Ben Rowen, BFR Editorial Staff

Teachers always told me to write like Hemingway. With that lesson in mind, I feel the need to preface what follows: I apologize for, amongst other things, my long-windedness, loquacious garrulousness, bombastic verbosity, rambling blabbiness, general predisposition towards being voluble, and distaste of the laconic and brusque. Chiefly, I apologize for possessing a thesaurus.

One eleventh grade teacher (anecdotally, a teacher I once caught wearing a beret) read a personal essay I wrote about the blooming of Bradford Pears on Swasey Parkway. This seemed an appropriate, humble essay topic, so I was confused by my poor grade. Mr. Lee, hopped-up on a recent re-viewing of The Dead Poet’s Society, had me leap up on my chair to read a story to the class.

It was a Hemingway story. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Mr. Lee then recited the apocryphal tale of its origin, which he, nonetheless, took as gospel. Hemingway walks into a diner; a bar is not a wholesome enough place for irreverent high schoolers to encounter in lessons, so Hemingway walks into a diner. He turns to his friends—who weren’t on their cell phones, Mr. Rowen—and says, “I bet you I can write a short story that is only six words long.” They make the bet, he writes about baby shoes (how twee!), and everyone at the table cries (their drinks are taking forever to come). Mr. Lee told us that this was the power of brevity.

My response: “Hemingway’s bet, itself, took fifteen words.”

Mr. Lee suspiciously ignored this and dared me to write him a six-word story by the beginning of next class. I one-upped him and delivered my story on the spot, the spot still being atop my wobbly desk chair. “Yard sale: baby shoes, already worn.”

Mr. Lee said I missed the point. The Swasey Bradford Pear blossoms remained reserved, bundled tight like a baby in a blanket, on the precipice of splitting open like the spray on a lake’s surface as a falsely skipped stone plummets after a solitary hop—and I received my C-.

A few months of English class bereft of joy later, I was cutting words from essays like someone making space to cram more accomplishments into a character-count limited college application. My writing did get better. Mired in a positive feedback loop, I truly immersed myself in brevity, and my sentences became strings of monosyllables. My writing got boring.

Here’s the thing. Mr. Lee was half-right. Overwriting is miserable to read. But, the power of Hemingway’s short story is not in its brevity. The most obnoxious people you know are probably pros at telling stories in 140-characters, but you would never assume that means their stories are high literature.

The power of his story lies not in its succinctness but rather in the definiteness that succinctness exports. You can tell Hemingway’s short story over-and-over again in six words that don’t create a good piece: for example, “She miscarried, needs her money back.” Brevity is important, but only insofar as it is evocative and not on the nose. Hemingway’s story is clear enough to convey meaning and is still suggestive.

If brief writing sacrifices the latter, give me thesaurus-heavy writing, prolix prose, and interminable gabbiness.

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Alagia Cirolia, BFR Editorial Staff

Ritsa watched the witches gather.

The yew forest behind the hills bordered an absurd shade of green and were scattered with wildflower growths from the spring, which trilled with laughter in the warm dusk breeze. In a small valley within it there was dirt—a great brown clearing of soft decay that felt the absence of roots. The witches trod in all manners down to this nothing-patch, where a great yellow bonfire was stoked by the diligence of the dryad crones. Most of the women, age notwithstanding, pranced in unrestricted nudity down the hills. Some adorned their nakedness with a purple mud. Some kept the golden jewelry on their arms and ankles. Some simply sported antlers, tails, teeth. Cloaks and capes lined the forest like flags as the crowd grew. No witch need worry about her possessions, her enemies or alliances, her lineage. Tonight was Beltane.

The ash drifted over on the wind, the warm musk of dead branches casting a great cloud of heady perfume that settled on Ritsa’s wool skirt as she stood in a dense copse of pines upwind. She tugged at the neck of her dress, a dark pink shift coloured by the red berries that grew on the outskirts of town. She was nearly sweating, as if she could feel the growing heat of the fire beneath her. She swept her hair, a heavy curtain of wet straw, up into a bundle with a brown cloth ribbon she had tucked inside her bodice earlier that morning. She’d probably be in great trouble if Mam knew she’d left the Old Weaver’s house, and stolen ribbons at that. But she’d seen the specks in the sky—little black dots, hiding behind clouds in the distance like inverted stars. It was the Old Weaver’s fault, really. She’d spun enough tales, and now Ritsa believed them.

The incoming flurry of women dwindled, the surrounding forest left a spiderweb of abandoned clothing that seemed to make the bonfire brighter. Even naked, it was obvious who were sisters. Though dispersed, a taller bunch all had wild raven hair, decorated with sprigs of crimson berries that looked alarmingly familiar. They seemed strong as tree trunks, wise as old willows, regal and flexible as they stood unabashed. Ritsa felt she could see the glint of their luminous onyx eyes, searching for her. The older ones who stoked the fire were a merry, sinister bunch, a microcosm of mischievery composed of the oldest hags from each clan. Their skin hung like carpets of rotting leaves from frail branches, and yet they hefted logs from various piles in some chaotic dance, occasionally stopping for a brief bout of bickering over whether the next sacrifice should be Oak, Birch, or Holly. Another few were bulbous; all soft, spilling bellies and swinging breasts. Ritsa could almost hear them despite the distance, their words popping like sonorous croaks, laughter like muffled brooks bubbling over smooth boulders. These ones all wore streaks of brown dirt—the one closest to the fire had two long trails of mud, a sister’s palms dragged down her back, and close to Ritsa garbled one with brown hand prints pressed onto her chest, as if some sooty moth hand perched in her grand cleavage.

Ritsa watched the witches make rounds, a great circle of fire-tinted flesh joining and pulling apart. They had a peculiar way of greeting; one would take the palm of the other, face up, and the other would respond similarly, until both had one arm stretched out, one hand cradling the other’s palm, and with perfect synchronicity they bent to press their lips into them as a brief kiss. Ritsa’s skin grew flushed with jealous admiration from watching the women move around each other so fluidly, imbued with such enviable elegance. The sun had begun to drift below the line of trees behind her, soon to dip all the way under the ridge of hills where her village lay just outside the forest’s western edge—and still she felt smoldering, as if a million little embers had lit under her skin until her neck and cheeks and thighs felt aflame. It must be the magic, she thought, blinking hard, stumbling in a moment of dizziness. She couldn’t think, not when she was inhaling all the heat of their Beltane fire, letting the smoky sweet yew fill her lungs and flood her brain. She’d already rolled up her sleeves, feeling sweat collect in the creases of her elbows. The witches began the ceremony. The crones, each with a different branch, exotic boughs from their home forests, held them aflame in front of them and gave a yip, shriek, chatter, as the witches began to surge forward. Each stopped in front of their older sister, cupped her hands, took a bit of the Witch’s flame, which seemed to alight in her hands like a flickering sparrow, and douse herself, letting the fire roll like water over her neck, shoulders, breasts and bottom, until it slipped over the tips of her feet and disappeared into the brown soil, leaving her glowing.

At this, Ritsa was scorched. The wool was determined to suffocate her until she was gray, her bodice scratching heavily against the delicate skin of her shoulders. With a startled cry, she lifted the dampened cloth up over her knees, hips, back, until it was merely a dusky rose flag, caught on a branch, blending into the night.

Elva Bonsall, BFR Staff

woods

While it’s easy to forget stories, their details, characters, and perhaps even the imagery so painstakingly created for the page, it’s unnervingly difficult to forget the impression it leaves upon you. Cold, slippery, and often creeping into your thoughts long after the story itself has been filed away and stored in memory, old emotions from stories often appear to the reader in different forms.

Miserable, lost, and fed up with underpowered technology, I once happened upon this little house, deep in the woods somewhere in a countryside far away. There’s no joy in being lost. Nothing wonderful about being late and out of place, either. And while consumed with hunger, disorientation, and a general aura of grumpiness I stumbled halfway up a muddy hill and found this tiny, tiny home.

While it’s easy to forget stories, it’s hard to forget the emotions behind them; what first connects someone to a page. Seeing this tiny house, I was no longer miserably lost but in one of the fairytales that was read to me as a kid. A sense of place from a small piece of literature I had read long ago made finding a random shack, far away from my intended destination, a magical and special happening. My emotional connection to this sense of place from a story meant I was no longer lost, and instead needed a picture to remember it by.

Megan Lee, BFR Staff

He fell in love with her sitting on a park bench. Her skirt, decorated with small pink flowers, rustled and flowed softly in the wind as she sat alone, absorbing the chirps of the birds and the ripples in the pond. It seemed to him as if she belonged there, as if she were born to exist exactly in that moment. Her long, blonde hair shined in the fading daylight, flowing with the wind in wispy tendrils. Her soft red sweater blended into the burnt fall landscape. She was supposed to be there. Perfect.

Then a man arrived, and the beauty was broken. She rose from her seat to greet him, this man, this black mar on an otherwise unblemished painting. They walked away together, holding hands. He held her hand carelessly, as if not aware of the graceful creature in his presence! As if she were nothing.

He walked away, angry, inconsolable. Nothing ever stayed perfect forever.

He watched her again as she worked at the diner, the dirty, disgusting diner. She was clearing away grimy dishes, still filled with other people’s half chewed food and spit. She carried away the soiled cups and plates as their eyes followed her legs, extending from underneath her waitress uniform, as they debased her to something animal, something impure. He stayed for exactly two cups of coffee, then violently crumpled up his newspaper and left the diner, the two memories of her warring in his mind. One was perfect and beautiful, the other tainted with disgusting reality.

He needed to keep her in the park forever, where she belonged.

He couldn’t sleep at night. He could only think about her in the park. Her sitting, poised perfectly as the days turned to nights. Her sitting, as the moon shined on her skin, illuminating its whiteness. Her sitting, as the stars illuminated her eyes as they stared, unblinking. He imagined her sitting as fall turned to winter and then to spring, the dandelions blooming and fluttering in the wind around her perfect immobile figure.

He would take her away, he decided, to where she was supposed to be. It had to be quick and clean, he decided, or else she would be damaged, and it would not be perfect anymore.

She walked up to her front door, jingling her keys as her weary heels clicked up the steps. Just as the lock clicked, her mouth was covered with his hand, and a quick, straight incision was made across her neck. As she fell, he caught her in his arms, nudged the door open, and carried her limp body across the threshold.

The next morning, she was sitting on the park bench. In the same red sweater, in the same floral skirt, in the same heels, she sat unmoving. The sun shined on her hair as it twirled and danced in the wind again. Even from behind the caution tape, he thought she looked beautiful. The blood had all been cleaned, except for just a little that had soaked into her hair. The stitches around her neck were barely noticeable, and although her head drooped to one side, he could still see her eyes shining in the light. Perfect.

Robert Tooke, BFR Staff

Driving town to town, I see little beauties and tiny facets that make and break the area: people, attractions, personality. It’s a nebulous idea and an easy ability being able to characterize an entire populace with a brief generalization in good accuracy, especially since road trips don’t offer much time and experience in three or four days, if that.

Social media, namely every youthful adventurer and their blog, helped breed this absolutely gorgeous idea for me that the Pacific Northwest is a lucid daydream where Evergreens, abandoned railroads, and delicate espresso shops lay along the coast, hidden in the fog as discoverable gems, waiting for wanderlust couples to find them.

Trekking up north from Berkeley during spring break, I realized it’s true. Actually, kind of. I spend some time scribbling down every detail and idea that wanders through my head about what I see, or what I wanted to see, because after scrolling through Instagram or reading way too many Gary Paulsen novels as a kid, I created this little monster inside of me that yearns to see everything that would make up the aesthetically pleasing Pacific Northwest.

It’s funny though because you also discover things you wish you hadn’t.

After a while, it became a routine to notice practically everyone staring at your racially mixed family walk into a hotel, restaurant, or gas station, and even worse, endure the occasional drive-by heckling, “Hey, boy! Look-y here…” It was frightening, disappointing, and wholly confusing. It was reminiscent of the antagonism in Deliverance and severely distorted my view of what I thought I could call an escape from school, ironically giving me more social anxiety than ever before. Before I make another generalization about what it’s truly like as an Asian-American spending his spring break in seemingly smaller, impoverished, and occasional racially driven towns, I guess I came to a conclusion the morning after I left Josephine County in Oregon that there exists a minute façade in front of every pretty idea. This time, it was that there was this heaven north of SoCal. I really don’t know how to accurately generalize the experience—I guess it wasn’t picture-perfect and I couldn’t exactly put it on a postcard.

The beauty of it is that I can always dream about the spectacular fantasies of driving by elk in Ecola State Park and meandering through the fog from Mendocino to Cascade Locks in my writing, but can never escape the reality of actually experiencing the living partition of racism up there in the paradise I used to speculate about.

Caeli Benson, BFR Staff

The sun scoured the football field for his next victim. He had a decent amount of fun with the asthmatic girl, even more with the boy who blew pineapple chunks. He noticed them sitting on the bleachers in their regular clothes, defeated. Which one will it be today? He perused all 52 options. None suited his fancy until the 325 pound boy waddled onto the field.

Justin lowered himself onto the turf, his joints creaking under each pound. He looked down at his Jordan’s, one of the laces coming undone. He struggled to get ahold of them, the ends slipping from the stubs he called fingers. The PE teacher hovered over him, providing him with temporary shade. He checked his name off the roll call, “So Mr. Blanchard, are you going to trot the mile today?”

“Don’t worry about it.” Justin kept his gaze on his shoe, not wanting to give his teacher any satisfaction. When his teacher walked back down the aisle, he muttered, “Asshole.” He looked up at the cloudless sky. Why did I fuck up so badly?

Justin Blanchard had sported an F+ since the third week of the first quarter. The occasions he and his friends decided to bless the teacher with their presence, they refused to finish the run. He enjoyed catcalling at the girls and badmouthing everyone. When he was with his friends, he felt untouchable. He could care less about what people thought of him, especially his PE teacher who got paid to sit on his ass all day.

But then his friends left. Well, “left” put it softly. Expelled is more accurate. What could José have expected when he lit the new girl’s hair on fire? Mid-April, and he had no one. His friends weren’t there to fail with him. His counsellor called him up to her office. All you need is a D, she iterated, then you’ll never have to take P.E. again.

They lined up at the 50-yard line. Five words ran through his mind faster than he could ever dream to: One mile. Four laps. Done.


The snickers passing Justin in the mile couldn’t amount to a tenth of the heat running through his body. He blinked the sweat dripping off his forehead out of his eyes, the salt irritating them. When he blotted at the sweat on his cheeks with his sleeve, he cursed under his breath at the recurring sunburn. He looked down at the ground beneath him, praying his sore legs would keep moving forward. He felt his head pulsing with his elevated heart rate. He rounded the corner, relieved.

Then it hit his lungs.

His breaths shortened, wheezing with each successive step. His lungs searched the air for relief, but every breath they could muster fell short. He collapsed onto the football field, the turf sticking to his face.

The Sun laughed at him from above, enjoying the performance the marshmallow gave him. The teacher kneeled beside Justin. Checking his stopwatch and his clipboard, he whispered into his ear, “Three down. One more to go.”

Serge Balassian, BFR Staff

Fuck. Did you fall asleep? You did, you fell asleep. What an idiot. You told yourself you wouldn’t do it. A few hours ago, mom said everything would be fine; there was nothing to worry about. Surely she wouldn’t lie. You crawl out of bed. Just past 2am, Christmas is less than a day away, a time of happiness for a 10-year-old.

Something is odd. An unnatural silence lurks in the air. Yeah, everything seems quiet, but you know better than that. This is the silence you get when the entire world stops and sits on the edge of chaos, waiting for one domino to topple over and set ablaze a chain reaction of terror.

Time to investigate. To the living room you go. Your sister is sitting on the floor, eating Lucky Charms—an image forever engraved into your mind. Why on earth is a 5-year-old awake at this time of night, eating in the dead of darkness? More importantly, what’s all the commotion outside? Before you can even think about these questions, you notice that the windows facing the street are being illuminated by a strong source of light. You hear heavy footsteps and radios, lots of them.

If you take a peek, someone will surely see you. So you run off to your parents’ bedroom and take a glance from there. Squinting through the blinds, the first domino falls over; a long night is set to begin. Outside are more police cars than you can count. A big black van is parked nearby. The fucking SWAT team is here. Mom lied.

Did he pull out his gun? Your dad always had issues with alcohol and anger, but there was no way he was stupid enough to shoot at the neighbor that night, was there? It seemed like nothing more than a simple argument. You tried to stick your nose into the business, but your mom put you to bed before you could get in on the action.

Sprinting back into the living room, you hear voices near the front door. There are people inside the apartment complex. Are those your parents? Only one way to find out. Taking your sister into your left hand and turning the knob with your right, you pull the door and give yourself just enough room to wiggle your head through and glance outside.

As you scan your surroundings, the second domino quickly falls; you realize that Christmas won’t be the same for a while. Much too young, you’re forced into adulthood in this moment, the proverbial cherry on top to an overwhelmingly lousy childhood. You look down at your chest to see a scattering of red dots. Looking back up, you’re greeted by the SWAT team, and you loft your hands into the air, quietly mumbling, “Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot.”

Brittany Foley, BFR Staff

She stared at the computer screen, at the cursor that continuously blinked in and out of existence until her vision blurred and she had to shake her head to bring herself back to the present.

Work, work, work, always work to do. Dozens of old Post-it note to-do lists that she threw into the trash and then rewrote anew every day. She had two essays due the upcoming Friday and a midterm the week after that and even with the pressure increasing and the stress piling on with every day that passed, she couldn’t find it in her to start an essay.

She sighed and looked out her window, wishing for something, anything, to give her an excuse to walk away from the computer without a tinge of regret. As she looked across the courtyard, it took her a minute to realize that someone was staring back at her.

Her heart caught in her throat and she pushed herself backwards, toppling out of her chair and onto the dusty dorm-room carpet. For a dazed moment, she forgot what had startled her until she heard her window slide open.

Damn the people who decided not to put a latch on the windows.

She scrambled to her feet and spun around, facing the man that was, at that moment, climbing through her window and into her room. Her room on the eighth floor of the building.

How in the hell did he climb eight stories?

He caught her eye and, as if he knew what she was thinking, grinned maniacally.

Again, her heart threatened to choke her as she backed toward the door, reaching behind her for the knob. She didn’t dare take her eyes off of the man. Chances were that he was waiting for her to turn around so he could rush at her and grab her.

Is this happening? Is this really happening to me? How is this happening to me?

At that moment, all she wished was to be sitting back at her desk, struggling to write an essay. She’d write five essays if she needed to, if only this strange man would climb back out the window and leave her alone.

A high-pitched shriek tore her away from her wishful thoughts and somehow it was possible for the man’s grin to extend further across his face. She lunged for the knob and tumbled out into the hallway.

For a moment she was alone, catching her breath and wondering what in the hell was going on. Then doors all along the hallway started slamming open and her terrified floor mates rushed out, eyes wide and mouths open in shock. Shouts of terror escaped the pale-faced students as they collectively ran for the elevator.

All around her, chaos ensued.

One second, she was running alongside one of the students she had Econ with and the next, a man in black appeared from one of the doorways and grabbed him around the waist, pulling him into one of the rooms.

Every second she expected to feel a hand on her arm, a voice in her ear telling her to scream, to scream as loud as she could even though it would be of no use. She knew that if she felt that hand, she would fall silent, let herself be pulled into the closest room and allow whatever sick thing they wanted to do happen. Because what could she do? She never was an athlete. She wasted time watching movies and reading books. The only exercise she got was the walk to the coffee shop in the morning.

In the space of seconds, she had reached the elevator when suddenly the hallway was plunged into darkness. The screams of the students around her grew louder and she felt her head spinning and the darkness closing in on her. Hands shoved her towards the stairwell but she heard the cries of students on the floors beneath her and knew that running down the stairs was futile. Rather than allow herself to be pushed down the stairs and to her impending doom, she forced her way to the part of the stairwell that led to the roof and sat down on the steps in defeat. She put her head on her knees and waited for that hand and that whisper to whisk her away.

After a minute of sitting there on the cold concrete steps, feeling her legs go numb and the blood pumping through her heart, the cries started to become more sporadic and suddenly she felt the need to live spur her to her feet. Holding her breath, she pushed herself against the wall, feeling the metal bar press against her back, and made her way up the stairs.

She would hide at the very top. A sad attempt at survival but an attempt at the least. Silence encased the building and even the quiet tap of her foot on the next step seemed to echo in the hallway. Finally, she made it to the top step and folded herself into the corner to wait.

How many minutes had passed? It felt like days.

The silence strangled her while the darkness watched and she felt herself slipping away.

She wasn’t going to make it. She was going to die tonight, in this poorly kept hallway with lint sticking to her jeans and gravel and dust embedded in her palms. She—

“Hello.”

And she felt a clammy hand wrap its fingers around her arm.

By Georgia Peppe, BFR Editorial Staff

FullSizeRender

This charcoal and ink drawing was inspired by Frank O’Hara’s poem, “Lana Turner Has Collapsed.” I had always loved the poem, and was inspired to draw this image when my English GSI this semester said O’Hara was one of her favorite poets. This poem had always haunted me, especially as someone who grew up in Hollywood, California, the place where Turner finally crumbles. I had always imagined a crashing to the floor, a crumpling occurring simultaneously with a curling up into a fetal position. Either way, this collapse is very disorienting to the reader considering that people remain upright for the majority of the day and that with the exception of sleeping, our verticalness somehow embodies both our humanity (animals remain on all fours) and liveliness. O’Hara profits off this association and presents the glamorous Lana Turner who has collapsed and lays there as the poem ends with an address of “get up, we love you.”

Carolyn Insley, BFR Staff

There are a lot of trees in New York City. No, I don’t mean Central Park—of course there are trees in the park. I mean it’s like someone looked around at this dark grey place and thought, “Hey, why don’t we just plant a bunch of shit so that when they try to say New York City is cold and unforgiving, well, they won’t really be wrong but at least they can look up and say it into the trees.” And I’m not saying they’re those beautiful rust-colored trees that line New England streets They’re really just plain, average, nothing special trees, but they live in New York City. They breathe the bad air, endure the yuppie brunch conversations, and live in and around the garbage just like the rest of us.

“Hey”

“Hey, what’s up?”

“What can I get you?”

“Oh, uh, coffee. Iced. Black. A morning bun too.”

The disinterested barista scooped ice into a clear unmarked cup and contemplated quite philosophically the grit beneath her nails. She held the lever down with the other hand until the cup was brimming with overpriced stale coffee. She didn’t look once at the cup and yet, managed to avoid spilling a single drop. Her name tag read “Kate.” Kate seemed like a pretty average girl, working a pretty average job. Minus the transition metal addiction.

“Hey, lady, are you gonna stand there and stare at me all day, or are you gonna pay for this?”

“Sorry, Jesus. Here.”


“Is anyone sitting here?”

The small Asian girl barely looked over her hip, square glasses before refocusing on her fancy tablet decked out in indie label band stickers. Granted, she had large headphones on and couldn’t have heard the woman who asked. Not that it would have been polite to take her headphones off when she saw someone mouthing words at her so he or she didn’t have to feel like a total idiot and look like they were talking to themselves. God.

“Okay, taking that as a no. Thanks.” She said under her breath as she sat down at the little corner table for two. It was raining outside and her coffee was ice cold as it warmed the palms of her hands as she peered outside at the soggy grey people on this soggy grey day. >>(Too Dr. Seuss-y?)

“Hey. Is anyone sitting here?”

“Oh, no go for it.”

“Actually, I just needed the chair. Sorry.”

The tall and unusually broad-shouldered man stopped, hand on the chair, and contemplated the potential immensity of the situation. The girl sitting before him, now slightly embarrassed (in the cutest possible way), was looking to him for his next move. He didn’t particularly consider himself a determinist, but maybe this was it. Maybe this was her, the girl of his dreams…

The low, slow hum of the chair dragging across the “distressed” wood floor was excruciating.