Sandy Hook Yard Sale
First Place Poetry by Jessica Love
The tables are full of their children.
Ripped jeans lay folded
in neat stacks,
whispers of fun shouting
from each torn thread.
Stuffed horses and lions
hold each other,
remembering the grip
of small hands.
Sticky books with syrupy pages
rest in a pile,
words sounded out
through their bindings.
Empty cups nestle in columns,
with smiles pouring out through
bite-marked rims saying,
Backpacks worn with life,
cradle each other in perfect rows,
while limp sweaters and jackets
hang on a line,
shivering, wasting warmth.
And twenty pairs of tennis shoes
stand at the sidewalk,
with soles that seem to skip in place.
Up in Smoke
First Place Prose by Natalie Zaldivar
The cramped kitchen smelt like mold and stagnant cigarette smoke. The yellowed tile was cold against my feet and the early morning light fell through the broken blinds in splotchy, splintered waves of gray. I stood quiet as the hot water warmed my hands bright pink. I scrubbed the congealed grease from corners of an old Tupperware container. I didn’t hear Nan’s soft shuffle from her bedroom to the couch, but I finished the last of the dishes before she sat down.
“Magpie,” she wheezed. “Get your little ass in here.”
I dropped the dishtowel on the counter and walked into the living room. Nan sat in her usual spot on the couch, cocooned in an orange afghan, her oxygen tank sitting at her feet. She was so small but the thick wool swaddling her made her seem puffy and swollen. The tubes running up through her nose gleamed blue in the dark living room, and I choked.
“I done told you, Magpie,” Nan hissed. “I can wash my own goddamn dishes. I appreciate you staying with me, but I don’t need a babysitter. I’m seventy-eight years old, Maggie. I can wash my own dishes.”
“I know, Nan.” I grabbed two blankets and a pillow from the floor, folded them and placed them beneath the coffee table; Nan had a one-bedroom house and I didn’t mind sleeping on the floor most nights.
Nan scooted forward in her seat and reached for her pack of King-size Winston’s. Her fingers were long and crooked and as the afghan dragged back along her hand, my eyes traced the scribbled veins that seemed to glow through her paper skin.
I grabbed the cigarette pack before Nan could and gently set one in between her lips before taking my own. “Nan, you’ve got only five left in here.” I threw the pack onto the table and grabbed a lighter. “Think you’ll be okay with that until tomorrow? I’m staying with Chino tonight.” I lit my cigarette and exhaled slowly, letting the smoke singe the tip of tongue.
Nan snatched the cheap lighter from my hand in a flash of white and orange. “Yeah, I’ll be okay with five.” She lit her cigarette and closed her eyes. Every long, hungry drag from the Winston left her lungs whistling.
“You keep on, Nan. Get them pancake-lungs full of smoke.” I took a drag and stood up, grabbing my car keys off the table.
“If I wanted to hear shit talk, I’d go sit in the bathroom.” Nan’s laugh was a strangled breeze.
I slipped my coat on before kissing Nan’s cheek. “I love you, you old hag.”
She let out a soft chuckled and sighed. Her face hardened. “I love you too, Magpie. And you be careful. You know I don’t like Chino.”
The air was biting cold and my chest ached. I parked on the curb and made my way up Chino’s rickety porch. The mesh part of the screen door was broken and hanging low above the doorknob, and the front door itself had busted locks.
Chino and the guys were huddled in the living room, splitting open plastic-wrapped bricks with pocketknives and weighing out the powder into eight balls.
“Hey Maggie.” Chino cut his eyes at me for a moment then went back to weighing the product. “You want to help us weigh out or do you want to make me some sweet plantains?”
I sat on the arm of couch and kissed Chino’s cheek. The stubble on his face was uneven and ragged; it looked like thick steel wire sprouting out of his chin. He smelled like warm milk and sweat. “I’ll make you some food.”
Chino’s house was much like Nan’s, in regards that it was small and rotting. The whole house smelt like damp wood and over-ripened fruit, and the wooden floor in the kitchen was warped because Chino had never fixed the leak in the ceiling. Rain left the kitchen humid and sticky, water dripping off the ceiling in one steady stream.
While I waited for the skillet and the oil to heat up, I grabbed the last of Chino’s plantains. The skin was tough and green, and they would need at least another week before they were ripe. I massaged them hard with my fingers and beat them against the countertop until they were soft before slicing them and throwing them into the skillet.
Chino and I had met a few years back, before Nan’s emphysema got bad. He was a large man, dark-skinned, and quiet. We were friends in high school but didn’t get close until I started smoking weed. He sold it to me ten bucks cheaper than street price because I wasn’t a regular blanca. Romance was never his thing, but he was soft around me. Called me Nene and let his grimy hand sit on my hip.
The only times he got jumpy were nights like tonight; all of the guys got trigger happy when new shipments came in. They would sit in the living room all night and package every ounce it, occasionally dipping their finger into it and rubbing the powder along their gums.
I was never much of a cokehead; uppers and tweakers just weren’t my thing. Chino loved it, though. When the shipments came in, before breaking the product down, Chino would cut five lines and knock them back, one after the other. Whenever he sneezed, I imagined his septum flying out of his nose, half-rotten, glistening in a pile of blow and blood spewing onto his hands.
That’s why he let me help weigh everything out; I never snorted product.
As the plantains were nearly finished frying, I heard Chino pacing, the boards creaking under his heavy steps.
“No man. I never seen it like this before. Look at that shit in the light, man. Looks almost like gold.”
I turned the stove off and put all of the plantains on a plate, cramming one into my mouth. They tasted bland. Needed salt.
“Yeah yeah yeah, man. We can sell it for thirty extra bucks a hit. Everyone’s going to want some of this shit.”
I poured the hot oil down the drain and left the skillet in the sink to soak before grabbing the plate. Because of the water-warped floor, the wood muted anytime someone entered the kitchen. I noticed the silence when the living room floorboards stopped squeaking but I didn’t think he’d walk into the kitchen. I turned around and stepped forward, smashing into Chino. We collided head-on, arms fumbling and the plate shattering on the soft wood. Chino dropped the plastic wrapped brick in his hands as he stumbled backwards and the kitchen glittered thick with gold powder.
“Chino, I-“ my throat swelled shut. I pulled my shirt over my mouth and watched Chino stare at the ground, before his eyes slowly locked on me.
“I didn’t mean to. It was an accident.”
His fist was hard against my cheek, but when I hit the ground my hand found a jagged piece of plate. I scrambled to my feet and as Chino lunged at me, I jammed the piece of plate down until I felt it pop into his muscle. He wailed and grabbed his left calf while I ran out of the house.
I slept in my car, parked outside of a twenty-four hour fitness center. My left brow was split and the thin flesh around my eye was purple and swollen. A pink web of broken capillaries throbbed beneath my eye every time I blinked. The sky was clear and the sunlight was pastel. I opened my glove box, pulled out a velvet drawstring bag and shoved it in my pocket. I started the car and drove home.
I parked halfway down the street. Chino’s black charger wasn’t there. I squinted and examined the living room window. Looked like someone had thrown a rock through it.
I opened the door. “Nan?”
The sunlight poured in through the busted window, tinting the house gold instead of grey. Nan was sitting on the couch, nestled into a white fluffy blanket.
“I knew that motherfucker put his hands on you.” The deep wrinkles above her lip twitched. “Makes me feel good now.” She flicked her hand toward the empty cigarette pack.
“I’m sorry, Nan. I forgot to stop by the gas station.” I took the velvet bag out of my pocket and tossed it. “You look like a fucking cotton ball.” I chuckled and stooped down, picking up all the glass that would fit in my hands.
I stood and we were quiet for a moment. Her face softened and the ends of her thin mouth fell. Her eyes glassed over, but she wiped the tears away before they fell. I had only seen Nan cry once before, when her three-legged Yorkie died. Buford. He’d run out into the street chasing a squirrel. Chino and I had been there. He dug a hole in the backyard while I stood with Nan under my arm, face crumpled inward in a mess of wrinkles and tears. Chino snorted two bumps right after he buried Buford and Nan threatened to beat his ass bloody.
“That shit,” she snarled, “is for deadbeats. Sellin’ it or snortin’ it, it’ll kill you either way. Get the hell off my property.”
That was four years ago.
I rubbed my temples and winced, the skin beneath my eyes throbbing. “I’m sorry, Nan. I thought he’d know better than to come here-“
“Go on into the kitchen and get the alcohol. You can’t go no where with your face all bloody.” Nan’s mouth was a hard line.
The smell had been faint in the living room, but when I walked into the kitchen, the heavy metallic fumes made my stomach lurch. The glass from the back door had been broken and there was dried blood caked on the tile.
I steadied myself on the counter until my head stopped spinning. I opened the medicine cabinet and grabbed the alcohol, some bandages, and a rag. There was a bloody knife sitting in the kitchen sink.
“Nan, what happened last night?” My voice cracked as I sat next to her and put the alcohol on the table.
Nan placed the velvet bag on the coffee table and patted her legs. I laid my head in her lap and kept my eyes on my feet.
She dipped the rag in alcohol and stroked my cheek. “That spic showed up here around midnight, making a ruckus and beating on the damn door. He was screaming for you. ‘Maggie, this. Maggie that.’”
She pressed the rag against my brow and I flinched. “’Maggie ain’t here,’ I told him. But he kept on and on. Running ‘round the house, breaking windows, trying to see if you were hiding somewhere. So I called your Uncle Henry and told him to get his ass over here.”
She seemed to spit her words. “Chino was getting mad. He started to threaten me and I wasn’t having that, so I made it into the kitchen and grabbed that knife. Had it in my right hand and when he punched through the damn window on the kitchen door and opened it, I stabbed the motherfucker.”
She slapped a bandage over my cut and I sat up.
“Henry and his son came, saw him, and handled the rest. I picked up most of glass. Meant to clean the kitchen up before you got home, but I got tired of wheeling this thing all over the house.” She nudged her oxygen tank as she emptied the velvet bag onto the table: two grams and a peach cigarillo. She split the rillo and poured the guts into an ashtray before licking it’s edges.
I grabbed the alcohol and rag and put them back in the kitchen. The blood in the kitchen sink looked like strawberry jam: bright and clotted. I turned the hot water on.
Nan choked, then exhaled. “Magpie, don’t you touch a damn thing. Come out here.”
I left the water running and stood in the doorway.
“Sit down, Magpie. Come here and smoke this with me.” She coughed hard and her small frame shook, her feet knocking against her oxygen tank. “I’m seventy-eight years old, damnit. I can do my own dishes. Sit down, Magpie.”
And I did.