Five O’Clock in Late Autumn (contd.)
She opened the door. "Alia, what—?"
The figure on the other side shuffled inside in a mad dash, nearly bowling over the startled woman in the process. Before the door was even closed behind them, their winter attire was quickly shed and draped across any available surface within arm’s length. Alia then bent down to untie her winter boots. "I swear to God these winters get colder every year. The next time I visit you're going to have to defrost me properly before we’ll be able to do any talking. Oh—this is for you.” She handed Carly a package wrapped in those reusable bags from the grocery store.
Returning to her bootlaces she glanced up again and saw that Carly had yet to move. She waved her hand towards her in a prompting motion. "Go on, open it—and don't think anything of it either because I just figured if I was coming over unannounced then I should at least bring something with me." She held her boots in one hand and placed them next to a pair of Carly’s husband’s mud-covered work boots on the shoe mat. Wiping the salt off her hands, Alia stood to face her sister. Her eyes drifted to the package. "You still haven't opened it?"
Carly was reanimated and jumped like she’d been struck by lightning. "No, I'm just—I'm surprised to see you. Usually I wouldn't see you for another… well, until Christmas I guess." Her gaze shifted to the interior of the house and she frowned. "I would have cleaned but I haven't really had the time and Jeremy…" She lost herself in thought, eyes staring off to a dark corner of the house.
Alia patted her sister’s hands sympathetically and took the package—which was a frozen lasagna— starting off towards the kitchen; Carly trailing behind her as though she were the uninvited guest instead of the other way around.
Melting snow dripped from the tips of her hair in small clumps, leaving a trail of half-formed snowballs behind her on the hardwood. Carly chose to focus her attention on avoiding the puddles rather than on the next thing she would need to say. Alia saved her the trouble.
"Why don't I put this in the oven and we can talk?" Alia asked, heading around the island and into the kitchen while her sister took a seat at the table. She began rooting around for a pan to put the lasagna in, and noticed the opened container of coffee grounds followed by the machine. "Oh! You've already put the coffee on, that's great."
"Any particular reason you've decided to stop by?" Carly asked.
"I wanted to see you."
Carly had expected this answer but that didn’t make it any less helpful. She tried again. "But with everything with Jeremy, is now really—"
The oven door slammed shut, causing Carly to jump. Alia spun on her heel. "I'm here because of everything that's been happening with Jeremy." Her expression softened and she turned again, fingering through the cabinet doors to find plates and a mug. "I don't think you should be alone for this. You're on vacation and that must be nice—well, not nice but what I'm saying is that too much time to dwell on things like this isn't healthy." Her tone was so self-assured that there wasn't much Carly could do but wait at the table feeling much like a scolded child while her younger sister made herself at home.
Alia uttered a small 'aha' when she found her marks and laid two plates on the counter next to the oven, taking a mug for herself and bringing it with her to the kitchen table. She took the seat opposite Carly and sat down. There was an awkward silence as neither spoke right away. Carly was waiting for Alia to get down to whatever business she came to discuss while Alia was waiting for Carly to upchuck her feelings all over the kitchen table. If that were to happen, she had long made the decision to stand up calmly and pull back Carly’s hair, rubbing her back telling her it's okay.
Patience favoured Carly in this instance.
"I want to help you find out where Jeremy went," Alia said, "I think it's weird if he just packed up and left without actually taking any of his things with him." Carly opened her mouth to speak but Alia interrupted her. "And I hope I'm not upsetting you by bringing this up or anything but I want to help you figure this out. Maybe it will help soothe your nerves a little."
"He went out to buy groceries and never came back. The car's gone, there's no note and there aren't any witnesses who remember seeing him; what is there to talk about? Either he left me so I wouldn't ever be able to follow or he's dea—" She made a choking sound as her voice caught. She cleared her throat softly and took a sip from her coffee mug only to realize in dismay that it was empty.
Her sister reached across the table and squeezed her hand. "And how are the police doing?" she asked.
Carly looked away, her eyes drifting to her right and out the window, though the backyard was too dark to see much of anything. She was thankful for this because all the view would have shown her were how the gardens wilted in their primary caretaker's absence. Jeremy had always been the one with the green thumb. “I haven't called them yet,” she replied.
Alia's jaw dropped, eyes going wide. "Why the hell not?"
"Don't start yelling at me. I'm just not sure it's worth calling them."
Lowering her voice with splintering control, Alia continued, staring at Carly who was still avoiding her gaze. She spoke evenly. "If it turns out that something did happen to him—and I’m not saying it did— Won't it look bad that you didn't call them?"
"It's already been two days since he disappeared. Won't it look suspicious either way?"
"How about your marriage then?" Alia asked, "Was that going alright?"
The question caught her off-guard and Carly stared at her sister for a moment before returning her attention to the window. Her voice turned flat, as though squeezed dry of emotion. "Of course it was." Lying on the table, her hand, which had already been shaking due to the coffee, began quivering uncontrollably. "Do you think they would label it a crime of passion?" She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear in an attempt to appear more composed. When she lowered her hand again, Alia noticed with surprise that a smile had crept into her sister’s expression. She now looked nostalgic rather than mournful.
Before she had even realized it, Alia found herself smiling too and followed her sister’s gaze through the backyard window. The longer she stared into the darkness, the better she could see the skeletons of dead roses twisting around each other like a macabre piece of art.
"No," she replied, "I doubt they'll suspect anything at all."
by Kara Brulotte
you can't tell if this is your doing or not
the girl in the mirror an effort by your brain to disconnect who you feel like with who you are.
who you are with everything you feel you should be
you've never been great at letting yourself feel.
(even now i write in second person; let that say what i can't)
you don't know
when your body became so fragile, so worn.
because though that girl isn't you, she wears the same exhaustion on her sleeve,
legible as anything
it stays painted in the creases between her eyebrows, the bags under her eyes.
when did you stop wanting to be her?
when did the sight of her in the glass of the bus station made you feel so utterly alone,
made you miss your bus three times because
you didn't want to exist in any space
as anyone, as yourself or her
when did being a tangible person at all stop being accurate
because while that girl in the mirror is tired
you are pulling apart at the seams
grasping at the pieces that make you up, hoping for some small comfort
and when did you start feeling that she was a better mirage to share, when
did you as a person
become an odd sort of not quite truth
when did you start feeling that your unravelling made you any less wanted , any more of a burden
maybe you always have
TO DESIGN FLUFFILY, THAT IS EVERYTHING (contd.)
by Charley Rands
Lucius gasped. “You wouldn’t happen to be an architect of fluffy cloud-like structures?”
“Indeed I am,” replied the man.
Lucius looked at his identification card. The man hadn’t lied. He held the position that Lucius had coveted for so long. He was the one standing in between Lucius and his dream position. As such, there was only one thing to be done, and that was to dispose of him immediately. But he had to act fast.
“Alright, follow me to the back sir, so I can sell you a windshield.”
The man considered this. “Lead the way, sir.”
Once the two were in the back, Lucius sealed the man’s fate with a swift banana peel to the Hallix (one’s big toe), took his I.D, and exited the store. The identification was spherical and pink in color, with the DOVIBAFCA acronym and the name Jack Thomas Smith. Lucius pocketed the sphere, and then went to bed, clutching the orb that would unlock his dreams.
Lucius awoke at 6:55, and swung his feet out of his box-spring. When he got downstairs, his daughter was disrespectfully scrounging the fridge for various bits of food. Lucius pushed her aside, and grabbed a handful of loose grapes. He then took a 20 dollar bill and left his home to get coffee. He strolled in to a shop near the DOVIBAFCA cube and entered it. The barista smiled apprehensively, and continued to grin as he approached the counter.
“The usual, Smithy?” she chirped.
“Who’s Smithy?” asked Lucius spuriously.
“Well, you of course!” she replied.
“Well, me of course!” responded Lucius. “For he is me, and I am him.”
The barista looked confused. “But is he you?”
“But of course, Madam!” cried Lucius. “After all, he is me and I am him.”
“Then a usual?” questioned the barista.
This pretending to be a DOVIBAFCA business wouldn’t be hard at all, if all Lucius had to do was request usuals. Of course, he had the diplomacy and fluffy cloud architecture down pat from his years of practice. He exited the shop feeling coniferous and happy, for the best day of his life was about to start, and he could hardly wait.
Lucius presented his orb into the reader, and entered the polygon of his very dreams. The walls were painted a delightful grey, with a massive staff of 14 people working in cubicles, their faces so happy that they almost seemed to frown. Clearly, everyone felt the same way about DOVIBAFCA as he did. As Lucius reached his floor, a man in a suit ran up to him.
“Smithy, thank the Lord above you’ve come!” He puffed.
“There’s a building on 4th that’s not even slightly cloudy. And there’s a historical restaurant that needs some diplomatic relations. Get on it at once.”
Lucius smiled. Clearly, he had already deceived everyone he needed to.
His boss paused, seemingly confused.
“Funny. You hate that nickname.”
Smokey Eyes (contd.)
“One more dance.” He grins, his gloved hands tight around my arm. I’m sure it's unintentional, but… it makes me feel like this is not a request.
“Of course, your Highness.” I reply, my eyes lowered demurely. Men, especially princes, like it when they feel in charge. They like knowing you’ll bow your head and let them parade you around the room, laugh daintily at their jokes, let their hands wander just ever so slightly past what is acceptable. They like knowing you won’t object. I don’t mind, in the end. All the better to see the look on their faces when the quiet one with the big doe eyes stabs them right through the chest.
He leads me back onto the floor, the band smoothing into a ballad that is almost… mournful. Seems fitting.
“What is your name?” He asks, with all the charm that would make anyone who has half an ounce of sense swoon. Fortunately, I have even less than half an ounce. Clearly.
“Florean.” I say, making myself blush gently. What an honour, for the prince to ask my name! I scoff internally.
“A lovely name, and I must apologize for not asking it sooner. You are the handsomest one here, you know.”
Ugh. I choke down the urge to vomit. “I don’t even know your name, Highness.” I make my voice coy, teasing. A commoner flirting with a prince for an evening, nothing more.
“It’s Morrigan.” He replies suddenly, eyes widening slightly like he wasn’t supposed to say that. It’s only as he says it that I realize that I actually didn’t know his name. I’ve only ever heard him referred to as ‘the Prince’ or ‘his Highness’. I wonder… I wonder if that was on purpose.
I look up at him. I’ve seen him before, obviously, but this time I really look.
I realize immediately that this is not the soft-jawed smiling man I’ve seen in photos. He’s a passable imitation, if you expect most people to gloss over the face and go straight for the crown, but to be fair, that’s exactly what I did.
He looks back down at me, the light reflecting through the chandelier and catching on every sharp line, every sharp tooth, every sharp smile. He is a man made of edges, a man made of glass and daggers. He is a man made to kill.
And he’s beautiful. Beautiful like something that will shatter at the slightest touch and send its shards into your eyes. Beautiful like ice, beautiful like a star burning coldly in the night sky above. He’s beautiful like something you shouldn’t touch, but you do anyways. He is beautiful like someone who knows it.
This is not a prince.
Princes… Princes are soft. Princes are the teddy bears ripped to shreds in this man’s teeth.
This is not the prince.
Suddenly, I realize that he looks out of place in the elegant ballroom. He is a needle in a haystack, a wolf among sheep. He looks out of place, because he looks like me. We have the same hungry glint in our eyes, the same iron grip.
Morrigan twirls me in a dizzying circle, interrupting my train of thought. He pulls me back close to him, flush against his chest. He smells like copper.
“Something wrong, my dear?”
“Nothing, Highness. What should be wrong when I am dancing with a prince?” I say, but it comes just half a second too late. He smiles at me, and he knows. He smiles at me, and he understands that I am not quite who I say I am either.
We spin around the room, the velvet tapestries and cold marble walls fading into a blur. The song comes to an end, but we keep whirling, swirling, twirling, circling like sharks to blood. I don’t dare look away from his face, that sharp face. None of the other ball attendees bat an eye. The smell of copper fills the air, fills my lungs like I’m drowning. I can’t look away from him.
The clock strikes midnight, and my heart soars. Finally, I can do what I came here to do, I can escape this man of thorns shoved into the role of a prince.
I slide my knife out from my sleeve. It comes easily, just as I’ve practiced. The hilt is patterned with the constellation Scorpio, a gift from my father. It’s served me faithfully for years, and it will serve me just as well today. I raise the knife, metal still warm from my skin. I don’t care if he sees, I don’t care if anyone sees, I just need to get out. I need it to be over, I need him to be over-
I think I’ve been stabbed.
My own knife clatters to the ground, the sound echoing through the suddenly quiet ballroom. My hands fly to my side, coming away bright, vivid, dizzying red.
There’s blood on Morrigan’s gloves. He peels them off with the nonchalant air of someone who has done it before. I recognize that air because it’s the one I paraded so proudly not twenty minutes ago.
Copper trickles through my fingers. This is the spindle on Sleeping Beauty’s spinning wheel, this is Snow White’s poison apple, this is my undoing.
Except I don’t think this Prince will come rescue me.
The blood is spreading across my side, spreading through my clothes like tissue paper. He slicks his hair back, checks his watch. Morrigan doesn’t have to worry about time and he knows it. He flaunts it.
For me, time slows, crashing over me like the cold, dark waves on the beach back home. It closes over my head, and my fall to the floor feels more like a slide. The ceiling is painted to look like stars, you know. I’m certain that I’m the only one here to notice that. They seem so real.
He kneels beside me, not caring that my blood is soaking through his pants. He says only one thing, leaning so close I can feel his lips brush my ear.
Mask Of Lies (contd.)
by Mariam Gabr
Often, though, we are not.
“How was school today, sweetie?” asks her mom.
She thinks about how one of her friends was shocked when she learned she was vegan and said “How can you be vegan and look like that?”
As if to be vegan you had to have a certain body type
But it wasn’t bullying or anything, just a
A tiny dagger pushed gently into her stomach, not much
It didn’t mean anything, anyway
Not really a big deal
“It was okay,” she says, then goes upstairs and locks herself into her room, searching for ways to lose weight fast.
He comes in late again, and the teacher
Asks how things are going and he says,
He says “All right,” even though things are not going all right,
even though he
cried himself to sleep the night before and he
Hears his parents fighting behind closed and open doors and he
Can’t remember the last time they all sat down and had dinner together.
“Things are going great,” he says
“How are you?” Her friend asks
She’s just been diagnosed with depression by her doctor
And she didn’t tell anyone because
She’s an adult, a responsible person
She's not a kid anymore
She doesn’t need anyone
“I’m fine,” she tells her friend,
Even though she desperately wanted to talk about her worries and her fears,
The fact that she might be infertile,
The expensive meds her doctor prescribed that
she doesn’t know if she can afford to buy
“I’m good, how are you?”
Sometimes we just had a bad day
Sometimes its a bad week
Or a horrible month
Ranging from doing badly on a quiz to your dad passing away
Some of us are lucky enough to have a friend or a significant other or a family member to confide in, to talk about your worries
and some of us just
Keep everything buried deep down, smiling and laughing with the people around you
“I’m okay, I’m fine,” then
Locking yourself into your room and
Your smile immediately disappears and you close your eyes and lie to yourself, too,
Try to convince yourself that you’re okay, you’re fine, when things are not in fact okay or fine,
But you just keep going on, living your life, days blurring into each other
Does the lie “I’m okay” do more harm than good?