The Good Stuff

084. The Way the Wind Blows. Simone Schreiber

It feels like it was only yesterday.

A little girl stands underneath a tree, glancing longingly at the red apples on its branches. I swell up and rustle the leaves until one apple comes free and falls to her feet. She picks it up and runs to her mother.

“Mama, mama, look! The wind gave it to me!”

I have always been there, but humans are the first to give me a name. They are grateful, back then, for I bring with me the early promise of spring on rose coloured petals; I warn of the oncoming winter with cold air from the snowy mountains. I know them, and they know me, my irks and quirks, which way I blow today, that I will always calm down, however long it takes.

But time changes everything.

The young ones still giggle when I play with their hair, dragging the scent of soap and youth across the fields. The older ones are annoyed, they curse me or tie their hair up in buns, but I can still caress their exposed cheeks and necks.

They build tiny houses, but they still come to greet me. I help them dry their clothes; I sail their ships, and some, I help to fly. Many are grateful and dance with me as I whisper, and howl, and blow, and rage. But as time goes on, they forget what I do for them, and they begin to hate me.

They build bigger houses and walls to keep me away. I rattle their windows and uproot their trees, but they wouldn’t come out anymore. They hide and cower in their dark dens. Some think they can trap me, predict my mood or alter it, but my anger only swells across their land—they give me other names now: typhoon, hurricane, tornado. Still, they won’t change their ways; even my smallest storm sends them away.

I leave, searching for someone that has not forgotten me, that can withstand me. I find them on a rocky island far up north. They live close by the sea, with only few trees to give them shelter, and vast mountains I race between. Outside a hut, a boy is sitting on the fence and I show him my true might, try to lift him off his feet. He holds on, pulls his hood tight around his face—and smiles, cheeks red from my force. Unlike the others, his kind doesn’t mind; they embrace me; they adapt and welcome me, and go about their day with me amidst their tribe, as if I’m part of them.

I feel at home.

083. My Want. Jessica Klimesh

My own smell is at first comforting and then repulsive, the scent of pastry, cherry-apple craving, and too much sugar. Urge. Afterwards, I scold myself and try to scrub it off. A scalding shower, my skin burnt and crisp, my insides tender. But the stench—my want—lingers.

I’ve never broken any bones and, in elementary school, was jealous of the kids who had casts, and of my sister, who was prone to nosebleeds. I once dotted a Kleenex with red permanent marker, showed it to my mom. She said, “It’s late. You should be in bed.” Later, on a whim, I took a stapler to my toe. It didn’t hurt, but I was surprised by the blood, the way it pooled into a bubble, then stretched into a bright red circle, soaking through tissue after tissue before finally stopping.

Back then my want was odorless.

082. The Feeder. Fred Schwaller

We stand over the lake, you and I, pondering a midnight swim. We only just met, but already we reveal the widths of our hips, the breadth of thighs, the depths of back dimples. You could spoon cereal out of mine for breakfast, milk full to the brim, but barely a spoonful of porridge would rest in yours, not even a baked bean or a cornflake.

We wade out into the water sucking teeth. I swim easily, at home in the water that relieves the gravity from my body. You struggle to stay afloat, your angled shins and pencil thighs whirling around like bicycle spokes. I feel the seal to your colt.

I should be struck by the beauty of it all; the stars reflecting in the tarry water, shadows of tree fingers rippling in the sway. But all I can think about is that your bum that looks like a carrier bag that’s been rained on, that you could use your spine to squeeze out clay into wedges. You need plumping, fattening, marbled to fifty-pounds-a-kilo instead of your tough old skirt, on offer at one-ninety-nine.

Between gasping breaths you say that we should go back to shore, that you’re not a strong swimmer or a buoyant floater. Now we stand back on the dirt, hugging each other warm as the water shines off our bodies in the moonlight. A smile, a kiss, but the clothes are soon back on to stop you shivering.

In the morning we eat French toast spread with pools of butter, drink gold-top milk with extra whey. I watch over you to make sure you finish, insisting on second helpings. If I won’t get any thinner, you’ll just have to get fatter. What good are you without something to squeeze, without something to taste.

081. World as Hall of Mirrors. Morgan Bennett

Before, I saw myself reflected in mirrors and thought that was bad enough, to see the unfortunate shape of my left ear in every bathroom. Nowadays, I see myself miming emotions on every TV. I see myself on every billboard, loving juice or my new watch or my new dentist. I look at corporations and I see them trying to be me. I tell my friends I think the world has stolen my image, but I wonder privately how likely it really is that I’m not the reflection. Sometimes I see a me on a billboard who has just purchased her first half-a-million-dollar home and, despite myself, I feel happy for her. Wow! All new stainless-steel appliances.

080. Prickly in Bloom. Foster Trecost

I counted telephone poles and the seconds between them. The highway cut through the desert and offered little else. No curves. No hills. Just poles.

I’m not sure when she changed. Smiles that used to appear without reason failed to form, jokes she used to tell were no longer told. I watched while she drove. Not even a blink, just an arid stare. She hid behind the wheel and focused on the road, her excuse to pretend I wasn’t there. Maybe I’d changed, too. I went back to the poles.

She once asked me to keep her young and I said there wasn’t much I could do about aging. So she rephrased and asked me to keep her youthful. This I could try. And so came the days when everyone we saw became someone else. We spent hours inventing stories about people, who they were, what their lives were like. I got the idea from a Simon and Garfunkel song. In a grocery store, she said, “See that woman over there? She’s having an affair with her tango teacher. Her husband knows it, too. But he’s sleeping with his secretary.” She looked at me and waited for what I would say.

“Do you think they’re aware?” I asked.

“Aware of what?”

“That her tango teacher is married to his secretary?”

And she kissed me right there in the grocery store. For a long time.

I tired of the poles and wanted to turn on the radio, but figured no stations were in reach. I also figured she’d turn it off if I found one. I wanted to talk or break something. I dozed off instead.

I don’t remember pulling over. When I woke she wasn’t in the car, but it was still running. I jumped out and found her standing in the sand some ways away. I walked to where she was, but let her speak first. She stood in front of a cactus, prickly in bloom.

“They’re spies,” she said.

I wanted to say something, but it wasn’t my turn. So I waited.

“They’re spies from another planet sent here to watch us. See those flowers?” She pointed. “They’re not really flowers.”

I was up. “No, they’re not,” I said. “They’re communication devices used to send information back home. Information they gather throughout the year.”

“Yes,” she said. “That’s exactly what they are. Communication devices.”

I wanted to ask where she’d gone, but instead I kissed her right there in the desert. For a long time.