February 1st, 2021: The Pipe-smoking Professor (tw; mention of death)
I had woken up from a nap about 40 minutes ago. Having not gotten enough sleep the night before and for some reason feeling more tired than usual, I groggily stared at my 15-inch laptop screen while thinking about how I was getting a little bit hungry. A multi-vitamin and a caffeine pill were not a sufficient breakfast at 1:30 PM.
When Prof. Oppenheimer left the screen to retrieve his item, questions began to pour into the chat, and almost simultaneously my phone lit up with an email notification from my Head of College. A professor who I knew had passed away. He was the assistant director of the Office of LGBTQ+ Resources, a person who could light up a room by his very presence. He’d greet you with the smell of fresh baked cookies and a hearty laugh. His pride in his identity, and his courage to remain optimistic inspired me to eventually come out myself, although it was years after meeting him. In the silence of my unfurnished apartment, with my laptop propped on top of a cardboard box and my legs curled into me while sitting on the ground, my eyes glanced back and forth between my laptop and my phone. All I could hear was the sound of the whistling wind outside; snow pelting against the glass as if it wanted to be let in.
Prof. Oppenheimer reappeared on the screen with a pipe in his hand, and for a moment, the world reverted to normal. Class resumed, and I watched as the pipe refused to be lit by his lighter. It was difficult to concentrate for the remaining duration of the class, and I found myself tracing along the curvature of the pipe with my eyes, over and over, following each bend until I reached the tip and then going back again. I logged off the Zoom call and proceeded to perform the same motion with the email I had just received. Until the tears began to fall. A shuddered breath, exhaling like the whirling wind.
February 3rd, 2021: Something Evil
A girl gleefully rolls the snow into spheres before stacking them on top of each other with the help of her mother. She then sticks a branch into each side of the snowman and gingerly presses pebbles into its face to assemble a lopsided smiley face. When the last pebble finds its place, she raises both hands and lets out a “Yay!!!” After making a few snow angels and playing with Frosty for about an hour, she finally falls into her mother’s arms, whining about the cold and wanting to go back home. They trudge through the snow and walk back towards wherever they came from.
Baku watches the entire scene from a bench not too far away, nodding along to the rock music pouring into his ears while clenching his fist. The guitar kicks in, and the bass drum booms when he pushes himself up onto his feet.
A few moments pass, and he’s in front of the snowman. He lets out a breath and stares it down, now clenching his fist so tight that it turns white. Instead of feeling sentimental, something grips his heart with anger, a violent tension that desires release. He raises his fist and punches clean through the snowman’s face, hearing the satisfying thud as its decapitated head plops onto the ground soon after.
Baku lets out a sigh of relief as the anger dissipates into the air along with the vapor of his breath. He hears the crunching sound of snow as someone approaches him from behind, and then a piercing scream cuts through his senses. The mother drops her phone and covers the girl’s eyes, glaring at him in disgust. Without thinking twice, he turns tail and runs away.
February 4th, 2021: Something Good
Despite it being the next day, the snow has yet to melt, and Baku carefully makes his way through the field, looking around to make sure no one’s watching him. Not owning any gloves, he hesitates to dunk his hands into the cold snow, but after closing his eyes and giving himself an internal pep talk, he dives into the first pile. He presses together a compact ball of snow and slowly packs more and more snow onto it with his bare hands despite the cold. Eventually, he sets the ball down onto the ground and breathes against his hands to bring some semblance of warmth back to them before scooping up more snow. As he tries to stop thinking about the feeling of the frostbite seeping its way through his fingertips, his mind begins to stray.
His mother dunked his hands in ice cold water and held them there until he would scream in pain. By the end, his fingers were frozen stiff, the joints refusing to bend.
He blows more hot air from his breath onto his hands, recalling the everlasting chill of his mother’s cruel punishment. Slowly, after innumerable rounds of freezing and thawing, he finally stands in front of a finished snowman, smiling back at him with its pebble-y face. He backs away from it and thinks about taking a picture before shaking his head. No, that’s too childish.
Baku begins to walk back home, but he stops in his tracks when he hears the familiar sound of a girl yelling excitedly at her mother to hurry over to the field, “The snowman’s back! He’s back!!”
February 8th, 2021: Blowing Bubbles
“Do you know what happens when bubbles freeze?”
“Nope.” Gary blows some more.
“It looks like a snow globe.”
Luna laces her fingers together and glances at Gary puckering his lips as he peppers small bubbles into the frigid air. There’s something to be desired about their size. Instead of floating down and solidifying into thin orbs of ice, they fall like a flurry of dust, speckling the ground below. He pauses mid-blow to look back at her, holding her gaze and daring her to break away. A blush burns from her cheeks, and her irises indecisively saccade between his eyes and his nose, unsure of where to stare.
“Those don’t look like snow globes.”
“They’re just reaaaallly tiny…”
He caps the bottle of bubble solution and sets it to the side, breathing out a sigh that billows out from his mouth and disperses into the air. Then he closes his eyes and hums before abruptly spitting out another complaint.
“It’s cold.” Gary frowns and gets up from his seat, zipping up his jacket all the way to his chin, looking like those kids who would waddle their way into school during the snowstorms of winter. He stuffs his hands into his pockets. “I don’t need you to comfort me, Luna.”
“And I don’t need you to comfort me either.”
“Why’re you here?”
“Because I want to be.” She snatches the bottle of bubbles from where he placed it on the ground. “And you promised me bubbles, but it’s too cold. So, I got ice instead.”
“Then… come over to my place.” He’s the one blushing now. “I have good central heating.”
“Hmm.” She tilts her head. “Not until you apologize.”
“For what? The bubbles?”
“No, for what you did a few months back.”
February 9th, 2021: No “D*e” Allowed (tw; pseudo-mention of death)
He fell through the ice, and despite his feet paddling to force his way back onto the surface, the frigid water anchored him down. The vicinity was still, with nothing living for miles around. The air was silent, only broken by the occasional sound of a splash. The ice crackled with each struggled attempt, and soon enough, all that’s left was a person sinking, with bubbles floating up towards the sky.
He never thought that he’d succeed. Every time he stepped onto the ice of the lake, he wondered if it would take him down, and he figured that that would be his cue to exit. The world telling him that his life was meant to end. He never stomped, nor did he ever choose a particularly thin portion of ice. It was all natural.
In his last moments, he opened his eyes to stare into the light pouring in from the hole he fell through, and he begged his hand to reach up towards it. He didn’t have many regrets, and he never wanted regrets. Loose ends were snipped instead of tied; his past longing foreshortened by an unwillingness to live.
There, suspended in the water, he lost all hope to survive, finally succumbing to a desire to let go and releasing the tension from his limbs. While floating, he wondered for a brief moment what his mother was making for dinner that night, and while cherishing the last kindle of warmth in his heart, the life that he had lived flickered out.
But, only after a few moments, his eyes opened once more, and he found himself sprawled out on the surface of the ice, completely dry. He clutched his chest in surprise, trying to feel the beat of his heart, but nothing was there.
February 10th, 2021: Inflexible Ballerina
Luna slowly inches her feet away from each other, painstakingly sliding them along the wooden floor until eventually she can’t go any further. A few seconds pass, and she falls onto the ground, letting out a deep sigh while massaging away the pain of a pulled muscle in her right thigh. Then, she brings her legs together, trying to stretch away the ache by reaching towards her toes. She can barely get past her calves. Frustrated and already sore from the warm-up, she decides to heave herself up onto the barre.
A plie, simple and basic, yet her feet are unable to turn out completely, making a V-shape instead of a horizontal line. She begins to bend her knees but doesn’t get lower than a few inches, and with a seething rage, she tries to push herself down while gripping onto the barre from below. Another moment passes, and she springs back up, letting out a huff before leaning her left arm against the barre and lifting her right leg to stretch it out, the strain in her thigh still radiating with soreness.
After the pain dissipates, she feels confident enough to let go of the barre and walk towards the center of the studio. Luna stares at herself in the mirror and forces a smile, tilting her chin up and assuming first position, or at least, an approximation of it. After a swift breath, she lifts her leg and positions her arms in an arabesque. She holds the posture before slowly shifting to attitude, concentrating all her attention into her toes and the ball of her toes. Despite that, she finds herself moments later falling through the air and tumbling onto the ground.
She lays there, and then she screams.
February 11th, 2021: Weird Form
“i need u to tell me something”
“if the world was gonna end today and
we knew that u and i would b
the only people left on earth
would you date me?”
“Cause even if you don’t die immediately,
you’ll die later from malnourishment or dehydration or being dumb.
I don’t want that emotional baggage on me.”
(A few moments pass.)
“okok what if the world /doesn’t/ end?”
“Then why would I date you.”
“Nice doesn’t change the fact that you’ll roll
over dead the moment you get the chance.”
“that isn’t something to joke about.”
“It’s not a joke. Am I wrong?”
No, she isn’t.
I turn off the screen of my phone and throw it towards my bed. Burying my head into my hands, I groan and slam my face onto the desk. Three months of this back-and-forth flirting with nothing to come of it, but I think the both of us know that neither of us want anything out of it. It’s one of those situations where we joke about it until it becomes real but then the real becomes a joke and the joke continues to be considered a joke and we don’t actually know if it ever became real or not. I think the worst part is that neither of us know if we want it to be real or not.
We’re playing this game of tennis where we’re knocking the ball between each other, but it never bounces twice. Except, take that image and replace the racket with my face. Every serve is another stab at my self-esteem, every volley another reminder to not pursue. And yet.
February 12th, 2021: Dancing Around the Truth
“What happened a few months ago?”
“You know,” Luna turns away from him and grabs onto the crook of her other arm, “you…” She splays her fingers out towards the ground and purses her lips before shaking her head. “It was at the lake.”
Gary blankly stares back at her, “What was?”
“It’s just so hard to believe that you’re standing there, but…” She bites her lip, now pointedly staring at a patch of air far away from him. “I feel more alone than ever.”
“Luna, you’re not making any sense.” He tentatively steps towards her, hand reaching out towards the bottle of bubbles, now placed onto the ground in front of her. Before he can grab it, she kicks it, and he watches, forlorn, as the bottle tumbles away. The plastic shattering with each bounce and the lid unscrewing itself until the solution paints a trail of suds across the asphalt. It begins to freeze.
“Why’d you do it?”
“Why’d I do what?”
“The thing! You — ” She stomps her foot and then glares at him, scanning him up and down before softening and abruptly looking away. “Do you not… remember?”
“No… I don’t think?” His hand hovers over his chest, fully knowing the absence of a heartbeat. “Actually, I might have an idea.”
“Why’d you do it?” She presses again.
“I don’t know. I don’t remember.”
“Then, why are you here, why are you following me around, why am I the only one who can see you?” She steps back a few paces, and then she balls both of her fists, looking like she wants to punch something.
“I don’t know.” Gary ducks away to walk towards the bottle of bubble solution, picking it up and happily finding that some solution remains inside. He manages to spot the bubble wand not too far off. He dunks the wand into the solution and then pulls it out to blow a bubble. It floats into the air and hovers there before disappearing with a pop.
February 17th, 2021: Five Years Old — 2004
“Do you know why I bought you a rabbit doll five years ago?” She holds the doll in front of the boy with both hands, staring back at him with glee as he reaches for it. “It’s because that was the year of the rabbit. You were born together. He’s your special friend.”
The boy grabs at the doll, and she relinquishes her grip so that he can wrap his arms around it, strangling it with all his love. In the low light of their bedroom, the woman stares wistfully at the boy nuzzling into her bed with the doll, and she feels waves of guilt spread out from the heart beating in her chest. He yawns before closing his eyes, and then soon enough, he falls sound asleep. She holds her gaze on him for a moment, watching the steady ebb and flow of his breath before moving to turn off her bedside lamp. In the darkness of the room, she flips open her phone to set her morning alarm, and while doing so, she decides to tab through her contact list. She deletes a few of them and absently watches the frame-by-frame animation of a paper ball being thrown into a trash can. She frowns before closing the phone and setting it back on her nightstand.
She pulls the covers up to her neck and rolls onto her side to give more space to the boy, who by this point has splayed his limbs across the bed; a hand still firmly holding onto the doll. After staring at a patch of nothingness in the dark, she finally closes her eyes. As she drifts off, she feels the boy tugging the hem of her shirt from behind.
“Mama, don’t go.”
February 18th, 2021: Fifteen Years Old — 2014
She invited him to dinner on his birthday, enticing him with the offer of a birthday present and a semblance of the relationship they once had. Split between preserving his dignity and pursuing the high of a previous happiness, he ultimately decided to meet her once more for the first time in three years.
Dinner was at a Korean restaurant, something cheap yet impressive looking, a bowl of bibimbap. It sits in front of him, and he stares at the spectrum of colors donning the surface of the rice: the yellow of the eggs, the red of the gochujang, the green of the lettuce, and the black of the dried seaweed. He tentatively picks up his spoon, not wanting to ruin such a beautiful dish. His hand hangs in the air until it slowly finds its way back to the table again.
“Why did you want to see me?”
“Can’t I see my son on his 15th birthday?”
He gnaws at the inside of his mouth instead until it draws blood. His attention is drawn once more when she passes a box across the table to him.
“It’s a Galaxy Note 3.” She looks a little smug.
“You wanted it, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
He accepts the package and holds it in his hands for a moment, just staring at it. His fingers trace along the corners of the box, and although he knows that it’s customary to open it, to gasp in surprise, and then to immediately smile in gratitude, he instead sets it at a spot next to him, letting out a sigh. He picks up his spoon and dunks it into the rice, slicing clean through the egg and slowly beginning to mix all the ingredients together. He takes a bite.
“What’s the matter? Don’t you like it?”
“No, I just don’t think it’s all that impressive.”
February 24th, 2021: Warm Art — Morning Sun
The sunlight pouring in through the window wakes her up, and as her eyes squint to minimize the glare, her hand reaches up to her face to feel the makeup still caked onto her skin. Her dress is still on, her hair is tied into a tight knot, and her sheets are left untouched. Groggily, she claws her way to sit upright, pulling her knees in and wrapping her arms around them. She buries her face there, keeping her eyes closed as she feels a throbbing in the back of her head.
A few more breaths of sleep, and she peels open her eyes, raising her head to stare out the window at the foot of her bed. Her vision traces along the edges of the rooftops, hopping over each new brick obstacle until she follows a wisp of steam. It coils out of a chimney and reaches out towards the sky before disappearing into the air.
Her hands clutch each other, yet her arms remain limp and her legs begin to trail away. As the sun continues to rise, the shadow of her figure creeps across her bedsheets, and soon she isn’t staring at anything. The clenched white of her hands softens into a blushed red, and the weight of her body nestles deeper into the plush mattress. Her lips curl into a hint of a smile as she continues to gaze at the outside view, hearing the chatter of city folk going about their lives. Her room is solitary, washed-out, and cramped, yet the world opens itself through the window.
A breeze rushes in and reminds her to blink.
February 25th, 2021: Fictional Performance
It isn’t an impressive performance. Nothing is particularly flashy or eye-catching. It’s just a college-age-looking guy sitting with his guitar. He has a nice voice, but it’s simplistic — not filled with any trills or wild arpeggio. A hat sits on the ground in front of him, gathering coins from various passerby who happen to notice the fervent strum of his guitar and the look in his eyes: like a dog looking for its owner.
I walk up to lay a bill in the hat, and we exchange looks. He nods towards me and I return the gesture before standing in the back and watching him continue to strum and sing away. Every once in a while, he glances towards me, and I smile back at him. We cycle through this until he plays his final chord. Letting out a sigh, he packs up his guitar and comes walking towards me.
“Thanks for your support.”
“Of course.” I smirk, looking him up and down once more. He’s taller than I expected. “Do you… busk here often?”
“Mhm! Every Wednesday at 9 PM.”
“But today’s a Thursday.”
“I’m workin’ double time this week. Gotta pay the bills!”
Maybe he would attract a bigger crowd if he had better equipment, or maybe he needs to increase the quality of his performance. More lights, more action, more drama. I look him up and down, noticing the slight tears at the hem of his otherwise pure white sweater, the holes in his jeans, and the scuffs on his sneakers. My hand moves to pull out my wallet but stops when I realize that it may be offensive to give him more. I duck my head, and he does as well, smiling one more time before walking away, down the street and through the crowd. I hear a gentle humming coming from him before it fades away.
March 1st, 2021: Quesadilla
It’s the screaming that caught my attention, taking me out of the trance of my basil fried rice and breaking the glazed stare I held on the screen. Camilla doesn’t care about the horrified chat messages pinging her to mute herself, and the fight continues to rage on. It’s something about how she ate her roommate’s quesadilla, about how she’s inconsiderate and doesn’t respect boundaries, something like that, I don’t exactly remember. Despite the severity of the situation unfolding in front of the class, I find myself laughing… It’s a gut reaction I have during awkward moments, and it’s gotten me in trouble more times than I’d like to admit.
“I can’t believe you’d do this!” Sarah yells as she punctuates her sentence with the slam of a door. I see people in the audience gasp, covering their mouths and raising their eyebrows up to the sky. I could already imagine this being filmed and plastered onto Overheard at Yale or circulated among group Snapchats. That is, until Camilla breaks into a cheeky smile, and Sarah returns to the screen while laughing at the rest of us. They both take their metaphoric bows and then sink back into the sea of Zoom faces. Our professor giggles in glee at how successfully this week’s happening stunned us. I can still see some students blinking in surprise while I anxiously try to recollect everything, scribbling down notes to not forget. I take bites of rice in between to have something to chew on.
Lecture ends, and I’ve finished eating my fried rice. I wish that someone would come through the door and yell at me for eating it.
March 3rd, 2021: Specialized Vocabulary
The first thing you hear is the incessant clacking of a mouse, coupled with the smashing sounds of a keyboard. His face is lit up with the blue light of the monitor, and occasionally, a flash on the screen illuminates his entire profile before immediately fading into black and white. A grumble of disappointment follows.
“I should’ve ulted there, ahh whatever, they burnt flash and ignite, so no summs.” He taps his foot and begins to shake a leg. His hand reaches to the side to grab a few chips. He clicks a button to mute himself before chomping away, and then after he’s done, he clears his mouth with a gulp of water.
“Alright, I’m back up, can I get a gank mid?” The relentless clicking resumes, and a few moments later, his hand flies across the keyboard and the clicking turns into a clatter. A satisfied expression spreads across his face before he says, “Niiiiiiiiiiiiice? Oh, are you going for more?”
The screen bursts with color, and he leans himself in while biting a lip. The clicks are no longer strung together, each one done with deliberation for four shots. One. Two. Three. “I got him this time.”
“WOOOOOO!!” He releases his stance and begins to clap. “Good work team, good shut down gold there.” After another string of clicks and another fight, the screen shines in blue as he stares at the words “Victory!”
“Aight, you’re logging off?… Yeah, it’s pretty late… Ahh — one more? One more win?… Uhhh it’s just one of those nights… Yeah I will too, seeya.”
He clicks out of the window and then begins to cry.
i took this week off, oops
March 15th, 2021: Chess Match
I recently downloaded a chess app titled “really bad chess” (no capitalization), where one can play chess against an AI but with a scramble of pieces — four knights but no pawns, or three queens but no rooks, etc. A ranking system tracks how difficult the AI tries to defeat you, with every win leading to an increase in rank for the next round. I’ve always been bad at chess, so I wasn’t surprised when my rank continued to sink lower and lower; the AI at some point deciding to take a detour with a pawn just to give me some time to catch up in capturing its units.
I’m not much better at any other version of chess either: Xiangqi, Go, Checkers, the list goes on. My mind doesn’t work in predicting the actions of others, and it doesn’t do a good job at making decisions that would give me a decisive edge against an adversary. Some people call it “being direct” or “being present,” but I think that my brain just doesn’t have the neural wiring to handle critical thinking in the way that chess requires. Chess, to me, is a game of how many pieces I can capture and how many unexpected (and possibly ridiculous) moves I can make before my opponent forfeits from laughter.
My lacking skills in chess has always made me stray away from the game, but this app still exists on my phone. I still occasionally open it to play a game, hoping that one day I’ll improve.
I blankly stare at the nose of the person sitting across from me, and after a moment she asks, “How’ve you been these days? Better?”
“Oh, uh — yeah.”
“Good. I’ve been worried about you.”
March 16th, 2021: Metaphor
I live inside a cardboard box, with my meals made of paper and my faucet flowing with ink. The plastic windows are taped onto the walls, and as the wind blows against the sides, the cold air whistles in. I shiver under the cover of my tissue blankets while wearing nothing but a t-shirt and pajama pants. A jacket would be too heavy to sleep in, I’d rather be cold than weighed down.
Everything is white here, and a singular light bulb hangs from the ceiling; it dimly glows in contrast to the darkness surrounding it, flickering occasionally as if it’s on its last breath. A moth flies around it, mesmerized by its light, and I expect it’ll drop dead from not doing anything else, just like the one before. My eyes absently trace its path in the air.
It’s been months now, and besides a new lint of dust here and a pile of books there, not much has changed. Every day passes like the last, and the comfort of monotony has faded away, leaving only boredom to remain. Of course, like any person, I have things that I need to be doing, but my body doesn’t want to comply — it lays there like a rock. An unfeeling, unflinching stone that does nothing but roll.
Eventually, I will myself to shake off my self-inflicted immobilization by tossing the blankets aside, and after a few moments, I’m standing with both feet on the ground. I start walking towards a drawer in my kitchen, squinting through the dingy lighting to find a book of matches. I ignite one and let it drop.
March 17th, 2021: Small Amount of Time
We stepped outside to get some fresh air, and I was met face-to-face with the sky, so close that it felt only an arm’s length away. I extended a hand towards the clouds and felt the breeze graze against my fingertips. I held my fist there while gripping onto a chunk of air. Distantly, I heard the chatter of children as they ran around the courtyard, and there was an old memory that resurfaced only to be forgotten once more.
My eyes found their way down to the city below, a gathering of rectangles that spread towards the horizon, only stopped by the shoreline and a great expanse of sea. It wasn’t like anything I’d seen before. I never knew that the sky could look that way: as if God splashed cerulean onto the canvas and then wiped it once across with a broad brush. I wouldn’t call myself religious, but it was an artificial sort of natural beauty, unexplained and almost staged.
I felt like I was meant to see it, like it was something made for me, like someone led me there with a fishing line, guiding me to see the view. My vision began to blur, and I realized that I’d stopped breathing. I took in a sharp breath of air before looking around, noticing that I was alone on the cliff. My friends had made their way back into the museum.
I walked closer to the edge until I stood inches away from falling. I knew that they were looking for me, and I knew that I was shirking on my work, but I didn’t care.
March 19th, 2021: Unusual Everyday Place
My bed is a vat of quicksand, swallowing faster whatever struggles to escape from it. The quicksand loosens its grip only when the mornings are taken slow, with each motion to get out of the covers controlled and deliberate. But even then, I escape the quicksand only to find myself in the maze of my studio apartment, with traps laid out in the places that I’d least expect. A glue trap toilet, a light trap refrigerator, and a bear trap kitchen. I travel only along the paths that are tried and true, ones that I know won’t ensnare me in an endless loop: the highway from the quicksand bed to my desk, the dirt road from my desk to my window, and the conveyer belt from my front door to the exit of the apartment complex.
Every day feels like an escape room scenario — what puzzle will I have to solve to escape this time? Some days it’s the sudoku of my schedule, with too many appointments that intersect across too many untraceable days. Some days it’s a riddle that needs to be cracked; friends not knowing whether or not or how to meet. And yet some days it’s a jigsaw with a thousand pieces, but one of them missing.
The piece is swallowed up in my bed or trapped in my refrigerator. Or maybe it slid out the window and into the streets. It aimlessly wanders about looking for its 999 comrades. I can’t tell, I just know that I can’t find it and that it isn’t looking for me.
To be continued.