Short Story: Broken Vases

Sophia Zepeda, BFR Editorial Staff

The first time River Valentina Hernandez watched The Wizard of Oz, she didn’t understand Dorothy’s desperate desire to return to Kansas. The madness of a land over the rainbow had to be better than the sepia existence of the farm.  This came to mind as River walked out of the downstairs bathroom with her head held high, displaying her newly bleached hair. At the beauty supply store, she had trouble deciding between black and platinum blond, but ultimately chose bleach blond as it was the color most likely to aggravate her mother. It was distinctly not natural and would appeal the least to a new age hippy.  Upon entering the living room, her mother looked up from her seat on the couch. Mom had covered the coffee table with newspaper and was attempting to mend a chipped vase with glue and intense determination. River’s father won the vase at a boardwalk carnival game and gave it to her mother ages before he abandoned them for a massage therapist named Frieda.  The vase was shaped like a mermaid and had always been dear to her mother.  It fit right into their hippy home. At the sight of River, her mother narrowed her eyes and said, “River, again? Your natural color is so beautiful.”

This was the response River expected, feeling a mix of irritation and satisfaction. Her mother, Claire Hernandez, who had not changed her last name after the divorce, held the belief that the only way to truly live was to subscribe to a life of holistic remedies and natural substances. River, who made it her mission to become the exact opposite of her mother, wore only the latest fashions and followed the most popular style and makeup blogs on YouTube in an effort to show her mother how ridiculous it was to shun everything but tofu and hemp.

“Everyone’s doing it, Mom,” River replied, “besides you’ll only have to look at it for a week.”

“Are you sure you still want to visit your Aunt and Uncle? I don’t think you’re going to enjoy yourself as much as you think. Los Angeles isn’t anything like Santa Cruz.”

“And that’s why I’m going,” River said, walking to her room to repack the suitcase she had already repacked multiple times that week.

River had not seen her Aunt Rosa, her father’s sister, since her father left, and the only distinct memories she had of her were finely manicured French-tipped nails and highly-perfumed hugs that lasted longer than necessary. Spending the summer with her Aunt Rosa and Uncle Luis in Los Angeles would be a welcome escape from the commune-like environment in which her mother forced her to live. Claire had a bad habit of picking up stray people and allowing them to live in the house, something River had been protesting for years. In Los Angeles, River could tour the universities to which she had applied and immerse herself in a life of glamor and freedom. Her land over the rainbow was just 350 miles and a plane ride away.

River found herself unable to sleep the night before her flight. She spent the drive to the airport ignoring her mother, and the hour-long flight listening to music in order to distract herself from her nervousness. As River walked down the stairs to the airport baggage claim, she saw her Aunt and Uncle standing side-by-side waving at her.

Mija!” her Aunt exclaimed, “It’s been too long since we’ve seen you.” Her Aunt commenced to hug her for a period approaching a full minute, smothering River against her bosom while rocking her from side to side. Her Uncle, who stood off to the side, briefly wrapped one arm around her, told her she had grown into a beautiful young woman, and then disengaged.

They did not live in Los Angeles proper as River had thought.  In the long car ride to their house in a suburban town called Whittier—which was most famous for housing a college of the same name—her Uncle Luis explained the rules of the house. These included no staying up past 10 PM, church on Sunday morning, dinner at 6:30 PM everyday with no exceptions, and no back-talking any adult visitors.  River, who had never lived in a house with such strict rules, thought them ridiculous, but promised she would follow them to the best of her abilities.

Their house was a beige cookie-cutter two-story affair with a typical walkway leading to the front door. It blended in with all the other houses in the neighborhood and was nothing like her mother’s forest green old Victorian. River’s Uncle walked her to the beige room in which she would be staying; it was spartanly furnished with only a bed, desk, and a small dresser. Then, he told her to put her things away and get ready for dinner. In the room, River began to unpack and think about her plans for the month she would be there. First, she would go to the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, the one that had the hand and footprints of all the stars imprinted in concrete. Then, she would walk down Rodeo Drive, exploring all the shops that sold items she couldn’t afford yet, wearing her most expensive clothes and movie-star sun glasses in an effort to blend in. She also had plans to sunbathe on Venice Beach and take a picture next to the Hollywood sign, all with the sole intention of making her friends jealous.

However, within two weeks, River concluded that she would not be seeing any of the tourist sites she planned on visiting. The only places she toured were a local church and the University of California in Los Angeles. Her Aunt planned to take her to the University of Southern California the following Saturday. When River asked if they could at least drive down Hollywood Boulevard at some point, her Aunt replied that they didn’t have time for that sort of thing but perhaps they could squeeze it in later in the week.

Living with her Aunt and Uncle proved to be nothing like she expected. Her Aunt, who took over two hours to get ready each morning, seemed to naturally accept that hair, clothes, and makeup were meant to consume vast chunks of one’s day (and everyone’s else’s for that matter) while her Uncle, who never smiled, watched hours of Fox News every night after dinner, as religiously as they attended Sunday mass. When River mentioned that her best friend was gay, they gave her a two-hour lecture on hating the sin but not the sinner and not associating oneself with such unscrupulous people. This was not the only lecture River received. On the Monday of her third week living there, her Aunt told her to change her shirt because it was indecent to have her bra straps showing. On Tuesday, they sat her down and asked why she hadn’t brushed her hair, as it was already lunchtime. On Thursday, her Uncle took forty-five minutes to explain why she couldn’t wear slippers outside the house to get the mail because someone might see her, and what would they think of them as a family? By Friday, River officially had had enough and she began to count down the days until her return home.

Sunday, before church, Aunt Rosa asked River to go in the garage and help her retrieve a vase from a topmost shelf. Aunt Rosa explained that Great Aunt Anita was going to be visiting after church, and she had bought Aunt Rosa the vase for Christmas last year. It needed to be put on the side table in the foyer before Aunt Anita arrived.

“I hate it,” Aunt Rosa said, “It doesn’t match the house. Who buys someone a vase that doesn’t match the house?”

“Then why are you displaying it?” asked River.

Aunt Rosa looked at River in disbelief, “Because she needs to think I like it. What will she think of me if she knows it is hidden away in the garage?”

River stood on a stool and reached for the vase and as she turned to give it to her Aunt, the vase fell from River’s grasp and crashed to the floor. Aunt Rosa screamed and dropped to her knees, attempting to pick up the pieces.

“What have you done?” Aunt Rosa yelled, “You’re so careless!”

“I’m so sorry,” River said, “but at least you don’t have to display it anymore.”

“No!” yelled Aunt Rosa, “We have to go to the mall to replace it. I think she got it at Macy’s.”

“That’s ridiculous!” River said, “It was an accident, she’ll understand.”

“No, we need to go now. I’ll tell Anita we couldn’t make it to church because you’re sick,” Aunt Rosa said, as she pulled River to the front door.

As River sat in the car staring out the window at the passing scenery, she contemplated her current situation. Instead of driving down Rodeo Drive, here she sat in the passenger seat of her Aunt’s Jeep Cherokee on the way to the mall to watch her Aunt buy a vase she didn’t even want. It didn’t make any sense to River why her Aunt cared so much about what another person thought. The entire trip wasn’t necessary; Aunt Anita probably wouldn’t even remember the vase.

At the mall, Aunt Rosa was pleased to discover that the vase was marked down for clearance in Macy’s Home Decor department for only $200, apparently $100 less than what Great Aunt Anita paid. The vase stood 15 inches tall with zebras and arrows garishly accented in 24K gold, all of which was set on a black Italian glass surface. In the dark of the garage River had not fully seen the vase. Standing in Macy’s, looking at the ugly prancing zebra’s, River contemplated destroying this one too. All she had to do was lean over the table and lightly brush the vase with her hand and it would crash to the floor.

“Aunt Rosa, you can’t buy this,” River pleaded. “It’s even more hideous in broad daylight. Why are you going to spend money on something you don’t even like?”

Aunt Rosa clucked her tongue at River, “Don’t you care what Great Aunt Anita thinks of you?” Then she exhaled a large breath and headed to the cash register.

“No I don’t!” River said as she grabbed her Aunt, “You’re being stupid. Nobody cares!”

“I care and you should too,” Aunt Rose huffed, “This entire week you’ve done nothing but embarrass me and your uncle and I’m ashamed at your behavior.”

A heavy weight descended into the pit of River’s stomach as she watched her Aunt walk to the register. Slowly, River followed her.

After paying for the vase, Aunt Rosa walked to the car, clutching the vase to her chest as if it were an ailing infant.

“When we get home,” Aunt Rosa told River, “I want you to sit down and not touch anything until Aunt Anita arrives. You’ve done enough damage.”

River watched television until she heard the doorbell ring. Her Aunt opened the door for Great Aunt Anita who immediately looked at the foyer table.

“Ah, it’s beautiful. I knew you would love it,” Aunt Anita said.

“Of course!” Rosa replied as she walked with Anita to the couch, “It’s perfect.”

“Unbelievable,” River mumbled.

Great Aunt Anita raked River with her hawk-like gaze, turned toward Aunt Rosa and said, “Charming,” before sitting herself carefully on the couch.

River watched as the two women began to discuss, with great disapproval, the strapless dress that cousin Benita Gonzalez’s daughter, Lupe, had worn to church that morning. River retreated to her room, took out her cellphone and called her mother who picked up on the first ring.

“River, honey, how’s everything going?” Her mother asked.

“I’m ready to come home.”

“Already? You sure?”

There were several seconds of silence. “Yes,” River finally replied, “Los Angeles is great, and I’ve visited both universities, but there’s just no point to staying any longer. Mom, I really want to come home”

“Okay, I’ll book your flight right away, honey,” Claire responded, “See you in a couple of days.”

“Thanks mom,” River hung up and hastily packed a day bag. Then, she looked up the directions to downtown Los Angeles on her cell phone, jotted down a few notes, grabbed a jacket and her bag, and headed for the front door.  As River passed Aunt Rosa and Great Aunt Anita, who were still seated on the sofa but now complaining about another family member, she paused and executed an old fashioned curtsy.

“Mother trusts me, I trust me, and I trust the bus and light rail system of your fine metropolis.”

Aunt Rosa managed a “What?” while Great Aunt Anita simply looked confused.

River continued, “I appreciate everything you have done for me. I won’t be back until after dinner. I’ll give your regards to Hollywood.”

With that she strode out the door. She expected to catch hell when she got back. She thought she had better call her Mom soon and explain to her what she had just done. Later she might even check in with Aunt Rosa. But at that moment, she had a bus to catch and a city to explore. In a few days she’d be back at her mother’s home. And for the first time in years that idea was okay with her. Her mother’s home wasn’t here and it wasn’t forever. She shook her full head of bleached blond hair in the bright Southern California sunlight and laughed a loud and welcoming laugh at whatever lay ahead.

Short Story: Ernest and the Stone River

Moira Peckham, BFR Editorial Staff

Ernest edged out of the field and onto the bare, cracked earth. The grass rustled behind him as he left it in his wake. The stone river stretched before him; the bank on the other side, shaded by poplars, shimmered under the summer sun. He put out a foot to test the water. Hot.

Too hot, really, Ernest mused. But unavoidable. The river wavered in front of his eyes. He squinted at it, shifting his head from left to right before stepping out onto it, bare feet crying at the heat.

Better be hasty. Ernest hated this part of the season. Every year the river had to be crossed, every year it was almost too hot to bear. His feet had been used to the cool earth by the pond and the shade of the grass, but now the pond was dry again and he had to cross the river. But the first step was always the hardest.

With the first step completed, Ernest felt his confidence blossom. Oh yes, he thought. This will be my fastest year yet. The sun radiated onto the skin of his back. He could feel it drying. Better be my fastest year yet. A few more steps and he trod across a particularly blistering patch of the river. The sensation made him jump. I can’t do it. I have to turn around. It’ s too much. I’m too old. His feet were growing increasingly uncomfortable now. Ernest’s breath quickened as his muscles told him to turn back. He was itching to obey. Ernest looked up to gaze at the poplars, who were sighing sweet things to him. No. No matter. I’m almost halfway there anyway.

It was true. Ernest could almost see through the poplars to where the land dipped down to the creek bed. He could almost smell the water. His skin shivered at the thought of the cool liquid. The whisper of the grass on the approaching bank invited him to move more quickly into their embrace.

Ernest complied, feet protesting as he hastened his stride. He was nearing the opposite bank. Only fifty more steps to go, he reckoned. Once he got to the other side he would be able to rest before continuing on to his spot by the creek. He almost wept at the thought. His eyes strained against the sun.

The edge of the river was fast approaching. Record time. The river shook. The river rumbled. Ernest paused and a shadow fell over him. His feet stopped hurting. The shadow moved away.

Cathy turned around in the front seat to see what had jostled under the truck, but they were already too far away to see.

“What d’you think that was?” she asked. Marcus glanced in the rear view mirror.

“I dunno. Bullfrog maybe.”

Cathy frowned, “What was it thinking? Crossing the road like that?”

“It’s a bullfrog, Cath. It wasn’t thinking anything.”

Personal Essay: Of Ginsberg and Neon Fruit

Lauren Cooper, BFR Managing Editor

I can’t forget the day I met him. Surrounded by books from my mother’s shelf, I leafed through page after page of white and black. Reading was, and is, like air to me, and that day I breathed it in without hesitation. Shakespeare and Shelley drew me into their complex worlds of love and nature, Neruda showed me some of his favorite dreams, and I reveled in the woods created by Frost. But I saw nothing of me in the poems I read until, turning the page, Allen Ginsberg stood with his hand outstretched, ready to lead me to his Supermarket in California.

I began to skim, tired from my journeys and wary of entering yet another poet’s world, built of words and punctuation. But as I read, I breathed fresh air. Choppy lines filled the page, and syntax flowed to the beat of an unheard drum. Dialogue filled my ears, as Ginsberg talked to Whitman, Whitman to bananas. He spoke of life and time, how neon fruit and grocery boys have replaced the simple past; he asked the world at large what the future would bring. And I listened. I shared in his uncertainty and echoed his honest questions. In the midst of his stream of consciousness, I glimpsed myself.

Ginsberg asked where the past was hidden, where the next step might lead. I looked into his eyes and answered, who knows? His questions were my own. He had spoken the thoughts that I had yet to verbalize, and in that moment I knew that I, too, had something to say.

I had never written much poetry, preferring analytical essays to emotional poems. But, with his talk of peaches and penumbras, Ginsberg inspired me to search for an answer to my questions and his. He had shown me that poetry could be as true as not. An imagined world of neon fruit could speak volumes about reality; it could recall the forgotten past. Unsure of how to begin, I simply started to write, letting the words guide my hand and give me the answers that my mind alone could not create. Unformed thoughts spilled onto a blank page, as black ink lay down next to the white. I wrote of nostalgia: radios and an analogue watch, the how-do-you-dos of woe-be-gone days. I wrote of dial tones and handwritten letters, of memory’s persistence, as moving pictures marched through test patterns and static. Soon I had an answer, a finished piece, a world that we had created, Ginsberg and me.

And I knew that I was a writer, a purveyor of truth and fresh opinion. One simple word piled upon another and another had captured an image, a part of my soul displayed to the world and ready to be understood. It came in waves, then—the anxiety, the vulnerability that comes with making that leap, with allowing my soul to be read like a book. What-ifs echoed through my mind as I fussed over commas and capitals, for each letter had a purpose, and each letter could bring failure if it were read the wrong way. Yet, if Ginsberg had done it, then so could I. In him, I had found a kindred spirit. Perhaps someone else, someone far and away, might find one in me.

Personal Essay: Secondhand Horror

Clare Suffern, BFR Editorial Staff

I have never read The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. Since I spotted it for the first time in my parents’ bookshelf sometime in grade school, I have regarded it more like a piece of furniture than a book – a staple of the house, too heavy for me to lift let alone read. I still glance at it suspiciously and wonder, “Is this directed at me?” Whomever it was intended for (let’s be honest, it was my middle sister), I’ve certainly lived up to the title.

For the most part, I’ve embraced my sensitivity. Many would balk at my sentimentality and nostalgia, but I relish the feeling of being moved by the slightest thing. Still, there is one aspect of being highly sensitive that has become rather embarrassing: my irrepressible fear of horror films.

This week, I watched The Silence of the Lambs through the slit of my joined palms and still had a panic attack. And I am twenty. TWENTY. I hyperventilated at the slightest swell in the soundtrack, and screamed bloody murder when others only winced. Despite my numerous attempts, I cannot suppress my imagination like everyone around me and make it through horror films. But this doesn’t mean that I want to miss out on an entire genre.

I negotiate this dilemma by engaging in a practice common amongst children: telling ghost stories. I solicit oral accounts of movies I am too scared to see.

From the first time my best friend gave me a shot-by-shot account of a horror movie, I was hooked. The summer after fifth grade, Helen watched The Grudge. Sitting on top of the monkey bars at the pool, she confided that she was too scared to shower alone. (Her mom stood in the bathroom during her speedy rinses for a week.) Then, out of some strange necessity to rehash her fear, she launched into the plot of the film. I hung on every detail in silent fascination.

My love of listening – to music, books on tape, horror by word of mouth – began when I was four, and coincided with my fascination with scary stories. My parents bought a copy of Classical Kids: Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery, which I listened to everyday on the couch in the attic. The bursts of the frantic violin during an eerie night scene on the waters of Venice terrified me so much that I refused to leave my spot on the cushion. I was petrified that someone might be lurking beneath me.

As I got older, I would sit with my mom in our minivan listening to Radio Mystery Theater while we waited for my older sisters to finish soccer practice. I remember crawling over the console and onto my mother’s lap, imagining the world that the story constructed while staring out of the open window onto scrimmages and the evening sky. As much as the broadcast scared me, I garnered some perverse enjoyment from the fear, the kind of enjoyment I imagine horror movies give many viewers.

Like Radio Mystery Theater and Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery, Helen’s retelling of The Grudge satisfied my desire for a good thrill without propelling me into a panic. And recounting The Grudge helped her overcome her paranoia. It was a mutualistic relationship, where both listener and storyteller thrived.

When I ask someone about a comedy or drama they have just seen, they tend to give a generic reaction. “Oh, it was alright” or “It was so sad!” or some comment of a similarly vague nature. But when I inquire about a thriller, it is not unusual for someone to recount the movie in such vivid detail that I can imagine each scene as if I were there.

I believe that the desire to give such a comprehensive account of horror movies is telling of why scary stories are so compelling: Unlike even the saddest tragedies, where the catharsis occurs during book or play or movie itself, the emotional relief from horror does not come until well after it is over. It is as if in order to fully process the terror of what has befallen them, watchers of scary movies need to retell the disturbing events. The therapeutic narration serves as the denouement to the traumatic experience.

Perhaps it reveals my naivety, but the experience of listening to a scary story delights and terrifies my imagination in the way that watching horror does for many. And I love my role as the recipient of others’ eerie retellings. A highly sensitive child turned highly sensitive adult, I have the pleasure of engaging in the sort of raw storytelling usually reserved for adolescents around a campfire.

Essay: How to Pretend to Have Read Books Without Really Trying

Ben Rowen, BFR Managing Editor

Like most college students—and like all who wear lens-less glasses—I entered freshmen year entirely assured I was uniquely well-read. My first year taught me three important things (in addition to imparting on me the wisdom that lens-less glasses picked me out as uniquely unlikeable):

First, my taste in books was not unique (however at the fringe the Beats wished they were, their stuff certainly became lame-stream).

Second, I was not well-read.

Third, point #2 did not matter because I could pretend to be.

Discovery of point #3 opened up the floodgates for my mind’s growth—the entire literary canon became my oyster. I did my best Pacman impression, consuming bullet-points of book plots from novels I could never dream of reading. A brave new world full of fresh ideas unfolded before me.

I learned some books are not written in English. I learned what resides in foreign–language idiom is entirely inaccessible to any English translation. And I learned saying ‘to translate is to betray’ was amongst the safest, best ways to prove I was a Deep Thinker, in lieu (trying to prove I can read French!) of actually being one.

And now, like many college students, I enter senior year entirely assured that I am uniquely well-read when it comes to Wikipedia synopses of famous books. Or in other words, that I am functionally well-read.

Although I’m desperate to feel unique, the truth is that most people lie about reading books all the time. According to The Telegraph, 62% of people pretend to have read classics to appear smarter.

Next-level pretend readers are even didactic about their views of these books they have not read. They assure you calling so-and-so a “classic” is a misnomer that denigrates the veritable distinction itself. (A book about psychology that I didn’t read estimates this special group makes up 85% of all English majors.)

Within the collegiate context, it’s no surprise people lie about reading things. College practically teaches doing so. Social science classes, in particular, assign too much material to possibly get through. The assignments end up being about how to best to pretend to have done all the reading, not actually doing it.

On a wider scale, people lie about reading books because it makes them seem smarter. This is intuitive, but certainly does not holistically explain why people fake reading resumes.

To demonstrate the explanatory-insufficiency of such a reason, I ask you to try enumerate the books someone you know has read. If you can, I ask you to think about someone who you think is smarter for having read a certain book.

Even if you can complete task one, I bet you can’t task two. This is because none of us is keeping tabs on others’ reading lists, outside of those of us in book clubs (although, even those people find far more interesting things about which to gossip).

And so, ultimately, outside of the specific conversations about a given book in which we are immediately engaged, seeming to have read something won’t get us far. People are not keeping track.

In fact, even within those specific conversations, lying probably won’t get you far. Saying you’ve read something is a remarkably boring soundbite. We all understand this, at some level.

So, more than simply trying to appear smart, we say we have read something we have not because doing so bestows us some comfort. Each successful faking convinces us that we have acquired enough intellectual clout to pass as such a reader.

The lying can even be aspirational. Someone affirming our status as an appropriate reader of a book convinces us that, perhaps, we should read that book. At the very least, when we lie about reading something, we may feel compelled to read a bit of it to be able to support that lie.

And yet, whatever benefits lying about reading may afford, we all realize it’s not something we should do, and we do so guiltily.

The problem with faking, of course, is not that you’ll get caught. You won’t. Any fool with a smartphone can covertly google things mid-conversation. Anyone will believe said fool because ultimately no one else cares; revelation of reading habits means little—we aren’t in second grade anymore. Your best friend is not going to talk about reading a “great book,” which he or she has actually made up on the spot. Your friend won’t then ask you if you have read it. You’ll never have to say “yes”; you’ll never have to eat lunch in the bathroom stall that day.

Simply put, if you fake reading a book, you’ll likely escape unscathed.

Rather, faking is bad, aside from its pretension, because it prevents one from truly learning. SparkNotes and Wikipedia are good ways to submerge oneself in seemingly unapproachable reading material, but they give a one-dimensional reading. Fluency in plot structure and vague, abstracted themes, as we all know, is not equivalent to mastery of a book.

Further, if one could simply own up to having not read something, one’s acquaintances would feel the need to explain the reason behind name-dropping a work, when they do. Conversations would not proceed vapidly, full of unexplicated referents.

Faking, in contrast, stops others from sharing their knowledge, because it does not give them a chance to. Others assume the faker knows everything already, so there’s no point in sharing.

As such, everyone faced with faking having read a book confronts one question: would you rather learn, or pretend to have?

In light of many people choosing the latter, here’s an easy rubric for determining what books someone has read:

  • How do you know someone has read Huck Finn? They went to a high school in the U.S.
  • How do you know someone has read War and Peace? They tell you they have (i.e. they namedrop like it’s hot).
  • How do you know someone has not read Infinite Jest? They tell you they have.

With this rubric in mind, and potential fakes exposed, I urge anyone considering pretending to reconsider.

Rather than posing as knowledgeable, everyone should just follow Hal’s lead in Infinite Jest, and should enter a taxi and say, “The library, and step on it.”

Parody: Canterbury Tales – A Modern Retelling

Sophia Zepeda, BFR Editorial Staff

    When summer with her hot sun does shine,

A band who have Fallen to drugs and wine,

Five addicts go seek a helping hand

To rid them of their shameful brand.

Of America they to Rancho Mirage go,

For the salvation that rehab does bestow.

The Betty Ford Clinic, our destination,

A simple van driver is my vocation.

At this bus stop I do collect these strays,

Some five poor souls I find this day,

Forced to come with me or face police custody,

A pilgrimage we shall take to find sobriety.

I task myself to explain their character

So that you may more easily follow this adventure.

First among the group is a soldier brave

Who fought for freedom he hoped to save

In far off lands he showed his merit,

From the Gulf to Afghanistan he bore it,

He never faltered in the face of fear,

Many tours he has served, the cost was dear.

In Iraq he saved the lives of many,

His sacrifices were bold and plenty

A patriotic soul, he is kind and true,

A worthy son of red, white, and blue.

There was also a man most foul and fat

Who sold used cars with words that spat

Falsehood, fibs, and exaggeration,

Selling cars not fit to be driven.

A most disgusting man, food always in his beard,

He lecherously looked at any woman who came near.

Advantage he would take if he thought that he could,

Promoting his wares though they were no good.

In moral company there traveled a man

Who trustworthy seemed, sought profit from God.

A televangelist, he preached to the many

Promises of salvation for only pennies.

Great rhetoric he gave, always wearing a smile,

With their shame of sin he does beguile.

He welcomes all from Sacramento to Des Moines,

He takes checks, money orders, cards, and bit coin.

On this journey does travel a wealthy doctor,

A plastic surgeon, beauty for money he does offer.

Facelifts, tummy tucks, implants aplenty

For an exorbitant price he’ll work on any.

He lives a life modest, not spending a cent

On hoarding wealth his soul is bent.

To spend his wealth would be a terrible thing,

To his tower of gold he will surely cling.

Last of our fellowship is a woman, most vivacious and broad,

Five husbands she widowed: Dick, John, Peter, Jimmy, and Rod.

Each richer than the one last wed,

Each one struggled to match her in bed.

Her virtues are extolled throughout the land,

Her appetites mighty, her repute is grand.

She is draped in designer clothes from head to feet,

Her taste in fine jewelry cannot be beat.

She laughs easily and freely at any amusement,

And of out the group she is the most joyous and most pleasant.

On our journey to the clinic, to pass the time

I requested a story of their drama or crime

The best tale will win its author a momentary reprieve

On the green outside the walls before I take my leave.

To my terms they agree and the soldier begins to speak

As the van begins to role with a jostle and a creak.

Essay: On Reading What You Want To and What You Don’t

Moira Peckham, BFR Editorial Staff

I often find myself wondering why I’ve come to enjoy the things that I do. The literature that I prefer to consume occasionally has acknowledgeable intellectual or literary merit, but more often than not, it is not “capital L” literature. It’s very lowercase L. It probably has elves in it. Or spaceships. And I’m not even a little bit sorry.

I don’t know which powers-that-be decided what writing is to be valued in the modern zeitgeist, but I doubt they would approve of my choices. In my experience, the science fiction tomes that I hold so dear seldom make their way onto the shelves of classic canonical literature. There’s a strange cultural stigma surrounding the genre, the likes of which I have yet to see affect other schools of writing and their consumers in the same way. Science fiction lovers, however, are hardly the only readers to get funny looks for enjoying what they do.

It seems that no matter what one likes to consume, there will always be someone else telling them that they are incorrect for doing so. People who like sci-fi are told that there is no literary merit in their favorite genre (sometimes this is true, I won’t lie). Those who prefer to read the classics or postmodernist works are called pretentious (I have done this and I am sorry; I see the error of my ways).

And yet, although there seems to be no escaping the scorn of others when being true to your own taste, I say ignore those people who scoff at your favorite book. Don’t let others make you feel guilty or unintelligent for following your literary heart. In the long run, it’s far more fun and satisfying to accept the styles of writing that you like and roll with them than it is to consistently force yourself to consume literature that doesn’t interest you.

This being said, there is, of course, an undeniable intellectual benefit in expanding your horizons and taking in the kind of writing that you would otherwise pass by. For me this meant making myself read Jane Austen, the Brontës, and, on a particularly dark day, some James Joyce. And it’s a good thing I did too because I now know that I definitely do not like Emma but that I did enjoy Wuthering Heights. I’m still mulling over the Joyce. Go figure.

There are absolutely times in which I can feel the weight of the literary world on my shoulders, letting me know that what I’m reading doesn’t “qualify” as great writing or as something worth consuming, regardless of the intelligence or creativity that went into creating it. I choose to ignore this in favor of a more optimistic sentiment: read what you like and like what you read, regardless of who tells you not to.