We’ll Take the Golf Balls to Our Graves

by Hadley Griggs

My grandpa lived through the Great Depression. He didn’t talk about it much, but he carried the evidence in his house; when he dragged his way out of those dusty, gritty years, he came with a bitter smile and the incessant need to surround himself with things. He built a nest in his basement: a mixture of canes, posters, records, doorknobs, chairs, pipes, screws, and everything else. Oh, and golf balls.

Oh, the golf balls.

My family likes to tell a story about the golf balls. He had boxes upon boxes of them—and not shoeboxes, either. Big boxes, like the kind you pack up TVs to move in. They were all organized, too. By make and by number. “Titelist 7s” one box said. “Carroway 9s” was another. I’d estimate over a thousand golf balls, ferreted away in that basement-nest.

The story is the story of how he lost his glasses. He was out on the golf course one day, as he always was. (Not golfing. He just picked up after the golfers to add to his collection.) And he saw a golf ball. As usual. When he bent over to pick it up, his glasses fell off of his face. But when his hand went to reach for his glasses, he saw another golf ball. So he grabbed it. And then two feet away, another golf ball. So he walked over and grabbed that. And then another. So he walked a few more feet and grabbed that. Pretty soon, he had wandered so far away from his glasses that he was left standing in the middle of the golf course, arms full of golf balls, with not a clue where he had left his glasses.

The story of how the golf balls had made him walk away from his eyesight and he was always embarrassed when we told it. 

For his eightieth birthday my mom and her siblings took my grandpa to San Francisco. Not because he was born there but because they thought it would be fun. I remember thinking that he wouldn’t like it there. There were no golf courses in the city. How would he get to enjoy his favorite hobby?

But apparently it was fun. He loved it and I used to wonder why.

I took a trip to San Francisco the summer after my twentieth birthday. I hadn’t really meant it as an homage to my grandpa, or as a pilgrimage to the golf-ball-less city that he had enjoyed so much. I just wanted to walk the pier, take pictures of a few bridges, and eat a lot of expensive food.

As soon as I emerged from the dim subway station and into the light of Market Street, I was overwhelmed by the sudden barrage on my senses.

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Everywhere I looked there were sleek fashions, beautiful women, and clearance sales. This was culture; the advertisements were the veins that pumped blood through the city. I reveled in the sensationalism that was Market Street, and I had the feeling that my grandpa and I weren’t so different. There weren’t any golf balls but the city wasn’t holding back. It was still so full of things.

When my grandpa died we had to clean out his basement. His nest. There just wasn’t anything to do with most of his things besides throw them away. I remember, during the purge, asking my mom why my grandpa had kept so much.

“Did he have plans to do anything with this stuff?”

She was going through a box of wing nuts with a frown on her face. “I don’t think so.”

I watched her sift through them. “What are you looking for?”

She didn’t even bother to look up from the task. “Something valuable.”

“Are wing nuts not valuable?”

“Not a box of old wing nuts. These are pretty much just junk.”

And I sat there, in my grandpa’s basement, wondering why he felt happier when he had surrounded himself with “pretty much just junk.” I thought of my grandma, who had died early on in their marriage. I thought of my aunts and uncles, who moved out of the house so early. And I thought of my grandpa wandering through that empty house and filling it with “pretty much just junk.” With things.

The golf ball boxes were the last thing we went through. The whole family gathered in the basement and stared at all of those boxes. I remember my Uncle Eric asking the obvious question:

“What are we going to do with all of these golf balls?”

During my trip I went to the corner of Haight and Ashbury. They say it’s where the Beatles first smoked weed—where they first learned to transcend the material world and access their true potential. I went to admire the shrine: the flowers, the cards, the photographs. As I stood there a woman—overweight, dirty, and decked out in full hippie regalia—started picking at the shrine. At first, I thought she was just going through the gifts to choose what she wanted to take home; how could anyone pass up free roses, free signed posters, free, free, free? But then, I saw her pulling out dead flowers, rearranging multicolored afro wigs, and picking up the litter. I realized she wasn’t picking at the shrine; she was pruning it. Showing her respect by taking care of it.

I was already touched by her devotion. But upon even closer scrutinization, I saw something that I will never forget. I saw her pick up a letter—“To the Beatles” typed in bold across the top—and rip the bottom piece off. I furrowed my brows and leaned just a little more forward to see what was written on the scrap. “Love, your friends, the staff of Barney’s Grill.” Their hours of operation might also have been typed there. She crumpled up the scrap and moved on to the next letter. From that one, she pulled off the business card and crunched it in the same hand as Barney’s ad. On and on, with meticulous diligence, she cleansed the shrine of each token of advertisement, until I thought John Lennon would rise from the dead and embrace her. She was a rebel, fighting against the worship of things.

And I couldn’t think of a better form of devotion that that simple, quiet act of defiance.

I don’t remember much about my grandpa’s funeral; people spoke, I’m sure they told jokes and everyone got to pay their respects. What I do remember were the golf balls. My uncle had grabbed an armful from my grandpa’s basement and had brought them to the funeral. Maybe in an attempt to be funny, he had put them in a little drawer in the casket. When the pallbearers lifted the casket, you could hear those golf balls rolling around in the drawer. When the hearse drove the casket to the plot, there was that unmistakable growl of plastic-polymer on wood. When the casket was lowered into the ground, all I could think of were those golf balls.

And I wonder: would he have been happy, knowing those would follow him to his grave? Can his soul be at peace, knowing that the same golf balls that littered his nest, that took his eyesight, that filled that hole in his Great-Depression-heart are nestled under six feet of dirt, keeping him company as he turns to dust? Or are they just another awkward gesture, another testament of things, from those of us who can still draw comfort from cold plastic in our hands?

I wonder if that woman would see them as some sort of sign of respect. Or maybe she would come into the graveyard late one night, dig up the casket, and meticulously remove each one of those golf balls and let my grandpa decay in peace.

Cottonwood Branch

By Shane Peterson

Last summer, I was sitting by a pond on a hill, reading about warfare. I heard some crackling that sounded like fireworks. At first I thought it was thunder or an explosion, until I saw a large branch from a cottonwood tree slowly rip itself off its trunk and crash into the foliage below. The sound of the impact was so loud that the ducks from another pond on the other side of a nearby stream started shrieking and fleeing, their whole world having been shaken and terrorized by an ungodly force they could neither see nor understand. It might as well had been a bomb that fell from the sky. The falling branch caused a much slimmer tree standing next to the cottonwood to collapse soon after. This second fall sounded as an echo of the first, merely rustling through the other branches during its descent.

I set my book aside and headed down the hill through the bramble of trees to investigate and saw the splintered stump on the trunk where the branch used to be. Perhaps it fell due to the weight, having grown too large and too thick to hold onto the trunk. It was the size of a small tree, smothering everything beneath it. One large stem stuck into the dirt like a knife in a wound. Leaves and twigs were scattered everywhere like the shrapnel from a cannon blast.

I felt the wood beneath the bark at the broken end of the branch, which stuck out like a compound fracture. It wasn’t hard and dry as I expected wood to feel; it was succulent and soft like the inside of a melon. It felt like flesh. I realized then that the branch, like the tree, used to be alive. Water ran beneath its bark like blood and trickled from the wound. I had just been reading about how wounded soldiers with detached limbs often think that the limb is still there. It made me wonder if the old tree was conscious of one of its members breaking off, and if it had felt anything akin to pain.

I hiked back up the hill as the dust began to settle and the birds began to quiet down. Peace had been restored. The water in the stream kept flowing and nature kept cycling as if nothing had happened at all.

Joe’s Shoe Repair 330 N 110 W Provo, Ut 84601 (801) 857-8027 (Ask for Joe)

by Zach Powers

Seeing Joe sitting in a cracked, green plastic porch chair in the back of his shoe shop sweating while he watched, on his ten inch TV-VCR, a man teach yoga, was like swimming under a swollen bridge. His spotted hands, much like his workbench, and glue covered fingers intertwined over his gut, and I observed his glasses were bifocaled with white greases on some of the glass. Next to him a rickety swamp cooler was running low on water, but he hadn’t heard it start to wheeze . . . exhale let the shoulders drop hmhhh pull the navel up and in as you exhale one more deep breath in hnhhh exhale draw the navel in and up hmhhh now keep those shoulders down the back draw your elbows into the ribcage and open your arms . . . This TV was tucked under a tight shelf of polishes—white, brown, black, red, navy, green— some of it dripping dark down onto the black plastic of the TV and bench, and I wanted to wipe it up, but the brown and black polish had stained Joe’s cuffs, rings around his wrists, and leather apron, wrought around the gut. Once I asked him about ventilation for the dying fumes and especially the glue. He said he wasn’t worried about dying fumes; he was much too old for that. Over time I also noticed the dead skin dandruff in his hair that whisped about on his balding speckled head, and when he smiled it was a little one with teeth. I hoped his brow was furrowing and toes were pidgeoning at the yoga guy wearing a tank top and bare bald thighs. The cobbler’s, or should I say the wrestler’s, eyes were barely open, but they had weather in them, even if it was a distant weather, like a wounded animal. He was pretty much reclined, while I was wholly standing in his hollowed heel-ful hovel . . . out to the side feel a little opening across the front of the chest let’s extend our arms keep pulling the shoulders down the back join that thumb and index fingers not pressing just touching and feel the energy cycle through the arms and across the . . . Last time he told me about his industrial grinder that he had nearly built himself. He learned how to in Vietnam and used it in the morning to grind high heels and soles, not to mention the heat lamp that smokes the sweat out of the shoes when Joe is trying to loosen the glue to tear the soles off. Yeah, I’ll call him wrestler, vulture of the leather, mother of the muddy boot, gasket of the sole. He asked me if I had any kids, and I told him the truth . . . chest feel the chest lifting heart center rising maybe take the hands back a little bit if you can if not just keep reaching bringing the hands back to center now in line with the shoulders open your palms towards the ceiling you’re going to bring your . . . The hand crank sciver, for cutting soles from thick leather, was next to the high-heel-pins shelf, just paces from the front door donned with a mail slot. I felt how atrophied the adjacent room was, where he put done jobs. I let my body lean on the old orange formica counter top, while I picked at the glue and listened to him wheeze and then talk, we in a chat, wheeze and wheeze talk. Once I listened to him use the cash register that still had a real bell, afterwhich he would retire behind the counter mid-morning, and watch people walk by with shoes on . . . left palm to the outside of your left hip inhale as you reach up with the right arm exhale reach up and across that right ear and try not to let your right sit-bone come up use your left arm to help you stay balanced stretch out that right side body breath . . . Some mud covered work boots, broken high heels, a pair of mary janes, some penny loafers with a penny in each loaf, were all waiting to be repaired. Shoes don’t really wait. Perhaps this is a metaphor for our conversation—the not being able to wait and the mud and broken loafs of leather. Yesterday he showed me how to fix an in-sole for those leather loafers with some cheap green foam bought from a craft store in March. Joe saved them unrepaired shoes for me after I came in last week, wanting to learn me something. I told him I wanted to own a shoe shop one day, even after I used the self-installed toilet in the closet—mold on the waterline. I felt it was that or selling all my wife and I had for an organic farm in Maine. I talked about technology over the yoga instrutor. We talked about something else interesting, something to do with love and golf or perhaps heresy . . . deeply inhale hnhhh hmhhh find the weight of your right hip hnhhh hmhhh hnhhh hmhhh inhale draw yourself up use the right arm exhale bring the right arm to the outside of the hip inhale left arm up hnhhh exhale reach up and across the left ear . . . I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back. Joe told me if I helped out enough I might be able to own his shop—maybe in a year, when he actually wanted to retire. If he could retire. I said something about school in the fall, something about vacumming hallways at three a.m. Joe took out his handkercheif and blew his nose—shoes didn’t need to be done till next week, he said. They can wait. Joe turned the TV off, took his apron off, and let me out before he turned the lights off and walked across the street to, he told me, pick up his wife’s medication before walking the four blocks home to her all bedridden. I don’t know if she could even talk, and I imagined him inhaling before he walked into her bedroom . . . hnhhh . . . breath into your left ribcage soften the shoulders hnhhh hmhhh hnhhh hmhhh hnhhh hmhhh hnhhh hmhhh inhale up hnhh exhale release hmhhh drop the shoulders down the back try to feel your neck very very soft and long we’re going to come to our . . . Maybe it was because he fixed a man’s wallet for free last month, or because he looked younger in that video online. Maybe it was because he was dying, but so was everyone. And even though the shoe shop wasn’t exactly like Italy, but was a piece of nostalgia about to pass out and never revive, well, at any rate, he might still be fixing shoes like he has been for the past forty years, or he may, like he said to me one day, give up and just let the shop die, while he stayed at home taking care of his wife who doesn’t even wear shoes anymore. I don’t know. I never went back. Yeah, he did turn the TV off, and yes the yogi’s voice turned off as well, and yes it’s all meditation . . . hands and knees in whichever fashion you feel most comfortable with your palms beneath your shoulders your knees beneath your hips now take your back into a tabletop position then start to draw your chest through your upper arms and feel like you . . .

Ash Wednesday, Salt Lake

By Jake Clayson

While writing for an ad agency in downtown Salt Lake City I sometimes found myself lost in a haze of office banter, or tangled in a web of endless internet “research,” unable to write headlines or scripts about burritos or fiduciaries or healthcare. So I’d walk six blocks to the Cathedral of the Madeleine and scribble ads in my notebook. It was quiet. The temperature was right no matter the season. And, most important to me, it was a solitary place to work. Until one day in February when cars lined curbs two blocks out.

Reaching the imposing doors of the cathedral- tall, thick oak doors that swing slow and easy- I pulled the cool iron handle, entered first the foyer, then the nave. A youth choir sang Bach’s Mass in B Minor, transmuted and lofted as prayers mingling with burned incense above a warm hum. The music rose and tumbled and rose again, at once created and uncreated, holding residence among gold and turquoise vault ribs and winged angels, from lips I could not see. I knew my work would have to wait.

Observing full pews, I reverently joined those standing near the confessional, exchanged pleasant nods, and wondered why and by what devotion so many received small ashen crosses on their foreheads at the hands of the Father.

I stood transfixed until the music ended, then watched the white-robed choir emerge from behind the chancel screen and file down the isle past me into an adjacent hall. On their way I saw choirboys jostling, smirking, scowling, and smiling. I smiled too, reminded of the twelve and thirteen year old deacons I taught each Sunday in my own congregation. I lingered, soaking in well-trod creak and clatter, robe rustle, and a rising whisper. When I finally returned to the street and walked down the hill toward my office, I saw more ashen crossed saints. Still a stranger, my heart received the first blush of communion.

~

Within the Quakies

by Courtney Bulsiewicz

1.

So much space separates me from the mountains. They seem to hold a different world I know nothing about even though I have visited them more times than I can count. In the midst of them, the vastness is overwhelming. When there, I see the quaking aspen surround me: tall, white, freckled, and scarred monuments hiding their worshippers—the bull and buck that had knelt in front of them, rubbing antlers. I can see squirrels running, or maybe chipmunks. I see hawks—my dad collected their molted feathers, and I still have one kept in a box with some of his old pens and trinkets. But there is so much I don’t see: how many deer, elk, wolves, bear, moose, beavers, and coyotes are out there. At times, it seems like none; it’s so quiet and unmoving.

2.

On a summer afternoon fourteen or fifteen years ago I looked out the back door window of our house and saw my dad on a white plastic lawn chair. His back was toward me and I saw smoke rising from his head, his right arm moving to the armrest, his fingers flicking the ash from a cigarette. I didn’t know he smoked. I had never seen him smoke before. Maybe he was just experimenting like some of my friends were then. I think I just turned away confused until later when I asked him about it, and he told me not to worry. I remember him saying it was just a one-time thing, and that he was really stressed. He told me he wouldn’t do it again when he saw my concerned look. But I don’t think the look I gave was concern or disappointment, I think I was beginning to realize my dad existed outside my frame of reference. There were parts of him I didn’t know anything about; parts of him I would never be able to know or understand. There are things I couldn’t see. Things I wanted to know about but couldn’t grasp like what was on his mind that summer day? Bigger questions like how he felt about his service to his country in war, whether he missed the Army now that he worked for the city. Things I want to know now, but can’t since I never asked and he isn’t here. So much separates us.    

3.

The sky is pewter. Snow has begun to salt the mountaintops. It’s calm around me down here in the valley and it looks calm up there. Just perception—perhaps the wind is blowing so hard and the snow so piercing that the moose don’t even have the strength to walk against it. Maybe they hover in their homes, the cow covering her young. I wonder at the other side of the mountain. Is it as black as it seems to me, where all the inhabitants—not just the bears—have gone under ground, into caves, silencing everything, or is there just as much life, hidden from those who don’t live it; foxes jumping into snow banks trying to find rodents, mountain goats pushing up through the dark blizzard.

4.

When I would hunt with my father it took patience to see our prey. We went hours, sometimes days without seeing any movement at all except the sway of the quakies and their silvery leaves. I was secretly happy when his barrel found no aim. But then torn when I saw his heavy shoulders. We needed this hunt; struggling through bills, this would provide food for the year.

While hiking with him I wondered where the animals went when we couldn’t see them—did they see us? Sometimes I would imagine the deer or elk with their family, safe in a hiding place we would never find, watching us search for them, laughing at our blindness. But I am sure they weren’t laughing; maybe they were crying instead, or maybe just holding their breaths. I cried for them too. I refused to eat their meat, and asked my father to hang their open bodies behind our tent so I could walk out of the zippered door and not see the life we had taken from the world we were invading.

Though we went into the mountains several times a year, and though it felt like home, and though I wanted it to be home, it still felt like a foreign land. We came up from our comfortable homes with grocery stores two blocks away and tried to take part in a world we had separated ourselves from. Then we encompassed it like we owned it, forcing other animals to hide in a world in which they belonged so completely. Maybe I would feel differently if we entered the mountains more than seven to 10 days total out of 365. It wasn’t our territory.

My father always argued with me at dinner to eat what he had worked so hard to put on the table, but he didn’t argue with me about the carcass, hanging it hidden in the trees so I wouldn’t have to see. I can’t help but wonder if it was difficult for him as well: holding a rifle against a living thing. A war veteran couldn’t have taken death lightly.   

5.

I think my dad loved the mountains more than anything else in life. He taught me to love them too, and I do, probably because I love him. I wanted to know him. He became a different man up there, happier, funnier, more peaceful. He was able to sleep in past four in the morning, not having to get up to go to work before the sun came up. He was able to be present with his family, not having to work two jobs to pay the overdue bills. It was just our family and the wild that surrounded us. His eyes were clearer, not shadowed. His voice was lighter, more apt to a laugh than a yell. It was one of the main reasons I went on the hunt—it was one of the longest stretches of time I got to spend with my father.

6.

One year it took us a whole day to find a deer my father had wounded. My dad was sick; he couldn’t bear the thought of the animal suffering. He barely said anything except initial direction as to where to look and then exhausted sighs. His hands came up to his face and buried it several times. His eyebrows reflected his worry and reversed their arch to almost meet in the middle, forming horizontal lines above the bridge of his nose. I don’t know how many miles we covered that day, but the birds were out when my father shot the buck and the crickets when we finally found him. The deer was sitting there, waiting; his eyes—I can still see them—glossy, wide, helpless, my father was heartbroken and seemed to run to him, relieving him of the pain quickly, barely taking the time to tell my sister and me to turn away.

7.

When I was young, too young to know better, I asked my father if he ever killed someone in war. The moment I asked it, I regretted it. His face went blank with wide eyes and a straight mouth, slightly opened by anger and pain. I don’t think I ever hurt him as badly as I did in that moment. I felt like I wasn’t his daughter.

8.

I want to go to the mountain, and make myself invisible. Just lie there. Feel closer to my father. I want to go to him and wait, and listen, and see—watch the world that confounds me open up. I wish I had the capabilities of a movie camera. A strong lens that would carry me through the pockets of trees undetected. Zooming in and seeing the peace and safety that might exist in a deer during a storm in late November, when the hunt is over and no man is out there. But maybe there is never peace, always some villain. Maybe instead of an outsider it’s the wolf haunting the very place he calls home. The mountain holding so much war.

10.

I still feel comfort in the mountains, like I am folded up under my father’s arms. The pine, sage, wildflower, and woods of the wild that smell like his musk cologne I keep in my closet. But I feel so separate, knowing there are mysteries I can never comprehend. When I visit, I settle the ground a bit, make my place, but I will never be able to encompass it fully, understand its breadth, inhabitants, storms, decay, life, its death from others’ hands, its death from its own.

Editor’s Note: Winter 2017

by Zach T Power

i am taken by the sands of time, what i mean to say is that i am given a small cup of sand that i have been counting my whole life, and i will continue to count this cup until i die. i don’t know what the point is, but when life gives you a cup of sand you count it, even if there are a trillionish grains, each grain a minuscule making in and of itself.

sometimes when i am not counting sand, i take a piece and inspect it closely, i notice its color and shape, and at other times i will take this grain of sand and i will put it next to others; sometimes i like to pick my favorite ones; sometimes i draw them and pretend that it is another to itself, another to me; i name them; daresay, i sometimes grind them, eat them, or imbibe them with some of my favorite water from the ocean (well, only a small swig (it’s wishful thinking, or i mean magic, or faith, or hope, or a mixture of it all, and then i wonder (as i leave the realm of sand) what would happen if i mixed wishing and magic and faith and hope all together in some great novel that would spill out of me (and then i wonder if the ocean isn’t already the best cocktail of all the arts of imagination (or do you think the sky is better than the ocean).

there was a time, when i was about twenty-three that i lost track of what number of sand i had counted up to. it was a hard time for me. i considered starting over. i determined that the best thing to do was to pretend that i knew what number i was on. i felt a load of lack of meaning. i didn’t know what number i was on, and i would never learn again what number i was on. it was around this time that i made attempts to remember my formative years, remember my childhood, remember what i used to do as a child. i tried to remember things that stood out (the time I pushed a lawn-mower through weeds taller than me, the time I was in a barn with a paintball gun, the time my father (or was it me) speared a mouse on the back-porch with a sharpened pvc pipe, the time i thought i saw a red firefly, the time i dug a hole in the beach), and i wondered why they stood out, and how i could make standing out stand a little more often. had i lost control, or was i losing myself?

this is what my imagination has offered me. of course, I could make some clever connection to the ways in which literature and art connect to the infinite, memory, me, those who have submitted to the journal, the things they have chosen to submit, why we all picked what we did. but instead of doing that i want to say that there is no way to know. there is certainly no way for me to tell you any of this: how someone stayed up late writing a story or a poem, or just sitting next to a cup counting sand. i cannot tell you why people write. i do not know what we see in the sand, why we enumerate it, how we find it pretty and pretty scary, and how we have learned to ignore it at night long enough to sleep. i don’t know, i imagine. i don’t know. i imagine.

Angels Wear White

by Samuel Burton

Some of the houses have picket fences. Others have hedges. Some have low stone walls. Ana likes their house though because it just has flowerbeds around the edges. They’re just dirt right now, but they’ll plant new flowers soon. Ana hopes they plant roses. The yards are all so big here! Their old house didn’t have a yard, just some flower boxes—but no roses in them. Big green yards, big green trees, pretty houses, pretty people—Papá says he doesn’t like the suburbia feel, but Mamá would always tell him the old house did not “even have a spot for a dog to take a leak, much less for the kids to play.”

Ana runs up to Papá and holds her arms out straight in front of her. “Where do these go?”

She stands by gleefully as Papá and Roberto strain under the weight of the sofa. She is holding a stack of neatly framed family photos and beaming more brightly than she ever would for the camera. Papá seems preoccupied.

“Where do these go?” she repeats patiently.

“Grab that back leg there and twist towards me,” Papá says to Roberto. Roberto is big, so he gets to lift the heavy things with Papá. They move like tortoises with heavy furniture shells on their backs. Ana is small, so she gets to run back and forth between the house and the van with the little things. She likes that she gets to move so much faster—that means she works harder.

She is about to inquire again, but becomes distracted by a man standing across the street who is staring at her. She stares back. He quickly diverts his attention to the van, then to the house next door, then to the woman who is standing in the doorway of the house behind him.

A light ache in Ana’s arms draws her attention back to the task at hand. “Where do these go?” she asks again.

“And pull, pull, pull!” Papá says. The sofa creaks as it slides through the door frame.

“There. Now give me a minute before we take it to the living room.” Papá bends over the arm of the sofa and breathes heavily.

“Where do these go?” Ana says, still as patient as ever.

“Weren’t those boxed?” Papa asks.

“The box was too heavy, so I took them out.”

Papá groans.

“What?”

“Nothing, mi conejita. Just put them back in the box for now, and find the smaller boxes.”

“I already found them all.”

Papá crouches down, his eyes level with Ana’s.

“Speedy—and that is why you are la conejita.”

“And you are the tortugo.”

Papá laughs. “I suppose so. Go get Mamá’s dresses out of the car then. Just don’t let them brush against the ground and get dirty.”

Ana runs off towards the old Honda Civic parked in the driveway. She climbs in the back where Mamá’s dresses are—the ones too nice to pack in boxes. She looks at each of them one by one, spreading the skirts out across the seat. Wanting to take the prettiest ones in first, she decides on a flowing red one with little black roses embroidered around the edges—the one that was once Abuelita’s. Mamá rarely wore it because it’s too “different-looking,” but Ana thinks it made her look like an angel—if angels were colorful, of course. Angels are supposed to wear white, but Ana likes the idea of an angel in the flowing red dress.

She thinks about that image for a moment, then becomes distracted once again by the man across the street. He is staring at Papá and Roberto, who have started to pull the armoire out of the van. The woman standing in the doorway then emerges and dashes up to the man. Her high heels make her wiggle when she walks on the grass. She has the most beautiful blonde hair and red lips. She should wear Mamá’s dress, Ana thinks, She would look like an angel too. The woman says something to the man and gestures towards the van. The man responds by staring at his feet and walking across the street towards Papá. Ana runs over and pretends to be looking through some boxes as the man talks to Papá.

“So who’s moving in?” the man asks.

Papá puts his end of the armoire down. “We are,” he says, waving his finger in a circle.

“Oh, well isn’t that something.”

“You live across the street there?”

“Um, yes.”

“Well then I guess we’re neighbors now.” Papá extends a hand towards the man.

The neighbor also extends a hand, but hesitates.

“Oh,” Papá says, “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking. Grimy hands.”

The man laughs nervously. “Yes, well, no worries. Formalities are unnecessary.”

“Papá,” Roberto sighs.

“Right,” Papá responds as he picks up his end of the armoire again. He groans as he lifts. The neighbor man watches as they carry it into the house, pausing for a rest in the doorway. a moment later they emerge again and drag a mattress out of the van. The neighbor man watches with a tight smile that stays strictly south of his nose as they try to figure out how to grip the awkward item to carry it across the lawn.

“Where are you coming from?” the neighbor asks.

“California. The Bay Area.”

“Oh, lovely… and before that?”

“Dallas.”

The neighbor looks at his feet for a moment. “Anywhere before that?”

“My parents are from Chihuahua, Mexico. I was raised in Texas.”

“Oh, that’s lovely.”

“Not as lovely as here. I love these mountains! You have great mountains.”

“Yes, we do. So what led you to this neighborhood?”

“Best schools in the valley. My wife loved the huge old trees and beautiful houses. Plus, it’s only a few minutes drive from where I work.”

“Oh, lovely. And where is that?”

“Downtown. I work for a homebuilding company.”

“So you’re in construction?”

“Not really. I do their appraisals.”

“Oh, that’s something.”

Papá furrows his eyebrows, but smiles. “Yeah, it is.” He notices Ana dawdling nearby. “Conejita, dresses, remember?”

Ana runs back to the car. She grabs the red dress with the black roses. She has to drape it over her shoulders and wrap it around her arms to keep it off the ground. She runs towards the door, but then stops. She turns and runs towards Papá again.

“Papá, where do they go?”

Papá is still talking to the neighbor man. “We’ll have to have your family over for dinner once we get settled in.”

“Oh, lovely. Though my stomach doesn’t do well with—”

“My wife—well, I make a heavenly creamy alfredo. How’s Italian?”

“Oh. Sounds lovely.”

Ana is impatient now. Something about the neighbor man makes her uncomfortable and she wants to go inside. “Where do they go?” she demands.

The neighbor man looks at the dress wrapped around Ana’s arms and his eyebrows raise. Ana feels even more uncomfortable.

Papá laughs at her. “You look like a boa constrictor got you!”

“It’s an angel dress, not a boa ‘strictor,” she says.

“Angel dress?” the neighbor says.

Ana nods. “Except colorful.”

The neighbor seems antsy. “Lovely,” he says. “very traditional.”

“No,” Ana says. “Angels wear white.”

“I meant…” The neighbor grows even more uneasy. He ends up just nodding and shuffling back across the street to his wife, who is waiting with folded arms. He shrugs at her and walks inside. She stays and watches the new neighbors a moment longer.

Papá rolls his eyes at Roberto, who shrugs in response.

“Change of scenery, huh?” Roberto says. “Maybe she would’ve just wanted us to stay.”

“Papá! Where do they go?” Ana begs.

Papá looks at her with gentle eyes. “On an angel, right?”

Ana scowls at him.

He shakes his head at the ground and sighs. “The attic.”

 

 

 

 

 

Samuel Burton grew up in Holladay, Utah, served and LDS Mission in New York City, and now is an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University.

Mr. Postman

by Daniel Watts

Joe Schmoe was a regular fellow who delivered the post every morning to the same houses on the same nondescript streets. Plain hair. Plain walking shoes from Sketchers™ in a reasonable but daring (as his wife would describe them) black with a singular streak of electric blue. Uniform pressed neatly every morning by Mrs. Schmoe. “I packed a little extra something in your lunch pail,” she’d say, waving a white handkerchief to her handsome knight.

At lunch Joe reached into the back of his truck pulling out his lunch pail with extreme anticipation. Two sandwiches. An apple. A handful of carrots. A small tin of assorted pills—for your heart, dear—and wait, what was this? Joe pulled out a small bottle of chocolate milk. That woman spoils me!

Despite everything that was mundane about Joe, his thoughts were anything but. He was constantly thinking of the individual worlds tucked away behind the assorted doors and mailboxes of his route. Mrs. Abigail Petunia always received letters with official stamps stretched across brown envelopes. Definitely an undercover agent. Harry S. Stepford had at least thirty adverts delivered each morning. Compulsive buyer. Or perhaps convenient source of toilet paper? Ms. Agnes Grange was a jewel thief. Joe didn’t know how he knew this, but he attributed it mostly to the white, daintily embroidered gloves she held out to him each morning as she impatiently waited for her mail.

“What you staring at boy? I ‘aven’t got all day.”

One morning, as Joe plodded along—red door, blue tin mailbox, brown door, plastic mailbox, white door, metal mail slot—he got caught up in his thoughts. Approaching Pine Drive number 4530, Joe pulled out a stack of letters and absentmindedly sorted through them. He dropped them neatly into the gold mail slot in the black door. Mr. and Mrs. 4530 were new to the town and moved here to escape a recent con gone terribly wrong.

Then Joe had a wild thought. I’m going to prove they’re guilty. He put his hand on the cool metal doorknob and slowly turned it in his grip.

Joe stepped inside, his shoes making slight squeaking noises on freshly cleaned tiles. Was there a car in the driveway? The silence was palpable, much like his wife’s oven-fresh buns: hot and heavy, a dangerous combination.

He made his way into the kitchen and grabbed a banana from the counter, peeling the yellow dress back languorously. Lovely kitchen. I could do without the wainscoting, a bit over the top if you ask me. But of course no one was asking, for Joe was both alone and not an accomplished interior designer (it was, in fact, a backsplash and not wainscoting to which he was referring).

He traveled to the most sacred of spaces: the bedroom. He dropped his heavy satchel to the floor, and taking one look at the large bed neatly done in indigo satin, he plunged. Ten for ten. Good show, good show. I should consider doing this professionally. 

Diving, as anyone knows, is strenuous work, and Joe promptly fell dead. Wait, something doesn’t seem quite right. Ah yes. Joe promptly fell asleep. Sorry ole’ chap. No harm, no foul?

Fortunately, due to the stunning array of pills Joe consumed every morning thanks to Mrs. Schmoe, Joe was gifted with excellent hearing. Or perhaps those two things aren’t quite related and he just had good hearing. He jolted awake to the steady click of high heels on the tiled floor. Three inch high heels. Size seven. Black patent leather. Ooo, very chic. Too dressy for the office? What’s this? A small gold clasp? Unexpected. Daring, as my wife would say. Thoughts, upon waking, are never quite spot on as the tiny tendrils of dreamy fog curl around them and distort the mind. The heels were in fact, three and a half inches high and they were coming straight for the bedroom.

Joe’s eyes shuffled about the room in a mad dance as he looked for an escape route. The window was firmly shut and decided he might rip his uniform if he busted through the glass, which looked so easy in movies, but Joe was a postman and not a stunt double. The bathroom wouldn’t be ideal as women do indeed use it (this he learned in his first few years of marriage). The closet was even less ideal as women live a large majority of their lives fluttering weakly to its gentle glow. That left two options: face the intruder or duck under the bed.

“Must he always leave the bed in such a mess?” A woman’s rich voice filled the room. “For once, oh never mind.”

She kicked off her heels, black stockings dropped neatly beside them, along with a sleek red skirt. Joe, frozen to the spot, breathed shallow breaths, thoughts scampering off in wild directions.

Eventually, the woman left the room and Joe began concocting stories. Well, you see, I made a mistake and dropped in a letter not addressed to you. I thought I heard a dog whimpering and as an animal activist could not bear the thought of it being in pain. I’m actually with the police. Your life is in serious danger and we need to run away together at this very instant. The last seemed most plausible and sensible to Joe. He readied himself and began slowly inching his way from beneath the bed.

He stopped. The door opened and in walked a man. Size eleven. No heel. Well perhaps a slight ¾ of an inch. Brogues. Brown, but unpolished. 

“Pumpkin? Is that you?” the woman’s voice, faint, called from the living room? second bathroom?

He retreated to the shadows of his new dominion and watched as brown shoes were joined on the ground by navy trousers and a grey silk tie. Now what? 

The interesting thing about taking up residency underneath someone’s bed is that while one sees very little, one hears a lot. Bedrooms are littered with secrets much like the clothes that lie strewn about on the ground, dirty—to varying degrees—and openly exposed. Eventually, they are gathered and done away with, but there seems to linger in the room the reminiscence that they will soon reoccupy the space, an endless cycle. Medium, cold-cold, delicates.

Days turned into weeks. Joe’s thoughts were consumed with clothes, with intimacy, with betrayal. Pumpkin wears a size 34 waist and those Bermuda shorts certainly suggest otherwise.  But Pumpkin and Honey had their gushing nights as well; Joe was often rocked to sleep by the strainings and groanings of the bed. It must have been a lovely evening. An emerald silk gown fluttered to the floor, an ephemeral treasure trove that was quickly stashed away. It was quickly joined by a sharp, black tuxedo that rested in a jumbled passion.

His wife was worried sick: the post stopped being delivered, and the town was on the hunt for the missing man whose mail truck was stationed on the corner of Pines Drive. This he knew because he heard it from Honey. Pumpkin was disinterested and decided that Joe was probably just sick of his wife and needed a vacation.

“The woman is a loony, I’m not surprised he’s run off. He’s probably on some island in the sun. Wouldn’t that be swell? Honey, can you help with this cuff?”

Joe did his stretches every morning, shopped for breakfast in the sleek fridge and polished cabinets, and read a number of books. He began stockpiling small amounts of food within the springs above his head for when he got hungry in the evening, although he desperately wished he could join Honey and Pumpkin for dinner as the aromas often engulfed him in his shadowy lair. Cereal was highly inconvenient because the plastic was too crinkly, and chewing too crunchy. Oranges, far too aromatic. Leftovers, too suspicious and he lacked a microwave. Maybe I could fit one right over here. Add in a small fan here for the stifling summer nights. Perhaps I could squeeze in a small lamp as well.

What Joe did not think of was that Honey and Pumpkin were generally meticulous with their cleaning. He only had managed for so long because they hated the demeaning task of kneeling in submission to the thing which they already attributed so much of their life. But the task had to be done.

Honey reached a long, slender arm beneath the bed in search of any articles that had been fed haphazardly to the gaping maw of the indigo beast. Of the articles that had been devoured, Joe would promptly spit them out (he couldn’t really afford the encroachment on his space) but Honey didn’t know this. Neither did Joe know that there was a hand snaking towards him as it was half past four (near the end of his mid-afternoon nap, which meant REM cycle number 3—or, the most pleasant of dreams). Honey screamed as she felt the warmth of Joe’s arm and Joe screamed as he was rudely ripped from his waltz with Keira Knightley.

He emerged in a dramatic swoop from underneath the bed—a move he had mastered within the months of rigorous training—facing Honey. They both stared at each other with baffled expressions on their faces. Honey, for the obvious reason of witnessing someone emerge from underneath her bed; Joe, because he had never before seen above the ankles of this woman he felt he knew rather well.

She was beautiful. A shapely body, deep brown eyes framed by late autumn hair, elegant lips parted in a gentle gasp. Freckles adorned her skin. She was wearing a muted gold shift dress that caught the late evening sun. A golden charm bracelet whipped about her delicate wrist as Honey frantically waved it in front of Joe’s glossed eyes.

“Hello! What are you doing in my house?”

Joe came up with the only reasonable explanation. One that he had gone over the lonely nights under the bed. “Honey. Your life is in jeopardy. But this is no game. We’ve got to go now,” he said with a Sean Connery-esque terseness. He swept her into his arms for dramatic effect and looked at his watch for even more dramatic effect.

What would Pumpkin have said had he walked in just at that moment? He didn’t so we shan’t dwell on that thought.

What would Mrs. Schmoe have said? What would Mrs. Schmoe say? Joe dropped Honey to the ground with an abrupt thump and scurried out of the room.

Needless to say, entering into houses that do not belong to you can often create interesting situations.

Joe continued to deliver the mail day after day. Mrs. Schmoe upped the pill dosage because Joe seemed rather excitable these days. Pumpkin continued not caring. And as for Honey, well, she delivered a beautiful baby nine months later. The neighbors cooed and awed at his dimpled cheeks and professed that he looked just like his father. Pumpkin, however, wasn’t convinced. But then again, you can never quite tell with babies.

 

 

 

 

Daniel Watts: I’m terrible at these things. What am I supposed to put here again? I like long walks on the beach, romantic candlelit dinners, and slow dancing to… wait no, this might not be the best place for this. I’m a Junior at BYU studying sociocultural anthropology (that doesn’t entail working at that furniture/clothing store). I aspire to be a writer by day and Batman by night. Or something along those lines. 

Trudy

by Tamara Thomson

They took us to Tabiona. It was my first camping trip. My therapist had moved me up to level three so I could go on activities off-grounds. “You are coping better with your anger, Trudy. I am proud of you.”

My baby sister was buried in Tabiona. In group therapy, I told my therapist that I wanted to see her grave.

“How would that make you feel, Trudy?”

“She drowned because of me,” I said, even though it was a lie. “I was babysitting. It is my fault she is dead.”

I don’t know why I lied. It seemed easier, somehow. Maybe I lied because Laura was in my group and her legs were crossed in her chair like an Indian half my size and she was nodding at me like she knew all my secrets because she gave me my first weed and because we had lived in the same shithole town. Or maybe it was because her State-Hospital-boyfriend had a receding hairline at seventeen and always sat next to her in therapy. Or maybe it was because I only wanted to tell Karolla the truth. I knew Karolla would understand me, if only we could be in the same group therapy or in the same school class. Karolla had orange and brown hiking boots and low-top Converse and white running shoes and she wore tie-dye and listened to Pink Floyd and read big books and she hung art on her brick walls with sticky blue stuff and she had the nicest smile I’d ever seen.

The campground in Tabiona had giant teepees to sleep in. I tried to set-up my sleeping bag next to Karolla, but her therapist was already there. So I spread out my sleeping bag next to her therapist’s. The air in the teepee smelled hot and moldy, and my sleeping bag narrowed at the bottom. Laura watched me. “Come on, Trudy, there is more room over here.” She grabbed the duffel bag I made in sewing class by its neon green handles and threw it to the back of the teepee. The neighborhood I came from was full of dogs. Skinny ones and mean ones. “Let’s go swimming, Trudy. Get your suit,” Laura said.

In the mining town where I knew Laura, far away from Tabiona, my parents, Wayne and Donna, had fought about the mill. Donna wanted to go back to Tabiona. Wayne said there was nothing there. Donna said, “There ain’t nothing here but the mill and the poison, Wayne, don’t you even care about the poison?”

Cyanide killed birds and cleaned out the gold. Slurry poured down the mountain, crossed the highway and dumped worthless excess to form a hill. I imagined cyanide in my bones, I wished it in my blood, I wanted it to bleed out of my eyes. Donna bleached her hair. She spiked it with blue gel. Wayne drank on the porch of graying, splintering wood flaking white paint, “Proud Union Home” in blue block letters above his head. Home. Home. “This ain’t a home,” sobbed Donna. “My baby ain’t here.”

Missy wasn’t in the dirty mining town. She was buried in Tabiona. The dogs in Tabiona were friendly. They swam in the creek and never bothered our rabbit hutch. The creek ran right by our trailer, beneath the trees, and I would fill the tin watering can in the cold water and scatter it in the dust. Droplets would stand and stand—magnifying the dust or reflecting the green trees in globes until each drop leached out of itself and turned the dust to earth. Missy could totter on the moist ground without raising clouds to fill her nose and ears.

My state-appointed caseworker bought the swimming suit for me—turquoise and yellow. Like cat urine. I wore a t-shirt and shorts over it. Laura held my hand at the campground pool and we jumped into the cold water. But it wasn’t as cold as the creek. Once, before Missy died, I asked Donna if we could go swimming at the pool. “What for? The creek is just as good and it don’t cost nothin.” In the pool I could hold my breath and sink down, far down, and the sun and the sky glimmered in silence and the chlorine burned my eyes. Laura said, “Let’s go to the graveyard tomorrow, Trudy. I want to be there for you.”

When I got back to the teepee after swimming, Karolla and her blond therapist were alone. “Listen to this,” her therapist said as she gently placed earphones onto Karolla’s head. Karolla looked at me then curled up on her sleeping bag. Her therapist handed me a bag of red licorice “Want some?” When I took it she watched me for a minute. My cheeks grew hot. I fumbled for something in my bag. As I turned to leave I saw her therapist lie down next to Karolla and put her long arm around her.

The next day, my therapist went to town for sodas and said we could stop at the graveyard. Laura was down at the showers. I quietly asked Karolla to go with me and I could feel my face getting hot again. My hands felt clammy and I wiped them on my jeans. But Karolla agreed to go.

On the way to town I said, “My little sister is buried in the graveyard. Will you go with me to her grave?”

“What? She is buried here? Have you been here before? I didn’t even know this place existed until now.” She emphasized the word existed, like Tabiona was the oddest place. I didn’t mind. She made my stomach flutter and sometimes I wanted to hide my face or stick out my tongue in embarrassment when she looked at me, but I wanted to tell Karolla about Tabiona and about Missy. I don’t think I can explain why—Karolla just seemed to know things. When we lived next to the creek, beneath the cottonwoods, I would lie in bed at night and listen to the wind in the leaves and the movement of water and the largeness of summer was just outside my window and it was limitless and dark and inescapable. Karolla reminded me of those nights.

I wanted to warn her about the headstone the shape of a semi-truck cab—the grill, headlights, and windshield carved from gray granite—that stood next to baby Missy’s grave. I hated it, the memory of that trucker gravestone, rising above the grave that was so close to Missy. I would explain the connection in my mind between seeing that granite semi-truck and the feel of cement sidewalk under my bare feet. The hot blacktop street, or the prickly dead grass, or even the gravel on the side of the house was better than bare feet on the sidewalk. Walking barefoot on a sidewalk was like the feel of chalkboards and chalk. Better to lick the chalk off my hands than feel the dry, smooth grit. Karolla would get it. She would understand everything.

I would tell Karolla that it wasn’t my fault. I would tell her I was ten when Donna sent me to the market. The clothesline grew heavy with wet t-shirts, Missy’s jammies, and three pairs of jeans that sagged at the hips. Donna was out of smokes and sent me across the creek and the highway with six quarters. The market smelled like new paint and wet wood.

“Hey Trudy, whatch ya need, hun?”

“Newport lights, soft pack.”

“Anything else for your mum?”

I remember everything and I would tell Karolla every detail—how outside the market the old German shepherd panted in the shade of the porch, how the wind rolled a plastic cup around in semicircles. I was barefoot. Running back across the highway, around the blackened, twisted cedar fence post, and down to the creek I was careful not to crush the smokes. I stepped down to cross the creek. I would tell her how I looked at my dirty foot on the bank and thought how clean and cold the water would be and how, right then, I saw her floating by, her face down. I remember my foot, my dirty foot and the way the dust feathered up between my toes, and how I was thinking how cool and clean the creek would be when I saw her, Missy, floating, and I dropped the pack of Newports in the water as I grabbed her and screamed and screamed for Donna.

I would say to Karolla, “We left Tabiona before the gravestone was set—there was just a little mound of fresh dirt and that damn semi-truck stone. We left the trailer and the rabbits and the creek and the cottonwoods and all the cotton that would pile up against the trailer steps and drove until there weren’t any trees only the fly infested lake water and salt encrusted shallows and old naked mountains and new mountains of tailings and slurry sluicing down from the mine.” And Karolla would wrap her arm around me—there wouldn’t be any staff to say it was inappropriate—and she would hold me in the graveyard.

My therapist waited in the van when we got to the little cemetery. There were a few flimsy trees but it was hot. A group of swallows was rushing about and they seemed to be arguing. Around the graveyard grew sagebrush and junipers. I pinched some sagebrush leaves, rolled them between my fingers, and held them to Karolla’s nose. Her eyes widened, “Holy shit, I didn’t know those smelled like that.” She picked more leaves, stabbed her fingernails into them then inhaled over and over. “Oh my hell! Deliciousness!”

I walked straight to Missy’s grave though it had been six years—Karolla followed a little behind while taking deep whiffs of the sage, like she was getting high on it. The semi-truck was still there but it wasn’t so glossy. Missy’s small flat stone lying in the grass looked delicate and peaceful, and it had a lamb etched on it. It said:

Missy Dawn
Celestial Child Of
Wayne and Donna Hendricks

Other graves had been decorated with colored pinwheels that squeaked and squeaked above the dead. I held very still—my head tilted and turned down. I waited for Karolla to stand next to me. Instead, she walked past me to the semi-truck grave.

“What the hell is this?” she said. I looked sideways at her brown and orange hiking boots. The long laces were wrapped around the back of the shoe and tied in front. A stake in the ground next to the semi-truck stone held up an empty bird feeder. A black coffee mug squatted next to the stake. “Who would ever . . .” Karolla said, almost to herself.  The swallows pattered and trilled. She took another deep whiff of the sage. “I think there is a hint of watermelon in this. No—I am not sure, it almost smells like ocean water. I don’t know. It just smells like heaven.”

The hills around Tabiona looked dry and ugly. The sun was just barely behind us and my shadow was a dingy hump on the stone. Finally, Karolla moved toward me, her shadow nearly touched mine. “Is that her grave?” she said. I nodded. I waited for her to ask about Missy, to ask about Donna or Wayne or Tabiona, but she was silent. I tried to think of something to say, of some way to begin my story, to tell Karolla about my lie, about my innocence, about the jeans on the clothesline and about the empty look in Missy’s eyes when I pulled her from the water and how heavy she felt. I wanted Karolla to touch me, to press me or to handle me in any way, but she just stood there in her hiking boots, the sage still pinched between her fingers and the sound of the angry swallows and the squeaking pin-wheels filled my ears.

 

 

 

 

Tamara Pace Thomson is an MFA candidate in creative writing. She and her husband have three kids, two dogs, and a hedgehog (thanks to Shamae Budd for the inspiration).

Untitled Photographs

by Eric Edvalson

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Eric Edvalson is an interdisciplinary artist from Richland, Washington. Working in photography, sculpture, and installation, his work uses the visual language of commercial products to explore nostalgia, loneliness, and shared cultural experience.