Human Being

Human Being


Artist: Nina Grosso is a singer/songwriter who developed a love for writing and performing when she got her first ukulele in high school. She plays locally at open mics and small venues, as well with her band, The RetroVisions. Visit her YouTube channel to hear more originals, as well as covers.


 

The Here and the After

The Here and the After

Each December, at the Los Angeles County Cemetery, the ashes of hundreds of people whose remains have been unclaimed or unidentified for three years are buried in a mass grave. Members of the public are invited to attend.

December 9—Friday
4 p.m.

137 babies.
2 children.
853 men.
436 women.
The Annual Burial of the Unclaimed Dead. You’d like the name. Direct and unvarnished. I’d guess maybe a hundred others will join me tomorrow at the grave under the green tarps. As usual, there’ll be no names announced, no life stories recalled: just a few graceful words by a local chaplain. Probably incense swung gently over the dirt. Some music. Usually a guitarist.
1428.
I know you’re not among them, but I repeat the stats out of respect for them, the county’s unclaimed, whose cardboard boxes have rested side by side on coroner shelves for three years and who must be buried to make room for this year’s ashes. I think even if you were not a factor in this, I would continue the pilgrimage every year. A more dignified act of kindness I cannot imagine for the poor souls. I’m always moved.
13.
Yes, there are 13 more over whom to sing tomorrow.
The Does. Unidentified. I will be there in case you are with them, my only and wild sister, my own Jane Doe.

5 p.m.

Above L.A., the snow blanketing the San Gabriels glows in late sun, Jane. You would not appreciate it. You have no eye for horizons. You’re all about the here and now. The raucous laughter in the bar. Any room that welcomes you for the night. The man of the moment, who offers you nothing and exactly what you expect. The bottle on the table. Later, the needle in your arm. You never look ahead, but you’re always looking, for more “now.” Your here and now is what took you away. But me? Well, you know better than anyone. Despite your demons, you always face forward, no matter how ugly. And you never back off from telling me what you think of my avoidance of anything unpleasant, and my distance from people. You scoff that I’m a sucker for the far-off. I can’t argue. And the pink hue that is cast onto the white of the summits is a worthy distraction now. I raise my eyes high above the concrete of L.A. and pretend whatever I want. I’m so good at this. What a beautiful world.

10 p.m.

I’m going to bed. Pretending is hard work. From my room tonight, I watched the sun paint the snow until the mountains became lumpy shadows and lights blinked on buildings, cars, and the hotel marquee. I have turned on the light just to tell you good night.

December 10—Saturday 11 p.m.

Reading my last couple of entries, from what seems like years ago, I wonder if I had begun shedding fantasies even last night. Look, I realize you will never read this. I get it. Still, I have to tell you this last story. It’s all about the here and now. You won’t be bored.
I met someone at the grave today. Tall, not bad-looking, with the most intense brown eyes. When I spoke, his direct gaze made me feel like I was the only one around. Of course, a mass burial service conducted in the shadow of a crematorium is not where I would normally look for a date—oh, let’s be honest, there’s no place I look for a date, so a cemetery’s as good as any. I was nervous at first, but I kept asking myself what you would do. I decided to be in the present, like you. It worked. That’s why I tell you that maybe I had already stopped pretending.
He offered me shelter from the storm. Dramatic enough? Well, he did. Apparently, L.A. is experiencing a drought-busting early season. I should have realized. The mountains are solid white. The last two years I was here, it was as hot as summer. And, despite the new rains, most of the lawn is still brown.
As usual, I was standing off to the side of a crowd that seemed smaller than last year, a few dozen, maybe. We happy few circled the dead, I, of course, facing away from the brick and metal stacks and the chain link, barbed wire fences that surround them. As you know, if I can’t see it, it’s not there. We stood in a corner of the huge county cemetery, on a hill. I looked out across the grave to the city’s sprawl.
The unlovely area where they bury the ashes was not helped today by the tacky tarps sagging from rainwater. Well, unlovely, true, but softened and always granted a rare beauty by the ceremony. Plus, maybe the brown grass will drink up gallons of water this winter and be emerald by spring. There’s always hope, right? There. Do I sound more like me?
As we stood waiting for the chaplain to say his few words, it started to rain. Most of us were caught off guard. Angelenos don’t do wet, I’ve heard. Maybe the mere threat of rain had kept people home. However, no one left. I wouldn’t have expected anyone from that group to leave anyway. None of us attend because we’re obligated to a typical graveside service of family or friends. I’ve often wondered about the others—most of them alone—and their connections to the dead. I think most are there just to honor the forgotten or neglected. But how many know someone who is being buried? Who is wondering why the ashes haven’t been claimed? Who is searching for the missing? Anyone racked with guilt, yet frustrated and resenting the search? I’ve not bothered to find answers.
“Want to share? I think it’s going to get worse.”
I turned toward the voice at my shoulder to see a brown-haired guy, older than I am, maybe in his 40’s, wearing a black overcoat and jeans. He seemed hesitant, which relaxed me a bit. He hunched over, the way many tall men do, yet had an odd way of leaning back even while standing close enough to share an umbrella.
Not for the first time, I wished I were like you. You would have cracked a joke, laughed at it, tossing your shiny hair, and asked him for a cigarette. Me? I said, “Duh. Duh duh. Duh duh duh duh.” That’s what I registered of my mumble. I think I actually said, “Are you sure? Well . . . thanks then.”
The guitarist began “Into the West.” God, it was beautiful. For a few minutes, I was distracted into what probably resembled calm, but when the song ended, it was still me standing too close to a stranger, the seconds stretching as I tensed, trying out useless conversational openings in my head. My hair and clothes were damp, my shoes were getting wet, and I suspected I smelled like wet dog. Here’s the strange thing, though: just when I was sure he would discreetly back away from the social misfit, he asked me why I was there. He smiled and adjusted the umbrella over us, apparently in no hurry. My shoulders relaxed.
And here’s the even stranger thing: I opened my mouth and answered him. I talked about us. Can you imagine? I don’t know if it was because you felt so close or because of the intimacy created by the umbrella that claimed our own space separate and somehow distant from the others—in fact, the whole group, usually crowded around the grave so as to hear the chaplain’s words, had been spread as umbrellas had opened. You know, maybe I just needed a stranger. I think you would understand that. For whatever reason, I shared. He tilted his head a little as he listened, his face composed. His eyes never left my face, even as the speaker began. We moved a couple of steps back and spoke quietly.
I told him I had come for several years in case my sister was there.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “But wouldn’t you know? Their names are posted.”
“I do check all of the names. But I have learned that she is probably no longer alive. She fell into some serious trouble here in L.A. I have good reason to believe she died without ID. It’s a long story. Anyway, I . . . I just have to come.”
“Why was she out of touch?” he asked. So simple. No one had asked that before. My words vomited out.
“She was a drug addict. She consumed our lives. Then she left.”
Now that’s reality. See? I was weaving it more confidently among my carefully-constructed fabric of fantasy.
I felt nothing. No guilt. No embarrassment. The overwhelming urge to bolt or apologize and explain my neglect and anger was absent. Plus, his eyes were kind.
Still, the conversation wasn’t pleasant, despite its clean, unfiltered nature. And I cannot change so quickly so as to invite others in. I have spent too long in my fortress. I changed the subject: “What about you? Why are you here?”
“Well, I’m sorry to say I know one of the . . . God, what do I say? ‘Deceased’? Hard to admit. And, actually, I’m not sorry about knowing her. I’m glad.”
Her. Best not to ask, I decided.
I turned my attention to the dead. The chaplain’s words resonated respect for the lives whose remains were beneath the soggy tarp. When he finished speaking, a bearded man in robes walked the length of the plastic, waving perforated silver canisters, enveloping the grave and the edges of the crowd in smoke. A sharp fragrance filled the air. Sage. Clouds of it. It took me home. Our conversation stalled, but we listened in a now-comfortable silence. The rain fell steadily. I didn’t mind. We must have looked like a couple. I didn’t mind that, either.
The service lasted no more than fifteen minutes. After the serenity prayer, most drifted away; a few stood quietly or murmured over the grave. Some laid flowers around the edges, on the newly-turned earth.
“Where are you from?” he asked. “You don’t seem very L.A.” He winced and started to apologize.
“Yeah, sorry about that,” I made a show of primping my hair, immediately amazed at myself. I was teasing this man. Me. I had a quick flash of us sitting in a coffee shop after the service, steam from our cups warming the air between us, rain skittering on the pavement outside. Ah. Dreaming. Still me, Jane. How many times did we argue about this, you claiming, “Life can be ugly, but at least its got life,” and me insisting, “Life is ugly so make something up.”
“I’m going to take that as a compliment because I love where I’m from,” I told him.
“Which is?”
“New Mexico. Middle of nowhere. I went to Albuquerque, to the University of New Mexico. Journalism. I was going to become the next Christiane Amanpour. In my senior year, I had to come home . . . to take care of . . . well, because my parents . . . my parents had died in a car accident, and I had gained a child, my sister. I didn’t take well to the role. She was a wild thing, lived for the moment—”
I trailed off, finishing in my head: And you had gotten much worse after the accident you caused. I’m sorry, I have to say it. Of course you went off the deep end after that. Because you did cause it, you and your crisis dejour that always sent them speeding off in a panic to save you. You dragged me into a place I would never have made up. And after you ran off, I piled more gray stones onto my castle walls.
He touched my shoulder. “I’m too nosy. Stop me. I do this a lot.”
“No, it’s fine.”
And it was.
“What’s it like where you live?” he asked.
“Well, if you asked my sister, she would say, ‘hell.’ She felt trapped in a town with one bar and a graduating class of seven. I love it, though. And I love the high desert plateaus, the smell of sage and creosote. It’s like the desert in California, but cleaner and higher. Actually, Jane liked that part, too. We had our best—pretty much our only—times exploring the mesas and washes.”
I smiled, remembering, and reached into my bag.
“We made bouquets of desert plants,” I told him. “She said they were like me, prickly and trying too hard.”
I carefully lifted the nosegay that I had brought to lay on the grave: blue sage, lacy anise, mint, and—our favorite—the yellow Yerba Mansa, already wilted and dried. Bringing it to my face, I closed my eyes. The fragrance mixed with the smoky, herb-infused air lingering above the buried ashes.
“I know,” I admitted. “It’s weird. Jane hated hothouse flowers. She despised roses. Especially red ones. So cliché, she complained. And fake. Only the tough, honest scent of the desert for her. She said roses smelled like grocery stores and funerals and men who didn’t mean their ‘sorry’s. She would know, too.”
Suddenly your loss was all around me. I felt as desolate as if I was with you in the ground. I was certain of your death. My body slumped, no other word for it. My face went slack, my mouth loosened into a frown, and I realized that I had been using muscles to keep a smile on. The sudden ache in my neck told me my head had fallen forward, and my shoulders dropped again with such a release of tension that they pulled at my neck, as well. I turned away when the tears came.
The words were a whisper.
“I know your sister is here. Your journey’s over.”
I couldn’t help it; I leaned into the kindness of the gesture.
“Thank you,” I breathed. “That means so much.”
“No. I mean it. I know your sister is here.”
The certainty of his conviction was a balm. I turned to him in gratitude, my head lifting.
And saw him.
Startled, I flinched and rocked back on my heels, staring open-mouthed. How could a face change so quickly? How had I thought the eyes warm? There was nothing there. Well, darkness. But nothing. Incense smoke curled around us, carried on a sudden shift of breeze, and a sudden vision filled my head: the twist of a shark in murky water and the flat black eye gliding past my face.
He sneered and looked down at me, down on me. He was standing straight; the stoop had disappeared. His attentiveness had morphed into an intensity that scrutinized me coldly. Sharp eyes scanned our surroundings with speed and precision.
“Wha—?”
“Are you as deaf as you are stupid?”
I could only gape at him. You would have done something. I know it. I could not. He set the umbrella down and took my hands, pulling me closer, his grip a coiled power. How had I not noticed his size? He dwarfed me.
“I said I know your sister is here. I know because I put her here. I knew Cassie. You can drop the Jane. Your little doe has been found. It’s a better name for you, anyway. Weakling!”
His face flushed, and his voice rose with the last word. He caught himself and immediately lowered it, swiveling his head to assess the almost-deserted gravesite.
He continued, hissing the words out. “How can you be her sister? Her colors were so bright I could barely look at the end. You—” he spit the word out, “—you insult my world, peeping and creeping through it, looking for . . . who knows or cares? I’ll admit. I was curious about you. She called you her right hand man, didn’t she?”
I gasped. The familiar teasing phrase conjured your image, and I felt I could touch your lips at that moment. He restrained me with his strength and froze me with his words. The assault continued, and I shook my head, trying to make sense of this sudden nightmare.
“There we go,” he cooed. “That got your attention, didn’t it? Jesus, she talked you up until I was sick of you. I think it’s why I finally shut her up. Did you hate propping her up all your life? Did you want to hurt her for forcing you to deal with her shit? For burning so bright? I think so. She didn’t know you at all, did she? You didn’t know her, either. I always know what they love and hate, and I knew—more than you ever did—what she liked and what she despised.”
He paused to savor his next words. His eyes probed mine, and he smiled wide.
“Best of all, I knew what she was afraid of.”
Bile rose up into my throat, and I jerked back. He countered in a flash, pulling me closer—one hand on the back of my head, pulling it close and turning my face onto his coat lapel, and the other a vise imprisoning my right hand—in a grotesque embrace that no one watching would question. My face turned toward your grave, I was helpless.
He’s so strong. I grieve that you felt it.
The next instant, the world exploded into white hot pain as he broke the little finger on my right hand.
Before I could cry out, he covered my mouth and pulled me even closer with his other arm on my back, as if comforting me. I screamed into the monstrous hand and tried to push away. Suddenly I was free. I staggered from the freedom and the pain. As I righted myself, cradling my hand, he reclaimed the umbrella, and long strides carried him off, his coat whipping around his legs. I managed to keep his tall form in sight, however, and paid for my effort by witnessing his final gesture. He pivoted as he neared the perimeter of the grounds and raised his arm. Then, as if tipping a hat to a lady, he tapped a stemmed red rose to his forehead and tossed it my direction.
He was out the gate and gone.

I’m going, too, Cassie. The finger is set now, but more than that is broken, and I no longer know how to escape the dead or the living. No wonder I was always drawn to invention and dreams. This world is ugly up close. It bites. It tries to break. You were brave to live in it.
I forgot to give you your flowers. But so did he. I’m glad. Mine will stay here with these useless words.
Once I’m away from desecrated ground, I’ll think about what I’m going to do. Maybe I’ll try. Maybe I will hit back.
Of one thing I’m sure: I will no longer toss hopeful flowers on graves while evil breathes beside me.


Writer: Marilyn Schultz-Davis teaches writing at California State University, Fullerton. She has written for publication most of her adult life, primarily creative non-fiction. In 2016 she published Green Leaf Places, a book of poetry. She is currently at work on poetry and prose pieces as an assignment for an upcoming anthology of creative writing published by The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Most importantly to her at this time, she is also collaborating with her mother, who is writing for a presentation at her 100th birthday in June, 2018.

Artist: Erika Flores is an art student at Fullerton College studying Ceramics, Jewelry, Sculpture and Art History. She has never shied away from working with different media and learning everything she can from the art world. Her work focuses on naturalistically depicting the human figure and animals. She draws inspiration from Art Nouveau, fantasy and the world around her.


 

Brother

Brother

nothing could prepare me for that day
that day you were born and one became two
two brothers who were two years apart
but to me it seemed like you were always there
never away and never too far

no one could tell me I was alone for that long
without you and the games we used to play
pretending we were larger than that single cramped room
that we outgrew the second you spoke
your first words to me

the rusted fence could not hold us back
neither the fading paint or the fading faces
they grew old and brittle as time went on
the cold that Winter brought when we were together
in that single bed we all shared

we shared all we had
including those memories we made
the days we were left with nothing
but the gravel beneath our feet
and the glass marbles we dug out of the earth
filled with our hopes and dreams


Writer: Brian Rueda is an English major at Fullerton College. He writes short stories, but poetry is what he writes and enjoys the most. He is constantly trying to improve his writing. This is his first published work.

Artist: Hiram Jair Moreno is a student currently enrolled at Fullerton College. In the past, he was challenged by a seven-year drug addiction that he overcame by pursuing his educational dreams. He is proud to announce that he will be the first in his family to graduate from college after the current semester. In the Fall of 2018, he will attend a four-year university, where he will continue to further his passion for photography and French.


 

A Wednesday Duet

A Wednesday Duet

The gate stood before me, an ominous structure of blackened metal wrapped in vines. I looked behind me to see nothing but a dark, forest grove and a dirt road on which my station wagon, in desperate need of a paint job, stood parked. I shifted the silver case that was behind my back and pressed the gate bell. From somewhere, a buzzer answered, and the black gates swung silently aside to reveal a marble mansion standing at the far end of an evenly cut field. In front of the mansion shone a collection of black cars with footmen at the sides of each door like wax figures standing at attention.
The case’s strap slid off my shoulder and, shrugging it back into position, I began to make my way towards the mansion on the dirt road. Before I walked up the stairs to the front door, I glanced up at the clouded skies and remembered the weatherman’s predictions earlier this morning.
“It’s about to rain,” I said to the closest footman.
The man didn’t respond, and I was about to get a closer look to see if he was truly made of wax before the front door clicked open, and a woman in an ornate gray dress stood looking down at me from the top of the stairs. I hastily pulled out the folded scrap of paper from within my coat pocket and double checked the address.
“Uh, hi. I’m here to—”
“Yes, I know why you’re here,” the woman snapped. I hadn’t expected any less of a greeting from the mother of Sophie, whose daughter had sent me their address. She left the door open and waited with a slight frown on her powdered face while I climbed the stairs into the mansion’s tiled hall.
“Is little Sophie on her way?” I asked. “We should be starting soon.”
“She’ll be along,” she replied curtly. “She should be finishing her studies about now.”
She closed the door just as I heard the first raindrops begin to patter outside. Those poor wax footmen, I thought as I placed my hard case and dusty coat on the floor in front of an end table sporting a pretty vase of lilies on its glass surface.
I flipped open one of the lock straps to my silver case and admired the interior of the hall. So many rooms, and all very white.
“Oh, this won’t do,” the woman exclaimed, gray dress gliding across the floor towards me. “Not in the foyer, follow me.”
She swooped down to pick up my belongings and strode off to the far end of the room. Then she disappeared behind a door. I promptly followed her to see where she was taking my things. I knew better than to let someone run off with anything that belonged to me, even if I was a guest in their home.
“The foyer, was it? I think we would have been fine in there,” I said as I caught up with her, but the powdered-faced woman must not have heard me, because she kept walking down each hall, past each white room in the mansion. I kept thinking to myself how these rooms looked just like the snug lounge of the cake shop in town. I took a deep breath. Smelled like it, too.
Before I left the hallway into the room that Sophie’s mother seemed satisfied with, an arrangement of small photographs that lined the wall of the hall caught my attention. Each frame held a photo of a very young girl, whom I recognized to be Sophie, and her mother, who was more attractive when the pictures were taken. The father was nowhere to be seen.
“Now, this space is perfect, don’t you think?” she said with pride. She dropped both my case and coat onto a leather couch and sat down next to them with a wide smile. I returned her smile with a wary nod and surveyed the room. It was certainly emptier than the other rooms we visited, with only the couch, a table, and a lamp keeping us company. Then I looked through one of the large, empty door frames and saw the vase of lilies near the front door.
“Isn’t that the room we were just in?”
“Hm? Oh, I had to get something from the gallery. I hope you don’t mind the little detour,” she said with another smile that looked almost plastic. I was about to say that I could have carried my things to this room by myself, but I knew it was below her interest.
“How are you getting along with Sophie?” I asked. Seeing as how the only couch in the room was occupied by Sophie’s mother, I chose to sit down on the carpet. Although the fabric of the carpet was quite scratchy, it was better than seeing the powdered crease lines formed by her strange smile.
“Without you?” she answered. “Peaceful.”
“Was that all you wanted? Some peace?”
Sophie’s mother glared at me from the couch. “Some peace away from the man who did nothing more than teach my daughter a poor street performer’s trade!”
I ignored her last comment. It was Sophie who had approached me and suggested I teach her a ‘poor street performer’s trade.’ My business then was only to provide the lessons which her mother had insisted be paid for with Sophie’s allowance.
“So, this is what you did with the money then?” I said, gesturing around myself at the mansion. “Bought yourself a fancy house and all the accessories to go with it.”
“Why not?” she said with a smirk. “My father wouldn’t have wanted his wealth to idle about.”
Sophie’s mother then glanced down at my silver case and placed her pale fingers on its surface. “Whatever became of the man you spoke of who promised you a seat in his ensemble? Were you…selected?”
“No, but—”
“Of course you weren’t,” she sneered as I heard her nails scrape against the case’s lid. That’s what the case is for, I thought to calm myself. To protect what mattered inside.
As I thought this, the sound of footsteps came rushing down a flight of stairs and in entered a little girl in a lovely yellow dress with chestnut curls and a smile bigger than her mother’s.
“Ross!” she squealed. “You made it!”
“Now, what did I say about calling me by my first name?” I said, grinning. “We’re a bit low on time, so why don’t we get started?”
“All right! I’ll go bring my stuff!” Sophie exclaimed happily. She disappeared through a door, only to reappear again with a silver case of her own. I looked at her mother, who still sat on the couch with that plastic smile of hers. I took my case and opened it on the floor, revealing a violin and a bow resting comfortably in their velvet beds. I pulled a music book from within the case’s interior pocket and began flipping through the pages.
“Why don’t we begin with—”
“I don’t remember you having such a nice violin,” interrupted Sophie’s mother, who was staring down at the wooden instrument on my lap. I held back the urge to scream at her, to say that I just wanted to teach Sophie some music.
“It’s new,” I replied, trying hard to mask my annoyance. “I got it after the first one…broke.”
After I mentioned this, the rain began to fall even harder. The room grew dimmer as the clouds outside began to pack together. Sophie stood up with her violin in her hands and flicked the room lamp on.
“Mom—” said Sophie, with a disapproving look on her face. “Please.”
“I’m sorry, precious face,” said Sophie’s mother apologetically to Sophie as she leaned back against the couch. The rain peppered the frosted glass window behind her, and the lamp’s glow made her body appear as though it were sinking into the thick layers of an oil painting.
“Go on with your little music lesson.”
Sophie’s mother stood up and left the room as soon as my bow struck the violin’s strings. I slowly drew out the note on my strings and watched her until she had disappeared down the hallway. Once she was out of sight, Sophie and I sighed with relief. I laid my violin onto the couch and rested its case across my lap.
“Here,” I said, opening a small compartment from within the velvet case. I pulled out a small plastic package that held an equally small puff pastry inside and handed it to Sophie.
“The plastic might smell like resin, but I know how much you like this stuff. It’s from that cake store we used to visit after lessons.”
Sophie excitedly took the package and hid it inside her own violin case before reaching out to hug me tightly.
“You’re the best,” said Sophie as she squeezed me even tighter.
“C’mon now, your mom’s not gonna be happy to hear us not playing some music,” I said.
“Mom didn’t think you’d come,” Sophie said as she stepped back to raise her violin up to her neck to tune.
“Oh?” I asked, unsurprised. I held up my own violin to my neck to tune together with Sophie.
“I told her I sent you a letter with our address written on it after we moved here from our old house. She wasn’t very happy when I said I was going to take violin lessons with you again.”
“Well, she let me in the house, didn’t she?” I said with a laugh, but stopped abruptly in thought as my own words echoed in my head.
“I think she wanted to show off our home. It’s been a while since anyone’s visited after we moved. Did she give you a tour around the house yet?”
I nodded, but I chose to refrain from telling Sophie that her mother most likely did it with an ulterior motive in mind, but it was true that the house didn’t seem to have had any guests over for some time.
Several years had passed since I had seen Sophie and her mother in their previous home; when I still gave Sophie violin lessons on Wednesdays. Back then, her mother was less rude, and I remember plenty of friends who visited her. Our friends.
“Do you still teach the Jones’ twins how to play the piano?” Sophie asked as she twisted the peg on her violin.
“Every Saturday. Their parents offered to have me over for dinner last week. You’d have liked what Mrs. Jones was cooking. I could never bake lamb like that at home.”
Sophie was quiet for a moment. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to imagine the meal or the Jones’ twins finally learning piano.
“Do you still live alone?” she asked finally.
“Never alone,” I replied, and tapped the hard, plastic cover on the violin case. “I’ll always have a few sheets of music to remember our lessons together.”
We both giggled like children. After settling down a bit, we took up our bows and took a deep breath before filling the mansion’s lungs with rapturous melodies.

An hour of practice, an hour of music theory, and the lessons were over. It had been so long before I felt like I was at home again and it was already time to leave. I saw Sophie putting away her instrument with a troubled look on her face.
“What’s wrong, Sophie?” I said as I locked the straps to my case.
“When will you be back?” she asked.
“Every Wednesday,” I answered. “As long as your mother doesn’t decide to move houses without telling your violin instructor again.”
Sophie’s hands gripped the handle of her violin case with apprehension at the approaching sound of clattering heels striking the tiled floor. I sensed her anxiety and knelt beside her.
“She can’t take away what you love, Sophie,” I said to her. “The music we played is proof of that.”
“But what if she br—”
Sophie hushed as her mother appeared beneath the door frame, arms folded and fingers tapping. I stood up with my coat in hand.
“Don’t you worry,” I said as I held up my case. “I’ll see you in a week, Sophie. Remember to study those sheets I gave you.”
Sophie nodded and hurried out of the room while her mother waited for her to leave.
“It’s cold out,” she said. “Let me hold your violin for you while you put your coat on.”
As I stared at her waiting hand, hesitation gripped me. I cautiously handed her the case and watched her walk towards the front door as if in a hurry to see me out of her house.
“You know, I never imagined I’d be inside such a nice home when I got that letter,” I said to Sophie’s mother as I threw on my coat and waved goodbye to Sophie as she looked back from the stairs in the foyer. Sophie’s mother didn’t bother to reply as she continued to walk up to the front door. I kept a careful eye on my violin case which was held tightly in her hand while she opened the front door to an onslaught of pouring rain. Outside, the wax footmen were now outfitted with raincoats and large umbrellas.
“Didn’t think it’d be raining this much,” I said and laughed half-heartedly. “I don’t suppose you have a spare umbrella I can borrow?”
I already knew the answer to my question and buttoned up my coat as tightly as I could. Then, I glanced up at Sophie’s mother who was smiling at me yet again, but it felt less forced than before, as if the rain had tempered it into a cruel, familiar mold. Her face hadn’t changed from the moment I first saw it. Part of my mind was glad I was leaving her house and the empty rooms that echoed nothing but the sound of falling rain. But those feelings melted away when from upstairs came the striking voice of a violin that cut through the rain and cold like a warm embrace. Even the footmen underneath their enormous umbrellas smiled when the music swelled in the air.
“How much did this violin cost you, Ross?” Sophie’s mother asked as she held my silver case up towards me in one hand while she held the front door open with the other. When she mentioned my name, I looked at her, hoping to see some sign to prove that I had been wrong about her.
But I only saw pain in them, a spiteful loathing that remained oblivious to the music that rang throughout the halls. Before I answered her, I took my violin case into my hands.
“Enough to see my daughter on Wednesdays.”


Writer: Tim Pak plans to become a full-time writer. He is currently attending Fullerton College as an English major and is working alongside other creative writing students in LiveWire. Tim is also working on a series of young adult fantasy novels that he is still in the process of developing. This is his first published short story.

Artist: Erika Flores is an art student at Fullerton College studying Ceramics, Jewelry, Sculpture and Art History. She has never shied away from working with different media and learning everything she can from the art world. Her work focuses on naturalistically depicting the human figure and animals. She draws inspiration from Art Nouveau, fantasy and the world around her.


 

A Person

A Person

A stereotype is what I have been
since the words I like men left my mouth.
At thirteen a single confession slipped from my mouth,
parents who loved me said I couldn’t be the person that I am,
so I smiled and said okay.

I am supposed to be a lady-boy with an empty head,
a brain filled with nothing but gossip and boy talk—
I have loved other men, I must be a slut!
Every man I see I am instantly attracted to,
every man who wants to fuck me has that right,
because people believe I am a stereotype.

Words are shot at me like rapid arrows—
slut, fag, bitch—they hit and crawl under my skin
having me believe words define who I am;
never let them see you bleed, words I was taught to live by.

I have kissed a man before, so therefore I must be feminine:
a pretty boy presenting pretty feathers like a peacock,
shopping must be part of my daily routine,
being vain is a must, a lover to all men.
Cannot steer outside the norm society has bestowed upon me,
I’m not allowed to be a person.

The left says great you like men, now be a lady-boy,
the right says it’s unnatural, and they keep us in our “place”—
neither side wants to see a person standing in front of them.

Individuality,
a foreign concept to men like me.
Nothing more than labels,
letting the world know, that they’re nothing more than a sexuality
instead of a people.

They tell me I must be like them—
part of a community that rings no truth with me—
to find hope and courage with a rainbow on a flag.
Fuck the rainbow and its pri(son)mic colors,
my love for another man makes me but one thing:
a person.


Writer: Ethan Dougan is the author of two poems, “A Person and “Stitches Over My Mouth.” These two poems are about his life and who he is as a person. His inspiration for “A Person” was simply him just venting his frustrations with today’s modern society and the overwhelming pressure of conformity, while “Stitches Over My Mouth” was a traumatic event in his life that he thought he could heal and overcome by sharing it.

Artist: Elizabeth Salgado is an Art major at Fullerton College and will be transferring this fall to Cal State Fullerton to pursue a BFA in Entertainment Arts/Animation.