Find My Eyes

In the hallway between After and Before, there are exactly 82 steps. 

“Thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight,” she whispered. It helped to say the numbers out loud, to visualize the march down that immortal hall. It helped. Since it was better to wake up drenched in sweat than not to fall asleep at all. 

“They say sweat, t’s good to clean out though, so eff my body’s doin t on ts own, t’s a good thing, uh?” He had asked her. When it was May and he was 13. 

“Who says,” she had asked him. “Did you tell the nurse?”

“Nah,” he said. His gaze broke free and wandered upwards, to the heavy blinds shading the classroom from the afternoon sun. 

“Find my eyes, James,” she said. “Find my eyes and try that again.”

He blinked toward her face but couldn’t stay put. Something, a tentacle or a shooting star, waved him away again. 

“No, Ms. Carson.”

“Any reason you get so hot when you sleep, James? Do you have nightmares? Are things happening when it’s nighttime?”

“Nah,” he said. His eyes flitted but landed on her shoulder for a solid second. “No. Just gets hot.” 

“Do you get hot when you take the medicine, James?” Her face was level with his. He sat, squirming, at his desk. At the mention of the medicine, James grabbed a pencil in his right hand and her arm with his left. She bent the pencil toward the desk and removed her arm from his aim. “James, focus.”

No one had told her about the Aripiprazole at first. She had approached the school nurse on her lunch break after finding James less jittery, but at a complete loss with forming sentences. By April, he had seemed more aware again.

“Psh, I’m int takin’ that stuff,” he said. 

“Why not?”

“I int have it. Big James took it.”

“Your dad took it? Do you know why?”

James shrugged.

“I unna know. He said he’s a use it.” 

All packaged away at the front end of the hallway. Inside the classroom before she ever opened the door. Steps negative 12 to zero. 

“…Fifty-two, fifty-three, fifty-four…” she continued. It helped. It wasn’t perfect, and the sweat had already beaded under the bottom of her hair, ran like a goblin along the waistline of her shorts. By morning she would be sunk in it, laid in her own, damp shadow as a liquid coffin. The opposite end of the hallway, tucked away in this room with no light and no shade. 

And in between, those steps. Step 64 is where she had known something was wrong. The door to the library room was open too soon. The students were too quiet. If they weren’t in a line, they would generally be in a scatter, leaping, touching anything they could find. Instead, it was a crescent shape she found. A small moon curved around its stars. James. A thin line of blood streamed from the end of a pencil stuck into his left forearm. His right hand gripped the throat of the girl he loved. Her feet dangled an inch and a half above the ground, her head dimpled the bulletin board butcher paper. 

Her gurgled gasps barely broke the surface. They made as much noise as her right, untied shoelace did as it tapped the ground. All those steps and all that time, and this last bit expanded to take up all the room. 

One kid to the room across the hall. One kid to the principal’s office. One kid to stand beside her while she tried to pull him away. 

“James,” she said quietly. “James find my eyes.”

But even as she said it she knew his eyes were gone. No longer hummingbirds to every object around, now they were locked in, focused in the way no one intended. The girl had turned him down. Said he smelled like piss and sweat. He stared down her insults, watched her eyes roll back.

“…Eighty, eighty-one, eighty-two,” she says, choking. She fills the space between the After and the Before with a pool of sweat every night. Every night hoping against what she knew, and reliving what died. An endless loop of echoes and steps.

Row 9

There, in row one, the girl wearing a princess dress tilted her face upward. 

Here, in row nine, Gil unbuckled his seatbelt and stood up. His legs felt heavy, frozen. Gripping the headrest before him, he rolled each ankle until the persistent swelling stopped its heartbeat. 

All my life/I prayed for someone like you

In this loud silence, this plate glass window of time, Gil’s brain wanted nothing more than a soundtrack. Maybe also some assurance.

“Is it real?” The princess asked. Gil cleared his throat to mask his surprise at her voice. It was a regular voice; it was the only other voice he could hear. 

“I would think,” Gil said as he made his way up the aisle toward her. She had turned her face forward, pointing with her silver, glitter wand to the hole in front of them both. 

“Can we see them?” She stood up, reaching for Gil’s hand as if she had known him for more than these forty-two seconds. 

“Sure, let’s go have a look,” Gil said, every word smaller than the last. They walked sideways down a steep decline to the front of the plane. Gil went first, his right arm winged out behind, cupping the atmosphere of the princess’ head in case of…any other cases. 

And I thank God that I/That I finally found you

They stopped at the edge of where the air met the land. 

“Can they see us?” The princess blinked up at Gil. Her hair had been plaited in four sections, braided together in a low rope at the underside of her head. She slowly petted the octopus inked on Gil’s forearm. 

“May uh,” Gil said. He was aware this was not reassuring nor a full sentence but he had nothing else to offer. Unless this small child enjoyed the musical stylings of the inimitable K-Ci and JoJo. 

Below their still and silent, hovering aircraft lay an equally still and silent restaurant, the roof shorn off by the belly of the plane. A woman sat at a table with a laptop, a coffee, and a pastry spread before her, a wide smile carved her face. A waitress with a hand to her seemingly sweaty forehead was mid-stride between two chairs. A man bent over a stroller, holding a banana in one hand and a pacifier in the other. Humans in various states of business were paused, just as, Gil thought, the plane and its passengers sat in stone behind them. 

“It’s like my dollhouse,” said the princess, bemused. 

“Yeah?” Gil said lamely. Around anyone younger than 22, Gil became an old farm dog: slow, good for petting, not good for conversation, and easily fatigued. 

“Yeah,” the princess said, unfazed. “And no one looks scared. Were you scared?”

Was Gil scared? It had been twenty minutes and he could no longer remember anything other than this concreted universe. The slow descent had seemed natural. Here is a rooftop, and there is the cathedral dome. How toasted the city’s buildings look up close in the late afternoon light. 

Then there was a scraping sound and then there was stillness. And then there was this. 

Yes, I pray that you do love me too

“Yes,” Gil lied, “Yes, I was scared.”

“Can we go play with the people?” The princess asked. Gil had no intention of poking at the waxed humans, but what exactly was the plan here? Was it better to step into this world, or step back to row 9, buckle in and wait for the old one to take off? 

Gil patted his jeans pocket with his right hand. The ring was still there. 

“OK, princess, you lead the way.” 

Thorns and Pedestals

I suppose they were always there, these thorns. I only noticed them today. 

Can you be the full sort of empty? Can you glue your 16 selves into a complete and current version? Can you not entirely fall apart?

I am kind and I am patient and I am hesitant and I am ignored. 

My heart has thorns. Did you know? They prick me while I sleep and all this time I thought it was you. 

It hurts. Not my heart - it has the thorns after all - the soft tissue that surrounds, however, it is bleeding all over my lungs, my dreams, my throat. Red and angry and telling anyone who will listen how I was wrong. 

Wrong. And stupid. Very and newly stupid. The pedestal I gave you was meant to make us taller. I have been chasing the biggest thing I know and I refuse to believe that’s not the point. 

We are at breakfast. It’s been over an hour. You stop to respond to a text message. Broken from the spell of our sounds, I look around. I have not noticed the family of four to my right. Haven’t noticed the line for the bathroom snaked through the back of the diner. I become fixated on the fiberglass figure suspended from the ceiling three tables away. She is aqua. She is naked. She is mid-backflip. She is seemingly a less-referential Koons, cast-off from exhibition and deserted here, because she does not make sense; her lumbar spine is curved too much to right itself but not enough for a graceful water entry. She is confusing. I can’t take my eyes off of her. 

If I were honest - completely, nakedly, unerringly honest - I would tell you that you are the only person for whom I don’t dumb down my language. That you pause when I smile and it’s the only compliment I will ever want. That I would trade every other look in the world for the one where you seem to think I hold all the light in the room. That I know there’s more to everything than the words you and I say to each other because we both have chosen the wrong ones over and over. 

She is blue and she is backwards and she is in flight. And you are here and you are everything and you are wrong. 

You are wrong about before. Busy is no excuse for fear. You’re wrong to continually pick the one for whom you think you can be most beneficial because it’s not about being better or worse or right. 

You are the wrong person. And I am backwards and aqua and bent too far.

How, though, do you explain these thorns? They must mean something. No one tears apart their own chest without a purpose. Or do they? I don’t know how this works since I only discovered it today. Perhaps you can carve out a home there in the carnage and live in a shredded cavity like a cave. 

A full sort of empty. 

I’m guessing the big thing, the important thing, is really a different thing. An unknown face who pauses at smiles, under a shroud of words much like these. Who wouldn’t rather a house of worn phrases than a fort of tattered tendons? Shifting focus hasn’t shunted any blood yet though, and so I wait. At breakfast. In backflips. Each breath a hair’s breadth from another puncture. 

They were always there, these thorns. My heart grew them wild for you and you let me stab anything they could reach.

Vigilante Town Hall Meeting

He had a full head of hair as recently as four months ago. 

They hide in the back, he thought. One mirror wasn’t enough and he didn’t have a hand mirror to hold up behind. This is how it had started. He couldn’t see and so he felt and then it was four months later.

A flicker at a time, each instance increasingly paralyzing, until the phrase in his head was all he could see. 

Now, still of mind but heaving in the bathroom sink, his face slowly cinched into view. The left side with a gold, etched earring. A ladybug-sized, star tattoo by his right eye. Crooked teeth in three, separate places. Tanned head, close but not clean, shaven. 

He kept the water running in the sink as he gripped the basin’s sides. They felt sandy with dirt. It was a church basement, after all - the Sunday School playroom vacant but adjacent.

Someone would come and someone would find him here, and soon. It didn’t matter. The meeting had started and he was the reason and he was the problem. 

This was how they all started, though, wasn’t it? One common goal regardless of the methods. 

Yet it’s not your decision to make.

There’s the hope for redemption.

What of you, then?

Oh, then the words, though. Eden-level snaky bitches, those words. 

He felt for the back of his head. Felt a rippling, a roping, and scratched. The words subsided at least long enough for him to stand upright in front of the mirror. 

What of me, then, he thought. He had wanted to fight. To use that pinch of rage at the side of his brain against those who deserved it. So was the motto of a vigilante and as such seemed the perfect fit. When they began to enforce the rules, he felt wary. He already knew he had gone too far the first time. By the third, the words were stuck in a loop, wedged somewhere between his earring and the end of time. 

The verdict would be unsurprising. When they asked him at the last meeting what he had to say, the words spoke for him. Tumbled out of their perch and slid right out of his mouth. 

They had gasped. 

This is not what we do. 

WWBD, What Would Batman Do, he could see it written on the stall behind him now. A code of ethics loosely applied across the board but applied as strong as skin glue in particular cases. This case. 

If but he could stay in this bathroom…the running water, the grimy sink walls, the one florescent light blinking just enough to make him wonder about an eye twitch, the too-short wooden doors made for children of God…children who were taught about good and bad. See, there was a line.

They hide in the back, he thought as he ran a hand up the bottom of his skull. Smooth skin between patchy scabs and all he could feel were waves of eels whispering those words. He couldn’t see and so he felt and then it was four months later. With the faucet in a steady cascade, he shouted into the void of such a holy mess, 


And then, the other words, the words of the others, three, six, maybe 10 times,

Please. Don’t.


Any hope of sneaking in expired at the intersection of Room 12 and the library cart. Asher paused to sling the second backpack strap over his left shoulder - the not-cool way - and proceeded to sprint the length of the hallway. 

“…Abigail Queensbury…Thomas Rabinot…” Ms. Petersen’s voice bumped against the lockers across from the open door of Room 27. One name stood between Asher and death-by-tardy-mark. 

“…Faith Ramsey…Ash…” 

“HERE,” Asher wheezed as he skidded into the perfume-scented, notebook-heavy, fifth-grade classroom. 

“Asher Rasmus, you are the luckiest little slowpoke I’ve ever met,” Ms. Petersen said as she left his attendance row unblemished. Asher flashed Ms. (not married) Petersen what he hoped was a charming smile but was more likely an unsettling sort of scheming grin. Or the face of someone pretending not to have the stomach flu. He took his seat at the back of the room and fed the contents of his backpack to the gaping, metal envelope of his desk.

Writing notebook. Reading log. Math workbook. Math textbook. Social Studies textbook. Independent reading book (Harry Potter #4). Unused notebook. Five Star binder with six folders. Pencil case with 17 erasers and only two working pencils. And one Ziplock bag with 22 Jivamodo cards. 

It had taken Asher the course of the school year to date to earn those 22 cards. Harvey Elementary had banned them for all of September, relented mid-October, and because of their illicit past, now enjoyed a heightened popularity. Those who had them did too.

“What does this mean, then?” Ms. Petersen asked the class. Asher tried to look deep in thought while he leaned hard to the right to read the dry-erase board behind Ms. Petersen. 

“It’s like when you want something, but like, when you’re not like allowed to get it?” said Stupid Tammy Pigalle. Tammy had once caught Asher staring too long at a boy on the playground. She sang out, “Ass-her” and it ivied all over the building. You can make anyone’s name into something terrible, and Asher wondered if this ever stopped. Look for the bad things and they appear. Stupid Tammy. 

“Yes, good, Tammy,” said Ms. Petersen, “But so how is this different than when your parents won’t let you get a new toy?” 

The class snickered.

“Oh, OK, you’re all basically adults and toys are dumb. So, your parents find out that you didn’t do your math homework and now you aren’t allowed to get the new Jivamukti or whatever card.” 

“Jiva-MODO,” shouted Abby Queensbury from the row of desks by the windows. 

“Jivamodo. OK. How is that different than what we’re talking about,” said Ms. Petersen. 

Asher peeled open his Ziplock bag inside his desk and looked at his cards. Last week he scored a coup - two Deveries for a Gilopcus and a Vixary. He hoped to trade his last Figben for something good today. 

Mikel Bridges tipped too far back on two legs of his chair and fell to the floor, otherwise the room was silent. 

“That’s why we don’t do that,” said Ms. Petersen, “Alright, Wolf, what do you think? How is it different?” Wolf would know. Wolf always knew. He was everything Asher wanted to be as a fifth-grader and a person: taller, surer, less sweaty. And he had 150 Jivamodo cards. 

“Because with the cards, your parents tell you, ‘you can’t,’ but with this, its not like someone tells you. It just can’t happen,” said Wolf. Sitting upright in his chair, Wolf stuck both of his hands in his desk’s mouth and nodded to Asher. 

“Wha?” Mimed Asher, and a paper knot promptly hit him in the face.

Asher unfolded the note from Wolf: 

Lunchtime. I’m giving you all my cards. 

Yes! Exactly. That’s perfect,” said Ms. Petersen. “Now, it’s your turn to write about it. You have twenty minutes.”

All the cards? 150 Jivamodo cards. The keys to the kingdom. The ultimate score. The Harvey lottery. 


Wolf had deemed Jivamodo not cool enough to play with anymore, rendering the cards value-less. 

Confused, conflicted, longing to snatch a glance at Wolf, and still damp from running the halls in a 30-lb backpack, Asher opened his writing notebook and began his assignment. 

Friends with Monsters


Yes, ceiling fan, I feel you, she thought. She wasn't quite sure where the fan ended or the ceiling began as they were both white and both moving at the speed of fever. 

“Hello?” She asked the room. More to see if her voiced worked than anything else, but it was always good to check. 

The ceiling fan swore at her. The room said nothing else.

“Margarita. Mar-gar-ita. Mar-grrrrr-ita,” she said. Which one was it? Would it have made a difference? She clutched her stomach and rolled her face into the blanket, white, dented with diamond shapes.  

What was Spanish for “pizza,” she wondered, because she was at least 70 percent sure she didn’t say it. Is Peru known for its Italian cuisine more than its Central American-inspired cocktails? How did she suddenly know so little about her home? Was this an omen? 

“Is it?” She drooled into the blanket. The blanket absorbed this but said nothing. The bed began to ripple and she hung her head off of it, toward the trash can positioned below. Metallic echoes bounced out of the oval can and against her throbbing head. All the chaos of dinner in a fast rewind. 

“That was when Arthur pushed you down the hill!” 



“Yaaaasss. Tequila?”


“Chase, how’s your pizza?!”

“Shut up anyone could have bombed ordering.”


“Penelope ate sheep balls in Ireland.”

“Yeah, and Arthur wasn’t out of the closet yet.” 

Closet. Before Peru, someone would take Arthur out each morning and wear him like a suit. Put him back each night on his hanger like a monster who is also a close friend. Chase didn’t understand how Arthur could have been this limp suit, and her fully human friend within the span of one year. He wasn’t out of the closet then, but he is now? 

I would like to find the man wearing the Arthur suit then, thought Chase. She pulled herself up from the writhing bed and stumbled to her own closet. Maybe he was in there. Maybe he and the suit switched. 

“Hello?” She asked the closet. Hands trembling too rapidly to operate the doorknob, she shouted her question, head tilted to the side, one eye squinted, to the oak-stained door. The door said nothing. The closet held its breath. 

Chase rolled her eyes at the lack of response and flopped back to the bed. Her legs and arms wanted to burrito herself into the covers but her chest and stomach vetoed the move. The eight-square-foot Peruvian kitchen was 91 acres away and therefore too far to travel. This was Chase’s fifth country in three years. When her students asked her who took care of her, she replied, “I do, and I do a decent job,” but goddamn if she didn’t want someone, anyone, a walking suit or monster, to hike the miles to the kitchen and get her some scummy, tinny, gross, tap water. 

Listening to the ceiling fan’s lament, Chase began to wonder about the closet. There hadn’t been any monsters in there this morning. No one had responded when she called out. But everything in this room was breathing. All this movement and it was statistically illogical that she didn’t share the space with something else. 

She took inventory of the Things Under the Bed. 

  1. Two shoes she had kicked off after the dinner debacle. 
  2. One phone charger.
  3. Three reusable bags she always forgot to use. 
  4. $6 in American money she meant to save and then didn’t, inexplicably dropped on the floor. 
  5. One monster. She was more than 70 percent sure. 

“Hello?” She asked the Things Under the Bed.

“Hello?” They said.