Tied by Katie Mears

July 21, 2011

It was actually Andy’s birthday. Mine had been two months prior, and today was about him. As my mother and I drove, I got the speech. “This is his day, honey. And I need you to respectful of that.” I knew the words, I’d gotten them every December 16th for as long as I can remember. All about him, and how we must keep in mind how special and how much of a gift his little, fragile life is. I know. I do love my little brother. I remember bringing him home from the hospital. My parents say I was too young to remember, but I do. I remember them crying, and I remember all the little tubes running in and out of his body. Above everything, though, I remember his eyes–dark blue, just like mine.

Hours later I see those same eyes sparkle as he unwraps present after present. Mom helps him with the ribbons. Hot wheels. Video games. Race cars. Legos. The stack of crumpled paper grows and grows next to him. I watch from the hallway. I love seeing him here, seeing him happy. We got lucky, this time last year we were still in St. Francis’s left wing. I was thinking still about last year’s party when my grandma took my hand, and led me into the next room. Without a word, she wrapped me in her arms. “I know how hard this is for you,” she says. I’ve heard that my whole life. But now, hugging her, I actually believe it. Without a word she walks to her closet and pulls out a box. “I know it’s his day,” she starts, as she lays the box in front of me. “I just hate seeing you there … that look.” Her head jerks as my mother calls her form the next room. She kisses my cheek before walking out of the room. “Sweetie,” she called, “this’ll just be our little secret.” And she was gone.

I felt guilty as I stared at that box. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I’d had the speech. I’d been listening. I’d been doing everything I was supposed to be doing. But not now. Not now because this beautiful red bow was staring up at me. I could have told my grandma to wait. Christmas was in a few days, not a big deal. I wish I was I bigger person. I would have been able to, if not for the bow. The big red silk bow knotted around the box, tied by my grandmother’s fragile hands. With my thumb and forefinger I gentle guided the tail of the bow upward, as the knot disappears. Strange how easy that is. How one draw has the power to unravel the whole thing.

I’m lost in that ribbon, letting it spill through my fingers, when I hear my brother call for me from the next room. I run over, and am there, smiling, before I have to hear my name a second time. Before him now, instead of a mountain, is one lone blue package. From me. He grins his toothy grin at me, and I hate myself. I hate that big red bow. I watch as he pulls the tail of the ribbon, just as I did. He opens my pack of goodies, of pills to make him better and wings to let him fly away. He’s leafing through the books when my grandma walks in from the next room. “I redid the bow, and it’s all waiting for you, under the tree,” she whispers in my ear. “Merry Christmas.”

I don’t see her again until after dinner, on my way out she pats my knee and says, “You’re a good sister.” That’s all I needed to hear. That’s all I’ve ever needed to hear.

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Dreaming of Sleep by Jane Berkowitz

July 16, 2011

If you stay up for two nights straight studying or partying or listening to your cats meowing, the next day, during school or your fraternity meeting or your knitting circle, you will fall asleep and not even know it. Microsleeping. When you microsleep, you are asleep for five seconds, maybe half a minute at most, and then you jerk yourself awake. You don’t realize you were asleep. You are just five seconds older, with a gap in your schedule between 08:31:22 and 08:31:27. Sometimes people microsleep while they are driving. One moment they are looking for exit 67 and the next they’re in a ditch.

Gerald has been bobbing his head since this meeting started. He’s microsleeping. Michael just thinks he’s nodding ‘yes’ to everything. In 20 minutes, Gerald is going to walk out of Conference Room B and not remember a single thing. He will go back to his desk and think, wow I must have been spacing out the whole time. It won’t even screw him over when he can’t recall the updated format for the 2011 financial reports—they send out email reminders for these things.

Every second in this meeting is a second closer to the end of our lives. When I was a kid I thought the odometers on cars counted down instead of up. You would start with around 100,000 miles, and as you drove that number would click down until it reached 0 and you got a new car. Even when Gerald wakes up he is not watching his odometer—he’s just in transition between his last microsleep and his next one.

Michael says something but the words disappear before I hear them. I don’t think we have carbon monoxide alarms in here. If there was a gas leak Michael would die first because he’s breathing more. Gerald wouldn’t know what was going on, his head is too busy nodding up and down.

I look around the table. My coworkers live in and out of microsleeps. Every day is this meeting, and it doesn’t bother them. I want to shake them into consciousness. I want to throw my coffee in their faces. “This is it,” I want to tell them. “Pay attention, this is important.”


Dr. Mosquito by Olivia Dunne

July 16, 2011

I am sitting. I am sitting where they told me to sit, on this slab of metal that seems like it was carved out of ice. Sit here and wait, they told me. Brown eyes, mine, dart around the room, searching for something of comfort.

Little cartoon monkeys scream to wash my hands every day, leering at me from their paper taped to the wall.

Alright sweetie, a nurse says, wiping the alcohol on my inner elbow. The scent makes my nose sting.

When I was little, I could cry and scream and writhe, but now I have to be stoic and pretend that I don’t want to melt into a puddle of what used to be Olivia. There, let the doctors take those fluids.

I swallow, forming a rock in my throat. The nurse is talking, my arm is quivering like I’ve been tasered, and there is a bite on my inner arm, drawing out the red liquid that fills my veins.

My eyes are squeezed shut and my arm goes limp, and then it’s out. My blood says goodbye, captured in that little tube.

I wave back.


Choosing the Choos by Amanda Halprin

July 16, 2011

Shelia thrust a box of Cheerios on to the shelf, picked up another from the pile beside her and thrust it next to the first box. She had been restocking this isle for what seemed like hours. At least I’m not on register, she thought.

Feeling a light tap on her shoulder, Shelia spun around. In front of her was a petite woman with a determined look in her eye.

“May I help you miss?”

“Yes. Where is the milk?”

“Aisle thirteen,” Sheila said, pointing to her left while thinking, Can’t this woman read? Each aisle had a sign above it, listing the products contained there.

“Thank you.” The woman walked towards the milk, the click-clacks of her Jimmy Choos fading away. Why does she need Choos? Shelia thought, staring at the woman’s feet. It was two o’clock, a time reserved for stay-at-home moms and dads to gather their week’s worth of groceries. With her polo, jeans and ponytail it was obvious that the woman was one of them. Shelia just couldn’t understand what a stay-at-home mom would do with Choos. Shelia had been eyeing the same pair online and was planning on wearing them out to a club or a party or a date–anywhere but a grocery store.

Shelia turned her attention back to the Cheerios, now slamming them into place. The woman, in her opinion, had no right to own the Choos if she disrespected them so. Shelia would be happy to take them off of the woman’s hands (or feet, for that matter). The navy was richer in person and the beading more elegant. With shoes that beautiful, any pain they caused the wearer could easily be ignored. Shelia stared down at her own shoes. The sneakers she had purchased back in high school for track were wearing and coated in a fine layer of dirt.

“Excuse me?” Shelia again turned to the woman, who had returned. “I need a cereal that’s high in fiber but not fiber-tasting and has refined grains, but not too refined.” The woman waited a beat. “Well, where can I find it?” Shelia bit the inside of her cheek.

“I’m not very informed on the topic.”

“But you work in a grocery store!” Shelia bit down harder and looked the woman in the eyes, as she was always being told to do in customer service training. She was determined to ignore the Choos.

“I’m not a big cereal eater.”

“You are a grocery store employee; surely you must know something.” In her attempt to avoid shouting ‘I don’t know’ and upsetting the customer, Shelia stared at the Choos. God, how she wanted those Choos. She had been picking up extra shifts and pinching every penny, but after her recent evaluation there was no chance of Shelia getting a raise. The Choos were months away.

The woman noticed Shelia’s gaze. “Oh, you like the shoes? My husband bought them spur-of-the-moment in London.” Shelia sucked in a breath. She didn’t have a rich husband to buy her nice things; she had to earn them!

Shelia was tempted to direct the woman to the sugar-packed cereal her roommate ate every morning. She decided against it, however; Shelia had the feeling that this was the type of woman who would complain to the manager when she found out about the true content of the cereal. Shelia couldn’t risk getting fired.

“I honestly know nothing about cereal, but I’ll find someone who does, okay?” Shelia said, plastering on a smile.

“Thank you.” Shelia turned on her heel and walked towards the registers in search of Ronnie, who was always eating cereal in the break room. As her shoes hit the linoleum they did not click-clack. Rather, they squeaked.


Flight by Anya Konecki

July 16, 2011

Flight

Clark sat down in his booth when Jenny called from the register, “Do you want the usual today?”

“Sure Jenny, don’t forget about the raisins in the oatmeal.”

“Okay, coming right up.”

“No hurry, Jenny,” Clark said. His base voice resounded in the small room.

Giggles erupted from the other side of the wall. Clark popped his head over the divider and was met by a strong scent of flowers from a nearby table of girls.

“Can I help you ladies with anything?” Clark said. His dark hair fell into his face and he looked out at them from under it

“No, sorry.” One girl said. All the girls blushed.

Jenny came with breakfast and sat down with Clark. “Whatchya thinking about?”

“Flying.”

“Oh yeah? Where to? You going on a vacation?”

“No, nowhere, I was just thinking of how it used to be,” Clark said. He picked up his newspaper and hide behind it.

“I brought your breakfast, Clark.”

“Oh. Thank you.”

“No problem sweetie,” she said. Jenny patted the man’s hand where it lay on the table, clutching an unused napkin in his crooked fingers.

Clark began eating in small carefully measured bites. When he finished the oatmeal and pushed the bowl away. He looked up at his waitress, then at the door to the diner.

“Jenny, I gotta go.”

“Okay, Mr. Kent.” Jenny said with a faint smile on her face.

“I’ll be back.”

“I know.”

Clark heaved himself up onto his walker and forced his legs to shuffle to the door. The wind outside the diner was strong. Clark steadied his legs, closed his eyes, and stretched his arms out straight ahead; his hair blew behind him. Years ago his cape would have been flying out behind him, too.


Step by Step by Rebecca Edelman

July 16, 2011

Mary-Sue hid the knife in her purse. She called upstairs to her father. “Hey dad! I’m going out for a while. I’ll be back soon!” Her father just grunted in response from his place in front of the TV, a beer can falling off his stomach. She stepped out of her house and grabbed her keys from her pocket to lock the door. With a final ‘click’ she knew she was now in open territory. She stepped down to her stoop and looked around as if expecting something. As if she was crossing the street, she looked both ways down the sidewalk before beginning her walk into the city. Her short hair bobbed as she glanced from side to side. She gripped her purse with one hand, the other sitting ready at her side in case anything happened. She stopped in front of a building. Glancing at the address, she breathed in heavily.
A sudden voice startled her. “Are you alright dear?” asked an elderly woman.

“Who wants to know?” Not waiting for an answer, she strode into the building. A small group of four people were waiting for the elevator. The elevator arrived and the people flooded in. “Are you comin’ ma’am?” One of the men asked, his arm shielding the door so it wouldn’t close.

“No.” She watched the doors close and pushed the button to call a different elevator. It arrived and she got on. She pressed the button for her floor just as a man began running towards the elevator.

“Hold the elevator!” he yelled.

Immediately she pushed the ‘close doors’ button. The doors began to close and she caught a glimpse of the man’s face. The fury in his eyes didn’t faze her. She reached her floor and got out. She walked into an office and a receptionist greeted her. “Hello. You’re just on time.” She held out a box and Mary-Sue took out the knife and dropped it in. Mary-Sue walked into a separate room and sat down in a leather chair. Also in the room was a woman, who was sitting on an identical chair. The woman was also holding a clipboard. On the top of the paper it said ‘Mary-Sue.’
The woman smiled warmly at Mary-sue. “How was your walk over here? Stressful? You made it here alive,” she said, attempting a small joke.

Mary-Sue didn’t smile. “It was difficult of course. Very dangerous. It could happen again any day. But I’m more prepared this time, unlike how my mom was.”


I Miss You by Haley Crissman

July 16, 2011

I heard her before I could see her and sure enough, there she was, holding court with her friends and even some of mine. I shuffled to my seat, hoping she wouldn’t notice me. “Hey, Seth!” she said. Everyone stopped talking to look at me.

I winced at the sound of her voice that brought back so many good memories. “Hey, Annabeth,” I said. I forced a smile and dropped into my seat. Everyone turned around as the bell rang and my teacher rapped a pencil on her desk to get their attention. I glanced at Annabeth. She was every bit as beautiful as when I first asked her out—and when she broke up with me.
I just don’t feel the spark anymore, she had told me. I guess I dulled her senses or something. Whatever. She lifted a hand to brush her hair from her eyes and I saw a glint of silver. Looking closer I saw that she was wearing the charm bracelet I gave her to celebrate our one year anniversary a few months ago. Why was she wearing it today? She hadn’t worn it any other day for the last month since we broke up. I wondered what her new boyfriend thought of her wearing it. I saw the happy couple just this morning, but he didn’t seem to be too happy. I didn’t let myself hope that maybe she had finally broken up with that tool. I stopped myself from thinking about all our old memories, the way we could laugh at anything, the way we sang along to every song that came on the radio, the way—wait, no, stop! I have got to stop thinking about her.

I did my best to look anywhere but her for the rest of class. The bell rang and I ran out hoping to get away before having to see her again. I heard her footsteps behind me and hoped I was imagining it.

“Seth, wait!” she said.

I turned on my heel, hoping to shake her off with some stupid line, but the desperation in her expression startled me. “What?” I said.

“I, um, just wondered how you were doing…?” she said. I didn’t answer. She started twisting her bracelet around her wrist and I caught sight of the charms I had given her. She could at least take those off. She caught me looking and said, “Oh, yeah, well I found it the other day and I, um… Look, Seth what I really wanted to tell you was that after spending all this time with Bryan, I realized that I missed all our fun times together, all our laughs, our dates, even some of our fights, but the biggest thing I realized was, I miss you.”