Category: Fiction 2020

A Doll’s Tea Party

by Destiny Rosales

When I was 6 years old, my older brother convinced me to join him in watching what he described as “a funny movie about a girl who finds a magic doll.” In actuality, the ”funny movie” was an old horror film about a demonically possessed baby doll tormenting a family. Unsurprisingly, I ended up with quite an intense fear of dolls to the point of actively avoiding toy stores throughout my childhood. Even to this day I suffer recurring nightmares about the possessed one that started it all. You can imagine the miniature heart attack I had when, nearly twenty years later, that same older brother gifted me an almost identical antique baby doll at our family’s annual Christmas party. A real stand-up guy, am I right? 

Initially I had planned to ditch it in a dumpster somewhere; but knowing how much money antique toys went for online, I decided to use the opportunity to make a bit of chump change. I found a forum site dedicated to people who collect vintage toys and made a post advertising the doll at “name-your-price” value. Since it was still in decent quality for its old age, I imagined a few of the grandmas and collectors who frequented this site would be interested. I got an email about it not even a full six hours later from a potential buyer. 

 Dear merchant, 

I noticed the listing you’ve posted. Beyond the price you listed, I am currently willing to pay $500 for it, on the sole condition you hand deliver the doll to my place of residence. According to the location that you have listed in  your biography, you should have no trouble getting here as long as you have ready access to a car. If you agree to this condition then we will set a meeting date, if not then I will be taking my business elsewhere. 

Reply at your earliest convenience,


His insistence that I had to go to his house set off an alarm in my brain: but seeing as $500 was quite the pretty penny to make for an old doll, I agreed.

That’s how I ended up here: driving for three and a half unbroken hours across the county to try and get to this person’s house with that damn doll’s glassy violet eyes staring right at me in the rearview mirror the entire damn time. 

After nearly another hour had passed I finally made it to his neighborhood. It was an endless sea of affluence: every house a mansion, and every car either a luxury sports car or a priceless vintage model. 

I was so overwhelmed by it all I nearly rear-ended a Bugatti Divo — if this was actually the guy’s neighborhood then his willingness to pay half a thousand dollars for some random doll made a lot more sense.

My jaw nearly dropped when I reached his address. It was the biggest mansion on the street, possibly even the whole neighborhood, and styled to look a bit like a medieval castle: with miniature towers adorning each corner of the roof, tall stained-glass windows, and thick ivy growing up the sides of the walls. I wondered to myself if I should’ve haggled for a higher price. 

The walkway looked like it was made of solid marble and it wrapped around one of the largest and most beautiful fountains I’d ever seen. The entire yard seemed to be decorated with marble statues that you’d expect in a museum rather than in some rando’s yard. 

While I strolled up the walkway and began admiring the smaller details, I couldn’t help but notice how overgrown the garden looked.The grass seemed nearly three inches tall in some areas, the tree branches were tangling together, and rotting flower petals covered the ground almost everywhere. It was like whoever owned this garden had completely stopped caring about it altogether and just left it to be overtaken by nature.

The “front door” was actually a pair of huge double doors that were painted a rich midnight blue. But even that seemed to be starting to fade and chip away. I took a breath and pressed the doorbell; I could vaguely hear the faint chimes of a classical melody echoing against the walls inside. 

Minutes passed yet still no one answered. I swore under my breath at the realization that I had been pranked and drove for hours to an empty house! I was about to turn and start angrily walking back down to my car — until I heard the doors start unlocking. As they opened I was immediately hit by the overpowering scent of bleach. Through burning eyes I attempted to get a look at who was standing inside.

She was extremely tall, at an easy 7 feet, and wore an ankle-length black dress with a low-cut collar that revealed a shocking amount of her ample chest. Tied around her lithe waist was a lacy apron covered with numerous odd-colored stains; I figured she must be the maid.

Despite her oddly formal outfit the maid looked disheveled. Her mousy brown hair was so tousled that she looked as if she had just gotten out of bed: her black lipstick smudged against her small lips and bucked teeth so much that she looked like she had put it on in the dark.

Her eyes were what really caught my attention. For starters they looked like they took up practically half of her head and had deep black rings beneath them, as if she hadn’t had a full night of rest in years. That was nothing compared to her pupils. Her left eye had a normal, if not slightly enlarged, pupil with a turquoise iris that glittered a bit under the light of the sun. But her right eye–her right eye had no iris at all! Having a pupil that was so dilated in comparison to the other, I wondered if she could even see properly in either of them. 

Minutes passed as she stared at me in silence. The gaze of her strange pupils felt almost hypnotic. Realizing she wasn’t going to say anything, I finally broke the ice. 

“H-Hello there um, Does a Mister uh, A.C.E live here? We, uh- Met on a toy collecting forum… I’m here to sell him this doll?” I held it up high for her to see. 

That explanation was good enough for her as she moved aside and gestured for me to come in: again without saying a single word. 

I walked in and looked around at the alcove of the house. It was what you’d probably expect the inside of an old-fashioned mansion to appear. A large, double-sided marble staircase twisted around the entrance with velvet carpets draped down from both sides of the stairs, blending together at the bottom to make a single pathway from the front doors. The solid gold banisters twinkled under the starry light of the large crystal chandelier that hung heavily from the high ceiling. I stared in awe until I heard a small cough and turned to see the maid gesturing for me to follow her up one of the large staircases and around a corner. 

The following walk felt like it lasted for hours due to the maid’s almost painful silence. I tried to ask questions about whatever I could think of — the Mansion, who owned it, the neighborhood — to try and coax some conversation out of her. Every response was a brief inaudible muttering of a few words in a voice that sounded more like a faint whistle before going back to silence. Soon the only sounds were our footsteps hitting the hardwood floor. 

I tried to find some solace in looking at the many oil paintings lining the wall. Most featured generic landscapes and biblical scenes, but the largest one featured the family I assumed owned the house. The husband was slender and tall, with slicked back ginger hair that had a single lock drooping against his face. The wife was shorter and round with pale blonde hair held up in a large bun by a bejeweled golden comb. Standing between them was a portly young boy with pale orange hair that had the same rebellious lock sticking out as his father. They were all very well-dressed, with the father and son wearing matching dark red tuxedos with black accents and the mother wearing a dark red dinner gown with a black fur trim. The son clutched a very expensive-looking porcelain doll in his arm and a noticeable frown on his face. His father leaned against a golden walking cane and wore a scowl, and despite his mother having a black fan blocking her mouth, the cruel glint in her eyes made it clear she was grimacing too. As I felt the figures of the portrait looking down at me I suddenly found myself feeling very small.

I continued to look around at the details of the hallways and soon noticed that the closer I looked at the wall the more I saw the mansions’ true state. Small cracks of various lengths crisscrossed faintly across the wall and old water stains dripped down from the high ceiling nearly down to the floor. Even small spiders were making their home in the corners of picture frames and hallway candelabras. 

I wondered if the Maid had any co-workers; If so, then they were definitely slacking off on their job. But if there weren’t others, then why would such a large house only have one servant? 

The previous awkward silence was finally broken by the sound of the maid knocking a short rhythm against a large white door with silver floral designs painted on it. A heavily muffled voice could be heard through the heavy wood. 

“Come in Mehitty!” 

‘Mehitty’ opened the door and we entered what I could only describe as my worst nightmare — nearly every surface in the room was covered in dolls.

As I slowly walked into the room I felt hundreds of eyes watching me. Hundreds of Unblinking Soulless Lifeless eyes watching my every–

“Good Afternoon!” 

I was jolted out of my near-anxiety attack by the sound of an elegant voice from the other side of the room. In my panic I hadn’t noticed the dining table in the middle of the room where a lone man sat at the far end. Judging by his beefy physique and pale orange hair with a single lock sticking out, there was the boy from the portrait all grown up. 

I cleared my throat a bit and adjusted the doll in my arm. “Hello, I’m here about the–” 

“The Doll! Of Course, of course! Why don’t you take a seat?” he said, as he wiggled his plump fingers a bit in excitement. 

I walked closer and I began noticing a few oddities. For starters the seats around the table I had thought were empty actually sat more dolls: each with their own small plate and tiny china glass, as if we were at the pretend tea party of a young girl. 

Then there was the man’s interesting appearance. His skin was unnaturally pale to the point of being as white as paper. The overly vibrant pink blush of his nose and cheeks made it clear that he had caked his entire face in old-school theatre make-up, which just made the thick layer of sweat gleaming across his face all the more prominent.

As I took my seat at the other end of the table I noticed that Mehitty was whispering something into the man’s ear. 

“The cookies are finished, Mehitty? Wonderful! Why don’t you bring them here along with some tea for our guest?” 

Mehitty gave him a dutiful nod and with a curtsy and a smile rushed out of the room.

“I do hope Mehitabel didn’t startle you,” he said once she left the room. “She’s a darling but a bit of a recluse and can get just so meek when company comes over!” 

“She seems…very hardworking.” I rubbed my neck and looked down at my hands while I thought over my answer. “You’ve got a really nice home here, Mr.–” 

“Oh yes, I couldn’t get through a single day without her! She’s such a doll.” He chuckled a bit which caused the rolls of his chin to jiggle slightly. “You may call me Aloysius and thank you. This particular estate has been in my family for just about three generations now. My mother was Dame Imogen Churchnut and my father was Thurston Elon so as you can imagine–I come from two very long lines of wealth and privilege.” 

He placed a prideful hand theatrically against his chest. I nodded politely and tried not to laugh at his over-the-top mannerisms. The Elons are a very wealthy, old-money family who seem to have spread their influence across the globe. Thurston Elon in particular I recognized as having been the original owner of the uranium mill that practically employed our entire town when he was alive. His mother’s name didn’t ring any bells for me but I already knew from the “Dame” title that she must’ve been someone important. 

Suddenly the door swung upon again and Mehitty came gliding into the room with a tray of delicious smelling cookies piled high in one hand and a shining silver tea tray in the other, balancing both trays in hand with ease and experienced grace. 

“Oh good, the cookies are ready! My, I’m positively famished. Oh Mehitty, they smell absolutely exquisite.” Aloysius rubbed his hands together excitedly. She gave him a modest smile while the faintest blush spread across her pale cheeks. She placed both trays on the table and immediately began piling cookies onto his silver tea plate. Aloysius beamed at her from the sidelines. 

The cookies did look and smell scrumptious and since Aloysius was already helping himself I took it as a sign that I could take my share. I leaned over a bit to grab my first one and–WHACK

I pulled myself back into my seat as I held my now red and throbbing hand. I looked up to see Mehitty glaring down at me with a look of such accusing malice that I started down into my chair in fear. 

Aloysius reached over to take her hand in his and rubbed the top of her knuckle gently with his plump thumb. “Now, now, it’s quite alright Mehitty. Our new friend can have a cookie or two if they wish.” 

Mehitabel eased up a bit, but still looked like she wanted me dead as she placed exactly two cookies onto my plate. I decided that trying to ask for any more would probably be a bad idea. 

I slowly nibbled on my first cookie as I watched Aloysius enjoy his share. Mehitabel stood at his side and proudly filled his plate with more whenever it started looking empty. She sent me a glare from across the table every few cookies or so. 

Once Aloysius had finished–meaning once the platter was completely cookieless–he pushed his plate aside with a gentle hiccup. Mehitabel softly smiled as she dutifully wiped the crumbs off his mouth with her worn apron. 

“Do forgive Mehitabel’s earlier outburst. She can be a bit protective. Isn’t that right Mehitty?” 

Mehitabel bashfully nodded and Aloysius smiled up at her. I took another small bite of my second cookie and tried to come up with a response that wouldn’t spark anymore of Mehitabel’s wrath. 

“Mehitabel seems very…devoted to her job. Has she worked for you awhile?” 

Aloysius chuckled softly and continued to rub her knuckle as the two shared an affectionate  glance. 

“Longer than you’d imagine. She was my Nanny’s child and lived alongside her here in the manor. We’ve practically known each other our whole lives.” Aloysius gazed at her lovingly for a second before turning and clearing his throat. “Now then. Back to the task at hand. Let me see the doll.” 

I placed the doll on the table and watched as he tediously spent the next few minutes thoroughly inspecting every inch of it. 

“Yes..good…good…everything seems to be in acceptable condition.” He said as he flipped the doll over. When he  finished the inspection, he looked  at me with an expectant smile. “She’s such a beautiful work of art. Isn’t she?” 

I awkwardly laughed and rubbed the back of my neck. “I’ll take your word for it. I’m honestly not exactly a fan of dolls.” 

He raised a confused eyebrow. “You don’t like dolls?” 

“To be honest I think I kind of.. hate them?” 

The following silence was so thick you’d need a pickaxe to cut through it. Aloysius stared at me in utter shock while Mehitabel’s glaring sank me deeper into my chair. 

“How could you possibly find anything about dolls worthy of hate?” Aloysius finally said. He slicked his long hair back, only for it to instantly spring back against his face. 

My throat went dry as I once again tried to find the safest response. “I-I just find them uh, strange-looking?” 

Wrong answer. 

“Strange looking?” Aloysius said with a forced smile that caused his vividly pink upper lip to twitch slightly. 

“Well it’s just…their faces always look so blank and emotionless. And their eyes look like they’re following you around the room.” 

His forced smile grew in size and his entire face was now twitching a bit. Mehitabel’s asymmetrical eyes were even more hateful. The room seemed darker and I knew immediately that our little tea party was over. 

“If you don’t mind, Mr. Aloysius, I would like my payment now so I can just be on my way,” I said in a slight panic, rising from my chair. 

“Off so soon? But you haven’t even had a taste of Mehitabel’s tea yet. She made it especially for your visit.” The aggression in Aloysius’ voice slipped through the cracks of his calm facade. He tried to slick his long strand of hair back once more. “Why don’t you just sit back down and have a cup of her delicious tea, hm?” 

The scent of bleach returned to my nose and I looked up to see Mehitabel was now towering over my seat. She grabbed my shoulders with a shockingly strong grip and lowered me back down with a look of barely restrained rage. Leaning over my chair with her heavy chest weighing down against my head, she grabbed the kettle and poured some tea into my cup. 

“It’s her special rose and herb flavor. Mehitty grows all of the ingredients right here in our garden, Now go on then. Have a sip.” 

Through the bleachy scent that surrounded me I could pick up the strong scent of the tea. It smelled edible at the very least; sweet to be completely honest but from the dark red color and the people serving it, I wasn’t sure what it’s true nature was. 

At this point I had completely forgotten the money and was just desperate to get out of there: not having many other options I tried to lie my way to safety. 

“Thank you Mehitabel but I’m actually horribly allergic to–” was all I could get out before Mehitabel shoved the contents of the cup into my mouth. I held the piping hot liquid in my cheeks, trying not let any of it get past my tongue. 

“Drink. The. Fucking. Tea.” Aloysius screamed and any semblance of patience or mercy seemed to vanish. He slammed his fists hard against the table and rose from his chair. 

I realized just how large he truly was—- easily eclipsing me in both height and weight. I could now feel the eyes of the dolls I had blocked out at full force, staring down and mocking me. Almost instinctively I pulled my knees up to my chest and sank even lower into my chair. 

The tea was now burning the inside of my mouth and I knew I couldn’t dare spit it out. I silently prayed that whatever this tea did to me, it would all be over quickly. The tea felt like lava in my throat and stomach as I swallowed it all down in one hard gulp; but the sensation wasn’t something I had to endure for long because within seconds everything went dark.

I woke up with a pounding head on a hard cot inside a dark cell that smelled of stale piss and rotten meat. I tried to adjust my eyes to the dim lanterns that illuminated this dark chamber with little avail. I tried to get up and realized that my hands were shackled together and chained to the stone wall by heavy metal cuffs. My legs were left free but thanks to my shackles I could only get a few feet before the chains pulled me back. 

I tried to react to my situation but I realized something — my mouth wouldn’t open, and my lips were numb with pain. 

Suddenly I heard a heavy door open and two sets of feet walking towards me. I didn’t have to guess who it was. The lantern he carried brightened our surroundings only a slight bit better than any of the other lanterns did. 

“Oh good! You’re finally awake.” They wore the ugliest smiles. 

I looked behind him to see that Mehitabel held that fucking baby doll in her arms. It was wrapped up in a pastel pink blanket and was wearing a matching bonnet. When Aloysius caught me staring, he wrapped his arms around her waist, and they both gazed at it with loving eyes. They could have been mistaken for a pair of proud parents holding their newborn. The thought made my insides churn. 

“I’m sorry things had to end this way friend, I truly am. But you needed to learn your lesson. Don’t take this personally of course. You’re not the first guest I’ve had to throw down here and you certainly won’t be the last…” 

His massive form approached the cell and grabbed one of the metal bars in his free hand not breaking eye contact with me. 

“It’s so rare that we meet someone who appreciates my treasures: truly appreciates them.” 

He walked back to Mehitabel and softly stroked the doll’s plastic cheek with his palm. Mehitabel pouted a bit in sympathy and ran her fingers through his hair. 

“It seems every guest we have visit us only ever sees my collection as some superficial novelty, or as something even worse.” They both turned back towards me with matching faces of hatred. 

Driven by what little adrenaline I had left, I began to charge at the bastards — but as you’d expect the chains pulled me back before I could even get my nose through the gaps between the bars. 

“Now, My Friend. Trying to fight won’t do you any good. But don’t you worry too hard. It won’t last much longer.” 

Mehitabel let out a quiet giggle that echoed throughout the vast and empty chamber. Aloysius stuck his thick arm between the bars and used his fat finger to stroke the side of my chin; the vile grin on his pale painted lips twisted my already sore stomach into an even tighter knot. 

“After all, no one can live very long with a sewn up mouth.”


Destiny Rosales is an 18-year-old Puerto Rican from Brooklyn, New York. She’s currently a first-year Creative Writing major at LaGuardia Community College. She aspires to become a professional novelist and hopes to one day work in film and television as a screenwriter. In addition to writing, her hobbies include drawing, watching movies, and reading.

Primp and Polish

by Suzzette Jimenez

[Trigger Warning: Domestic Abuse]

She blew out her bangs with a large round brush as she got ready for work.  She feared the thinner round brush could not do the job of elongating the hair enough to hide the bruised bump that lies beneath it.  The curl could rise up too much leaving the remnants of last night’s argument with her boyfriend of two years protruding for the world to see.  The feeling of utter disappointment would sink in with each stroke of the brush.  “What would my mother think of me now?”  A nagging question festering since that first moment she reluctantly decided to stay and work things out with him.  Festering to the point where the stench of it suffocated her as she got ready in the spacious bathroom of her ground floor one bedroom apartment.  Since the day they first toured the apartment she loved the bathroom most.  It was nothing compared to her old one back in her sixth floor walk up in New York City.  She could actually walk in it!  It had a huge tub you could pretty much sleep in, which was actually how she spent some of her nights since moving in.  There was plenty of counter space for toiletries or succulents, one of the largest mirrors she had ever seen in a bathroom, and enough wall space to fill with frames of cliché love quotes: such as the one currently hanging on her beige painted wall with the words that said “Love will set you free.”  A creature comfort that made staying in this place with him a little more tolerable.

She moved to the other side of the country a year and a half after meeting a Phoenix boy who swept her off her feet.  She met him on a cold, winter night in the city that never sleeps, but the flame that sparked between them burned any thought in her mind about going back to what’s his name.  Bright eyed and ready for a new start.  Eager to make a new life.  Eager to forget her previous seven-year relationship.  She remembered when she first landed in Sky Harbor International how the coolness of her skin from the airport’s air conditioning was greeted by a thick wall of almost unbearable heat once she stepped outside.  It felt like opening an oven door in the middle of a heat wave.  The asphalt was so hot you could literally fry an egg on it.  The blurred heat rising from the red rock formations in the backdrop, a change of scenery from the concrete jungle she came from.  The brightness of the blazing sun casting a shadow behind her like the devil’s tail. An unbeknownst red flag of the hell she was walking into.  Still her sense of adventure overpowered her need for straight hair and blow dries.  

As she carelessly rolled the brush with her left hand through her coarse hair, the heat against her face brought her back to that first day she stepped foot off the plane.  Contemplating the girl who walked through the revolving doors of that airport and the life she left behind.  Despite the shared bed with her mother back home, the constant sightings of her ex with his fiancee in the neighborhood, the tiresome hours of that old retail job, her spirit was never broken.  She started each day on a positive note.  Who she was then looks nothing like the person she is becoming now.  “What happened to that girl?” she thinks over and over.   Her mother’s daughter.  Strength of a lion.  Confident.  Driven.  Always objective and clear headed.  She frequently tried to emulate the woman who raised her.  Her mother had left her own husband after 20 years of misery, learned English through a GED program persevering until she received her Bachelor’s degree, all while raising her and her four siblings. 

Her brain bombarded with questions as she applied her mascara.  “So, what has changed?  Is this what love does?  Is it supposed to change who you are to the point where you are unrecognizable to yourself in your oversized mirror?  Does it make you completely lose sight of your moral compass?  Is it supposed to make you second guess what words you choose to speak at any given moment?  Does the need to be entirely enveloped by the passion and adoration of another, subdue and stifle the person that dwells within your own heart?  Does it give you the right to think that you could change the sins of your father? That you could right the wrongs of your mother’s past?”  These thoughts raced through her mind like a high speed bullet train. It made her dizzy, her head pounding with such powerful intensity that she thought it might explode.  She stops, places the brush in its designated basket, to take a look in the mirror.

As she gazed at her reflection, near perfection in appearance, all she feels is disgust for having lost her power to fight back.  A rampant repulsion coursing through her blood from her brain, to her toes, and back up to her heart.  An ugliness has planted itself within her and has brought upon guilt for the soul that she now carries.  Like vigorous, twining vines growing on the side of a brick building it creeps into the crevices and cracks of her foundation.  Slowly breaking her spirit.  Eroding away the very essence that makes her who she is.  How much longer could she keep this façade of a happy life for all to see?  Suppressing a sick and twisted love to look like an epic fairytale.  More questions.  More racing thoughts.  Are the answers in this mirror?  Is the person on the other side living the life she came here to find?  Is the young woman in that world living a life of uncried tears and reverse heartbreaks?

  If so, she longed to switch places.  As she rubbed red lipstick onto her pale lips she yearned to be the girl on the other side.  Become who she imagines in her mirror image.  She was so close she could reach out and touch her.  She raised her hand to meet her reflection’s, as if placing her hand on the mirror could transport her to this alternate reality.  What if she broke this magical looking glass?  Would that release this imagined utopia?  Would it spill out like a rushing river into this 7 x 10 room that she has used as her place of sanctuary for months now?  Would the colors, the laughs, the warm sunbeams of morning light, the love, the flowers, the symphonies of music, and the whispering words of sweet nothings at night, escape into the dreariness of this agonizing actuality?  Or would it shatter to pieces and leave her with nothing but false hopes?  Broken shards of a made-up existence.  Silence.  She removes her clammy palm from the muse like image that stood before her.  Snapping out of a trance like state.  Nothing happens.  Everything is the same as it was.

After the primping and polishing is complete, she slowly walks from the bathroom through the L shaped hallway to her living room, to her front door, places her hand on the cold metal doorknob, and pauses for a moment.  “What if today was the day?  The day she finally decided to leave.”  These thoughts rapidly entered her mind like neurons firing in her brain.  She could make this the last time she’d ever walk out this door again.  No longer would she have to submit to the rule of his iron hand.  She could walk off into the fiery sunset amidst the mountainous range in the backdrop restored, renewed, reinvigorated.  Yet the nagging feeling deep in the pit of her stomach reminded her of the fear of having to face alone what grows inside her.  Quickly, she snaps out of her trance, takes a deep breath, and puts on a brave smile.


Suzzette Jimenez is a student at LaGuardia Community College who found her passion for writing at a very young age. Over the years, most of her writing consisted of personal pieces, including published works for local community organizations, and her travel blog. In 2018, she created “The Working Wanderer,” a blog dedicated to her other passion for traveling around the world, all while working a full-time job in New York City’s hospitality industry. She wanted to illustrate that you didn’t have to trade one dream for another; you could work in a career that you love and live out your passions. As a mother of one—with another on the way, Suzzette realizes the importance of demonstrating this balance and hopes to expand her writing career in the years to come.


by Berniya Dudley

[Trigger Warning: Suicide]

As I stand here and think about the events that led me to this bridge, I hear a car door slam close. I instantly freeze. I just wait. Suddenly, I can feel someone’s presence. 

“Hey! What are you doing?” a man’s voice yells from behind me, but I don’t turn around. I stay silent. His voice isn’t angry; it is surprisingly calm. In my head, I wonder the same thing. What am I doing up here? How did I get to this point? Where did I go wrong? The night in question is still a blur for me. I remember brief details about the night, but not enough to make sense of what happened. I can’t seem to fix my words, to tell the truth, but I can’t lie either. My silence wasn’t good enough for him, so he begins to climb over the railing. As he climbs over, I can hear a struggle and it takes a minute for him to get completely over. 

“Please stop.” I say this as firmly as possible. I try to put bass in my voice, but who am I kidding. I was never a confrontational person. “I’m not worth it. Please leave me alone.” I don’t hear him struggling to get up here. All I hear is the bridge moan with the passing breeze. I hoped he’d climb back over and forget all about me. Go on with his day, after all, it’s beautiful out. It’s sweater weather, which in my opinion is the best weather of all. Not too hot, not too cold. I love this time of the year. The air is nice and crisp, I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just exactly what we need after those summer days. 

Back when I was younger, my grandfather used to bring my sister and me to this fall festival held in town, just around this time of the year. It was always beautiful weather. The leaves outside were nice and crunchy; our street was filled with so many wonderful colors. My sister and I never knew when grandfather would come to take us to the festival; it was always spontaneous. He would come to the house and call our names as soon as my mom opened the door. “Olivia! Shawn! Let’s go! It’s festival time.” When we heard his voice we would always race to our rooms to get dressed. “Don’t forget a sweater!” He would always say this when he heard us at the top of the stairs, and of course we would always have to go back up and grab one. I enjoyed the time I spent with our grandfather. I always wanted children, so I could share a beautiful experience like that with them, but I just never got around to having any. Too bad this is something I will never get to experience again. After the accident, my sister decided it was best for no one to know that we were related. She denies all my calls, but I still leave voicemails hoping she’ll listen to at least one. 

The man finally appears next to me.  I guess I was too deep in my thoughts to notice him get over the second railing that led to the edge of the bridge. Too focused on the things that I should have cherished more to notice a boat had passed by. All I can see are the left-over waves that crash against the bridge and the foam-like residue in the water. So here we are. We both stand on the ledge in silence, avoiding eye contact. I am afraid to even talk. I spot a cloud that looks like a whale if I squint my eyes long enough. The sound of movement causes me to break my train of thought. The man removes his jacket and places it on the side of the rail and sits down on the ledge. 

“Please leave. I don’t want you to get hurt. I’ve done enough bad in this community.” I am confused by his actions. He still doesn’t say a word, just goes in his jacket pocket and pulls out two granola bars. He reaches up towards me with his left hand stretched out so I can see what he’s offering me. 

“Want?” He holds the granola bar up for a couple of seconds giving me a moment to choose. And for a second, a very brief second, I consider taking it. It’s only 11 o’clock in the morning and that coffee and bagel I got from the diner nearby has been fully digested. I could eat again, but what would be the point of that? It would just go to waste. Shaking my head back and forth, I refuse. My emotions are all over the place; I thought I would be able to do this alone, no witnesses. I must have lost track of the time because now there are more cars passing by and a handful of people starting to gather.

“No, thank you.” It comes out very bland, I was hoping not to come off as rude. My mother didn’t raise me to be disrespectful no matter what situation I am in. As a child, my mom taught us manners, and said that our character will take us a long way in life. I wish I could call her at a time like this. But, what would I say? “Hey Mom, how was your day? Oh, mine is great too, just standing on a ledge because I can’t be a man and face what I did.” I’m sure she’d love that, right? What would I tell her in these last moments? There’s nothing to say. The man talks for me. 

“Out of all the healthy things my wife forces on me, these will always be my favorite,” he says as he opens the pack and takes a bite. Crumbs break off and fall on his lap. When he notices, he rolls his eyes and lets out a slight sigh. As he swipes the crumbs off his lap and into the water, he asks me “You live in the area?” I think about how I’ll respond. “I used to. Now I am no longer welcomed here.” My voice is almost a whisper because I know that any moment now, he’s going to recognize who I am. I’ve been avoiding eye contact for so long. 

Why don’t I just jump now? He doesn’t seem like he’s leaving anyway. I don’t want to do this in front of him though. Something deep inside of me doesn’t want to do it at all. “When will you leave?” I ask him boldly as if I am truly ready to jump. He looks me straight in the eyes and says, “I’ll leave when you climb back over the rail. Or when you answer my first question.” After talking he just waits for an answer or some type of movement. “Don’t you know who I am?” I look at his puzzled face. His eyebrows were lowered, and he stared at me long and hard trying to piece something sensible together. He shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders. I’ll never be ready. The body never is, so I’ll have to force myself to do it. 

“I am the reason why an innocent mother lays in a hospital bed fighting for her life. I decided to get drunk one evening with my friends and blacked out. I’m out on bond. I don’t deserve to survive and breathe after something like that.” I turn to look at him and maybe he’s too shocked to say anything because he’s quiet. He hasn’t said much this entire time. 

“That night, I had a fight with my wife and she kicked me out. Our marriage was already struggling, to be honest. I was working odd hours and staying at work later than usual. We were both hoping that I got the promotion coming up. I worked overtime and put in more work than anyone else in that company and yet I was passed over!” I pause to get myself together. 

“I don’t know. I just didn’t expect things to unfold the way they did.” He’s looking at me now. In the beginning, he was listening but now he’s truly hearing me. I can see in his eyes that he wants to say something instead he remains silent. “We’ve been together since freshman year of college and now she has another man in the house that we made a home. She claims that I didn’t have enough time for her, the overtime and all the work was for us!” The man places both hands on the ledge of the bridge and pushes himself up making sure to put all his weight on the railing. “I was working to secure a better future for both of us and when I didn’t get the promotion, she started sleeping with another man and looking at me as though I was less of a man. So I went out drinking with the boys that night.” 

“Is that scar from the accident?” he asks and points to my arm. I lift my arm and just stare at the scar. It was from the accident. During the impact, my head hit the steering wheel, and when I opened my eyes blood was leaking down my face. I tried to wipe my face with my shirt but I couldn’t tell where the blood was coming from, my body felt numb. The scar isn’t from the impact though, after I woke up I went to the woman’s vehicle to see if she was okay. Her door was locked so I used my elbow to break the glass and as I reached into the car the glass cut my arm. In total, I received 23 stitches in both my arm and my head.

 “Yes, it is.” I sigh and shake my head disappointed by my actions. “I should’ve listened to my friends when they said I shouldn’t drive, I just wanted to talk to my wife. I was willing to beg for her to take me back. I wanted to prove to her that I could be a man, a provider, and even a father. I just lost control of the car. I felt like I was going in and out of consciousness. Even after the crash, I hadn’t realized what I had done. It took me a while to sober up.” The man stares at me intensely, and then reaches for my hand. I pull away. 

“No! Just leave me alone!” I yell. 

“You don’t have to do this, things will get better.” He looks at me as if he actually believes going to jail for life is better than taking my own. I can hear the sirens of a police car approaching the bridge. One of the bystanders must have called the police. That’s when I realize that either way, I’ll be dead inside. I don’t have my wife, my sister won’t talk to me or return my calls, and if I don’t jump now I’ll end up being arrested before the actual trial.

It’s time to go.


Berniya Dudley is a Liberal Arts: Social Science and Humanities major at LaGuardia Community College in New York City. She was born and raised in Manhattan. The Lit is her first publication. Berniya also works as a Veterinary Assistant in an Animal Clinic located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  

Where To Go Dancing One Night, Alone in the City

by Michael McGuire

Linh wanted to go dancing one night, alone in the city they never knew existed before setting foot there. Which is to say that it was there all along, the city, but Linh wasn’t inside of it. It’s simple, you see, when something is there, it doesn’t seem so much to someone who’s never been there. And when they finally are, then it is real to them. Analogically, it is much the question of the tree in the forest: If it is not seen growing, was it ever a sapling? …Is that the question which is asked? It is to Linh, anyway, right now. If a tree was never a sapling, when and where does it exist? And why?

Forever lost in these thoughts is Linh. Which is a main reason why they wanted to go out dancing one night, alone in the city.

It was a Wednesday night. Hump day, as it is referred to in our manner of speaking in colloquialisms only: “Case of the Mondays”; “Tuesday’s Gone”; “Hump Day” (as we have mentioned); “Thirsty Thursday”; “Thank god it’s Friday”; “The Freakin’ Weekend.” Maybe these aren’t so much colloquialisms as faint-hearted gasps of inner turmoil. For, as we should say, each day is more or less the same one as yesterday: the same one as tomorrow. All days are equal, at least to Linh. Which is why they didn’t think twice about going out dancing on a Wednesday, alone in the city.

“Please be kind, I have misplaced my identification,” they said at their moment with the doorman. “I don’t wish to drink but a Coca Cola. But to dance until the doors lock me out, whenever that should happen tonight.”

The doorman replied, “This place doesn’t serve alcohol, I didn’t ask for your ID, and we close in 30 minutes, because it’s a Chuck E Cheese. Also there’s no dancing here. You wanna jump in the ball pit, have at it.”

Linh smiled the width of their face, bowed to the doorman, and entered the establishment in which they had found themself.

They peered around the room. Not too many people there, of course. It was 9pm on a Wednesday night. Children’s birthday parties don’t seem to happen as late, generally. But it was the perfect time for Linh to go dancing, alone in the city. Of course, there was no dancing there. But no matter…a slice of pizza, a Coca Cola, the ball pit. That was enough for Linh.

They moseyed to the nearest table and gazed down at it. “What a table!” they thought. “What a table indeed!” They eagerly pulled back the chair nearest to them – it was a square table, I should mention, with four sides as squares will have – and plopped down. Not a moment later, the server came up with bold annoyance on their face.

“Hello, welcome to Chuck E Cheese, where children often come with their parents for birthday parties. May I start you-”

“Hello!” said Linh with glee. “This is my first time. What’s good here?”

The server stared for a moment, their attitude shifting toward a sort of bewilderment. “Uh, well…I’m gonna be straight with you. There’s nothing good here. I mean to eat. We have pizza-”

“Pizza! I love a good slice of pizza. How many can I order at once?”

The server giggled slightly- falling out of the lips and into thin air, waiting for nothing in return. “You should just get a whole pie, right?”

“Yes! A pie too! I like all of the fruit kinds. You can keep the pumpkins.”

The server laughed out loud. The kind of laugh that goes ringing through deserted Chuck E Cheeses on a Wednesday night near closing time, with no children having birthday parties, and no parents sitting ‘round sharing their chatter about their children’s birthday parties at Chuck E Cheese.

“Dude, we do not have those kinds of pies. We have pizza pies. Larges have 8 slices. Order two if you’d like. But come on. I gotta get the hell outta here at a reasonable hour.”

Linh slouched for a moment, looking down at the watch on their left wrist. “I suppose it is a bit late. How about just a slice? Whatever you have already made. Or, rather, just a Coca Cola to go.”

The server’s eyes fell on Linh’s watch the way eyes will when shown something they’ve never seen before. This watch was different, at least to the server. What they saw was something like a summer sky upon a circular face. There was no minute hand, nor hour hand, nor second hand, but 11 dots all circling each other randomly. In and out of focus they went to the server, and with each blink, it seemed, one of the dots would melt into the blue of the watch face with another appearing somewhere else on the watch face. However, it seemed most curious to the server that although there were certainly 11 dots always, there were never 9, which was the time on that Wednesday at Chuck E Cheese.

The server snapped their eyes quickly back to Linh’s, whose own were busy staring over at the ball pit and its balls of all the colors of the rainbow. Thousands, there must have been. Coated in the saliva and urine of filthy little children perhaps, thought Linh with a look of glee. How much fun those children must have been having all day today in that ball pit!

Now, even though all of this happened, it was only a number of seconds that passed before the server replied, “I tell you what. I’ll make sure there’s time for a pizza to be made. And I’ll throw in a Coke, on me.”

Linh looked sad for a moment. And then replied, “I’ll have it in a glass bottle, if you’ve got it.”

The server looked at Linh a moment before saying softly, “I’ll see what I can find.”

There was something about Linh sitting there that troubled the poor server. The server left them at the table, but on Linh’s face seemed a quiet air of purity. The server wondered what had brought this person into Chuck E Cheese on a Wednesday night. The server also wondered how long it was going to take for Linh to eat, partially digest, and leave that evening, and if they’d be alright getting home.

Linh – sitting patiently for a dinner they hadn’t planned on eating, and a Coco Cola they were almost certain would not come in a glass bottle – looked about the room with a child’s wonderment. Glancing again to the ball pit, they got up. Walking slowly, so as not to seem too eager perhaps, they counted their steps. One with the left, two with the right- no, that’s not how it’s done, thought Linh. Trying again, one with the right, one with the left; right, left, right, left. They landed the tips of their toes before their heels; and thinking, again, that this isn’t how it was done, they corrected the patterns to be heel-toe, heel-toe. And even this seemed odd to Linh: so they began a sort of shuffle, then quickly into a gentle gallop, until they finally, after what seemed like eternity, reached the ball pit.

Linh peered into the pit. “So many balls of so few colors,” thought Linh. Only 7 colors and thousands of balls… Linh wondered if it were right, seeing the balls like this. Only seven colors? That can’t be right, they thought. So they counted on their fingers: “R-O-Y-G-B-I-V. Yes, only 7.” That’s the number they added up to from the rainbow. And after adding, Linh thought about a boy named Roy with the last name Biv and a middle initial of G. And they wondered if a boy with that name was someone on Earth, wishing he were at a Chuck E Cheese, waiting for a slice of pizza and a Coco Cola, counting the colors of the rainbow on his fingers.

The server was busy standing in the kitchen, telling the guys in the back that they needed one more slice of pizza for the evening, and did they know where close by there was to find a Coco Cola in a glass bottle. “Why in a bottle? We’ve got a soda fountain. What difference?” one of the guys said. “I dunno,” replied the server. “They said in a bottle. I don’t have a good reason for wanting to get it. I just do. I’m gonna go out to the corner and see if they have any.”

The server  went outside and turned the corner and walked right into the deli and all the way to the back of the store where the coolers held soda. They found the glass bottle Coca Colas right away, and gathered two in their hands and went to pay. The man behind the counter looked gruff, but he gave the server a nice smile and a nod when the bottles were placed in front of him.

“How many more would you like?” he asked.

“No, no. They aren’t for me anyways. Really I only need one.”

“Two is better than one tonight,” the man said. “I think it so important that you have two tonight, that I’m going to charge you for one, and the other one I’ll pretend was never there.”

The server handed him $2 and waited for the man to place them in a shopping bag. “How far are you going? How many bags do you feel like?” said the man.

“I guess I don’t need a bag,” said the server. The man smiled a little bigger at this, and whispered something under his breath the server didn’t quite hear, but they were too eager to give Linh the two bottles of Coca Cola to ask what the man had said. The server left quickly, turned the same corner as before – this time in the opposite direction – and entered through the backdoor of the Chuck E Cheese.

Linh was busy studying the dirt on one of the balls they’d picked out of the pit. The ball was orange. The dirt was black. Linh wanted to lick it to see what it might taste like, but thought better of it. They looked up from the ball and straight into the studied glare of the doorman, who apparently had been watching Linh the entire time. Linh smiled very big at the man, who smiled back but bigger. Linh took this as a challenge and smiled even bigger, which must have looked quite odd because the man stopped smiling at once, and went back to watching the screen on his phone.

Linh placed the orange ball back in its pit. Too dirty, Linh thought with a smile.

Linh returned to their chair, this time paying no attention to how many steps, or the way to perform them. So little attention was given, in fact, that by the time they were back sitting, they were wondering if they had ever gotten up in the first place.

The server entered back inside the dining area, and straight over to Linh. “Hello again! I found you two bottles of Coke. They were hiding deep in the cooler. It’s almost like they were waiting for you!”

“For me?” asked Linh drily. “But why me? Won’t anyone else have ever liked them first?” The server became nervous for only a moment before declaring, “I won’t lie to you. I went to the deli for them.” Linh grinned at the server. The server grinned back. “Won’t you join me?” asked Linh. “Unless you’re busy, which I’d understand completely. I imagine you’ve a lot to do.”

“You know, I have next to nothing to do right now. Honestly. I’d love to join you.” the server sat down in the chair Linh had pushed out from the table with their foot.

The two of them sat quietly for a moment, just looking at each other. Linh looked at the server. The server looked right back. Their eyes met and Linh smiled. “You look like you have eyes.” The server laughed, replying “And you.” They both smiled for a while longer. Not saying anything, but smiling.

One of the guys from the back – the one who had mentioned the soda fountain – came soon with the slice of pizza. “You know the best part about this particular slice of pizza?” said the guy with a grin. “It took me years to make.” Linh looked up at the guy and said, “How long have I been here?” To which the guy laughed and the server laughed and Linh laughed too.

“Cokes on me!” said the server. And they all laughed. 

Linh drank the entire soda in one long gulp, and looked at the server. “It’s nice. You’ve been kind. What do I owe you?”

The server smiled. “It’s free tonight, friend.”

“But nothing is free,” Linh replied. They then got up, reached for their wallet in their back pocket, and pulled out a twenty. “If there is change, keep it,” they said.

Linh then pushed the chair back in and sprinted out of the restaurant, with the server, the cook, and the doorman left staring. And wouldn’t you know it, Linh danced the whole way home.


Michael McGuire is a 31-year-old poet, songwriter, recording artist, and author. Over the past nine years, Michael has been prolific, releasing over 200 original songs, and self-publishing nine books. He is a 2020 LaGuardia graduate in the Creative Writing Program and will be continuing his studies in the UMASS Amherst English department in the Fall. He lives with his fiancee, Allie.

How to Starve Yourself

by Leslie Munoz-Reyes

It all starts in primary school, when you’re adored for your smallness. 

“She’s so cute,” your aunts would coo. “She looks just like a mouse,” your uncles would say as they lifted you above their heads with one arm .

“She’s not eating enough!” your mother would fret. “She looks too thin.”

 Your mother scolds you for not finishing your meals and worries about your appetite. She takes you to your yearly physical, to the building that stinks of antiseptic and floor cleaner, but there’s nothing seemingly abnormal with you.

“She can stand to gain a few pounds,” the doctor would say to your mother as she watched you brush your doll’s hair in a corner of the room. “But other than that there’s nothing to worry about.” 

He puts you on a high calorie diet and sends you home with a chart that tells you the nutritional value of a banana. And that was that.

Until a few years later when the girls in your class gain an interest in boys. Your mother encourages it openly. “Your father and I met at your age you know,” she reminisced, tucking a strand of hair behind your ear as she retold how youthful they had been. “The boys in your class will probably start making eyes at you,” she teased. You sat and listened at the dinner table, ignoring the dull ache in your stomach. 

“Don’t encourage that. Boys these days say stupid things. They do things without a second thought,” your father said, shaking his head. He warns you about them, about their words that are sweet like honey – words that the girls in your class will trip over. “They’ll tell you lies to get what they want.” Your mother tells him to stop trying to scare you. “They’re just boys,” she says. “You were once one too you know.” He knew. 

You stood from the table to rinse your plate, a circle of blood left on your seat. Your mother celebrated; your father once again shook his head.

You don’t believe that boys are dangerous but you’re wary of them anyway, and so they left you alone. The girls in your class are less inclined to keep away. They asked and they prodded.

“Why aren’t you interested in them? In boys?” You shrug as you change for P.E., hiding the blood stain on your pants.

“You’re pretty, you have long dark hair that the boys could play with.” You hum in response, changing your bra under your shirt so they won’t see how much your breasts had swollen.

“You’re short so they won’t feel intimidated to approach you. You’re also so thin, with a frame so sleek that it would be engulfed in the arms of any man you chose.”

Why would anyone want that?”

Why? Because a man protecting such a frail thing like you is what’s expected. How do you expect to find a husband if you gorge yourself in sweets? Your mother expects a grandchild at some point, so of course you’ll need a husband. 

With that in mind, you start to starve. No one notices it at first. You start wearing clothing to hide your skin, you begin to skip meals throughout the week, after a while you stop having time for breakfast in the morning. Your mother complains. 

“Why don’t you wake up earlier and eat with us? You’ve been avoiding me” she cries.

“I’ll eat at school” you tell her, “I’ll buy something on the way. I love you.”

 You begin to exercise, using the excuse that it’s healthy to do so. You leave early to run to school, so your father starts to drive you. You run late in the night but your mother stays up to wait for you. You begin to take longer in the bathroom, doing squats and jumping jacks with the hot water running so they won’t hear you. Finally, you bring out the chart the doctor had given you and begin to count.

“One cup of watermelon has 46 calories, an egg has 72 calories, a slice of bread has 79 calories, a banana has 105.” You decide to only have the watermelon tomorrow.



Leslie Munoz is a sophomore at LaGuardia aiming for a career in accounting. She was born and raised in Queens, New York, to two Mexican immigrants. While literature isn’t a part of her degree, she does have a deep appreciation for it that started in her earlier years when she was (and still is) an avid reader. Currently, she is focused on graduating and later attending Baruch for a bachelor’s degree.

Golden Cage

by Carolyn Merino

The sun rubs its warm light on my face, the only way I’ve come to wake up. I’ve lost track of  the time and the day. I don’t care about the weather anymore. The closest I get to the outside is through a four-inch window built with steel bars that make the apartment feel like a cage. I get up to feel the air run through my hand and reminisce about the times I would bike so fast that the coolness of the breeze turned my ears red, ran through my shirt: how nicely my hair flapped in the wind. A moment that felt so close to flying. How much I’d give to have wings so I could fly on top of skyscrapers, through waves, grazing the water with one arm, or over a mountain, perhaps past a cloud; but for now, I’ll make my way to the kitchen. 

My mother sits at the end of the kitchen table, slouched as she scrolls through her Facebook feed, unable to sense I’m just a few feet away. As I pass by, she shakes her head in disbelief. “These people don’t know how to stay home, walking around the streets infecting innocent people, they can’t seem to sit their asses down and read a book.” For what feels like the first time our routines have been in sync. Wake up, eat, look at the news, ignoring one another for most of the day, eat again, and sleep. Silence usually fills the room; we separate ourselves by bedroom doors. We have an unspoken agreement to keep out of one another’s way. If any assistance is needed, we scream each other’s name.

Some days when I pass by her room, I can hear her sniffle while she prays. My reluctance to ask what’s wrong comes from her unwillingness to even touch my shoulder in sympathy. When I was twelve years old, my piano fell off its stand and broke. I cried for days because along with my piano being destroyed was a little girl’s dream of ever becoming a pianist. Her reaction — to get angry — frustrated me. No, it isn’t my dream anymore but that’s not what mattered at all. All I wanted was for mother to scoop me into her arms and promise to buy me a new one, even though we both knew she couldn’t afford it. 

Every afternoon I see mother slouched on the living room couch with a TV remote on one side and a hot coffee on another. The television screen is the only noise heard through our small apartment. The only guests during our time in quarantine were portraits of Christ, hung at the corners of our living room. Our only view is a painting of an aqua blue beach with clear skies, and two empty beach chairs facing one another on smooth sand. Mother had promised we’d go to France one day. We’ll eat chocolate croissants while we lay on their finest beach. Every now and then I’ll ask, “When?” She’d just shrug and say, “Someday.” At times she complained of how small our place is, the way our walls are too close together. The blue paint peeling from the walls revealed the white paint underneath. Being home for so long has made me notice new damages: like the kitchen chairs that are breaking apart, the lightbulb that doesn’t stop flickering, and cabinet doors that fall off when you open them. 

At some time, yesterday, perhaps the day before yesterday, I finished reading all my books. The news gets sadder each day, making it unbearable to watch. My head hurt from smelling so much detergent and fixing things throughout the house. I would fall asleep much later than I usually did, dragging myself to bed, to wake up to another day of solitude. 

While I lay in my bed, tears stream down my face, as if they were waiting for the right moment to pour down to my cheeks. My legs and arms shake from the insufferable chill I feel. I cover myself with a blanket too heavy to bear. I make my way to the bathroom to clean up my face. I look in the mirror to spot that my cheeks are pink, and my eyes red. I splash water on my face to rid myself of my salty tears. More than that, I want to rid myself of isolation.

I wonder if mother feels the same way too. 

I creep towards her bedroom. A sniff can be heard clearly through the door. I knock hoping she is asleep. But instead she calls me in. I stand by the door and ask, “May I sleep with you tonight?” Mother lightly taps the side of her bed and closes her eyes. Her room is a stranger to me, a forbidden place. The carpet is green and feels warm under my toes. The bed is pleasantly soft but squeaks as you climb on. Mother throws a blanket over my body. It has orchids all over, the most comfortable one I’ve been in. As I close my eyes, mother’s hand gently grazes my cheek. When I was a little girl, she’d pinch my cheeks delicately, just to see them turn rosy pink: an act so playful, but done out of tenderness. A mere seconds later, mother’s hand stops and I feel her roll to her side. I do the same and drift off to sleep. 

That night I dream the best dream; mother and I fly hand in hand, over tall buildings, splashing water on each other’s faces, enjoying the chilly breeze, flying for an eternity. 


Carolyn Merino is a Mexican America writer born and raised in Queens, NY, where she lives with her three brothers and parents. She has a love for literature, art and music. She is studying Writing and Literature at LaGuardia Community College, where she will graduate from in the Summer 2020. She started off as an engineering major until she found a love for writing. Now she’s attempting to find her own voice in the world of storytelling and furthering her academic career in English literature at NYU, where she will be transferring in Fall 2020.

The Bickering Mule

by Raki Jordan

Harlem’s streets are never  dull. There’s the constant sound of scattering rats and swerving cars and car horns and babbling talking tongues, and music blaring beats from the windows  hovering over your head. And there’s always that old man—that old mule, dressed in army attire, a black leather beret, with a salt & pepper beard covering half of his face. He’s living twelve lifetimes and reciting every single one of them. He contributes to the sounds of the city’s streets. He’s the corner store’s podcast, live commentary and talk-show blues: sitting on kitchen chairs,  chained up to the nearest tree during the day, corroded by Earth’s elements. The old man spends his days catching shade beneath trees near bodegas, dangling cigarettes, Colt 45s and his wooden cane between his fingers. He sits between West 144th street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, antagonizing youngins he watched grow up with his bickering wisdom.

 “You see, I been done did, wha’ you never did, youngin’. Way before you was swimmin’ in yah daddy’s ballsac’ boy. I bare wounds as ol’ as your mother’s mother. Ask your grandma, boy. She kno’ who I be. I was tha’ smooth talkin’ throat bandit. I spoke saxophone tunes to wo’man back in ma days. You probably ma grandchild.” The old man said. “Oh yea boy. I fought in two wars an’ seen death shake his behin’ in ma face wearin’ ah leatha’ pink thong!” He laughed out loud, banging his cane on the floor.

“Aye, mane, calm down,” the young man said. “You stay botha’ing me, every single day. You know you ain’t fought in no war. You just walk around witha Dollar Tree milla’tary badge and ah thrift store army jacket!”

“I kno’ you blind now boy. This badge tha’ pierced on ma chest is from Viah’nam!” The old man responded back, “Check it out, playa.” 

“I’m good, mane. I can see da plastic from here. Now if you excuse me, I have places to go and I only came here foe ah Arizona.” He started to walk towards the curb, zipping down his red bubble coat from Nike.

Pigeon, dressed in his usual black cargo pants and leather coat he had since the 70s, stood in front of the Bodega making an owww sound in response to the young man’s diss. “Damn, Mule. You gon’ let tha’ boy disrespeck you like tha’?” Pigeon said, waving around a bottle wrapped in a brown bag. “You don’ lost yah touch. You smell tha’?!” Pigeon yelled out, “You have to smell it!” Pigeon made a loud sniffing noise, drawing out the sound to exaggerate the action, “I smell pu—”

“You don’t smell shit, Pigeon!” The old man snapped. “Al’way try’na see ah fight between us.” He turned to the boy. “Ana’ways, you should respeck ah war hero, boy”

 “Who me?” The young man said, stopping to dig in his right pants pocket to use his phone.

“Yes, you! I fough’ ova’seas twice!” He thrown his two fingers in the air, “Twice dammit!”

“Okay. . . What tha’ have to do with me?”

 “Everythang.” The old man glanced down at the bulge sticking from the young man’s shirt, it was something tucked tightly in his jeans. “You should sah’loot me when yah see me. Give me respeck!”

“Respeck? Oh nah, son. He’s buggin.'” The Young man laughed out, “I ain’t givin’ you shit but’ah hot five. Maybe ah pat on the back if da day nice.” He proceeded to type on his phone screen for a short moment. “But respeck? Nah. I give if it is received.” “In My Feelings” by Drake began to blast above their heads from the apartment window above the bodega.

 “See this is wha’ wrong with you young bulls today,” The Old man said, “Y’all all strength an’ rage, but lack respeck fo’ da eldas.”

“But wha’ tha’ have to do with respeck?”

“Back’n ma days, we showed eldas respeck, even if they curse our name an’ spit on us!” the Old man said. “An’ we—”

“Wait! Spit on y’all? Ha! I be damn if—”

“Yes! Spit. Especially by da folks tha’ still thought it was Jim Crow. An’ you kno’ wha’ we did?” the Old Man asked, leaning forward, lifting his right eyebrow up.


“Nothin’!” the old man snapped. “We smile and said hav’a good day ma’am or sir, an’ nothin’ else.” He waved his hands in a horizontal chopping motion, like a referee shouting safe at a baseball game.

“Oh no no no. This ain’t da 1960s, we different now. Eldas are human just like us young people, an’ if they caint respeck us like human beings then they would be treated how they treat us.”

“I blame da mothas’ and fathas’” The old man spat on the floor beside himself.

“An’ I blame da eldas. Now I gotta go, mane, you can botha’ me tomar’row.”

“Wait now boy, ain’t you gonna tell me to hav’ah nice day?” 

“Ain’t you gonna tell me! You done lived yah days, let me live mines.” The sounds of police sirens echoed from two blocks down, following the sounds of ambulances and Drake’s voice blasting from the windows above.

“Boy if ma knees was’it bang up, wooo child, I whoop yah behind like yah motha shoulda!”

“Yea, yea, yea.”

“I tellin’ yah I would.” The old man took a sip from his Colt 45. “I tellin’ yah boy. I tellin yah.”

The old man couldn’t help but to think about the bulge sticking out from the young man’s shirt. The shape of it looked like an L. He stared sourly as the young man proceeded to walk across the street. He thought of the kind of outfit the young man was wearing. Ripped jeans, he thought, wha’ kind of man wear ripped jeans? In ma day, you would’nit catch tha’ type of clothing on ah fella. We was men. Soldiers. We fought in tha war an’ came on home, muddy boots an’ all, just to fight ah nu’tha war. Then he thought about the bulge, what is that bulge? It caint be ah gun, his mama ain’t gon’ let him have ah gun in tha house.

He slammed down his homemade cane and let off a huffing sound. “Aye, you dustee basta’ why you ain’t bac’ me up?” 

“Listen, mule mane, I ain’t gettin’ involve in no argumen’ with you an’ tha’ young fella,” Pigeon said. “Besides, y’all al’ways go at it.”

“Man, you ain’t worth two cents to ah dime, you kno’ tha’ right?”

“Aye, I sip to tha,’” Pigeon said, sipping loudly from his bottle. “Aye, baby! We still on foe dominoes tonight?” Tim yelled out from across the street towards Pigeon, “You damn right! I wan’ ma money back!” Pigeon shouted back.

The old man kept thinking about the bulge sticking from the young man’s shirt, and knew he had to do something. He threw down his Colt 45 and the can rattle loudly, rolling on the concrete. He yelled out from across the street, “Aye, boy!” He limped quickly off the pavement, maneuvering swiftly like he was back in the forest of Vietnam.

“Damn, son. Wha’ you want now? I caint even walk across da street without you stoppin’ me,” the young boy said, still walking, never breaking rhythm in his steps.

“I deman’ respeck! An’ if yah momma did’nit teach yah, I will!” The old man made a stiff hop on the elevated pavement across the street, catching his balance with his cane. His jagged knee isn’t what it used to be, but he’d be damned if he’ll let that stop him from installing respect in the young man’s mind.

“Respeck fo’ what?” The young man stopped walking and turned around. “You’s drunk boy, you needa go somewhere,” waving his hand in the air, shooing the old man away.

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere boy. You need to listen to me. Maybe then yah be ah man. ‘Cause I see no man toll’ you how too! I fough’ in the war against ma own will an’ I ain’t complain ’bout it, try runnin’ away from it, or carried ma pride in’ah gun. Why? ‘Cause ra’sponsibility conquers stupidity, an’ I ain’t no fool now boy.” Now, the old man and the young boy stood face to face. The old man’s back was slightly hunched, causing his height of six feet to decrease. As for the young man, his bones were still healthy, full with youth. It looks like he was hovering over the old man, but they are the same height. “And I ain’t drunk! I had one can of beer, but tha’ nun of your concer’ now is it?” He paused. “No it ain’t.”

Pigeon yelled from across the street, “Mule, mane, leave tha’ boy ‘lone. He ain’t try’na hea’ wha’ you givin’ him. Let him be.”

“Yea, leave me be or get yah point across old man. Why you botherin’ me more than usual?” A couple of kids ran towards them. One kid’s basketball rolled towards the young man’s feet, and he kicked it back towards them. It rolled between the old man’s legs and into the street. “Dang, you could’da picked it up,” one of the kids said, while they all ran for the ball.

The old man stepped closer to the young man, “I see ah’lot of myself in you, besides da tight clothin’ you got on.” He zipped up his camouflage jacket, the cold crisp air was starting to get to him.

“Tha’ funny, ’cause I don’t see myself. Good day man, I got things to do, business to handle.”

“Boy, you have no business to handle. None at all. Just stay h’air an’ talk to me ’bout how to be ah’ man.” The old man started to feel desperate. He wanted to keep this young bull from going.

“I al’ready am, playa. Peace.” The young boy walked off, cracking open his Arizona bottle and taking a sip from it. He turned back one last time and waved at the old man. “And ma mama said hi!”

“Tell Carol she raised ah bastar’ son!” The old man yelled back, standing with his left hand loosely gripping his cane. The young man’s group of friends was waiting for him at the corner. Their loud greetings of AYO’s echoed throughout the street. Making the old man suck his teeth in disappointment and annoyance.

You caint save all em, The old man thought, Got dammit. At lease’ I tried. I tried an’ tha’ all tha’ mat’tas. This new generation is killin’ em ownselves. Why. . . Why? ‘Cause deer no one to teach em how to be ah man! Geezus, I tried, got dammit. I tried. The old man took a cigarette out from his left jacket pocket. He put the cigarette in his mouth and then took out his lighter he had found on the floor earlier that day; he spat on the floor, then covered the cigarette from the wind and lit it. He took a long drag from it and slowly blew it out, still standing in that same spot the young man left him at. He was deeply reflecting on his conversation with the boy; it reminded him of the conversation he had with his father when he was the boy’s age, before he was drafted to the Vietnam war.

The old man limped back across the street, disregarding the car that suddenly stopped, almost hitting him. The driver honked their horn in anger. The old man was tired and drained from a pointless conversation. He sat down on the chair that was chained against the tree. “Mane, why you ain’t help me? Said sumthang, anythang.”

“You caint help, wha’ don’t wan’ to be helped. Tha’ a foolish thang to do. Like whispain’ unda’ ah wata’fall.” Pigeon said to the old man.

Yea, but it woulda been betta if two people was tryna talk to him, than just me, the old man thought. He just stared at his friend, not even saying a word, taking puffs from his cigarette.

“Don’t beat yah’self ova’ yah head. Caint make ah boy ah man, if he neva’ was meant to be.”

 “I don’t wan’ to talk to you anymore. I’m goin’ home, you low down dirt’e pigeon bastar’.” The old man got up and flicked the butt of the cigarette on the floor, and then pressed the end of his cane on the burning remains.

“Befoe you go, you old mule. . . Why was you on tha’ boy so hard? You kno’ Carol ain’t raised him wrong.”

The old man turned around, “’Cause. . . He had da look of death on his face. Same face I seen’t  in war. Naive. An’ he done had ah gun pokin’ out his tight ass shir’”

“Wait now, you sure he had ah gun?” Pigeon said quickly.

“I sure it was’it ah gun. . . I kno’ guns, but it oughta be. Tha’ young fella probably done got those fake poppa guns. . . you kno’ those plastic joints, with ah. . . da ah. . . orange tips from the corna store.”

“Oh, tha’ ain’t no big deal, you crazy bastar’, all these kids doin’ tha’ now. Make them feel tough.”

 “Yea. . . an’ all them kids are gettin’ killed by cops.” The old man started walking. “I tried, I should’da just asked him wha’ tha’ bulge was, but you kno’ kids, they don’t listen.” He took out another cigarette, and waved off to Pigeon.


The next day, broadcasting on the old man’s television screen came crippling words:

Last night, a young man by the name of Jerome Eli Howard Jr had been shot and killed. Police officers had got a call of a suspicious person and later tried to apprehend the suspect, but had mistaken his toy gun for a real one and had opened fire several times. There are investigations being made on the officers involved and they had been suspended, with pay, until further notice. Footage of the ordeal surfaced on the internet causing controversy and outrage. On a more appealing note; a mother cat caring for a puppy? Find out after the break.

The old man sighed, Got dammit.


Raki Jordan is an avid reader, who enjoys writing pieces that’ll encourage thought-provoking interpretations of his works. Jordan is inspired by his everyday life, capturing the often bitter sweetness of his environment and society.