Category Archives: Postscript

11.1 | Post Script

Grace (Ge) Gilbert

I’m Going To Free Myself from the Shackles of Other People’s Expectations of Me

I write in the dark after all night dancing at the disco. It’s with friends, really, that I don’t want to bash my head against the constant rotating mill of needed income and adulthood and nice pleated trousers.

I rip the adhesive bra from Amazon off of my nipples and think, Thank god.

It leaves a crust and a feeling of inadequacy—they’ve always been too far apart, and it takes the strength of an industrial ropes course carabiner to bring them together in any sort of way that screams Sex or money.

I’m writing now because Jared was high (off half an edible) at a bar in the absolute gayborhood of Philadelphia and said grace, of anyone else—I believe the most in you. It made me sweat in the kindness sort of way, when I somehow can’t believe someone would be genuine to me and not just out of convenience or marijuana or transactional flattery. We went out to smoke a cigarette and I laughed when Jared crawled all the way up the stairs. Later we found a black Bic lighter on the sidewalk after ours ran out of juice and he said, You know it might be hard at first but then it will be just fine.

It’s the shirts with preset boobs that really bother me because I have enough awareness about roles I can and cannot fill.

I’ve had about twenty job interviews that haven’t gone anywhere and a lot of nodding that makes me embarrassed about who I really am as a person. Dancing takes about thirteen minutes to get into and in those thirteen minutes I feel as if I’m slowly choking and everyone else can drink water except for me.

I bought the Bug at twenty-one right after the worst day of my life which was college graduation.

I had just left an abusive situationship (with a woman, no less, so more difficult to explain to family) lost all our mutual friends and spent about twenty-four hours in the psych ward that made me familiar with every local homeless person in Rochester NY and there are quite a few.

My father took me to the dealership in a crude attempt at bonding.

We looked at cars he liked and I hated everything but the rogue gray Bug and he said are you sure ok you’re an adult I guess it’s your money.

It had 10,000 miles and was previously owned by a woman with Alzheimer’s who lived in rural New York.

When she forgot how to drive her husband would back it in and out of the driveway for five years until she finally forgot how to live.

They told me this as I signed the extended warranty paper not knowing what extended warranty meant and neither did my father. My first time alone in the car, I found a Peter Paul and Mary CD still left in the disc player.

Now at the end of an era the engine keeps coming up busted and I’m already mourning the time I’ve had freedom, peter paul mary, and a loan from the Key Bank.

It’s an anointed prison, ownership, and you just don’t know when you get to keep anything and when it’ll all just end.

It comes with no surprise that the thing I learned the most from my father is to pretend I know something when I don’t.

Sitting in the dealership he pretended to know cars. He wore a big trench coat and tried to match the sleazy newsboy tone of the dealer who saw right through him and I didn’t have the chops to critique his acting.

Instead I daisy-chained a list of things I’d accomplished rattling it all off to my father.

It was one of those things where I hated every word I said as I said it and the fluorescence of it all didn’t help. We stirred our Styrofoam cup black coffees with black stirrers that were the world’s most ineffective straws and it was silent except for the cars lights and expectation which all bothered me.

I’m proud of you, he said awkwardly, couldn’t be prouder, and I felt embarrassed that I’d seen him about three times in all of college and he felt the need to reassure me and I felt the need to need it.

And so after years of trying not to disappoint your family it’s in a boyfriend’s parents’ basement where you feel you have to confront yourself against a quilt that isn’t yours.

Laying dizzy tits out in a room with nothing familiar after passing twelve billboards that scream When you die you WILL meet god it gets hard to distinguish the carpet and family photos and stuffed bunnies from the guts inside your body.

Without the added distinction of expectation and disappointment you sip your water quietly and feel like nothing at all and a credit score thinking alas.

There is a Reformation dress and a dream for all of us.

Where is the outline of this person you keep trying to fill?

grace (ge) gilbert is a hybrid poet, essayist, and collage worker based in Brooklyn. They received their MFA in poetry from the University of Pittsburgh in 2022, and are a SUNY Geneseo alum. They are the author of the closeted diaries, an essay chapbook from Porkbelly Press (2022), and NOTIFICATIONS IN THE DARK, a poetry chapbook from Antenna Books (2023). They were the MCLA Under 27 Writer-in-Residence Fellow at Mass MoCA and have received support from City of Asylum as an emerging poet laureate of Allegheny County and from the Bread Loaf. Writers’ Conference. Their work can be found in the Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, the Offing, the Adroit Journal, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Diode, TYPO, ANMLY, and elsewhere. They currently teach hybrid collage and nonfiction courses at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.

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Marianne Jay Erhardt

What the Dead Know by Act Three

“Just open your eyes, dear, that’s all.”
–Myrtle Webb in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town

“Mama, am I pretty?”

I’m Emily Webb, stringing invisible green beans in Grover’s Corners at the turn of the century. My voice? Trying to achieve the Downeast New England accent learned from a cassette played in my pink Casio tape deck. I’m not great. “Mama” makes me sound not South Maine but South South. My beans are worse than my accent. In my seventeen years I’ve never handled fresh green beans and so my pantomime looks more sorcery than kitchen chore. It’s not that my family doesn’t cook vegetables. We just prefer cut and frozen, stopped in time until we are hungry, Bird’s Eye.

What the dead know by Act Three is that the living lack perspective. They miss the gift of each moment as it happens. When I tell you that I have lost my blue hair ribbon, you know where it is. “Just open your eyes, dear, that’s all. I laid it out for you, special. On the dresser, there. If it were a snake it would bite you.” What is mundane for alive Emily overwhelms dead Emily. I can’t bear the love, the lack. I lift the pretend ribbon, tie it to the end of my braid.

My mind carries a map of my children’s objects. The ten-dollar bill that slipped out of Nolan’s birthday card is on the third shelf of the hutch under a blue pencil sharpener. The green balloon is on top of the refrigerator with the old Halloween candy after too much fighting. Two pairs of sneakers sat out in the rain last night beside the sandbox. One shoe has been carried a few feet away from the others. Some night animal.

My own mother lacked this map, or lost it through mothering seven children and their wreckage. If anything, she came to us for lost objects. Pens, certain serving spoons, potentially lucky mailings from Publisher’s Clearinghouse.

We weren’t big on hair ribbons, but ballet recital season gave us Sucrets tins full of bobby pins. My hair fell to my waist, heavy. Buns gave me terrible headaches, but they were worth the version of myself that my mother called beautiful. There is something to that. A mother’s hands in your hair and then her mouth saying those words.

One morning, no performance in sight, my mother dries my hair in the dining room. I am in second grade. Jealous of my older siblings who seem to have more purpose in life than me, I have started inventing elaborate homework assignments for myself. First, a book report on Ribsy where I simply retype several chapters. This morning, a telling-time assignment where I am required, I say, to draw an analog clock for every single hour and minute combination. I trace an upside-down jar of Skippy for the circle, use a short ruler to make the hands perfect. I have dozens of looseleaf pages going, pencil shavings sprinkled here and there when the tip gets dull. I tell my mother that these clocks are due today, and I am just too busy for the hair dryer. Although she is a nurse, my mother has her own theory of infectious disease which seems mostly tied to wet hair in winter, neglected. She dries my hair. She is tender and she is not tender. She is beginning to question this homework assignment, calls it ridiculous, but seems to admire my uncharacteristic diligence. She moves the hair dryer in figure eights, a magic wand. She doesn’t want to burn me. I sit at the dining room table and make clock after clock in the hot wind. The memory ends here. No way do I finish them all. Perhaps I confess that this work was make-believe. It’s the kind of lie I doubt she would understand.

You, Myrtle, are played by a kind but forgettable woman. I can’t conjure her face. But she sits beside me, wearing an apron, when I ask about my beauty. You are good with the green beans. You snap the end, zip the string off, toss what’s ready in the basket. Your goal, you’ve told Mrs. Gibbs, is “to put up forty quarts if it kills me.” But I’m the one who dies first. Childbirth. If the baby makes it, the play doesn’t say, but I leave a four-year-old son in the world of the living. When, from the grave, I get to choose a memory to return to, I pick my own childhood, not his. I pick my twelfth birthday and declare everybody beautiful.

In college, when I’m still doing plays but not yet writing poetry, I get my first real haircut. My mother has trimmed my hair about once a year since I was eleven, but I have never had the salon treatment. I don’t want anything fussy. I was raised to only care about clothes and makeup when getting on a stage. I tell the hairdresser to cut it to my shoulders. No layers. No face-framing, whatever that is. There is no reason to pay thirty dollars for a straight chop, but I do. It’s a mistake. When I see my mother over break, she tells me, “You look utterly nondescript.” I savor my hurt and I know she is wrong. I have huge eyes and bad acne. I have a conspicuously plain haircut and my hair is bright orange. My forehead is high, my gums show when I smile, and all of my pants are too long. I am descript as hell.

I don’t have any daughters to disappoint. All of my lovelys and beautifuls are given to my boys, not that they want them. “Stop,” they whine, “We’re not.” I suppose all of us are doomed to get it wrong, to keep filling the basket with the invisible. As George Gibbs tells me over strawberry phosphates at the soda shop, “I guess new people aren’t any better than old ones.”

You have a rule. No books at the table. You say you’d rather have your children healthy than bright. The implication, I suppose, is that your children will forget to eat, to stay alive, if they are caught up in some story. But the breakfast itself is a fabrication, nothing more than a tale we tell ourselves in the morning. I say goodbye to it, to food and coffee. To clocks ticking and to the sunflowers you grow in our garden. I say goodbye to sleeping and I say goodbye to waking up.

But not before you answer my question. When you do, you are as honest as the living can be. “You’re pretty enough for all normal purposes.”

Marianne Jay Erhardt (Upham) ’03 is a proud alum of SUNY Geneseo. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in Orion, The Kenyon Review, Oxford American, River Teeth, storySouth, and elsewhere. She is the winner of the 2021 VanderMey Nonfiction Prize by Ruminate Magazine, a 2019-2020 North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship, and a recent Pushcart nomination. She received her MFA from UW-Madison and teaches writing at Wake Forest University.

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Nancy Keating

The Grammar of Paradise


In Tortola, when you go, they bury you

under a white concrete slab which,

for good measure, they top off with

two or three more slabs,

smaller but equally white:

an oblong ziggurat, topped

with a cross. Your visitors can sit

on you or one of your neighbors

and lunch on a roti or sandwich as they

remember and discuss you

and then move on to other topics,

looking across to low houses

and shops, their doors, roofs,

and window shutters in

gleeful toybox colors and

overhead, coconut palms and

the magenta blooms of bougainvillea.

The sun smiles down, as it does

most of the time. The sea surrounds

and laps at the rocks like a lover

at your feet. Slowly the sun shifts.

Slowly the sidereal nighttime sky rolls around,

the moon, planets, constellations.

Boats sway on their moorings.

Americans dream in their moving berths.

Back home, for weeks in the future, they will rock

in their timeless dreams, their beds afloat

on lapis and turquoise inside

their quiet-colored northern houses.

But if, as I say, you have come to rest

in the glowing blue and green of the islands,

your swaying and rocking time is over.

And it seems nobody has anything but time here

where, all day, roosters step down the road

and crow in the knowledge of announcing God.


Nancy Keating‘s poems have been published by New Letters, The Gettysburg Review, Carolina Quarterly, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Stony Brook University (2019) and teaches at Farmingdale State College when she is not knitting.

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Kathryn Waring

Searching for 360

In Google Maps, I still live in Rochester. Zoom in on my old apartment in Street View and you’ll see my silver Neon parked outside. It’s November 2015, and it looks like midday—the sun is high, my neighbors have gone to work, and there are barely any cars parked on our street. The park across from our house is empty.

Click on Rochester, NY in Google Maps and a link pops up with photos to explore. Many are just regular photographs, but there’s a growing number of 360 images, too. Among the first is a 360 of High Street. Here, in Google Maps, it’s October 2015, and we are in the Northeast quadrant. It’s a residential area of the city, not far from where I once worked. Zoom in and you’ll see a woman sitting on her front porch. Five pumpkins are arranged on the porch steps in descending size order. The woman stares at her hands—holding a phone, perhaps? You can’t zoom in far enough to see for sure. You wonder what she is thinking about—kids, a partner, a job—but Google doesn’t say. Down the street, a child rides a bike, feet permanently frozen on the pedals.

Not long after I move to Pennsylvania for graduate school, I start making 360 videos. At first, it’s for a class. A friend and I, partnered up by our professor, leave the city and drive an hour southeast through rural Pennsylvania. I’ve just moved to Pittsburgh; he’s grown up here. We stop at a middle-of-nowhere town, where the fire station doubles as a community center and bar. We’ve heard rumors of a UFO that crashed here back in the 1960s, and we want to use 360 to capture this place and the story that remains. We set out to learn more, camera in hand.

In Google Maps, I exist, but only in fragments.

Here, in Google Maps, outside my apartment in Rochester, it is November 2015 and I have not yet moved for graduate school. But when I type in the address of the office where I once worked, it is 2017 and I have already left. On South Ave, it is the summer before I leave, and I am at a bar with my friends, sitting around a fire out back. You can’t see it, but my roommate throws darts at a board nailed to a tree. Scroll down the street, however, and we flash forward to 2018. Here, in Google Maps, I still exist, scattered across a city I no longer call home. But each time the Google car drives by, bits and pieces of the life I used to live disappear.

When I try to explain to my family what a 360 video is, I tell them to picture themselves in Google Maps. Inserted into a string of still photos taken at street level by Google’s fleet of camera-equipped cars, you can walk around, toggle yourself left or right, up or down. Stroll through the street as if you are actually there.

But Google didn’t create virtual reality. The concept of VR predates the term: in the nineteenth century, artists painted 360-degree murals that filled the audience’s entire field of view. Robert Baker, an Irish artist, used the term panorama to describe his cylindrical paintings. Derived from the Greek pan (“all”) and horama (“view”), panoramic paintings allowed the viewer to feel present in the scene depicted—often, an historical event. They allowed the viewer to step into the past, even if just for a moment.

In Google Maps, I type in the address of my grandparents’ old home. Out front, it is 2013 and they have not yet sold their house. The red cardinal my grandmother painted onto the mailbox is still there; their last name handwritten on the sign above it. In Google Maps, I am relegated to the street, but if I zoom in close enough I can see a shadow standing by the first-floor window. In this version of reality, my grandparents still live at home. There are no assisted living facilities, doctors offices, or long-awaited phone calls to see which, if either, will remember me on any particular day. In Google Maps, their car is still parked in the driveway, a Christmas wreath hanging from the front door.

In the small Pennsylvania town I visit with my friend, in Google Maps, it is still 2008. The fire station has not yet turned into a bar, and the parking lot is empty. In real life, we talk to the bartender and locate the spot where the UFO supposedly crashed. As I drive past, my partner sticks the camera out the car window to record. We interview locals and add soundbites to the film. We want the viewer to explore the area alongside us; we want them to make their own decisions about what happened, and why, and how the community reacted. In 360, the audience becomes a participant. In 360, it seems like anything is possible. Nothing is out of reach.

In Google Maps, I visit the house of a friend who died of a drug overdose. I scroll down the street to my grandparents’ home; my childhood home; the first apartment I ever lived in. I visit the places I used to work, and the versions of myself I used to be.

But there’s more to Google Maps than just my own past. When I’m bored, at home, in the attic apartment I’ve recently moved into in Pittsburgh, I log onto Google Maps and explore the streets of cities I’ve never been and likely won’t ever go. I’m not sure why. Maybe, it’s the digital equivalent of being a fly on the wall of a room I don’t have access to or maybe, it’s a form of voyeurism. On the news, I hear the names of countries and cities I’ve never visited and I want to know more than what’s edited into soundbites. On TV the news is always bad but here, in Google Maps, life at least appears to keep moving.

In Aleppo, Syria, it is July 2017 and a user named Mahmoud Marshaha has uploaded a 360 inside of a children’s clothing store. A sign on the wall declares “no smoking!” in Turkish. The store looks brand new: the floors are shiny; ceiling lights reflect back at us. Someone has stacked dozens of shirts individually wrapped in plastic on the floor into neat piles. Tiny, brightly colored shirts hang off the racks mounted to the wall. One has an image of a smiley face emoji wearing a bowler hat, SMILE written in all caps underneath. A man in a blue button-down shirt stands behind the counter. I see outlines of people walking down the street through the store windows in front of me.

Google Street View could never produce an image like this: Google isn’t allowed inside of buildings or stores. But private citizens are. In recent years, Google Maps has given users the ability to upload their own 360 images. We’re no longer relegated to the street. Now, we can navigate restaurants and stores and the insides of people’s bedrooms. In Google Maps, there is life, splayed out on the internet for anyone to see.

In Google Maps, there are still mistakes. I type in the address of my first apartment in Pittsburgh, click on Street View, and am teleported to a different Portland Street in a different city. This street is not my street; that house was never my home. I’m on a highway staring up at a truck; I’m looking at a field where there should be houses. In Google Maps, I try to visit an apartment I once stayed at in Germany. I don’t remember the address, but I search for the mosque I remember next door. I find the mosque, click on Street View, and suddenly I’m in Istanbul. In Google Maps, the road we choose isn’t always the road we take.

After I start shooting in 360, I fall in love with the form. Because of its possibilities, and because of what I think is a controlled surrender: the ability to showcase a scene in its entirety, raw and unedited. But I am searching for a 360 that doesn’t exist, a medium that lets me tell a story that’s not in fragments. What I don’t understand is that a photo, even in 360, is just a stage. Behind every door there is a loaded gun; a crashed spaceship; a person casting a shadow. The most interesting part of a story is always just out of frame.

In Google Maps, lives are captured, but never fully. When I log into Google Maps, I see an archive of the places I’ve been. Every time I use the GPS on my phone to navigate somewhere new, it remembers. Coffee shops and stores and friends’ houses. Cities in other states and countries. But the list isn’t complete: there are homes I’ve navigated to without GPS; places I no longer need Google Maps to find. For now, I can go back in time and trace my life through Rochester, or visit cities I’ve never been to but would like to know. But these are just fragments of reality, digitized—never a whole life.

In my real life, it is 2020 and I am teaching college students from a desk in the corner of my bedroom. Outside, Pittsburgh brakes to a halt due to a pandemic that no one saw coming. But in Google Maps, time has not caught up: I scroll through the streets of Manhattan to Times Square, and a crowd of visitors line the big red steps; down the street, a double-decker tour bus stops at a traffic light. No one wears masks. In Google Maps, there is the recent past and the further past but nowhere is there the present: click here, and I am shooting darts at at board nailed to a tree in Rochester; click here, and I am walking past a mosque in Germany; here, and I am sitting around a fire with my friends.

In my real life, I press pause. I haven’t left my neighborhood in over a week. Instead, I  log onto Google Maps and think of all the places I’ll go once it’s safe. I’ve never been to California but here, in Google Maps, I can pretend. I am on a beach in Santa Monica; I am on a mountain at Yosemite; I am walking through downtown LA. In Google Maps, I watch the sun rise and set and rise again. In Google Maps, I don’t need a plane to travel.

Sometimes I wonder how many other people log onto Google Maps, just like I do when I’m bored at home sitting in my attic apartment. Do they explore the images others have uploaded? Do they search the maps of their lives, jumping from apartment to apartment, neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city? Do they consider all the places they will go once the pandemic is over? What do they see? What is remembered? And what—old homes, former selves, a shadow of a family member just out of frame—can never be traced?

Kathryn Waring is an essayist and multimedia writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Essay Daily, The Normal School, and American Literary Review, among others. She is a proud SUNY Geneseo alumna (’15) and former managing editor of Gandy Dancer.

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Gabrielle Esposito

Resting Wings

On Valentine’s Day, it snows and you ask me to walk across campus to Narragansett Hall, because you want to see me even though we’re not dating. I must’ve lost my spine in the holiday rush, so I say I will and walk one mile through the windy cold to see you. I’m numb by the time I make it to the dorm, and when I text you to say that I’m standing outside waiting, you tell me you’re not there but you’re coming, that I should wait. I do—two words I used to want to say to you.

Fifteen minutes go by. Snow gathers on top of my head, melts, and gathers again. I’m shivering on a bench that grows wet underneath my body. I don’t go anywhere, because if I were strong enough to leave you, I would’ve done it two years ago, the first time you left me alone in your room while you went out on a Friday night, got drunk, and threw up in the recycling bin. We are semester-lovers, a convenience that distracts from the fact that we are far from home, and there is physically no one to say “I love you,” except us to each other. Words easily formed on mouths but so rarely meant nowadays, especially by me.

I tell myself I’ll leave if you don’t show up in the next five minutes, but of course you materialize. You have a strange habit of appearing when you sense my patience waning.

Hello, gorgeous, you say. Your smile isn’t as white as snow—it’s yellow like the tobacco you smoke. I taste THC on your tongue; on your lips, a hint of cocaine grit. A cocktail of drugs, though you prefer keg beer found in basements or that barn down on North Street, the one with the space heater near the entrance.

Hey, I say. And I know I’ll be around you for the next couple of hours, until I get hungry, or we disagree about something, or you want to go smoke. Then we’ll go our separate ways until you text me and I misplace my spine again.

I have something for you, you say. From the inside of your jacket, you pull out a yellow rose. I blush, returning heat to my face. I saw some Alpha Chi Omega girls selling roses in the college union when I went to get my mail this morning, and I secretly hoped you would buy me one, because I feel like you owe me that much.

Thank you, I say. I hug you because I know I should, but also because I want to. The idea that you thought of me today is enough to make me forget the times you left me alone to get high or drunk or meet friends who happen to be girls. All those cool girls you tell me about, the ones who smoke and drink while I stay inside during cold nights—I forget all of my petty jealousy, and perhaps my better judgement, as I hold the rose in my hand. The stem is strong and waxy on my fingertips, the petals unfurled in maturity. Something beautiful to act as candlelight in the places where you rest.

You’re welcome, you say. I stole it from a bouquet in the chemistry office.

Oh, is all I can think to say. The glow around your gift fades away fast. In the next few seconds, the cold finds a way to chill my bones even through my new winter jacket. As you pull me into Narragansett Hall, I look down at the rose and wonder if I want something that doesn’t belong to me.

The rose winds up hanging upside down on my wall with sticky blue tack, the kind kindergarten teachers use to hang up arts and crafts. A week passes, and the stem begins to collapse. Then the petals wilt and crinkle until they are nothing but a ball of dead yellow. The rose is better this way—present, but non-functioning. Not that a rose ever has any other purpose except for aesthetics.  Still, killing the rose makes me feel like I have some type of control over you, who conducts this relationship that’s not really a relationship, but used to be, back in the summer.

Now, we just hole ourselves up in your room for hours, doing nothing except lying on an uncomfortable mattress and watching comedy shows that are pungent with cruelty—your humor, not mine. Your arm wrapped around me and my head, a head filled with thoughts of being elsewhere, on your chest. Would if I could, go back two years, when I first met you outside Putnam Hall by chance, introduced by a guy in my dorm who happened to be showing me around campus. Back then, the light in your eyes had nothing to do with the sun but the way you saw life: a playground full of obstacles that you could overcome. Would if I could, go back to the night you held my hands and told me that life is a beautiful thing that needs to be shared with someone.

These days, your eyes are dulled by smoke. You’ve become jaded because being a senior chemistry student in college is harder than being a sophomore, and you’re constantly struggling with what you want to do—party—versus what you need to do—study. Your vices always win. You are a predictable creature of habit, but your temper is unexpected. When I see you, I never know who I’m going to meet: a figure made of smoke, or someone stressed because he didn’t do the assignment that was due two days ago.

When I’m with you, I feel the restlessness everywhere in my body. My muscles ache to move, but I’m afraid if I do you’ll get the impression that I don’t want to be with you. Even though this is true, I can’t tell you because you’re far away from home, too. Psych 101 has me thinking that your drinking and drugs is a way to express self-hatred. I’m afraid to pull away, afraid to give you a reason to try to find ways to numb the pain of a separation. Because if nothing else, I’ve become a habit to you, a semi-solid fixture of your life. And maybe I’m clinging to you because I’ve accepted you as a part of this college campus, and I’m afraid something would be missing without you. I’m as responsible for wallowing in our toxic nature as you are.

It’s the middle of March, and I’ve begun to hate you. I’ve started talking to someone else, a quiet and gentle person who loves writing but not reading, a sin I forgive because when he kisses me, he holds the back of my head as if he’s afraid to let me fall away. The first night we’re together, you’re at a party. When I saw you earlier, you’d taken a capsule full of powdered mushroom, and told me you wanted to begin a new world order without money so you can end homelessness.

I’m not thinking about this when I first kiss him. In fact, I don’t think about you at all, and when it’s over and I’m resting my head against his chest—so different from yours—I don’t feel any smudge of guilt. In the morning, I wonder if I’m sociopathic and realize I’m not. My emotions and patience are like a suicidal jump: an expansive, wind-rushing headspace until something snaps. Skull against ocean rock.

It’s been six months since the summer, and it’s hard to remember the way life was when it was warm. But I remember what the summer was like, waiting for a beheading, waiting for our relationship to die. We killed it together one night in July over FaceTime, decided we couldn’t keep screaming at each other—our throats were sore. I was stupid to see you the first day back on-campus of our fall senior semester. I should’ve pulled away when you went to kiss me in the elevator, but I was lonely, and starving for the gentle touch of a hand that wasn’t mine. To feel a heat that wasn’t mine, someone outside of myself. So now we exist in gray light, an afterlife. If nothing else, we persist because it is impossible to kill something already dead. It is impossible to say, I’m breaking up with you when there is nothing to break.

April comes and the cold weather starts to break just enough to remind me that I won’t be on this college campus forever, and neither will you. In May, you will graduate in a morning ceremony and I will graduate a couple hours later in a ceremony dedicated to the arts. Our separate ceremonies are just the beginning of a larger separation. As I begin to realize the temporary state of our relationship, I get more restless. You fall to the backburner as I begin to think about life outside of college, the next step.

It’s easy to see the distance between us when we were once so close. We worked to occupy each other’s space by laying on top of one another, sharing breath. You guess the reason. Your old intelligence shines through when you ask, Is there anyone else?

If I had less cushion between my bones, I would’ve said yes. Believe that I think about telling you, about ending this stupid merry-go-round of a relationship. Trust that I want to be honest with you, but think about the ways in which you could be cruel to me. I think about how small campus is, and the fact that this one mile stretch of academic buildings isn’t the real world, that you’ll know where I live because college is just an incubator for old teenagers and young adults, a stagnant place with moving fixtures. I think better about opening my mouth to tell you I’ve been visiting someone else in my head, heart, and body.

No, I say. I lie to you, a person I once let sit in the cavern of my ribs. I don’t feel bad about lying because you don’t believe me anyway; you just don’t have any evidence. I’ve been careful about keeping myself safe and guarded. At the end of the day, what right do you have to be mad at me? We both see the way girls teeter-totter to parties with their makeup glowing, dresses skin tight. We both know I don’t sleep over on Friday or Saturday nights when you go out, and we both know how promiscuous you are, and the way I haven’t been letting you in lately. That I’ve been pushing you away when you reach for me in the night, an action I can’t recall but feel a small swell of relief over when you tell me.

You use your suspicion against me, again and again. After we’re done playing pretend-relationship, as you’re leaving to go smoke, you say things like, “Are you going to suck his dick now?”

No, I’m going to be alone, is always my response, and it’s always what I do, after I take a shower to rinse off the feeling of your fingernails. There is nothing sweeter than to just have a moment to myself, a real breath without anyone wondering who I’m breathing for.

April ends, and May comes with seventy-degree weather and flowers, as if it’s apologizing for the colder months and just wants to make things right. I spend time with him while you’re out at parties on Fridays and Saturdays.

He comes to my dorm room, and we make ourselves drinks. I swallow mine fast and collapse onto the bed, where he circles my body. We fit together like filigree on lace.

I’d like to come back and see you, I say.

That would be nice, he says. When I graduate and leave, we’ll text a little, meet up once and then fall from each other’s contact lists. There is no budding relationship here, and I will come to resent him and myself for not trying harder to make something like our gentle moments last. But for now, I have hope that I will see him again and this makes it easier to leave you.

A few days before graduation, I want to press fast-forward but experience each nano-second of campus life because I know this phase of my life is about to end. The night before graduation, I let you sleep over out of respect for an old tradition. You come in at two o’clock in the morning and sit outside my dorm room composing a love letter that I will find three weeks later in a box of my books.

The letter makes me cry for old reasons because you sound so gentle in the words rounded by your hand. But I also cry at the irony of your wishes for me: find someone who respects you; remember that you are worth so much. I cry because I’m angry at a past self who stayed silent for too long, who couldn’t help you. I cry because the girl—the woman I am now– can hardly stand you. Yet, I almost feel like I should thank you. My reserve for trust is shallow, my patience crescent moon thin, except when it comes to myself. I’m patiently awaiting the moment I forgive myself for not walking away from you sooner. I trust that I won’t make the same mistake in trusting another person like you again.

We graduate, you in the morning and me in the afternoon. When I’m finished with my ceremony, I leave with my family in a caravan of cars. You text me: I want to take pictures with you. When you call me, I don’t answer.

I’m gone, I text. Sorry.

Only I’m not. With my leather folder in my hands and my graduation cap still on, I feel nothing except a glow inside my ribs where you once sat. I lose the rose you gave me in the move, a rose that was probably grown in a nursery and artificially pollinated by botanists and not insects—the winged ones who land on petals and then take off, some of the pollen sticking to their fur.

Flowers and insects.

Butterflies are sometimes tethered by scientists and placed in wind tunnels for observation. Flowers are used as sweet bait, an incentive for the butterflies to keep flying. The exhaustive lengths butterflies will fly for the chance to taste something that is more than food, something that is close to the essence of life.

I understand butterflies in wind tunnels following flowers. I understand the pointlessness of flapping in one place and still hoping to move. I know, I know, I know that I’m not the butterfly, or the wind, or the flower, but if I’ve learned anything from this sick experiment, it’s that being tethered happens to all of us.

Gabrielle Esposito is a recent graduate from SUNY Geneseo’s creative writing program. She was a fiction editor for Gandy Dancer in Fall 2018. Her work has been published in The Manhattanville Review, Aurora, and ZAUMXS. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Library Science at SUNY Albany.

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8.1 | Postscript

Jonathan Green

The Abyss

For the first time, Robbie would be collecting the firewood, laying it on the pit, lighting the kindling, and sleeping in his tent alone. For years he made the trip up to Acadia with Elijah and Foster: hitting the archery range, kayaking, mountain biking, and talking about climbing The Abyss. Elijah had always reserved Site Thirteen for the last week of August; this year he had reserved an extra weekend in September to get one more shot at the peak before the end of the season.

Elijah drowned on the first Monday of senior year. The funeral was held the following morning, three weeks before the boys planned to leave for Acadia.

Robbie came into the clearing where rain streaked down under the pale yellow glow of the outdoor floodlights and the light gray gravel of the parking lot was freckled with dark splotches. Twenty feet beyond the illuminated cabin deck of camp headquarters, known as The Meeting Place, stood a small wooden shack with the letters “QM” carved into the portico. He continued to the Quartermaster’s shed but found it padlocked with a sign directing visitors back to The Meeting Place for firewood and supplies. He looked to the edge of the clearing where the old Blue Dot Trail began. He hoped he would be able to follow the reflective blue dots without his Maglite, which he’d left in his tent.

Beneath the canopy of the pines, the rain slowed then ceased. The soft distant applause of water droplets falling through the low brush faded. Robbie’s eyes swept the ground, and he lifted his knees with each step, careful to avoid tripping over protruding roots as he scanned the trees for the blue dots. He reached at a familiar fork in the path and veered right.

He arrived at the old site, walking between the lean-tos and tent platforms toward the high reeds. Above him loomed the hallowed boulder, riddled with the same crevices he used to climb through with Elijah and Foster while still only dreaming of The Abyss. Some gaps were narrow enough to fit only a foot in, others were wide enough to walk through. Centered on the slope of the house-sized boulder was the painted target, a blue outer ring around a red inner ring and a yellow center, which marked the head of the archery trail at the rock’s peak.

Robbie eyed the old beast. Before the face, five feet of vertical granite receded into the slope where the target was painted. He felt shaky and wondered if he could still make the jump, as he had last year. He crouched low and bolted, planting his left foot hard, pushing off the ground, and flinging his body into the air. His feet landed at the incline’s base, and his hands slapped hard against the granite. He turned his back to the rock face and slid on his butt up to the center of the target that overlooked the old Site.

The plot looked smaller without the tents, the picnic tables, the rangers’ trucks, and without the familiar voices. The crickets were loud, and the wind whistled through the reeds. Robbie could smell the salt carried in from Bar Harbor. It all felt louder, more concentrated than before. His pocket vibrated; it was Foster calling. He didn’t answer.

Robbie wondered if Foster would ever lie on the rock again, if he would sit and watch the red efts emerge on rainy nights, smell the pines in the salt-tinged air, and listen for the eponymous call of the whip-poor-wills. He wondered if Foster would ever come back to Acadia, and if they would make a run at The Abyss together without Elijah. Robbie decided to make the climb in the morning; he would have to summit by himself.

The Abyss had a reputation for overwhelming novice climbers. It seemed that every time the boys were prepared to test out the trail, it was closed for an emergency rescue. From the base, they could see the hundred-foot drop-offs along the exposed foot-wide path, overlooking the coastal ridge. The boys had understood that The Abyss was not to be underestimated, and that they intended to one day conquer it together.

Robbie slid down the rock and returned to the clearing. He bypassed the Quartermaster’s shed and entered The Meeting Place.

A woman in a red flannel shirt with a bronze Acadia pin stood behind the counter. Robbie inquired about the firewood. She asked for his site permit and he rummaged through his pocket, finding it stuck to the Eagle Scout insignia of his leather wallet. Foster and Elijah each had one just like it. Robbie held the permit in the palm of his outstretched hand for the woman to see. “Expiration Time” was written on the beige slip in large bold print. It would be valid for two more days.

The woman nodded and went out the door behind the counter, returning with a bundle of chopped logs tied together with red nylon. Robbie thanked her and his stomach grumbled. He knew he should eat if he planned on finishing the climb in the morning, so he bought a hot dog and some fries, took a bite, and circled the room.

The cabin’s walls were lined with framed newspaper clippings about the beauty of Acadia. “Acadia National Park Generates $186 Million For Maine Economy,” “Finding Serenity: Acadia National Park,” and “Hidden Gems in The National Parks Service!” Thumb-tacked into the back wall, unframed and un-laminated, was a yellowed paper which read, “Acadia Hiker Dies in Abyss Fall.”

Bar Harbor and its satellite neighborhoods were swept by the news of Sonya Larson’s death four years ago. Robbie, Foster, and Elijah had heard that a young girl lost her life to The Abyss, but the article contained details the vague murmurs about the tragedy lacked. He pulled the tack out of the stiff parchment.

Sonya Larson had been a seasonal visitor, an experienced climber, and president of the University of Maine Climber’s Club. She was completing a section of iron-rung climbing when she fell seventy feet onto a rock ledge protruding from the cliff face. Twenty minutes after she dialed 9-1-1, the park rangers arrived. Larson had sustained severe bone fractures and internal bleeding. They couldn’t rescue her until an elaborate pulley system was set up to lift her to the top of the trail. After a two-hour operation, she was airlifted via helicopter to a hospital in Bangor, where she was declared dead.

Robbie heard from the rangers that the view from the summit was spectacular. He also heard that some of the campers referred to the area below as Larson’s Landing.

Robbie took a second bite of the hot dog. It tasted dry and bitter. He tried a fry, but it was too salty, so he tossed them into the trash. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast nearly twelve hours ago, and only had a cup of orange juice since then. He carried the log bundle out of the cabin and placed it on the deck. Pulling some twine from his back pocket, he lashed the bundle around his shoulders and across his chest to distribute its weight. The rope dug into his skin, but he was relieved to be back outside and away from the stale indoor air.

The sound of rain in the distance returned, and Robbie felt its gentle trickle as he stepped down from the deck. He took a deep breath and tilted his head toward the sky, rinsing his face and massaging his forehead.

His phone buzzed again. Rain soothed his skin and itchy scalp as he stood at the base of the steps.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“Hey man, how’s the site?”

“Fine, nothing special.”

Foster spoke softly, “How you feeling?” There was a pause, and Foster continued. “Making it okay up there?”

“I brought my bike—handles the mud—and the site’s good. Much closer to headquarters than Thirteen, latrine right near the lean-to, water pump, and plenty of hot dogs and chicken at The Meeting Place like always.”

“Cool, cool.” There was silence, like Foster was building the courage to ask a question. “You going up the trail?”

“Dunno, I’ll see.” The smell of wet garbage seeped across the gravel glade from the dumpsters opposite The Meeting Place. Robbie headed down the dark path between the high trees of the spruce-fir forest, back to Site Twenty-Four. His load felt heavy and his head hurt.

“Take a couple pictures okay? Especially if you make it to the top.”

“Sure thing.” Water began to drop from his nose onto his lips.

“Have you figured how long you’re staying? The whole weekend, or what?”

“Dunno. I haven’t really decided anything, but I’ll let you know once I figure it out. Maybe tomorrow, cool?”

“Yeah, gotcha. Your mom’s a little worried, so let me know whenever, as long as you’re good up there.”

“You can tell her I’ll be fine. I’ve been up here before.”

“Yeah, not alone though.”

“It’s not like you weren’t invited.”

“I know. I just didn’t really feel up for it.”


“I still don’t think you should be up there by yourself.”

Robbie bit his lip. “I’m just sticking to the plan.”

He arrived at the fence post for Site Twenty-Four and removed the bundle from his back. He placed the firewood at his feet and leaned against the outside of the open-air latrine beside him.

“Just don’t go doing anything stupid.”

“I can handle myself.”

“You wouldn’t be the first person to say that who got himself in deep shit.”

“I know. But I had to come up; I can’t be home right now.”

“Yeah, I get it. Just be careful.”

“I will. Later.”

“Later, man.”

He crumpled the site permit in his fist and flicked it off his palm. A breeze carried it to the edge of the trim grass, where it teetered on a fern and fell from its wide feathery fronds, rolling away into the dark woods. He cut the nylon with his pocketknife and tossed one log into the fire pit for the next day, then he went into his tent and let the fatigue do its work.

When Robbie woke up, his lips were sticky, and his mouth tasted like sour milk. An aluminum canteen, hanging from the polyester ceiling, glowed pink-orange from the sunlight shining through. He took a sip of water, seeing his arm tinted the same pink-orange. His head still hurt and the skin over his brow felt tight across his skull. He got up, changed into hiking clothes, washed his face, and started out for The Abyss. The early morning dew made the air damp with the smell of wet pinecones.

Robbie hiked the twenty-degree incline that set the trail off over the worn and slippery rock face. He sprinted up the forty-foot slope and reached the flats, then he hiked the next half-mile of forest under the cover of the spruce trees. The narrow path was littered with fall leaves, acorns, and the occasional heady raccoon dropping. He made his way over the bouldering section, running up and down the rises and falls of the trail and hopping the gaps between rocks as he ascended the cliff. He looked up. The sun was directly overhead. The trail hugged the cliff and opened beyond the trees so that the cool shades of green yielded to a hot red. It felt like navigating the desert, as he followed the curving trail into the unprotected clearing, his legs shook, and his head throbbed. He finished off what was left of the half-full canteen from the morning. He still hadn’t eaten since his two bites at The Meeting Place.

Robbie placed his right hand on the cliff wall for support. The tree line was just behind him now, and to his left was the open face looming over the trail’s base. There was a sign in the middle of the path that read, “WARNING: OPEN CLIFF FACE. BEWARE, NO RAILING AHEAD.” He remembered the sign from a picture in the article. This was where Sonya Larson had fallen. He removed his hand from the crusty rock face, his skin coated with a fresh layer of chalky, pale red dust. Curiosity drew him to the ledge. He took short steps—hands limp at his sides, shoulders sunken low—toward the edge of The Abyss Trail. The small sports bag on his back carrying his supplies pulled him downward and inward, toward the ground. He felt like it would pull him over the cliff, so he laid down and crawled to the end of the rock.

The town of Bar Harbor was set below him at the Atlantic’s rim, three miles beyond the base of the trail. He stared down at the hundred-foot drop to the trail’s start, and then at the spot where he used to gaze up in awe of the cliff with Elijah and Foster. He imagined the three of them, three twelve-year-olds with their brand-new pocketknives seeing the trail for the first time. Foster with his hands in his pockets, shuffling his feet and kicking up a cloud of dust. Himself, always a step closer to the cliff, staring with wild, blasphemous eyes at the towering slab of earth. And Elijah, nudging him forward, punching his shoulder, and slapping him excitedly across the back to psych him up for the climb.

With his chin resting on the hot sunbaked stone, Robbie searched for the protrusion that Sonya Larson had landed on. He spotted it off to his right, about two-thirds of the way to the cliff base. It looked to be ten-to-fifteen feet long and extended only five feet out from the rock, but it was hard to tell without proper perspective. Robbie wondered if Sonya had thought this ledge would break her fall; he wondered if she’d thought that it would save her life.

Robbie slid back; feet shaking, hands trembling, head pounding, heart racing. He pushed off the ground to stand up. His mouth was parched. He rose halfway upright and felt a soft breeze pass over his ears, whirring tenderly, and nudging him forwards to the ledge. He thought about Elijah, how his last moments could have felt just this way: soft breeze, quiet air, even the water below. Stillness.

The green spruce trees behind him, the gray and green stained rocks, the brown pinecones, the raccoon feces, the red, clay-dusted patches of cliff face, and the distant, dark blue Atlantic water fading into the light blue horizon on this hot fall day; all turned black. Robbie collapsed, knees hitting the ground and torso flopping flush against the flat rock of the trail several yards short of the highest point, on which Sonya Larson last stood.

Two hundred students were bussed from the high school to the funeral. Black was everywhere, dark coats and pants, shining black shoes. Elijah’s family stood beside the casket. Two brothers sung their favorite summer bonfire songs. They cried and choked, and Elijah’s cousin turned her head to vomit into the plastic ficus behind Elijah’s body.

Robbie woke up. He was lying flat on the ground and the first sight he glimpsed was the horizon beyond Larson’s Landing. The sun was still directly overhead. He was alone; nothing had changed. Reaching behind his back, he removed his second canteen and three granola bars. He sat up as slowly as he could and drank even slower. Halfway through his canteen, he started on his granola bar. Chocolate bits and brown crumbs rolled down his shirt, spilling over his pants and tumbling to the ground.

When he gathered enough strength to walk fifty feet to the nearest water pump marked on the trail map, Robbie refilled his canteens and soaked his hand towel with the cold water. He returned to his previous spot to sit down, drank another canteen-full of water, and wrapped the cool, soaked towel around his head.

Robbie rested for another hour, eating and drinking, eyes fixed on the horizon. Wispy clouds swirled in the sky, tinting the firmament assorted shades of blue. The drop was far, but the small masses of land off the Bar Harbor coast were lush and green, and the air was dotted with gulls and fishing osprey skimming the water’s surface. It was a sight teeming with life. In a week Robbie might forget about the new site, but he would remember the old days of hiking the Blue Dot Trail, the feel of the chalky boulders, the muffled sound of air brushing through the ferns, the smell of the North Atlantic, and how incredible the view was from the top of The Abyss.

He pulled his phone from his pack, pressed the call button, and waited to hear his friend’s voice on the other side.

Jonathan Green is a graduate of the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton. He is an editor at The Baltimore Review, and was previously a research assistant in a Biomedical Engineering Lab at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a Wilderness Explorer Troop Leader at Walt Disney World. He doesn’t know what mapping audio-spatial fields of marmosets and teaching children about environmental conservation has to do with writing, but he hopes it sounds interesting.

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Caroline Beltz-Hosek


First Unitarian Church of Rochester, 1988

Before the sermon begins, I puke
blood in a cramped hallway & leave without

cleaning up the mess.

What grace—

Am I Eve? Biblical pariah,

my girl body disturbs me: pink

collection plate. Sweat gathers

in hairless armpits, oocytes stir yet

their travel will, for another twenty years, produce

only cyclical absence.

Nascent breasts under loose tops,

I learn my empty slough is something

to hide in bathroom stalls, feminine

pad expel, expelled to a backpack or purse.

I learn to exaggerate the pain when I want to

skip gym class. Like all the Raggedy Anns.

What does my teacher—without knowing—conceal

& predict when he quickly averts his eyes?

He gives me sweaty permission

to read alone in the nurse’s office: thin membrane

curtain, foldaway clot, tart red

juice in a Styrofoam cup.

Mother of all my living, my living all

my mother, I was a chiasmus from the start

& go two months in utero until she’s onto

me. Her ovum is my ovum is my twin

daughters, delicate split moon,

who do not yet know their bodies are ritual gardens,

who do not yet know its clockwork catch & release,

who do not yet know God

is gone too soon from this place.

What wisdom is there in shedding?

Caroline Beltz-Hosek received her M.A. in Poetry from SUNY Brockport. A former assistant editor at Penguin Putnam, she has taught creative writing and literature at SUNY Geneseo since 2006. Her poems have been published in The Fourth River and Minetta Review. Additionally, she was awarded a 2018 Incentive Grant from the Geneseo Foundation for “The Long Diminishing Parade,” a poetry collection based in part on her maternal ancestors, which explores topics of motherhood, mental illness, alienation and the immigrant experience, and the role that place—real and imagined, personal and historical—plays in shaping identity and creative expression.

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Caroline Beltz-Hosek



“Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.” —Sylvia Plath

My daughter dreams of dogs, saliva like glossy tripwire. As the pack circles her bed,

showing teeth, she readies (red as the desire for red) her face for impact, menace

of a fiction that feels real. She wakes & screams, eyes glissando from darkness to

darkness, I come, I say: “In your house, in your bed, nothing can hurt you-

I have been avoiding this

poem. I don’t want to be

pulled under the wheels of—

I want to write

about my daughter, who I think could live forever :: unscathed, smiling

if I can just love her enough,

remind her of everything that is:

Look—the thick

kisses of sunrise, the hushed way

someone dresses

for work.

not death,

not you.

Jo, my daughter, is

not you but she is


Joah: a simple, obscure Biblical name,

masculine, yet suicide is women’s

work: trill of impact, your eyelet dress blooms rust

as the Amtrak “Cardinal” separates you & nothing &

can hurt you.

“What is the point of dreams, anyway?” Jo asks.

She holds me hard, arms soft hooks (as if clinging could save us), I kiss & kiss her

nightmare until it oxidizes clear:

red        pink        girl        this—

Hush—cadence of dissolving.

It’s all right, but (let’s be clear) you should have lived, you lived with cousins who kept

you: clean & confident, Peter Pan collars stiff as a board, light as a feather. Your older

sister, Thea, was sent to (this feels like fiction) Aunt Icy Leona who spoke to her as if

she was already dead, who put my grandmother in charge of the household laundry, left

alone as long as the washboard & soap flakes did their work. Red-eye :: stain, release.

Midwestern Cinderella. A songbird with teeth.

Jo: diminutive of Josephine, feminine of Joseph.

She will add/give/increase. I named my daughter

after that outspoken March daughter, a novel

I loved when I thought I couldn’t love anyone

more than my mother. We inherit this desire to take

life :: an affectionate mother, this—

the last

day of April. Red tulips rise

outside my window, the cling

of my :: death-breath, poem, (you & not you) girl

trills in the next room, softly

like feathers or fur, or lucid dreams,

or how you imagine

everything could have been.

Caroline Beltz-Hosek received her M.A. in Poetry from SUNY Brockport. A former assistant editor at Penguin Putnam, she has taught creative writing and literature at SUNY Geneseo since 2006. Her poems have been published in The Fourth River and Minetta Review. Additionally, she was awarded a 2018 Incentive Grant from the Geneseo Foundation for The Long Diminishing Parade,” a poetry collection based in part on her maternal ancestors, which explores topics of motherhood, mental illness, alienation and the immigrant experience, and the role that place—real and imagined, personal and historical—plays in shaping identity and creative expression.

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Volume 7 | Postcript



Caroline Beltz-Hosek


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Laurie J. Jackson


Every three months the Terminix guy, Eric, climbs out of his white truck, wearing his super utility belt and disposable polypropylene shoe covers, and sprays inside and out of the South Carolina house. Additionally, I’ll spray Raid: Ant and Roach Killer 17 along the edge of the garage, in hopes of keeping the spiders away. I stay low to the ground with the can, so the wind doesn’t pick up the insecticide and kill the plants on the side of the house. However, bug spray will only kill spiders if their bodies touch the spray. This means when Eric comes and sprays the entrances to the house and in the garage, the spiders must lay down in the area that has been sprayed. If the spider just walks over the spray, then the spider won’t be harmed. I guess that’s what it means when the can says, “Kills on contact.”

The bug spray I bought at the store will kill insects just like the company’s spray. However, there’s a but there.

Eric says, “The spray that you buy at the store will only last two to three weeks, while our spray lasts three months.”

So, in the beginning of November, Eric comes over and rings the doorbell, breaking the quiet early morning. I choose sleep over decent presence, waking up to the sound of the door, and grabbing a pair of shorts to throw on under my nightshirt. Hopefully he can’t tell I haven’t brushed my teeth yet. I walk around with him as he sprays between the blinds, in the cracks of the windows that are in the kitchen and sunroom, and at the base of the back door.

He asks, “How are things goin’?” in a southern drawl.

“Things are going pretty well. There have been a lot of those big-butted black spiders in the garage, but thankfully none inside the house.”

“Well, I’ll take a look in the garage for you and spray around the walls.”

“There have also been a lot of earwigs in the bathroom,” I explain. “After I kill one, another just takes his place.”

“I’ll be spraying in there, as well. They usually come up through the pipes.”

Eric is the only one who really comes over. Company is a rarity for me because graduate school consists of friends who want me to come there, rather than them come here, which results in no one going anywhere. I watch Eric spray, switching the can from each hand, doubling his speed.

The one floor, three bedroom, two bathroom house is big for one person. The radio plays throughout the house, so there’s some noise to fill up the space even when I’m not there. I don’t like being the one to break the silence when I get home from class.

My mom and dad are back home in Saratoga Springs, New York, and my sister lives in Florida now for her new job, while I’ve moved into the South Carolina beach house. The South Carolina house is my parents’ future retirement home, with no stairs and less obstacles. A place they can go when they don’t want to deal with snow, which now seems to come later and stay longer in the north. My parents bought the house back in 2005, when the development was still being built. The walls are still an off-white primer color, but it makes the house brighter. My parents got to choose the layout: the open sunroom, connected to the dining room and living room; the dining room next to an open kitchen, overlooked by a bar; and a double-sink master bathroom, with a guest bathroom. Having two bathrooms is a big deal, since the house in Saratoga only has one. I moved to South Carolina after graduating from my college in Oswego, New York, to pursue a master’s degree in writing at Coastal Carolina University. The house is convenient, so I can live off campus at a cheaper rate and explore on my own.

When I was little, growing up in Saratoga, I used to be able to pick up Daddy Longlegs and carry them away from the house. My older sister told me that they were actually quite poisonous, but they couldn’t penetrate through human skin, and that’s why they weren’t dangerous. I didn’t think they could be dangerous, with their thin, flat, brown bodies and long skinny legs. I was actually right too, since they lack venomous glands. I watched as a Daddy Longleg crawled along the house using its second pair of legs as feelers. I grabbed him by the back leg and he wiggled as he tried to use his other legs to push away from my two fingers.

When I watched the movie A Bug’s Life, the spider, Rosie, didn’t scare me at all. Rosie was part of a group of circus performers. The circus performers helped save the ants from the grasshoppers, who were planning on taking the ants’ food as winter got closer. Rosie’s character was sweet and delicate. She had two eyes, a thin body, and thin legs. My fear of spiders started to grow as I watched my sister cower from the hairy eight-legged arachnids. It’s as if I absorbed her fear. Rosie’s cartoony look, even though it was supposed to remind me of a spider, didn’t remind me of the fear I have for spiders. I’ve never been brave enough to get as close as you’d need to in order to see their eight gazing eyes. My fear started with the big spiders with big abdomens, and spanned all the way down to the tiny specks of a spider. It wasn’t long until I couldn’t even pick up the Daddy Longlegs anymore. I always called for Mom or Dad to save me. Later, I learned that Rosie was one of the most dangerous spiders. The red hourglass on her lower abdomen meant she was a Black Widow.

Eric works his way from the back door to the front door, going inside the two bedrooms and guest bathroom, while talking about his daughters. Then, he moves to the master bedroom and master bathroom, asking about how grad school has been at Coastal and how my parents are doing in New York. Of course, while Eric is in the master bathroom there are no earwigs at all.

“How are your parents doin’ with you all the way down here?” he asks. “I bet they wish they could stay too, with the cold weather headin’ their way.”

“Apparently, it’s already dropping down into the forties,” I reply. “Dad is fine, but Mom is nervous as always. I think she’s asked the whole neighborhood to look out for me.”

Eric’s can of spray has a long, skinny rubber tube at the nozzle. He hits the top button, and the spray comes out like water out of a showerhead. The air circulates enough in the house that there’s no smell, but I still wouldn’t want to be accidentally sprayed in the face—no matter how animal and child safe it claims to be.

It’s different being in the South Carolina house without my parents. I have to go to school, which changes the house completely from its original beachy, family vacation vibe. We used to come a lot when my sister and I were in high school, then less when we both went to college. The house felt like summertime, with the smell of banana boat suntan lotion and the sound of virgin strawberry daiquiris being made by my mom. Now, I come to an empty house after school and work with the radio on in the background.

The first night my mom, sister, and I stayed in the South Carolina house, there was no furniture, so all three of us slept on the floor in the master bedroom. Mom and I were fast asleep, but Lisa apparently couldn’t sleep because of the noises she heard, which she wouldn’t discover until the next morning were caused by the fridge. It sounded like someone was turning on the water and banging around in the kitchen all night. This is a sound I’ve grown accustomed to.

When my family was in the process of moving things into the South Carolina house, my mom noticed these really big, black spiders in the corner of the garage. She figured if they didn’t bother her, she wouldn’t bother them.

She got tired of leaving the house for months at a time and coming back to spider webs everywhere. My sister and I would refuse to sleep until the house was bug free. So, after our sixteen-hour drive from New York, we’d vacuum and clean, killing all of the bugs. Well, my mom would kill all the bugs.

My mom hired Terminix so she didn’t have to do as much work when she first arrived. Eric explained that if other houses got sprayed, and ours didn’t, all the bugs would come to our house. Now, that’s a pretty good salesman. He helped get rid of the spiders in the far corner, which were black widows—a painless initial bite, but extremely poisonous.

There’s an old children’s song that goes, “There was an old lady who swallowed a spider to catch the fly, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her. She swallowed the spider to catch the fly, and I don’t know why she swallowed a fly. Perhaps she’ll die.” It’s not the most comforting song.

When I was little, my sister told me that if I slept with my mouth open, spiders would crawl into my stomach, so I learned to breathe through my nose at night. We slept in the same room; I was on the bottom bunk, and she was on the top. One night before bed, we saw a black spider on the ceiling. We ran to wake up Mom, but by the time she got into our room, the spider had disappeared. We both refused to sleep in our beds until he was found. The idea of an unwanted late-night snack crept into my mind; at least the old lady in the song chose to swallow the spider. Mom helped us shake out our comforters and sheets. We were all about to give up hope and sleep in the living room, when I saw him on the wall by my pillow. Mom put the tissue aside, took a flip-flop from our closet and killed him. His body fell to the ground, under my bed. She told us we could sleep now; all the spiders were gone.

Eric sprays the entrance to the garage, behind Dad’s workbench, and all along the walls and behind the beach toys. “You’ll see winter here is usually just rain, with lows in the thirties.”

“It’s weird not seeing the leaves change,” I reply. “It still feels like summer.”

The smell of the spray in the garage is stronger than in the house, but it doesn’t necessarily smell bad. It’s not a good smell, like when there’s food in the oven, but it doesn’t smell strong like bleach.

He takes out the Terminix sheet and fills in the receipt. I sign at the bottom where my mom usually signs.

“I’m going to work around the outside of the house now. I’ll knock down those spider webs at the front entrance,” Eric says.

“Yeah, Halloween is over. Thank you,” I say. “Should I leave the garage open to air out the smell?”

“You can if it smells, but I wouldn’t for too long. You don’t want snakes to come in.”

I stutter, “Oh, oh yeah. Good point.” He takes off his shoe covers and heads outside to his truck.

I kick a few chips of mulch that have strayed out of the garden back into the dirt. The garden is no longer a fresh, dark brown color with green plants bursting through the soil. The dirt has dried out, and the plants are dying. Autumn is a slow process in the south, while the temperature gets cooler, the brown inches its way down the grass and leaves. Eric pulls a hose out of the back of his truck and starts spraying the lawn. I sweep away the leaves that have blown into the garage, along with the remains of spiders.

When I’m alone in the house, I can hear the emptiness. It isn’t silent. The noises are loud, but I can’t always place the cause of the noise. As I’m sitting on the couch doing homework, the TV will occasionally make a cracking noise as if the flat screen were falling off the wall. The air conditioner will groan, stutter, and then start up with a small boom, as if there was something living within the vents. In the kitchen, the fridge will vibrate and refill with water, making new ice. During the day, the windows in the sunroom will make a banging noise, like a wild golf ball went off course and into the window. Since the development is located around a golf course, and hole ten is basically in our backyard, I’ve checked occasionally. But there’s never been any evidence of a golf ball, and the windows still hold in one piece. I recently discovered the banging is from bumblebees as they fly into the window.

I ignore the sounds while I lay in bed, knowing the house will never be still. The house is alive, and there’s no one but me inside. Well, not just me. I also have the Robertos, the name I give the earwigs, which seems less creepy since their real name leads me to believe they like to crawl in my ears at night. I tell each new Roberto if any of them crawl low enough from the ceiling, they will die. The Roberto that lived on the unreachable kitchen ceiling was there for weeks, until I discovered him slammed on the bottom of the door in the microwave. I found another Roberto steamed in my coffee grinds, which kind of ruined the rest of the pot of coffee for me. It would have ruined my first cup of coffee if I’d noticed it beforehand. The Robertos in the bathtub die the quickest, since they get mushed and washed down the drain in the tub.

In the book Charlotte’s Web, I never had a problem with Charlotte, as she helped keep Wilbur alive. Charlotte took on a mothering role in the story. However, the movie was a different story. Charlotte brought herself down, from the darkness, and had eight hairy legs, and a huge abdomen that came to a point. She had millions of creepy, crawling babies, flying out on their own webs, making me realize one spider equals so many babies. I was supposed to feel sad when she died, but I didn’t.

One time, as I sat in the chair on the porch, my sister stared behind me. She told me not to move, which of course made me duck out of my seat, recoiling out of her view. I could see the fear in her eyes. Hanging from the ceiling on the porch, a spider was inches away from where my head was a moment ago. We yelled, but no one was home. It was either I kill the spider, or I’d have to think about it all day. So, I grabbed a napkin, which was thicker than a tissue, and wrapped it around the spider. I made a fist so hard that I could feel my nails dig into my palm. I don’t like the squish or crunch a bug makes. The feeling of the sound ran up my arm, and I became queasy.

From inside the house I see Eric in the back, scraping down the black egg sac that clings to the siding. He gets rid of the funnel orb web in the far-left corner by the patio furniture. I hate orb webs because they look like caves, and I know deep inside there’s a big spider hiding. Once Eric finishes in the garden, setting up what he calls, “Bug traps,” he puts his things away and leaves, never saying goodbye.

Even after Eric’s visit, I find myself spraying the entrance of the garage at night after I get home from class. Once the sun sets, I don’t like to go outside. The spiders crawl out from wherever they were hiding during the day, and crawl all over the tan driveway, making it way too easy to see them. Sometimes they crawl into the garage when I get home from school, and I grab the Raid from Dad’s workbench. I kill them on sight, and spray along the edge of the garage. I have a rule that eases my guilt: if I see a spider in the house, which includes the garage and back patio, then it will be killed. Every morning I see dead spiders lying curled in front of the garage door. They must have rubbed their spider bodies through the spray, or their legs weren’t high enough to keep them safe. There are only a few spiders that make it into the house, and if they are bigger than the size of an ant, then they get sprayed or flip-flop squished.

There are lots of lizards in South Carolina that eat insects like flies and crickets, along with snails, caterpillars, and spiders. I have a lizard named Henry that comes in and out of the garage. I appreciate the lack of spiders in the garage since his arrival. However, as the temperature drops at night, so does his health. I pet him before I leave for school, to see if he is still alive. After school, I planned on getting a plastic container from the store, to bring him into the house to keep him warm, but it’s too late. When I come back home, he has disappeared. He was a small lizard—one of those green anoles. I watched as he went from a brown to a green, back to a brown. I don’t appreciate his bigger, brown lizard family members though—one of which I later discover in the kitchen.

I wake up at seven in the morning to get ready for school, and there he is just lying on the windowsill, under the blinds. At first glance, I scream, thinking his tail is a snake, and my scream never stirs him. I call my mom that morning and she tells me to capture him, or get him to run outside, which sounds easier said than done. It is up to me to get rid of him, so I take the rectangular-shaped Ziploc container that we use for leftovers and slide him from the windowsill onto the lid. It is actually quite easy. I accidentally set the container on his head, but he still isn’t moving or trying to run away. Possibly I have stunned him, or maybe he is pretending to be dead. I go through the garage and set him free on the driveway. He plops to the ground in front of me, so I poke him with the tip of my shoe. He’s had a traumatic morning, so I leave him alone. When I get home from school, I find him in the same spot in front of the garage. Maybe he ate a spider that had been poisoned. I sweep him into the garden, making sure he is right-side-up.

Children’s books always tried to make spiders seem so friendly and so misunderstood. In James and the Giant Peach, James let Miss Spider be, while she sat at his window. James even considered her a friend. Miss Spider was portrayed as a dark artist who preferred to be alone, friendless. I’ve tried to think of spiders as living creatures, something that helps us by eating pesky insects, but there are larger spiders out there that eat millipedes, wood lice, and even small lizards, frogs, and birds. I hope I never see a spider large enough to eat a bird.

I’m scared of the idea of having spiders on me or near me. I remember when I went to open the door on the back porch in Saratoga, and I felt a tickle, a simple itch at my arm. But, when I turned my forearm over to scratch it, I found a big spider, with a huge abdomen. I squealed and flung my arm, brushing my hand down, knocking her off, across the room. I had no idea where she went, and I ran my hands over my body, shaking. I still felt her, as if she’d crawled back on me. I could still feel the tickle at the hairs on my arms and then my legs. I ran outside, asking Dad to scan me over, to make sure there were no spiders on me.

After Eric leaves, the bugs stir and come out from where they’re hiding. There’s just me left to kill the spiders, and the other bugs who cross the line and come too far, inside the house. I’m temporarily brave killing spiders when I know I’m the least scared in the room, or the only one left in the house. Mom and Dad bought me the Terminix Ultimate Protection Crawling Insect Killer, which is specifically for ants, roaches, and spiders. It’s for indoor use, with active ingredients of geraniol, cinnamon oil, and other ingredients that make up the majority: white mineral oil, 2-propanol, vanillin, triethyl citrate, isoprophyl myristate, lactic acid, N-butyl ester, and carbon dioxide. I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know what it means; I just know it does the job.

One morning, I wake up ready to leave for school, and I blindly reach in the dark to hit the garage button. The door slowly opens, letting light in, which is when I see her. The size of her butt is the size of my thumb, and that’s not including her long legs. Her big abdomen is like a False Black Widow’s, and her long legs are like those of a Brown Recluse. I bring my stuff to the car, and run to the workbench, pulling out the Raid, which says, “spray areas infected by these pests.” I spray her area, which is right next to the garage door button, where my arm had reached over just a few seconds ago. None of the others have compared to Charlotte’s size, who must have walked her way over the spray to the other side of the garage, too close to the entrance of the house. She clings to the wall as I continue to spray her, making direct contact with her giant body. When she finally falls to the cement, she lands in a puddle of Raid. She crawls her way out of the puddle towards me, twitching, as I continue to spray her. She stops and stares at me with her eight eyes. She refuses to die. I spray her again, and she falls over onto her side, as her legs finally retract and curl into her body.

I can’t tell if she is suffering because I can’t hear her screams. So, I set down the Raid and I take Dad’s iron shovel, with the wooden handle, and whack her. Charlotte is dead. I sweep her remains into the garden, streaking her yellow blood across the garage, which still remains there. The way she crawled towards me terrifies me still. The arachnophobia in me believes her spider friends witnessed my cruel actions and will want to take revenge. If I ever find a Charlotte in the house, Eric will be sadly mistaken for giving me his cellphone number for emergencies. I’m not sure what he believes is a bug emergency, but to me, a Charlotte is a “get-your-butt-over-here-now” call.

The next morning I walk into the garage and place myself in front of the garage button; I’m not taking the risk of reaching over again. I hit the button as fast as I can, trying not to think about Charlotte. To my relief, there is nothing on the wall, but as the garage opens, over by the garden, where I swept Charlotte’s body, there are baby spiders. They are everywhere. I don’t want them to crawl into the garage and they are too tiny to step on, so I grab the Raid. Raid: Ant and Roach Killer 17 has the active ingredients of imiprothrin, cypermethrin, with the majority of other ingredients that aren’t specifically listed out on the bottle. This red and black spray can of death has warning labels all over it, explaining how harmful it is to pests, plants, animals, and humans, yet it is promised to be “outdoor fresh.” I spray the baby spiders until the movement on the driveway stops, and then I do the entrance to the garage just in case.

It’s interesting how small the word killer is on the can.

Laurie J. Jackson has an MA in Writing from Coastal Carolina University. She’s a graduate of SUNY Oswego, with a BA in creative writing. Currently, she’s working on her first novel. She is published in Great Lake Review and The Oswegonian. She likes to combine her artwork with her writing.

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