The Rope Swing
I'm Making Mac 'n' Cheese and No One Can Stop Me
This Is a Story About
Can You See Them Yet?
They’ve been thinking a lot about repetitive motion recently -- one pill in the morning, breakfast, work, walk the dog, dinner, a chapter in their new book, one pill at night, then bed. They do the same thing every single day. But is that good for them? Does it make every day feel monotonous, or comforting? Do the days blend together for them, or does it make them feel safe, comforted by the routine that caters specifically to them?
They love the color green. It reminds them of summertime, their favorite season. They love brightly colored flowers and long stretches of grasslands. They like the way the plains stretch so far their embrace along the horizon never ends. They love sunny days.
They love their dog. The dog is five years old, a rescue. The dog likes to run in circles around the house then retire to the couch where they sleep for several hours. They and the dog are joined at the hip.
They have brown hair. It catches well when the sun hits it, highlighting the almost unnoticeable contrasts in different strands if you weren’t paying attention. It gets darker in the winter. Winter makes them feel lower than usual. They’ve been meaning to talk to their doctor about it.
They have two close friends. Sometimes the three of them hang out, but sometimes not. Sometimes they prefer the fact that they can have two separate relationships. One friend is better at listening while the other is better at getting them to see things from a different perspective.
They miss their parents. They’re still married, even though it seems like these days that’s a rarity. They moved away for school and never came back. Sure, they visit as often as they can, but they are proud of the new life they built for themself. They have a stable job, two best friends, a dog, and brown hair.
Can you see them yet?
The Rope Swing
[The editors wish to offer a trigger warning.
This story contains abduction and rape.]
Ten and a half. That was my age, that red-hot summer of 1986. The blinding light in the sky was so hot that we spent every waking moment in or near water. Sometimes a group of friends and I would ride our banana boat bicycles all the way down the Richardson Street hill at race car speeds. We would rush down that hill so fast with our hands in the air, catching as much of the cool breeze as we could. The Hudson River was close to my house, and snacks were always close by, so we would race there, dump our bikes onto the rocky boat launch, toss off our sneakers and outer clothes and dive quickly into that cool running river. This was the best summer we could recall. That summer was also one that people would never forget.
July 3, 1986 was the most sweltering day that I could remember. Brandy, Chrissy, Tara, Heather, and I met up at the penny candy store that morning around 11:30. It was our favorite place to meet, to catch up, and plan our day during those tropical, parching summer days. We could purchase candy and an icy soda can for under $1.
The old guy who ran the store always smelled like cheese and looked like Elmer Fudd, but he liked us and always gave us extra penny candy. We hollered thank you and took off on our bikes so fast that the wind blew our long, stringy hair straight back away from our faces, and our tops wisped above our belly buttons. Our plan was to ride our bikes to the boat launch near my house where no one would bother us. As we pulled up to the boat launch, we noticed a yellow van with a small, round window near the rear that we were all unfamiliar with, but that didn’t bother us because we were just going over to the rope swing to practice our swings and flips into the river. Whoever that was, they were probably kayaking or fishing.
We darted through the thick brush along the sandy, woodsy trails until we reached the large, overhung oak tree that held the old knotted rope swing. Chrissy was always the first to toss off her shorts and tee and grab the rope from the backside of the trunk, run as far back with the rope as she could, jump on and swing out so far that the sun blinded us when we would glance to see how high she made it. Splash! She did it! She did the perfect double flip off the rope swing. Now we all had to try.
Next, it was my turn. Only a one and a half, but that was okay. Then it was Brandy’s turn, and she landed that flip like a pro. We all congratulated her with wet hugs and cold, dripping high fives. Tara was next. She pulled the rope back and before she could jump on, we heard the crackling of twigs and crunch of dry leaves. That only meant someone was coming up the trail. We were hopeful that some of our other friends were coming, but we only heard one set of footsteps. We waited with excitement.
“You gals look like yer havin’ a good ol’ time here. I used to flip off this same ol’ rope when I was your age with my friends,” said the skinny old man who smelled of freshwater fish guts and salty sweat. “Purdy sure that there rope is the same one. Let me see if it’s still got the red mark from where ol’ Tommy ripped open his hand.”
“You jumped off this swing, Mister?” asked Heather.
“Sure did. I had my youngest son down here the other day. He prit near snapped this here ol’ rope, so I brought a new one to change it out. You girls mind helping me out?”
With great excitement we all exclaimed, “Sure!”
We couldn’t believe this guy was here to fix this ratty old rope swing for us. We would be the first on it, too, so we would certainly have bragging rights after today.
“Well, let’s get over to my van and you gals can help me grab my ladder and tools, and I’ll need two of ya to help carry that rope. It’s purdy heavy.”
We all skipped along the trail with no shoes and only our bathing suits on, over to that yellow van with the man. Once we got there, he told us that he had some cold cans of soda in his cooler inside his van, and to help ourselves before we started the heavy work. The van was so big, we were all able to jump inside at the same time. There were even some benches in the back, so we could get out of the sweaty sun for a moment and pop a can of fizzy soda open before we helped him. While we were sitting there, he had us all in a fit of laughter with some silly jokes he shared. He even asked if we knew Bobby Neilans and George Walsh and a bunch of other boys. His son knew a whole group of kids we knew.
Then, out of nowhere, he said he heard a noise and said he had to close the doors on the back of the van for a quick second. He slammed them closed and we all looked at each other and tried running for the door, and even though I had never been an anxious child, my racing heart almost exploded in my chest at that very moment. We heard him lock the doors from the outside. We rushed toward the front, to try to squeeze through the tiny opening that led to the front seat but it was too small. He jumped in the driver’s seat and slammed Chrissy in the head to push her in the back. He started the van and took off as fast as he could with all of us in the back.
We pleaded with him, through tears and cries and screams to just let us go. We screamed for our parents but he ignored us for what seemed like hours. We sat on the floor of that yellow van in a lake of tears. We were terrified but we knew we needed to stick together. Somehow, we all got dizzy and fell asleep. I remember watching the girls falling asleep and whispering, “Don’t go to sleep!”
I woke to the man opening the doors of the van. He looked at my soft, swollen eyes and said, “You girls is gettin’ ready to take care of my boys. A father needs to help his boys sometimes.”
I shook the girls to wake them and we all started to cry and plead again. The others didn’t hear what he said, but I did and it didn’t sound good. None of this was good. Would I ever see my family again? Where is my daddy?
I smelled earth, moist, cold dirt, and piney moss. We had planned to jump on him to knock him down before we fell asleep, and we would make a run for it, but we would never have that chance. Out of nowhere, we saw five dirty, gnarly looking males standing there like rabid dogs in front of us. We froze in fear. Each man grabbed one of us and we began to kick and scream. We were in the middle of the woods. Who would hear us?
My heart raced so quickly as I screamed, clawed, kicked. I bit the man’s salty skin that tasted like dirt and car grease. He slapped my face. His skin was grimy and slippery. The air was so thick I could barely breathe.
I could hear my heart racing and my friends screaming, “Help me! No! Please! Leave us alone!”
I bit the man again so hard that he threw me into a tree and I remember waking up to his slick and powerful body ripping off my swimsuit and throwing me onto my stomach over a tree stump. I screamed. He punched me in the back and the head. I don’t remember anything after that.
It took our families seven and a half weeks to find our bodies and fourteen years to find the men who hurt us. We were five of forty-five young girls who would be murdered and assaulted by those men that summer. That old rope swing hangs there to this day, and close by there is a plaque with our names and sweet sentiments etched onto it.
No one uses that swing anymore.
Mangia! It’s a Sensation
The cold air sent a chill over me as I pulled out the plastic-encased beef from the refrigerator. As I reached into the back of the fridge, the crinkling of paper alerted me to where the Oyster mushrooms were. The small paper bag of mushrooms was much lighter than the one-pound package of meat which hit the counter with a thud.
While cutting the soft white mushrooms, the knife easily went through the stems and caps. The dense meat would not be cut, sliced thinly against the grain to allow ease of chewing, until it was served. I placed the firm, thick sweet potatoes on the shelf in the 350 degree oven to bake for thirty minutes while I set the table. Smooth textured glasses were filled with cool water, glugging out of the gallon jug. Flat plates, flanked by a sharp serrated knife on one side and four-pronged fork on the other, and soft cotton napkins were placed on the cloth placemats. Then I retrieved the large, round pan to sautee the fungus. The cool, smooth metal quickly became hot on the burner, melting the butter into a small pool.
The buttery fragrance called the sliced mushrooms into the pan to be infused with its flavor. The earthy smell mixed with the buttery scent created a new dimension of each. After raising the oven to 400 degrees, with two hands I grabbed the heavy iron pan from the table and put it on the stove. I used scissors to cut the package of meat open, releasing the smell of raw beef into the air, and the shoulder tender plunked onto the grill pan. I centered the raw meat on the pan, shifting it with the sharp point of the scissors. The sweet, almost chocolate-chip- cookie-like aroma of baking sweet potatoes had started to fill the room; I put on potholders to rescue the yams from their fiery furnace. They were placed on the middle of the stovetop for warmth while the meat cooked. The scent combination of sugar and raw beef confused my nostrils for a few seconds as I grabbed the pan with one hand to put it in the oven. This hit the metal oven shelf with a clunk. The meat only needed eight minutes to cook to tender perfection: I set the timer. The mushrooms had developed a thin crispy edge. A serving bowl was filled with them and placed on the table; it clinked as it gently hit the plate next to which it was put.
The bright, multi-colored striped placemats complemented the monotone of the cornflower blue plates and translucent, amber-tinted glasses. The brown-gray of the mushrooms stood out in the cobalt, lemon yellow, and white painted bowl. The dull brown sweet potato peel met with the vivid orange of its inside as I placed one on each plate and sliced them open. The chime of the digital alarm clock on my tablet signaled the grass-fed, grass-finished meat was ready. Once again, I put on potholders and opened the furnace to harvest from it more aromatic nutritional bounty. With some difficulty, I hoisted the pan single-handedly as I shut the door with the other. “Boom,” the door closed quickly, the pan banged down on a burner, and I awkwardly scraped it over the metal coils. Warm air heated my body, the smell of food teased my chemosensory system, as I slowly cut the gray roast into thin slices. The change in color from dull gray outside to pink then red in the middle and the richly toned au jus caused my mouth to salivate as I cut thin slices.
I placed about ten slices on each plate, then scattered a few spoonfuls of mushrooms over the meat and sat down to feast. Chewing a piece of the savory beef confirmed its tenderness and flavor. I cleansed my palate with a swig of water to prepare for the next element. A gentle crunch accompanied the salted butteriness of the earthy mushrooms, proving true to its scent. Again I took a swig of water, swishing it to clean my mouth for a different taste. The sugary orange flesh provided complexity to my dinner. The buttery earthiness over the umami contrasted with intense sweetness pleased my tongue with its variety and depth, reguiring no seasonings.
I’m Making Mac N’ Cheese and No One Can Stop Me
After my trouble and strife, it finally happened. It was the time that I had long awaited for. As the minutes ticked by, it seemed almost like hours as I awaited the paradise laid before me . The familiar aroma filled the air and I stared at my golden prize with awe. Was this truly what I had desired for so long? The combined flavors of golden wonders, gouda, cheddar, American, and mozzarella, all together to make this masterpiece? All while atop perfectly cooked noodles made by my own two hands. It was almost too good to be true. At last the ritual was complete. My stomach rumbled and my mouth watered as I took the first bite.
This is a Story About
Sitting in a cardboard box lay one specific picture--himself as a child and his father, holding a tape measure. The stack beneath is filled with pictures of his father, and as his son thumbs through them, he sees one splattered with a teardrop in real time. Once he starts he can’t stop.
The wake was today. He compiled all these photos together, to show everyone just how handsome and photogenic and happy his father was in his short life. He lugged them to the funeral home, where each face shook his hand and told them how sorry they were, but after an hour he was forgetting their names. After two hours he couldn’t recognize anyone. After three, he forgot where he was.
Tomorrow starts a new life. One where his father’s not in it. He places the top on the cardboard box of photographs, slides it under his bed, and goes to sleep.
Unripe and Bruised
Fresh fruit never normally bloomed in January anyway. It was as if he knew I worshipped his presence. I hated to be the one to admit that I had feelings for him that stung as much as a fresh papercut, though he still never seemed to heal. I was gullible for his tongue; the way he spoke was as luscious as the way Eve bit the apple sodden with lies. He described me like a butterfly, stating that my wings were as soft as my eyes. It was too good to be true. I should have known his praises were for another matter.
He followed me like spring follows winter; the attachment was relevant. He would come and go like flowers, curious if it was truly time to bloom. He followed me like the season of spring itself was in question of arriving too early. The entrance of my safety was now destroyed.
Clothes ripped like the rustling of leaves; my soft wings were torn off. The taste of bitter fruit filled my mouth and dripped down areas that only lovers should wander. His pleasurable grin showed that I was not his first spring, his first picking, his first praise. I tried to close my eyes to avoid seeing the blue holographic light mixed with shadows of his clouded figure. His touch was no longer soft. He was no longer graceful. He bruised me because I wasn’t ripe enough for him. I didn’t seem to be as delicate as he once told me. Sweat and dark colors of maroons and navy blues filled my runny nose. I couldn’t tell if it was from the blood loss or from holding my breath, waiting for the season to end.
I heard his “holy praises” of how I was doing a great job. My lifeless body was his newest sermon to his friends. Bless his friends for being so sick as to listen. His finishing sermon was a kiss on the cheek, acting like nothing ever happened. His final praise was that I was the best he’s done in a long while. He walked out of the lifeless room with a smile brighter than a sunrise on a cool fall morning.
The season felt longer than it should have been. All of my flowers wilted. Every wing was ripped off, and beauty no longer existed. Fruits were no longer sweet or trustworthy-instead filled with poison from The Garden of Eden. He was the snake. I suppose I was Eve. Birds speak of dying calls, and the sun never rose again. The grass was overgrown, yellow, and filled with past fruits.
The softness in my eyes was glazed over like perfectly fine china in his mother’s cabinet, an empty hive with an occasional rattle of remembrance. Winter is more welcoming to a cold lifeless body, like vultures welcoming a carcass on a snowy roadside. The calming color of blue has never been more hateful towards my body. Bruises appeared through my sleepless lids. His clouded figure was more haunting than ghosts. Bones ached like floorboards in my grandmother’s house. My clothes were no longer a protection for me. My safe space was more of a jail cell, and I was on death row.
My last meal was blood on my cheek and tears from my ripped shirt. He was proud of killing life. He felt accomplished in ruining me, of destroying grace. He knew fresh fruit never bloomed in January. He rushed spring and added pesticides to make me sweeter for his taste buds.
I made myself a sermon, a prayer, and planted a tree to bloom from. He will never pick from a tree, give praise to a butterfly, or tell sermons about fruit as long as I am still standing. Whether I am a bruised fruit, a ripped wing, or a new season, I will always be waiting. Reincarnation does exist, and in another life the snake will be back. After all, winter only lasts for so long, but my season will always last longer.
What We Do
The tiny gray kitten swirled around on Esther’s covers, waking her from her dreams. She rolled from her bed quickly, tumbling towards the door. The kitten followed, pawing at her heels while she walked into the hall. With every step the kitten grew in size, taking the lead in their adventure while she followed him closely, her eyes still clouded in her daze. She would normally cough in the morning, but the sun was not even rising yet as the first one escaped her. She could barely breathe, the smokey taste in her mouth made her lift her shirt over her face. She felt around blindly, trying every light switch the second floor had to offer, but not a single one lit up her home. Light from the lower floor lit her way. The cat climbed the attic stairs, beckoning her to the top. Looking up at the cat she bellowed, “I’ve got a recital tomorrow, this is complete bullshit!” but her voice was too raw, and ragged sounds came out.
The cat tilted its head and plopped down on the top step, raising his paw at her. Esther was a Juilliard alumni with a voice beyond elegance. She could stop anything in its tracks with a simple tune. She groggily headed up the stairs, the burning scent lifting with her as she approached the fat feline. As her foot hit the top step he ran, retreating further into the darkness. She wearily reached for the cat before her fumbling feet failed her and she began falling to the floor, her lungs burning and her eyes watering. She had no more energy in her small frame. She mumbled hoarsely for the cat to come to her, telling him something was wrong and that they had to go. She closed her eyes for a moment before the first flake fell upon her.
“It’s snowing,” she thought happily as she extended her hand out, thinking of her childhood on the colder East Coast. Living now in California she hadn’t been in snow for a long time, so she welcomed the warm flakes falling around her. The ash started settling upon her as she thought back to the days when her brother, Abraham, would bury her in the snow, wishing it could happen now. No sooner than she thought that, the cat approached her again. The second her fingertips touched the large, dark cat, he turned into smoke and the ceiling caved in, burying her in wood and ash.
The sirens grew louder with each passing second as Esther was being crushed. As the final breath passed through her lips, the first police car arrived on the scene, with a fire truck and an ambulance not far behind. One of the young police officers instantly recognized that this fire was not an accident. Her yard and car were spray painted with homophobic slurs. Across the street, tears welled in the eyes of the family who called in the fire. Sorrow filled their hearts, as they knew this was meant for them. The couple had only moved into the religious neighborhood a few months prior. They had befriended Esther, who didn't care that they were gay and never judged them for adopting a daughter into their “lifestyle.” Esther was raised believing in equality and supported them wholeheartedly. Esther adored their daughter, who aspired to become a singer, and she adored Esther just as much. Esther took her to her recitals, gave her singing lessons, and babysat her occasionally for free. Their daughter had grown fond of the girl they’d inadvertently killed, of the girl with a voice that would stop anything in its tracks. Anything but the flames and smoke that engulfed her that night.
Letter to the Man
That Keeps Me Alive
She sits with righteous indignation as he brews with potent rage and resentment, neither of them reading the magazines they flip through and in their quest on the path of validation they drown out not only themselves but each other, a parallel to my own situation as I observe the couple sitting a table away from me at Barnes and Noble. I sit angrily. The newsletters would say that I believe I sit in my righteous anger not because I find you at fault, but because I am projecting how I feel about myself onto you. I don’t know how accurate that is since I base a lot of what I do on logic, but as the newsletter had pointed out once again, emotions such as anger, hate, resentment, love, and wanting are not based on logic. Hence, they cannot be quantified and valued under such criteria. I find that to be infuriating more than my inability to type correctly without somehow erasing every previous sentence before the next as if my body is not in agreement with my mind. Neither is my heart. I stand an entity divided, useless in its endeavor to function without proper utility and yet I still expect it to do so; an ironic fashion of our previous conversation merely hours ago. I write this as if you will read it, as if somehow this will reach you. I don’t know which writes this letter to you; body, mind, or soul. Perhaps you will be the only one to know. I stand divided. Unable to move, only to desperately reach out with little hope of saving. Perhaps I should go back. Logic deems it unwise. The thunderclaps speak of demise to my precious work being destroyed and yet the thought remains. Would you still be there? Unlikely, but perhaps maybe so. My desire to be heard is only amplified by my dream to be a writer. Desperate for the whole world to hear me and maybe just maybe listen. But in that quest, has it made me deaf? Has that obsession branched from a long time hidden desire to communicate when one cannot hear? I wonder if I had not only wished to be absent hearing myself but for others as well; so they could stop and perhaps finally listen to what I have to say because now, finally they, too, would struggle as I must. This is not your fault. A simple sentence and yet much weight carried in those five little words. I am not your fault. As you are not my fault. I grew angry in our inability to change because it meant in that moment I would be alone if I wanted to carry on being right. A funny twist to the fact that by continuing to fight with you it meant I was not alone. The human mind perplexes me and yet delights me in its twisted scientific demeanor. I imagine that this time you will not come to me and in the face of that truth I wonder how it is I paint you. Are you even real to me anymore? Or have I made you into what I see when I once thought of you? I don’t know which was easier to live with. I can only wonder how much you struggle under that weight and in that struggle is our son’s name born. Even with your disability, in the end, it is you who can connect better with others than I ever could. There is a terrible storm out there that, either one of us could be caught in, and yet the thought still remains… should I go back there?
Ecca (Rebecca) Lorenzo
I’m sure there was a time when my father was a happy man.
Maybe a time when he didn’t drink. I am certain of a time he didn’t spend his hours working when the work day was done, chopping trees, splitting wood, cursing into the dark. Those times must live back when my mother was still here. Back when he had someone to love him the way she did. Back when she was alive.
He rarely speaks about it; he just works, drinks, smokes, and cuts down trees. Every tree he can find, it seems. He feeds me; makes sure I am cared for but does nothing to help or care for himself. He cries out at night through gritted teeth, stifling sobs so I cannot hear. He longs for her, yearns for her return. He prays she will come back, but she never will. Somehow, I know this deep down with such certainty -- it is as if the hard truth takes root in my very soul. He swears I’ll leave too. I tell him I do not understand why he insists I will, yet he continues to reassure me that it is bound to happen. He speaks like I am bound to leave as though it is my destiny.
Our home is nestled in a small town, neighboring strong houses built with wood, many of which were crafted from logs cut by my father’s own hand, and his father before him. All four seasons visit us here, Spring being my favorite. The green halo that the time of rebirth brings, captivates me, fills me with wonder, hope, longing and some strange satisfaction as if I were the one who called it here. Our town is close knit, everyone friendly; connected. We all have a job, we all help keep everything smooth. Everything is constant.
About a mile outside of our town lies a forest filled with budding trees and winding roads. The forest is dense. It is dark, yet in such a way that does not haunt. The darkness feels more like an embrace which invites, protects, reassures. The roads are narrow, more like paths, however I swear one could maneuver a small field car down the clearings if they desired to do so. I knew the forest like one would know a friend. The patch of land was protected by the small government my town had. No homes could be built from this wood. For that -- I was happy; relieved.
Each day I would wander into the woods, along the convoluted trails, so sure-footed it was as though my feet already knew the way in which I was headed, even if I took a turn I had never taken before. The soles of my feet never betrayed me, the vibrations of the earth communicating with me up through the pads on my heel.
My father tried to tell me I could not walk the forest alone, but he could never keep me home. I would set out each day after my housework was finished. He never knew for he was not there until dinnertime or sometimes dusk.
School had lost its luster a couple years after my mother left, and I was fed up with the limited amount of teachings the tiny schoolhouse could offer. The teacher was nice enough; a young woman who had a gentle hand and a brilliant mind. I just felt I had better things to do, more important lessons to learn. I rarely went.
As the weeks passed, my attendance faltered. I never felt as though I was missing out. I felt I was making a better choice by choosing the paths in the forest to teach me while the wind guided me along. I felt at home there, at ease.
One tree in particular called out to me. It was a willow on the edge of the forest, one side shaded by the other trees, the other side kissing the air that met the sun. I sat in the shady spot sometimes, while at others I would bask in the golden glow of the sun’s rays. The presence of the willow offered me a comfort I had never quite felt before; a safe place to rest, speak, wonder and dream. I could feel love for the tree. An overwhelming amount of it.
One morning my father left as he normally did, kissing my forehead and reeking of scotch. He wished me a somber Happy Birthday, heading off for the day. His voice sounded uncertain, filled with emotion, angst. Must have had a rough night.
I waited until he left for work and immediately stole away to the forest. I felt a stronger urge to make it there than I ever had. The trees called me. I needed to go.
I made my way down the path to The Willow. The tree seemed to be smiling at me, perhaps wishing me a happy birthday as my father had done but with a much different demeanor. The tree was welcoming and kind as it had always been. I sat beneath, breathed in until my lungs could stretch no further, then exhaled smoothly. Shutting my eyes as I suddenly felt a wild euphoria spreading through my core, my back arched while my bare toes dug into the soil. I could feel the grounding power of the earth pulsating beneath me like my heartbeat was its own. My body felt heavy, comfortable, and a strong sense of belonging intoxicated me. The scent of the moss seemed to come alive in my nose, tiny bristles of green growing into the tips of my fingers, roots spreading from my toes. The sensations of being grounded never felt so vivid until I opened my eyes and realized something wild was happening to me.
All the sensations I had been feeling were not some overwhelming sense of connection I was imagining I had felt. I was growing roots, turning green, leaves spreading in between my fingertips. My hips hardened into bark, carving my young female figure into the air, raising it high above the forest floor. I had somehow ventured a healthy distance away from The Willow, close enough to gaze, to communicate, but far enough away so I could continue to grow.
The wind blew. I could hear The Willow call out to me. My mother’s voice. My still human head snapped in her direction, what was left of my breath left my lungs in disbelief. My mother was the willow. She ran away and grew roots. The Earth; her calling.
“Jezabelle.” The Willow breathes into the warm breeze. She said no more. I needed to know nothing else. We belonged to the soil. Earth children. Swaying with the wind, dancing with the other trees. Delivering oxygen to those who lived among us, protected by the magic we believed.