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Sequoya Fitzpatrick


I can feel the sunrises in your rib cage that you won’t let out.

No wonder your body is always so warm

and your palms are always so sweaty.

I waive my right to apologize for pressing my cheek to your chest.

I’ve never both loved and held the sky all at once.

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Canoodling of the Arrector Pili Muscle >>

Sequoya Fitzpatrick is a double major in psychology and cognitive science at SUNY Oswego. If she had to choose one fictional character to be best friends with, she would have to say the Cat from The Cat in the Hat. He always has something cool and fun going on.

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Filed under Poetry

Abigail Allen

Love is Lemons

A lemon lozenge on my tongue, I lean into the back of the couch, melting into the pillows like the belly of a gooey egg on a scalding pan. I feel myself curl. I forget I’m in the room with Peter. His hair is being braided by Georgia and Amy, who are giggling like the typical college girls they are. His watery green eyes laugh as their fingers tug on his long locks. I watch Steve and Chris and Felicity play Monopoly on the grubby carpet. A comb and a pizza crust and a wad of flattened gum the size of a quarter are stuck to the fibers. Felicity looks over at me and smiles. My back sinks deeper into the cushions, my skin softening, scratching with the fibers, tingling as they sew into my flesh, needle bobbing under the layers of muscle and liquids. I unwrap another lemon lozenge and fold it under my tongue, close my eyes, and let myself turn into a seat for someone else.

“Oh, my God, look at the picture she just sent.”

I open my eyes, the couch fibers stretching white over my eyelids. Peter takes Amy’s phone from her and laughs.

“Was that yesterday? How’d she know we were there?”

Amy combs her fingers through her blond streaks. I self-consciously touch the strands of my boyish hair tangled with couch lint.

“Maybe she followed us,” she says. “It’s not hard spotting us in a crowd.”

“The Deadly Blond Duo,” Peter says.

“Power to the blondes.”

They bump fists together. I feel a patch of soft cushion squeeze between my ribs. The lemon lozenge swirls inside my mouth—sticky yellow syrup. I think about my existence as a chair and not about Peter.

Felicity shouts in excitement. Her properties are crowded with plastic buildings. Steve scoffs.

“It’s because of that stupid chance card!”

“I’ll avenge you, Steve,” Chris says. “I’m not out of this yet.”

“Good luck,” Felicity says. “I’m about to make it rain.”

Steve raises one of his brows.

“Just remember, Felicity, we all pay the bank in the end.”

“Could you embroider that into a pillow for me?” she asks.

Chris laughs.

“Did you make that up or read it on a gum wrapper?” he says.

“Sometimes I’m deep, guys,” Steve says.

Felicity snorts.

“Yeah, deep in debt.”

I want to rip apart the cushions of the couch. Watching Peter watch Amy and ignoring it all, blurring their faces to fleshy smears, and shredding the couch fibers.

I peel away from the couch, wincing as the grid of fabric tears from my skin. Peter looks up at me, his freckled cheeks flaring red. I don’t know why. I hardly know him.

“I should get going,” I say.

They all stand up and walk me to the door, talking at once, blurs of white noise. The last time I will see them all, most likely. Peter hangs back and waits until the rest of them have hugged and cried with me, and then he steps forward.

“Drive safe, Star-catcher,” he says.

Peter squeezes my shoulder and turns away. I blink to keep myself steady, to remember that he means nothing to me. I open the door and slip outside.

It’s just like me to imagine life is a movie, to pretend Peter will come out after me and shout, “Hey!” and walk me to my car just a hundred feet away. His breath, sweet and tangy like the lemon lozenge under my tongue, filling up my lungs, and his dumb, frizzy blond braid catching the light from the moon. We’d stand there leaning against the car, talking about nothing, and then he would hug me, longer than proper, and then walk fast back inside, back to his yellow-haired goddess, away from the short-haired chick with her pink pick-up truck.

I linger by the driver’s door, watching the house. The sound of faint laughter mingles with a guitar and singing prickles my hair. I smile and blow that beautiful boy a kiss in the darkness where he cannot see who sent it. Crunching on the last small melt of lozenge, I open the door and slip inside the car.

My truck rolls away into the night, a slow pink beetle crawling over the dirt road. Somewhere inside the cabin, Peter feels a tiny prickle on his cheek, where my kiss has landed.

I wake up seven months later in the middle of the night, with the image of Peter burned into my brain. His arms coil around me, his throat smelling like apples and peaches and vinegar; he kisses me until everything’s blurred. The world sparkles like sapphires as he leads me to a bed sewn of butterfly wings and drags my soul over his. I jolt awake before he has a chance to bring me closer.

“Oh no,” I whisper.

The night is quiet and warm. I sit at the edge of my bed and peer out the window, willing his name to die in my memory. Peter. Peter. He’s always there, lingering, a ghostly thing—white and smooth like the shell of a coffin. I put my lips to the cool glass and close my eyes. He takes shape under my mouth, and I sink into his cold chest, his bare heart. Peter.

“Don’t haunt me,” I say. “Don’t be near in my mind and not in life.”

Outside the apartment a man is smoking. It’s 2:00 a.m., and he’s taking a long, sweeping drag on his cigarette. The smoke curls into whispers of words, formless brown letters. I squeeze my hands around my waist. How can a man, upon a chance meeting in summer, enter my mind after leaving my life?

I watch the sun come up. It’s bright pink like the soft wet petals of a rose unfurled. It scatters stripes of orange into the trees and sends golden beams snaking up along my window, crawling into my room, spiraling around my legs.

Peter’s face appears in the clouds, and I bite my lip so hard I’ll go to the hospital for stitches in fifteen minutes.

“Well, I’m just glad they haven’t gotten married yet,” Felicity says. She crunches on the ice cubes rolling around in her glass. “How long have they dated? Since the end of summer? That’s like eight or nine months.”

I smile and look out at the river below the balcony, at the sailboats with their bright crayon-colored sails and striped bellies.

“That’s a modest time to date someone,” I say. “Anything less is a concern.”


I feel the thick scar left on my lip from months before. Felicity studies my face and I avoid the confrontation by taking up an origami project with the edges of my napkin. The bartender is humming and washing the empty counter space. The restaurant is nearly empty apart from Felicity and me and a lone college student at the bar. I pick up the dessert menu and browse the selections.

“You’re hiding something from me,” Felicity says.

“I’m not hiding anything from you,” I say. The waiter walks by and places the bill on the end of the table. I grab it from Felicity’s outstretched hands. “Except for this bill.” I stuff my credit card in the black-lipped folder and wave the waiter over again.

“You lie,” Felicity says. “I know because you have a scar on your lip you haven’t mentioned yet. And I know that has something to do with it.”

“Why don’t you want Georgia and Steve to get married?”

Felicity cocks her head and crosses her arms. “Did you know Amy and Peter are dating?” she asks.

My heart crumples in my chest. Felicity sees it in my face instantly. She grabs my hand.

“Star, are you okay? What’s wrong?”

I look across the water and see the sun bathe the water in blood as it sets. The clouds bruise and somewhere a gull shrieks. Without sound, I murmur, “I didn’t know.”

My fingers shake as I slip my hand into my pocket and grab a lemon lozenge. I don’t have any left. My tongue feels sour.

When I get home, I deactivate all my social media. If they die, I will never know. Perhaps they already have.

“Your article is incredible,” Ryan says. “A fascinating read. It reminds me of Arnold or Vico.” He grins. “But with the smugness and sarcasm of Nietzsche.”

I smile and wrap my hands around my mug. My lemony perfume clashes with the gritty coffee stench of the café we sit in. Ryan is drinking black coffee from a paper cup. I watch his lips as he lifts the cup to his mouth. There’s something uninviting about his lips, how unlovely they are. They don’t scream or beg to be kissed.

Ryan notices me staring.

“What?” he asks.

I shake my head. Outside, fall is dying away; a couple on the street crunch over the brittle skeletons of leaves. They swing their entwined hands back and forth, giggling, shivering, and huddling together in the cold, in the summer, in the seasons of their love. Ryan watches me still; I try to ignore him but at this point, doing anything around him is dangerous.

“You’re a brilliant writer, Star,” Ryan says. There is something serious in his voice that makes me look at him. His eyes are soft and fierce; my stomach feels sick. “You’ve got a way about words. The way you thread them together—it’s poetry.”

Ryan’s face blurs. My body sags against the seat. Isn’t this what I want? Someone who loves poetry and stars?

Ryan reaches for my hand across the table.

“We’ve been friends for a while now,” he says, “and it seems I get a little closer to you every time—”

I’ve never told him about my dreams.

“—never met anyone I’ve liked so much, that I—I ’ve, cared about—”

I have never told him about Peter and the summer he carved my heart out and kept it for himself.

“—I think about you all the time. That short hair and those, those eyes—“

Ryan hates lozenges. I’ve never told him about the nickname.

“—I want to date you, Star. Because, because I love you.”

It’s cruel to have let him go on so long. Not his speech, but his friendship. I knew from the beginning he would fall in love with me. We’re a perfect match. I don’t have any reasons to refuse him, yet I do every time.

Ryan’s smile wavers, nervous, clicking as time pours on. I feel heat from tears prickle my eyes. My stomach is seasick. Peter is dating Amy still, for all I know. It’s evil to keep the dream living in my mind, and it’s dangerous. But his memory has become wedged into my brain; there’s no carving him out without destroying me.

“I can’t, Ryan,” I say, pulling my hand away, stuffing it into a pocket and drawing out a lemon lozenge. My voice cracks. “You know why I can’t.”

“No, I don’t. I don’t know why because you never say,” Ryan snaps. He frowns. “You kissed me. Why did you kiss me?”

I had. I had kissed him. Under the fireworks at the summer festival. I remember thinking I was kissing him, I was kissing Ryan, but after I had pulled away and opened my eyes and looked up to Ryan’s face, I was disappointed. That night I had gone home and tried to stay awake, to keep me from dreaming. But then Peter asked me to dance in the rain and I began to snore.

I squeeze my eyes shut, silencing my tears.

“Ryan, you deserve—”

“Yes, I deserve better,” Ryan says, his voice sharp. “I deserve someone who returns my affection. Well, then, why do I fall for women who never do?”

He slides out of the booth. I cover my mouth with my hands, staring out the window. At first, I think it’s raining but realize it’s my tears on the glass. Ryan lingers by the table, watching me and shaking his head.

“What is it, Star?” he asks. “What are you holding onto?”

I remember my last dream, where Peter pulls me next to a roaring fire and reads me fairy tales. His hair is soft at my neck; I am a puddle in his lap.

“I’m a fool, Ryan,” I say. “My heart was gone a long time ago.”

Ryan abandons me in my booth, tears running down the windowpane, silent sobs in my lemon tea. I unwrap lozenge after lozenge and stuff them into my mouth, hoping to choke. My wish comes true and a woman from around the counter drags me out of the booth and does the Heimlich until the lozenges land on the floor, rolling around like wet yellow marbles. I sob and am not blamed—everyone thinks my tears are from shock.

My body feels cool, coated in the emerald dress that trembles along my thighs and the dripping pearls rumbling along my exposed collarbone. I resemble a sea creature, some wet green thing that crawled up from exotic shores with blood-red lips and blue flesh. My short brown hair curls around my ears. I grin and turn my chin, pretending I am confident when I’m not. Be unforgiveable.

It’s been a little over a year since I’ve seen them all, besides Felicity, who visits and calls often. The time and distance don’t stop the dreams from coming—Peter, hiding in birch trees until their flesh turns bright blue and their branches are heavy with peaches. Peter, dancing in fountains at night with me, the bottoms coated in layers of glimmering coins. Peter, kissing me up and down, whispering poetry into my throat, reading me scripture and running his hands through my short hair. I’ve dreamt us on wires, pulled tight from the tip of the Eiffel Tower to the top of the Empire State Building. I’ve dreamt of his hair—golden and long, curly tassels rustling over his shoulders. I’ve dreamt of us meeting again—somewhere random, like Target or Walgreens—me picking up a stash of lemon lozenges and him looking for a new fridge magnet to put in his apartment. We would bump into each other in the makeup aisle—I’d be looking for lipstick and he liked to buy lemon-flavored lip balm.

“Why, if it isn’t Star-catcher,” Peter would say, stepping toward me and standing too close in real life but far away in a dream. His hands would smooth over my short hair. “I still dream of you.” He’d kiss me lightly on the forehead.

I remember waking up from that dream and thinking that I’d never been kissed on the forehead by a man before.

My truck crunches over familiar dirt on familiar roads that lead toward the cabin, toward the lake. The stars are glorious, charged with electricity and light, green and violet like a Mardi Gras parade in the sky. I smile and tighten my hands on the wheel, bracing myself. Peter.

I don’t understand it. I hardly talked to him when he was still in my life. He’s a stranger. And yet…and yet….

I punch the radio on. The song is something stupid, something romantic and tragic, buttered and greased with the language of love. My hand hovers over the dial. I don’t end up changing it until an Adele song comes on.

The cabin rolls into view. I park the car and turn off the ignition. Popping in a lemon lozenge, I sit in the cooling car, staring at the light pooling from the windows. After a moment of silence for the dead memories I’d buried there, I step out of the car and head up toward the cabin.

The door swings open and bodies rush at me with shouts and squeals of excitement. Felicity pulls me into a hug, Steve and Georgia drape their arms across my shoulders, Chris pinches my cheek, Amy squeezes my hand and, and—


His voice in my dreams is thick, muddled, coarse, sexy. Peter grins beyond the unfolding crowd, his hands stuffed in his suit, curls brushing his shoulders. He says my name again and it’s better than the nightmares—velvet, deep and rich and liquefied like scalding tequila. He steps toward me and wraps his arms around me and—

And I swear it’s like he kissed me.

Something burning soft, infinite. His curls breathing into my neck. His hands pressing my back. His cheek rubbing into mine—fire versus flames. I gasp for air, my body buzzing, tingling, rippling, shivers inside my throat. My lozenge turns to yellow ooze on my tongue.

Peter pulls away, his grin just as big, no, bigger—faint, trembling, jittery. He steps back.

“How are you, Star-catcher?” he asks. His mouth twitches. “Do you get called that anymore?”

“No,” I say. Our eyes lock. “Not anymore.”

The night is filled with wine and hot food and laughter. I sit on the couch, in the same fold of cushion in which I’d been wilting a year ago, where I watched the similar timeline of events unfurl: Steve and Chris and Felicity setting up a game of Monopoly, Georgia and Amy begging Peter for his hair.

I watch Amy. Her face has thickened, her hair’s lobbed shorter, and there’s a dark smudge of a scar near her neck. I lick my lip where my scar is. Boys give girls scars, I decide, and God heals them. She’s in a yellow dress, almost the color of the lozenges in my pockets but less sweet, and the back zipper is slightly undone, the fabric folding like origami along her spine. Peter is laughing with Georgia, his eyes on her until Amy turns, and he notices the zipper. I ignore the reckless tingling that pricks my skin. But how curious I am.

“Oh, Amy, your zipper came undone, let me get it,” Georgia says. She reaches over and pulls it up again. A boyfriend would’ve done it without question.

Peter has turned away, watching the game of Monopoly.

“I’m going to step outside for minute,” he says.

Amy ignores Peter and giggles with Georgia. I swallow my smile and watch Peter start toward the door. He glances at me; the glimmer in his eyes and rustle of his curls is unmistakable. He nods once and slips outside.

I know things will change if I go to him or don’t. Two turns that spin and spiral and never collide again. He’s giving me the option.

But I remember that stupid night when the movie reeled in my brain, and he never chased after me. Over and over again, he didn’t walk, run, sprint down the steps and hug, press, hold me against the car door and murmur, “May I see you, may I kiss you, may I adore you?” Over and over the sleeping woods had answered: No, no, never. The loveliest constellations had burned into the sky with the warmest, sweetest summer air, and he had decided not to come. So will I go? Will it be begging if I do?

Peter stands on the porch, leaning against the railing, fingers knotting a loose string on his sleeve. The air breathes through his hair; his curls float like golden feathers, cool and soft in the gray moonlight. Beautiful stranger, why do you want me to come?

“May I have a lozenge?” Peter asks. He stares straight ahead. The lake is a silver puddle shivering under the moon’s beams. The warbled sound of a bird echoes from a tree. I lean on the railing beside him.

“How did you know I had any?” I ask.

Peter smiles.

“What is Star without her lemons?”

I cough to hide my smile. Be unforgivable tonight.

“Amy,” I say.

Peter looks over at me. His gaze forces me to look at him, so I do, stoically, tightly. He steps toward me, and I swallow my thundering heartbeat.

“I hardly know you,” he says.

“I know.”

“And you barely know me.”


We stare at each other. I hate the silence—I want small talk. Stupid talking, dumb words, unforgiving. Peter’s eyes begin to melt, moonbeams softening the edges. I don’t know what to say. I turn toward the lake and rehearse my lines over and over and over in my head: be unforgiving tonight, unforgiving.

“Can I see you again, Star?”

The words lash surprise against my body. I look at him in alarm. Is there no Amy? Did he only want to catch a star?

“What do you mean?” I ask.

Peter shakes his head. He looks like an angel, that halo of gold.

“I never talked to you when we had a whole summer together and I’ve regretted it ever since. I was a stupid guy who passed up the chance to talk to a Star who loves lemons.”

I forget my lines.

“Yes,” I say. “I’d like to see you too.”

It doesn’t happen the way I have always pictured it.

He doesn’t talk about my writing or call me a poet or ask to kiss me, and the world doesn’t uninvent itself, and I don’t make his mouth taste like lemons, but he does reach for my hand, and I do give him a lozenge, and we suck on our candy as Peter tells a story about visiting his sister in Ohio at Christmas.

<< Flickering 
Escargot >>


Abigail Allen is currently a sophomore at SUNY Oswego, studying film and creative writing. As a freshman, she was published in The Great Lake Review, SUNY Oswego’s literary magazine. She has also written freelance for various local organizations and interned with Oswego’s newspaper, The Palladium Times.

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Filed under Fiction

Cassidy Carroll


She doesn’t realize she is gripping the armrests of her chair so tightly until she looks down to see her knuckles are white. Her arm twitches and a knot forms in her throat. The man next to her looks relaxed—already has his earbuds in. “Excuse me, Ma’am,” says the flight attendant beside her. “Could you just push your carry-on under the seat in front of you? We’re going to take off in a minute.”

She kicks her bag forward. It doesn’t fit under the seat. When she bends down to make it fit, her arm flails and she hits the man beside her. He takes out his ear buds. He must think she’s done it on purpose to get his attention.

“Oh, sorry,” she says.

He leans back again and closes his eyes.

She takes a deep breath and keeps her arms stiff, hoping if they’re rigid enough she won’t tremble.

She imagines the plane going down, crashing into the ocean or a field in some remote town. She imagines a hijacker threatening the pilot with a knife, the passengers pleading with a God she used to believe in. She imagines going back to a time when she was healthy and content, before the tremors began.

And she believes that crashing with the plane would be less painful than dying the way she knows she will.


Cassidy Carroll is a senior Creative Writing major at SUNY Oswego. When not reading class material, she enjoys Anita Shreve’s books and hunt- ing through bookstores for memoirs. She is also a copyeditor for Oswego’s student-run newspaper. If she could be best friends with a fictional character, it would be Edna Pontellier from The Awakening.

The Divide >>

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Filed under Fiction

Ess Gormley

Learning the Language

I sat in the grocery store’s parking lot, my forehead pressed against the top of the steering wheel, trying to remember what I needed. The store closed in ten minutes and Leila wasn’t picking up her phone. I looked into the big, glaring white windows along the front of the supermarket. A college-aged girl was scanning a cart full of food. Her hair reminded me of Leila’s before she had it cut short. The girl’s face catered to no emotion as the scanner beeped the same incessant tone. She was young and sad and familiar.

It had only been fifteen minutes since Leila told me what I needed to get from the store. How could I not remember? The bathroom door had been closed and she was behind it getting ready for a bath. She told me what I needed and asked if I knew what the date was.

“December 11,” I said, pretty sure I wasn’t forgetting anything that could get me in trouble. Her birthday was in May, and I knew it wasn’t our anniversary because we’d started dating in July, two years back.

“Today was the day we had planned on leaving,” she said through the closed bathroom door.

“Leaving?” “For Québec.” “Oh.”

“Whatever happened to that?” “What do you mean?”

I sat down on the bed. It felt cold and stiff.

“I mean, whatever happened to all those nights you said we were meant for Québec?”

“Traveling is pretty expensive right now.”

“But if we really try,” she said. “And if we saved and—”“We can’t afford something like that this year,” I said.

“I don’t care.” She raised her voice. “I don’t care about money. I don’t care about what we have and don’t have.” She stepped closer to the door and I could see her shadow under it. “I just don’t care, Ryan. I can’t sit around here anymore.”

Her shadow disappeared. She slammed on the lever to the tub. “Well, you…” she said, but I couldn’t hear her over the rushing water. “What?”

She opened the door, leaving a small space between it and its frame where light broke through into the dark of the bedroom. The rising cloud of steam looked warm and thick from the cool shadow of the bedroom.

“You said we could before.” She was still out of sight on the other side of the door.

“It costs more now.”

“It wouldn’t have mattered to you then,” she said.

“Well, I was dumb then. Jesus, what do you want me to say, Leila?” She was quiet.

“Things change sometimes,” I said.

The beating of the water was the only sound in the apartment until something made a hard noise as it dropped to the bathroom tile floor. I stared at the bright open space between the rooms.

“Today was the first time that I’ve left Stillwater in—I don’t know how long,” she said.

“You should go to Saratoga more often.” I lay down and gazed at the black ceiling. “Make it a weekend thing. It’s what? Twenty minutes?”

She slammed the cabinet under the sink shut. “When would we start that?”

“Whenever you want,” I said.

“I’m not going alone again,” she said. “I hated it.”

I sat up slowly with my knees over the edge of the bed and my feet on the dark gray of the carpet.

“I never said you had to.”


Headlights flashed in the rearview mirror and into my eyes. A car pulled up close behind mine. I checked the clock: 8:51 p.m. A man stepped out of the car and closed the door. He hurried into the store before it closed. Stuck in that car alone, not knowing at all what I needed to get, the snow falling, Leila not answering my calls, I couldn’t watch the girl anymore. I turned on the radio.

“Leçon dix,” a woman said through the speakers. “L’université.

I pressed the eject button and snatched the CD. Learning French. My face floated behind the words of the shining disc. I thought maybe she was learning it to impress me. I figured that she wanted to surprise me by ordering herself a chocolat chaud as we brushed off the Québec snow from our jackets inside a café. That was something she might’ve done then, back when we planned on Québec. Or, I thought, maybe she still planned on going.

Leila had tried asking me something in broken-up, out-of-order French that evening before I’d left for the store. She said it through the cracked open door between the bedroom and the bathroom, the steaming bathwater filling the tub. I stood up before the bed.

“Say it in English,” I said, looking at the thin, fake wood of the door. She turned off the tub. I heard the water move as she dipped in her toes. I studied French for a while back at school. When Leila and I first met, she’d ask me to teach her some things every now and then. How to say things like tu veux aller. We’d read one of my old textbooks at the table with a bottle of wine every Friday night. That was back when the whole Québec thing was planned out.

“Do you ever miss speaking French?” she said from the bathroom. “That’s what you were trying to say?”

“No, I’m just curious.”

It sounded like she was looking at the doorway. “French isn’t too convenient here in New York,” I said

She didn’t laugh. I couldn’t see her, but I knew she didn’t smile, either. I thought about how she might’ve laughed at something like that before.

“You have to miss it a little,” she said.

I stepped away and sat back on the bed. “What were you trying to say?”

“I want to see what Sue’s doing for Christmas this year,” she said. “That’s what you were trying to say?”

“I just want to see what she’s doing. That’s all. Maybe she’s finally skiing out West.”

“I doubt that.” “Why?”

Sue didn’t go anywhere besides to work or down the road to her brother’s, not without Tom around, but I didn’t say anything, hoping to prevent another argument. We’d been arguing a lot at that point and it wasn’t looking good.

“She could,” Leila said to the partly open door. “You never know.” “You should call her tomorrow,” I suggested. I had learned the language

when it came to certain topics with Leila.

“I’ll bet she’s off somewhere already.” Her voice bounced off the mirror and slipped through the steam in the doorway and into the bedroom. “Remember how she’d talk about those ski trips?”

Leila and I had skied with them once.

Tom and I were on the lift, rising to the summit. It was Leila’s first time skiing, and though I had snowboarded once before, I was nowhere near comfortable with the plank attached to my feet. I saw the girls in the following chair and watched the base of the mountain slide away. Tom looked at me and laughed.

“How you feeling?” he said. “Ask me at the bottom.”

“There’s a lot of falling,” he said. “But it’s worth it.”

I could barely slide down the mountain on my ass those first couple of runs. I dug the edge of the snowboard into the trail to keep from sliding off into the woods. Leila was standing with a ski and two poles in her one hand. She dug through a patch of powder with the other hand, searching for the ski that unclipped when she fell. Tom and Sue stopped waiting for us after a while and took off down the mountain, gliding over the trail’s curves. I shook my head, amazed. I unclipped my snowboard and trudged through the powder to Leila.

“They make it look so easy,” she said, out of breath.

I agreed and kicked at the snow until her ski emerged.

“Ha!” she shouted. “You found it.” She kissed my cheek. Her lips were warm on my bare skin.

I brought the snowboard over to her and we leaned over to strap in together, not giving up. All of a sudden she let out this sort of uh-uhhsound, almost like a build-up to some giant sneeze. She was sliding down the mountain without one of her poles, and she hadn’t exactly mastered stopping at that point.

“Ryan!” she said. I unclipped my boot and stood up. I sprinted after her and snatched the pole off the ground. I caught up. I wrapped my arm around her waist, and I felt pretty great—like Brad Pitt great—until I tried stopping her. One of my feet landed on the back of her ski while my other stayed put on the summit, sending Leila and me to the ground, and turning me from Brad Pitt to an abusive linebacker, sacking my one-hundred-and-five-pound girlfriend. We hit the ground pretty hard.

“Are you all right?” I asked her before I even slid off the back of her legs. She was on her stomach, her small frame bobbing up and down against the snow. “Leila,” I said and rolled her over. She looked up at me, laughing.

“Thanks a lot, Ry.” She pushed the front of my shoulders.

And then I knew Tom was right. An afternoon like that had to be worth it.

That mountain wasn’t as cold as the sheets on our bed. That mountain wasn’t as cold as the parking lot outside the grocery store, alone.

I watched my breath steam to the roof of the car. I put the CD back in the slot, turned off the radio, and stared at the cool blue light of the digital clock on the dashboard.

8:52 p.m. The store locked its doors for the night in eight minutes. I shifted in the seat of the car, my thumb tapping the button of the seatbelt. I stared at the clock and waited for her call.

8:53 p.m. No one was inside the market besides the girl leaning against the counter. She waited for the okay from her boss to count her drawer and end the shift. She just wanted to leave and go home, to sleep, to dream of places to see. Or maybe she’d go out with friends to Saratoga for the night. Something fun. Something that she really wanted and could still do. I thought about the last time I had brought Leila to Saratoga. It was in October, before the winter choked the life out of the season.

We sat in the front of our favorite downtown coffee shop looking out the windows from stools we must’ve sat on a thousand times before. We looked at the same street with its same cars, their same tires rolling over the same white lines of the crosswalk. The streetlights beamed across Broadway to the same motel with its brightly lit lobby that shined the same white all year long. But then, from those windows, the lights looked dim—distant.

“Did he say why he’s leaving?” she said.

“No,” I whispered, as if Sue was behind me and Tom hadn’t told her yet. But she wasn’t and he had. He was already gone.

“How’s she taking it?” “Terribly,” I said. “How else?”

“Poor Sue.” Leila sipped from her coffee. “These kinds of things are always so tough.”

“What kinds of things?”

She raised her eyes and turned to me. Her knees touched the side of my legs.

“What? A break-up?” she said, as if that was all that it was.

Whenever I talked about Tom and Sue to my parents, they would interrupt me. “Are those two married yet?” they’d ask, and Leila and I would say, “No, not yet.”

I held up my forehead with my hand until I peeled my palm away. It was shining with sweat.

“Are you all right?” I didn’t look at her.

“You’re pale and your face looks like it’s sinking into your mouth.” “I’m fine.”

“No, really. You look—”

“I said I’m fine, Leila. Jesus Christ.”

She looked behind us to see if anyone was listening. “Do you want to leave?” she said.

“No. I’m sorry.” And I was then.

“Could Tom and Sue get their deposit back on the room?” she said.

It was Tom’s idea and we’d all fallen in love with—going to Québec to see the City Lights Festival.

“I don’t know. I only talked to him briefly.” “What else did he say?”

“I only talked to him briefly,” I said again.

“Something’s bothering you, Ryan. He must’ve said something.” “He said that it just hit him one morning.”

“Oh, stop. Is that what this is about?” “No, it’s nothing. I told you—”

“An aneurism will just hit you one morning. Jesus, Ryan, a stroke will just hit you one morning. These kinds of things don’t just happen.”

Leila doubted it, but I figured if it could happen to Tom, it could happen to anyone.

“We’re still going to Québec, right?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I looked away from her and down the street. “I feel weird about going on their trip if they aren’t.”

“That trip wasn’t just theirs, you know.” “Why don’t we play it by ear?” I said.

I took a sip from my cup and the coffee was cold. I wondered how long we’d been sitting there watching things go by.

In the silence of the car, my phone made a noise.

8:54 p.m. Low battery, and still no call. The man wheeled his cart with some food to the girl’s aisle. The guy was going to make her cash him out and I hated him for it. He was around my size—tall and a little too skinny. He couldn’t have gone earlier? I figured I would’ve gone earlier if I could have, and I would have been quick. Now though, I thought I might be even worse than him, just barely sneaking in the store in time. I made sure the ringer of the phone was on loud.

8:55 p.m. I watched her swipe the food through the blood-red light of the scanner. In between a carton of milk and a loaf of bread she looked up at the clock on the far wall. I checked my phone.

8:57 p.m. Nothing. He was helping her bag. He was really moving, too. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy, realizing how her shift was about to end. He saw that she needed to get out of there. He was practically throwing the bags in the cart. Some things he didn’t take the time to bag. Some things he actually threw. I pressed a button on the phone to light up the screen and check the messages.

8:58 p.m. Still no call, still no message. The cart was full again. The snow had stopped falling and the pavement of the parking lot was a thin white, the black of the ground still running through to the surface of the snow. He talked to her. She smiled as best as she could, but I knew it was fake. It had been fake for a while at that point. He still hadn’t paid. I checked the time.

8:59 p.m. No call. He was talking to her. He was going to keep her in that place for too long. I decided I wasn’t going to do that. I turned the keys in the ignition to start the car.

9:00 p.m. Leila didn’t call in time. I looked to the girl to watch her leave the register. The shift was over, but she was still stuck there. She looked scared. The man said something, shook his head, and reached into his jacket. Her arms were stiff at her sides—frozen. He grabbed one of the tan plastic bags.

She screamed as he jumped over the counter and pushed her to the side. Another employee saw and ran away. The man shoved all the money in the register down into the bag. It looked heavy swinging in his hand as he took off out of the store, the cart abandoned at the counter. I saw that she was crying. Holding her chest, crying.

The first heel that hit the pavement slid, but with flailing arms he re- gained his balance. There were only two cars left in the parking lot—mine and his. The button on my seatbelt clicked in the quiet of the parking lot, where everything seemed like it should be loud but nothing was. He sprinted for our cars and I knew he was going to run right by me. And I knew I wasn’t going to do a thing about it. I fingered the keys, still in the ignition.

The phone rang. I jumped in my seat, looked down at the screen and saw her name—too late. The store had closed and I was stuck in that parking lot. Over there at the register, she was crying, with no one to help her. The other employee was in the office, on the phone, calling the police or whoever fixes this sort of thing, although I was pretty sure it was too late to fix anything.

The man was getting closer in my mirror. His face was as dark as mine under the orange of the light pole. I heard his footsteps hit the ground, so clearly that they could have been my own. The lock to the door was loud as I clicked it with my thumb.

And he ran close. I didn’t know what was happening. I let go of the keys. His footsteps screaming, Leila calling, phone ringing, while the girl was crying inside and the car door was unlocked, the bottom of my feet suddenly pressed against it, my hand ready to open it, the heaviest door I’d ever felt, and he looked down in the window, mid-stride, just before I kicked it open and it crashed into his side.

The only noise was the buzzing of the parking lot light above us. I stepped out beyond the door and into the light. By following the route of his feet on the thin snow, I could see that he had fallen backward after hitting the curb. He slouched against the cement base of the light pole. I wasn’t really sure what I’d done or why I’d done it. But she was looking at me. She had stopped crying. My fists were clenched and my fingers were slick with sweat. He made a noise, and I took my eyes away from her. I walked over and saw the line of blood sprouting out of his forehead, outlining his chin and neck. My hand reached into his coat. It was a gun—or, it felt like a gun. I pulled it out and realized it was light. It rattled when I moved it. It was a BB gun. A toy. She had lost everything because of a toy.

He looked up at me holding his weapon. Then he looked at the bag, and I followed his eyes to the car door, and his eyes, dazed, gave me a look that asked how this had just happened to a guy like him, no different than me. I started laughing—first slowly, once or twice, and then into a hysterical, exhaling laugher.

After the sirens, lights and questions, I got out of there as fast as I could. I parked under the bright white lights at the pump of the gas station. I checked my phone. 10:21 p.m. Over an hour after I’d first called her, and

only one missed call. She had given up.

I dialed her number. Steam swirled from a snow bank beside the road. “Hello?” she said.


She said my name, and then I remembered what I’d forgotten. Her words were slow and sharp as she said, “Where are you?”

“I’m at the gas station. I called you earlier because I forgot what I needed from the store.”

“What did you say?”

“I was at the store. You won’t believe what happened.”

“What about the store?” she said. “Ryan, I have no clue what you’re saying.”

“No, listen.” I spoke slower. “I forgot what I needed from the store. It’s too late, but I can pick us up something else.”

“I don’t know what you’re saying, Ryan.” She sounded young, and then laughed like she used to.

“Never mind,” I said in English. “I’ll be back soon.”


Ess Gormley is from Ballston Spa, NY—a small Upstate New York town beside Saratoga Springs. He is editor in chief of SUNY Oswego’s Great Lake Review. Ess could see himself spending a lot of time with Sal Paradise, cruising around the States on the back of a pickup truck.

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