PC: Saskia Vaidis
| Distorted |
5 years ago, I realized the difference between being naturally thin
& the skinny I had become when
I could not sleep on my side anymore because
My hip bones cut like knives into my skin &
I could easily count my ribs.
I opened the fridge like some beacon of hope that could help
Eating everything I possibly could only to later throw it up.
People assume you are starving yourself on purpose - for attention
& they are the soldiers armed with food instead of guns
Ready to win the war they have defined as you
As if my appetite is the simple solution to fixing me.
Those that first fell in love with my thin gazelle-like frame
Always left when they realized that I am just skin & bones
Accompanied by hospital trips for a body that
Does not know how to fight back without breaking.
I only feel beautiful now when I am eating & I watch
Those around me with a relieved smile plastered on
As if the problem is solved.
People never fail to tell me how lucky I am
Because somehow having a body that barely qualifies
Having enough meat on it to be called one
& is actively trying to die by constantly refusing food
Is somehow better than being called ‘fat’ or ‘overweight’
Looking at my reflection I am unsure of what beautiful is anymore.
| Panic Attack |
Early morning or in the middle of the night with little warning
The walls start caving in on me slowly
The air becoming too much to breathe
Suddenly feeling like I am drowning into the abyss of my darkness
My overthinking manifesting into bloodthirsty sharks
Smelling my fear ready to attack
The tunnel of escape getting smaller and farther away
Yet before I can fully close my eyes
Accepting the end and no escape possible
My lungs instantly fill with oxygen
The only remains of an ocean already fading from my eyes
Just as quickly as the walls had felt like collapsing, everything is upright and solid.
About The Author - Navi Brar
Navi Brar is a South Asian first generation Indo-Canadian residing in Vancouver. She is very passionate about the representation of people of colour in the arts, and hopes to aspire others that despite tough times creating a beautiful life is possible. Through her writing, she hopes to raise more awareness about issues like domestic abuse, social injustice, and mental health. Poetry is her way of creating space, taking up space and helping others do the same
PC: Saskia Vaidis
In other times
I would have winked and played nice
To all the boys with sweaty hands
And hard little boners in their pants
In other times
I would have fidgeted in my seat
Picking at my hangnails until they bleed
Not knowing what to do with my feet
When the sun was high and impregnated with youth
I would lock myself away
Sewing pills into my shoes
On some days I think of dying
I imagine my casket
Adorned in fluffy white pillows
Because a dead man is heavy
And his bones are sore from living
Life is a pilgrimage. We all ride north
On donkeys and dried-up horses
There’s only one road to nowhere
Some of us don’t ride at all
Some of us get eaten by flies
We leave them on the side of the road
Bloated and fat and leaking oil from their mouths
Waiting for the worms
In other times
I was impregnated with tar. Flies feasted on my eyes.
I carried a switchblade in my purse
I tried to cut myself into little pieces
Like medieval doctors with leeches
Trying to suck out the poisoned blood
Or other sad women just like me
Who drink Clorox just to try to get clean
Or my grandfather who saw too much death already
And drank too much alcohol to try and forget
He came into this world in no better shape than how he left
But I guess that’s just what you get
Now is not like other times
Now I think of living
Of the dust settling
I think of forgiving.
About The Author: Erin Perez
Erin Pérez is a Panamanian writer who is based in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently getting her BFA in Writing from Pratt Institute. This is her first published work.
PC: Caro Sanguinetti
from here you can see ridiculous speeds
I'd like to praise spring
How beautiful the world is
But no, not today.
Galaxies spin fast
So we just keep on turning
Sun, space, sun, space, dead.
It's all nonstop. There's
no time for mourning dear friends
you wish you'd known more.
I wish I could trade
places with you, safe spaces
on the hardwood floor.
I wish I could tear
apart the fabric of time
so you'd be alive.
Where can I go from your shadow?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you speak of being there first.
If I make my bed in the underworld, you seem to know it there.
If I rise on the turns of the dawn, against my inner clock, to leave
and seize the day first, you are there, robe and all.
If I don a sealskin and swim to the far side of the sea, even there
your voice thunders in my head and your hand blocks my way fast.
If I say surely the darkness will protect me,
the sweet night air offering freedom
and dancing like miracles
when water first spilled into wine,
where the pressured sun cools to chill night
around me, cozy on the edge of the bed--
even then your shadow stands by my person and watches
even then the darkness will not be a time of peace from you.
If I dream, I either escape or cannot.
The night cuts through to inside my ears like in day
A break to drink becomes a flash into
the noise and spit of yesteryear
My eyes sting red while surrounded by
joy I am supposed to be present in.
For the darkness that cloaks me in love and refuge
is but the enemy of light to you.
About The Author - Ellen Huang
Ellen Huang recently made a huge life transition with deep gratitude to therapy and the love of friends. Her coping skills include writing horror or poetry, burning wood or paper, swimming in the ocean, and reenacting favorite movie scene dialogues for comic relief--though she is happy to do these things without anxiety as well. She is recovering from depression & mild post-traumatic stress disorder, and would honestly credit Disney films for part of her healing process. She holds a BA in Writing and a minor in Theatre from Point Loma Nazarene University, and has pieces published/forthcoming in Moonchild Magazine, Thimble Lit, Royal Rose, Bleached Butterfly, Grimoire, Enchanted Conversation, Awkward Mermaid, Amethyst Review, South Broadway Ghost Society, and HerStry, among others. Follow her creative work (burning things included) here: worrydollsandfloatinglights.wordpress.com
PC: Caro Sanguinetti
No Coward Souls
Laura sat rigid on the cold floor with her knees drawn in tight to her chest. The icy linoleum struck up through her bones, the bruising hardness of it grating upon her sickened skin; she could feel the layers upon layers of chemical fibre, tile, plaster, cement, wood, the nameless crawling dark spaces in between. And then, beyond, astonishingly, plunging away far underground, the stifling chambers stacked with their piles upon piles of books, files, manuscripts; chambers populated by their own diffident cavedwellers with their weary eyes and raw, inkstained fingers - she shuddered, sinking her teeth deeper into the skin of her knee, feeling the dark nylon of her tights ripping, threads catching on her cracked lips, not caring, long past caring.
They had all been wrong. She had been wrong and they would all be so disappointed. She had known, deep down, that she wouldn't make it and they should have listened to her – she should have listened to herself, before it was all too late. She desperately wanted to cry but her eyes were dry, her heart was dry, her skin was dry, everything was dry and cold and it was hopeless.
Girls' voices sounded beyond the cubicle door – normal people, she thought savagely, normal students, people like I am supposed to be, worthy of this honour, this opportunity – women, real women, heading home after long day of study in this the Bodleian library, the most beautiful library in the world, oh for God's sake what a privilege this is you are wasting – real people who existed, who were loved, who went home to books, television series, hot meals, friends, partners, children-
Not like you.
Doctor Shay, she thought savagely. Who are you kidding? You'll never be a doctor. They were crazy to think it was even worth giving you the chance to fail. They only offered you a scholarship out of pity and you know it. They'll kick you out in a few weeks and then where will you go?
Back home? A twenty-six-year old moving back in with her parents, because she can't take care of herself, can't make it through the first year of her doctorate, isn't good enough for Oxford University, can't cope, after everything? Moving back in with parents who'll force you to eat, to face a mother who'll cry at the very sight of you? “But I want to eat,” Laura whispered fervently into her knees. “I want to eat, I want to be better...”
Of course you do, that cold, vicious voice in the back of her skull returned triumphantly. You want to eat and eat and eat and never stop because you're nothing but a greedy pig, and you're going to get fat, fat, fat and then everyone will know how worthless you are. Pull yourself together, you pathetic excuse for an overgrown child, and do your work because if you get kicked out there'll be nowhere to go but home, back to your parents, back to the hospital, and they'll make you eat and then you know what will happen to you? You'll just get fatter and fatter and fatter.
“I won't,” she said, speaking out loud in her sudden panic. I'll run away, live on the streets – I'll die first - “Oh, go away!” she pleaded at the collision and she buried her head in her hands and the voice just laughed and laughed and laughed. Her stomach was taut and hot, the acrid stench of ketosis in her nostrils, her body was digesting itself – she had not eaten today but she had long passed the point of feeling hunger. What was the point in eating? She'd only have to go and power-walk round the park again to get the calories back out of herself. It was too late, she knew she had gone too far, this time – the numbers buzzed and whined behind her eyes, the possible fractions of a pound lost, the possible fractions of yesterday's calories miscalculated, an unquenchable swarm of numbers like mosquitoes driving their tiny stings into her brain from all different directions, a million miniscule agonies and no matter how hard she tried she could find no respite from them. I still look healthy, that means I'm fine, she told herself, and it was both reassurance and recrimination. She sat there frozen, unable to move – she could not think or decide or speak.
The thought of the long, cold twilight walk back to her flat terrified her, she imagined the spots of darkness at the corners, where the snakes in her brain would sprout and writhe and snicker, set loose, she imagined the shafts of late sunlight searing her weary, lumpish body, exposing her ugliness, her failure to the world. She remembered how her feet ached, her shoes cutting into protruding bones, muscles grinding against each other, pleading like slaves under their burden of trudging on and on and on. She sat there frozen, frozen, frozen. Motion-controlled lights flicked on, off, on, off, faraway a little bell tinkled to signal closing time. Get up, she ordered the alien mould of flesh and fear and failure that was her body – get up, move, they'll come and find you in a minute and won't that be fucking humiliating, Doctor Shay – but she waited and nobody came and the hours stretched on and the darkness deepened and still Laura did not move.
The ancient library shrank into silence around her. She looked up, bewildered out of her catatonia. Dead quiet. Darkness. Stiffly she uncurled herself from her foetal huddle to ease her phone out of her pocket. The white numbers glowed against the cracked black screen – ten-oh-four. She blinked – that couldn't be right – the library closed at seven on weekdays. Why had nobody come to order her to leave? Had the cleaners just forgotten to check the bathroom? Laura bit her lip and struggled to her feet, her muscles creaking like antique furniture, aching from hours knotted up on the cold floor. She unlocked the door of her cubicle and stepped tentatively out – jumped as the lights, prompted by her unexpected movement, flashed suddenly back on. So I do exist, after all, she mused, only half ironically. Moonlight fell onto her face and she blinked, wrapping her arms about herself to warm herself. Oh, dear, she thought, though without any real sense of alarm. Now I'll be in trouble...
She switched on a hot tap, running her frozen hands under the steaming, sputtering jet of water – they were instantly scalded before she could warm herself and she withdrew, shuddering with pain. She had left her bag and coat upstairs, she would have to go and fetch them before finding a way out. Drying her hands on a wodge of paper towels – it seemed impossible to brave the electric hand-dryer and its intrusive roar in this absolute stillness – Laura padded out into the stairwell. The high stained walls of the Radcliffe Camera rose up around her, as dark and forbidding as if she stood at the bottom of an immense burial-pit. She almost laughed out loud at her own imaginings – you can't even get locked in a library without waxing lyrical about it. This is why you call yourself a literature student – but remember before you get too romantic, Laura, that you've built this particular tomb for your own self. Then she did laugh, bitterly, and her voice, thinner and shriller than somehow she had expected it to be, resounded off the battered walls like the eerie scream of some fey creature, a wild woodland being trapped in an urban prison. A little frightened by the intensity of her loneliness, she hurried up the narrow stairs and pushed open the heavy swinging doors at the top.
The Lower Camera glistened before her in the moonlight. The great circular chamber resembled a vast pale clock-face, its numbers the rows of laden bookshelves dividing the space into regimented segments. Laura paused at the top of the staircase in a kind of delighted fear, astounded by the shadowy beauty of it – everything was black-on-white, iced with eerie refractions, transformed from the glowing, focused space of study she was used to, all golden light and flitting dust-motes and other people's breathing under the groaning rafters, into a crystalline cemetery. The books glittered, dusty looming tombstones, heavy with secrets – the bars over the windows and the entrance gate cut the moonlight like the skeletal branches of ghostly trees.
Her bag was, to her surprise, where she had left it. She pulled on her jacket and packed up her pens and files feeling uncanny, as if two worlds, the prosaic and the fantastic, were colliding at angles they had never been crafted to withstand. She stacked her books carefully on the correct collections-trolley, as if there was anyone around to check, and made for the exit, running her library card across the scanner. Nothing – the gates didn't budge. Peering through the ancient glass she realised to her consternation that they were barred from the outside. She stepped back, her heart pounding. It would be fine – she would just have to go the other way, underground through the Gladstone Link to the main library building. But when she reached the foot of the stairs it was to find the door to the connecting passage locked, her way blocked again.
Laura felt her skin cooling with sweat as tears of panic started behind her eyes. There was no way out – she was trapped in the library for the night. Calm down, she told herself fiercely – calm down, you'll be all right. Calm down... it's not the end of the world. She could get to the bathroom, and the water fountain, and she even had the cereal bar she was supposed, according to her doctor's meal plan, to have eaten that afternoon, in her bag. It was only one night and she'd be able to leave, anyway, in... she checked the time on her phone again. Just under eight and a half hours. She would be fine... She sucked in a few rather strangled breaths.
She returned to the reading room, biting her lip. Oddly, she found herself at a loss for what to do. She moved upstairs, silent as a ghost, and then up again, climbing the little iron spiral-staircase to the very top tier of the Camera. Up here, close to the books she knew, her Barbauld, her Tennyson, her Rossetti, she felt a little safer. She walked on, around and around the craggy crenellations of deserted desks, and then around them all again, unwilling to stop or sit still – and then suddenly she paused, realising, the fear and the sheer desolation of what she had become slamming back in.
“It's not that I don't want to sit down,” she said out loud, her voice clunking, grating in the quiet. “I'm scared to, because standing and walking burns more calories. How silly is that. I'm locked in the Bodleian library for the night and all I can think about is that I'm scared to sit down in case I gain a tenth of a pound.” Suddenly she felt very stupid and very alone and she wrapped her arms about her chest in a kind of lonely hug - then jerked away from herself in panic, there was too much fat over her ribs, rolling, oozing, growing like a mould over her bones, her bones – she had to leave, she had to move, she could not stay here alone all night, she would not survive it, she would not survive herself...
Far off a clock chimed, gently, twelve times. A dead calm descended. Standing there frozen by her own madness among the books, Laura tilted her face into the moonlight.
“What do you want?” she whispered out loud, and answered herself, forlornly: “I don't know. I want to not be so scared anymore.”
“I understand,”a quiet tone spoke behind her. Laura jumped violently, whirling round – stepped back, stumbled over her own feet and crashed down. The woman who had come up behind her laughed, then covered her mouth with her hand in embarrassment.
“Please excuse my interruption. I didn't mean to startle you. Are you all right?”
Her voice was gentle, clipped, Yorkshire. She was as small as a child, though her face was that of a woman in perhaps her late twenties. Her long grey cloak did not conceal the archaic corseted gown she wore beneath it and her long, rippling dark hair fell loose and curling almost to her waist. Strangest of all, stranger even than her presence, here, in the locked-up midnight library, was the flickering light which emanated, quietly pulsing, from deep within her, a light that somehow burnt darkly, casting shadows which fell only upon her skin in their own unearthly patterns. Laura, panicked, choked out:
“Who are you?”
“My name is Emily,” the woman said, and extended a hand as if to help Laura to her feet. Laura dared not take it – she was sure their flesh could not meet and she did not think she could bear for her hand to slide right through that ghostly form – she would scream, or pass out, or die on the spot. She levered herself back to her feet unaided, her breath coming in shallow, wary gasps. Emily dropped her hand with a gallant smile. “What is your name?”
“Laura,” she replied hoarsely. “Laura Shay. What – what are you doing here?”
The woman glanced about her, her long hair and cloak swinging, the shadows dancing about the fey, mournful lines of her face. “I come here sometimes,” she said vaguely, one hand drifting out to the shelf beside her. She ran her fingers lovingly across the tattered spines of the old books, breathing their quiet mysteries into the night. “When we write, the words never really seem to let us go, they draw us back, constantly, like a strong river-current. Writing has been like leaving little fragments of myself in all sorts of strange places. My words are read by people across a bigger world than I knew existed – I find myself scattered to the four winds.” She laughed again, as if in embarrassment at herself. “I sound foolish. What brings you here?”
Laura, thrown, bit her lip. She tasted blood, she had forgotten how dry her lips were nowadays, cracking and bleeding at sudden movements like desert sands starved too long of wind and water. “I got locked in,” she admitted. “It was an accident.”
“You do seem sad,” Emily whispered, and she stepped forwards. Laura's whole body screamed at her to move back but she held still – allowed the strange shimmering semi-presence to come closer, where she could feel that alien coldness in her blood. The flickering dark light and its shadows slipped from her skin as if, despite their proximity, there was some kind of a forcefield between them: they stood staring into each other's eyes from lightyears away, upon two different planes. She held her position but she could not hold that solemn, sparkling, otherworldly grey-eyed gaze and stared hard at her scuffed boots and the cracked, moon-spotted floorboards.
“You're a ghost, aren't you,” she said. Emily was so close that their noses could have touched – but as it was, she might have been standing before a bright, infinitely strange light, formless.
“A soul, maybe, or a memory,” Emily replied softly. “A few leftover words.”
“I've run out of words, already,” Laura said. There was a deep, heady sorrow welling up inside her, taking her by surprise, because for so long now she could not remember feeling anything but bitterness, hunger and fear. Her lips trembled and to her astonishment she found herself fighting the tears. Emily's pale, shining, ghostly hand came up to caress her cheekbone, stroking gently at the air, not quite connecting, but coming close enough for Laura to feel the starry coldness of that alien touch-not-a-touch. Bizarrely, she was comforted.
“That cannot be,” Emily whispered. “You are still so young.”
“I feel like an old woman, nearly dead,” Laura said, her voice rasping in her chest. “I'm twenty-six years old but I'm so old inside, I'm withered.”
“You are not a fragile flower, to bloom and look lovely for a day and then wither and be forgotten,” Emily said severely. “Human beings are far hardier and more interesting. What has happened to make you so blind to that?” The question chimed, resonated between them. Laura lifted her head and met the spirit's eyes, her own glistening with the living diamonds of her tears.
“I have an illness,” she said simply. “My brain wants me to starve myself to death. I promised them all I could do it this time – I could get well, I could stay well. But I've failed already and it's too late now to go back.”
“But it is never too late,” Emily said. “You are here, alive, breathing, weeping. See - I have come back even from beyond the grave - it is never too late. Yours is a sad story, but all you must do is remember how sad it is and simply invent a happier ending. Your words are not gone. Your brain may want to hurt you, but you must tell it a new story. Tell it every day, every moment, with your own voice, that you will not let it end your story for you, for that is your duty, Laura.”
Laura stared at her, the fear, the grinding misery, the forlorn hope, the weariness of it all clattering about incoherently in her skull. She opened her mouth, but her heart was too full for her to be able to speak. Suddenly Emily smiled her vivid translucent smile.”Come, let us not dwell on sorrow. We are in a library, are we not? Tell me, which is your favourite book?”
And until daybreak, until a gold-grey glimmer began to peek between the barred panes of the Medieval windows, the two women, the dead and the living, the ancient and the fledgeling, bent their heads together over their books. They exclaimed and sighed and smiled over the turgid riddles, the hyperbolic love-songs, the quaint forgotten tales, turning the delicate pages of the ancient books for each other with cold, loving hands. When the first shaft of sunlight fell onto Laura's face she glanced up, startled, for she had not noticed the time passing so quickly – and when she looked back Emily was gone and she sat alone surrounded by stacks of battered poetry-books, her eyes raw with exhaustion, her fingers so cold the nails had turned violet. She stared about herself in terrified wonder, then started as she heard the clunking footsteps from below signalling the librarians on the early shift coming to unbar the doors.
Finally, Laura stepped out into the frail autumn sunlight. The world was all copper and silver, freshly minted, with a chill, smoky bite to the air. She turned to look back at the Radcliffe Camera, rising stalwart and gracious against the pale sky.
“No coward soul is mine, no trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere,” she quoted softly through her bleeding lips, understanding. She felt ghostly herself, faint with hunger and sleeplessness, tremulous with resolve, as if she had been reborn, weak, but vibrant with the potential of an entire world. “Goodbye, Emily.” And she drew her phone from her pocket one last time. It was nine-oh-six: the long night had passed. She dialled slowly.
“Good morning, Mum,” she said. “Yes, everything's fine. Or at least - it will be, Listen – please listen, this is difficult for me to say. I think I need some help. I'll be all right, but I need a little help. Please – is that okay?”
And the tinny voice on the end of the line, buoyant with fear and love and determination. “Of course it's okay. Hold on, Laura. We'll come and get you. Be brave – we won't be long.”
About The Author - Anna Rivers
Anna Rivers is an English Literature PhD student at Warwick University in the UK. She has been writing all her life and most recently had stories published in STORGY and Idle Ink magazines. She is also currently working on a novel based on some of the folk tales and ghost stories of the South of England.
PC: Lexi Jude
Truth In Four Parts
tw: mentions of sexual assault.
She didn’t like looking in the mirror, didn’t like seeing the too young face, the squinty eyes, the rolls of fat the worn clothes couldn’t hide. The girl avoided mirrors at any opportunity but it wasn’t enough. Brushing her teeth, she peered into the looking glass and put her mask on. It fit perfectly, that’s why she liked it. It was the person she always wanted to be yet knew she could never become. Even the mirror admired the false face more than it did her displeasing countenance. And like the ghost she’d once read about, she knew that with her mask on, the world would never find her.
Daily she wrote poems of death, disease and misery, the only subjects she knew, into her journal. She wanted to escape. But where would she go? Wouldn’t someone realize? Truthfully, she knew no one would notice if she left but the fear clung to her mind, keeping her up at night. Her only friends were the pages and she lived for them. She began to write stories of pretty girls with loving families. In these tales, the girls were never forgotten, never alone but the world isn’t always like what you read or what you wish and often she’d go to bed with hope in her heart only to have it shattered upon the morn.
Soon the books couldn’t satisfy her in the way they had before, something was missing in her life. Not friends or love but something she could actually reach out and grab. There must be someone out there in the world who understood her unspoken insecurities. In her quest for camaraderie she found the internet with songs that moaned and wept, calling to her withering spirit. The girl finally felt as if she wasn’t alone. And yet, she would never meet the songstresses who crooned her emotions, so was she not in solitude still? The realist within her crushed any aspiration of friendship that dared to sprout.
The unadulterated truth of it compelled her to eat. She ate her boredom, her fury, her depression, even those rare moments of happiness because she didn’t know what else to do with them. She thought that eating a lot made you feel better but she never felt better. In fact, she always felt worse after but couldn’t stop herself. It was an addiction. Later she found out that throwing up afterwards made the guilt go away. Smiling behind her mask she decided to try it the next time she gorged herself for no reason. The next day, after feasting on leftovers she ran to the upstairs bathroom and locked the door. First she tried her finger, she gagged but nothing came up. Reaching up to the sink she grabbed her toothbrush. She choked and gagged, nausea filling her like helium in a balloon and yet⸻ nothing. She couldn’t even be bulimic right. But there were other things she could try, weren’t there? She used a pencil, a pen, anything but all that rose was disgust at her own failure.
Somewhere along the way she became a teenager and decided to remake herself, fit in and make friends. She’d never had to worry about it before but now she was obligated to care about her clothes which, apparently, make the woman. Perhaps that was the reason she’d always been alone and discontent, she didn’t wear the right thing. But then again, she didn’t have money to buy her own clothes. Thankfully, the mask knew what to do. The teen became a chameleon altering in every situation. People tolerated her, no one could hate her because no one knew her. And even if they did, being hated is still better than being invisible, isn’t it?
The group she spent the most time with decided to start going to clubs. The teen didn’t want to; she didn’t drink or anything like that but she’d always had a knack for dancing (in the solitude of her room). Therefore, it was only natural she went. How else could she make sure they didn’t talk about her behind her back? Thus, she went and took care of drunk acquaintances willing to make awful decisions. They needed her there to make sure they didn’t puke on people, get kidnapped or get drugged. What a wonderful feeling it was to be needed but she was always on the outskirts, not knowing how to break that unknown barrier into the entity known as friendship.
That’s why she tried harder. The teen took on the language of the people she wanted to be close to. The sayings and weird abbreviations. If the teen became just like them they’d have to accept her as more than that girl who eats with them. She took on their actions and behaviors, bits and pieces of personality from her dream clique, making sure not to be too obvious about it. The key was being the same while being different, just not too different. Shoving down her faith, values, stories and past was necessary. They’d never understand the abuse, the pain, the suicide attempts. Therefore, she came up with a new sad but glamorous history.
They approved. She was still empty.
She began putting more effort into schoolwork. Her grades were the lowest they’d ever been and something in the back of her mind told her, “Your mother won’t be happy.” She even began to share her voice in group discussion, an abhorrent task. It wasn’t happiness she found there but it wasn’t apathy either. The teen couldn’t name it but it satisfied her enough to put a grin on the face under the mask.
However, the sentiment she realized soon became overshadowed by the thing that either brings joy or sorrow: money. Her age made it a larger issue. She worked two part-time jobs but never made enough. It was all she could do to get by; to make ends meet she would have to cut corners, budget more. Food wasn’t really necessary. Meals had lost their charm a long time ago, although she still found herself binging at times. So grocery trips ceased and the teen began to feast on Ramen noodles of all flavors. She didn’t care if it was unhealthy, it was cheap and she couldn’t taste it anyway.
As is true of female teenagers, she became a woman by society’s standards. She had new liberties but they didn’t release her from her mental chains.
As she aged she realized she truly had no experience with much of the world, had only read about its workings. Everything was new and preconceived illusions soon disintegrated. She’d once believed that only hers was a cruel, unbearable life, now she saw that evil reigned everywhere. However, the woman did see the small lights amongst the darkness and hailed them, willing to become one of them. She wanted to feel something, to prove that her heart did more than just keep her alive and like a child, she wished for it.
She’d once been innocent, naïve, but those flaws were quickly corrected. She’d become friendly with a coworker. They even exchanged numbers and texted back and forth. He could be a good friend, a real friend, so when he asked to hang out she readily agreed. In her mind she’d thought of great conversations and the mask was carefully in place and set to friendly (at least as friendly as the woman knew how to be). He arrived and they talked for a few minutes when everything changed. Suddenly, it was dark and he was on top of her. She’d worn her favorite dress that day. Black and white, striped. It hurt, she cried, he kept going. The woman thought he was finished but no, he wanted her to do things. She was scared and the fright had struck her throat, taking her voice. She didn’t want to. She’d been ripped in half. She refused to do what he asked and he went back to his original plan. Soon, she fell into apathy, shut herself off and pretended she was no longer there, imagined herself somewhere else. In a different body.
The man left, turning on the lights as he did so and she ran to her phone. She dialed 911 and reported the rape. Before asking her any personal questions, the male cop on the other line asked if the offender was still there. When she replied “No” he said they couldn’t do anything, to call the sexual crimes department. Click. Hoping for a way to make it better she took the cop’s advice and called the department. It was closed. The woman left a message and turned to the internet. She called multiple centers and helplines but they were either closed or told her to call the police. Not a single one asked for her name. Why wouldn’t they listen to her story? Maybe she’d go to the hospital. But even with insurance she couldn’t afford a rape kit; as the night wore on the woman gave up. She’d become a statistic and no one was there to help. She couldn’t tell her family; she was already a huge failure in their eyes. She got into the shower and scrubbed while the glimmers of light grew distant. The woman loathed everything she was, the mirror nauseated her.
She was no longer a woman, no longer a person even, just a digit in the rapidly growing reports of campus rape and women who “got just what was coming to them”. She looked at her dress, it was modest, no cleavage, past her knees. She’d lost the only thing she’d ever truly had. Now the woman had nothing. Was nothing. Into deep solitude she sank, her mask growing more powerful than ever until it was the only face she was willing to show anymore, even to herself. She accepted her new fate as a number but the world did not have to know.
The number had dealt with many hardships in its life. It had experienced trauma, fell silent behind the mask it couldn’t take off. Somehow the number had lost itself behind it.
It had pushed everything into a closet into its mind, the doubt, the self-loathing and locked the door tight. It had filled cracks to ensure nothing ever seeped out. With things tucked away the number could become something. And for years it stayed like this, only recalling the past in awful night terrors that woke her screaming, sweating and uncomfortable. The number began to get more involved in church, trusting in God instead of running, ashamed, as it’d always done until the young number realized that to move on it would have to heal those old wounds.
At first it was frightened. They had been locked away so long who knew what they’d look like now? What if people found out? How could the new number live on and deal with the awful experiences? It found the answer in the Inner Healing program. It got this thick packet full of invasive personal questions and was told to answer them all, forcing the number to unseal the doorjambs, open the door and walk into the room where its ugly past was waiting. By the time of the meeting it felt weighed down to the point of being physically exhausted. Yet it sat with those two women and confronted everything, breaking shackles wound around her neck. Tears, snot, dribble, by the end of the hour long session the number was a mess but the weight it bore was no longer there and it had returned to being a woman. The remarkable thing is that the woman had not even known she’d had such a heavy burden. Now she could talk to these women and feel truly understood and cared for, emotions foreign to her. She was free from her awful girlhood and abhorrent youth and even better, she now had a name.
About The Author - Chyina Powell
Chyina Powell is a lover of words and music. She achieved her Maser's in Creative Writing from the University of Pennsylvania in 2017. Her interests lie mainly in creative nonfiction and speculative fiction. She is the co-founder of the Women of Color Writing Circle, an international organization that supports and encourages women of color in their writing. She is also an active member of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor's Society. In her free time she can be found reading, writing, listening to showtunes or posting on her bookish blog.
PC: Célia Schouteden
we’re all sad here
my brother is just as sad as I am. at night,
he smokes the moon out in the backyard. it’s
a miracle— the way he rolls it so perfectly,
so delicately between his fingertips.
my brother is more angry-sad— meaning
his sadness catches fire because it can’t find
any other way out. sometimes he sits in traffic,
just screaming from some deep, wounded
place inside him, spit flying through his
windshield like rust-tinted hail. I’m angry-sad
too, sometimes, but only at my father and
my abuser and trump. otherwise, I’m just
sad-sad. it paints my retinas blue and crushes
poison ivy leaves into my lemonade. I cough
up the sharpest safety pins and the brightest
feathers. at dinner, my mother laughs
at the way my brother and I share the same
rain cloud, as if she doesn’t still hide her
kitchen knives. my brother tells me he hates
that bitch serotonin, the way she perpetually
leaves him drunk and scooped empty. I still
consider sneaking some lexapro into his
chicken parmesan. but this is a funk. a
sprawling barren state. we’re all learning to
be sad and alive at the same time. to pull
the hurting thing from our chests without
making everybody uncomfortable. I sing
my sad into my salad, and it tells me there’s
something glittering at the other side of this.
my brother calmly turns to the waitress
and tells her he wants to die.
About The Author - Wanda Deglane
Wanda Deglane is a night-blooming desert flower from Arizona. She is the daughter of Peruvian immigrants and attends Arizona State University. Her poetry has been published or forthcoming from Rust + Moth, Glass Poetry, Drunk Monkeys, and Yes Poetry, among other lovely places. Wanda is the author of Rainlily (2018), Lady Saturn (Rhythm & Bones, 2019), Honey-Laced Garbage Dreams (Ghost City Press, 2019), Venus in Bloom (Porkbelly Press, 2019), and Bittersweet (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2019).
PC: Caro Sanguinetti
I wish there was a lightbulb inside of my head, one that I could manually use whenever I need the extra help. Because I need something - anything that lightens up the dark with a simple flip of a switch. Because the part of me that actually wakes up when I open my eyes after a restless sleep is missing. I feel like a phone with a dying battery that never fully recharges. Maybe a doctor could finagle a tungsten wire filament inside of my brain, and the electricity and heat would blast my synapses into movement, because right now, they feel sluggish and stuck. They’re weighed down by self-created thoughts like “you don’t matter,” and “no one would miss you today if you stayed in bed.” The creativity and motivation I once had seems to have lost its way in the dark, when all it needs is something to turn on the light.
And strange things like those self-created thoughts lurk in the shadows of a mind that used to produce its own light. And soul-devouring thoughts that family and strangers help me create with their insulting words trespass along with the self-created thoughts, when they are all usually scared away by a barrier of light. But now they have hidey holes in the outskirts of my mind. “You’re selfish,” “You’re childish and need to grow up,” “You’re passive aggressive,” “You’re self-absorbed,” “You’re always miserable,” and let’s not forget the frequent flyer: “You wallow in self-pity and seek attention,” have all taken up residence within my mind, and do nothing to help contribute to the rent.
These demons terrorize the thoughts that live in the light, and kick them out of their homes. “You’re doing just fine,” escapes the chaos first, followed quickly by “You don’t need to change for anyone.” Then “Just keep pushing through,” convinces “Staying busy will help,” to vacate the premises, which leaves the host empty and lethargic. “Self-worth comes from within,” puts up the biggest fight of them all, but “You’re better off alone,” possesses a talent that the former wasn’t gifted. “Self-worth” spends most of its time exercising, trying to rejuvenate my mind’s natural light-bringing abilities, but even thoughts get tired.
What I need, is a lightbulb that has the ability to persevere through adversity, because the light from within is weak and fragile. It wavers and flickers almost daily, and extinguishes as fast as a breeze blowing out a candle. However, “You deserve better” often reminds me that depending on someone else’s light is almost worse. The comfort and warmth of a consistent light quickly becomes overwhelmed with the fear of what would happen if such a light ever disappeared. The knowledge of the light wrapped snuggly around me always being in someone else’s hands, shrouds me in a constant state of worry, and the horrible “What ifs” snake their way through my mind. I’d rather spend my days with my lonely, flickering light than someone else’s.
“You can do it” says that the only solution is to strengthen that inner light. I spend a lot of time regathering the thoughts that used to live in my mind, but have now been evicted. We train for battle daily. Some days are better than others, and the work is always draining. This is why I wish to have a lightbulb – something easy would be nice – but that’s not how light works. And I’ll always continue fighting for something only a permanent light fixture can provide.
About The Author - Marissa Merriman
Marissa Merriman is a 24-year-old fiction writer residing in Baltimore, Maryland. She is currently enrolled in the Creative Writing and Publishing Arts MFA Program at the University of Baltimore. Her main track is fiction, but is also experimenting with other forms, like memoir and poetry. Her work can also be seen in Marietta College's literary magazine, Pulse.