Tuesday, June 4, 2013


We kissed in the dark and I couldn’t see your face and I liked it that way. We kissed and held hands and shared swigs of Ciroc straight from the bottle as we walked up and down 122nd street. We kissed in the backseat with the streetlights making streaks against our closed eyelids. I trailed my hand between your legs and bit my lip as you texted your girlfriend to make sure she wasn’t home.

I was stunned, so incredibly stunned by how much I missed kissing you. I didn’t think I missed anything about you, really, but when I grabbed you there in the dark and pulled you towards me and heard that familiar little moan that always follows kissing you, it sparked something in me that had long since turned to ash. Your breath on my face as you chuckled against my lips made me wonder, did you feel it, too?

The hand-holding should have been a clue. You never really held my hand before, told me so many times how much you hated when couples did that and how pressured your girlfriends always made you feel to do it, so when we were walking through Central Park and you tangled your fingers between mine I should have known that tonight would be all about going back on what you used to say.

You told me once that you were incapable of cheating, didn’t you?

We held hands and kissed and shared swigs of Ciroc straight from the bottle as we walked up and down 122nd street. We kissed in the backseat of a cab with the streetlights making streaks against our eyelids. I didn’t think I missed you and I still think I don’t, but there was something about grabbing you in the dark and pulling you towards me and hearing that breathy little chuckle that comes after your kiss; that something made me wonder if you can taste nostalgia, if you can kiss a memory, if ‘remember when’ always has to stay buried in the past and can’t sometimes bubble up like champagne, just as sweet and effervescent and intoxicating and just as fleeting, too.

We kissed in the dark and I couldn’t see your face and I liked it that way.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Easter Cloth

My grandmother Betsey inked the white linen with the teardrop petals of bulbous red flowers and lettering fettered in a thick chain stitch. The once-red ink from her pen had turned a brick-brown by the time it came into my hands, the third generation of Gombos to add stitches to the altar cloth. I was ten; she was gone.

I don’t know why she never finished the altar cloth. I’ve never asked my father if she started it too early before her death to have the time, or if it was simply the rigors of raising her children while also trying to feed them which stole those hours from her. I only knew that it had passed unfinished to my father, and, unfinished, he had passed it along to me.

Looking at the cloth, it was impossible to tell where Betsey’s stitches ended and my father’s began. I wonder if she had taught him the craft herself; I imagine them together, in the dimly-lit house in Bridgeport I’ve never seen. She demonstrates practice stitches on a piece of scrap fabric and a younger version of my father copies the movement; the needle finding or creating a hole, the way it dips under one side and raises from the other like opening a vein, the red thread spurting outwards and upwards, trailing after the needle before she pulls it taught, and that’s a stitch. I wonder if she spoke to him while she did it, or if it was just a process of demonstrate and repeat. I wonder what tone of voice she used- quiet and understanding or stern and harsh or if she conversed jovially and didn’t discuss his efforts at all. I wonder if she had a thick Hungarian accent or a barely-perceptible one or none at all.

I wonder sometimes what her voice sounded like, what her perfume smelled like, what her arms felt like around me. I wonder if I would even recognize a picture of her if I saw one.

When I looked at the cloth I would mostly look at it in sections, only one cell of the grid at a time. But sometimes - only very rarely - I lay the entire thing out before me on my bed like a body on a marble slab and did a visual autopsy of it. My hands brushed the underbelly, ragged with knots, and bent close to try and see the tiny holes where the needle punctured the cloth skin. I examined the words - “Happy Easter!” and their Hungarian counterpart - forcing myself to commit them to memory and feeling so certain that I had succeeded and I would never forget them. Now when I try to recollect them I’m grasping at straws. I remember a capital “H”, a word which ended in “i”, a handful of accent marks over vowels I can no longer place.

Sitting alone in my bedroom, I tried vainly to recreate what I saw before me with no one to guide my needle or show me the stitches. I finished the last two petals of a five-pointed flower which had probably been begun before my birth. Betsey’s and my father’s petals were indistinguishably perfect; mine were small and lumpy with a puckered look to them which I could never really fix. More often than not I would throw the thing back in the metal box in my closet, some dumb container I had bought from the mall which happened to be the perfect size for the cloth and its needles and threads (so perfect it didn’t even rattle noisily when picked up or, really, let you know at all that something was inside it), and I would promptly forget it existed for months or years at a time.

Unfortunately, throwing useless things in the shadowy recesses of my bedroom was a habit of mine which my mother didn’t like. When I moved away to college it wasn’t uncommon for me to come home on a weekend to find my room rearranged and clutterless and a trash bag in my parents’ car bound for a donation center or the dump. Clothing I never wore, broken umbrellas with sentimental value, and preteen impulse buys were the typical offenders. It never really occurred to me to appraise what she had declared valueless and so the bags often went off unchecked or without much more than a quick glance in.

It was probably years of shrinking possessions and cleared-out burdens before I realized the scope of what these actions could mean. I thought I had nothing of real value. Then one day, while thinking about my newly-cleaned closet, fear made my heart pump water through my veins. I hadn’t seen the metal box since high school, maybe earlier. It had contained the only thing my grandmother and I had ever both touched, the one piece of Hungary that I had ever held with my own hands. When I asked them about it, my mother and father looked at me with blank faces and asked, “What box?” Nobody knew what happened to it, and I was so heartbroken and embarrassed at having been so careless that I’ve never told them what was in it. They’ve probably forgotten the whole thing.

Maybe it was for the best. Even if I ever finished it, what would we really do with a hand-embroidered altar cloth? My father would try to put it out on the table under a vase of flowers for Easter dinner. My mother - the American mutt with so many ethnicities that they almost cancelled each other out (Welsh and Scottish and Irish and a little bit of English and maybe even a touch of French, if you went far enough back) - would balk at the idea and demand it be framed and hung somewhere like an artifact in a museum, lovely to look at but too sacred to actually use.

I wonder what Betsey would have done with it - probably donated it to a church like the  Byzantine Catholic one we’d gone to when I was young, where everything was golden and deep blood-red and smelled of strong, heady incense. My father would lift me up to kiss the icon of Jesus in the middle of the aisle when my parents went up for communion and I walked along at his side. The eucharist, sweet challah bread soaked in a goblet of red wine, spooned onto their tongues by a priest singing in Hungarian. I can picture the altar cloth under that tablet of Jesus and his disciples, the one which all the children in the parish kissed when we went up for communion. I wonder if Betsey pictured it there, too.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Death of August: the Funeral

            Even though everyone must die and all lives will eventually come to an end, the months were collectively shocked when August's funeral was announced. On that bright day, with sunlight streaming through the chapel and the unweeded flowerbed of attendees in black pressing in on all sides, the eleven of them were, with bowed heads, reliving the moment they had heard the news. It had been early afternoon for April, and he was in a marijuana daydream as he tapped a drumstick rhythmically on a cymbal in his bedroom. June had her hands around the neck of a pink-tipped rose, and the just-opening blossom fell to the grassy ground when the shears slipped in her surprise. Nobody knew how to tell little January; though he wasn't close to August, there was the messy business of death to explain, which is always confusing for a child but is even more convoluted for the eternal months. November sighed over a mug of chai tea and pretended it was the steam that made her eyes wet. She was used to death, of course; it was part of her nature, but August had been well-loved by all, despite his impetuousness and the sand that seemed to seep from his pores for how he tracked it everywhere. November wouldn't miss the sand, she thought, sitting there in the pew.

            July took it hardest of all. When he was just a child, in his own first days of life, August had seemed like some type of sage, with his bushy white beard over a tanned face crinkled with white smile lines, always holding a beer, seeming to never change out of swim trunks. Every question young July came up with, August not only had an answer to, but could tell you when it happened and who did it and how his old war buddy, was it Sal, or was it Clive, one of 'em, you know what, he knew the guy who did it, and the guy's favorite tea was chamomile and he had it at his last meal in the jailhouse before, well, ya know. July didn't know, not at that age, but he would nod pensively and wrinkle his brow to make it look like he was thinking deeply on the affects of, well, ya know, and August would snicker and toss him some candy worms from the packet he always seemed to have in his pocket.

            When he had gone up to the casket, July had tucked a paper packet of gummy worms next to him, under his arm, like he was clutching the sweets to him the way he'd clutch yesterday's newspaper.


            The wake seemed to last all day. So many eulogies were read that July had trouble telling the speakers apart, which was a shame, really, because the most interesting of attendees were present. Zephyr had arrived early and stayed all afternoon, making her rounds along the perimeter of the funeral parlor (it had been said that once, long ago, August and Zephyr had been lovers, in his war days, and you could see it every so often in the way he'd look at her, like there was something deeper and lovelier and harsher than envy when he noticed her eternal youth over the big white beard he'd acquired, but their friendship was as sweet as the summer breeze and they were great company for everyone they knew); the warm, dust-scented sunlight filtered through the stained glass and warmed the bald spots of the saints depicted therein (everyone knew the sun was August's first friend, even those who knew nothing at all about either of them; the quiet calm with which they say together on August's concrete patio and drank beers or read yesterday's paper or just sat in quiet enjoyment of each other radiated a familiarity that transcended words); around noon a tempest sailed in, harsh and boisterous and full of mourning, and was gone as quickly as he had come (the tempest and August had had a strange relationship, full of drunken shouting and stony silence, yet they relied on each other; clocks could be set by the regularity of their meetings, and no matter how the neighbors feared it, it was clear that their time together was cathartic for the almost-always-cheerful August); and such a vast array of others that the room seemed a patchwork quilt. All of them had a single thread of commonality that joined them there: they were radiating the love, joy, and eternal wonder characteristic of everyone August had surrounded himself with. Sitting in that room with them, despite their grief, was like sitting in a room with your closest friends and dearest family members, even if you had never met them before.

            But July still found himself unable to relax. He was constantly doing something- when he wasn't out on the porch with a cigarette, he was biting his nails or running his fingers through his hair or fiddling for something in the pocket of his leather jacket. He slouched low in his chair, legs  stretched out before him, arms crossed, glaring at his cuticles; he sat up straight, turned to the clock at the back of his room, watching the hands flick seconds emotionlessly to the wayside, his arm slung over the back rest; his palms pressed against his forehead, elbows on his knees, staring blankly at his own lap. The sky was darkening; how long had they been there, and how long until he could go home? Though sleep seemed decades away, he thought longingly of his bed, where he could pull a pillow over his head and pretend he was a little boy again. He realized that the yellow light from August's porch would, for the first time in memory, not be striping his sheets through the blinds, and the thought made him feel both darkly hollow and full of water at the same time.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Antonia Shimerda and Jim Burden: Two Parts of a Georgic Whole

In discussing the Georgic tradition, Seija Paddon says that the Georgic farmer “has both the philosopher’s comprehension of nature and its workings, as well as the determination an inner resourcefulness of a heroic warrior” (74). This can be applied to My Antonia, and especially to both the characters of Antonia and Jim as embodying these two different attributes. Sensitive, poetic Jim clearly fills the role of philosopher, with his scholarly nature and his attitude on education, whereas rough-around-the-edges Antonia comes to embody the warrior due to the pressure of helping to provide for her family on the harsh Nebraska prairie.

Jim lives inside his own head from the very beginning; in the very first chapter, he spends the train ride reading and eschews socializing with “the Bohemian family” whom he will soon befriend. When Mr. Shimerda beseeches Jim to teach Antonia English, Jim obeys with an immediate interest, showing the importance he places on education. On page 97, when he tries to press Antonia to go to school, it is clear that he has not even realized that school and learning both are a privilege; to him, they are simply a necessity of life.

This contrasts sharply with the harsher necessities of Antonia’s life. As an immigrant, it is immediately necessary for her to help out with farm work both for her own family and as a hired hand. She easily drops the gender roles Jim feels she should possess, losing, as his Grandmother says, “all her nice ways and [getting] rough ones” (99); however, for her, it is not a choice. Just as Jim cannot live without school, for Antonia, a life without heavy farm work is inconceivable. She has an amazing ability for coping with everything from her father’s death to not being able to pursue the education she desires; she allows herself to mourn these things as is shown in the tears she sheds over not being able to attend school on page 97, but she does not allow these truths to dampen her tenacity. She is driven and strong, and does not allow the difficulties of life to keep her from doing the work that is necessary for her family’s survival.

Jim’s desire to learn and think, in contrast with Antonia’s drive to accomplish the physical necessities of prairie life, both combine and play off of each other to fit Paddon’s definition of the Georgic farmer. Without Antonia, Jim would simply be a smart country boy bound for greater things. Without Jim, Antonia would be just another illiterate immigrant whose family was lucky that by fifteen she could do a man’s work in the field. Together, however, they become an interesting, compelling pair who truly embody Paddon’s definition of the Georgic farmer: one part philosopher, played by Jim, and one part warrior, a role which Antonia seems born to fill.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Snippet: Youth-level Horror Story

Prompt: Write the first few paragraphs of a horror story for young adults.

Have you ever had that feeling like someone was walking behind you, watching you? Usually it’s when you’re alone in the dark in a hallway with lots of open, dark doors, or a street you don’t know when the power’s not quite right and the streetlights are flickering like they’re blinking back tears. You slow down and speed up and no matter what you do, you can hear their footsteps matching yours beat for beat, and every time you try to glance them when you pass a window or mirror, all you see is the wall behind you. You know there can’t be anyone there- it’s totally illogical and massively improbable, but you also know what you feel, and at that moment it seems like you’ve never been more aware of anything in your whole, entire life.

That’s kind of how it feels to be me, except not only in the dark and scary places. For me, it’s also in the hallway at school or the mall or the grocery store or the movies. No matter where I’m going, it always feels like I’m being followed by something I can’t see, that’s always gone whenever I turn around to look at it. For me, all those paranoid little feelings you get when you’re walking alone and you’re scared, the ones you don’t let yourself think about, the ones that seem silly when you’re back safe in bed or have the front door safely latched against your back - all of those feelings you say aren’t real? Well, maybe they aren’t for you.

Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

An Allegory for Falling Out of Love

One day we woke up, and there were no secrets anymore.

It wasn’t that they disappeared; the old secrets were still around, and, ghost-like, we could still hear them whispering behind our ears and see them flitting at the corners of our vision, but we found ourselves unable to create new ones. It was sudden and jarring, and it made both of us feel uneasy for the whole day. Maybe tomorrow will be different, we said. Maybe tomorrow we’ll have new secrets

But then tomorrow became yesterday and the day before yesterday and last week and two months ago and longer and longer ago, and the secrets never came back. The old secrets, like lovers whose hearts were discarded before their bodies, still trailed their tendrils over our arms and rested their cheeks against our shoulder blades and begged us not to tire of them, but it was no use. Their breath was stale on our skin; their hands were ice against our cheeks; their kisses belonged to corpses. We hated them for staying, even though we knew there was nothing else to take their place.

And then one day, even the old secrets were gone. Now all we’re left with is the heartless stone-and-metal cell of truth, and we’ve finally realized that even if the secrets were old and boring and stale, they were our secrets. And now we realize that all we have is nothing, because what are we without our secrets?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Snippet: Cain and

Snippets are pieces of writing, some of which have corresponding stories behind them but most of which are one-shots of a few paragraphs or less, which popped into my head basically exactly as they are displayed here. They cover or fill basically every writable surface of my life - Moleskins, napkins, the backs of receipts - and some of them which I find long enough, formed enough, or just interesting enough will make it here.

Cain and

Abel's eyes were red and his hair smelled sour and his manner was vacant. Cain felt the rage swell in his chest as it so often did when he saw his brother, the eternal fuck-up but still somehow their parents' golden boy. He bit his tongue to dull the anger.

He'd been biting his tongue every day, some days once or twice but usually almost constantly, for longer than his memory served him. At night when he couldn't sleep, he'd run the scales of scabs around the inside of his mouth and wait for the outburst he couldn't bite away.