Modern Day Vamps By Sophia Mathes

1875

Conditions for the poor people in London had improved some with the recent improvements of sanitation systems. A young man by the name of Jason worked tirelessly to support himself; he had no living relatives. Then one moonless night while traveling home he laid eyes on a frightening scene. An entrancingly beautiful man had a dying woman in his arms, sucking the blood out of her neck. Although every bone in Jason’s body told him to run, he couldn’t.

Over the next two years him and the beautiful killer, William, became close. Upon Jason’s twentieth birthday William realized he wanted Jason to stay with him forever, he turned him into a petrifying creature of the night; a vampire.

2016

Jason and William lounged on the steps of an old downtown building of Riverside, California. Both we’re darkly dressed. In William’s hand was a dark colored glass bottle. To any passerby they looked like any ordinary no-good boys.

Jason held open a popular vampire romance book. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we sparkled?” said Jason. William toyed with the zipper of his jacket absent-mindedly. “Yes, but we live in the real world where vampires burn in the sun” replied William.

“What do you want to eat tonight?” said Jason looking up at the sky. “I don’t know man, but what I do know is if we don’t bring Anne back something warm she’ll stake us” said William. Jason laughed at the thought of pixie-sized Anne coming at them with a stake.

A young woman walked down the street, slowing slightly when she saw Jason and William. “Show time lover boy” said William, slapping him on the back.  Jason gracefully stood and leisurely made his way toward the girl.

“Hey there” she said twirling her hair around her finger. “You look lovely in the moonlight, part of me wonders what you look like in the day” Jason purred in a voice smooth as black silk. “Well give me your number and you might get to see me in the day” she said smiling. He sighed, “I can’t go out during the day”

“What? Are you a vampire or something?” she inquired jokingly. “Perhaps I am” Jason replied, smirking as he stepped closer. The girl had now idea that a third vampire was creeping out of the shadows behind her.

“Come have a little flirtation with the dark side, lovely” said Jason holding out his hand to her. She took it, sealing her fate. Jason pulled her against his body and placed a hand on her waist, smiling the way a predator did.

“Watch out!” a voice screamed. Another girl up the street had seen the third vampire. With deadly precision the last vampire slit his target’s throat. Spraying crimson blood over Jason’s front. The other girl turned and fled as quickly as her highly impractical high heels could take her.

“You weren’t supposed to kill her yet Arthur,” said Jason with a disapproving look on his face. Arthur shrugged and grinned. Jason let the dead female’s body hit the ground with an ugly thud. William sauntered over to Jason and put an arm around him.

“You sparkle when you’re covered in blood” he said and kissed Jason deeply. “I got dibs on the runner” Arthur yelled, already in pursuit of the other girl. “Dammit Arthur” the remaining two said in unison, taking off after him into the night.

The End

LAST PHONE CALL Written by Jerry D. Mathes II

Note: This story will be featured at the 2016 Ghost Walk on the Things that go Bump in the Night tour – Orange.

INT. LIBRARY – NIGHT

THUNDER RUMBLES from outside. BOBBY, a young man, sits at a table typing furiously on his laptop. He takes a drink from his water bottle and sets it next to his lap top. He looks
exhausted.

He stretches, yawns, and types a little more.

BRENDA and TIFFANY, young women, enter and stop in front of
Bobby. They each carry their smart phones in their hands. .

BRENDA
You were supposed to meet me an hour ago.

Bobby motions to his lap top exasperated.

BOBBY
I need to finish this paper.

TIFFANY
You could’ve called.

She holds out her phone as if presenting evidence.

Brenda sets her smart phone on the table and rummages through her purse.

BRENDA
You wasted our time.

She looks to Tiffany.

BRENDA (CONT’D)
I left my card at Back to the Grind.

BOBBY
Please. You know I love you. I’ll be there in another hour. If not I’ll call. Promise.

BRENDA
Fine. But you’d better call.

TIFFANY
Or have a really good excuse.

BRENDA
Or you can just drop dead!

Brenda and Tiffany storm off. Brenda’s phone still on the table.

Bobby looks sad and frustrated. He yawns.

BOBBY
Maybe just a catnap.

Bobby lays his head on the table.

EVIL SPIRIT enters. A woman dressed in a white dress, white faces with slight skull shadings. She is at once playful and menacing.

She puts her finger to her lips and shushes the audience, with a mischievous grin.

She waves her hand and THUNDER RUMBLES. She knocks over the water bottle and it spills on the lap top. It SIZZLES.

Bobby jerks and spasms from electrocution and then slumps in his chair.

The Evil Spirit LAUGHS.

Brenda’s phone on the table RINGS.

Tiffany walks in, looking at her phone.

The Evil Spirit moves around her.

TIFFANY
Here it is, Brenda.

Brenda comes back, picks up her phone, and regards Bobby.

The Evil Spirit stands by Bobby and motions towards him like a game show hostess presenting a new car.

BRENDA
(exasperated)
Look at him. Asleep.

TIFFANY
So rude.

Tiffany sniffs the air.

TIFFANY (CONT’D)
Smells a little like burnt chicken.

The Evil Spirit rolls her eyes.

Brenda shrugs.

TIFFANY (CONT’D)
Let’s go.

Brenda takes a step, but hesitates.

BRENDA
Why should I let him sleep?

She reaches out to shake his shoulder.

The Evil Spirit dances about, encouraging her.

TIFFANY
No wait. He’s been working so hard.

Brenda pauses. The Evil Spirit shakes her fist at Tiffany.

BRENDA
Excuse me?

TIFFANY
He just wants to get good grades to get into med school.

BRENDA
I’m his girlfriend.

The Evil Spirit continues to pantomime.

TIFFANY
He wants to make a great future with and help people.

BRENDA
How do you know this?

TIFFANY
He says it all the time. You just don’t notice it.

Brenda softens. Pulls her hand back to her side, looking at Bobby lovingly.

BRENDA
Oh. I guess I can be self-involved.

The Evil Spirit LAUGHS, but Brenda and Tiffany don’t notice.

They move to the side and whisper to each other as TWO YOUNG MEN, MIKE and FRANK, enter and pause in front of Bobby.

MIKE
Smells like my mom burned dinner again.

The Evil Spirit regards the two young men.

EVIL SPIRIT
(to audience)

Ah. Boys. The pliant tools of mischief.

FRANK
Bobby’s hard out.

The Evil Spirit beckons them toward Bobby.

Mike grins mischievously at Frank who grins back.

The Evil Spirit motions for them to shake Bobby.

Mike takes out a Sharpie and uncaps it.

The Evil Spirit gives them a what the heck look and a look of disbelief to the audience.

MIKE
Mustache time!

EVIL SPIRIT
(to audience)

The imperfect tools of mischief.

Mike and Frank move toward Bobby.

BRENDA
What do you think you are doing?

Mike pauses.

BRENDA (CONT’D)
He is dead tired from studying.

She points to Bobby and in the same instant the Evil Spirit waves her hand and THUNDER RUMBLES.

Bobby falls from his chair to the floor. They all SCREAM in horror. The Evil Spirit looks satisfied with herself as she dances around.

Tiffany rushes to Bobby, checks his pulse…

TIFFANY
Call 9-1-1.

Mike takes out his cellphone as Tiffany starts CPR. Frank jumps to help her. Brenda stares in shock.

Bob gets off the floor and walks to the Evil Spirit. Tiffany and Frank keep doing CPR where Bobby had been on the floor.

The Evil Spirit hands Bobby a cellphone. Bobby nods and dials.

Brenda’s phone RINGS. She looks at it in horror and to where the CPR is being performed. She answers it.

BOBBY
Hi, Brenda. I’m not going to make it for coffee.

Micah Tasaka

i am riverside

After Jayne Cortez’s “I am New York city”

 

i am riverside

take my brain of buses,

of gunshots, of siren screech

take my heart of foggy tap water

my hands are dying orange groves

my buildings are choking on smog

look at my coyotes, my homebums, my tumbleweeds

approach me, mountain lions

on my camp outs in Box Spring Mountain mineshafts

approach me, empty pizza box

at parasite infested river bottoms

i rub my fingers through the traffic at the 60 split

sting my palms on smashed beer bottle glass

i lick the slime from barred windows in the east side

i am riverside

here is my mouth of black sidewalk gum

here is my nose of train track hum

legs apartface between knees, faded

watch me vomit in alleyways

drunk piss behind a tree

i am riverside

look i sparkle heat steamed blacktops

and midnight bike rides to liquor stores

my shoes stomp petals of cigarette butts

my eyes bleed graffiti filled gutter walls

touch my guts of rotting Baker’s ketchup packets

smell my lungs hacking tar, sucking meth

hear my clanking Cobra 40’s and

no sleep, all night dreaming –

and under-freeway tunnels:

citizens

smoke crack with me.

 


Micah Tasaka is a queer biracial poet from the Inland Empire exploring identity, spirituality, gender, and sexuality. Their work seeks to make a playground of religious myths while de-centering the patriarchal god of their childhood for queerer deities. They have performed throughout Southern California and have featured in Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Palm Springs. Their debut chapbook, Whales in the Watertank, was self-published in 2014.

Adam Martinez

I’ve Seen the Blood Moon

“Eclipse”

There is always a certain sadness that is felt upon leaving the Indio Polo Grounds in the early hours of a Monday in April, long before the sun has risen or reached its point in the sky where you can no longer escape its rays. There is an instant longing for the magic that is spending three days in the desert with the one you absolutely love, or with close friends, or sharing in debauchery and dancing with someone strange and new—pausing to kiss at dusk while Calvin Harris plays “We Found Love in a Hopeless Place” and segues into  “Sweet Nothing” just as you peak. And then, you come down.

The next night, reveling in my Post-Coachella depression, I watched the Blood Moon eclipse with my roommates, Jeff, De Maio and Tatiana. We read excerpts from Annie Dillard’s “Total Eclipse” aloud while sipping port and eating truffles. I told them about how I saw her on Sunday. I told them that, strangely, I would have rather watched her walk into a bedroom with him than see her holding his hand, guiding him through the crowd in a place that used to be ours. I was a devout Catholic watching an unconfirmed sinner take the sacrament and get blessed with Holy Water. It was bullshit.

“What are the odds of that, Adam?”

“Yeah, dude. You have to write about this.”

I stared at the Blood Moon, an orange-reddish circle that looked tangible, if only I’d just reach up and pull it down. I was afraid. What would happen if I reached up to touch it and it wasn’t real? It looked like a clementine. I wanted to pull it down and rip open its skin, peel it to its bare flesh and taste the citrusy pulpiness burst in my mouth—a mouth that had dried out from talking and crying and yelling and talking and talking and talking about a girl with a perfectly circular mole in between her big wide eyes.

Looking up at the Blood Moon, I waited for my Rustin Cohle moment of clarity. I waited for the sky to open up, for all worlds to connect in my brain, and for time to flatten. A wave of anxiety rushed over me, like the time I watched the uninterrupted six-minute shoot-out scene in the fourth episode of True Detective. Sometimes love becomes a botched drug deal. I wondered if we were doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over. I stopped fighting and let the wave hit me, and as the eclipse began to lift, I felt a sense of hope that everything is cyclical. There is a time for happiness, sadness and more happiness—then, more sadness and that is life and it comes with seasons. It’s all circles – Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds and Tea Cups – and patience is what keeps us still in between the phases of the moon and the tides that wash in and out of our consciousness.

***

“A Conversation at a Coffee Shop”

“How are things with your boyfriend?”

She smirks at me.

I chuckle back and force out, “How are things with Hilgard?”

I can tell she is shocked and I myself am shocked that it came out of my mouth. It took me three years to get here. And it doesn’t hurt the way I thought it would.

We are sitting in my bedroom; a room she has never slept in. A room littered with Coachella posters, books, movies, a ukulele, articles of clothing (somewhere buried in a dresser drawer is the “Cupid’s Chokehold” Gym Class Heroes t-shirt I bought on our first date) and other knick-knacks she bought me over the years. A room she’s had no physical presence in until now. We are working on a gift for our godchild, and it feels all right. We share our recent shortcomings, vices, lack of consistent income, and how we thought it was ironic that we started smoking a lot of pot these last few years when, together, we were staunchly against it.

“You’re totally judging me right not, aren’t you?”

“Nah, I tried coke once at Coachella with Jon and Diego a couple of years ago. It was weird. My face was all numb for a few minutes, and I had this tunnel-vision focus walking from our campsite to the entrance. I didn’t want to do it again.”

“Ew, I’m totally judging you right now.”

We both laugh.

We carve our names into the frame of the canvas, a Mother’s Day gift for our godchild, Omi and her mother, Irish (Manang). That is a strange word to see as I type: The possessive adjective our. We are not a we – nothing is ours together, except for the six years of memories we both spent the last few years, and will perhaps spend a lifetime, trying to forget. The canvas is beautiful. I am proud of it. We made it together, despite us being not together. It is a sepia-toned photograph she took of Manang standing in front of horizontal window shades, the light bursting through each blind, illuminating her beautiful pregnant body. Manang is in the center with her baby bump, her little seed sitting inside of her, pointed to the right. She is a silhouette, a moon in total eclipse, surrounded by the words of a poem I wrote, “A Flower Blooms in Virginia.” The words surround her like stars in the night sky.

When we finish carving initials, birth dates and hearts into the wooden frame, we go for a walk.

“Sorry I didn’t tell you ‘Happy Birthday,’ it’s just that, you know, I hate you.” I laugh.

“Yeah, I know, it’s okay.”

“Let me buy you a belated birthday drink.”

“No, it’s fine.”

“No, let me. I have a gift card.”

“Oh. Well, then, yeah. Cool,” she says, with her dorky chuckle.

As we sit outside of the coffee shop across the street from my apartment, drinking our caffeinated drinks, I tell her, “It’s not that I’m not over you, it’s just that—the hardest part has been that I lost my best friend and I miss that. You’re the only person I’ve ever met who just got me and I feel like I got you, too.”

I try to avoid eye contact because my voice is shaky and I think I might cry but I make it anyways and see that her eyes are welling up too and she says, “me too.”

***

“Girl With Mole”

Her mole. That was the first thing I noticed—the mole on the bridge of her nose. It was nearly hidden by her black-framed, rectangular glasses that matched her equally black hair. Perfectly circular and protruding thickly off of her face, pulling me in like a black hole, full of mystery.

I met her at orientation, at UC Riverside, in 2004. After lunch, outside of a dining hall full of hot-blooded virgins, we participated in various Ice Breakers like “name your favorite band.”

“The Smiths,” I said, looking in her direction.

“Hot Hot Heat,” she said, as if it were some kind of retort.

She thought I was cool. I thought she was, too.

We played “the human knot,” clasping onto each other’s arms with the goal of trying to unthread the mess of body parts; just two shy strangers then.

I sat next to her in University Hall while a corny “Welcome Freshman” type of informative film about the exciting adventure that is living on campus played in the background. I caught the reflection of the film in her glasses while I snuck glances at her face. I found myself attracted to her face in a way I’d never been attracted to a face before.

After a day of guided tours and choosing fall quarter classes, it was time to go home—back to whatever routines and familiar faces we were accustomed to on sweltering summer nights that were melting quicker than ice filling red cups. She and I exchanged numbers, which led to texting. “Call me, Jojo.” She handed me my phone with her number freshly added – a number that is still in my phone, changed from “Baby” to “Anne” and erased from my memory.

***

“Tree”

A single text from her about borrowing a book prompted a dialogue between the two of us that led to a love I am not sure how to remember or forget. I continued to text her and soon, we learned each other’s schedules. I waited for her at a tree between the Bell Tower, Watkins Hall and Rivera library, walking back and forth from the tree to the corner of Watkins, placing myself back at the tree, pretending I had just arrived there when she finally made her way around the corner. From there, I walked her to her class in Olmsted Hall. For weeks, I took these brief moments to get to know more about a girl I was growing increasingly fond of with every footstep.

Soon, she invited me over to watch a movie at the apartment she shared with her older sister, Irish. I brought over Garden State and I sat utterly frozen, mouth closed, breathing through my nose, one hand gripping the couch cushion and the other on the arm of the couch.

***

“2005”

Our love story did not begin as one of Hipsterdom. Coachella transformed us into monstrous music snobs. Music was our thing and we protected it with a pretentious air. It was our secret. Initially, Hip-Hop is what we bonded over. Jay-Z was my favorite rapper, I was really into Kanye West, and I loved all things that had to do with Pharrell Williams. She loved Pharrell for reasons that made me jealous but I was just glad I found someone who knew who N.E.R.D. was. I thought “underground” rap was Mos Def, Talib Kweli and The Roots but she quickly showed me through the door of indie rap with, Atmosphere, Aesop Rock, El-P, Sage Francis, and the Living Legends, and I fell in love with this music as quickly as I fell in love with her.

At the time, I was also into emo and post-hardcore. I showed her Brand New and Taking Back Sunday.  I invited her to a show at the House of Blues on Sunset. This is where I first took her by the hand as we made our way through the crowd to watch Gym Class Heroes, Fallout Boy and the Academy Is… sing pop-punk songs about the importance of teenage love, while sad teenagers made out, moshed, and bloodied each other’s noses.

On our way home, we stopped at In-N-Out, and in the backseat, I watched Anne slowly and meticulously nibble at her cheeseburger, taking the entire ride home to finish. I found her coyness completely charming and I followed suit early on in our relationship when she brought me a burger and fries from In-N-Out after her shift working there. I carefully and quietly ate my meal in a span of an hour and a half as we watched Battle Royale in my dorm room. I didn’t want to ruin my chances with impolite eating habits.

***

“We”

We began dating, officially, on March 27th, 2005. The night before, I had been in Pomona watching a band called Northstar at The Glasshouse. She called me and told me there was a spider in the kitchen and it scared her. Her excuse was enough to make me leave the diner I was at to drive to her apartment. That night, after the spider mysteriously disappeared before my arrival, we watched The Ring with the lights off. We shared a blanket and told ghost stories after, as a candle flickered and gave us cause to snuggle just a little closer than before. To distill the quiet, we shared a Guinness and then, I finally kissed her. This is when Anne became “Jojo” to me and I was inducted into the intimately familial world in which she had been nicknamed after her mother’s friend. I felt privileged. This is where I lost myself completely to that unexplainable, inescapable feeling we are blessed and cursed to experience every so often in life.

The next months were pure magic. The stuff Puppy Love is made of. The stuff that made us go half on a half-Basenji, half-German Shepard puppy we called Luca, after a few years together. We named him after the Brand New song, which is about the character, Luca Brassi from The Godfather, one of her favorite movies. Early on, we spent our days ditching lectures, playing tennis, browsing through CDs at Mad Platter, and eating tacos from Del Taco and drinking Vitamin Waters every Tuesday.

We took trips frequent trips to Melrose and La Brea to shop at Buffalo Exchange, Wasteland, Urban Outfitters, and Crossroads, and spent hours watching Family Guy, Chappelle’s Show reruns, HGTV, and other junk TV. We celebrated month-versaries and romanced each other in a way only naïve lovers know how: Surprise picnics at botanical gardens, Hershey’s Kisses trails leading to bedrooms filled with balloons and rose petals like it was our own private prom, lipstick love letters on bathroom mirrors, living room concerts covering Savage Garden’s “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” and Foo Fighters’ “Everlong.”

***

“Our thing”

Over the years we went to so many shows, fighting our way to the barricade in front of the stage – I still have a shoebox full of ticket stubs and wristbands of all the bands that we spent days and nights watching together, lying in the grass or holding hands, kissing, hugging, brushing bangs from each other’s foreheads and fighting off taller, sweatier people in the crowds just to reach the front of the stage for.

Our first capricious trip to Coachella was in 2005. We went to watch Coldplay. We camped in the desert and fell in love with the festival culture we found. Novices of the festival circuit, we learned quickly that to be in close proximity to a headlining act, you must dedicate hours of waiting at a particular stage. At first, I was devastated when we couldn’t get anywhere near the front to see Chris Martin sing hits from Parachutes, A Rush of Blood to the Head and newer stuff from X&Y, but my bad mood was quelled as we lied on our backs in the grass, completely absorbed by the beauty that was us. Coldplay became our background noise.

When we came home from the desert, we bathed together after a weekend of dirt and sweat and no showers. It wasn’t much later that I lost my virginity to Jo. It was spring and I wanted this forever. Spending days and whole weekends, drinking whatever alcohol our underage selves could get our hands on and indulging, only separated by sleep. She twitched when she slept.

***

“Let Down”

Three years later, I cheated on her. It was a sloppy, drunken kiss that I barely remember. Maybe it’s because I saw betrayal followed by vague forgiveness in the home I grew up in and I thought that all couples worked the same. I was scared it was too good to be true anyways and it would eventually end. Maybe it was the fact that she wasn’t a virgin when we met, and I was, and that notion gnawed at my immature mind. Or maybe it was just a case of you always want what you don’t have and I didn’t have the freedom to sow my wild oats like young adults are encouraged to do.

And then we tried and tried to make it work for three more years. And then it finally ended. And then my whole life changed like the first time I met her. And I’ve never been the same. And I started to find the irony in my birth name, with the Forbidden Fruit, and all. I began to look at myself differently and I wanted to see the good in me. Instead, all I heard was myself repeating, “And I did this to myself and I did this to you, but you were brave enough to be happy without me, and you are happy now, and that is just what you deserve.” Slowly, I unraveled and didn’t know what to do with myself. I wrote songs and shot videos in which I got rid of all of the cute pictures of us and the cards and notes but it didn’t help. And I wrote poems about how much of a wreck I’d become – how jealous and impatient and needy I now was. And it was Richard and Irish consoling me often, and suddenly, I had become a let down.

***

“Days after the 4th

It was the day after the 4th of July 2011 and I had taken Luca to visit my parents for the holiday while Jo was out of town with her family. I was in the middle of walking him at dusk when the fireworks began. I should have known better, he started to freak out. We rushed back to my parents’ small apartment and he jumped into their bathroom tub, shaking from the shrill Piccolo Pete’s and M-80s. I held him and stroked the back of his ears until he fell asleep.

The next day, Anne and I broke up. There wasn’t an argument this time. Not like the times before. It wasn’t out of the blue, but it wasn’t expected either. I fought it, but the words she said to me were like a sedative. She gently put me to sleep.

“I know I don’t want to be with anyone else but you, but right now, I just need to be on my own. I can see us getting back together in the future, in a few years. You’re what I want. You’re who I want to end up with.”

I was draped in an anesthetic fog. Surrounded by these words I played back over and over. Her soft words that I clung tightly to like a body pillow. The things people say when there is nothing left to say become the keepsakes we’d rather not keep. They burrow into our brains and eat away at our delicate membranes until we are swallowed up and completely digested.

***

“Loft”

I saw her three months after later. She had already started seeing someone new. She wasted no time. We were at the bar underneath her loft in Brea with Manang and Bernard. I drank way too much and she spent the night with me in her bathroom. She nursed me, like always, and I cried, asking, “why are you with him?” and I took it out on her porcelain. I woke up with a blaring headache but everything felt okay because, somehow, we’d ended up lying on her bed and I was holding her the way I used to. And that was the first of many awkward interactions between us struggling to find a balance between ex-lovers and best friends (see: Atmosphere “Body Pillow”)

***

“Ritualism”

Some people dive deep into fitness, while others focus on their careers to distract themselves from a broken heart. Art was my catharsis. I wrote an EP called Three Days in the Desert, rapping over songs from bands we’d watched together at Coachella. I shot several music videos, trying to figure out ways to destroy any and all sentimental pieces of our relationship I had clung to. In the video for “You Win” a rap cover of the song “A Walk in the Park” by Beach House, I walked along the Santa Monica Pier to toss a Tootsie Roll lollipop flower she had made me one Valentine’s Day into the Pacific Ocean. I passed lovers, young and old, holding hands, kids playing on the boardwalk and in the arcade, a belly dancer, a trapeze artist, a sad clown making balloon animals, a psychic, troubadours with their guitar cases open for spare change, fishermen with guts in buckets, a spinning Ferris wheel, and a fortune-teller machine as I walked those wooden planks towards the open sea, fake flowers in hand – despair being filmed for others to see, be entertained by and feel pity for.

These are the rituals of the post-modern broken-hearted. Every action must be dramatized to the degree of which we feel an emotion in order for us to believe in the pop culture and/or art that we define ourselves by. These acts, of course, have to be sensationalized in writing, whether they are nonfiction or not, for fiction is already a given the second we perceive a moment in time through the senses and the image presented to us in our brains – a replica of an incident that becomes highly romanticized. It is the artist and the writer’s choice, or some may feel, responsibility, to produce a work of art that does not shy away from such perceived anguish so that someone searching for meaning in a time of heartbreak can chance upon it and identify with well thought-out, aggregated keywords.

I thought of all of the poems I had written about Anne in my thesis, the thesis that I had successfully defended a few months prior in November 2013. I was a recent graduate from a dual master degree program with no clear direction. I was not well. By Spring, as I cried and began to write the makings of this piece, I thought of the song “This Modern Love” by Bloc Party and how much it meant to us. I thought of another song called “Anne with an ‘E’” by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Perhaps it is the English major in me that could allow the romanticization of death, the idealization of dying from heartbreak—a tragic Shakespearean death, and Anne gave me that pure, unadulterated heartache that only a First Love, only someone who was everything to you and took and gave everything that made you, you, to push my mind even slightly in that direction.

***

“Watching Blood Orange at Coachella 2014”

I dreamt of her on a Saturday at Coachella, nearly three years since we broke up.  I hadn’t thought much of it. I had plenty of dreams of her since she became my ex. Despite my near-constant anxious state, I was happy I had survived the weekend without running into her.

I was watching Blood Orange with a girl that had potential. A girl that I slept with. A girl that hurt me. A girl that I had fleeting feelings for.  A girl that I wanted to sleep with again because what else was there to do. A girl that was there to distract me from the anxious and depressive state I had been in for months now. But when I saw Anne walk mere feet in front of me, boyfriend tailing behind her, an eclipse fell over it all.

In that moment, the girl became a shadow and I thought of various scenarios: Me calling out Anne’s name, Anne turning around and me sticking my tongue down this girl’s throat in the coolest way possible; me walking up to Anne and her boyfriend, saying “hey,” and punching him; Anne turning around and seeing me and it ruining her day.

It was in the upper 90s to low 100s and my face was on fire, burning with sadness and defeat, tears forming. My throat closed up for a moment, I stared ahead at the stage and watched Devonté Hynes sing, “Time will tell if you can figure this and work it out/No one’s waiting for you anyways so don’t be stressed now/ Even if it’s something that you’ve had your eye on/It is what it is.” I kept my eye on her in my peripheral vision and I realized something: after three years, I never truly let her go.

***

“Happy Birthday”

I couldn’t bring myself to tear up the two remaining photos of her. One a wallet-sized college graduation photo that I found in an old commencement announcement from 2008, the other from the Los Angeles County Fair in 2005. I wore Aviators and sported a shaved head. She had on that pure smile that was always too good for me, along with a black beaded necklace and top that accentuated her jet-black hair, eyes and the mole that I loved so much but always made her so insecure. She wore a sheer long aqua blue skirt that came down to her sandals and life was good.

I was tearing up trying to tear them apart, listening to Just Once EP by How To Dress Well. I participated in this pathetic ritual on her 28th birthday, and the first one in nearly a decade that I did not bother to call, email, or text her a simple “Happy Birthday.” It was difficult and I cracked up and it’d been three years and I didn’t know why I was still all fucked up.

The day began with me cracking jokes to myself and singing the lyrics to “Unhappy Birthday” by The Smiths. I thought, maybe I’ll tweet the link to the YouTube video, or post it to Facebook. Maybe one of our mutual friends or followers will see it and know what I mean by posting it. And maybe it’ll reach her and maybe she’ll think of me for just a moment of her day. Maybe it’ll bum her out, just a little.

I tried to distract myself by cleaning my apartment. I started in the kitchen, and made my way to the living room. After I Lysoled every inch of the bathroom, I finally got to my room and lied on the floor with sweat on my forehead. I thought of how ritualistic and methodical I had made the “getting over” process over the years; it was almost unnatural – too sterile. I’ve heard people say that it takes half of the time you’ve dated someone to get over them, or, for saps like me, it could double in length. Anne and I were together, on and off, for six years. The first six years of our adult lives. I knew nothing else. I no longer remembered the person I was that first quarter of college. He is a fictional character in my brain. With three years behind me, I was either right on time or a quarter of the way there. When I started to accept that I wasn’t going to get her back like in TV shows and movies or like my mom, with her motherly intuition, would claim for a time, I wanted desperately to speed up the process of moving on. I wanted it too badly. Just as The Supremes sang, “you can’t hurry love,” well, you can’t hurry healing. Everything in due time—it all depends upon the ticking of the clock. The clock is the object that one must surrender to in order to truly get where one hopes to be, instead of being a dog chasing its tail. We make this big deal about healing, like it has to be this ritualistic thing. Like we have to wait to go to therapy or have a religious conversion to see progress when really, it is something that happens naturally over time. The moment you feel the pain, the healing has already begun.

***

“Baptism in Sacramento”

We hadn’t spoken for three months, but for a weekend in August, we stayed up late every night, drinking beers and talking. Talking about us. Talking about her and Hilgard. God. Work. Music. Talking about anything. I just wanted to talk to her. I just wanted to sit with her in perfect silence and look at her and think about what she was thinking.

I glanced at her.

She glanced back and looked away sharply, asking, “What?” and laughing.

“Nothing, what?” I laughed back.

There was a lot of nervous laughter, like when you meet someone that makes you nervous in an exciting way, and for a moment, I had my best friend again and all was well in my world. But then, I’d see her phone light up. She’d walk out of the room, and I knew my place in reality.

“You can’t do that, man.” She said, whenever I brought something up that reminded her of the times we’ve shared. The good times.

“You didn’t fight for me.”

She said that because I had gotten so close to Manang, she didn’t have anywhere else to turn, and that’s where he came along—maybe in the same way I came along once.

On the drive to Omi’s Baptism, I rode with her cousins, Jay and Ida.

“Adam, have you met Jojo’s boyfriend?”

“No, not yet.” I said, chuckling.

“He is nice. He’s kind of like you.”

“Yeah? Then, I hope you like him.”

“We like you, Adam. Why did you and Jojo break up?”

“It wasn’t up to me,”

“Well, you know, Adam, maybe you will get back together in the future. You never know. We hope so.”

“Time will tell.” I said, turning my attention from Jay and Ida to their son, Jacob, who was sitting next to me in the backseat, asking about going to the mall to eat Panda Express.

We arrived at the church on Sunday, August 10th, 2014. It was a bright day, it was mid-afternoon, and hope was in the air. I’m not Catholic, or even baptized, so the first thing I did after hanging up with Manang and Bernard on the day they asked me to be Omi’s godfather was Google, “Godfather’s duty at baptism”. As Manang prepared Omi in her white baptismal gown and bonnet, Jo and I stood awkwardly in a pew, anticipating.

“You nervous?” I asked, not looking at her, but staring ahead towards the altar, where the sunlight burst through the round skylight, onto a crucified Jesus Christ hanging over a regal pulpit, which was surrounded by lush plants and golden candelabras.

“Yeah, you?”

“I’m all nerves. I don’t even know what we’re supposed to do.”  I was enchanted by the majesty of the cathedral and I thought it was the perfect place for Omi, a queen in the making, to be dedicated.

“Me either.”

“We’ll be okay.” I finally looked at her with a half-smile. The priest called us over – it was time to begin.

The Baptism was picturesque. We surrounded the baptismal fountain and as soon as the priest, Anne’s cousin, started praying, I felt a calm and I prayed every prayer. I prayed as hard as I could for Omi, her parents, and for Anne and I to be protectors, providers of love and guidance, and godly godparents. I prayed to lead by example. We stood side by side, Anne and I, as Omi was blessed with Holy Water. We said various “I do’s” like, do you believe in God, do you believe he suffered for us, do you renounce the devil and all of his pomp? Anne lit the candle and held it near Omi, as a symbol of God’s light. It shone brilliantly on her forehead.

As everything beautiful in life, the ceremony was over quickly and we were taking pictures with the mighty Omi, servant of God. We returned to Jay and Ida’s and I devoured plates and plates of delicious Filipino food that I’d missed for years without realizing.

Tired from her big day, Omi napped, while the rest of us drank and ate in her honor. I watched Anne take shots with her dad and cousins. I took their photo to commemorate the occasion. In the photo, she holds the shot with her left hand, and the tattoo on her bicep is seen clearly. Flowers entangled in the words, This Modern Love Rhymes With Fire. Her smile stood out to me. It always stands out. Sometimes all you can do is smile.

On the drive back to Southern California, I sat with her father in the front. I still call him uncle as a sign of respect. She sat in the very back of their maroon Toyota Sequoia with her mother, whom I still call auntie. Anne and I texted from the front to back seat through out the drive. Separated by years and sleep. We got home and went back to separate routines.

***

“Songs I’d rather not sing”

I remember playing “The Highest Commitment” by Qwel over and over again in my freshman dorm room on the weekend that she showed it to me. It was raining and I spent all of Saturday playing Bomber Man, Dr. Mario, Dig Dug, or some other video game from my childhood, on an NES emulator. It was the same when she showed me El-P’s “TOJ.” It resonates with me now that I can say that I used to be in love when he raps,  “and one time when I was deep inside your body, you purred/And I was sure that you were gonna have my baby.” This is how the verse ends, immediately followed by the aching hook, “And you can tell that maybe time is out of joint, my love/So this is maybe just an S.O.S. shrapnel/An echo of dead sentiment/Measurement tossed to nothing for no one/A wasted effort/A shrug.”

There was a time when I was certain that Jo and I would marry and have kids and we would never end in this mortal life. In that way, I always imagined our story to be unfinished and that made me feel safe. When we broke up it felt unfinished in a completely devastating way. It felt as though we’d spent years writing this remarkable story and the paper we had written it on got decimated in a fire because she left a candle burning or I fell asleep with a cigarette in my mouth; or maybe the sheets got drenched in a flood, causing the ink to smear and ooze down the page, forming one giant abject blot of ink.

Some songs will haunt me. Any song by Atmosphere will do the trick. I traded in Gwen Stefani’s “Real Thing,” which I once recorded a cover of for her birthday, for “Cool,” hoping we’ll eventually get there. I think about No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom album cover, with the moldy, rotten oranges with holes in them. And I think that’s what I’d become. Then, I think back to that Blood Moon eclipse in its wholeness and rejuvenating vitality. And I knew that, all this time, I had started to foster a new sense of self in a singular way.

***

“Boarding a plane to Virginia”

It’s December, and I’m boarding a plane to Virginia Beach to visit Omi for her first birthday. And the ruminating starts again. But that is okay, because I will be fine, and I will recover like I have in the past. And she will always be there, and I will always be there, and there will always be some form of love.

I think about how we all fall in and out of love. I think about how we’ll sit in Manang and Bernard’s living room on these late winter nights like we did in Sacramento. And I wonder if, for one glance, we’ll fall in love all over again.

“You made a huge mistake being with him. Why are you so afraid of being alone? All you do is jump from one relationship to the next. I resent you for not taking the time to be completely on your own—to be your own person, because you have so much to offer yourself.”

She’s staring at me in shock with tears welling in her big wide eyes.

“I miss you. But I guess I should thank you for leaving me because it was what I needed.” We’ve being drinking a few beers while we sit on the couch. In an inebriated stupor, I just go for it. “Look, Jo, I love you still. I do. I wish I didn’t but I do.  I dream about you at least once a week. I haven’t met another girl who has come close to you.”

The fact that I’ve just divulged this information frustrates me. “You said I didn’t fight for you enough? That’s bullshit. I fought for you. And then I fought myself, and sometimes, I still do. And I daydream about being the person you settle down with. What it would be like to come home to you, after work. Or what it would be like to see you walk in the door after a long day, and I’ve just taken Luca out for a walk, and he runs up to greet you, and you talk to him sweetly.”

***

“Maybe”

The plane hasn’t even left the ground yet. Everything turns to a maybe again.

Maybe I’ll tell her how I’ve been writing this for the better part of a year now and it’s something that finally feels right, after all the shitty fiction, and poems, and songs indebted to my own personal Lucy (see: Atmosphere “Fuck You, Lucy”). And maybe in a few months time, if I should be so lucky or blessed or whatever the fuck you call it, maybe it’ll get published. Maybe I’ll turn it into a perzine and make Xeroxed copies. Maybe I’ll gift her copy and sign it, “Jo, I still love you like the first time. Love, Adam.” Or maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe we can be friends and she can start listening to my music again, because, even though she’s with someone new, it’s been too hard for her or whatever.

Or maybe I’ve been missing the point this whole time. Maybe this is bigger than us. Maybe we can be cordial godparents and Omi will never need to know that Ninong and Ninong used to be in love, because maybe that beautiful girl was why we were brought into each other’s lives in the first place. Maybe that’s all the hope I’ll ever need in this story that remains unfinished in a way that doesn’t frighten me, because now, we are bound together by a beautiful girl. I’m sure most exes would love nothing more than to put planets between each other, histories of biblical proportions, to make it so that they were from two different dimensions entirely. But this is what it is. As the plane ascends, I can rest easy knowing that Coachella is coming up. It will be my tenth and final year, and I know I won’t be running into her again. Instead, there will be birthday parties and holidays where we’ll sit and reminisce for a few hours as we watch Omi grow.

***

 


Adam Daniel Martinez is a musician, writer, and native of the Inland Empire region of Southern California. He holds a B.A. in English from UC Riverside and an M.A./M.F.A. in English and Creative Writing with an emphasis on poetry from Chapman University.

David Stone

Love Lines for Your Valentine

Still need to write your Valentine? Use lines from a local poet.

Someone seeking clarification about another’s romantic intent and who enjoys the use of lowercase letters like e. e. cummings might appreciate a line from Cindy Rinne’s “Another Park Poem.” Inspired by a walk in Riverside’s Fairmont Park, Rinne wrote, “did you try to carve the bark/ leave a heart…” Rinne lives in Redlands. Her next work is titled “Quiet Lantern.”

Courageous individuals who are willing to be vulnerable might use lines from Cati Porter’s poem “Clearly.” “Look at me/ and tell me that you want me, that you want to heart/ the distance and that you cannot in the object see/ a flaw, and though I am (flawed) I am for you, and/ there is a small tight thought that is wound in me,/ that knowing that you love, a lightning, a lightning/ on the inside: so that you see; so that you know.” Porter lives in Riverside. Her latest book “My Skies of Small Horses” comes out this month.

Seasoned lovers may like to use lines from “Litany” from Claremont poet Lucia Galloway’s latest chapbook “The Garlic Peelers:” “O love, what is your wish?/ We’ve half again as much to say as we have said./ Set down the goblet, and the carmine wine/ sheets down its sides to pool in the bowl./ Let’s drink our words instead of hoarding them.”

Sweethearts who remind you of characters from the The Big Bang Theory should appreciate lines from Marsha Schuh’s “You and Me in Binary.” Appropriately published in the computer textbook Schuh co-wrote with Stanford Rowe, Schuh imagines a world based on four, considers the dominance of the decimal in our world and closes her poem with pondering the numerical effects of becoming a couple: “Then we unlearn it all /learn to speak binary,/ a better way,/ two as opposed to eight or ten,/ the most significant bit,/ the least significant bit/ one-two, on-off, you-we,/ binary.” Schuh resides in Ontario.

Lovers in a more ambiguous relationship may resonate with lines from the Palm Springs poet and writer Ruth Nolan. In her forthcoming book, “Ruby Mountain,” she writes, “shouldn’t I pretend you did it for love/ shouldn’t I believe it was a mistake/ shouldn’t I wonder why not/ shouldn’t I wonder why. . . .”

Those pained may appreciate the words of the title persona in Nikia Chaney’s “Sis Fuss.” The poem “Syllogizing Sis Fuss” closes: “we all hurt. And if we all/ hurt then we all hurt/ each other and the next.” Chaney lives in Rialto.

Jennifer and Chad Sweeney from Redlands are a couple, who are both accomplished poets. Jennifer provides profundity and striking imagery in her book “Salt Memory.” She writes, “As water poured into the heart flows out the palms, so does love return, as thirst, as satiation—the shape the lost ocean has carved onto the salt brick desert.”

With characteristic quirky humor in his book “White Martini for the Apocalypse,” Chad writes, “It was love./ She taught me to drive her bulldozer./ I taught her to forge my signature!”

In earthier lines from his poem “Effects,” first published in Caliban, Chad writes, “The best sex in the world happens during conjugal visits. I’ve gotten myself into prison twice, just to have it. That’s why I’m calling. Happy Valentine’s Day!” Chad Sweeney teaches creative writing at Cal State San Bernardino.

The longing and transformative power of love comes through in the closing lines of Judy Kronenfeld’s “Listen” from her forthcoming collection, “Bird Flying Through the Banquet,” 
“Let your eyes rest/ on my face. Arrest me/ in turn. I will burst/ from the seed/ of myself.” Kronenfeld is professor emerita from UCR.

Ontario poet Tim Hatch gives words to the desire to comfort one’s dearest when he or she is gone: “Scatter my memory where my memories are sweetest. Gulls cry, salt breeze carries me away. When you’re there you can breathe deep, take me inside and remember.”


For a wider array of classic poems to use for Valentine’s Day, search the Poetry Foundation’s website for “Poems for Valentines” or the poets.org site for “love poems.”

Victoria Waddle

Under the Spell of the Inland Author’s Imagination: Nalo Hopkinson Taps the Speculative and the Supernatural

I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions; not anymore that is. But in the last five years, as each year ends, I’ve picked out a few things that I’m curious about to see if, throughout the year, I can follow that curiosity wherever it takes me. This is a joyful experience, and I’m glad that authors have recently written books encouraging this practice. (A few good ones are: A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman, and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.)

My journey on the road of inquiry took a turn backward at the end of 2015. I decided I would treat myself to audio versions of old myths and epics I’d read back in college English courses. I listened to “Gilgamesh,” an ancient Sumerian epic about grief and mortality; “Beowulf,” the old English epic about the Danes and their struggle with the monster Grendel; and “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” a short symbolic tale of a knight in King Arthur’s court. I don’t know why I am now drawn to humankind’s need to slay dragons, but the tales were all as fantastical as I remembered them.

Just as I finished the epics, I read “All Stories are the Same,” an article in The Atlantic which discusses the ongoing fictional battles between people and creatures. Author John Yorke concludes with, “In stories throughout the ages there is one motif that continually recurs–the journey into the woods to find the dark but life-giving secret within.”

When we become interested in something, it pops up everywhere. For Christmas, my son gave me a copy of The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges’s compendium of imaginary creatures. Of course, there are centaurs, dragons, elves, and angels. But Borges also includes more recent literary creatures from Kafka and C. S. Lewis. His description of H. G. Wells’s Eloi and Morlocks from The Time Machine, drove me to wonder: who, in the Inland Empire, is imagining such creatures now?

In venturing into the supernatural woods, I stumbled upon Nalo Hopkinson, a professor of creative writing at UC Riverside. Two of her stories appear in Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, edited by Sheree R. Thomas (2000). “Greedy Choke Puppy” is the story of a soucouyant, a sort of Caribbean female vampire who removes her skin at night and changes into a ball of fire, searching for babies whose blood she can suck. “Ganger (Ball Lightning)” is the story of a couple who uses a technologically-enhanced second skin for fulfillment, but who find themselves fighting the life-threatening consequences.

In the more recent Unnatural Creatures: Stories Selected by Neil Gaiman (2013), Hopkinson’s story is “The Smile on the Face.” The title has its source in the limerick “The Lady of Niger,” lines of which are interspersed throughout the tale. In it, teenager Gilla is bored with a school reading assignment that includes the story of the laidly worm that ate St. Margaret. Gilla’s mum tells her that the story shows that St. Margaret was a hamadryad, a female spirit whose soul resides in a tree. Later, Gilla fearfully walks past a scary cherry tree in her yard while on the way to a party with her best friend. Gilla is ashamed of her blossoming body and large breasts. At the party, a particular boy openly ridicules her and becomes a true threat, but Gilla has swallowed the pit of a cherry from the tree in the yard. She discovers the powerful spirit of both dragon and tree within her.

Having enjoyed these stories, I bought Hopkinson’s most recent collection of short fiction Falling in Love with Hominids (2015). Of the three stories above, only “The Smile on the Face” is repeated. But the creatures of Hopkinson’s imagination abound. In the opening story “Easthound,” Millie believes that she has brought a pandemic to the world simply by misreading the word ‘eastbound’ and transforming the direction into a nightmare world where children hide from adults and fear growing up. As a character in “Message in a Bottle” says, “Human beings, we’re becoming increasingly post-human,” and the result is often terrifying. Other stories have teens who transform into human-water snakes, an elephant that appears in a living room, a child who is a magical granter of wishes. There’s a very different shaggy dog story in which fauna and flora commingle. Hopkinson reimagines Caliban and Ariel from Shakespeare’s “Tempest.” Her trees, tired of freezing weather, take flight. The story I most enjoyed for its sense of Mardi Gras magic about to collide with impending evil was “Ours is the Prettiest,” written as Hopkinson participated in a shared-world anthology, the Bordertown series.

In his introduction to Unnatural Creatures, Neil Gaiman writes, “I liked animals who existed in a more shadowy way even more than I liked the real ones. . . because they were impossible, because they might or might not exist, because simply thinking about them made the world a more magical place.” Hopkinson–who is local by way of Jamaica with a detour into Canada–takes us into the woods she inhabits with her shadowy creatures, making our world that more magical place.

Indestructible Alice Continues to Inspire by Susan Zieger

“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” turned 150 years old in November, and it remains as vibrant and relevant as ever.

At its 100th birthday in 1965, it became a totem of the counterculture, inspiring Grace Slick’s heady bolero, “White Rabbit.”

Adapted into animated and live action films, music and videogames, plentifully referenced and reillustrated, it shapes and reshapes our globalized mass culture.

Do girls today still read Carroll’s original tale? I think they should. Nowadays girl heroines train to be assassins, master their supernatural powers, or shop. By contrast, Alice dreams a world and forays into it, modeling all the qualities we should inculcate in girls: curiosity and common sense, confidence and courage.

Alice teaches girls to navigate the world without fear. When she falls down a rabbit hole, and continues falling, she gets bored and tries to calculate the distance. In passages that probably made parents squirm, she quaffs from a strange bottle labeled “drink me” and devours an unfamiliar cake titled “eat me.”

To her credit, she checks the bottle to see if it is marked poison, “for she had read several nice little stories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things. …” Carroll was mocking earlier Victorian books for children, which didactically instructed them to avoid injury and misfortune, to be proper and to become prosperous. On the graves of such grim plot lines, Carroll created a monument to sheer absurdity, uncommon sense and downright silliness.

Adrift in a dreamland, Alice ventures forth, mingling with its odd inhabitants: the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts. She meets their madness with reason and their incivility with toughness. To the caterpillar’s befogged, pedantic demand, “Who are you?” she replies, “I think you ought to tell me who you are, first.” In Carroll’s story, this behavior is not answering back; it is standing up for oneself.

Alice speaks truth to power. When the Queen of Hearts chides her to hold her tongue, she refuses, pointing out the absurdity of a trial in which the sentence precedes the evidence. Alice’s thinking is not always crystalline: She can’t precisely perform math and remember geography. But her questions penetrate the morass of unthinking custom that the often pathetic creatures inhabit, such as the mad tea party. Alice’s bracing voice should inspire girls to speak their minds to make a difference.

Perhaps the largest life lesson Alice has to offer smart, ambitious girls is not to take themselves too seriously. She grows 9 feet tall, and shrinks to become smaller than a puppy. So much happens to her in one day that she forgets who she is. Yet this doesn’t deter her from engaging the strangeness around her. “How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another! However, I’ve got back to my right size: the next thing is, to get into that beautiful garden – how is that to be done, I wonder?”

The capacity to wonder makes Alice indestructible.

The fictional Alice holds far more interest than her inspiration, the real-life Alice Liddell. Readers wring their hands about Charles Dodgson, who wrote the story under the pen name Lewis Carroll, and his relationship with his young protégé.

He photographed her in questionable poses. Her family suddenly broke off contact with him. Did he make advances on her? Propose marriage? Scholars have strained the evidence repeatedly without finding a conclusion, so we will probably never know. But Victorian sexual standards differed from ours. The age of consent for girls was raised in 1865 – from 12 to 13. Why does our culture wish to cast Alice Liddell as Dodgson’s victim? Must the story of a fearless girl adventurer be haunted by a tale of violation?

Perhaps the pedophilic narrative about Dodgson expresses parental fears about the welfare of our daughters, granddaughters, nieces and other young female relatives. But constantly imagining a predatory world in which girls are always available for victimization also helps bring about that reality. Wonderland is an upside-down world in which nonsense reigns. Is that the only context that supports a fearless girl protagonist?

I don’t recommend turning a blind eye to the real and horrible ways in which girls are routinely deprived, violated and immiserated throughout the world. But within popular culture and our own families, we can do a better job of imagining girlhood.

When girls are hemmed in by overprotective adults, they take fewer chances. When they are encouraged to be fearful, they never acquire the strength to stand and be counted. Perhaps that’s why “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” still enchants us as an ideal. On its anniversary, we can best celebrate Carroll’s story by using it to teach and delight our girls.

Let’s follow its example, to reimagine the real world as one in which they thrive.


Susan Zieger is an associate professor of English at UC Riverside who specializes in 19th century British and related literatures.

Return to lender? Borrowed books don’t always have to end up with original owner by Cati Porter

Twenty-five years ago, I borrowed Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” from a boyfriend, along with a couple of books by Jack Kerouac and a college lit anthology.

I read them all. At some point, we broke up, quietly disappearing from one another’s lives, never to speak again.

I never returned those books.

Later, from a high school friend that I’d reconnected with after moving back home, I borrowed two short story collections by Woody Allen, a memoir of a young Chinese woman, and probably others that I’ve just assimilated because, as you might have guessed, I never returned those either.

Maybe it’s just me, but there is something about borrowing books from a friend that makes me feel that I can be leisurely about returning them. My friends don’t charge me late fines, and there is no revoking of my library card if I fail to return them on time.

Of course I should have returned them, but all these years later, I only half-regret that. I didn’t borrow them with the intention of keeping them, but time passes and people move on, and sometimes only the books remain.

Among my books, I still have a couple of high school textbooks: another literature anthology – which, incidentally, contains a poem by someone I have in later years gotten to know and work with as a mentor – and also a book on Greek myths, both lost in the mess beneath my bed until it was too late to return them with dignity, fines paid, the books long replaced.

Among my recently borrowed books, I currently have a collection of poetry by Tristan Tzara, two short story collections, a novel, and CDs of Dylan Thomas reading his poetry.

Yes, I intend to give those back. But for all the books I’ve borrowed and kept, I have loaned out three times as many, many of which are either still out, some never to be returned.

Books are meant to be shared. I have never been stingy about loaning my books, even prized volumes that are personally inscribed. I am a collector, but I am not a hoarder, and I would rather a book keep making the rounds than sit on my dusty shelf.

A friend stopped by my house this week in need of poetry. He is a voracious reader and recently consumed a 900-page biography of Darwin after recommending to my husband a multivolume biography of Lyndon Johnson, which we promptly ordered.

In addition to borrowing books, I believe in buying books and supporting our local booksellers, like Cellar Door Books, Renaissance Books, Downtowne Books and the Mission Inn Museum store.

I like real books with tangible pages that can tear, dog ear, wrinkle, stain. New or used, purchased, found, loaned or given. I am not one to turn pages gently in the upper right corner, never breaking the spine.

I open my books flat, I write in them – even borrowed books, though those I only write in lightly with pencil – and I fold corners and improvise bookmarks, cram them in my purse to be jammed up against a fat wallet, multiple pens, vials of pills. I am rough with my books. I like them lived in. A pristine book is an unloved book. I love my books, sometimes to death.

One of my favorites activities is looking through friends’ bookshelves, always attuned to the evidence of lives lived in the company of books: smears of chocolate, coffee, ketchup, grease; notes in the margin, or scrawled across the page, covers detached and taped back on.

I prefer to acquire used books over buying new for that reason; the cost savings is just a bonus. I love knowing that the book had a secret life before it came into my own – that somebody loved it, then set it free. But nothing beats a free book, a book freely given or loaned. Loaning a book to someone is like belonging to an exclusive club, one where to become a member requires trust, faith, and a willingness to let things go.

That is one reason I love the new Little Free Library trend. We trust, lend and sometimes let it go. To find one near you, all you need to do is visit littlefreelibrary.org and click on the “map” tab, then select “near me.”

According to this map, there are nine near me, including at a favorite sandwich shop, The Back Street, and up on Box Springs Mountain near the big C. There is also one in front of the Women’s Club on Brockton, and another at a private residence on Falkirk and one at a private residence on Victoria Avenue at Madison.

No, you can’t reserve a book. No, there isn’t a huge selection. But the fact that so many people value books in this way is heartening and I am reminded of all that communities do for each other. This is just one way for neighbors and strangers to connect, even if they never in fact meet. Books shared are the best kind of books around.

That Milan Kundera book? Loaned to another friend, mom to one of my oldest son’s elementary school classmates. I haven’t spoken to her in years. It is doubtful that I will ever get it back.

And that’s just the way it ought to be.

Remembering the Quiet Man by Carlos E. Cortés

Sometimes writers just have to write. Hm, that’s the same line I used to begin my previous column about how I was driven to write about the death of our beloved kitty, Tigger. But that time the “have to” was propelled internally. This time the impetus came from the outside.

This “have to” began a few weeks ago with a phone call from my wife’s sister, Joy. Her husband, Bill, had just died after years of declining health. A proud 85-year-old retired lieutenant colonel, Bill wanted a formal Marine burial in Miramar National Cemetery in San Diego.

As Joy explained to me by telephone, the cemetery allotted a strict thirty minutes for such events: a ten-minute Marine ceremony; ten minutes for the family; and ten minutes for the burial itself. Then came Joy’s request: would I be willing to present a ten-minute eulogy about Bill as part of the ceremony? Of course, I answered. This was one of those “have to” moments, one that created a formidable writer’s challenge.

I’d never given a funeral eulogy. Plenty of talks at celebrations of life, but never at a funeral. In fact, I had never even attended a military funeral. As I thought about my eulogy, the word, “appropriate,” hung threateningly over my head.

I also was never a Marine. Just two years doing public relations as a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, where my major assignment was writing press releases for social events of the Officers’ Wives Club.

On top of that, I didn’t know Bill all that well. I saw him occasionally, mainly at large gatherings of the Vermilyeas, my wife Laurel’s casual, sprawling (eight siblings), outgoing family. During those boisterous Vermilyea events, Bill, a friendly but innately reserved man, tended to share little about himself. Over the course of forty years, he and I probably hadn’t spent 60 minutes total in one-on-one conversation. As I thought about my challenge, those ten minutes kept getting longer and longer.

Fortunately, in his last years Bill had written down a few of his memories of growing up in Mariposa, California. That was a start.

Then there was his family. Besides Joy, Bill had five daughters, now spread from Nebraska to New Zealand. So I wrote to his daughters, asking if they would briefly share with me some stories about their dad. Three responded with charming reminiscences. Now, how to put it all together?

Compared to most creative writing endeavors, preparing an imminent funeral eulogy is truly high pressure. There is no waiting until you’re in the mood, no gracious time to let your ideas gestate, no ruminating about who might read it, no opportunity for second chances. With a funeral eulogy, you’ve got one shot at it. Opening night is also closing night.

And you know your audience. In this case, there were six people I wanted to please: Joy and Bill’s five daughters at a time of supreme loss. Anyone else was a bonus.

My writing predisposition is to choose a single image and then build a story around that. So I began the eulogy with an image: “When I think of Bill Stewart, I remember him as The Quiet Man.” From there I constructed a narrative about Bill, integrating some of his own written childhood reminiscences as well as stories from his daughters.

How I labored over those six pages! Draft after draft. Laurel remarked that she had never seen me work so hard on a piece of writing.

The ceremony began with the Marines conducting a profoundly moving American flag ceremony in front of Bill’s ashes and firing 21 shots in honor of their deceased comrade. When I got up to speak, I felt as much pressure as I ever have in my long public lecturing career.

I think the eulogy went well. Joy and one daughter hugged me. Two others sent me very nice thank you letters. Maybe best of all, my sense is that The Quiet Man would have been happy, too.


Carlos E. Cortés is professor emeritus of history at UC Riverside and author of a memoir, “Rose Hill: An Intermarriage before Its Time.”

Spooky Story in Three Parts by Christina Guillen

Still Hungry for More Thrills & Chills?

We will continue to run a new story each day this week. These stories were written at an Inlandia workshop for those wanting to write for Ghost Walk.

***

Part I—Ghost in the Dark

ANY RIVERSIDE BUILDING 1935

(Phone rings in office. Secretary smiles and laughs, passes phone to Building Owner.)

Owner smiles: “A boy! No kidding…Wonderful! Be right there!”

Owner (To the cleaning woman.): “Go on home, I’m a granddaddy!”

Owner (To the carpenter.): “Go home, I’m a granddaddy!”

Owner (To the secretaries.): “Go on home, I’m a granddaddy!”

(Staff leaves. Owner locks door and kicks heels.)

(Dim lights, late afternoon.)

(Electrician with bag of tools knocks on the front door, Ghost Woman, long black hair, answers.)

Electrician: “Afternoon ma’am, here to look at the ‘ol hot box. Can you show me the electrical room?”

(Ghost Woman leads him to a door to a tiny room and right away he finds the boxes.)

Electrician: “Thank you.”

Ghost woman: “Uweka.”

Electrician: “Uweka, ma’am? I’ll have the job done faster than you can blink!”

(Electrician sets bag of tools on floor and gets to work.)

Electrician (Scratches head.): “Let’s see…”

(Electrician sighs and peeks behind him. Ghost woman waits and watches. Electrician shocks himself.)

Electrician: “Ouch! Diggity-diggity! Excuse my language, I don’t mean to be crude before a lady. Having a bit ‘o trouble here.”

Ghost woman (Glaring.): “Uweka.”

Electrician (Scratches head.): “Ha? Doing everything I can…”

(Ghost woman stares.)

(Lights buzz, brighten. Electrician smiles.)

Electrician: “All set ma’am, thank you for waiting. I’ll be going now.”

(Ghost Woman leads him back the way he came and he leaves.)

OWNER’S HOUSE

(Owner and his Wife in living room.)

Owner: “I just remembered! I forgot to call the electrician yesterday and tell him not to come. I better call and apologize.”

Wife: “Yes, you’d better.”

(Owner dials, phone rings.)

Electrician: “Hello?”

Owner: “Yes, this is the owner of the ____________ building downtown.”

Electrician: “Good morning, how do you do sir? Everything went fine yesterday. Your lovely secretary let me in and helped me find the electric boxes.”

Owner: “Are you sure? I was just calling to apologize for not notifying you. I forgot to tell you everyone went home early. There shouldn’t have been anybody at all to let you in. I personally gave everyone permission to leave and locked the door myself.”

Electrician (Big eyes.): “Uweka! Uweka!”

Owner (Looks at phone.): “So sorry, I’m, I don’t understand…”

(Electrician hangs up. Dial tone sounds.)

Owner: “Hello, hello? Hello…”

(Wife looks at owner.)

(Lights flicker.)

Part II—Spider Who Keeps Watch

GAS STATION 2015

(Axel swats a spider.)

Gonzo: “I wouldn’t kill spiders on Halloween.”

Axel: “Gonz, you’re takin’ this Halloween stuff too far—”

Customer (Out of breath.): “Pump #4 is completely covered in spiders!”

Gonzo: “Sorry ma’am, just pull up to Pump #3.”

Customer: “No way!”

(Customer drives off.)

Axel: “I saw a can of kill spray somewhere…”

(Gonzo shakes his head.)

Axel (Sprays can.): “What?”

Axel: “You see, nothing happened.”

Gonzo: “Bravo Ax. Let’s clean up ‘n get outta here…”

Axel: “What’s up with you? C’mon let’s hear it.”

Gonzo: “How ‘bout this, you mop, I tell.”

Axel: “Ok, ok…better be good.”

Gonzo (Cleans counter.): “My great-grandfather was Native American. His name was Spider, known as

“Spider Who Keeps Watch” after it happened.

(Axel looks at Gonzo.)

Gonzo: “It was Halloween night.”

Gonzo: “Spider and his friend snuck out their boarding school. They ran far away so nobody would tell them not to speak their Native Paiute (pie-oot) language or tell them to go back to bed. They went to Mt. Rubidoux. Now, Spider really wanted to impress the girl so he told her something in Paiute.”

FLASHBACK MT. RUBIDOUX 1930, act out or tell by Gonzo.

(Spider, short hair, and Woman (same as Ghost Woman) long black hair.)

Gonzo or Spider: “Last week I ditched school, found a door…”

Gonzo or Woman: “What’s inside?”

(A customer screams at gas pump.)

(Gonzo and Axel run outside.)

Axel: “Holy moly bro, check out this black fog!”

Gonzo (Sarcastic.): “Fantastic.”

Customer: “Help! Dead something at pump #2.”

Axel clears throat: “Ma’am…it’s nothing but a bag of smelly sandwich.”

Axel: Full of spiders!

(Axel swats.)

(Customer screams, drives away.)

(Axel kicks bag away. Axel, Gonzo go back inside.)

Gonzo: “Now where was I…So Spider and his girl dug out rocks and wild plants and found a slab of wood (scraping sounds). They ripped off the wood and found a chain (chain sounds). The chain led to a door in the mountain. They put their ears to the door and listened. Nothing.”

(“Ding-dong” gas station door, customer leaving. Gonzo rolls his eyes. Axel laughs.)

Gonzo: “Anyway, they smashed a rock to open the lock and the door opened. Out came black fog and a sound that squeaked and cried the most horrifying sounds, worse than the screech of an animal that knows it’s gonna die. It smelled like wine. It opened to the tunnels under these buildings—”

Axel (Looks under his feet.): “Tunnels?”

Gonzo: “Yep. Then a fuzzy arm, part man, part beast, pulled his friend inside. On instinct, Spider spoke Paiute, “Uweka,” which means, “Go to sleep.” Good thing ‘cause the thing spit his girl back out, but not before taking her soul. Spider slammed the door snapping off the creature’s fuzzy arm.”

Axel’s (Jaw drops.): “Gonz…dude…”

Gonzo: “Yeah. Spider turned the creature’s leg into a staff and vowed to guard the opening. Thereafter he was known as “Spider Who Keeps Watch.””

Axel: “Dang, grotesque-ulous!”

(Gonzo nods.)

Axel: “Ok soooo…that explains why I can’t kill spiders because…”

Gonzo: “Oh it doesn’t, I’m just superstitious.”

(Big fake fuzzy spiders on strings lower from ceiling bouncing up and down, piñata style, tickling people’s heads. Fog.)

Part III—Beast Unleashed

LIVING ROOM 2015

(Two teens surrounded by piles of books and magazines.)

Henry (Opens book.): “Alright, a hundred dollars!”

Aunt Selena (Cleaning gear.): “Goes in the jar!”

Henry: “We know Aunt Selena.”

(Aunt Selena walks away.)

Becky: “Grandpa loved creepy stories.”

Henry (Shakes another book, money falls out. Puts in jar.): “He did, look, beasts and banshees…psychic mind powers…”

Henry: “Ghosts and auras…”

Henry: “All this time I saw grandpa reading, I never knew what.”

Henry: “Look! Another hundred bucks!”

Aunt Julia (Cleaning gear.): “You know, maybe we can use a little to buy your Halloween costumes…You are trick-or-treating tonight right?”

Becky: “Really mom? We’re fifteen and sixteen years old.”

Aunt Julia (Aunt Julia shrugs, walks away.): “Okay, okay. Excuse me, adults.”

Becky (Shakes head.): “Man! All I’m finding are cutout articles. Laaame.”

Henry: “Where? Let me see.”

(Becky shows pile of articles.)

Henry: “Wow you found a lot!”

Becky (Reading.): “Paranormal Catacomb Catastrophe,” “Spiderman Leaves Mt. Rubidoux,” “Electrician’s Ghost Woman.”

Henry: “What! Electrician? That’s grandpa!”

Becky: “Right? Look his photo!”

Henry, Becky (Reading.): “…electrician was on a job to repair the facility’s light fixtures…”

Becky: “Incredible grandpa…”

Henry (Murmuring reading.): “It says he saw a ghost. She spoke to him…”

Becky: “She? What did Miss Ghostie say?”

Henry: “Doesn’t say.”

Becky: “Oh. Woah! A journal!”

Henry: “Is there a date matching this article?”

Becky: “OMG, yes! Right here…“I encountered a ghost woman with long hair. She said, “Akewu.”””

Henry: “What’s that ‘sposed to mean?”

Becky (Shrugs.): “Do you think grandpa was trying to solve something?”

Henry: “Think so…look, a drawing.”

Becky (Whispers.): “…A map.”

Henry: “Know it?”

Becky (Excited whisper.): “It’s close, we can walk.”

(Becky, Henry smile.)

RUBIDOUX

(Becky, Henry find the spot, dig, hit a chain. They pull chain and find a door in the mountain. They scrape away dirt and find a locked handle. They raise hammer to knock it open.)

(Spider, a Native American man with a fuzzy staff appears.)

Spider: “Spider Who Keeps Watch warns you of this place.”

Henry: “We aren’t doing anything wrong. We just want to help our grandfather.”

Spider: “Your grandfather wouldn’t like you to be here. Not safe.”

Becky: “He left clues, I’m sure he wants us to figure his mystery out.”

Spider: “Many have died. Great danger. Leave now.”

Henry: “But, we have to help him solve his mystery.”

Spider: “I have warned you three times.”

(Spider disappears.)

(Becky, Henry smash the lock with hammer.)

Becky: “Smell the wine?”

Henry (Nods.): “Like the journal says…And it says to say the ghost woman’s word: Akewu.”

(A foul sounding rustle and screech emits.)

(A long fuzzy man/beast arm protrudes. Black fog emits.)

Becky: “I don’t like this. Quick say the word again!”

Henry: “Akewu!”

(A man deformed with many grotesque spider features creeps out around audience.)

Henry: “Akewu! Akewu!”

Becky (Takes off shoe.): “EeeEeee! There’re spiders crawling in my shoes!”

(Ghost woman with long hair walks out around audience.)

(Spider Who Keeps Watch appears.)

Spider: “The word is Uweka. You say it backwards.”

Becky (Looks at Henry.): “Why would grandpa write it backwards?”

Spider: “Perhaps he was protecting what he did not understand.”

Henry: “What’s “Uweka”?”

Spider: ““Uweka” means “Go to sleep.””

Becky: “And Akewu?”

Spider: ““Akewu” means “Wake up.””

(Becky and Henry look at each other.)

(More Ghouls escape through door, circle audience.)

(Sound of spiders scurrying. Throw fake spiders. Fog fills room.)