Tag Archives: short story

The Clearest Path

I wrote this piece for round 1 of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. In the contest, you are randomly assigned a genre, location and object. The story must primarily be set in the location, the object must physically appear (not just be mentioned) and, though you may use elements from other genres, the piece must predominantly fit into what was assigned. In round 1, they rank the top fifteen stories in each genre (though everyone is eligible to move on to round 2). I placed sixth–which is a little disappointing since I initially thought I was fifth–though still exciting because, while I don’t know how many people were in my group, thousand of writers enter the.

My assignment was: romance, for genre; a maze for location, and a marshmallow as the object. I initially had no clue what I would write about. But the next morning—the assignments are sent out at 11:59 pm—I woke up inspired. I brushed up on the story of the minotaur, discovered that labyrinths and mazes were different (which caused some panic). But I took a breath, came up with two names that managed to be modern (i.e. still in use), Greek, and somewhat similar—the same first letters—to two characters in the original story—Theseus and Phadra. And finally settled in to write. After all, I only had 48 hours.

(Final note, this is mostly the original story, though I did try to incorporate bits of the judges’ feedback.)

***

Summary (it’s a requirement for the contest):

On their final in-person date before heading back to school in fol, can Phoebe and Theo find their way to love amidst the winding paths of a maze?

“Welcome to The Labyrinth,” Theo said, deep voice dramatic. If I weren’t holding his elbow, I bet there would have been a lavish gesture accompanying the words.

“I thought it was a maze,” I said, sweeping my cane before me with my other hand.

“They’re synonyms.” he said.

We stopped as my cane tapped something in front of us. With what I could see from my right eye, I assumed that the white, waist high structure was a counter.

“Purchasing here or e-tickets?” The woman behind the counter asked.

“E-tickets,” he said, using the arm I held to reach into his pocket for his phone. I let my hand fall away and waited. “So is it really magical?”

“That’s for you to decide,” she said, a smile in her voice. There was a beep, then she wished us well. “And remember, the clearest path is not always the straightest.”

Ookay. I thought. Suitably cryptic for a labyrinthian treasure hunt with a marshmallow minotaur as the prize. As far as dates went, this was already one of the most memorable.

I took Theo’s arm again and we headed in. Well, not in, exactly. The entrance was indoors, but the maze was outside. Which reminded me-

“They’re not synonyms.” My words were punctuated by the crunch of gravel beneath our feet.

“What?”

“Labyrinth and maze,” I said. “They’re not synonymous.” As we turned a corner, gravel softened to grass, the hum of traffic disappeared, and a ray of sunlight seared my retinas.

“Oh come on,” I muttered. “I only have one of those.”

Laughing, Theo asked, “So what’s the difference?”

“A labyrinth is winding, but one solid path.” I said. “A maze has branches, dead-ends, multiple exits. It’s a common misnomer.”

“Pheebs,” he said as we started walking downhill. “Why do you know that?”

I shrugged. “Just picked it up somewhere.”

He brushed my fingers with the hand opposite the one I was holding. Butterflies took flight in my stomach. “You have so much random knowledge.”

I flushed at the warmth in his voice. I didn’t know what to say, so I wracked my brain for another subject.

Maybe tell him that the minotaur in the myth was in a labyrinth, not a maze. So having this place advertise itself as a “mystical maze” but welcome us to “the labyrinth” was confusing. No. Then I’d seem weirdly obsessive about something that didn’t even matter. Today’s about us. Figuring out if we should try to pursue something once we were back on opposite coasts for the fall semester. I wanted to try. But did we have a strong enough foundation?

So I asked about the scenery.

“Well,” he said. “It’s definitely a maze. There’s forks and spoonsa whole cutlery drawer of directions.” We stopped. “Okay so, we’re at a crossroad. On the right there’s a path lined by white flowers. It’s got a nice balance of sunlight and shade so it shouldn’t bother your eyes. Then there’s the left path, but there’s so many trees I can’t really see what’s down it. Neither one looks more or less traveled, so this one’s on you.”

“Did you just paraphrase Robert Frost?”

“Yeah.”

“English majors.”

“Hey, you recognized it!”

“Yeah, so?” I suppressed the urge to stick my tongue out. ‘Cause that’d be super attractive. “Okay, so, the object is the marshmallow minotaur. If we think about this strategically

“No.”

“What?”

“No strategy, just choose.”

“But-“

“Take a chance.” He slipped his arm from my grasp and took my hands, holding one and resting the other over the hand that held my cane. “When I told you about the paths, what was your first instinct?”

“To strategize. They obviously want to make it as hard as possible to get to the-“

“Stop.” He dropped my hands and took my shoulders. He was close enough for me to see his skin, like the color of almonds, it was a few shades lighter than my ownbut not enough to see his dark brown eyes. “Stop thinking.” That’s an easy one with him standing so close. “Which one calls to you?”

“I mean, I guess I’m a little curious about the left one.”

“Let’s go!”

The scent of growing things tickled my nose. Birds gossiped in the trees. And we just continued on: twisting, turning, dead-ending. And though I was having fun listening to the harmony of our laughter echo around us, I couldn’t help worrying. There had been more people in line. So where were they? Then, as the sun began to get lower, I started wondering: where were we?

“Relax.” Theo said, every time I asked. “Just enjoy yourself.”

Eventually, we stopped for a late lunch. Not knowing how long it would take, we’d brought sandwiches and extra water. When we were done, we shoved everything back in his bag and continued on.

“How big is this place?” I asked, as goosebumps rose on my arms from the spray of a nearby waterfall. “And how is there room for all this?”

“No clue.”

“How are you so calm?”

“With the magic of good company, what’s there to worry about?”

My cheeks warmed. He made it sound so simple.

“So,” he said. “I’ve asked this before but, why aren’t you studying history? You know so much random stuff about etymology and mythology and stuff.”

“It’s not practical.”

Then we launched into what was quickly becoming our usual debate about passion versus practicality.

“Do you like marshmallows?”

“What?”

“We’re at the minotaur.”

It took a second for me to figure out what he was talking about.

“Would it be cheesy if I fed you a bite?” He asked.

“Extra sharp analysis.”

Laughing, he handed me my prize. I bit the oversized head off victoriously. Then was swept up in a kiss sweeter than any marshmallow.

“Trust your instincts.” He murmured, running his hand over my closely cropped coils. “Even if it takes you on the scenic route.”

***

My assignment for the next round was: suspense, a fitting room, and a chocolate brownie. I really struggled with that one. I barely managed to upload it on time, and was not happy with the finished product. If I place well, I’ll upload it. If not, well, it may be a story I never let the light of day touch.

Well, till next time.

My Gabriella Moment

Now we’re onto assignment5. For this one, we had to choose one of our previously written scenes and expand them into a story. You can see the development of my grasp on my character from this first scene, to

the second

 which I rearranged and expanded on to get to her full length short story below. I do also want to add that I wrote this in the span of about six hours (from midnight to sunrise) and while I have edited it some, I still think there’s some development I could make to make it stronger. Any thoughts and commentary are appreciated (so long as they’re not too harsh).

***

“You what?” It was a shout in my head. What actually comes out of my mouth is barely above a whisper though. Shifting my shoulders a little to adjust my bookbag, I clear my throat and try again, with more success this time around. “You what?”

“I submitted a few of your assignments to The Cock’s Crow,” she says it without giggling. Probably because she’s approaching forty, unlike the high schoolers she teaches. Our “award-winning” literary magazine’s a point of pride for the school, so they’d never change the name. It’s something to do with a recurring literary quote, and we being in the dawn of our literary careers. “And everyone on the committee loved it. Here’s a list of the pieces I chose.”

“They did?” I stare at the sheet she holds out to me. In her messy handwritingironic for an English teacherit has five titles on it: three poems, two short stories. Then she’d called me up after class, I’d thought she wanted to discuss the latest assignment. The prompt had been about rebirth. I’d had no clue what to write at first. And then this story had sprung to life about a phoenix who finds true rebirth in giving up her ability to rise from the ashes. She passes on the power to another, so that she can rise into something new. The constant cycling into the same creature, usually a symbol of hope for we mortals made my phoenix feel trapped. (I got some influence from this assembly we had on toxic relationships.) I didn’t know if it’d been too out there. But she’d loved it. It barely factored into our talk. What she really wanted to tell me was that she’d submitted some of our assignments to TCC. And that they’d loved mine. Phoenix was even on the list of pieces she’d chosen. I start folding the sheet into squares, making sure each corner is perfectly aligned. “But y-you didn’t ask my permission first.” Its not a squeak but still not quite as forceful as my sister, Ximena, might manage. She was born to challenge authority. Me on the other hand… Not so much.

“You want me to pull them from the publication then?” She doesn’t look sorry, but her cement gray eyes are serious as they hold mine hostage. She’d do it if I said yes. Yet she didn’t ask my permission in the first place. She was taking Nena’s approach to life: ask forgiveness, not permission.

Do I want her to? I mean, I’m upset she didn’t ask first. But they liked it. Really liked it. I could add myself to my list of authors published under twentydid it count if it was just a high school paper? Whatever. It was my list. And I had to start somewhere, right?

“I don’t think so.” I keep folding. “No. Don’t. Um, don’t pull them.”

“Great.” She says, rolling back her chair and standing up. She turns around, her blond cornrows with random strands of dark blue braided through swing behind her as she begins erasing the keywords from today’s class off the board. (Why’s it called a blackboard if it’s green?) As I watch her, I think about the beauty of being published. When you’re gone, you can’t be wiped away so easy. “And I expect you’ll attend the open mic to celebrate the release in a month?”

“Um, sure.” That’d be cool, hearing everyone else’s pieces. Hearing from new voices instead of the fan favorites who always get chosen for shows.

“And that you’ll read something.”

The door bangs open. I jump, and turn.

“Hey Ms. H.” A girl with bouncy black curls says as she rushes in. Her voice breaks the spell, and all of a sudden the hallway sounds start rushing in, along with the students from the next class.

“You want me to read? M-my work?”

“Of course.” She waves to the student with the hand not holding the eraser. “We can all interpret your words as we like, but I’d love to hear how you intended it. You rarely read in class, and you have a lovely voice. Now, you don’t want to be late to your next class, do you?”

I intended them for you, I want to say. For you to read in your head. But I don’t.

I look at the giant clock over the door (I feel like I’m the only one in my generation who can still read analog). We don’t have bells to “prepare” us for college. Her class is two minutes early. And we have a five minute grace period. As long as I’m in my seat within the first five minutes, I was good. Definitely enough time to freak the freak out.

She calls my name. I jump.

“You’re parent’s’ll be proud. As you should be. Look a little happier. I’m sorry I didn’t ask first, but from talking to you, I knew you’d never take the initiative. Your skill with the quill is undeniable. I want you to realize that too.” My lips drag up into a smile as I look down at my Hamilton T-shirt. “Now, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I walk out of the room. Dazed. Clutching the square of paper that refused to fold anymore.

My work in the paper. Reading at the open mic. It was a one-two punch. Or something like that. I tried getting into boxing with papi when I was little. It never really worked out, but I still found myself using the terms every now and then. Whether it was accurate or not, well, I wasn’t too sure.

“So what happened?”

“Ow.” I mumble into the wall I slam into, instead of turning down the next hall as my best friend, Jalissa Jackson, pops up behind me. “What the fudge, Liss?”

“There are times when a good ‘fuck’ is the only thing that works.” She says, her dark brown eyes laughing at me.

“Liss!” I can feel myself blushing for the both of us as I adjust my glasses, and rub my aching nose.

“Oh relax.” She says, flashing scarily straight teeth at me. “You’ll understand someday, young Padwan.” Her love of Star Wars was something she made me swear to take to my grave. She could make references when we weren’t around anyone she knew. But if her brother found out she’d never hear the end of it after calling him a nerd so many times. “Anyways, what’d Hopkins want? You took forever in there. I thought she was just gonna slap an A on your story and call it a day.”

“No, she

“Didn’t give Phoenix an A?” Lissa’s clear, toffee colored face begins to contort into The Look.

“No, she loved it.” I say quickly, as I grab her arm and start steering her through the crowd to our next class. “She actually wanted to tell me that she submitted it, Phoenix, along with some of my other assignments to, the, to TCC.” I can barely get the words out as it hits me again.

“Oh girl that’s great! I’ve been telling you to submit something for years.”

“But she didn’t ask me first.”

“Would you’ve done it.”

“Well, no. But-“

A locker slams particularly hard somewhere behind us.

“But nothing. I know you’re freaking out. But I can also see how excited you are.”

“I mean, I am but-“

“Nope. No buts.”

“She wants me to read at the open mic!” I say it quietly, but emphatically as we slip into class.

“Which you definitely will, right?” She whispers back.

And before I can protest, we’re being launched into a lecture about the difference between ponds, rivers, streams, and other bodies of water. Despite how it sounds, and Lissa’s faces as she scribbles notes next to me, it’s actually pretty interesting. And a lot less work than chem or physics would’ve been for our take-it-easy, mainly elective filled senior year.

With the final period being a free one, I rush home after  Environmental Science. Or, try to.

“Wait,” Lissa calls as I hurriedly put my jacket and book bag on. “You don’t wanna talk about TCC anymore?”

“No.” I tell her. “You’ll take Ms. H’s side

“There’s no sides,” she says, putting her hand out to stop me just outside the classroom. “We all just want you to put your amazing work out there.”

“Maybe not, but I need to practice.”

“Practice what?” A delicious voice asks from behind us. If the richness of chocolate syrup could be vocalized, that’d be his voice.

I instantly break out in goosebumps. God, I’m happy I have a jacket on. Though, I guess I could blame it on the AC too. I know I start blushing. And I’m also great full that I’m not as light as Lissa, or her twin, Jason, the source of that divine tenor voice. Blushes are a lot less obvious on me. He touches my shoulder, and my heart goes haywire.

“Yes?” I whisper. I’m the quietest of the trio, so when my crush (soul deep love) started for Jay a few months ago, he never noticed anything different. But Lissa, with her hawk-like skills of observations knew immediately. And began shipping us hard. But I didn’t want to say anything and make it awkward between the three of us when he told me he just saw me as another sister. The triplet bound to them in spirit (we were born on the same day, each ten minutes apart. It was kinda cool in a weird universally creepy kinda way.)

“What are you practicing for?”

“Oh, um. My, our teacher, Ms. Hopkins, for um, The Art of Creative Writing. She, put, submitted some of my work to The Crow.”

“That’s great!” He exclaims, and wraps me in a hug. Right there in the middle of the hall. I want to keep my ear pressed to his chest. And continue inhaling whatever expensive cologne his mom buys him, but he’s pulling away before I can fully appreciate any of it. “But what do you have to practice? Everything’s already written, right?” We start walking again, dodging students in their rush to get to the last class.

“She wants me to read at the open mic.”

I step over the book bag of someone sitting on the floor. She pulls it in with a halfhearted “sorry”.

“What day is that?”

I can’t believe I didn’t ask. Actually, yes I can. My brain wasn’t really working right at the time.

“May 15.” Lissa says, face pressed to her phone. “It’s connected to the poetry club. Apparently they hold these things monthly, but this is the big one.”

It takes everything I have not to start shaking. Seriously. Everybody thinks this is so amazing. And it is. That my work’s being published. Ms. H had talked me into entering a few senior specific writing contests. But the Crow. The award winning Crow seemed bigger than those. But actually reading it. In front of hundreds of students. Messing up in front of hundreds of students. Finding out that I actually suck, in. Front. Of. Hundreds. Of. Students. Plus my parents, Lissa and Jay

My eyes twitch. Which always happens just before

“Are you crying?” The twins ask, somehow glancing at me at the exact same time. Both with concern, but Lissa’s more frustrated. She’s definitely going to be the tough love kind of parent if she goes back on her no kids vow.

“No.” My voice is actually pretty strong. But not my vision as my glasses start to fog, and I have each Jackson grabbing an arm as I start to trip over, who know’s what. The Universe sticking its foot out just to add to my already wonderful day.

“Don’t cry.” Liss says, pulling me to the side. I pull my, useless for the time being glasses off. “You’re mom would tell you that Diazes don’t cry.”

“Yeah, well.” I sniff. I hate myself for it, but I can’t stop the tears.

“Why don’t you just tell her no?” Jay asks. And it sounds so reasonable. But I can’t. Which I tell him. “Why not?”

“Because she’d have to put her Nena panties on and not only initiate an awkward conversation, but put her foot down. Remember when she refused to remind mommy that she didn’t like olives? So she choked them down until you noticed, and we split the rest between us? Then had to tell mommy later.”

“Oh yeah. You didn’t want to hurt her feelings.” Jay says, rubbing my shoulders. “Same with the teacher. But what about your feelings?”

“Well, this is where it gets complicated.” Liss says, pulling back. “She’s so torn up over it all ’cause she wants to do it.”

“I don’t.” I rub my eyes.

“You’d be more angry, and trying to come up with legit excuses for not doing it if that was true.” Liss takes my glasses from me, gently wipes them on her shirt (my mom would kill us both if she saw I wasn’t using the cleaning cloth) then hands them back. “Don’t get me wrong, you’d be upset. Maybe tear up a bit. But not like this.”

Is she right? Of course not. I’d know if I wanted to read. I say that, and Liss just laughs.

“Girl, you have so many hang ups about public perception. Probably a manifestation of your relationship with your mother, she-

“Liss.” Jay says, it’s not quite a snap, but it’s not calm either. “What’d we say about psychoanalyzing us?”

“You guys are prime targets.” She whines. She’ll do great as a therapist some day. She looks around, and we all notice how empty the hall is. I almost start crying again as I think about how stupid I must’ve looked. Or pathetic. Who starts crying in a school hallway? I’m surprised no one hung around to stare.

“Do you want to perform?” Jay asks.

“I don’t think so.” I wipe my nose with my sleeve.

“We’ll wait outside the bathroom while you wash your face.” Jay says as we pass by the nearest girls room.

I head in and let the water run for a bit before splashing some on my face. I stare at myself in the mirror: dark eyes, short lashes, clear skin, shoulder length flat twists. Its not the face of someone confident. How does Nena do it? We look exactly alike, same delicate bone structure. But… something about me just screams timid. I shake my head and head back out.

“So we’ll head over to our house so you can practice in front of our parents?” Liss says when I come out.

“Liss, I don’t-“

 

“Even if you really don’t want to perform, she says, walking through the staircase door that Jason’s holding open for us. He’s so chivalrous. “You’re not going to tell her no. So you’ll need the practice, right?”

“I guess.” My stomach flip-flops just thinking about it.

“Don’t push her if she doesn’t-“

“We all need a good push sometimes. And as her best friend-“

One of her best friends-“

“You’re right,” She says sweetly. As the star of our track team, she’s not even a little out of breath at the bottom. Like I am. Just a little though. “As the head best friend in charge of all of the lesser besties-” Jay just sighs. “It’s a part of my duty to know when to push and when to coddle.”

That one causes me to laugh. “You wouldn’t know how to coddle if it bit you in the butt.”

Jay laughs too as we leave the staircase. She rolls her eyes and pulls her phone from her pocket, muttering about how she can’t with us.

By the time we get to their house, I’m not as panicked. But I know there’s a major difference between reading for my friends’ parents, who are honestly like my adoptive parents, and hundreds of strangers. But I do it. And when I get home, I’m forced to do it again, for the fifth time that day for mami.

“These poems are nice.” She says in Spanish. “But sad. You depressed?”

“No?”

“Like she’d tell you.” Nena mutters, looking up from her phone.

“What’s that mean?”

“Don’t start.” Papi says from the kitchen. “You are like three hens with no room in your pen.”

“I want to know what she means.” Mami demands. “You’re not too old to get slapped.”

Nena laughs. And mami’s face, a color very similar to the Jacksons’ beige walls, starts to flush a little with anger.

“I think it’s time for bed.” Papi says, coming in with his hands still dripping from the dishes. Since he’d been laid off a few weeks ago, he’d really gotten into being a house dad. Very un-macho, as mami reminded him. But it wasn’t like he wasn’t looking and applying, he always responded.

“It’s nine thirty.” Nena says. “I’m heading out.”

“To where.”

“A friend’s.”

“Your boyfriend.”

“I don’t have a boyfriend, mami.’ she sighs switching back to English. She spent more time talking to them in Spanish than I did. Mami was always complaining about how American I’d gotten over the years, with my pronunciations, and taste in rock and country, so I stopped arguing and just embraced it. I spoke Spanish whenever we went back to Cali to visit family, but otherwise, I usually just responded in English.

They started arguing about her, um, loose behavior and I took papi’s advice and headed to our shared room. As I walked down the hall, I heard a little cry and peeked into my parents bedroom to check on Santiago, my baby brother. He had just turned two and still slept in a crib.

He’s still fast asleep. I hope he isn’t having any bad dreams.

I lean over and pet his soft curls. He was the spitting image of our mother with his tiny nose, loose curl, and light complexion. Nena and I took after Papi a lot more. We all had the same face shape and cafe sin leech eyes, but our hair was a thousand times coarser. And we couldn’t really find foundation shades for our skin until Fenti came out. Unlike our mother.

As I watch him sleep, I wonder what kind of personality he’l have when he grows up. He fussed whenever he wanted anything. But he barely knew five words, so how else would he express himself?

Nena’s outspoken, confident with her beauty, and brilliant, if only she’d put more energy into school instead of reminding us at the end of each semester, when mami demanded to know her grades, that “C’s get degrees.”

I guess I’m pretty. I look a lot like Nena, who’s gorgeous. But I don’t know anything about fashion (no matter how hard she and Lissa try to change that). And my glassesI look a thousand times better without them. But my eyes don’t like contacts. I think I take all of Nena’s drive for school, and she has everything else.

So where would Santi fall? He’s definitely going to be a mama’s boy. Will that affect things?

“How are you?” Papi asks quietly. I don’t jump. I thought I’d heard footsteps.

“Fine?”

“I mean, you writing.” He tests out his English. “Mami is right, it did seem little sad.”

“I’m fine.”

“Are you fine with reading?” He’s back to Spanish.

“I don’t know.”

I sit on the floor next to the crib and tell him about the conversation with Lissa today. “And, I kinda think she’s right.” It’s a whisper. “I liked it when her parents complimented the word flow. And mamishe actually liked it. Itfeels nice. And if everyone at school thinks it’s nice too.”

“But?” He says, sitting on the bed. There’s no more roofer him in the little space beside the crib.

“If they hate it-“

“They won’t.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Yes I do.”

“How?”

“We sent you to Sunrise because it is a certified school of excellence,” he says. “Which means, the kids there are smart. And only someone stupid wouldn’t like your words.”

I laugh, get up, and hug him. “You’re my dad, you have to say that.”

“No I don’t.” He hugs me back. Something else unMacho, but her heart is never in that one when she says it. WE both know he’d support us no matter what. So he adds, “Fine, if you don’t believe me. Believe mami. And Nena kept her head out of her phone for a whole five minutes.”

I laugh again.

“What is funny?” Mami asks from the door.

“Nena actually listened to her poetry,” Papi answers. “She even put the phone on the table. I was so surprised when I saw from the sink, I almost dropped a plate.”

“Not the good-“

“Never the antique, Nati.” He smiles at her with so much loveI sometimes don’t understand that dynamic.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. My mom is lovable in a prickly porcupine sort of way. She’s always made more money, so has probably felt more stressed. And I appreciate her completely. Butshe’s still an a-hole about 80% of the time. Picking at Papi, arguing with Nana, pointing out my flaws.

“You still nervous for this show?” She asks me, her eyes are actually soft where they lock onto mine. I nod. “You write well. Why?”

“It’s one thing to have people say that. It’s another one to read it and see if they still mean it.”

“Speak up.” She sits on the bed next to us. “You come from a loud family, yet you are this shy little mouse. Nena wouldn’t be nervous.”

“I’m not Nena.” It’s the first time I ever say something when she tells me how much unlike someone I am.

:Hmm.” She says. “Put that attitude on stage, not with me. You are definitely not too old for a slap.”

“Okay,” Papi says. “It’s still bedtime.”

I think about what she said all the way to my room )one door over) and over the next month. Okay, maybe not the entire month. But the more I practice in the mirror (Mine and Lissa’s) the better I feel. At some point, I realize I’ve got it memorized. I recite it for some of Jay’s friends (trust me, I wasn’t as breezy as I make it sound), but I do it. And then the day is here.

And I start to freak out.

I’ll forget.

My glasses’ll fog right when I start reading.

I’ll lose my voice right before my time.

Someone’ll laugh and I’ll start sobbing like Santiago when no one’ll pick him up.

Jason hugs me. And that just makes it worse.

Mami refuses to stay home, and I can’t breathe properly.

Nena brings her new boyfriend and I can’t believe she’ll have his first introduction to me be me passing out in front of half my high school. Or all of them? It looks like everyone is here. Who even cares about a stupid high school magazine?

I’m ten people in. I thought that was a good number. But what if every performance is one minute long. That only gives me ten minutes to prepare. I wonder if Lissa would flirt the paper out of the MC’s hand and erase my name. But what if it’s not in pencil. Does anyone have whiteout anymore?

“Hey!” I bite my tongue hard as Jalissa claps her hands in front of my face. “Calm. Down.”

“Panicking. I’m not panicking.” My throat is so dry I can barely get the words out.

“I said nothing about panic, only calm.”

“I got her some water.” Jason appears next to me. When did he get up? He was sitting three seats in.

“Drink it.” Liss demands. I was already planning on it, and get down half the bottle in one long gulp.

“I think she meant sip.” His hand on my shoulder causes the butterflies to divide their attention. “But can you at least breathe?”

I try. He forces me to look at him, into his deep, beautiful eyes. We breath.

“Okay.” A voice booms through the auditorium, quieting everyone. He starts talking about the prestigiousness of Sunrise Academy’s Cock’s Crow. literary magazine. I hear a few giggles. “We’ll be starting off with one of many seniors on this list. Delilah Morre. She’ll be singing, not an original song, but you can find her original poetry scattered throughout the Crow’s illustrious pages. Come on up Delilah.”

“You gonna be okay now?” Jay asks, his face deliciously, nerve-wrackingly close to mine. I nod.

He moves past Jalissa, grinning very unsubtly right as the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard begins soaring through the auditorium. By the time’s she’s finished with rendition of Alicia Keys’ Fallin’ almost more soulful than the original, you can hear a pin drop in the auditorium. There’s a moment of silence. Then. They. Go. Wild.

And I think I’ve gone way past panic. How do I even compare to that?

The next person’s going up. Reading a short story about a kid on the street getting their life together. And then the poem about loss. Who are these people? Writing about deep crap when I just channel emo punk bands from the early 2000s and write fantasy. Even the fifth girl’s “fairytale” feels like some deep social commentary. She can’t be a freshman.

“Margaret Hall will be next, performing a skit, the script for the play can be found on Page 12-“

A skit?

“They’ve got nothing on Phoenix.” Liss whispers. And I realize that I’d said it out loud.

But she’s so wrong. This modern mini Odyssey is so much better.

“Annabeth Percy?” The MC dude says for the third time. “Alright, guess she’s not here anymore. Well next up we have-“

My heart stops. For a whole second. Just stops. Then the applause rushes into my ears, and my heart starts beating like a salsa beat on steroids. Or LSD or something.

“Go up there!” Lissa hisses. I could be like Annabeth and not do anything.

But then Jason and Lissa are pulling me up. And I hear my mothercheering my name. WTH?

I’m on the stage.

I’m staring out at the crowd. Before I left, Nena had told me to imagine the audience in their underwear. But as I stare out at the ocean of faces (crap, I mean sea. I can’t even get my metaphors right. Or was that a simile? Analogy maybe?) Oh God, I’m going to through up.

“You got this!” Someone shouts.

Why are they cheering me on? They don’t know me. Clearly, I don’t.

I stare at the dude in front of me. Probably someone’s parent. Definitely don’t want to imagine him in his underwear. And the girl with red pigtails next to him. I’m seventeen. That’s probably illegal to be even thinking things like that. 

Jalissa screams my name, and I snap out of it. So does my notebook, right out of my hand. I bend down to grab it, and my glasses start sliding off.

Somehow, I coordinate myself enough to hold one and pick up the other.

The audience, my audience is silent.

I look down at my notebook. Open my mouth:

“I-i-in shadow-” Someone snickers. Maybe it’s a sniffle. I don’t care. I hear whatever the sound is, and I can feel that I’m-about-to-cry lump forming in my throat. My eyes tickle. Or prickle. And I sniffle. And the sound’s amplified through the mic. That I’m still stupidly standing in front of. I turn to my left, ready to bolt. Ready to give Lissaa a run for her money. When I hear their combined voices, my beautiful amazing best friend, and her equally wonderfully gorgeous brother, chanting my name. It only takes two times for the entire auditorium to pick it up. And then my eyes are prickling for another reason. I turn back to the mic. While I don’t have my Troy Bolton here to make me stare directly at him, I still felt like I was about to have my Gabriella moment.

“In shadow beauty hides,” my voice shakes. Did I always sound this manly? I clear my throat. They quiet immediately.

“In shadow beauty hides/To the night he tells his truth/Beneath the unassuming moon, she feels only then can she cut loose

Perception is Everything (When Helping The Blind)

This next story was assignment4 in my Fiction I workshop. We had to choose an event, and then write about it from three perspectives. It took me a little while to decide on my event, but once I remembered it, my fingers flew across the keyboard.

Let me know what you guys think. Who’s perspective you liked best.

***

Shayna Canaan 

“Danny, listen to me.” I have the urge to shake my phone in agitation like my mother used to do when I was a child. But there are two problems with that urge. The first, I was using Bluetooth headphones, so I would have to take my phone out of my pocket. Upon doing so, I would not receive the same level of satisfaction that my mother seemed to. An iPhone was not the same as a corded landline. And there was no base for me to slam it onto when I simply couldn’t take it any more. The second, I was in public and refused to be the crazy person everyone whispered about as they skirted around me. “I’m not trying to control you.”

“I never said that, Shay.” He says. “But you’re not being reasonable.”

“I just want what’s best for you.” I tell him, shading my eyes to better see the street sign in front of me. It’s a warm, sunny day in mid-March, but I’m still wearing my winter coat, open to enjoy the slight breeze. Lana had tried to talk me into something lighter, but I’m a seasoned New Yorker. I know when the sun goes down, the wind picks up and the temperature drops back to winter normal. I did let her talk me out of a hat, but I refused to leave my dark hair down. She said it made me look younger, but the high ponytail made me look my age. “I’m sure Janette’s a nice girl but her family… Your mother–”

“Is dead, Shayna,” he says, gently, as though soothing a child. It sounds as though he’s moving, and the suspicion is confirmed as I hear the clinking and tinkling of dishes and the roar of his dining hall quiet as he continues. “Lan and I are so grateful for everything you’ve done for us the past ten years. But–“ 

“Hang on!” I shout over multiple sirens as an ambulance and fire truck zoom past. I see a Nuts-4-Nuts stand at the next corner and think about buying a bag as I pass. The scent brings back memories of family trips from Long Island. Mother would never allow us to buy from dirty street vendors, but my sister and I still dreamed. “Go on, Danny.”

“Lan and I are so grateful for you taking us in after mom died. But you’re not actually our parent. And, I don’t think she’d care about Jan’s background, just the person she is now.”

His words hurt. I can almost feel a physical pain in my chest. I nearly stop in my tracks, in the middle of midtown foot traffic. But I refuse to be that person.

“Danny, I don’t know what to say.” I can feel the tears prickling behind my dark blue eyes. It was more than his mother, my sister’s passing that I was trying to compensate for. I say a quick prayer, hoping that everything goes well at my appointment today. Thirty-two was far too young to be worrying over wills and family legacies. “I’m just trying to honor her memory, and make sure her kids are okay. And that includes who you date. I want to make sure you both have good futures.”

“No.” He says. “It doesn’t. Advice, yes. And I hear you. But you’re not actually giving her a chance. Or me. You don’t trust my character judgement?”

“I do, Danny, of course I do it’s just–Wait, hold on!” I hurry the last few feet to the corner and wait impatiently for the light to change.

“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” I say. “But there’s a blind woman across the street. I think she needs help.” I watch her just barely avoid the City Bikes. I sigh in relief as she passes them. Then catch my breath when she narrowly misses a lamp post.

“What’s happening, is she okay?”

“I don’t think so.” I say as I rush across the street. “The sidewalk is cracked, and there are so many obstacles. Oh my God, someone almost walked into her! People are so careless. God, it must be terrible being blind. At least she’s well taken care of, her outfit–”

“It’s not always about money and looks, Shay.” he sighs.

“Wait!” I call out as the woman navigates around another crack. They should really fix up the sidewalks around here. I take her arm and walk her to smoother ground. “Are you okay? Do you know where you’re going?”

“Yeah.” She says, blinking cloudy blue eyes at me. “I’m fine.”

“Can I help you cross the street?” How can a stick be any protection? I’ve seen blind people run into poles. I wonder why this woman doesn’t have an aid. She seems pretty young, early twenties maybe. I wonder if there is an age requirement. But I remember the handicapped children at school having someone.

“I’m fine, thank you.”

“No, bubelah, it’s no problem, let me help you.” Oy, she’s turning me into my mother in ways parenting mischievous twins from adolescents to adulthood never had.

“Shay, she said she’s fine.” I’d forgotten Danny was still on the line.

“I’ll cross you over then come back, it’s no problem.” She’s likely being modest. I wouldn’t want to be a burden on anyone. Yet I can’t imagine smiling through it all as she is.

I take her arm more firmly and begin to usher her across the street.

“How are you liking this weather?” I ask, noticing that her sleek green coat–is it from L L Bean, I’m certain I’ve seen it in the catalogue–is unzipped. 

“It’s nice,” she says, her face glowing a brown similar to one of Lana’s caramel Frappuccinoes in the sunlight. If she weren’t blind, she would be a better fit for Danny. I wonder if the Columbia boots she wears means she’s willing to spend for comfort. In her situation money must be important.

“Stay safe.” I tell her, once we make it to the other side. “And don’t be afraid to accept help. People want to help you.” I raise my voice near the end to ensure that she hears me as she walks away. She certainly walks fast. Someone should-

“Shayna, what was that?”

“I helped someone cross the street.” I say, making it back across just before the light changes. “You know I love helping people, animals, you name it. Like when that bird fell from the tree when you were kids?”

There’s a pause, then Danny says, “I have to head to class now. But please give Jan an actual chance at dinner.”

“I’ll try.” I tell him, my heart light enough to humor him. “Don’t study too hard.”

As we hang up, I murmur a prayer before walking into the hospital. Hopefully, I had earned extra goodwill points for my humanitarianism.

Madeleine Banks

“Hey J,” I said, grabbing my phone just before it stopped ringing. I’d just changed my ringtone and so still got more excited to sing it than answer. “What’s u—”

“What you doing this winter?”

“Um,” I said. “Working as an editorial assistant if Randomhouse has any sense?”

“No. Well, not just that.” She said, her voice moving with the motion of her footsteps that I could just barely hear. “You’re coming with me to St. Vincent for a week.”

“I am?” I asked, closing my laptop.

“Yes. I am so tired of this fucking city. And L.A. isn’t happening for at least another year, so I need a premove break.”

“Go to Jersey.” I said, changing into my current PJ’s—Bob’s Burger tee and sweats—before rolling into bed. So much for keeping the momentum going. I’d actually been excited to do my homework for once. But, clearly, the universe had other plans. I knew my friend, and that tone, this would probably take awhile. And, as I stretched out under my navy blue covers, I wasn’t complaining. At all.

“You’re not funny.”

“Bitch, I’m hilarious. But what happened? Which one of us monstrous New Yorker set you off now?”

“All of them!” She said, and I could imagine her throwing her slim, dark hands up in exasperation. “First, the supposedly homeless lady asking me to give her money, when I said I didn’t have any, she was like ‘how about food?’ When I reminded her that I didn’t have money, she was like ‘So how’d you buy that drink?’ I was like bitch–”

“Did you actually call her a bitch?”

“No. But I thought it really hard.”

I laughed. “Why are you skeptical about her being homeless?”

“Her coat had fur… And it looked real!”

“Maybe it was donated or something.”

“Maybe. Anyway, so she followed me down the block muttering about disrespectful kids (she was an old blond woman). Ugh, I get it you have a motorcycle.” She growled the last at the revving engine I could hear in her background. “Then, I’m walking past the dorm and I see that blind girl-”

“The one you asked about her eyelashes freshman year?”

“Yeah, she’s the only blind person in the dorm. Well, besides that short white guy.” At 5’10, short was a relative concept for Jessica Stephens. “Anyway, so she’s walking and, first of all, I tripped on a bike–you know, that City Bike shit–and almost dropped my cup. But she walked around it. What kind of sick joke? I’m sure God had a good laugh at that one.”

“Not just God.” I said, snickering into my pillow. It smelled strongly of my vanilla bean shampoo.

“So anyway, she was walking and this woman came up to her, she looked older so I didn’t think she was a friend, like a peer, but the way she grabbed her, I don’t know,” I can imagine her shrugging slender shoulders. “I thought she was at least an acquaintance. She just did it so smoothly I didn’t think about it.”

“She grabbed her?”

“I mean, she took her arm, grab might be exaggerating but she did yell ‘stop!’ or ‘wait!’ Or something like that.”

“And you thought she was her friend?” I shook my head deeper into my SpongeBob pillowcase. “Oh my God, did she try to rob her or something?”

“No, she looked too polished for that. She asked if she needed help and blind girl said she was fine. At first, I was like oh, that’s nice. You went about it in a weird way but how else would she’ve gotten her attention?”

“Maybe touch her arm like you did that day instead of grabbing her?”

“Yeah, I guess. But I don’t know if the grab was rough or gentle. Whatever she shouted was type aggressive though. But anyway, she kept asking if she needed help and the girl, well, I guess she’s not actually a girl but you know what I mean, she never actually agreed but all of a sudden the woman’s dragging her across the street. And when I say dragging, I mean it dragging. The blind girl looked so uncomfortable she put her phone away and I couldn’t really hear if the woman was talking to her, but I thought I saw her make a fist at some point. But the lady didn’t notice a thing. And at the end, she was shouting down the block about accepting help and she, blind girl, couldn’t get away fast enough.”

I wiggled an arm, that could be skinnier, out from under my blankets and grabbed my notebook from my bedside container. “Okay, start from the beginning but I need more details. First, what were you drinking?”

“A shake. But I’m not done. I thought it was such a nice gesture but then she went way too far. New Yorkers are just a bunch of pushy, belligerent sons of snitches. So, I just kept walking so I could walk my agitation off and called mommy. I wanted my aunt’s number to see if she was down for some company this winter.”

“Vanilla?”

“What?”

“Your shake, it was vanilla right? The purest flavor. Unlike ‘unnatural strawberry’ or ‘overbearing chocolate’?”

“Yeah, but—you going to make me another story?”

“Yes, so I need as many details as I can get. What was blind girl wearing?”

“I’m not here for your entertainment.” She sang, completely comfortable bursting into song in the middle of Manhattan.

“Every relationship has perks: you rant I get A’s. Okay, blind girl: I remember the long, supposedly natural eyelashes, and eyes like that dude from A Tell Tale Heart, but what was she wearing? Her hair? And the pushy broad, tell me about her? Accent, anything noteworthy? And which band shirt were you wearing today?”

“Jesus girl, slow down. She was wearing this long-ass green coat, jeans and dark boots. Her hair was in twists, I remember thinking how neat they were. And that I’ll have to stop her again sometime to ask what that coppery color in her hair is called. Oh! And her roots were showing. The woman was polished. I think she was wearing flats and dress pants, I don’t remember exactly, I just remember thinking money. And that I envy people with straight hair, her ponytail was so slick. You know how much gel I need to keep these edges under control? Don’t sigh at me, blind girl was more interesting. But auntie Cindy’s calling back, so I’ll call you tonight and we can brainstorm outfits for her.”

“Wait, shirt!”

“Five Finger Death Punch. I’ll send you a picture.”

I continued scribbling furiously as we said our goodbyes. Then I tucked my notebook under my pillow and rolled over to face my cerulean blue wall. I’ll sleep on it (I’d need an actual plot, some interesting dialogue) and get back to work in a bit. I should probably set an alarm, otherwise I might…

Lily Mordaunt

“We’re going to get on the 4 train right mommy?” A small voice asked from somewhere behind me. As with most young kids, the voice was ambiguous, but I was fairly sure it was a boy. A hint of bass perhaps, or just practice telling them apart? “Is there a 5 train too?”

“You know that, Johnny.” Ha! I was right. “We got on it this morning, remember?”

Their voices faded fast as I hurried to the bus stop, my cane sweeping in a steady arc before me. I remembered my own excitement and fascination with trains as a kid. The L was always my favorite as it’s the first letter of both my first and nicknames, but then I grew up and discovered what a pain that train could be. Ah, perception.

I turned my head to the right, to compensate for what I could not see on that side with my left eye, and moved over a few steps when the shape of the City Bike Rack came into focus. I hoped I’d put enough distance between myself and the tires as I both maneuvered a particularly deep crack and tried to anticipate which way the brightly dressed figure walking toward me would go. I wondered, not for the first time, if they would ever fix this section of sidewalk. But after four years of dorming here, it didn’t seem like it.

The hem of my calf length winter coat–open to appreciate the day’s warmth as New York City transitioned from winter to spring–brushed a tire. My poor coat–not quite warm enough for intense winter anymore but still too toasty for real spring, the feathers had shifted and the tear around the butt… I sighed. It lasted four years though. And I had to remember to shop in fall this time, for the discounts (and not midway through winter when the bathing suits were coming out). As it brushed another tire, I wondered if I should move a little further left, but the pole that had acquainted itself with my face freshman year was coming up. I might see it, or my cane might register it; knowing it was coming up helped. But I hadn’t stumbled on a tire yet, so I should be fine. Stuck between a pole and a… bike place. I chuckled quietly, hoping anyone watching didn’t think I was crazy.

Cars honked. Birds tittered. The wind blew. It smelled green. I sneezed. Allergy season. A woman passed me, heels clicking unevenly. From personal experience, I knew that those cracks were a bitch in heels. I hoped they weren’t stilettos. That wasn’t my type of heel, but I imagined it’d be even worse.

“New Tweet from Lin-Manuel Miranda.” Voiceover–a program designed for blind people to read all text on the screen–said from the earpiece that was almost always in my left ear.

I often felt that voiceover gave me an advantage over the average sighted. Yes, one ear was occupied, but I still had another. I also didn’t completely block out potential stimuli from the earpiece side, add to that what information I gleaned from my left eye and cane and I had it pretty good. Your Average Sighted Susie, however, would look down at her phone and then seemed to forget that her eyes were still necessary for navigation. And ears? What ears? Four other senses you say? We lived in such a visual world that someone might dismiss the smell of smoke if they didn’t visually see a fire before them. I can’t tell you how many times someone’s walked into me (you’d probably assume it’s the other way around but generally, it was pretty evenly split, because they were busy staring at a screen.)

“Wait!” Someone shouted, my cane breaking rhythm as she grabbed the arm that held it. My heart skipped a beat, and I clutched my phone tighter as it nearly flew from my hand. Is there construction? Was I about to face-plant into something? (That damn pole maybe, but I was pretty sure I’d passed it.) Was the universe having an ironic laugh at my expense?

“Are you okay?” The woman asked, clutching my elbow in a reverse of the proper sighted-guide technique. “Do you know where you’re going?”

It took a second for my brain to catch up with her words. And when it did, I was… annoyed. To put it mildly.

“Yah.” I replied, trying, unsuccessfully, to pull my arm from her grasp. “I’m fine. Thanks.”

“Can I help you cross the street?”

“I’m fine, thank you.” I hated how deeply engrained politeness seemed to be in my DNA. Especially since people only seemed to focus on the words, and not the clipped tone. And then, not even the words if it wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

“No, bubelah, it’s no problem, let me help you across,” she said as the traffic in front of us came to a standstill. I heard the bus to my right go from idling to motion. I turned my attention back to the woman as she pulled me across. She sounded too young to use words like bubelah. (I associated it with old Jewish women with Long Island accents.) “I’ll cross you over then come back, it’s no problem.”

Maybe not for you, I thought, putting my phone into my pocket, and switching cane hands. Her “good deed” wouldn’t keep me from tripping onto the sidewalk when I couldn’t use my cane fully and she didn’t warn me of the step. Then there’d be five minutes of apologies, perhaps an offer to take me to my destination, and I wasn’t down for any of it.

We walked at a snail’s pace. She said something about the weather. I mumbled a reply. We reached the opposite corner. She told me to stay safe in that special condescending tone reserved primarily for small children and pets, then patted my shoulder, her gesture a study in contrast: her pale hand making the dark of both our outer wear–mine, a dark teal and hers, what I thought was black–more noticeable.

I, successfully this time, disentangled myself and tried to decide if this would be a blog or vlog post. This was different from the usual: people just dragging me across the street, or demanding to know what stop I was getting off at on the train or bus so that they could “help” me. She stopped me. In motion. Not walking into anything, or looking around confusedly. I pulled out my phone–Nedy or Zu, sister or friends–whoever I chose to call, a rant was definitely in order as I prayed I wouldn’t be late to chorus.