Plain China

September 2017

Reincarnation

Mehul Bhagat · Emory University

His parents hold him over his brother’s grave, explain how he is his brother born again. It is the miracle of rebirth, renaming, reclamation.

Numbers

Rachael Spalding · Washington University

2697815320. I dialed it one day in late October, waiting for her to answer, the croaky “Hello” crackling through the receiver after a few dial tones. “The funeral was yesterday,” I said. “I played my flute during the service and Brendan turned my pages and it sounded good but I messed up a couple times. You should have seen the flowers! Lots of lavender sprigs and that white stuff that grows out by the old farmhouse…I think it’s called baby’s breath? We had meatballs at Schuler’s after and Mom and Aunt Anne didn’t fight and even though it rained all day I saw a beautiful rainbow on the drive home. You would have loved it, Gram.” There was no response; there never would be. I was talking to an answering machine that would soon be disconnected in a musty apartment that would soon belong to someone else, maybe a young couple or another old woman. I hung up the phone when my mother heard me crying and entered the kitchen to find me dabbing my eyes furiously with a paper towel. “Dad called from the office,” I told her. “It’s okay to be sad,” she said.

Foxglove

Lindsey Owen · Brown University

Esther watched as her mother poured gin into a martini glass. It was a morbid curiosity that fueled her, a morbid curiosity that pushed her gently on the back, urged her to examine this dark, mechanical dance. She focused hard on the glass bottle perched on the antique bar cart, thinking her mother must enjoy swallowing its secrets. Esther blinked and the liquor became a Tropicana juice carton, her mother’s glass now filled with pulpy orange. This was only a minor consolation to the girl. Mostly, she was concerned that she could no longer concentrate on her warped reflection in the glass. Besides, things seemed to change around her all the time. They came unglued from, or perhaps reaffixed to, reality, and flickered there for a while before returning to normal. And as far as Esther could tell, it didn’t bother anyone else, so she didn’t let it bother her.

Melting

Tayler Klimek · Concordia College

“They never listen; don’t know why I try anymore,” she tells me, but I don’t feel pity, am not sympathetic. I watch her reach the door, see her hand on the knob, her finger bare of the wedding ring my father gave her fifteen years before she threw it all away—before she threw all of us away.

The Restless Spirit of Ernest Hemingway Inhabits the Body of a First-Grader

Audrey Dubois · Wheaton College

“For show and tell, I brought this packet of cigarettes. Funny how anyone can ascribe such value to a material thing. Me and the boys used to trade these all the time for money, rations, chocolate too. They were a currency, a currency of security and consistency. These little bastards got me into the front lines of the battle and they kept me there.” I empty the contents of the cardboard box and crush them into the linoleum tiles with the heel of my light-up Sketchers. “War is hell.”

Virgin Heart

Mary Trahey · Shippensburg University

I fear my inexperienced sweaty fingers clamping yours too tightly or bad kisses given and good ones poorly received. I fear my ignorance of the uncharted emotions in my own heart. That the barriers I built years ago will keep you waiting outside and the inadvertent ice in my words biting you too hard too often.

Somewhere in Mississippi

Danny Duffy · University of Florida

nuns still teach abstinence in school, written on the blackboard in thick block letters. “Kissing is bad, too,” they tell the sixth graders, who like neither themselves nor each other.

Reincarnation

Mehul Bhagat · Emory University

His parents hold him over his brother’s grave, explain how he is his brother born again. It is the miracle of rebirth, renaming, reclamation.

Numbers

Rachael Spalding · Washington University

2697815320. I dialed it one day in late October, waiting for her to answer, the croaky “Hello” crackling through the receiver after a few dial tones. “The funeral was yesterday,” I said. “I played my flute during the service and Brendan turned my pages and it sounded good but I messed up a couple times. You should have seen the flowers! Lots of lavender sprigs and that white stuff that grows out by the old farmhouse…I think it’s called baby’s breath? We had meatballs at Schuler’s after and Mom and Aunt Anne didn’t fight and even though it rained all day I saw a beautiful rainbow on the drive home. You would have loved it, Gram.” There was no response; there never would be. I was talking to an answering machine that would soon be disconnected in a musty apartment that would soon belong to someone else, maybe a young couple or another old woman. I hung up the phone when my mother heard me crying and entered the kitchen to find me dabbing my eyes furiously with a paper towel. “Dad called from the office,” I told her. “It’s okay to be sad,” she said.

Foxglove

Lindsey Owen · Brown University

Esther watched as her mother poured gin into a martini glass. It was a morbid curiosity that fueled her, a morbid curiosity that pushed her gently on the back, urged her to examine this dark, mechanical dance. She focused hard on the glass bottle perched on the antique bar cart, thinking her mother must enjoy swallowing its secrets. Esther blinked and the liquor became a Tropicana juice carton, her mother’s glass now filled with pulpy orange. This was only a minor consolation to the girl. Mostly, she was concerned that she could no longer concentrate on her warped reflection in the glass. Besides, things seemed to change around her all the time. They came unglued from, or perhaps reaffixed to, reality, and flickered there for a while before returning to normal. And as far as Esther could tell, it didn’t bother anyone else, so she didn’t let it bother her.

Melting

Tayler Klimek · Concordia College

“They never listen; don’t know why I try anymore,” she tells me, but I don’t feel pity, am not sympathetic. I watch her reach the door, see her hand on the knob, her finger bare of the wedding ring my father gave her fifteen years before she threw it all away—before she threw all of us away.

The Restless Spirit of Ernest Hemingway Inhabits the Body of a First-Grader

Audrey Dubois · Wheaton College

“For show and tell, I brought this packet of cigarettes. Funny how anyone can ascribe such value to a material thing. Me and the boys used to trade these all the time for money, rations, chocolate too. They were a currency, a currency of security and consistency. These little bastards got me into the front lines of the battle and they kept me there.” I empty the contents of the cardboard box and crush them into the linoleum tiles with the heel of my light-up Sketchers. “War is hell.”

Virgin Heart

Mary Trahey · Shippensburg University

I fear my inexperienced sweaty fingers clamping yours too tightly or bad kisses given and good ones poorly received. I fear my ignorance of the uncharted emotions in my own heart. That the barriers I built years ago will keep you waiting outside and the inadvertent ice in my words biting you too hard too often.

Somewhere in Mississippi

Danny Duffy · University of Florida

nuns still teach abstinence in school, written on the blackboard in thick block letters. “Kissing is bad, too,” they tell the sixth graders, who like neither themselves nor each other.