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Join us in celebrating our thirtieth issue with a full lineup that includes, poetry, fiction and nonfiction.

We know how fortunate we are to be part of such a strong community of women writers – and to have the privilege to promote freedom of expression.

The thirty-first issue of damselfly press will be available April 15th, 2015. If you’d like to submit, please first visit our guidelines section and send us your submission by March 15, 2015.

As always, thank to you to all of our submitters.

Congratulations to Leonore Hildebrandt, whose book of poetry, The Next Unknown, was published by Pecan Grove Press (2014). Her poetry appeared in our twelfth issue (July 2010).

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Planters at Dusk

Listen to the Poem

In rice fields, rows of inverted U-shaped shadows rise one by one, stretch arms, straighten backs, twist waists, first left, then right and left again, like graceful ballerinas.

Stiff from planting and patting rice saplings, the women look at the sky, now gray-blue. Chased by breeze, scarves of cotton candy clouds sweep sari palloos into balloons. They turn to each other, burst into chatter, the long day’s silence shattered.

Slowly, they walk to dryer land, wipe their feet, break out in twos and threes, set out for home, looking back ─ one long last look as shadows drown their day’s work.

Still, work’s not done. There’s rice to boil, lentils to spice, children to bathe, men to serve, and only when the pot is scraped, each warm ellipsoid grain eaten, dishes washed and beddings laid, will they stop and taste the starry night.

- Lalita Noronha is a widely published scientist, poet, writer, editor, and a two-time Pushcart nominee. Author of a short story collection, Where Monsoons Cry, and a poetry chapbook, Her Line Phyllo-thin, she has won the Maryland Literary fiction award twice, an Individual Artist Award, and other awards.

 

FORBEARANCE

When the morning is darkest
we are roused by the birds
in the plum tree. I pull him
from the bed, beg him accompany
me to watch the egrets wake
in the cypress from the mist-veiled
cliff. I want to teach him forbearance,
point to the flowers that have appeared
along the path to the cove—
new irises have broken through
the soil, having burst from winter
hiding. I picture him leaning over
a shallow pool at ebb tide to touch
a slimed blade of kelp, his earlier
stubbornness dispelled. I imagine
I would not feel victory. I’d have
been impassioned by the way he
delicately gathered a fingerling
in his palm to show me forgiveness.
He sees things for what they are,
and nothing more. I’d have given
my hands that he might recognize
humility standing beside the sea,
the enormity of it before him.

 

PULSE

Listen to the Poem

Eating blue mussels
from the perfect domes
of their shells, you twist
a slice of orange into
the foam of your beer.
We argue over the height
of the bridge above the
Noyo River. The water
is like concrete, you say.
I believe someone would
survive. As if I had yielded,
I sat silently regarding
a woman’s leap from
the Golden Gate, the
monstrous voice that
told her to jump. From
across the table, you
place your hand on mine.
I feel the wild coursing
of your pulse, the proof
of our lives in our hands.

- Bri Bruce is an editor, graphic designer, and publisher from Santa Cruz, California. With a bachelor’s degree in writing from UC Santa Cruz, her work has previously appeared in The Sun Magazine, The Soundings Review, and The Monterey Poetry Review, among others. Bruce is the award-winning author of The Weight of Snow.

 

My Name

means floating above water. It is the glint
of morning on the waves, its letters curved

fish hooks or sharp question marks.

It is not my grandmother’s name
and there is no story. At least it’s not

Anastasia with its billowing skirts of velvet.

I’m not princess of anything.
My name is blue ink, a sailor’s tattoo.

My name is a swallow crossing oceans.

It hugs the belly of a wooden ship, lashed
in place by thick ropes. It’s a name like Lilith

or Alice, a name like a rowboat dropped

from that ship. A new-territory name. My name
is a sweating bottle of champagne, smashed:

shards of glass meeting their reflections.

- Stacey Balkun received her MFA from Fresno State. Her work has appeared in Muzzle, THRUSH, Bodega, Weave, and others. She is a contributor for The California Journal of Women Writers. In 2013, she served as Artist-in-Residence at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She lives in New Orleans.

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Out There

I’m nine and hidden behind a bowl cut. It’s the hottest summer we’ve had in Oxford for as long as I can remember, a heat filled with thick, dripping afternoons and the rattle of a million cicadas. I’m not one for sunscreen, which is why my skin is yellow-brown and feels like pebbles to the touch. I spend a lot of time outside chasing everything that comes my way: the twins from the apartment building next door, lightning bugs at night, a white rabbit with red eyes. I am a terrible mixture of bug spray and rancid tennis shoes.

This summer is special and infinitely better than all summers before it. That’s because our apartment complex just got a new play-scape. You’re probably picturing a nice, cookie-cutter apartment community with gates—but that’s not what it is at all. In reality, our “complex” is just a cluster of old apartment buildings for international student housing on the University of Mississippi campus. These five shabby brick buildings are an ugly sight next to the creamy white fraternities just down the street. I like to spy on the boys who live there—men in my mind. I memorize and crave the things they have: Pastel shorts, thick leather belts, bold voices that twang and rumble. They’re not afraid to laugh out loud and bare their teeth. I admire their careless freedom and the foreign colors on their bodies. I admire their broad shoulders. They’re always so brave, these Americans.

Our apartment complex is filled with a bunch international kids like me. There’s Gabby and Charlie, twin Filipino girls three years younger than me. Their dad is white and divorced, so he lets us watch movies like Dracula, Titanic and Worms whenever I go over to play. There’s also Ping Ping, an older Chinese girl who wears pigtails all the time. She is the leader of our “group” and likes to make me cry. Mary, another Chinese girl with big teeth and even bigger glasses, who obsesses over a thriller series about a cat detective. Henoc, an African boy my parents don’t trust, and Jay Dogan, a blond boy with an angelic face and icy eyes. He wears a bracelet with beads that spell out “WWJD” and sometimes tries to choke me for fun. There’s John Song, a Chinese boy who just moved in a few months ago. I made him show me his penis once, and laughed wildly while he cried. Finally, there’s my best friend Kelly Lin, a Chinese girl like me who lives in the apartment unit diagonally below ours.  Her mom, like mine, is a graduate student in computer science at Ole Miss.

It’s peaceful, our happy lives as children of immigrants. We know that we are “WaiGuoRen” (outsiders) here, but this temporary home feels real. The world is at our doorsteps, just outside our frayed screen doors. We are a community of plastic plates, secondhand furniture, and rubber-banded coupons for Dominos’ “Buy 1 Get 1 Free” deals. We are the children of a blistering hope and sacrifice—and we don’t even know it.

Our parents disappear into the big university buildings during the day and leave us without babysitters (mainly because they can’t afford them). So we create our own version of Oxford, one where our morals are dictated by the rules of Freeze Tag and Hide and Seek. We cup dragonflies and grasshoppers in our hands, sometimes squashing them without meaning to when we’re too excited. We luxuriate on swing sets and smack on honeysuckles. We nap on beds of yellow pine needles and earthworms, and climb the flowering magnolia trees when we want to feel big.

We are salty and sticky. The world is marvelous.

We are, all of us, so very happy. We are, I think, American.

* * *

Kelly Lin is my age. She has big, droopy eyes with long lashes, and her cheeks bulge out like she’s always got grapes in her mouth.  Kelly is also very smart—much smarter than me. She’s the first in our class to memorize all the multiplication tables (which is why she can get away with always being the Banker whenever we play Monopoly).

I’m different, and I like keeping it that way. I’m always the Prince when we play Princesses, the boy dog, husband, or boyfriend when we play house. I make ugly faces at skirts, dresses and ridiculous hair ties. My body is a tangled landscape of scrapes and bruises; proud badges of whatever war I had been fighting in the deep trenches of our backyard. Our friends call me “the freak,” but I don’t mind—at least I’m not soft and girly.

Kelly is, though. She’s pristine, and she’s also good at things like handwriting, cursive, and art. Stuff the parents and teachers talk about and compliment. She wears dresses with ruffles on the sleeves and bows at the waist. Instead of the typical Asian bowl cut, she wears her hair in a sleek ponytail. It shoots down the back of her head like a black waterfall.

Kelly is also fat. So whenever my mom or our teachers praise her neat handwriting or nice, unbitten fingernails, I think of her bulbous cheeks, her fleshy forearms, and her tender legs. At least I’m better than her in one sacred, important way: at least I’m not fat. So what if Kelly gets better grades than me? I can run faster, climb higher, and slip through holly bushes without getting my skin caught on the pointy ends. Kelly always comes out with tiny red stitching down the chubby blocks of her arms. How embarrassing for her.

Kelly’s fatness becomes a real problem one night when we’re goofing off in the bathroom. Mom is at one of her night seminars and dad is staying late at work. This leaves Kelly and me on our own—something we’re gleefully used to by now.

We play with Barbies as usual, one of my favorite games. I had acquired quite a collection over the years: Cynthia the dirty plastic blond with no bangs (I accidentally cut them off), Mulan the Asian Barbie with flat feet and two wigs, Ashley the All-American with big breasts and a colorful dress, and Ken the token male—victim to all my sexual exploration. Poor Ken, with his comically enhanced abs and muted man parts.

I bring my newest addition and current favorite out to show Kelly: Serena the Ballet Barbie. She isn’t like the other Barbies I’ve encountered—her socketed shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and feet rotate in every direction, making her one of the most fun to play with. Her hair is an elaborate bun that resembles icing on a cake, and she wears painted pointe shoes instead of the usual rubbery tiptoe feet.

Most of all, I like her hands. They’re effervescent and lovely, exactly the way a real ballerina’s hands would be. Her delicate fingers fan out like a bird taking flight. And despite my determination to look the part of a tomboy, I secretly want to be like her hands.

Kelly likes her too, I can tell. She cradles Serena in her lap and bends her limbs every way, ooh-ing and ah-ing every time the doll hits a new position. Serena looks at home with Kelly, as if she belongs to her and not me.

“I’m bored. Let’s play Hot Lava Monster.” I yank Serena out of her hands. I feel strangely jealous, and I don’t know why.

The rules of Hot Lava Monster are simple: the floor is covered in lava. If you touch it, you’ll die. So we take our game to the bathroom. I climb on top of the sink and step onto the little wooden stool mom keeps next to the toilet seat. Kelly crouches on the toilet seat.

“Look what I can do!” I leap from the stool to the bathtub, wrapping my hands around the shower rod before my feet touch the bathtub edge. I dangle off the rod in glee.

“Let me try,” Kelly says.

I laugh meanly. “No, we’ll be too heavy!”

It’s too late. She propels towards me, and miraculously, she makes it. We hang in the air for a second as her triumphant breaths fill the room.

Then CRACK! The shower rod snaps in two, and we’re crashing to the floor. My hands slap the cold tile floor—not hot lava—as we land in a cacophony of limbs and girlish screams.

Mom is furious when she gets home.

“Goodnight, Kelly,” she says through tight lips, schoolbag still on her shoulder. Kelly obeys, flashing me an apologetic glance as red unfurls across her soft cheeks.

Mom waits until the sound of Kelly’s quick footsteps disappears. The air is brittle between us. Then she lays me facedown on the bed and uses the belt until our neighbors tap on the wall. As the leather thwacks against me, all I can think about is Kelly’s heavy breathing on that shower rod. I see her fat, useless body, and I hate her. She must have felt so triumphant for such a fat little girl! Every time I cry out, I feel my rage harden. I hate her!

We also go on a lot of adventures, like stealing into the backyards of campus buildings and ravaging their honeysuckle bushes. We lap at the thin fibers for a sweetness we can almost taste, and leave behind a crime scene of wrinkled petals and naked shrubs.

When the honeysuckles wilt and the groundkeepers complain, Kelly and I find a pipe spanning the deep ravine behind our elementary school. It reminds us of a black snake with a rusted bronze underbelly and sooty scales. One heroic weekend in July, we sit on top of the pipe and scoot our way across with our hands and bony butts. We emerge from the woods with dark palms and smeared shorts, crowns of sweat adorning our foreheads. Our friends are jealous and our parents are too exasperated to hit us. We don’t care, because we sat on top of a pipe and called it ours.

It’s a friendship you can’t expect to explain. It’s our lives, bound by Oxford and the things we did out there.

* * *

We’re all taking piano lessons by the end of summer. The virus starts with Ping Ping. Her mom tells the others that Ping Ping is learning to play more advanced pieces than most girls her age. Soon, Mary is enrolled in a summer music camp with piano concentration. She doesn’t come out to play with us anymore, instead buried in sheet music and her cat books. Gabby and Charlie’s dad gets them an electric piano as a sort-of joke.

Kelly and I end up with the same private teacher: Mrs. Wang, a tight-lipped piano professor at the Ole Miss School of Music. She teaches in her spare time and charges $40 an hour. I don’t know how my parents afford it—and they never let me forget that they can’t.

All I know is that it’s unfair. We’ve been transformed from a raucous bouquet of wildlings to obedient little pianists glued to wooden benches. All of a sudden, posture is important. Our moms cluck their tongues to a set tempo—our own bizarre human metronomes—and dream of the grand pianos they’ll buy when they have bigger apartments and more money.

I am furious. I don’t want to go to the music school every day and practice for an hour. I don’t want to see Mrs. Wang and suffer her criticisms about my sloppy, erratic playing. I want to be outside climbing trees and riding my bike. I want to live a life I am convinced I deserve—full of mud and laughter and mosquito bites.

Mom and I fight more than ever. I tell her I hate her, hate piano, hate Mrs. Wang. I drag my feet out of the apartment every time we leave to go practice.

“Why do I have to do something I hate?” It has become my shrieking mantra. Our arguments fill the apartment. I’m crying every day.

“Ingrate! Do you know what that means? It means you don’t appreciate anything I do for you. You don’t appreciate how much I’m spending for you to learn piano. I go to class every day and take you to practice. Think how hard that is for me! You should be thankful. I am doing this for your future.”

Those words I hate: “your future.” I shoot my tongue out in contempt, and mom slaps me every time.

My body is a tangled landscape of bruises—not from being outside, but from the belt. Mom uses the end with the clasp almost every night now. At school, a teacher pulls me into a supply closet and asks if I got the bruises from playing outside or being disobedient at home.

“It’s because I was bad to my mom,” I whisper, ashamed. That night during dinner, we get a call from the school. They tell my mom that there are other ways to discipline a child.

“We should just run away,” I say to Kelly. “We should just smash all the pianos in the school and run away, and we’ll never have to play them again.”

She laughs and shrugs. I turn away, angry and disappointed by her unenthusiastic response.

The truth is that Kelly is getting better than me every day. I first notice this when she makes a funny movement with her body as she plays Chopin. Her body dips down and towards the piano, then pulls away lightly as if afraid of disturbing something sacred.

The action is sensual, intimate. It’s something I had only seen the advanced students do. Mrs. Wang nods in appreciation.

“Why did you do that?” I ask afterwards.

She smiles, folding her hands in her lap. “I don’t know. It just felt right.”

“Well it looked stupid.” Her smile disappears.

When Kelly plays, her fingers caress each key, as if she’s tucking it back into its crib. Her hands look like my Ballet Barbie’s hands. When I play, my fingers splay across, wild and desperate. I look like I’m grasping for something I can never reach. My sonatas are spastic, hers tender and romantic.

“Why can’t you play like her?” Mom asks.

“Just do what Kelly does,” Mrs. Wang says.

Kelly starts parting her hair down the middle like all the other older piano students. The part looks like a white worm glistening on top of her head. She says it looks good against her black hair. I think it just makes her face fatter.

It’s with a screeching devastation that I finally admit to myself the truth: Kelly is better than me at piano. Even worse, she loves piano. I feel betrayed—weren’t we compatriots in our misery? Weren’t we supposed to hate piano together, the same way we loved or hated most things? Of all the bumps in our friendship, it’s this great, irretrievable divide that hurts me most.

She has betrayed me! I write in my diary. She has betrayed our friendship.

* * *

Mom graduates in June 2000 with a PhD in Education. I attend the ceremony in a horrid dress given to me by her favorite professor. My bowl cut clashes magnificently with the round white collar and flower pockets.

I watch as my mom walks across the stage beaming. There are cookies afterwards.

That same summer, my dad gets a job offer in Austin. He moves out there first to set up our apartment—a real apartment in a real apartment complex—while mom and I stay behind to finish out the summer in Oxford.

Most of my friends have moved away by now. It’s just the way things seem to go in this shell of a complex—our halfway home between China and America. Ping Ping is in Pennsylvania, Mary is back in China, and Gabby and Charlie are living with their mom in Denver. Even John Song and his family have relocated to a mystical place called Canada.

“When you leave,” Kelly says, “I’ll be the only one left. Everyone else is gone.”

“You’ll probably move soon!” We both know this isn’t true. Kelly’s mom is dating an American who works in the IT department at the university.

I don’t even fully comprehend what it means to be leaving Kelly behind. It feels temporary, like I’ll see her again soon and for the rest of my life. We’ll buy houses next to each other when we’re “grown up” and still climb trees every day between our jobs and families. How crazy to think that we’ll have jobs and families.

My life in Oxford is packed into boxes by the time summer ends. Our apartment is empty. I tie a ribbon to the tree outside my window for the next person to find—maybe it’ll be another Chinese girl like me. With a day before the move, my mom relieves me of cleaning duties so I can grab a final whiff of Oxford.

Kelly and I end up sitting under the magnolia tree we climbed so many times before in the last five years. The flowers are open, dappling the canopy around us with spots of white and pink. We hadn’t really talked about me leaving other than by making vague allusions to call each other a lot. It was still a future forever away, and we were too invincible to be touched by it.

“Texas is so hot. You’ll be hot all the time. You’ll be darker than you are now.”

“Whatever,” I say. “I like being dark.”

“Are you gonna keep playing piano?”

“I guess. My dad already found a teacher in Austin. I wish they’d just let me quit.” I pause, watching her reaction. “What about you?”

“Yeah,” she says softly. “Mrs. Wang wants me to do the Solo Contest next year.”

“That sucks.”

“Not really.”

A breeze sneaks through, and we watch the waxy leaves twitch around us.

“Remember that time you tried to climb this tree with skates on?”

I start laughing. “That was awesome!”

“You almost died, it was so scary.”

“Whatever, at least I did it. And I didn’t die.”

We wile away the day recounting these small moments of our lives, at the time so unimportant, now the most vital things in the world. As the sun dips below the horizon and darkness crowds our little cavern inside the magnolia tree, Kelly asks what I want to do in my final hours in Oxford.

“We can do anything you want,” she says with an annoying benevolence. “It’s your last day, so you get to choose.”

I think of all the things we’ve done—from the pipe, to climbing every tree in Oxford, to playing chase with Gabby and Charlie by the Law School, to scaring the stray dogs. There were memories everywhere, memories I didn’t want to alter by recreating them now. For once, I didn’t feel like adventure. I only felt like being outside, being home.

“Let’s just bike around.”

We grab our bikes. Mine is a used Huffy from one of the older girls on the school bus. Kelly’s is a purple bike with streamers at the handles. It’s barely been touched.

“I haven’t ridden it in forever,” she says. “Can we practice a little before we go too far?”

She’s never been too good at riding. It was one of the things I could boast about without being wrong. I feel a little bad about choosing something she can’t keep up with. But this is my last night, and she asked me what I wanted to do.

Still, I try to be nice. I take her to an empty parking lot with neat concrete. There’s enough room to ride around and make mistakes.

“It’s okay—just remember to keep pedaling no matter what.”

She nods, anxious.  “I just don’t want to hurt my hands if I fall.”

“You won’t fall.”

She clambers onto the bike, looking awkward and wrong. Cruel satisfaction bubbles in me at the sight of Kelly teetering on her tiptoes, hands clenched around the white rubber handlebars. The streamers are a comical addition.

“Ready? Follow me.”

She pedals forward and falls. I swallow my laughter and brake to a halt.

“Wow, you’re really bad at this. Maybe we should just practice here tonight.”

We try again—she pedals a few more times before falling. I can’t help but feel magnificent as I make extravagant, lazy circles around her on my bike.

Kelly gets comfortable eventually. I bike to the end of the lot and wait for her to come to me. She’s slow at first, but finally stops jerking the handlebars and barrels towards me, falling only at the end when she tries to brake. Now she’s starting to look like a real rider.

“You can’t freak out at the end.”

“Yeah, I know. I just panic when I think about stopping. Thanks.” She inspects a fresh scrape on her knee before straightening up. “We should go home. I don’t want our moms to get mad.”

But I don’t want to go back. The lot, Kelly, our bikes—it’s enough for me to piece together and finally realize that this is my last night in Oxford. My life here is ending, and I don’t know where it’s going. I feel huge and sad.

“Let’s ride a little more. Come on!”

This is how I want to remember Oxford. This is how I want to remember us.

I don’t let myself see the hesitation on her face before whizzing away again on my bike, standing over my seat taller than ever. It’s way later than we’re normally allowed out. The dusk blends sky and pavement, and I can no longer distinguish between the two.  I cleave the heavy air as I ride through the night and feel it zipping back up behind me. A quick, shuddering stop at the end of the lot, and then I whizz past Kelly again, who’s trying to keep up, who flies past me with a pleading face. She’ll catch up.

Kelly is shouting something, but I am flying and even my sharp gasps, so close to my body, are lost in the torrent of wind and wave. I can feel everything, I am a hollow drum made with human skin and everything outside me beats against me. Pedal faster. I shudder and quake and woof at the sky. This is my Chopin Sonata. This is my orchestra. For every beautiful melody Kelly plays, so can I. I command the clicks of my bike into a string section, the staccato of gravel beneath me into percussion. And I bring with me the wind. I too can dip like Kelly dips, I can sweep and billow and feel something no one else can hear.  See me conduct the most beautiful symphony with my frantic legs and wild, laughing mouth.

I reach the other end of the lot and wait for Kelly to join me. My heart is still beating wildly, even as the wind dies down and the crashing waves in my head settle. Nothing. She’s not there when I turn around.  I bike the length of the lot again, then once more, but see no sign of her.

“Kelly? Kelly!”

She must have gone home. She probably couldn’t stand not being able to do something better than me for once. Stupid, fat, Kelly.

Mom is standing in the kitchen with her arms crossed when I get home. I tell her what happened. She grabs my arms and digs her thumbs into the skin, wedging between muscle and bone.

“It’s Kelly’s fault!” I yelp over and over again. “She didn’t tell me she was leaving! I wouldn’t have stayed so late if I weren’t looking for her.”

Kelly!” Mom spits. She lets go and I see fear, not anger, on her face. “She didn’t come home. Her mother just called to ask where she is.”

Mom’s sandals slap against the pavement as we walk through the night back to the parking lot. I wince and grow more panicked with each slap—all I can think about is the whipping she’s promised me once this is over.

There’s no sight of Kelly when we reach the lot. I feel small next to my mom and her violent breaths. Under the sallow glow of the street lamps, the lot looks lifeless—surely it couldn’t be the same lot I was in moments earlier, the same lot where I felt so tremendous? How dumb and pathetic for me to think that I could ever be so grand.

“Where is she?” Mom’s voice is horrible, mean.

“I don’t know,” I whine. “It wasn’t my fault!”

But I do know. Of course I know. I know there’s a ditch on the far left side of the lot, obscured by a black thrust of bushes and shrubs. I know it’s full of stickers and holly bushes. Worst of all, I know that Kelly probably didn’t know.

Without a word to mom, I run through the darkness towards the ditch, already dreading the answer as I reach the bushes along the edge. I part them delicately, gasping as their tiny thorns greet me. Everything below is collapsed into a nest of branches and brambles. Then, in the thick black confusion of nature and night, I see a flash of white blurring into the impossible backdrop.

Thick, clumsy Kelly.

“Kelly!” My voice disappears beneath me. “Are you okay?”

It doesn’t matter if she responds, if she says she’s fine and perfect down at the bottom of the ditch. I know I have to get her.

Mom’s going to kill me.

Kelly is curled into a tight ball when I finally reach her. My legs burn from the descent and angry little burrs cling to my socks, but I focus on trying to pry her coiled limbs apart, willing her to be okay. If only she would be okay!

Stop pretending! I want to scream. This was your fault!

“I told you I wanted to go home.” Her voice prickles, and I feel it more than anything else so far.

All of a sudden, fear floods my body. It’s a long way to the bottom, and the fall could have been really bad. Where is her bike? Did she tumble down the ditch while still on it, or was she thrown off as she tried to stop? I can’t see her face in the dark, and somehow it scares me even more. In the horrified corners of my mind, I picture her plump, white flesh oozing beads of red. I imagine her limbs bent at odd angles like my Ballet Barbie, and shocking bits of bone peaking out.

I brush the hair from her face, or what I think is her face. It’s wet from sweat, and maybe tears. And maybe blood too. I feel sick and disgusting. I don’t want to see her face. I’m afraid to know what she looks like.

“I’m glad you’re leaving.”

I don’t see her lips form the words, but I hear them in the dark. They’re the only things here with me in the dark. Then I hear mom calling my name from what feels like another world.

“We’re down here!” I am a frightened little girl.

I don’t know how we got here. I grip Kelly’s hands, desperately willing her to squeeze back and forgive me. I can’t leave like this. She doesn’t return the pressure.

* * *

In the harsh light of our small kitchen, Mom dabs Neosporin and rubbing alcohol on Kelly’s face. It’s nothing like I feared, just a few tiny scrapes. Still, it all feels gruesome to me. I can’t look her in the eyes.

We leave for Austin the next day. Kelly’s mom tells me she’s still asleep when I stop by their apartment to say goodbye.

* * *

In the beginning, I write her letters from Austin about my cute neighbors and new dog. I ask if she has read Harry Potter. I apologize over and over again about what happened. I call her too like we promised, mostly to gossip about what our old friends are doing now. But over time, the calls stop, and I can’t remember the phone number I once knew by heart. My fingers forget what it feels like.

The last time I talk to her, she tells me her mom is pregnant and about to get married. “We’re moving to California,” she says, and for once, I’m happy for her. I want to ask if she likes the guy who is about to become her step-dad, but her mom yells that dinner is ready, and she has to hang up.

-Tinghui Zhang holds degrees in English and Plan II from UT Austin. Her writing has appeared in Revolution House and Hothouse Literary Journal. She lives, works, writes and eats in Austin, TX. Find her at devourings.wordpress.com.

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Three O’ Clock Wedding

There was another island wedding last night, an evening filled with constellations and promises. An old Polaroid camera sat beside a perfect, white guestbook, along with markers so the guests could fasten in their photographs and the newlyweds could remember their own, present moments. Dozens of people crowded about in the old, stone pavilion, raspberries floating in their cocktails.  The band played fiddle tunes while the little ones danced, and the Christmas lights strung up in the trees outside welcomed the guests into an evening of enchantment.

Someone lit a bonfire. I sat down with two friends, only three weeks away from their own wedding. They began to reminisce about my wedding day with Mitchell, my husband of seven years. That day, people danced for hours under an enormous wedding tent, set up on our family property. One guest told us later that the festivities continued long after we’d gone, with the band moving inside, and the later evening consisting of a didgeridoo jam session by my brother and sunrise swimming on the south shore.

I gazed into the fire, lost for a moment in its hazy orange and red glow. I thought to myself, we almost didn’t get married. I almost didn’t show up. Not many people remember that part, though.

Epilepsy is one of the most bitter afflictions of the Duffy family, that with talking too much and overfeeding people, affecting three or four of us in the dozens. Yet somehow I never considered that I would be at risk that wedding day, and should be careful with flashes or cameras because I am photosensitive. At that time, I was still without a driver’s license, and less than a year seizure free.  That day, my mind was filled with the smell of red roses and white lilies, with timelines, and tiny bottles of bubbles on long strings of rainbow yarn.

We had spent almost a year planning the wedding. Because our daughter had just been born and my mom and my dad were wintering in Florida, Mom had hired a wedding planner to help me organize the details. Sue was an extravagant British divorcée who believed in making the wedding day the most stress free day of a bride’s life. Although Mitch and I wanted “something simple,” our wedding plan soon took on a life of its own.

Our meetings had revolved around her little black book full of expensive options: venues, caterers, florists. Jaded by the process, Mitch argued that the wedding had very little to do with us; it was a show for the bride and groom’s parents, a party planned in the interests in the couple’s friends. All attempts to romanticize him through the process failed. “Little girls dream about their weddings their whole lives,” I would say, looking dreamily at him like as if to change his mind. “It’s the most romantic day of a girl’s life.”

Or it’s supposed to be.

Our family and friends flew in from all over the country. My oldest friend and maid of honor, Angela, flew in from her post at Columbia — and arrived at my back door with her polka dot cocktail dress wrapped in plastic and slung over her shoulder like she was a model heading for the runways of Milan.

The morning of June the 9th was bright and beautiful. It is a truly wonderful time of year on Prince Edward Island. Mitch and I had spent the night before the wedding together, and eaten breakfast side by side as we usually did. We were comfortable in our home with our family, consisting of nine-month old Leila, who loved blueberries, pears, and small chunks of orange cheese. In our own minds, I guess we were already married.

Even though the wedding procession and large reception planned for later that day were just formalities, I knew they would be one of the most important of my life. We had looked forward to this day together, stuffed envelopes with invitations, counted programs, hired bands. We had practiced our vows hand in hand, fitted rings and shined shoes. We expected nothing less than the perfect wedding day.

Angela and my five other bridesmaids spent the morning being pampered and groomed at the salon while eating tiny muffins and drinking champagne.

Since our wedding was to be held at St. Dunstan’s Basilica, we felt the honeymoon suite in the hotel across the street would be an appropriate venue for the final touches and photos of my bridal party. The large window of the suite looked out on Great George Street and allowed us a bird’s eye view of the crowd who gathered in front of St. Dunstan’s; girls in brightly colored dresses and flowers in their hair floated around as the groomsmen greeted our guests. Relatives, old friends, and women carrying babies all gathered on the steps of the towering church. The bridesmaids cooed out the window as if the scene was being played out on TV.

The wedding was set for three pm, and due to what Mitch called “my chronic condition of being late,” he had reminded me in the weeks before the wedding that if I was late, he wouldn’t marry me. I had promised him that this was one event I would never be late for, but it had become our running joke.

A photographer arrived for her last few typecast shots: mostly of me with my tearful mother, and a few of Angela lacing up the back of my wedding dress in all of its Victorian splendor. “I always take one of the bride on the bed, surrounded by her flowers,” she said. I crawled onto the bed and the girls lined up with all of their cameras. There may have been ten of them, flashes ready. The clock read two-thirty.

The next thing I remember is the small hotel bathroom, and Angela helping me out of my heavy dress. I could see myself in the mirror, broken, a fragmented woman under pounds of silk. This woman looked confused, her make-up smudged.

“What happened?” I asked Ang. I was shaking, afraid.

“You’re okay, Mo, but you had a seizure,” she said, fixing my hair and wiping the lipstick from the corners of my mouth.

“The wedding’s been postponed,” she said.

When I walked out of the bathroom, the hotel room — only moments before full of laughing ladies, fixing flowers and fruit trays and roses scattered on the bed — was empty. No more bridesmaids fiddling with bobby pins, no more music, no more girls cooing out the window. Emptiness.

Mom appeared through the door of the suite and fixed a curl that had gotten loose from my hair, coaxing me to sit down. “You had a seizure,” she said, repeating Angela’s news. I wouldn’t sit. I walked toward the window. My head was pounding and I wasn’t sure where I was. The crowds were still gathered in front of the church.

There is a loss of time and order that accompanies a grand mal seizure. Often I won’t know if it’s Tuesday or Friday, where I was born, or who the prime minister is. The world somehow seems strange and new. But when I realized it was my wedding day, I became hysterical with tears.

“I can’t be late,” I insisted. “Mitch said he wouldn’t marry me if I was late for my own wedding.”

“No sweetheart. You need to relax,” Mom urged, making another attempt to have me sit down.

We had to go down, I repeated. I had to get married. My father arrived and quietly discussed canceling the wedding with Mom.

“No, no, no, we can’t cancel,” I argued. “Three o’clock wedding.”

I always had to sleep after a seizure as I usually had a wicked headache and the confusion, but somehow after Mom and Dad left, I convinced Angela to lace me back up. She then let me go downstairs to the lobby, where I would be one step closer to the wedding. I sat in a big armchair in the corner as several excuses were made, reasonable rumblings most likely, but somehow a planet away from my own confused state.

Mom came over and asked if I would be okay, Dad called me darling and held my hands. Sue had arrived with information: coincidentally, the organist was late because he got the day wrong. He was being called now, Mom said.

It was after three, and I began to get anxious because I was still under the impression that Mitch said he wouldn’t marry me if I was late for the wedding. It’s funny the things we retain when regaining consciousness; we become only a skeleton of our former psychic selves.  And regardless of the reason, I was determined to proceed. Finally, someone decided I was lucid enough and my wish for a wedding was granted.

I stood at the door of the Inns of Great George and watched. Sue rallied people to go into the church. The bridesmaids were already gathered at the back when I arrived, wondering if we would go ahead with the wedding. Angela fixed my veil. I knew the procession was starting because I heard the pipe organist kick in. Dad put his arm around mine, steadying me, and asked, “Are you ready?”

Soaring marble pillars lined the outer aisles, and the inner aisle was decorated with baskets of flowers. Ahead of me, a sea of people, pews and pews of them, sat smiling, but I could see only Mitch. If I hadn’t been postictal, I might have been nervous.

Dad walked me halfway down the aisle to meet my waiting husband, dapper in his wedding suit and the tie we had chosen together. The rose and lily in his boutonnière matched my blossoming bouquet. Mitch kissed my forehead after Dad passed me over. I breathed in the smell of his cologne, fresh and sweet, and we continued up the long aisle together, arm in arm. He made me feel safe, protected.

The guests never noticed a thing.

Our friend Andrew, a budding videographer at the time, asked us if he could make a film about our wedding day. We said of course, and he was happy to follow us around on the days before the wedding as the wedding tents went up, catching glimpses of Leila’s smiles in her tiny pink hats, boys strumming guitars and singing a cappella in the kitchen, and bridesmaids in curlers giggling over mimosas at the salon. We have these memories too, including many scenes from the church, the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” fading in as I twirl around during the peace offering, my veil following gracefully behind. Andrew spent most of the wedding reception collecting messages of love and friendship. We have these scenes.

But when I think of our wedding day, flowing into Mitch’s arms, halfway down that aisle, is the only thing I remember; this is my focal point. Maybe it’s because it was the moment I came out of the fog and into his arms, maybe it was the time I became clear.

Other guests will remember the gathering, the food, or the music. But for me, after our seven short years, those things have faded.  With every bride, I become emotional, knowing the power and significance of those few, short steps.  With every walk down the aisle I remember my own.

- Mo Duffy Cobb has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction. She loves camping, vans, traveling, sand, babies, and toast with strawberry jam. She dreams in essays, and has been published in Red, Arts East, and Reconceiving Loss.

 

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The submission period for the thirtieth issue of damselfly press is now closed. Look for the issue January 15, 2015.

As always, thank you to our submitters.

 

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