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The Elixir

The Literature and Arts Magazine of Brenau University

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Sudden Fiction

The Spill

The Spill by Katie Ivey

(2nd place prose winner)

 

I’m sitting in Inman Perk skimming the endless pages of a textbook that I have to finish reading for class in less than an hour. Maybe if I had found a decent place to park besides the top level of the parking garage, I could’ve had the time to get more reading done…  No, probably not. My mind is wandering off again when suddenly the serenity of the coffee shop is being tampered with.

I look up to find a couple walking in and being quite loud, as if they’ve never been in such a sacred space. The quiet slowly killed me inside and paying attention to the noise was another way to procrastinate my skimming and enjoy a nice break. They order a pumpkin spice latte and a shot of espresso… Obviously neither of them has drunk coffee outside of Starbucks. But in an odd way, I sort of envy that. Maybe not how they had only drunk coffee at Starbucks, but going and exploring new places with someone you’re close to.

I watch as they sit down at the table in front of me. They look really good together, and by the way they’re looking across the table into each other’s eyes, it occurs to me that they’re in a relationship, and I can tell they probably love each other. I get a knot in my stomach and then lose interest pretty fast because it goes back to the quiet atmosphere of a typical coffee shop. Then I remember that I have reading to do. I’m reading while the couple is getting their coffee and making their way back to the table. I overhear laughter and then a little later, what sounds like arguing, but I am trying to focus my attention on the reading. So much for that, because then I hear a loud noise and instantly smell espresso. I look up from my reading to see that both of their drinks are on the ground and on their clothes. There was some on the walls, some in their hair, and some on their faces. I could nearly taste it.

The teenage boy seems to find the incident hysterical. He is bending over and laughing while the girl is bouncing up, grabbing a napkin and throwing it on the floor, visibly frustrated. Over the laughter I hear, “Are you seriously going to sit there and laugh while I clean this up?”

He continues laughing and she’s yelling, “I’m seriously not in the mood today. This isn’t funny. Help me.”

He looks at her, mid-laugh, and exclaims, “It’s… It’s… It’s coming out of your nose!”

She gives him a really stern look, coffee dripping from her hair, and begins wringing it out of her shirt, where most of the drink wound up.

I stand up and walk over to the counter. I ask the worker for some paper towels and then head over to the swimming pool that was the entrance of Inman Perk.

“Need some help?” I ask.

“Yes I do. Thank you,” she says to me but continues glaring at the boy across from us.

“Come on now, lighten up. I’ll buy you another coffee and we’ll go home and get you some more clothes,” the boy says with a large smile on his face. He then begins cleaning up the mess with us, grabbing some paper towels out of my hand, tossing some on the ground and then to be funny, rubbing one in her hair.

“Smart alec,” she says to him with a partial smile.

He responds, “I’m only messing with you.” Then he winks at her.

The worker who witnessed the catastrophe and handed me paper towels, comes out of the back, sighing, with a large mop, and begins to take over. I walk over to my seat again after the girl thanks me for helping. I can’t help but giggle. His laughter was so contagious and there was something about the way she stood up straight as a board after the spill that I couldn’t help but share the laughter with him.

I realize that I should probably give up on the assigned reading. I have only twenty minutes until class starts. I get up, wave goodbye to the couple still cleaning the mess, walk across the square, go up the freakishly shaky elevator leading me up to the top deck of the parking garage, and stand at the top for a minute before heading to class. I’m looking out at the square when I see the couple walking out of Inman Perk. He’s got his arm around her and she looks annoyed. He leans over and kisses her on the head and I can physically see the change in her demeanor. She kisses him back.

I walk over to my car, unlock it, climb inside, and look at the large textbook that I have yet to finish reading. I pick up my cellphone instead and begin dialing a number, realizing I’m not going to class today.

I’m sitting in Inman Perk skimming the endless pages of a textbook that I have to finish reading for class in less than an hour. Maybe if I had found a decent place to park besides the top level of the parking garage, I could’ve had the time to get more reading done…  No, probably not. My mind is wandering off again when suddenly the serenity of the coffee shop is being tampered with.

I look up to find a couple walking in and being quite loud, as if they’ve never been in such a sacred space. The quiet slowly killed me inside and paying attention to the noise was another way to procrastinate my skimming and enjoy a nice break. They order a pumpkin spice latte and a shot of espresso… Obviously neither of them has drunk coffee outside of Starbucks. But in an odd way, I sort of envy that. Maybe not how they had only drunk coffee at Starbucks, but going and exploring new places with someone you’re close to.

I watch as they sit down at the table in front of me. They look really good together, and by the way they’re looking across the table into each other’s eyes, it occurs to me that they’re in a relationship, and I can tell they probably love each other. I get a knot in my stomach and then lose interest pretty fast because it goes back to the quiet atmosphere of a typical coffee shop. Then I remember that I have reading to do. I’m reading while the couple is getting their coffee and making their way back to the table. I overhear laughter and then a little later, what sounds like arguing, but I am trying to focus my attention on the reading. So much for that, because then I hear a loud noise and instantly smell espresso. I look up from my reading to see that both of their drinks are on the ground and on their clothes. There was some on the walls, some in their hair, and some on their faces. I could nearly taste it.

The teenage boy seems to find the incident hysterical. He is bending over and laughing while the girl is bouncing up, grabbing a napkin and throwing it on the floor, visibly frustrated. Over the laughter I hear, “Are you seriously going to sit there and laugh while I clean this up?”

He continues laughing and she’s yelling, “I’m seriously not in the mood today. This isn’t funny. Help me.”

He looks at her, mid-laugh, and exclaims, “It’s… It’s… It’s coming out of your nose!”

She gives him a really stern look, coffee dripping from her hair, and begins wringing it out of her shirt, where most of the drink wound up.

I stand up and walk over to the counter. I ask the worker for some paper towels and then head over to the swimming pool that was the entrance of Inman Perk.

“Need some help?” I ask.

“Yes I do. Thank you,” she says to me but continues glaring at the boy across from us.

“Come on now, lighten up. I’ll buy you another coffee and we’ll go home and get you some more clothes,” the boy says with a large smile on his face. He then begins cleaning up the mess with us, grabbing some paper towels out of my hand, tossing some on the ground and then to be funny, rubbing one in her hair.

“Smart alec,” she says to him with a partial smile.

He responds, “I’m only messing with you.” Then he winks at her.

The worker who witnessed the catastrophe and handed me paper towels, comes out of the back, sighing, with a large mop, and begins to take over. I walk over to my seat again after the girl thanks me for helping. I can’t help but giggle. His laughter was so contagious and there was something about the way she stood up straight as a board after the spill that I couldn’t help but share the laughter with him.

I realize that I should probably give up on the assigned reading. I have only twenty minutes until class starts. I get up, wave goodbye to the couple still cleaning the mess, walk across the square, go up the freakishly shaky elevator leading me up to the top deck of the parking garage, and stand at the top for a minute before heading to class. I’m looking out at the square when I see the couple walking out of Inman Perk. He’s got his arm around her and she looks annoyed. He leans over and kisses her on the head and I can physically see the change in her demeanor. She kisses him back.

I walk over to my car, unlock it, climb inside, and look at the large textbook that I have yet to finish reading. I pick up my cellphone instead and begin dialing a number, realizing I’m not going to class today.

 

 


Originally appeared in The Elixir’s 2017-18 print edition

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Locket

Locket by Mei Reily

Up, up, up I climb in an endless expanse of staircase after staircase. Each step creaks and groans with every step I take. Who knows how many years it’s been since they’ve had a human walk on them? The voices from downstairs turn to whispers, and are soon indistinguishable from the howling winds outside. A flash of light briefly illuminates the faded yellow wallpaper surrounding me, and for a moment every detail is clearly visible. For the first time I notice the repeated pattern on the walls: tiny wedding bouquets. Now that the lightning has passed, the room is just as dark and undisturbed as before, but the image is still burned in my mind: a million identical bouquets of flowers slowly rotting with mildew and age. Soon they will be nothing but a memory. Soon I will be nothing but a memory… The trumpet call of thunder brings me out of my daze and reminds me of why I’m here. I start to climb again. The cobwebs grace the golden railing like a blanket, proof that this place has remained untouched…until now.

Down, down, down I walk, trying not to trip from the fear and stress of being seen by this congregation. I’ve always been terrified of crowds. What do they say you should do?        Imagine them in their underwear? Well, that doesn’t work. Now I’m terrified, tense, and I’m sure my face is bright red. Great. Faces from every angle stare me down, making it harder and harder to breathe. One face in the crowd demands my attention in particular, and for just a moment, I take a breath and my heart stops ringing in my ears. I see a                reluctant smile and a wave of calm washes over me. I make the mistake of looking away because then I’m haunted by hundreds of eyes boring into my soul. I suddenly feel like I ’m being frozen in place, and my feet seem to get heavier and more sluggish. Maybe all of Medusa’s victims were just socially anxious, and she told them to give an impromptu speech about the French Revolution in front of hundreds of glaring faces. I’d certainly turn to stone if that happened to me, and at this moment I feel like I am. 

Only a bit further now. I can see a once-beautiful wooden door at the top of the spiral staircase. I finally reach the end of my journey, and my reward is just behind that heavy oak portal. I reach for the rust and dust-covered handle and lean forward as a small shower of dust rains down from the doorframe behind me. I’m welcomed by a bat fluttering in the corner, clearly angry that I’ve disturbed his slumber. He flies around the room to show me that this is indeed his home and finally lands on a large wardrobe, presumably to continue his afternoon nap. I apologize and take in the room for the first time in years.  I see a huge circular expanse that is filled to the brim with furniture, clothes, and clutter. Directly in front of me is a gorgeous stained glass window that stains my face red, purple, and green. Dust motes float in the colored light, barely visible and always just out of reach.

I’m almost there now. I just have to keep my footing for a few more steps. Dark figures form an arc around me, trapping me inside this cage of guilt and regret. But I’m no stranger to this cage. It’s been my companion for a month now, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. Every time I start feeling better, the guilt creeps up on me like a snake and I hear her voice with every hisssss. My heart feels like it ’s breaking, but I’ve been standing here for centuries, and the mass of people aren’t going anywhere. They look at me expectantly. They all want me to say something, but I struggle to find the right words. I went over this a million times before, but now the words are as impossible to grasp as a dust mote in a stained glass window. I spot some supportive nods, but mostly I just feel their pity. I hate feeling pitied. Over the last thirty days I’ve had to endure countless comments along the lines of “I’m so sorry, dear,” and “I know exactly how you feel,” but how could they? How could they know what it felt like lose my best friend, my idol, the only person I could turn to whenever I needed anything? There are moments when I’m so excited to tell her something until my brain catches up to my heart and I realize… I can’t. I can’t even find solace in my memories because every time I picture her face I feel physical pain. It ’s like a wound that refuses to heal and every time a scab tries to form it just gets ripped open again. Someone to my right tries to put her hand on my shoulder but the last thing I want is to be touched. I don’t want to be hugged. I don’t want to be held.  I just want to be alone. This desire lets me breathe again. I recite the speech I’ve practiced a million times, but there is no heart in it. My heart died when she did. 

I tear the room apart. Old scrapbooks and letters flutter to the ground, sending up a cloud of dust. It’s funny. If she were here, she would consider my disregard of these memories to be unbelievable.

But right now, I only care about one memory, and I’d walk through Hell to find it. I flip over chairs, ruffle through board games, and nearly rip the hinges off an old cabinet in search of it. So far I’m having no luck, and the space seems to get smaller and smaller. I’m being crushed by my past, and all these memories rush back to me instantaneously. My uncle teaches me to ride the bicycle in the corner. I drop a teacup in the kitchen, leaving the incomplete set in front of me. I see my father fawning over the painting to my left. Wait, the painting. That’s it! I crawl over a velvet cushion-less loveseat and finally get my hands on the frame. The “gold” is starting to peel off at the edges, but I couldn’t care less. I remove it from the pile of junk as gingerly as I can with my hands shaking as fast as they are. I bring it over to the light and I see her: my mother on her wedding day. She’s more elegant and beautiful than I could ever be, with a bright golden locket gleaming on her chest. But wait, there’s something behind her; there’s something I never noticed before: a barely-visible figure dawning her with the necklace. I pull it closer to get a better look, and when I touch the backside my hand grazes something cold and sharp. I nearly drop the painting in fear of a cockroach or spider’s nest. I turn it over and see a tiny plastic bag with a locket inside. I tear the bag away from the frame and open it. I open the locket as fast as I can and for the first time since her passing I weep. I sob like a child, not knowing or caring who can hear me, because in the locket is a picture of my flawless mother on the left, and one of my graduation pictures on the right. There is a note in the bag as well, written in her beautiful hand.  

My darling,
I wish I could have been there to see you on your wedding day, but I want you to know that I’ll always be with you. I’d like to see Death himself try to keep us apart.
-Mom XOXO


Originally appeared in The Elixir’s 2017-18 print edition

The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen by Kate Rochford-Price

(staff pick)

 

Once after an art show at the Lincoln Center in New York, she’d met a prince. His manservant had persistently raised his forefinger, forcing the bidders—ranging from a frivolous heiress to a French museum curator to a middle-aged businessman showing off to his mistress—to climb to his winning number. He bought her piece—Inverted Self Portrait—for $375,000. The days she’d spent crafting the plaster cast of her profile, then carving the image into a solid marble slat, sanding her cheekbones, perfecting the eyes so that the grey veins formed the eyelids, all seemed wasted on someone who she imagined would hang it precariously over his bed as he brought in docile lover after lover. Besides, it was worth double that at the least, but no one appreciated her work for what it was: transcendent. But then again, no real artists were recognized in their time. Pity her time stretched on so long.

Giselle—dressed in Louis Vuitton 4-inch pumps and Christian Dior’s latest with a neckline that plunged to her waist, showing off her paper-thin, snow-tinted skin—stood in a secluded corner of the gallery watching the refined tug-of-war play out from behind her champagne glass. Ordinarily, she wouldn’t have come to her own auction but she’d been bidden by her annual craving to venture outside her studio.

The prince came over to meet her before any of the other stares could—a man in a finely tailored suit with a close-cut beard and two heavy rings on his thumbs. He reached out as if to shake her hand, then lifted it to his lips, saying, “The artist is even more beautiful than the art, I see,” and kissed her knuckles. Giselle offered him a wan smile and pulled her hand from his grasp. She looked at her diamond-encrusted watch: midnight. “If you’ll excuse me, your highness.”

He grabbed her arm mid-stride and said in rehearsed English, “Wouldn’t you like to spend the evening with me?” His grasp was firm and Giselle smirked at his presumption. She regarded him from beneath her eyelashes. He did remind her of Ivan, with his wide-set eyes and dark whiskers, that long-ago lumberjack who had shown her how good fresh earth feels on bare skin.

She decided to humor him. “Let’s head back to my place then.”

His manservant shut the heavy metal door on the armored truck with a thud, sealing the sculpture inside, just as she stepped into the limo.

Once at her building, his bodyguard followed them out of the limo and up the stairs, stationing himself outside her door. Giselle led the prince to her bedroom and would have undressed him except that he had already begun methodically discarding his clothes. Meanwhile, she peeled her dress from her skin until it slid to the ground, revealing the snowy landscape beneath.

***

The next morning, his body was rigid and cold.

Giselle pried the two platinum rings from his thumbs. The left read power in Arabic (قوة), the right read royalty (ملكية). She placed them carefully in her lacquer box, amongst Ryan’s Silver Star, Stephan’s St. Christopher rosary, poor Ivan’s wood carving of Perun—though why he’d worshiped that old, foolish tyrant she never knew.

She shut the lid and brushed the intricate painting of a white-haired woman crowned in ice. Her fingers trailed the delicate lines of the crystalline dress, furs at the woman’s feet. Giselle admired the blend of colors—all shades of blue and white—but most of all, she gazed longingly at the familiar forest garbed in snow.

Watermelon Watermelon

Watermelon Watermelon by Ashley Lee

Alice sat in the car, her tiny frame pinned to the seat by the imposing mesh of the seat belt that was too big and almost sashed over her china-doll neck. Having just graduated from a car-seat, though, she was not about to complain. The weight of the fast-food burger in her lap, with its clammy wax paper encasing the greasy pile, sat untouched. Continue reading “Watermelon Watermelon”

Try as We May to Make Silence

Try as We May to Make Silence, We Cannot by Arielle Crumley

Amid the haze of smoke and musk, I join the crowd eagerly awaiting the show. The buzz of anticipation clashes with the sound of passing cars. Clad in pressed suits, polished shoes, and pearls for the ladies, all of New York’s finest musicians and artists have shown up for the event. “Can’t wait to see what this bastard has come up with this time,” a cigar- Continue reading “Try as We May to Make Silence”

Ms. Friedman’s Stroll

Ms. Friedman’s Stroll by Nina Siso

(2nd place prose winner)

“Now spit,” she said mechanically for the fourteenth time that afternoon. She watched the elderly man lean to the side of the chair and nearly expectorate into the metal bowl. She wiped his face with a cloth, dabbing moisture out of the wrinkles and grey beard. She gave a tight smile and promised him that the Dentist would arrive in a few minutes.  Of course it would be longer than that; the office had been short- staffed for a while. Most of the women in the office, herself included, only had this job because of the absence of male hygienists and doctors.  She walked out of the room quickly, eager to get home and relax with her favorite radio program.  It had been an unusually rough day. Continue reading “Ms. Friedman’s Stroll”

Ariel in Real Life

Ariel in Real Life by Rebecca Jarrett

She’s been sick for so long that she has almost forgotten what being normal feels like.

It feels like all she knows now is death, and dying. Her parents dishing out too much money on endless medical bills. Having no hair and getting stared at in public. Being told no, you can’t take Pilates/get a tattoo/pet that dog/go to that concert, you’re too sick. Continue reading “Ariel in Real Life”

Basket of Mourning

Basket of Mourning by Mae Allison

(3rd place prose winner)

Today’s sadness is different from yesterday’s. The realization that my young Chen will not return has settled in my heart. I have almost accepted that she is gone forever,  although I will always wish it was not so. The fog on the mountains rises every morning. Cherry blossoms bloom and fall as their season passes. My season of depression nearly passes. As I stroll through the fields of my family, I remember the times spent galloping through them with my sisters when I was only knee high. I see the baskets we crafted ourselves. Each one had a unique flare that displayed our personalities, but they have all moved now. I taught young Chen to weave. She and I would spend our time after chores weaving baskets of all shapes and sizes. Across the river and across the bridge, the jungle waits. My chores wait as well, for I cannot tear myself from the forest in search of her. I hear the trees calling to me by name. They whisper the truth I already know. My daughter was there, but now she is not. I have looked for years for clues that are never to be found. All I have left are her unfinished baskets. The weave is loose, and the reeds have grown black with time. The reeds hold my daughter’s soul. The unfinished ends dangle waiting to be touched again as my hands long to hold her. The grid intertwines and weaves, holding the memories together. As I gaze at the baskets, laughter of a child echoes through the air of our home.The sound fills my heart with joy. Continue reading “Basket of Mourning”

As I Sit and Reflect

As I Sit and Reflect by Jane Stanfield

(1st place prose winner)

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before.

I had taken her to the cathedral so that she would shut up about it. I had eaten some bad pork the night before so the nausea was overwhelming. I think she wanted to experience the history or something. History was one of the things that we did not have in common. I could never feel the honor she felt when she stood in the same place as a historical figure. She had a way of encompassing the vibes that the building radiated. She absorbs The buzz of lights and the pounding of bricks as they were laid on top of one another and it gives her an undeniable satisfaction. She appreciates every detail, original or developed, and allows each to soak into her memory. As for me, I look at the bigger picture. I never pay attention to the details and little pieces. I look at the grand scheme of things. Continue reading “As I Sit and Reflect”

The Staircase

The Staircase by Chayla Park

There are hundreds of ways to lose your boyfriend–I just happened to lose mine in a museum. Not physically lose him, I know exactly where he is. Martin’s in the Atlanta High Museum’s third floor bathroom crying his eyes out and trying to find a ride home.

I meant that I emotionally lost him. Well I guess, technically, he lost me since I did the breaking up. Do semantics really even matter at this point when you both lost something in the fire? Because that’s what this relationship was: a fire. Big and toxic and consuming, blinding me, burning me, filling my lungs with smoke and calling it love. Continue reading “The Staircase”

Racing

Racing by Rebecca Jarrett

The night before the race, I can’t sleep. Instead, I toss and turn. Throw the blankets off me, pull them back on. Roll from side to side. Count ceiling tiles. Count sheep. Count torn ACLs and shattered dreams. Think about what’ll happen tomorrow if I fail. Think about how this could prove that I might never run again. Think about how much I shouldn’t be thinking about it. Think loud thoughts in a failed attempt to drown out the nagging voice in the back of my mind. Look at the clock again—holy shit, is it really still 1:30?  Get up and get a glass of water. Get back in bed. Get resituated. Get up again to pee. Continue reading “Racing”

Questions for the Man Who Killed my Mother

Questions for the Man Who Killed my Mother by Tahimi Perez-Borroto

1 . When you loaded your gun for the night, did you think you’d get hot from the fear of getting caught?

2. Did you think you’d get stopped?

3. How did you hide your gun?

4. Did you hide it?

5. Did you step out into the Paris night and look at the Eiffel Tower for good measure?

Continue reading “Questions for the Man Who Killed my Mother”

Albert

Albert by Rebecca Jarrett

The old man sat at the bar, nursing a whisky.

“Take it easy there, Albert. It’s only just half four; you should pace yourself.”

Albert smiled wryly at the grimacing barkeep. “I’m 81 years old and I fought in a war. I’ve served out Queen and this country. I think it’s well within my rights to have a drink or two.”

That barkeep shrugged, then turned back around to finish wiping down the glasses with a musty cloth.

The young man finishes his pint and pushes it toward the barkeep. “Cheers,” he calls over his shoulder- though he doesn’t bother to look back as he walks to the other end of the reception hall.

He is in his uniform, today. She likes a man in uniform, and he knows it. He uses it to his advantage.

“Hello, Matilda. What’s a young lass like yourself doing at such a boring reception?” Continue reading “Albert”

Mazda Memories

Mazda Memories by Abigail Paul

We’ve aged. Looking at his new thick-rimmed glasses, I realize if his polo wasn’t sugh a light shade of blue he’d look a lot like Clark Kent.

-This is Weekend Edition from NPR News.-

He’s grown into the man any mother would be proud of, no longer the dangerous bad boy who drew me in with his charm seven years ago. Everything about him has lightened; the boy I first met would never be caught dead in a loose-fitting baby blue shirt, let alone a polo.

-Russia has blocked the Security Council from any action.-

His cargo shorts blend into the tan leather interior of his new car. When did he start wearing khaki? As I twist the ring on my finger, I notice yet another fundraising campaign nagging from the speakers behind me. Continue reading “Mazda Memories”

Reflections of a Journey

Reflections of a Journey by Karla Utterback

She gets in her car, turns the radio on, and sets the volume to an even number, or a multiple of five. She doesn’t know when she started doing this, she just does. Driving to the women’s clinic for her yearly breast exam seems like a regular event, she hardly gives it a second thought except for the slight dread of discomfort when the plates always seem to press harder than she remembers. Continue reading “Reflections of a Journey”

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