Deda by Leah Romm

He sighed, ever so gently. I noticed his gray-green eyes light up with a happy nostalgia.

“When I was a little boy in Koziatyn, my friends and I had a very funny birthday tradition. Ivan had received a translation of Tom Sawyer for his seventh birthday, a glorious gift, as books were so, so rare then. Only he hated to read, so he didn’t want it. Igor’s birthday was coming up, and none of us knew what to get him, so Ivan took his copy of Tom Sawyer, opened it to the first page, which was blank, and wrote in his scrawled handwriting, ‘Happy birthday, Igor!’ and we all signed it, a practical joke. We had a great time giving it to him, we really got a kick out of his reaction.”

He stopped for a moment to take his glasses off, and he flashed a toothy grin. It was full and hearty, especially for someone his age.

“Dmitri’s birthday was the next one, and again, we were at a loss—what to get him? The night before, Igor got us all together—except Dmitri—and told us he had an idea for a gift. We sat on the floor of his room, and he got on his hands and knees and reached under his bed. He spent a few moments looking for something, wagging his hand this way and that. Then he pulled out Tom Sawyer. How we howled with laughter, if only you could have heard us. Like hyenas. ‘But it’s got your name on it!’ said Ivan. ‘Not to worry,’ cackled Igor. He took the page we’d written on and ripped it out, only to find another blank page. ‘Happy birthday, Dmitri!’ Igor scribbled onto the page. We just couldn’t help ourselves, we were hysterical. I remember how the tears streamed down our faces, how we grabbed our stomachs. The next day we gave it to Dmitri and how we laughed at his stunned expression. I was next, and of course, I received Tom Saywer with ‘Happy birthday, David!’ written, slightly neater this time (it was probably Boris who wrote it—he always wrote so neatly), on the title page. Right above the title itself. Boris was next, and then Sergei, and then again to Ivan. We kept this up for many, many years. With each year came a longer salutation, more words of kindness and friendship. Often the book was just an attachment, thrown in with whatever other gifts just for the sake of tradition. It was our tradition.”

He paused again, as if to recollect his thoughts, or perhaps to refrain from tears, I was unsure. He gave a shaky sigh.

“They did not know, but I collected all of the torn out pages. When one of us carelessly ripped and tossed a page aside, I kept my eyes on it, never once forgetting to pick it up as we got ready to go home. ‘Just in case,’ I told myself.”

He stopped again. I took his withered hand in mine.

“It’s okay,” I said. “Take your time.”

He sat still. Very still. I could see the memories overwhelming him. He kept his eyes closed for a long time. I thought he might be asleep—he had started to
drift off more often lately—but he soon stirred. His dreamy gaze warmed me. I squeezed his hand, which I had been holding the whole time.

“Only Ivan and I survived the war, but Ivan was a changed man. He drank almost incessantly. He beat his wife and his little child. I went to see him. Daily, at first. Then, once a week. The last time I visited, he told me he had to show me something. We went into his room, and he got down, slowly, on his hands and knees. I think it was almost as if he knew it would be my last visit. He reached under his bed. He wagged his arm familiarly. It saddened me to think of our long-forgotten youth. He pulled something out; it was Tom Sawyer. He couldn’t talk, he was crying too hard. I will never forget how he cried. I told him about how I’d saved the pages. ‘It is too late,’ he responded, shaking his head. Tears flew off his face and hit me with a force greater than anything I’d ever felt, even on the battlefields. Ivan got up from the floor, slowly. He walked to the fireplace. ‘No,’ I begged him. ‘You cannot save what we had,’ he responded so coldly, ‘who we were.’ Ivan threw the book into the fire. I yelled and grabbed the fire iron, anything to save the book, our youth.”

“Did you?” I asked. His eyes lit up as he half-smiled at me.

“Wait here,” he said, and he slowly, painfully got out of the chair and went to his room. I heard him moving things around. I imagined him slowly getting on his hands and knees, wagging his arm under his bed. I heard something fall, accompanied with a familiar curse. He came back, a few moments later,
with a small, black box. He sat down and slowly opened it. Inside was a badly burned old book. I could hardly make out the letters and illustration on the cover. He opened it, revealing many scraps of papers, all with the left edge torn imperfectly. Torn, like the boys’ childhoods. Imperfect, like their lives.

My eyes grew wide, and my throat grew tight. I read the scribbled birthday notes, each one more legible than the one before, each greeting more thoughtful and eloquent than the previous one had been.

“Ivan died a week later…”

“I’m sorry—” I began. But I was interrupted.

“I saved the book. I’ve never shown it to anyone.”

I smiled at him and took both of his hands in mine. The book lay resting on his lap. “Thank you,” I said, giving his frail hands a light squeeze.

Moyo solnze,” he said, as he carefully brought my hands upwards and kissed them. “Moya zhizn.”

She Cut Me When

She cut me when I told her I couldn’t feel a thing. We connected physically the first night before we related emotionally. I only cared about euphemism. She gradually attached me to her stimulating pearly eyes and I called whenever I got the chance. And then she cut me. I called, crying in between the loud music and the tight bathroom stalls. I wept with the ringing and the silence. My friends knocked on the metal doors for me to join them but I fell asleep alone every night that month. By then, nothing was adequate.

She cut me when I told her I was still looking. The busy cafeteria irritated me but I was hungry and waiting irritated me more. I stood behind her in antsy passive aggression. She flipped her hair patiently as someone retrieved his food, biting into it as he slid through the crowd. She eyed him, nodding to herself that that was what she was going to get. She clutched her Vera Bradley backpack and leaned forward. I wasn’t having a hard time deciding; I was going to choose once the lunch lady pressured me, asking what I wanted.
“Nothing.” I told her.
I suddenly wasn’t hungry at all. She sat in the middle of the cafeteria with her chicken fingers and insipid macaroni. She laughed, excusing herself because she forgot her chocolate milk.

Crooked Dream by Mercy Hernandez

His crooked smile drove me wild. Every one of his photos will torture me with that perfect imperfection as they glare back throughout the dusty corners of my abode. I love photography, but it is an emotional killer when the object of my obsession will no longer come into focus when I look through the viewfinder, and I will be forced to remain with these myriad glimpses of framed memories pondering whether I should burn them or keep them in my little box of “it didn’t work out.” I shall miss the way he would wisp away the hair from my eyes to give me a kiss as I read. The side of his bed will now send chills down my spine as I turn over and view the emptiness that mirrors my inside. I shall crave his spontaneous hugs from behind as I stood in the kitchen waiting for the delicious gourmet coffee he would purchase just for me to brew, now trickling down to the last few grounds. Walks in the park during the changing season will not be the same as it will feel like an eternal winter. The sun will not shine as bright and the trees will seem more barren as they bow their heads to the sight of his absence next to me and the gelid wind echoes his name. I will not be the same. No matter how much time elapses, that crooked smile will appear at the most inopportune times on the moon’s silvery surface and in the lonely corridors of my dreams at night.

Watching the Word Volume II, Issue II Intro

There’s no life as rewarding as a bachelor’s. It’s solitaire and quiet like a desert island stashed with water but water, for me, wasn’t a necessity. I felt spoiled being all alone. The world was mine. I knew where everything was and where everything belonged. I chose when I wanted to wake up, when I wanted to nap, and when I wanted to use the bathroom. My world was open to me only. And I didn’t mind standing myself up every once in a while. Procrastination was the key to good timing.

There were a few evenings I would enjoy a Blue Moon amongst dreamers breathing over their liquor, but no one knew where I was. No one knew where I came from. I had my own curfew. It felt free.

Throw Five by Samuel Bigio

I always wanted to throw a house party; it looked so glamorous in the media. My parents finally built up the trust to leave me home alone. Boy, were they mistaken! Who should I invite? How should I obtain drinks? These were not questions I thought very hard about. As soon as my bearded friend was free to go into a liquor store that didn’t have any grief about identification, I was ready to invite my closest friends. This led to the problem of prioritizing my friendship, and choosing who I liked better. Needless to say, I decided that not everyone would come so I invited a handful.

Money wasn’t an issue for me, but I was against spending more than two hundred dollars on party favors. Good thing my trusty friends wanted to guarantee the party’s outcome. After two hours of preparation, I was ready to have the night of my life. First my closest guy friends came, and soon after girls started showing up one after another.
“Hi, I’m Michelle, we went to elementary school together.”
“What the fuck just happened?” was my first thought, but luckily I said, “Oh yeah, I remember you! Thanks for coming.”
“No problem, and my brother Ricky is coming. I’m sure you remember him!”
“Of course!” I said in the most false way possible, but she didn’t notice.
That is the exact moment I realized I had made a mistake. When people I hadn’t seen since elementary school were showing up with siblings, it had definately gotten out of hand.

Five to drink, not that hard to understand, but apparently they didn’t have five.
“I brought four beers, though. Is that okay?”
“Can I pay you back at school?”
“Can my friend owe you?”
“Dave’s driving.”
“Can we share a beer?”
And, “Let me just drink this myself, and then drink your money.”
Sure, let me just pay for all the alcohol for people I don’t even know. Sounds awesome! As long as my house doesn’t get fucked up– that was my biggest concern. Everyone wanted to take shots with me. I couldn’t let them down; I had to have the best party ever. Sure I’ll smoke some of your weed. I don’t smoke that much, but what could go wrong? I can’t remember the rest of the night. Stacy got in a car accident and almost died. Someone could have died of alcohol poisoning. My mom’s house was ruined. I fucked up.