I once read a poem where the author described her heart as a monster that sat perched at the end of her bed, waiting to be torn to shreds by the hands of compassion. I see my own heart in the same way; something that craves to feel desperately loved, but instead bites the hands of those who dare feed it. I once dated someone who I wasn’t truly in love with for nine months. Sure, on paper they were attractive, even had a swarm of admirers kissing the floor they walked on. They paid for dinners, stuffed me up with validation for dessert. Kissed my face gently and told me they loved me, told me how beautiful I was.
But we didn’t have much in common besides the idle fact that we were incredibly lonely. Eventually, the curtains were pulled back, and over time it was revealed that they had a cold heart, an appetite for belittling, and a wishy-washy temper. I ignored how they would say the most vulgar things about their friends, only to leave at the drop of the hat to attend to them. I ignored how they’d tell me all the mean things their roommates would whisper about me in the dark. I ignored how they could never make me laugh in the same way my own friends did. I ignored the comments of the people closest to me when they’d warned how they thought the relationship was toxic. I ignored how miserable I was towards the end. I ignored it all, because I savored the warmth of their arms at night, believing it could save me from the demons that lurked in the cold winter mornings. But eventually being with them hurt more than without, so I amputated the infected limb the relationship became and moved on. Kissed other frogs. Dyed my hair. Bought a Halloween costume that showed a lot of skin. I often wonder why I pursued the relationship, why I stayed. The breakup wasn’t even this emotional Romeo-Juliet tragedy. It just became a norm within my life, like a little scar easily hidden by a CVS band-aid.
For now, I’ve shelved romance between my old love for gymnastics and dusty childhood stuffed animals. It now lives amongst the other interests I’ve come to abandon from adolescence. I find myself full of the breadcrumbs of love in little things. I love Phoebe Bridgers because she writes songs about hating her father. I love art. I love Evan Peters because he’s hot. I love the show Fleabag. And I love my friends, even when we argue over dirty dishes. I still see my heart waiting, but now it lies cozy at the foot of my bed. It sleeps like a recently sober addict, no longer chasing after its next fix. Every once in a while it stirs from nightmares about the thing it used to crave so strongly, but it’s no longer starving for attention at the price of cruelty.
On Halloween Night
“Hey Juno,” he says, walking up to me along a mahogany staircase.
Avery has little dimples and dark brown eyes with shaggy brown hair that just revealed a little scar that lingered along his forehead. He was a senior, the year above me. He wore his fraternity’s vintage letterman jacket from the 90s, jeans, and a pair of beat-up Reeboks.
“Avery,” I smile.
“Look who decided to come to the big Halloween Bash after all,” he says.
“It’s a little bro-y for me,” I reply.
“I know, Sigma Alpha is just like that. You look the sorority part with the bunny ears and all,” he says, referring to my bunny costume.
“Juno!” my friend Aurora calls. She’s by the pong table wearing a devil’s costume with glittery red horns. I watch as her boyfriend, Brad, shoots his arms into the air, yelling, “Let’s go boys!” His fluffy white angel wings move in sync with him. He looks over and smiles at me, waving me over. I ignore them both and turn back to Avery.
“And what’re you supposed to be for Halloween anyways?” I ask.
“A ghost.” He smiles.
“I thought we agreed to meet at the bar. You know, away from some of the freaks,” Aurora says, intruding the conversation with her cherry colored Go Go boots.
“Let me get you guys a drink,” he says. I nod and watch as he walks toward the bar.
“He’s a weirdo, Juno,” Aurora says when he’s out of earshot.
“He’s in the same frat as Brad,” I say.
“Brad says he’s a freak. He can’t even remember why they let him into Sigma Alpha in the first place,” she replies, tossing her hair behind her shoulders.
“Like you and Brad are so perfect,” I say, shooting her a look. Brad was the captain of the football team. But he also had a knack for roofying freshmen’s drinks while Aurora was out of town or at one of our sorority gigs. I brought it up to her once, but she hissed that I was just jealous and didn’t talk to me for a week.
“At least Brad doesn’t ruin the freshman rituals,” she says.
“Oh, you mean Avery doesn’t haze?” I ask.
“Whatever.” She sighed. “Juno, just consider dating someone normal.”
Aurora was skinny, but not that pretty. Her dad made all her Cs magically transform into As after Blair University got a new library. Despite the bitchy persona Aurora curated for the college audience, she was a sweet person deep down. Just insecure and scared.
“Enjoy your freak. Don’t get surprised if he goes all Bundy on you later. Brad wants to talk to you, by the way,” she whispers as Avery returns.
“She doesn’t like me,” Avery says, handing me a red Solo cup.
“No, she just likes her boyfriend more,” I reply.
He nods. “Brad, you know him well?”
“Not particularly, but Aurora tells me all his dirty secrets,” I reply.
“Anything worth sharing?” he asks.
“Just that he wets the bed frequently,” I say. “Claims to have nightmares.”
“Ghosts like you,” I reply sarcastically.
“Hey, can I show you something upstairs?” he asks.
Suddenly another member of the frat, wearing 70s clothes, appears from thin air.
“Avery, it’s going to happen now,” he says.
“Just give me a second,” Avery says.
“We don’t need her,” the 70s boy hisses towards me. Confusion strikes me across the face, but I wave it off.
Avery ignores him and takes my hand, leaving him on the staircase. We walk into the room across the hall. The wall is lined with photographs of those who died in the frat while enrolled at the school. Framed in golden lining, an inscription reads, “forever lying in the arms of the brotherhood.” I look at each picture.
“He kinda looks like the kid in the 70s outfit downstairs,” I say, stopping at one portrait in particular right in the middle of the hallway.
Avery just studies my face but doesn’t say anything. Another kid wearing 50s clothing appears before me. He has slicked-back hair and a comb poking out of his pocket.
“Avery, it’s time.”
“Juno, I need to tell you something,” he says, ignoring him and taking my hand.
“This is bullshit; we don’t have time for this,” the 70s boy says, suddenly appearing to my right. I didn’t even hear him come up the stairs.
“Listen Bunny Ears, Brad comes from a long line of psycho killers. The Gordons. Each generation, hazing goes south under the leadership of a Gordon, and their family money covers it up. Every generation has a son, and every son attends Blair University and joins this frat. They kill an incoming freshman as a way to secure their wealth and power with the gods.”
“This prank isn’t cool, it’s fucked up,” I say, looking at Avery. Fear crawls up my arms and grips my shoulders.
“It’s not a prank Juno, it’s us,” Avery says. “The kids in these photos.”
“Can’t you see, we’re all dead,” the 50s boy says. “Avery, there was no point in bringing her up here. What’s she gonna do? Call the cops and tell them where our bodies are hidden?”
“Your bodies are in the house?” I say, horrified.
“We can show you if that’ll convince you,” the 70s boy says. “We’re mostly decayed, our flesh eaten by maggots.” He shuffles closer
“How do we know she isn’t with him? She’s in his book after all,” one of them says. He stands so close the vomit I thought was fake on his shirt wafts towards my nose.
A realization clicks in my brain. “I read about you. In the newspaper. You drank too much, slept on your back. Choked to death on your vomit.”
“That’s what the newscasters said, right? That’s what they read from the report?”
Avery steps in between the two of us. “Stop,” he says to the kid in the 70s getup.
“How come you’re here if you’re dead?” I ask.
“Everyone who dies in this house can’t leave. If you don’t believe me, fine, but go down to the last portrait in the hall,” the 70s ghost replies without looking at me.
I hear Avery sigh. I listen and head toward the open window. Avery’s own black and white photograph stands looking back at me. It was a photo of him with a fall scene as his backdrop.
“Avery Cunnings. You died in 1993. Fell down the stairs and knocked your head into the last step,” I whisper.
The 70s ghost sighs. “He was pushed, actually. By Brad’s father. An even bigger dick than Brad.”
“So who is he going to kill next?” I ask.
“You, Juno,” Avery replies, “Your name was in his book.”
“Any old freshman won’t satisfy the centennial ritual. He has to kill the thing he loves the most,” Avery says.
“But he loves Aurora,” I say.
“No, I don’t. I love you, Juno,” Brad’s voice says suddenly, filling the air with fear.
Everything goes dark.
What Happens Between the Hours of 4:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M.
I woke up early to the sounds of a stranger’s snores filling the air. You could tell it was early in the morning because the birds weren’t chirping yet. Crumpled paper hearts and record covers were peppered around the walls of the room, blue LED lights lined along the ceiling and a stolen stop sign stood as a trophy by the door. I looked down to discover myself wearing a t-shirt that read “Best Ex-Boyfriend” in big chunky letters and a pair of someone’s highschool basketball sweatpants. I shimmed out of the navy blue duvet I was tucked under, climbed over overlapping limbs, and tiptoed over dreaming bodies until I reached the door. As I descended the staircase, I saw what could only be described at the Island of Misfit Toys sprawled around a fraternity living room. People slept on couches, curled up on the floor with bathroom mats acting as blankets, their arms as makeshift pillows. I noticed a coat rack full of jackets by the front door. I quickly grabbed one of those oversized shearling corduroy jackets and slung it around my shoulders, completing my treasure trove of borrowed clothing, before closing the door silently behind me. At first it’s very still and quiet, the usual weekend visitors that had once crowded the streets have now vanished into their little boxes with windows that shine inauthentic colors of yellow, pink and blue. Quietly and quickly, snow begins to wrap the streets in a blanket of white. You could believe that this specific moment in time mirrors the winter wonderland trapped inside the snow globe you had in your childhood bedroom. I watch as the wind scoops up the flickers of snow with its nurturing hands and drapes them around the sky, making them appear to be a herd of flying insects taking part in a syncranative dance above me. I walk down the six blocks alone before I manage to clamber back inside my own home. The smell of apple cinnamon welcomes me with a warm hug, as I abandon the stranger’s jacket on the little hooks stationed by our door. Ramona’s ex-boyfriend sleeps soundly on our couch, drool dripping onto our couch. I hurry up to my room, letting sleep take me again.
The laughter from my three roommates stirs me awake as they discuss the events from the night before. Ramona’s flipping pancakes when I arrive, her makeup from the night before still smudged along her eyelids.
“Joalie! You’re here. Whose clothes are those?” Eloise asks. Eloise looks like a mermaid. She has blonde wavy hair that hangs along her back like dwindling ivy that cuts off at the small of her back. She’s wearing a chunky sweater that shows a snippet of a scene from Vermont and gray sweatpants she stole from Brandy Melville when she was 15.
“They’re Doonie’s aren’t they?” Natalie asks.
“Yeah they’re Doonie’s,” I nod.
“I knew it,” Ramona calls.
“Hey Ramona, Joshua owes us a new couch. There’s a little drool splotch that still hasn’t dried,” I say.
“Wait, Joshua was here? Ramona, no!” Natalie says with dramatic disappointment.
“What happened with Doonie?” Ramona asks, avoiding the subject.
“Well, we kissed, and then I told him I had to use the bathroom, then I fell asleep in his roommate’s bed.”
“Which one?” Eloise asks.
“Was it the dumb blonde one with the freckles? He’s cute,” Ramona says. “Oh my god did you sleep with the dumb one? I tried talking to him once but it was like the lights were on and no one was home,” Natalie says.
“God no, Doonie actually was asleep next to me.”
“In his roommate’s room…” Natalia says with a quizzical look.
“Where’d his roommate sleep?” Ramona asks.
“Oh don’t worry, he was still in his room. He just slept on his floor, with the girl from our philosophy class cuddled up beside him actually,” I say.
“I don’t know why you are avoiding Doonie, he’s perfect for you,” Eloise says, scooting her chair closer to mine.
“He’s got the most beautiful hazel eyes, and that hair, Joalie. You could get lost in those curls,” Ramona says.
“And he loves Phoebe Bridgers. Not ironically either. I think he may even love her more than you do,” Eloise says, elbowing my ribs.
“Fuck off,” I smile.
“I am serious, Joalie. You are totally smitten with him too. Don’t even try and deny it,” Eloise says.
Ramona places a stack of pancakes in the middle of the table before she sits criss-crossed on the chair across from me. I stare past them at the snowstorm camouflaging our home in snow.
“You’re endgame. I know it,” Eloise sighs. “Now eat your pancakes,”
We Are All Little Fleas
We humans are nothing more than little fleas that give Earth an annoying scratch. People have the habit of believing the world revolves around them. Their dramatics are born in their little suburban homes or in their crappy Subaru cars. Most of the time, the emotional disasters that feel like the sky is falling are triggered in the middle of an exchange of passive-aggressive dialogue between friends or lovers. But when the guy on your subway commute makes a remark about how your backpack is in his way, his elbow shove is nothing compared to the wrathful push of a tsunami.
When I was little, I wanted to become one of those veterinarians who live in the jungle and rescue injured wildlife for a living. I imagined living in a giant tree house, sleeping in a king-sized white linen bed, and cuddling recovering tigers and baby monkeys. Each day after school, I would line up my stuffed animals in a row, giving each of them a checkup and then kissing them in between their button eyes before tucking them to sleep. I spent hours reading cartoon books that portrayed elephants wearing blue pajama sets and jaguars in corduroy trousers attending an elementary school that mirrored my own. I wrote stories of bunnies throwing birthday parties in Greece and friendly crocodiles who engaged in water aerobics.
It wasn’t until my mom took me to the theater to watch the Disney documentary African Cats that I was first exposed to the horrors that lurk in the underbelly of nature. I sat in a theater at the age of eight watching the same stuffed animal pairing I slept with close to my heart maul the other to pieces. I remember the false sense of hope I had watching the baby zebras escape the clutch of the hungry cheetah the first time, only to watch the predator sink its teeth deep into black and white stripes a few seconds later. I remember seeing claws puncture hind legs, pinkish red flesh of limbs wedge itself between jagged teeth, pain written across the zebra’s wild eyes, a look of satisfaction painted across the cheetah’s. We left the theater twenty minutes later. My romanticized version of nature continued to fizzle out when I was met by mosquitoes who slurped up my blood and intruding cockroaches who scurried around my kitchen floor. I soon started to hate the very idea of being in nature around the time that I became a “tween,” and my desire to move to Africa and live amongst lions became a complete childhood fantasy.
I still loved animals, of course. I grew up living with two rescued stray cats from the ASPCA. Patches was black and white and had a little blotch in the shape of a heart that nestled right beside her nose. She’d wake me up in the morning licking my face and kneading on my stomach, digging her nails into my arms, pretending I was the mother who abandoned her. My other cat, Smokey, was a fatty with a pair of emerald eyes. His belly grew to be as big as a soccer ball and he had the biggest paws I had ever seen. Every meal he’d treat as his last, inhaling his food so fast he’d make himself sick. They both treated my bed as their own and would sleep in my sheets every night, leaving me sandwiched in between the two of them. I’d watch them as they’d dream on their backs, bellies exposed, snoring and drooling like any other obnoxious family member after a Thanksgiving dinner. And for a while, I viewed them just as any other old estranged relative with little quirks. That was until one morning, when my mom and I discovered an article about an old woman dying alone in her New York City apartment. The clickbait of the article read in big letters, And Her Face Is Missing!
“Well, what happened to it?” I asked. I assumed it was currently being used as a mask by some perv wandering around the Upper East Side. You know, just like any other perpetrator in Law And Order: SVU episodes.
“Her two cats Penelope and Fluffy ate it,” my mom said hesitantly in response.
“Patches and Smokey would never do that to us,” I had said as a statement. But my mom shook her head.
“I don’t know…”
I thought back to the times they’d puff up their tails and curve up their backs in the shape of a crescent moon to make themselves appear bigger than me. To scare me. Or all the times they’d hiss loudly after I attempted to dress them up in American Girl Dolls’ tutus. Their teen mood swings would eventually turn, and the next thing I knew they’d be purring in my lap again, but that eerie feeling of being nothing to them continued to haunt me.
The laws that exist within society don’t apply to the natural world. If I ever chewed off the head of my ex-lover, there would be a movie about it. Newspapers would be filled with details about my crime. Photos of bloodsoaked sheets and pictures of the deceased smiling from an old Christmas card beside the word “victim.” My mugshot under the huge headliner: “The Female Ted Bundy.” Praying mantises, however, don’t sport around in orange jumpsuits after their snippets of intimacy turn south. Rather, the decapitated heads of their mates stand as a trophy of survival, a ticket of approval for their next thriving generation.
My relationship to nature is now limited to my visits to the beach. I swim alone, feeling the waves of the ocean embrace my body in its arms. It’s cold. I am irrelevant. Every time I get pushed by the waves of the ocean into its murky sand, I am reminded of my insignificance. And yet I still run back to its abrasive nature, I run back to being swallowed, chewed, and spit out again. There’s a comfort in knowing that I am just another menace that parades about the earth’s skin. We are all fleas inhabiting a place that has bigger fish to fry than the parasite that clings to its fur.
Taylor Maguire ’24
It was April in New York. There was that weird uneasiness in the air that made your skin itch. All anyone could say was that “it is absolutely gorgeous outside,” yet the weather almost seemed too good to be true.
“I don’t know, I just have a bad feeling about today,” I explained to my friend Elijah, who stood at my door trying to pry me out of my sardine can of an apartment.
“Jules, seriously, I don’t want to hear it,” he said. “You need to get out of this cave full of unwashed sweaters.” He wasn’t wrong to critique the apartment. Usually, the curtains were never closed and natural light would drown the place. It had a big poster of Billy Joel and a What’s Up, Doc? movie poster that I bought for two dollars at a flea market. There was a big fluffy green carpet on which many of my friends had fallen asleep when the walk to their own place was too grueling of a journey to make at 3 a.m. But now it seemed like the joy had been sucked out of it, leaving the shell of what it symbolized. Even the walls that I had painted a ballerina pink seemed to have lost their sweet touch amongst the sea of navy blue wool that pooled at my ankles.
Before leaving, I changed out of the Talking Heads shirt I had been living in for the past week. I put on my mother’s old magenta skirt that went down to my ankles. It was all tattered at the bottom, despite my grandmother’s many attempts to fix it with her tailoring fingers, which were now chewed up by severe arthritis. I also had on one of those cropped shirts that read TEEN ANGST in bright red letters. It was my second year of college, and I still couldn’t escape the TEEN ANGST phase from high school that was brought upon by birth control, breakups with boyfriends, and fights with parents about not being able to cut your own curtain bangs.
We went to a bodega on the Upper West Side that sold egg sandwiches for four dollars, and got one each with a Diet Coke.
“It’s on me,” Elijah said, looking over at me while he pays.
Elijah had a pair of heterochromatic eyes that everyone in the tristate area fell in love with. The first semester of college, I convinced myself that I was in love with Elijah. We had met for the first time in film class and eventually I found myself spending time thinking about him through statistics and ceramics. However, that dreamy, idealized version of him quickly dissolved at the seams when we kissed in the Rambles of Central Park, and there was simply no spark. After pulling away he remarked, “I think it’s better that we stay friends. And I’m not saying that to get out of that complicated awkwardness, I’m saying it because I mean it.”
Elijah’s lovers came and went so quickly; you couldn’t pick them out of a lineup even if held at gunpoint. The only thing I could say about Elijah for sure is that he doesn’t like blondes. But, I mean, who really likes blondes? Anyways, we laugh about it now.
As we entered Central Park now through the 86th Street entrance, I could feel Elijah looking at me. It was that look that you receive from your parents when they deliver the news that your goldfish died. Or from your college guidance counselor, when you get rejected from a school they told you was a safety.
“What?” I said.
“I didn’t say anything,” Elijah replied.
What I admired about Elijah was how he preferred the company of a caterpillar to a butterfly, never caring about the rules and restrictions of the college status quo. He was a creature of habit, never straying from his routine. He always spent his mornings filling out crossword puzzles in my tiny kitchen, his afternoons at the skatepark, and his nights waiting tables at the restaurant around the corner. He always appeared interested in any conversation even if the topic was dull, and he always gave people the time of day even if they didn’t deserve it. What I hated about Elijah was the certain looks he whips out during times like those. They were easy to decipher after putting up with him for two years. The pitiful expression in his eyes that popped out at me then was as startling as a jack-in-the-box.
“I’ll just say this. I have never been more happy now that Jax is gone.”
“I don’t think I have ever felt more miserable in my life,” I replied.
“Think of the positive,” he said, grabbing an egg sandwich from the bag. “Me and him will no longer be in a silent life-or-death battle for your attention.” My ex, Jax, and Elijah never saw eye to eye. Part of the reason we split was because he was always accusing me of cheating on him with Elijah. Breaking up with someone after a long period of time feels like you’re flushing all those precious memories you wrote about in your diary down the toilet to join the rest of New York’s sewage. Sprinkle in the accusations of cheating and lying, and it really just leaves you with a shitty feeling in your gut.
“Falling out of love with someone takes time, I get it. I know the only thing you want to do is wear sweatpants and rewatch Girls for the hundredth time, but you can’t avoid going out to do things just to simply avoid him entirely. It’ll just damage you more, believe me. I mean if I did that, you’d never see me downtown, that’s for sure. Besides, I always said Jax was a prick. And I can say that because he wore designer clothes to Washington Square Park. And only pricks do that.”
“He did love that purple Balenciaga shirt,” I said.
Then suddenly, as if we had manifested his appearance, Jax appeared out of thin air, hand-in-hand with an unremarkable blonde girl beside the Mister Softee parked across the street from the two of us.
“He would settle for a blonde,” Elijah said, and I couldn’t help but laugh.
Ugly Puppy Love
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.
Girls With Honey-Colored Hair and Owl Eyes
by Taylor Maguire ’24
I watch as my friend Lena packs up for her semester in France. She lines up her wool sweaters and corduroy jeans in a color-coordinated fashion upon her childhood bed. It is very quiet in her room.
“I’m going to die alone,” my best friend Dewey announces, breaking the silence. He drapes his arms along Lena’s bedroom window sill, stretching his legs along the bay window. His eyes gaze around at the passersby on Pierrepont Street.
“Dewey, you are not going to die alone,” Lena says.
I open the window and light a cigarette.
“Piper was your first college girlfriend. The first girlfriend of many girlfriends that you will have. She wasn’t going to be the one that you married. Besides, I didn’t even like her and I like everyone,” I say.
There were a lot of things I did not like about Piper. Piper was the girl with honey-colored hair and big brown owl eyes. She was skinny as a twig, and she got into all kinds of parties because everyone knew her parents were rich. She gave cold, war-like glances to those she did not like, which was half the student body at NYU, and rejoiced in the attention given by those she wanted to be. She thought Led Zeppelin was an energy drink and Sylvia Plath was on our city council. But all that aside, she was simply a narcissistic, manipulative asshole and treated Dewey as an inferior. The thing about Dewey was that he got attached to the pretty face and his made-up ideologies of those he dated, but he never fell for the actual person. His romanticized imagination was his Achilles’ heel.
“Why do you think she did it?” he asks, looking over at me.
“Honestly? She was bored,” I say.
“Would you ever cheat?” he asks, taking the cigarette from my hand to smoke it himself.
“I think cheaters are cowards. Cowards caught between the security of what they have and going after the potential that remains unknown. Do I think hooking up with a boy on the soccer team at school was worth the price of your relationship? No. But girls like Piper only want things for image sake, for the stories to tell her friends at breakfast,” I say.
“I’ll never cheat on someone. Or be the person that another cheats on with. Being on the receiving end of it is too painful,” Dewey says.
“What I don’t understand is why you still want her back after all that,” Lena says, stuffing things into a suitcase that was twice her size.
“You didn’t know Piper as I did. Okay, so she didn’t read the newspaper or take the subway, and she was a little daft at times. But she would make her side of the bed in the mornings before leaving, and she’d send me website links to jackets she’d thought I would look good in. And she texted me on my birthday, and on our anniversary, ” he says. I watch as he struggles to defend what he wants to believe is true, which is that Piper cared about him the same way he still cares about her.
Lena lets out a sigh before saying, “Dewey that’s the bare minimum.”
The sad thing was that Lena and I have had this conversation with Dewey many times over the dwindling days of August since they broke up. Every time she’d get brought up, Dewey would try to work backwards and analyze what he did wrong, why he wasn’t good enough. He was trapped in a rabbit hole of his regrets and doubts. At the end of the day, he was just too entranced by Piper’s owl eyes to see the red flags that she carried around with her.
A Girl named Phoebe, a Boy named Avery, and a Man named Clyde
by Taylor Maguire ’24
The walls of the wooden cabin shuttered as if the ghost of Halloween’s past drifted through it. Everyone else inhibiting the lodge fell into a deep hushed tone out of fear that any loudly exchanged words would cause us all to be consumed by snow. The wall by the kitchen of the lodge was lined with various postcards from America, and there was a record player in the corner that quietly played Frank Sinatra songs. I sat in the corner alone, beside the window, watching layers of snowflakes fall with an old copy of Little Women I had discovered in the library around the corner.
Avery suddenly appeared at the bottom of the staircase. Avery was my best friend from college. We met in a Greek Classics class where the two of us would make fun of the statues we read about in Art History books. He walked over in his pajamas and curled up on the brown ottoman beside me.
“You seem worried,” he says.
“Oh I’m fine, the snow doesn’t scare me,” I reply.
“You are from Michigan,” he says.
“You didn’t get snow like this in California?” I ask.
Avery lets out a chuckle.
“What does Clyde think of everything?” he asks.
Clyde is the owner of the lodge where we were staying. He has a long, thick white beard that curls around his face, and a pair of cherub pink apple cheeks. He rents out rooms to travelers for a cheap price, and always makes anyone a cup of chamomile tea with bread and butter. Avery and I have stayed here a little over a week and in that time we have gotten to know Clyde quite well considering travellers typically stay here for two nights tops.
“Clyde believes it’ll pass, he’s more worried about keeping everyone warm,” I reply, turning a page in my book without really absorbing the words of Louisa May Alcott.
Clyde comes over and drops an armful of sweaters on the table in front of us. They’re wool and are woven into specific storytelling patterns.
“Don’t worry my youngest travelers, they’re clean, they belonged to my father years ago,” he says. I picked up the red one with a lion sewn on the front of it and put it over what I was wearing. Avery put on a forest green one that made his eyes appear to sparkle deviously.
“What was your father’s name?” I ask.
“Seamus Murphy. He was a fisherman. He left Ireland when he was seventeen and joined a bunch of other rugrat sailors. Met my mother in Switzerland and he built the lodge here with his own two hands for me and my four sisters,” Clyde replies.
“Clyde, you never mentioned you had sisters,” I say.
“Oh of course. There was Saoirse, Roisin, Clodagh, and Gracie. We all grew up in this cabin. You know, we were all very close. When we were kids we would run around the field and they would pretend to be fairies and I would play the Tolkien evil shapeshifter known as the Pooka. We were all guided by our fearless leader Roisin who had this wild imagination. Roisin was the one who tucked us in to bed each night and would read us classic American literature before we would fall asleep. She sewed us each stocking caps to wear in the winter, and she even taught me how to tie my shoelaces,” he sighs.
“I would love to see these female versions of you, Clyde. Where did they disappear to?”
Avery always had a knack of getting someone to let their guard down. He could get anyone to willingly divulge their buried secrets. It was a talent of his that was very similar to witnessing a car crash. It was too awful to ignore; you couldn’t look away out of fear of missing what would happen next.
“The dynamic of our relationship didn’t survive the burden of life’s adversities. Shortly after my father died from a heart attack, Gracie wandered off into the woods during a night like this. It destroyed my mother, but Roisin was never the same after Gracie’s disappearance. We stopped frolicking around fields, and began cleaning plates and sweeping floors in between schooling. She left home less than a week after her 18th birthday and I haven’t seen or heard from her since. Saoirse and Clodagh moved with my mother to America where they send me postcards every month or so,” he says.
“It’s a shame really. For such a beautiful home created through a parent’s love for their children to be abandoned completely in the alps of Switzerland,” Avery says. There’s a hint of suspicion in his voice that rings louder than I believe he intends it to.
“Beauty can be a misleading facade, Mr. Avery. Besides, if the tragic history of this home had not occured, I wouldn’t meet the strangers of this world like your charming self.”
“It is funny though that you picked out Little Women to read, Phoebe,” Clyde says, turning to me.
“How come?” I ask.
“That was Roisin’s favorite,” he replies. He stands up now.
“Well, duty calls. If you both get cold, I have some nice long stockings that you can borrow. Will make you look very dashing, Avery,” Clyde says, giving me a wink.
Clyde blows out a series of candles that linger around nearby tables, leaving the fireplace to serve as our only source of light during the storm.
A Woman Named Camilla
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 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.