Day: July 13, 2022

In Micaela Maftei and Laura Tansley’s co-written creative nonfiction piece, a group trip to the beach in the Pacific Northwest reveals “the currents here are not just in the water.” The first page of “Primary Bonds” from SAND 24 is excerpted here. 

Image of excerpt from SAND 24. Image Text: Creative nonfiction by Micaela Maftei and Laura Tansley. Primary Bonds. The temperature of the water in the Pacific Northwest is only acceptable if you have no appendages, if you have no backbone, or if you have enough blubber to make a thousand pillar candles thick as thighbones. Down there are spiny urchins and gliding otters; sea lions transformed from lumbering, hooting beasts into graceful dancers. Swirling in frigid currents and silent pulls, the water is a full-body experience. We creep in and it feels solid, then it feels like we’re somehow becoming it, like a drop of ink that submits and frays itself over and over until it’s completely diffused. The cold is absolute; there is no cold beyond this cold. I think I might be dying, we say to each other. There is no grace to our entrance or exit. But it's warm on the beach, late afternoon, even under the shadow of giant cedars. It’s September, and in this place September is still summer. As we sit on the sand and let this heat warm us, we notice that some of the tips of the trees have turned brown, dry, and splintered looking. Eagles survey from these uncovered places. Someone we’re with says, Trees are like people, they die from the top down. The steampunk pirates land at dusk. The sun is going down into the waves and the light is golden and the white spray comes over the rocks every six seconds or so. They crash into all this. Announcing them are half a dozen dogs ploughing down a gangplank, huge, panting, black, and sprinting wildly in circles around the beach, spit-flecked tongues lolling sideways out of their gigantic jaws. We pause and look around at the others, the locals. Someone must surely know who the pirates are; the black smoking boat is so distinctive in comparison to the zodiacs and yachts moored in the small harbour we arrived at. This place is so remote that everyone seems on a first-name basis, meeting as they must do again and again outside the general store on the dock, which is the only place to congregate here, everything focused around purchasing purpose and the balance between need and desire. But no one knows who they are, and all of us on the beach look blankly at each other as their dogs bark and the smoke pours from their seemingly self-riveted boat and our skins prickle with drying salty water.

MICAELA MAFTEI and LAURA TANSLEY have been writing together for over a decade. Their collection of short stories, The Reach of a Root, was published in 2019. They live in Victoria, BC, and Glasgow, respectively.

This excerpt from SAND 24, designed by Déborah-Loïs Séry, appears as it does in the print journal. To read more, buy a copy or subscribe at our webshop.

In their creative nonfiction piece from SAND 24, adoptee Kimberly Rooney (高小荣) reaches out to birth parents who will never receive their letters, reasoning that “it might be easier to track down a missing limb than to wonder what’s missing at all.” The first page of “Letters” is excerpted here. 

Image of excerpt of creative nonfiction piece from SAND 24. Image text: Letters Kimberly Rooney 高小荣 Dear 爸爸妈妈, One of my greatest weaknesses is assuming that because others have experienced something that I have, there is nothing for me to say. This has hindered my ability to apologize, my ability to ask for an apology, and my ability to write. I have been told that writing is about laying bare your experiences, that even those who stood beside you cannot know your heart unless you choose to share it with them, but I still cannot arrive at words that feel significant enough to share. Perhaps it is because I am writing to you, and out of anyone, more than anyone, I expect you to understand that I exist with a deep fracture within me, as though I have been removed from myself twice over. The first when you left me on the side of the street, the second when my American parents took me across an ocean away from you. I wish it were so simply violent as cleaving off a part of myself. It might be easier to track down a missing limb than to wonder what’s missing at all. I fear I am not being clear enough. 你明白我的意思吗? I will try again soon. 你的女儿

Kimberly Rooney 高小荣 is a Chinese-American adoptee from Jiangsu Province. They now live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with their cat Toaster, and their writing has appeared in The Offing, Longleaf Review, Chestnut Review, Waxwing Magazine, and more. They are a 2022 Best of the Net Finalist, and when they aren’t writing or working, they enjoy calligraphy, singing, and crocheting. You can find them at kimrooneywrites.com or on Twitter or Instagram as @kimlypso.

This excerpt from SAND 24, designed by Déborah-Loïs Séry, appears as it does in the print journal. To read more, buy a copy or subscribe at our webshop.

Laura Lynes’ short story from SAND 24 transports us to a near future in which two workers at a lake resort attempt to provide guests with “the sublime experience of feeling small and alone inside Nature” despite the obvious effects of climate change on the lake experience. The two lovers escape into humor and fantasies of freedom to enjoy what might be the last days of their love. The first page of “The Lake Experience” is excerpted below.

Image of excerpt from fiction in SAND 24. Image text: The Lake Experience By Laura Lynes Above the lake, the sky is a pleasure dome of pink fading into baby blue, and several of our latest hotel guests have begun the long, shallow walk into the lake’s centre—keen, I know, for the full immersive experience. It is another hot day. The willow trees are vibrating around the rim, and the water, milky as always from the lake’s mineral base, is static. Except for the guests, only a small, attendant drone is moving. As for me I am on standby in my paddle boat, although I, too, am all eyes. I watch as a woman with a bright blonde bob lowers herself onto all fours in front of me. It is as if she already knows that the lake stays shallow right through, and yet she’s in pursuit of something still, pulling her thin body through the water now in a steadfast, forwardly writhing motion. When at one point she looks up at the sky, I do too. The pink is turning red and the whole display is deepening. If our guests enjoy the effects, they might emerge from the lake in a good mood. This thought begins my fantasy: The guests return to the hotel with a spring in their step. Gia is at the desk as usual and the guests grin widely at her and exclaim What a day! or To be alive! while lifting dripping arms into the air or slapping the desk. At this, Gia is moved to smile with all the teeth in her head, and then she blinks and the guests are gone, tucked away in the creamy folds of their rooms and 100% satisfied all round. I play this out as the guests push on with their lake-walk. The heat is beginning to throb and the skin of my legs has stuck to the polyethylene of my seat, making me unstick and re-stick myself onto a different patch. I notice that others, now, are dropping into a crawling swim and the general momentum of the group is picking up. I close my eyes to resume the fantasy. With the guests tucked away indefinitely, the drone falls out of the sky with a cartoon whoosh! followed by a wallop! when it hits the water. And so Gia and I have full access to the lake. In the beginning we laugh and laugh because we’re in love, and because the warm mineral sludge is Luxury we haven’t experienced. But then we laugh because we notice that laughing loosens up our parts. Our laughing becomes harder, insistent, undoing first our collar bones, and then the sterna between our breasts, until finally there is a full shattering and we are free.

Laura Lynes is a British-Hungarian writer, currently undertaking an MSt in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. Her writing can be found in publications including Lighthouse Journal, erotoplasty, and Litro Magazine.

This excerpt from SAND 24, designed by Déborah-Loïs Séry, appears as it does in the print journal. To read more, buy a copy or subscribe at our webshop.

Image of poem from SAND 24. Image text: By Memoona Zahid you cannot want what you do not know in daadi’s garden, we reached up to the dangling loquats forever yearning for the glow behind the fruit but never the actual fruit. above the trees – a helicopter, unreachable whirring being. never did we think to fly higher than the clouds. background noise like the ache of a single violin heard from beneath the loquat tree. a stray cat burying its face and children into the wall. we were taught the solidity of our bodies until from us poured a viscous sap of purple. like the first thrill of passing through clouds, bodies surprise in the way they are permeable. then, suddenly, we want to give everyone everything – the blackness of our pupils, the slowness of our blood as it sways inside us. what unforgiveness happens when our fingers slip around the loquat and decide to pull?

MEMOONA ZAHID is a writer of Pakistani heritage. She is a Ledbury Critic. Recent work appears in Lumin Journal, Gutter Magazine, and as part of The Runaways London project. She was recipient of the Birch Family Scholarship in 2019 and received her master’s in Poetry from UEA.

This excerpt from SAND 24, designed by Déborah-Loïs Séry, appears as it does in the print journal. To read more, buy a copy or subscribe at our webshop

Image of poem. Image text: Aea Varfis-van Warmelo Paeaean in the ουδαουδαμώς the slopped sea licks at sand slips back to seabed shoves forth and licks // the gloss wet of it all means nothing now the longing gone too and — he / empty hollow buffeted still yes the hot sand lick of sea he has trod before yes yes from water all land is land from land all water is water so he slips from one to other easy easy from land to land for a decade now one wonders why he has not mistaken one for home yet unless he knows Ithaca from the smell — one wanders / / / the hot stench of home, supple still welcomes him back ———————— κι αν μας τραγουδάει I no longer hear it the seasong the murmur of it no sound of it to me no // I have // I do / I locate Athens in the stench when the hot slick fist of summer strikes I am home — vicious sick word made for killing ///// home in the stench warm full up of it yes / the fatty pang that is longing —— truth: I left it though and truth: return is no pilgrimage truthtruth: I have no Ithaca none of us do unless forced to leave it —— who to blame in it / I’m inclined to point - O who to jab with the // the TR-/uth of how borders spasmed and altered monumental that slipstream border cicatrised on map — please the borders do do trtrace them on the sheet but in water they are nothing but layline ///// the swimmers from the east slipstream to us and little do they know — little really do they know the waters are Greece and the waters will drown them but the triumph is landing yes how cold wet sand unwelcomes cold wet hand and foot //// the triumph — sweet rotten home not that she cares πατρίδα μού she will shift them before long ——— how’s the nowthen for nationalism / σε ξέρω ξέρεις / I do I/I do /// you identify too strongly with the dent where feet have passed ////// not your step not you only sweet butter divot of marble coincidence — I know to hate you well / easy easy to ——— O —— το θαλασσόασμα — O sing for the slick sea the liquid cradle how she holds her still children __

Aea Varfis-van Warmelo is a Greek/British performance-maker and writer based in London. Her work has appeared in The White Review, Tolka, A Glimpse of, Spam, and most recently featured in the National Poetry Library’s Future Cities exhibition. She is currently a member of the Southbank Centre’s New Poets Collective.

This excerpt from SAND 24, designed by Déborah-Loïs Séry, appears as it does in the print journal. To read more, buy a copy or subscribe at our webshop

In this translated excerpt from the Spanish-language novel Mayo (May)an older narrator, aware that she is losing her memory, lives alone with her cat, Tiresias. She recounts stories of life and death spanning three generations of a family’s experiences in a small town in the Yucatán, including the story of her mother Mamá Panchita’s own memory loss. Mirroring the condensation on the walls in the house which she lives, the narrator’s “drip” of memories drifts through what had been forgotten and is later remembered in new ways.     

Karla Marrufo Huchim
Translated from the Spanish by Allison A. deFreese

Mayo (Part 1)

did you know there’s a word in portuguese that resembles your name? 

i’ve forgotten, but it means mementos or memories, like remembering to send greetings to someone, to send a memo. i would remember it if only i could pet the cat, just as i would remember to take out the trash on friday and to close the refrigerator door
          the door of my tears, 
          and all the windows before leaving the house.
there’s so much silence here. have you noticed that? that when you keep quiet, the house gets dirtier so much faster? you’re such a persistent dust. you pass through the doorways and come to rest in the corners kept under lock and key. perhaps that’s why lola can’t stand this place
          the room still sweats with warm hypocrisy from when it was a law office
and lola’s right. if we keep going on like this, we could rent it out as a funeral parlor soon. it’s profitable business. people will never stop dying
          or growing quiet 
          or thinking today must be friday.
come here. touch the wall. it’s covered in dark bubbles. so humid! the wood is swelling. i am swelling up, and sometimes i feel myself rolling, floating, rolling—like those days when we’d go to the park, and roll downhill until we were tired, until we landed at the foot of the hill where the grass was peaceful and green. do you remember? we spent so many weekends there at that park! we would arrive with our childish excitement, believing everything was going to be fine; we ate sandwiches and sipped fruit juice while the clowns inflated balloons shaped like dogs
          the dogs walking past were shaped like balloons that would later burst—
once blown up to full size and left to expand at the side of the road, the cars never stopping.
but in those days, bubbles were still clear, and everything was fine. we should return to that city again, leave behind this flat landscape for a while.
have you ever noticed how tiresias looks at me? i’ve always wondered what he’s thinking when his little green eyes grow huge as he stares into mine. it reminds me of that movie
          what was it called? 
the one where they ask whether, instead of us being the ones who make our animals more human, it isn’t actually the opposite way around, and the creatures in our lives are the ones turning us into animals. and later lola brought up that song again, the one about the professor who taught those puppies how to write 
          he was an animal lover for sure; a regular zoophile, lola said 
what a silly song! it makes me laugh, 
          though my excitement lasts only an instant
as i think about those animals 
          those bubbles
and how they drift through life with their broken fragments of memory.
only a short time has passed, really, and yet i’ve started mixing things up; things are erasing themselves from my mind. sometimes it occurs to me that the past is a faded beach house, condemned to endure the sand’s relentless daily caresses and the sting of salt swept up by the wind. lola insists i take vitamins, fish juice, capsules filled with algae. she says i should sleep more
          have peaceful dreams, and sleep without needles pounding in my temples
          for eight, ten hours
          a thousand hours . . .
          to sleep forever 
          but a wicked sun keeps visiting my dreams, drawing black holes in front of me 
          it wakes me up—feeling agitated—every forty minutes.
i saw it on tv. the blonde girl with the small mouth was talking about it: how there is a very dark spot in the middle of a solar flare. you have to see it

we should talk more. a little more. things that happen to us every day stick better when we talk about them, didn’t you know? that’s why names are so important
          that handful of letters from the alphabet that stays bound to the heart all our lives. 
mamá panchita used to repeat this until she was exhausted
          she said names are extremely dangerous; they trace lines leading to our destinies.
i remember the last time, so sad, though it barely lasted a few seconds. we had tied mamá panchita’s hands with a rope, and attached it to the beams in the ceiling, so she would stop
          she was only hurting herself; scratching open her own skin in an effort to remember. 
          her hands restless as kites, 
          but without the colors
and i felt deeply moved by her dark skin. seeing it touched me in a way that no one else’s skin had ever moved me before. it had a very old scent, the smell of many years, with doubt leaving a deep line between her eyebrows. in a corner of the room, right in front of her, the small altar to our lady of charity was laughing along with five freshly cut sunflowers and the sparkle of a few fake coins. her eyes half-closed, mamá panchita was squinting suspiciously as she looked at the saint; in her pupils she was mustering up the hatred of a thousand questions answered only with whispers. and just as i walked into the room, an unspeakable anger seized me
          she was scratching open her skin 
          who knows what she was looking for under the surface
          that’s why she had all those sores on her arms, 
          that large scar on her face
and her terrifying screams, filled with outrage, made me tremble with anger and then grow quiet because, being there at her side for the last time, i felt incapable of speaking to her 
        come now, mamá, everything’s going to be fine. when i look into your eyes, there you are—so very much yourself, mother, always you, taking with you the little thread of your name that’s about to break.
nothing. silence. in that quiet corner of the room, i didn’t so much as dare to light the white candles around our lady of charity; we remained still, with our mouths sealed 
          with our dark hands. 
even tiresias is more expressive than that when it comes to giving me looks. that must be why he’s so determined when he scratches me. don’t you see? it’s the same thing backwards. relentless caresses and reverberating silences—and this house hasn’t even had the misfortune of being built by the ocean, and has survived for years even in mamá panchita’s absence 
          in the absence of your sisters, your father, you, and me 
only the bubbles and drops remain
          drip, drop
of a rather thick liquid, as if flooded by disappointment, muddied by a sadness that makes everything slippery. no matter how hard i try, it’s impossible to stop walking around between these same drops of music, these same notes, and always this the same smell that comes in the month of may
          it’s may again
that comes to fasten itself to the walls of memory, climbing up the walls like a vine, into the memories that are hidden away in every corner, embroidered with the threads of mamá panchita’s name. she was fascinated by fancy paper napkins, by the little drawings on disposable cups, the tiny flowers on plastic cutlery—so many treasures. do you remember? she ate with her hands instead of touching the plastic forks, cleaned her mouth using her sleeves instead of napkins, discretely wiping her fingertips on the edge of the tablecloth—all as a way to keep the beauty of disposable things intact.  
you see, i’m still finding her fortune of plastic and paper at the most unexpected moments, in the most unexpected places, and it’s hard for me, because i never know what to do with these disposable objects of hers that have gone untouched and will be thrown out later without anyone even giving them another thought.
do you know how many things die without anyone even so much as thinking of them? i try to do it, to think about every single thing, about every person. . . but there are far too many and i am
          it seems to me
much too small. perhaps when you start thinking about things, the things themselves become truly quite sad, too. like the melon this morning. lola brought it over, and it was a really large one, and i had to cut through the rind myself, then scoop out all the seeds from each little square—the hulls of those seeds felt rough to the touch as I removed them; each was unique and alive, and they kept covering my hands as if they were blood from a murder. plus there was no running water in the house 
          not a single drip or drop
and that meant getting coated in the melon’s round and sweet death, its juice running onto the floor until I ended up crying—holding the knife in my hand—about all the times i hadn’t known how to relish the thought of death.

where are you going? did you know there’s a greek word . . . ? 
but i took out the trash on friday and closed all the doors 
          all of them
although later i opened them all back up again because i needed to let the daylight in and to breathe in the outside world. sometimes when the sun
          a spot black as night
starts to draw on the walls and furniture of my room, i force myself to wake up: but it’s no use. my eyes keep me anchored in my sleep. my eyelids stay closed, inwardly, looking for a long time at a universe that lacks the contours daylight draws for us. that’s why i must open the windows and doors, i have to expand this space so the colors don’t stay hidden and so that i, too, may draw myself for one more day. it’s strange: suddenly i find i’m imagining my own funeral among the dark bubbles, in the middle of this ridiculous heat. and i’m afraid 
          of closed doors and windows 
very afraid. i must be lost in the maze of the energy shake and the cereal box. every morning the same routine; it’s so easy to follow that i wind up getting lost. it’s easy to get lost when you go about the day pretending to be free
          to have no blood at all.
and you knew that. do you remember when we’d get lost and promise each other we would never go back home? never again return,
          to the smoothies or the fish oil or the algae
even though the way home was a straight shot, without any turns. we wanted to escape to the parks with their hills and lakes
          do you remember?
to sail as far away from home as one of those balloons that rises in the air until it touches the sky. we were happy runaways watching out of the corner of our eyes, feeling above it all and looking down at those small lives beneath us . . . exactly the way life used to look from the picture window of the italian restaurant. do you remember that place? with its crystal clear windows under the shade of a ceiba tree, where i was waiting for you, hidden away in the restaurant, and imagining the moment when you would arrive? the ceilings of that space were also as high as our sky. sometimes when you arrived, i would imagine you were someone else, a different fellow coming to see me. then we’d escape, filled with foolish fantasies that I cherish to this day 
          you are so silly, small woman!
you ramble on and on, without holding your tongue; with a warm, sweet venom in your saliva
          i am quite small for being such a silly woman
with the eagerness of a schoolgirl and a trembling desire to see you again, i loved waiting for you. and when you triumphantly entered the restaurant, you grinned, confirmed what you suspected, and then kept our game going by hiding a rose behind your back
          a forbidden caress
          fixing your gaze on my body
later putting the flower in my hands, without saying a word
          what a lovely couple
          yes, mamá, we do make such a lovely couple, though tiresias may condemn us
with his intensely green gaze and his claws on our skin.
yes, it sounds so pretty, but neither of us had the calling to become martyrs, nor would our deaths be foreshadowed by the ripping open of our awareness that happened, little by little, each day, in an italian restaurant
          or by having someone read of a very long will and testament:
                    the one who dies first, dies best
we didn’t think about death back then, though even in those days we already knew that neither words nor names would ever be on our side. do you remember the letters we wrote each other, the tongue twisters, all the wordplay?
          paradise   bird       white   angel       cloud  heaven       dream  blood 
          and what does blood have in common with dreams?
      they are connected in the same way that paradise is filled with birds and angels: you must fly to reach paradise, just as there must be blood for a dream to end 
and i was laughing then, though i never understood a thing. because to me, you were as bright as the look of hope in a street dog’s eyes.
wait! you would have loved it in the city center yesterday, everyone was there. i walked and walked, past all the shops, among the people and pigeons. it was fascinating. it was strange to get lost in a crowd again. a thousand overlapping colors, the dust in the air, the excited sounds of people in a hurry, with their purchases and their sniveling kids who held ice creams that were melting, sad from the heat. and a man looked at me like no man has looked at me for many years. i felt paralyzed and dry, a scarecrow of a woman. except that i can’t scare anything, not even the pigeons. i couldn’t return his look, because I could tell he was someone who refused to be intimidated. i felt trapped like the queen in a game of chess, alone and vulnerable at the point of defeat. i would like to learn to play chess
          to figure my way out of mazes
          to fill myself with the power that lives in knives
but no one will tell me how it’s done. i never learned to return a look. i know nothing about revenge. that must be why everything around me ends up dying or getting killed. you know, tiresias spent the night in the carport again. i’m afraid i will forget him, and that he’ll forget about me. i am very afraid that one day we will both forget about each other—that i’ll back out of the carport, but he won’t move; and after that, he’ll never back away or come toward me again; that later i’ll have to wipe up his blood when he’s dead, and gently remove his little red collar from around his neck, and place the drop that was his body
          dark as a bubble
into a trash bag that i won’t forget to take out on friday. perhaps after that i will close the doors forever.
go on then. you can leave if you want. there is nothing here anymore. that’s why we are so backwards and rustic, so broken down—at a standstill. we lack the words to communicate, even words that are conspiring against us, and not on our side. sometimes, i sense that a man is watching us, all the time, with a lewd and hateful expression on his face, and that what no one realizes is that, in reality, we are all very much alone in this world, and that no one is capable of forming the shapes of our eyes
          of our skin, of our memories
as if there is not a single beautiful thing remaining, and only a little of the bad
          that is becoming a little less small everyday
is embedding itself in our hands and feet, with the exact height and width as the shapes of our hearts. 
did i tell you? tiresias killed a hummingbird
          angel  bird     heaven  paradise 
and is tearing it apart now, licking it, bringing it to rest by my feet as an offering of sacrifice. he’s a hunter because he is capable of killing, because that swift flutter of wings makes no difference to him, nor does he care about the pangs of pain that stab the heart as his little muzzle shreds the warm body and throbbing heartbeats of a bird on the verge of taking flight. i also know how to heal wounds just like those, death wounds.  
tiresias has killed another hummingbird. nothing ever changes! it would seem he fills his mouth with death so as not to growl at us, when confronted with our vices. we should play again
          another paradise another crow another angel another cat another set of 
          wings
but without the terror of these days that now keep us apart. if we stay quiet, if we talk very quietly, telling each other new secrets, things could be like they were before. look closely . . . if you can just ignore my slurred speech and the way i drag the s’s in every phrase i say—forming them takes such effort—everything will remain exactly the same as it always has been. you only need to make me keep repeating it again and again
          she sells seashells she sells seashells she sells seashells
and everything 
          everything
will be the same as always again.

KARLA MARRUFO HUCHIM holds a doctorate in Hispanic-American literature from la Universidad Veracruzana. Her work has been recognized through several prestigious literary awards, including the 2005-2007 National Wilberto Cantón Award in playwriting, the XVI José Díaz Bolio Poetry Prize, and the 2014 National Dolores Castro in narration for her novel Mayo/May (Ayuntamiento de Aguascalientes, 2014). She received a fellowship from the Programa de Estímulo a la Creación y al Desarrollo Artístico en Yucatán, which resulted in the publication of her book Mérida lo invisible/Mérida the Invisible (published under the title Arquitecturas de lo invisible/Archi- tecture of the Invisible in its second printing).

ALLISON A. deFREESE has previously translated works by Luis Chitarroni, Amado Nervo, and other Latin American writers. Her writing and literary translations have appeared in 60 magazines and journals, including Asymptote, Solstice, The New York Quarterly, Quick Fiction, and Southwestern American Literature. An English translation of María Negroni’s book Elegía Joseph Cornell/Elegy for Joseph Cornell is forthcoming in 2020 from Dalkey Archive Press.

This story originally appeared in SAND 21.

Gboyega Odubanjo

Brother

it’s funny   because the world is
burning   this day is another

i wake up at 630   now south somewhere
you wake up   the day is itself

metro become evening standard
become sleep   but today it’s autumn

and it’s been a court-mandated 12 months
and you’re driving again   the world

is burning   i don’t care   you say
you’re going to buy a tesla and 

you won’t   we won’t make
a difference will we   easy listening 

on repeat   ‘til it’s smoke
in the car   smoke in the streets

GBOYEGA ODUBANJO is a British-Nigerian writer born and raised in East London. His New Poets Prize pamphlet Aunty Uncle Poems won a 2021 Eric Gregory Award, and his pamphlet, While I Yet Live, was published by Bad Betty Press in 2019. He is a Roundhouse Resident Artist and an editor at bath magg.

This poem originally appeared in SAND 21.

In this short story from SAND 22, a seemingly superficial young narrator uses rumors and hypotheticals to relay the tale of an unlikely love affair that at first seems to be “one of those classic Romeo and Juliet stories.” All expectations are subverted as readers are twisted through a story of class, privilege, and the creation of “truth” in our digital age.

Frankie Barnet

Girls on the Internet

One of those classic Romeo and Juliet stories. This happened to a girl I knew, Alice, who was from a really Republican family, and this guy Liam, whose parents literally voted for Ralph Nader. Alice can still remember the first time she ever saw Liam, back at a high school party on the lake. He wasn’t wearing anything special: blue jeans and a sweater, but on boys like him everything was tilted to the left. Slanted, like a poem. And yeah, sure, maybe part of what made him so magnetic was also the story she’d heard from her friends about how he’d once tried to kill himself in a barn somewhere. Sure, a story like that was pretty exciting to her at the time. Alice was like most sixteen-year-olds from where we were from and felt like real life was something that only happened to other people. She was thirsty for it.

Later, in college Alice was one of those girls who wore UGGs. She wanted a job in a glass office where she made lots of money to go on trips to Europe and the beach. She liked nice things, like purses and cruises and charcuterie. Sometimes just thinking about sausage laid out on a wooden board with a raw edge got her wet. We are all entitled to our sexualities. To this day I can hardly come without picturing the guy that used to date my older sister Chantelle.

Then, at the beginning of Alice’s second year of college a friend told her that guy Liam was transferring to their school on academic scholarship. You know, the one who tried to kill himself in high school. The next thing she knew he was in all her electives. He sat up front and dominated the group discussion. Sometimes guys have something to the tenor of their voices. This isn’t science, but you feel the vibrations down to your pussy. Alice thought, how? He’s so radical! I’m from such a conservative family.

One night she dared herself to bum a cigarette from Liam at a party, wondering if he’d recognize her from high school, though he didn’t. She was like most of us were, literally invisible.

“You don’t really smoke, do you?” he said after a while, when the rest of the doorway had cleared. “You’re not doing it right.” He took the cigarette out of her mouth and sucked on it for her with his eyes closed. “See, like this?”

Alice wanted to die. She thought she’d crumble right there onto the pavement. She had a boyfriend in Rhode Island who wanted to marry her, but it wasn’t her real life. Her real life began now.

Maybe they kissed on the bus. What if they touched in the closet? One day they pointed out all the dogs in the park. When I was seventeen, the boy I liked carved my initials into his leg but there is no way for me to describe exactly how this made me feel 100% accurately.

Alice watched Liam sleeping beside her and thought, you are so beautiful, why would you try to kill yourself in high school? Don’t you know that on you everything is slanted like a poem? Thousands of girls would kill to be beautiful the way you are.

Sometimes I’m sure they didn’t even have sex. They told jokes and shared memories from childhood. Liam was studying library sciences and wanted to make thirty grand a year, he loved books and foreign films. It was one of those classic Romeo and Juliet stories. He asked Alice to close her eyes and describe what the inside of her brain was like.

“Uh, just darkness?”

He said, “No, behind the darkness. Look past it.”

“Fire,” she said.

“I see fire too. I see people dancing. They’re all on fire.” 

This might not be real, Alice kept telling herself. Imagine how he’d fare with her dad at Thanksgiving. Or maybe she was on her period. She was always on her period. Even when Liam said he loved her for the first time, one night drunk out of his mind, did she think about what fathers like ours are always telling girls like us about yielding power any chance we get? Did she clench her jaw, swallow her whole heart and laugh, “Ha ha, you’re sweet”?

Alice cradled his face and his darkness was palpable to her, a dimension that proved he had known things. When you tried to kill yourself, she wanted to ask. Did you see a light?

I picture Alice watching Fox News one day when a friend calls. “I’m doing really well,” she says. “I think I’m in love with Liam. You know, the guy from our high school who tried to kill himself.”

Her friend clears her throat. “Liam Crastor?”

“Yeah, you remember him?”

I was like, oh my god, the friend writes later in a personal essay online, sweetie you’ve got it twisted. 

“He tried to kill his girlfriend. Chantelle, the slutty one. He strangled her in a shed at her family’s cottage. Everyone knew! I mean, we knew but no one believed her at the time. Like Santa Claus kind of?”

Does Alice’s spine start to burn?

Has Liam really never mentioned my sister Chantelle?

His defense is that every poor boy wants to date a rich girl at least once in his life, even if said rich girl disrespected every cell of his being, i.e. his hygiene, love of old novels, how his parents voted for Ralph Nader. Chantelle changed the way he dressed entirely and made him get an eighty-dollar haircut. But my sister is just so beautiful, she has hair like an Afghan dog. You can’t buy that. There’s no product or vitamin. How the two of us share DNA is an advanced math equation. Girls like my sister Chantelle convince poor boys they too deserve nice things.

I of all people understand the way Liam looks, how on him everything is slanted like a poem. All week I would wait for him to come over on Fridays and watch movies with my sister. They draped the flag blanket over their laps on the couch. “Oh my God, Lilly you perv!” she’d say when she caught me staring. “Mom! Lilly’s bothering us!”

Once Liam gave me a Tootsie Roll from deep inside his pocket, it had been squished along his thigh like a fossil. It’s probably still in my room. I’m sure I could find it somewhere. I’d eat it slowly, chew for the rest of my life.

I was thirteen and they were seventeen, three months away from high school graduation when Chantelle begged our parents to let Liam come to the Cape with us. She said he’d never seen the ocean before and it was our responsibility to share our privilege. “God Mom, do you even watch the news?” She lowered her voice, “His family doesn’t even use Q-tips.”

The morning it happened started with breakfast. I was downstairs with my parents, Liam and Chantelle were upstairs. We heard the bed creak and mom turned up the bacon. It was hot, too hot for the beach. Mom was always worried about the sun, dad liked to disappear on his boat with other men. When they were ready, Liam and Chantelle came downstairs and the three of us sat on the veranda. I was reading a book about whales and he was teaching her how to play chess, but she wasn’t listening.

“No,” Liam said. “That’s the rook.”

All Chantelle did was make jokes about putting them inside of her. That was her en passant, making everything about sex and there was no way anyone could challenge her. She’d been doing it since she was fourteen.

Liam threw a knight and it landed by my feet.

“Are you a fucking psycho?” said Chantelle.

“I’m sorry, Lilly.” It was the first and only time he ever said my name.

He stood up to leave and Chantelle ran after him. “Tell mom and dad we’re fine,” she said to me.

The next thing I knew the neighbors were on the phone, they’d heard Chantelle with a strange boy in the dunes and called the police. My parents picked her up from the station and she was still crying. Mom put on You’ve Got Mail and nobody said a word. Nobody ever told me anything actually, I wasn’t old enough. Chantelle had bruises for a week.

Later, Liam wrote a long letter that only my parents were allowed to read. As a child he’d never been breastfed, his parents were divorced, the last one in class to lose a tooth, his dad passed out on the lawn, the dog died, only wore hand-me-downs, had a learning disability, was afraid of the dark. Please, try to forgive me. 

I cobbled together what I could from eavesdropping on the stairs. Chantelle was in the bath. She took a lot of baths during this time. She got really into barre fusion, then moved away for college and had alcohol poisoning three times her first semester.

Now it’s been almost four years and she’s really into HIIT Tabata. She stays upstairs in her room all Christmas doing jumping jacks. It rattles the whole house, but no one says anything. Mom is making cookies out of flax; dad has men in the parlor.

One night Chantelle has friends over and they scroll on their phones. “Can’t believe he actually has a girlfriend,” they say. Without using his name, everyone knows who they’re talking about, as if there’s only one “he” in the universe, though of course there are many. Men, I see them almost every day. They have their own television shows.

“How could you fuck a guy like that and still respect yourself?” 

“Yeah but I heard her dad voted for Trump.”

“Maybe she doesn’t know.”

“How could she not? Everyone knows!”

“Look at this picture, she totally has a moustache!”

“My brother had sex with her, he said she has a big vagina.”

“Yeah, that girl went to my summer camp. She was always on her period.”

“Oh my God Lilly, stop spying! Get your own life!”

But maybe it was sexy to be with a guy everyone talked about. I don’t know how other people think. Most of the time I can barely translate myself.

For a little while, it felt like things would really change. Everyone I knew was talking about all these evil men. Time was up and our culture would never be the same. Did Liam and Alice feel like lovers on the run? Like Bonnie and Clyde cast out from a world that no longer had any use for men like him? Alice must’ve looked at his lovely face and took pity on him, the only face he’d ever had. Liam was a baby and an old man, all trapped inside those bones.

But in the end, Alice and Liam are still on Instagram, posting brunches and summer reading lists. I think they’re living together now, friends come over for dinner parties and in the spring, many weddings. People comment, love you, totally adorable. She’s working at Bloomberg; he’s applying to PhDs.

I’m a freshman at Syracuse. Not learning a lot, but I love the community and one of my TAs from last semester has a car. He takes me out for Chinese food once a week, then we go back to his place to fuck and watch Criterion movies (another one of those classic Romeo and Juliet stories). 

“Choke me,” I said to him last night. “Tighter.” I wanted to feel as small as a girl on the internet who doesn’t matter.

“Wow,” he said after we’d finished. “You’re not like anyone I’ve ever met before.” 

“Ha ha, you’re sweet.”

All of this happened to a girl I knew. Alice, who I saw once at a party. I heard she had chlamydia. I heard she got crabs from a lifeguard. She’s the girl whose dad voted for Trump. I’ve heard all kinds of things; I’ll tell you anything you want.

FRANKIE BARNET is the author of An Indoor Kind of Girl (Metatron Press, 2016). Her stories have been published in places such as PRISM International, Event Magazine, Washington Square Review, and the Best Canadian Stories Anthology of both 2016 and 2019 (Oberon Press).

This story originally appeared in SAND 22.

Melanie Hoffert

When you died

I took your blue extension cord. That thing must reach fifty feet. It came in handy the other day when I needed to charge the lawnmower and couldn’t find our orange one. I took your step ladder and those many packages of plastic razors. Did you even shave? Your skin was like that of a Sphynx – so thin and soft. I took six boxes of Band-Aids; it seemed like a shame to throw them. And there were the yellowed divorce papers I grabbed, which document my wife’s childhood through the eyes of the courts. You were her unbound side: no bedtime, pizza for dinner, freedom; her father her orderly side: beds are to be made, all things have a place. I hear you both daily in whispers accenting our lives. 

I took a gaudy Styrofoam Christmas wreath wrapped in ruby-red ribbon and adorned with tinsel and metallic stars. The wreath isn’t your daughter’s taste, I realize, but it brings to mind the larger-than-life way you navigated the world with your wigs, printed tights, wide-brimmed hats, and glittering make-up.  

Months later, after the bank had foreclosed on your home, I snuck into the garage. Well, by that time, perhaps it is more accurate to say that I broke in. I rifled through the storage containers stacked there. Your children had left them out of sheer exhaustion, along with your piano and most of your furniture, clothing, books. One bin contained items you had kept for your daughter: trinkets stamped with her school mascot, toothless pictures, newspaper clippings, and trophies. I gathered those layers of her life, curated by you, and took them with me, figuring that she’d later regret leaving them behind. 

I also took the bin that contained your planners, scribbled with decades’ worth of appointments. Seeing your familiar handwriting, the same loops and bends in the apple pie recipe that hangs on our refrigerator, made you feel present. In those pages, you had plotted your life in a scattered patchwork of work meetings, to-do lists, bill reminders, and doctors’ appointments alongside spiritual affirmations and inspirational quotes. 

When you jotted that number for a babysitter in 1986, you didn’t know how your life would end, but now we do. A hip fracture. Routine surgery. Cardiac arrest. Your heart stopped for nine minutes on the operating table, but they brought you back. And then, because you didn’t wake up, the doctors cooled your body – forced hypothermia. This, they said, may preserve your brain. This, they said, may keep you with us. Two days later, when you woke, we wept in celebration. You didn’t join us. Instead, you met us with an empty stare, your arms animated with jerky, unnatural motions as if you were directing an orchestra, as if, from an ancient time, you were calling men back in from the sea. We couldn’t stand to watch. 

Then the miracle. One morning you were present again. The jarring motion subsided. Still intubated, you smiled sweetly and blinked on command. 

After she looks through them, I suppose your daughter can recycle those planners one day. 

I took a spade and your weed trimmer. With that spade, I dug up what I could from your garden: Echinacea, lilies, phlox, and other plants I can’t name. I hauled them in the back of my car, mounds of earth and roots and green, and sunk them into the ground at our house.

Your daughter is not all that into plants. Even your memorial garden, which has bloomed for two summers now, doesn’t catch her eye though I feel a tug in my gut when everything wakes up and deepens with pigment. If you were here, we would shoot each other a mischievous look and roll our eyes at how our shared love – your daughter, my wife – can be so oblivious to the natural environment. 

I took two pairs of scissors; before I had them, I could never find one when I needed it. And I took ten cellophane-wrapped teeth whitening kits. You probably signed up for some Internet deal. The kits contain instructions on making a mouth mold; you did not yet have time to soften the plastic and bite. We will never unwrap these boxes, but I can’t let them go. 

Even though I don’t care for their stiff ink, I took your piles of Bic pens. Leaving them behind seemed like sacrilege for a writer. I did leave many other things, however, including your seasonal affective disorder lamp. I still kick myself when it gets dark and we can hardly make it through winter in this northern land without cracking. 

A week before you died, your daughter screamed in agony that you’d never meet the baby we wanted to have one day. I reminded her that you were still breathing, looking around, now responding. But she knew, as a daughter would, that we were near the end. This reminds me: We couldn’t figure out why you would have a child’s pillow shaped like a lamb, still wrapped in plastic. Nobody was pregnant. I thought we might stumble upon your intention for it, so I took that too. Maybe we can give it to our baby someday. 

You were brave to nod your head yes – did you mean it? – when the doctor said slowly, loudly, that you might die if they pull out your breathing tube. That there are risks. We all saw it though, the nod, your blink of awareness. Your other daughter sang sweetly in your ear, “You are my sunshine,” while our shared love squatted on the floor and held your hand. She couldn’t watch them work. I kept my eyes on your soft face, recounted how you liked your coffee, dark with thick cream pooled on the surface; how you’d sit at our cabin surrounded in a nest of mail that you brought to sort, tearing envelopes as you watched waves churn; how you’d lecture your daughter on my behalf not to pass gas like a teenager; how when asked if you wanted an English Muffin in the morning or a gin and tonic at night, you always paused before saying “yes” as if to allow for the pleasure born of anticipating life’s small rewards to swell. 

When the tube came out, you mouthed our names, airy and hoarse. I anticipated a calm celebration, a reunion. I anticipated the years ahead: our soon-to-be wedding and then, later, trips across the ocean where we would lend a hand to steady you on cobblestone streets. You did not give up when liberated from the ventilator. I watched you fight, willing your lungs to greedily accept the oxygen and pass it along to the rest of your body. I saw that you were not ready for it to all end as your vitals began to plummet. I soon knew that she was right: you would never meet our baby.

The abrupt separation of a daughter and mother leaves a deep ache in one’s bone; stirs a primal awareness that indiscriminate loss is around every corner. In those days that followed, I wanted to ease your daughter’s pain. But those who stand as witnesses to death eventually learn there is no remedy; no antidote; nothing we can offer to stop the agony. This is when the impulse to intervene becomes physical, embodied. And so when you died, I did all I knew to do. Like an archeologist saving relics for a future time, I collected you. 

Melanie Hoffert is the author of Prairie Silence (Beacon Press, 2014), recipient of the Minnesota Book Award in Memoir and Creative Nonfiction. She has been published in several literary journals, including Orion, Ascent, Fugue, and The UTNE Reader. The Baltimore Review and New Millennium Writings each selected her work as the recipient of their CNF Writing Award. Melanie currently splits her time between her home in Minneapolis and her cabin in rural Minnesota, where she is finishing a memoir called Water Land. melaniehoffert.com

This creative nonfiction piece originally appeared in SAND 22.

Katrina Agbayani

I WILL NEVER BE A COWBOY

TV announcer says let’s be horrified and
watch
these spitting men in pretty costumes
test how long they can ride out a crazed
animal. trophies for whoever can prove that
I am a COWBOY that I DOMINATE the
crazed animal
with a mouth full of shiny
teeth, meat-eating teeth, gatorade and
premature dentured teeth that reflect the
stage lights like the sullen calf reflects the
dark belly of desire: not everything pretty
can be spared. start the pageant. roll the
cameras. make fury look like a hobby like
it’s not something to be ground into —I
want to kiss the unhinged jaw of the crazed
animal and promise that I could never be a
cowboy God won’t let me be a cowboy
look me in the eye and tell me I’m not my
own worst animal

KATRINA AGBAYANI is currently studying English literature. Her work appears in the UC Review, Trinity Review, and has been awarded the OECTA Young Authors Prize. When not writing, she can be found biking by unnamed fields.

This poem originally appeared in SAND 22.