The Gleaner is a theme-based literary journal edited by the undergraduate students at Delaware Valley University.

We showcase all forms of written work as well as artwork and photography pieces.

This year’s theme is SIN.

The Gleaner is currently accepting submissions for its 2016-17 edition.

The theme is “What Keeps You Up at Night?”

Submissions are open to all undergraduates for the categories of poetry, prose, photography, and artwork.

Send all submissions digitally to leslee.blahut@delval.edu

Physical artwork can be dropped off in Miller Hall.

Film Competition Submission Guidelines:

Filmmakers must be full-time undergraduate students.

Selected finalists must be able to attend the Gleaner Gala in April 2017.

Film must be no longer than 10 minutes from opening to closing credits.

Opening credits should included at least the film’s title.

Film must include closing credits.

Closing credits should included the name of your college.

The file should be saved as your last name + first initial + college.

By Publication Year

By Genre

By Recognition


Appeared in print edition

First Prize

Second Prize

Third Prize

CoffinCoffin

in a vessel lies
in a coffin lies
in a sac lies
not even six months
more like three
not safe guarded
trapped
in a mirage womb
in wall whispers
Safi, help me get rid of it
punch me
hit the stomach before it swells fingers up in there
quick
sharp
we both know tombs don’t hold the living very well
my body doesn’t hold child well
it’s selfish
it won’t make it, not even ‘til birth
not even 6 months
maybe 3
he doesn’t need to know
after the blood he’ll never come back
this wasn’t supposed to happen
Give me another drink
while I still have the nerve
and I’m not alone
never again alone
why wait?
I’ll just keep drinking
Rolling
nothing can survive that right?
she named her
I doubt she remembers telling me
but she did
after about three months
she refused to get her hopes up
get
sober
said she knew her body
I was two hours away when it started
she was right
ain’t nothin sexy about blood
he didn’t come
we drank through it
and in a week
when it was over
it’d never happened.

Poetry / Spoken Word
2015-16

WildflowersWildflowers

That field of wildflowers
You know the one I mean
Where rose petals might fall
Loaded, onto saturated green
As I ask myself if I love you
Velvet lingers on the breath of my “not”
So different from the moonlit meadow
Where the night draws forth
The weight of a heavier sun
With rays reaching, gently
Into my blouse, not heart
Upon those wildflowers
Their dusty pollen staining
My heart, not blouse
And I’m blinded by yellow
Though I can better hear the stream
Trickling into forever
But with a certain rhyme
That shimmers by day but
Drowns rose petals at night
That’s where I’ll take you
And break you in all the places
You know the ones I mean
Just to watch
As you wax and wane
Like the other fallacies
Of life

Poetry / Spoken Word
2015-16

The Nigerian GirlThe Nigerian Girl

I didn’t know any of the three women dressing me that day. Mother says they are family. Mother says it doesn’t matter if I don’t know them, it is in the blood.  Mother says they are all my Iya. Mother says I don’t need friends when I have this much family. Mother says the one pinning fabric to my waist is her sister but I’ve never seen her speak- only smile from corners or goodbye hugs at family functions. I don’t really know her. We aren’t really friends. Mother says family is stronger than anything. I wanted Kana to be here with me, but she’s too young Iya said. Women still need some mysteries and everyone needs family. Mother says don’t ask questions. Trust them. Mother says I will make a good Ifa wife. I said two words that day. It was a beautiful Yoruba wedding my mother adorned everything in shades of purple lace.  Mother chose him.  Baba says Nigerian men will always have multiple wives. Mother says comprehension is not a requirement for following instructions. I’d met him, twice which was more than I can say for my sister. They were afraid if she met him before the ceremony she’d spoil it. Mother says women have a role to play, it is not easy but it is necessary. I’ve always been the more cooperative one. Baba says,“Kilade, this is best for our family.” Mother says you will have security in a provider.  He had a nice face, round, kind. No one introduced me to the women I’d have to share him with. Mother says, being ruled by emotions is an Oyimbo quality. Baba says they are simply proof of his wealth. I am simply proof of his wealth.  Mother says she thought about taking another husband. She isn’t Baba’s first wife. Mother says our system promotes tradition and togetherness. Mother says I will make a good Ifa wife. Mother says she’s so happy for me but couldn’t un-wrinkle her brow. Last night she asked, what are your other options? Do you want to come back to Ibadan with us?  Baba says our culture is our immune system. I cannot survive Brooklyn alone. My aunt, the one that doesn’t speak, her husband died last year, none of his brothers would remarry her. She had to move back home. The family they look at her like her skin has fallen off. Like she is nothing without her husband. Mother assures me I’ll be happy, she chose him well. Baba says this is womanhood. We have nothing in common but foreign land. Mother says don’t go to New York and forget where you came from. Baba says you are always representing more than yourself. You are always representing this family. This culture. These traditions. I’d say I disagree. I’d say I want love. My own life. I’d say how am I a woman if I don’t make my own decisions. I’d make my own decisions. Mother says it is not our culture to pursue everything else before family. Mother says just because you’re an adult at eighteen in America doesn’t mean you stop respecting your elders. I could have my own life, by abandoning this culture. My sister did.  Three years into her marriage her husband married again, his fifth wife. To her, that meant splitting time with another woman. She left him, without consulting her Iyaale or any elder. She didn’t go back to Ibadan. She moved to Baltimore and got a job and an apartment. She doesn’t come home. Mother says I would make a good Ifa wife. Her eyes are almost pleading. I only said two words that day. I’m starting to see the blood in family, becoming my aunt.

Short Fiction
2015-16

PariahPariah

Pariah
I know you hate me,
I know how you cringe
at the content of my cherished thoughts.
But how could you anonymous masses hate me
any more than I hate myself?

I've examined my lot,
the plight of the automatic pariahs.
It seems some accident at birth
may have branded me with its ugly scar
or possibly it was a memory,
dark around the edges,
that I cannot look at directly -
a Gorgon's face that leaves me fleeing blindly,
feverishly pondering its contents
and asking, "Did he?"

Alone, I sullenly look on
as rare friends parade
their marital bliss
and their children
before me,
like the display of jewels
locked behind glass
and far too costly to obtain.

Even the lovers I can count on my fingers
sense my sickness.
They stiffen at my pleas
for certain kinds of role play,
at my enduring, irremediable dissatisfaction
when the fantasy terminates within flesh too rough,
too heavy, too impure,
already seasoned to sexuality.

My conscience crushes me,
for I know I shall never sate myself;
I read fiction furtively, looking over my shoulder
as I attain my guilty purpose.
Many times, my mouse has hovered over
sketchy search engines for hours without clicking,
before I dissolve in repentant tears
and shudder in self-disgust
at the thought of indulging
in this enterprise of pain.

I think of the thousands hurting
because of men like me
who went astray.
I think how cruel it is
that I should be fashioned
like a broken machine
to eroticize innocence,
the antithesis of sexuality.

I know you hate me
for these thoughts
decreed by an unhappy resolution
in my biology -
I may have done nothing,
but I know you hate me still,
and I absolutely understand.
How could any of you anonymous masses hate me
any more than I hate myself?

Poetry / Spoken Word
2015-16

The SimnsThe Simns

Painting / Illustration
2015-16

StrangulationStrangulation

Strangulation

With cigarette tainted fingertips
You caressed my cheeks so gently
I thought you just might be God
Answering my foolish prayers
Conjured from images of
Steamy car windows and
Rolling sheets over faces
I couldn’t realize that strangulation
Was what I had perceived to be love
Because all I ever had was a father
Offering what was within arms reach
Of his bed and the bottle
A heart knowing nothing of such love
Without grasping tentacles
Never learned how to thwart this plague
Now I’d gladly face rats over
Hot breath in my ear
Whispering words I had never known
Suction-cupping holes in me
I didn’t know could be
Just to be the thing to fill them in
To make me drunk like the rest
That was the first one
But life couldn’t tell me
How to live without addiction
Never thought I’d be the girl
Crawling the streets at 3 am
But my heart was used to shame
So when you braided my flaws in the rope
I already knew how to tie the knot
Trading self pride for an emptiness
Far worse than being alone
I was told it was the only way
To fill in the holes
Til I clawed my way out
Of the pit you buried me in
To I think I’d prefer that sweet stench
Of smoke and pheromones
Suffocation, now
Before I could forgive your stained palms
For closing around my windpipe
I warned you I’m a runner
And this is me running
After I caught my breath
Amidst your broken appeals
Your fatal mistake
Because now I can scream
I never was dumb enough
To let a man fool me twice

Poetry / Spoken Word
2015-16

Why We Let Them StayWhy We Let Them Stay

Mother tells me father is spill
I have always been mop
Because I am always here
He’ll never be less stain
Stench
He’s made my spine
With bend
Just for this
It is the him in you
That makes heart never really stop love
Leave
The women on my father’s side
all have bending spines
have always
Shared their men
With women
The world
It is something in this blood
That only knows
How to
spread
Open
Always
Letting the men come back
Anyway
My aunts inherited this
I think
From my nana
A sympathy for men in tough situations
mouths that always say come home
Grandpa was in a tough situation
He was married
And nana always let him in
I used to believe in love
Now I believe in God
Sometimes
Barely
I believe love’s scorched the sanity out of me
is all the smoke in me
I know sleep comes for me different when I can’t smell him
so I bend the lock every time
It’s not about him
its that lonely looks so damn good til the walls start talking
it’s about the air
the way this body sweats
breaks out in heat
the stomach churns non stop
sorrows comes for my smile
and hides in a riot of me
maybe this is what Nana felt
This anger of push and pull is
The only thing more constant
than him choosing someone else
Momma always said it can't always be everyone else but you
She don't think I listen but I do
I know this love a stain
but maybe its my inheritance
not everybody bleed cute
What if Nana taught us
gravity is a work of god
there is no out here
heart becomes a tomb of loss in leave and in stay
fact is the house will burn
whether from his fire
or the one I keep warm when he goes
and he always comes back
I just can't talk about it always
Admit that love is a thin veil that lets me call this something other than obsession 
that I have no idea what I'm doing
And I'm always sorry
When I'm not I'm at the feet of a man who won't look me in the eye
I'm always sorry
Always working to dismantle the bombs in me
and straighten this spine out
but mom this body is a mine-field
No one gave me a map
but he knows the terrain so well
Mom,
I have this reoccurring haunt
This blood of daddy’s
Is magnet
For any man who can smell

Poetry / Spoken Word
2015-16

To the Boy That Didn’t Look BackTo the Boy That Didn’t Look Back

     Well, it’s 2:52 in the morning

And I’m drunk
On too-sweet vodka and reckless laughter
That nearly always give way
To slurred confessions and mumbled revelations

    And here I am
Lying in bed at last
Wondering why it hasn’t felt the same
Since that night I pressed my cheek to the sound of your heartbeat
And felt your fingers tracing mine in the darkness
As we both pretended to sleep
Keenly aware of how easily we fit together
(and hating it)
Telling ourselves that nothing would change
Throwing back our thoughts like burning whiskey shots
We’re too young to drink
Too young to fell this distinct sting.

    We tell ourselves we’re older than we are
We can handle what life gives us
And maybe I can handle what life gives me
But I already have my hands full of you.

    So the Svedka lends false body heat
And warms me
Almost the way your touch did that night,
But I’m coming to the conclusion
That this insincere fire in my veins
Is just as superficial as the kisses you stole
Under the sheets that night
Like you could chase away my admitted flaws with quickened breaths.
(but did you steal anything
If I so desperately wanted to give it away?)

    I lay here alone
And I will wait until the flames racing in my blood
Slowly burn down to embers
And I will learn to warm my own bed
Without liquid courage
And without your touch.
Maybe it won’t feel the same as it did
Before you,
But at least that’s one thing the bed and I
Have in common.

Poetry / Spoken Word
2015-16

PineapplesPineapples

The first time, he said it was sexy.

Let his fingers cup my ass,
ignored my mustache stained boxers 
thick and grey - they were supposed to be lace,
supposed to be soft like inside.

He didn’t even ask whose they were.

It was the first time a boy hadn’t - and that was the sexiest thing about him.
He licked his lips at the challenge of having to wonder, for once,
how this girl could gender-bend sexy and still get him hard.

He said it’s crazy but it suits you.

He let me siphon the moan woman
pulls at the back of his throat.
Only when his roommates asleep could I
pull his hair, revel in the twists his face makes.
You could tell it hurt and he could tell I loved it.

He hated when I slapped his ass.

It didn’t matter who was watching or how dark the room was.
He said it made him feel weird, gay.
I tried to tell him how sexist it is to not bend back and return the favor.

but this man is blues bruises
knows love through hard and mouth

He leaves handprints everywhere he touches,
tears open and listens for the sound of snapping bones/backs, whichever goes first.
He wants to see what it’ll take to make me
shudder and drown in him

He says it don’t feel the same when I keep my hat on.

Work down the shape of him and round my mouth gentle.
He almost forgets his eyes roll back and close, mouth hangs, whispers god.
When eyes open he tells me i have no chill.

I play too much coming in here all like a nigga, tryna fuck him.

It’s weird looking down and seeing me like that.
He can’t do it, fuck someone who looks so much like him,
fuck someone who fucks him the way he fucks.
He feels taken from his own skin.

He can’t get passed how much I look like I’m not supposed to be here.
The image of what I’m supposed to look like bent over don't compare to the ways I've learned to throw my legs behind my head, not like question but command -the way the boys do.

I tell him I ain’t swallowing shit and the splatter better miss me.

Secretly he’s angry I’m not the type of girl who’ll let him use the face as target.
who takes pleasure in the rough of given and asks for nothing else.
Because that woman is a good fuck
I’m supposed to want him in the guts, supposed to lay open and be taken.

He is a real nigga.
Sex ain’t hetero if his hair hangs lower than mine.
He can’t handle changing roles, says he’s too straight for that,
rather I’m too gay for his kind of sex, I better find a woman to do that shit too.
Last week touching his ass at all became a hard limit.

Last night he had this issue with fucking because my is hair short.

He tries to time out what weeks I’ll have braids.
Most times he ends up pulling them out the first day.
I spend the next morning redoing them before class or hiding the bald spots.

He says he needs something to pull.
He doesn’t understand
I like pulling hard too.

Poetry / Spoken Word
2015-16

Lessons from Lil Kim No.2Lessons from Lil Kim No.2

They will try to soften you
tell you painted lips
ain’t supposed to pearl blunts perfect
hold smoke like it belongs there
& because love
because a smoking gun
with painted nails
scares the men(boys)
because love
doesn’t make them come
you will let them
Expose skin
hid barrel tongue
Mask gunfire
In nudity
Because love
You will like it
you will make it sexy,
the raunchy.
expose
all
skin
round edges
hold them all in nest of your black
shed
put lips to the shit
Because love
Because you need them to love
Mouths sit perched where breasts were
Full of bullets
Swollen with you
But it’s okay
Because they love it
They don’t even taste the metal
They stay (pay) for the show

Poetry / Spoken Word
2015-16

FacelessFaceless

I always hated those clocks without the numbers and lines on them. You know, the ones with just the hands but no face? As a kid trying to learn how to tell time it seemed like some insufferable enigma. It angered me, wondering why someone would put hands there without anything to point to, without any way for people to grasp their meaning. Eventually I figured out that you’re just supposed to guess and hope that’s good enough. That’s what everyone else does, and they manage.

Some people will tell you they prefer them for aesthetic purposes, those faceless clocks. You can put such pretty pictures in them without the lines and numbers disrupting the backdrop. Or you could just have a blank backdrop highlighting the hands. With that thinking, they seem to be more of a statement piece to me, more of a work of art than a functional mechanism for time telling.
I asked my grandma about these once. I sat in an old floral armchair at her house, gazing up at her infamous faceless clock with disapproval as it sat mockingly on the wall, as if in a place of honor or high-esteem. I hated this one in particular because it disrupted the cozy antique style of her home. It had a sleek silver frame and metal hands with an all black backdrop contrasting starkly with the warm wooden tones decorating the rest of the house. This clock was much too modern, too alien, too…faceless. My grandma glanced up from the book she was reading enough times to see my childish sights firmly aimed on the clock, ready to fire.
“What’s the matter, dear? Do you have a problem with my clock?” she asked in an amused tone.
“Why can’t you just get a regular clock, Grandma?” I grumpily asked, “Why does it have to be one of these kind?”
She seemed surprisingly intrigued by my question, and pondered a few minutes before answering, “Because this is the most accurate kind,” and, satisfied by her reply, was immediately consumed by her book once more. I pouted around for the rest of the afternoon. Clearly my cynical attitude towards life was already materializing in childhood. 
I still thought faceless clocks were more like disturbing works of art. Definitely not accurate keepers of time, and almost untruthful somehow. I was never able to comprehend how right my Grandma was.


Christmas Eve, mid-afternoon, a boyfriend was driving back to his parent’s house for the annual Christmas gathering while his girlfriend sat in the passenger seat, legs up on the dash, sipping a coffee. His eyes on the road, her eyes were on him, lovingly studying that face he always makes while concentrating. Her mouth was creased into a goofy smile, resonant with that of someone keeping a secret that was about to unfold, because they were, because they had just gotten engaged. He offered her a brief grin, glancing out the corner of his eye at her before returning to the road because he sensed she was watching him. She looked away, blushing, and turned her gaze to the rolling landscape beyond the passenger window of the car.  Her smile seemed impermeable that day. It’s funny how when people are most off-guard is when life hits the hardest.


We met each other at a coffee shop. He hated coffee. But he was there catching up with some of his old high school friends. I was there because I needed something to help me endure my college workload.
The barista called my name and as I walked over to pick up my drink I overheard him mumble, “Here, I got it for ya,” to one of the girls he was sitting with. He got up and bumped into me reaching for the same coffee.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” he said, and I shrugged it off, muttering something about how common my name is and how much I hate it and how the stupid barista spelled it wrong once again so maybe the drink wasn’t even mine anyway. He laughed and we both went to sit down at our respective tables. But he turned around, noticing that I was seated alone, and asked, “Hey, do you want to sit down with us?” gesturing to an open seat at his table.
I grew incredibly uncomfortable at this point, being the awkward introvert that I was, used to being invisible. But for some strange reason I agreed to sit with him. Totally out of character. It must have been the fumes of espresso messing with my head.
I remember being introduced to all his friends at the table. I remember laughing at everything he said, because he was so freaking funny. I remember how the girl whose coffee he tried to get glared at me the whole time, and how we laughed about it later. I remember how the barista called her name again a few minutes later and he didn’t offer to get the coffee this time.  I remember there wasn’t a clock in that coffee shop.
I suppose I grew to love him most for his spirit, because he was the kind of person that emanated kindness and positivity and was so witty and fun that you just wanted to spend your whole life cherishing them in the hopes that a little bit of them will rub off on you. And he had this unshakable will to believe in people and the world in spite of everything that I found at least fascinating, even if it seemed implausible with my introverted pessimistic nature. He was one of those few people that you find in a lifetime that you think truly deserves to be on this Earth more than anyone else. Exactly the kind of person you would expect to meet in a coffee shop spontaneously and only because of a drink mix-up. Some days he really had me convinced our relationship was pre-ordained by some higher power, that the universe actually was conspiring in our favor.
We were in the park a couple years later when he proposed. I remember being so pissed because it was raining. I hated the rain. But he met me as I was leaving work and dragged me to the park, me swinging my curmudgeon torch the whole way wondering why in the hell he was doing this, my hair would be ruined, and I didn’t have the right shoes on for this, and my clothes were soaking through and now I was cold. God bless him for wanting to put up with my charming personality for the rest of his life.
He sat me on a bench and pulled out a coffee from the plastic bag he was carrying.
“You drug me to the park in the pouring rain to give me a goddamn coffee?!?!” I shouted. He laughed, and I readied myself for another onslaught of bitching because this was not a joke, when he pulled out another smaller bag that looked like the kind that usually held some sort of bakery item.
“You think a freaking cake pop is going to make this okay?!?!” I yelled, which, at this point I was starting to doubt myself because cake pops do normally make things okay, when he said, “Open it.”
And my tears blended with the rain on my cheeks.
I once read on the Internet that when you fall in love with someone, you should fall in love with their eyes. Not just because they’re the windows to the soul, the common cliché, but because they’re timeless. When all else deteriorates through the weathering of age, the body, the skin, the hair, the voice and unfortunately even the brain, the eyes remain mostly unchanged. But I don’t think that’s entirely true. Eyes aren’t unchanging; the innocent and youthful eyes of a child are drastically different than the eyes of the elderly, which reflect the hardships of life they have experienced. And eyes can express a variety of different emotions on a daily basis: love, pain, fear, happiness, anger. 
And yet, maybe the Internet was right, because I do think eyes become timeless. But only in death. Only one last emotion before impact is frozen in time upon a person’s face, the eyes framing only the final fragment, one shard of broken glass fallen from the window pane of a person’s life. And then the eyelids are gently closed. The eyelids are always closed and the tarp pulled over the body because we want things to remain faceless. And then the maggots swarm the corpse, crawling through empty eye sockets. Blackness. And the broken skeleton of a forearm is twisted into such a position that it seems to be grasping towards its eyes, toward those black holes, toward the face consumed. Yes, I also read once that the eyes are always the first to go. The love tends not to be that definitive preserved emotion. I hate those faceless clocks.


The road was icy that day; they knew it. It had just rained the night before and they, upon waking early the next morning in preparation to leave, had been forewarned by that local weatherman that ice would have formed on the roads, so be careful out there. It’s no one’s fault really; black ice is impossible to see and even if you are going slow it doesn’t always make a difference. Especially not when a tractor-trailer is flying full speed towards you in the other lane, probably trying to make some last minute deliveries before Christmas.  And thousands of couples just like them were just trying to make it home for the same occasion. One minute they were laughing together in the car, excited to announce their engagement at the family Christmas party, relishing in their love for each other the way innocent young couples do. The next minute there’s a car demolished, flipped upside down in the middle of the highway while a tractor-trailer skids over to the side of the road with a few dent marks. It seems too easy, when a car lies overturned on the road, as if flipping something that weighs the same as an elephant is so simple. As if the very hand of God had reached down from the heavens and flicked the car with his forefinger, flicked it like a fly from his shirt.
The truck driver rushes out of his vehicle; cars further behind on the road are forced to come slamming to a stop, just in time to see the couple’s car burst into flames. It’s like something out of a movie; no one thought cars could combust so quickly. Not tonight. If anyone had cared to look, dared to look, the two faces of the couple were briefly visible through the passenger side window of the tossed car. At least until the flames destroyed them. Faces turned toward each other, staring into each other’s eyes open wide, they were still holding hands as their flesh melted and their bone turned to ash, littering the fresh layer of snow on the ground with blackness.
The truck-driver turned away from the scene, speechless and in shock. He felt a slight prickling sensation on his right forearm and realized that in the accident his watch had been crushed, the glass face broken into pieces, a few of which were now protruding out of his skin. One by one droplets of blood began to spill onto the watch, spilling like the snowflakes from the heavens, spilling like the ash from the flames. His nose was bleeding. The blood began to obscure the numbers of the tiny clock as he looked down upon it. He could no longer read the time.


I felt it before anything else, the car’s tires spinning out of his control, but I didn’t have enough time to process that it was the ice, didn’t have enough time to process anything. I felt an arm brace my chest as if I was some infant on a roller coaster ride that wasn’t held secure enough by the seatbelt provided. It was kind of funny really, that that was his first instinct, and I think I actually laughed for a brief moment. I laughed as my life spiraled out of control. As if it was a joke. Then I saw him let go of the wheel and turn towards me, grasping my hand, and in that instant time froze.
I was lying in a hospital bed, tubes taped all over my body, and I knew it was my deathbed because God knows I would never allow myself to be trapped in a hospital for a long-term stay otherwise. My fear of this place was palpable; I could smell the sickness in the air through the tubes in my nose, feel the pain of it in my eyes straining against the blinding white of the walls. Someone familiar was holding my hand but it felt strange, rougher and yet slippery as if I would lose the grip of the embrace at any moment. It was my husband, staring at me with his beautiful brown eyes, this time full of only pain and grief. We had grown old, and his face was strange to me now. It seemed as though he had already started mourning my death, and I wondered how long I had been lying in this hospital bed.
I heard faint bubbling noises and some beeping. I figured this was from those infernal machines of the hospital, and that laughter I heard must actually be crying from rooms down the hall, but then I started to smell coffee and I was back in that coffee shop so many years ago. His friends were leaving, we were leaving, but he held me back for a minute.
“Can I see you again?” he seemed to plead with me.
“I think I would like that,” I remember saying, and I saw him smile, saw it in his eyes for the first time and he actually kissed me on the cheek and just walked away. Scandalous; I had just met this guy! But I think we both already knew what was there. We could see it in each other’s eyes.
But I couldn’t see it anymore, as the beeping brought me back to the white walled room again where I was staring into a wrinkled face framed by gray. His face, the same face, I reminded myself. He was pulling a blanket up to my shoulders.
“You feel so cold dear,” he said. Cold…
And then it was raining and I was sitting on a bench in soaked clothes freezing my flesh, no, I was sitting in his lap now and we were kissing and there was a ring on my finger.
“Oops, I think I just spilled the coffee babe,” I said as I felt something bump my elbow. But the liquid was washed away by the rain just as my tears had been washed from my cheeks, and he laughed.
He wasn’t laughing anymore though, and I still smelled the spilled coffee, no, it was someone else holding a coffee walking into that white room again, that grotesquely sterile room, and there was a clock on the wall. I was angry now.
“Who is that??” I yelled, or it felt like I wanted to yell it but I couldn’t hear anything to be sure that I actually spoke. But he replied, “That’s your grandson,” the last syllable catching in his throat. I was so confused at this, angered by this, because I had no memories of this. This wasn’t real.
I felt my lips parting again, such a struggle it was to speak now, and I whispered, “We’re out of time, babe.” That was when my husband began to cry, tears plunging out of his eyes in that sort of disturbing way that they do when a man that never shows sadness in public suddenly can’t hold back his pain anymore.
The round, black framed clock suspended on the wall of my hospital room began ticking audibly, blending with the beeping of those machines, growing increasingly louder as I focused my attention on it. I squinted hard to try and read the numbers on its face but they were blurred by the black frame, or my vision was blurred, and then I couldn’t see anything anymore but black and my heart was pounding and my body was spinning out of control, but my husband was still crying and holding my hand whispering, “I’ll see you on the other side, beautiful,” and I thought it was in response to what I said in the hospital but I wasn’t in the hospital anymore. I was back in the car and there was a tractor-trailer about to hit us in the other lane.
There was no trace of love in his eyes at that moment, the same way it was purged from his face in the hospital. The only thing frozen in his face now was pure terror.
He almost convinced me that our love was divine. That the universe might actually be conspiring in our favor. Until that same God that felt so inclined to bring us together and show us the world decided to tear us apart with a casual snap of his fingers, tearing our families apart and taking all of the love with him. That was my final thought. That love wouldn’t be the last window preserved in my eyes nor in his; it wouldn’t be the look that became timeless on a dying face. It would be fear. But no one else would know this. No one else would really ever know what was frozen in my or my husband’s eyes that night because to everyone else in the world, the moment our car collided with the tractor-trailer we became faceless. 


“It’s a shame, this, especially with it being Christmas Eve and all,” a scrawny young EMT drawled through the twangs of a Southern accent desperately fighting to stay hidden. His hands eventually betrayed his novice only just before he pulled the curtain over the cadavers to hide the faces, trembling only in the moment of delving closest to the painfully widened eyes in order to force them shut. The elder EMT on the scene nodded, pulling out a clipboard and proceeding to fill out the necessary paperwork.
“Only the good die young,” he blurted nonchalantly, negligently, just standing and staring in the street as the bodies were carted away. The sun was beginning to set.
“That’s what they say,” muttered the elder EMT with casual vacancy of a seasoned warrior now immune to the brutalities of war, immune to contagion.
“At least they were together, you know, when it happened,” the younger EMT continued. The elder sneered with her face still tucked down into her papers.
In an instant the elder EMT imagined their faces upon the impact, wide-eyed and gaping in terror. Being beyond blurred now from the marring fire it was impossible to read into the faces for a detailed portrayal of the couple. The EMT saw the minimal damage on the body of the other victim of the crash, the truck driver, repaired by a few stitches. She also saw the damage forever lurking just beneath his eyes that doctors would never fix, altering his gaze forever, painting his story across his face.
She saw the black ashes littering the snowy ground and pictured the families at the funerals, black umbrellas in the rain, black dresses in mourning, black boots scarring more wounds upon the damp earth, black hearts infected by Death. Probably muttering some shit about how peaceful their faces looked in the casket.
The EMT saw the black emptiness now, consuming the world that could have been, fragments passing by in a whirlwind: a ring, a gown, a kiss, a marriage, a home, a child, a family, that future, those lives.
The EMT then saw memories from her own life, familiar faces cycling momentarily within her vortex of thought as if waiting to be sucked in, their hands raised, grasping at nothingness, meaninglessness, an empty black backdrop. At least they were together, she thought. But it was only an instant, just an instant in time. And then there was just the EMT again. And their faces turned back into the faces. They all turned back into nothing but lumps under a tarp. Circling towards the young EMT, the elder abruptly asked, “Are you afraid of being alone when your time comes?” 
Their eyes met, and although it was only for an instant, that’s all it took for the contagion to seep through the cracks in her barricade. So much for being immune. She could see the younger EMT’s hands trembling again. Me too, she responded silently to herself.
With a blasé nod of acknowledgement to the ensuing silence, signaling that the day’s work was over, the senior EMT organized her papers and ambled over to her vehicle to leave the scene. She couldn’t stop thinking about those lumps under the tarp wondering why, after they went through all the trouble covering up bodies would anyone want them to be revealed, why we had morticians to make the faces “pretty” again so people could look at them at funerals. Why would anyone want to see that? It was still snowing and she shivered, and for a minute toyed with the idea of retiring next year and maybe moving to Florida, yes that would be nice. Buckling her seatbelt and slouching silently in the driver’s seat for a minute before setting off, she thought to herself, I guess we all want a reason to believe, and drove straight to the nearest bar. She would be fine, she thought. She always was. But tonight all she wanted to do was drink until every last face became a blur.

Short Fiction
2015-16