The darkness engulfed her like an Anaconda, coiled around its prey with its jaw unhinged, trying to swallow the quarry whole. The air was humid with a slight hint of sulfur which stung her nose like too much wasabi. She could feel herself starting to sweat as she blindly groped around for anything to steady herself with. The walls were wet and sticky, but they were the only tangible thing in the vast cavernous void providing any kind of guidance. With every sharp turn, with every change of direction, her heart beat faster with the realization that she was becoming more and more lost. Maybe she could retrace her steps and return to the surface, but she was determined to unlock the secrets of this sultry labyrinth. Each step took her further down into the sweltering abyss and she could feel the temperature increasing with her descent. Unable to bear the torrid air surrounding her any longer, she began peeling off her clothes one garment at a time. Her sweatshirt was the first obvious casualty, but it simply wasn’t enough to provide any substantial relief from the scorching heat. Next it was her blouse that was to be claimed by the blistering air, followed shortly thereafter by her pants. Fumbling around in the murky network of twists and turns, she pressed forward trying to find her way by touch alone. Finally, she yielded to the suffocating atmosphere, removing her bra and panties until she was completely exposed. Pressing onward and further down into the murky depths, each step became increasingly exhausting. She was breathing so heavily now that she felt like she could pass out at any moment. The cilia in her windpipe was starting to singe with each laborious breath, causing her to gasp and choke. Putting her hands over her mouth as she coughed and hacked, she let go of the wall. Disorientated and confused she reached out in a panic, grabbing wildly at the now elusive surface. Unable to find it, she could feel a scream beginning to escape her body when all of a sudden, she felt someone take her hand in theirs. The light pressure of someone squeezing her hand lovingly made her heart leap, as she came to to the realization that she wasn’t alone any longer. Suddenly she was calm, she could breath easily now and more importantly she could finally see clearly. She looked down at her hand, her fingers intertwined in his like two puzzle pieces coming together perfectly. She let out a little sigh of relief and whispered…
“What took you so long?”
the universe made a beautiful tragedy of us.
The ocean covers three-quarters of the earth’s surface so I write letters and place them in seven bottles to reach those whose loneliness is bigger than the ocean, even if the only connection I have with them is the thirtieth full moon and the monsoon winds of the seasons. But you bumped into me like a wave, and after five minutes of burying our feet in the sand we knew each other like how a hurricane knew the wind. And when we kissed for the first time the collateral damage was inevitable and we ended up keeping ourselves in a box were we can be lonely together.
We became the constellations of our blanket night sky. So I made a habit out of pressing the snooze button again and again, if it would mean spending another five minutes tracing the lines of your body and connecting it to mine. Then I made a list of the things that make you happy: meteor showers on a camp out, the smell of burnt popcorn, and a movie of Charlie Chaplin on a Friday night. I taped it with band-aids beside the shower head so that you’ll be reminded to smile and I’ll be reminded of my existence, after thirty minutes of letting the water wither our heart’s burden down the drain.
There was a time when we traded concert tickets for a blanket and a bottle of booze to witness a lunar eclipse. But we end up picking one billion grains of sand and forming a moon without scars and we failed. We never got to see the second lunar eclipse and even if the box of tissue on my dashboard is filled with tears instead of paper I no longer send letters through the ocean. You left me, but unlike black holes you left me with enough light to let you go too.
He sits close to me in the quietly crowded room, his tattooed fingers grasping the neck of an almost-empty bottle of Jameson. He holds it out.
“No thanks,” I say. He looks bemused, like he can’t comprehend my refusal. I explain, “The last time I was with you and I had whiskey, things got a little insane.”
“That wasn’t the whiskey,” he reminds me.
“No,” I agree, thinking of white lines and warm veins. Of my raw excited innocence. Of worldly men instructing me on how to snort cocaine, the licked fingers pressed into residue, rubbed onto gums. And then the tiny enclosed space of the tour-bus toilet, where I stood and stared into a smudged mirror and laughed at how much I loved myself. “…But I never would have done the rest if I hadn’t been drunk.”
He nods slowly. I wonder if he is remembering the viperous tangle of limbs; the way I slept feverishly in his arms, disturbed by the drugs and by the simple strangeness of having someone next to me.
The way I was alone two days later. The way he disappeared.
We sit quietly for a moment. And then, out of nowhere, he says, “I was in a bad place then.” I can’t tell if it’s an explanation or an apology or a statement or something else entirely, but it comes as a surprise. He’d seemed so charming and confident and completely at ease, glinting under stage lights and November nights, kissing with that smirk of his, walking with that conceited stride.
“I quit drinking earlier this year.” His voice is rough and urgent and laced with alcohol.
“Oh?” I say quietly, trying to drop the volume of our conversation. Everyone in the room can hear our exchange; it’s making me uncomfortable.
“I got sick when I stopped. My doctor said to start again.”
I glance at him now, drunk on a Sunday night in some strange place in the bottom corner of the world, and for a split second I see through the smirks and the stage lights. In the centre - of him and me and all the other sad soul fuckups – there’s only the blood red shell of someone who’s been left out in the rain too long, started rusting away.
When memory goes knocking at two in the morning and remembering becomes indispensable, I trace the same sidewalk that leads to your doorstep. A faint light is seen from your room, but what is to disturb you when all I intend to say doesn’t warrant forgiveness? These brazen lies have come out easily, hurting you, leaving you bruised and in disrepair. I stay here outside, confessing—sincerely this time—before an inanimate rug that says welcome. But who knows whose hearts will I break tomorrow? No one.
Conscience: “Why even continue with this? It’s getting embarrassing. You waste your time writing silly poetry that no one bothers reading. Yeah sure you have 99 followers now, but you’re washed up already… at such a young age too. Shame.”
You: “You know what, Conscience? I labour over words with meticulous precision, efforts that neither my friends nor strangers seem to acknowledge. Will that make me quit? No - because high numbers are irrelevant. This isn’t about recognition or fame. It doesn’t matter how many likes a picture gets on Facebook, nor how many retweets a clever hashtag gets on Twitter. The truth is simple: my passion has more worth than can be measured by reblogs. I pour myself into my work, ticking heart and typing hands, and if it makes a difference in one person’s life, then that’s great. Goal achieved. That’s the number that matters… one, and it all starts with you.”
Longreads Guest Pick: Elise Foley on 'The Girl Who Turned to Bone'
Elise Foley is an immigration and politics reporter for The Huffington Post.
“My favorite longread this week was Carl Zimmer’s ‘The Girl Who Turned to Bone’ in the Atlantic, which is about a very rare disease that causes people to form a second skeleton. It reminded me, in a great way, of ‘The Hazards of Growing Up Painlessly’ in the New York Times last year—both of them are stories about dealing with a rare disease on your own, then finding a doctor and network of people like you that make you feel like you’re not alone. The entire piece is a fascinating look at the science behind the disease and the people who helped to discover it.”
What are you reading (and loving)? Tell us.
power and control ,
She’d been given the order via telephone. A cryptic call from blocked number, that familiar voice of her Director on the other end of the receiver. Morgan had gotten more than used to these calls over the years. They no longer inspired wild fantasies of some serial killer lurking somewhere inside her apartment, a leery stalker, anything like that. When she was twelve, maybe, but not now. Now, Morgan simply answered the call, said not a word, and hung up. Such was her routine. She had her order. Now it was time to carry it out.
The job was simple: Find one Miss Catherine Eleanor—also known as Feline, Shadowcat, or Kate Dannet in some circles—and extend her an offer. An offer she wouldn’t be able to refuse.
The offer, too, was simple. Join the ranks of The Facility, the shadowy organization around which Morgan built her life, and enjoy its amenities, seize its opportunities. Tests were surely involved, as few people joined without struggle, but Morgan was confident that Miss Eleanor would do just fine. She remembered their brief encounter in Gotham. The girl had skill and with a little more polish, she’d be a fine addition indeed.
Now all she had to do was find her. A basic task if there ever was one. Besides, Morgan enjoyed Gotham. Enjoyed its gritty darkness. There was something vaguely thrilling about the city. Its buildings impaled the sky with their sharpness and its alleyways were rife with all manner of horrible things. Instinct told her that if she wandered down one of those alleys, she’d probably find Kate there.
And if not, well, she’d just have to make a house call.
She double-clicked on the chubby W icon and the light hit her eyes all at once. The font seemed decidedly smaller than when she’d closed the document the previous night, but she knew it was just a trick of her tired pupils; she always used the same template.
She only needed to read the first two lines to conjure up the desert sunset she’d been painting with words less than twenty-four hours ago. It looked just as breathtaking. At least the visual still works, she thought. She’d lost count of how many stories had slipped through her fingers because she left them alone for too long and they lost their grip on her imagination.
In the middle of the picture, two familiar figures sat huddled on a blanket spread to cover a square section of dusty ground. She approached them quietly from behind.
“Hey guys,” she said when she began to discern more than a black silhouette against the flaming horizon.
The two turned their heads simultaneously, startled out of their affectionate embrace, but as soon as they recognised her, the surprise on their faces turned to relief, and then, almost immediately, to anger.
“About time!” the man said, letting go of the woman, who drew back just as quickly and began massaging the cheek she had been resting on his shoulder. “We were beginning to think you would never come back!”
“I’m sorry,“ she said, showing her palms in a conciliatory gesture. “I had a really long day and I only sat down two minutes ago.” She waited a second, but their faces didn’t soften. “I came as quickly as I could, I swear.”
The woman sighed, while the man stretched his neck to one side and then the other, producing audible creaks from his ankylosed vertebrae. “Alright then,” the woman said. “At least you’re here. Now hurry up and get on with it.” And with that they began reassuming the position in which she’d found them.
“No, see, I’ve just come to let you know I can’t write tonight,” she said.
The two turned back again to stare at her. “You are kidding right?” the man said.
“I’m afraid not. It’s past my bedtime and I’m shattered. I’m sorry guys.”
The couple’s annoyance took the shape of a loud synchronised groan that hung in the air for quite a while.
“Can you at least get us to lie down this time so we can get some sleep?” the woman asked.
A quick rapping of fingers on the keyboard and the two were now supine on the blanket, their profiles upturned towards the darkening sky. They didn’t thank her, but as the cursor shifted towards the red X in the top left corner, she overheard their last exchange.
“Writer my ass,” the man muttered.
“Oh shut up and count yourself lucky,” the woman said. “She could have stopped in mid-intercourse. Then we would have been screwed. Quite literally.”
Georgia on my mind.
I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was thirteen and in Mrs. Townsend’s English class. This is the same Mrs. Townsend that taught us Sex Education a few years earlier and used a chalk board eraser to demonstrate what happens to the male parts. She had the sweetest smile that would almost hide her eyes and the prettiest hair I’d ever seen on a black person. She was my favorite teacher, and I listened to everything she had to say.
It was the first class of the day. A Tuesday. We had done the role call and daily pledge, and were about to begin working. I leaned over towards the floor on the left of my desk, which is where I kept my backpack. I pulled out the supplies I needed and got the biggest whiff of my grandmothers perfume. There is no way to mistake the scent. It engulfed me and I felt a rush. I remember blinking and only hearing my heartbeat. Just a few beats but they seemed to take forever. No self respecting eighth grader is going to wear something that smelled like an old lady. Grandma has worn this perfume for as long as I can remember. Every hug was like walking into a cloud of it. I remember being mesmerized as a child by the bottle sitting on a mirrored tray on her dresser, light golden liquid with a red top.
I sat there motionless, my mind going through scented memories and trying to make sense of it all. My grandma and I had a pretty close relationship. I was the first grandchild, so of course I was golden. I called her G, because I thought I was funny to say “What’s up G?” to a senior citizen. I spent time with her whenever possible and always begged my mother to go visit. She was soft. Comforting and loving, where my mother was busy trying to check off an invisible to-do list. By the age of 10, I was gaining height over her. I’d rest my elbow on her shoulder after a hug. She had a candy drawer for all of us grand kids, but kept a few of my favorites out of the reach of the others. Maybe it was because I spent a summer caring for her after having a toe amputated from Diabetes, or maybe it was because I always liked to hear her stories about the old days while begging to listen to Glenn Miller again.
I looked at the clock. 8:17 am. Mrs. Townsend started in on teaching and I pushed my memories aside to concentrate on her words. But the whole day was unsettling as I tried to make sense of what wasn’t right.
Finally home from school, I called my mother to let her know I was home safe (rules of a latch key kid), only she wasn’t at work. I remember thinking she must have left early and was on her way home. Hours went by with no word from my mother and I began to get worried. I called her work friends, then family, until I was told that she was with her siblings-an hour away. On a work day? This wasn’t normal at all, so I asked my uncle if everything was ok. He wouldn’t answer me, just told me to wait until my mother got home and that it wouldn’t be long.
Finally she pulled into the driveway, and I waited for her to come in and put her things down. She sat in the car for a long while, so I went looking for her. She was sitting in the car crying. My mother doesn’t cry, doesn’t show emotions, and frankly it scared me. I step back into the house and wait some more. Eventually she comes in, but she can’t look at me. No eye contact. I tell her I was worried and ask what is wrong. She finally looks at me and tells me that my grandmother has died. My first personal experience with death has taken my G.
Grandma was driving to work and had a heart attack. She knew enough to pull over off the highway, no one else was injured. No one could help her, and she died at 8:17 am. The exact moment I smelled her and looked at the clock.
Hers was the first funeral I had ever attended, and I’ll never look at the body again, for that’s all I can see of my grandma now. I remember the preacher was speaking and I was being scolded for laughing as he swatted at a pesky insect no one in the back could see. G would have laughed. I kept her perfume bottle on my dresser for who knows how many years. Long enough for it to no longer smell like her.
I get my strength from her, I think. She passed it to my mother, and then to me. I believe she said good-bye to me that morning.
And she still makes me smile.
We sat at a bakery and talked about how boys are assholes. We got coffee and baguette with butter, jam, and nutella and the waitress kept coming by, subtly trying to kick us out, saying is everything alright? And we would say, yes, everything is delicious.
We talk about the boy who took her out for one date and told her his parents were out to dinner, kept on flashing the condom in his wallet while he paid for half their dinner.
We talk about the boy who could only last thirty seconds before he came all over her chapped lips.
We talk about the boy who kisses her on Fridays, and another girl on Saturday nights, since labels only ruin something good. I hear he has a lot of girls over, his friend’s girlfriend tells her. We’re casual, she says. Casual my ass, his friend’s girlfriend says, I’m just saying, you might not want to make him your priority.
We talk about the boy you look at the clock the whole time you’re kissing. We talk about how he makes you so bored it’s like you’re standing in front of a refrigerator not knowing what to eat or looking at a photo album where you don’t know anybody and nobody’s having sex.
We talk about the boys who you don’t know, the boys who would take you to amusement parks or coffee shops, who would overwhelm you. You say you don’t know any boys. Nobody is good enough for you so far. You don’t know what you want but you want a boy.
We talk about the feeling that there isn’t any time. That we’re wasting half our brainpower daydreaming during class, and all the while time keeps on slipping by like silk underwear. I never expected that this would be how I would be spending my teenage years, you say. We keep saying that there’s next week and next week and next week and then there will be time but there never is.
We talk about the feeling when you suddenly get so desperately lonely like you’re alright and then all of a sudden you just get this feeling that sucks at your heart like a vacuum and you’re so cold, empty, inside, like the end of a really good book?
We talk about the feeling when he goes down on you and it surprises you every time, how submissive he suddenly is, makes you want to run your fingers through his hair, since you know he wants to be the one to make you happy.
We do not talk about the time that you play with my hair and let me cry on your shoulder on a park bench. I know that you a true friend because you make me a cup of tea and the whole ocean is inside of it.
We talk about the boy I never know what he is thinking. She says she thinks he will always be a little bit in love with me. I say if that were true something would have happened. I say I don’t even know why I am thinking about him and you give me an infuriating look.
You ask me what sex is like. It’s like this, I say, gesturing around to the three of us, to the baguettes with butter jam and nutella, sweeping our trust, giggles with a wave of my hand. She doesn’t know what I mean. That’s okay.
We talk about the boy who I just wanted to lie to. We talk about how you would do anything for a boy who makes you excited.
We also talk about why it’s worth it. It is the first time I say it out loud to anybody besides him. I am in love with him, I tell her, while you are in the bathroom. This big goofy grin breaks out across her face, and mine too. I don’t know how, I say, it’s not like what I expected.
What is it?
It isn’t desperate or crazy or insanely spontaneous. It’s eggs and toast love. But I think it’s better.
I smear nutella on a piece of bread. Is everything alright? Yes, yes, I say, everything is delicious.
The creature looked at her from the floor of her bedroom. Tamara huddled on the bed, keeping well back from the edge. Back against the wall, heart pounding, she tried not to hyperventilate. It wouldn’t do to pass out in front of something that might take the opportunity to eat her.
Three of its eyes were fixed on her, the other two looked off behind the creature. The little stalks wagged back and forth on the top of it’s green, scaly head. Chirrrrrr, it went. Raising itself up on two tentacles, it inched toward her.
She screamed and it shrank back, staring at her with all of its eyes fixed on her. Launching a pillow at it, she dove off the bed and darted into the bathroom. As she shut the door, she saw feathers flying everywhere as it ate the pillow.
Chirr? It was up against the door, its tentacles slid under the door. She jumped into the bathtub. A thick, sticky sound filled the room as the creature flattened itself and shoved itself under the door. Tamara wished that she could crawl up the walls, but sat mutely in terror as it came into the tub with her.
Wrapping its tentacles around her legs, it pulled itself into her lap. Then it began to purr. It lay itself against her and vibrated with joy. She put out one tentative hand and pet its head around its eyestalks. It shook with happiness.
“It’s tame,” she said.
He never liked sleeping alone because he thought monsters were real and that if he started getting nightmares, he will live in that scary dream forever and never wake up. He just didn’t want to sleep so every night, he will turn on his bedside lamp and read books. But what was written in books terrified him even more than the thought of him living inside a nightmare. There were bad witches who ate children for snack, flies that enter the ears and nest inside, vampires that suck blood. Everything was scary in books. But what fascinated him is the ability of books to scare him then make him smile and laugh. Every night, when his mom turns off his light switch and closes his door, he turns on his lamp and travels with his imagination through the books under his bed.
One Word - Stratosphere
The Dragon Lady was unlike any other plane he’d ever flown. It was slow and unwieldy, and an absolute pain to fly in all aspects. She stalled at the drop of a hat, and he had to ride her at the absolute top right corner of the envelope at all times. Her broad wings rebelled when he tried to land, and taking off was like launching the plane into soup.
He hated the goddamn clown suit he had to wear because she couldn’t be pressurized like a civilized aircraft. He hated the loneliness of missions. No wingman, just the Dragon Lady and he in enemy territory. He hated all the security, and the stupid lies he had to tell his wife about why they had to move to the middle of the fucking desert.
But despite all the fighting, when the Dragon Lady took him up to 70,000 feet, and he watched the Earth curl away from him, as if gravity itself were about to relinquish its claim to him, it was worth it.
It all starts when you find the one thing that makes you happy.
You can’t describe it or even say it, but you know the feeling is there. You’re no longer concerned with anything else because after all that time you spent searching, it’s finally with you.
So you keep doing it. You keep writing or running or solving math problems…wherever it is your passion lies. And that’s all there is to it. It’s just the simple act of doing.
But then you realize it, and that is where the end begins. You realize it makes you happy, and you attempt to manipulate it in such a way that it can make you happy all the time.
Then you try to improve it, so that it can become the means to some other end. You start to dream about all the things it can bring you, if only you can get just a little bit higher.
Then you start to compare. You find others who do it worse and you use them to boost your ego. You find others who do it better and you attempt to beat them.
Then you define yourself in its terms. You become the task.
And there starts the obsession. The pain. The fear. The insecurity. It becomes a nightmare rather than a dream and all the good is lost.
And that’s the final end. That’s the destruction of something great.
I Learned Nothing.
I learned nothing from counting candles on cakes.
I still think that the pavement is for hopscotch boxes. I still think that balloons don’t pop when they reach this certain space in the atmosphere; they go to heaven like all souls do. There are still moments when a bag full of candies makes me alone in a place filled with flowers—a meadow of some sort. I still think that there’s only sound that comes out of a bullet’s exit, and the bullets are invisible, intangible. I still pretend that corpses that were laid on the street—carcass from car accident, an ambush, a mugging, are only sleeping; they pretend to be dead for the cameras. And this is happening live. This TV show I’m watching is happening live. Amanda still got that charming smile; her antics make me laugh, gag, until I run out of air. I feel that my fingers are still short; my legs are that of a six year old. Remember how having a family was as easy as building a house from cartons; the rice is cooked on bottle caps? I am still pretending to be a baby. It was easier back then when going to heaven was as easy as stepping onto elevated floors—a stoop where the devil can’t lay a finger on you. Much easier when the paper that runs through my thick skull is the mounding collection of trading card game.
Yes, I learned nothing from counting candles.
Because the pavement is a canvass for mortalized artisans whose works are only printed on abstract red. And, yes, there is something that comes out from a gun barrel—a flower blooming then wilting all at the same time.
And yes, they are not asleep. This is the paradox. This is not happening live. But it is happening.
And there’s only hell for us.
I am not prepared for the callous. Much more have I not on the bruises and wounds.
So now, I let go of all these balloons, look at them fly like doves; I let my innocence sit on one of them. I can still hear its laughter.
Even up to now when that balloon had popped.
Thank God, mother did not give me a cake for this day. And never will again.
I came across a group of young transients in the graveyard one evening during my break from work.
It wasn’t a regular cemetery, all the bodies buried there were patients from the old State Mental Hospital. It was just an overgrown fenced-off corner of field, a gated square full of flat-stoned names and dates. The state had sold the abandoned hospital building to private contractors, who then had turned the place into modern condo units a few years back. I don’t know anyone who would want to live there.
They didn’t notice me at first. One guy sat against a tall pine tree drinking a bagged forty, a large backpack by his side. He appeared engaged in conversation with a ratty looking girl rolling a cigarette. She had a tattoo of a feather that went from her right shoulder down her exposed pale arm. Maybe she was part Native American. Or maybe in a past life she had been one of these dead mental patients, reincarnated as a girl with a feather tattoo on her arm.
Another guy wearing a black bandana around his neck with a gritty trucker hat came into view, zipping up the fly of his tattered skinny jeans. He joined the other two under the pine tree before he glanced over at me.
“Hey there, buddy,” he called over. “You got any spare change?”
The other two looked over at me, startled. They hadn’t seen me walking by until the other kid acknowledged me. I took a few more steps in their direction, walking through the broken gated entrance.
“Sorry, I don’t.” Looking at the faces I could tell that these kids weren’t much younger than me. The girl had tufts of natural looking blonde hair poking out from the hood of her patched up, sleeveless sweatshirt. I bet if she cleaned up she’d be pretty. She looked up at me indifferently while lighting her rolled cigarette.
“How many times have you been around the sun?” The guy by the tree must have been wondering the same thing about our age. I know he means how many years, but fuck, it’s not the 1960’s anymore.
“Twenty-six,” I answered.
“Damn” said the trucker hat guy. “Not much going on around here for a guy in his twenties.”
“It seems like a cold place,” said the guy under the tree, “Lot of sadness here.”
These guys wouldn’t be impressed about my promotion to shift supervisor at CVS, I thought.
“So you guys aren’t out from over in Smithfield?” I asked.
The trucker hat guy and the girl laughed at that.
“Oh yes, we’re all well versed in the whereabouts of Smithville,” the trucker hat guy chuckled.
“I was just saying that this place reminds of that town in Colorado we camped out at. Where the state guard killed all those coal miners a hundred years ago,” said the girl to the trucker hat guy.
The girl annoyed me. They must have train hopped through town, I realized. Even though they’re probably all from nice families with mom’s paying their cell phone bills while they pretend to be hobos from the Great Depression.
“So what’s up with this place?” asked the girl, finally looking at me with tired grey eyes. “It’s a pretty boring graveyard,” she said. “No statues or nothing.”
I explained to them that it had once belonged to the old mental hospital. That it contained their dead patients, even though the hospital had closed down a long time ago and now the building was lived in by a bunch of yuppies who didn’t mind living in former padded cells.
“So, this is a tard yard,” grinned the ugly trucker hat guy. “Tard Yard,” he repeated, seeking some kind of approval from the others.
“So much sadness here,” repeated the kid from under the tree.
I though about asking them if they needed a place to stay. Where would I have them stay? In the crawlspace above my parent’s garage? I could have the girl with the tattoo stay in my bed.
“Well, you guys take it easy,” I said.
“Keep it real, boss,” said the guy wearing the trucker hat.
I continued on my walk back across the field. I could hear the kids laughing in the distance, their sounds battling against, and then drowning out to the soft buzzing of the summer insects.