Tag Archives: Fiction

Dirt Road to Nowhere

Enough was enough. Anevay Jaimson left work early and sped off in her pickup truck, the man’s sly touch still crawling on her skin. The sexual harassment had become a regular occurrence —something she couldn’t ignore. She drove past run-down gas stations and dumpy antique stores, along streets where listless old men stood on corners and cornfields were landmarks. She drove until everything she knew became unrecognizable. The road, not the winding kind that wandered through pastoral scenery, seemed endless. It continued straight ahead like a metaphor for life, or death. She drove like she was at gunpoint— recklessly, impulsively to where she would end up. The date of her father’s birthday echoed in her head, yet her steady hands intuitively adjusted the steering wheel. As she drove, she untied the apron still clinging to her hips. With one swift motion she tossed it onto the seat beside her.

She was sure this time she’d be fired, imagining her boss eyeing her slowly as she pushed through the diner’s double doors. He would look at her long and hard. He was the type of man who never got a passing glance from any woman, the boy who desperately wished for the comfort of strong, tender thighs wrapped around him. Anevay took out a cigarette and lit it, taking long drags and watching the smoke fly out of her open window. It made breathing one less burden for her.

She made a sharp right turn onto an unmarked dirt road and slammed on the brake. The truck stalled. A few feet away a thick mass of spruce trees obstructed her vision. Looking into them was like peering into the pitch dark with no moon. She knew she had arrived, but she made no sudden movement. Her hands gripped the wheel tightly, her arms locked into parallel lines like oak plywood. Anevay let her foot off the brake, and the truck rolled forward voluntarily. You shouldn’t have come, she told herself. It had been a decade since she had last been here.

Anevay felt the rocks crunching beneath the truck, wedging themselves into the rubber cracks of the tires. She imagined her fragile body rolling over shattered glass. She bit her tongue hard, tasted blood, as her truck approached the vacant lot. The trailer, once white, now had rust stains trailing from the windows. An awning drooped over the front porch steps. A pink tricycle lay on its side, abandoned. Other toys were displayed like an exhibit of her childhood. Nothing had changed. It was as if she had entered a memory.

Anevay shut off her engine and extinguished her cigarette. A neighborhood dog barked ferociously in the distance. She imagined its square head constricted by a metal chain, its powerful jaw snarling and spitting.

“Damn dog,” its owner said. Anevay heard the dog yelp.

Its whimpers reverberated through the woods, echoing in distress. Anevay traced her fingers over the smooth scar hidden in her thick black hair, recalling the screaming and crying; the fists swinging and shoving; the curses polluting the air; the dank smell of bourbon oozing from his pores. That time she had gotten too close. The jagged edge of his broken bottle had skimmed her head. She remembered a red rush of blood and then a mad rush to the hospital for stiches, the sickly medicinal flavor of the cherry lollipop her reward for being a good girl.

That day she and her mother had left for good.


In the car ride from the hospital her mother had told her they weren’t going back home. Anevay had shrieked and tried to slap her mother, but her blows could not reach her from the back seat. Her mother did not turn her square Cherokee face around. Instead, facing forward, she told Anevay to sit still, so Anevary cried at the top of her lungs. She cried until her voice became an angry whisper. She cried until she fell asleep.

When Anevay woke up she was on a hotel bed. Her mother was lying on the twin bed beside her, flipping through TV channels. Anevay pretended she was asleep, watching her mother through the curtain of her eyelashes. Her body was propped up on starch white pillows. She seemed relaxed with one leg stretched out and the other bent at the knee, but her face remained rigid. Her dark, almost black, eyes rarely blinked. Anevay studied her mother’s face, noticing the small crows feet starting to form by her eyes. She was nearly thirty. Above the corner of her mother’s left eye Anevay could make out a purple reddish bruise underneath her concealer, still fresh. Fearless yet broken, her mother stared blankly at the static television. She flipped hypnotically past digital images as if she was searching for something, as if the dotted pixels on the screen were codes that could explain secret truths.

Pulling herself out of her memory, Anevay lifted her finger from the scar, dropping her hand to her side. Even the coarse black wires of her hair couldn’t hide the scar. She knew it was still there. Anevay wanted to suffocate the emptiness inside her.  She reached for her lighter and a pack of cigarettes in her purse. The cool metal in her palm steadied her as she lit the cigarette between her shaking fingers.   The sweet, sticky vapor spurted out of her mouth in quick puffs. Sometimes she wished her tired body would simply break down, decompose like the minerals in animal bones, and go back to where it came from.

“Why did I come back to this god awful place?” she said out loud. She opened the truck’s door and stepped out.

Her tan midriff showed slightly between her jeans and a black t-shirt. A few freckles dotted her arms and cheeks and her left cheek displayed a darker birthmark. As she walked to the lawn her sharp jaw line clenched, her arms swinging beside her.

Looking around, Anevay could see her father everywhere, in fragments. She remembered his big white freckled hands, his smell of pine soap and mild sweat after returning home from his carpenter jobs, and his short rare bursts of laugher. The memory of her father taking her to a pawnshop flooded her mind. He had held her hand, driving the car like a father should for once, not dancing back and forth on the dotted line. His usually blood shot eyes had been as bright and clear as crystal lakes that day. Inside the shop, he told her to buy anything she wanted. Anevay peered into the glass display cases. Her eye landed on a plastic Tweety Bird watch. “That one,” she had said, her stubby finger smearing the glass as she pointed. On the car ride home she unrolled the car window and stuck her hand out. She felt the current travel through her fingers spread like eagle’s wings, the yellow watch securely strapped around her wrist.   She had worn it every day afterward, pressing it close to her ear to hear the seconds tick by.

Anevay looked down to where the brown grass met the edge of the dirt road. It was the spot she had last seen him stumbling outside with his hands reaching up in the air as the nauseating motion of the car carried her away, dust intruding on her innocent eyes until he was nothing but dirt.

Anevay took out her lighter and played with it in a daze. The cigarette still dangled between her lips as she watched the blue flame rise and die by the flick of her thumb. She sat down and smoked, still playing with the lighter. The sun began to move inch by inch across her face, half of it darkened with shadow. The lighter fluid was running low.

She looked over her shoulder. On the dead lawn the ugly hunk of rotting metal mocked her. She imagined burning the trailer to the ground to make her mark, to say ‘fuck you’ to her father, dead but never gone. She imagined the soot and ash rising higher and so far away from her that not even the burnt smell of fire would remain on her clothes. She reached down and untied her shoes. The dead grass pricked her feet as she walked over to her truck, yanking out a spare container of gasoline. She unscrewed the cap as she walked over to the trailer. Walking along the edge of the trailer, she doused the bare, rusted exterior. She threw the empty plastic container across the lawn and reached into her back pocket. Flicking the lighter on, she stepped forward, her naked feet behind the line that divided her from her past and what was left of her. She extended her hand down to the gasoline like a thirsty dog. A surge of fire surrounded the trailer, climbing and eating its way up to the sky. Anevay jumped back and watched, the blaze heating her entire body. For the first time in her life Anevay felt the meaning of her name: superior. She never wanted to forget the feeling of her bare feet rooted on solid ground, but she had to go.


Anevay took a detour, pulling into a gas station to buy another lighter.


The door made a jingle sound as she entered. Rows of fatty foods and cheap-boxed dinners sat on the shelves. Making her way through an aisle to the front, she grabbed a bag of gummy bears and a lottery ticket and placed them on the counter.

“Feeling lucky today?” the teenager behind the counter asked, scanning the lottery ticket.

Anevay smiled faintly, not looking at his face. The nametag on the boy’s red vest read, “Sid.” The doorbell jingled again as a family walked in, laughing. A few miles away a fire truck siren echoed wildly in the distance.

“Oh and this,” Anevay said, quickly placing a lighter on the counter.

“I’m trying to quit,” Sid said, scanning the barcode. The cash register beeped.

“ Good for you.”

“Twelve dollars and sixty two cents. Oh, I forgot to ask. Did you find everything you’re looking for?” Sid asked.

“No,” she replied, handing him exact change, avoiding his confused stare as she walked out, the doorbell jingling loudly behind her.

Gabriela Martin

Gray Blob

Emily lay on her bed in underwear and a tank top, her body balanced precariously on the edge of the mattress and her hand suspended above the dusty wooden floor. The room was dark, and the floor was littered with clothes and trash.

Emily’s chest felt fragile—her skin like glass, her papier-mâché ribcage shaking with each breath. She turned her head to look at the calendar once more. The date had been circled with a fat red marker almost half a year ago with the words “Frank’s birthday!” written in the small box.

She reached for her phone, caught herself, and dropped her hand again. She rolled over and turned her face into her duvet. The excess material made it hard to breathe, giving her the impression of being caught in a place somewhere with horribly muggy weather.

Emily smiled at the idea of being somewhere else. Getting away from Boulder City. That sounded nice. Maybe she could go somewhere with a beach. She’d always loved the ocean. Emily pictured herself lying on the warm sand, waves caressing her skin and sunlight flooding her senses. What if she quit her job, packed her bags, and left? California was right next-door, and besides, she had had worse ideas. It was two hours to the Nevada-California state border. Long Beach was only eight hours away. She didn’t really care how long the drive was as long as she was on a beach by the end of it.

Emily’s phone buzzed on her nightstand, and her breathing stilled. Her chest suddenly felt full. She seemed a little more solid. Frank?

Her hand shot out so fast that she knocked her cellphone to the floor where it continued to buzz face down on the hardwood. When she picked it up the phone felt heavy in her hand. The rectangular shape didn’t fit comfortably in her palm like it used to.

The screen read, Missed Call: Mom, and her chest felt hollow again. Pressure built at the back of her eyes, and her head dropped onto the bed. The fabric bunched around her, shutting out the rest of the room. She pressed the material into her face, imagining it enveloping her and snuffing out her life.

The sound of curtains sliding along a metal rod alerted Emily to the light breaking through her darkness. She pushed herself off the bed and turned. The window was open, sunlight streaming in through the glass, caressing her skin.

“What the—” Emily slid off her bed and walked to her window. Her heart beat heavily against her ribs and her legs felt weak. She drew the curtains together again, making sure the fabric met in the middle.

Emily studied the pattered curtain, still grasped tightly in her hands. Had they caught on something? Had she opened them unknowingly? She backed away from the window, acutely aware of her small underdressed frame.

“I would appreciate it if you didn’t close those, thank you. It’s too dark in here. I can’t see.”

Emily screamed and turned around. Her room was still, darkness surrounding her.

She was aware of every breath that expanded and contracted her papery lungs, the sound many times louder than usual in her ears. Her eyes darted around the room, never settling on a single object for long. She moved to her bed and fell onto her mattress, legs shaking slightly.

She placed a hand against her forehead. “No, maybe I’m just sick.” She gave a small laugh. “Yeah, that’s it. I probably never even closed the blinds, I just thought I did.” Speaking her thoughts gave her some comfort but her heart fluttered weakly in her chest.

“Oh, you’re sick now? I wouldn’t be surprised. I passed by your kitchen on the way to your room and it’s a mess. You probably got food poisoning or something.”

Emily caught her breath and her blood hitched in its circulation. The room felt strangely silent, pressing into Emily’s skull and chest. Each breath felt grossly unsatisfying, as if she was breathing in tar.

“Frank?” She called, her voice dry and cracking. “Frank, if that’s you, it isn’t funny, damn it.” She tried to laugh but it came out sounding like a deflated balloon.

She inched towards her bedside table and wrapped her fingers around her lamp, slowly lifting it into the air. Although the lamp wasn’t overly heavy, her arm still shook under its weight.

“Frank?” She called again.

Her curtains flew open once more, and light fell upon a small figure at the base of the window. Standing at about three feet, the figure had two short legs, two short arms, a very little neck and an oblong head. It was gray and hairless, with no distinguishable facial features. In fact, it didn’t even have a face. Emily thought she was looking at the back of it until she realized it was probably looking up at her.

Emily’s scream was raw and sudden. It welled up from somewhere deep within her, starting as a whimper and escalating to a piercing screech.

“Oh my God!” Emily tried to throw the lamp but it caught on the outlet and fell short of the Gray Blob.

The Gray Blob scurried out of the way, holding up its short arms, its mitten-shaped hands held up in way of apology. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Emily threw a pillow but it bounced off the window and onto the floor.

The Gray Blob ran forward. “Please stop throwing things! I can explain.”

Weapon, weapon, weapon, Emily thought, the words becoming a desperate chant in her mind. She groped around her and found a used fork on her side table. She lifted it above her head and clenched her jaw.

“Wait, stop!” The Gray Blob touched her knee and Emily gasped.

She was sitting on the edge of the bed, her feat dangling just above the clean hardwood floor. Light filled the room and soft jazz played from the speakers on the desk.

Frank danced into the room, jeans hanging low on his hips and a towel tossed over his head. He did the grapevine past her, snapping to the beat of the song. Emily’s chest filled with warmth watching him, and the warmth spread to her extremities.

Frank stopped at the desk and frowned. He pulled out the chair, looked under the desk, and stood up again.

“Honey, have you seen my shirt? I had it here before I went into the shower.”

“Oh, I thought you’d left it lying around so I put it away for you.”

Frank’s shoulders sagged and he sighed. “Of course you did. That’s what I get for taking up house with a neat freak.” He smiled at her. “Come here.” He placed his large hands on her knees to brace himself, his fingers spreading out over her legs like rays of sun, warming everything they touched. He leaned in.

Emily gasped and she was back in her room, the Gray Blob still touching her knee.

“What—” Emily’s words fell from her lips and her voice died in her throat. She looked around the room, half expecting to see Frank with the easy going smile still on his face. The vision had been so real, so vivid. She could still feel the warmth from Frank’s hands on her knees.

Her raised arm fell onto the bed, the fork clattering to the floor, and she began to knead the duvet with her fingers. She touched everything within her immediate range of motion making sure they were solid

The Gray Blob removed its hand from Emily’s knee and took a step back. “I’m sorry. That must have surprised you.”

Emily turned her head, her realm of consciousness expanding to include the little figure. “What are you?” The words barely left her mouth in a rush of air. After a beat of silence, in which the Gray Blob wrung its hands together, Emily spoke again, impatient for answers. “Where did you come from? How did you get in?” Her voice came a little stronger now.

The Gray Blob began to shuffle its shapeless feet. “I came in through the front door, I’m surprised you didn’t hear me. I came from you.”

“Me?” Emily grabbed her stomach.

The Gray Blob began shaking its head. “No, not like that. You’ve been steeped in your emotions for so long, brooding and remembering and re-remembering your past that you eventually created me. Unconsciously. I’m a compilation of all of your strongest memories and emotions.”

It took an incredible amount of effort for Emily to shake her head . “That doesn’t make any sense. How could I just create you?”

Gray Blob shrugged its shoulders. “I’ve sort of been copied and pasted into reality from your memories. For the past month I’ve been suspended between reality and consciousness. I didn’t become something solid until a moment ago when you,” Gray Blob left the sentence unfinished and Emily looked away, her hair swinging down to hide her face.

“Does this normally happen to people?” Emily pulled her knees into her chest.

“I don’t really know much beyond your realm of consciousness, so I wouldn’t know. But I don’t see why not, since it happened to me.”

Emily wrapped her arms around her legs. “What happened a moment ago, when you touched my knee?”

The Gray Blob looked—or Emily could only assume it looked, as it had no eyes—at its hand. “Probably a memory from your past. That’s what I’m made up of, after all.”

“A memory? About Frank?” Emily released her legs and sat up straight.

“Well, you haven’t been thinking of much else recently.”

“So, if I touch you here—”

“No, I wouldn’t do that if I were—“

Emily placed her hand on the Gray Blob’s arm and was thrust into another memory.

Frank was at the stove making dinner, humming to himself as he stirred the contents of the pan.

Emily walked up and leaned over the stove. “Smells good. If only you could make something other than stir fry.”

“Whatever. You love my stir fry.” He nudged her with his elbow. “Hey, Em, watch this.” He began to tilt the pan, sliding the meat away from him, a small smile tugging at his lips.

Emily grabbed his bicep. “Careful, master chef. If you flip it and the meat falls into the stove, it could cause a grease fire.”

Frank let out a sigh that carried something unspoken with it. “Okay, Mom. I’m not completely incapable.” When Emily loosened her grip on his arm, Frank turned to her and smiled softly. “I’m joking. Thanks, Em.”

Emily jolted and removed her hand from the Gray Blob’s arm. She wiggled her fingers, the feel of Frank’s bicep still etched into their tips. Why did that memory seem sadder than she remembered? Had Frank’s sigh always been so heavy? Was his tone always so short?

Emily extended her arm, “What other memories do you have?”

The Gray Blob took a big step back, stopping just outside of Emily’s reach. “You probably shouldn’t do that anymore.”

“What do you mean?” Emily felt something in her chest tighten. “They’re my memories. Who are you to keep them from me?”

“It’s not going to be healthy for you in the long run,” the Gray Blob said, wringing its hands again . “You’ve been re-playing these memories in your head for weeks and look where it has left you.” The Gray Blob motioned with its arm to the rest of the room.

“No, thinking about them and re-living them are different. If I can just re-live those memories one more time I can make sense of everything.” Emily stretched her hand forward once more, straining her fingertips to brush the Gray Blob.

But the Gray Blob took another large step back. “You’ll just get sucked deeper into this hole that you’ve dug yourself. Frank left you two months ago. I think it’s time for you to face the facts.”

The Gray Blob’s words resonated in Emily’s core. And she sat up straight, folding her hands into her lap and staring at her duvet.

The next morning Emily found herself across from the Gray Blob at her dining room table.

Emily scooped cereal into her mouth. “So what’s the deal with you. Are you, like a girl, a boy, both?”

The Gray Blob turned a page in the newspaper. “I’m not really certain myself.” Gray Blob shook its head. “Forest fires are getting pretty bad out in California.”

Emily spooned more cereal into her mouth. “Okay.”

“And you still wanna move there?” Gray Blob asked, turning a page.

Emily stirred her spoon in the bowl. “My cornflakes are soggy.”

“Hm?” Gray Blob lowered the newspaper.

“My cornflakes are soggy,” Emily repeated. “I can’t stand it when they’re like this.” She got up and dumped them in the sink, running the garbage disposal.

Gray Blob lifted the newspaper again. “You still could have eaten them you know.”

“No, I honestly can’t stand soggy cornflakes.”

“Then how can you stand to live in your apartment right now?” Gray Blob let the newspaper fall slightly.

Emily let her eyes travel over the mess that had accumulated over the past month. Her eyes picked out every piece of trash and speck of dirt.

Has it always been like this? She asked herself, turning in a circle. Emily’s hands itched to pick up the discarded wrapper on the floor next to her, but she knew that if she started cleaning now she would never stop.

“I think you should leave,” Gray Blob said.

Emily turned to it. “Leave? And go where? California?”

Gray Blob shrugged. “If that’s what you want.”

“It’s too expensive.”

“Good thing you have a lot of money in your savings account.”

Something in Emily’s chest constricted. Gray Blob made it sound so easy. “Where would I work?”

Gray Blob turned a page in the paper. “You have time to find a job.”

Emily crossed her arms, her fingers leaving red blotches on her skin. Gray Blob insisted it knew what was best for her, yet it made her problems seem trivial, like they were all in her head. Then again, Emily supposed most problems were in her head.

Gray Blob folded the paper and set it aside. “Look, Nevada isn’t the place for you anymore. You’re smothering yourself up here in this apartment. I It’s too full of Frank. You’re twenty-seven and still have plenty of life to live, but you’re acting like an old widow.”

Emily’s lips pressed together, a knot forming between her shoulder blades, and she turned to face her kitchen sink.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Gray Blob extend a hand. “I understand it’s hard. Four years is a long time to spend with someone, but you have so many more years. You can’t just waste them on this apartment.”

Emily rubbed the back of her neck, her nails digging into her skin. Her lungs felt constrained by something tight and heavy, making it hard to breath.

Gray Blob lowered its hand. “Sorry. I’m giving you a lot to think about. Here, we’ll start small. Let’s clean up the kitchen.”

Emily once again became aware of the mess surrounding her. “You call that a small step?”

“I’ll make a deal with you.” Gray Blob scooted its chair out. “I’ll help you with the kitchen, and when you finish I’ll let you see a memory.”

The muscles in Emily’s shoulders began to unclench. “You’d let me do that?”

Gray Blob sighed, “Yes, I don’t like it, but if it helps you clean this place up then I’m willing to compromise.” Gray Blob jumped from the chair and made its way into the kitchen.

“Wait,” Emily called after it. “Why are you doing this?”

Gray Blob turned to her. Emily stared at the smooth gray surface of its face, feeling like part of her was chipping away with each passing second. Gray Blob shrugged. “I’m also made up of you’re deepest wants and desires. In fact, I’m probably being pretty selfish right now.” Gray Blob didn’t say anymore, just motioned to the kitchen. “Now come on, we have work to do.”

The next few weeks Gray Blob helped Emily clean her apartment. As the piles of clothes and trash disappeared, fear began to settle in Emily’s core. The more she returned her apartment to its previous condition, the less she felt Frank’s presence.

Gray Blob did not follow through on its promise to let Emily re-live a memory. She was forced to remember on her own, relying on her own recounts, which she no longer trusted. Every time she found something that reminded her of Frank, she wondered if the memory and the emotions it held were real. She could not touch or feel them in that moment. She could only rely on what was already gone.

She began to try and catch Gray Blob off guard. If it was leaving a room or folding laundry, Emily would strain her arm and hope to brush it with a finger. Aware of her actions or not, the Gray Blob always avoided contact.

The day they finished cleaning her living room, Emily decided she couldn’t handle any more. Rain smacked against the windowpane as she and Gray Blob sat on the couch and watched television. Gray Blob flipped through channels, its blank face did not seem to register the images that passed on the screen.

“I want a memory,” Emily said.

“No, you don’t.” Gray Blob continued to punch the buttons on the remote.

“I want a memory,” Emily repeated, her voice strong.

“Trust me, you don’t.”

Emily pulled herself up off the side of the couch. “Who are you to say what I want and don’t want?”

The Gray Blob stopped channel-surfing and looked at Emily. “I’m just saying it won’t make things better.”

“Who says I want things to be better? I just want things to make sense.” The more Emily spoke the more each breath rattled her small frame and threatened to rip her seams.

“But they won’t make sense. Can’t you see that?” Gray Blob tossed the remote onto the table and turned to face Emily fully.

“I need to know the facts.” Emily’s breath came faster now, her heart fluttering feebly.

Gray Blob leapt to its feet so it was eye to eye with Emily. “You want the facts? Frank left because you were you. That’s it, end of story, done.”

Each raindrop that hit the window sounded like a gunshot. The water soaked Emily’s skin, leaving water-stained trails on her face. Something heavy settled in her stomach like a stone, a stone she knew would never fully go away.

Gray Blob sat back down and grabbed the remote. Emily remained still, trying to remember how to feel solid.

A month and a half later, Emily sat on the stoop of her apartment. The buds were just beginning to break on the trees, the sun’s rays caressing their soft green curves, nurturing their growth. A breeze floated past Emily, and she tugged her sweatshirt tighter around her.

“Are you still out here? We’ve put off packing long enough. We need to start today.”

Emily turned and saw Gray Blob in the doorway.

She placed her chin in her hand. “I was just thinking about something. What happens to you when I leave?”

Gray Blob hesitated on the threshold of the apartment building. It tapped its foot a few times and swung its arms. Finally, it stepped onto the stoop and sat down next to Emily.

“I’ve been thinking about that too, and I suppose I disappear.”

The wind blew past Emily a little more forcefully. “You—”

“Disappear, yes,” Gray Blob finished.


Gray Blob tapped its foot on the ground, its knee bouncing up and down. “Because I belong here, in this part of your life, just like the memories and feelings I am made of.”

“But, don’t people say this stuff stays with you forever?”          

Emily furrowed her brow.

“Yes, and in that sense I will stay with you forever. I’ll be in the memories you carry with you. But when you leave this apartment, when you leave Nevada, you will leave behind your baggage.”

Emily’s stomach twisted. “I don’t think I like thinking of you as baggage.”

“But in the end, that’s all I am.” Gray Blob’s knee stilled.

Something in Emily’s core twisted uncomfortably. “But it feels like you’re more than that. Sometimes it feels…I don’t know.” Her shoulders sagged and her limbs felt heavy suddenly.

An ice cream truck rolled slowly by her apartment complex. A group of children chased after it, their screams and laughter piercing the air. Emily flinched.

“I still don’t feel like I’m solid,” Emily confessed. She wasn’t sure why, but she needed Gray Blob to know.

“But of course you are. You always were.”

Gray Blob’s words didn’t completely comfort Emily, but she turned to it and said, “Thanks for sticking with me. I couldn’t have made some of these changes without you.”

Despite its featureless face, Emily could practically see Gray Blob smile. “Ah, but you could have. All this time you wanted to get on with your life, but you just were too scared to start.”

Emily put her chin on her knee. “So then you’re really just in my head.”

Gray Blob shrugged, its line of vision focused somewhere on the ground. “I’m as real as you believe me to be.”

Emily turned to rest her cheek on her knees. “I think you’re very real.”

“Good,” Gray Blob said, looking up at her. “I like that.” Gray Blob stood. “Now come on, you move out in a few months, and we haven’t started packing all your useless junk.” Gray Blob entered the building. Emily listened to the soft sound of its feet padding up the stairs.

She sat still, relishing a moment that would soon become a memory. She soaked up the sinking sun and the feeling of her fingertips brushing the concrete beneath her. The air smelled fresh with the promise of hope. This too, she thought, would become a memory. .

Emily promised not to forget this one. It seemed really important that she not forget it, though she couldn’t say why.

The breeze blew once more through the trees, and Emily stood and entered her apartment building after Gray Blob.

Outside, the buds on the trees unfolded in the afternoon light.


Kristin Manker has lived in the St. Louis area for most of her life. She attends Principia College, studying Creative Writing and Asian Studies with a focus in Japanese studies. Though not sure how yet, she hopes one day to aid others with her writing.



John’s brother Colin went to jail when he was twenty-three.

Colin stole cars and used them to pick up kilos of cocaine from the docks at the edge of town, then drove in to the city to sell. He later told John he would leave the cars somewhere no one would be likely to find them—behind abandoned warehouses, inside abandoned warehouses, in fields next to abandoned warehouses. Colin would then call one of his boys to come pick him up from wherever he was and do the same thing the next day.

Colin had been running drugs in the city for years, but he’d only been caught at twenty-three because he’d cheated one of his boys out of a couple thousand dollars and had been ratted out. Colin found out and beat the man to the point of brain damage only moments before the cops arrived to put him in handcuffs. When they shoved him in the cop car, he said, simply, “I can’t survive in prison.” He had ten years left.

John spent every Thursday afternoon at the prison visiting Colin, or talking to him on the phone, or at his apartment waiting for one of the guards to call and tell him his brother had been locked in solitary and therefore John couldn’t visit that week. Knowing that someone would call, one way or the other, weighed heavy on him, heavier than the image he had of Colin sitting on a metal folding chair with his socks pulled up on his calves and his ear to the receiver. If not on Thursdays, John went on Tuesdays. Visiting the jail twice in one week was often too much; having to walk through the metal detectors and go through the process of being patted down was just too much. But he still went.

John knew Colin had run drugs. He’d known it for as long as he could remember watching television with his father and seeing news clips of women who’d lost their husbands to drug warfare, babies in the crook of their arms. Colin had started when he was seventeen, used to come home early in the morning looking haggard, dustings of white under his long nose, smudges on the backs of his hands.

John never said anything, because their father never said anything, just used a third of the money Colin brought home to pay the electric bill and keep the television going. Before he got sick, their father had worked at the coffin factory in town and had spent all day drilling wood planks together for someone to be laid in after they died. When the boys’ mother died, he built the coffin for her funeral. John went to the funeral; Colin was in the city that day and didn’t get back in time for the ceremony. Their father said nothing.

And then Colin ended up in jail, and John ended up living in an apartment they’d rented once John turned twenty and had finally moved out of their father’s house. The apartment was in the bad part of town, out near the docks, which was why Colin wanted it. John didn’t really care. He worked at a body shop in the center of town. He’d come home with grease on his forearms, take a shower, watch a movie, and go to bed. Colin would come in around the time John left for work in the morning. John took money for rent; he did not know what Colin did with the rest.

Colin had a girlfriend named Renee who sometimes came along when John went to visit the prison. Renee was the daughter of the man who owned the body shop where John worked, and the two got along well enough that the hour’s drive to the prison each week wasn’t so bad. Renee would paint her nails in the car on the way because she wanted to look nice for Colin, who’d never once said anything about the color of Renee’s nails.


In December, Colin had been in jail for two years and three months. It was John’s second time seeing his brother that week. He hadn’t been able to come the previous Thursday, since Colin had been in solitary for kicking a guard in the face. When John arrived at the visiting room, Colin was stretched out in a chair, his long legs crossed at the ankles. The sleeves of his jumpsuit were rolled up and a fresh tattoo of a skull, raised and red, was on his right bicep.

“Long time, no see,” Colin said.

Colin’s voice was as long as the rest of him, drawn out vowels and consonants that hissed at the ends. He stood half a foot taller than John, and his hair was buzzed close to his narrow head. His face was purple from left eyebrow to chin; his right hand was bandaged, and John could tell Colin’s shoulder was dislocated from the way it hung loose in his jumpsuit.

John sat down on the other side of the barrier from his brother and looked at his body cut into circles through the hole into which one spoke. Renee always scooted her chair up close to the barrier when she was here; she hated that other people could hear her conversation. John didn’t care. He figured the type of people who visited other people in prison had bigger things to worry about than what he might say to his brother.

“Hey.” John adjusted his body in the hard chair. Colin re-crossed his legs.

They talked about nothing for a few minutes. John didn’t mention his brother’s injuries. Colin told him about spending the weekend in solitary, which was always the same: “pretty damn solitary.” Eventually Colin asked about their father. John told him that he wasn’t getting any better, and that the treatments were eating away at what little money their father still had from their mother’s life insurance. Something bitter flashed in Colin’s eyes, a dark stroke over the irises, and was gone.

“How much does he have?”

“Not enough,” John said. “I don’t know.”

Colin sighed, ran a hand over his head and realized there was no hair to grab, a nervous tic he had.

John listened to the woman next to him tell her husband that their son had started walking. Her voice was flat. She held up an iPhone with a video of the child taking steps. The husband crossed his arms and watched. This moment, like every second John spent in the prison, was like pressing the jagged edge of a key into his palm, and then pressing it harder.

Colin started talking about religion, about a book he’d read this past week and how people turned every day occurrences into holy things, like the way their food was shaped on the plate and how that could mean something miraculous. Colin never really talked about things like this. Faith, to John, was the chill of winter and the steady belief that the days would, eventually, get warmer. John didn’t know what faith felt like to Colin, if it felt like anything anymore.

“What was your lunch shaped like?” John asked, scratching his wrist.

“Like getting out.”

John looked up at his brother. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“My lunch was shaped like getting out of prison.” Colin blinked steadily. “I can tell, John. I can tell they’re gonna let me out early.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Well, it’s true. My green beans looked like Renee’s face and my mashed potatoes looked like the apartment. I just know they’re letting me out.”

John ignored this. It hurt him to hear the earnest seriousness in Colin’s voice. He sounded younger, and it didn’t match his hollowed cheeks, his lean, tense body. John had never thought of his brother as naïve, but at this moment, he saw something had shifted. “Letting you out for what?” he asked. “Good behavior? Yeah, right.”

Colin narrowed his eyes, sat up straight, spoke defensively. “It could happen.”

“You kicked a guard in the face last week. You’re not going to be let out anytime soon. I’m sorry.” John’s throat hurt. He swallowed twice.

Colin stood up abruptly. Two of the guards yelled something and made their way over. One put his hand on a nightstick.

“Colin. Come on,” said John.

“Fuck you. I can tell you don’t believe me. I’m not gonna waste my time talking to someone who doesn’t have any idea about what it’s like to be in here. You’ve never even asked. You just come here and complain about your own life.”

“Anderson! Sit the fuck down. Visiting hour isn’t over yet.” The guard with his hand on the nightstick patted it. “I’ll tell you one more time.”

Colin didn’t move. “How about you just listen to me when I talk about the one thing that’s given me hope?”

John swallowed again. When the guard grabbed Colin by the forearm, John heard Colin’s shoulder popped loudly.

“Anderson. Are you fucking listening to me?”

“Colin,” John said. “Just—”

John watched his brother be led away, gray-eyed and angry. He tried not to listen to the sounds he made when the guards pulled out their sticks. On the drive home, he tried to think like Colin and looked for signs in the clouds, something telling him it would get better.


Two weeks later, John was back to visit, one cubicle over from the last time.

Renee was not with him, since she had come last week. John had not. Colin hadn’t called him last week either; John had thought about phoning the prison but had decided against it.

Colin was led in. His shoulder was back in place, and the bruises around his cheekbone had faded to brown, edged with yellow. He didn’t look at John.

John wanted to make easy conversation, but there was none, so he told Colin about the most recent round of their father’s treatment.

“At least he’s not getting any worse,” he said finally, because it was the only thing he could think to say about it.

“I knew it,” Colin said.

“Knew what?”

“It’s not going to get better,” Colin answered. “I know it’s not.”

“Don’t tell me that. Don’t tell yourself that.”

“I saw it, John. He’s going to die.”

“What do you mean you saw it.”

“I saw it the other night, when I was eating dinner. I saw a tombstone.” Colin crossed his arms, stretched his legs out in front of him. “It was Dad’s.”

John saw his father’s thin hands in the light of the television, imaged their absence on the sides of the recliner.

“Fuck off,” John said. “Are you still talking about that bullshit miracle-in-the- meat thing?”

His brother’s face darkened. “You don’t know.”

“Actually, I do. I know that it’s all a load of shit and that if you believe it, you’re finally letting this place get to you.” John knew his voice was shaking. He wondered if Colin had been like this when Renee had been here. Maybe that’s why she hadn’t answered John’s call about coming today.

“I know you think it’s crazy. But the more you think about, the more sense it makes. John, Dad’s gonna die, and it’s gonna be soon. That’s just the truth. I didn’t have to see the sign to know. But it just made everything so much clearer.”

“Did your dinner tell you when, exactly? I’d just like to be fucking prepared for the day my father dies. If you can see that information for me, that would be really helpful.” John’s hands tightened into fists at his sides. “I didn’t come here to listen to you talk like this.”

“Of course not,” Colin said. “You came here so you didn’t have to sit with Dad and listen to him choke when he sleeps and lean over him to make sure he’s still alive.”

John didn’t say anything. He stood up. The girl in the cubicle next to him looked up, saw his expression, and looked back down. He realized his voice was getting too loud but he couldn’t lower it.

“I’m leaving. You’re crazy. You’re being crazy.”

Colin just sat there. John knew his brother watched him leave.


Colin’s face was thinner the next time John went to visit, his shoulder blades jumping nervously at his back.

“Renee,” he said when John sat down.

“John,” John said.

“No. Renee. She’s pregnant.”

John looked at him. “Whose?”

“That kid that works with you guys at the shop. Max.”


They sat there for a moment; John drew a circle on the knee of his jeans. Colin stared at the tile, his mouth set in a proud line.

“What happens now?”

“I love her,” Colin said. “I just keep loving her.”

John asked him if he was eating, rubbed at his own shoulders to indicate his brother’s. “You look…not great.”

“How am I supposed to eat the face of God?” said Colin.

He looked like any one of the other prisoners, sullen and close-shaven. There was no seven year-old boy, draped long-limbed over the seat of their father’s motorcycle. Maybe that was someone else’s story now.

John walked out.


Four days later, the phone rang at noon. John paused his movie and answered it. One of the guards at the prison said that Colin had been asking for him before they moved him to solitary on Friday, that he was unresponsive now and hadn’t eaten in three days. He wondered if John could convince Colin to eat something. The prison would make an exception for a visit.

“What’s he in solitary for?”

Someone was yelling in the background so John missed the guard’s answer. He said he’d be there later.

Colin was sitting in the room alone when John arrived, since it was before visiting hour. John sat down across from him and said nothing. His brother looked bad. His lips were cracked open and the side of his head was swollen, his ear bloody.

“What the fuck happened to you?” John finally said.

Colin shrugged.

One of the guards behind them answered, “Hit his head on the cell door. Said we needed to let him out because he’d seen it coming, and we weren’t doing anything. When we ignored him, he hit it harder.”

John felt his stomach flip. “What is wrong with you?” he asked Colin. He wasn’t sure he wanted an answer.

“I told you. They have to let me out. I saw it.”

“Colin, that’s not…that’s not how it works. I’m sorry. You have to behave if you want them to let you out.” He felt like he was talking to a stranger; Colin’s eyes were on the floor and his shoulders were hunched. John could smell his brother from across the barrier, piss and sweat and blood and something even sharper.

“You need to eat, okay? You have to. Stop being like this. It’s not helping your case.” John wished he could reach out and put his hand on his brother’s arm, his index finger light on his tattoo, wished he could feel his pulse and know he was still in there somewhere.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Colin said.

“You need to eat.”

“I can’t. It doesn’t show me anything anymore.”


On Saturday, after a cancelled visit the Thursday before due to Colin’s time in solitary, the phone rang just after ten a.m. John picked it up and there was static on the line. It popped, and he was reminded of Colin’s shoulder, the way the guard had yanked it, the sound it had made.


“It’s Warden Darren Harvey, down at county.”

John held the receiver tight. His hands had begun to sweat.

“John, I’m sorry. I’m calling to tell you that your brother died last night. He hanged himself from the water line in solitary.”

John was silent.

“I’m sorry. I’m very, very sorry.”

He threw up on his sweater.


John and Renee went to Colin’s funeral. John’s father couldn’t leave the house, couldn’t breathe now that it was below freezing. He had maybe two months left. They had enough money for one treatment, which meant they had to choose between it and pain medication.

Renee held onto John’s arm and didn’t cry. He wanted to say something to her, like she would be a great mom, but he couldn’t say anything. John hadn’t cried at all, but when they were asked to throw handfuls of dirt onto the coffin that his father didn’t make, he felt it starting in the back of his throat.

There hadn’t been a spot left next to their mother, so Colin was buried in one of the back rows. There were only a few tombstones there. John saw one belonging to a girl who had died when she six. It was snowing and quickly covered the dirt John had thrown into the hole where they’d put Colin. John felt like he was the one who had died.

Renee dropped him off at the apartment after the service, told him to visit soon. John went to Colin’s old room and sat on the edge of the bed. Colin hadn’t been in this room in over two years and four months. John thought about calling his father but couldn’t make himself pick up the phone. He hadn’t picked up the phone since he’d gotten the call from the warden, although it had rung many times. Each time it rang, John almost picked up the receiver, imagined he would hear Colin on the other end of the line, his long voice over the static.

He realized, sitting there in Colin’s room, that Colin had always been a kind of oracle, a kind of light that could find other lights, things John wasn’t able to see. The day of his arrest: “I can’t survive in prison.” Looking at Renee when she was playing with a child in the park: “That girl is going to break me.” After their mother died: “Dad’s not going to make it”—all of it said so frankly and without a doubt. John had just pretended he hadn’t heard and looked away, always looked away.

Now John picked up a photo of the three of them, him and his brother and their father, their father dressed for work, Colin tall and proud, that had been tucked into the corner of Colin’s mirror. John was smiling and Colin was looking across the frame, his face in profile. Their father was healthy. Colin looked just like him. John looked at the photograph and tasted the stale air of the gravesite, noticed the dirt still on his fingers, leaving prints on the edge of the paper. He put it back in its place, smoothed the edge of the comforter back straight, and left the bedroom.

Morgan Blalock is a junior at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, where she edits the literary journal Cargoes and studies creative writing and ancient philology.