I cannot forget. Whenever I walk by a blue Camry, your voice replays in my head — each hoarse syllable. I see your face in every cedar branch, every streetlamp aura. I cannot forget. I’ve tried waiting years, traveling as far as I can from you — but the past always comes back like the tide on the shore. I cannot forget. I want to scream every well-practiced retort I’ve bottled up — but they all come out as one guttural shout. I cannot forget.
The last time you were drowning, they came to see to you after school. You were washing mugs in your classroom sink. They watched you, said you were methodical — a word you associate with supervillains. Scars in your vision danced on the whiteboard behind their head when you talked about your week.
“Take a deep breath in,” their voice echoes from a speaker above your head, “and out.” When was the last time you were able to breathe deeply? Everyone else closes their eyes, breathes synchronized and slow. How do they do it so easily? Your shoulders are tight as piano wire. They say to inhale light, exhale negativity. What if doing that leaves nothing left? Your eyes dart around the room between each calm face — you are alone. Why can’t you be like them? Why did they invite you here in the first place?
Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from March, 2022.
I. cardiffian, n.
I start my day watching river water flow into the bay.
II. barley sugar, n.
A candy shop by the footbridge switches its sign from closed to open. The display case filled with fudge, hard candies my mom would like. I consider buying them, before remembering she’s gone.
III. beastie, n.
A dog walks by that looks like hers. No matter how far I travel, I cannot escape her memory.
IV. interrrobang, n.
I keep landing on inconsequential memories, not ones with thematic resonance or impactful consequences. Why do I keep thinking about the time her tea kettle vibrated on the element, her worried exclamation asking me what I did, her laugh afterward scolding herself for jumping to conclusions?
V. toyetic, adj.
I used to run across the house barefoot on Saturday mornings to beat her to the tv so I could watch cartoons. She’d bring me breakfast, which I’d absent-mindedly ignore while children would command small monsters to attack each other.
VI. kente, n.
I head back to my hotel; wrap her urn in a cloth made by her best friend, gifted at her memorial back home; place it in my backpack to take her on a Dr. Who walking tour — something she asked for in the hospital.
VII. anythingarian, n.
As I walk from landmark to landmark, I debate what to do with her ashes. She told me many different ideas, locations, never settling.
VIII. chipmunk, n. and adj.
During a break for lunch, a chipmunk approaches my table outside the cafe, looks me dead in the eye. I see her. In those eyes. It’s like she’s sending me a message.
IX. bandulu, n. and adj.
A voice emits from the eyes. “Rialto Beach. Scatter me on the rocky shore.” I open the permit application when I get back to my hotel, but the letters blur, the boxes checker. I book a flight back home. I’ll just go the coast and do the thing.
X. zombocalypse, n.
People walk around the airport like packages on a conveyor belt. I sit alone by my gate in an uncomfortable pleather chair when someone walks toward me, sits in the seat right next to me. It is my mother.
XI. cuddy wifter, n.
A notepad appears on her lap, a pen in her left hand. She draws quick lines to make feathers of a great blue heron standing in a still pond. “I want so much to be at peace.” Her voice a tired drawl.
XII. amaxophobia, n.
The ceiling dings. An announcement about my flight boarding soon. “I can’t believe you flew my ashes across the planet. You know I hate flying.” “You said you wanted to see the places in Dr. Who. And it was a walking tour.” “You can’t believe everything a dying woman tells you.”
XIII. bassa-bassa, n.
The ceiling dings. My boarding group is called. She stands before I do, stomps her feet, yells at me for putting her through this. People walk through her as she screams.
XIV. belove, n.
She continues to guilt me as I walk through the skybridge, down the aisle to my seat near the back of the plane. I’m sure she will go on for the whole ten hours until we land in Seattle. I will do whatever is needed to give her peace. It’s what a son should do.
XV. overshare, v.
My guilt is immense. Guilt about making her travel; guilt if I hadn't traveled in the first place. There is no winning. My guilt is immense.
XVI. utopiate, n.
My ZzzQuil kicks in somewhere over the Atlantic; I fall asleep. My feet bare, toes dug into the edge of sand pulled under by the surf. Soft wind, quiet roar, the sun behind a pale canvas of clouds.
XVII. flaithulach, adj.
The last time my mom saw the coast — winter — a last escape before chemo kept her homebound. She stood on driftwood logs, arms wide, a deep breath of salty air. Ocean spray or tears, I’m unsure.
XVIII. powfagged, adj.
An overhead announcement of our imminent arrival in Seattle wakes me. My eyes struggle open. My mom's voice crescendos as blurs transition into shapes. She scolds me for falling asleep while she was talking.
XIX. credentialism, n.
Baggage claim, she draws me in a graduation robe, holding a diploma cover. “I wish I could have seen it.” “Me too.” “You shouldn’t have taken that semester off.” “I had to. You are more important than a piece of paper.” “I was dying. That ‘piece of paper’ would have been your key to a successful future.”
XX. bestiary, n.
I wait for my Uber in the parking garage. Midmorning, the smell of concrete and gasoline. Five Subarus drive by ten people and one ghost waiting for their getaways. A blue Prius pulls up. The driver leans their purple hair out of the window to announce my name. They offer to help with my suitcase, but I decline, placing it in the backseat, until my mom mutters under her breath. I put it in the trunk.
XXI. wych elm, n.
The driver makes small talk while my mom complains about how everything’s changed. They stop the car just past the driveway under the tree in our front yard whose branches leave a fluctuating pattern on the hood. I transfer luggage from their car to mine while my mom taps her foot, stares at the mailboxes down the road.
XXII. free solo, n.
I take 512 to I-5 to 101 for a beat, route 8 to 12, then back to 101, but clockwise, along the coast — the sun sinks into the pacific. She watches it all in silence.
XXIII. siu mei, n.
The full moon exposes a near-empty parking lot. The rocky shore tinted blue, except for an orange spot at the driftwood’s edge. A family sits on logs around it, laughing, singing.
XXIV. light fantastic, n.
My mom walks over the logs to the wet sand — no footprints — and dances to the singing family.
XXV. imagineer, n.
I wake up to an overcast sky — a matte canvas behind my fogged windshield. My mom's urn secure in my backpack beneath the passenger seat. It’s time for her final walk along the coast.
XXVI. archaeobotanist, n.
“Before you were born, your father drove us out here for a weekend in the summer. Rialto was pretty unknown back then — hardly any other people were walking the shore. You could really hear the waves crash and the rocks shuffle beneath your feet. “We sat on a log right around here for a break halfway to Hole in the Wall, and I just stared at the horizon. The crashing waves surrounded me. Then your father, that sweet man, put this flower in my lap — looked like a paintbrush imbued with fire — so orange, so warm. “I kept that flower in a notebook for years. I pressed it between the pages I wrote about the trip. “I never wanted to forget.”
XXVII. dayside, n. and adj.
After a rest, Hole in the Wall in sight, I take her urn out of my backpack. It feels like she would want to see it approach, feel the sun one last time.
XXVIII. saketini, n.
She squats over a tide pool to poke a crab hiding under an anemone. It flinches, untouched. She laughs. “Yes,” a sigh, “That’s what I needed.”
XXIX. chip, v.
The rock juts out into the water. Hole in the Wall, an arch at its end. Tide’s coming in; I have to move fast. I step around tide pool edges barefoot, quickly, before they’re buried.
XXX. monophobia, n.
Under the arch, anemones sway in tide pools sloshed by the incoming tide. I hesitate. Her urn, opened, in my hands. I know I need to. I know she needs it. But what will happen? What will happen when she is finally gone?
XXXI. jeune premier, n.
I scatter her ashes along the tide pools on the north side of Hole in the Wall. I look south to her standing on the other side. She walks toward me through the arch, dissolves in beads of light, which expand to the Hole’s rim, fade to an overcast sky.
Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from February, 2022.
I. bak kwa, n.
A new year, another long day corralling teenagers into an English class reading a book half of them won’t open. Stayed late again, grading essays, finalizing semester grades. The smell of pork in our foyer from the dinner you’re cooking.
II. crafternoon, n.
You’ve been working late, like every other January. The sun sets before you’re home — before you even start driving, I’m sure. I created a sun using some tissue paper from the tub of wrapping stuff in the closet, hang it over the gas fireplace, switched on, so you could bask in its warmth.
III. haterade, n.
For 15 minutes, I ramble about the grading system erroring out all afternoon, making me hand-enter each grade for my 170 students. You listen patiently to complaints I’ve made so many times before.
IV. orthogonally, adv.
After I place food on the table, you take your usual seat on the side of the table to my right — the same seat you took on our first date years ago, saying that the seat directly across from me would be too far away.
V. shakebuckler, n.
I finally stop talking and ask about your day. You talk about the traffic downtown on your way to city hall, an argument you had with Councilmember Meyers about building better infrastructure for busses and bikes around town. “He said to me, no joke, ‘You bring this issue up at every damn council meeting. We simply don’t have the funds.’ And then, when I brought up last year’s increase to police funding, he slapped the folder out of my hand!”
VI. antiquating, n.
Meyers has been — and always will be — stuck in the past. I’ve argued with him — constantly — throughout my entire tenure on city council.
VII. oojamaflip, n.
There’s a term you always use to describe Councilmember Meyers that I can never remember until you say it again. The memory plays back, but the audio muffles. I see your smile, I hear our laughter, but I can’t hear the word.
VIII. froideur, n.
I continue, “It’s like he can’t even entertain the idea he might be wrong or should change course ever. He just double-downs on every. single. issue. Even Louis Armstrong would call him a moldy fig.” You laugh.
IX. chicken finger, n.
Some students eat in my room at lunch — the commons’s chaos too much for them. They carry little cardboard bowls, small cartons of chocolate milk. We talk while we eat, and they ask about you. When I tell them about your infrastructure bill and Councilmember Meyers, they are as heated as you were at dinner last night. They ask if they can do anything to help, and I get an idea.
X. chopsy, adj.
Meyers gives a longwinded speech at our next council meeting — the first Monday of February. His prattling is punctuated by his wrinkled cheeks shaking every time he sneers the word “homeless.”
XI. bonze, n.
My class’s next unit focuses on world religions, so I invited a priest from the Buddhist temple across town to talk to my kids. They talked about community.
XII. japchae, n.
I take a long lunch after the morning session — long, because of the time it takes to get to my favorite Korean restaurant across town, both by foot (because of the distance) or car (because of the traffic), which are the only viable methods of travel due to the inaction of city council.
XIII. rakeshame, n.
Kids tend to talk in simplified terms — good people, bad people, nothing in between. So when my lunch group talks about organizing a protest, I have to remind them (albeit begrudgingly) that Councilmember Meyers is a person, not a monster.
XIV. passado, n.
The restaurant is empty, like most days, despite signage outside detailing their deals, their signature dishes. They greet me by name (and title). I watch car after car pass by.
XV. maple leaf, n.
The season’s last leaf whimpers on a branch outside my classroom window. Change begins with whispers on a breeze.
XVI. anecdata, n.
While my lunch cooks, the daughter who runs the cash register tells me her family’s history — how busy they used to be, before Main Street became a highway, starving side-street restaurants like theirs.
XVII. foul case, n. and adj.
It’s so hard to not step in when your kids — so full of passion, energy — stumble over their words, to not take the reins. They need to learn this, do it themselves. You're just there to support them.
XVIII. haggis-headed, adj.
My heart hurts as she gives me my lunch. I want to help them, and every other family-owned business in my district, but — but. I stumble over my words. I can make promises all day; promises don’t help people. The laws need to change.
XIX. witches’ broom, adj.
Every day more kids show up to prepare for a protest on the 14th. They complain about their families’s stores struggling, not being able to get anywhere on their own. They call Councilmember Meyers a fungus.
XX. whoo-ee, int.
I wake up Sunday morning while you’re making breakfast, my phone bursting with notifications. The top one is a message from my assistant with a link to an article in the Tribune in which Councilmember Meyers calls my plan “unamerican,” “an attack on our way of life.” A day before the vote and he pulls this. I hate how little I’m surprised.
XXI. enoughness, n.
The kids decided on a walkout at the end of 4th period leading to a march to City Hall. They timed it so they would arrive just as arguments on the infrastructure bill would begin. They created signs, flooded Instagram and Snapchat, built a crowd to overwhelm the sidewalk they’d have to take there.
XXII. dwaal, n.
As the session gets closer, I sift through the notecards of my speech, eyeing the window to the courtyard. You said your students would arrive as the session began. What if they don’t show up? What if I fumble my words? I miss the gavel marking the start of the session; Meyers takes the floor.
XXIII. gyaff, n.
One of my students in sixth period tells me some parents joined the march with wagons full of water bottles and granola bars from Costco. Only one-third of my students remained at the end of the day. I’m out of the parking lot before the buses.
XXIV. genericide, n.
Meyers moves through the usual talking points as a crowd forms outside. They pour in, all these kids, fill the balcony, signs waving about their independence. His speech drowns in their cacophony.
XXV. garderobe, n.
I have to park in the library parking lot a block away from city hall, because all the street parking is taken. Some students shout to get my attention from the middle of the crowd outside. They clear a path for me to get inside to the staircase to the spectator balcony. I look over a mountain range of heads just in time to see you stand up to begin your speech.
XXVI. woofle, v.
“What my colleague fails to realize is that our community is growing. This growth is beyond the comprehension of our predecessors, who fervently believed that sprawling outward was their best option — an option supported by the modern real estate community and some members of city council. “The sprawl is unsustainable, both in a physical and a communal sense. We have neighborhoods extending out of our city limits into unincorporated areas, but the children in those incorporated neighborhoods attend schools within our limits, within our care. Those children — like the children filling the balconies now — need to have access to our city’s assets: our parks, our schools, our stores. They must be able to traverse the land in our care effectively and safely- whether that be by foot, bike, or public transit. “The dependence on cars has hurt our local businesses. Many small stores, the family businesses that built this city in the first place, are struggling, collapsing due to a declining customer base, primarily due to the siphoning of routes to Main Street and their shops being one block too far off that path. “This bill, which I authored, allocates city funds to the creation and maintenance of resources to fix these problems: sidewalks on streets within school zones, bike lanes on major roads throughout the city, buses with more accessible and reliable routes. “Certain members of this council have called this plan ‘unamerican.’ And, they are are correct if we only take an antiquated view of what America was. If we look at what America is, what America could be, this plan is as American as it gets. “The vitriol with which some members of city council use to denigrate this bill is antithetical to the promises they’ve made to support their constituents and their community. “We should be fighting for our community. We should be fighting for the independence of empowerment of our youth. We should be fighting for our local businesses. We need this bill to aid in these fights. “Thank you.”
XXVII. antical, adj.
Thunderous applause as you step away from the podium. Your name chanted by students in the balcony. Your face so full of pride, confidence, triumph. You wave when you find my face in the crowd. My heart is so full. I love you so much. I am so proud of you.
XXVIII. jump-up, n.
The path of progress has a steep incline, many switchbacks, but eventually, we will reach the summit; the future — the line where the sky and ridge meet. There is no one else I’d rather be on this journey with than you.
I’ve typed half an email to you a dozen times, desperate as a maple reaching over a scenic byway. Do you remember when we used to communicate through the wind? I could hear your voice, your thoughts, just by how you exhaled through your nose during one of Mr. Slater’s lectures. We could be states apart, but I would still know; thoughts were leaves on autumnal breezes falling on the mossy forest floor. Heavy currents eroded our bridge, felled trees snapped our power lines, space debris brought down our satellites, and now you’re just ones and zeros — a silent amalgamation of pixels.
She asks if you’re awake. Your eyes struggle open. Her silhouette blurry in your tent’s doorway against the morning’s overcast sky. Your throat attempts a word. She tells you not to panic — a volcano erupted across the ocean; the National Weather Service said there’s a chance for a tsunami along the coast where you’re camping. “Not a warning, an advisory.” You nod your head, eyes closing. She zips the tent flap closed as she leaves. Brisk air bites your face, which peeks out of your cocoon. You see waves tower over the shore, lift your tent, rip its stakes out of the ground. You wonder whether you and your sleeping bag would float along the surf to the cranberry fields down the road. You wonder whether that would be the worst outcome. You see your classroom; your students; a painted rock gifted by one, defaced with a slur by another, left under your desk. You feel failure, consider the possibility they would be better off with another teacher. You remind yourself: your brain does this all the time, there is evidence to the contrary. You can’t see any.
Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from January, 2022.
I. caravette, n.
He packed his bags and threw them back behind the driver’s seat. His destination was not known, but still he headed east. The engine revved, the shifter clicked, and gravel stirred below. His horn honked twice, he waved his arm, and turned onto the road.
II. limbo, v.
The highway’s flat and straight until the city’s skyline spouts and overpasses form above his head so full of doubt. He ducked his head — no logic there — when under every one. And all the morning, he did chase his guiding light: the sun.
III. hagiologist, n.
He prayed to Bona, Pisa’s saint, as dusk became the night. She watches over travelers, when the sun is not so bright. His eyes were heavy, night was young; at some point he must stop. He hoped that Bona'd keep him safe; his head his arm did prop.
IV. chutzpasik, adj.
He drove nonstop throughout the night to see the coast at dawn. Not tired, he said, then shook his head when lines began to yawn. His car’s warm hood, while parked askew, sent steam into the sky. The sun did peek from o’er the sea; its beauty made him cry.
V. hagfish, n.
When hunger fin'lly sank its teeth into his quiv’ring ribs, he walked across the parking lot, and tore off trash can lids. He dug around to find some food inside curled fast food bags. A bite or two to get him through that morning’s final drag.
VI. belongingness, n.
He ate, returned to beach’s edge, and inhaled salty air. He combed his matted hair by wind and at horizon stared. He breathed in tandem with the sea — the tidal ebb and flow. He wanted this to last fore’er, but knew he had to go.
VII. driving box, n.
The driver’s seat was worn and cold and sighed when sat upon. He had to find a job so that he’d have new clothes to don. His wrinkled shirt from Applebee’s was fading, tearing more. It’d lasted sev’ral summers, but no longer could be worn.
VIII. up a daisy, int.
He drove until a hiring sign did fin’lly ‘pear downtown, then par’lleled parked across the street, the visor’s mirror down. A deep breath there, then slapped his face and stared into his eyes. “You got this, Adam,” said he then, and donned a clip-on tie.
IX. ghostbuster, n.
“For months now, we have heard these wails from down below the shop. We’re ‘fraid a spirit’ll one day rise, the floor our blood will mop. “Now, I’ve been told a spell exists, or something science-y, to rid us of this blight. Can you? We’d pay you handsomely.”
X. inadvisably, adv.
No hesitation in his voice, he took the job and said, “I’ve never failed to catch a ghost or zombie or undead.” The shopkeep pointed to the door that to the basement lead. His confidence successf’lly hid a plan to fake instead.
XI. gee-whizzery, n.
Atop the stairs, she left him there to go down on his own. Her glasses fogged with nervous sweat, her legs were heavy stone. He closed the door to hide his work and falsify results. So dark and cold, a thick’ning fog reveals something occult.
XII. zom-com, n.
A paw broke through the concrete floor with saggy, patchy flesh. Long nose and tail, now on all fours, teeth flared to eat afresh. Then Adam reached behind his back to find something to throw. He didn’t know ’til out his hand, it was a squeaky bone.
XIII. scrimmaging, adj.
Like lightning, pounced the dog on bone, whose squeaks to heaven cried. Its rubber shards like mist in fog; its tone grew low and died. The dog’s eye sockets, empty voids, to Adam turned at once. T’ward him a blur of fur did dash like he’s the prey it hunts.
XIV. bridle-wise, adj.
In grade school, Adam wrangled cows at Uncle Nathan’s ranch. When bored of ropes and tying knots, he’d settle calves by hand. His callused palms had softened since, but muscle mem’ry stayed. He took a stance to catch the dog in order to get paid.
XV. ghoulishness, n.
He caught the dog with thund’rous boom, the hind legs in his hands. The sound of crackling tendons popped like snapping rubber bands. Adrenaline had blinded him, so fearing for his life. Removed both legs, then broke each bone and grabbed his pocketknife.
XVI. summum malum, n.
To throat he took his knife to slice to separate the brain from body; with no signal then on concrete floor it lain. From out the neck, a thicker fog as black as void did rise. It filled the walls, and ‘cross the room, as red as blood, were eyes.
XVII. sitooterie, n.
Engulfed in black, no gravity nor distance clear, alert he was to all. A canvas rip below him revealed dirt. He staggered back onto his feet. A willow tree gave shade to chairs, a man in tailored suit with red eyes said his name.
XVIII. cardioid, n. and adj.
“Now Adam, why would you do that? My heart, you drive a stake.” His voice consumed all other sound, left silence in his wake. “You’ve killed my dog, I can’t forgive this slight upon my house.” He raised his palm, a flash of light, in flames, the willow doused.
XIX. garden bean, n.
While burning branches fell around his twitchy, icy hands, he balled his fists, assumed the stance that he, for ages, planned. He knew the man with eyes of blood would find him once again. His constant moving to escape from every demon sent.
XX. fantysheeny, adj.
His pocketknife, passed down to him on father’s bed of death, vibrated harsh — a phantom pain, perhaps his final breath. Unsheathed then clicked the blade in place, glowed yellow, orange by flame. “I’ll exorcise you with this knife that bares my father’s name.”
XXI. baje, adj. and n.
He lunged with blade in hand and dodged a fist engulfed in fire. He stabbed with a calypso beat against the well-dressed pyre. So many holes, his knife did leave, in that maroon suit coat. No blood did pour around its waist, no fibers drenched or soaked.
XXII. witching, n.
Despair set in; defeat was near — he’d die without a sound. Blue waves of light flowed ‘crossed his knife; he spotted dewy ground. He plunged the blade into the spot, then twisted it in place. His arm aimed toward the eyes of blood set in his father’s face.
XXIII. spirit-stirring, adj.
He felt a stream of water flow from blade through arm to chest. A geyser ‘rupted out his palm at he so finely dressed. He heard a scream, ethereal, while launching his attack. His father’s howling scream was there to take his body back.
XXIV. meet-cute, n.
The flames extinguished, eyes of blood evaporated then in mist unholy darkened sky. His father back again. The sky, grown black, engulfed the tree and everything around. He woke up ‘gainst the shopkeep’s chair, the basement door unbound.
XXV. ram-stam, adj., adv., and n.
He wiped his hair, and dust and ash cascaded to the floor. “Your problem’s gone, I guarantee. No ghosts will haunt your store. “About your door, I’m sorry that I broke it off its hinge, but can your help me to my feet? my lower back’s a twinge.”
XXVI. jai, int.
“Oh, thank you, thank you, so, so much! The door is no big deal, ‘cause you have saved us all. Can I repay you with a meal?” She blushed, and o’er her ear she brushed her soft magenta hair. She did not meet his eyes, because the floor is where she stared.
XXVII. toydom, n.
His heart still fast, like jumbled words, the pictures in his head. His vocal cords did vibrate, but he knew not what he said. She helped him off the floor and walked across the shop. Sunset. His body moved all on its own — strung like a marionette.
XXVIII. swag, n.
A wave had crashed along the shore as they had sauntered by. His lungs were full of salty air; he felt he’d never die. His thoughts and limbs back in control; his body fully his. He fin’lly asked her ‘bout herself; she said she goes by Liz.
XXIX. banteringly, adv.
The restaurant Liz chose was lit by candlelight’s dim glow. The sun, which set o’er harbor west, was split by masts of boats. They joked about the days they had way after food was done. The conversation was so nice, he felt no want to run.
XXX. drivel, n.
The truest form of ease, of home, is when you talk about whatever happens to come up, as free as geysers’s spouts. So, Liz and Adam talked all night until they kicked them out. But then, they just walked ‘round the pier — a moonlit walkabout.
XXXI. haggard, n.
Throughout the night, unceasingly, his thoughts returned to home: an aging farm, his father back to tend it on his own. He built a shell, their future pruned, he tried to not look sad. “As much as I would like to stay, I need to help my dad."
A stop before a three-hour drive home. A subject I, at fourteen, avoided. A hospital. I walked in last, stared at the tiles on the floor until I was nudged to say hello. When I looked up, I saw him. A gown. Wires. Tubes. Shadows from an overhead light. My mind saw him die and I cried. No words. He frowned — scowled, maybe. “Get out of here with that!” he yelled. I remember him raising his arm up to shoo me away. My mom gave me the keys to her Expedition. I sat there trying to find air. When she joined me, she asked, “Why were you crying?” My thoughts intercepted by arguments and counterarguments shouted across a crowded conference hall. Reverberating echoes off a tall ceiling. No words. I leaned my head on the window away from her, watched the world blur.
Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from December, 2021.
I. flatshare, v.
Someone always there to take care of the dishes. Someone always there to sign for packages. Someone always there to watch for red Corollas.
II. amirite, int.
They walk up behind me as I watch the traffic two floors below— green Forester. A hand on my shoulder, they sit on one of the throw pillows we scattered on the floor in front of the sliding glass door to the porch— blue Civic. They flick their wrist toward the street, say, “Next summer blockbuster!” Met with silence — yellow Mustang.
III. infodemic, n.
It takes time to sift through it all — the humans on the sidewalk, the song of warblers by the window feeder, the caws of crows by the garbage cans, the whistle of their tea kettle boiling, the glare of the sun in the glass door — in order to focus on the cars in the street.
IV. amscray, v.
Early evening, a familiar shape of headlights come round the corner. They slow by our building, connected to a body the shade of dried blood. I spin so quick, the pillow slides out from under me across the fake-wood floor, and I have to scramble to my feet, dash through the apartment to the bedroom closet, slam the door shut. A suitcase’s coarse fabric rubs my temple.
V. bardo, n.
No light. Three thumps. A click. A squeaky hinge. Muffled voices. Silence. A suitcase’s zipper in my fingers. Footsteps in the hallways. A gulp.
VI. fastballer, n.
Everything happens in the blink of an eye. The closet door opens, my arm is pulled, the suitcase is packed, and I am planted in the backseat of the car staring out the window as the curb flows by me like the water of a river.
VII. phantastikon, n.
A man runs along the curb, jumps over hydrants, swings under streetlights, grinds along benches. He speeds up, slows down in tandem with the car.
VIII. Fast-medium, adj. and n.
I’m put in a chair in front of a large desk covered in loose papers, sloppy folders. A person in a wrinkled suit sits behind it, says their name, quickly asks a bunch of questions, checking boxes on a piece of paper hidden by a beat-up clipboard.
IX. amatorio, n.
On the person’s desk is a small tray, no bigger than a side dish, which has a couple stress balls in it. After several questions I don’t answer, they offer a ball from the tray, which I accept, because it feels like the right thing to do. The tray is thick, uneven, and in the vacuum left by the ball I grabbed is some writing painted on messily. “Mom” and a heart is all I see before the tray is back on the desk. I squeeze the ball and breathe.
X. fairyism, n.
I am not in my body for the rest of the interview. I float through the ceiling fan’s blades, watch my body’s mouth answer her questions, don’t hear anything.
XI. taffety, n. and adj.
When I land back in my body, my eyes lock on the curtain over her right shoulder. Teal waves against an overcast sky.
XII. scribacious, adj.
She hands me a composition book with a cheap pen to express my thoughts, saying it can help me process my feelings. She escorts me to a small room with a desk and a twin bed, says we’ll talk tomorrow.
XIII. botheration, int. and n.
I don’t get how writing something is going to help me think about anything. It doesn’t even make sense. I’d just “process” the literal words on the page; there’d be nothing deeper than that. How is writing a detailed play-by-play of me walking to the grocery store going to help anyone do literally anything? It’s just stupid. Fucking pointless.
XIV. slow drag, n.
It was last Tuesday. We were out of milk and bread, so I had to walk to the Safeway on the other side of the apartment complex. Taylor wanted to have Mac and cheese for dinner, but without milk, they couldn’t make it. I suggested just using water, but they scoffed at me. The bread was my idea. I thought it would be good to get a fancy sourdough instead of our usual 12 grain loaf. It’s December; people get to splurge during the holidays. I didn’t realize how icy it was. I saw it snow that morning, yeah, but I figured over the course of the day, it must have thawed out. I was wrong. I only made it around the corner of our building before I slipped. I landed hard on my hip. That’s why there’s a bruise there. Nothing else happened.
XV. ballyhack, n.
Wake up. Breakfast. Write. Group. Write. Lunch. Write. Solo. Dinner. Write. Bed.
XVI. lachrymabund, adj.
It happens suddenly, middle of the the second night. A weight presses on my chest — I can’t breathe. Every memory alive full-throated screaming into a flat pillow, wet with tears.
XVII. fairwater, n.
Around three, I give up on sleep, stare at the constellations in the ceiling tiles. Maybe there is a future where my brain doesn’t eat itself, where my ribs aren’t a windy cavern. I slide the notebook off the nightstand, scribble in the dark.
XVIII. autokinesis, n.
There’s a streetlight visible through the metal mesh of my room’s window. It swings in a wind that doesn’t affect the tree branches or the pole that holds it.
XIX. popskull, n.
The first time was the morning after Taylor shared some moonshine they made in their apartment’s detached garage. It was their first attempt. They were so proud of themself. So I tried it. You have to support your sibling, right? My mouth and throat felt like a python had contracted around them. I took each punch as well as I could. I hadn't had liquor before, but people at my school talk about it all the time, so I figured it would grow on me. A rite of passage or whatever. When I woke up the next morning, my head throbbed. It felt like Neil Peart was doing a drum solo on my brain. The pain was unlike anything I’d felt before. Felt like it would never go away. I wanted to let it out. So, I dragged myself to the craft drawer and found the X-Acto knife. Took it to my thigh.
XX. medium coeli, n.
During every solo session, the lady talks to me about what I wrote during the previous writing session as if I’m the protagonist of a tv show she’s binging. Like I fit into some archetype, some box, and she already knows everything about me.
XXI. sunstay, n.
There’s supposed to be some epiphany I have while locked in this room. That’s what they tell me. That’s what happens in movies. Where the fuck is it then?
XXII. supervacaneous, adj.
I give up on correcting her the fifth time she calls Taylor my “brother.” She must have selective hearing or selective memory, at least — whatever fits the narrative. I only need to last one more day.
XXIII. toyi-toyi, n.
“… and that’s why I believe it would not be in your best interest return to your brother’s apartment.” “You can’t.” I stand up. “You can’t.” “It simply isn’t a safe environment for you. Your writing indicates,” she flips open my notebook on her desk, “he served you alcohol, thus creating a situation in which you purposefully harmed yourself,” she flips to an earlier page, “and your bruises have dubious origins that you are not being honest about.” “You can’t. You can’t. You can’t.”
XXIV. belsnickel, n.
Everything feels slow motioned and fast forwarded: my hands slam her desk, two nurses grab my arms, hallway doors like trees along the highway. Last year, Christmas Eve, Taylor spent hours making dinner for the two of us. Because that’s what you do after your family exiles you.
XXV. jough, n.
Christmas night, two years ago. After a day of small talk, stories from decades past, unsolicited advice from aunts and uncles, I escaped to the patio just outside the porch light’s range. Taylor came by, placed a warm mug in my cold hands. We sat in silence under cloudy sky, falling snow.
XXVI. gombey, n.
I put on a stoic face when they come to pick me up with my suitcase. I put on a grateful face when I arrive at a foster home full of strangers. I put on a welcoming face at dinner while I tell stories about a made-up past.
XXVII. lime, n.
There are three other kids around the dinner table. They nod along with my lies, introduce themselves, but their names don’t register in my brain.
XXVIII. ginny gall, n.
I hate it here. It doesn’t matter how much food they give, how much personal space is provided, how much anime we watch. It’s a strange house full of strangers. I hate it here; it doesn't matter.
XXIX. hen-cackle, n.
Under the shroud of pre-dawn twilight, snow crunches under my weight with my suitcase.
XXX. sinigang, n.
I don’t recall these streets, these cars. I try to remember Taylor’s soup — how it made me feel warm, like home even on the coldest nights — and use that to guide me.
XXXI. willie-waught, n.
The place I sit, a bus stop bench, is co’ered in ice and snow. I guess I’ll sleep till morning comes. I wish I had my phone. The cold consumes my fingertips and gulps my soggy toes. While snow upon my hat does pile, my eyes begin to close. I hear my name, a frosty crunch, familiar to my ear. I struggle up, but cannot see; the streetlight's reach too short. But once again, my name is said. I rub my eyes and blink. Then from the dark is Taylor’s scarf unraveling from their neck. They wrap their scarf around me, hold my face in their trembling hands. Sitting beside me, they ask what happened, dig out a flask from their jacket. After a swig, they offer it to me, then take me back home.