They had meant for the words to hurt, the infliction…inflection of the voice innocent, caring, words still stinging. You is a frequent word, fast and overused to refer to many subjects. Said in so may letters, you accuses me. Me is blatant, a word used to volunteer, to absorb, to take in that guilt. “Me,” I did it. I is a word of responsibility, but is short like the others. You can hide behind I, but not Me. These words are powerful, used so often, we think them harmless. They still hurt even if they are used as subjects of a sentence. But these words call attention, blame, and accountability. Place these words wisely.
Outrage is a word that implodes like the thud of a heart which can’t take anymore. Fear is a quick word and does not last long, but its effects stay hidden beneath the surface. Hatred is a hard word, one that stings and impales. These words have been said a lot lately and these words do not begin to scratch the surface of what I feel.
Wetness soaks through, making the air hang low around her. It is not dense per say, but it folds around her in a chill that fills everything, a state that she may never escape. Poor, poor pouring down, she closes herself away from the elements, holding in the warmth of her breath. She wishes to be numb so she wouldn’t have to feel the piercing drops prick at her skin. Skin. Her skin aches, it seems she will never be warm. As if a force of needles is pushing against every inch, if she moves, her skin will ache. Her skin is fighting back, fighting for warmth, screaming to get dry. She must listen to her skin.
The air tastes sodden. Sodden trees sodden flowers. Flowers, there are flowers at her feet.
She lifts her folded head to the sky, letting rain pelt against eyelids. The clouds are so low she could touch them. To run her hands through the mist as the clouds swallow the trees. Four walls and a roof made of these mists, secluded into nothingness. Breathing into the sky just so she could drink it in forever. But the air leaves her lungs too quickly to sustain her. She needs more. She opens her eyes and lets her head hinge down to look at her hands. Her fingertips appear as a wrinkled white, while the back of them are a stinging red. She can still feel too much.
She is no longer bleeding and the adrenaline has left her body behind. She remains.
She angles her head to look forward, feeling a strain that was not there earlier. She allows her body to align beneath her neck. Her eyes see through the mist and nothing moves, the trees huddling together against the sleeting air, leaves shivering. She moves. Her limbs unhinge themselves to bend and she passes through the cover of fog. The only strength comes from deep within, a dying fire. Her eyes slide back and forth expecting it to come back, to come and claw out her insides, to take all that is her away. Air escapes her lungs in a wheeze, and she lets her body fall into mechanical movements to save her strength.
We are afraid for her, stumbling through us, looking above herself as if that will help to orient her body. She pats down her pockets without attention, perhaps holding herself in. Wandering, she stumbles from each of us, placing her palms on our barks, gnarled in different places to show our age. We tower over her, the fog creating a smoke screen where shapes steal in and out of view. She stops at every shadow, attempting to wrap her worthless sweater around her person. Her neck cranks to the right at the crack of a noise. We stare down, unsure how to comfort such fear. No, it is not fear. Perhaps she is lost, but she does not seem afraid of this place.
We see her arm hangs limply at her side, a trail of blood coiling its way around it. We haven’t seen a lot of them today.
The wetness weighs through our leaves, our limbs dipping lower to the ground as we try to reach her. She is walking too quickly, we cannot comfort her. We watch as she blindly knocks into dampened bushes over a carpet of our fallen leaves, our fallen needles. She is not fallen.
She can still make it.
We stand tall in our ranks, and we move out of the fog around her to halt her stumbling. She believes she is trapped. She can leave, we hope she will leave. She lets her back straighten in defense as she looks about herself, opening and closing her ankles to turn. From above, she turns in a perfect circle of earth, like a shrine. We are the pillars that surround her. The white yarrow dots its way around her and the yellow aven slink below her feet. Such colors blur among the such a gray landscape.
Stopping her spin, she lets her eyes focus on one of us. When she walks closer we stand firm, not wanting to let any slight movements scare her.
She extends her arm to us. Her fingertips press in a light touch at first, creating the five points of contact that sit delicately on the harsh bark barrier. It feels so different, to have such vulnerable contact. But leaning the rest of her palm and fingers against our bark, we can feel her roughness too: hardened skin that grows in layers each year. Her skin shows the scars and the lines that may change or fade, but will never leave her. She traces her finger along our scars that grow and harden, but will never leave us either. Our scars may come from others, from the elements, but hers are self-inflicted.
We try to tell her that we understand, that every growth ring resembles another year of survival. The rings that will grow to suit her later. We’ve seen her before, she knows this affliction—this place, our home.
It is not always this way. The rain or snow usually comes in seasons, but the sun always comes back, breathing life into our community. Sun so sweet, raindrops sink in, snow sublimating out, we treasure our sun. We strive to reach the sun, we start low and we must survive to one day reach the promise of warmth. But now, the rain stays. And when the rain stays, when the snow lays its blanket across our stand, we breathe together underneath. The warmth buried beneath, we hold it in now. Many wander through our stand hoping to replenish their warmth, perhaps something they have not felt for quite some time. Sometimes they wander for the sake of beauty, of life, something to live for. They do not always find it.
She pulls away, as if surprised to feel a heartbeat—one connected and pulsing around her.
She receives no answer. She looks down to her blood-wrapped arm as if noticing it for the first time. She does not appear alarmed, instead she braces her other hand—the one that touched us—against the wound, holding herself together. Holding on, her face closes and she is looking to the sky again. Addicted, she does nothing to stop her pain. Pulling her hand away, the blood smeared, she looks at both hands.
The blood, it must be warm.
We are helpless to help her, all we do is watch.
We shrug our leaves together.
There was once a time when we tried to look away. Away from her and the others. They would be fine. They would seek help if they needed it. We must believe such things, for the anger, the fear, the sadness, we are afraid to take on such weight.
She does not stop for long, she is moving now. Something pulling at her, something that has caught her attention. Where could she possible go?
She mustn’t go near, she mustn’t lose herself even further.
But she stops in front of the staircase.
A staircase. There is a staircase through the trees. The sheer whiteness of these stairs resemble something of pristine, untouched. Her feet set their direction, the narrowing footfalls crunching against fallen needles. She walks toward it. The whiteness almost blinds her through the tepid colors sinking around it.
She reaches out her hand to its bannister and peers to the top. It does not go on forever, just about 15 stairs. The steps don’t have any carpet. Even more, there are no needles, no dirt, no wetness, yet it feels as if the staircase could have been standing here forever.
The trees suddenly tremble around her—a chorus of crashes cascading—so she pulls her arm back, looking around at the sudden noise in such a silent place. There doesn’t seem to be any wind. The trees seem to be peering down at her and the trembling stops.
The staircase pulls her back in and placing her hand on the bannister, nothing happens. She looks around once again, expecting the trees to come back to their chorus. It is not the trees that make sound this time. Surrounding her, the churning voices of buzzing insects build with the pace of her heart. Her hand is still on the staircase as a sickly feeling swims through her head. Thick phlegm of sorts makes its way to the lower part of her throat. It makes its way down into the pit of her stomach to fester there. The blood remains as she pulls her arm away. The cicadas are joined by a crow’s caw and the rattle of a snake. She steps onto the stairs, expecting something inside her to collapse. As everything seems to stay in place, she continues her ascension. The noise becomes a roar, this darkened place suddenly alive. Reaching the top of the stairs, she is expecting more, more of something to take her away. She looks down upon herself. Nothing has changed. But looking back up, she can no longer hear the sounds of the forest. A low pain starts at the top of her brow and silence takes the place of everything. She can’t even hear her own breath.
Everything still and quiet, the noise has filled up a space inside of her. She will never reach the top. She turns back, no longer wondering what could wait at the top, and makes her way down with difficulty as everything spins through her field of vision.
At the last step, she falls to her knees staring at her fists balled up with dirt, the blood is leaving her too quickly. And when she looks back, only the trees remain.
Her vision fails her and she is left in darkness. Her head pounds behind her eyes. All she feels is a blinding rage filling her skull. She tries to contain it, bringing both of her hands to her temples, clamping her nails in hard. Her entire head begins to tremor violently, she is losing her mind—losing everything. She brings her hands in front of her face to see two blurry, trembling shapes closing into fists. The pressure builds within her skull and she cannot stop shaking. The shaking fissions seep into the rest of her body until the fury explodes through her. She screams. The sound is detached: an angry, wretched sound that tears through her throat. More, there’s still more to be done. More to be lived and more to be found. She wishes to be anywhere else but here, lost and searching for something that will make her feel. Feel. Something splits in her and the shaking stops. She stops screeching, a low, gagging sound replacing the higher pitches from before.
Her eyes get the taste of tears for the first time in a while. Air shoves its way into her lungs, her chest constricting to the point of pain. She gropes for air, feeling the stiffness of her back give way to her gasps.
When she rises, her pulse begins to withdraw, her breath withdrawing too. Slow, slow breathing, breathing is something trees know how to do. She could feel it, her legs absorbing the soggy warmth from the earth. She could feel it, her limbs extending forth, needles protruding like fine hairs. She could feel it, their breath mixing, exhaling their oxygen together. She attempts to exhale herself, but instead her entire body breathes, the air beginning at the tips of her limbs and soaking through the rest of her rising body. The oxygen doesn’t leave her right away, it circulates through, expanding to her new form. The stiffness of her body feels familiar, but the peace does not. Her body is better built for the chill now. Through her thick skin she doesn’t feel the piercing cold anymore. A thick skin that doesn’t show her old scars anymore. The warmth from the earth rises through her body, circulating through. She allows the elements to mix together in her body, all of them transforming into something life-sustaining. Peace, a sort of stillness, falls into her. She doesn’t have to run anymore, a power drawn from stillness. She thinks she’ll stay.
The staircase does not appear very often for us, but it seems everyone eventually sees it the longer they stay. Looking for warmth is a dangerous task, and it doesn’t always work the first time. Looking for warmth, you must survive the cold first. And she doesn’t know it, but there are many others wandering this forest, trying to find their way—to warmth. She believes she is alone, but there are many others like her. Others who have been banished here because no one understands how to help them, how to cure them. They must be fixed to survive out of this place. Fixed. Such a quick and easy word. Something we’ll never really understand. Sometimes they wander forever trying to see in this depression of fog. Maybe one day they’ll escape. But now, she remains.
Running, sprinting, from the storm,
static runs through.
Pale-facade, hard to miss,
keep running, running away
Stay for the day, if you must.
Play keep away,
never to be struck.
all you need to play, play afraid.
The light wilts against your face.
Startled, you stray,
“I must stay.”
You draw, closer yet,
only to find fear itself,
follows closely behind
In recent events, I have found my head spinning more than usual, asking myself, questioning myself, imploring others to see how blind we are. I seem to be mourning more and more every day.
I start walking to my car after work and even though I have been taught that the rapist is more likely to be someone I know, someone I have probably trusted, I suspect you: a stranger. The pace of my heart picks up and I look up at you staring at your phone. I can’t stop the checklist that comes to my mind: keys between knuckles, pepper spray in my bag, etc… I swallow at the dryness in my throat knowing I might have to scream, and I can’t do that if my throat is dry. But this is a public place isn’t it? Surely nothing bad could happen to me here. Your eyes look up from your phone in a side glance at me and I look away pretending not to see you. My mind flashes back to when another one of you called me a ‘fat bitch’ and my stomach churns. And even though I attempt to will these thoughts away, I hear the headlines and the news and that stupid fucking article telling me what I need to do to make sure I don’t get raped. This is my responsibility. This is, in fact, the first lesson every girl must learn, besides the lesson that being pretty will be your most important accomplishment, unless you get raped of course, then it is your downfall.
So I quicken my pace, knowing I would lose in a fight, and I listen for footsteps behind me. And I am afraid, afraid for my life, for the piece of me you might take away; I am afraid of you. The piece that still had a shred of peace, of love for myself and my body. The piece that is slowly dwindling away because everyone else is telling me how ugly I am, how dumb I am, how meaningless I am. So if you take that away, I will no longer be myself, but you can feel free to have peace of mind, to still be yourself: The Rapist. But you’re not a criminal, and how offended you would be if you knew what I was thinking. But they’ve taught me to be afraid…of you, your gender, that man lurking behind the bushes. But no, I promise I’m not a man-hater, I promise. I’m sure you’re a very nice man, and I grit my teeth. I’ve had to be polite to you my entire life, of course I’m not a man-hater.
And when I get to my car, I lock my doors. And I feel that cold aching pain reaching through my throat, the one where I could either cry or scream. I push it down numbly, I’ve been here before, It’s fine, I’m fine. I didn’t get raped this time, he didn’t rape…this time. But as I start driving, I go through that tally I keep tucked away in the deepest recesses of my mind; the one that is continuing to grow. My friend was raped and she doesn’t remember it, but plenty of people reminded her how much of a slut she was afterward. My friend was raped because she took a prescription sleeping pill and a drunk man raped her without her consent or knowledge. My friend was molested. My friend was abused. My friend was stalked. My teacher was stalked. My friend was catcalled. My friend was followed, so she called me to make sure I knew where she was. My teacher was catcalled. My friend was raped, my friend was raped, my friend was raped.
And sure, I’d like to think that that one decision to have sex was my own, but it wasn’t. Especially when, the whole time, I was just hoping to get it over with, because I was afraid you would keep harassing me, that you would call me a prude or a bitch, that maybe you would make it so I didn’t really have a choice.
So I think and I mourn and I feel afraid. And I feel that for the rest of my life I shall be afraid.
So think and mourn, and educate yourself. Listen to the women whom tell you that this is real and it terrifies us, because we are taught that you are the monster: The Man. But you are not the one who would be blamed, I would be blamed.
But I am not a man-hater.
From beneath a surface world
Something lurks, ready to touch the light.
Blind from darkness
Small from pressure,
Kept underneath the rich soil.
Breaking through the ground
The sun shines on the leaves once again.
Drink it in.
Mara sits in the back, eyes forever watching, but never looking behind. So she stares forward as each of them breathe together and bob their heads up, occasionally peering back down lazily. She exists to be the hunter, quietly waiting to strike. They appeared to be listening ahead, settling into their seemingly safe surroundings, innocent and happy in their ignorance. They are cattle following each other blindly, safe in numbers. She hunches her shoulders, starting to crouch, ready to pounce. Her heart rate quickens but her breathing remains constant. The air buzzes through her, every muscle building tension, her shoulders wind up for easy release. A low growl builds within the depths of her throat and her eyes widen, unblinking. She lowers her body to keep the herd from noticing the predator lurking behind them. Her ears suddenly twitch forward as the silence, which has become her ally, is broken by a hard voice.
The herd stops their mindless staring and all eyes turn on her. Her cover is blown. “Mara!” Her teacher is glaring at her through his glasses. “Would you like to pay attention?!”
The herd begins to snicker together. Her muscles reluctantly unwind and the air stops buzzing. She sinks back into the desk which contains her, trapped once again.
“If you will continue to day-dream in my class feel free to leave.”
She only stares, examining the face with a hard glare. His grayish hair is thinning and his ears are pricked forward. His canines are showing in a snarl, the brutish face resembling a wolf. His whiskers tremble as his lips lift to reveal his vicious teeth. The eyes seem to be glazed over where there was once a flame and a source of brightness. The herd of cattle continues to stare at her waiting to see if she will leave. Instead she presses into the back of her seat and crosses her arms defensively, casting her head down. The wolf turns his back on the herd and they return their eyes to the front.
Mara turns her attention to the clock and its motion. She doesn’t understand it, the tracking of time in this circular fashion when she feels as if she exists to live in a line. She has always seen the masks, an animal’s face sketched onto the human canvas. Her mother tells her to keep quiet, to stay within their lines, within their rules, trapped once again. A bell rings, scattering the herd and driving her away from this place. As she makes her way into the herd she pulls her hood over her head and pitches her eyes down to avoid their faces and their looks. She reaches the front of the building and breaks away from the mindless horde, driven to the forest behind the school. As she peers back, faces and masks mix together in an unrecognizable cluster: cattle, foxes, sheep.
Wind hits her face and she breathes in the innocent air. She stops before the trees that line up against a clearing like soldiers guarding a sacred place. She leans her head back to see the tips of the trees, so she can feel her neck fold in on itself. The sun touches the tips of the leaves that wave to paint shadows on her face. She rolls her head level to the ground, letting her eyes sweep from the sky back to the clearing. She hears the cracks roll across her neck, clearing away the stiffness from the day. She lets her feet slip from her shoes and into the weeds and grass. Her toes curl their way into the ground as she can feel the bends and curvature of the dirt beneath her. She inhales once again, shuddering the air into her restricted lungs.
As Mara plants one foot forward, she sees him once again and she stops: a mountain lion. She allows her body to ground into the earth, no longer breathing but locking eyes with the Silent One. The air doesn’t enter her lungs any longer but her heart still pulses against her throat. Something pushes her back and she braces against it at first but gives into its force, too heavy to resist. She steps back slowly, he must be telling her to leave. She runs away from the haven, leaving the Silent One and her shoes behind.
They seem to believe that my power,
Is one of illness.
They seem to believe that my punishment,
Will keep me from seeing;
Seeing my world, for what it really is.
So, he will hit me.
So, he will hurt me.
So, he will haunt me.
Keep me away, Keep me silent,
For your hands keep me away.
Her heart pounds deep from within her chest as she opens the front door. She is cautious not to make a sound, for if they hear her—“Mara!”
The clipped sound of her own name feels unfamiliar to her, like slipping into an old jacket that no longer fits.
“Mara, where’ve you been?” A slurring voice makes its way to her and she sees the face of a tattered rodent. The eyes are beady and dark, his murky pupils bleeding into the whites of his eyes. His weasel-like nose twitches toward her, making his whiskers tremor. Mara cringes back against the door, flattening her palm against the only escape. “I swore to your mother that if you were late again…” His crooked teeth protrude from his lips into a sneer: the yellowing teeth fixed there against his graying complexion. He takes a step toward her and something cold settles against the back of her head. She casts her head down, bearing for it to be over with, done. His torn claws scratch for her and her heart begins to shake.
He seems to notice her shift and finds a point of attack: exploitation. “You know we never wanted you, I still ask myself how that woman could love a pest like you.”
His words hit, and again her voice sinks deeper inside her. For she fears she will never find it again.
“Little bitch we should have left you there…”
“Cal?! Cal, she’s home?” Mara hears the sweet whirr of her mother’s voice but doesn’t let herself relax from her braced position. He is sniping down at her, she can feel it. “Cal? What’s happening?”
He twitches on his heels, and Mara is sure he is glaring at her mother again. “It’s late again.” His words sound sheared apart as if he is holding back ire.
“But she’s safe Cal!” Her mother pushes past him, folding herself over her daughter and smoothing down her hair. She looks up to her mother and sees the face of a golden eagle that she has come to know. Her mother’s brilliant feathers cascade across her face, starting from a deep brown and spiking into golden tips. Her resilient eyes are an intense bronze, always imploring, always seeking. She could see everything.
“Cema, that creature knows she’s not supposed to stay out.”
“Cal!” Her mother’s call echoes through her, “Leave her be!”
Mara knows she is safe for now, but that her mother’s intimidation will only last so long. For even though he is a rat, Cal’s hatred will always be more powerful.
“C’mon sweetie let’s get you something to eat.” Mara slinks around the pest as her eyes project onto his face: the mask of vermin, the face of an unfortunate, wasted cleverness.
Mountain lion roam,
Play keep away.
Fear and respect, a hope to be close.
Mountain lion wander
With purpose, with resilience.
For they encroach,
but they will not be feared.
Mountain lion silent,
For their power is,
Mountain lion last;
For the invaders cannot endure forever.
Mara’s dreams are filled with the Silent One, his yellow potent eyes glowing in the night and his sleek back rising and falling as he walks. She wishes to climb with him, extend out her claws and feel the full weight and power of her own body balanced on four paws. She wishes to see through his gilded eyes, a superb authority beyond anything mere humans can produce. His silent power is much stronger and rare, than she has yet to witness.
Something jumps within her chest, and she feels her eyes split open abruptly. Someone is calling, someone chants her name as if in prayer. For a while, her body remains paralyzed within the wrappings of her blankets, as if moving would silent the voices. She begins tapping one finger against the sheets seeing if it would disturb the chant. But the voice persists, so she begins to rise, her muscles protesting in fear that any movement would result in exhaustion. Mara lets the thro of her blankets fall around her as she moves to the entrance, placing her hand on the doorway to stop herself, listening. Mara, Mara, Mara, quietly whispering now but growing with force in each chant.
Mara, Mara, the voice mixes with another, higher pitched, hissing together as she leaves the door open to her house, and lets her bare feet feel the pinch of the unforgiving asphalt as small rocks work their way into her toes. A breeze falls into her, rustling her shortened hair in surges. Mara, Mara, they are louder now, but she does not run to them, unsure of where to go.
The wind is saturated with their voices now to where the sounds ebb and surge through her, with a name that is beginning to embrace her once again, Mara, Mara!
Something soft halts her feet. Her eyes follow her feet down to the earth looking at the grass that has seemed to appear beneath her.
The air shakes with her name as she looks to the trees that stand guard to his esteemed place. The stand of trees look onto her, admiring her stillness, just as they have reflected on her.
MARA! She snaps her head up to them again, and slowly lowers herself to rest on her knees. Mara knows she is not permitted, so she will not invade. She waits, letting her body surrender against the ground, feeling the weight of their voices rain down on her. She lets the ripples pound against her ears, falling into the rhythm.
Mara, their voices cease into an echo: a shadow, an old reflection. The guards let the Silent One through.
My eyes burn, but I do not cry,
Anxiety and hope coalescing.
Muscles tense together, tight, still collected;
Let the air fall heavy.
Follow him, through oak, through weeds,
To the Lake.
I see my reflection, my mask.
My eyes reflect his,
The Silent One.
My eyes reflect green, spilling into water
Distort perfect image, eyes ferocious and following.
My fur–coarse, tan, filling my complexion;
Spills into white tufts following my chin down my neck.
Run, Run, run me through
The thirst, dense; the heart
Dreaming in Cuban, by Christina Garcia, is centered on the complex and intricate history of Cuba, which is reflected in the characters of the del Pino family. Within this complicated storyline, Garcia focuses the plot through the female voice and experience, which is obscured by dysfunctional relationships and perspectives that consistently contradict one another. The female characters are representing themselves, which lines up with historical context precisely. As a result, the narrative is largely based on the identities of these women, and how they must negotiate their identities according to cultural differences and gender roles. In turn, this untraditional storytelling technique moves between characters and represents the unheard voices within this rich Cuban history. This novel represents an ostentatious meditation on the interpretation of history and perspectives through incredibly multifaceted imagery and intimate description.
Consequently, Garcia challenges the reader to enter into these alternative perspectives without deciding whose point of view is correct. In the incredibly immersive world, Garcia uses intense and close imagery in order to pull the reader into each character’s experience, build tension actively, and also speak through each of the characters’ unique perspectives.
As the narrative is laden with expert imagery and description, Garcia creates a sense of closeness within the setting and alongside the characters. Garcia’s language is incredibly lyrical as the intricacy held within the narrative pushes the reader into an entirely new state of mind. Through this close imagery and sentient narrative Garcia builds tension and conflict thoroughly. Garcia also employs pathetic fallacy where the landscape is a projection of the character’s emotions.
“The colors, too, escape their objects. The red floats above the carnations on her windowsill. The blues rise from chipped tiles in the kitchen. Even the greens, her favorite shades of greens flee the trees and assault her with luminosity. Nothing is solid until she touches it. She blames the sun for this, for the false shadows it casts in her house, and she tightens the shutters against the enemy rays. When she dares look outside, the people are paintings, outlined in black, their faces crushed and squarish.”
This immersive imagery provides a particular experience and sensation for the reader, which is completely unique to Garcia’s style.
An intense and beautiful story, this highly recommended read speaks to the human experience in an entirely different way. Please enjoy this amazing book, I promise it will be unlike anything you have experienced before through literature.
Drown, by Junot Diaz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, is a collection of short stories detailing the struggle of immigrants from the Dominican Republic attempting to redefine their identities according to the ‘American Dream.’ Each story is related, but placed in separate vignettes. Narrated through the voices of Dominican boys and men, this collection deals with the negotiation of cultural, sexual, and gender identity in the midst of failing family structures and the pressures of traditional masculinity. By tracing the frequented coming of age story, the reader gets a first hand account of the transformation of identity when it appears that everything is crumbling. The male voice is essential to the storytelling aspect of the vignettes.
Through Diaz’s restrained prose, this collection deals with issues of discrimination, race, gender, sexuality, and machismo. The treatment of the male characters as a whole is calculated and delves deeper into the bargaining of hegemonic masculine identity, which serves as a danger to the male characters themselves. Masculinity, as the novel demonstrates, evolves through the intersectionality of age, culture, and class. However, masculinity is achieved and ensured through violence against women, homophobia, and consumerism. Frequently, Diaz displays the nature of masculinity through sometimes delicate and sometimes blunt imagery and diction. This violent imagery brings about a sense of closeness and adds to the shock-value of and overall experience for the reader.
A highly recommended read that will take you into worlds which I promise you have never been before. Please enjoy! And share your experiences with me.
For more information and more of Diaz’s brilliant work, visit: Junotdiaz.com
Fall, fall beneath the waves,
We’re going under together.
Without you I feel myself,
Falling, falling now and forever.
Without you I cannot survive,
For you, are pulling me above the water.
Break, break above the water,
We’ll stay together.
Keep calling out my name,
For I can save you for now.
Come, come with me now,
I know I’ll be with you forever.
Still willing, I know I can keep you safe,
For the life we lead will go on.
Rise, rise into the sun,
Breathing the impatient air once again.
Stay, stay forever with me,
Because it’s all you can do, and
Now, is all we have.
The hospital smells of sterile alcohol, which stings against Malcolm’s nostrils and burns holes into his eyes. For a safe place, this one isn’t very welcoming now is it? He stands in front of the sliding doors that keep opening and closing: growling at him to move. A woman plows her way through the doors clutching the hand of a screaming child. When she bumps into Malcolm, his heart jolts forward, pumping the already stale blood through his veins. He didn’t realize the blood had stopped flowing before. Everything is supposed to be still. Time isn’t supposed to move on when…
“Sorry!” The woman calls from behind her, as the stumbling child holds his eyes on Malcolm. They seem to be full of something that draws out the eyes with fear and pity.
His fingers feel numb, perhaps from the damp, freezing air that had swallowed him before, or perhaps the numbness is from his denial.
There is no way this is…real, right?
His breath, which had fogged the air only moments before, mixes with the heated intensity of the air now pushing against his face. It is uncomfortable really, the heat rising to his neck chokes Malcolm with an overwhelming warming sensation. His fingers and nose burn and tingle from the sudden heat. The air tastes sour, as if the clear searing alcohol has saturated every molecule of oxygen, has seeped into every crevice, every crack, every pore. The heavy air holds onto him, he’ll never get away from that stench.
Why is he here again? Oh right, that call.
Nurses rush past him, speaking inaudibly in bursts of breathless orders like buzzing insects. They only exist as blurs, nothing more than lines. Wow, Malcolm thought, the complexity of cells, intelligence, and humanity, all wrapped up into…lines. Beep…Beep…Beep, straight, consistent lines until it dips, until it rises. Lines: how cruel, just to simplify a name, a disposition, an origin. How very cruel for her.
The first thing he remembers is her soft skin and exuberant eyes. She is unreal, illusory. Her eyes only hold life, so much, it amazes him.
“Sir? Do you know what you would like to order?”
Malcom looked up to the waitress, replacing any thought of food with the image of this woman. Her black hair was tossed up into a bun that released curls down the sides of her ebony face. The intensity of her eyes bore into his, producing an unexpected sense of anxiety rising in his chest. Malcolm no longer felt the plasticized menu in his hands.
A smile ticked against the corner of her mouth, “Sir?”
“Oh,” Malcolm cleared his throat in an awkward tension. “The…uh, eggs. Please.”
She moved her weight to lean on her other leg. “Well, considering we stopped serving breakfast an hour ago, how about the turkey sandwich?”
Malcolm stared blankly at her, trying at a smile but sure that it wasn’t going to reach his face in time. “Ah, yes. Thank you,” Malcolm squinted at the name placard on her shirt, “Clara?”
She answered with that smile again, writing on a small pad, while simultaneously plucking the menu out of his hands. Malcolm stared after her as she walked away, something constricting at his heart. “Nice to meet you, Clara.” As he placed his hand on the synthetic, sticky table, his eyes fell on a vase holding three pink poppies. Their black eyes, streaked with yellow veins, wilted toward him expectantly. It reminded him of parents holding up their children over their heads, feet dangling in the air, the kid’s bright face laughing and smiling down, screaming, “Higher, higher!” A smile etched its way onto Malcolm’s face, it was simply the most beautiful thing in this world.
When Clara brought his food, she slid across the table from him and intertwined her fingers together. Her nails were a chipped orange. Malcolm looked to her face, “Aren’t you supposed to be working?”
“Meh, it’s a pretty lax job description when you’re the owner. Plus, you’re the only one here.” Clara gestured around in an elaborate wave of the hand. An empty restaurant: plates and napkins peppered with food lying on lonely tables. “So, are you going to eat that?”
He peered down to his plate. Malcolm hadn’t thought about eating really, but he picked up the sandwich and felt the bread give underneath his fingertips. “Yep, that for sure tastes like a turkey sandwich.”
Clara laughed, producing the sweetest sound he had ever heard. Its pitches and tone brought an instinctive smile to his face, warming him from the inside out. He could see it, the happiness she would bring him in the future, the loyalty she would have, the family she could be. His family.
She reached out her hand to Malcolm, “Are you going to introduce yourself? Or do you want me to guess your name?”
Clara didn’t let him answer, “Jimmy, Clayton, Martin…”
Malcolm furrowed his eyebrows, “Clayton?”
“Oh, or Gerald, Carl, Martin…Is it Martin? You look like Martin.”
Malcolm inhaled, “Yeah, any of those’ll do.” He grasped her hand, feeling the cold metal of her rings and the rough callouses under his fingertips, “I’m Malcolm.” He felt the smile finally reach his face in its full form, happy to meet the new love of his life.
As Malcolm attempts to put the rushing lines of nurses back into people, he finally forms the words that had been sitting on his lips since he came here. “Excuse me, excuse me, ma’am? I’m looking for Clara Neels.” The nurses continue to rush through him, as if he is thin air. His throat constricts as a twisted anger starts to boil inside him. “Ma’am!”
In that moment, the air in his body goes solid, as everyone in the atrium turns to stare at his unexpected outburst. Their faces resemble a horrible mix of distress and disbelief. Malcolm looks down to find his hand clenched onto the nurse’s arm, and he slowly releases his grip.
“Please,” his voice softens, “I’m sorry.”
The only response the nurse provides is a pointed finger into a singular room down the hallway. Malcolm follows the branched lines of her wrinkled hand to a silver ring tinted green, which finally stretches to a single wooden door. On the door, there is a narrow solitary window crisscrossed with black lines. The small gray placard next to the door reads: “ICU 668.”
The nurse regards the man with pity for only a moment, and then abruptly leaves him to his clenching stomach, that constant sting at the back of his throat, and those tears forcing their way to the back of his eyes. What has she done?
Clara was driving but wasn’t talking, she must have been running away. They had had a fight. She clenched the steering wheel that was freezing her hands shut. The air tightened in her chest and she could no longer breathe. Her car sped along the flooded road, rain dancing in the stream of her worthless headlights. How fast was she going anyway?
Clara’s windshield was fogging so she turned off the heat. Bumps started rising onthe numb rods of flesh that were her arms. They were worthless, her arms. Everything hurt. Where was she going anyway? The air inside the cage of her car condensed within her throat. Everything hurt.
What were they fighting about anyway? Probably something stupid.
He found out, he must have. What else would they fight about anyway?
She had forgotten the way he kissed her, it was replaced with a sadness that sucked her dry with its severity. There was nothing left. Then came the anger, so foul everything around her seemed to buzz in an unnatural energy that she wasn’t able to touch. Something dropped into the pit of her stomach freezing her from the inside out. What did he want from her anyway? Complete loyalty? Only love? That was impossible. That was unreasonable. How can someone only feel one thing at a time anyway?
She could see Malcolm’s face clearly now, anger and disbelief scrunching up his features into unreadable lines. “You slept with him?!” he had said, his voice shaking, his voice accusing.
She had tried to explain to Malcolm, the supposed-to-be love of her life. He had called her bitch. Bitch shall be his new name for Clara. What was he so angry about anyway?
Clara let her breath out altogether, making the air visible around her only for a second. Her phone started to whine from the passenger seat, probably Malcolm calling to apologize. She plucked the phone from the seat to confirm her suspicions, only to roll down the window, allowing the rain to enter and spray her face, and let the buzzing phone drop from her fingers to the street. “Oops, I guess this is the anger phase,” she said to herself, the sudden vibrations of her voice scratching the inside of her throat.
Clara didn’t roll the window back up, she just let the chill and wetness soak into her bones so that she would never be warm again. What was the point anyway? In Malcolm’s words: “You screwed up!” Clara was not to be forgiven. It was all her fault anyway. It was all her fault.
Something pulled at her to put her foot on the brake, so she did. And then came the stillness, inescapable and impulsive, rain soaking down her face. She reached for the keys and let the engine die. Her headlights only lit up the fog for a few more minutes until darkness filled everything. It was all her fault anyway.
And then came the bright beams that cut through her darkness and into her eyes. She could breathe again. Air finally filling her lungs, cold and clean. It was strange really, her pulse was even and her breathing was slow. So, she stared, and she breathed, and she didn’t feel a thing.
It was one of those gloomy days, those days when nothing seemed to matter except for inside, really truly nothing more. Although the rain had stopped, the heavy air still kept a soaked impression about it, the sky threatening another downpour. The roads couldn’t have even been that bad. He didn’t even remember how, but when he ended up back inside, inside the heart, or the atrium, or whatever — that was when he had received the call, warning of the critical situation, which had pulled him back outside. Right where he shouldn’t have been. Beep…beep…beep…
“Hello?” Please be her, please be her.
“Hello, is this Malcolm Connors?”
“Hello Mr. Connors, I am calling from Triden Medical Center. Your friend Clarissa Neels was admitted to the ICU an hour ago. She listed you as her emergency contact.”
Malcolm’s heart lurched forward in his chest, hearing a pitched tone ring in his ears. “What?”
“Sir? Is it possible for you to come down tonight? We cannot get ahold of any of her family.”
His heart was beating heavily inside his throat now, choking him. “What…what happened?”
“Sir, she was in a car accident.”
Malcolm was sure that the nurse calling had more to say, but he didn’t hear it, not anymore. He clenched at his phone, his fingers shaking, his breath failing him. “No, no I just talked to her, she, she was just here.”
“Mr. Connors, we need you to come in.”
“She was just here.”
“I know this is a shock sir.”
He slammed the phone into the table and leaned into his hands. “No.”
She was still on the phone, “Mr. Connors? Mr. Connors are you still there?”
He spoke through clenched teeth to keep his voice from wavering. The tears weren’t there yet, but they would come soon. “I’m coming.” He shoved his phone into his pocket and forgot his jacket as he loaded himself into his car, and drove to the hospital.
Malcolm forces his way to mechanically position himself in front of the cold, sterile door to peer into the useless window. All that lay before him was the mint green curtain draped from steel rings, from a steel pole, under the dotted, chalk ceiling.
As he bows his head to the door and grips the cold metal knob with numb fingers, the image returns.
At that time, the roads weren’t really that bad, all it takes: a little bit of water, some bad tires maybe, a distraction…his distraction. He doesn’t really remember yelling at her, or the rising acceleration of his voice, or even the sting of his hand as his palm slid across her cheek. All he remembers are the pink flowers on the table next to a window, Poppies, he thought, they must have been poppies.