You pick the scab from the pimple from the scar over your right eye. It’s like a fractal of miniature injuries, over here. You open your mouth and bare your teeth in the mirror, wipe away where your breath fogs up the glass and wonder when’s the last time you flossed. Remember that article you read about dental health corresponding to cardio health, think about your fam’s history of heart disease. Etc. It occurs to you to scrub your tongue, where there’s a film that’s gathered, and you imagine what it would look like to watch the Queen of England doing this thing, what she might be thinking right now, as you’re thinking this. There’s a sock on your right foot but not on your left. You’re not sure when he showed up, or what he did with his friend. You consider checking your hamper, but it’s all. The way. Over. There. So you come back to the sink. The toothpaste you chose for its minty freshness. Your eyes catch “fluoride” and remind you of the articles you read on your feed re: fluoridation being a dental-run scam. It all comes back to teeth, in the end, you tell yourself. Incisors. Canines. Molars.
What else? White Teeth by Zadie Smith. The Smiths. Music. Transmission of sound. Wavelengths. Ears. Cartilage. Matter. Anti-matter. Ray guns. Little green men. In the mirror, your reflection’s walked away but then come back into frame just as you’ve looked up, the movement off by a half second or so–video lag. What’s important is where a thing ends up, not necessarily where it’s located at that specific locus in time. You remember Zeno’s arrow, of motion being broken up into tiny bits of non-motion, indivisible and same. Your reflection’s doing the laundry. It asks if it can have your sock, just the one, and you hand it over. There’s a spider angling itself in a corner of the bathroom, many-eyed and patient. It has no idea who George Washington is. It’s considering the safest route to a water source, the one you’re hogging right now, brushing your teeth because that’s one of the many things you’re supposed to do. So you can get up and go to your job and perform tasks in a sequential order that ensures maximum productivity and lie in the sun for a while, when you get out, watching the way the blue haze of the sky encompasses all things. The installation of blue lights in major metro areas was reported to lead to a decrease in crime. Looking at a certain shade of blue before orgasm is supposed to intensify the feeling. The use (overuse?) of the word blue in love songs, probably dating back to the ’40s or so. The feeling of love held in one hand with the biological explanation of it in the other, like an emotional scale of justice. You’re out on a shore at night now, wind dragging sand into water for it to be sent back to where it started: a Sisyphean task with no Sisyphus in sight. There’s a man standing out on a sandbar, looking up at the stars. Man. The Fall of. Male. Masculine. Testosterone. Socially-constructed gender binary. Ones and zeroes. Code: genetic and computer. You’ve got a shell in your hand. The colors inside of it gradually fade into each other, and you can’t be sure where one starts and the other ends. How many people have been out on a shore, at night, looking into a shell, in history. A hypothetical island that houses all of these people, all of them permanently nature-watching: serfs and kings and “witches” and beatniks. The feeling that you are an anthropologist sent here to study the human race, but outside of it. Apart from it. You’ve had a thousand lives before this one, various nervous systems, appendages, brainstalks. The idea of the brain as a passive receiver of consciousness as opposed to a generator of it. Of an old TV picking up a hazy signal, rabbit-ears era, fuzzy static on the screen.
Of all lifeforms attempting, in their various ways, to consume the sun. Plants win this round. An all-green hominid, complete with root system, chlorophylled up and absorbing light. Of the way gray aliens are commonly depicted being a repressed memory of our mother’s faces, distorted to our newborn eyes. Eye. I. Me. Mine. Subject and object as being an illusion in the mind, something to be overcome. You’re hopping a fence, shoes off, toes touching fresh clipped grass, squishing into the edge of a coil of feces, the smell coming along for the ride, definitely dog. Breed unknown. You’re not that good that you can tell a breed by the smell of its shit. Not yet. The feeling of eating up the night as you walk through it, arms outstretched, fingers wide. Being in this time and this place, fully, inhabiting it for a millisecond before being Etch-A-Sketched to something else. Somewhere else. Breathing in and knowing that you’re breathing in. Washing your foot in the water of a sprinkler as you walk back home, little rivers of dogshit clearing off your foot, leaving it clean. Remembering to exhale. Walking back inside. Arriving.
Nicholas Olson is a freelance writer living in North Carolina. When he’s not writing a novel or wrangling a cat, he’s editing for Cease, Cows or reviewing for The Review Review. He’s been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, Literary Orphans, decomP, and other fine places. Read more at nicksfics.com.
We’re Alone Until We Aren’t
Rattling, Slithering. Like a serpent it wraps around him choking breaths from his body. It’s invisible but I can see its effects on him; his smile turning into a pained wince and he’s stuttering a bit now.
I’ve explained it a few times but I’m patient so I explain again, careful with my tone so as not to antagonize the beast on his back. “It’s ok, the way we’ve budgeted the week it works out. More money will be direct deposited on the 15th, that’s only 6 days away and we have everything we need. You just filled up your tank and me too. We have foods, bills are paid, we’re good. I promise, we’re good.”
I wait for his reaction. I hope it is one of relief, where his brow unfurrows and his energy calms. However, it isn’t that at all. He either didn’t hear me, doesn’t believe me or can’t shake the monster that is crushing his spirit. “Let me run the numbers again” and off he goes to do just that. To come up with the same accurate information he’s already got, and then to freak out in a panic again over the same thing. With the same questions, deaf to reason, deaf to me.
He’s been better at keeping this thing at bay, but there are times he just can’t control it. We will be talking alone, together in a room when suddenly we just aren’t alone anymore. It is there with us. We both know it, we both sense it; the unsettling energy it brings along to drown out the space. There was a time when I could stick my head into the cloud of chaos and pull my lover out from its clutches – but that time has passed and I am not as powerful against it as I once was. Now he has to battle it alone, me just standing by idly watching with a helpless, angry feeling.
As we continue to talk, it squeezes him harder. I can tell he is hurting but he doesn’t admit that. I’ve offered to get him
on medications that would block it from coming back, and he’s declined them. Therapy that drags it into the light and yells in its face doesn’t work.
He has told me that he knows much of it is unnecessary… things that can be changed will be and situations out of our control are just that – out of our control. The constant worrying though – the unbridled desperation he feels about everything – is enough to make him lose sleep and grow older, faster. From small things to big things, the worry is so heavy that it can crush him and push him down to his knees. They call it Anxiety but I’ve always felt that word didn’t do it justice – the feeling is so intense that the word for it should have more letters and be much harder to say. It should be written in all caps and it should always be underlined.
As we continue to talk, I peel each one of its tentacles from his skin. Talking him into reason is helpful, and he begins to detach himself from the smothering beast. It is a slow process. Eye contact … look at me, trust me, I am telling you the truth, its going to be ok. Another claw removed, another paw lifted, another sharp tooth retracted. He seems shaken but strong. It didn’t get the best of him and he lives to see another day. I worry though – and his monster has spawned a small one of my own that centers only on his. Seems insane I have anxiety about his anxiety! I worry that he worries!
Lola Santana was born in Brooklyn NY, and comes to Winston Salem via New Jersey where she’s spent most of her life. She wears many hats – she’s a fashion designer, an artist who creates with various mediums, an avid traveller and writer. Her favorite things are animals, women’s rights and her husband Jimmy.
How long should I carry the burden imposed on me by my destiny debauch ? I challenged to accept my virgin motherhood because I did not think it wise to abort out the seed of my love from being germinated. Sam came to my life at the dawn of my adolescent period with a mesmerizing ray to radiate the courtyard of green pasture land of my youth – ebullient mind. I received him with adoring awe of first love, pure with puberty, moist with immaturity, perilous with imprudence.
I was then really a stupid girl without the least mental ability to assess what was being cooked in the vicious kitchen of Sam’s mind. I was dissolved like sugar in the illusive water of his love. But Sam was a sheep in the guise of a wolf. I could not help responding to his Wolfy robust roar of masculine attraction. Sam kept the invisible trap of his shamful, pretending love to ensnare me – a fly to be a victim to the spider’s web! He impoverished me snatching my virginity.
In a remote hamlet of India it was even beyond fancy to accept an unmarried mother without turbulent tumult and fanatic chaos. Sam left the village in the pretext of higher study in a distant town beyond my reach. My mom reddened my skin with a broom. My dad cursed me and advised to commit suicide drowning myself in the river flowing arrogantly dividing the village in two equal halves. Scornful look of my brother told me that I should not expect his support. My one intrepid decision made me a stranger to my near and dear ones who once showered me with their sonorous love and affection. No encouraging hand with a lamp of sympathy came forward to embolden the courageous step I had taken. Invisible illness of society with the symptoms of ignorance, superstition, and orthodox doctrine dug insurmountable craters in my way of reaching my destination.
I fled to a nearby town to find a test tube to fertilize the embryo of my tender dream. A kindhearted lady rescued me from being transferred to a harlot house. She sprinkled her pity on me because I almost exactly took after her daughter who was brutally gang – raped to miserable death not in a distant past. It did not take long time to tide over the traumatized phase of my life with the solacing fanning of filial air of my new mom. In her intensive domestic care unit, my baby was getting ready to see the light of the world. My body and soul had no patience to wait any more for tasting the palate of motherhood.
Man exposes, God disposes! I was dreaming of giving birth to a healthy baby to the hilarious salubrity of my mind. My dreams were floating with golden wings in the realm of fancy. My foster mom promised almost all idols of gods and goddesses to bribe if my delivery went without any interruption. My destiny was probably smiling musingly contemplating over what was going to happen to disrupt my dreaming edifice. To the utter dismay and disappointment I gave birth to a deformed baby – a lump of living flesh!
Who would tell me what was my mistake? Am I to blame for giving birth to a distorted figure? I just wanted to give an embodiment to my love. Again the vultures of our so-called society came howling , “Illegitimate love can’t produce a blessed crop.” I kept my mouth shut. I preferred to take refuge on the lap of tranquil stillness. As an abrupt and unexpected tempest Sam came to visit me like a comet . Hearing everything from my new mom , he exploded, “The gene has played the role of the villain . My mother too gave birth to a monster baby who survived only for a week.”
Sujoy Bhattacharya is a nature poet and writer . He lives to write on the strangeness of human psychology. He worships humanity and adores poetry as a living deity and stories as shadow of life . He lives in Mumbai, India and waves of Arabian sea inspire him to write .
The Passion of Rubies
The tissue-wrapped package crinkled softly in Olivia’s fingers.
‘Enjoy your jewellery,’ the smiling sales assistant said. ‘Rubies bring passion, protection and self confidence.’
Olivia badly needed a dose of self confidence. Four precious days of sailing across a sapphire sea on the Norwegian cruise liner was her first step. She imagined a haze of peace and tranquillity, but it was tinged with terror.
Once on board the modern white cruise liner she explored the tiny cabin that would be her home for the weekend trip. Hanging in the wardrobe was her silver gown. The gleaming ankle-length dress fitted her closely and sensuously. She had purchased it on a whim right before she left Edinburgh, five hundred miles north of the English port where the liner was now preparing to depart.
With mild conceit she hoped that the dress might turn heads and prompt strangers to nod at her, to shake her hand, smile and introduce themselves.
On the first evening she wore it for dinner in the vessel’s opulent Art Deco dining room. As she made her way to the captain’s table she glanced surreptitiously at her reflection in the mirrors lining the ship’s wide staircase.
The new ruby earrings, unpacked from the crinkly tissue, swayed gently from her ears, the blood-red gems glinting through her hair when she tilted her head. Their silver setting complemented her elegant gown. She felt normal.
This daring dress might not fit her later on but right now she wanted it for its immediate figure-hugging beauty.
Olivia’s golden hair endowed her with what little confidence she possessed. She made it glossy and encouraged it to do the things she wanted.
A flash startled her. A photographer had caught her as she ascended the stairs.
She bought an overpriced print of the picture when she disembarked three days later. The silver dress was packed in her suitcase but the ruby earrings still dangling freely. Her brain swirled with memories of chilled champagne, spontaneous smiles and dancing. Friendly people in a normal social setting, one little snatch of luxury and privilege.
Early the next morning she took the bus into Edinburgh city. She repeatedly glanced at her reflection, patted her hair and stole furtive glances in the windows of the bus.
A uniformed nurse led her into the ward.
She was a cancer patient now.
The hair would be gone in three weeks. It would slip off her head slowly at first and then finally all in a rush. She had read plenty of accounts of other ladies who had completed a gruelling six-month chemo stint. All Olivia really wanted was to survive.
Olivia still clung to bits of normality. She had observed as the stress lines stole across the faces of her friends and colleagues when she broke the news of her cancer. She would go to the supermarket, buy bacon and milk and chocolate biscuits, she would sit in her office and attend meetings and manage her staff. She wanted this illness to be invisible. It would help others.
It would stifle their pity.
The ruby earrings, with their happy cruise-ship connotation, became her talisman. They were in her ears as she loaded bacon and milk and teabags into the supermarket trolley.
Sitting in her kitchen with a cup of tea her eyes looked away from the boxed blonde wig called ‘Stylish Tresses’. It was the enemy. But she knew life without it was inconceivable. She felt pure admiration for ladies who said, ‘no wig for me, I don’t mind who knows I’m a cancer patient.’
As predicted, three weeks after the first dose of chemo she pulled the unwanted wig of stylish tresses onto her empty head. She grew to appreciate the wig, knowing it would provide normality during six months and more of treatment.
Just before Christmas with the chemo completed a lumpectomy was arranged. But it wasn’t enough.
After the surgery her consultant said, ‘I’m afraid we want to do a mastectomy, Mrs Holland, just to be sure.’
Very soon the anesthetic crept up a vein in her arm for the second time and she woke in the recovery room, devastated.
But here she was. This was ‘later’. The rest of her life.
Bubbly, black-haired Sonya hadn’t made it this far, neither had Mrs Donaldson, a kindly lady from the retirement flats by the sea. Olivia was ashamed at her own ingratitude.
Back home she made a cup of tea and looked in the mirror.
She smiled at the wig and the ruby earrings, and touched the left one with her finger to make it swing. Normal, she thought.
‘My hair will grow back. Next is fitting into the daring silver dress.’
Camilla Holland is a scientist, historical re-enactor and tarot reader. She takes inspiration from walking along the beach, sitting in cafes and taking notes on plane, train and bus journeys. She and her partner have had brushes with death through cancer and are familiar with the rollercoaster that is depression.