Ashley Lin Wong, BFR Staff

Let me tell you something about the Horsehead Nebula.

It’s what scientists call an interstellar absorption, a configuration of dust, clouds of effervescent smoke holding crystals in the air. It just so happens that those gas clouds managed to fold themselves over into something that, from 1,500 light years away, looks like a horse’s head facing right.

The Horsehead Nebula is what scientists would call a miracle. What shouldn’t be there is there. Billows of stars and light angled just so, 1,500 light years ago, that they managed, at one point in time, to resemble a horse. It probably doesn’t even look that way anymore, they say, because what we’re seeing now has been over 1,500 light years coming. Could be a penguin or a tree, but that’s for the next generation to discover.

The first time I went to see the Horsehead Nebula with my dad, I was seven years old and skinny, shivering in the wet grass and damp of the night from Dead Man’s Hill in Hines. My dad was two beers in, whistling softly as he set up the telescope.

“What’re we looking for, Dad?” I said.

He just kept whistling to himself, twisting the stand into the base.

“You want a beer?” he said, pulling a Bud from the cooler.

“Dad, I’m seven.”

“So?”

He stared at me and my silence, his eyes glistening, luminescent as the sky above our heads.

“You wanna see something amazing, Mikey?” he whispered, coming in very close. I could smell the beer and his 9 o’clock cheese sandwich on his breath. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen him this excited.

“Mikey, come look at this,” he said, his eye pressed fervently to the viewfinder, his outstretched hand beckoning for me. I pulled the viewfinder down gingerly until it met my eye level, and looked in.

He wrapped his arms around me like a python and guided the telescope in my arms until the stars went from pinpoints of light to flaming orbs of energy, whole other worlds screwed into the black canvas of the sky.

It was my first glimpse of the Horsehead Nebula, and it felt like all the air had whooshed out of me, like I’d hit the ground falling.

“One day, Mikey,” my dad whispered, his hand holding the telescope steady, “one day, we’re going to find a way to get there – humans are gonna find a way to get there – and then we’re going to be first in line to see. Just you and me, away from here, in space, and we’ll never have to come back.”

“But what about Mom? And Nick? Won’t we need them too?” I said, my voice high and reedy.

My father said nothing, the pupils of his eyes swimming in the starlight.

*          *          *

When I was twelve the teacher put a picture of the Horsehead Nebula up on the overhead.

“Does anyone know what this is?” she said.

I raised my hand and said yes, said that I had seen it before.

“Really? When did you go see it?” she exclaimed, her wide rubbery love-me smile painted firmly over gleaming teeth.

I said that I had seen it with my father, when we had gone stargazing a while back.

“How lovely,” the teacher cooed, raising her voice over the class’s rising snickers. “Has anyone else ever gone stargazing?”

“You fucking pussy,” Larry DeSoto snarled at me during recess, flanked by two of his rats. “Going stargazing with your daddy? You and daddy go stargazing a lot, drink tea, and play with little teddies and pony balls?”

They all hovered over me menacingly, only scattering when Nick came out.

“See you later, dipshit,” they laughed, grabbing my nipples and twisting hard.

“You okay?” Nick asked when he saw my watery eyes. I said I was fine, that DeSoto and his gang had just roughed me up a bit. I didn’t tell him how my dad had been out of a job for weeks, had been gone for days then returned like nothing happened and that now I could hear him yelling through the walls, both my mom and dad crying every night. They always began in whispers, harsh words passed back and forth under their breath, but inevitably one of them would snap and the argument would ignite until they were practically burning the house down with their charged insults. My father started sleeping in the basement.

I never asked why, never wanted to. I started seeing him every day in the parking lot of the Polish bar on the bus ride home from school. I knew how far gone he was, but I thought life could blot out reality as long as he didn’t say it.

*          *          *

The night before he left, my dad got drunk and spread himself out like a bear on my bed.

“Dad? What the hell?” I asked when I found him there around 1 am, still clinging to the sheets.

“Don’t complain, Mikey, I’ve had a long day.”

“Right, because every day’s a struggle when you’re unemployed.”

“Shut up.” My dad rolled himself onto his side so he could look at me directly. His eyes were so red and puffy that, for a moment, I wondered if he’d been crying into my pillows.

“You know what adulthood is, Mikey. It’s not getting wiser, or more mature, or any of that shit. It’s waking up in the morning and it’s twenty years later. And you’re married to your first girlfriend with two kids, and the job at the Ford plant you got junior year of high school is the only job you’ve ever had.”

I pulled off my shoes and socks, half-attentive, waiting for him to pass out so I could sleep.

“Remember what I said, Mikey? About the moon?”

“Sure, Dad.”

“We’re going to be first in line, you and me. First in line to leave.”

I guess some seven-year-old part of me was dumb enough to think he’d actually take me with him. Wherever he ended up going, whatever would happen between him and Mom, I never believed that he would leave without me.

*          *          *

When I was sixteen, my dad pulled his truck out of our driveway and never came back.

*          *          *

The Horsehead Nebula is what some people refer to as a miracle.

I say it’s just fucking clouds of gas, people, get over it. You can make that stuff at home.

*          *          *

Let me tell you something about miracles: they don’t exist.

Emily Conway, BFR Staff

I think getting hit by a suburban and a cement truck in the same day should tell you something about the kind of day I’ve had. A family carryover, you could say; the best worst luck. I mean, I’m not dead. … Sort of.

Getting hit like that does a number on the body, but if the trajectories line up just so … it’s not quite “lights out,” as they say. Just puts everything on hold — like brakes at a yellow light, but I’m not driving. That’s where I’m at right now, I think. It’s hard to know for sure, but if I had to guess, I’d say I’m in a coma.

It makes sense, when I have the sense to think about it. Normally, I’m somewhere in the black. I guess you’d call it the mind’s expanse, or something else pretentious (my liberal art friends would like that; have they visited?). But I’m aware and I’m also not…? Not that it matters all that much; this is just an audience of one.

But I wish I could talk. I’m aware, more than I think the monitors can tell (I’ve watched television; I know how they treat the coma patients). More than any of my friends can, either. I can see through the slits of my eyelids, even though they don’t quite move the way I’d like to. I’ve seen you, looking at me. … If you’ve held my hand, I’d tell you that I felt it.

… If I could talk.

I had a pet die when I was a kid — the kind of impressionable loss that a seven year-old doesn’t quite yet have the mental capacity to handle. Or I didn’t, anyway. But my dad told me, at the time, that Sunny died when I wasn’t around because he didn’t want me to see him go — didn’t want to see me sad.

I should’ve been consoled, I guess, but all I took from that was that death had a certain amount of autonomy. If I was just stubborn enough, maybe I could wait it out, or at least have some say in making my exit.

That’s probably why I’m still here. It’s been a little while, at least. I can’t see much, or even for that long, but I know your outfit’s changed. I’ve seen your face change. From tears to something determined, hopeful, and now … I feel like the gaps between my seeing and not are growing longer, but I’m not sure.

It seems unfair to focus on just you; others visit, too. I’ve seen friends and coworkers in the periphery (what little I have) because you take the prime seat unless it’s family visiting. Though you’ve given up (practical; you always knew a lost cause), they never have. It’s the kind of luck we have. Family vacations, life events, dates … anything and everything, from momentous to mundane, could go catastrophically wrong — but we’d be okay. At its most extreme, if it went wrong just a moment too soon or a moment too late, someone would’ve died. But that never happened.

I guess they think I hit that sweet spot. I guess they’re banking on “never.”

… I hate to think of Sunny dying alone. Of curling up under the stairs because he, in his dog-brain, thought it was for the best.

I’m not dying alone. Selfish, yeah, but the next time they’re here, all of them, that’s when I’ll do it. Take my foot off the proverbial brakes and go on down that road, wherever it leads, because I’m not doing anyone any favors here anymore. I can’t see them. If I want to make this call, I better do it soon. Hell, they might unplug me if I’m not careful. No more waiting.

I choose —

Gohar Abrahamyan, BFR Staff

Last semester, I took a class on the forgotten literary art of the epistolary. To drive home exactly how forgotten this art form is, I had to look up what epistolary meant. But hey, I thought, I write letters! I don’t usually send them, but if I’m interested in writing them, I should take a stab at reading them. And what better insight re: interpersonal relationships throughout time than people (almost) directly talking to each other? Fun fact: Victorians talked to each other exactly the way you think they did. In the class, what counted as letters was expanded to include text messages, and looking at that correspondence through a new lens gave my writing a new sense of liberty. So in honor of under-appreciated literary forms, I’m making a case for the unsung heroes of metaphor — perfume descriptions.

I once read an article in a magazine describing a woman whose personality matched her perfume; a brazen confidence was accompanied by a smell that evoked a Turkish brothel. My imagination ran wild; I spent ages trying to figure out the right combination of tobacco flower, musk, jasmine, sandalwood, etc, and what it all meant. And I developed an obsession with reading all of the descriptions of confusing, complicated smell. What does mystery smell like, and how can I find the words to match the feelings and associations it conjures? The smell of onions cooking in butter has an almost mystical ability to sooth the soul — somebody should figure out how to make that a wearable scent. Why isn’t it ok to smell like curry as a fashion statement, as an assertion of personality, as expression? Why do orange blossoms smell like promises and hope? Most importantly, what made me feel most like me?

Is there anything with more power to conjure deep seated and long standing emotion than a smell? Anything more ingrained to our subconscious? Regarded as the strongest of the five human senses, our olfactory senses, according to Marcel Proust, carry something special, a point he outlined in In Search of Lost Time. As the first to link scents with memory, the Proust Phenomenon actually made strides for scientists using neuroscience to figure out how our instant recall functions work. But beyond the technical, Proust weaves a wormhole for his characters. The momentary whiff of a particular smell traverses barriers of time and space, constructing and reconstructing our pasts and how we interpret them.

As abstract as it may seem, the distortion of time and memory plays a very real part in my life. The rare moments of homesickness I still feel happen when I encounter my mother’s perfume. Like her, it is charming, elegant yet not without its liveliness. It is warm and comforting, but defiantly confident.

My sister’s first perfume was donned in her early high school years. Tucked away in a drawer, I would sneak long whiffs of the unequivocally girlie Pink Sugar, yearning to know the adolescent secrets it seemed to hold. As she got older, her tastes became more complex; I recall a particularly unpleasant phase in my life, and an uncomfortably uncertain one in her own, in which she wore a scent I can only describe as “chocolate schnapps.” It was rough. My own taste gravitates toward CK One, the first unisex cologne. It’s androgynous, hard to pinpoint, a contradictory scent that is somehow both feminine and masculine, bold but not loud. It smells like how I would characterize the 90s. It feels right.

How perfumed women smell is a choice they make about how they present themselves. There is an element perfumes share with letter writing, and that is the plasticity of authenticity. Just as we chose the side of ourselves we reveal to others in our writing, just as we construct a literary persona, so our choices of the impressions to leave in each other’s olfactory cortices are contingent upon how much we decide to reveal or conceal. I can use a scent to project who I want to be, or to express in the language of unconsciousness who I am. I can express a feeling, a memory, a sentiment in a mere moment, I can change my reality and alter yours. And the people who are tasked with creating an image, an aura, a story for these fragrant creations have no insignificant role. It is one thing to describe something as “musky.” It is another thing to bring to life a place I haven’t been to, a feeling I haven’t felt, an experience I haven’t had. To be able to construct a Turkish harem using only scent and a pen is a fine tuned skill, and one that in a perfect world, I’d be paid to hone.

Eric Zhang, BFR Staff

Kellen stood back and admired his work. He had decided that The Lion in the Glass would be his last painting.

In the kitchen, his wife Shela was scrambling some eggs in a pan. Her focus was dreamlike, and he snuck up behind her in his bare feet. She jumped just a little, and a squeak came from behind her closed lips when he placed both of his hands on her shoulders.

“I have something to tell you,” he said. Kellen reached around her and shut off the stove, not caring if the eggs would be undercooked. His wife turned in his arms, locking him in an embrace. He looked in her eyes and sighed.

“I heard back from the testing place a couple days ago, but I didn’t know how to break it to you then. They’re pretty sure I have cancer. Went for some more tests yesterday to see how bad it really is. I’ll be going back tomorrow to find out the results.” There was a pause as this revelation sank in.

“…Dr. Zhivan’s office?” was all she could muster. He had been their primary physician since they had moved here when Kellen grew tired of New York.

Shela was going limp in his arms, trembling. For the last fifteen years, they had lived solely for each other. With no children, they were two souls bound and alone in the world, and she closed and opened her eyes, reeling from the possibility that it could ever not be so.

“But…but you feel alright don’t you? I’m sure it’s not too serious. You’ll go bald in treatment,” she said, running her hands through his hair, “but it’ll be ok.”

“I hope so.” Kellen released her from his arms, and she sat at the kitchen table without looking at him. He scooted a chair beside her, and they shared a moment of serious, intimate silence.

Then Kellen’s phone started to ring, and he walked back to the studio room to answer it. Marcus, his art dealer was calling him.

“Hello, Marcus?”

“Hey! Kellen! I’ve got some really exciting news for you. Normally I wouldn’t talk to clients about pending deals, but we’ve known each other for a long time. You won’t believe the deal that I’m working on for you. There’s this guy that wants to buy your entire collection!”

“What? The whole thing? How much?”

“Five million! He says he wants the deal done sometime in the next two months.”

“Are you sure this guy is serious?”

“Yeah. Some big shot doctor named Diego Zhivan.”

Kellen didn’t know how to respond at first, but several moments later, while Marcus was still talking excitedly, a sense of dread consumed his entire being.

“Hello? Kellen? Are you still there?”

“Yeah Marcus. Look, I’ll call you back.”

Kellen dropped his phone without waiting for a response and lay down on the cool, wooden floor. The throbbing nausea of the past few months was coming on again.

Edie Sussman, BFR Staff

The small bell above the door rang sharply as Dr. Magellan and an accompanying frozen breeze swept into the waiting room.

“Sorry I’m late, traffic was hell this morning.”

Her receptionist nodded knowingly. “Have they still not put out that fire out over on the 101?”

“Nope. The pyromancy department has its hands full dealing with it.” She hung up her jacket and scarf and took down a white coat. “Any messages?”

“Nancy Roswell. She wants to talk to you about seeing a specialist for her skin.”

“Who’s my first appointment?”

“Tommy Winters, routine checkup. Trish is in room 7 with him now.”

Dr. Magellan gave a thumbs-up and a thank you, poured herself a cup of coffee, and stepped into her office to pick up her patient’s file.

She sat at her desk, flipping through the reports from his last checkups. Nine years old, third grade, in general good health. He’d first come to her about five years ago, when the cats had started following him home from preschool. She’d diagnosed him with tendencies towards witchcraft and recommended adopting a familiar from a service animal agency.

“Dr. Magellan?” A nurse poked her head into the office, clipboard in hand. “Tommy’s all set to see you.”

“Thanks, Trish.” As she left the room, Dr. Magellan took Trish’s clipboard and started reading through the report.

When she reached room 7, a small sphinx cat was standing in front of the door, blocking her way. It gazed up at her piercingly, and she took a step back despite herself. Familiars were known to acquire magical powers of their own, and she still wasn’t sure what this one was capable of.

“Tommy?” she called out. “It’s Dr. Magellan. Can you tell Svetka to let me in?”

A faint voice responded from inside. “You’re not going to give me a shot, are you?”

Oh no. This again.

“Tommy, you’re due for a flu shot. If you don’t get it, you might get sick. You don’t want to get sick, do you?”

“I’d rather get sick than get a shot!” Tommy shouted back as Svetka hissed.

“Do you remember the last time you got sick, Tommy? You couldn’t play with your friends for a whole week. That was no fun, right?”

No sound came from inside the room.

“It’ll only be a second,” Dr. Magellan continued. “And you can hold Svetka if it helps you. You’ll barely feel a thing.”

Still, Tommy was silent.

Dr. Magellan sighed in frustration. “If you don’t get a shot, I can’t give you candy?”

Tommy didn’t respond immediately, but Svetka stepped to the side of the doorway and began licking a paw, which Dr. Magellan knew meant she was free to come into the room. She knelt to meet the cat’s eyes and whispered, “Don’t worry, I’ve got a treat for you too.”

Fifteen minutes later, Tommy was sucking happily on a lollipop as his father drove him away, and Dr. Magellan was in room 10 finishing her yearly check-up with the Nguyen family.

“So Pamela, how are you enjoying middle school?” she asked as she finished filling in the state immunization records.

Pamela sulked in her wheelchair and refused to answer.

“Are you still on the swim team?”

This time her mother answered for her. “They wouldn’t let her compete anymore because of her… advantage.”

Dr. Magellan shook her head in disbelief. “You should take that up with the school board. They can’t discriminate against merpeople like that. In the meantime, are you still swimming for fun?”

Pamela mumbled inaudibly.

“What was that?” Dr. Magellan asked.

“I said I want to do ballet.”

“Honey,” her mother interrupted, “we already talked about this. The ballet studio just isn’t ready for someone with your condition.”

Dr. Magellan frowned. “I don’t know about that, Amy. You know there’s a wheelchair ballet studio just a few blocks down from here? I could give you their contact info?”

“Well –“

“Yes! Oh please oh please oh please Mom, can I?” Pamela shouted, her face lighting up and her gills flapping excitedly.

“You mean instead of swimming? But is that healthy?”

“As long as she’s still taking a bath once a day and drinking plenty of saltwater, I don’t see why not,” Dr. Magellan reassured them.

Pamela looked up at her with gratitude in her eyes. “Thank you, Dr. Magellan.”

 

It was around 2:00 in the afternoon when a nurse rushed into Dr. Magellan’s office, wide eyed and out of breath.

“You need to come into the waiting room. Right now.”

Dr. Magellan shot out of her chair and raced to the waiting room, wondering what could possibly have been so urgent. What she saw stopped her in her tracks.

“Frankie? Honey, what are you doing here?”

Her daughter looked up at her from where she lay on the floor, curled up tightly into a ball. There were tears in her eyes.

“I… I don’t know, I was just in gym class and then suddenly it was so loud and bright and now I’m here and I don’t know why!” She began to cry again.

Dr. Magellan knelt to her daughter’s side and held her in her arms. “No, sweetie, you’re going to be ok. I’ve got you.”

“Is—is something… wrong with me?”

“Nothing is wrong with you, sweetie,” she said softly. “Teleportation abilities run in our family, you know that. Remember Aunt Susan? How she would always appear at your birthday parties with all those balloons?”

“I can…teleport?” Frankie choked out between sobs.

“That’s what it looks like,” Dr. Magellan said. She could see her daughter thinking over this new information, realization of a world of new possibilities dawning on her. She smiled. It would take some work for her daughter to be able to control her new powers, but that moment of realization—the sudden understanding that a child had been given a blessing and not a curse—that was why she was a pediatrician.

Jenna Mohl, BFR Staff

 

Steve Flinton sat in an armchair and watched the morning news. He tried to hold his tongue as he checked his watch. Again. Nine-thirty.

He had wanted to leave the hotel by eight forty-five for the museum, and the hotel stopped serving breakfast at ten. But in a family with three women—his wife and two daughters—Steve had long ago accepted waiting as an inevitable part of marriage and fatherhood.

However, in this particular instance, the waiting was longer than usual. In spite of all his meticulous planning before the trip, Steve had failed to account for one very important factor: the hotel room they were staying in for the duration of their vacation had only one bathroom.

Steve, with a growing impatience proportional to his growing hunger, listened to the ensuing struggle that was the result of this most unfortunate of circumstances.

“Kat, can you move? I need to do my makeup,” said Anna, his youngest daughter, as she tried to squeeze in between Kat, his oldest, and Lily, his wife, for a spot in front of the mirror.

Kat, who was in the process of brushing her hair, refused to budge. “I’m not done yet. I still have to use the flat iron.”

“Why? Your hair is perfectly straight already! Mom!”

Lily painstakingly separated each eyelash, never looking away from the task at hand. “Anna why don’t you use the mirror in the hall?”

Anna scrunched her nose and whined in the way that all younger siblings do when injustice arises. “Because the light is better in the bathroom. Why can’t Kat use a different outlet?”

Lily pursed her lips and rummaged through one of her many cosmetic bags until she found the right lip liner. “Fine. Kat. Use a different outlet. Your dad wants to leave, so you both better be ready in ten minutes or we’re going without you.”

“Breakfast ends in twenty five minutes,” Steve interjected. He knew his wife. When she said ten minutes, she really meant fifteen or twenty. He wisely didn’t point out the hypocrisy of Lily threatening the girls when she wasn’t ready herself.

Such prudence, however, did not extend to his oldest daughter. “Seriously, Mom? You’re still doing your makeup.”

Lily’s eyes narrowed and Steve saw the flashing sign of ‘Danger Danger Danger.’ His survival instincts kicked in and he turned the volume of the T.V. up.

Kat, however, was saved by the interruption of Anna, who once again tried to push in, whining “movveeee”.  Kat picked up the flat iron and elbowed her out of the way. “It’ll take me two minutes! Just wait, Anna!”

Seeing that she was not going to get her way and that her mother was in no mood to arbitrate, Anna took up a new tactic. “Well hurry up! Dad wants to leave.”

Yes, thought Steve. Dad does want to leave.

“You’re not even dressed yet!” Kat pointed out.

Anna stomped over to the suitcase she shared with her sister and dug through the carefully folded clothes. Returning to the bathroom, she asked, “Can I borrow your scarf?”

Kat, running the flat iron through her bangs for the last time, answered, “Yes. But remember this the next time you get mad.”

Anna rolled her eyes and looped it around her neck. “Thank you. Out of all the sisters in all the world, you’re the very, very best.”

Kat fluffed her hair one last time. “You’re being sarcastic, but it’s true. Mom.” She turned to Lily, who was putting the finishing touches on her lipstick. “Can I wear your peace sign necklace? Please?”

“I don’t know where it is in the suitcase and I don’t want you tearing through everything.” Lily glanced over at Steve, whose jaw was clenched in his effort to stay calm. “We better go before your dad has a heart attack.”

“But I haven’t done my makeup!” cried Anna.

Seeing that his wife was ready, Steve felt as though he could now impose discipline without fear. “Too bad. We’re leaving. Now.”

Anna glared at Kat. “Thanks a lot.”

“It’s not my fault. Get up earlier next time. And wear your own stuff if you’re going to be such a—”

“That’s ENOUGH!” shouted Steve.

“Honey,” said Lily, putting her hand on his arm. “Calm down. We’re going to have a good breakfast and we’re going to be pleasant. Right, girls?” she said, with a pointed look at Kat and Anna.

“Yes mama,” said Anna with affected sweetness.

“Katrina?”

“Yes” she answered begrudgingly. And so, they shuffled out of the hotel room, down to breakfast, with Steve leading the way.

 

 

Regan Farnsworth, BFR Staff

There is a common misconception that a writer is a particular sort of person. That being a writer is something you’re born into, that someone either can write or can’t. There also is a second common misconception:  the idea that people have to want to read what you write for it to be “good.”

Given these misconceptions, only the published can stand out as “writers,” and even then only the commercially successful published are held as objects worthy of imitation.

But let’s not even complicate the matter of writing with questions of commercial success and whether one must win some sort of lottery at birth to have the “right stuff” to write what people want to read.

No. Instead, let’s look for a moment at personal writing. Writing for you, or maybe a close friend or two. This isn’t exactly the kind of writing that happens all that often – or, rather, you don’t hear about it happening all that often—because that’s precisely the nature of it. And the thing about this kind of writing is it doesn’t have to be “good” the way best-sellers or literary classics are “good.” All it has to be is yours. And as someone who exists, I understand there’s more corn in that sentence than in the global agriculture industry, so allow me to provide an actual example of this type of writing:

As a cripplingly analytical individual obsessed with the metaphysical, I found myself in the midst of an existential crisis based on the possibility of free will. Without going into details, the crux of the issue was that there can of course be no absolute resolution. There is no answer, yet I was desperate for one. Thus, the need for this one piece of fiction: a setting in which there must be a resolution regardless of my inability to know one. That is, in writing I could create the necessary circumstances to better understand myself.

Let’s be clear: this was probably the worst story I ever wrote in my life—and that includes those ones I wrote in second grade. It was a couple pages, done in an hour, and truthfully was such garbage even flies couldn’t stand it. But that’s not important, because neither you nor anyone else is ever going to read it. All it did was what it had to do: it resolved my cognitive dissonance.

Obviously there are more uses for writing than settling the inner turmoil brought about by an excessive need for agency; all this example set out to prove is it didn’t matter if it was good, or made sense, or had a solid plot or possessed meaningful character development or even had proper spelling. Sometimes writing is its own reward.

All I hope to express is that you don’t need to be a writer to write. If you’re an avid reader—and surely you are if you’re reading a column on a fiction magazine’s blog—there’s something you get from a story. Sometimes you can get it from your own story, too, even if you—like me—would sooner set it on fire than on a shelf.

Jackie Nichols, BFR Staff

To almost all pedestrians, the cobblestone streets were most charming in the lamplight of evening. They were reminiscent of grander cities, or of grander times for the once triumphant city of Sarajevo. But, for Ethan, the darkness could not be illuminated by wane streetlights, and searching for street names and signs of the bus terminal was next to impossible. He used his limited Bosnian vocabulary to try and tell passersby that he was looking for the bus station, but it was useless. This town was not a common tourist destination and the locals were not accustomed to speaking with someone who spoke so poorly. He rushed along the many side streets and, after a number of ups and downs, reached his destination in a huff. He showed the attendant his ticket and boarded the bus.

The bus was mostly empty, and Ethan continued to the back where there was a girl, about his age. He put his coat and carry-on in the seat adjacent, and set his luggage on the shelf overhead. He settled into his seat, and closed his eyes. The air from the vents was cold but he began to fall asleep. The bus driver made some announcements in Bosnian, and the sudden motion of the bus’s departure jolted him awake. He checked his phone again, and saw that the bus had wi-fi. He connected to it and, checking his messages, found he had missed five. Two were from his mom. The first: “Hi Ethan, just wanted to let you know that your dad is in intensive care now. The doctors are doing what they can, but we don’t know much yet.” The second said: “Your father is in an induced coma and we are awaiting further news from the doctors. Hope you are travelling safely. Love you.” Ethan put down his phone. Outside his window the battered streets of Sarajevo passed by. He saw families inside their homes and couples out on the sidewalks.

He thought about what he would have been doing at home, three months ago. His mom would have been making dinner around this time, probably would have asked him to run to the store for the scallions she forgot. And then there was his dad. His dad would be in his recliner, staring gravely at a half-filled crossword. Ethan would hear the intermittent sighs and perplexed mumbles from his own spot in front of the TV, volume half way. He would turn over some conversation starters in his head. “Hey dad, want some help?” No, too belittling. Besides, he had to go get scallions.

He checked his phone again, twenty more minutes on the bus. He looked out the window again, and couldn’t help thinking about his family at that very moment, so far away, in a too brightly lit hospital hallway. Heels, pens, and keyboards clicking loudly, reverberating off the linoleum. They were probably crowded together in the stiff chairs, his mother with a box of Kleenex and cup of coffee idly in her hands. He thought of his dad lying in a room, alone, silent, except for the beeping of the heart monitor and fan of the air conditioner. He wished he could reach out and shake him awake.

He was suddenly alarmed by a shove. The girl adjacent to him was trying to get something from her bag. He looked at her with a surprised look and she apologized. He mumbled some words of reproach to her.

“Oh, you are American?” she replied.

“Yes,” he said.

“Sorry to bother, but I was thinking if you had a light,” she said.

It took him a moment to realize she was holding a cigarette and wanted a lighter. “Oh, no. I don’t smoke. Sorry.”

“It is nothing,” she said and waved her hand. She turned around and continued digging in her bag. A sudden bump in the road caused some articles to fall from her lap. Ethan reached down and gathered the things at his feet. He picked up a worn photo of a small girl in the arms of her father. They were standing in front of a brightly graffitied wall. He realized he was staring and quickly handed her her things.

“Thank you.” She put the things back in her purse and settled in her seat. “So, where are you going?” she asked.

Ethan sighed to himself, wishing for silence. “Home, to the U.S. To St. Paul in a state called Minnesota.”

“Minnesota? Hm, I’ve never heard of it. Perhaps it is very exotic, yes?”

“Not really, if you live there.” He stopped talking then and looked straight ahead, but she spoke anyhow.

“I am going home also. To a town called Grimauld in France. It is in the south and it is very beautiful there. My mother, and brother, and sister, and grandma are there. They will be very happy to see me,” she told him.

They arrived at the airport in a few minutes and Ethan collected his things and got off the bus. He walked over to the map of the airport and found his terminal. He heard someone walking towards him and the girl stood next to him, also looking at the map.

“My plane is in A. And yours?” she inquired.

“Mine is in A, too.”

“You are stopping in Paris?”

“Yeah, I have a layover there.”

“Me too. I think A is over there.” She pointed to the left. “Perhaps we are on the same plane.”

“I guess we might be.”

So the two walked in that direction and found a sign which indicated they were in the right place. They walked in the direction of an old bench by the windows overlooking the runway.

He put his things down on the floor, and she put hers there as well.

“My name is Nadine,” she said and put forth her hand.

He shook it, saying, “Hi, I’m Ethan.”

They sat on the bench, and, together, they waited.

Arami Matevosyan, BFR Staff

The following two pieces are part of a four-piece series titled Of the Places We’ll Go.

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Death, Then Life, Arami Matevosyan

You never claimed residency on earth. Somehow the idea of mortality was never enough—you wanted to live through the fruits of the next couple centuries, and this notion of life and death did not fit your agenda. You were composed of stardust, no doubt: immortal and ready to burst at any moment. And in your grand scheme of things, you ventured to explain to me that you just wanted to watch people burn the world, all while nestled in your corner of the universe.

 

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Enamored with Glow, Arami Matevosyan

It was your aura that mesmerized me: strong, vibrant, defiant, unwavering.

Absolutely beautiful.

I wanted to chase after you to see where you lead me, but I could never seem to keep up. Terrified of losing sight, I ran into the gnarled roots of your stories and lost myself in the exhilarating glow of your light. I was drunk on your mystery and I never sobered up.