Tag: short fiction
Tales From the Other Side
by Connor Rohan '24 on March 2, 2023
There exists a place unseen from normal eyes. A place not known to those who don’t already know it. A place filled with wonder and excitement, monsters and adventure. This place is known as the other side. No one knows how it came to be nor why its laws are what they are, but what the residents of that place do know is that once you find yourself past the walls of normalcy you can never leave. Now normally that would be a problem, a place with weird laws that doesn’t let you leave and yet no one who lives in that strange place ever complains about being there. They go about their days as normal peaceful citizens to their towns. Then it showed up, bringing with it discourse and chaos. The once peaceful lives of the villagers and townsfolk were thrown into disarray. The being took what it wanted, did what it wanted. Neglecting and ignoring any that it would inconvenience. Breaking into people’s homes, stealing their crops, killing the townsfolk without mercy. The world was already filled with beasts and creatures but up until that point the other side had never seen a monster of that caliber. There was nothing anyone could do to stop it, it claimed it was helping us, that it would help guide all those lost to this place home, and yet when told that no one wanted to go home it lured people into the woods never to return. Yet when the monster came back there always seemed to be one more tree in that forest from before. Soon the once bustling towns and villages were scarce and empty. The residents that survived hid from the ever-encroaching shadows that lured them into the woods which by this point had formed a prison around the towns, trees that touched the sky stretched for infinity in every direction. Hope was lost, fear ran rampant, and everyone lived their lives a little less than before, unable to mourn their losses as there were never any bodies to bury. Life went on for these people for centuries, the lives that were born were raised to fear the dark. As they had no idea that the monster was lurking in it, waiting for the chance to lure them away. Until the Other side found itself a new resident, someone from the outside, someone not versed in the laws and rules of this world. Having gotten lost with their sibling they journeyed across the land, through the woods and from town to town trying to find a way home, and yet everywhere they went they were told the same thing. Be afraid of the dark, the monster is waiting for you. Having come from the real world they didn’t believe in such things, sure the dark was scary but there were no such things as monsters. They were probably talking about a bear or something. Unfortunately, monsters were real and this one had its eyes on the newcomers. And the newcomers would soon learn that getting home would be the easiest of their problems. Soon they would learn of the problems awaiting them, and the tales that would be told about the place they were currently in. Tales from the Other side.
The Tragic End of Alexander the Ant
by Connor Rohan '24 on February 16, 2023
The sun rose very slowly over a large field of grass. It was a lazy summer afternoon. People were taking walks, having picnics, feeding the ducks, or just laying down. What they didn’t know was that right under their noses in the blades of grass was a little ant fighting for his life. Now the ant in question wasn’t in any danger, at least not yet, but he was fighting a battle between it and all the other insects in that field. Needle in hand and armor on, the little ant warrior was holding its ground–not letting any of his contestants survive. This ant was not alone because he had a partner who wasn’t nearly as into fighting monsters and was cowering underneath a tiny rock fearing for his safety.
“You know, typically when there are giant monsters we run away from them! Not go charging head first into battle!”
The knight ant just laughs.
“But then how would we win any glory? Come now, Clark, if we took the coward’s way out then someone would beat us to it!”
Clark just deadpans underneath the rock, his voice full of exasperation.
“Yeah but if you die, then where’s all that glory go? Have you thought about that Alexander?”
Alexander drives his needle into the head of a giant centipede and it falls to the ground, writhing as it dies. Once it does, Alexander sits down on its corpse and looks deep in thought.
“Where would all the glory go…? I do not know! But I am not dead nor can I die so that is a problem I do not have to worry about!”
Clark comes out from his hiding spot and carefully maneuvers his way through the battlefield, trying to avoid touching the scattered remains of other larger bugs until he’s made his way in front of Alexander.
“Please. You gotta understand that you aren’t immortal. You keep throwing your life at every giant creature hoping that by dying you secure more of a name for yourself but you don’t, all you do is put your own life in danger, why do you think I come on these horrifying adventures? It’s to be the voice of reason in your head that you clearly don’t have.” Alexander places a hand on Clarks shoulder and nods.
“I appreciate your concern, dearest friend, but you have nothing to worry about! There is nothing in this world that can kill me!”
Suddenly a huge shadow falls over Clark and Alexander, it falls over most of the land around them, they look up to see a giant pink monster. Its green spheres focused and centered on both of them. It lets out a booming roar. “Ant!” and a giant pink meat stick descends from the heavens smashing into the ground next to them causing the ground to shake intensely. Clark runs for cover.
“Shit! It’s a giant! We gotta go!” His gaze falls onto Alexander who hasn’t moved. “What are you doing? Get the hell out of there!”
But Alexander doesn’t move, instead he charges directly at the giant pink meat stick. Much to Clark’s fear.
“What are you doing?”
Alexander just laughs.
“Think of the glory!”
“You idiot! It’s like 400 times your size! You’re going to die!”
Alexander laughs again.
“I’ll only die if I’m killed!”
Clark shakes his head in confusion.
“Wh..What! That’s what being killed means, you idiot!”
Alexander had made his way onto the pink meat stick and the giant let out another loud roar.
“Mom! The ant is on my finger! I think it likes me!”
Clark continues to cower behind some blades of grass.
“It noticed you! You hear its war cry? Come down here before it murders you!”
But Clark’s pleading fell on deaf ears as Alexander was already making his way up the arm of the giant dodging hands and holding onto dear life when the giant shook its arm trying to get the ant off. By this point the small giant had started to panic because the ant wasn’t getting off their arm and had called a much bigger giant to come help. The bigger giant towered over the smaller giant. And was also trying to remove the ant. And yet Alexander evaded every attempt made. Which bewildered the large giant as they had never seen an ant move with such efficiency and skill. Throwing itself further up the giant’s body, unable to be squished. From Alexander’s point of view, he was unstoppable, they were no match for his speed and skill. And he was going to make his way up to the top of that giant. Meanwhile Clark, who had been watching the whole thing, stood there in shock. Alexander had done it. He had reached the top of the giant. Clark, full of disbelief, was stunned for a moment. He had done what was seemingly impossible. Clark’s mind raced with both excitement and worry. His friend made it to the top but wanted him to be safe on the ground again as soon as possible. Clark calls up to him again.
“Okay, you did it! You climbed the giant now, please get down here before you hurt yourself!”
But Alexander wasn’t done. He had climbed the monster and now he was going to slay it. Taking up his needle he stabs it into the top of the giant’s head causing said giant to wail in pain and start running in a direction. This causes Alexander to let out a triumphant cheer.
“I’ve got them on the run now! They’re as good as dead!”
Due to his triumph Alexander chooses to not come down, and due to the giant running away it separated the two ants from one another never to be seen again. A few hours later Alexander was found by a doctor and killed. Clark made it home safely, grieving the fact that he got separated from his friend. They sent out several search parties and all came back empty. They deemed Alexander dead. However, that wasn’t the end of his story as all throughout the ant kingdom stories were sung of the warrior ant that felled a giant by himself. And through those songs Alexander lived on.
by trogers5 on February 10, 2022
Kate Ward ’23
By the time of his lunch break, Edmund was exhausted from an early morning preparing a case to defend his client. It wasn’t looking good, and frankly, Edmund had little faith that his client would get out of this unscathed. He walked outside to the loud street and waited under a streetlamp for the “walk” sign to appear. The wind, which smelled awfully polluted, tousled his neatly-kept hair and sent the tassels of his bolo tie flitting around. He placed a hand on his chest to try to prevent it, but just like his efforts to strengthen the case with his current client, it proved to be futile.
He crossed the street and walked up four blocks to his favorite haunt, a tiny tea shop that had the best lavender-vanilla tea.
Lanam looked up as the door jingled. He snapped on a fresh pair of gloves and pulled his mask up over his nose. Seeing it was Edmund, he paused a moment, hands fumbling with the delicate porcelain cup he was polishing.
“Good morning sir, what can I get started for you?” he asked as he set the cup down.
Edmund looked over the menu, fingers poised on his chin, rubbing a spot there as he read and reread the options.
“Morning.” He paused and glanced at Lanam’s name tag. “Morning, Lanam. Say, may I have a cup of the lavender-vanilla tea with a bit of milk? Actually, make that two.”
Lanam was taken aback—Edmund was switching up his usual order. “Do you have someone joining you?”
Edmund made himself comfortable at a table by the window, legs crossed as he skimmed through a real estate magazine. “Oh, no but I was hoping you would?” He glanced around the shop. It was empty save for the two of them, a quiet hour amidst the chaos outside. “If you aren’t too busy, of course.” A small smile graced his face, blue eyes twinkling.
The barista made a noise of annoyance and continued to assemble the two teas. Edmund liked listening to the process—the meticulous craft of tea-making, especially with loose leaves and complex flavoring, was mesmerizing. He found it to be far more interesting than brownstone apartments on glossy pages.
Lanam sprinkled lavender petals into the cup and flourished it with a dash of milk. “Did you want the other one to have milk?”
“Make it how you want it,” Edmund replied, dipping his chin in an affirming nod.
Another scoff and a dribble of honey later, Lanam passed the barrier and came over to Edmund’s table. He carefully folded and set aside the magazine; he hadn’t been able to get past the first few pages anyway. He took the tiny cup in his hand and took a sip, and only then did Lanam take a seat.
“Why tea?” Edmund asked, cup nestling against its plate.
“Why law?” Lanam returned, bristling at the question.
Edmund lifted a hand. “I didn’t mean any offense. I was just trying to make conversation.” He found himself a bit more flustered than usual. He was used to clients being emotional, but at work, he could detach himself from the situation. This felt different.
Lanam sighed and smoothed his hair back. “Whatever. I guess I settled on tea because no one could do it the way I liked it, so…” He shrugged and pulled his mask up once more.
“I chose law because I wanted to help those who couldn’t help themselves. Get them out of situations that they didn’t choose to be in.” Edmund’s eyes glossed a little, recalling something distant.
A few beats of silence passed before Lanam nodded. “That’s very noble of you.”
“It’s just a job. But…thank you.” Edmund took another sip. “How did you come up with the name for this place?”
“The Underground? I don’t know. It was a place I was fond of as a kid, so…I decided to carry the name over to here.” He shrugged. “Look, I’m not interested in small talk, really, I’ll be honest with you.”
Edmund finished his tea and fished around in his wallet. With a thunk he set it on the table and gave Lanam a look. “I’m just glad you’re interested in talking at all. Here, I haven’t paid you. This has been the best tea yet.”
Lanam took the bills he offered and slid them into his apron pocket with a curt nod before getting up and carrying his own cup and plate to the back, and then coming back to get the other. He picked up the dish and the cup in one hand. Edmund caught his other hand and held fast. Lanam nearly dropped the dishes in shock. He looked down at their joined hands and gave the lawyer a startled look.
Edmund rose from his seat. “So, you don’t like small talk. That’s fine. Let me cut to the chase.” He paused and was met with a scowl. “Let me take you out to dinner.”
Frankly, that was the last thing he expected, so Lanam was caught off guard. He averted his eyes. His cruel mask had slipped and there was no recovering it, so he sighed. “Fine. One dinner. It’s not like it’s going to change anything.”
Edmund smiled warmly and dropped his hand, heading toward the door before glancing over his shoulder. “Oh, make sure you count those bills before putting them in the register.”
Lanam scoffed as he hurried behind the counter, trying desperately to hide the blush that had crawled up his face. “What kind of idiot doesn’t count bills before putting them away?” he grumbled as the door slammed shut, Edmund’s laugh carrying out into the street. He thumbed through the bills. Aside from being overpaid, he didn’t see anything inherently wrong with them. What was that lawyer on about? Then he noticed that one of the singles had a slight tear in the upper corner, and directly below it, ten digits scrawled in blue pen.
“Unbelievable,” he sighed.
Ugly Puppy Love
by trogers5 on February 10, 2022
Taylor Maguire ’24
They don’t tell you when you’re a kid that love is depressing. When you’re five, you start watching movies that project the happily-ever-after trope, and as you continue on through middle school, your curiosity grows on the concept. Then high school rolls around, and you listen to music that praises the pretty girls with dead hearts or songs about the boy whose car was keyed after he cheats. You listen to your parents spew nasty words at each other, and you break up with your high school boyfriend over text, causing the delicate curtain of romance to slowly dissolve before your sixteenth birthday. But when you get to college, the curtain of romance is ripped off the rod entirely, and you can’t help but feel like the creators at Disney purposely pushed your little heart towards failure.
College is a world full of the newly broken-hearted. Some people attempt to patch up their pain in order to mask the wounds caused by their high school sweethearts, while others wreak havoc on the opposite sex as an ode to the girl who broke their heart months earlier.
The options for lovers are limited. Most put on an entire play-like performance in order to convince you they’re not the douchebag you know they are. They say they like poetry and want to study Russian and comment some bullshit about the color of your eyes to distract you from what they are. But they’re all horrible actors. As each new lover steps into your life, you come to realize the snippets of intimacy you shared a few nights earlier are no more special than the cheap carnival toy you won during a ring toss game.
Watching your friends fall in love is depressing. Watching you lose yourself to love is depressing. Infatuation feels like a parasite crawling into your brain, constantly whispering the names of your lovers on repeat. The parasite compels you to only spew out the same stories about the one you have knighted as the flavor of the month, and suddenly you become a broken record rather than a person. The three-in-the-morning hook-up stories that you swap like foreign currency with your friends over cheesy eggs reveal themselves to be the same story in a different font. The lovers that play the main characters of these fables are the ones who have funny caterpillar eyebrows and giant noses. They stroll around campus wearing the Vineyard Vines shirt their mom bought them last Christmas, or in terrible skinny jeans, and you can’t help but think, “What a jackass,” when you spot them. When you first meet them, infatuation dresses them up in the costume of desire, but as time goes on, their cartoonish qualities become more animated, and your friends say, “Don’t look now, but Stuart Little’s doppelganger has entered the building,” and collectively everyone can’t help but think, “That’s the guy you talked about at breakfast?” as you cringe against their gaze.
The worst part is when you see those same people strolling through the cafeteria in Ray making a sandwich that brutal Sunday afternoon after kissing them in some basement party the night before. Sometimes an awkward glance will be exchanged and you both will act as if they never cried on your bathroom floor. But that’s just the puppy love we’ve come to yearn for.
by trogers5 on January 27, 2022
Kate Ward ’23
My piece of art had been hanging in that museum for far too long. I was never entirely on board with the fact that the museum would take it and display it, and I wanted it back—it was a masterpiece, after all. I called and emailed and called again, but the museum refused to give back my painting. Even worse? The painting was of my dead dog. How ruthless that the museum wouldn’t return it to me! Did they have no souls? I came to a realization: I would need to steal it.
The idea came to me while I was watching some movie about a heist and they seemed to pull it off pretty well. I understood that someone else wrote the plan and that these people are just actors, but to be honest, I was desperate. In my desperation, I didn’t bother coming up with a bombproof plan; I decided I would walk into the museum, go to the exhibit that held my painting, and take it off the wall. I would, of course, take a bag with me so I could hold the painting, and thankfully it wasn’t much bigger than two sheets of paper.
Normally when artists have their art stolen, whether it’s online or out of a museum, it isn’t the artist himself doing the stealing, so I thought that if this went south, then I guess I’ll make history. I didn’t want to sit with my plan; I needed to carry it out as soon as possible, so I didn’t psych myself out and end up staying home. The day after I created this plan I got up, got dressed in the most boring outfit I could muster, and went about my morning routine. I walked down the steps of my apartment and started the trek to the museum. Thankfully, it wasn’t too far, so I didn’t have too much anxiety building up about it, but I was still nervous.
I got into the museum unscathed. The guards didn’t ask me about my empty bag or why I had it—as far as they knew, I was just another environmentally friendly New Yorker making his way through an art museum. I found it. The watchful eyes of the guards were elsewhere, either on their phones or focused somewhere else entirely. I approached my painting and let the top handle of my bag slide open, I lifted the glass and the canvas off the wall and slipped it into my bag. I tried not to, but I did scurry out of there. I hurried back down to the entrance.
A guard’s heavy hand clapped down on my shoulder. “I’m going to need to check your bag before you leave, sir.”
“You only check bags when people enter the museum—why are you coming after me?” I asked, pulling my bag away from him.
“We have reason to believe you may be stealing. Now, would you please step aside so we can get this figured out?” He swept his arm to the side, pulling me with him so other people could pass. The guard picked up his walkie talkie and spoke into it, calling for the museum director to come assist.
“Why are you stealing?”
“You never got back to me,” I snapped. “I wanted the painting back, so I took it. It’s mine.”
“Sir, I have never seen you before in my life,” the director replied. “That isn’t your artwork.”
Invocation of the Muse
by The Cowl Editor on December 9, 2021
Sarah McLaughlin ’23
It’s far too late for me to be lying on my back with my guitar in my lap and thinking about Homer.
Olive’s hanging out with some friends. She invited me, but I said no, to no surprise, and she told me to have a good night as she left with her purse and sensible flats. It’s not like she’s going to some wild Saturday rager; she’s going to sip Chardonnay and talk about Jane Austen with a couple of girls from the debate team.
I’m almost always invited. I feel bad that I almost always decline. When I mentioned once that I read Northanger Abbey, it piqued their interest, but I haven’t read anything else, not even Pride and Prejudice, and so I get left out of the conversation when it inevitably shifts to their unanimously elected, favorite author. Still, I enjoy the discussion when I can, though I never drink wine. I never drink anything. The one time I tried alcohol, the first weekend of freshman year, I had a panic attack and my roommate almost called 911. I convinced her I was fine while my mind told me I was asphyxiating and ended up sitting on the sticky floor of a locked bathroom stall with a damp cloth on my forehead, counting the seconds between breaths as drops of cold water trickled down my face.
When we first became friends, Olive used to tell me I was no fun, because truth be told, I am, and that means something coming from a girl whose idea of fun involves discussing the politics of the steel industry. But by now I think she understands and respects the fact that I don’t want to do anything. Well, maybe not respects, but she lets it be.
It’s not that I don’t want to do anything; I go to extracurriculars and to lunches at the mall and to see musicals at the community theatre. I simply draw the line at things I’ve never done before that have a high probability of ending in embarrassment. And that line happens to exclude a whole lot of things when one sip of hard seltzer is enough to shatter me.
You get drunk every now and then. Not frat-party drunk, that’s below you (you’d say), more like bottle-of-wine-in-bed-while-watching-a-Russian-film-with-subtitles sort of drunk. Do you remember how you called me once? Your dorm was a block away and you asked me if I’d bring you my copy of The Tempest because you knew I was reading it for class and you wanted to recite Prospero’s final soliloquy while standing on your bed and you were sad you didn’t know it from memory. I told you to go to sleep and not stand on your bed and that you could find it online if you really wanted. Then you started ranting about how your laptop could never compare to the weight of a physical book in your hands, and as you waxed poetic about weathered pages and cracked spines I laughed and laughed and thought you were going to cry.
The scene replays in my mind as my fingers run over the six strings, strumming a slow major seventh chord, going nowhere and meaning nothing. I think about Homer, how at the beginning of his epics, he opened with the invocation of the muse. I took some poetry classes thinking they would help me with songwriting, but they didn’t give me inspiration to write about anything grand or existential or even subtly poetic, like changing leaves or dust collecting on childhood bookshelves. I still write the same dumb lyrics about wine-drunk phone calls and I realize this is the only muse I can invoke.
I pluck an open B string and let it ring. Olive will come back soon, probably, and she’ll ask me how my night has been. I’ll say it was alright, and I’ll have written nothing.
Dying Shades of Blue and Green
by The Cowl Editor on October 7, 2021
by AJ Worsley ’22
I’ve been here for about six…ish days now. It’s dreary and anxiety inducing. My mother always told me that hospitals should be considered a safe place because if anything were to go wrong with your health, who’s going to address it faster than doctors in a hospital? Better to have a heart attack in a hospital bed than your actual bed. But it wasn’t. I’ve been here for sixish days and I barely see any nurses stop by. They swing by my room less and less; they’re no longer concerned about me—at least, that’s how it seems. Surely they’re busy tending to other patients who are in more dire need of their attention. I am just lonely.
As bizarre as it sounds, I can’t even remember why I am here. Anytime I ask someone in scrubs why I have to stay here, they express a look of concern, type something really fast into their chart, and proceed to say, “We’re just monitoring a few things, you should be out of here in no time.” Then, another day passes.
Eventually one of the nurses communicates to me that I came in for an extreme fever of 102.2 and no matter what they have done to try and lower the fever, nothing has worked. No amount of liquid hydration, ibuprofen, or cooling cloths lowered the fever. Ironically, it seems the more efforts we make to lower the fever, the more it actually rises. I came in with a 102.2 and fiveish days later I was up to a 103.8. I know why they are keeping me here now. The fever is gradually but steadily rising. As it turns out, they are monitoring my pulse and blood pressure to find out why it is rising. The memory loss is a direct result of the high fever. However, my body reminds me why I’m here just after the nurse does. The hot flash comes and won’t go away. This causes a coughing fit. I can’t sit comfortably in bed. The sheets touching my skin make me even more warm. One of the nurses comes in to check my temperature.
“Open your mouth.” I open it.
A minute passes by. The thermometer reads 105.7.
It’s rising faster. The nurse exits the room.
I assume the nurse is going to get something or someone to help me, but I am once again left alone with my thoughts. Time passes and the sun goes down, but there is still plenty of heat in my body. I watch outside the door of my room. People in scrubs and pure white lab coats down to the midpoint of their thighs walk by my room. One after another, not a single person peers into my room.
“H-hey!” I yell out, muffled by the sound of their footsteps.
“Hello!” Louder than the last time, but they continue walking.
“HEY!” I scream. Nothing. Staring at the alert device on my bed, I press the nurse call button to urge them into my room. I smile, assuming that this has to work, but to no avail, I remain unheard.
Why are they ignoring me? I feel like I’m dying and they’re just walking right by me! Maybe I already am dead and they’re walking by me because they can’t save me…
Sweat tickles my upper lip and I lick it away. I close my eyes and try to calm down. Pleading is effortless and it is wasting the little energy I have left.
I get up and walk slowly out of my room and towards the nurse’s station, where they will meet with me face to face, unable to ignore me. Without hesitation I start screaming, pushing a nearby cart down the hall, which I eventually hear bang into the wall as I wipe the counter of the nurses’ office clear of any paperwork.
“SIR!” a nurse yells at me.
“Oh, why hello! You mean to tell me you see me? DO YOU HEAR ME?”
“Yes, we hear—”
“I AM DYING AND NONE OF YOU CARE,” I plead. “YOU ONLY NOTICE ME NOW BECAUSE I’M BEING DESTRUCTIVE.”
A needle enters the area near my neck. A sedative.
A voice calls out “Earth, time of death—”
No, I’m not dead, I’m alive, how else would I be hearing you? No, no, no, no, I’m not dead! You can’t call time of death for a man who is conscious and coherent! I’m alive! And if I’m not, it’s your fault! You all ignored me every time I tried to ask for help! You killed me! There’s blood on your hands!
A Woman Named Camilla
by The Cowl Editor on October 7, 2021
by Taylor Maguire ’24
I moved to Boston during a very epochal phase of my life. The studio I came upon by chance and moved into last November was nestled in between coffee shops and boutiques that sold jewelry more expensive than my rent; it was a complete hidden gem. It had the occasional mouse and squeaky pipes but it kept me warm during harsh New England storms. The building housed a group of eclective characters, but the biggest anomaly of the building was the woman who lived on the third floor. Maybe it was the many layers of snow keeping me locked in that New Year’s Eve that made my interest in her grow, but curiosity did end up killing the cat. I found myself standing in front of her door. What was known about the woman was that she was a fortune teller, or at least all the tenants believed so. My bald landlord Larry murmured a word of caution after he helped carry in my bookcase saying,
“Avoid the witch upstairs.”
When I knocked on her door that day, it flung open quickly as if she was expecting me. Her hair was feather gray and coiled around her waist. She had big turquoise earrings that mirrored your own reflection, and wore a deep violet turtleneck with lace along the sleeves. She gave me a quick glance before speaking.
“It’s always a pleasure to meet new tenants. Please come in,” she said.
Her apartment was flooded in winter sunlight that poured in through her stained glass window. She had a big table in the middle of the room and two big, emerald green sofa chairs surrounding it.
“Would you like some tea?” she had offered.
“Oh no, that’s all right—” I had begun but she was already pouring us each a cup. The mug she handed me was tall and had yellow chrysanthemums painted all around it.
“Remind me of your name,” she had said.
“Maeve,” I replied.
“I am Camilla. When did you move in again?” she had asked.
“Two months ago,” I replied.
“I’ve been here around 40 years now,” she said, leaning back in her chair as she spoke. “And in that time, I have seen a collection of faces that weave their way in and out of this building, similar to when one watches a deck of cards get shuffled. Much like the Kings and Queens of the deck, there are some faces that jump out of the bunch with more intensity, but others slip by briefly and with no remembrance.” She held my gaze for a while and only turned away as a giant cat suddenly jumped onto the table.
“That’s just Romeo. He’s an old soul, but eats pastries like nobody’s business,” she chuckled as he made himself comfortable beside a record player. Romeo’s fur was gray like the fog that lingers around the Golden Gate Bridge, and he had a peculiar dent in his right ear.
“Have you always lived on the third floor?” I asked.
She rubbed the rim of her tea cup with her arthritic fingers.
“Not quite. A while ago when I was in love, I lived on the ground floor in apartment A, beside the boiler room. I married a man when I was 17—the entire world looks so shiny and new at 17. In high school, he would dog-ear pages of poetry he thought I would like, and push my hair behind my ears when I would paint. I truly thought he was my person. But, eventually when we moved to Newbury Street, the world became progressively rotten. Our relationship no longer revolved around poetry books and the little acts of kindness. The love morphed into the stacks of bills that would sit on our coffee stand or whether or not I had cleaned the bathroom that day. And the resentment just continued to spiral. So I moved upstairs.”
“Why would you stay in the building? Why wouldn’t you leave?” I asked.
“Love is a funny thing. Every morning I make toast, feed Romeo a pastry from the bakery down the street, and I open the door expecting to see a poetry book with dog-tagged pages just waiting for me on my welcome mat. There’s always the hope of things working out that seem to tether you to a fantasy. But it’s just a fantasy. You can keep the mug. It’s riddled with bad memories for me. But maybe it’ll answer whatever you came to my door looking for,” she said.
I left shortly after that.
When I went back downstairs, I looked over the cup with more intensity. Inscribed on the handle was a vow of love with Camilla’s name, and the name Larry in script beside it.
Smoking is a Bourgeois Concept
by The Cowl Editor on September 30, 2021
by Taylor Maguire ’24
Snow wrapped Manhattan in a thick blanket of white. Floating flakes latched onto my brown coat as I walked across the street to Fifth Avenue. The coat belonged to my Aunt Esma whose unique eye color I inherited. Walker, a ghost from my past, once described my eyes as the color of a pond being struck by lightning, although government officials simply recognized them as the color blue on my identification forms. Walker and I met for the first time sophomore year of high school on the day of Thanksgiving in Central Park. A place that collected pieces of my scraped knees and strangers’ cigarette buds. A place where you could hear the echoing music from ice cream machines and the faint cries of irritated and sweaty children coming from every direction.
I don’t remember why, but I was angry the day that we met. I stole my father’s pack of Camel Lights in a moment of retaliation, and left the house before my Aunt Esma arrived with the turkey. Wide-eyed tourists waiting for the parade clogged up crosswalks, and fallen leaves buried the streets in a sea of gold. Believing I had escaped the suffocation of people, I had just begun to light a cigarette when a voice startled me by the park’s Alice in Wonderland Statue, saying,
“Smoking is a bourgeois concept made up by the government in order to control the population, so therefore I cannot support this vice of yours.”
Up until then, Walker was a walking myth to me at school. One that occasionally sported sprinkles of acne along his forehead, and had a poor attendance in anatomy class. The thing about Walker was that he was pigeonholed to his mother’s image, and everyone feared him. He ate alone at lunch, but was smothered at Upper East Side parties by the knockoff Marilyn Monroes of our grade. Walker had brown locks of curls with matching doe eyes. He wore forest green converse and oversized navy blue crewnecks.
“When I smoke I feel like a character from Slyvia Plath’s imagination,” I replied back.
“Didn’t she kill herself?” Walker retorted.
“She stuck her head in an oven,” I replied dryly.
The comforting hands of our high school seemed to weave us together after that encounter. The friendship continued to grow after he sat next to me in Dr. Sabol’s English class. We spent summers together sleeping on twin mattresses at his beach house, arms and legs mangled under goose feather duvets. We peeled sunburned skin off each other’s backs, and swapped secrets as if they were the rarest form of currency.
When the Thanksgiving of our senior year arrived, Walker had bought us a pack of cigarettes at a nearby bodega and took me to the Great Lawn.
“You never smoke,” I said to him that day.
“No, but this is a special day because this is the day where we discover which college will be taking you away from me.” He said it quite seriously. The only thing I could do was let him light the cigarette that dangled from my lips.
“I’m not going anywhere. We’ll stay friends while we’re at school. Did you decide where you wanted to go to college?” I replied.
“Oh please, don’t act coy. My mother’s life plan for me is very limited. Starts with me attending one of the Ivy Leagues and ends with me living amongst the people who worship their mundane jobs, their towheaded children, and their Toyotas with extra gas mileage,” he said spitefully.
“You don’t have to do any of that, you know,” I reminded him. He lit his own cigarette and looked back at me.
“It’s easier said than done. Your accomplishments stem from your very own elbow grease. Mine are mirrored by my family’s name. I’m merely a shadow of their achievements.” Neither of us spoke more about the subject that day. Walker slipped in and out of my life much like a feral cat who invades every home it charms its way into. We wrote letters to each other for a while, but soon I stopped seeing my name written in his handwriting on baby blue envelopes. I forgot about him completely until I saw his mother’s name in the newspaper last week under the obituary section. His photograph was projected right beside it, where he stood beside his towheaded children who he mentioned with such contempt years before. He has wrinkles now, his bright doe eyes have become jaded, and his mounds of brown curls include waves of gray.
I light a Camel Light now, walking by the Alice in Wonderland statue while Lewis Carroll’s characters continue to be buried under spools of snow. The park suddenly falls into a deep silence as the landmarks of my childhood freeze over.
by Elizabeth McGinn on March 18, 2021
by Ellie Forster ’24
Lucy had a talking problem. She was small, but not small enough to not be a bother. So, she did just that. She bothered everyone she met. She pulled on shirts, she asked too many questions, she demanded attention. Lucy was seen and heard. She just wasn’t listened to. And that was what she had begun to crave—for someone, anyone, to listen to her. Her older sisters thought she was a pain, her parents thought she was a problem. So, they sent her to the old woman down the street.
Mrs. Hall was a widow, and she smelled like mold. Each of Lucy’s siblings had had her as a babysitter at one time or another, and each had come back quiet. Now it was her turn. She walked down the road, a bag with some coloring books slung over her little shoulder. She counted the trees on her way there, and how many ones had leaves that had begun to change colors already. She picked up her favorites from the street. When she got to the door, she knocked but as she did, she dropped the leaves and twigs she had collected; they spilled out of her arms onto the top step. Mrs. Hall opened the door.
Lucy straightened up, shoving leaves into her bag and pushing hair out of her face. She smiled and stuck out her hand, which was smudged with marker and dirt. The old woman shook her head at it and ushered the girl inside. She turned briskly once Lucy was inside and closed the door behind her. It was cold and neat inside her house, but a warm light streamed in from a picture window in the parlor. Lucy gazed lovingly at the window seat. It had deep red cushions, and books stacked in the shelves beneath it. Her bag fell from her shoulder and she bounded over to it. She laid out on the cushions, bathing in the light. She mused to the woman gawking at her about the warmth and the beauty, asking when her house was built, when it was sold to her and her late husband, and then how did her husband die? And was he a handsome man? What was it that he first did that made her know she loved him? Or did she never love him? Was there someone else? And—
“Young lady! I daresay you may be the rudest of all your siblings, and that Clara was an ordeal! Take your shoes off immediately and go wash your hands. And that incessant chittering and chattering will stop now. Off with you.”
Lucy did as she was told. She was never a disobedient child, just a talkative one. As she left the bathroom, toweling her hands, she asked the woman about that word she had used, “incessant,” and what it meant.
“For someone so curious I’m surprised you don’t know.”
Lucy was quiet.
“Alright, it means constant, nonstop.”
Lucy thanked her and sprung to the kitchen, leaving the towel on the ground in the hallway. She began to ask more questions, about the food and what each appliance and utensil was for.
“That’s for dicing…well, it’s for cutting vegetables very small…I suppose it wouldn’t have to be used on vegetables…no, you couldn’t use it on candies…well, they’d get it all sticky…that’s a juicer…yes, it is used for vegetables, too…”
The girl then asked her again about her husband. This time she answered.
“Robert was kind. I suppose that is what drew me to him at first…romantic? I dunno if he was romantic necessarily. In the traditional sense. Well yes…”
They sat on the floor of the kitchen talking for the duration of Lucy’s visit. When the clock struck six, Lucy jumped up, saying she would be late for dinner. She hugged Mrs. Hall and collected her things. She was halfway out the door, then she asked if she could come again. The old woman nodded, and as she watched the little girl run away, down the street, she picked the towel up off the floor and folded it in her hand.
She made her way to the picture window and sat on it, picking up a leaf from the cushion, and closed her eyes as the sun fell from the sky. She sat and listened to the silence.