The Gleam

by Will Finlayson

The rain would freeze in the winter,
sealing the land in a shimmering glaze that
turned Texas fragile overnight.

The earth would shatter where I stepped and
I could snap flowers in half between my fingers.
I thought about the fire ants and beetles
sleeping beneath the gleam and the
vultures waiting patiently in the breeze.

I wondered where the deer would sleep
when the earth had frozen, how the
hares would burrow homes in the hardened ground.

Then I plucked a sliver of ice and
put it between my lips like a cigarette.
burning down to a dripping blue as
it caught the first light of morning.

 

 

 

Will Finlayson is senior at BYU studying English, communications, editing, and creative writing. He is a level 7 Kensai in D&D.

I, Amphibian.

by Will Finlayson

In a wet room we drown in each other.
I slide my fingers along her lips and
listen to her wrists thick
with oxygen.

In a dry room I turn in to myself.
I wrap clean sheets around my
hips and let the dust filter through
my teeth.

 

 

 

Will Finlayson is senior at BYU studying English, communications, editing, and creative writing. He is a level 7 Kensai in D&D.

Portrait of a Young Man in Texas

by Will Finlayson

Boyhood

We were narrow-eyed wonders. We were cops and we were robbers. We were khaki shorts, bowl cuts, ascots stained with sap. We were collectors of birthdays and rusty bottle caps. We compared the size of our pocket knives and raced each other to every tree. We didn’t care for sunsets because we knew there would be many more.

We drank the rivers and punched the waterfalls. We threw rocks at each other’s heads and tore off our shirts to smother the blood. We hurt each other with words we couldn’t spell and described our dreams with sound effects. We were scratched, bruised, and broken boys.

We were babies to our mothers and brothers to our sisters and the future to our fathers. We laughed at the weak and looked too long at the unfortunate. We were all stupid smiles with secrets that everyone knew.

We were boys without weight between our legs. We pissed on trees and rocks and logs and fires and took shits in places and in ways that made us blush. We danced naked when the boring ones slept and mooned the midnight world. We were shoulder-punchers, giggle-bursters, boner-hiders—brothers.

 

Love

My legs were soaked with river water as I sat in the small seat in the front of the kayak. I had caught a small turtle earlier which I held between my legs as I looked up at the bridge. Cara was standing up in the back of the kayak. I thought about how I still hadn’t kissed her yet.

“Come on,” she said. “It will be fun.”

“Seriously?”

“Come on, Will, you’re such a wuss.”

I looked back and saw her standing in only her bathing suit as she tied her light brown hair back into a bun. She looked down at me and pouted her lips in an exaggerated frown before jumping out of the kayak and into the water. I watched as she turned around and swam like a frog towards the shore. Her small head bobbed in the murky water as she swam leaving a soft ripple in her wake. Finally she ascended out of the river and onto the muddy slope of land where the base of the bridge met the water. She signaled at me with both her arms flailing in the air. I responded with a curt wave of the hand.

A minute later she was walking along the trail on the side of the bridge. She made her way to the center, where I waited patiently beneath, and climbed delicately over the railing. From the way she stood, bow-legged and trembling, her teeth clenched, I knew that she was nervous. But I wasn’t watching her any more. Passing joggers and dog-walkers, punk-heads and businessman, stopped at the railing to watch, wondering what kind of trouble a 15-year-old girl in a bathing suit intended to cause on a bridge. Some laughed and shook their heads while others cheered her on. Some even waved down at me, yelling to make sure and catch her. I just smiled and waited, sitting awkwardly in my small seat in the bright orange kayak with a turtle sunbathing on my soaked legs. But I couldn’t look away from her. I noticed how long and thin her legs were, how her torso was so skinny. Just like a frog, I thought. How strange.

 

She jumped off the bridge just as the turtle on my leg skirted out of the kayak and into the water.

 

 Worship

I decided to start swearing when I was in high school. It was a deliberate decision. It was an easy sin—no lighter or companion necessary. On the balcony at night, I would whisper the swears to God like prayers. I would load the syllables like shotgun shells and weigh every sound on my tongue, listening intently as the metal slugs would shoot from my lips and lodge themselves in the sky next to the stars. It was worship.

Sometimes I would swear just to taste the words and to feel them crawl out of my throat and scrape through my teeth. I would practice in the shower and whisper so low that the water would carry away the hard sounds. Sometimes I would swear at myself and let the words trail across my skin with the dirt and spin down the drain.

One time the plumbing got backed up and flooded the bathtub. My father had to unclog the shower drain with a long spindly pipe like a spear that sputtered as he stabbed it into the sewage. I watched him pull out clumps of hair and chunks of soap, batches of bobbie pins and ear cleaners, gobs of “damn” and clusters of “shit” and lumps of lust for Emily in second hour. He dredged out heaps of hateful thoughts for him and mother and pried out memories of women draped in lingerie and scraped out clots of prayers never offered and untangled knots of fights I had started. I pulled my shirt over my nose and felt tears well up in my eyes.

Finally my father scraped the mess into a garbage bag and drained the dirty water. “What a mess,” he said with a laugh, and was done with it.

  

Sex

I still remember the first time I saw a Texas barbecue pit. It was a stone semi-circle with a wood fire in the center and a grate resting just above it, covered in heaps of meat. I couldn’t help but stare, unbelieving, at the mountain of roasting flesh. A new kind of hunger woke up inside of me. I stood a little taller and gazed a little longer.

“Fall-off-the-bone ribs!” the pit master roared as he sliced through muscle and fat with a long, thin blade. He was an alarmingly large man wearing an apron smeared with black pitch and yellow-green grease. Beads of sweat rolled down his bald head and sizzled when they fell onto the slabs of marbled muscle. I could feel the smoke soaking into my skin as I tried to decide how I felt about tearing meat off of bone with my teeth.

But I didn’t care if it was cooked in sweat or if God disagreed or if I would feel dirty afterward. It tasted good and I felt good. It was a buffet of flesh and blood that made mortality delicious. The smells and sizzling sounds, lips licking, stomachs begging, hearts trembling—the foreplay of the feast. You reason with yourself and tease the moral line. Heart pulsing pounding raging hunger roaring—indulgence.

But it’s easier to see the bones once you’ve eaten the thing. It’s easier to feel guilty when you’re full.

 

Manhood

It was the third Saturday of the January, and my turn to clean the pool. I grabbed the cleaning net and started to skim the surface, collecting clumps of weeds and leaves and the soggy bodies of yellow geckos. When the surface was almost clear, I looked down and saw a dark, black mass churning at the bottom of the deep end. I crouched down by the side of the pool and stared at the swirling ball of muck seething beneath the blue. I looked deep into its blackness, wondering, waiting for it to move, waiting for it to tell me not to disturb it. I waited for a long time, hoping it would leave me alone, leave me to clean the pool quick and go back to playing video games, and to grow up young.

I again picked up the net and gently lowered it down to the bottom of the pool. I prodded the object and it gave way to the net, erupting into a haze of particles and purple chunks all swirling in a thick soup. I crouched down next to the edge of the water, mesmerized. The blackness spread across the water which lapped up against the sides of the pool, licking at my toes. Through the cloud of gore I could make out thin, white bones, a long ear, a paw, some drifting hair. I wondered how it had gotten into the pool in the first place. It must have been running from something, a hawk maybe, and drowned. Or maybe it went for a drink and fell in. I wondered about that as I skimmed its brittle bones and soggy flesh out of the pool, and on the third Saturday of February, I was still wondering about the black mass swirling in the deep end.

 

 

 

 

Will Finlayson is senior at BYU studying English, communications, editing, and creative writing. He is a level 7 Kensai in D&D.

A Letter to the Man Who Once Left Me

by Sam Yager

I asked what was wrong. You never said.

I begged God to let me understand. But all I ever understood was the pain of being left behind while you left footprints in the mud and I sank further and further into what I couldn’t see, what I’d done wrong, or what I hadn’t done wrong, or what I hadn’t done right. I couldn’t tell what you meant when you said you were leaving.

I called after you, but the footprints got farther and farther away, and you never turned your head, and the rain matted your bleach-blond hair to the back of your neck, and for the first time the cowlick disappeared.

I didn’t know what to do.

I expected things to go differently, as you can probably tell. And they were going differently until I mentioned that I wanted them to go differently, and then they went as they went and they didn’t go the differently I wanted them to. I was tired of the apartment, you see, and the mold in the cracks of the walls, and the smell that something had died and the fear that the old man living below us had killed it. It had been five years of it, five wonderful years, but five long years and I had expected things to change and then they didn’t change, they never did, not until I told you I wanted them to and I stood there and thunder clapped in the warm summer air and lighting flashed and I saw the cowlick that wasn’t there.

I found pain in my chest I didn’t know was there, but it spread. It spread like a flood through my lungs my heart my ribcage, it filled me with fluid and I couldn’t breathe. I’ve had pneumonia before but this was worse.

I gave up that night. I gave up everything you had left and I gave up everything you had given me. I gave up the apartment with its mold in the cracks of the walls and the smell that something had died and the fear that the old man downstairs had killed it, and I gave up the life I wanted to change before you walked away. I changed it. And I changed it without you.

I held my head high, and I got a new apartment, downtown this time, amidst the bustle of the city, where all the motion and sound and activity would distract me from what I didn’t want to think about. And soon I didn’t think about it anymore. I could no longer see the cowlick, or the bleach-blond hair, or the fingers you cracked when you were bored, or the tongue-in-the-cheek look of concentration when you weren’t bored.

I imagine that maybe you think about me sometimes. Or maybe you don’t. But sometimes I imagine that you do, because it makes me feel good, it makes me feel like the winner. But everyone feels that at some point in their lives, don’t they? The need to be the winner in the breakup, the one who handled it better than the other. The one who moved on quicker. And maybe if you think of me more than I think of you then I’m the one who moved on quicker, even though you’re the one who left.

I jeopardize my sanity sometimes, I think.

I kick box now. It’s good exercise. I think you would like it.

I’m listening to the thunder clap again, but it’s been another five years. It’s different thunder now. It’s different lightning. And not even your matted down cowlick is walking away from me this time. I found someone who isn’t going to walk away like that. I think he could be the one. The one that you turned out not to be.

I mustered all the strength I have to tell you that. I moved on, but it’s still hard. It’s always hard to admit to yourself, and even harder to admit to others, especially the one that once mattered the most, that a part of your life that was so significant is over, and has been over for a long time.

I noticed you on the street that time you didn’t think I did. I noticed you, and I noticed that you noticed me.

I opened some long lost emotions that day. I saw you for the first time in so long. I forgot how much I liked the cowlick and how much you mattered to me. But what surprised me the most was the fact that you no longer mattered. I felt nostalgia, nothing more.

I painted my apartment the other day. I painted it baby blue. You never let me paint it anything but white, but I like blue better.

I question a lot of decisions in my life, if we’re being honest to each other here. I question the decision to move out of that apartment sometimes, but usually I come to the conclusion that it was a good decision. I don’t think I would have let you go if I had stayed. I hate the smell of dead things. That old man really scared me.

I reorganized the bookshelf too; you always made me organize it in alphabetical order, and I sorted the books by color. It looks nicer now.

I saw you again one time, after the time you saw me. You didn’t look at me, and I don’t think you knew I was there but this time I didn’t feel anything nostalgic. To be completely honest, I felt relief. You were with a girl and I was glad I wasn’t that girl. I remember thinking that that girl might get her heart broken by you, but she might not. There’s a lot of possibilities in life, and I can’t make choices for you. Just don’t hurt her too badly, ok? She probably doesn’t deserve that.

I took your favorite hoodie. You forgot it. I don’t plan on ever giving it back to you. It’s comfortable.

I understand now what it’s like to leave something behind you, something you thought you’d never lose. You did it once, that stormy night when your cowlick disappeared and I was left with an idea of you that wasn’t you at all. It took me longer to give up that idea of you than to give up you, the real you. I left you behind, I think, when I moved out, I just hadn’t realized it yet. I thought you were still with me then, I thought you’d come back. You didn’t. I’m glad you didn’t.

I value so many things you taught me, don’t get me wrong. I value the way you taught me to laugh with my whole heart and sing with my whole voice, I love that you taught me how to swim the butterfly stroke, even if I still can’t do it right, I love that you taught me that I don’t need you to learn new things.

I waited for you to come back for a long time. I need you to know that.

I examined the vase you made me once in that pottery class you took so many years ago. It’s not very good. Pottery is not your calling.

I yelled at God once. I was nine years old and my mom told me I couldn’t wear my cupcake pajamas to Sunday Mass because it wasn’t respectful and God deserved more respect than that. He did. He does. But I was angry. I yelled at Him, I thought it was His fault my mom never let me do what I want. I almost yelled at Him again when you left, but I’ve grown a lot since I was nine. It wasn’t God’s punishment to me. You were His lesson to me.

I zipped up my jacket on the night you left me, but not until after you left me. It was pointless; I was soaked through by then. I don’t own that jacket anymore. I got a new one, and it has buttons, not a zipper.

 

 

 

Sam Yager is a sophomore at Brigham Young University, studying English and Creative Writing. She trips on the stairs about four out of five times and thinks tacos are God’s greatest gift to mankind.

The Field

by Nicholas Montes

As I rolled numbly upon what I could faintly make out to be damp and mossy gravel, my ears filled to the brim with choppy vibrations. Little putterations of sound issued from a far off mortar. More than slightly stunned I blinked dazedly at the mist that veiled my surroundings. Grey earth encrusted my otherwise parched lips, which I spat out, raising myself up gingerly to rest my weary head on propped up elbows.

The surrounding scenery bled murkily into my worms’ perspective. I was in a field near as I could gather. Four feet ahead and slightly to the right, lay what appeared to be a cracked tortoise shell in a net. Tattered and dented I realized that it was the meshed helmet of a soldier. The battering ram-like sputter quieted abruptly, leaving the solemn place eerily silent. Still too frightened to call out, I rolled over then sat crisscross apple sauce in the leaf strewn clearing of the field where I had awoken. My head throbbed like the metal coating of a rung bell. Something attempted to tear free of its bonds and I pinched my eyes shut.

I stood like a tiny talisman, riveted, in the center of the double-wide. My father had been yelling at my mother. But now it was quiet, and he was slumped back in his chair. The bottle, still running over with foam, dangled from his finger-tips. He stirred and his eyes peered out from the branches of greasy hair that hung down over his eyes. “Mijo, come.” He rasped at me. I slouched forward, and came a few steps closer in my moccasins. He beckoned me further and let the bottle slip to the peeling linoleum. I climbed up on his lap and laid my head against his chest, listening for his heartbeat.

I began patting my pockets on the front of the rough green jacket I wore. I searched for some inclination about the paranoia spreading like a fever to my head. Grimy fingers fumbling ineptly at the buttons, I unfastened the cold coin shaped metal shakily and reached inside. I pulled out a folded sheet of yellowing paper. I unfolded it, and spread it out, smearing mud across it as my fingers caressed the worn edges. A cartographic image of my surroundings lay before me with small red dots highlighting points of interest.

Squinting intently at the top left corner, I made out my own minute scrawl on the page. ‘I wrote this’, I thought dazedly. What I had written did not further enlighten me. At some time, I had given a chronological list by ‘Events’ —as I had numbered and titled them to be. I scoured the map once more. Each red dot had a smaller number next to it. Scanning more in depth, my thumb came to rest upon a small marshy clearing in the center of a field with a tiny ‘Event 1’ corresponding to a red dot. Trying to remember, I gazed intently into the foreboding fog but could produce nothing insightful.

I dug my mud caked fingers once more into what I now recognized as a soldiers uniform, and this time produced a tiny tin compass. Still unsure whether standing would be wise, I crawled, military-style through the muck until the mist cleared to reveal a gurgling stream moving through the swaying cattails. The cattails rattled menacingly as I washed my face and hands under their lookout post high above me. Mopping my brow from pond water and perspiration with a white pocket handkerchief, I squatted shivering on my haunches.

Using my map and the battered compass I located and charted a course to the little red dot labeled ‘Event 2’ which appeared to be a single tree in the middle of a burnt out field. It was surrounded by an enclosure of barbed wire at 1 mile in length and a half in width.

It now felt safe to stand on my own two feet. Straightening up to my full height, I brushed the clumps of earth from the front of my rough canvas trousers. Starting off into the fog I exhaled deeply. As I plodded onward, for the better space of an hour, down a lonely gravel path, I listened to my boots as they trudged noisily against the surface. The road of sorts was marked on either side by a ditch and its twin. Once more down the center of the road lay another pair of geminous tracks. They gouged deeply into the wet soil like the talons of an enormous bird of prey. It was clear from these ruts that a tank had passed this way. Images passed across my eyes and superimposed on the terrain before me.

Men were yelling. Some were swearing and some were dying. I lay in the ditch, wide eyed. “Geronimo. Hey Geronimo. Can you hear me? You’ve got to move. Keep moving.” The Sargent’s face was cartoonish and covered in clay. Someone screamed, “Grenade.” I looked to my right and Zanzibar threw himself on top of the grenade. Clay and blood painted my face and uniform and I gaped at the designs on my palms. They were ornate. They were like murals I had seen other boys on the reservation paint on rocks and dumpsters.

The mist parted to my left, revealing a glimpse into the weird. Leaving the heavily beaten path, I stumbled as I struggled down and out of a muddy ditch. My view of the rest of the field was blocked by an enormous mound of dirt and debris which stretched out like a skinned doe before me. I could not remember seeing the mound marked on the map. Nervously I scanned the filthy paper for a sign. Availing nothing I tossed it disdainfully to the wind.

A strange breeze had set in on little puffs of chill air. It played its fine tendrils across my neck, making the hair stand up against the sweat which braided it there. A foul stench filled my nostrils, and offended my senses. Smoke, and something else. What I had taken previously to be a thick shroud of mist blackened the sky in plumes of soot. I stopped before the upheaval of earth, and placed my palms against a large flat shard of mortar. I bowed my head, straining to hear what lay on the other side. The only sounds that serenaded the beating drum of my ears were the calling of crows and the beating of my own heart. The world began reeling in circles and I collapsed onto the rubble in front of me.

I was lying awake staring up from my rough cot in the barracks. Zanzibar was sleeping peacefully on my left, and Whittaker was snoring loudly to my right. The days were now filled with forced marches and the hollering of officers. Feeling the melodic night air suffocate the warmth from my breath, I rolled over slightly. I pulled a battered photograph from beneath my pillow and stared at the two boys in it. One was wearing a stained hunting cap and an unbuttoned plaid shirt over a skinny tan chest. I gazed at the photo, praying for a change. None came.

I hadn’t come this far to turn back. Un-stowing the empty tortoise shell which had been hiding under my arm, I buckled the straps under my chin. Planting one boot deep into the dirt I began the climb. Strands of barbed wire and rubble assaulted my fingers as I clawed my way to the top. The last part of the ascent was lipped such that I had to pull myself up by a jutting chunk of wood and then roll sideways onto my back. Coming to rest, eyes to the grey sky, I cursed the climb. Perspiring profusely from the exertion of my journey I dangled my feet by the strings that were my legs over the other side and gasped. The scene that played out before me brought bile to my lips. The bodies of the dead lay strewn like bundles of damp laundry. Bathed in blood, lay so many mothers’ children. Memories of past lived experiences and broken futures lay unburied and silent here.

Wandering through the nightmare I looked into their still staring eyes. This was a massacre of innocents; a turkey-shoot. Guns and grenades were clutched in their hands or cradled like infants in motionless arms. Again and again, each time with different times, means, and languages they had struggled for existence and lost out. Each had been defeated by happier stronger futures and left to rot. There was a melancholy jig in each memory left here. If I could have, I would have paused to take a possession from each in turn. Embers still glowed beneath the smoke and ashes. They warmed my cold toes as I pressed forward reverentially. To my soul, they stained the water clear.

I stood in the woods alone. The rifle dangled limply from my fingertips. There had been yelling, and screaming. But it was quiet now. My father lay face down in the glade, his backside peeking out from his trousers. Dark liquid, as shrouding as ink, pooled out in the still waters. I dipped my hat once, then perched it on the back of the crown of his head. His hair was splayed out motionless. I let the rifle slip down to the forest floor. From his coat pocket I pulled the photograph of two boys, and stuffed it roughly into my own.

The mist cleared and was suddenly paralyzed by the steely stab of falling snow flakes. I shook uncontrollably and vomited onto the fallen ground. I watched the steaming fluid disappear beneath the white cloth that came casketing over the entire field. In the distance I saw a partially frozen stream oozing forward. It wound its way towards me, and I followed her blindly. The elements were trying to take me. I saw a two black figures beyond the stream. Papa. I called out desperately. I tramped forward drunkenly and chest throbbing like big people hands slapping against it. He couldn’t hear me, didn’t want to understand. I tripped just as I reached the stream and landed on the other side in the newly fallen shroud of powder.

A great pine stood before me. Sleet slapped me. I raised my head into the shadow of the evergreen which was protecting a stained armchair from the falling snow. My father’s face was gunshot clear. He sat, brown eyes staring down and waited for me to move. The pine needles were bristling like the fur on the back of a fox in a high wind. I stood up and looked into his face, covered by the thick black hood of his hair. I sat down beside him and placed one palm, childlike against the fur of the chair. A howling, wild and strange, filled the air. My father said nothing. I said nothing. The branches of the tree moved with purpose and played the winter winds in mournful howling notes. I stripped the thick coat, the uniform, and the grey shirt from my body and lowered myself face first into the snow beside the tree. I lay there in the perfect grave alone, and let it take me quietly to the glade beside the woods, across the field, before the wooden box, where I was born.

 

 

 

Nicholas Montes is an English Major at Brigham Young University. He is an intern at Future House Publishing. He is not a father. He is not divorced. He is in love with his wife. He works on other peoples’ cars but never his own. He loves to write short story with his trusty tea-tumbling companion. He loves to feed off of the substance of poetry. He has never published anything. He still dreams.