The Dress

Her mother had sewn the dress. The ivory beading and lace aged it and the straps felt too loose, yet every detail about the gown seemed to represent Ruth exceedingly well, even its many faults and imperfections. Sharp pins sat between her focused lips as she bent down and performed the fruitless task of marking a hem on her own. Among the many regrets in her head, her failure to find a new tailor in time seemed to be the most relevant, for it was less than a week before the wedding and she was sporting an ill-fitting dress and dealing with the repercussions of her mother’s disapproval. Ruth always knew her mother to be confusing. Initially, Ruth perceived the dress as a representation of accepting a union that her mother had, for so many years, relentlessly rejected: a peace offering. Yet, the rolled eyes, tongue-in-cheek remarks, and familiar decrescendos of disappointed sighs remained, gradually clustering into a volatile ball of pent-up emotions to be unleashed at the perfect time: two weeks before the wedding.

Crooked pins constructed a shape that could barely constitute as a circle around the hem of the dress. The greatest loss that came with her mother’s abandonment was the sudden disappearance of a perfectly good and experienced seamstress. While the techniques were basic and easy to learn, the material of the gown was thick and coarse and to deal with it required knowledge beyond Ruth’s elementary school embroidery lessons. Ruth had hemmed a single pant leg by hand once in high school, so she foolishly concluded that this would be no different. A single glimpse at the dress in the mirror caused Ruth to resign and, with a huff, she put it back on a hanger with a roughness incompatible with the delicate nature of the gown. To Ruth, the dress was a symbol of her mother’s continued unreasonable grudge towards her soon-to-be husband, the expectations she could never meet or exceed, and the impossible choice between the man she loved and the mother who formed her. To Ruth’s mother, the dress was simply a symbol her tireless devotion to her daughter, a devotion she believed Ruth would never understand nor appreciate correctly. On its own, the dress was only a few alterations short of just right, but without the magic touch of its creator, would only serve to be an embarrassment at the wedding and a telltale sign that, as all of Ruth’s guests  suspected, that the family was just as dysfunctional as they had seen it be even in the early years of Ruth’s adolescence.

Ruth’s father stood dumb amidst the entire situation. For years, he had piled band-aids on top of this ever-growing tear in the family, failing to properly mediate between the mother and daughter pair. Sentiments such as: “it will fix itself”, or “it’ll blow over” were common sputterings of words that her father repeated so excessively, eventually causing each syllable to feel alien in Ruth’s ears. Unlike her dress, her father’s suit for the wedding fit perfectly, for her mother had sewn and fitted the outfits for each groomsman, bridesmaid, in-law, flower girl; perhaps even the priest’s vestments were immaculately fitted before Ruth’s mother even thought about fixing the final alterations on the wedding gown. The dress, instead of a peace offering, was a tool of rebellionthe outspoken “speak now” to the arbitrary “If anyone objects to this marriage…” statement one hears at a wedding. Her mother would not forever hold her peace; instead, her truest feelings were sewn into each stitch of this garment, finished and unfinished. Her father would unfairly be sporting an impeccable suit, arm-in-arm with the bride who, in turn, would be adorned in an unfortunate excuse for a wedding gown.

It was clear to Ruth that her mother was pointing fingers, placing blame on her daughter. Yet it all seemed too late and ill-timed, for the wedding was surely happening, and Ruth would most certainly marry this man, irregardless of her mother’s presence or lack thereof. This full manifestation of disapproval had many opportunities to make itself known, and Ruth had always wondered why it has remained hidden away: silent for years. Ruth had known her fiance going on eight years now, and had loved him unconditionally for five. Ruth’s mother had an adequate three years to communicate any gripes she hard regarding their relationship. Instead, Ruth’s mother chose a path of martyrdom and silence for those eight years, deciding that she’d let her daughter make her own mistakes, confident that, somewhere down the road, she would recognize that this man was a mistake, come back home, apologize to her mother, and live a better life. Ruth knew her mother was only doing what she thought was bestwhat she thought to be right. She could never be angry at her for her mindset, one Ruth knew could never be reformed or changed. Truly, the only thing that Ruth was angry at her mother for, was her timely departure before the wedding, and her refusal to complete the dress.

With unresolved thoughts, Ruth bent down to the hem of the dress and began to remove the pins, restoring the dress both to its original beauty and its original unbearable length and fit. With the same decrescendo of disappointment she had inherited from her mother, Ruth let out a great sigh and began marking the hem again, forcing thin metal pins through the fabric. Almost immediately, a doorbell chime interrupted her, causing her to stick her finger with a pin. Grudgingly, she went to answer the door, finding herself face to face with a crudely dressed delivery man, a package of the utmost fragility held in his rough hands. The box itself was in pristine condition; as the stranger plopped it into Ruth’s hands and continued on with his day, her eyes traveled, searching for any indication of a sender. A fruitless search: only furthering Ruth’s curiosity. Demonstrating a carefulness that the delivery man lacked, Ruth peeled open the coarse box, revealing a fresh, blindingly white wedding dress. Ruth’s thoughts immediately pinpointed one of her parents are the culprit, for she knew collaboration between the two was unlikely. If it was sent by her father, it was only another band-aid, temporarily holding the seams together. However, if the unknown sender were her mother, this new dress was her best effort at an apology-an attempt to stand firm by her beliefs but still, with gritted teeth as always, support her daughter. Her mother’s perfect knowledge of Ruth’s measurements was reflected in the perfect fit of the gown, yet the seams felt foreign and unfriendly on her body. The disappointment in the threads seeped into her skin and constricted her waist, creating a beautiful figure in the mirror, but keeping the bubbling up confusion and emotions tied down.

Yet, on her own, the new dress was the solution to a problem and the final piece needed to complete a ceremony which was the introduction to the rest of her life. Acknowledging she might never know and not seeking to find out, Ruth removed the new dress, placed it on a hanger, and left for lunch, deciding that she would let the problem fix itself.

Post written by Gabby Banniqued

Pomegranate

I envied the pomegranate tree that shaded the damp hammock rope, envied it because it stole the attention of my mother. My father would often remark that she treated that tree as if it were her firstborn, and I would, through a gritted smile, mutter that if that were the case I surely would have received better treatment.

        For the most part, the summer of 1957 passed unremarkably. Although I had many chances to sneak out of Hatten Manor, our three-story Nantucket summer home only three miles from the gray sand of Dionis beach, I despondently spent hours tucked away in my room, gazing at the stretch of sand and listening to the whisper of lapping waves, occasionally interrupted by my mother’s humming as she sprinkled water onto the roots of the pomegranate tree. When I would yell from above that I could hear her, she’d shout back, “Oh, Maureen, mind your business! Read a book!” This advice was useless given that I had already reread the Chronicles of Narnia and Nancy Drew novels twice and wasn’t riveted enough to give it another go. The view eventually soured after two monotonous weeks of silence, and it seemed my summer would become just as dreary as life at home.

That is, until I spotted the brown boy in the woods.

        His name was Tobias Stuart Brown. He was from the Bronx, a borough from which I only knew from the papers wailing HOMELESS RATES SKYROCKET and FACTORY RIOT ENDS IN BLOODSHED. Tobias would scold me for my ignorance when I would mention this, saying “They say anything to make people buy. I know newsies—they live worse than me.” He sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck, his coarse coils drenched in rainwater. We had been walking across the beach when it began to pour, and we ran hand-in-hand to the nearest gas station and waited for the pounding patter to cease. “But nothing’s been the same since that Moses guy kicked us out and bulldozed the place.” His parents were planning to move to Canada and were staying with a wealthy aunt for the summer to prepare for the move. “Hopefully we’re not given the bottom-of-the-barrel like we do here,” he sighed. I didn’t know what to say. As a sheltered, naive, scrawny fifteen-year-old,  I could hardly relate to his predicament, but I knew how hopeless it felt to be up against something seemingly indomitable.

        I had no friends in Nantucket, and wasn’t sure if I would ever make any until I met Tobias. Nantucket was scarcely populated at the time, the nearest police station several miles from the stretching shoreline Hatten Manor oversaw. Tobias lived the third house over, in a slightly smaller yet far more grandiose villa with a swimming pool and outdoor barbeque. Once, I was trekking through the woods behind the Manor, not aware that I had trespassed the border of the house adjacent, when I noticed him patiently waiting for a white rabbit to pause and nibble on clover before pressing the trigger on his .44 caliber shotgun. The rustle of my foot crunching dried leaves alerted the rabbit to our presence, and it scurried off. Tobias looked at me. “I could’ve got ‘im, if it weren’t for you.”

        I was surprised at his heedful behavior towards me; I was used to unwarranted and often excessive amounts of respect from strangers due to my upbringing, so much so that it was difficult for me to have a real conversation without “Pardon’s” or “my lady’s”.

        “Oh,” was all I could reply, smitten by his off-the-cuff behavior. As we continued our hunt for “tonight’s dinner”, I asked him of his heritage, bemused that he could be staying in one of the wealthiest summer estates on the Pacific Coast. Tobias explained that his great-granduncle was Lewis Latimer, “the guy who made the lightbulb actually work!” After he died, he allotted Tobias’ aunt his savings and future earnings off of his contributions. “It’ll set her for life,” he grinned, pleased as he plucked a pebble and threw it across the forest, listening for the echoing thud to cascade through the placid wind.

        Tobias took me to a creek through which saltwater trickled through jagged rocks, ultimately pooling in a bank before being dispensed into the gray tides. He lay his palm into the water and scanned the murky stream, searching for wriggling tadpoles. “If you’re quiet enough,” he whispered, “something’ll wiggle into your hand and not suspect a thing.”

        “What’s the use, though?” I asked. “Catching something if you’re going to let it go in the end? There’s no point.”

        Tobias chuckled under his breath. “It’s the fun of it all, I guess.” He decided not to speak further on the issue and continued his task, inviting me with his glance to join him. We did this for an hour before breaking for lunch. Tobias brought me back to his aunt’s house for sandwiches. I remember his aunt having a welcoming smile with harsh wrinkles curving around her eyes and along her temples. “Hello, baby,” she greeted me as if I were her own kin, and offered me a glass of water. We all sat down on the patio that faced the beach and shared stories as we cracked open fresh oysters, and I was hearing things completely unfamiliar to me, stunned that I had never witnessed brawls over a seat in a crowded bus or chased rats out of my apartment. I followed the conversation uselessly, opening and shutting my mouth like a fish gasping for water, feeling as though I had nothing to contribute due to my limited experience.

       Before I knew it, night had fallen and Tobias offered to walk me home. We took the long route through the woods, and with flushed cheeks and lowered gaze, I muttered, “This has got to be one of the best days of my life.”

Tobias gazed at me as if he were in a trance.“You’re very pretty, ya-know.”

My heart pulsed heavily as I met his gaze. And before I could brace myself, he gingerly took my hand and kissed it softly without hesitation.

        Baffled delight cascaded through my chest and cheeks, and I shared a brief smile with Tobias, and as we walked back to my house his hand was clasped around mine. We stopped at the pomegranate tree to say our goodbyes. “See you tomorrow,” I said. He grinned and walked away, looking over his shoulder every-so-often.

        I sighed and rocked myself in the hammock, gazing at the ripe mauve fruit dangling from green stems. I heard commotion from inside the house but chose to ignore it, too engrossed in thoughts of Tobias to pay it any mind.

        “Maureen!” I heard my mother call. Before I had a chance to reply, she stormed onto the lawn and grabbed my arm.

        “Mother—”

        “Who was the boy? I trust you to go off by yourself because I believe you’re grown…you’re fifteen, for God’s sake! And you go off with some boy! I told you explicitly to not talk to strangers, and of course you disobey me! Who was the negro boy?! I want names! For Christ’s sake, I’m calling the police I swear to God—you insolent little—I knew those neighbors were bound to start trouble…why, if I knew I would’ve…you’re lucky I’m not telling your father!”

        Stunned from her outburst, I mutely followed her lead as she dragged me to my room. “Mom, stop!” I wailed as she threw me onto the bed. “I…I just met him, okay! I just want to have fun on vacation, that’s all! It wasn’t anything, I promise!”

        “If I see you out of this house again,” she hissed, glaring at my blotchy red cheeks lathered in tears, “I will take everything dear from you. And you know me…you know I always live up to my word.”

        My mother was high-strung and shrill and gravely serious when it came to promises. She was engaged to my father for four years before they got married because she didn’t believe in his fidelity. So it was only a matter of time before she took my chess board, my diary, my silver-haired doll Ophelia, my paints and canvases, and anything else I held dear. I was left with nothing to entertain myself but the echo of blue waves brushing against the shoreline.

        That is why I despised that pomegranate tree: the one source of pleasure my mother secured from Hatten Manor aside from torturing me. The tree was in pristine condition, constantly being trimmed or watered or fertilized, its fruit perfectly ripe—heaven was tasted at the first bite as juice dripped down your chin, and the pink flesh softened, its cerise skin digging into the crevices of your teeth. How fair was it that my mother was allowed to enjoy life’s indulgences, yet I was imprisoned for wanting the same? The more I saw her delight in her yardwork, the more I loathed her, and this loathing drove me to madness as each day slipped by.

        On one summer night in late June, my father announced that he would take my mother out on the town for their wedding anniversary. “Oh, Charles, that’s wonderful!” gushed my mother as my father escorted her to the car. They went to to the fanciest restaurant in Nantucket and afterwards sipped champagne on the beach.

        It was only seven when they left, and I suspected that Tobias would still be awake either having supper or foraging around the neighboring grounds. I scampered into the forest and followed the creek until I found the spot where we sat the day before but not a trace of him could be found. I ventured towards his aunt’s estate and boldly knocked on the door.

“Tobias!” I hollered, rapping on the door a second time. The mahogany door swung open, and Tobias, confounded at my sudden appearance, asked what I was going on about so late in the evening.

“I need you to help me,” I said, clasping his hand and leading him through the woods.

        “Why didn’t you come ever back to the creek like you promised?” he asked.

        “Because of my stupid, arrogant, idiot mother,” I groused in reply. “Listen, I don’t have time to explain everything. I just need you to help me.”

        I could see doubt in the furrow of Tobias’ brow, but he nevertheless aided me in hacking away at my mother’s precious pomegranate tree. He winced every time a branch fell off, the rustling of the leaves and the squished fruit ached our hearts as if we were in mourning.

        “Leave it as it is,” I said, brushing Tobias’s clenched fist that wielded the axe I had gotten from the shed with my fingertips. He dropped the weapon and held my gaze until I whispered “Go!” in a hurried fashion, as if they were going to be back any minute (when in fact they weren’t due to return for nearly two hours), and he turned and walked away hunched over and disconcerted.

        That left me with enough time to ponder my grave error laying in the backyard. The sun set slower than usual, shadows dripping over shards of trunk like syrup. I even mustered enough courage to take a second look at the tree and inspect its fruit; nothing was salvageable, most of the pomegranates were punctured with its flesh spilling out or deeply purpled.

        My mother was predictably distraught at the sight of what she most held dear destroyed. What truly broke me was how she tried to lie to my father about how her passion project was demolished. “These winds can be horrendous around the shore,” she said with a tight jaw. “And the tree…he was too young.” She ascended from the patio to the house and went into the kitchen and brought out the wine, and in a languorous trod returned to the windowsill to listen to the June crickets play for the funeral procession.

        Our vacation was cut short in the end, my mother feigning ill and refusing to see anyone else but her doctor at home. Of course I missed Tobias, but what truly alarmed me was lack of luster in my mother’s eyes. Perhaps her bliss varied with the seasons, but her and I both knew that the roots of that tree burrowed into her lungs, were watered by her tears, and shone on by her heart. She would never be the same, nor would I: our first loves remained in Nantucket, forever a memory baked in sizzling June’s rays.

Post written by Abigail Abraham

 

A Short Story

The hopeless serene birds watched from their painted positions of flight, as white strips of paper fell like delicate white feathers from the pale blue ceiling. Paper was falling halfheartedly, spiraling down towards the blazing orange flames. Each sliver fell gracefully and quietly, only to be quickly snatched from the hot stale air with a loud hiss. The orange tendrils stretched and reached for anything they could possibly attain, seeking to destroy. The coils of flame looked like the legs of a great luminescent octopus, swimming savagely through the air, curling around anything, living or dead – searing whatever it happened to touch, and burning it into a pile of black ash. The paper rained from the pale blue ceiling for only a minute, but to her it seemed an eternity. Everything slowed to a stop. She could almost make out the pattern of the shining black symbols on all the crisp white shreds of paper as they continued to gently fall. She squinted around the deteriorating room though her wet stinging eyes. The act seemed unfathomable. These weren’t just stories. These were worlds. These were dreams. These were people. The pale powder blue above was now being frantically seared a grotesque obsidian by the tips of thin burning orange paint brushes. The black spiraled outwards in all directions, consuming the painted birds ferociously. A tear traced its path through the dark ash on her cheek. The last-standing, grand mahogany case fell with a great crash. The fire cackled and roared in delight. The girl turned to the huge gaping hole where the remaining unhinged door stood, dead, at its post. Scattered books, jammed into, on, and under one another covered the marble floor before her and she ran. She stepped on worlds, kicking a dream up behind her. She tripped on a lie and ripped apart an adventure as she scrambled to get up. She regained her footing on a confession of love, and she ran. She ran on the pages of millions of books.

Post written by Grace Gordon

Train Doors

The door slid open easily enough at the first thrust of my arm. That’s just how train doors are, they stay open or they stay closed; they’re not meant to be in a state of flux. Honestly that’s how he was, like a train door. When I stepped through, whistling was all I could hear after that door opened. It whipped past my ears, drowning all other noise for that brief moment as I adjusted to my new surroundings. Once things quieted I heard him speak, “What took so long?” His voice was calm and his breath offensive; it was something I never could get used to. I never did like smokers anyway, but something about the scene made me think that I was in a movie. I stepped up to his right and leaned heavily against the railing. Dusk turning into twilight is my favorite moment in the day, when the orange dulls into purple, and the cold hues fade into black. I don’t really know why I like it, to be quite honest it’s a bit depressing. Even still, my eyes were fixated forward on the passing landscape, the fields passing like bullets in front of me. “I didn’t know you were waiting.” I said to him only half paying attention. He murmured something back but all I could do was nod my head and respond with, “yeah.” We stood there, him smoking and me staring. After what seemed like mere seconds, twilight took its final steps into night and I lost interest. The struggle wasn’t there anymore. It looked like the day had given way to the moon. I don’t really like night to be frank, and I don’t really like day either. It’s that in between period that I love, that fight between what was and what is to be. I guess that’s why I don’t really like train doors.

Post written by Javier Chiriboga