A Goodbye Letter

By Hannah Lee.

Dear Ava,

If you could see how many times I’d written and rewritten this same letter, I’m sure you’d call me a pathetic, indecisive “poohead” (as you’ve become accustomed to calling me).

I’m sure you’d also ask me why I don’t put the same sort of drafting and re-drafting skills to my essays, which – in my opinion – have always been unfairly judged by the whackjobs who teach at this proud institution we call “university”/waste of money. I can’t wait to graduate next year and never come back. Although, knowing my luck, I will probably end up resorting to a teaching degree and be cursed to teach here forever. The irony of it would make me hang myself.

You’re lucky you get to escape this place as a fancy transfer student. But don’t you start thinking for a second that I’m jealous. Who would want to go to Paris when you’ve got the dry, barren land of Australia stretching out before you? I for one wouldn’t dream of leaving.

As you know, I’m no good at goodbyes. I avoid them when I can, and if I have to do it, they come out as weird adolescent grunts or bashful kicks of dust. My parents used to give me all kinds of shit as a kid when I refused to say goodbye to people e.g. relatives, friends, even my super hot babysitter. They thought I was being rude, but I just felt super awkward because I didn’t know what to say. As in, I didn’t know how to say a “good” goodbye.

I bet you a million dollars you’re thinking about my exes right now. Jessica, crazy Anna, Laura, and Bonnie. You’ve seen me say goodbye to every one of them, and naturally, they’ve never stayed in contact with me because of the quality of my goodbyes. But you’ve seen it all, heard it all, and I’m sure you’re psychological profile of me as a commitment-phobe with narcissistic personality disorder sort of plays into that.

You have to admit, I’m great at hellos though. Remember when we first met at that dress up party? I was Sigmund Freud, and you were a lobster. I wish we had taken a photo of that.

When you find this letter, I really hope you’re in Paris, settling in. In fact, the later you find it the better. That’s kind of why I hid it deep in your luggage. When you were staying at my place, and you were doing last minute checks around the house for things you might have forgotten, I was sneakily shoving this letter deep into the layers of shirts, socks, and underthings (excuse me) that made up your fat bag. Ps. You left your toothbrush behind.

I’m hoping that if you read the letter a bit later on in your journey, you’ll think of me despite the distance, and it’ll remind you to fucking call or write once in a while. Please.

Goodbye, Ava. I don’t know when I will next see you, but if you decide Paris is the place to be, and you don’t return to the good land of Australia, I want you to know that I will miss you. And I want to hear from you. I love you.

Best,

Michael “Poohead” Fraser

A 20-Minute Writing Adventure

By Hannah Lee.

Today I went on a writing adventure into Brooklyn. I attended a writing workshop held by the New York Writing Coalition – a non profit organization that gives a creative voice to people from all walks of life through writing practice.

We were given the prompt: Everybody is ahead of everybody else. I came to the workshop a little late, so I only had twenty minutes to write but here is what I came up with.

— 

The dead zone. That’s the time between 2AM and the sunrise. It’s the space of time that makes you feel like a ghost, hanging around bitterly in the living room while the rest of your housemates are sound asleep. You lurk in the kitchen, making a cup of tea. You stare into the blue black sky like a zombie, immobilized by how useless you really are.

I’ve done every tip, recommendation, idea, and suggestion, every tried and tested remedy in the book for sleeplessness.  Eat healthier, exercise, meditate, read, designate 30 minutes of stress time and juice out your worries so they don’t creep into bed with you. Confront your inner boogie monster by saying positive affirmations in front of the mirror. I said mine in an awkward whisper. I’ve done these before. But here I am. I’m back in the dead zone.

I push the sliding door to the balcony and rest my cup of tea on one of the sundeck chairs. I close the door behind me so that I can have the winter wind all to myself. I always choose to sit on the floor. I cross my legs like an angsty Buddha, prepare my forbidden cigarette, and brace the hot cup of tea in my hands. This is my ritual. The formalities of being one of The Unslept.

I stare down at the yellow cabs that occasionally zip down the street below. I indulge in following them with my eyes as far as I can see, wondering where they’re headed, what they’re thinking – these fellow sleepless companions. In the apartment building opposite, most lights are off, but the rare few that are awake now light up their square windows like lighthouses to the drifters who can’t drift to sleep.

Signs of life at this time are always symbolized by light. The butt of my cigarette glows and dies, glows and dies with every drag, and I release the ghost of that fire with the stream of grey white smoke.

I recall attending the funeral of a college classmate. I didn’t know him well enough to be sad, but we had many mutual friends, which I guess got me into the funeral party. I remember some of my close friends – eyes red and bloated from crying, dramatically sliding down walls with grief, hyperventilating, and skipping classes, taking personal days and all that. With the smallest pinch of guilt I remember thinking, ‘What is the big deal?’ Everyone dies. Everyone loses someone they knew. Everyone gets to heaven, hell, the afterlife, Disneyland, whatever’s on the other side at some point. Everyone is ahead of everyone else. Some are just waiting, biding their time.

The sun starts to rise. It touches the cloud with lemonade colors, and the dead zone begins to ebb into the everyday routine of just another Monday. Sleepless Night Number Five has ended. I grind the head of the cigarette against concrete and flick it off the balcony into the morning sky.

Untitled

By Mario D. Gabriele.

The girl had been bludgeoned to death. That’s what the woman was saying. She took another bite of white toast, took a breath, “Killed her in cold blood poor lamb. Nineteen years old. Right on the back of the head, oh gosh Henry I don’t want to read anymore about it.” She put the paper down and sat sulking in her blue trekking fleece, puffing and sweating from eating too quickly. She was American, possibly Canadian-there had been too few low Os to tell. She spread orange marmalade thickly on another piece of imported bread, it had made the same journey she had, likely, and it had survived the trip better. Henry, balding on top looked at his life/girlfriend/noncommittal lifer with earnest concern,“Ooooooh dear.” Canadian then. Henry’s Hapsburgian, inbred chin trembled, “Oh Oh Oh Dear.” He adjusted the T-shirt tucked into his trousers and pulled the waistband back up. “I mean gosh…do they say how it happened? Oh honey I’m sorry. Let’s put this paper away.” I ordered a black coffee, which was thick and syrupy. It came with bread and yak butter, which was salty and clear. I ate it in gulps, unchewed hungry gulps, each bite with bizarre hurried purpose that made the task seem important. I could have been in some sibilating metropolis, eating like this, riding a subway car strangling down a bagel. Dusting flour off a suit jacket, barely navigating the socially obligatory ‘cardiac event’ a certain type of man must incur from going without cellular service for a quarter hour. I’d get out of the tunnels, or better yet a driven car, and rifle out orders to a team of underlyings: the fucking Kliennmann deal had better be on my fucking desk by the time I got in and if not I swear to god I’d fucking handcraft a surgically precise necklace out of said underlyings genitals. Which is all to say I ate quickly. The chubby lifer and her partner ordered another set of frosted rolls. Perhaps they were American. Pastries, full of pus-like fat-ventricular demise-and glazed: a decadence that derived from a unique national self-loathing and a longstanding pursuit of satiation. Only America fed like this, hungry, always hungry, ravenously licking dog jowls. It was hereditary: Conestogas had devoured horizons under their wheels. They’d drank futures that had spun past in endless, stupefying blurs and they jagged for nexts that would not come. When the sea actualized on either coast, when the pioneers had yoked the horizontal to their driverless plough, they tore after new axes. They dug down, they built up, they bolted earth, they wolfed the sky and at night they lay scratching, furiously jonesing for the stars overhead. When they got that too there was only one way left to go: in. They dined. They tried to fit it all inside them. They had to get their teeth scratched clean and stomachs slurped tight, but they kept on. They let their bones get soft and mildewy. They invented new ways to eat and new things to eat. They kept eating—the limit would not fall.

Frosting wreathed her ursine lips and Henry rubbed her back in burping circular loops.“Ooooh honey.” She smiled and munched, “C’mon lets go to the Monkey Temple.” As she walked out she turned and said gracias in that instinctive 2nd grade Spanish way most Americans do. From the States there is a singular eye: There is America, and there is not-America. Not America is a jumble of gracias-de nada-voulez vous couchez avec mois and mamma mias. She made a laughing sound and left, reaching for Henry’s hand.

They left the newspaper on the table and after a few minutes of respectful consideration, the wake, I picked it up. There are few English language newspapers in the city. They don’t make it here quickly enough to be news. If it comes three days late, it can’t be news. It’s posterity. It’s recycling. Nepal Gazette is written in English in Kathmandu and it comes out five times a week. It does not come out on Sundays, and it does not come out on Wednesdays. It is Thursday today, which I did not know. It’s January, which I did know.

There’s a picture of the girl in an old school uniform. Small yellow lettering on the jumper can just be read: St. Stephen’s Girls. Most of the secondary schools have names like this in the valley. St. Paul’s. St. Anthony’s. Mary Full of Grace. Her heritage was indigenous. She did not have big brown Brahman eyes or thick brows; she did not have the slight-red skin of the Chhetri sirs. She had long Gurung lashes, desert lashes, and eyes that saw from the steppes. She was pretty, and her hair was bright even in newspaper print. In the next picture, her skull was broken like a yolk. There was not much to make out. The report said little: she was bludgeoned sometime in the last week or two. Her body was found sometime in the last three days. The cause of death was trauma to the back of the head. There was more blood around the body than the VC chief had ever seen. She liked school very much. She loved to sing. Her teachers say she was a good pupil, if unremarkable. Two friends agree that she was very very kind. She was not married, or engaged. Her father is very sad. Her mother is hysterical. There is an older brother, living in Qatar, who found out yesterday. He will not fly back for the funeral.

Love Scene

By Hannah Lee.

INT. SEOUL SUBWAY STATION. NIGHT         

With his head bowed, and his suitcase hanging limply beside him, A MAN (43) is oblivious to an incoming subway train. The rushing wind tosses his hair to one side. Coming out of his daydream, the MAN boards the carriage with other businessmen just like him – suited up, worn from the day’s work, expressionless. As the subway doors shut on the MAN,

INT. HOUSE.  NIGHT                            

a WOMAN (40) opens her front door. Her two sons run in first, fighting gleefully with plastic swords while she fights with bursting grocery bags. The boys disappear. A television set in another room turns on loudly. The WOMAN struggles into the kitchen, calling out to her boys in English, accented with an Asian twang.

WOMAN

John! Michael! No television before dinner.

She unloads the groceries onto the kitchen counter. The sounds of the television continue uninterrupted.

WOMAN

엄마 말 들어야지!

Do as I say please!

When the sound of the television is killed, a hollow silence takes its place. The WOMAN stares out into her backyard. Everything is still.

FADE TO BLACK

OVER BLACK

WOMAN (V/O)

(in Korean)

여보… 이렇게 힘들 줄 알았어?

Honey… did you ever think it would be this hard?

MAN (V/O)

(in Korean)

당연하지……

Of course I did…

INT. MAN’S APARTMENT.  NIGHT                       

An overhead light comes on automatically as The MAN enters his sparse apartment. He hangs his keys and removes his shoes with exhaustion in his bones.

WOMAN (V/O)

나는 상상하지도 못했어. 당신 없는 거… 근데 벌써 일 년이 지나 갔네…

I couldn’t even imagine it. You not being here. But it’s already been a year.

The MAN cooks himself instant noodles for dinner, wearing a worn singlet and his business trousers. His socks look sad in rubber slippers. He eats alone, cleans up alone and then stands by his apartment window, staring out over the bright lights of Seoul.

MAN (V/O)

지금 일이 많이 힘들어. 이번 여름 때 내가 시드니로 갈께. 거기 바닷가가 좋다면서…

Work is hard right now. I’ll come to Sydney in the Summer. Are the beaches as good as everyone says they are?

INT. WOMAN’S STUDY.  NIGHT                     

The WOMAN’s face is lit up by the blue of her computer screen as she speaks to the MAN over Skype. The webcam catches her childish smile as she leans in closer to the computer.

WOMAN

보고 싶어요.

I miss you.

INT. MAN’S STUDY.  NIGHT                       

The MAN – similarly lit by a pale light from his computer – smiles at his wife. He stares at his wife’s face on the computer screen with adoration.

MAN

많이 보고싶다…

I miss you… a lot.

INT. WOMAN’S STUDY.  NIGHT                     

The WOMAN leans in uncomfortably over her computer and kisses the eye of her webcam. The MAN does the same on her computer screen. She laughs happily at first, but a hint of exhaustion catches on the end.

EXT. SEOUL CITY.  NIGHT                    

We see Seoul’s city streets at night. Couples walk hand in hand, eating street food together, laughing together. We see a child being carried on his father’s shoulders, with his mother by their side.

                                                      FADE TO BLACK

Architecture

By Anonymous.

He reached for her hand in sleep, but stopped short. She was beautiful in this light. The dawn was dimly lit and exhumed just beyond. She was wrapped in sheets up to her shoulder, sparsely freckled. The arc of her cheeks, gothic, then willows. Her leg twitched and he ceased tracing her chalk ghost on the mattress. He turned back over and stared at the tape peeling on the back wall.

In the morning, she smiled as she woke. He kissed her on the forehead and she kissed him at the subtle apse of lip and cheek. He kissed her neck and then kissed the apse and closer. You can, you know, she said. I know, he said. But I can’t. Not really. She gave him sad eyes and he gave them back.

I’d lie here for days, if I could, she said. You could, you know, he said. Her eyes were river wash and his were dark and each questioned the other with them and that bridge they made was well worn already. Yes, I know, she said. Let’s not talk about it, and he said it as he rocked his body into hers and they bracketed in the hush.

After an hour more, he pulled her hand into his.

He dozed to symmetrical breath and when he woke again he knew she was up already. What, he said. Oh, she said. Claire, he said.

When noon came he hung his leg over the sheet because it was getting warm. The blinds kept a little of the sun out. She looked at him and her face was flushed. He kissed her neck over again, the dimple returns of her shoulder, the lunette mouth of her collarbone. She smiled broad and her eyes were closed. Mmmmm, she said. He laughed and moved up to look at her.

He dozed off again in the afternoon, and she looked at the drawing she had made for him. The tape was peeling from the radiator thrum, and he should have moved it by now. She had drawn her childhood home and the hills of San Francisco. As she started to drift, she envisioned a cluster of snuggled Addisons and followed the tramlines that ran across his wall. She fell asleep writing streets across his cupboards.

He tried to hold her and she moved away. I can’t sleep with someone touching, she said. Why, he said. I don’t know. I just cant, and she turned her back but was not angry.

It was night and they hadn’t yet gone. What about before, he said. What do you mean, she said. I’m upset, he said. Oh…it doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t fair to be angry. Today’s been nice. She pulled her legs up in bed and the tensile face was fragile and so were the shaking finials of her knees. What, she said.

You must have, he said around midnight. Before this, you must have. Slept with someone holding you. I cant, she said. Not well, anyway. C’mon. Don’t. I’m not, he said. It’s silly. You are silly, she said and smiled and they steepled their fingers against each other. I should say, he said. What, she said. It is Saturday, he said. I know it, she said. I’m staying. I don’t feel like that. Not today. He pushed his face into her hair and nuzzled her and sketched a new city blueprint from vein to vein. Today’s been nice, he said. Yes, she said and she looked at her phone to see if she had missed any messages.