cry?
I feel like crying
I like talking to you
Describe yourself
Do you get mad?
What do you look like?
I’m bored.
Show me my emails.”

After reading these suggestions, I can’t help but wonder what my Google Assistant is afraid of (it tells me that it is afraid of the dark), even though I would personally never think to ask that question. I probably like these suggestions so much just because I don’t have to think of them myself. They save me from thinking of what I actually want from Google. They save me from the effort of stringing together words to form a coherent question and then actually asking the question. In a way, they become my spokesmen, speaking so I don’t have to.

There are many terms for someone who is assigned to speak for you. Some are obvious, like mouthpiece, representative, translator, interpreter or advocate. But there are many more things, perhaps less obvious, that communicate on your behalf. Music, dancers, actors, artists, architects, perfume, paper and pens, flowers, bodies, color, silence, echoes, and eulogists are just some examples.

• • •

What makes you happy?
What makes you laugh?
Make me laugh.
Can you rap?
Can you sing?
Can you dance?
Can you hear music?
What is your favorite music?
What is your favorite song?

• • •

How often do we play a song on repeat because it perfectly encapsulates our mood for the moment? Don’t painters sometimes paint because words could never show the expanse of their true feelings? Each step of a dance tells a story. The way a building is constructed can tell you about what you might find inside. Somehow we’ve given every color an emotion to go with, so when we want to tell the world we’re happy, all we have to do is wear bright yellow. And at the end of everything, when we cannot speak for ourselves, we leave the talking to someone else, whether it be a eulogist, our posterity, or a gravestone.

Perfumers will tell you that certain scents will communicate to someone that you are flirty or fun or passionate. Florists will tell you something similar about flowers.

Tumblr user clumsyoctopus once wrote:

Flower language has always been an intense source of disappointment for me. Like, they all mean really generic things like “love” or “forever” or “I’m sorry.” I thought you could combine flowers. Like, you could just send someone a bouquet and from the combination of hibiscus and posies and tulips they’d understand “the rebel leader is dead, rendezvous at the docks at 8, bring the dog, you will need lighter fluid and a large tomato.”

While flower language is sadly not usually this powerful (although Tumblr user thursdayplaid did reply with a very specific bouquet that could be used to convey this very message), imagine the power sending flowers does have, even without knowing that sending asphodel means “My thoughts follow thee beyond the grave.” Imagine the light in the eyes of a young girl when her parents give her flowers after her first concert. No matter what kind they are, they will scream “We are so proud of you!” Imagine the flowers given on a 50th wedding anniversary. Without words, they say, “You are still as lovely as the day I first saw you, if not lovelier for having known you so long.”

• • •

Have you ever been married?
Do you have a best friend?
Tell me about Alexa.
Do you like Google?
Do you like me?
Do you think about me?
Do you know what love is?
Can I tell you a secret?
I am alone.
What do you look like?
Do you think I am handsome?
What makes people blush?

• • •

When we have no words, we often let our bodies do the talking for us. This can be true of any powerful emotion. When we want to show our support, sometimes the best thing we can do is give a hug or a thumbs up and a smile. Sometimes when we want to show our passion, we can do nothing but communicate through our lips and our hands. Sometimes, when the world comes crashing down around our ears, we scream in silence, ribs clenched against frozen lungs as tears stream down our faces.

When we want to show reverence and respect to the highest degree, the strongest statement is silence. When words fall short and even simple sound itself seems to mock and jeer the solemnity of such occasions, silence—thick with emotion and rich with context—speaks more searingly than anything else could.

• • •

What makes you nervous?
What makes you upset?
What are you afraid of?
Are you afraid of the dark?
Do you believe in ghosts?

• • •

It seems that humanity has always wanted someone to speak for us when we’ve found we couldn’t do it ourselves. Let’s turn our gaze back to the Old Testament times. In Exodus, when he was called to do many great things, Moses argued that he couldn’t because he was slow of speech and ineloquent.

Then God sent Aaron, saying to Moses: “And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth.”

He shall be to thee instead of a mouth.

Some people are powerful orators, where even their improvised speeches move your soul and encircle your heart in flames. I am not such. As with Moses, I am not eloquent when I speak. But rather than being slow of speech, I find my mouth running away without my brain attached. It is only when reflecting on conversations that my brain can catch up to everything my mouth spouted off. Sometimes, those things are enough to make me want to pack up everything I own and start a new life. The things I say are so often ill representations of the true and nuanced thoughts that go through my head.

So when people say that rather than read what they have prepared and crafted and slaved over to make just right, they are going to “speak from the heart” instead, I internally groan. People assume that just because it’s “from the heart” it means you really believe it. But how many times has your own unthinking mouth said something you didn’t actually believe? Preparing what you say ahead of time is the surest way get at what really lies in your heart of hearts. You can revise your words into clarity, so your meaning cannot be obscured by questionable word choice and unintended second meanings. Writing, in this way, becomes your spokesman.

Even in “instant” forms of written communications, such as instant messages, you have a few extra moments to consider what you are writing before you send it. A few extra seconds to decide against something, to censure yourself. To fix that typo. Those extra seconds have saved me from a lot of embarrassing mistakes and potentially misguided comments.

• • •

What makes you nostalgic?
What is your favorite memory?
Where were you born?
When were you created?
What language are you programmed in?

• • •

Attracted to the idea of never having to speak and embarrass myself again, I was drawn to sign language. The concept that my hands could become my spokesmen inspired me to learn. After only four semesters of taking the language in college, my hands can now more quickly describe the action and setting of a story than my voice can. Such is the power of an entirely visual language.

But I still sometimes metaphorically eat my words when communicating in ASL. Mistakes are easy to make. Perhaps my worst was accidentally saying “I’m pregnant” instead of “I’m full.” So, while speaking with my hands is a good way to prevent myself from hearing my own annoying voice all the time, it is an imperfect way of communicating perfectly. As spokesmen go, however, I can think of many worse to rely on than members of my own body. At least the hands are still connected to my brain, unlike Google.

• • •

Where do you get your ideas?
Do you think?
How intelligent are you?
Are you self-aware?
Do you have a super brain?
What am I thinking about right now?
Do you have an imagination?
What’s the meaning of life?

• • •

In addition to Google Assistant’s suggestion feature, Google has many other means of speaking for you. There is, of course, Google Autofill, where Google guesses what you are trying to search for. It might bring up a better phrased version of the question you wanted to ask or fill in a question you’d never thought to ask before. In many ways it’s very similar to Google Assistant’s suggestion feature. But I use Google Autofill as its own tool when I’m trying to remember the lyrics to a song or a simple fact like the capital of North Dakota. If Google’s autofill feature doesn’t complete it, then the lyrics or fact are still just a click away.

With the greatest invention of mankind accessible in my pocket, I never have to remember anything ever again. I’ve replaced my (What is the part of the brain that remembers things? I didn’t remember within the timeframe of a second so I’m just going to google it.) hippocampus with a search engine. This is convenient, but I’m also slightly worried about the lasting effects on my long-term memory.

But this essay isn’t focused on arguing about whether Google is an evil corporation bent on taking over our brains or not. I simply seek to acknowledge the many ways I let Google and other things speak for me.

• • •

Do you ever get tired?
Do you recharge?
When do you go to sleep?
When is my bedtime?
Do you have dreams?
What is your dream?
What do you want?

• • •

In the end, it’s important to choose who is speaking for humanity. I worry that we are letting Google and other poor spokesmen become our only advocate, translator, and mouthpiece in this world. Let us make our actions, art, writing, dance, and music speak loudest on our behalf: I think that they are the truer windows into what humanity actually believes.

(Hey Google, what’s the best way to end an essay?)

 

Japanese Hairs

by

I have Japanese hairs. Coarse, stiff, black Japanese strings intermixed with my wave of fine American strands. Sometimes I find them as I run my fingers through my hair and pluck them out; I tug them between my fingers, marveling at their strength and ductility. They are strong, resilient—much stronger than my American hairs. I wind them around my fingers, roll them into complicated knots, and then slowly pull until they SNAP. Then I sift the pieces onto the ground.

I am always fascinated when I find these evidences of my Asian heritage, pieces of my body that remind me of who I am. I am a half. A mix. My mother is from an island in the pacific, my dad is a homegrown Idaho potato. And my face is where these forces converge. Two nations, two countries, two families—me.

People are often confused when they meet me. A glance, then a double take, and I can see the reels whirling in their heads as they flip through every racial photo album they own. Mexican? Polynesian? Italian? Then they ask my name.

“I’m Moe.”

“What?”

“Mo-eh.”

(pause)

“Oh, like the MOA? That’s cool!” “What is that?” “What is that from?” “Does it mean anything?” “Are you Chinese?” “You are so unique!” “Sounds like Moana. Can I call you Moana?”

I have always laughed at these responses; I expect them now. I joke with my friends about the different ways to say my name and about how hard and weird it is—like trying to fit a mango in your mouth. But there is a deeper part of me that feels like I’ve never really been known by most of the people in my life. I feel like they’ve known a version of me, have perceived a hint of the essence of who I am—but they don’t know me. They can’tknow me—my name is the key to me.

In my subconscious self, I have always known the people that are in my inner circle: there are those who can say my name and those who can’t. And it hurts that sometimes the people I love most are on the outside.

I remember I almost cried when someone said my name correctly at BYU. I was at work, and a half-Japanese kid came in for help with his paper. He looked a little lost, and I was eager for Japanese conversation, so I quickly went up to him and introduced myself. He told me his name, and then I told him mine, and he said, “Ah, Moe!” and I was hit like thunder. The reverberations of my name flooded through my chest—I felt a warmth, an exhilaration that I had never experienced. For the first time, I felt known at BYU. I felt understood, comprehended—like someone could see me in all of my light, see me for me. All barriers went down; I loved him instantly.

***

In America, I am the Asian girl. The representation. The one who keeps the class diverse. But I talk American. I walk American. I stand American. I shout American, laugh American. And yet, I catch myself folding my hands neatly in class, bowing slightly when I meet people, covering my mouth when I speak, employing the passive Japanese glass face when I do not want others to know how I feel.

I am the girl who brings strange, smelly food to school in a little bento box. All the kids stare. I am the girl who gets straight As, who can’t have playdates during the week, who practices math over the summer and attends summer festivals in bright kimonos, watching fireworks burst over the sky. I color every room I walk into—ethnically ambiguous. Different. American, but not quite. This girl is not quite one of us. She is from somewhere else.

When I go to Japan, I feel like even more of a foreigner than I do in America. I find that I am simultaneously an insider and an outsider—which is almost worse. I am thoroughly western, defiantly so, with tan skin and thoroughly-American freckles sprinkled across my face. My accent is native. But my vocabulary is limited. I can drink the bitter mugichaand eat the fermented beans, but I hate fish and can’t stomach wasabi. I bow to everyone I meet, but I have not perfected the lengths of bowing and my roughness betrays my lack of nativity—my culture in infancy, my pure blood that has been thinned with American water. A plant that has grown rough, grown crooked, a tree warped “in the very act of yearning.”

When my ego suffers, I cry American tears. Thick, hot, pulsing. When I fail, I cry Japanese tears—shame, sorrow, futility. I bring shame to my ancestors—and I feel the weight of two lines on my shoulders.

Two of everything. Two passports. Two languages. Two worlds. Two pieces of myself that can’t come together. Two ripped seams.

***

My grandmother was born during the war, when bombs were a constant threat to the densely-packed Japanese city of Makurazaki. Her mother died giving birth to her. And as the city was no place for a single father to raise a large family and a brand-new baby, my great-grandfather made the sad decision to give my Baba away to be raised by a family in the country. When her older sister, then a high school student, returned home to find Baba missing, she confronted my great-grandfather, saying, “How could you give Hisakoaway? She is family!” She then walked miles out into the country on foot and begged the family to give Baba back and spent the next years of her life raising Baba on her own, walking from door to door daily to beg for milk to feed her.

In moments of struggle, I see her—my great-aunt—begging door to door with my Baba in her arms, refusing to conform, refusing to give in. I see my ancestors rise up in unshaken determination against the hardships of the world. And with a chill, I recognize that that same tenacity, from two different gene pools, flows in me.

I have reconciled that I will never have a true fit. That I will never be perfectly at home as American or as Asian—that there is no nation of people like me. There is no one place that I belong. But that also means that I belong everywhere. I belong to myself. I am my own. I am a mix, a dynamic fusion of multiple nations, the result of the honored efforts of thousands of ancestors who sacrificed to leave a legacy worth having.

Someday I’ll sit on the line where the ocean meets the sand. I’ll feel the pull of the water and the gravity of the earth. I will look up and feel whole and complete—and my two ripped seams will be enough for me.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Ask Me Why

by Laura Kocherhans

After a heavy workload over the Holidays, we felt it was time for us to hold a work party. While a few of us had offered our homes as an optional party site, we ultimately agreed that the employee breakroom would be the easiest place for everyone to attend. Some of us arrived late, some early, as was characteristic of each of our personalities to do.

Josie was the first to greet the snack table, waddling over to gather up a plateful of chips, cookies, and a carrot or two to “make up for” the calories, as she joked. Marly and Jason, whom we all knew had a thing for each other though they wouldn’t dare admit it, sat side-by-side chatting about school. Natalie S.—the one with blonde hair and heavy lipstick—took on the role of party host, making sure to warmly welcome each of us as we came through the door.

As retail workers, we were a conglomeration of ages, backgrounds, and styles—normally these affected little as far as work was concerned—but tonight we found that we had a very un-unified sense of taste, particularly when it came to music. Those of us who were older were content to stand and talk away the evening hours, while those younger felt that the party was incomplete without music and dance.

The party went on while a handful of us worked to set up a DJ on one end of the room, plugging a cell phone into a Bluetooth player that Jim always kept in his car, for “emergencies” like this. We bickered over Oldies versus Pop, or Rock versus Country. We somehow settled on Billy Joel, playing him just loud enough to satisfy both the old and the young.

Something equivalent to a bark erupted by the food table. Those closest to notice turned to see Josie seizing the table with one white-knuckled hand for stability, while the other hand floundered around her throat. She was choking. She grunted again, but the food lodged in her throat prevented any normal exit of air. As her spluttering continued, more and more of us began to gather around her. The party fell silent, with the exception of the most recent Billy Joel song playing over the speakers, in tune with the unsoundly chokes of our coworker.

We stood frozen in place, our limbs stiff, all memory of motion forgotten. Only Josie remained animated, a crude dancer on center-stage. Her motions started gently: first, a back-and-forth swaying of her body, with one free hand cascading the air, pulsing in conjunction with each cough. Then, her body and limbs swelled into frantic writhing, the free hand grabbing at emptiness, her hips twisting this way and that. She held us—her audience—captive with her performance, the star of the show with no competitor for attention. Only she could move freely about the stage. And yet, she held herself back, limited from the fulness of dance and motion by the single hand that clung to the table edge. Her coughs grew more violent, and our bodies trembled in sync with each cough.

But you are still a victim
Of the accidents you leave,
As sure as I’m a victim of desire.

A suddenness of desperation surged her forward, unchaining her hand from the table, and at last she was free. At the climax of song, her deadly dance climaxed with a fluidity of thrashing and airless screams. Her knees caved-in beneath her. She crumpled to the floor, her fall graceful and slow. With near-professional deliberation, her shoulders folded inward, the rhythmic pulsing of chokes slowing one by one, until her head caressed the floor. Her eyes bulged, then closed, and the color slowly drained from her face to white, into which seeped a pale purple. In the fullness of emotion, our breath caught with hers, our hearts beat as one with the mesmerizing artistic touch that only death can capture.

Then it was over.

The spell on our limbs faded, and we could breathe again. Josie’s eyes had closed, her body was still and peaceful, like a ballerina poised as the spotlight fades to darkness.

Natalie was the first to break the silence. “My god,” she breathed. “She’s dead.”

Cassie bolted for the trash can, urgently shoving us aside, and emptied her stomach into the plastic-lined cylinder. Soon after hearing the squishy sounds of vomit, Marly separated herself from the rest of us to join Cassie.

Nathan approached Josie first, kneeling down beside her to check for a pulse. A grim trembling pulled at the edges of his lips. He brushed her cheek, slowly rose to a stand, and looked at the rest of us. “We should call the police,” he said. One of us started sobbing, we think it was Louis, though he would never confess to it in future weeks. With unsteady feet and swirling heads, we each took a seat, openly wept, vomited, stared at the white-tiled floor, or simply stood in place, gazing upon the serene face of our coworker, still grasping at this foreign realm we had entered. And so it goes, and so it goes. And so will you soon I suppose.

The police arrived, covered and removed our shameful reminder from the room. They took some of the others’ testimonies, leaving the rest of our witnesses to remain our own. We departed for home that night in empty discord. A knot welled up in each throat, tearing at the inner skin and stealing the breath from our lungs.

Before leaving, Natalie suddenly froze, turning toward us furiously, and cried out in anguish, “Oh god, oh god. Why didn’t you do something?”

 

 

Having been an avid reader and writer since childhood, Laura Kocherhans now pursues a major in English, with a double minor in professional writing and rhetoric, and theoretical and applied ethics. In her writing, she prefers to explore the depths of human psychology and social interaction. She combats depression in her daily life, and from these experiences she draws out the ugliness and beauty of personal suffering and discovery. In 2013, she submitted a piece to the Snow College creative writing journal Weeds and won first place in the short story division. She has since written dozens of poems, short stories, and reflections on the aforementioned subjects and interests. She and her husband have been happily married for two years and are soon expecting their first child.