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Creative Nonfiction

Impressionist Art By Jennifer Ly

Impressionist Art

By Jennifer Ly

nothing good starts in a getaway car
I’m still trying to figure you out. I still talk about you in bars, to strangers that I’ve just met because my friends are sick of hearing of you, a man I barely knew but left his fingerprints pressed against the skin of my neck, the impression of your impression of me slid permanently on how I would look at myself in the mirror for years to come, even when I’m sure you don’t remember how it felt when we kissed. When we first met, I was just out of a job and lingering around the edges of an existential crisis, four years of my life gone into a career I no longer wanted and the foreseeable future mired in the shadow of a looming pandemic, September 2020; in hindsight, that winter would be the worst of my life, dealing with your ghost, my grandmother’s loss, a friend’s suicide, the mounting death toll from COVID, the dark, sweeping depression that felt like years. I would not be the person I am today without that winter, but I wish I was. I want to go back to who I was, before you.


the water filled my lungs
The first piece of writing I ever got published was about you. You were one line in a piece about my ex-boyfriend, that guy I told you about, but I still think about that line all the time when I write anything else. That piece is the last time I’ll ever write about him,
but I still find you in every single page of mine, all my insecurities bled over the still image of your face, blurry, I forget what you look like, I look you up on Instagram every time to remind myself. I wonder if you ever read it – if you recognized yourself in that one line, or if that moment simply lives with me, forever, and never even graces your
mind. I have to write about you to get you out of my mind. Some version of you must care.

all the kingdom lights shined just for me and you
Sometimes I worry that the guys I’ve dated will find out I’ve been writing about them on the internet, but then I remember that most guys I date don’t read. When we first met, you told me that you’d been reading some self-help books, finance textbooks, one fiction book your ex-girlfriend gave you that you haven’t had the heart to start or to throw away. I thought that was romantic. Now, almost two years later, I realize that it was a warning sign, flashing bright red, and I closed my eyes against the sight, let the afterimage of you burn itself into my mind, flicker and burn in the darkness. I’m over her, though, you said,
or maybe I imagined you said – her picture is still on your Instagram, baby girl is the caption, and I wonder about her, now, what she’s doing, if she wants her book back.

the world moves on, another day another drama
When I started writing, at 11, I began with fanfiction. I used to be ashamed of this – pretended that I didn’t know what people meant when they talked about shipping, about Tumblr – but these days, I wish I was that person again, that I hadn’t squashed her down
into the hidden corners of myself and of the internet. I want to love something that much again. I want to watch a show and wonder what-if and dream of scenarios between characters, in alternate universes, in songfics, where lyrics would be randomly incorporated through the story, would they still fall in love if they were in high school
instead of a magic boarding school, would this group of friends still find each other if they were in space instead of an ancient Japanese land, would they kiss this time and not break each other’s hearts? My definition of love keeps shifting as I grow older – no longer all-encompassing, but now it’s that my boyfriend texts me before he goes to bed, handing me my preferred mug even if he didn’t have to – but I think the foundations are found in the fan-fiction I read and wrote growing up, oh, love is two people falling in love because they want to, they choose to, and in each story I tell, I make it happen. Even ours. Even though you didn’t want it.


i want to wear his initial on a chain around my neck
You said once, after it all, I used to date a writer. I wasn’t aware that we’d been dating – you specifically told me that we were not dating when we were together – that was something you reserved for other girls –


we tell stories and you don’t know why
When writing about you, I think of how a colleague jokingly or seriously, I couldn’t tell, said to me once that I was writing about my exes so much that I was turning into Taylor Swift. It’s not that serious, I said, but then I started to wonder if Taylor Swift was taking it seriously or if she stares at herself in the mirror and wonders what that boy from 2020 thought when he saw her, and tried to put that feeling into words, despite knowing that she’ll never really know and it’s all conjecture, and at this point – what does it matter what he saw when he looked at you, besides the fact that it meant something to you, that
you could put pen to paper and immortalize how you felt in that moment, that fall, that time? Let it go, my colleague said, let them go, as if I haven’t. Sometimes I think of you and wonder what you look like when you think of me, if you ever do, and wish I was able
to paint, or draw, immortalize the way I can still imagine you between the pages. It is a sickness and an antidote and I’m not sorry, you live on here, you live.


Photo by Eriks Abzinovs on Pexels.com

Jennifer Ly is a Vietnamese-American writer from Los Angeles. Her work has been featured in Hobart, the Daily Drunk, and others.

Categories
Creative Nonfiction

My Heart Is Good and Yours Is, Too.

My Heart Is Good and Yours Is, Too

By: Laura Eppinger

Last week I turned in the keys to my old place so we could move in together. Time to let your one-bedroom go, too, but first we’ll have to liberate it. Let’s just say, you keep a lot of clutter.

It’s not like I haven’t seen your bathroom packed with more skincare products on one shelf than I’ve purchased in all my life to date. I snap on rubber gloves so we can get to the bottom of it all, make sure your floors are lemony clean. You look down at your feet, embarrassed.

There was a time I’d gag or call you messy piggy. I’ve been a rotten girl with a mean streak. I don’t joke or judge right now.

Thus far I thought the only way to keep love alive was to look the other way. But now I’m holding a furry glass in my hand, and pitching it in the trash instead of trying to save it. Who knows how many months it’s been since you poured yourself a Monster and drained it?

I stare directly at this neglected bachelor pad. It’s time to get to work. Your playlist makes me swoon: Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, Smashing Pumpkins. You sigh like you’ve tasted something sweet when “Perfect Drug” begins.

You attack the kitchen, ensuring every chopstick is wrapped with its mate. I linger while your back is turned, to hear you chiming in. I sing along too, in wonder and recognition.

So I take the bedroom, sweep up an impossible amount of hair (while I don’t keep enough to gather a ponytail). There isn’t a crevice without your DNA; it’s peeking out of the fibers of the yellow rug, wedged into corners of board game boxes, and lacing the weird arches of your PC-gaming chair.

I joke: you’re lucky I don’t practice that kind of magic, because I could use your hair and make you do anything I wanted.

You can do that anyway. Just ask.

But I’d kneel to kiss every goddamn Magic card. (It would take days, your decks seem endless.) Every spike in Gundam armor, every Pony figurine. Of course you are not your stuff, but I want to touch all the things you touch, every manga cover with its teal lettering.

Trust me, I am surprised to find love at 35. The weight of all that time. After the slow creep of decades of men who made me wilt. After inviting vampires in through my window, knowing I was worth less than the dirt of their graves. After the burn of diet soda in the throat, a rebellion of stomach lining. After all those cigarettes stained my teeth, the hunger in a ruined mouth. 

Here I stand, left to rediscover my own skin. I loved songs about toxic love before I’d even been kissed. Did I use them as a blueprint? 

The parched years are over. My vampires, all staked.

I cradle the next stack of DVDs, tuck them into a box for storage, then zip ribbed sweaters into plastic bags. The stitching is ordinary, the stitching is safe.

But here is a new thrill: desire without compulsion.

I’ll ask you later if you’ve read that recent interview with Trent Reznor where he sips green juice and beams about being a dad. But not now—in this moment, we’ll stick with the beat.

We hear: I got my heart but my heart’s no good. We’ll sing it but not live it.

Our hearts are healthy as yolk, wholesome as ginger in rice.

My heart is good and yours is, too.


Laura Eppinger (she/her) is a Pushcart-nominated writer of fiction, poetry and essay. Her work has appeared at The Rumpus, The Toast, and elsewhere. She’s the managing editor at Newfound Journal.

Categories
Creative Nonfiction

Wheel of Fortune

Wheel of Fortune

By: Denise Berger

I saw my former boss on Wheel of Fortune. Contestant Number 2. I happened to look up when Pat asked, “So what keeps you busy?” He immediately lit up with responses “Oh! Cycling! Hiking! Skiing…” I didn’t even catch the whole answer, I was so amazed to see him. Not just that he was on TV. I was amazed because there wasn’t even a hint of the ailing body that was so central to the man I knew.

By the time I worked with him, he spoke as though part of his tongue was either missing or enlarged. People reacted to him with the benevolent condescension reserved for the disabled. Sometimes he just powered right through, the force of his will taking over, cheerful and exuberant as when he appeared on Wheel of Fortune. Clients and coworkers would tilt their heads in to hear better and, without realizing what happened, they would be in his swirl. Other times he avoided conversation. His body held pockets of stiffness, not necessarily in the joints but at random intervals.  And there were odd angles, as if there were a rusty wire running through his skeleton. It must have been torturous to be trapped in that body, to be treated as a diminished being even as his own essence refused to be diminished. 

Interestingly, his mannerisms remain unchanged; those are what I recognize right away. His brows arched in a state of surprise. The Muppet-lipped smile that seems like he might not have any teeth, although his teeth are right there. The hearing aid. The bounce in his step, even when standing in place. The broad waves of his arms, conducting an unseen orchestra as he speaks. And the satisfaction, the split second swelling of his chest, as he beams just beyond Pat when the answer is complete. 

Then I see his name. Mike. Check. And it’s “Great American Cities Week,” from Denver. Check. He told me about his house in Colorado, somewhere in the woods where his porch light had to comply with dark sky regulations. 

I can’t believe how vibrant he is. The whole show is focused on him, spinning the wheel as a full-body experience; he isn’t really exerting himself, he’s just so excited to be in the present moment, his joy unaffected whether he guesses right or wrong. His hair looks like silken thread, pulled into a small gray ponytail just above the dent where his head meets his neck. I wonder why he chose to dye it black at work. 

I check the guide on my TV. Episode is from May 2016. Filming had to have been around February. I met him in November the following year. I could sense what he’d been like before. He had all these stories — about inventing things, about sneaking into the USSR through Finland with a woman he met in a Helsinki bar, about driving all night to his dying mother in Arizona… He knew the Sunday morning lineup on Classical KUSC. He’s someone I could have loved. 

At my interview he asked me to describe a fantastic day, and to tell him how I knew when I had done a great job at something. Every word I sent to him landed. 

I’m rooting for him to go to the bonus round. Even by game show standards he has an energy that leaps off the screen. I want to see who he has in the audience. I want to know about him, to spend time with him.

I think of when my mom came into the showroom, how he hugged her exclaiming, “Oooooh, you’re Denise’s mother!” and practically spun her in the air. He gave her an employee discount on the clear sparkling candlesticks she got for Shabbat. There was no mention that when I was growing up, our house did not have Shabbat candles on Friday night; our house took spiritual cues from the ACLU. He had no idea that when we learned in school about the plight of Soviet Jewry and sang about trying to worship in secret, I totally identified. I knew what it felt like to be penalized for faith, though I never had the guts to try any clandestine activities. I didn’t tell him. I liked this feeling, of introducing my mom as someone who appreciated what was important to me, who delighted in loving openly.

At some point she told me that Michael was a very sick man, that he didn’t want to be there, that he only took the job for the health insurance. She must have registered some sort of mirror image, the way people with similar interests spot each other in the airport. 

At the start of 2018, he and my mom were two of the most central people in my life. A year later, they were both dead. 

I cry as I tell Rimma. She assumes I have regrets, that I would have done something, or a lot of things, different had I known they would both soon be gone. That would make sense. That’s how people are taught to think. But what I actually cry about is that over and over it happens: all the signs point to death and yet it feels a surprise — as if Fate just somehow landed, with no predictable warning.


Denise Berger is a Los Angeles based writer. Recent work has appeared in Beth Am Review and Detroit Jewish News.