Volume 4 Issue 2: The Climax

Welcome to The Climax! From Whispers to Roars is thrilled to be printing and publishing issues again! We want to thank you for the overwhelming response to our call for submissions and for continuing to support an indie literary magazine.

This issue contains work from 13 talented writers and artists. Additionally, we have included an artist interview within this issue; this is a new component that we’ll be adding to each of our issues moving forward as a way to help our community share their stories and connect with one another. Our goal is to continue to highlight creatives, their work, and their processes. We hope you enjoy this new addition to our issues.


R. R. Noall

Our Contest Winners are:

Sustenance by Susan Gundlach (poetry)

Just Another Face in The Crowd, by Dave Sims (art/photography)

Ephemera by Laura Romig (fiction)

Contest Winners

Sustenance by Susan Gundlach

. . . we are each other’s / harvest:

we are each other’s / business:

we are each other’s / magnitude and bond.

—Gwendolyn Brooks

At the Whole Foods meat counter that morning

I told the butcher I was unfamiliar with the store

and was shopping for a very ill neighbor

who wanted one pound of boneless chicken—

I assumed she wanted white meat, I said,

my voice uncertain, wavering, Covid-nervous . . .

“I gotcha,” he responded. “You’re a good friend.”

Standing there in the safety net of his words

I burst into tears.

Just Another Face in The Crowd 
by Dave Sims

Just Another Face in The Crowd by Dave Sims

Ephemera by Laura Romig

     Her mother had been a tightrope walker. She would stroll the city in her show costume, smoking with a cigarette holder. I walk on tightropes, she promised the promising men, and flashed her teeth. She blew smoke at the unpromising ones as she made her escapes.

     Mariana conjured this image of Paula, who had been her mother, from a jumbled collection of photographs left in the apartment. She found them tucked in jewelry boxes, stuffed in coat pockets, filed behind plastic silverware and takeout chopsticks. Paula hadn’t kept documents or papers—just this hidden life in 4×6 inch glossed images.

     By the time Mariana was born, Paula Withers had gone corporate—succumbed to the grinding heel of capitalism, as she often lamented. Her nine-to-five involved masquerading as a typist who typed inventory reports. Outside her cubicle, the boss had taped a no-smoking sign. Mariana had known her mother as another bobbing head in city waves, a single sliver of sea-glass tossed in the tide. This Paula Withers was often wringing her hands.

     At night, however, Paula shed the typist guise, and she came alight. Often, Mariana traipsed home from a friend’s to find Paula dressed in a boa and a cocktail dress, clinking drinks with a stranger on the apartment balcony. She danced, gesticulated, leaned closer. She swirled grand declarations with the paintbrush of her mouth. When she saw Mariana, she whooped in ecstasy. This is my immaculate creation, she whispered. Look what I brought into the world. The stranger would smile nervously, try not to catch her eye.

     Now, Mariana knew those nights of grandeur were only remnants of a life before. They were shards she let herself preserve, liquor in hand and a grin to split the world. Her mother was walking impossibly high, every eye on her. One night, Paula had hauled herself atop the balcony ledge. Her stranger for the night had screamed, begged her to come down, but Paula couldn’t be reached. Her eyes closed, fingertips flexed to meet sky. The stars stopped to watch as she stood.

     And Mariana could almost forgive those nights, if it weren’t for the nights of anger.

     There wasn’t always a handsome stranger, some gentleman or lady lured home from the bar. Some skies were starless; some tightropes snapped. Mariana would come home to a darkened apartment, to shouting about the boss, the landlord, the boyfriends. She would come home to hot words and sharp hands, the after-stench of drink. Paula Withers still had the ropey strength of an acrobat, even if she no longer walked the sky.

     But she hadn’t left Mariana any bruises in a long time.

     Sifting through the ruins of her mother’s life, Mariana had begun a mental catalog of her own. There were the balconies and bleeding nights of her youth, then city college studying public health and urban development, wondering about airborne diseases and her mother’s lungs. After college she applied for law school and transformed herself: environmental defendant of the city, her past in hand. And she succeeded, too—jumping from one grapevine to the next, twisting around words and inside windows, career parkour. Her nights were not her own; they belonged to her work, memos, briefings, money.

     Paula didn’t like telephones, so she almost never called. And even though Mariana, now partner, sat in her office and waxed poetic about the need to save the city, even though she struck down contracts meant to tear apart tenements like her mother’s—Mariana hadn’t gone back. When her position offered enough status that she didn’t have to work the arduous hours of an associate, Mariana kept logging them. She would arrive early and write and argue as the sun rose, stay until it set. Sometimes her secretary, Abel, would repeat phrases several times before she lifted her head to respond.

     The physical catalog of her life was nothing like Paula’s, either. Stacks of annotated papers, old briefcases, her college essays. Everything was written. Everything was work.

     Mariana touched a photograph she had found on her mother’s nightstand. Twenty-something Paula posed on a street corner, caught in a laugh. A bright red scarf tangled around her neck, upturned by wind. The photographer’s hand intruded on the edge of the picture. Indiscernibly mail or female, the hand’s soft fingertips reached for the woman behind the lens. 

     The night after Mariana finished cleaning out her mother’s apartment, when all had been sorted into plastic boxes with labeled lids and shuffled into the spare room of Mariana’s townhome, she received a call.

     “We would like to talk to you about your mother,” a perspiring woman said from across the phone line. Mariana could not see that she was perspiring, but felt it was true. She said nothing.

     “We are writing an article about the city circus during the mid-20th century, and it would appear your mother, Paula Anne Withers, was a minor celebrity. Almost everyone we have interviewed has mentioned her.”
     “Who is we?” Mariana asked. She wanted to say: you’ve made some mistake. My mother was a typist.

      “My colleagues and I.” The woman sniffed.

     Mariana said yes and then hung up.

     Emptying Paula’s apartment had cost her now thirty-six hours of work, she calculated. It hadn’t all been glittering photographs; the jars and plastic baggies of pills had to be disposed of properly, the breathing machine returned to the hospital. Guiltily, Mariana had hired her mother a caretaker, a woman called Melinda, several years ago. She didn’t know how to handle the mess of equipment or the portioned-out containers of food in the freezer. But it had seemed wrong to ask the caretaker to clean out a dead woman’s home, to portion out belongings like she had meals.

     Trying to catch up on those hours, Mariana thumbed through a brief from one of her coworkers. She was eating reheated leftovers from her mother’s fridge: macaroni and cheese. As she took another bite, she thought that maybe Paula had spooned from this same bowl. She took her next bite with more reverence.

       The next morning, the “we” called again.

       “We would like to speak to you sometime this week. Preferably tomorrow.”

       “We are busy tomorrow,” Mariana enunciated. A new stack of papers on the desk loomed in her periphery.

     Mariana worked up the courage to post about her mother’s death on her social media wall, and apologies flooded. She had taken a language course in college called “What We Really Mean.” In one lecture, the professor started talking about the word sorry. Sorry, implying both personal fault and complete lack of it. Sorry, one-size-fits-all. Sorry is like potatoes. It can become anything.

     Her coworkers and college friends squawked under her post: “I’m sorry. Sorry for your loss. Sorry for this path you must walk. Sorry you haven’t found God to lead you.” Mariana kept reading it as “potatoes.” Potatoes, potatoes, potatoes.

     A colleague commented: “I didn’t know you had a mother.” As if Mariana had blistered into existence post-grad, flicking pencils and licking pages.

     Several days after the social media post, Mariana finished selling the apartment, and her realtor instructed her to lock the place after one last sweep. She packed her briefcase after work and took the metro down to her mother’s. During university, she would commute on this train daily, scanning lecture notes in a corner. She closed her eyes as the train crossed a tunnel. After a minute of dark, it shuddered into gaping sunlight, and she disembarked.

     Her phone rang as she cut through a parking lot to the back door of the apartment. Mariana declined the call.

     She had sold her mother’s furniture on a secondhand website, and all that remained in the hollowed-out unit were the stacks of glossed photos. Mariana collected them into a grocery bag. Her phone buzzed again—voicemail.

     She pressed play, and a staticky voice garbled: “Your interview is scheduled for tomorrow at 8am. Suite 17B of the Carlisle Building downtown. Our office will fax you a list of prepared questions if you wish to review them.” The phone beeped, and then automatically played the last voicemail in her mailbox, recorded several weeks ago.

       “Mariana, darling, come visit—“
     She shut off the phone. Mariana stood in the living room of the apartment, where harsh noonday light cut through the sliding screen doors to the balcony. In the glow, she was a child again, and her mother stood across the room, arms wide and chin up. Mariana felt herself suspended in this moment of memory, just like the photographs, one more item Paula had left behind.

     The next day, she skipped work and walked downtown. She walked through the spinning double doors. She walked into the office belonging to the perspiring voice from the phone. She walked to the edge of herself and spilled over, briefcase swinging in hand.

            “Over here, Ms. Withers.”

     The name tag pinned to her interviewer’s breast pocket agitated as he spoke, brushing against the microphone line on the side of his dress shirt. Mariana watched it shift back and forth as she mouthed answers to his questions—my mother was a typistmy mother was a wonderful womanmy mother had the spirit of an acrobat. My mother my mother my mother. Potatoes potatoes potatoes.

     Her interviewer covered the mic with his hand, and Mariana’s eyes jerked up to his face, the sounds his mouth was making. “I’ll be honest, Ms. Withers. You haven’t told us anything we didn’t already learn from her friends. We were hoping you would have a more, well, unique, perspective, given your proximity as her daughter.”

     Motes of dust floated around their heads. Mariana said, “I was watching the woman on the tightrope, but without the wonder.” Mariana said, “I was the one who would lose everything if she fell.” She said, “I was her immaculate creation. She left me here for you to find.”

     Mariana stood and left.

     Her mother had been a tightrope walker, high on a wire. Her mother’s palms had been open, facing up, where they couldn’t carry anything, only cup the sky and drink until her world drained clean. Mariana had never discerned what her mother cared about. Was it the dashing stranger on the balcony, or was it the balcony itself? Was it the thought that she might bash onto the pavement, or was it the thought that she had the strength to save herself?

     At Mariana’s townhome, under the kitchen light, the grocery bag of photos glistened on the counter where she had left them. Most of the pictures were clandestine moments of vibrancy, screaming colors, portraits of ecstasy. They captured impermanence. Everything temporary. Every moment to be destroyed.

     But there was this photo, creased in one corner and faded with age, of a woman sitting on a bench. The woman leaned against a wood-paneled wall, one hand bracing herself. The fingers of that hand glittered with rings. Her other hand rested on her stomach, which was swollen with pregnancy. Her face, blurred in the picture, tilted toward her belly.

     Mariana picked up her phone and pressed play on the second-to-last voicemail.

     “Mariana, darling, come visit me at your old home. You know I miss you. You know I want to see you. Melinda seems worried about me, but I feel better than ever. I could spin a cartwheel as I say this.” A pause.

“I miss you, darling. Do stop by the apartment.” The message clicked off.

     She pressed play again. Paula spoke. She pressed play. Paula spoke. Paula spoke. Paula spoke. This moment to be destroyed. This moment impermanent. This moment forever in memory, until Mariana’s memory disappeared, until she left herself behind for someone to sift through her ruins. She could see them now, scavenging the scraps of this life, piecing her together, searching for a moment that would endure, clutching it close in all that was only temporary.

Artist Interview:

Laura Buitrago (Lajubu Art)

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer/artist? Describe the exact moment if possible. 

I have drawn and written for as long as I can remember, but I never even dreamed of being an artist because it never seemed like a feasible option. I studied everything from psychology to communication, elementary education, and did a Master’s in International Development. None of it felt like it truly fit me, I felt very out of place in my world. The Master’s was in Madrid. I filled my days with art- Life drawing every Friday, galleries, museums, drawing my friends. After my studies, I went to Colombia, my home country, avoiding having to work in that field (International Development). It felt unethical and untrue to me. I made very close friends- musicians, dancers, creatives. One night, we were drinking beer in my friend’s apartment, and that was the moment where it hit me: I could actually be an artist. They encouraged me to explore my art; I really had nothing to lose. Pandemic came and when I moved back to the states, I started creating my first-ever large-scale paintings. To this day, I have not stopped painting and it is now my full-time job. It was so sudden, so unexpected, and exactly when and what my soul needed the most. 

Artist: Laura Buitrago

Where do you currently reside? Can your art/writing be found in your local area? If yes, please tell us where.

I am currently in Orlando. Two of my paintings (Uncharted Territory and Dance with Self) were just at College Park Gallery for two months, and it was such a successful event! I will also be showing pieces at the SODO Gallery in Winter Garden for their Top Choice exhibit (TBD. Possibly Potential and Uncharted Territory). I have one of my paintings in Houston (Red), and another one exhibited digitally in Milan (Uncharted Territory). I am currently working on solo collection that will be shown in Orlando, but it’s something that is still in the works. Most of my paintings are in new homes, out of state and internationally, so I ship everywhere!

What is your medium of choice and why?

Depends on the piece and the mood I am seeking to evoke. I love using black gesso for dense textures but use oil in dry-brush technique to make realistic black-and white work, making it look like charcoal or graphite. I also use oil for color, especially in realism, but I will sometimes play with acrylic washes. I love mixing textures and styles, almost like a collage without the physical cut-outs. There are moments where you will see all these techniques in one painting (hint: upcoming collection!)

Tell us about your roots. Who/What have been some of your biggest influences?

Ah! So many levels to this answer. I previously mentioned the different fields I have studied, and something they all have in common for me is the human condition. Trying to understand humans, including myself. When I studied that Master’s, I did my thesis on the lack of ethical practices that take place in that field, and I did not want to be part of that. I wanted to help, but even the word “help” is tainted with this savior complex I did not believe in. I had to dig deep inside, and tap into my own confusion, pain, and love to understand that our healing as individuals is what is going to make our world a better place. My biggest influence in my writing and art is connection through healing. Reading, writing, going to therapy, seeing myself raw, and being gentle with myself through the darkness, too. Understanding that we are all mirrors of each other, and maybe finding a way of putting all of this on a canvas so that a little bit of our humanity is felt through it. My biggest influence is the human experience through my lens.

Uncharted Territory, by Lajubu

Do you feel as though your art/writing is evolving? What do you attribute that to?

100% – I attribute it to slowly losing fear and letting go of my own limitations; to stop trying to play it safe. Learning to let go of perfection and surrendering and let loose those parts I’ve always held back. Allowing myself to take up more space, to be expansive and in my truth. It is a very vulnerable and scary journey, and I have a long way to go still. But I have certainly seen huge leaps in the moments where I put my mind aside (as much as my analytical self allows) and let my heart take the brush. I am highly analytical and creative, which is why I use writing, art and dancing as outlets. When I write, it is mostly analytical with some creativity, and when I paint it is slightly more creative than analytical, possibly 55 -45. When I dance, I can let out energy physically, especially when it has been building up, and I allow more freedom in that space. Definitely working on trusting my creativity (self?) more, I really believe it will be an important moment for my art and life.

Potential, by Lajubu

Do you have a collection of work that you’re most proud of? If so, please tell us what it is and why.

Ah! This is probably between two pieces. The first piece of work I was incredibly proud of was “Uncharted Territory”. It was my first attempt at a full-on oil painting. I did a realistic landscape in color and created contrast with the black dry-brush technique for the bodies. The process was very challenging. When I first started, my stomach, hand and jaw started hurting from the amount of tension I was feeling. I was physically experiencing the amount of pressure I was putting myself through because I was tapping into an unknown world for me. It made me realize how much fear I was feeling, so I sat down and meditated. I relaxed, became present and decided to trust myself and the process. It felt magical to witness as the painting progressed when I began to believe in my craft. 

Apart from the process itself, the meaning behind the piece is extremely powerful.  “Uncharted Territory” is a painting that tells the story of the non-linear path of navigating unknown emotional terrain that we have yet to discover, understand, and gain tools from. It is a life-long journey. There will be days in which the viewer might relate more to one body than the other, as we lose or gain clarity in different layers or moments in our lives.  

Now, I would have to say that my latest piece, “Potential” is up there, as well. I originally approached the piece with an idea in mind. It felt extremely ambitious, and I had to set it aside because I felt a huge block. I even had to cover it because looking at it made me feel even more stuck. Almost a year later, I dusted it off and approached it with new eyes. I could see the growth in my technique, in my mental clarity and flow this time around. I enjoyed every part of making this piece of work. I won’t tell you about the meaning behind the piece, but I will tell you that it relates closely to this quote in Glennon Doyle’s book, Untamed: “What we need right now is more women who have detoxed themselves so completely from the world’s expectations that they are full of nothing but themselves.” 

Discovery, by Lajubu

If you could give yourself one piece of advice about the creative journey, what would you say?

Trust the process and surrender to your truth. You make your own reality. Don’t second guess yourself, let the magic seep through and take up space. This quote by Nayyirah Waheed:

 “Creativity keeps the world alive, yet, every day we are asked to be ashamed of honoring it, wanting to live our lives as artists. I’ve carried the shame of being a ‘creative’ since I came to the planet; have been asked to be something different, more, less my whole life. Thank spirit, my wisdom is deeper than my shame, and I listened to who I was. I want to say to all the creatives who have been taught to believe who you are is not enough for this world, taught that a life of art will amount to nothing, know that who we are, and what we do is life. When we create, we are creating the world. Remember this, and commit.” 

Do you keep any of your art or writing just for yourself? Tell us about how you’ve navigated that boundary.

Nayyirah Waheed’s words seem very appropriate for this answer. It is only until very recently that I have begun the journey to explore my entire spectrum. For too long, I held back, almost like a pressure cooker. I felt like I was too much, and that only certain parts should be shown to the world, as to not cause discomfort. Only the “positive” emotions, and up to a certain degree. I categorized and judged feelings as good, bad, acceptable, or not, and put a lid on my potential. 

Through this journey, I have realized that my “too much-ness” is a gift and privilege because it gives me the capability to pour into words and visual art emotions that a lot of people may not have the tools to express. My writing is very raw. I share it openly in the blog on my website because I know that somewhere, out there, it may help someone else feel less alone. Again, we are mirrors. A very lonely feeling or thought feels less so when we realize it is more common that we thought. I also believe we should normalize vulnerability, especially in the one-sided lives that are usually shown on social media. 

As far as my paintings go, I always encourage the viewer to pay close attention to their own interpretation of the piece, for it may hold a valuable message. Just like dreams may. My work is usually accompanied by a small piece of writing/interpretation on the website, but I encourage people to read it after they have given themselves the space. 

What is your writing/artistic process like? Walk us through, step-by-step.

There are two scenarios that inspire a new piece. If a prospective client is interested in a new painting, I ask them to think of what emotion, mood or feeling they want the piece to evoke. After all, it is going to be in their home. They usually share part of their story. I have gotten “resilience”, “surrendering”, “decompression”, all the way to “gratitude” and “adventure”. After that small meeting, I sit with that word, and this is where the connection through healing part takes place, the part where we are mirrors of each other. I interpret this emotion through my own experience, but at the end of the day, it is the same feeling even if the context varies. I find this very beautiful because for some reason, it always coincides with the current personal work I am doing in therapy. When I began working on surrendering in my art, I had to work on a piece that took me on the direction of doing a less-structured technique- and what the client wanted was “intrinsic balance found after letting go”. When I did a piece on “compression to expansion”, I was in the middle of my own expansion. It feels very poetic. After the mood is chosen, I suggest different sizes that go with the space, which is then followed by a composition depending on the shape of the canvas – square, horizontal, vertical, etc. I support other creatives, like dancers and contortionists (although at times I do use my own body), on their Patreon and use them as references. I am a big advocate of showing extreme physical shapes, bending, and angles to portray emotions. This is when I come up with the composition, and once it is approved, I am trusted with my own artistic freedom. It is important to me that my work feels true to me, my style and evolution. The other scenario that inspires new pieces, is when I alone decide the message, like the current collection I am working on which is focused on our relationship with the parts of us we suppress.

Cradled in Ngauruhoe, by Lajubu

Tell us about your life outside of your art. What are your hobbies? What’s your favorite food? Tell us cool stuff about yourself!

Life outside of my art includes contemporary dance from time to time, yoga, reading, learning new languages, and having great conversations. I love learning, I love listening to people’s stories and perspectives. I have backpacked Europe and Southeast Asia, and aside from the gorgeous landscapes, it was the learning that captivated me the most. I have long notes on my phone full of phrases in Khmer, Bahasa, Slovakian, amongst other languages, to try to connect with the locals and have authentic experiences. I really do love humanity, especially the journey taken to access our own light. This is what reinforces my belief that our individual healing brings collective healing, which in turn helps our world be more compassionate. I also looove to dance Latin music, eat delicious food (my mom’s Colombian cooking is the best, I promise I am not biased!). You can typically find me eating at food truck events. I just got engaged to my human, so being on Cloud 9 is a pretty cool thing about myself at the moment! I know everything I have mentioned seems very deep and serious, but I am also a HUGE clown, will randomly imitate Shakira and will dance to the rhythm of anything- including the washing machine (my fiancée is my witness). Basically, I love feeling it all, so at the end of the day I take a big, releasing sigh, feeling grateful, present, and peaceful that I have let it all out.

Learn more about Lajubu Art on their website and Instagram.

On The Shelf by Jordan Adler

Each night before bed










Ordered neatly,

books are the easiest.

I keep them thematically,

descending by preference,

accentuated with trinkets

that each has a place.

And just like the ship in the bottle

the one from Cape Cod

that sits on the shelf with

The Nautical Tales,

the natural place for

the picture of you


on the shelf at the bottom.

The shelf full of memories

I can never bring myself to visit


Stitches by Danielle Segobiano

This piece, this


when we put it

back together

it will never fit the same.

People dying left

and right

of choked out hearts,

breaks that no one

could have predicted.

How are we

meant to heal,

fired up, wanting

to be part

of something

and individual all at once.

Thread the needle,

run it in between

these expectations

the red

the blue

Can we recognize

the things we

see in one another

are the same flaws

we’ve denied seeing

in ourselves.

Central California Ranch by Lawrence Bridges

The Wish of a Falling Star by Nicolas Danner

(the hebrew translation of lucifer is “helel’ meaning “brightness”)

maybe lucifer didn’t fall from heaven

like a stone falls to the bottom of a dark pool

to be forgotten by those who can swim,

maybe lucifer fell like a bright star shot out of the sky

illuminating a place light had never called home.

see, maybe lucifer loved god,

maybe he fell from heaven and descended into hell

hoping god would follow into a paradise lost for only two.

maybe god denied lucifer’s love

for how can a god accept only one angel’s love?

and in doing so broke the heart that burned so brightly

which had given the name to lucifer the angel,

and from the pieces fire no longer came

the brightness gone along with name

and in his fall he found a place

where even a small lonely candle-like flame

could burn bright again.

The Way The Days Talk by Korey Wallace

I am uncertain of soul or



Forklift leaks propane.

Frigid air tumbles from greenhouse roof-lip.

Lifting cobalt blue vase gray haired woman smiles

And tells me to keep lifting those dumbbells.


I am uncertain of love and a bologna sandwich

on multi-grain bread.


Pretentious coffee shop café hustlers in black overpriced sunglasses.

Fire engine snore and grumble.

I watch how agitated the building gets when so few punch in.

Squeaky sneakers on buffed floor.


I am certain I can still see the moon after sunrise-

Grey-white rubbing




Birdbath Ice 1 by Catherine Roberts Leach

Musk Sticks by Damian Robb

     The attic smelt like musk sticks. Golden shafts of light pierced the room, breaking in through the disfigured timber. A creak sounded under Elise’s foot as she braved the first step while the rest of us watched from the splintery stairway. She had a smile on her face. All I felt was fear. Everywhere there were dust motes and spiderwebs, and that smell —  warm and sweet and floral — of musk sticks.

    My grandma didn’t believe in the supernatural. That’s what she told me. She had put the kettle on as she responded to my news of the day. That a girl from school was going to enter a haunted house. I asked her why she went to church every week then? I’d asked the question honestly, not seeing a difference between ghosts and spirits, holy or otherwise. She glowered at me and snapped out a question. Was I being willful or stupid? I looked at my feet, dirty and bare, and as the water began to boil, I replied; stupid.

     Elise had freckles. A clump of them running over her nose to meet her cheeks, like a constant bandaid.

     The trees whipped at me, their leaves fine and sharp. Broken needles crunched beneath my feet as I ran with a mind full of white foggy panic. I hadn’t been the only one to run but I had been the first.

     Elise stood on the pitted statue of the forgotten general and made her proclamation. She would enter the house past the pines. She would go alone, but if anyone wanted to go with her they were more than welcome. Voices mumbled, some called out. Rhea was the loudest. How would we know that she really went if no one else went with her?

     You won’t, Elise replied. Her bandaid of freckles smiled as her mouth did the same.

     The car bumps as I drive back into town. I feel old. I am old. But the town looks older. Its population has dwindled and its small centre now houses mostly empty storefronts. I slow to take it all in. The statue of the forgotten general has had both arms torn away and spray painted across its chest are the words only ghosts live here.

     The bell tingled as I entered the general store. Onions, tomatoes, and broad beans. I repeated the list in my head as I headed to the produce section. Onions, tomatoes, and broad beans. I collected what I needed and went to the counter. Margaret’s lips peeled back to greet me with a smile. My only adult friend. Is it a soup she’s making then? she asked. Onions, tomatoes, and broad beans. I nodded, then asked a question. Do you know anything about ghosts? Margaret knew lots of things about lots of things. Well, I know how they smell, she said. How? I asked. Sweet, she told me. Like musk sticks.

     Most days Maryanne Walker was a calm, warm presence. That day she had been peeled away like an onion until only the raw heart of her remained. Her voice broke like my grandma’s porcelain vase. Where was her daughter? I looked at the faded carpet, not seeing the threads or colours or pattern. Rhea rose to her feet beside me. Hysterical tears ran down her cheeks as she screamed the only honest answer any of us had. We didn’t know.

     I couldn’t see her smile but I knew it was there. That summer’s big feat — a year before houses and attics and musk sticks — was to jump from the look out into the glistening reservoir below. The afternoon sun made her glow. I squinted against it. Elise gave a joyous shout and leapt and as I watched her break into the sky like she was returning to it, I felt a combination of envy and dread and excitement. A complicated braid that left my stomach in knots. She flew into the water, then resurfaced, laughter peeling, somehow still containing the afternoon glow.

     Her empty coffin was made of pine.

     I walk through the woods. I smell pine. Not musk sticks, not yet. The needles have the same crunch as when I fled through here all those summers ago. Margaret, her store now as closed and empty as Elise’s coffin, told me evening was the best time to see them. When the light stretches over the land. Golden hour. The trees part before me, welcoming, and I see the house. It’s bathed in a haunting golden light. I’ve timed it perfectly.

     Rhea was going with her. As were Michaela, and the Oates twins. They talked about it excitedly as ice cream dripped down their fingers. As though it was an adventure story they were partaking in, and not a horror. Fear gripped me from two sides. Be left out? Or go with them? It pressed, squeezing my lungs and heart and ribs. I barely recognised my own voice when it spoke, declaring in a sound just beyond a whisper that I’d go too.

     We were going. Grandma and I. Her old car was rumbling, warming up against the frost of the morning, filling the cold air with the smell of diesel. She said it wasn’t because of what had happened, but it was. The town wasn’t right anymore. It was spoiling. Five months and already it was bruising like an old peach. We weren’t the only ones to leave, but we were the first.

     The stairs are still splintery. The timber still disfigured. The air is still and scentless. It’s only when my eyes start to burn that I realise I’m crying. I don’t know why. If it’s for Elise, who lived, or me, who didn’t. I step forward, a small brave step, and a creak sounds from under my foot. Then she’s there. Eleven years old with a bandaid of freckles over her nose, smiling. And still she glows. That’s when I smell it. Warm and sweet and floral. Musk sticks.

Vices by Christopher Rubio-Goldsmith

I must confess, I have eaten menudo that came

from a can. (The can does not contain

the pata). Father I am so ashamed.


I must confess, when I was a chamaco, at the birthday

fiesta, I peeked under the bandana and swung

away with the mop handle trying to decapitate

the rampaging chivo pinata. I learned that

the pinata assassin usually does not

collect the most dulces.


I must confess, you named the little gato

Owen, but I called him Pedo. He came

to both of our laps. That amused me.


I confess this, if it does not make you cry,

laugh or shake it isn’t worth doing. Yes, some

vices I allow, like beginning a shower

just before I am supposed to leave

the house to visit my parents.


I confess that the Chupacabra is a fairy tale

that migrates over the border like

corridos full of lonely heroes, excess

tequila, and ruptured romances.


How can unresolved truths be helped?


I confess to setting a timer to boil water

for my yerba mate. And I take air baths.


I confess to making a list of my two

faults and placing the list

under my pillow while I sleep.


Nothing shameful about sleeping

past the alarm. Rising early may

break the day into story pieces.

And To Think We Wore Pants by Dianalee Velie

Quite scandalous in 1916, but

what else would you expect us to wear

as we drove our motorcycles

from New York to San Francisco.

The two of us, Augusta and Adeline Van Buren,

sisters and adventurers, wanted to demonstrate

to the United States military we were capable

of serving as dispatchers in the threatening war.

So, we did it, drove our motorcycles cross country,

the first two females to do it solely on our own;

they still didn’t let us enlist after we proved

our stamina. On our journey, we took a side trip

up Pike’s Peak and grand finale drive down

to Tijuana, Mexico, quite the accomplishment

for two women only in their early twenties.

Women motorcyclists will honor us in the future

by duplicating our ride but hopefully will drive

on paved roads and not be arrested for wearing

“men’s clothes.”

Afterlife by Henry Hank Greenspan

Afterlife by Henry Hank Greenspan