Volume 40 ~ 2017

                  

Liv O'Clair

I’m not afraid of the dark.

 

My obsession with you

Dark.

 

Or the way you treated me

Dark.

 

Those ancient text messages

Dark.

 

Our warped minds

Dark.

 

Doubting my adoration

Dark.

 

Jokes at each other’s expense

Dark.

 

Brown hair and eyes, tanned skin

Dark.

 

Grape Kool-Aid we share

Dark.

 

Stargazing with you

Dark.

 

The pen in love letters to you

Dark.

 

Bare feet sticking out of the blankets, out of the

Dark.

 

 

Shoot for the Moon...

 

     Today is July 20, 1969 and Kennedy Space Center is buzzing. I sit at the front of my chair and watch the screen. I’m attentive, but then again, so is everyone else. It’s not quite a live feed, but it’s so close it doesn’t even matter. We will know exactly what happens as we put man on the moon. The bosses let us bring in champagne; the entire staff came in early this morning beaming.

     Michael Collins is in the lunar orbit. The Lunar Excursion Module has touched down. One minute and fourteen seconds into this feed, we see Armstrong on the ladder.

     “He’s moving as slow as a snail,” my coworker whispers to me. When I glance at her, she’s still staring at the screen in front of us all.

     “He’s got a hundred eighty pound suit on, Lisa. Of course he’s not moving fast.” For a moment, I wonder how she became involved with NASA. I, along with the rest of our country, go back to watching Armstrong inch his way towards the surface.

     At two minutes and thirty-three seconds he announces, “I’m going to step off the ramp now.” I sit up straighter, trying to get closer to the screen that shows history being made before my eyes. Eleven seconds pass, “this is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

     The champagne is popped and poured and passed. We’ve done it. We’ve put a man on the moon. I know I’m not the only one thinking of our late president. I pledge this victory to President Kennedy by raising my glass, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

 

 

 

HAIRBRUSH HATRED

 

Sometimes I forget to brush my

hair during the morning rush.

Tangles turn the brown coils into

interwoven ropes. Vanity vanished,

remembered mistake, my knuckles

slide through complicated knots

and prevail. Twist high and shove, pouring

ponytails and bursting buns. Tears

hide in brunette bundles and wait

to retaliate my earlier neglect.

 

 

 

Late Letters

 

     The worst thing I heard this week was “I like this piece, but it doesn’t have the literary qualities that it needs in order to be published like a prose piece.” I couldn’t publish the letter I’d written to my best friend. This is a letter I’ve been spending at least eight cumulative hours on. I’d been writing, rewriting, editing, and re-rewriting. Has anyone else ever perfected a letter for eight hours? Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Think of it, me, a teenage girl, writing letters?!

     ‘What?! Teenagers don’t write letters, they just spend their entire lives texting and taking selfies.’ Um, no. That kind of thinking is incorrect and, in my opinion, uneducated. I write to my best friend. Now, I understand that a single example doesn’t change the thought, but it could start. My best friend and I have sent each other a lot of letters. The simple paper and graphite alone means nothing, but if I take into account that these words I receive are from him, if I take into account that no one else has ever written what he has given to me, well, these letters are my favorite possession.

 

June 20, 2017

Dear Best Friend,

 

     I think your house is really cool. To be honest, I was really worried at first. Not about your house, but how your family would feel about me. I want them to like me, so much. I want that more than ice cream. I just didn’t know what to expect, which is funny because you’d told me the day’s plan at least five times.

     When I first walked into your square living room, I noticed your siblings on the couch. You didn’t give me enough time to let the small details take root before you whipped me from room to room without much to say.

     “This is the living room.”

     “The kitchen.”

     “Over here is Isaiah’s room.”

     “The bathroom.”

     “This closet is where Milly sleeps. She crawls in and stays there all day.” I adore your dog. Milly is so cute and if she goes missing someday soon, it wasn’t me.

 

     I think letters are incredibly cool. I can tell stories in them and interrupt thoughts in the middle of sentences to give my reactions to something. I can never stop in the middle of a short story, put up parenthesis, and show people my reaction to the dumb things people do. (Like not writing letters.)

 

     You turned around and headed for the stairs. I stayed back for half a second; your sister had just woken up and slurred, “Hey, Liv.”

     “Hi, Maggie.” I saw you glance back at me near the bottom of your stairs. I threw Maggie a smile and followed you. You sprinted up the steepest set of stairs I’ve ever seen, but I was praying to stay standing.

     “Mom’s room,” you said with a jerk of your thumb. We walked past the small room so quickly I’m still not sure what secrets it holds, aside from… a table and papers? I’m not sure. I thought about sneaking a quick look later, but I forgot. I guess I’ll have to visit again soon. :)

 

     Letters give me a place to give my honest opinions. I think writing out a lie is a hard thing for people to do; honesty is important to me. I want to be able to convey my thoughts without fear of judgement and letters allow me to do so.

 

     “This is my room, and Maggie’s is right next door.” You walked inside yours and guided a rolling chair towards me before seating yourself on a small black couch. I froze in the doorway, shock-staring at the darker blue walls. Each wall held either shelves, desks, or posters, but nothing blocked out that awful blue. Who let you paint that, and why?

     I pushed your chair back and sat myself on the floor in front of you, smiling. Almost immediately, your brother Isaiah came in with his Harry Potter chess set and you joined me on the floor. I like how we can be nerds with each other. I like how you don’t make me feel the need to apologize for taking an interest in something.

 

     I can tell my best friend anything in a letter. I never need to worry about one of his friends finding the text messages, because it’s all on the page. There are no texts, but my messages are quite clear.

 

     We began to play while Isaiah kept up the conversation. We covered topics I never thought I’d talk to you about. (Side Note: I’m going to try to watch a couple episodes of Regular Show so I can contribute to Isaiah’s idea of deep conversation. Have any episode suggestions?)

     We sat like that for at least two hours, your move, mine, your move, mine. I’m going to beat you in chess someday. I’m okay with you being better than me, for the moment. The silence would’ve been maddening if Isaiah wasn’t there to remind us of elementary epidemics and love even younger than our own. “You’re so lucky. Why do you get to have your girlfriend over and I don’t?”

 

     Letters to him help me focus. If I can allow myself to be distracted for a few minutes, I can get it out of my system. When I try to continue on a project, the project becomes as disorganized as I am. My disorganization is apparent in my letters, but I think that’s what makes letters unique. There is no set plot line or needed stanza breaks (or the torture of coming up with a title that hasn’t been used eighty times). I also don’t need to establish characters in letters because he already knows the people I’m mentioning. I like that part a lot because most characters aren’t anything close to actual human beings.

 

     Dinner made me rethink life, because, man, that bread was amazing. Can I marry you for that bread? Kidding, I’ll marry you for your legs. ;) But for real, I understand now why you said your dad could replace any chef.

     I liked hanging out in your room with you. I thought that was cool because your parents weren’t hovering, but they weren’t completely disinterested either. I want to know what they think of me as a person. I thought they were pretty chill. They didn’t ask me those awkward questions about my future and what I want in life. You know I’m not certain.

     Oh oh oh! How did you like the YouTube video? I realized I never asked. I think Tight Pants / Body Rolls is funny. It looked like you didn’t know the correct response to that stupid video. Do you normally consider a reaction to those things beforehand?

 

     I love how I can freeze a moment in time while I write letters. It’s like everything stops at the moment I date a letter, as long as I never stop writing. I live in the second I begin and my thoughts are able to race. All I need is a good pen.

 

     I’m extremely upset we gave up on stargazing. Well, kinda. I was glad we didn’t get more mosquito bites, but I wish we wouldn’t have given up. I want to teach you all of the constellations and that won’t happen if we’re not looking at the stars, ya know?

     I’m still impressed you stayed up so late for me when you knew you needed to run another half marathon in the morning. I know you like your sleep, and I know I say that a lot. I appreciate your small offerings. They make me feel special, and important. Thank you. You do so much. I hope I can do the same for you sometimes.

     It’s late, and I’m tired. It’s your fault, you had me up until four in the morning. (I wouldn’t trade that for sleep. No way.)

 

                                                                      I love you,

                                                             Liv.

 

     Letters give me a safe place. I can be perfectly unfiltered and I’m not outcast for it. I’ll never understand why people don’t write letters anymore; letters are my escape. They make me feel better, richer at heart somehow. They allow me to take a breath. In my opinion, the best letters are true, emotionally gluttonous, and handwritten. My handwriting is my voice in written form.

 

     Let’s hear yours.

 

 

 

Climb

 

In the cemetery, I climb

with my mind high,

higher into the bowed

branches. I’m back

at my childhood home,

and I climb. I scale tree skin

and look around, wondering

how to get down. I feel the sap

seep into my skin, and

I climb. I hear my mother coax me

down with her siren song; toes touch

lower branches and I climb.

My feet are back in her

cemetery grass and

I do not climb.

 

 

 

Lakeside

 

     After a hard junior year, I was asked to attend an invite-only college visit. The college requested all of the choirs and bands from the schools participating to perform in a contest similar to District Contest. This was a two day visit, with one day being a complementary test. We were allowed to choose the writing portion, which meant missing the start of the contest.
     After testing, I went back to the dirt trails near the lake and was surprised to see a festival like setting instead of a normal contest. The trails curved around a small bit of the lake the college was known for. They were sided by the water and the main hall buildings. The festival was more of a summer concert than anything else. The school choirs were singing and there were free carnival booths a bit farther down the shore line.
     My boyfriend was there and we decided to spend the day together. Spencer and I walked along the lake all afternoon, listening to all the choirs. Suddenly he turned to me, "Wanna go on a date?"
I side-eyed him, "Right now?"

     "Well, yeah. My family owns this little restaurant behind the building right here. You're coming; I've decided." He tugged me along through a small opening between tall brick buildings; this college is set up a lot like a city. On the back of the architecture building was an open restaurant, held up by three thin metal walls. Small diner-like tables were spread throughout the small space, lacking chairs or booths. I looked to Spence for an explanation.
     "Watch this." He grinned at me over his shoulder. He took a small piece of wood next to the a table hardly hanging out of the wall and tugged on it. Part of the wall began to move, it was a sliding bench.
     After I got over my astonishment, we sat down and Spencer's father came out of the enclosed kitchen, saw us, turned around, and walked quickly back inside. A small woman walked out and took our order. Her name tag said simply, ‘Syd’. Throughout the meal we all chatted. She remarked on the choirs' music floating into the restaurant being her favorite part of the year, but she hated the way the kids disrespected the restaurant. “I just love the family.” She glanced at Spence before smiling brightly at me, “I’ve known Spencer since we were tikes. He’s always been a good guy, I wouldn’t waste this opportunity if I were you.”

     Spence punched her shoulder. I smiled, “I’m not planning on it.”
     We left shortly after finishing dinner and walked again along the shore of the lake. It was decorated with beautiful natural rocks and mosses instead of sand like normal lakes. The festival lights danced on the dark water while the last sun rays bounced along on the far side of the lake. I stepped lightly from rock to rock with Spencer holding my hand and complaining that I was taller than him by about two inches. "Are you sure you want to be doing that with your new boots? I know you like them, and they're pretty expensive."
     I waved it away. "Nah, it's fine. It's not like I could fall. You've got my hand pretty well secured."
     He rolled his eyes and let go of my hand. Then, to make his point, he stalked off in the opposite direction but left me a small grin.
     I continued on the same route, tiptoeing from rock to rock, eyes downcast to make sure I wouldn't step into empty air. Suddenly, I came across a dead fish I thought was a rock. I stumbled back in a mixture of surprise and disgust. My boots slipped on the green moss and I pitched over into the lake. I tried to stand in the slippery mud on the lake bottom as I heard laughing. He jogged the few steps over as I righted myself. I glared at him but eventually laughed too.
     A loud bang shattered the night. We looked to the sky looking for the cracking lights. When we couldn't find them, Spence looked at me in question. I nodded, knowing he wanted to figure out why someone was shooting off fireworks at a college. Spence took off at a sprint. I shook my head and laughed. He was the only other one I knew that would want to run at a moment’s notice. The sand flung up behind his strides.

     I looked down and sighed at the shin deep water. It would take a miracle to clean up these boots. I tried to lift my foot from the mud, but my boot stuck and I fell back. Time slowed and I splashed back farther into the lake. I scrambled to get up, but I slid lower in the clinging mud. I sucked in a breath and was pulled under. I opened my eyes and saw my problem; my foot was tangled in plants.
     I bent unnaturally and pulled frantically at the seaweed. Just as I ran out of oxygen, my shoe came loose. I kicked as hard as I could and barely broke surface in time.

     I laid on the damp sand until campus security found me a few minutes later. They escorted me to the dean's office. As they left, I heard one of them mutter to the other. "I'm pretty sure it wasn't her and her boyfriend now. I don't know who else it would be though."
     What did that mean? What happened?
     The dean gave me a blanket and told me to tell her everything that happened today. When I was finished, her reply made me colder than the lake had.
     "Miss Levine, there has been an attempted murder tonight. Katherine Potter has been seriously wounded and is receiving care in the infirmary. Because of her well known dislike and bad publicity for the Holmes's restaurant, alongside the Holmes's alibis, you and the young Mister Holmes have been our prime suspects. In light of your recent trauma and the fact that the timeline doesn't match up, we now know it wasn't you or your boyfriend. We need your help. Who else loves that restaurant enough to kill?"
     I just shook my head. The dean's mouth fell into a hard line and she turned and made a hushed call from her cell. “Abernathy… yes, she’s here... Well, calm him down then. I realize he’s worried for her, but he can wait to talk to her… That’s true.” Dean Abernathy glanced at me. “She does look quite cold. I’ll walk her there myself… Yes, right now. See you soon.” She turned back to me, "Let's get you to the infirmary. Spencer is there for you, as well."
     We slipped out of a side door from her office and walked along the edge of the lake again, but this time much farther away. "I was wondering, what was it exactly that caused you to fall into the lake?"
     "Did you know you have a bunch of dead fish washed up on the edge of your lake? Because you do," I said to her with an edge in my voice.
     Her face flashed with amusement, "I remember the last time I did that. The lake is a bit acidic every time the science classes dump sulfur. They have to lower the alkaline levels for the imported fish. They were supposed to dump more spread out to prevent habitat destruction. I'm sorry, Miss Levine."
     "AJ," I corrected. "Well, I was just really surprised. I was walking along the rock and there it was. I freaked; I lost my balance. The mud in there is so slippery I just couldn't get back up."
     "Yes, it's a fine silt bottom. It's incredibly dangerous in that spot, it's the only spot in the whole lake that's like that. I asked the custodians to put up a sign but they must've forgotten. Again, I am very sorry. Up here is the infirmary. We'll have you in and out, but be careful of Katherine. I hear she's not the happiest with the Holmes family, or anyone associated. Let's try not to upset her, yes?" She lengthened her stride and I hurried to keep up.
     The lights blinded me when we walked through the front doors and before I could see I was picked up and swung around. "Oh my God. AJ, I'm so sorry I left you. Are you okay? Tell me you're okay. Do you want another blanket? Maybe some hot chocolate? Can I do anything? I'm right here now. What can-"
     I laughed, "Spence, calm down. It’s okay. I’m okay. I just want to sit down. And some dry clothes." He let me stand on my own. "Okay. Okay, here's a chair, or there's a couch right over there? Actually, no. You need a doctor first. The room is back here. I made them tell me," He said it with a shrug, like convincing the nurses of something like that was no big deal. "Come on. I'm sure we could find some dry stuff too."
     I followed with small steps, still wrapped in my blanket cape and damp clothes. We walked through a hallway junction, but something down a side hall caught my eye. "Hey, wait. Hold on, I think I saw something."
I walked a bit faster down the side hallway until I came face to face with our waitress from dinner. Spencer looked confused as he came beside me.

     "Hey, Syd. What are you doing here?"
     "Me? Oh. Um, I came to make sure you guys were okay." She turned to me, "how are you holding up?"
     "I'm fine. Just cold and a bit shaky. Katherine's got me beat, at least."
     "She did get hurt, that's right. What room is she in, do you know?"
     I shook my head and looked at Spencer. "Oh, yeah. She's up here where we're going. Come on."
     We followed him down a few halls and eventually he stopped. "This is our room, Kat is down, like, five doors. I'll see you later, Syd."
     She smiled, "thanks, Spencer. See ya."
     We went in and found a hospital gown. I shrugged, "it's dry. I'll take it. Get out so I can change, please." He closed the door softly and I sighed. Thank goodness it's over. I'd never been so scared. I sat for a second and inhaled the sharp scent of rubbing alcohol. I quickly got undressed and as I put the gown over my head, it was the second time that night I heard a loud bang, but this time it was followed by a mechanical whine; someone just flatlined.

     I shoved the gown down and rushed out the door in time to see my boyfriend disappear into Kat's room. I hurried in and watched Syd laugh with a gun in her hand. Spencer backed away and shook his head. The doctors came in, followed by campus security. Immediately the guards started toward Syd. She laughed and walked to the bedside table. She put the handgun down on the blood spatters and turned to Spence. "Now she can't ruin your restaurant." She wiped her hands on the ruined sheets, on Kat’s legs, then turned and walked to the guards.
     Spencer backed up until he hit the wall and sunk lower, "Syd. Why? She never could've. It's too good for one person to ruin. My God, why? She doesn't have that much influence."
     "You're wrong," Syd said as they led her away in cuffs. "She was going to buy it and destroy it. I wouldn't let it happen."
     Spence sighed as he watched her go. He ran his hands down his face. I did the only thing I knew I could and went to him. I led him by the hand to my room down the hall. "Are you okay?" I whispered it, hugging him.
     He held me closer. "Are you?" he whispered back.
     "I will be."
     He chuckled. "I will be, too. I don't know what I'll tell Dad. How could Syd do that? I knew she loved the restaurant, but, man." He sighed again and pulled away. He ran his hand through his hair.
     I went to the bed and snuggled under the blanket. "It can wait. It's late; your parents aren't even up right now. They'll come back to work tomorrow. We'll go first thing in the morning, but for now, it can wait."
     He plopped down on the blanket. "You're right." He paused and the reached up to push the call button. "I can't wait to get out of here."
     I pressed a kiss to his head. "Me neither."