Tag Archives: Thriller

Some Way Out of Here

By Parrish

Mother says grace isn’t given; you fight for it. Charley smiles in the mirror as she drives. Ah, Mother, grace takes many forms.  Jimi, for instance, or Kristin. Definitely Blue. She’s otherworldly. You’d admit that. Then there’s Kat. What about Charley? Hmm. Definitely not Charlotte. That bitch is dead and won’t survive the second coming.  Sorry, Mom. Grace is a heaven of my own. 

Along I-75, the sun sinks into the sea redder than blood. Creation bleeding at the edges, and Jimi occupies her car speakers like a godly messenger from a lost world. He’s singing the way through. At 90 mph, she looks for that new sky and new earth that will come when the sea gives up its dead, and the copulators and murderers gather outside the new golden city to be damned. She’ll be among them if Mother doesn’t drag her through the gates to the golden city herself. Better turn up Jimi. Grace infected his guitar, and maybe it’s contagious. 

Graduation was tomorrow; unless it’s today, everything is always happening again. If she were eighteen, she’d wear a tattoo. Mother says no. She thinks any day now is Judgment Day when the dead will bury the dead before grace everlasting. Don’t defile your flesh, she says. As for girls, be one, don’t kiss one. She says together we’ll fight the beast until it’s cast into the fiery lake. But what if I’m the beast? May as well wear that black lipstick Mother hates. She sighs again. 

She quit her job today. She was going to try for the kingdom if she can. She wasn’t going to spend eternity cleaning comes. Fuck that asshole and his low rent peep show he calls a bookstore. And fuck his twenty bucks an hour and putting his hands on me, like Mother said he would. It’s happening now, Mother says. From Sarasota to Pensacola, people rehearsing the Rapture. Houses being built for the banks to fail, the insides stripped for materials, bathtubs stinking from shit.  Shells corroding in the sun occupied by the warlords of the Apocalypse mixing medicine to sell to zombie children. The coastline beckons in skywriting like ancient prophecy. 

BE ALL YOU CAN BE IN THE ARMY! 

ESCORTS NEEDED NOW! 

Jimi, what’s a girl to do? Soldier or whore? The fucking future. It’s been overtaking her every second since before she was born. Blue stopped time, but she’s not Blue. Mother thinks she’s my watch and I’m her minutes. 

In the mirror, Mother supervises her driving. Her reflection turns up everywhere. Her purse was not to mention random windows; puddles generally worked, and sometimes free-floating in space in her room. No mirror in the world—she has checked them all—can distinguish her eyes from her eyes forever watching her, forever talking to her, inescapable, behind everything, forever eating her through her own eyes. 

Jimi, there must be some way out of here, right? You found the exit ramp. 

Jimi never answers; he just plays on repeat since he took over her playlist. Blue was the one who put him there that day in the bathroom. 

And you were a soldier too, like my brother. Luke traded dealing drugs for the army. Didn’t listen to Mother. Why go to Afghanistan, she says, when Jesus needs warriors. No sign up needed for the Final Battle. The future’s here, Charlotte, and it’s murder.  

But Mama, I don’t want to be a soldier; I don’t want to die. Her hands gripping the wheel are clenched fists.

You’re already a soldier, Mother says, in the army of the Lord.  

   Jimi, you hear that? Mother Dearest! She’d eat everybody living and dead to save me.  Who’s eating Luke? 

Hush, sweet Charlotte. Luke’s ok.  He’ll live while others will die, and there’s always a lesson in that. Never forget we live in the Truth. Yes, it’s a burden to live among these billions of bodies waiting to be burned. And more being born each second! They multiply through vice so that Satan may lead them to the slaughter. Such a conflagration! I can smell it from here to Miami!

No point adjusting the mirror. Mother installed it inside her head before she could speak, and Charley can’t escape its reflection. Charlotte did. That’s because Charley killed Charlotte, so Mother wouldn’t. It was surprisingly simple. She let Kristin kiss her on the beach, surf licking their ears. Somehow, Mother knew. Mother’s the lover that’s hard to quit.

Before you were born, she says, I knew you. In the womb, I encircled you. Upon birth, the circle widened. Its circumference encompasses all of time and creation, arcing from the sizzling pits of hell to the misty azure of heaven.  She’s been grounded half of the calendar weekends since she turned fourteen. In Mother, she’s safe—from drugs, from other girls’ mouths, from marking her body with the tattooed ink Zombie-Goats wear in Satan’s army of the dead.

“Mother’s eyes bore into Charley’s skull; they share them, they share everything, one way or another.”

She’s been to six classmates’ funerals— three by hanging, two by overdose, one by car. The future really is murder. Ask Blue. She graduated herself. Charley met her one day hanging in the school bathroom. Blue Angel. Her face looked almost pretty in the mirror hanging from the ceiling. Charley rubbed her bare feet, and they discussed what was to come. She knew their friendship was fate.  Sometimes she sees the future in the present. It’s a gift from Mother. Blue knew Charley too—she spoke without saying hello. The afterlife is no different from this one. When the rent-a-cop came to cut her down, Charley clasped Blue’s knees and cried to keep her close. She wasn’t bothering anybody. They took her body but not her face in the mirror. Sometimes she can almost kiss it.  

Since Blue found her bedroom mirror, things are better. Her friend Kat comes too. Blue must have shown her the way. Blue’s great. She says the craziest things, except they’re not crazy. Like, time can’t cease, and grace won’t come until male and female become a single being and male won’t be male and female won’t be female, so kiss whoever the fuck you want. It’s hard not to laugh when Blue talks like that, but she doesn’t want Mother to see. And Jimi in her ears with his forever song. Blue was broadcasting it when they met. She heard it from the stall calling her. She removed the buds from Blue’s ears so Jimi might bloom in hers.  It’s almost as if Jimi brought them together, though Charley prefers to credit Blue’s generosity. Blue came to bring her Jimi’s good news, and that has made all the difference. The earphones, too, Mother is always tossing hers.  

Hush, sweet Charlotte, Charley says, so Mother won’t. Keep your body clean. Patience now, or you’ll die forever. The day ending all days is near. Until then, live among these dead as best you can. Grace awaits. 

Charley’s face pales like death. It’s her. But I killed her with that kiss.  No, she lives in Mother’s eyes, looking straight at Charley, dating proper boys and keeping her body pure of graven images.

I’m Charley now, she says, barely moving her lips so Mother won’t see, like a ventriloquist she saw once. She was concentrating on Jimi in her ears, praying, save me, let Charlotte have Mother’s afterlife, and letting me have grace like that time with Kristin on the beach, away from her voice. A voice that was falling over her like lava on Pompeii those words were bubbling and gurgling, saying, graduation’s soon, sure, but time is short. The form of this world is passing away. Better stay home with Mother. It’s more dangerous than Afghanistan out there. The drones are within— schools breeding zombies. Masks won’t save them. I’m a nurse, I know, I see the wires attached to their heads streaming filth. Dead to the world, dead to everything, dead dead dead. And the junk they read! Game of Thrones gobbledygook. Harry Potter prattle. Goat books for goat people. The living dream of being dead, and well they should. Men were marrying men; women were marrying women. Fire fodder. But not you, baby girl, never you, not if you stay close to Mother.

She’d turn up Jimi, but Blue already has. He gets louder when Mother gets closer. Her arm tingles so wildly she believes may be her tat’s coming now.  In dreams, she’s seen it, written in red letters she can’t remember. She wishes she could borrow the stars pressed on Blue’s eyelids. Charley had seen them in the morgue when she pretended to be her sister. Kristin wanted stars like that, but she spent all her money on heroin.  Look, Mother. Aren’t they pretty? Blue says if the spirit comes into being because of the body, it’s a marvel of marvels. That’s me when I get my tattoo. You’ll see.   

And if you’re worried about my life after graduation, Kat has ideas.  She’s not a whore, Mother; it’s called sex work. Not like the bookstore. Kat copyrighted her fine little ass! She used to work in a bike shop, but the men were such assholes. It’s a little-acknowledged fact, Kat says, Charley says, men go into heat worse than women. Existence for them is a mechanism cruder than a bike. A gear that runs all the other gears is always running them. It’s like what you told that new mom at church, how baby girls are better than baby boys because changing their diapers, boys get tiny erections shoot pee in your face. 

Never ends, Kat says. 

Master, the penis, master the man, Mother says.

Better off with girls, Kat says. Like you and Kristin.

I was her nurse, Charley says. She’s messed up.  

Girls are tricky, Mother says. You must watch them until they’re grown. And even then. 

Mothers, Kat says. I wouldn’t unblock mine from my phone for a thousand bucks—the price of an ass fuck.

Charley giggles. She loves it when Kat talks like that, even if she has to move her lips to make it happen. Mother isn’t giggling, though.  

Charley, I told you, Charley says, it’s not your job to clean Kristin’s bones in this life.

I know, we’re splitting up. 

Kat looks confused, so Charley puts the side of her hand next to her mouth and whispers words only she can hear. 

Mother says Kristin is a lesbian. My body is a temple, and L is Satan’s middle initial, and if Kristin pillages my temple, Jehovah will mark my forehead with Satan’s name. But that asshole’s not touching me. No way. If Mother doesn’t like it, she can suck my bones in the afterlife. 

Charley laughs since Charlotte never says such things. In the mirror, Charley’s lips move like Kat’s.

Speaking of money, that job you had . . . second hand come is not terrible. At least you didn’t have to watch them jerk off and clean your face. I’m almost sorry you didn’t get real hands-on experience. Sex work isn’t terrible if you work hard and have goals. Show up. Maintain your appearance. And carry a gun. If a client asks for your number, call that day’s number and tell whoever answers what happened, so you never see him again. That’s the benefit of working for a corporation. Beats the army. The clients are disgusting, but it’s not about you, Kat says, Charley says, while Mother frowns over her shoulder. The worst part is they talk when they finish. I’d rather put their dick in my mouth again than listen to their bullshit.  

Mother’s eyes bore into Charley’s skull; they share them, they share everything, one way or another, like roommates in the same cell. She closes her eyes and hears not Jimi but Mother calling from downstairs. 

Knock knock. Charley? You there? 

Sorry, she says, Mother wanted something. 

I quit talking to mine after I put my dad in jail. 

Charley’s mouth opens so wide she sees Blue peeking from behind her tonsils.  

“Mother stares, waiting for an answer. The L on Kat’s head pulsates like a neon sign.”

He molested me.  Aren’t words stupid?  Dad RAPED me. I couldn’t count the times. When I was sixteen, I quit trying.  I called 911. The funny thing is he had just given me that cell phone, the eternal asshole. The cops and the emergency techs found me bloody—it was my period—with evidence of his miserable need. I felt like I was the criminal turning him in. Crazy, right?  I don’t know how I did it. Jesus, maybe, but I don’t believe in Jesus, so I don’t see why he would care about me. 

Actually, Jesus—the words don’t come. The ferocity of Kat’s expression prevents Charley from mentioning that Mother says Armageddon is here and Jesus could be on her side.

He did my older sister too.

It brought you together, I guess. 

Sure it did. Big Sis was my first pimp! She was blackmailing him with me. Mom knew. Mom taught her the business. Mom had been extorting him for doing Sis. They begged me to withdraw the charges—said they’d cut me in. They said if Dad went to jail, we’d have no income. Sis said she’d have to hook. Fuck me! 

Charley gasped—not at Kat’s words, which she had repeated many times before, but at Mother’s absence. Usually, she drives Kat away now. 

Mom won, though. I caved. The prosecutor read my statements to me in court, and I said they were lies.  I lied about telling the truth.  I testified against myself! How sick is that? Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad. Kisses, Sis, you stupid cow-cunt!” 

Charley reaches to stroke Kat’s face, but the mirror’s words push back her hand. 

You’d never do that, would you?

What?

Lie against yourself?

And there’s Mother, a little off cue, standing behind Kat like a deep focus shot from Citizen Kane. She moves toward Kat! That’s never happened before! She nears, arms open, whether to hug Kat or break through the glass; Charley doesn’t want to know. She closes her eyes and dreams of graduation; it’s tomorrow unless it was yesterday. She’s back in the second row, wearing her blue gown, tasselled cap on head, waiting with hands crossed to be called. Above loom shadowy figures in black robes reading names. Behind her, everyone else. The theatre so vastly exceeds the limits of human endurance, but for Jimi’s singing her war song like a lullaby. Her head bobs; she’s falling asleep again. Charley! The voice jerks her awake inside of her dream. Come forward and receive your reward.  On the dais, she turns to face the others who have vanished like names erased. Among the countless empty seats, one rises. Mother, her sword tapping “All Along the Watchtower” on the metal chairs . . . 

Yo, Charley! You there? 

The bleary mirror blinks into focus. Mother, is that you?

I’m telling you, in court, everybody wanted to believe my lies.  Who wants to think Dad the hot shit lawyer is a serial rapist growing his own victims?  The judge ruled against my testimony. He must know lawyers are paid, liars. Dad went to the state prison, and I bolted the Mom-prison. Charley jumps back and sees Mother hiding behind Kat, a nearly perfect silhouette. 

Charley looks as deep into those eyes as she dares. When I die, she thinks, you’ll bring me back, and everything will happen again. 

In the Resurrection, everyone must come forward to receive their share of grace, Mother says over Kat’s shoulder. Fighting will be required. 

Oh, the fight’s on, Charley says through her ventriloquist’s lips. Kat would be an excellent ally, especially if Blue doesn’t make it.

I moved out, Kat says, to a friend’s house. Her dad was nice. He treated me like a family member. I tried to do him once, just because he was so nice he’d never ask; his wife was a total bitch. He turned me away, which is weird. Maybe he knew I’m a lesbian. 

In the mirror, Kat’s face freezes, arrested by Charley’s frightened face, which makes little sense since Kat can’t see what Charley sees, which is Mother’s L on Kat’s forehead, the one that caused Charlotte to use the word, Charley. In her panic, she wants to kiss Kat right now, to make that look disappear, but there’s Mother’s face, looking so much like her own, Adam’s apple bobbing because some words are as hard to swallow as they are to say. 

You’re a lesbian?

Haven’t we been through this? 

I forget.

I’m like you— or are you bi? 

Mother stares, waiting for an answer. The L on Kat’s head pulsates like a neon sign. 

Mother says I am. 

What do you say? 

It’s just that we talk a lot, every day practically: about the future, and other things. When I don’t, she talks to me from my mirror.

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A laugh that sounds like a sob, and she wishes Jimi would play louder, but it’s that silent moment before it repeats, and she doesn’t see her lips move when she speaks. She’s afraid Mother is going to answer her. 

Finding your mother in the mirror every day talking to you! I can’t think of anything more frightening. I’d have to break my mirrors and live like a vampire. 

She wants me to see a therapist.

Kat’s eyes narrow, and her face becomes comically prim.  You’re not skipping school to fuck your dad, are you? I wouldn’t want to call the attendance officer, young lady. 

Charley’s face cracks—into a smile. It’s so spontaneous, beautiful, she doesn’t recognize it or her own teeth, which she imagines belong to Kat. She’s licking them. Mother’s image seems to dissolve in the glass.

School’s ok. It’s just that Mother thinks I shouldn’t date girls. She says L is Satan’s middle initial, and Jehovah will tattoo it on my forehead for all eternity, or until Jesus tosses me in the flames on Judgement Day.

Girl, I don’t see it. 

Charley leans close to touch noses. She doesn’t see it either.  

Well, I’m not one. The voice sounds strange in her own ears—it sounds so much like Charlotte, who sounds so much like Mother. 

What about you and Kristin? 

That’s different.

I saw you making out at the mall. Looked pretty hot.  

She’s generally too stoned to get hot.

But you fuck?

I’m not—what Mother says.  

So what’s the problem? 

She didn’t know. 

Dump Kristin. She’s not good enough for you. 

Behind Kat, Mother nods her head. 

Any other girls you want to try?

Blue.

Do her.

I tried—but she found grace. She left me behind. 

Found Grace? Seriously? Do you believe in that shit? Well, you’re looking at grace, baby. No joke. Clients choose names for you. One called me Grace. The way he shouted that word when he came to my face, I almost believed I was it.  The last time I saw him, though, was terrible. His daughter had just died. He couldn’t get it up. He cried so much he couldn’t function. Pushing around his limp dick, I could almost imagine what it was like to have a parent who truly loved you, who’d mourn your absence. I would’ve let him talk, but I had another client soon. So I whispered, Grace is here, Daddy, come unto me. His dick became lifelike enough to screw, though he kept crying and mumbling her name. As he got harder inside me, I had a terrible realization. Grace was his daughter’s name! I couldn’t help it; I puked in his face. Then he hit me and came. After he left, I called the number. Fucking grace.

Charley grimaces like a punch to the gut. Grace isn’t a name or even a name for a name, she wants to say, you’re grace, she wants to say but can’t because she can’t breathe with Charlotte now looking at her so triumphant and . . . and Jimi getting louder playing new notes in new combinations because Blue’s speaking through the guitar, saying never lie to yourself, Charley, don’t do what you hate, all things are disclosed before heaven, and she exhales because Kat’s there, not Charlotte.  

You date dudes?

Some. I liked meth and ate bath salts and tried to eat his skin and another girl’s skin, but he was always nice to me. I was sorry he died. 

“Oh, to exchange that face for the one she had before Mother encircled her.”

Men are dicey. Better to stay away.

How do you stand it? 

Stand what?

Sleeping with them. 

Learning I didn’t have to fuck them was the hard part. It’s a job. I’m getting my GED, saving for college. Then law school so I can sue assholes like Dad. They’re everywhere, like cash machines. 

Talk of the future brings to mind graduation, which she almost remembers remembering, though, for the life of her, she can’t fathom Mother’s sword. 

Watch out for therapists; the court assigned me mine. I call him The-Rapist. At first, he was my dream friend—the one that listens to whatever you say and understands you no matter how fucked up you are.  And he was so typical—like my friend’s dad, I thought, except a fucking professional normal person. I started lingering after the sessions thinking some might rub off on me. It began with him making tea. And then he started telling me his problems. Who knew normal people have problems? It made me feel; I don’t know, smart or something. I didn’t get that he was telling me that he wasn’t who I thought he was. I thought maybe he was in love with me. 

It happens, right? Charley asked hopefully. 

You’re sweet, but who was I to him? I was pretty, and I was hurt, and I was fuckable. My parents fucked me! Therefore, I could be fucked by anybody.  That’s what my life said— the facts on my résumé and The-Rapist knew that. When I realized he was using his impressive framed diplomas to get himself next to what made him hot, I dumped the asshole. Sex work is my therapy. I’m the one getting paid. The firm has me in training for their B & D division. Apparently, I’m a natural. I have that something extra.

In the mirror, Charley blinked her through her crying eyes like an actress receiving the Academy Award. 

Thanks, everyone! Parental units? You watching? I owe everything to you! Hey Sis! Fuck yourself for once! Special shout-out to my therapist! Bruuuuuuce! Kisses, baby! Oh, you want a speech? I don’t have anything prepared, but . . . ok, here’s what every real-life actress knows. Once everything has already happened to you, anything goes! You can fake anything just to get through. I got there early. Just lucky, I guess.

The words, which Charley remembers perfectly, she was crying the first time Kat said them, leak from her lungs, her heart, her brain like she’s been punctured by someone else’s memories. Charlotte’s a bitch to play. Leaning across her childhood dresser, she wants to touch her hand, kiss her mouth, make her feel better somehow. She leans closer, lips ready to kiss. Kat turns aside as Charley talks out of the side of her mouth. 

I already have a girlfriend, girlfriend.  

The eyes in the mirror are vacant, from another world, one where Mother isn’t. Blue’s face replaces Kat’s like radio signals converging, and she doesn’t notice the earbuds fallen around her neck like a noose. 

What if you walked out of this reflection and gave no forwarding address? 

Mother will find you, a distant voice taunts. 

Who said that? Charlotte, are you there?  

If you know what’s in front of your face, Blue says, everything hidden from you will be disclosed.  

Charley slaps her cheek twice, hard, to unshape its mouth and to unmake its eyes. Oh, to exchange that face for the one she had before Mother encircled her.

Through the mirror, Blue returns the pods to her ears. Listen, girl, listen this time, please. Blessed is she who came into being before coming into being. Her words soar like Jimi’s guitar. 

Charley’s eyes flash, burning holes through the glass and penetrate the world behind the world. For a moment, just long enough, she can’t see anyone, not even herself, since the mirror is perfectly blank, but for the strange gravitational force pulling her forward into the black tunnels her eyes have made. 

“In her armour of light, she kneels, not in supplication, but to issue a command.”

In her armour of light, she kneels, not in supplication, but to issue a command.  

A rolling roar, a buzzing in her brain. School counsellors’ words, Luke’s letters from Afghanistan, dead bodies in the bathrooms were reading newspapers aloud. It’s not strange to have gone through the mirror, not at all. 

She expects light overwhelming but sees only her, broken glass embedded in that face like diamonds, eyes streaming red globs of blood like bleary mascara, motioning her forward with her sword. She looks for a place to run and recognizes the auditorium from her dream. Graduation night! This place is ginormous. Look at all these . . . at all these . . . people? A multitude whose number she couldn’t count, from every nation and tribe and tongue.  Most look like they’re dead. She wonders if everything exists just for her.

Throughout the theatre, Jimi’s guitar reverberates. Still, only she hears it, his wah-wah whispering, this way, Charley, you can make it, but Mother is greeting her with the promised sacred kiss and putting that sword in her hand, except now it’s a pocket mirror, saying, nice work, honey, but look at yourself, on this day of all days, can’t you just fix your face? Her eyes are sockets black and bruised above strips of hanging flesh. N,o doubt about it, she looks beat-up, emptied out, but wearing that black lipstick Mother hates. It looks cute. Her lips pucker as the lights go out like they had never been a light from within allows her to see her robe is white, not blue, and smeared with blood. Mother’s robe is white like hers but sparkling as if freshly washed. You can change later, she whispers. 

As she grows accustomed to the darkness, she discerns classmates naked but for the scars on their battered bodies. Her bloody eyes fix upon the robed figures on the stage. One sits upon a throne above the others. Around him are four animals teeming with eyes in front and back. A lion, a calf, an eagle, and a dog with a human face that Charley recognizes as Blue by the way it winks at her. He’s giving slips of paper to those whose names are called. Jesus, it’s going to take forever and a day to get through this thing. Her name rings out, but she hears only Jimi, while Blue seems to be barking and wagging her tail.  

Mother pushes her forward, whispering, it’s ok, baby, the dead are not alive, and the living will not die. Charley can’t hear, and anyway, she’s watching her arm where a feather quill writes upon it from inkpots filled with blood. A glowing graven image was raising up like goosebumps. She can’t believe it.  Mother said it would happen over her dead body. The letters emerging from her skin seem to be moving the quill until the pot disappears into the air. The quill, free-floating, drips blood on her bare feet and then goes where the pen went. The letters light up her eyes. G R A C E runs one direction and C H A R L E Y the other.  They intersect at the A.  It looks like a sideways cross.

In the second row among the chosen, Mother has returned with her diploma, cooing; you’ve earned it, baby.  I will choose you as one from a thousand and as two from ten thousand, and you will stand as a single one. Before she can ask its meaning, the paper starts to burn. Fire shoots through her fingers and into every strand of her hair as the throne rises heavenward. Fight your ass off, the ascending one yells, but Jimi drowns him out. The doggy Blue dissipates into the smoke. Only then does the terrible smell infuse her, the auditorium turning into the ashes from the burning flesh of women and men and the world darkening at the edges as its light disappears through the gap where the throne ascended.

On the beach, two remain. One holds two swords, the other none above neither sun nor moon. Still, the view seems familiar despite I-75 being gone. That’s ok. She won’t be needing her car anymore. In the sand, she notices shards of stars fallen like unripe fruit from a tree. The sea had been a bottomless pit, and the wind sounds like a buzzing of locusts. Her ear pods are gone. Mother’s voice pierces through the noise. 

You ready? They’re about to rise up. We’ll have to fight them again. 

Where’s Jimi? 

Here’s your sword.

Keep it. 

Don’t make me fight you. I’ll cut your arm off to save you. 

Through her arm’s muscle, the tattoo flexes like a taunt. Mother can’t help herself. The sword severs the arm at the A, and the A shatters the sword. Charley doesn’t blink. She has never seen Mother cry before. 

It’s ok, Mom. You have another one.  

In her armour of light, she kneels, not in supplication, but to issue a command.  

Mother, Charlotte cleft your body to enter this world. She now cleft me so that Charley can return. She bows her head. 

Jesus, in the name of Blue, she says, grace shall reign over me.  

As the sword comes down, the music swells in place of the disappeared sea. By her two ears and her one arm, Jimi carries her to that world where she meets the face she wore before the world was made, and they were one. 


Parrish is a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer and critic living somewhere in California and teaching. His debut chapbook, I Close My Eyes, and I Almost Remember, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.

Persephone of the Valley

By Dani Herrera

I was found unconscious in my little house on stilts over the sea.

There were claw marks on the windows. The chimney’s bricks were ripped off their foundation. The pipes were burst, and long strands of hair were caught on the jagged steel edges. 

That part I remember.

The dripping water, the yowls as those strands were ripped off the scalps, the slapping and the splashing of bare feet on their way to me.

I wish the water had smelled like rain or warm showers. 

All the past versions of me clawed their way up the stilts and into the house. They did everything I said I would never do.

So as they held me down and the water went up my nose and burned my sinuses, all I smelled was pain,

I wondered who they really were. 

The next morning I’m in the hospital, calling for nurses, doctors, other patients.

Please, could someone tell me what happened, someone that isn’t him.

Because, of course, Vincent was the one who found me. And he’s the one who sits on my bed, telling me what happened while I put my hands over my ears and hum. I hum so loud my teeth chatter. That’s what I tell myself, that I hum that loud. But really, I’m still cold. 

I never want to hear bad news from people I love. 

It’s the softness that kills. 

Vincent says,

I found you halfway out your window. Your head was upside down, and your eyes,

your eyes looked just like the moon.

I think that’s enough water. I think it’s time to bring you down from the peaks,

the peaks of thin air and clouds of your neighbours’ smoke.

Please let me carry you down to the valley,

where your feet can touch the floor. 

Once he told me what happened, I can’t remember anything else.

Right when I get to the end of the memory, me with my head resting on the sill, out the open window, right when it’s time to close my eyes and rest, it all restarts.

I saw the me’s swimming in the water under my house, clawing their way up the beams. I couldn’t hear what they said. Their words were garbled, so used to being underwater, their voices sunk in the air. 

They carried my limp body to the window, their seaweed skin slipping around me. 

I could hear Vincent calling for me as headlights shone through the front window.

No

I can hear Vincent calling me as doctors shine their flashlights into my eyes.

I’m getting stuck in this memory so often the water that drowned me is slipping out of my ears, mouth, and nose.

Vincent asks what’s on my mind. I’m afraid that if I tell him, he’ll drown too. 

As the water starts to seep out into the hallway, a woman comes in. 

She says,

Tell me what you can feel with your fingers, tell me what you hear, tell me what you smell; Ground yourself.

I feel the paper sheets, the rough cotton of blankets. I can smell sharp antiseptic; I can hear the beeping of machines and swishes of fabric. My skin tightens where the IV is, and my pulse pushes against my hospital bracelet. 

And there is so much beeping and screaming and tubes and claws.

I don’t know which place is worse.

The same woman comes in in the evening. 

I apologize for the murky water that is flooding my hospital room. I see her glancing down at my strands of hair that wave in the water.

She tells me to do the same exercise as earlier, but this time Vincent leans forward.

I smell lemons and mint and sweat. I see sea glass, his sea glass eyes; I skim my fingers over the roughness of his beard, the roundness of his knuckles. 

“I was in those shining buildings.”

For the first time, the memory ends.

And now there is the after:

Vincent yelling for me, 

Dragging me inside,

Carrying me to the car.

Playing my limp fingers like a piano.

When Vincent takes me back home, my body is fighting me. My ears are popping. My lungs are gasping; when we’re almost there, my nose bleeds.

He tells me,

It’s the elevation.

You don’t have to get used to it, or you’ll tell yourself you can stay. 

Stop climbing higher; you are not a bird.

Don’t you dare dive; you are not a fish. 

The floors are slippery with undried water and sea moss. The carpet is soggy. 

I can see fish swimming in the puddles of warped ground. Sea anemones latch onto the baseboards throughout my old tiny home. 

There is a wind rushing, and I can’t tell if it’s the ocean or the highway. 

And that salt air. It’s sharp; it stings, but it’s not dry enough to let me live.

Vincent packs up my clothes because I can’t bear to go to my room.

When I step out on the patio, I cough up all the water from inside. I gag and spit out the salt. 

This is the thin air I’m used to. 

My house is on stilts but is still shorter than my neighbours’. I can see the smoke from their cigarettes billowing down to me, and I try to pick out shapes. 

I look up, not down.

Down is where the sea of hands and feet are. 

I hear the door open as Vincent steps out.

I say,

I used to wave good morning to the me’s of translucent winter glow

and toss kisses goodnight to the me’s of laughing summer tans. 

I guess it wasn’t enough.

I thought it was better to live in the neighbour’s clouds than in those swimming shadows down below. 

He takes me away from the edge and out the door to the packed car.

All my things are so heavy they push the car down the winding roads faster and faster. 

Vincent says,

I know what it’s like, 

breathing in those clouds.

Across the way, over the water,

I was in those shining buildings. 

I was there long before I met you.

Wouldn’t it be nice,

to meet on the ground floor without sunburned skin and thinning air?

“I know the sun isn’t right outside the window, but I hope it feels like home.”

A place without bare, bending trees;

no dirt or dead grass;

no splintering sandalwood. 

So that’s where he takes me.

With the speeding car and boxes of clothes and drying and smudged books,

He carries me down to the valley, and with that drive, it feels like my first summer. 

Being so high up, the sun rushes to rise, and by noon is already stumbling to set.

I used to run up my neighbourhood, trying to get more sun, more time. I was told I would be closer to the sun, but it always seemed to be running from my grasp. I was supposed to be given more time. I was supposed to be given a time with sun kisses instead of shadows. 

Vincent takes me to his house, and we unpack my things into the entrance hallway. 

All day, I glance at the pile that is supposed to be my life. 

Vincent nudges me, saying, 

El que nace pa maceta, no pasa del corredor.

So we unpack, we rest on his front lawn, and I can’t help but roll around. I feel the gnats and spiders weaving through my scalp, and I shiver. 

I take off my shoes and socks and spread my toes, looking at the bottoms of my scarred feet from running on blistering sand and gravel. 

I get ready for the day to end as I am spread out like the angel I always dreamed of being, but he tells me it’s only 2 pm.

We eat lunch and move my books into sunlit spare spaces and fold my clothes into his dresser. 

I run through his neighbourhood even though I don’t need to chase the sun. I go further and further, pushing my lungs, waiting for them to quit, but they never do.

I am dripping in sweat; my face is red and beating. 

I am my sun, sizzling on the sidewalk, watching the sky grow dark. 

The day was hot, but the night is apologetic.

I can feel the dust and grime and sun kisses that coat my skin. I am cooled and crystallized.

I sit in the new living room, with its wind-blown curtains.

Vincent wraps his arms around me, putting his lips to my temple, says,

Look at the wind, 

asking not to be forgotten. 

It’s twirling the trees just for you, 

sending those flower petals into flurries just for you,

his singsong voice halts, “I know the sun isn’t right outside the window, but I hope it feels like home.”

We lay side by side in bed, and I close my eyes.

There is a low whimpering— a test of a whimper.

I want to sit up, but it’s not time yet.

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Light taps come from the living room. They make their way down the walls of the outside of the house.

Living room, hallway, bathroom, my room.

I’m on the other side, scratching on the window, asking for help.

I am dripping and blue, asking to be let in. And when I don’t respond, I smash the window. 

Other me’s come pouring in, picking up my fighting body and throwing me into the sea.

I think,

I should wake up now, now, now is when I will wake up.

Rocks are jutting out from the water under my falling body. Big jagged rocks and I tuck in my arms and legs, so I don’t get hurt.

I think,

I’ll just curl up so I won’t hit the bottom, so I won’t break.

I wake up, and I’m not in my house at all. I am at sea level, maybe below sea level now, but there is no water crowding over or around me. 

It’s morning. I go outside to smell fresh-cut grass. 

I sink my feet into the grass and let my body get lost in the morning glory vines along the fence. I whisper to the plants,

Please, take me in. 

Ground me. 

My voice cracks and I start to cry, and I hope my tears don’t poison the plants, “Let the leftover water in my lungs nourish you because it’s been killing me. Keep me.”

Then I look back at Vincent standing in the doorway. 

“Can you check the pipes?” I ask him, “I think they’re coming back for me.”

I pace the backyard.

It’s nice to step, to walk, to travel at my speed.

I think back to the car ride here. The car was speeding, everything of me so heavy I was sure we were leaving a path on the road.

Claw marks, really.

Long, unbreaking claw marks and I was being dragged down. 

Vincent comes back. 

He guides me inside and shows me how small the pipes are. Of course, they can’t fit through. 

Later, when I’ve wrapped my arms around myself, he leans in and whispers in my ear, “I know it’s scary. We’re taught, climb higher and higher. Crush the sky!” Then, when he has my attention, he says, “But we’re not meant for such pressure. Our bodies will explode. Same for being down in the depths of the sea.”

I interrupt him, saying, “So not a bird, not a fish.”

He whispers back, “Maybe just a snake. Maybe a lizard.”

I frown, and he laughs.

Vincent says, “There are worse things to be.”

And I can’t help but think of the me on the other side in my dream, in my memory.

I spent five years balancing in that house of stilts. I saw the water teeming with every possible version of me that was or could be, everything I loved and was afraid of.

But not once did they ever tell me to jump, to join them in that water. They never asked until they did. 

So I could be worse things,

Like the me’s that finally made it up that climb and dragged me out of bed, they’re drowning me and bringing me to the edge. 

That evening Vincent grips my shoulders and walks behind me down the hallway.

I give a short laugh when I see the tub filled.

“They waved to me and hooted, telling me to jump.”

He mentions how I haven’t showered since coming here.

I think of being in the ocean, the real ocean, not that sea of sharp smiles and gnashing teeth.

How I used to let the waves hit me, and there was never any fear in that. 

Because I would stand or drive or jump. And if I missed, the tide always brought me back. 

So I sit in the tub now.

And my boyfriend, my lifeguard, pushes mini waves of bubbles toward my curled up body till I laugh and let my arms and legs go loose because I will not hit the bottom, I will not break. 

He sets a wind-up turtle toy in the water, and it bobs along till it hits my shoulder. 

I’m standing on the ocean floor. 

My hair is floating above me. A black halo must mean death.

I see myself twirling toward me. 

The twirling me has nails so long they curve back into her palms, and when I see me, I cry and say,

Come back to me, my love. 

I turn, ever so slowly in the water current, and end up in my old kitchen. 

The other me is curled up in the living room. There are no doors, no windows. 

I hear a whisper saying,

Don’t you miss me?

And as I’m looking at myself, I realize that I am not me. 

I am some other person, dragged to the bottom, pulled so far into the water that the world turned upside down, and I was back on land. 

When I wake up, I tell Vincent.

I tell him the story before the story.

The beginning long before the beginning; he knows. 

Because there is always another start. Before him and me, there was me, and before me, there were millions of others.

The longer I stay in this valley with him, the more I extend my origin. I’m sure that one day I will tell my end before I finish my very beginning. 

We sit cross-legged, on the bed facing each other. I play with the tassels on the duvet and tell him how I got here, to be in this bed with him in this valley where its peaks are something I can look up to instead of being afraid of falling and spearing myself with their tips. 

And I finally start, “The sun had grown blistering hot. It grew hotter than anyone had ever told me it would be. I was delirious from the elevation, spinning on my house of stilts that I had climbed so long to get. 

I went outside on the patio. And as I looked down, I saw all those versions of myself swimming. They squirted water between the small gap in their front teeth. They spun and splashed. 

Most of all, they weren’t sunburned and gasping like I was.

They waved to me and hooted, telling me to jump. I’ve never gotten this invitation before.

My arms shook as I pulled myself onto the patio railing.

“You will rain back down till you sink into the soil of the valley.”

It felt so good, so refreshing, as the wind flew through my sweating strands. I hit the water.

I smiled underwater and at all my reflections. And now they didn’t smile or wave or hoot. They dug themselves into my flaking flesh. 

I swam to the surface, kicking away their claws. I climbed up the stilts, letting the old splinters anchor my hands and toes in place. 

I coughed up water the whole day. 

And at night, when I finally fell asleep, I heard them. They took the trail I left and found me.”

Vincent says I can pick the music as we drive back up those hills and mountains.

It’s not morning, but with these long days and nights of the valley, I’m not sure I can wait weeks till the sun rises. 

“Vincent, I wasn’t always unhappy there. In my defence, I first loved the sun that sat so close it burned my skin. See, I had been cold my whole life. It was magical to overlook the water, to peer over it and to see millions of my reflections. But every beat of the sun was an hour, and I grew so dizzy, so dizzy that I would lie on the deck and I was convinced I could feel the rotation of the earth; do you know how terrifying it is—to feel the seconds of your life evaporating yet there is no way to catch up possibly; it’s a panic of being on a house of stilts but still not being able to climb over it all, but underneath, underneath those reflections came to life and I saw so much of myself and I couldn’t abandon them as they called for me, begged for me, and most of all, promised me that if I just jumped—and I only had to jump once— that I would be okay. The funny thing is, Vincent, I never saw any older versions of me in those laps and waves.”

I look around to make sure that speaking of them did not attract them. But there is no water around. No pipes. No stilts.

I remind myself that they will not find me because I’m on my way to find them. 

I know we’re getting close to my old house because I said all that, and it seems like a week has passed. 

Vincent parks in front of my house, turning his tires in and putting on the emergency brake.

I’m panting by the time we reach the doorway.

Everything inside has been sundried; no more ocean residue, no water damage. Everything has been seared away. 

I’m waiting for something to come running out. I can see the pictures of dreams drawing themself into this moment. My eyes are searching for all the places I saw them.

Vincent goes out to the patio and waits for me.

I hear screams and howls, and I brace myself.

But it’s just the wind.

“Look down, “ he tells me, gripping my hand, “ They’re not there anymore. And I say they because they were just you in a single moment; it’s just that sometimes those moments add up, and there can be mobs and swarms.”

I think,

oh no, please. 

And I think that but I’m the first to jump, and he falls after me.

I use my right hand to plug my nose because I’m not sure if, at this point, I can survive with more of this water filtering through my lungs. 

We swim deeper and deeper and float, so the water settles, and there, right there, are all the bones of those reflections of me.

Their hair has planted itself into the sand, and now it’s just seaweed, just water reeds, and their teeth have become covered by their gums and turned into a coral reef. 

We kick and swim and flounder till we reach the surface, and I’m gasping.

We float on our backs and let the waves take us till we latch onto the stilts and use the claw marks as grooves to get back up. I take off my soaking clothes and leave them in the house. My trail will end here, just in case they ever come back and look for me. 

Back in my summer valley, 

Our car is flying through the streets.

And it’s so green here. Ivy is dripping off the houses and fences, trees are erupting through grass, flowers are spilling over sidewalks, and even weeds are winding through the cracks in the street. 

Our windows are down, it’s barely dawn, the sun is drying my hair into curls, and he looks over to me at a red light.

There are no other cars out, but we still stop.

Vincent says, “Maybe,  years and years from now—after a lifetime with me—you will step out into that howling wind and be carried to the clouds again. You will rain back down till you sink into the soil of the valley. Right there in midair, you will start over again. In hurricanes and tornadoes, earthquakes and eruptions, tsunamis and monsoons.”

And the thought of starting over again, even as rain or ivy,

I almost can’t bear the thought of it because I worry about those years down the line. Catching a reflection and it is me, with windblown hair, sprinting downward toward my valley.

So I smile wide and laugh so it will echo till I find this me again, in mirrors and oceans, in car windows and dreams. 


Dani Herrera writes her magical realism from the simmering Central Valley of California. She is currently a fiction candidate at St. Mary’s College of California and always strives to include her Hispanic heritage in her writing. Dani has been previously published at Crack the Spine. You can follow her on Instagram @dani.herreraa to see pockets of her life and her beloved border collie, Blu.

Lip Blam

By Leah Sackett

Lips are gross if you watch them in motion wet, dry, rough, soft, flaky, luscious, spittle, and bad breath. Harlow had asked for her tube of lip balm from Orderly Roberts. 

“Can I have my lip blam?” Harlow asked. “You see, my lips are so chapped,” she said with a pout. 

“Okay, give me a minute. I have to give out meds,” Orderly Roberts said. 

“Here you go,” he said and handed over the little tube of Orange Crush chapstick. Roberts didn’t think her lips looked chapped. He figured it was just something to do when stuck on the ward and watched as she applied it to her pale lips. He fantasized about what those lips would look like with a bold, red color like his sister wore. Roberts was just an orderly, but he felt some of the patients were misplaced and mismanaged. In his mind, Harlow was one of them. If it weren’t for the morning and evening rounds of meds, Roberts would not indicate Harlow’s condition. She was Bi Polar and went off her meds from time to time, and every time she landed in the hospital. But she straightened out pretty much by the time she reached the main population ward where Roberts worked. He was jerked out of his reverie by an outburst from Oliver. This guy had been in much longer than insurance customarily allowed. He had nowhere else to go. No family, no place to stay, the social workers had promised him he would be released three days ago, and this quiet guy who shuffled the floors like an old man, which belied his 23 years, was frustrated. The Nurses’ station housed Cafe and De-Cafe urns of coffee along with Styrofoam cups and little packets of sugar. The objects were now being hurled at the nurses. Roberts embraced Oliver in a stifling hug and worked him to the floor. Another Orderly joined the struggle armed with a syringe of Midazolam. Together Roberts and Orderly Harrison muscled Oliver back to his room, where he could sleep his anger off. When Roberts regained the floor, the other inmates were whispering and wide-eyed. Harlow approached him and released the chapstick in Robert’s hand. 

“Here’s the lip blam,” she said. 

“You know it’s balm, right?” 

“What?” she said shrinking from Roberts. 

“It’s lip balm, not blam,” Roberts said gently. 

“Oh, right. I get confused,” Harlow said. 

Roberts felt wrong for correcting her. He didn’t want to scare Harlow off. He only had her for three more days, and then she was getting out. 

“Orderly Harrison fastened the restraints.”

He couldn’t ask for her phone number. It was an impossible relationship. Roberts palmed the lip balm back in her hand. 

“Keep it. Just be discrete,” he said. He gave himself the same advice. 

Roberts wasn’t working when Harlow was released. He resigned himself to the inevitable. His purpose was to help those short term cases get back on the right path. It started as rewarding, but some of these people just seemed to be arrested on the fringe of society, not a danger to it. Of course, he was no doctor. He was the muscle. 

Time inside an asylum sucks the staff and the patients into a warped fabric of reality, and the days run a cycle of drama and drool. Roberts began to wonder who was really incarcerated in this place, him or the patients? Charlotte slinked up the hall and cornered him up against the wall, mumbling, ” Do you identify as a hero? Do you identify as a hero? Do you identify…” Charlotte’s repetition of this question was maddening, and it got inside Roberts’s head like an earworm. He would ask himself the question on break and off shift. Was he a hero or a medical thug? His time in the asylum was tortured and terminal. Who was really trapped in this place? 

A new patient, James, was obsessed with his missing shoes, and tension was high in his demeanor. He shouted out threats to the unknown persons that had his shoes. 

“Where’re my kicks?” James pleaded.

“You can’t have your shoes here. You got the gripper socks,” Roberts said. 

“Man, I don’t want no gripper socks. I want my kicks. Then I’ll kick your ass,” James shouted. 

“I need you to keep it down and stop the threats,” Roberts said. 

“You telling me what to do? I don’t think so, Bitch,” James said and pushed Roberts back. 

Roberts got him in a prone floor hold. Orderly Harrison fastened the restraints. Hopped up on adrenaline, the Orderlies lifted the man and strapped him to the table in the solitary room. The rest of the inmates made a reticent scatter to their rooms. 

It was the end of the summer, Roberts had a much needed three day weekend. He and his buddies, Marc and Lucas, were meeting up at Milo’s for some beers and bocce ball. And to be honest, they were hoping to hook-up with some babes. Marc fetched the first round of beers, while Lucas and Roberts wrestled up the bocce balls and chalk to mark the score. Marc returned with a trio of girls, and introductions were made. 

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“So, what do you do?” the strawberry blonde Twiggy asked Roberts. “Oh, stay away from him. He’ll lock you up,” Marc said.

“What are you some kind of cop?” 

“Naw, he’s an orderly over at the mental hospital. Spends all day with the loonies,” Marc said. 

After the last pitch of the bocce ball, the ladies begged-off and went in pursuit of less creepy conversation. 

The guys were still quarreling over who was responsible for scaring the ladies off when they entered a greasy spoon, the Midnight Owl. 

Roberts did not like owls. He got a plush owl on his 8th birthday. Since then, every birthday and Christmas, he was gifted another owl. Things had really gotten out of hand when his grandma got him a set of owl salt and pepper shakers when he was 14. This diner’s name had kept him away, but tonight the dining victory went to Marc and Lucas. Roberts kept his head down in the menu, avoiding the Owl clocks, toys, and taxidermy on the walls. The waitress smelling of bacon was rattling off specials. She started to recite the Midnight Owl special when Roberts looked up into her face. No introduction was needed. It was a greasy Harlow with her hair up and thick eyeliner. It was Harlow right in front of him. But she didn’t let on that she knew him. Roberts assumed, correctly, that Harlow didn’t want to be identified. But this understood anonymity did not stop her from zoning in on Roberts and flirting aggressively. 

Roberts excused himself for the bathroom. In the narrow back hall, Harlow stood in his way, “It’s so nice to see you,” she said.

Roberts was unsettled. What were the odds of them meeting like this? He ate up her attention, and his fantasies about her came crowding back in his head and cluttered his judgment. 

“Let’s go somewhere more private,” she said. 

“Ah, yes,” he said with bated breath. 

After a greasy meal of eggs, onions, and hash, the guys made their good-byes. Roberts settled into his black 1967 Chevy Impala and waited. Roberts was racking his brain for a private place. There was a Red Roof Inn four miles down the road, but they never made it there. Harlow unbuckled her seatbelt and leaned dangerously close to Roberts’s face, for starters. 

“Hey, hey, you need to put your seatbelt back on,” Roberts said. 

But she was busy fishing for something in her purse. It was a tube of Orange Crush chapstick. 

“Here’s some lip blam for you,” she said, smearing it across his open mouth and chin. 

“A second squad car arrived…”

A clump stuck on his bottom teeth. Roberts wiped and at it with the cuff of his sleeve, while Harlow redoubled her attack and swung her right leg over Roberts. Saddling him, Harlow began to grind. 

“Harlow, I can’t see. Get off,” he said.

“I thought you liked me?” she said. “You’re no fun.” 

Harlow was pouting and leaning against her door with angst that scared Roberts. Just then, he saw the lights in his rearview mirror, and it was backed by the siren. Roberts pulled over on the shoulder of the road. This was a busy road during the day, but at night the businesses were all shut down, and the four-lane road was a vast playground for drunk drivers on the way home. 

“What’s going on here?” Officer Manners asked. 

His flashlight illuminated the half-dressed Harlow slumped along the window. 

“Do you want to have a good time, Officer,” Harlow said, climbing back over Roberts. Roberts was glad to have the policeman’s assistance. Harlow was out of control. 

“Step out of the car,” Officer Manners said to Roberts. 

“Me? What about her?” 

With that, Harlow stepped from the car and planted a handstand on the side of the road. Her waitress uniform fell around her waist. She was naked waist down. Roberts looked to see her panties draped from his rearview mirror. He had no idea when that happened.

Officer Manners made Roberts take a breathalyzer test, which he failed, and found himself cuffed in the backseat of the squad car. A second squad car arrived to take the loud and hard to handle Harlow to the psych ward. She’d been wearing her medical ID bracelet. 

Roberts’ car had been impounded, and he was unable to release it until Tuesday. He drove straight from the impound yard to work. He told his supervisor that he would need time off for his court date. Roberts thought this was the height of his embarrassment, but he was wrong. 

“Hey, there lip blam man,” Harlow said in a scratchy voice. 

She moved in close, not too close, just close enough so only he could hear her when she dropped her voice. 

“How much trouble did you get into?” 

“Plenty. But you need to stay away from me.” Roberts said. 

“Awww. Don’t you like me when I’m manic? Admit it, I’m much more fun.” 

“No, I don’t. We can’t act like that in here.” 

“You mean you can’t act like that in here. I can do whatever I want. I rather thought I got that point across this weekend,” Harlow said. “It’s not about you.”

Roberts stared into those big brown eyes. But he stopped seeing what he wanted to see. He saw a woman that needed help, stability. And what had he done but take her for a joy ride? He felt like a misogynistic ass. Harlow slipped off like a discarded garment and curled up in a green faux leather chair. Roberts watched her sitting there, talking to herself. A patient approached Roberts from the left. It was Charlotte. She was to be transferred to a long term facility that day. Charlotte stopped to rub the top of Harlow’s tussled hair. 

“Do you identify as a hero?” she asked Roberts. “Do you?”


Leah Sackett is an adjunct lecturer in the English department and the Communication & Media department at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. This is where she earned her B.A. and M.F.A. Her short stories explore journeys toward autonomy and the boundaries placed on the individual by society, family, and self. Learn about her published fiction at LeahHolbrookSackett.website.