He watched her blow out the candles.
“Very nice. Now, would you like a small piece or a big piece?” he said.
“I don’t want any. I just want to go home!” she said, sobbing.
He was getting tired of her whining and crying.
“Just shut up and eat your damned CAKE!” he said, huffing and puffing, his nostrils flaring. He closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath, trying to calm himself. He was trying very hard not to scare her. If the little bitch would just stop crying!
“Sorry...I didn’t mean to lose my temper. I would just like for you to stop crying, please,” he said.
He attempted to appear nice and composed. His eyes crinkled at the corners, but his face still looked waxy and stiff from the outburst. He just wanted to get this surprise part out of the way.
She whimpered and her eyes welled, but she tried to calm down. Her eyes searched desperately for a way to escape, but there was none. Out past the window of the car were only woods, and not a single light. She didn’t even know where they were, but she only had on her night gown and panties, no socks, no shoes. She knew she wouldn’t get very far if she did get away. Her mommy and daddy probably didn’t even know she was gone yet. Besides, where was she going to go without socks or shoes and in the dark? She didn’t even know where she was going. What she did know was that the man was very big and that he smelled bad. Up till now, he hadn’t yelled at her but she was so scared and cold.
The man leaned over and ran his fingers through her curly blonde hair at the temple. She flinched, but the man didn’t say anything.
--written by Sandra Rhei
Everyone has a few skeletons in the back of their closet. Mine are not quite so old. They are more like fresh corpses; just like Norma Bates, when they are uncovered the look of horror on the discoverer’s face is always the same.
I sigh and explain, “Yes, I wore that…No, I’m not proud”.
My own personal fashion graveyard: dark, depressing, and just a bit smelly. In that small closet in my mother’s house hang the remnants of my teenage self. Plaid pants in every eye-aching neon color imaginable, and combat boots that had more business storming the beach at Normandy than completing whatever heinous ensemble my brain concocted.
At the very back of the closet is an article that, at first glance, could be mistaken for a primitive suit of armor. Upon closer inspection, it’s nothing more than an old jean vest. Patches of various bands are sewn erratically on every available surface. On the breast pocket, a crudely drawn stick figure throws a swastika into a trash can. The words “Throw that hate away!” is written on top. A friend’s handy work.
The front alone would have any fashion Nazi cringing in their chinos. The back, however, really tied the whole thing together. Or so my 14 year-old self seemed to think. Rows of studded spikes cover the top half, while beneath those spikes sits, to quote myself at the time: “The patch of all patches.” It takes up the remaining room on the back, with a picture of a red skull sporting a huge spiked mohawk. The skull’s mouth stands open in a silent, defiant scream. The word “Exploited” sits in huge, dark letters, at the bottom.
These old clothes, unused now, serve as relics of a past time. “Phase” would be too trivial a word to use. They served me well. In good times. In bad. In style. And out. I don’t begrudge them in the slightest. For all my fashion indiscretions, I have no regrets.
Except for the polka dot shorts…Those were a mistake.
--written by Nicholas Stone
In Grub Street’s very first SPOTLIGHT, we are pleased to feature recently published work of Towson University favorite, Ben Warner. Professor Warner received his B.A. from the University of Wisconsin and his MFA from Cornell University, where his fondest memories include victories with “The Brett Favres,” the MFA basketball team.
He writes for the same reasons he takes a walk on a nice day--“It feels really good, and if I don’t do it, I feel like I’m wasting something." Professor Warner currently teaches Writing Fiction and Advanced Writing Fiction at Towson University.
1. You are the editor of a poetry journal for the homeless community of Maryland. Please tell us more.
I'm the editor of Voices and Visions, which is a poetry magazine that comes out of the class I teach called "Writing Your Story." It's an expressive writing course held at Community Visions, a resource center for the homeless in Silver Spring. The students are homeless, and they're disenfranchised in many ways, but one of the most startling [things] is the way they have been cut off from self-expression. For those students, putting a pen to paper and simply free-writing can be an act of joy and revelation.
2. How did Voices & Visions come about? What’s production like?
The magazine itself I make in my basement with a saddle stapler and a bone folder. My wife helps me. It's cheap and easy, but comes out looking pretty nice, I think. I was taught the technique by Christophe Casamassima, who is a Towson poet and advocate of all things literary. The idea was to take these little life-sketches and poems that students were jotting down in class, and formalize them between two covers. We've just started selling them at a local cafe and [a] used bookstore--and we have our first poetry reading on the horizon.
3. How else do you contribute to Community Visions?
Besides teaching there, I work the window giving out toothpaste and combs and ziplock bags and so forth. It's nice; when one of my students comes to the window, we can exchange a [little] wink in knowing that we've shared an hour-long space in the day, reserved for quiet and creativity. For many of my students, that quiet is incredibly valuable. It's a quiet room, but also a quiet head-space. Being homeless, even in a rich county like Montgomery, is an awfully turbulent experience, and to inhabit the calm of a writing exercise has been described to me as "a break from the world."
4. What is it like when you encounter breakthrough moments with those students who initially struggle with self-expression?
I get the impression that the writers feel a real sense of pride. Even if it's fleeting, it's important when many are depressed [about] living on the streets. We've put out five editions so far, and each time I hand them out, I'm greeted with the list of people who will be on the receiving end: "... my mother, my daughter, my pastor," etc.
5. If you had to define the experience with a word...
I'd say, from both sides of the desk, it's "enlightening."
Mourning by Ben Warner
Mom says a real friend is someone who doesn’t knock you down, but I say it’s anything that doesn’t. Don’t look to a source for any of this. I understand about the world of inanimate objects. A sock monkey is a friend of mine. I understand the term age appropriate. Mom tells me that it’s understanding the limits of my mind that keeps me in the basement. I tell her to turn off the light already, and I reattach the thumbtack to the corner of the sheet that keeps the light from coming through the ground-level window. I push the thumbtack back into the wood. At night I take it out. In the darkness, I like to look out at the grass. I like to see the leaves that pile against the side of the house and rot. But in the day I want it gray. My sock monkey lives in shadow. He’s a little shadow monkey who I love. I’ll describe his mouth. It’s a straight tender line. His mouth is like my mouth when Mom is downstairs telling me about the limits of my brain. This is what it means to show friendship: it’s a hard line. This is what it means to love and hate: a body, or anything that skitters away. It’s my gray world in daytime, like Mom says, my almost-coffin.
The lights were dim in and around Gate C, Section 12 of Griffiss International Airport, dim enough to make you want to sleep. The chairs, however, did pose a problem—hard, plastic, stubbornly unyielding, and a rather unsavory shade of green. A woman in her twenties tried her best to get comfortable anyhow. The man next to her placed his hand on her convex stomach.
“Babe, you’re fidgeting,” he said.
“Sorry. Just restless,” she replied. She sat up with a sigh.
“You want me to get you something?”
“Attention, passengers of Delta flight 217 to Washington D.C. Due to inclement weather, there will be a departure delay ranging from one to two hours—“ the attendant’s voice continued over the cacophony of groaning “—until ground crews can deice the plane. In the meantime, please enjoy some complimentary appetizer plates at Raggio’s Grille, located in Section 10. We thank you for your patience.”
“Lovely,” she huffed. She got up and stretched, her belly playing peek-a-boo from under her shirt. “I don’t know if I can handle this for another two hours.”
“You and me both. At this rate we could’ve just drove.” He watched her as she ran her hands through her dark, kinky hair. She was beautiful, even if she didn’t feel as much at six months pregnant.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” she murmured. He nodded at her as she walked-wobbled away. She wasn’t quite here. Understandably so—they had returned to her small hometown of Eccentric Milk, NY to bury her mother. She was a rare woman, with greenish-gray eyes that shined out of her brown skin. They had a way of seeing through you—there was no point in lying to Mama, she already knew. This would be their first child. Perhaps she would have her grandmother’s eyes.
--written by Lauren Jackson