2019 Inscape Fall Folio Celebrating New Student Writers from PCC
Edited By: Sean Ban & Alicia Wilson
Title Background by Maritza Oquendo
Many of the work featured in this issue is from Prof. Akilah Brown's class. She says: "In Spring 2019 my students were asked to take one of the novels they had read earlier in the semester and to adapt the novel into a different medium as their final project. Students created everything from short radio plays to paintings to cupcakes. I was both inspired by and in awe of their creativity! I hope you enjoy experiencing the work they created."
Alongside the work of Professor Brown's literature students, this folio also includes submissions from the Summer 2019 Creative Writing Academy, now in it's third year! The Summer Creative Writing Academy is sponsored by the Pasadena Festival of Women Authors, whose generous donation provides funding for five writers to visit PCC in the summer, and provides free copies of texts and class materials for high school and college students who enroll into the academy. Special thanks to this summer's visiting writers: Genevieve Kaplan, Mike "the poet" Sonksen, Cory "Bess Kepp" Cofer, Kat Evasco, and Urith Walker.
Clicking on a title will take you to it's corresponding piece. Clicking on a contributor's name will take you to the Authors' Biographies.
I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Jenie Vong
From the author:
This is a watercolor adaptation of the book I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo. In the center is the main character, Desi Lee, wearing a prom dress designed by her love interest. There are various images that depict scenes in the book such as the wrecked car in the left corner, the tiger in the bottom left, and the yacht on the bottom right.
Discipline by Monica Lee
Love leads a thin bamboo rod onto soft palms, leaving imprints of a wish burned unspoken into the mind of a child: distorted, but received all the same.
Under the bridge by the river by Prapti Gautam
Lonely globes resolutely shivering in the grass; Sandy gumballs, in a forsaken canvass
Letter to a plumbing establishment by Prapti Gautam
123 Leaky Lane, Pasadena. 23rd July 2019
When we first called The Plumbing Geniuses on June 1 earlier this year, we were pleasantly surprised that Mike Genius, could make a house call in short notice- we had a broken sink tap and also a few minor items we needed to fix. Mike came by and figuratively flew around the house for 20 minutes and 'fixed' everything. Charged us a small fortune (we thought the prices were high but it’s hard to put a price for a shower in the morning). He didn't replace the taps on the sink that we thought was broken - and his 'fixed' tap rotated the wrong way ( why not, we thought, it’s fun to guess each time you use the tap - which way lets the water out and which way tightens it further) and believed him when he said they didn't need to be replaced.
After Mike left, I noticed that my aerator for the faucet that I had wanted him to replace on my sinks around the house were still inside the bag I gave him- unopened. I called him back right away to ask why but he said that they didn't fit. We have 4 different kinds of faucets in the house. How could he tell none of these parts fit without even opening the bag? Mike must have X-ray vision, we decided.
A few days later, I noticed what we now refer to in our house as the shower chronicles. It turns out that Mike had permanently attached his shower head to our wall in a strange angle and it was impossible to change it. It meant that only someone about 4 feet tall can comfortably shower in my bathroom. My husband, who is considerably taller cannot use this shower any longer. Me, who is vertically challenged have realized that if I stoop at a 75 degree angle and tilt my shoulder another 25, can shower! Success!
A few weeks later, even though we hardly used the sink, the tap that Mike had fixed came loose - again- with water ever so subtly leaking - again. We really couldn't leave this issue alone since we don't want to turn our bathroom sink into a smorgasbord for termites. We bit the bullet and called Mike. We were greeted with a litany of accusations. Did we break the tap ourselves? Had we been letting an elephant take a shower in the sink? (I paraphrase here, but you get the idea). He finally relented, and gave us a 96 hour window when he could come by and “take a look”. Since we don’t really have anything to do other than to wait around for Mike, we eagerly agreed. He showed up one morning a few days after, declared that there was no leak because we had already cleaned up under the sink, shouted at my husband for wasting his time, and departed. We didn't even have time to ask him about the shower contortions and whether there was another angle I could try (perhaps shower sitting down?)
To summarize, Mike didn’t actually fix anything the way we would have liked to, but we still ended up being insulted by Mike. The sink tap still turns the wrong way, but now a month later, my 4 year old loves guessing when the water will come out- so I guess this one isn’t that bad as we seem to have added some much needed drama to our hand-washing routine.
I do have a purpose to this letter, and it’s a piece of advice to boost your business prospects: Unless your company is one that performs practical jokes on unsuspecting customers, I would suggest either firing Mike or making it clear when you advertise your services that Mike has talents that not all people (no one) may appreciate.
Thank you for reading!
Uncle Capital by Youwen Ye
The Peking duck had made my mouth water long before I had a chance to look at and eat it, because of the story told by Uncle Capital in my neighbor’s parlor, which was about 1300 miles away from Beijing. It was the first, the last, and the only story I have ever heard from him. I wish I had a chance to listen to him again for just one more story; I always miss him when I listen to people telling stories.
We the villagers called him Ziben Bo, which can be literately translated into “Uncle Capital” in English. I have to confess that I’ve never tried to find out what his real name is. He was on my radar when I was a teen farmer in my home-village in the middle of China’s Cultural Revolution. At the time, everyone in the village had to farm in the field except for Uncle Capital. I didn’t, and still don’t, know why he was able to escape such a revolutionary mandate. However, he did seem to be exceptional by nature, for I could not find a trace of him that would relate him to labor works or to our rustic locality. It was said that he had worked for a German company in a big city before 1949, when the Communist Party took over the Mainland China. He was about 5'10" tall, certainly a giant size in our village, and he always wore a long grey gown and carried a big black umbrella, no matter if it was a sunny day or a rainy day or whatever day it might be called. We always cheered when we saw him emerging from the horizon coming back from the town, for it meant it was 11:30 am, the time for us to leave the field and go home for a lunch break.
He lived in the same village as we did, but he was in a different jurisdiction under a different production team. No one in our production team that I knew, men or women, the old or young, had ever talked to him in person or made any direct eye contact with him, because we all regarded him an unreachable legend. He was one of the remotest legends to me, even though he and I had some sort of kinship, according to my dad. I worked in the field and saw him everyday near or far for eight years, yet I never knew what his face looked like because I, too, had never dared to look at him directly. However, I do remember that voice of his. The voice that was so vibrant, so rich, so clean, so dynamic, and so penetrative with so much authority when he told the story of his experience on eating the Peking duck on that day.
It was in the early afternoon after we had finished a villager’s wedding banquet in my neighbor’s house when the guests gathered in the parlor for tea. I was passing by and heading home when I heard his voice. I was immediately attracted to and then kidnapped by it. I stopped at the door and found the room was full of people and had dim lighting with a lot of tobacco smoke inside, so I stayed the outside at the door along with a dozen of other people behind me, holding our breaths and listening. The story had already developed. Uncle Capital was sitting in the center seat in the parlor and, depicting how he had entered, the restaurant and the receptionist greeted him in every detail, including how the receptionist trotted with small, light, swift, and dutiful steps toward him. He described the luxuriousness of the room, table, table cover, dinner cloth, teacup set, and then the tea service.
"The tea boy came in, carrying a teakettle that was as large as a basketball with a meter long slim spout. He poured the tea from a distance, beginning with the mouth of the spout, almost touching the brim of the teacup, then moving up in the air, and down again at the end to the initial position. The cup was filled exactly 85% full without a drop of the tea falling outside the cup! You put the lid to cover the tea and waited for about three minutes, then lifted the lid, the fragrance of the jasmine tea arose from the teacup and entered your nostrils, making you feel you were in the summer jasmine garden. You used the lid edge to brush the tea leafs aside and then sipped it. Your tongue had a taste of a bit of natural bitterness, but it was followed by a profound and delicate sweetness. The tea flowed through your root of the tongue and reached your throat then down to your gullet, and your whole mouth was full of saliva like the mountain spring water whirling in the fountain. "
He paused, put his water smoke kettle down, and lifted his teacup. And everyone in the room lifted their cups and sipped their tea. He then moved on to the appetizers, such as the famous Peking spiced beef, the imperial concubine chicken, the shredded bean curd with sesame oil, the braised pork shoulder with soy sauce, the lotus root slices stuffed with the ground pork, the garlic cucumber, the shredded sweet potatoes, and the cold green bean noodle with mustard and meat shreds. All were served with the delicate cloisonné enamel plates. The liquor was Maotai, of course, the best of all time in China, with its pure aroma permeating the air in the entire room as it was poured into every single thump-sized crystal glass.
Finally, it came to the Peking duck! He lit cut-tobacco on his water smoke kettle, inhaled a deep smoke, and exhaled it with a profound satisfaction. He then said,
"The Peking Duck was roasted in a stove, which was heated by the fire of the woods with special incense from date trees and pear trees. These woods were dried in a special way, so that they would not produce any smoke when they were burning, and the fire they produced was constant and even. The duck was a special kind, not like the ducks we see here in the south."
It was funny that he mentioned the local ducks, because we could hear their quacking somewhere outside the window from time to time.
"The Peking ducks were raised in a special way, being fed with variety of grains along with some sorts of insects such as worms, small fishes, and shrimps for about 6-8 months. When a duck was brought into the kitchen, the process of getting it ready was extremely complicated. The duck was slaughtered delicately with its blood being drained out thoroughly. You only opened a small hole under one side of the wing to take out the internal organs as quickly as in less than one minute and then sewed and sealed the hole right back. When done, it was immediately coated with hot malt sugar sauce three times and then hung on the open air in the cool shadow for about 6-24 hours, depending on the seasons. Before you took the duck to the oven, you opened a small hole at the neck, through which you filled in the water until it was full."
He opened the lid of his water smoke kettle, filling some water inside, and continued.
"By so doing, you could be sure that the skin was roasted by the heat from the outside fire and fried inside by the fire-simmered duck fat under the skin, making the skin super crisp and fragrant, but the meat under the skin would remain tender because of the filled water inside. It took about 30 to 40 minutes to get a duck roasted. The cook had to constantly rotate the duck until it turned into the golden-brown and oily shinning. After that, the cook would present the roasted duck as a whole at the table to invite the guests’ appetite, and he then sliced the duck into the thin pieces next to the table. The knife was this long, this wide, very sharp."
He put down his smoke kettle, used two index fingers to measure the length and width in the air, and then said,
"While he was slicing the duck, the waiters would bring over a set of accompanying dishes with the tortillas, light brown sweet sauce, shredded green onions, and shredded cucumbers. The tortillas were made from the finest flour and came in a few of bamboo steamers. They were round and super thin, and a little bit larger than your palm. You had to use you finger to peel a tortilla from the stack."
Many people in the room had made a roll of cigarette but dared not to light it up.
"It looked almost transparent but it was very strong. You used a small silver spoon to spread the sweet paste sauce into the inner part of the tortilla; and next, you put on the sliced green onions and shredded cucumbers; and last, you put on the top one piece of the sliced duck meat with the crisp skin; You wrapped it up! In the air, through that transparent white tortilla, you can see the colors inside: golden-brown, jade-green."
He stopped, stroke a match, and lit his smoke kettle, inhaling and exhaling the smoke for almost a century long while everyone else was in waiting.
That was in 1973, 24 years after the Communist Party had taken over the mainland of China, and 7 years before Deng Xiaoping launched the economic reform, when the villagers lived a life in which we barely had enough food to eat. The best meal we could enjoy was the meals we could have on some rare occasions, like the banquet we ate on that day: four pieces of fish ball for each guest along with some pork stew with tofu, the chicken with soy sauce, and the fried vegetable with pork oil. At the time, the things Uncle Capital depicted were beyond our imagination. We enjoyed his story but believed it was just fiction. The young generation dubbed his story “Tianshu”, the heavenly book. The Peking duck was surely a heavenly thing. It wasn’t until 1994 in Beijing when I finally visited the restaurant he had talked about that I found everything he had said was true.
Machete v. Dagger by Angel Diaz Alberto
Our voice has power. My voice has power. A Big Red Sign, Warning! Don’t be silenced, shout! Words have power and so do I Like the delicate deer, I am hunted Hunted. I am wise. Turning my head at every corner like the wise old owl. Why are they trying to shun me? They place shekels on the people and pronounce them free. I will speak truth, I will rise. My words are my weapon and this machete is sharp Sharp like the end of a sewing needle just waiting to prick you Do not fear, because I already do Like a venomous snake, I am best left unbothered, Untamed. Wild, roaming the Sahara with no end in sight Resistance, bring something to the table. My tongue is sharp, passionate. The mountains are vast and yearning to be heard again. I have something to say. Many things to say. Open up those oppressed eyes and muffled ears Listen.
Words to Heal by Moses Llorico
Can life be more than vanity? Return me to the days of my youth, where profanity was too long a word. Everyone preferred community and no one was alone. Atone me. Disown me. I've lost my way. Tell me why I shouldn’t stay here at home in the dark. I prefer this to a park bench in July. Voids you left me deny my hope to dream. End this cruel scheme of love. We put each other above anyone we knew. Rescind the time we threw away together. I already took back my tether of trust. Time has passed. The dust will settle. I don’t want you to mettle with my heart again. No words can mend our divide. Go away. Your lies don’t work here anymore.
Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle Adaptation a comic series by Nathan Cory
From the author:
I take Rick Riordan's award-winning mythical adventures and bring them to your home screen (supposedly). The goal of this adaptation was to capture the humor and themes Riordan gives in his books while adding something refreshing and entertaining to the mix.
SCENE 1 (click here to read)
EXT. ALLEYWAY - DAY
Open to a still-shot of the sun above an alleyway in Brooklyn. It is silent for a moment before a burning figure comes flying out away from the sun towards the camera.
CUT to a shot of a dumpster. The fireball crashes into it.
A 16 year old boy emerges from the dumpster, sputtering and coughing.
CUT to a close in of the boy’s face as he moves into frame.
LESTER PAPADOPOULOS (APOLLO) Awkward looking kid with curly hair looks up in confusion and then horror at the words written on the wall
APOLLO (sobbing) No! It’s not my fault!
He falls backwards onto the ground. Newspapers fly up into the shot.
CUT to Apollo on the ground, facing down. A newspaper floats onto his head. He pulls it off and reads it.
Two THUGS approach, casting a shadow over Apollo.
THUG #1 Well, well. Some loser all on his own.
THUG #2 Aw, he looks nice enough, Cade. Look! He even wants to give us all his money.
THUGS chuckle and approach.
APOLLO stands up. The skies darken, and he casts a large shadow of what looks like a God.
APOLLO Foolish mortals! I am a God! Leave here now or suffer my (voice crack) wrath!
The shadow sputters out and APOLLO cowers in fear as the THUGS start to beat him up.
An apple suddenly hits a thug on the head.
MEG, a small angry looking 12-year-old, stands above the THUGS on a fire escape, assorted fruits lined up in front of her.
MEG Hey! This is my turf! That man’s wallet is mine!
THUG #2 Get lost kid!
It starts to rain fruit and compost from the dumpsters, and the bullies run away. MEG approaches APOLLO from the fire escape.
APOLLO Thank you, small mortal.
MEG Don’t thank me yet, sonny. This is still my alleyway. So, you’re the god Apollo? Don’t look like much to me.
APOLLO Yes, you’ll have to forgive my sorry state. It appears my father, Zeus, is punishing me once again.
APOLLO I’m sorry, is none of this surprising to you?
APOLLO You wouldn’t happen to be a demigod, would you?
MEG I’m asking the questions here, bozo!
APOLLO Okay, okay, sorry! Anyways, as I was saying, every so often I’ll be forced to live with you disgusting mortals for some small problems I may or may not be responsible for. Usually some demigod claims my service for an allotted period of time. I know! Percy Jackson! He’s the perfect candidate: heroic, capable, geographically convenient-
MEG I claim your service!
Lightning strikes and thunder rolls in the background.
APOLLO I suppose I walked right into that.
END SCENE 1
SCENE 2 (Click here to read)
FADE IN EXT. HOUSE - DAY MEG and APOLLO approach a house. MEG Why are we seeing this guy again? I thought you were my servant. APOLLO Percy is our fastest way to Camp Half-Blood. And I assure you, child, getting to Camp Half-Blood is in both of our best interests. I’ll get some more info on my unfortunate circumstances, and you will be safe. MEG If you say so. APOLLO Just let me do the talking. APOLLO knocks on the door. CUT TO HOUSE INTERIOR The door opens to APOLLO’s face, and MEG standing behind him. APOLLO Mrs. Jackson! So good to see you! SALLY JACKSON, pregnant, middle-aged, and PERCY JACKSON’s mother, looks mildly surprised. SALLY JACKSON I’m sorry, do I know you…? APOLLO I’m Apollo. SALLY stares blankly. MEG smacks her forehead. APOLLO (clears throat) The god. Might I inquire to the whereabouts of a Percy Jackson?
SALLY Percy! There's an “Apollo” here who wants to speak with you. SALLY lets MEG and APOLLO in. PERCY JACKSON enters from upstairs. He keeps his distance from APOLLO. PERCY What do you want? APOLLO embraces PERCY. APOLLO Percy Jackson, my blessings upon you! It would appear I am in need of assistance. PERCY Who’s your friend? APOLLO Ah, this is Meg, my rescuer and personal bodyguard! I owe her my life. MEG His new master, actually. Last part’s true, though. PERCY So wait, this isn’t just some random form you’ve taken up? APOLLO There are many things that need discussing! I thought we might do so over a meal and some fresh clothes. SALLY rolls her eyes. SALLY I can whip something up. Percy, give Apollo some of your clothes. Meg, was it? You come with me, and we can change you into something less dirty as well. CUT INT. KITCHEN - DAY APOLLO elegantly eats his meal while MEG chows down very violently.
APOLLO ...So you see, my father blames me for what happened between Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter. I must see Chiron. He’ll have an answer to this, he must. Give us some quest to go on. PERCY That’s not possible anymore. APOLLO What do you mean? PERCY The Oracle lost her stuff, remember? And she’s kinda essential for dishing out prophecies. APOLLO I thought you mortals would have fixed that by now! PERCY You’re the God of Prophecy! Everyone’s blaming you for it! I thought you’d have the answer. APOLLO My memory’s still fuzzy… Regardless, we need to get to Camp Half-Blood. You wouldn’t want to leave this poor defenseless 12 year old out all by herself? MEG Hey! PERCY You just called that 12 year-old your personal bodyguard like 10 minutes ago. APOLLO That’s beside the point! PERCY But he is right. You belong at Camp Half-Blood, Meg. There are people there that can help you. People like me and you. APOLLO Then, it’s settled! You will escort us to Camp Half-Blood, and, in return, I shall shower you with treasures when I return to my usual self! PERCY sighs and looks to his mother for approval. SALLY ...All right. But hurry back. You know how our first trip to Camp Half-Blood went. END SCENE 2
Scene 3 (click here to read)
FADE IN INT. CAR Apollo looks at himself from the dashboard mirror. APOLLO Zeus could have at least had the decency to make me someone not completely revolting. MEG Oh calm down, ya crybaby. APOLLO Look at this! I have acne. The car makes a violent swerve. APOLLO What are you doing! PERCY Short-cut. APOLLO This body I have is fragile, you can’t just- MEG There’s something following us! Three humanoid smoke-monsters speed towards the car. PERCY Hang on. PERCY maneuvers through different roads in an attempt to lose the monsters. They end up by the beach. One of the monsters jumps in front of the car. PERCY swerves to avoid it, and crashes. APOLLO, PERCY, AND MEG help each other out of the car, and are confronted by the monsters. PERCY What are they? APOLLO Nosoi. Plague spirits. Can’t be killed. PERCY Wonderful. APOLLO Stop! I am your god. You will obey! The monsters tremble for a moment before turning into ghoulish creatures armed to the teeth. APOLLO Worth a shot. Percy arms himself with RIPTIDE. SPIRIT 1 Apollooooo…..we’ve come to- APOLLO Yes, yes, you’ve come to exact your revenge. Well you listen here, vile creature. I practically invented plague. SPIRIT 2 It matters little what you once were, we will- APOLLO Know that whatever you do now I will never forget it! SPIRIT 3 Stop interrupting! We’re trying to have a moment. PERCY yells and charges the spirits, swiping his sword right through all three of them. It passes through harmlessly. MEG We should run. PERCY Yup. The three take off towards a hill. PERCY Camp Half-Blood should be just over that hill! MEG We’re gonna make it! Apollo struggles to catch his breath. APOLLO We’re going to die! The ghouls enclose around Apollo, cackling. APOLLO Someone, help! A creature that looks like a peach jumps up from the ground and starts eating one of the ghouls. The other ghouls run off screaming as they are attacked by a fruit monster. PERCY and MEG look back and then at each other. PERCY Did you do that? MEG shrugs. APOLLO stumbles up to the top of the hill where the two are standing and collapses. APOLLO Good work, bodyguard. I knew I made the right choice. MEG You’re a terrible servant. PERCY Guys. We made it. CUT to a moving shot of CAMP HALF-BLOOD. Kids run around of all ages wearing orange t-shirts, doing all kinds of training. PERCY We’re home. END SCENE 3 END EPISODE 1
Scene 1 pictures (Click here to view)
Strange Times by Angel Bustos
We’re living in strange times Don’t make a mistake they’ll never let it go Be careful what you do now, it’ll cost you later Filter your thoughts and watch your mouth Journalists, cameramen, and critics are everywhere Your once private life is now for everyone to see Mines fill the streets and pose Prove your love to everyone or else Shame is the name of the game This is how we are.
Yellow Flower by Annabel Haddad
Everything shifted from yellow to blue.
I still remember the yellow leaves that flew across the sidewalk and into my hair every few seconds after I brushed them out. I walked past every tree and billboard on a street that I hadn’t been on for a year but could never forget. I had spent the last three days wandering around my neighbourhood from sunrise to sundown, and everywhere I found myself proved to be too much. I stopped below a yellow bus sign that flapped and creaked in the wind, the only signs of movement coming from anywhere on the street other than me. Even when there was nothing, there was too much. It was all too much.
Two signs of life emerged on either side of me, one being the bus that was preparing to come to a halt and the other being my great-grandmother. She moved at the same brisk pace that I’d subconsciously learned to copy, scanning the next street over for any sign of me. I didn’t move and she didn’t notice me for a moment. She wouldn’t expect me to be here. This street was just a connection we took to get from point A to point B, we never stopped on it. We never looked down. The silence of the street disappeared as the bus slowly pulled up alongside the curb. She instinctively turned her head towards the noise for only a moment, and then stopped completely. The expression she met me with held no trace of surprise, only disappointment.
We never stopped on this street. Not until now.
She moved towards the crosswalk and I moved towards the bus. The sound of its opening doors drowned her out as she called my name, and my steps towards the bus outran her attempt to catch up with me. Then I was on the bus. Its wheels lurched forward to pull me away and suddenly everything was blue. The seats, the clothing of the passengers, the sky out the window, and everything else except the flower in the back of my pocket was suddenly blue.
When my mother first told me the story of the yellow flower, the very first thing I asked her in response was how anything that was passed from person to person so many times could ever truly belong to anyone. My mother had been born at the Woodstock festival in 1969, and my grandmother had felt her preparing to enter the world while sitting in a bed of yellow flowers near a pond. My grandmother would leave her with my great-grandmother two months later to follow a boy out to Arizona and only visit once a few years, making the yellow flower the only thing that had stayed with my mother for her whole life. In turn, she made me my own out of felt two weeks before I was born.
“It won’t die, you see?” She had said, gently stroking the felt petals down the side of my cheek. “It will always stay with you.”
I awoke after having fallen asleep next to a sign at the last stop of the bus. I was still surrounded by blue, in the colors of the signs and the dim lights of the bus station all around me. I squinted past a set of train tracks a few feet away from me and realized that the area was rural for miles, and even quieter than the town I had left. I studied the signs around me for a hint of where I might have hopped off, but I recognized none of their words. I could barely even remember how long I had actually remained on that bus, or how long ago I might have gotten off of it before sleep overtook me. I studied the signs for another moment until I realized that the unnerving silence of my surrounding environment had changed. Someone was speaking to me.
I turned my head and was met with a somewhat concerned face peering down at my own. She offered me a hand to pull me up from the bench, and, in addition, was soon pulling more responses from me than I had given anyone in the past several days. My answers came out in a slurred speech as I still wasn’t completely awake, and I only barely managed to learn that her name was Gloria. She’d been out for one of her late-night walks when she saw me lying there. I had been lying there because I didn’t have anywhere to go when I’d gotten off the bus and I’d gotten off the bus because I’d gotten sick of it. I was sixteen. No, I didn’t have school, it was summer break. No, I wasn’t ready to go back yet.
When she finished talking, she turned to walk down the road and I watched her get smaller around the corn fields that lined either side of us, trying to remember whether or not she had told me to follow her. I moved to follow her anyways and we walked in silence down an unlit road until we arrived at a residential street with a single-story house at its end. The house was covered with potted greenery and stained-glass decorations that were illuminated in the clear summer moon. The woman, Gloria, led me inside and down a hallway that was painted with an abstract mural on both sides. She took me into the second room on the right side of the hallway with three twin beds each crammed into their own spaces.
“You can sleep here,” Gloria said. “We’ll talk more tomorrow.”
She turned without waiting for a response and walked back out into the hall. I took in the unfamiliar sight and scent of the dimly lit room. The corners that each held one of the three beds appeared so different from each other in decoration and space that the room, in turn, almost seemed divided itself. I let my gaze drift between the three corners for what could have been minutes or hours before shuffling over to the farthest bed on the right. It was the brightest in color by far and yet once I was lying on top of the vivid, pattern-covered quilt, it somehow felt like the most empty one. I imagined that the colors on the quilt, the bookshelf, and the paintings around me would suddenly peel away and leave this corner of the room feeling dull and lacking any energy. I feel asleep with overpowering images of colors and patterns in my mind and yet feeling as lacking in energy as if I had never had any to begin with.
I spent the entirety of the next two days in the stained-glass house with Gloria, who told me how it had once belonged to her and both of her sisters. They had grown up making all the art that now lined the walls of the house, but Gloria had been the only one willing to stay and keep it upheld. The house was inherited and paid off, so she paid her remaining bills with a town shop that sold her sculptures, glass art, and woven pieces. On the second day of my stay, she showed me how to make the glass figurines that she sold, and I spent the rest of my time in the corner of the room that I had spent my first night in. The corner had once belonged to Debra, Gloria’s sister. Despite having not present anywhere near the place for years, Debra came to affect me the most out of anything else I encountered in that house during those first two days.
Whatever kind of person Debra had been was a relatively simple one if judging by how she had organized her corner. She had a large collection of books, all happy stories, and most of them in the fantasy genre. By looking into her world through the filter of these items, I could feel a sense of enthusiasm I imagined she’d had throughout her adolescence begin to rub off on me. In Debra’s corner, I went two days in a row for the first time in a year without a bad dream or some kind of dark thought entering my mind as I drifted off to sleep. The thoughts of my town, of my great-grandmother, of that one street rarely emerged and I developed a skill of keeping them away whenever they did. Even the dull feeling that I had felt the first night that Gloria had brought me here had shifted into a pleasant kind of emptiness. I went to sleep with a blank and open mind, not one that dwelled on all the things that had become a part of my life, and the one thing that had been taken from it. Somehow, Debra’s corner had shielded me from the whirlpool of these memories.
Angie’s corner was the opposite of Debra’s. Whoever Angie was, she had been determined to create a statement with every inch of space she had, almost as if she was trying to make up for Debra’s simply pleasant taste. Her scattered belongings seemed to possess powerful emotions of their own, so much so that I was convinced I could actually see them shift in color if I stared long enough. By my third day with Gloria, we had already established a routine where I helped her make her art, but my resilience to the dark thoughts that crept into my head at night had started to wear off. I found myself gravitating away from Debra’s space of the room during the third night of my stay, no longer satisfied by her aura of simple positivity, and into Angie’s corner instead. Once I settled there, however, I discovered the ways in which Angie's vivid and dramatic colors only seemed to intensify the emotions that I couldn’t escape from when I tried to fall asleep. I went outside into Gloria’s backyard and found her sitting there on the patio steps, looking up at the sky. She saw me in the doorway and smiled.
“I guess it’s one of those nights. None of us can sleep.” She said.
I walked over and sat down next to her on the steps, looking up into the sky as well. The air was clear in this rural town, not polluted like my own. I could see the lights of at least four different airplanes blinking up in the sky.
“I find the truth in the planes,” Gloria said, after a moment. “They remind me that there’s so much other life in the world, so the bad stuff can’t only be distributed to me.”
She picked one of the yellow flowers from a nearby bush and held it tightly in her hand. I subconsciously felt for my felt flower in my pocket.
“Negativity goes around in a cycle, you know.” she continued. “If I’ve had a bad day, then I know I’ve had my shared dose of the negativity and it’ll move on for a while before it comes back. That’s how I know I’m safe to go to sleep, at least.”
“I guess I don’t really feel like I can trust that.” I said.
“Just watch the planes, girl.” Gloria smiled. “They’re protecting you.”
I looked up towards the planes and synced my breathing to the blinks of their lights in the night sky. My gaze soon shifted over to the bed of yellow flowers and stayed there until my eyes finally closed.
Gloria took me to what she called “the Artistic Women’s Gathering” on the fourth day of my stay. It was in a coffee shop with multiple side rooms that apparently never filled up. The rest of the shop was so tranquil and empty that I almost wondered if the artists’ group were what kept them open. There were only two other regulars at the gathering beyond Gloria, and they were the only two who came that day besides us. They were twin sisters in their sixties named Charlene and Lola, identical in every way except for their mannerisms, which hardly made them even seem related. Charlene had a level of energy that fell somewhere on the line between enthusiastic and manic. She greeted me with a tight hug and told me that I looked tired and “very in need of a change of scene.” She wasn’t mistaken, although I had thought I’d already found my change of scene four days ago.
“We’ve been meeting for years and we’ve hung up fliers every week that we do,” Charlene told me when I asked her about the small turnout. “There’s never any change.”
She handed me a hand-painted flier for the gathering with glitter on the edges. It was a difficult thing for me to picture, publicly advertising a personal gathering. No one hung up fliers to advertise much in my town. No one advertised much at all in my town. Charlene was warm, the kind of person who had never met a stranger in their life, but she was even more critical of her artwork than I was. She would explain every choice she made in her sculpture with extensive detail, followed by an even lengthier analysis of how she would have done it differently the second time around and how she might attempt to alter it going forward. Gloria would later tell me that this behavior practically defined Charlene.
Lola was quiet, only speaking once it was her turn to share what she had painted. She’d brought in a portrait of a young girl stuck in a whirlpool but staring straight ahead with no regard for her treacherous surroundings. Her cartoonishly big eyes stared at me with a sadness and intelligence that I had never seen in a picture before, yet there was no dread in her face. She knew what her surroundings were, what the whirlpool was, and yet she didn’t fear the fate it was about to lead her to. None of us acknowledged this out loud, but the girl looked like me. I knew she did.
“Whirlpools are inescapable,” Lola said, looking towards me from the corner of her eye. Sometimes we can become so accustomed to them surrounding us that we don’t even realize we’re drowning.” The other two women praised her techniques and then moved forward to one of Gloria’s glass figurines. I didn’t look at the painting again.
After the gathering ended, Jaime went out to get a new batch of Gloria’s art materials and offered to have me come along. The drive was longer since it was already afternoon by the time we left, but I didn’t mind as once we were out of the city and back along the plains. Jaime’s car had gotten busted, so he drove us there and back in the Gloria’s brown pickup truck that looked like it hadn’t been driven since the nineties. It probably wouldn’t have if it not for Jaime. When we were ten minutes away from the house, I realized we were no longer driving along the plains.
“This isn’t the same route you took before.” I said.
“Sun’s gone down,” Jaime replied. “There’s no light along the plains, I wouldn’t be able to see anything.”
I looked out at roads, now concrete instead of dirt, and started to count the cracks I passed like I always did when I was younger. The cracks got wider and darker, but mostly more familiar. It was the street that I had gotten off from the bus at, the street that had taken me from my town. I wondered then if it was directly connected to the street that I left behind. It looked the same now, I realized, exactly the same as the street in my town that I had avoided for year. I had been in a truck that day too. The truck that took my mother from me.
Dark, wet puddles appeared on the pavement, maybe gasoline or maybe something else. There had been no traces of her on the pavement that day, and yet she still haunted that street. I had nothing left of her now, except for the yellow flower, and yet she followed me along every street I drove past.
“I need to get out.” I said.
“I need to get out!”
I opened the car door before Jaime even arrived at the next stop sign and jumped out onto the curb. Jaime called out after me, but I was already running, back to the house, back to Gloria’s, away from this street. I reached Gloria’s house in less than ten minutes and ran through her back gate to the patio. I sat down in the bed of yellow flowers and pulled my own felt one out of my back pocket, the one my mother had given me in a time that now felt like a different life. When I had questioned how it could really belong to me and only me, she had told me that anything with individual meaning would belong to us only if just for a moment. Only she hadn’t realized that in doing so, she’d cursed me with a fear that nothing would ever truly belong to me. I had never encountered anything that held individual meaning for me except for her, and even she didn’t belong to me either anymore.
“You’re like me.” A voice spoke up behind me.
It was Gloria’s voice, but the intention ringing clear.
“You needed to run.” She said, walking over to the flower bed. “I ran from this house when everything fell out of my control, but nothing could save me from realizing I would always need to go back. So do you.”
“There’s nothing for me to go back home to anymore.” I said.
“There’s nothing for you to run to either. You won’t find your home simply by making yourself lost.”
I didn’t speak after that. We were silent for minutes that possibly became hours. I wasn’t sure if I had expected to stay here or not. Maybe I didn’t belong in this house, surrounded by the items of girls in the past and the emotions they left behind creeping into my head at night, but I also didn’t belong anywhere else. I had only ever belonged with my mother and she’d left me a year ago for another world that I would never be able to follow her into.
“I’ll leave in the morning, early.” Gloria said. “You can stay, but I guarantee you won’t find much if you do. Nothing much to advance you forward, anyways.”
She stood up and walked back into the house. I looked back up at the planes, wishing I could fly up to join them wherever they were going, but the yellow flowers danced against my legs in the soft summer breeze and reminded me that I couldn’t. I watched them sway and realized that I was now alone for the first time in my life, with nothing between me and the flowers. The yellow flower had always belonged to one of the women before me. Even the flower that my mother had made especially for me out of felt had now felt chained to her for a year, chained to a memory of her that followed me along the street where I lost her. My mother, my grandmother, and even my great-grandmother who I now had to go back to had all held and lost their yellow flowers. They had all held and lost everything. They had never been here, but they had all shared this moment, the moment of truth beneath the planes. It was the moment I closed my eyes to finally face that truth. It was the moment that the yellow flower belonged to me.
My name is Angel Bustos, and I was born and raised in Waukegan, IL. I was born on January 15th, 1991. After taking classes while attending PCC, the most challenging class, and the subject I feared the most, was English. Since having a bad experience when I was a freshmen in high school, I’ve avoided the subject as much as possible. Now, I want to face my fears and weakness and improve.
I grew up studying creative writing as an elective during middle and high school before taking a gap year after graduation to write a feature-length screenplay entitled The Girls On Madison. The screenplay has since placed as a finalist in WeScreenplay's Diverse Voices Competition, partnered with activist filmmaker Ava Duvernay, and has received positive feedback from industry professionals. I am now continuing my studies in creative writing and English at PCC, where I have written numerous short stories including the submitted work "Yellow Flower," a story about loss and belonging.
My name is Monica Lee and my educational goals are primarily centered around learning how to communicate better. I hope to be able to convey my ideas as clearly as possible to whoever is willing to listen.
Moses Llorico was born and raised in Arcadia, CA. He is currently pursuing Mechanical Engineering.
The author lives in Pasadena, and for her poem "Under the bridge by the river" describes the brightly colored tents that house our society's most vulnerable, barely sheltered from the elements. For "Letter To A Plumbing Establishment," she thought the plumber in question was not hilarious at first , but has decided to that humor in everyday situations are decidedly cosmic interventions on an otherwise drab existence.
My name is Youwen Ye. I graduated from Peking University with a bachelor and a master degrees of literature in the Department of Chinese in 1982 and 1985, and a master degree from USC 1991. I’ve written and published some articles in newspapers, magazines, and academic journals, all in Chinese. My works include linguistic studies, politics, literary critiques, proses, and poems. I am now a student of the PCC, working on writing poetry, creative non-fictions, and fictions in English.
Additional support for promotional materials and other supplies provided by Dean Isela Ocegueda and the English Division at Pasadena City College. Most generous thanks to Anna Davis for providing clerical support and to Dr. Mikage Kuroki for helping to organize the series of events. Gratitude to this summer's outstanding instructors, Prof. Akilah Brown and Prof. Brian Adler.