“Fountain of Youth” by Tim Bascom

Fountain of Youth

By Tim Bascom
 

For my father, who remains remarkably young

 

To reach it, they had to hike twenty minutes along a wooded creek near the big river. During summer, their clothes clung with sweat as they sidestepped spider webs and eased through nettles. They arrived hot and dusty, itchy with mosquito bites. Then the two sons dashed ahead, browning trousers as they slid down the muddy bank and jostled for a first turn under the tree-root overhang.

Just to stoop into that damp, mushroomy shade was a relief, but the place felt almost enchanted at times because of a cool breeze exhaled from the ground, emerging along with a burbling spring. The chill air wafted out of a deep hole, feeling like something straight from the fridge. It drifted into the muggy vapor of the ravine, changing the whole mood of the day.

To avoid swallowing mud, their father scooped a bowl and let it clarify. Like a rippling lens, the water magnified everything—so that pebbles bulged twice as large. Even the little trail of sand under the pool seemed to pulse with secret life.

To drink they had to go down onto their hands and knees. They took long turns bowing into the grotto, but their father stayed longest, holding a half push-up with his face nearly submerged. When he backed out, he uttered a big “aaah” as if some much-delayed need had been satisfied.

“Years younger,” he said, incantation-like, suggesting that he was going to transform before their eyes. And perhaps the water did make him younger because he turned playful. When the boys asked him, on a whim, if he would help dig a cave, he surprised them by not hesitating: “Sure, let’s dig a cave.”

Back at the campsite, he helped to pick a rounded knoll and gather the necessary tools: a shovel, a hatchet, plus a few large serving spoons that might double as hand spades. He cut a circle into the slope, forming a barrel-like entrance. He got right down on his knees, taking turns with them as they reached into the hole and scraped.

The deepening entrance was hardly wider than the father’s torso, so that when he dug, he had to shove dirt between his knees. However, he kept at it, face to the hillside, slowly disappearing, until eventually he had emptied a ball-like interior where his sons could join him. Inside, their sweaty shirts went cool on their backs. The dark hollow seemed to exhale the same mysterious mineral breath as the spring—to whisper a hint of some subterranean elixir.

They opened the space a bit further and carved earthen benches. Then they sat and looked at the entrance. In the glimmering light, the father’s face was reduced to essentials: a high smudged forehead, a shock of black hair, a well-defined nose. He smiled softly. For a moment, all three were silent, savoring their shared secret.

In that cool shadowy remove, the two boys became caught up in their own dream-like thoughts, whispering what it might have been like to come from some past era when people lived in the ground—an ancient clan with an ancient way to stay young. Their father seemed a large child himself, stooped into their small world. If they dug deeper, the youngest boy asked, could they reach the source of the spring? Would it be a lake? A cold, black lake rippling endlessly?

Finally, they crawled back out into the brilliant sun patches. They blinked and grinned at each other, hearing the jackhammer noises of a woodpecker, the crinkling of leaves under their knees. Emerging felt like being born into a new world. It felt like starting all over again.

“Six Letters That Shouldn’t Need to be Written” by Kaylin Tlam

Six Letters That Shouldn’t Need to be Written

By Kaylin Tlam

 

Dear Love,

You missed me again. I’m thinking your aim has gone to

shit since we last met. Maybe you should think about

buying bigger arrows. Or at least take some lessons

from Robin Hood. Maybe then you’ll hit something,

and it’ll stay hit. It won’t be gone in two days like

it didn’t happen in the first place.

 

Dear Kid-Sitting Next to Me in Wellness,

I still remember your face when they told us the box

we drew in on the right was our true selves.

The way your eyes widened,

as I drew an alien that was bent to exterminate the human race.

For that one moment, filled with awkward laughter,

You believed it, didn’t you?

 

Dear Prince Charming,

You really like messing with kid’s minds.

Because of you, Mary won’t fight for herself.

She thinks that some ‘boy wonder’ will do it for her.

Little Timmy tries to take on a monster.

He gets himself killed before Mary can run home in tears.

It’s times like these I wonder why people say fairy tales aren’t real

Dear Blackbird,

Why don’t people notice you more? You’re lucky.

The way you can fly anywhere, land anywhere, and people forgive you for it.

Even when you and your friends are digging through my trash,

And root out all my empty bottles and cans of cheap ravioli,

I can still forgive you for the litter you leave behind.

Nothing’s quite so black, or as beautiful as you.

Is it such a crime if I sing along, too?

 

Dear Girl Next Door,

You’re an idiot. Falling in love with a door-slamming psycho like him?

What is wrong with you? You have to realize that he’s not one to hang around.

One day, you’ll say something wrong; you’ll convince him you’re not as

forgiving with his obnoxious self-loathing as he thinks, and he’ll be out the door.

He knows he’s not worth the annoyance.

He’s not worth dealing with his madness, his darkness, or his mood swings.

What this is, what you think this is, isn’t as real as the wrenching of your gut,

Or the walls shuddering when he leaves home for the last time.

What makes you think you can fight off his past?

What makes you think you can save him from himself?

 

Dear Nerdy Fantasies,

Why can’t I live in you, rather than this apocalyptic apartment?

Why haven’t I gotten my letter to Hogwarts? Why hasn’t the Doctor

appeared in his blue box to take me away to the other side of the universe?

Why hasn’t my X-Gene kicked in, and made me as invincible as Wolverine,

so I don’t have to worry about dying, or getting hurt anymore?

Why is it that I can only visit you when I’m supposed to be growing up?

“Forgive Me” by Ashley-Nichole Holland

Forgive Me

By Ashley-Nichole Holland

 

Can you feel that? Can you feel the breeze rolling off the blue water? Close your eyes, feel what I am feeling. My heart beats faster with every crashing wave. Sailboats rock back forth in the distance as I anticipate the hurt that is about to take place. Do you hear that? It’s the bell from the orange buoy. Ring. Ring. Ring. Sit here with me, sit still. Breathe in the salty air; let it sink into your lungs. Bury your toes in the sand, its cold, I know. Give me your hand, feel what I am feeling.

It’s pushed too far back onto the shore, this old boat. It probably hasn’t been out on the water for a whole decade. We lean against it; its white and turquoise paint is chipped. “Point No Point” is written in black script, it’s still there. It’s still here. Can you feel what I’m feeling? Can you feel the blood pumping through my veins as seagull float above the glassy ocean? Can you feel the tear in our lives? The wind pulls the clouds away from the shore. The sun glows against your skin. Look at the daisies, they’re my favorite. It’s funny how well they complement each other; the ocean and the daisies. Tell me you can feel what I am feeling.

The red roof of the lighthouse is vibrant with the sun setting behind it. If we wait, we can see the light from the tower chase falling stars in the night sky. But we cannot put this off any longer. Listen to the ocean. Listen to the field of grass behind us. Can you hear the tall blades move against each other in the saline airstream?

I want you to know that my intention is not to hurt you, but this will never be; you and I. As much as our hearts might break, for as long as you have anticipated the rest out our lives together, I can’t. I sit down in the old boat and I ask you to sit next to me. You don’t know why we are here; I’ve never brought you to this spot before. You do not know that this is the place that I used to run to when we would fight.

Some call it cold feet, but I’m positive that this is not that. I can’t marry you; it wouldn’t be fair to either of us if I did. You no longer make sense in the life that I am trying to create for myself. I don’t want to live the life of an Officers wife. Our past complicates my feelings for you; there will always be memories of when you loved me and I loved you in return. You bought me a Tiffany’s necklace for me to wear to the prom, and I held you in my arms when you learned about your grandfather’s stroke. A year later I cried my eyes out when I found you with Haley Carlson at my best friend’s birthday party.

Here we are, three years later. You’ve apologized more times than I can remember, you’ve begged for my forgiveness. For a while, I thought I forgave you; I thought I had moved passed it and saw something more important than what happened in the past. As I sit next to you on the altar of abandonment, I try to gather the words to forever change our futures. I couldn’t give you what you want; there was no way I could live up to your expectations. I can’t be your military wife.

With tears rolling down my face I think about the moment you proposed to me. The way I had always hoped for, and you knew it too. In the middle of the seventh inning stretch, right after “Take Me Out to the Ballgame, you got down on one knee and told me to look up at the score board. “Julianne, will you marry me?” The crown surrounding us cheered as my face turned a darker shade of pink than that of the vendor’s cotton candy.

The sky fades to a deeper blue as the sun lowers over the Hood Canal waters. You ask me what is the matter and I tell you that I don’t know if you will ever forgive me for what I am about to say. You hold my hand, waiting for your heart to break. My eyes lock on the small breaking waves against the smooth sand as I tell you that I could never be all that you need me to be.

At first you don’t understand, you tell me that I am all that you could want for the rest of your life. But I’m not here for you to convince me to marry you; you shouldn’t have to convince me. I tell you that I am not fit to be a wife or mother. I tell you that settling down isn’t a part of my plan anymore. I love you, but I know that I am no longer right for you.

You stand up and brush sand from your clothes. You take a moment staring off at the lighthouse; the light just turned on and was dancing at the top of its tower. You want to leave because we have a two hour drive ahead of us. Without saying a word we walk across the cold sand, no longer resting in the sunlight. I take deep breaths, letting the salty air absorb into my lungs. Crickets off into the distance play music and harmonize with the wind rustling through the tall beach grass.

You unlock and open the car, still in silence. With the keys resting in your hand and your eyes locked on the steering wheel, you tell me that I am being selfish. I wish I could tell you why, but I don’t want to hurt you anymore than I already have. I don’t want to disappoint you in the years ahead of us.

Trees pass by in a blur; the tall evergreens dancing through the frame of the passenger side window. I think about you, the kids that you want to have with me and the home. You want two dogs and a boat to take fishing. I wish I could be the all American wife for your vision of the all American family.

The sun turns the horizon deep sienna and I close my eyes, picturing the ocean and the sailboats. Images of daisies and cotton candy clouds play back in the pictures of my brain. I’m too weak to say anything more and I know you want me to explain. I remember the time when I knew nothing more than the life that I would create with you. My time is running out and I needed you to move on from me.

You don’t know, but my body stopped responding to the medication. My body is breaking down and I don’t have much time. My body won’t be able to bear a child; I won’t have the strength to build a home. I love you with all my heart, but I cannot create this life with you and leave you because I am too weak. Each time I close my eyes, I pray to God to give me the strength to wake up the next morning. Just know that I am not doing this because I do not love you; cancer is a monster that I could not defeat.

Today might have been that last time I felt the wind rush off the sweet salty ocean. I cherish each moment I have, especially the ones with you. I hope that you can feel what I feel for you, and I am sorry that I will be leaving you. But when it’s time, just remember me; forgive me.

 
 

“Dark Glass” by Britney Ott

Dark Glass

By Britney Ott
 

The shrill cry of a school bell echoed in the empty hallway, which suddenly filled with all the hoots, howls, squeals, cheers, insults, and laughs that came with the end of high school on a Friday. Even the teachers would wipe their brows, gather up homework, and bid the other staff farewell before they skittered to their own cars, racing the busses out of the parking lot. The only two who resisted the call of the weekend vacation were the secretary and a tenth grade boy.

While he normally waited inside the school building, this day, the teen boy went out onto the front steps. It was a tame, warm kind of afternoon, with only light wisps of clouds daring to brave the journey through the oceanic sky, no wind to guide their paths or to push telephone lines into a steady swing. With any luck, the teenager would be able to do some homework on the steps before he was ushered away by the well-meaning secretary. Not that it would matter much: Monday would arrive and present incomplete work, something that his teachers never failed to point out. The boy would just shrug and mumble “whatever”.

So he sat on the steps in front of the city’s public school doing homework on a Friday. Even so, no one would have looked twice at him. His blonde hair scratched his ears and eyebrows as though begging to be cut or, at least, combed. Behind a pair of thin glasses patched in two or three places with electrical tape, his hazy blue-grey eyes hid desperately from judgment. While not quite thin, he had an air of frailty about him that showed in the slender length of his fingers and the way his mouth and eyelids drooped. The paleness of his skin was not out of place among the North Iowan community, nor was the red bump on his chin where a pimple was attempting to form out of place among the other teens. Perhaps the only thing that would even tempt a person to stab at a conversation with this child was the yellowed blue blush trying hard to blend into the sleeve of his tee shirt.

Somewhere between the area of a circle and the surface of a cube, the boy’s fingers became too stiff to move his pencil well. With a sigh, he shoved his books into a backpack that had, in his opinion, the look of being used since his parents were toddlers. At least he had finished the history assignment, which he was failing. The boy pulled his knees up to his neck and propped his chin on them as his thin arms clung tightly to his battered jeans.

He glanced nervously over his shoulder but did not see the secretary locking up the building, so he settled back into his ball-self, dull eyes dancing over the empty grounds until he saw a woman riding an old red bicycle.

She was a bit like his mother: light brown hair falling lightly to her shoulders, dark, mossy eyes. But she was different, too. Her lips were pale and curled into a soft grin of enjoyment. Her clothes were clean, her shoes carefully matched. She had on a waist-pouch as well, a black one with a grey plastic star ironed onto one pocket. As he watched her, she glanced quickly at him and tipped her head, slowing the bike to a halt as she did. For some time, they just stared at each other, but, sensing that nothing was going to happen, the boy cast his eyes at the ground and away from the young woman. She was too young to be anything like his mother anyway.

Sitting on the steps in front of the school, seeing this young stranger, he reminded himself of what was waiting at home. He shuddered and gripped his jeans tightly once more.

A mechanical click and a whir reached his ears, causing him to jerk his head up towards the woman. In her soft hands, she held a professional-looking, sleek black camera. He watched her slip the lens cover back on. Had she just taken a picture of him? Why would anyone do that? He was nearly certain that his own mother did not even have a picture of him. But this woman just eased the camera into her waist-pouch and zipped it shut, glanced up at the boy again, and smiled. It was different than before, though, like a memory had taken her by surprise and she was not even looking at the boy on the stairs.

“Mark, time to go home.”

The boy looked over his shoulder again. The secretary was finally closing up the doors to the school, locking the entrance with little difficulty, given that one arm was full of files. Mark sighed and slipped his backpack onto one shoulder. Before he rounded the corner towards his mother’s house, he peered back one last time at the young woman on her red bike. She waved, and then he was gone.

The woman pushed the bike forward again, though she changed her destination. She had been going to talk to a man about pictures for his magazine, to show her portfolio to him, to try to get out of Iowa. But, suddenly, she didn’t want to leave. Actually, there was someone she wanted to see.

The woman did not stop until she was nearly outside of town. There were few houses, a handful of small businesses, and one low hill on which many, many dark stones stood, marking the dead of the city since 1904. It was here that the woman ended her voyage, here that she dropped her bike, and here that she sought out a name that no one spoke to her anymore. She found it carved on black rock and set between a nameless aunt of hers and her grandfather, her brother’s name: Corey Hutchinson, June 13, 1978 to October 22, 1995.

The woman smiled gently at her big brother’s grave. Someone was taking care of it, even if it wasn’t the most decorated. She leaned against the dark stone, remembering how they had never needed words, how silence had always been enough. She remembered how they would go to the park every night during the summer just to watch the birds dance on the grass in their jumpy way.

She thought back to how, when he got older, his eyes died. In high school, he had taken on the most advanced classes and a part time job to help take care of his family. The woman sighed, wishing that her father had made him stop working so hard. He stopped smiling. Then he stopped sleeping. Then he stopped eating. In October, the woman, then a girl, had gone into his room to find a book that she needed but instead found Corey on his bed, silent, eyes half shut.

She thought of the teenaged boy on the stairs in front of the school, how is eyes had the same dark-glass glare, and she begged whatever god she thought would possibly listen to let him live.