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The Circle of Colors

Some people remember past events when they smell a certain food or perfume. Some associate memories with the songs they played over and over again. Others remember their lives as a series of colors.

Grey is the foggy sky at 5:00 in the morning, when you’re racing to the airport. Grey is the road rushing past while your eyes grow tired. Grey is the skid marks left on the ground by your car, in a hurry to get to where it's going. Grey is the mist, the essence of nothing, though still you can see it. Grey is the color of muted hope.

Blue is the winter sky, whether you’re below it or flying through it. Blue is the sea dancing under the horizon, laughing at you and your fear of flying. Blue is your mother’s eyes when she looks at you and you know everything is going to be fine. Blue is the shade of your dreams when you finally fall asleep. Blue is the color of serenity.

Yellow is the heat of a morning frying under the loving gaze of an over eager sun. Yellow is the  sand under your feet when you finally trudge off the dusty tarmac. Yellow is the flash of taxis rushing around you, calling your name as they taunt you with the promise of shade. Yellow is the color of bright stress and barely concealed panic.

Green is the moss growing under the shed door. Green is palm leaves, cut free and sent flying to land at your feet. Green is fresh salad, chopped mint, and baby snakes. Green is the lawn after the first of the monsoon rains. Green is the jungle that starts growing into your gates when you forget to hack it back. Green is caterpillars, parakeets, and monopoly money. Green is the color of beginning again.

Orange is ripening coconuts that drive you mad because they’re not what you imagined. Orange is muddy clay that oozes into your flip-flops during the best monsoon rain. Orange is dahl that’s had far too much tomato sauce added to it. Orange is the wall after it's been painted in the dark, because the power went out. Orange is mango juice and butter chicken. Orange is the color of change.

Pink is the best flowers to bloom after a barely chilled winter. Pink is roads, houses, and cars after they’ve been liberally splashed with powder and paint. Pink is the horizon just as afternoon reaches down to hug the evening. Pink is a dusky sunset, watched through the tint of a child’s sunglasses. Pink is a light sunburn after the best of beach days. Pink is the color of contentment.

White is envelopes and papers covered in words. White is the ticket that tells you when you’ll be leaving. White is a reflection so drained of color that you wonder if you’re a ghost yet. White is the plane that whisks you back across the sky. White is the color of wondering why.

Grey is a foggy sky at 5:00 in the morning, when you’re trundling away from the airport. Grey is the road slipping past while you slowly awake from your slumberous dreams. Grey is the skid marks left on the ground by other cars as they speed past. Grey is the mist, the essence of everything, though few can see it. Grey is the color of tomorrow.

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Who Wrote You?

                Sometimes people remind me of poems. Ones I’ve written, ones I’ve read. I like the ones who make me feel like they were inanimate in a past life: a stanza reincarnated, a song in a new body. There’s a rhythm to such creatures, latent in an action as minute as a blink, but I think it’s noticeable enough if you are watching. We can’t all be poems or songs, but the ones who are, I could listen to all day. They sing, these ones: their blood, their laughter, the music of even a sigh. Little movements, each a poem succinctly.

                “Who wrote you?” I want to ask.

                I spot them on city streets at sunset, during the flux of seasons, summer on the cusp of autumn as the weather gradually mellows, wavering between rain and a steady heat that bears down on me as I take a seat on a worn park bench on a Tuesday evening. There I sit, silent and observing. I like the way they clutch their bags tightly to their chests, carrying an arsenal of mementos: expired Metrocards, assorted identification passes with outdated photographs, a last stick of gum. Summer’s sunglasses now replaced with September’s scarf, soon to be joined by December’s gloves when the air is too nippy to fight with bare hands anymore.

                One such creature leans against a brick wall, a cigarette hanging lopsided out of his bottom lip, the smoke making circles and then dispersing as the wind blows by to carry it on its back. The way he flicks off the little embers is a haiku: a nicotine stick, little droplets of gray ash chased by a coffee. I like the sound of him slurping a Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks. I bet he asked for whip cream. I bet it’s lukewarm by now.

                 Another poem hustles past, one of Bukowski’s Meek looking for an earth to inherit, her footsteps matching the rustles of the leaves that crunch underneath, crisp jigsaws of orange-yellow-greens. She looks like she’s never tasted joy but only day old cheesecake, glasses askew and loose strands of hair coming untucked from behind her ears. Her hand holds a book, maybe non-fiction, maybe a Self Help title on how to break out of a shell others have created for her. I study the way her eyebrows furrow, the image ingrained in my mind’s eye even after she’s already down the block and around the corner. She looks cold, put off by the abruptness of autumn, out of place in a tank top and boots, an ensemble that obviously couldn’t make up its mind in regards to the weather.

                A city bus pulls up across the street and coughs out a swarm of passengers that quickly disband as soon as their feet hit the pavement. One of them has a phone clung to his ear, near enough that I can hear the words falling out of his mouth, desperate tokens. “What do you mean you can’t make it?” he says, heartbroken. “I had it all planned out, you know? We’d go out, and there was this great exhibit at the gallery—no, I know, you hated the last one but this one has completely different features, I just thought we’d…okay. Right, I get it. It’s fine. I’ll just…” He sighs, his voice trailing off. “I’ll go with someone else then.”

                But he won’t go with anyone else. He wanted to go with the him or her on the other line, and in the instant he pouts his lips and proceeds to press the end button on the phone screen, he is now the quintessence of Alone as Poe had written, singular in his love for the gallery, his passions from a spring no one else ventures to drink from. The phone is chucked into his pocket and his eyes water ever so slightly as he leans against the pole of the street light. I watch his eyes as they follow a young couple, the woman of the pair indeed looking like the meaning of a moon, her lipstick evenly applied and shimmering in the twilight, her arms loosely wrapped around a smooth gentleman with slicked hair who can’t seem to take his eyes off her face or his hands off her heart, which he so diligently carries to and fro just as Cummings scribed.

                They pass by gaily, laughter like jingling wind chimes erupting out of their mouths wide-opened and mocking. I drink in the envious tone of his eyes as he glowers at them. I lament the fact that strangers can take another’s love so personally. But then again, I understand it. Around this time, what with Halloween—an occasion that gives way to new identity, if only temporarily—so near, followed by the succession of other holidays that emphasize companionship and family, it is only natural to find oneself blindly clawing the air for a self or a purpose or a significant other. We each seem to turn up empty-handed, finagled out of love by a fraud of a God we only believe in come December.

                But in the Spring, I will remember you, I think. Now I gather my things and shuffle around in hopes of drawing his attention but he notices not. I am, too, a poem. I am the stanza of Audre Lorde, bidding you sit beside me, silent as a breath. I beg that you come softly, that you look into my eyes and understand me on a level unaccomplished by anyone else. “Take me to the gallery,” I want to say. But I am silent. “Sit beside me,” I want to plead. But you will not. I sit here, wishing to show you what sorrow sees, for I have been watching it all. I want to ask if you remember your first life as a Sunday’s stanza, forgetting that, indeed, only those who stay dead shall remember Death.

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The Future Readers (Full Story Version: 2)

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Michal’s A Jerk: A Work Of Genius

“Jesus Chri—,” she said. She was usually pretty contained. Not today, apparently.

“What in the hell,” the door slammed, “are paper balls doing all over the floor, Gabriel!” Her questions were usually rhetorical, too. 

“I got bored.” Gabriel tore another page from the phone book, rolled it in his hands. “Relax, Mike, relax. Watch this though.” He tossed the ball lightly between his hands before going up for the shot. “For three!” he shouted. A beautiful roll from the fingertips, his form was perfect as always, the waste basket in the kitchen on the other side of the apartment shivered at the thought.

“Gabriel.” A stiff breeze kicked up. Gabriel’s shot turned suddenly and landed in the sink. The rest of the paper balls flew around the room, landing in cups, jars of peanut butter, the snake cage, bookshelves, open drawers, bowls, and the Devil’s litter box.

“Dammit, Michal. I was gonna win the game with that one, too.” He sat back down on the couch, pouted for a second, then flopped onto the pillows and faked sobs. Really faked them. Plenty of practice.

“Clean this up right now,” Michal demanded. “It looks like a damned playground ball pit here. That’s, what, two and a half feet thick? No, you moro—” Gabriel sat up, snatched a smoke stick, held up his thumb, and blew on it. A little purple flame sprouted from the tip. He lit the stick and took a long inhale. “You trying to burn the place down?” she said. “Again?”

“Relax, man,” he said on exhale, pulling the S’s of the X out one at a time. “Nothing’s going to happen, you know that. Quit it and go grab a beer. You need it, buddy.”

Michal clenched her teeth and shuff shuff shuffed her way to the fridge. As she pulled it open, the Devil sprang out with a yowl and ran to the door. “You locked him in the fridge again?” The Devil rubbed up against the door and it creaked open just enough for him to get out. “When will he learn to close it behind him,” she muttered. “You know something, Gabe?”

“Yes, dearest?” He flashed a charming, devious, and completely disarming smile at her.

“You and the Devil were made for each other.” She pulled out a beer and closed the door. A torrential downpour opened from the ceiling and soaked Gabriel to the marrow.

“You ffff—” he began, standing up quickly and almost knocking over the coffee table. “Michal!”

She smiled. “What? I heard the weather today was supposed to be kind of unpredictable.”

“But not on the couch!” Gabriel scrambled around, pulling things off the couch, shaking them dry, tossing them to the other couch, then blowing the couch dry as well. “And my pants!” He groaned, a pure noise, one he didn’t make very often. “I love these pants,” he said, brushing water from his legs. The droplets boiled and evaporated before hitting the floor. “I swear, Michal, when He hears about this, He’s going to rip you a new one. You’re no damn fun at all.”

“When He hears about it?” she laughed. “Gabey baby, don’t you remember we got kicked out?” She paused and a ponderous look came over her face. “In fact, we all did. I wonder who He has running the place now. Hopefully not Ram, she makes too much noise.”

“Yeah, well,” Gabriel grabbed another smoke and lit it. “I’m putting it in my book.”

“You have a book?” She perched on the arm of the couch and took a long drink.

“Yeah, a book,” he said. “Of all the mean crap you do to me. It’s called ‘Michal’s A Jerk: A Work Of Genius.’ It’ll sell millions, I tell you.”

“Don’t be such a wimp and clean this mess up.” She held out her hand and the cigarette leapt from Gabriel’s fingers to hers. “And no smoking until it’s done,” she continued, and took a deep inhale.

“I swear, Mike, if you weren’t such an angel, I’d—” Gabriel stopped. They looked at each other briefly before bursting into laughter. “Damn, you know what?” He bent down, picked up several paper balls, and shot each one successively into the waste basket. “I think I’m getting used to this. Especially the booze.” He grabbed his beer from the coffee table and held it up. “Cheers, Mike.”

“Cheers,” she said. They exchanged that particular kind of smile and drank. “So, what’s the Devil been up to today, eh?”

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Looking to the sky

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“Somewhere down the line we forgot what it was like to be a star.”

What I remember best about spring is Dalton Fenwick’s poem, which Dalton Fenwick read aloud. He’d titled it “Somewhere down the line we forgot what it was like to be a star,” and it predicted the future of every boy in Mr. Morten’s eleventh grade English class. People looked at him funny when he recited more than five lines, and then at me when he read “Otto Summerland—eating up time / typewriter king, fucked-up little thing / made out of gold and nobody knows.” Some girls giggled when the poem foretold Mike Gore fucking five of them—no one knew which five—and Tommy Gallais got excited because he’d get to see California at last.

 

Those were just the eye-widening stanzas. Teases. What really made us gasp was the end, where Dalton wrote about Ben Willoughby and Andrew Nickelby dying. Willoughby would get hit by a car, and Nickelby would drown in a pool. Everyone sort of laughed and shifted uncomfortably and then clapped, and while I don’t think anyone took Dalton seriously, his words were weird enough to land him a meeting with the school psychologist.

 

After class, I told Dalton that I thought his poem was brilliant. No one anticipated a poem like that from a basketball player, especially a good one; at most, we’d expected a haiku. He smiled and said he’d inherited God’s teeth. He ran a hand through his strawberry hair. “Did you like the part about you?” he asked. I told him I did. He smiled wider. “Do you want to know how I came up with it?” I told him I did. He punched me in the shoulder.

 

 

For a time after, all people talked about was how messed up Dalton’s poem was. I guess we all thought he was stupid, like some animal or some statue. A thing that played with a ball to amuse us.

 

Well, something happened to prove us wrong—Dalton was on to something with that poem of his. One night, a car without headlights turned a corner and smashed into Ben Willoughby head-on, killing him.

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In the Twilight of a Dying World (Short Story Excerpt)

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