Brittany Foley, BFR Editorial Staff

Edging her way along the baseboard, the spider looked for a new place to nest. After having her previous home destroyed, she needed a safer location.

She began the ascent up the wall, finding no convenient holes in the corners of the room. Reaching the windowsill, she considered making the space underneath the window her den until she realized how little space she would have. However, before she could continue her search, a blast of winter air blew in through the window and knocked her off the edge of the sill and to what she thought was her death.

Immediately after the realization that she was still alive, she was overwhelmed by vibrations coming from what seemed to be every direction and she scrambled to find safety. Her legs shuffled over the cloth-like material beneath her until it reached a surface that gave way ever so slightly underneath her weight. Scrambling over ridge after ridge, she was nearly knocked away by something that swiped at the ground centimeters away. The world trembled beneath her and began to tilt. She was nearly tossed off if not for the grip the hairs on her legs had on the space beneath her.

After the world settled once again, she walked curiously about, exploring the terrain of her environment. The scent of onions and mint wafted towards her and, filled with curiosity, she walked towards what looked like a hole in the ground. Air moved in and out of it but the winds were gentle enough.

As she sat considering this opening, there was another quake and she sensed something coming towards her. Panicked, she attempted to scrabble away. However, yet again she was engulfed by a strong wind, this time pulling rather than pushing her. Before she knew it, blackness engulfed her and all light was shut out.

*               *               *

The boy sat up in bed. Rubbing his eyes, he felt a sudden tickle in his throat. Impulsively, he swallowed, yawned, and laid back down to sleep once again.

Emily Jean Conway, BFR Staff

Mom is sitting on the couch again.

She’s been doing this lately. “Fishing,” she calls it, as if a little self-reflection is all the rod and line she needs to remember what is—has—been gone, going, for the past five years.

Mostly, she naps.

But when she wakes up, she’ll tell me about the lake again. Those are her favorite stories; it’s what’s made the most impression from her childhood. Lasted the longest, after school and old loves and adventures didn’t. But there’s a little less detail every time, so I remember for her—remind her of the time her uncle fell in the water one spring and kept falling in; when her brother broke a canoe in half before it’d even touched water when he was eight; the year the algae bloom cut the vacation short, the smell was so terrible; and when she was seven, she’d caught two fish with one hook and no bait. She likes that last one the best. There’s even a picture I can bring out for the occasion.

What’s better than me doing the remembering is when she remembers on her own and she tells me something new. A detail oddly specific—maybe too specific, so who knows how real it really is? There’s no one left who can say.

It’s happening less now, the remembering. But sometimes, whatever’s been submerged resurfaces, and the fog of her eyes clears. She calls me the right name, remembers I’m her “little bird.” And then she’ll talk about the news that morning and make a joke I haven’t heard in years at her own expense and it’s almost like having her back again.

More often it is that I walk in and she is staring at the wall and when she looks at me, I may as well be another piece of furniture. It’s these moments that remind me better than a schedule to take my Omega-3 and B-12; anything to stave off this decline.

But today she sees me. She smiles, at least, when I walk in. She stops looking at the wall. “Susan!” she says and beckons me over, patting the seat beside her. “Little bird, I have the best story to tell you. Do you have a second?”

“Of course, Mom,” I say and take the seat and smile. She doesn’t notice that it looks wrong. She would have before; she used to know me so well. Better than I know her now.

“You know that summer house my father, your grandfather, used to take us to? The one with the dock and that lake that looked gorgeous any time of the year? Really picturesque, I’ve heard it called. You remember? I’m sure there’s a picture around here somewhere.”

“I think you’ve mentioned it.”

Well, one of those times, I was out fishing. I was a little thing, so I wasn’t really thinking things through when I took out the rod that morning…”

Two fish this time.

Nika Nabifar, BFR Staff

There is something that happens almost every time I finish a Haruki Murakami story—something that I now feel I have the precedent to call The Murakami Effect. A quick google search has alerted me of the fact that this term has been used countless times before, but it’s fine. Murakami can have multiple effects.

I preface this by saying that I’ve read a very small handful of his novels—After Dark, Sputnik Sweetheart, and I’m currently reading both Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (I don’t know why I’m always reading 5/6 books at once; I feel like I may have a fear of finishing novels but that’s a different story for another time). I have, however, read many, many of his short stories. I most recently finished The Strange Library, which I guess is technically considered a short illustrated novel, but it read like one of his short stories to me. After finishing it, I realized once again that I was hit with that same feeling, a.k.a. The Murakami Effect. It was kind of hilarious to me this time, albeit sad, because I thought I had escaped it, maybe grown accustomed to it, but then the last page happened and it got to me. Again. It never ends.

It’s something that’s hard for me to explain in words. How do you explain the way something leaves you feeling when you yourself don’t fully understand it? The endings are gut wrenching, profound, introspective. Sometimes they literally sum up the whole story in a couple lines; most of the times they’re really just plain sad; but all of the time, they’re beautiful. They always seem to creep up on me and then it’s like one large wave of emotion that I become completely submerged in and can’t seem to escape. It’s overwhelming, to say the least, but a good kind of overwhelming. A kind that makes me seek out his work time and time again.

I want to speak for Murakami’s corpus as a whole, but I cannot, so bear with me. Murakami seems to consistently write and grapple with the inevitable state of human loneliness. In fact, every Murakami piece I’ve read has to do with it (that and the moon are the two most consistent symbols I’ve registered in his works, but the moon is something that needs a piece of its own). I think the fact that his works affect me so deeply is because many of the protagonists have been in their 20s, or reflect on their time in their 20s, and Murakami writes specifically about a kind of loneliness felt by young people. His short story “Yesterday” deals with this most prominently–“But when I look back at myself at age twenty what I remember most is being alone and lonely.”

I don’t think I ever experienced The Murakami Effect as strongly as I did after reading “Yesterday.” Maybe it was the timing. I was in a new city. I barely knew more people than I could count on both hands. I also hadn’t read Murakami in a while. I think, though, it’s just him. His writing is so accessible, it’s easy and clear and doesn’t take much effort to comprehend most of the time, which is a nice break. But most of all, it’s lovely. He writes in a way that is poetic and the effect of it reflects that.

A bit of a tangent, but still related nonetheless: I recently read an article that was about the effects Marcel Proust had on Virginia Woolf and her writing. While yes, I understand Woolf when she speaks this way about Proust as I am also reading Proust at the moment (another one of my started-but-haven’t-finished attempts), and while I agree with her whole-heartedly, I also couldn’t help think about Murakami –as I always do. Woolf says, in a letter:

“My great adventure is really Proust. Well—what remains to be written after that? I’m only in the first volume, and there are, I suppose, faults to be found, but I am in a state of amazement; as if a miracle were being done before my eyes. How, at last, has someone solidified what has always escaped— and made it too into this beautiful and perfectly enduring substance? One has to put the book down and gasp. The pleasure becomes physical— like sun and wine and grapes and perfect serenity and intense vitality combined.”

This “Proust Effect” Woolf felt is exactly like my Murakami Effect. The first time I ever finished a Murakami piece, I couldn’t imagine even bothering with another contemporary author, and felt like asking Woolf’s “what remains to be written after that?” question. I was desperate to discover the authors that influenced him, the people he drew inspiration from, anything and everything that brought me closer to his work. I couldn’t and still can’t get enough. There is something about him that seems so otherworldly, sometimes I can’t believe someone even has the capacity to write the way he does, but also completely relatable, making it so that every time I read a new piece of his, it’s like I’m conversing with an old friend.

 

Side Note: I wrote this while listening to a playlist of the musical references Murakami mentions in his works which is pretty entertaining on its own – https://open.spotify.com/user/sdmeslow/playlist/6pEMWyjkKbufHyRZ7QZiaS

 

 

Caeli Benson, BFR Staff

I have a talent for recognizing faces in the crowd while remaining a face in the crowd. They stand out more than I do in my tie-dye and Hawaiian shirts or my Frida Kahlo socks. I see the flags flying over their heads; the staff marks where our paths have crossed, and the colors mark our memories. There’s Marge from Beverly Cleary, the girl who defends R-Kelly when she’s drunk. And there’s Nick from Latin American Studies, the lacrosse player who pronounces Chile like “chili.”

I relive these experiences constantly with different people all the time. I’m the only one who recognizes the other person, but it’s not like I do anything about it. I don’t say hello or wave frantically to get their attention. But with her, I did.

 

Dorothy sits with her feet crisscrossed, her fingers interlaced in her lap, and her head bowed low. Before I approach the green bench she rests on, I see how much age has withered her. The clothes she wears—her light pink plaid shoes, dark grey slacks, white dress shirt, and the black North Face jacket—hang loosely on her. Her hair is completely white, whiter than the dress shirt she wears on a daily basis. It seemed like only a few years ago that she was the woman who protested eating hamburger after the Mad Cow epidemic hit the US, who told me when I was eight years old that I’d never be a better writer than her, and who drove both of her Volvos into two different telephone poles.

I walk slowly to the bench, the dry grass and wood chips crunching under my feet. She looks up and the sun hat shifts on her head, “Well hiya, kid!”

“Hey, Grandma. How are you?”

“I’m good. Just resting.”

“That’s good. Can I sit here?” I point to the seat next to her.

“Oh, sure.” She grabs the small purse sitting next to her and sits it on her lap. It’s a new purse that she’s used the past two years. She never opens it, but she always fidgets with its zipper.

I sit next to her and we watch the families flooding out of the dining hall. I watch their every move, hoping that one of them will help spark a conversation between us. We used to talk a lot more than we do now, but it’s been six or seven years since it happened.

“What’s… that thing over there?”

I look in the direction she’s pointing. I tell her that it’s some sort of pipeline that firefighters can use in case of an emergency. I don’t know if it’s entirely true, but she gives me a small shrug saying, I’ll take your word for it. She looks up at the sky, staring at the tops of the trees. I follow her gaze, trying to see what she’s seeing.

I flip my phone open to check the time. “My dad wants me to take you up the hill to take your meds. You almost ready to go?” I ask, predicting the answer she’s given me every time I’ve asked.

“You know, I think I’m going to sit here for a little while longer.” I nod, and we return to our silence.

For the next hour and a half, I ask her icebreaker questions that I already know the answer to. How has the weather been in Berkeley? Really… cold. Have you been going to the Happy Hours at Amy’s cabin? Yeah… Lars brings me some wine and crackers. Have you written anything new recently? Well, no. I haven’t had time. I’ve been… busy lately. (I call my Uncle Lars every night who responds, “Oh, we just watched TV.”)

She swatted an ant that was crawling up her leg. She let out a laugh, “That was huge!”

“I never knew ants could be that big!” I joke.

I was thinking of another question when she asked, “Have you seen my mom?”

I don’t let the sigh leave my chest. I know that I should tell her the truth, but what’s the point? I remember the lesson I learned at Miller’s Place, when the patients would ask the head nurse where their husbands and wives were. “I haven’t seen her around in a while. What does she look like? I’ll keep an eye out for her.”

“Oh, yeah okay.” She chooses her words painstakingly, fitting each into her narrative. She tells me how her father, a Portuguese butcher, left my great-grandmother when he found out she was older than him, how they sold produce on the side of the road, and how her mother would only smoke two cigarettes a day—once after breakfast and the other after dinner. The more she talks, the longer it takes for her to form her story. I let her struggle through it because I’ve never known much about her or her family. She never liked talking about her life, but she showed me the diaries and bundles of old envelopes she wrote in for most of her life.

I hardly recognized my dad walking down the hill. “Hey Mom.” He said, waving at her.

“Well, hi…” She nodded, trying to remember the name she gave him.

“Let’s go take your meds.”

“Oh, okay.” She struggled to get up from the bench, so I gave her my hand. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” I whisper.

We begin the trek up the hill, stopping every five or six steps to let her catch her breath. As soon as we get to her cabin, my dad asks, “Do you know who this is?”

She looks up at me, “Well, no.”

“She’s your granddaughter.”

She looks up for the second time, “Oh!” She shines a smile up at me, and I smile down, trying to hold back my tears.