by Erin Margaret Barker
As I opened the door, the smell of turpentine coated
my nostrils. Turpentine always reminded me of my mother. Oil paint
and turpentine, and sometimes her perfume that she tried to mask the
smells with. I’d spent more of my childhood in her studio than in our
I had been inside the studio only once in the past several years. I
glanced toward the west wall, the portrait wall, and saw that my old
friends still hung there. My mother filled an entire wall with paintings.
Unlike lines of noble portraits that grace castles and manors, her col-
lection was simply a hodgepodge of several dozen l 2×9 inch sketches of expressions~ there was a distinguished businessman, a stuffy grandmother dwarfed by her hat, and a pudgy girl whose nose ring made her closely resemble an infuriated bull. The faces that graced my mother’s wall were true likenesses of their subjects. My mother never
idealized things, unless the commission was large enough. She painted
wrinkles and birthmarks, bad dye jobs and gapped teeth. There was
something brutally honest in all her portraits.
Those portraits were my childhood friends. My mother couldn’t
afford a babysitter, so I’d play for hours on her studio floor while she
worked. When my picture books or doll bored me, or when I’d given
up trying to attract my mother’s attention, I’d turn to the wall and silently introduce myself to the people there. I learned all about the
Robert Redford look alike, his law practice, and his daughter that he
saw only every other Christmas. A cute blond girl, about my age,
would invite me to all her parties (which only the popular kids went to).
There was also a studious-looking girl with mousy hair who cried
at night because the kids at school teased her. A mean old, woman next to her scared me because she would always complain about the neighborhood kids kicking their soccer balls into her yard. There was a freckled boy about my age who would tell me all about his dog, Rover. I’d always wanted a dog.
These portraits would listen to me too, giving me advice or com-
fort. I was especially grateful for them during those long nights when I had to wait for my mother to finish painting or framing. My mother
always had to paint because we always had to eat. That is what she
would tell me, but often she would paint so late into the evening that
sleepiness eventually replaced my hunger and my whining about our
Sometimes my mother would catch me staring at the portraits.
She’d pause, Lilt her head to the side, and scrutinize me with the intensity reserved for the subjects of her paintings. “Do you want me to paint you?”
Such suggestions divided me. I’d have given anything to be the
focus of my mother’s attention for a few hours. Yet invariably, I
recoiled from her offers. I didn’t like the idea of my face joining her
portrait wall. In my childhood mind those portraits were real. Putting
my portrait next to them would affirm what I’d been denying for
years- that they were nothing more than faces painted on canvas.
I never explained that to my mother; she wouldn’t have understood.
So I’d tell her that I didn’t like sitting still for so long. If she pushed the
subject, I’d argue until she’d sigh and give up.
About the time I realized that it was childish and immature to have
silent conversations with portraits, I hit what could be most tactfully
called “a geeky stage” in my life. Now when my mother would try to
paint my portrait, I’d refuse passionately because I was scared. I had
watched my mother’s brush long enough to know that it never lied,
and my fragile pre-teen self-esteem didn’t want to see how my mother
Around this time, the studio began to feel more cramped. I was no
longer content to just read or play in my mother’s studio. And I had long ago learned that my mother’s focus was her painting and that my
insistence for attention was futile. The only eyes ever on me were those
of the portraits.
I quit coming to the studio when she finally agreed that I was old
enough to stay home alone after school. I’d stop by occasionally,
but usually only when I’d locked myself out of the house because l’d
forgotten to put the spare key back under the mat the day before.
One such day I was tackling algebra, surrounded by pastels and wet
paintbrushes when I felt more than the eyes of the portraits on me.
“Mom, what are you doing?” I demanded.
“Nothing.” But her eyes didn’t meet mine; they were focused on
my hairline. I instinctively smoothed my hair. But she kept staring at
me, seeing not her daughter, but rather light and shadows, negative
and positive shapes.
“You are not painting a portrait of me.” I lept to my feet, preparing
to rip the painting ofT the easel. My hand was halfway to the painting,
poised for action, and then I let it drop at my side.
Gaping from the canvas was a mass of frizzy hair, a too-large nose,
and eyes that squinted too much. No mirror could have been crueler
I drew away from the painting, my shoulders hunched and my
hands pulling awkwardly on my shirt sleeves. Upon seeing me shrink
back, my mother reached up to stroke my hair and said, “Baby, it’s just
I batted her hand away before she could touch me. That sketch
had ripped out my insides. I didn’t expect to have a good yearbook
picture; they were always awful. But I was used to that; cameras
usually caught me at awkward moments. But mothers are supposed to
see their daughters as beautiful.
That small oil painting confirmed my worst fears: there was no swan
here. Not even artistic vision and motherly love could find one. There
on that small canvas was one ugly duckling doomed to hang forever
next to her former friends on the portrait wall.
“How could you?” I said.
“Honey, I don’t understand … why can’t I paint a picture of you?”
I hated that she now looked confused and lost.
“You’re right, you don’t understand. You never will.” I shoved my
books into my bag, tearing my homework in the process, but I didn’t
care. I left the studio while staring at my feet and inadvertently
knocked over an easel. l stopped visiting my mother’s studio completely. She never asked
me to sit for her; she never brought up the subject again. We just went
on, pretending nothing had happened, but I couldn’t forget it.
Sometimes when she’d come home, I’d smell the paint and long to
visit the studio. I smile and think of my old friends hanging there.
Then I’d see myself, hanging next to them in the place of honor. I
cringed at the thought.
Through those years when our conversations consisted mostly of her
trying to ask me about school or friends and me responding in one
word, evasive grunts, I’d catch her looking at me. She’d stare with those
same artist eyes, but they were now puzzled, and for a fleeting second
I’d think I’d catch concern, or if I dared hope, love. But then I’d
remember how she’d seen me, how her brush had depicted me, and
I’d deflate again.
For the rest of the time I lived at home I avoided my mother’s
painting. But once when I was at college, l drove three hours to see one
of her shows. I never told her that l went. [ never told her that l
thought her paintings were beautiful. I just wasn’t ready to bring the
When I married and had kids of my own, my mother and I finally
had something in common- we both loved my daughters. At her
insistence, I’d take them to visit her I’d even drop Annie and Sarah off
at the studio while I’d run errands, but I never went in. They would sit
and read or watch her paint, just like I used to.
She started coming over to dinner at our house. The first few meals were awkward, with my husband and daughters carrying the conversation, but eventually, my mother and I began to talk more and more.
At first, we talked just about her granddaughters, then we moved up to
movies and books. Once, while drying dishes, she delved a little deeper.
“You liked working as a nurse, didn’t you?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said.
“Do you miss it?” I’d quit when Annie was born.
“No,” I said. Then summoning my courage, I added, ” I decided
that time with my daughters was more important than the extra . m ” come.
I waited for her to answer my subtle accusation. All she said was,
“You were lucky you could afford to do that. ”
That unnerved me. I didn’t know how to respond. I wanted to ask
her about her painting and why she’d painted all these years. Had it really been just to pay the bills? But I didn’t know what to say, so I just
nodded as she handed me another plate.
The next week she didn’t show up for dinner. I called her house,
and then the studio. No one answered. After a few hours, I drove over
to the studio. The light was on. After years of avoiding the studio, I
had to drive around the block three times before deciding to go in.
Once inside, I found her crying at her easel.
The doctors had found ovarian cancer. She was with us for only a
few months after that. Her death was so painful for me that I put off
cleaning out her studio as long as possible. I waited until I thought I
could do it without breaking into tears. But when I stood inside her
cramped, cluttered studio, I was overwhelmed by memories and the
smell of turpentine and paint that would probably remain in those
walls long after I have cleaned everything out.
Annie and Sarah came with me that day. They said they wanted to
come one last time. We worked all day, moving out almost all the
framed paintings, sending some to galleries, and keeping others for our
Later in the afternoon I opened a large cupboard, tucked away in
the corner behind dozens of empty frames. I pulled one painting down.
Unbelieving, I pulled another out, and another and another. The
cupboard was teeming with small portraits I’d never seen before.
There was one of a toddler dragging a teddy bear by her foot, and
behind that, a young child in pigtails scribbling all over a coloring
book. I pulled out one of a studious student lying on her stomach while
reading Little Women. There was an awkward teenager with a bright
smile, and then, a young college graduate in her dark blue robe. Next
I saw an overly pregnant twenty-five-year-old, and finally a mother
and two daughters.
I’d been fighting back tears all day. “For my daughters’ sake,” I’d
told myself. But now I let them fall. I smiled as I gently ran my fingers
over each painting, tracing the faces of each picture, musing over their
painter and their subjects.
” Wow, these are beautiful,” Annie said quietly. I turned and smiled
at my daughters who had come up behind me without my noticing.
I watched my daughters sift through the portraits. “You’re right,
they are beautiful. ”
Erin Margaret Barker is a senior at BYU studying English teaching
with a Spanish teaching minor. If she could, she’d spend all of her
time playing tennis and hanging out with family and friends.
by James Gunter
George woke up feeling odd. He took a shower,
got dressed, ate breakfast, and brushed his teeth before lea,·ing the
house. He sniffed the morning air, smelling nothing. A man walking a
dog passed him. George tried to smile, but the feeling came back to him. He looked around. “Nothing, ” he whispered to himself and continued down the road, head down, watching his feet hit the pavement.
When he arrived, he knocked on Harry’s door. Squinting, he tried
to discern the color of the door, but as Harry opened it, George let his
“Morning, George,” Harry said cheerfully. “Was l expecting you
“That’s the thing, Harry, l’m … I don’t know. ”
Harry looked at him, his head cocked to one side.
“Can 1 come in?”
“Yes, of course,” replied Harry.
George crossed through the front room to the chair by the window
and sat clown. Harry took a seat on the couch a few feet away.
“Are you okay?” asked Harry.
“I’m not sure,” George said. “There’s something strange going on.”
” Is it that dog of yours again?” said Harry.
“I have a dog?”
Harry hesitated. “I think you have a dog. ”
“Are you sure?”
Harry glanced down at his house slippers. “Yes. Yes, I’m certain
you have a dog. ”
George turned to the window. “Why didn’t you come to my house
“Well,” responded Harry, “I guess l hadn’t thought of it. I didn’t
even know you were coming here.” Harry leaned forward slightly. “Are
you all right?”
George shifted in his seat, furrowed his brow, and looked at the
“Is the chair uncomfortable?” asked Harry.
“Yeah, well . .. ” George let out a long breath. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
Harry watched George run his hand along the armrest.
George looked up. “We’re friends, right?”
“Yes, of course,” said Harry.
“So, you have been to my house, right?”
Harry brought his hands together Oat and placed them under his
chin. “Of course I have. Just like you are here now. ”
“When?” said George.
“Yes,” George said, “when was the last time you were at my house?
Why were you there, and what did we do?”
Harry leaned over and put his elbows on his knees. “Well, let me
think. I know I’ve been there. It was . . well, I’m not sure.” Harry’s
shoulders relaxed and he leaned back against the couch cushions.
“This is ridiculous,” he exclaimed, ” I’ve been to your house. We’re
friends, right? 1 must have been there sometime. What does it matter
when or why?”
“I suppose you’re right, ” said George, and he turned back to the
“Now, are you going to tell me what’s really bothering you?”
George sat quietly. A tea kettle gave off a high-pitched whistle from
the kitchen, and Harry jumped up off the couch.
“Ah, yes, the tea kettle,” he piped. “Must have forgotten I put it on.
I’ll get you a cup of herbal tea- it might make you feel better.”
Harry disappeared into the kitchen.
George could hear Harry taking cups from the cabinet and placing
them on the counter. He stared out the window as if he were trying to
make out something in the distance. He wiped dust off the window with the sleeve of his jacket. “Nothing,” he muttered and ran his hands
over the armrests absentmindedly. He felt where the fabric stopped,
a small wooden knob protruded. The armrest was velvet, he knew
what velvet felt like, but running his hand over the armrest felt nothing
like velvet, it felt like . ..
Harry came back into the room carrying a tray with two cups of
herbal tea on it and sat down on the couch. He put the tray on the
coffee table and began stirring his tea. “Give it a minute to cool down
and it’ll be ready,” he said and turned toward George, who was now
fingering the wooden knob al the end of the armrest and staring off
” I can see you’re troubled,” said Harry, “but I don’t understand it.
Let me know what’s really going on.”
“What’s my dog’s name?” George asked.
Harry gave a small laugh, “You didn’t come over here because you
forgot your dog’s name.”
George sat upright. “That’s the thing, I don’t know why I came
over here. I feel fine, it’s just .. . just .. . there’s something odd. ”
“George, if you … ”
“Harry, do you know my dog’s name?”
” I … ,” Harry paused, thinking, ” I think I’ve forgotten.”
“You don’t know his name. I have a dog, I’m sure, but 1 don’t know
his name either. It’s not that I forgot his name- I just don’t know it. ”
He slumped back in his chair again.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s Rover or Spot or Bob. What do I know?”
“But I should know my own dog’s name!”
The two of them sat there for a second. Harry slowly reached for
his cup of lea, brought it to his lips, and took a sip. “Do you want some
of this tea? It might make you feel better.”
“What flavor is it?” asked George.
” It’s . . . um … well, it’s tea.”
George sat straight up. “I know it’s tea, but what flavor is it? Tea
Harry furrowed his brow and set his cup down. “You don’t have to
be sarcastic just because you’re feeling a little weird. It’s … uh …
sweet. There. Happy?”
“No,” said George, leaning forward. “What did you taste when you
sipped your tea? Are you just saying it tastes sweet because you know
it’s supposed to taste sweet, or because that’s what you tasted?”
“What’s the difference? I always drink my tea with sugar to make
it sweet. ”
George muttered to himself, “I know that and you know that, but
what did your tea taste like?”
“This is foolish,” said Harry, and stood up. ” I’ll go get the box and
show you that it has a flavor.”
George watched Harry go back to the kitchen, then turned back to
the window. A minute passed, then a few more, in silence as George
strained to see out the window. Harry walked back in, looking at the
box in his hand. “Like reading off a page,” George whispered.
“That’s strange,” Harry said. ” I swear I picked out a flavor at the
grocery store. Why wouldn’t I pick a flavor?” He walked over to
George and handed him the box. George took it and looked at the
label that simply read: “Herbal Tea.”
“I could have sworn I picked a flavor…,” Harry repeated.
George set the box down on the coffee table. “When I got up this
morning I took a shower, got dressed, ate breakfast, and brushed
my teeth in what seemed to be one breath. One flashing moment of my
life. T here was no detail, no pause to decide what to eat or what to put
on. It simply happened. I don’t even know what I ate.” He glanced over
at the tea cooling on the coffee table. ”And when you went to get the
box of tea, it was like the same thing. I mean, I know you were gone for
a few minutes, but the time passed as if I were just reading it off a page.
“I know you took more than a minute, but the knowledge came to
me, not in time, but- by something else.”
George stood up and started pacing the room. He glanced at the bookcase and started again. “It’s like a story where the author telescopes an event, or series of events, into one sentence so he can skip all the unimportant details .. . it’s . . . ,” George stared down at the carpet.
“What’s my dog’s name, Harry?” George’s voice was beginning to
“For heaven’s sake, George, will you let it go?”
“I can’t. ”
Harry started to look flustered. “Fine. You want to know your dog’s name? Let’s go back to your house and look at his collar. He’s got a collar, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, he’s got a collar,” said George.
“Then let’s go.” Harry crossed the room to put a coat on and
exchange his slippers for shoes.
“I can’t. ”
“If you can’t let it go, let’s go solve this once and for all. ”
“No, Harry. I can’t leave this apartment. ”
Harry turned around slowly, “Why not?”
“Because I can’t. ”
Silence hung between them.
“Come back and sit down,” said George.
Harry crossed the room with a look of concern on his face.
“Harry,” George began, “what if I don’t know my dog’s name
because he doesn’t exist?”
Harry stared hard at his friend, “George, you need help. ”
“No, Harry, you don’t understand. I can’t leave this apartment. I
want to. I want to go see my dog and read his name off his collar, but
I can’t. There’s nothing out there. Look for yourself.” Harry started
toward the window. “I can’t see out the window,” said George. “I look, but there’s nothing there. I know there is something outside this apartment- through the window- but I can’t see it. I can’t describe it to you. The outside doesn’t exist! ”
“George, I’m going to call the hospital, okay?”
“No, Harry. Sit down and listen,” said George with a slight edge to
Harry didn’t move.
“There is no hospital either. ”
“George . . . ”
“The outside has nothing to do with what is going on in here,” said
George. “It’s not important. My dog’s name is not important. The tea
flavor is not important. It serves no function- no function at all. ”
“Why is it not important?” Harry interrupted, but George paid no
attention to him.
A shudder went through George’s body and he let out a nervous
laugh. ” I’m Estragon and you’re Vladimir,” he blurted out. “Or you’re
Vladimir and I’m Estragon. Which sounds better to you?” His hands
“I .. . ”
“I don’t know either,” whispered George. He looked around
the room. “The dog’s name isn’t important. It’s not important to the
“What story?” Harry asserted. He seemed to crumble off from
the couch onto his knees and raised his head to look at George.
“This story. The story that is going on right now,” said George.
“It’s the reason I can’t leave the apartment, and why I can’t see out
the window. It doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist until it becomes part of the
story. “He let out a small breathy laugh and looked at Harry. “Where’s
Godot? Is he coming too?”
“George?” Harry whispered.
” I don’t know. T hat’s the thing- it doesn’t matter.”
The room filled with silence. George’s arms went limp and hung at
his sides, his muscles loosened. He looked down at Harry, still on his
“No, George, don’t. ” Harry pleaded, “Please … ”
George muttered, “That’s what the odd feeling was. I felt like
words. I felt just like words.”
James Gunter exists only on paper. He is made up of drum machines, burritos, and the shredded bits of Philip K. Dick novels. He is an English major and editing minor, with an emphasis in creative writing. Contact him at email@example.com.
by Nathan Robison
The Vi11age woke one morning to an empty cemetery
and the streets full of the dead still dressed in their finest. They
appeared to me as the mummies in the monastery, very stiff, and
upright, clothes faded, the skin around the face desiccated and pulled
taut; yet I could still recognize them, remember their names though I
am an old man. At first they slunk like shadows. They appeared
around corners in the peripheral vision of the school children walking
down the lane, gone on second glance. They soon became more bold,
however, knocking on old doors, the shops and homes they knew,
begging bread, or just standing still and gazing.
I began my daily walk through the east gates, tall and iron, and as
usual the gates hung open in anticipation of my coming, and as usual,
the park was empty. I followed the path behind the museum, as is my
habit, looping around twice to view the marbles lining the reflection
pool. The slender body of the girl, about to bathe, arms up like two
poplars, holding long hair up against the top of her head. The young
man crouching, watching, body lean and lithe. Our Lady of the Pains,
nothing visible but her long hands covering her down-turned face,
body hidden in her robes. I followed the clay path around these figures
and passed the nude in the reeds near the pond, and wound toward
the back of the park, where the tall, thin pines make their little grove.
I first saw them here, near the path, among the trees. There were two
of them, an old man and an old lady, sitting very stiffly because of dry
bones and tendons, on an old checkered blanket. ] could see they were
picnicking from their withered reed basket. Their dry fingers made
scratching sounds on the china. I stopped a few paces away.
“What are you doing here?” I questioned them.
“We are picnicking,” the man said.
“Where have you come from?”
“Why, we came from the cemetery on the hill. The sexton is gone
for the day, and left his keys.” His voice Was the voice of leaves on dry
autumn nights, pushed along the cobblestones by the wind.
“And what are you eating?”
” We are eating,” responded the old man again, ” the usual fare of
late summer: cucumbers, the daily bread, a peach. And a light sherry.”
I bent my head nearer but could see only dust. They never looked
up and never said a word more than I asked. I tipped my hat and
immediately left the park.
By the time I had made it to Rua de Liberdade, the dead were
thick among the streets. They jostled in the crowds at the vegetable
market, demanded bread and cakes in the bakery. They sat playing
dominoes in the shade of the cafe terrace, slowly pushing the tiles with
fleshless fingers. At first terrifying to the children, the dead were
now merely a nuisance. Senhora Pereira chased two rigid old men out
of her courtyard with a broom. “Vizo-se embora, mortos. Get out of here!
And give back my clean sheets!”
We tried nearly everything to get rid of the dead. Some said they
would return to their graves on the hill at sunset. Others assured us
that they would return when the sexton and his assistant came back.
But the dead made no signs of leaving. After three days we met in
the village square, below the home of the mayor, to discuss a possible
solution. “Jose. Jose.” We shouted from the square. “This is your
village. What are you going to do about these dead in our streets? ” We
squabbled in the square for what must have been thirty minutes,
waiting for the mayor, not a young man, to come out and counsel with
us. The dead began to gather around the fringes of us, some trying to
“These dead must go,” Carlos the butcher said. “Why won’t the
mayor come and force them out? They frighten the women who come
to buy fresh meat. ”
“That is nothing, Carlos,” Ricardo the bookseller said. “These
dead come to my shop and tear through my books! They tear out
pages of my Biblias and Vidas dos Santos and scurry out the door. How
can I sell those books now?”
“And what of my situation?” Paulo the cafe keeper moved to the
head of the group of men. “For the past three days my deceased
grandfather and his three decrepit chums have sat on my terrace
demanding bicas. They do not drink when I serve them. They howl
even loude1~ ‘Paulo. Bring us a copinho. Paulo!’ Yesterday I left thirty
cups for them on the terrace, and nothing. They do not drink. They do
not leave.” But the angry crowd of men drowned him out. The mayor,
nearly a cadaver himself, made his way slowly down the stairs of main
hall with his cane. He waved the cane in the air like a conductor and
the men quieted down.
“Men of my village,” J ose began. “I, too, am aware and inconvenienced by this flood of the dead. But I am too old to be bothered. Soon I will join them, and the prospect of waiting out my share of eternity up on the hill where our ancestors repose in the dust does not
excite me. I, too, would be drawn to the village. Are they not our
fathers, our mothers? Our very ancestors? Let us ask them what they
seek, and maybe we can appease them.”
The crowd was silent. We could not blame the dead for leaving the
darkness of their tombs. Still, we did not want them, nor knew what
they wanted. Most of the dead had stopped talking with us after the
first day. Then it had been only muffled groans and screams for bread
or coffee. Nothing seemed to satisfy them.
“But how can we know what they want? None of them will speak
to us, or even listen,” Paulo said. This question had us puzzled until
Ricardo the bookseller had an idea.
” It was common knowledge to the Greeks that blood opened the
mouths of the dead. This is how Odysseus spoke to his father, and old
Tiresias. They want the warmth of blood. Once they are sated on the
blood of sheep they will answer anything.”
We all thought this was a fine idea, and so we sent two of the boys
off to fetch one of Carlos’s fattest rams. At first we were silent as we
waited. Then some of the men began to trace in the dust with sticks,
or whittle bits of kindling. The dead began to gather around the
square. They stood in the shade watching some of the men play
boules. Or they staggered over to the men carving. They were all silent.
“They anticipate the blood,” Ricardo said. “They are waiting for
the blood. See them come?”
Nearly all the dead had gathered around the square. I saw the
picnickers. Where had the basket gone? I wondered. Soon the boys
arrived, dragging the largest ram I had ever seen. It fought and bucked,
threatened to ram the boys. Carlos grabbed the tether and rolled his
sleeves. He thanked the boys and tossed them each an escudo. One
handed him his large cleaver
“Make a space in the middle.”
The crowd separated and made a little ring with Carlos and the
ram in the center. The dead pressed through us, fighting to see what
was happening. Carlos and three burly men bound the ram and turned
him on his back. Swiftly, Carlos moved the blade across the ram’s
throat and the four men hoisted it on their shoulders, spilling the blood
in a black pool at their feet. The eye cavities of the dead grew wide.
We all crouched in closer, waiting. A quick pang jumped in my chest,
but then, slowly, the dead paced off Back to the park, or the cafe, or
the bakery. One by one we followed them, leaving Carlos and his boys
to carry off the ram.
The next few days saw many attempts to relieve us of the dead. We
tried to lure them back to their graves with bits of bread and coins.
Few followed us all the way to the cemetery, and those that did refused
to step back into their crypts and tombs. In frustration, Carlos grabbed
a hag by the hair that refused to return to her grave and stuffed her
into a gaping, vacant tomb. Several of the men slid the marble lid over.
She was seen again at teatime, wailing and moaning outside her niece’s
home as usual.
Someone rounded up the stray mongrels that trooped through the
back alleys by night and released them in the square at noon hoping
they would glut themselves on the many walking bones and perhaps
bury them or stash them out of sight. The dogs fled as soon as they were
released, frightened by the scent of their old masters, and none
were ever seen again on our streets.
On Sunday the Padre made an appearance. Coming down the
avenida from the grey church, led by two boys swinging incense,
the Padre and the monks and nuns from the monastery slowly made
their way to the square. They all chanted something low and Latin.
The Padre was dressed in his ceremonial best: white, thick silk hanging
to his feet, richly embroidered with green vines and purple bunches of grapes. The monks knelt at the edge of the square, their lips moving.
The Padre approached a group of the dead that had been playing
dominoes in the shade and raised a small vial in the air. Among domines
and santos and pater nostm, the Padre sprinkled the dead with water. He
traced the sign of the cross on their foreheads and slung new rosaries
with splinters of the true cross around their necks. A nun whispered
that these were souls in limbo, come back for baptism and now released, but the dead simply returned to their games, pushing the tiles haphazardly around the table, ignoring the fervor around them.
I walked home in darkness of spirit that night. Nothing could con-
vince the dead to return to their Elysium. The blood, the dogs, even the church had failed. On return to the chapel it was said the Padre and
his brethren found the reliquaries sacked; the knuckle of Sao Sebastiao,
the heel of Santo Antonio liberated. As I passed down Avenida de
Liberdade they slid through the shadows, muttering to themselves.
T hey never slept, but paced the streets every night on their dark
errands, pounding ceaselessly on doors and windows. I myself had not
slept for a week, haunted by old neighbors beating on my door.
The sun took the last of my optimism that night as it swung to the
horizon. In the days following the arrival of the dead, I had found
a strange new sense of life. Perhaps due to the continual contrast of
myself to the dead around me, I became more aware of what life I still
possessed. But tonight I saw little, if any, difference between those wailing
dead and a shrunken old man. The dead jostled me in the streets, a
constant reminder of my inescapable fate.
When finally I arrived at my house two of the dead, an old naked
monk wearing only a crucifix and another I could not identify by his
tattered clothing, were tearing at the shutters, upending the potted
geraniums in the window boxes. I attempted to enter without them
noticing, turning my back to their mayhem as I fumbled with the big
rusty key. T hose damned dead were too quick for me, an old man. I
felt a bony hand on my shoulder, trying to turn my body from the door.
I slapped it away and renewed my efforts to place the key home and
turn the latch. I felt another dry hand grasp my arm, then they began
to paw and grope at my tweed coat. I swung to face them in anger and
stumbled over my own feet. I was on my back on the cobblestones, the
large naked monk at my feet with a firm double-fisted grasp on my old
key. The other rifled through my pockets, tearing the pages from my
diario, squirting the ink from my pen. I grabbed at the key in the monk’s skeletal grip. Though his arms were fleshless and weak, I could not
break my key from his hold.
“\Vhat do you want,” I shouted in his face. “What do you want
from me and my home?” T here was no answer, nor did I expect one,
but I continued to shout questions in frustration and anger as I tried to
retrieve my key. The dead were too strong for me. On previous nights
the dead and their contrivances were merely annoyances. Tonight,
however, due no doubt to the weight of my despair strength failed me.
I remember only the breaking of terra cotta near my head and the
monk pulling the key and turning to my door. I was alone in the street
when I awoke, perhaps hours later. My door was only slightly ajar
and initially, I hoped the dead had lost interest or perhaps left before
entering. A crash from inside told me I was wrong. I entered without
even glancing at the disarray of my sitting room. I knew the pictures
were shattered, the porcelain statuettes dismembered. I simply did not
care anymore. I paced down the hall past the study, catching a glimpse
of the monk tearing apart my books, surrounded by pages and leaves
drifting down around him like obscene snow. I put my back to the
crashes of dishes from the kitchen. I knew the other dead had found
the china my father had brought from Macau when I was a child. I no
longer cared about the china or my home. My only desire was to leave
the dead. I took to the narrow stairs and ascended to my room.
Thankfully, the dead had not yet reached my room. I opened the
dilapidated wardrobe and, amidst the pervasive smell of mothballs,
took out a tailored black suitcoat and threw it over my shoulders. I
brought the old hatbox out from under the bed and removed my
fa ther’s ancient English tophat. I found a piece of crepe in the desk
and fastened it over the silk band. In my funeral finery I checked my
appearance in the mirror. I had decided to retreat to the one place in
the village free of the dead. The cemetery on the hill.
I was the only living member of the village on the streets that night.
All along the path to the hill the dead were engaged in the activities of
the living: they threw boules haphazardly in the square, scattered ivory
dominoes on the tables of the cafe terrace. The dead became silent as
I passed. I had hoped I would pass unnoticed, but now I drew their
attention on my funeral march to the hill.
At first, I was followed by only two or three of the dead. Soon how-
ever, my following had swollen to a grisly procession. I doubted there
were any left in the village. M y heart sunk. Would they never leave me in peace? They continued to follow me to the one place they had
avoided for weeks. My despair grew until even the desire to turn and
shout curses on their heads left me. I continued my faltering steps to
the hill, the shuffiing noises of the dead growing behind.
The gates to the cemetery hung broken on their hinges like a
dislocated jaw. The iron gates reminded me of the park gates, cold,
silent and ever open. To my left as I entered the gates was a crumbling
doghouse. The sexton had written Cerberus above the entrance in
some sort of sick joke, but I entered unmolested.
The cemetery on the hill was a city for the dead. Plots were divided
by streets. Tombs sat like houses of the dead. The trees were leafless
in the little square before the chapel. I turned off the square, passed
the hollow ossuary and proceeded down the Via dos Martos to the
mausoleum rising from the center of the necropolis. It was here I
hoped I would finally rest in peace, free from the clutches of the dead.
I hobbled up the marble steps and pulled on the heavy grating, green
with age, entered and sat in the dust.
My peace was short lived. Immediately the dead crowded into the
mausoleum behind me. They milled about the tight room, staring
down at me. Those who remained outside howled and wailed, tried to
pull the grating ofT its hinges.
“Will you never leave me?” I shouted. “When will the dead leave
the living in peace?”
I forced my way through the forest of the dead and fell out onto
the dusty path. Gathering my strength, I began to run from the tombs.
I could run no faster than the dead. They pressed around me, eager to
watch my every action. I only wanted to be free from them. Why
would death not take me? When would I find my rest?
In desperation I moved to the nearest tomb. Its marble lid had
been pulled to one side, revealing a gaping hole. I crawled to the
mouth of the grave and dropped myself into the recess. The dead
stared down at me. I closed my eyes and for the first time in weeks slept
a dreamless fitless sleep.
To my chagrin I awoke in the tomb at first light, and not on
Charon’s shore. The morning was silent however. I listened for the
sounds of the dead I had grown accustomed to. The sounds that had
haunted the village for the better part of a month. I listened for the
howling, the wailing, the villagers’ curses. There was nothing but a
Eventually, I gathered the courage to peek out over the rim of the
tomb. I scanned in every direction but nowhere could I see a trace of
the dead. They have returned to the village, I thought. Quietly I pulled
my old body from the tomb and walked back to the square down the
Via dos Mortos. As I passed the ossuary I glanced at the open doors.
The shelves were filled with bones. Everywhere in the cramped space
of the charnel house were bodies of the dead. I ran down the path.
The tombs had been closed, their lids once again concealing the bones
beneath. Here and there I saw traces of silk or long hair caught in the
cracks. The dead had closed themselves back up in their tombs.
I silently ran back to the village, stopping only to close the monstrous gate at the mouth of the cemetery as quietly as possible. I wove the chains through the bars of the gate and snapped the lock shut through the links. Though it was nearly ten o’clock by the time I
reached Rua de Liberdade and the village square, there was not a soul,
living or dead, out in the streets. The villagers were sleeping a deep
and well-deserved rest.
The villagers will argue over the cause of the visit of the dead for
centuries, and have done so ceaselessly these last, quiet years since
their departure. Some claim it was the beginning of Judgment Day,
others the trick of demons. The theories for their departure are equally
diverse and heated. Personally, I do not think we’ll ever truly know
the cause of their sudden appearance and disappearance. Perhaps the
dead had only wanted to live in imitation of life one last time.
Regardless of the reasons, one thing remains certain: to this day no
one enters the old cemetery on the hill for fear of awakening the dead.
Nathan Robison graduated in English from BYU, after which he
disappeared off the face of the earth. At least as far as we can tell.
by Katy Street Larson
Heidi blamed moving on the mold and blamed
finding the Picasso on her mother. Before the mold ever grew, and
before she ever found the Picasso, H Heidi had lived for the last thirty
years in a lovely apartment in Vienna’s Ist district. There were shelves
built into the wall to store all of her teacups, and her Chinese screen
fit perfectly into the nook between the kitchen and living room.
Every Tuesday, Heidi’s best friend Inge would come over. Heidi
would give her a cup of coffee, and Inge would sit on the Italian sofa,
one hand holding the coffee cup, the other hand stroking one of the cats.
And she would always say, “Heidi, you have the loveliest apartment! ”
It was true.
Six years ago, the mold started to grow. At first, there were just
little brownish-green polka dots at the edges of the living room floor
and on the tile behind the kitchen sink. Heidi would pay her Polish
cleaning lady a little extra to bleach the spots, and her friends never
noticed. But once the brown spots started growing out from the corners
of the walls, and down from behind the Chinese screen and teacups,
her friends couldn’t help but notice. Now when Inge sipped her coffee,
she would say, “Heidi, what is growing out of your wall?” Soon, it
became, “What an unfortunate apartment. ”
Heidi tried everything she could think of. She called the real estate
agent she had bought the apartment from, but he said it was her
problem now. She tried bleach and lemon juice and every other caustic
chemical she could find. She called experts and city council members, and her dead husband Frankie’s brother who used to work at a hardware store. No one could help. The problem was in the pipes and the walls, they all said. The humidity didn’t help either. They would have to tear all the apartment walls out and rebuild the whole structure. It
would cost twice as much as buying a new apartment, and Heidi
couldn’t afford that. She was living off the insurance from Frankie’s
death and the small amount of money she made as a nanny. lt was out
of the question.
Meanwhile, the mold grew thicker and browner and further clown
the wall. It was like living in a forest, surrounded by lichen. Inge
stopped coming to drink coffee and pet the cats. Heidi sat on her
Italian couch one afternoon in August with a cat in her lap and sweat
pooling in the crevices of her back, and stared up at the mold. In the
haze of heat, it looked like little brown tentacles swayed back and forth
in time to the music she heard coming from outside. It was no longer
her apartment; the mold had total control. There was no other choice.
H Heidi had to move.
Packing an apartment in Vienna in August was something only
meant to torture old women with cats and extensive china collections.
Heidi’s daughter, Angelike, had begrudgingly offered to come help her
pack, but Heidi didn’t want her to miss too much work at the airport.
She had found an apartment herself; she had found a man with a truck
to haul her belongings herself; she could pack up the last thirty years
by herself as well.
Ulrich, down at her favorite furniture store, had given her a box
full of packing supplies for free, so she spent every morning for two
weeks on her knees, ignoring how it made her ankles swell. She
wrapped each precious cup and saucer in bubble paper, swaddled her
little porcelain Chinese babies in tissue, and stacked art book after art
book in anticipation of the moving clay. The cats didn’t seem to mind
the packing and removal of their possessions. H Heidi imagined that the
mold looked on disapprovingly.
The third day of packing, H Heidi decided to go clown to her storage
unit in the basement to see what kinds of things she had forgotten she
had. The storage room was dark and had always scared her so she didn’t like to go down by herself. But this time was a must. She was
breaking free from the mold. Each storage unit was separated from the
others by a chain-link wall and gate. Heidi had made Angelike’s
ex-boyfriend Bernd buy and install a large, complicated lock that was
unbreakable. Heidi didn’t trust the neighbors.
When she opened the lock and swung the gate open, Heidi saw
everything she expected she would- furniture, suitcases, everything
she couldn’t bear to throw away. She pulled a box over to the unit
and began to pack. She had gotten halfway through the unit when she
saw something strange. In the back corner was a box that she didn’t
recognize. She hefted her skirt and stepped over the ironing machine
and a broken speaker to stand next to the box. On the top was a label: Renate Utrecht. Her mother’s name. After a moment, Heidi remembered her mother giving her the box shortly after Frankie died.
Heidi had been so distraught after Frankie’s plane crash that she
hardly noticed the comings and goings of her family for a few weeks.
Now, thinking as hard as she could, she had called up a hazy memory of her mother coming into the kitchen with the box and saying something about cleaning out her closet. Heidi had never bothered to open it; rather, she had told Angelike to put it down in the basement. That was ten years ago. Now, she pulled at the tape and lifted the box flaps.
It was probably just an old icon that had been smuggled back from the
war, or something equally uninspiring. But, still, she wanted to know.
The box held two things- an envelope and a painting in an old
golden frame. Heidi opened the envelope first. Inside was a card from
her mother. It said, “Keep this painting with you always as a reminder
of Frankie and of my love for you.” That was all. Heidi held the
painting up to the light. It was simple- only a few flowers in a vase. It looked like something Angelike could have painted back in kindergarten. The vase was only a blue outline. The flowers were had simple green lines for stems and small globs of blue and yellow for petals. Not very exciting. Heidi threw it in the packing box and reached for her
Heidi didn’t think anything more of the picture until she unpacked
it in the new apartment. She didn’t really want to hang it up, but she
kept hearing her dead mother’s voice reading the card: “Keep this painting with you always as a reminder of Frankie and of my love for
you.” It would be disrespectful to ignore it, even if it was rather simple.
She held it next to the Chinese screen and above the kitchen sink and
over her shelf of teacups, but it never looked quite right. Finally, she
decided to place it on the wall in the entryway, above her shoe rack.
No one would see it there. No one did see it until Angelike came over.
Angelike was on her way to work at the airport and had stopped
by to pick up a tablecloth Heidi had bought for her. As she bent to take
her shoes off, she glanced up at the painting hanging on the wall. She
stood straight. She leaned in closer to the picture and examined the
lower right-hand side.
“Mother,” she said softly. “Mother, where did you get this?”
Heidi was slightly confused. Angelike never cared about her art or
collectibles. She practically had to sit on top of her to make her look
at a new teacup, even when it was a Versace. Why would Angelike care
about a stupid little painting of flowers?
“Your Oma gave it to me,” Heidi said, taking Angelike by the hand
and walking into the kitchen. “When Frankie died. ”
“Where did Oma get it from? ”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe Opa brought it back from the war. Do
you want some coffee?”
“Mother. ” Angelike stopped and grabbed Heidi’s shoulders.
“That’s a Picasso.”
Heidi laughed. A Picasso? What had Angelike done during her
education? Slept? “That is not a Picasso, schatzi.” She laughed again
and wiped the sweat from her forehead. “There is· no way that is a
Angelike was unwavering. “Come and look, then,” she said. ‘Just
look here in the bottom right-hand corner.”
Heidi sighed and walked over to the painting. Angelike always got
so difficult when she had an idea in her head. She grabbed the glasses
hanging from the string around her neck and put them on. She leaned
toward the painting. “It’s just a scribble,” she said.
“What does the scribble say?” Angelike was tapping her foot.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Heidi said. “It’s a word, ends in o, I think.
Starts with a … ” She stopped talking and looked at Angelike. She
suddenly felt hoarse and lightheaded. “I think I need a tranquilizer,
“It says ‘Picasso,’ doesn’t it, Mother?”
“Angelike. I need a tranquilizer and some coffee.”
Angelike grinned. Her first smile since walking in the door. “Get
your own tranquilizer, M1other. I’m calling an art dealer. ” She walked
into the living room and picked up the phone. Heidi could hear her
dialing and then talking to someone, but she didn’t know who. She
looked again at the painting. It did say it. It did say Picasso. She sat
down in the middle of the hallway, her green skirt bunching at the
knees. Charlie, one of the cats, came and sat in her lap and pushed his
Oat face against her stomach. Heidi patted his head, not really aware
that he was there. A Picasso. That’s all she thought. A Picasso. She
took a deep breath and flicked the hair out of her eyes. A Picasso.
Angelike stepped into the hallway, still on the phone.
“A dealer is coming over right now, Mother.” She said something
else into the phone, then looked at Heidi again. “I would suggest
getting off the floor.”
The dealer came and looked at the painting. He thought it was
authentic. Another dealer came. He thought the same thing. A third
came and confirmed it. “This is a real Picasso,” he said, practically choking up. “If this were to go on to auction, a brand-new, never-before-seen piece, it would make millions of Euros.” Heidi stepped on Charlie’s tail. Angelike grinned again.
Heidi didn’t know what to do. Angelike was always over here at the
apartment now, talking to art people. The Picasso still hung on the wall
above the shoes. Three different newspapers had come over to take her
picture with the Picasso, and her friend in Hong Kong had called after
seeing her face on the evening news. Everyone wanted to know what
she was going to do. Keep it? Sell it? SELL it? Heidi didn’t know. She
only had questions, no answers. She kept hearing her dead mother’s
voice in her head. “Keep this painting with you always as a reminder
of Frankie and of my love for you.” Couldn’t she remember Frankie
and her mother without keeping the Picasso? It was beginning to feel
like a threat. But did her mother know this reminder was a Picasso?
Was her mother really threatening? It’s not like she could do anything
now to make Heidi keep the painting. Couldn’t she remember Frankie
and her mother without keeping the Picasso? All Heidi really knew
was that it was the end of August in Vienna, and humid outside. All
she really wanted to do was lie on her bed in her undershirt.
Angelike had sat her down one night and explained the options.
Independent art collectors had been calling with offers. Millions
of euros. Museum curators called with oilers. Millions of euros. Auction
houses had been calling, wanting to know if she was interested in their
services. Millions of euros.
Heidi just shook her head. “When you say millions of euros, how
many do you mean?” She needed a real number that she could roll
around in her head. A real number whose hand she could hold, and
talk to when she drank her coffee in the morning. A real number she
could use in planning.
Angelike shrugged her shoulders and lit a cigarette. “Anywhere
between six and forty million.”
Heidi swatted at the smoke. “You know I don’t like that smell in the
house,” she said.
Angelike made a face.
“It probably isn’t good for the Picasso. I’ll bet it reduces its value. ”
Angelike put her cigarette out. “This is what I’ve been able to
figure out so far,” she said. “The Picasso that Christie’s sold last year
made 8.87 million euros. The most anyone has ever paid for a Picasso
was 44 million euros. Ours could fall between those two, or be worth
Since when did Angelike get to say the Picasso was ours? The note
was addressed only to Heidi- it was her burden. She picked up her
leftover coffee from breakfast and took a sip. The thick cold espresso in
her throat felt good when it was so humid.
“But what about the note from your Oma?” Heidi said. “She said
to always keep it. It’s supposed to remind me of Frankie.”
Angelike rolled her eyes. “Think of Frankie when you see the
Picasso in the gallery, and think of Oma’s love when you buy yourself
a new bed.”
Heidi sighed. “But what if. .. ”
Angelike interrupted her. “Grow up, Mother. It’s time for you to
stop believing in ghosts.”
The next day, a man called. He said his name was Michael Buehl.
He said he was the curator of art at the Leopold Museum in the
Museums Quarrier in the 7th district. He was very interested in
the Picasso, and wanted to help keep it in the city. He wanted to stop by the next day and make an offer. Heidi wanted to know what his
offer was right then. Eleven million euros, he said. Eleven? she said.
Eleven, he said. Finally. A number she could work with.
Heidi sat down at the kitchen table with a pad of paper, a pen, and
a fresh cup of coffee. Mimi, her favorite cat, jumped on the table
and rolled around. Heidi was going to make a list of all the things she
could buy with Eleven Million Euros. (She had already capitalized
the words in her mind.) If she could decide what to do with Eleven
Million Euros, she would sell the Picasso to this Schroeder Buehl man
at the Leopold. If not, she would keep it above the shoes and keep her
dead mother and husband happy.
She licked the tip of the pencil. Eleven Million Euros, she thought.
“For my Picasso, I will buy,” she wrote, ” the Versace Barocco
Dinnerware collection for eight people, for €6.208.” She smiled. ”Also,
the Persian Rug rug from that store in the 7th district which was
€23.699, and a trip to Morocco to buy some new tables for my
terrace.” She laughed. “Then I will buy a new €30.000 car for
Heidi paused. If only she could have afforded a new car for
Angelike last year when she was in that awful crash on the highway. Or
if she had had money five years ago when Inge’s house had flooded,
and all she could do was bring over some coffee. Or if she had had the
money fifteen years ago when she wanted to put Angelike in a private
school, but couldn’t. She licked her pencil again.
“For my Picasso, I could have gotten Frankie that €700 suit he
needed for his trip to China. Or I could have paid for Father’s cancer
treatment in the ’80s, or a honeymoon trip to Morocco when Frankie
and I got married in 1976. I could have gotten Angelike a much nicer
apartment two years ago when she moved. I could have gotten a
better dress for Frankie’s funeral or that antique diamond watch I
loved.” She gasped. ” I could have fixed the mold on the walls in my
What a waste. All this time the Picasso had been sitting in the
storage unit, and before that in her mother’s closet. If she had opened
it when her mother was alive, she wouldn’t have had to worry about
warnings from the dead. Instead, though, she had had to work the whole time Angelike was in school. Here she was, sixty-eight, and still
working. Frankie wouldn’t have had to take that flight that crashed and
killed him. Maybe Father would have survived his cancer. Angelike
could have gone to university instead of working at the airport. Heidi’s
whole life had been ruined all because no one had the presence of
mind to open a stupid box in the closet. What a waste.
It had been a week. Heidi was so disgusted with her list that she
hadn’t looked at it again. Perhaps it was a sign from her dead mother
that she shouldn’t sell the Picasso but keep it hanging above the shoes.
Michael Buehl called again. I see you’re driving a hard bargain , Frau
Tse-Scholz, he had said. I’ve talked to the board of directors, and
they’re willing to offer you 13.5 million euros. 13.5? Heidi said. 13.5
Heidi did nothing.
The next week Michael Buehl called again. Fifteen million.
Seventeen million. Nineteen million. Angelike had started to bring her
friends over to look at the painting. They always tracked dirt on Heidi’s
clean floor and scared the cats. The oldest cat got sick from the draft,
and Heidi had to take him to the vet twice before he died. It was
halfway through October before she got the list out again.
Now the offer from the Leopold- she had stopped talking to
anyone but Angelike and Michael Buehl- was up to 23 million. Heidi
picked up her pencil to write, but set it down again. Angelike had
yelled at her the night before for not selling the Picasso. Heidi had tried
to explain the lists, and how their lives had been ruined, but Angelike
wouldn’t listen. Then Heidi tried to explain the threat from her
mother and how nervous it made her to sell the Picasso. Angelike only
snorted- a hard sound that Heidi had never heard before. Frightened,
she told Angelike that she would make a decision the next clay.
Heidi picked up the pencil again. She had stopped looking at the
Picasso weeks ago. When she did, she saw the floating shadows of her
mothe1~ Frankie, and now her dead cat in front of it. Death was so
thick there that she couldn’t see through to the brushstrokes anymore.
She wished she could get the Picasso out of the house and live her own
life again. Yet, she was afraid of what the dead would do if she sold it. She drew circles around the numbers on the list, and sighed.
A new car for Angelike, or a respite from the ghosts of her dead
family? The Versace dining set, or a scribble of flowers above the
shoes? She put the pencil down and picked up the telephone.
”Angelike,” she said. “The Picasso stays here. ”
Angelike hung up.
That night, Heidi slept like a child.
In the morning, Heidi stayed in bed until 11:00. She ·was celebrating her freedom. The cats came in and sat on her pillowcase and swatted her toes under her blanket. She opened the door onto the terrace
and inhaled the fall air. She heard the clatter of a train passing, and a
car honk as it drove by. The plants on the terrace swayed in the breeze
and looked somehow greener than she remembered. The Picasso was
downstairs, and her dead mother was happy.
Heidi padded downstairs, wondering if she should make an apple
strudel or just make a fresh cup of coffee. She pushed a shoe that was on
the floor out of her way and looked up at the wall. The Picasso was
gone. Taped to the wall was an envelope.
Heidi pulled it off the wall and opened it, her hands shaking.
“Mother,” a card inside said, “Oma never said that I couldn’t sell it.
You can visit the Picasso at the Leopold, and me in America. Bernd
said he would come with me if I went.”
Heidi felt her knees go spongy and braced herself against the wall.
”Angelike,” she said aloud, shaking her head. “I need a tranquilizer
and a coffee.” No one answered. Heidi hiccoughed. She heard a sound
in the kitchen.
”Angelike?” she called. Silence.
She heard the sound again. Maybe it was the cats getting anxious
for their food.
“Mimi?” Heidi said. “Charlie? I’m corning, schatzileins.” She
tested her weight on her spongy knees. They held.
Heidi walked around the corner into the kitchen. Frankie stood at
the stove pouring a fresh cup of coffee.
Katy Street Larson is from Stockton, CA, and is a graduate student
at BYU emphasizing in creative writing. She enjoys hiking, reading YA
novels, watching The Food Network, and listening to her husband play
bass. Her thesis is a novel entitled Greyhound.
by Sean Bailey
In 1668 Francesco Redi first disproved the theory of spontaneous generation. He screened off a jar of rotting meat and proved that maggots were Oy larvae; they didn’t just magically appear in rank pork chops. If he had been given enough time to contemplate the implications of his study, I would hope Redi would have reconsidered
He cast the mold. It didn’t happen all at once, but the program
took, and now there are millions of little Redis running around
the Western world thinking the same way. When we ask important
questions in the aftermath of Redi’s experiment we get dull and
boring answers. For example, one of the great mysteries of all time is,
Where does belly button lint come from? Instead of inventing creative
answers like gravity wells or spontaneous growth, we get The Straight
Dope: “Your navel is one of the few places on your body where
perspiration has a chance to accumulate before evaporating. Lint from
your clothing, cottons especially, adheres to the wet area and remains
after the moisture departs.”* I don’t know about anyone else, but for
me, that just takes the magic out of everything.
Now don’t get me wrong, science isn’t bad; in fact, sometimes
science has done more to jump-start the world’s imagination than any
other source. Take Albert Einstein for example.
When he introduced the theory of relativity, multitudes of new
possibilities entered the world. Slow clocks. Shrinking rods. If you
got moving fast enough, weird things started happening. Einstein
supplied wonder for a century to come, not to mention ideas to line the
pocketbooks of sci-fi writers everywhere. Even with these new and
wondrous possibilities, being forced into the modern era of science
was a painful experience for most nineteenth-century scientists, like
children dragged out of bed to shift their feet irritably and rub their
eyes in the garish light of day.
My mom used to be a receptionist for a chiropractor. The office
was only a few blocks from Edison Elementary School, so after class
my brothers and I would meander over to the building and try to find
something to occupy ourselves while we waited for Mom to get done
with work. She really didn’t mind what we did as long as it fit two
criteria: ( 1) It wasn’t destructive, and (2) It didn’t bother the customers.
This severely limited our options. We usually ended up in the
vacant lot behind the building, and there we would be superheroes or
ninjas or some sort of wild animal friends. 1 found a bowling ball there
I think I was alone that day, but I have no clear recollection. Why
I would be alone, I don’t know, but neither of my brothers show up in
the story. I was squatting in the corner of an old building foundation
playing with the grass that grew up between the cracks when I first
Only the edge of it was above ground, and it looked so intriguing.
The otherwise smooth black surface was pocked with imperfections
and streaked through with a textured brown marble. I reached out to
touch it, but stopped.
Why would there be a bowling ball buried in this vacant lot?
Had it dropped out of the sky and buried itself? How could that
Maybe it had slipped out of someone’s luggage as they flew over-
head. Maybe someone had built a catapult in their backyard. Maybe it was a murder weapon someone was trying to hide. Maybe it wasn’t
a bowling ball at all, but a beautiful rock that was forcing its way
slowly to the surface.
I contemplated the rock.
At this point, I would like to point out that my parents thought I
was retarded up until 1 was about age six, principally because I did things like stare at rocks. I was always five steps behind the rest of the
family when we went someplace. “Come on, Sean. Hurry up, Sean, or
we’re going to leave you. ” Sometimes my dad would grab my arm and
drag me up with the rest of them.
While my parents drove to whatever place I happened to be
lagging behind at, I would stare vacantly out into the world, not really
present. My vacancy “worried my parents, but they also took advantage
of it. They’d put me between my two brothers so they wouldn’t fight.
I was a buffer; I wasn’t there.
They conceded my intelligence the day I read a billboard and
asked in all innocence what smo1gasbord meant. While still unsure about
my normal absentee status, they decided that it was not due to being
slow. The staring off into space, they decided, just came as part of a package deal. I have found that it is one of the better parts of the pack-
age. Being able to meditate with the rest of the world tuned out gave me ample opportunity to think about interesting ideas, like what would
be the best way to burn my school down. I thought about that a lot
actually, until Columbine. Then I felt guilty. And scared.
When you are not really looking, you see the world differently.
Not always better~ just differently. While driving with my mom on a
cold winter’s day, my eyes glazed, and I noticed that the leafless trees
were so beautiful. The normal ugliness of the winter gray Oklahoma
countryside was quite remarkable through unfocused eyes. The grays
and blacks and whites blended together as the hills rolled by. A
mottled ocean of gray lashed against the highway. I had found beauty
in something once so dreary.
At college, some friends invited me to come with them and sing at a mental institute. The people there scared me so much in the beginning. Most of them were completely incoherent. I sat by a lady who couldn’t speak. She could only make vague clicking noises as she smiled and randomly pointed at words in the newspaper on her lap.
Her skin was parchment dry and looked as if, poking it too hard,
your finger would go right through. l sat by her because there was no
danger of her saying something I would have to respond to. Out of
randomness, I asked for her name. She looked at me and held up a
bracelet with Diane H . written on it. I hadn’t seen her
On a different tangent, kayaks are cool. My family and I went on
a float trip this past summe1~ and since my grandparents came along
as well, we had to compromise on the river craft we chose. The older people ended up in a raft with the coolers, while my brother, cousin,
and I ended up in kayaks.
Yaks, to use our guide’s terminology, are powerful. I’m used to
canoes, which aren’t exactly the most maneuverable craft on the river.
You can get enough power behind a kayak to paddle against the
current and even make decent progress uprive1~ conditions favoring.
When we got in the river I started playing with my new toy, seeing
what it could do. I would paddle downstream, stop, and then paddle
back upstream just testing it out.
Once we got underway, we discovered that our vehicles were
We zipped downstream while the raft moved horribly slow. As we
reached the first bend in the rive1~ I realized I was getting too far ahead
of the raft. There was a little inlet where I could wait for them, so I made
for it. The current was moving pretty quick in the area so I paddled as
fast as I could, but when I got within a few feet of the inlet, the current
grabbed my yak and pushed me past it. There were two trees downed
in the river just ahead, the roots facing me, and I was going to be
pushed right into them.
This was annoying. I put my paddle out to brace against the
impact and then got shoved into the gap between one of the tree ‘s root
systems and the bank. Not five minutes into the trip and I was stuck. I
paddled back along the two massive root bunches to try and get back into the river, but anytime I got next to the second set of roots the cur-
rent would push me into it and I couldn’t get past. I paddled forward; I paddled backward. I pushed against the roots with my paddle.
Nothing worked. My once powerful yak was now impotent. By
now my brother had stopped his canoe on the other side of the river
and was watching me; everyone else had stopped further downstream.
After rocking back and forth like this for a few moments, I decided
to try a new tactic. I got close to the bank and started paddling as far
upriver as I could in the relatively calm water. I could get only about
fifteen feet and when I did I turned the kayak back into the river and
started paddling as fast as I could. I didn’t make it clear. I could see out
of the corner of my eye I was going to hit the second root mass again,
but I kept on paddling, trying to build momentum.
I hit the roots again, but much faster this time, and as the edge of
my kayak started to slide up the roots, I had a brief moment of panic. A dozen euphemisms tried to make it from my brain to my mouth, but I got dumped into the river before any of them could make an
It’s amazing what we can’t see. Think about it. There are marvelous and terrible things happening all around, but there is usually never someone around to see it. Most of the world goes by unseen by
human eyes. What I didn’t see was the undertow.
The current quickly plastered my kayak against the roots, and then
violently pulled my legs underneath the logs with enough force to suck
off one of my shoes. I barely managed to grab a handful of roots
before I went completely under the logs. This part gets a bit hazy. I can
remember looking up at the surface and seeing the greenish tinge to
the light shining through the water.
When I couldn’t make it to the surface immediately, I remember
being concerned because I knew my brother would be freaking out. I
don’t think at any point I worried about dying, which would probably
have been the sensible thing to do.
It was over pretty quickly. I used the handful of roots to lift myself
so that I could grab the top of the yak. It took all the strength I could
muster, but I managed to haul my head up above the water again.
The world was brighter than I had ever seen it before, and the air
smelled sweeter. I had been under for only about three or four seconds,
but it seemed much longer.
My brother was out of his canoe and heading my direction. I yelled at him, “Don’t come over here! Stay over there!” He didn’t listen. I don’t blame him because I wouldn’t have listened either.
As far as he could see, I was still drowning. He was intelligent
enough not to swim in front of the trees, but instead climbed on top of
the roots from the back. I don’t think he did it that way on purpose,
though. He had a hard time crossing and got to the trees only after he
had passed me. By the time he arrived, my dad was on his way to do
the same thing. My brother and I were now both yelling at him to stay
on the other side of the rivet~ but once again, it had no effect.
It seems that the more you tell someone not to do something, the
more they tend to do it.
My dad made it across okay, but with a lot more difficulty than my
brother had. I can’t imagine the guilt I would have felt if my brother
or my dad had drowned trying to save me from my own stupid
mistake. That was all I could think about as I watched them try to
swim the river.
My cousin came running up the bank I was stuck on, and between
the four of us, we managed to get the yak and myself out of the rive1~
My paddle was gone. So were my sunglasses. Since one shoe is pretty
much useless, I left the other one there on the bank as ‘Nell. I was kind
of shaken up, but other than a few scratches, I was ok. After the trip
was ove1~ I was more sore from skipping rocks sidearm than from
anything that happened in the crash.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. I had to use a regular canoe
paddle, which was a little annoying, and I probably would have
complained about it a lot if the day’s events had played out differently.
I enjoyed the trip. It’s amazing how something so drastic is so fleeting.
It seems like it should affect everything for the rest of the clay, but it
doesn’t. You still splash around. You still enjoy yourself. It’s almost like
it didn’t happen, except I think I’ll always have the image of green
light filtering through the river silt, a shining beacon just out of reach;
that will always be with me. But I digress. I need to tell you about the
After staring at it, thinking about it, and wondering at its origins, I finally scuffed at it with the heel of my foot, and to my great disappointment, it was just a slice of the globe, a broken shard, a piece of trash. The magic was gone; the world was mundane again.
Sean Bailey was born and raised in Oklahoma. His hobbies include
reading, writing, swimming, and volleyball. Sean graduated with honors
from BYU as an English major with a minor in physics. He is currently
attending the J. Reuben Clark School of Law at BYU and hopes to
make the word “lawyer” a little less heinous. Maybe.