Ever Dirty, Ever Clean
by Erin Venuti ’20
“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
I close my eyes, gently, as the priest slowly marks a cross in the center of my forehead, in the same spot where my index and middle finger touch when I reach for the Father. I feel a few specks of the ashes sprinkle on my nose.
During my journey back to the pew, I become overly aware of the mark on my forehead. Does it look more like a cross or a smudge? Is it deep and dark or dry and light? Then I laugh at the irony, of the vanity in the desire for a perfect cross. Does such a thing exist? A perfect blemish.
Each year, on Ash Wednesday, I wonder what it would feel like to wake up early and go to the first mass of the day. To be marked with the ashes almost as soon as I wake up and go about my daily life with the cross on my forehead. What it would be like to meet someone who isn’t like me and be asked why in the world a grown woman would have literal dirt painted on her face. To be asked why I wanted the dirt so badly. Why I willingly approach the altar to get my dirt each and every year. After all, it’s only dirt…right?
In the end, I never do go to that first mass. I sleep in and go to class and, as the sun is waning, I get my ashes. No one has ever asked me why I have dirt on my face because they almost always have dirt on their face too.
Before bed, I examine the cross in my bathroom mirror. It’s lighter now, but present, nonetheless. By now, it looks more like a bruise, a wound on its way to healing. I wonder if I should wash it off, but, ultimately, I resolve to leave it be. After all, I am who I am, even in sleep.
When the sun rises the next morning and flows plentifully through my window, the mark has faded to the faintest of shadows. Few would know its presence upon first glance. Even still, I can feel it, the finality of the priest’s thumb as the cross is retraced year after year. One day, one week, one month, one year later, I can feel it.
Even now, I have dirt on my face. I paint on a little bit more each time I sit down for a meal or step into a church. Every day, I wake up and go about my daily life with the cross on my forehead. Only this cross is perfect. It will always be perfect.
Fast Fiction: Dream First Date
In six words or less write a story about your dream first date… Go!
Only us drowned in candlelight.
by Grace O’Connor ’22
A good laugh…all I need.
by Erin Venuti ’20
Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and…
by Connor Zimmerman ’20
They laugh together, and she’s happy.
Clara Howard ’20
Stole my heart, then my wallet.
by Kate Ward ’23
Ends with plans for a second.
by Sarah McLaughlin ’23
This is the Year
by Erin Venuti ’20
Dear Erin (2010),
I’m reminded of you every day, without fail. I think about how you feel most comfortable wearing leggings and UGGs and a scrunchie—who would have guessed that they’d be back in style again?—and how I’m wearing all three of those things right now. I think about how much you love Harry Potter and the smell of lilacs and sitting in the second row of a classroom.
This is the year you become a teenager, the year you turn thirteen. Thirteen…to me, that sounds like such a small number, but I know that to you it feels so large. Thirteen.
Do you know that this is the year when your best friend will stop being your best friend? The first time you’ll begin to think that you’re not good enough.
The year you’ll experience loss, real loss for the first time? The first time you’ll go to a funeral and think about how you know someone in Heaven now.
Do you know that the thing you want to do with your life, your plan for the future, that it will really happen?
This is the year that will change your life.
I want you to know that you’re always going to be you. Your life will change, but you’ll stay the same.
I still have all those same doubts and insecurities. I still take pictures of the sunrise and love the sound of snowplows as I fall asleep. I still make up stories for the strangers I see and think about how the cars that pass me on the road are all playing different music. I still wonder if I’m as good as everyone else. I still love to wear warm clothes right out of the dryer and make homemade Valentines.
But that’s not a bad thing, you know? If I had the choice, I wouldn’t want to be another person. No matter what, I still want to be me.
My world has grown, and
I’ve grown with it. I don’t just have dreams, but plans. I’ve been to other countries, lived by myself. I know how to drive a car and buy a train ticket. I have money, not just the change leftover from the lunch money you get each morning, but money that I worked for. I have a degree, am on my way to get my next, and have plans for the one after that.
I still write. I wish I could write every day, but I don’t. Even still, I have words that are printed in a newspaper and a journal. I’ve even won a couple of awards. Can you believe it? There are people who think I’m a good writer. There are people who call me a writer.
Erin, the next ten years are going to be so much harder than the last. SO much harder. But you’re going to make it through it. You’re going to grow through it. You have no idea how much you’re going to grow.
Thanks for everything you are, and everything you are going to be.
It’s a Wonderful Night
by Erin Venuti ’20
Her last Christmas season here.
The first one was exciting. Although they’d had an entire Thanksgiving break to get ready, it seemed that the campus had transformed itself overnight. Each day, Kate discovered something new—another Christmas tree, more lights, the cheesy decorations in the dining hall. She and her roommate Ashley had made sure to decorate their dorm room as well, so as to feel more at home. One day during the weeks leading up to Christmas break, the two girls made the trek to the Dollar Tree that sat just off campus, where they filled a shopping basket to the brim with garland, stockings, and window gels. They each also picked out a stuffed reindeer. Kate named her’s Gerald.
She was sitting in Alumni when the text came through: all classes canceled due to snow.
There were few times when you could tell exactly what everyone on campus was thinking. The minutes following a snow day announcement fell into this category. In the same breath, the entirety of Alumni gasped in excitement and frantically began chattering about all of the classes they would be missing the next day. Soon, the exodus of students started, no doubt off to begin their impromptu “Friday” night as soon as possible.
Kate had been in Slavin for so long that she’d not even noticed it was snowing. Hell, she didn’t even know it was supposed to snow. She was too busy trying to ward off the imminent finals-induced panic attack.
Her phone started ringing—it was Ashley.
“Hey,” Kate said, her voice cracking from lack of use.
“Where are you? I haven’t seen you in days.” It sounded like she was accusing Kate of committing a crime.
“We had breakfast together this morning.”
“Yeah, but that wasn’t really you. That was Morning Kate.”
Kate rolled her eyes, even though Ashley couldn’t actually see her through the phone. “Did you have a question?”
“No, I have a request.”
“The answer is no, I’m not doing your laundry again.”
“Shut up,” Ashley said, in a suddenly less-serious tone. “I need you to come to the library.”
Ashley started laughing. Kate heard a muffled voice on the other end. She couldn’t tell who it belonged to.
“Don’t worry about it,” she managed to get out. “Just come.”
Kate sighed. “Fine.”
By the time she was off the phone, Alumni had nearly emptied out. There were only a few tables that were still occupied, small groups of friends whose snow-day-eve plan clearly included killing time in Slavin.
Kate quickly packed her things and zipped up all of her layers—in the earlier winter days of her college career, she’d taken care to make sure her hat, scarf, and gloves all matched, but nowadays she just threw on whatever she happened to touch first that morning. Frankly, at this point, her sweater could be inside out and she probably wouldn’t have noticed.
College campuses were strange. Depending on the time of day, they could be completely different places. Just that afternoon, when Kate’s last class ended and she set up shop in Slavin, PC had been bustling with students—walking to class, talking with friends, complaining loudly to parents over the phone. Absolutely kinetic. But then the sun had gone down and a snow day had been declared, and now everything was distant. There was still that same energy, but now, it was all potential. Every student seemed to be waiting for Something Great to happen.
Careful not to slip on the wet tile, Kate ascended the stairs and emerged from the pit of Lower Slavin into the openness of the Slavin Atrium.
Her heart leapt.
She smiled, and pure joy trickled from her heart all the way to her fingers and toes.
It’s snowing! It’s actually snowing!
It wasn’t like she’d never seen snow before. She’d grown up in New England, after all. But this snow was, somehow, a different kind of snow.
Or perhaps it was the same kind of snow she’d always seen, and that it had only felt different because it had been so long since she’d last felt that overwhelming sense of childlike happiness.
Slavin Lawn and the stretch of campus that led up to the library was blanketed in powder. It was still coming down in a mist that faded the brick buildings, transforming the view into one of those old photographs of PC way-back-when that they have lining the walls on the second floor of Harkins.
Kate pulled her hat down over her ears, shoved her hands deep in her pockets, and stepped outside. She could hear the scraping of plows against the pavement off in the distance, a sound that, strangely enough, she found peaceful, having spent most of her school days living on a main road. As she walked to the library, she gave no thought to the goofy grin that was plastered across her face.
She was nearing her destination when—
A small object collided with her backpack. She turned in the direction from which the object came, just in time to be hit square in the chest by a snowball.
Ashley and two of their other friends, John and Avery, jumped out from behind a few trees. Kate’s roommate was cackling uncontrollably, so much so that she had no time to prepare for the snowball that Kate sent flying towards her in response.
It was on.
Soon, the four seniors were engaged in the battle of the century. They were merciless, even after Avery accidentally hit a passing group of friars, who decided that they would have some fun too.
Finally, the winter warriors called a truce, and Kate and her friends agreed to return to Kate and Ashley’s apartment for a screening of It’s a Wonderful Life (a snow day tradition of theirs) and hot chocolate with extra chocolate.
Half an hour later, Kate was cocooned in a blanket and sipping chocolate on her couch in Davis, while her friends were joking around and attempting to toss marshmallows in each other’s mouths. Only now did she realize that she hadn’t given any thought to her finals since leaving Slavin earlier that night. It was as if the snow had covered her anxiety as well—of course, come morning, the snow would begin to melt, and her stress would begin to peek through again. But, for now, all was well.
Kate gave Gerald a squeeze. After three years, his tummy had gone flat and his antlers had begun to droop, but he was still going strong.
If a one-dollar stuffed reindeer could make it this far, Kate thought to herself, So can I.
And so ended an absolutely, incredibly, surprisingly, wonderful night.
The Path Home
by Erin Venuti ’20
Amidst a string of warm autumn days in October, there was a cold, dry night the week before Halloween. And it was on this cold, dry night that she noticed the footprints.
She was walking back from the library after a late-night study session for her biology midterm. It was two in the morning and one of the security guards had kicked her out of the library just as it was closing. As a freshman, she might have protested or relocated to Slavin for an all-nighter, but she was a senior now, and she was tired, so she was reluctantly making the trek back to Davis to go to bed.
She might not have noticed the footprints if she hadn’t been listening to the “Release Radar” playlist on Spotify, because the first time she looked down at the ground was when she pulled her phone out of her pocket to skip the new Taylor Swift song she’d already heard a hundred times that day.
Now, she saw them—too small to belong to a college student. Too wet to make sense. And because the owner of these feet had been barefoot, she could tell that they were missing the second toe on their right foot, giving the illusion that their left foot was slightly larger.
Perhaps it was a Halloween prank or perhaps they’d always been there or perhaps she was only imagining them, but because they were so distinctive, and it was two in the morning, and she was alone, and they were going in the direction of her apartment, she couldn’t help but notice that her heartbeat was beginning to speed up.
She looked up and around. No one. Harry Styles continued to sing through her AirPods and she breathed in the sweet, thick detergent drifting from the cracked window of the McDermott laundry room.
She kept walking, not daring to step on the footprints.
Her heart crashed in her chest and her hands flew to her headphones, yanking them from her ears.
She looked down at the footprints again, confirming they actually existed. They did.
She fought the pressure that was threatening to close her airways. What air made it to her lungs seemed to be lacking oxygen.
The noise was getting closer. Slowly, she dared to look to the right of the walkway, where the sound originated, searching the shadowed leaves at the edge of the grass.
And to her relief, the footprints had changed course and were no longer headed in the direction of her apartment but had rather taken a sharp left turn between McDermott and Aquinas and into the quad. She put the AirPods back in her ears, pressed play, and continued on past St. Dom’s, Feinstein, St. Joe’s, Guzman, and at the bottom of the stairs took a left on that walkway that used to be Huxley. From here, she could see the window of her bedroom, her roommate’s fairy lights fading off and on.
It occurred to her, here, that she’d not seen another person since she left the library, which, even at two in the morning, was unusual at PC.
She noticed, too, that she was about to cross paths with the footprints again. Except this time, they were coming from the opposite direction. They were heading toward her.
And they were getting closer.
by Erin Venuti ’20
Trey and Christina: A Modern Retelling of Chaucer’s Epic Poem, Troilus and Criseyde
by Erin Venuti ’20
“Okay, but I’m warning you right now, before I start, I might start crying.”
“Seriously, Jeff, stop being so dramatic.”
“Shut up, would you Alison? I’m trying to tell a story.”
“But you haven’t even started yet!”
“All right. Here goes it — the story of Trey, his first love, and how it all just went downhill from there…”
* * *
Our story starts on the first day of college, when Trey and I moved into our room in St. Joe’s hall. We didn’t talk much before school started, but thankfully, he seemed nice enough when we finally met. I have to admit, too, I was a bit worried he’d be one of those obnoxious Chad-types once I found out that his dad was this big-shot alumni on some board of the school. But he was cool.
Once we were all moved in and our parents had cleared out, we both slumped down on our beds in exhaustion.
“So…” I started, without much idea of where I was going to end.
“What time do we have to meet for orientation?” Trey asked.
“Sweet, so we have some time to kill. Wanna grab a coffee?”
As we walked to Dunkin’, I asked Trey about his older brother, who was already a senior here.
“Oh yeah, Hector? He’s a good guy, one of my best friends. Actually, he’s one of the OL’s,” he said, excitedly. “Made some questionable decisions, though.”
“Huh?” Couldn’t have been too questionable, if he managed to get a leadership position.
“Yeah, he met his girlfriend during OL training over the summer. They’re disgusting.”
Still confused, I asked, “What do you mean?”
Trey rolled his eyes. “I just think it’s a waste, the whole college relationship thing. I mean, seriously, college is supposed to be this awesome, freeing thing, but then you just attach yourself to another person? It’s foolish is what it is. Really, truly foolish.”
To be honest, I was a bit shocked. “Well, you…definitely feel passionate about relationships.”
Trey laughed. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those hopeless romantics.”
“Nah. I just think you might feel differently one of these days.” We’d reached Slavin at this point. Opening the door, I turned back and added, “You never know.”
We descended the stairs towards Dunkin’ and once we got lost in the sea of other freshmen attempting to do the same thing as us we forgot all about our conversation.
That is, Trey may have forgotten about it. I remembered it, especially after what happened next.
After our caffeine boost, it was just about time to go to Peterson to start orientation. Don’t worry — I’ll skip all that stuff about icebreakers and info sessions (I’m sure you remember how it was for you). Anyway, at lunch, I ended up sitting across the table in Ray from this girl, Christina, who ended up being my orientation buddy. You know, the person that you sit next to during all the circles and talking with while you’re walking from session to session? That’s who we were.
She was quiet, but when she talked she said a lot. After the session where the dean of students (or maybe it was somebody else…I don’t remember) made a comment that a lot of people at PC meet their husband or wife here, we ended up having the same conversation about relationships that I’d had with Trey earlier that day. Turns out she was going through a break up, after her high school boyfriend cut it off over the summer.
“So, I’m not really looking for a relationship right now. I think I need to focus on myself. Maybe sometime in the future,” Christina added, taking a bite of a chicken nugget. Then we both burst into laughter. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to throw out so many cliches…but anyway, what about you? Have anyone back home?”
Oof. Almost as if she knew. “Well, sorta.” So, I told her — but you know all of that, of course.
“Wow,” she said, letting out a breath and collapsing against the back of her chair. “Well, here’s hoping college is at least slightly less dramatic than that.”
And in a show of finality and irony, we picked up our plastic cups of pink lemonade and clinked them against each other.
* * *
Back in our room during one of our breaks, Trey told me about this party his brother Hector was throwing at his house later on that night and said I could come.
“Yeah, I’ll come.”
“Nice,” said Trey. “Oh, but I’m going over early to help him set up, so I’ll just text you the address.”
“Nice,” he said again. “Feel free to bring people, too.”
Obviously, my mind went to Christina. “Yeah, sure.”
A few hours later, I found myself walking down Eaton Street with Christina. It was definitely weird, going out for the first time in college, but with a girl. I’d just thrown on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, but Christina had clearly tried hard to make herself look a certain way. Clearly, she didn’t want to look like all the other freshmen girls we’d seen pouring out of Meagher, McVinney, and Ray. She was dressed in all black — black jacket, black jeans, and black boots — and her dark, shiny hair was slicked back in the cleanest ponytail I’d ever seen. Like I said, she was quiet, but she stood out.
At Hector’s house, we found ourselves a relatively empty corner to stand and talk. I was surprised no one was offering us drinks, even though neither of us was holding a cup or a bottle. It was almost as if it had something to do with the way Christina was standing, like she’d already ended every conversation with a stranger before it even started.
Christina was in the middle of telling me a story about her dog when I got a text from Trey: You here?
Yeah, I replied. Looks like the living room. Corner by the window.
Nice. I’ll come find you.
“Sorry,” I said, looking up at Christina. “That was my roommate. He’s coming to find us.”
“Okay,” she said, and continued her story about her dog.
About a minute later, I looked up at the room and scanned the crowd to see if I could find Trey. Just then, I saw him walk into the room and do the same. I waved when I thought he saw me, but he didn’t move towards us or wave back. Instead, he just stood there, staring at something to my right. I glanced over and realized he was looking at Christina, who was completely oblivious to what seemed to be going on with my roommate. I looked back at Trey, who looked like his insides were doing a gymnastics routine.
I did tell him he might feel differently someday. Still, even I didn’t think that day would come so soon.
To Be Continued…
Grounded in Memory
by Erin Venuti ’20
Every place I go, I take a rock,
So, when I’m floating off,
My feet will know to stay calm.
In my hand, the stone warms, wakes,
Remembers the spot from which it came–
A shore, a city, a country, a place–
Not long ago, I weaved my way
Through clotted streets,
Where crumbling concrete sidewalks
Turn to cobblestones,
Past gray ruins and vibrant pink houses,
Toward that stretch of stones
That’s kissed by the whispering water;
Where, regardless of the month,
The cement wall and stony shore are always cool.
Until the roofs of the houses behind us
Are warmed by the sun
And our faces are warmed
By the laughter that surrounds us,
And, suddenly, the rock doesn’t seem so cold.
Before I go, I take a rock,
So, when I leave this place
and I’m floating off,
My feet will know to stay calm,
And I’ll remember the spot from which I came–
That shore, that city, that country, that place.
The Other World
by Erin Venuti ’20
In the third grade, your world is very small. There’s the house, the grocery store, the dance studio. Most importantly, there’s that brick building with the linoleum floors and the bright fluorescent lights to which you’re transported each morning in your mom’s trusted minivan. This is the elementary school.
This was Fay’s world. But unlike most, Fay wasn’t satisfied with the size of her world. Fay wanted her world to be bigger. So, she discovered the fairies.
Well, she wanted to believe that she discovered the fairies, though she was sure the fairies had been the ones to discover her — fairies had a very distinctive ability to hide.
Their first encounter was during recess, after a particularly grueling math class. While most of her class took off towards the soccer field, Fay made her way towards the playground, claiming one of the metal swings by the edge of the woods.
She began to pump her feet, smiling in satisfaction as she rose, as if by magic. The field in the distance, populated by her screeching peers, zoomed in and out of view. When her feet could reach no higher, Fay let go of the swing and launched herself into flight.
Too soon, her feet connected with the ground. Then her knees and her hands. Dust clouded her vision. When she regained herself, she rolled over, so she was sitting on the ground, and inspected herself for injuries which, thankfully, she seemed to be lacking.
Everything was quiet, as if the playground had been transported to someplace miles away. The only sound, aside from Fay’s steadying heartbeat, was of the whisper of wind drifting lazily towards the woods, towards the opening of the path she hadn’t noticed earlier.
Fay stood, without struggle, and stepped cautiously towards the entrance. She did not hear the sound of the bell, or of her peers stampeding the door, or of the teacher shouting her name, half an hour later, when it was discovered she had not returned to class…
But if she had heard, Fay wouldn’t have cared. Her world was bigger now.
by Erin Venuti ’20
With each Christmas season, the sky descends upon the earth, sprinkling the world with stars. As she drives through town, she passes constellations on either side of the road — berries of light growing in gardens, golden icicles draped from roofs, the curious, childlike flicker of a candle in the window. In the town center, the elms disappear and are replaced by spirals of yellow, narrow where the trunk should be and blossoming outward as far as the branches might stretch.
The radio sings quiet carols and she can’t help but listen in silent awe. She’s seen 21 Christmases and for each one she’s been a different person: an infant, still wrapped in swaddling clothes herself; a girl with a toothy grin and a bow, eager to see what Santa will bring tonight; a young woman, simply grateful to be home. But the lights are always the same, the same houses, the same bushes, the same trees. They’ve come to remind her, even on the coldest nights, the lights will still shine.