Volume 44 ~ 2022
Tension fills the space,
uncertainty spreading between them.
With an attempted smile,
leaves the parking lot,
leaves words unsaid.
Leaves her alone
with a too-busy brain
and a too-caring soul.
Tension and nothingness;
if they’re opposites,
how can both radiate
at the same time?
She slowly pulls her car door’s handle,
slumping in the seat
like a broken bean bag.
Her chest feels tight,
and her heart feels too big.
Her fists stay closed,
creating tiny crescents in the blank space
of her palm.
Jaw is clenched to hold back tears.
She drags herself inside,
lays in bed.
Stays in bed.
Numb. Hot. Sore from the tension.
Yes, heart strings can be pulled,
but when tugged tight,
they’re easy to break.
Adults Say Nothing Good Happens After 10pm
10pm is for cruising with the guys;
for Casey’s runs to empty aisles of chocolate milk
and sunflower seeds.
For turning on the “feels” playlist with the windows down,
driving on the satisfying crunch
of gravel roads.
The time for piling on porch furniture,
where blankets and bodies
are your only breaks
from the crisp nighttime air;
conversations stretch on
and curfews are pushed.
11pm is eating chicken pot pies
against the cold cupboards on the kitchen floor.
Every inside joke evokes a laugh;
microwave interruptions beep
as you teeter on the very fine line
between sleep and stomach-cramping hilarity.
12am is your best friend’s breakup.
When you get the text,
“Are you still awake?”
with a phone call in bed.
while she’s curled up in hers.
You listen, make her laugh.
Let her cry,
and ask for advice.
You plan your next coffee date
and say you’ll hang up,
only to hang on
for an hour more.
sometimes some not-so-great things
happen late at night,
but change the clichés.
Cry over the spilled milk;
Forget the moon–
love someone all the way to Saturn and back.
All good things happen after 10pm.
“Hey there gorgeous,” Brent says as he approaches, hand gliding along her waist. She looks at him with the sweetest, flawless smile – the one she’s perfected over years of being in the eye of popularity’s storm.
“Hey, handsome,” she replies with a wink, pretending not to notice the looks of annoyance and disgust walking past her.
“Anyway, are you going to Ron’s party tonight?” he casually asks with the help of raised eyebrows.
Ugh. Not another freaking party… do these people know anything about sleep? Family? A life outside of the social kind? she complains internally.
“Duh! Next week’s prom king and queen have to make an appearance. Not that we need the help, but ya know, we should give the people what they want,” she replies instead with a giggle.
“Awesome. Pick you up at eight then– you should wear that little black dress that I love so much,” he says with a glance down.
And again… she pretends not to notice. Always pretending. Instead, she throws her hair back and laughs.
“See you then… black dress and all!”
Most people would say she had everything; the boyfriend, the looks, the popularity, the future of being prom queen… but sometimes she wonders, especially when getting ready to go anywhere. While staring at her closet, she replays her and Brent’s conversation in her head.
Wear that little black dress I love so much.
“Oh, you mean the black dress that I can hardly breathe in because it’s so tight? And I could sit down to give myself a breathing break, but… oh wait, it’s too short to even SIT IN!” she half-screams into her pillow.
But she wears it anyway. Puts on the dress, and the four-inch heels, and the makeup and the curled hair and the push-up bra. She’s all ready to go and waiting by the front door, pleased that it only took two and a half hours this time instead of three.
And Brent shows up at 9:30 instead of 8:00. But she pretends not to care.
At the party, she meets people, adding fake excitement and emotion behind her words. She takes a shot. She talks some more… another shot.
“Outside! We’re gonna see how many people we can fit in this guy’s pool!” a voice yells from somewhere else in the house.
So she follows the group outside. She doesn’t like where this is headed, but she tries to go with the flow. She laughs, smiles, keeps drinking; if she drinks enough, she won’t care.
But then she does care. People are swarming around her, all trying to push Ron, standing behind her, into the pool. She tries to stick her hands up; her voice can’t be heard over the resounding chants and shouts. Suddenly, her heel slips; just as she reaches the edge of the pool, her head hits the pavement with the crack nobody heard. She scrambles for the edge, wishing for someone to see her – the one time she needs to be seen. She tumbles into the waves, once-perfect hair turned tangled and tight around her. Silence and water envelop her as she tries to yell for help, pushed farther down by careless bodies. Panicking, everything goes black.
She opens her eyes to blazing fluorescent bulbs. She can’t move, but she can hear a beeping.
“Room 402, she’s awake!” she hears somewhere far away. But then she sees the source, standing right above her. Her mouth can’t move at first, but her eyes go wide.
“It’s okay, you’re fine. Can you tell me your name?” he asks.
It takes her a few tries, but “Riley” finally croaks out of her dry throat.
“Well, Riley, I’m Scott. I’m an intern here. I’m supposed to be in the office, but– anyway, you are a miracle. You’re at St. Louis Medical, and… well… you’ve been in a coma for a while now.”
“Wait a minute– so you’re telling me that I’ve been in this bed all this time? That the high school experience I remember was all just a… a dream? I was, like, pretending? It was all just in my head?” she says.
The doctors enter her vision, pushing Scott out of the way. They look at each other with wide eyes, empathy, and confusion, all mashed into the same expression.
“Umm… yes, I guess you could put it that way,” one begins, faking positivity and enthusiasm. “We know this is all very hard for you to understand, but if you’d like to see photos, this is the last photo that was taken of you sophomore year before your accident. See? Fun, right? You have a saxophone, and all of your band friends…”
But she’s not even pretending to listen. For the first time, she doesn’t have to pretend.
Setting the Table
My dad is jalapeño poppers
on evenings in June.
We both have the same stubborn strategy
in heated arguments,
the same fire in our sarcasm.
Him and I,
just us two,
stand around the countertop
sharing stories with spice and milk.
With heat and bacon still on our mouths,
we move from kitchen to carpet,
mancala in hand.
Mom introduced me to her childhood creation;
Her perfect combination of sweet and salty,
because that’s what being a mom
is all about.
The melted saltiness coats the pastry
as a second icing layer.
Not butter from a tub;
the real stuff, in a stick.
They are most enjoyed at 9pm
with “The Bachelor” playing in the background.
I am the cupcakes.
they cover our counters for days at a time.
For birthdays, class treats, baking with brothers;
each family member has a favorite.
Peanut butter, caramel, carrot cake, mint.
I bring the sweetness, the attention
the fun-flavored twist
on everyday events.
I’m the surprise filling you find
at the first bite,
and the smile on your face
when you’re done.
Brady is the spontaneous McFlurry
following play rehearsal on a school night.
He brings the buzzing energy
of a McDonald’s Sprite everywhere he goes,
and convinces others to buy into his impulsivity
of ordering forty nuggets instead of ten.
Him and I could not be more different,
but cruising down 4th Avenue with fries
and Bruno Mars
is our area of agreement.
Asher’s constant hugs are mashed potatoes,
our comfort food.
His motivation is warmth,
found in layers of blankets,
meals of potatoes smothered with gravy,
and our Scooter’s runs for hot cocoa
on bitter December afternoons.
He has the warmest laugh, released
during his favorite movies by the fireplace,
and hot, angry tears that threaten to escape
when he loses a board game.
Declan is our barbecue sauce.
He adds flare to every dinner table
and evokes unexpected laughs
when he drowns his chicken strips,
steak, and hotdogs
in tangy reddish-brown.
He reveals a new side of bottled personality
sweet, spicy, original, funny.
He’s the spilled sauce on my backseat
from our last Dairy Queen run,
the smell of brothers and barbecue
lasting for weeks.
He is the baby of the family,
the finishing touch when something was missing.
Jalapeños, pop tarts, cupcakes, McDonald’s, potatoes, and barbecue;
my family’s six food groups.
Originally appeared on KUVR's Town Talk
is the place of Swedish celebrations
and supermarket conversations,
of schools where every face is familiar.
Where smiles at stoplights
and four-finger waves
are the norm;
where sunburned bricks of downtown
hold street dances
and the Sun Theater.
Duster pride fills Friday nights,
and small businesses thrive
on the following Saturday’s morning.
Where sunsets are best viewed
from gravel roads,
and baseball fields
host annual firework shows.
A place where lake days
and cruise nights
fill my summers,
where working for a local shop
has taught me to match well-known names
to visiting faces.
Where neighbors are friends,
and strangers are neighbors.
our small but vibrant home.