he took a picture of me in a flat brown house in alabama
wearing a black bandanna wrapped around my chest like a
white flag we didn’t know then that the spring always ruined
everything for us, sent me leaving bus tickets were
another way to say i can’t say sorry & i said i know
getting off the bus dragging my trash bags from the bottom of it
a girl & i smiled and she gave me a bag of honey chex mix
and trazodone i was listening to acid bath when i fell asleep
and that was his favorite band a year later i would be scraping
something soft and powder white from a jar not angel dust
but all of heaven in its pure form & he said kayla your bones
are starting to show in the back i said good & realized that
without trying i had made him into my father the real kind not the
one he was not the call me daddy kind of daddy but the one who
lifts you up on his shoulders when youre small so you can see
the whole world i was that girl once hair in my face his head below me
below bedsheets his mouth to my ground and i bled hard all over him
not my period but he felt like that like an ending they say a girl
compares every boy to her father and i do
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I never wanted to wear my hair loose—and let my unruly curls free—and therefore I scraped my hair back and every morning I smeared half a jar of hair lotion on those curls. The lotion tried to tame those fine baby hairs that—regardless of my attempts—were not lying flat. Deep down I really wanted to look like that black singer from that girl group, of whom I now can’t remember the name. All I know is that I saw her for the first time in my favorite magazine and I finally saw myself reflected in the sea of white faces that watched me from the shiny, thin pages.
It was the last week of the summer holidays before we all went our different ways. It had been a lingering, warm, and rather boring summer. We agreed to go swimming and enjoy our carefree lives before we entered a new stage.
It was the year that you couldn’t escape Britney Spears—no matter how hard you tried—and the pumping bass of “Baby One More Time” hit you on the head time and time again. I could not wait until the inevitable moment came that I would be dancing in the auditorium of our high school. I already practiced for the moment that I was going to wear my first tube top—of course with the accompanying sweatpants, just like Britney—by holding my stomach in so that I would appear small and desirable.
On the long, dusty road to the beach I fell off my bike. It was actually way too hot to do anything. Of course, the crash was not my fault but it was entirely up to the bike. It was an old thing that used to belong to my sister and was withering in the back garden, but I had no other option. In my knee there was now a small scrape. It was crooked and bloody, but I found that it actually gave me some character.
It was a day I would never talk about, not even to my best friend. After all, the group had nothing to do with the events and would say it was doomed from the start.
He was the tallest and toughest of us all, a boy who had already seen the world. Courtesy of his older brothers and the dysfunctional family he came from. Everything about him was long: his fingers, arms, legs, eyelashes and that glossy, dark brown hair.
When it was just about the hottest part of the day, we decided to take a break and get something to drink. I do not remember our conversation word for word, but the impressions of that day are still engraved in my mind. The sound of the sea, the scorching heat that burned my skin. The pounding bass of the radio in my ears, the smell of salted french fries, and the bubbling carbon dioxide from the second glass of Coca-Cola that I was drinking and that tickled my nose.
I stared at the picnic table and saw my dark hands glistening with sweat and holding on to the glass of soda. Under the table I tried to smoothen my linen dress with my hands and slowly an imprint of my wet bathing suit appeared. I gave you a vague smile and leaned forward. I whispered in your ear, “I like you.” You gave me a knowing look and said “I like you too.”
We told each other what we would be in ten years. Our hopes, fears and dreams. You talked about adopting children and told a long—and rather boring—story about your electric guitar. You were attentive, listening and gave me your full attention. I felt safe, warm and wanted. The time trickled away and we all decided to go for a swim one last time.
In retrospect, I should have actually seen it coming. Your hands were loosely draped around her shoulders. Ogling her breasts that swayed with the rhythm of your synced steps. Occasionally you put your hand possessively on her neck. I could not look away and watched until you stepped behind the dark bushes.
I pulled my bathing suit off behind a towel, got dressed, and walked back to my bike. Devastated, I cycled back home.
I left the sun, the sea and the memory of you behind.
My hair still wet and dripping from the salt water of the sea.
Those unruly curls were finally free.
- Giselle Defares
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We share, we share, we share.
But we don’t believe in sharing.
Don’t touch it, man!
We live in a mediocre time in which no detail is excessive.
Excessive detail, pita chips
And being mean on the internet.
I don’t really know what a poem is.
- Holly Keys
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When my young tortoiseshell cat, Mitten, drowned in our neighbors’ well, I wanted to have him buried next to my grandmother, Helen, in the haunted cemetery down the county road. But my parents said that the cemetery was meant for people, not animals—so they took Mitten to the Vulture King who lives out in the woods. I’d only seen the Vulture King once, when I was very little and playing by myself down at the lake, skipping stones; the elderly man ambled along the water on the other side of the water, chewing on a rabbit’s foot. The man looked more like an owl than a vulture.
A week later, a raccoon got into our chicken coop and ate two hens and killed six more; feathers danced like snow through the air. My mother, Sharon, discovered the slaughter and cooked three for us and set the other three aside for the Vulture King.
“Why are we giving him our chickens, Mama?” I asked.
“So the Vulture King can eat, too,” she replied.
“Why?” I questioned.
“Because we don’t want him to go hungry,” she answered.
On Saturday, I caught my father, Walter, setting up rat poison and rat traps in our attic, even though we never had seen any rats in the attic before. When I pointed this out, my father said: “Just in case.” I knew then who they were for.
I barely visit my grandmother at the cemetery anymore. The memories are too painful: apple pies; sweet tea; card games; toothless grins; wet clothes scrubbed over washboards. I miss her dearly. But I’m also afraid. He walks the county road, scraping reeking groundhogs baking in the hot sun off gravel. Once, as I was picking wildflowers for grandmother in the nearby fields, he sauntered by and I could hear his bulging stomach growling—the sound was like summer thunder. When he spotted me in the tall grass, the Vulture King called out for me, but I ran home with overwhelming fear pushing me forward; the fear of being consumed, and fear of him knowing my name. Hershel.
The black bear became more courageous as winter progressed; its colossal paw prints fossilized in waves of ivory washed closer and closer to our community. Soon, mothers were worried over their children playing out in the snow by themselves. The fathers met in our basement on a cold night to discuss what must be done, and came to the conclusion that intricate traps must be set around the border to ensnare the beast. My brother, Alcide, was in charge along with several older boys to check them ever so often. Each time he came home, I would beg for the latest news and details.
“Nothing…” he would always grumble.
Occasionally, a lone wolf or a mangy bobcat would cross the wires and rows of metal teeth, but no bear set foot on the sets. Only in the snow beside them.
Just as panic was rising in the community, they caught something other than a canine or feline: the Vulture King. His leg was bleeding pretty badly when I disobeyed my parents and snuck out to see, but a smile was painted upon his face.
“Let me eat in peace!” the Vulture King insisted, and that’s when I noticed the half devoured martin, small and caked in runny blood, ribcage broken and opened like arms welcoming an embrace.
The fathers released him immediately, and the aging man hobbled like a penguin through the snow to the dark woods, leaving behind a trail of red that only attracted more predators. My father and brother empty nets and snares for a week.
The blizzard came after that whole debacle. Four days cooped up in the house drove me crazy. Breaking my promise, I decide to visit my grandmother despite my mother’s warning because I needed something to do. As I practically swam in white drifts, I discovered that I couldn’t find her grave or her headstone, or any of the others within the necropolis. Perhaps they thawed and vanish underneath the snow? Around midnight, when I got back, I told my mother this.
“Wait until spring,” she said. “They couldn’t have gone anywhere.”
I hoped they didn’t.
What did vanish in the spring, however, was my best friend, Patrick, along with four other boys in our community. Everyone blamed the bear. I blamed the Vulture King. How could a bear that tiptoed along our borders as if walking on eggshells take away five rowdy boys and leave no trace of evidence? But the Vulture King patrolled up and down our streets, alleys and backyards daily.
I was also beginning to think that he was the bear all along.
With the help of my brother, I devised a plan to catch him. Near the lake that was now frozen and glassy, I peppered rat poison inside of a deer head. That night, the Vulture King went into a deep sleep. I came out of hiding and, with shears, needle and thread, split the obese owl open and out dripped Patrick and the others. Underneath the goo, I found Helen, my grandmother, unearthed and swallowed whole by the monster.
The memories ignited to life as if they were dynamite.
Hurriedly, I lugged heavy stones and chunks of ice from the banks, stuffed them inside of him and sewed him back up. Just as I finished, he awoke and hobbled after me.
“I’m going to eat you!” he growled. “Every. Last. One. Of. You!”
Trapped, we all had no choice but to cross the frozen lake. We carefully skated across the surface under the ghoulish moonlight while The Vulture
King barreled for our flesh, cracking the ice with each stomp. I wheeled around when I heard a yelp.
“Keep running!” Patrick urged me as I slowed to a halt.
The Vulture King was half-submerged, clawing for safety as the stones dragged him under. I timidly circled the hole, watching down below. He sank to the bottom and drowned.
- Kieron Walquist
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Joe said he had a black Monte Carlo Super Sport. None of us had seen it and his father drove him to work. Joe said he had a home that he bought out of foreclosure. He said the home was being worked on and that was why he lived with his parents. Joe had been saying this for five years now.
Joe said he was going to marry Elise who worked the paint aisle, and that he would take her to Italy. Italy was the homeland of his ancestors and he had family there who would welcome them. But Elise had reported him to management for harassment and asked to be moved to the other end of the store.
Joe said he had been strangled by the boss at his last job, by a Mexican named Augie, and that very soon he was to receive a large settlement. Despite the litigation he was calling daily to get his old job back in the meat department. Any day now he would have it. Augie and he could work things out. “But what we need ‘round this place here is a union,” Joe said. “So that management will give us some respect.” Respect was worth paying a union, he argued. And Hoffa was a great man.
Joe was short and round and his bald head was smooth and polished. Joe’s hands were soft and white and stayed that way because he did not like to work. Through the night you heard Joe cackling in the paint aisle and doing his broken English impersonations of the Mexican Augie.
Steve liked to get on Joe in the break room. Joe would be telling Victor about how this or that was going to happen for him and Steve, not even looking up from reading the paper, would grunt, “No it’s not, Joe. No. That’ll never happen.”
Joe had these sties growing on his eyelids and they seemed to get larger and redder every day. He had them for months. Joe was always talking about what the doctor was proscribing and Steve says, “Hey Joe, maybe if you washed your hands after you go to the bathroom you wouldn’t have that shit growing on your eyes.”
They finally fired him for getting into it with Phil from the flooring department. Joe called the store manager every few days trying to get his job back. This went on for a few months until Joe realized it wasn’t going to happen. He called the police and tried to have assault charges brought on Phil for flicking a paper clip at him. Joe filed a lawsuit against Phil for assault with a paper clip. That put Phil out of work too, which was too bad. Phil was a good guy.
- Jesse Myner
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Tumblr just reminded me of this. Thanks for following, everybody—this has been quite an experiment, both for me and for the writers who have generously shared their work for publication on Unreality House. After trying a few different approaches to using this as a platform for my own fiction, I’ve decided to pull back and work on a longer-form piece that I may share in full or in part here when it’s finished. In the meantime, we’re still open for business and submissions are welcome.
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In order to survive adolescence, you must force yourself to sell-out. Bite down on your tongue, harden your jaw, clench your teeth, and learn to join the league of the invisible minority. Trick your white classmates; they must not realize that you’ve infiltrated their tight-knit ranks. Learn to take history as gospel, never look beyond the pages. Act as the sole representation of your race. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. You are like the cockroach in Audra Lorde’s poem; you may be detested and despised, but you cannot be killed.
* * *
You’re not like other black people.
You sound white.
Are you a mulatto?
Is your hair real? Can I touch it?
You’re black; you must know how to dance!
Where are you from? No, really, where are you from?
I want to have mulatto babies!
But you didn’t grow up in a ghetto, so you’re not really black.
But he didn’t MEAN to be racist….
I wish black people would stop talking about racism.
What are you?
The fact that these sentiments flowed from the mouths of both friends and foes alike makes you feel very, very small and useless and naïve and you wish that you had clung to your dignity with the ironclad determination of a captain about to sink with his beloved ship.
Your identity was never fully yours. They claimed it and twisted it and warped it and defaced it like the crypt robbers who ransacked the Egyptian tombs. You refused to accept the realities of double-speak, of coded-language, of words that harbored mild apathy to condescending disdain. They tried to make you crazy, to convince you that you were shadowboxing. At first, it was much easier to submit, to slip into your token role, to open your mouth, take on water and drown. Your mother moved through life like an eel, maneuvering through society with the flash of white teeth and a slickness only known to outsiders who have served so long as a punching bag that they are numb to the onslaught of brass-knuckled blows. On the other hand, your father was not afraid to tell you what it meant to be black in this version of America, this vision constructed from the indulgence of privilege, what it meant to be a member of a race of people whose skin color came with baggage, a history that was simultaneously American and “Other.”
Railing against your rationale, you carved these banners of ignorance between the inner cracks and crevices of your subconscious, absorbed the toxins like ink into your skin, tried to acquire the same kind of blindness that they professed as moral hymns. At times, living in a staggering display of whiteness heightened your depression. The authenticity of your identity was dependent upon an adherence to stereotypes. When you were twelve, you composed a life plan which would begin when and not if you escaped to New York City. You now realize that you were confused all those years because you were looking to fit into a crowd that would rather hoard and eat your culture and spit you back out until you were nothing but bones picked-clean.
You were not searching for tolerance, but unequivocal equality.
You are so tired of being the token minority, the stand-in for the exotic and strange. You are tired of trying to educate and explain to deaf ears. You are tired of expecting compassion and receiving indifference. You are tired of being a pillar of indomitable strength for people who do not have strength of their own.
You are tired of the world’s definitions.
* * *
Bloodletting is an ancient medical procedure that was commonly practiced in order to cleanse the afflicted body of the illness—or rather the evil spirit that had attacked the patient. According to PBS, “bloodletting [has a] 3,000 year history [and] began with the Egyptians of the River Nile one thousand years B.C., and the tradition spread to the Greeks and Romans.”
Some people will keep friends, no matter how broken the relationship, no matter how tired the loyalties, because they need to be lost in a crowd to feel secure. Some people will keep friends that are toxic because they afraid to be alone. They are convinced that being alone is synonymous with loneliness.
Some people will honor the ghost of childhood friendships past because alliances cemented in early adolescence carry a weight that mimics the intensity of a life debt. These people have stuck by you through your growing pains, through the awkward fumbling towards adulthood. But does such allegiance matter when these friends view you as a non-threatening exception to their stereotypes? Does it matter when your friendship is an excuse to assuage white guilt? To consent to the powerless role of the model minority?
In order to cure the soul, you must let the bloodletting begin.
- Vanessa Willoughby
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Pretty Girl With Too Much Makeup®
(but she’s pretty anyway)
is tweeting about massages from her penthouse in New York
that no one normal could afford.
I just wanted to get away.
I got my wish; Christmas came early
(you’re somewhere in LA)
but mostly I wish I was guzzling whiskey with you hitting me in the face
and I’m rolling down to the ground, spilling your beer,
screaming with laughter on the floor
about how I just can’t take any more
and you’re just cool as cool can be
(you’re practically ice; 7-11 Slurpee).
Glacial from toes to hairline,
solid blonde Aryan fact.
This is why we’re friends; YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO TACT
and you change the subject from me to you
complaining about the price of benzoates
as I lie vaguely bored and blue
and I tell myself the same thing every time;
- Tashi Feldstein
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