Sun fell onto a small corner of the futon and he looked at this light and then with a push of the curtain cut it back.

The futon had blue and white and yellow stripes down its length. It was covered with bits of sand and dirt carried in from the porch outside by his feet. It was covered in little pieces of itself which had eroded in the turnings of his sleep and coagulated into sand-grain-sized balls that itched a little as his legs moved over it. It was covered in more intimate things – a book which he was planning to reread, a pillow which he’d brought before on a picnic, a thin blanket that he’d brought out for the warm weather, flecks of his fingernails too small to be seen and gathered and thrown away, bits of his skin and hair, stains of his sweat and semen. The futon had been left to him by someone else.

He didn’t look around the room, not at the bookshelves or the drawers of teaching supplies or the sink filled with dirty dishes or the table covered with the remnants of an almost-finished meal from several hours ago. The meal was now growing hard and stale as it sat in on the low table in front of him, under which his two legs were splayed. All of those things, and behind him the wall and its pictures of classes he had taught, students he had known, degrees and awards he’d received, and pieces of art he’d enjoyed and felt connected to in some way, were not looked at. He looked at his computer sitting on his plump, pale thighs.

Bitch, he thought. Bitch, I was there for three hours longer than I had to be, he thought. For you, he thought, because you wanted me to, he thought. And this is what I get?

He stared at the computer screen, at the inviting blankness of his browser. He scratched the rubber band on his wrist, toyed with it a little, looked at the address bar. The band was tight. In America they’d been looser.

The wall tapped him gently on the back as if to remind him that it could move much more vigorously when it wanted to. He ignored it. He stared at the address bar. Possibilities. He didn’t make a move towards the bar, towards any of the websites he knew well. He just stared. No thoughts entered his head, none that he could point to. No thoughts of thick thighs or semen or round asses, no thoughts of red hair and morning light and calm touching. The wall tapped him again and then set up a rhythm, accompanied by the light bouncing of the floor and the heels of his feet, which rolled upward and downward in intensity and stopped.


I don’t know what to do, he thought. This is what I do for you and this is what I get. What should I do? You tax me, he thought. You tax me for the choices I’ve made but have never said you’d’ve made them any different.

The computer beeped at him that it was low on battery and he leaned over for the end of the black cord and grabbed with two fingers from where it sat on the futon, plugged it in in a movement that brushed the head of his penis against the underside of the computer. “Jee-sheen dess. Jee-sheen dess,” his phone beeped and scolded him, and he took it from the table and put it beside him on the futon, then brushed off some dark brown crumbs. The tapping grew a little and then quite a bit, now in his buttocks and pubic floor more than anywhere else, reached a peak, quieted. Maybe a five. She was probably scared, he thought. She doesn’t like this, doesn’t know what to do about them. I should go over there. No, damn it, I was other there three hours longer than I had to be, and what did I get?

It had been worse in Nepal, he thought. It had lasted seventy-five seconds. Damn. He’d thought at the time maybe sixty, but seventy-five. You lose track after a while, you know, can’t think of anything. The first one here was maybe thirty? The second one more? He shook his head. He didn’t know. You lose track after a while, can’t think of anything. He reached down and pulled his testicles unstuck from his thigh, looked at the address bar, the clean white browser page behind the screen with little flecks of lint on it.

But in Nepal there hadn’t been any rubber bands, he thought. No need. But there weren’t any if he had needed them. The ones he’d had in college, he wanted those now. Blue ones so big you had to double them around your wrist, but they looked official or something so no one asked about them. And they snapped nice. He thought about making a move, going for thighs. But he didn’t. He wondered if that was worth a snap or not. He hadn’t thought about thighs, he had thought about going for thighs.

It had been different, anyway, when he’d had the blue ones. He’d been writing papers, not doing this stupid work shit. The shelf in the left corner of the room squeaked a little as it rocked for a moment. He’d had friends. That’s what this was about, it wasn’t even about her, he thought. If it was about her it’d be simple. It’s about me. I don’t have friends. I have two friends and they don’t talk to each other, and she taxes me for having more than just one, more than just her.

He folded his legs into half lotus, testicles now resting on the heel of his left foot. It felt good. Was that worth a snap? Careful, he thought. But the rubber band was too tight, it hurt. Could he get new ones? He thought about when it started. Was it really with the first girlfriend? It started before her, he thought, but when did it get real? When did the pace pick up? Not when they had problems, not like now. Maybe when they went away, maybe when they went away to different colleges and didn’t have anything, didn’t have each other, and he didn’t have friends. Maybe he just needed friends.

But it wasn’t like he had no friends – he thought as a slow savory tapping picked up (the fracturing had been growing more frequent since the night before) – he had them and they didn’t get along. And she’d promised, she’d said she understood, she said she wouldn’t obstruct.

The sun had retreated now six inches from the futon. He looked at the line it made over floor’s scratches and crumbs and pieces of dirt. He saw the shape of a woman on her side, black thong on tanned skin, fullness of thigh-on-thigh next to ass’s cheek-on-cheek, the cross of lines between the four shapes. He blinked. He saw the line of the sun crossing the grain of the floor’s wood. He saw no meaning to it. He looked back at the screen, the ordered and open elements of the page, able to go anywhere.

She said she’d understood. He thought of a snap for the woman, but it seemed too late now to matter. Something in him felt like a paper cup with the bottom cut out of it. And it was afternoon. It was Saturday already and Saturday was soon over, and soon Sunday would be over too, and work would begin again, and the whole wheel would turn around with only lines in his face to show for it like some great Ouroboros contracting itself around the horizon. The weekend would be over. Anger. And time was rushing by. Terror. He licked his lips, rocked back and forth a little, was patient and let his palate clear before again: The weekend would be over. Anger. And time was rushing by. Terror.

He rolled the rubber band up from its sore resting-place.

Okay, so talk to her. Get out of this. But why should I reach out when it was her? She started the whole thing, anyway, her damn pride couldn’t sustain that friendship. So now she was taxing him. He thought about the barrel of a gun in his mouth, lips puckered. How would he angle it so no one else was hit? Or maybe sitting in the bathtub, water all red. When would they find him? Probably on Monday if he didn’t go in or call. There seemed to be a lot of ritual to the bathtub, and something about using his car seemed easier. But he didn’t know any high places, any cliffs from which to do it. He thought of her sadness, the patient understanding as he faded from a shock into a distant episode in her personal history, something to recall. The rattling picked up again. He’d like to be something to recall. He thought of the people he knew in this country all thinking that they had known someone who had done it, who had really done something like that, and all talking together quietly and slowly in words unimportant but gestures intimate and caring, united by the witnessing of something truly significant in the life of another person. Talking together and being at peace and perhaps understanding their own lives or this great system of life a little better.

He bounced on the futon and he could swear that they were getting more frequent and stronger as if they were approaching something ultimate. Stop kidding yourself, though, come now. She’d cry, and you can see what her face would look like. Maybe you should go over there, he thought, she doesn’t like this. She doesn’t know what to do about earthquakes.

He exhaled and deflated like a sat-upon balloon. He had already done it. Did it yesterday and today was the first day without it, again, the millionth first day, he thought, looking at that white page. It wouldn’t matter. He looked over at the shelf beside him, containing his favorite books stacked on top of cherry blossoms pressing and drying for an ex-girlfriend back home. They were the last ones he could find – outside on the trees there was nothing but the new growth of spring losing its green as the last rays of sun were sucked down into themselves and away.

When he talked with friends from college they congratulated him on living in another country, going on such an adventure.

Spring, he thought. Its own kind of death. He turned back to the computer screen. The rumbling picked up again, slowly at first but steadily accelerating, and his phone warned him: “Jee-sheen dess. Jee-sheen dess.”



I’ve slowly been learning about rap and learning to like it over the last two years. I find myself hooked on one track at a time: “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, “No Tears” by Scarface, “Hypnotize” by the Notorious B.I.G., and recently “Jungle” by Andre Nickatina and Equipto.

Nickatina layers grime until he sounds smooth:

I force my rhymes in your veins like a hot shot of heroin
You’ll go cold turkey tryin’ ta work me


His boasts drip sweet street cred:

I’m in the fast lane, the cash lane, some think it’s a bad thing
Hitting ’em off with the see & H pure cane

And his references are regal and religious:

I got the soul and the spirit of the wrath of Kahn
Kick back and write just like the holy Koran

Nickatina’s “Jungle” doesn’t tell a track-long story like Eminem, doesn’t have the fierce honesty of Scarface, and doesn’t have Biggie’s flow. The two primary motifs, that of “jungle” and “thunder,” aren’t even complementary. But there’s something in it that makes me repeat the lines to myself dozens of times.



Bridging, an explanation

I’ve been using a technique called “bridging” to associate tasks with positive emotion, which makes them easier to perform. The majority of tasks that can improve my life aren’t inherently exciting, so this is a way that I work at making them more exciting.

In “bridging,” I imagine some goal and think about how the task in question takes me toward it. I might not be intrinsically motivated to write for a client, but it can provide me with the money, skills, and character development that will propel me toward my personal goals.

Visualizing this in terms of a landscape seems to help: the goal is a distant hilltop, my potential futures are the landscape around it, and the footpath to it is the path I’ll take. The more personally meaningful the goal, and the more detailed the imagining of the incremental steps towards that goal, the more positive emotion I can derive from this technique.

E.L. Doctorow said something similar about his writing style:

“It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”






Written on 2017/9/1.

When I was a child you told me right here that all I needed to do was try my best.

How long have you been waiting tables, sleeping on the couch until noon, writing and drinking on the weekends?

Look, it’s not easy after what I’ve been through, I’m getting better and I’m getting out of this.

If your mother saw this she’d say the same thing, get out and go do something real.

You don’t know what we talked about – I’m making my choices and she always wanted that.

She wanted you to be successful, not with no friends and throwing up every Saturday.

We’ve had this conversation and you won’t talk about my friends, not after everything.

Then maybe let’s not talk and you can just never start turning around.

You think this is all about you, when I’m facing right where –

Of course it’s about me, it’s about me and your mom.

Really, you’ll use a dead woman to tell me how –

Have some respect, don’t talk about her that way.

Then keep this between the two of us.

The anniversary and memorial was last Saturday. They had her pictures all around.

Yeah, you already told me.

Did you see her?

I wanted to.

Did you?


That sense of embarrassment from seeing a picture of your adolescent self with bowl cut

In 7th or 8th grade I composed this poem in a dream and recorded it when I woke up. 


I think it strange

that I would ride

a car of dreams

or train of thought;

still I think it funny not.


It’s amazing how things can fade,

like the tinge on an apple

or a beautiful glade


So here I am,

with a banana as a bandana

and a sheep as a jeep,

blowing Nazis to hell and smithereens.


I wouldn’t like it to end this way,

but they are out to get me, say,

it would be me or them in the end.


Like the camel and his “humph”

people say, oh, it’s fair that way

but they aren’t in his body, are they?

Kind of like the Maine Lobster Festival

The bulk of this was written on May 17th 2018, the day of the hike.


As my father and I heaved toward the crest of the most active volcano of the Galapagos Islands, walking in the footprints of thousands of visitors, cars, and fire ant trails, our guide Pablo pointed into the red-barked forest.

“These,” he said, “are Guava trees.” The squat invaders are virile in proportion to the help they receive from the natives: symbiotic Brown Moss captures water sustains them in summer, Carpenter Bees pollinate their flowers, and Finches transport their fruits’ hundreds of seeds. This natural encouragement would have heartened those who, trying to tame a world much less habitable than ours, introduced the fruit here in the 1840s – Ireland’s Great Famine in the same decade killed a million people and forced another million to leave the country.

To be fair, the colonizers have pluck. The five-meter Guavas stand three times as tall as the Galapagos’ native ferns and grasses. They monopolize the sunlight and demote everything else to undergrowth. International cargo ships and the grooves of visitors’ boots were bound to errantly seed the Islands eventually, but visitors may not know that the Guavas dominate every ecosystem they’ve met, and are now, according to Pablo, “impossible to eradicate.” The Holocene, the period of natural history defined by human activity, will be geologically evidenced by the world’s blanket of plastic and nuclear radiation. It will be ecologically evidenced by sudden inhabitants who thrive but don’t fit.

So how to coexist with the scrappy trees? Park rangers have found one use for the wood: a few morose signs that say that the number of tourists in the Galapagos is twice what would be sustainable. This message unites our group in disquiet. Nobody wants to live in a fouled nest. But how do reverse so much inertia?

Back on the balcony of my hostel, surrounded by the smells of fresh asphalt and hot rubber, I tried my first Guava fruit. Reception: mixed. Some good flavor, too much pulp, too many seeds. Well, I thought, forward. Onto the next thing.

“Uroboros”: My affectionate name for a selection from The Hero with a Thousand Faces

I think this is the most life-affirming and practical thing I’ve ever read. I’m quoting from The Hero with a Thousand Faces, pages Page 220-223, omitting some parts to make a more cohesive narrative:

“[Myths] link the unconscious to the fields of practical action, not irrationally, in the manner of a neurotic projection, but in such fashion as to permit a mature and sobering, practical comprehension of the fact-world to play back, as a stern control, into the realms of infantile wish and fear. And if this be true of the comparatively simple folk mythologies (the systems of myth and ritual by which the primitive hunting and fishing tribes support themselves), what may we say of such magnificent cosmic metaphors as those reflected in the great Homeric epics, the Divine Comedy of Dante, the Book of Genesis, and the timeless temples of the Orient? Until the most recent decades, these were the support of all human life and the inspiration of philosophy, poetry, and the arts. Where the inherited symbols have been touched by a Lao Tze, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ, or Mohammed – employed by a consummate master of the spirit as a vehicle of the profoundest moral and metaphysical instruction – obviously we are in the presence rather of immense consciousness than of darkness.

…Briefly formulated, the universal doctrine teaches that all the visible structures of the world – all things and beings – are the effects of a ubiquitous power out of which they rise, which supports and fills them during the period of their manifestation, and back into which they must ultimately dissolve…

…‘For,’ as Jesus states it, ‘behold, the  kingdom of God is within you.’ Indeed, the lapse of superconsciousness into the state of unconsciousness is precisely the meaning of the biblical image of the Fall. The constriction of consciousness, to which we owe the fact that we see not the source of the universal power but only the phenomenal forms reflected from that power, turns superconsciousness into unconsciousness and, at the same instant and by the same token, creates the world. Redemption consists in the return to superconsciousness and therewith the dissolution of the world. This is the great theme and formula of the cosmogonic cycle, the mythical image of the world’s coming to manifestation and subsequent return into the nonmanifest condition. Equally, the birth, life, and death of the individual may be regarded as a descent into unconsciousness and return. The hero is the one who, while still alive, knows and represents the claims of the superconsciousness which throughout creation is more or less unconscious. The adventure of the hero represents the moment in his life when he achieved illumination – the nuclear moment when, while still alive, he found and opened the road to the light beyond the dark walls of our living death…

…The hero, the waker of his own soul, is himself but the convenient means of his own dissolution. God, the waker of the soul, is therewith his own immediate death.

Perhaps the most eloquent possible symbol of this mystery is that of the god crucified, the god offered, “himself to himself.” Read in one direction, the meaning is the passage of the phenomenal hero into superconsciousness: the body with its five senses… is left hanging to the cross of the knowledge of life and death, pinned in five places… But also, God has descended voluntarily and taken upon himself this phenomenal agony. God assumes the life of man and man releases the God within himself at the mid-point of the cross-arms of the same ‘coincidence of opposites,’ the same sun door through which God descends and Man ascends – each as the other’s food.”

The Current State of English Education in Nepal

In Nepal, “English is required for a higher education.” (Burnett, 2012, pg. 13) It allows “access to textbooks, lectures, and journals” (Malla, 1977, p. 16), and is “the medium of instruction [MoI] in science, engineering, medicine, and technical institutes in the universities of Nepal…” (Bista, 2011, pg. 3). It is also necessary for government operations, being an international language (Ministry of Education, 2015, pg. 9) and “the only language of communication used to promote Nepal’s increasing diplomatic relations with the outside world” (Bista, 2011, pg. 3). Furthermore, “English proficiency is required for many jobs in the tourism sector and with the many non‐governmental organizations that operate in Nepal. These jobs are lucrative and prestigious” (Burnett, 2012, pg. 40) as well as crucial for the continued development of Nepal.

However, public English education in Nepal is deficient. Looking at the questions of the 2015 exam for the School Leaving Certificate (“SLC”; the equivalent of a U.S. GED), one can find numerous grammatical errors, ambiguous questions, and awkward sentences like “It’s been popular by now,” (SLC Questions, file W-RE-101, page 5) “We can have some good time together,” (SLC Questions, file W-RE-101, page 6) and “Would you get me some way out?” (SLC Questions, file FW-RE-101, page 5) The SLC is the single most important test in a student’s life and is developed by employees at the highest level of government; English incompetence here is indicative of widespread English deficiency at every other level of Nepali government and society. Public school teachers’ English proficiency is the equivalent of native English speakers at “Grade two to Grade four… with only a few exceptions.” (Bista, 2011, pg. 5)

Public schools often don’t offer English lessons, but even when they do, “most [public] schools are not resourced in terms of teachers or of teaching and learning materials to effectively deliver the curriculum in English” (Ministry of Education, 2016, pg. 47). One report found that “English language classes… include frequent and considerable use of Nepali language, and students hardly get exposed to English… [English Language Teaching in] Nepal is in a despicable condition owing to poor physical facilities, improper teaching methods and materials.” (Bista, 2011, pg. 5)

The systematic barriers to public education in general and English education are substantial and diverse, with overcrowded classrooms, inadequate teacher training and ineffective teaching methods, and a basic lack of “teaching materials/aids like computer[s], TV, over head projector[s], copy machines and course materials” (Bista, 2011, pg. 7). The Ministry of Education bemoans the lack of government data on its schools (Ministry of Education, 2015 pgs. 10, 12), and details numerous deficiencies in textbooks, book corners, student and teacher assessment procedures, teacher training, pupil-teacher ratios, and teaching techniques (Ministry of Education, 2015 pgs. 13-17).

Besides these systemic deficiencies of the whole public education system, the delivery of services is broadly inequitable. A 2014 report coauthored by the Nepali government and the UN concludes that “Broad regional inequalities in human development and productive abilities persist,” (National Planning Commission, 2014, pg. 128) along lines of class, gender, ethnic group, language, familial occupation, and geographical region. Starting with gender, the male adult literacy rate is %72, while the female adult literacy rate is %49; the percentage of Nepali people enjoying some secondary education is 39.9% for males and 17.9% for females (Empowering Adolescent Girls and Women, n.d.). These educational disparities contribute to other sexist inequalities: the average female per capita income is %64 of the average male per capita income in Nepal (National Planning Commission, 2014, pg. 93).

As for caste-based inequality, it is revealing to compare the low-ranking Dalit caste – which suffers from poverty and “widespread forms of deprivation” (Dalits in India and Nepal, 2007, 52) – with the high-ranking Brahmin caste. In the low-lying Tarai plains of Nepal 37.5% of Dalits attend primary school while 93% of Brahmins do; 7.2% of Tarai Dalits attend secondary school while 48.5% of Tarai Brahmins do. (Huebler, 2007) Government funded school subsidies have been illegally withheld from Dalits (Chapman & Koirala 2014) and Dalit children are subject to “corporal punishment, denial of access to school water supplies, segregation in class rooms…” (“Dalits’ Access to Education,” 2009 pg. 2) and “indirect discrimination by teachers, such as neglect, repeated blaming, and… social exclusion” (“Dalits’ Access to Education,” 2009 pg. 2) The results of this are predictable: the Brahmin caste averages an income of 49,878 rupees per capita, while the Dalit caste averages an income of 33,786 rupees per capita (National Planning Commission, 2014, pg 97).

Due to the earlier discussed systemic deficiencies in public education, families who can afford it send their children to private schools. These schools usually charge fees, only hire certified teachers, teach all classes in the English language, have small class sizes, and rigorously assess student and teacher performance – all in contrast to public schools (Andersson & Lindkvist 2000, pg. 16). In 2015 the SLC pass rate was 89.3% for private school students and 33.92% for public school students (Sharma 2015). Besides, because English is the language of nearly all postsecondary education, “the majority of parents like to send their children to English speaking schools” (Bista, 2011, pg. 4). Parents who can’t afford those schools face exceedingly difficult choices for themselves and their children’s futures (Aryal 2013).

These trends are likely to continue. The Nepali government has not effectively led the fight for better public English education. The government has not officially defined English’s status in the country – it isn’t labeled an “international language,” nor an “official language,” nor a “language of wider communication,” nor even a “second language” (Shrestha, 1983, 45-59; Shrestha, 2008, 191-210). Public schools are independently “switching to English MoI … to stave off the threat from private schools and to try to keep their enrollments declining” (Ministry of Education, 2015, pg. 13). It remains unclear whether public schools can overcome their preexisting inadequacies, deliver quality English education, and stem this loss of students.

High-quality public education can be a powerful tool in providing opportunity, and English proficiency is necessary for Nepali people to access postsecondary education. However, the public system has failed to provide high-quality or equitable education of any kind, let alone high-quality English teachers or materials. As in the case of Dalits vs. Brahmins, the privileged receive quality education and advance to remunerative and influential positions in society, wherefrom they may have no inclination to fund the public schools their children won’t attend. The underprivileged may have no means to influence this rifting society. But, as of now, English’s potential to positively transform the lives of Nepali people remains largely underdeveloped.






Andersson, J., & Lindkvist, J. (2000). Education in Nepal A Study of Nepalese Teachers’ Views on their School Situation [Scholarly project]. Retrieved December 19, 2016, from


Aryal, M. (2013). Nepal Scores Low on Quality Education. Retrieved December 19, 2016, from


Bista, K. (2011). Teaching English as a Foreign/Second Language in Nepal: Past and Present. English for Specific Purposes World, 11(32). Retrieved December 19, 2016, from


Burnett, R. G. (2012). Mother Tongue Education: Nepal’s Educational Dilemma [Scholarly project]. Retrieved December 19, 2016, from


Chapman, P., & Koirala, A. (2014, April 29). Bringing Justice to Education and Development in Nepal. Retrieved December 19, 2016, from


Dalits’ Access to Education [PDF]. (2009, May 18). Denmark: International Dalit Solidarity Network. Retrieved December 19, 2016, from


Dalits in India and Nepal: Policy Options for Improving Social Inclusion in Education. (2007, June). Retrieved December 19, 2016 from


Empowering Adolescent Girls and Women: Promoting equitable education, literacy and lifelong learning | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (n.d.). Retrieved December 19, 2016, from


Huebler, F. (2007, May 28). Caste, Ethnicity, and School Attendance in Nepal [Web log post]. Retrieved December 19, 2016, from from


Malla, K. P. (1977). English in Nepalese education. Kathmandu: Ratna Pustak Bhandar.


Nepal, Ministry of Education. (2015). National Early Grade Reading Program (2014/2015-2019/2020). Kathmandu: Ministry of Education.


Nepal, Ministry of Education. (2016). School Sector Development Plan, Nepal, 2016–2023. Kathmandu: Ministry of Education.


Nepal, National Planning Commission. (2014). Nepal Human Development Report 2014. Singha Durbar, Kathmandu: National Planning Commission. Co-Published with United Nations Development Program.


Sharma, N. (2015, June 19). 47.43 pc make it through SLC . Retrieved December 19, 2016, from


Shrestha, P. (2008). ELT, ESP & EAP in Nepal: Whose interests are served? In K. Mark ed. EAP and ESP in Developing Countries: State of Play vs Actual Needs and Wants. Canterbury: IATEFL (ESP SIG), pp.191-210.


Shrestha, R. (1983). English as a second language/English as a foreign language distinction: Its pedagogy and the Nepalese context. Contributions to Nepalese Studies, 11(1), 45-59.


SLC Questions (2072) [PDF]. (n.d.) Kathmandu: Office of the Controller of Examinations.

Available through the front page of the Office of the Controller of Examinations at




This started on Thursday, when the weather was warm but melancholy. My visiting aunt and I walked our habitual path, underneath the familiar ice plant and cliffs, dodging the waves that ran in. The tide was high and rising. We sat in our cluster of flat rocks and unhurriedly caught up on how the weather and the movies had been. The afternoon sun pooled on the ocean and the boulders kneeling in it, and we faced the horizon at an angle A tiny deviation caught my eyes.

“It looks like a man out there,” I said.


“Look, there’s a man standing out there.”

She squinted. “Where?”

I pointed. “See? Over there. That kind of dark rectangle, if you follow the beach all the way around to the left…”

The sliding foam almost caught our feet, and she said, “Um. I think it’s time to go back.”

We slid into our shoes and walked back to the parking lot, stepping around seaweed. I paused to look before ducking under the car door, but the sun was in my eyes and I couldn’t tell.

“I mean, you saw something, right?”


“There was something out there, right?”

She was untying the laces of her left shoe, placed in the lip of the car door. “Well,” she said, “I didn’t get a good look.”

“Okay, but-”

“God damn it,” she stubbed her toe against the car’s doorframe. I didn’t want to irritate her so we were quiet for the rest of the drive.


In the dining room that night I circled the table to figure out how the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fit together. The lamps played on 1,000 pieces of coral and shipwreck and the dark lines of the wood between them. The puzzle was at my favorite point right now, a galaxy of colors bracketed by two spreading corners. My mom insisted on a more difficult puzzle every month. When she picked this one up in the store and flipped it around to look at every face of the box, I knew she was imagining putting the last piece in, taking a picture, sliding it back into the box, and placing it atop the nine other vanquished boxes. She went for things with that kind of determination. My aunt and I usually did the border over the weekends when she was here, then I left my mom to obsessively march toward victory over the next week.

“How has your photography been?” asked my aunt, pinching a puzzle piece onto the left side of the table, then the right.

“Um.” I hesitated. I’d taken some pictures while walking down to the beach that day, but otherwise forgot, and of course now I didn’t have the light to meet my daily quota of twenty-five, and that meant that I was off for the week and-

It’s been okay,” I said, pushing the tension in my chest downward with a swallow.

“Did you have a favorite from today?”

“I haven’t looked back at them yet.” Which was true.

“You know,” said my aunt, “I was the president of my high school’s photography club.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Could I see what equipment you’re working with?”

“Sure,” I said, “I’ll show you how the game has changed.” I grinned but she didn’t laugh.

The camera lay sideways on its strap on my bed. I walked out with it in my hand but didn’t see the dirt caked around the sides of the screen until I placed it in my aunt’s hand. I almost took it back to clean it but just hoped that she wouldn’t notice. She fiddled with every dial and feature on it, turned it upside down, inspected the corners of the screen.

“This is a nice lens,” she offered. I wanted to scream.

She handed back the camera and my mom chirped in to say I took a number of pictures every day to practice: “What is it, honey? Twenty?”

“Twenty-five,” I said.

“What dedication,” my aunt breathed.

“Just keep working towards those long-term goals, right, hun?” my mom smiled at me. I tried to smile back and let the moment pass.

“I don’t mean to intrude on the artistic process,” my aunt said, dropping her tone to a delicacy that made me sick with apology, “but would you show me your work from today? Or maybe send me the photos? It was, um, such a beautiful day…”

“Sure,” I mumbled, trying to push away the heat in my ears by focusing on the puzzle.

“That reminds me, honey,” my mom came in, “Chris and Ann, you know, our new neighbors? They said that they’re having a party on Saturday and are looking for a photographer. Would you like me to talk to them?”

“I’ll talk to them myself, thanks.” I tried to keep the edge from coming into my voice. We silently went back to the puzzle for a few minutes and then I excused myself and rolled a joint in my room, smoked out the window, and went to bed.


I woke up the next morning flailing from a bad dream. On my nightstand there was a thin glass horse figurine that my mom had bought and given to me when I’d moved back in. She steered clear of my room in the mornings and hadn’t seen the sun shine through it and make a bright shadow-thing with double the legs on the wall. Anyway, my fingers caught it by the head and sent it to the floor. Its leg cracked off.

I hoped my aunt didn’t hear it. I’d been trying to leave my room and eat at nine in the morning but I kept thinking about her asking me about the sound, and I started getting a little queasy, so I just brought my computer onto the bed and sorted pictures for a couple of hours. I sent a couple of emails and organized my reading list, and then I felt like I had made a good foundation for the day, so I took a little break. Then my mom called me and said my aunt was leaving, so I went out and said goodbye to her, though I held my breath thinking she’d bring up the sound or the fact that we didn’t have breakfast together. She didn’t.

Right as the door closed, my mom asked, “Hey, can we talk goals and plans?”

It’s this thing we do every couple of weeks. Maybe if I’d acted more bummed she wouldn’t have brought it up, but she’s not actually that good at reading my moods.

“Well,” I said, “I have that thing with James today, so can we talk about it tomorrow?” I just wanted to be out of there. My mom nodded slowly and seemed like she was about to say something, but I walked out before she could. Back in my room, I thought about how I could be out of the house the next day.

A few minutes later I heard James’ car pull up in front of the house.

“Hey, it’s been a while!” He clapped me on the shoulder.

“Yeah,” I laughed, “I’ve just been doing my thing.”

“Well, want to go to the beach?”

There were a few clouds coming in but not enough to make an excuse to not go out there. I pretended to think, tilting my head side to side, and said, “I’ve been out a lot,” a lie, but he there was no way he could tell. “Could we chill at your place for a bit?”

He drove us there good-naturedly while I felt my chest constrict. Right after we walked through the front door he started the ritual. He showed me a glass jar larger than my face filled with purple-tinged weed, and we took turns smelling it and holding it up to the window to look through it.

“So what’s been up, man?” He asked as he pinched a few clumps and dropped them carefully in his grinder.

“Nothing much,” I said. I tried to give him something to work with. “I’ve just been doing some photography, you know…”

“Right on! How’s it going?”

“It’s… alright. It’s pretty difficult, to be honest.” That was about all I could say about it. Thankfully started talking about the work he’d found in interior design, and I tried to feel happy for him and say encouraging things but my eyes kept getting caught on his hands turning around the silver grinder.

“I actually got this job through Sebastian,” he said.

I searched for a second, then, “Oh! The guy who made out with Sierra on top of the school in 8th grade?”

“Yeah, that guy,” he laughed. “You haven’t stayed in contact with him? He became a firefighter a few years ago and really cleaned up. And he’s huge,” James cupped his biceps to demonstrate, “and I was looking through yearbook photos the other day and ran across all these, like, little-boy faces, you know? And I’m using to seeing them at the gym with tattoos and stuff. It’s crazy how time flies.”

I acted like I thought it was as funny as he did, but I really wanted to be talking about something else. My knee tapped up and down.

He opened the grinder delicately and squinted at its contents, then closed it and started turning it again. I tried to give him a different direction.

“I didn’t know you were into interior design,” I fished.

“Well,” he smiled at me, “I’ve really been thinking about what I want to do, and I love architecture and, well… I guess interior design isn’t where I want to end up but it’s a step closer, you know?”

I concentrated on making eye contact and nodding politely. He lifted up a white paper and poured some powder from the grinder into it. I kept thinking about the camera in my backpack and how I could be taking pictures from the back porch while he did this. I just wanted to smoke so that voice would stop. There were a dozen pictures on the wall behind him, reaching all the way from the far corner of the living room behind him to the wall right beside me. The closest one was of some kind of geodesic dome, but I first saw how nicely the colors were composed, blues and oranges cutting into each other and drawing the eye toward the hollow center of the structure.

“You like that one? Take a look over here.” I walked over to the picture he indicated. “My brother made this soapbox car one year entirely out of matches and matchboxes, big enough to sit in, lit it up and pushed it down a hill on his property – he loves fire, you know?” He laughed. With my face right up against the glass I could see that the stippling on the front wheel was, indeed, matches.

“Wow,” I said. “You weren’t kidding.” The picture of the car was clearly and evenly blocked into three parts, with a fascinating energy residing in the highlights and shadows. I’m not sure how long I looked at it, but when I came back to myself and glanced at James, he was smiling broadly.

“He loves taking pictures of his work. He goes kind of manic on a project – like in high school he’d invite me and some friends over to watch him work on his ‘reason for being,’ and we’d drink PBR while he banged the car or some other thing into shape.”

I gave him a small smile and moved down the line of pictures. The next one showed a group of wooden cows sitting for a tea party.

“We’d just get trashed, like we’d go through a whole thirty-pack of PBR among four people, but he’d stay totally sober the whole time and work work work. Then once he was done he’d stage the thing for pictures for a whole day, and just keep and frame his one favorite picture of the thing, and then get drunk and burn it. You should see all the ashy craters on his property, man.”

I moved to the next, a set of living room furniture made of papier-mâché.

He laughed at some memory, then said, “He actually won some national award recently – I couldn’t tell you what it’s called, which he’d slap me for – but you know that’s what happens when you work on something for like twelve years.”

My breath caught in my throat, but I tried to smile and move to the last picture. It was of the Burning Man, flames in the torso and leaping out like the aura around a solar eclipse.

“Yeah,” James said, “everyone has a picture of that.” I dimly heard him say, “Would you want to do some photography with him?”

“With your brother?” I asked, blinking to bring my vision back.

“Yeah, I think he’d be down today, even.”

“I, um, just need to smoke and chill today.”

“Okay,” he said, looking away. I exhaled when he didn’t press me.

The rest of the ritual proceeded with the sluggishness of familiarity – we sat on the back porch and he struck a match, cupped the joint to it, puffed, and passed it. He stared out at the grass neon with early summer while I focused on putting and keeping as much smoke in my lungs as possible. When the joint ate itself down to a hot nub, the rush came in. The knot in my stomach finally started untwisting itself. I wasn’t sure how long it had been there. But as I was watching my body ease, he leaned his face dreadedly forward and chattered.

“Want to go to the graveyard?” He pointed a long arm and the knot grew. The tombstones were right across the street. “The lighting is great right now, the sweet peas and morning glories are out, there’s actually this cherry tree in the back corner-”

My mind raced for ways to get out of this while he rattled off the evidence. The lighting was great. It was a nice day.

Suddenly I grasped an out – “I didn’t bring my camera today,” I lied. The weed knocked the rest of the conversation out of my memory but I guess he bought it because next I was sitting on the couch, trying to tune out his good-natured explanations of some historical trend in architecture while the smoke curled warmly through my skin.

Then he held a small wood-framed picture up to me, tapped it with a fingernail, and said, “He built this entirely out of driftwood, even the nails, though he wouldn’t tell me how. He took it somewhere secret and acted like he burned it but I think he couldn’t follow through with this one.”

It was a man, dark with the setting sun shining through his mottled skeleton. It was on the crest of a hill.

“How tall is it?”

“Maybe twenty feet,” he said, then winked at me. I don’t know how long I looked at it before I noticed that I was seeing through a straw. James was saying something but I got up and went to the bathroom – I think I was cool about it. After I’d splashed cold water on my face and brought my panting down through deep breathing, I put on a smile and walked out, and told him it was about time I should be getting home.


That night I was too bothered to settle into bed. I sorted through the Ansel Adams photos on my computer, labeling them by date and title and placing them in their proper folders. Then I did my psychedelic rock posters, then my porn. Then I masturbated, and then watched some youtube videos about different brands of lenses, but that slipped into more porn and then a lot of searching through reddit for iconic photos. My catalog of iconic photos of the 70’s seemed to be nearly complete, but I started to get tired, and then I saw that the sky was turning that pre-dawn light blue. I’d meant to sort through those pictures I took at the beach but I just couldn’t do it with everything that had been happening lately. I turned off the light when I heard the light patter of my mom’s feet in the kitchen, and the buzz of the coffee-grinder to start her day gave me cover to slide quietly out of the window. I’m pretty good at that now.

I walked around the block and while rubbing my sore butt almost ran into the new neighbors, Chris and Ann, in their driveway. They’re good at holding long conversations and giving lots of hugs. I slipped behind some bushes away and got away, back to my room, but the little thrill went away when I thought of how I was going to get it all in order. It didn’t feel like there wasn’t anything to do but go to bed, so I did.


I woke up in the late afternoon to a text from my mom, asking if I could please go get some chips. She also invited me, as always, to join the movie-watching group, which I declined. Like, if you know about the event so far ahead of time, get your own chips, you know? But mostly it ticked me that she thought I didn’t have anything better to do on a Saturday night.

Okay, so, I walked out as the sun was setting and bought the chips and walked home, and it was around dusk when I got back. It was a little misty and the orange lights in the street played off it, and the hanging lights that Chris and Ann had strung up around their house were casting long shadows from the cars in front. I heard some foosball and some guitar and I walked in a wide circle around the house because they might’ve invited me in if they caught me.

I’m trying to say that I had to really look at things to make out what they were because of the lights, and then I was walking from the far side of the street over to mine, and I was crossing through the little iron-frame gate that the hedges grow over when I looked back and saw it for just a moment before I was through the bushes. I was about twenty feet from the telephone pole that’s on the corner of the yard, between my room and Chris and Ann’s house. If I try to explain it one way – well, the shadow of the pole kind of pooled in a weird way, and I saw it out of the corner of my eye for just a moment before I was on the other side of the hedge. That’s all I got. If I try to explain it the other way, see – it’s not just that I saw it, I kind of felt it, the same feeling as when you make eye contact with someone from across the room and look away. Exactly like that. It was a man.

I scrambled through the front door and locked it and tried to breathe. I got on the couch and I think I was there for five minutes, waking up with the crinkling sound of the bag of chips, when my mom came in. I don’t remember what she said or what I did. She was worried and I tried to tell her I was okay but she didn’t believe me. I excused myself and went to the bathroom and realized I’d stupidly taken the bag with me, came back, and saw that she’d left a large bowl. I did a check to make myself a little more normal and went to her room with the chips and bowl.

The usual gang was there – Becky, Samatha, and Lynn. “Hey,” Lynn said. Her eyes were crinkled, her face hugely open. She made some space on the floor. I found my cheek muscles and pulled them into a smile.

“What are you guys watching?” My autopilot had me say this through my shrinking sternum and fuzzy vision. I woke up a little and started breathing four-count in, four-count out. It was hard to be around this many people.

“That documentary on SeaWorld,” came Becky’s growl. She didn’t look up. Orca whales flipped and somersaulted out of the water. I realized that I’d already told my mom I wouldn’t be joining this get-together, and she already told me that this would be the movie. It was a Saturday night and I didn’t have anything better to do. I glanced at them from the corners of my eyes. Everyone was silent and I felt foreign in the middle of them, abrasive.

“What’s happened?”

Becky, without looking away: “Tanks are too small.”

Samantha: “They can dive hundreds of feet but the tanks are only, like thirty feet deep? They can’t reach top speed, they can’t…”

One whale glided through the pool toward the camera. Its dorsal fin flopped over on its side, curlicue-shaped, and I wanted to ask what that was about, but a deeply-tanned man appeared on the screen and Becky turned the volume up –

“-grabbed her by the ponytail and pulled her into the water.

Another man: “-would tell you herself that it wasn’t safe to have a ponytail.”

“Focusing on the wrong damn things,” Becky said, but the TV had already moved on.       “You could hear her scream out,” it said. “She knew she was going to die.”

It started talking about the bruises and lacerations on the body of the woman, and how she was a very strong swimmer. How long did it take for her to drown? The whale must’ve held her down. She could probably hold her breath for two minutes. But the brain becomes damaged without oxygen after four minutes, right? Her arm was cut off at the shoulder, her spine was severed, her scalp was torn from her head. Two minutes or four? Which was worse? How many years had she worked there? How big was the whale?

Her scalp was removed and there was no blood, the TV said. There was no blood left.

I was close to falling over. I couldn’t see. I stood up and tried to do it smoothly, tried not to gasp, and walked out to the kitchen. I clutched at my stomach and tried not to think of the whale, holding her down.

I turned at the sound of the door behind me. My mom asked wide-eyed, “Are you okay?”

I forced out: “I’m fine.”

She looked at me.

“I’m just tired,” I said, “I’ll go to bed and see you tomorrow.”

She nodded. “You’re not going to be the party photographer for Chris and Ann?”

I jumped with surprise. My face was hot and I couldn’t meet her eyes. “No, I told them no.” I turned away. I stumbled into my room and leaned against the wall and panted. Blue-white light passed dimly through the curtained windows. It flicked off and I heard music and laughter, and then it flicked back on. Chris and Ann must’ve installed something motion-sensitive on their porch. I got into bed.

And then, on far wall, I saw a bloated floor-to-ceiling shadow cut out of the light. It was so big. It paralleled the door. It was the pole.

I went under the covers and bit my lip to keep from screaming. No, no, no. You can have it. Take it. Just please leave me alone. You can have it.