Blanket Sea

Arts & Literary Magazine

Category: Fiction (page 1 of 2)

“Deforestation and Other Side Effects” by Tiffany Promise

This morning, when the Human-Shaped-Gods signed my discharge plan, I had a moment where I didn’t believe it was really happening.

“But my head used to hurt so badly that I’d contemplate taking an icepick to my occipital lobe. Now I just feel like an ice-picked ice sculpture,” I told them.

“You must suffer the darkness in order to see the stars,” they said. 

“Easier said than done done done,” I said.

“I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” They nodded in unison. 

“Bullshit ouroboros cataclysm starfish.” I sighed. 

Pressure built up in my chest—I guess they call that panic—but I took a breath, grabbed the paperwork, packed my shit and ran. 

The “plan” is now taped to my refrigerator with hot pink duct tape; it reads as follows:

1. Take your medicine. (As prescribed.)

2. Take your medicine. (With as many spoonfuls of sugar as needed.)

3. Take your medicine. (Even if it kills everything inside.)


I used to be a one-girl-wilderness-adventure-camp with nothing but a layer of thick prickly skin keeping it all hidden. Dense with photosynthesis, I was hella sexy. But now, as the unlucky benefactor of medication-induced dehydration, I’m just like California: always on fire, infertile as ever, dry as a motherhumping bone.

Pre-Lithium, I’d sit with my forest for hours, listening to the waterfall that poured through my abdomen and feeling the fingers of ivy that slowly scaled my ribcage.

“You little honeys are my everythings. Who needs a boyfriend, when I’ve got you?” I’d whisper to the snakes that wove in and out of my ovaries, tickling me from the inside outside inside out. Talk about effing transcendentalism; I was special, never alone… lone… lone…

Now buzzards take the place of my bluejays, weeds infect my flowerbeds, and I’m pretty sure I’ve felt a tumbleweed or two do its tumble thing. I half-expect Clint Eastwood to ride through on a bronco, guns a’blazin’ all willy-nilly and shit. 

I always thought squirrels were the cockroaches of the mammal world, but no! My un-scrappy little bastards have sprouted maggots. Without enough of them left to snatch up all the acorns in my intestines, I just had to shit one out. Its jagged hat was hard on my rectum; I thought about eating a Vaseline-sandwich to lubricate the passage, but I don’t have any Vaseline or bread. I should’ve grabbed more than Fruity Pebbles when I stopped by Ralph’s on my way home from the bin.

A covey of canaries once perched in the birch to the left of my liver. Their sweet songs serenaded me during (infrequent) house-cleaning duties, letting me pretend to be all Snow Whitely. But the few canaries that are left have collapsed vocal chords, forcing their song to come out all strangled-sounding. No way I’m washing a dish to that dirge! 

Some might say that’s better than breaking all the dishes and using them to carve curse words into my forearms. Some might say a lot of things. 

“Progress,” the Human-Shaped-Gods hum from their steel-and-glass high-rise towers—so far away from anything living or breathing.

“Death,” I moan while making dirt-angels on my original-wood floorboards while the dust-bunnies wiggle their tails in applause. I keep checking my breath for the comforting stench of ivy/pollen/dew/scat, but all I smell is carrion beetles and barf.


(Let me tell you a story. To get the full effect, you should go to the Rainforest Cafe and order one of every single item on the menu—add extra salt to each dish—then eat really slowly without taking even one sip of water. Sit by yourself and listen to the sounds of the fake frogs and fake waterfalls around you; try to forget that you are in a strip-mall restaurant. Try to forget that all the sounds are electronic and being forced through crappy speakers. Tell yourself that this is real, that you are an explorer, that life is good. Or, if that’s too depressing, you can lock yourself in your bathroom with the shower turned on hot. Don’t get in the shower, just sit on the rug and wrap your arms around yourself in the simulacrum of a hug. When the room is nice and moist like a rainforest, remember how your mom used to do that whenever you got sick as a kid. You didn’t understand that she was trying to break up the mucus in your chest, you thought you were just having a bathroom party and even though you felt terrible and croupy and out of your mind with fever, you felt so loved. Remember how good that felt? Don’t you wish there was still someone around to take care of you like that?)


I’m sprawled here on a gold-hued, dumpster-salvaged couch in my living room trying to watch Sex and the City, but the sounds of dying inside are too distracting. As if manic-depression weren’t enough, now I’ve got this goddamned global warming thing to contend with. 

The couch’s upholstery is flaking off in chunks the size of fingernails; my fingernails are flaking off and mixing with the chunks. I think about sweeping, but my muscles ache. 

I force myself to walk to the kitchen for some water. I futilely chug cup after cup while standing over the sink. I could drink the whole Pacific Ocean and still want more. Through parched lips, I pray for my caseworker to call and grant me a moment of reprieve from this cornucopia of side effects. 

“Hush little baby don’t say a word, caseworker’s gonna buy you a ‘nilla shake,” my caseworker doesn’t say because she doesn’t call because no one ever really does.

“And if that kitty-cat don’t purr, Sissy’s gonna bring you a teddy bear,” my sister doesn’t say because she claims that her cell phone plan doesn’t include weeknights though everyone’s does at this point. 

“Fuck you fuck you fuck you tooooo,” I sing to all the friends/family who never send flowers or balloons or cards or any of that other Hallmark/Lifetime-movie shit that people do for people when they get sick. 


Back on the couch, I notice black dots—barely bigger than pepper flakes—eking their way out of the pores on my abdomen. Hungry as fudge, these bugs have given up trying to find anything fresh inside of me and think they can find something better on the outside. 

Good luck, suckers! I feel bad about killing them, but I don’t have a cat for that whole cycle of life thing to work itself out. Smoosh!

Since I’m too lazy to walk to the trash can, it doesn’t take long for the pile of bug-goo-tissues to turn into a mountain. If I squint it looks like a snow drift; I pretend to be in Switzerland.

After wishing for a full hour that I had a catheter, and then finally relenting and getting up to pee, I stop to look in the mirror over the sink. There are spiderwebs stuck in my tear ducts: sticky and gloppy, blacked with the kohl eyeliner that I always forget to wash off. The tops of my ears have a fine layer of moss etched across them. I’m not quite sure if I look animal, infantile, or anorexic; or some weird hybrid of all three.

Moving outward must be the only option for survival. It’s dustbowl math, apocalypse geography. Maybe I should run outside and down the street and just keep running until I’ve crossed a couple state lines and my feet are bleeding and the sun is shining down on me from a different angle?

The Human-Shaped-Gods promised Transformation by Medication and boy did they they deliver! No more highs so high that breathing is an afterthought, punctuated by crying jags heavy enough to flood a claw-foot tub. 

But once I started swallowing, it became impossible to stop. It didn’t matter that I quickly became the poster child for what-not-to-do-if-you-ever-wanna-get-laid-again. My cells degenerated at the speed of light, my hair fell out by the handful, my eyes even got so sensitive that I had to wear those black-plastic blind guy sunnies all the time. But the eye of the storm is a feather-pillow-peaceful place; it’s easy to get accustomed to complacence. I may have traded death for death. But which death is better? 

Sure, I could stop taking my Lithium now and ingest other things instead. I could attempt to swallow life, though I’m not quite sure what that looks like. I’m guessing it doesn’t look like a sword or a flame or a mental hospital gown or a tequila shot.

I could get out of bed tomorrow and go scavenging, collect hopeful ingredients from the cemetery down the street, the local hardware store, my neighbor’s backyard garden, fingers crossed that nobody calls the cops. 

I could eat pebbles, pits, salt, stones, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, corn kernels, dried beans, MiracleGro, pulp, pods, composted banana peels, soil, peat moss, sand, pine bark, vermiculite, limestone, chicken shit. I could.

But for today, I’ll just keep gulp-swallow-gulping myself into sweet sweet oblivion. As disappointing as that might sound to everyone involved—particularly the few remaining squirrels.

I’ll save up my rest like a camel saves water, while watching at least seven more episodes of Sex and the City and eating a few more handfuls of Fruity Pebbles sans milk.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper to everything that is dying. I wish that I could save the whole rainforest, but I just don’t have the energy anymore.


(If you don’t know what it feels like to be this exhausted, you could always run around a downtown city block forty-four times in nothing but high heels and a party dress in the middle of the night and see what chases after you. Then offer it a drink, a slice of home-made cake, maybe even a shoulder massage if it’s feeling tense. If that doesn’t work, try spending the first twelve years of your life not sleeping because you’re sure that a red-bearded monster is going to climb through your bedroom window and take you to some faraway land where bad men feast on girls like you. Imagine your little girl self served up on a platter like a roast pig with an apple in your mouth, your skin blackened with burn, parsley in place of your eyes, your pigtails singed completely off. Remember what it feels like to want nothing but to crawl in bed with your mom—into that safe place where no one could touch you—but knowing that she’s sick of your antics, wants you to be a big girl already. But finally, at 3 a.m., when you just can’t stay there another minute, you sneak into her room on tiptoe, you crawl onto the foot of her bed like a dog. Curled, blanket-less and shivering—there’s no way you can sleep like that—but at least you won’t be stolen away into some terrible place where your finger-bones will be used as dental floss, your baby teeth thrown into a giant pile of baby teeth in the corner of some horrible dungeon where the tooth fairy will never be able to find them. No fucking way.)



Tiffany Promise was awarded an MFA in creative writing from CalArts in 2010, and an MA in psychology from California Institute of Integral Studies in 2013. Her stories have appeared in Black ClockGingerbread House, and the Salt River Review, and she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2015. Having attended Tin House and Sirenland, she’s had the privilege of working with both Eileen Myles and Anthony Doerr on various projects. She spent 2017 polishing her first novel with Francesca Lia Block in Los Angeles, but recently relocated to Victoria, B.C. As a mother, she is particularly interested in exploring mother-child dynamics and the feminization of madness.

“anatomy of a burning thing” by Monica Robinson

The city never slept but its nights and days sounded different. The days were bright and burning and belonging to the masses; the nights, a cacophony, were his, the cars passing outside, shattered windows in back alleys, wild cats climbing on dumpsters, nails scratching metallic echoes. Gunshots cut through dark air, distant sirens resonated, groups of drunk college kids walked in packs, rocking back and forth up the streets, the homeless huddled beneath awnings in secluded corners of cracked sidewalks with splitting knuckles holding Styrofoam cups, shaking them so that the change at the bottom rattled between the empty spaces, buried deep in mountains of dumpster clothing. Buildings sat on corners, crumbling, walls graffitied in spray paint rainbows, names and murals staining centuries-old brick falling in on itself.

He was falling in on himself.

The city at night sounded like his ribs when they broke, his body as it caved in on itself and snapped in half so loudly they heard it downstairs and thought it was a gunshot, another bullet hitting its mark, eating into the flesh of another broken soul, unwanted — unwanted, yes, disowned, in a room no warmer than the frigid air outside, shivering under layers, skin stretched too tight across bones. He was alone, alone, never heard the knock on the door, once, twice, open, breathing in and out and choking on stale air, on the venom in the back of his throat, hunched over on the floor. He didn’t know he was crying until the tears froze on his cheeks and someone knelt in front of him, gentle hands making everything feel red hot, making the apartment swim in maroon and burnt orange and the voice spoke.

This is where you’ve been hiding. But he hadn’t been hiding, not really, just hadn’t been found. Why had he run? He missed the safety of theirs, everything theirs, their apartment where he’d always been protected. Foolish boy, shaking violently, breaking down on a dirty floor. He’d left everything he had out of fear and suddenly he was staring death in the face, the cold unforgiving gaze of the absence of life holding his frozen hands. There were hands on his cheeks, his face, warmth radiating into his bones, melting his fear into resolve, stay, stay, stay, come back with me, I’ll help you move back in, it’ll be okay, okay, okay. Over and over, the litany he knew by heart. He apologized but his voice didn’t belong to him, not then, not breaking in the cold, shattering like the windows and the gunshots and the crumbling buildings; he knew the graffiti by heart, he’d put it there.

Stumbling, half falling, never looking straight ahead, following touches on his back and whispered directions. I’m sorry, c’mon baby, I looked for you everywhere and couldn’t find you, what were you thinking? He had no answer, nothing left to give to the arm around his shoulders, no one is going to hurt you, promises while they walked, stumbling. He didn’t know how many times he had fallen but his nose was bloody, blood freezing to his face, running hot rivers down his neck, hands reaching up to wipe it away, let it fall again, wipe it away. They took the elevator; he couldn’t bend his legs enough to take more stairs. Consistency fumbled next to him, hasty fingers desperately pressing key into lock, everything familiar, clean, could feel the heat soaking into his skin, hot and dry. He thought of that desert in Arizona. They’d hiked for days just to say they had and he had pictures to prove it, hanging on the wall, their wall, with no gunshots in plaster that no fists had broken through, their bed more than just a pile of blankets on the floor.

He went to the bathroom, their bathroom, looked into the mirror and didn’t recognize himself, fell heavy against the sink and hit his head. One bottle of whisky and ten stitches later the mirror was broken and his fist was bleeding. No yelling, not here, just sadness, disappointment, the silent growing Arizona canyon. Why did you bring me back? They lay on the floor, couldn’t sleep in their too-soft bed, he sank too far in and it reminded him of drowning, gasping for air among smoke and ash and burning things he remembered too well, fervently checking his hands to make sure they were still there. They slept on the floor, laying next to each other. Breathe in, breathe out, listen to the clock on the wall, throw the clock on the floor, shatter its face, shatter his face with it, broken pieces in the living room. He only sighed and swept up the glass.

Not a disappointment, stop saying that, stop talking like that, you’re here now, do not think about that, we’ll get your stuff tomorrow. What stuff? He didn’t exist, he was free, no ties to anything except that damn apartment, wanted the gunshots and the alleys back, taking walks among the trash cans and talking to the burnt out street lights, I know what it’s like to be burnt out. They never talked back, don’t talk back, but he had never learned not to talk back, never learned how to be broken, just knew it. The way it burned in the bottom of his stomach like the oil drum fires in the parks under the bridges, bridges like he’d thrown himself over once, same hands pulling him out. What are you doing, come back with me, don’t talk like that, different circumstances, the same words.

He felt the water’s cold again, ice prickling under his skin, burning beneath his eyes. He saw the river behind his eyelids, saw the needle lodged in his forearm, tried to pull it out and the hands kept him still, too still, hated the everlasting stillness, the quietness. There were no gunshots here, no distant sirens, the clock broken on the floor no longer ticked, the neighbours slept and no one walked up the stairs, sat on the stoop, crouched in the corners of the steps and smoked things that smelled too sweet, hid in rooms that smelled like sweat, cold sweat, buried in as many blankets as they could find, full of more holes than the windows, always the windows. No one else knew what the windows sounded like when they shattered, with fists and bullets and barstools. He always got kicked out of the bars for drinking too much, but wasn’t that the point?

Things made less sense there, he cared less there, started too many fights. Now he started fights and there were apologies, too many, hitting him in the face, leaving bruises, worse than punches, worse than cold cracking at his skin. He liked the cold, the sharp chill of his bare back against the pavement. What are you doing, get up, you can’t lay on the road you fucking idiot. It was one time, he was just tired. They locked him up for three days, stupid junkie, didn’t believe him when he said that the sky was on fire, laughed when he told them that the oceans were drying up. There are no oceans here, have you ever seen water in your life? Too much water, walking dripping wet down the street, shifting eyes, suspicious eyes, everyone always looking down, and maybe they were scared of the fire in the sky but he wasn’t. He was never scared of anything except the bed sheets rustling next to him, next to a perfect person, scared of perfect people, scared of ruining good things and not knowing why the darkness was burning, why cold could burn.

Let me take care of you. He was always needing taken care of, wondering when he could take care of himself, knowing why, knowing that four blocks out the front door and down the street was that bridge. He said was trying to fly, knew he couldn’t fly, couldn’t bear to hear you need to sober up one more time. He was sober, sober, sober now, sober when he did it, always sober. The front doors were all the same color, lined up in a row down that street, making him sick to his stomach with the blur passing his half-closed eyelids, making him dizzy with the effort, with the bathroom tile cold, 4 a.m., tired angry voice. You gotta get better, baby I love you but you gotta stop this. He was puking up whatever was in that god damn needle, still seeing people breaking through his thoughts, clawing at his eyes, red streaks down his arms, blood under his nails, baby stop this. He didn’t want to stop, didn’t want the sky to stop burning, wanted to watch it crash and break and shatter onto the streets, burn everything too perfect.

This story first appeared in Bending Genres.

Monica Robinson is a queer, Indianapolis-based artist, writer, poet, photographer, and activist. She recently published her first poetry collection, “Exit Wounds”, and is currently focusing on her first full-length novel. You can connect with her and follow her upcoming projects at

“The Year of Internal Optimism” by Laura A. Freymiller


We open with a shot of our main character, a humble young man, something between busker and beggar. He sits, reposes, on the last step of the stairs leading up to his one-room apartment. Light drops from a single hallway bulb; it glances off his forehead, a thinking man’s forehead. Or so he hopes.

He is young. He is hopeful. He would be smoking a cigarette if it were allowed. But his landlady does not support such bohemian past-times, at least not on her property.

He could be anywhere in the world, but he is in Wisconsin. He could do anything, but he is a painter.

Or he will be a painter. Once he sells a painting. But Van Gogh didn’t sell a single painting during his lifetime, and capitalism is a terrible measuring stick to determine the worthiness of art.

So, he is a painter, and he lives in Wisconsin, and his name is Esau.

This is his year of internal optimism.



What is internal optimism?

Definitions are required—nay, necessary—for a purposeful life. So here: internal optimism is that hope that keeps a creature, seemingly random, seemingly alone, moving forward and ticking. It sends bears to hibernate in the winter and arctic terns on their great global sojourns.

Think of function matching form in design. When all planets align and there is unity of the disparate. Unity of the desperate. This is what we mean.

In February, the sun shines waxy, drained of life, asleep in its cold bed waiting with the world for the return of spring.

Esau paints the sun every day for a month. Twenty-eight suns parading one after the other. Some bright, painted with brilliant primaries. Some shuttered, pastels and sheepskin, dashed across the horizon of his canvas.

“What do they mean?” His partner asks. This is Kevin. Kevin is a project manager. He travels the country from hospital to hospital helping the staff acclimate to new software. When he is around, he and Esau are together constantly. When he isn’t around, Esau is alone.

“They don’t really mean anything,” Esau says. “It’s more for the practice of it.”

“But shouldn’t art have some sort of purpose?” Kevin asks. “Shouldn’t it say something, even in practice?”

“Some would argue that art is the opposite of purposeful, that it exists only for itself.”

“That sounds selfish,” Kevin says. “If we wrote code like that, we’d be out of business in half a second.”

“It’s not always about money,” Esau says.

“Idealist,” Kevin says.

“Well,” Esau says, “someone has to be.”



Esau attends a show opening downtown. The streets are gray with slush. His shoes are soaking by the time he reaches the gallery. He cannot feel his toes. He enters the gallery and takes the glass of champagne that is offered to him.

The artist is a friend of Esau’s. Her name is Elaine. She often helps critique his work. He returns the favor. This is her first show. He is familiar with many of the pieces. Kevin even modeled for some of them. The three of them sitting in Elaine’s studio, smoking weed or cigarettes and drinking until early in the morning. Kevin once made Elaine laugh so hard that she snorted beer out her nose.

Esau sees Kevin’s eyes staring out at him from the canvas.

Esau tried to paint Kevin only once, at the beginning of their relationship, everything still fresh. Kevin wore only a pair of plaid boxers. Esau blushed when the brush traced the length of Kevin’s legs. The painting had turned out clumsy. The figure, though the right proportion and balance, lacked any sort of life. It sat dead on the canvas. Esau had destroyed it, afraid of what it might mean.

Elaine’s show is far-flung, crossing landscapes and figures, collapsing all of time and space into a single point. By the end of the opening, she has already sold three paintings. It is a great success. She asks Esau to go out for a drink with her afterwards.

They walk to a dimly lit bar around the corner. The walls are purple velvet, a mirror stretches luxuriously behind the bar.

Elaine laughs loudly at everything. She is alive and radiant. Esau revels in her joy. He knows that soon such joy will be his as well. It is only a matter of time and perseverance. He knows soon they will be drinking to his success.

He texts Kevin while Elaine is in the bathroom. Kevin is in Georgia.

“E’s show went great,” Esau writes. “I love you.”

Kevin sends a row of hearts in return.



In April it snows again, one final and definitive time, light drifts of white against an eggshell sky. Esau keeps the heat off to save on his energy bill. He wears three layers of sweaters and a coat. He can see his breath while he paints. He will have his first show at the end of the year. A gallery owner has at last taken interest in his work.

Esau tries not to think about it. The pressure makes him nervous, it cramps his hands. He feels as though he might begin pulling apart. Kevin tries to remind him to eat and to drink water and to sleep, but Kevin is around even less frequently these days. He has just been promoted at work. He is now on the road over half the year.

When he is back, Esau touches him carefully, afraid that if handled too much, Kevin might shatter into many pieces.

“Do you have a show title yet?” Elaine asks.

“Not yet,” Esau says.

“It will present itself,” Elaine says.

“It will,” Esau says.



It is spring without warning. The birds have returned in full-throated force. They hurry to welcome the morning, to make up for lost time.

Esau’s parents have contacted him again. They have heard that Esau’s Uncle Richard is funding him. They are angry at Esau. They are even angrier at Uncle Richard. They do not support Esau as an artist. They also do not support him as a gay man, but it is passé to say such a thing, so they stick to not supporting him as an artist.

They email him with questions. Wondering when he will come back home. Sending him links with “real jobs”. Asking whether he is eating enough. Esau does not respond to the emails. He reads them out loud to Kevin. They laugh at them together.

Esau holds in the tears he does not have the strength to cry. He is exhausted. Everything is in his artwork, and still no unifying theme has arrived.

But it is the year of internal optimism. And the answer is just around the corner.



Esau is not sleeping. It started slowly, so slowly he doesn’t remember when, but now sleep has escaped him like a dog out the door and into the dewy grass. And Esau does not believe he will be able to recapture it. As sleep becomes rarer, waking becomes more dreamlike.

Kevin appears and disappears like the supporting character in a poorly written play. He is there one moment, and then, without explanation, he is gone. Farther and farther. To Amsterdam and Dubai now. To California and Kentucky. The texts from Kevin appear sporadically at odd hours.

“Are you sleeping yet?” Kevin asks.

“No,” Esau says, “but I had a dream.”

The doctor prescribes melatonin.

Esau spends his restless nights painting. He paints the moon twenty-eight times.

“What does it mean?” He asks himself.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” he tells himself.

In June, Esau realizes that days are not connected, that each new morning is a random roll of the die, an independent occurrence. The semblance of coherence is coincidental.



Summer hits hard. Sun hammering earth lying flat on its back. Esau sees that the universe was created for his purposes and the year of internal optimism has reached its zenith.

He does not sleep for days at a time. He does not need sleep. He is filled with the glowing dust of the universe and it is coming out of him in his paintings. Only his hand cannot move fast enough to capture all the images on the canvas. So he draws on napkins and kleenexes and the wall and his own body and it is not enough. He cannot move as fast as he would like although he is moving fast, faster than light and he is light enough to float to the ceiling of his one-bedroom apartment.

It doesn’t matter if no one buys his artwork because he can always make more of it. He doesn’t need paint or the canvas because the real art is what is occurring in his brain in each powerful, painful second that leaps rapidly to the next. Because seconds are not connected either, and each new moment is a random roll of the die, an independent occurrence. The semblance of coherence is coincidental.



Kevin comes home.

He sees Esau. Or rather he sees what Esau has become.

What has Esau become?

See again, our hero, he no longer sits, no longer reposes. There is no stillness in this warped frame. There is no fat either. Esau has lost fifteen pounds. The hair on his arms has become downy.

Esau tells Kevin to quit his job.

“I can support us both,” Esau says, “don’t even think about it. Or I’ll join your job too and we can travel the world together. I’m calling my parents. And they’ll travel with us. In fact, everyone, everyone will be traveling with us. The whole world just one giant nomadic herd stumbling from desert to mountain and back.

And I won’t need to paint anymore because the whole of it is in my brain and just by telling you it will transfer to you as well and that’s how I’ll make money.

Like the other day I went to that gay bar we like and I was dancing and a man came up and was dancing with me and I described everything I had seen that day but through my movements. And we started making out, but it was really sweet and passionate and you were there too so it was all okay because our love is big enough to contain everyone and to contain the whole world and time doesn’t really pass because it is a bowl and we are all connected in it by suns and moons and it is happening now and



Elaine visits Esau in the facility. He is moved there after a brief stay in the hospital. Esau cannot remember why he was in the hospital. Only that it involved a car and the rain and the incessant lightning in his brain.

Esau is happy to see Elaine, but he doesn’t understand why she looks so sad. Esau is happy. Happier than he has ever been. He fills notebook after notebook with sketches. He has never created anything so beautiful. He has never been so alive.

It is the year of internal optimism and everyone must come along with it.

“Kevin wanted to visit,” Elaine says, “but he had another trip.”

“That’s all right,” Esau says, “I’d text him only they won’t let me have a phone in here. So you just tell him for me.”

“Sure,” Elaine says, “what do you want me to tell him.”

“Tell him.” Esau thinks. “Tell him I’m sorry.”



There are medications. And medications for the medications. And when Esau begins to sleep, he sleeps with a vengeance.

He goes to sleep at five o’clock then four o’clock. He naps at noon.

There are no dreams, at least none that he tells his therapist. If there are dreams they are brief, only flickers. They are pieces of a previous whole. Sometimes Esau thinks if he could hold onto them long enough he could put it back together. But they fade away and then he is tired.

The gallery has not been in contact for a time. Elaine tells him that they may consider putting on the show when he has recovered.

That’s the way they talk: recovery, episode, summer. Never breakdown. Never disaster. Never shame.

Esau rents the second bedroom from Elaine. He has taken up a part-time job at an antiques store. He sits in the back and types up descriptions of the items to put on eBay. There is a shop dog named Roger. Esau pets the dog.

Kevin visits him, but they are only visits. Esau cannot imagine having feelings for anyone ever again. He cannot remember the time when he did have feelings. There is only the unraveling. Gray yarn draped over everything.

One day, Esau picks up his paintbrush. He sets the tip of the brush into a rich, deep blue. He draws the brush across a blank canvas leaving a single bold stroke.

It is the hardest thing he has ever done.



Esau takes a walk down by the lake. Actually there are two lakes; the city rests on an isthmus. Esau has gained weight. He feels buried deep within himself. When he looks in the mirror he does not recognize his face.

The lake is partially frozen, a thin layer of ice creeping out in fingers from the shore. In the middle of the lake the last few geese huddle in clumps. Esau walks and watches his breath. He breathes and he walks.

A few bikers pass him on the path. They are brightly-colored, flashes of light. Trees stand with bare arms against the falling sky. Esau walks past a couple sitting on a bench, their arms wrapped around each other. One body, two souls.

The sun is falling, the light is falling, and the year is coming to an end.

Esau knows that something has happened here. If only he could put his finger on it. But it is all happening in another room. It is being told to him from a far-off distance. Kevin is texting him.

“Have you taken your medication today?”

Esau turns the corner and sees two swans. He stops. They are right there in front of him, large and white, with necks curved like miracles. Esau knows that he will paint them. That this is how he will heal. By finding miracles and holding them tight.

It is the year of internal optimism. And there are swans.



We close on an image of our hero, a young man, possessed of demons and vagabonds, an entertainer and a slave. Here he sleeps in the winter of the year, under blankets made by a distant family. The lights are out and the shadows are drawn only by moonlight.

He is still hopeful, when he can feel anything. He is still thoughtful, if he can manage it.

He will be a painter. He will live in Wisconsin. His name will still be Esau.

It is the year of internal optimism, the gears clicking and converging, bringing the engine to life. If things have burned it has been combustion. If things have died it is to make way for new life. It is clear that in the end is the beginning and the beginning is the end.

A canvas sits blank on Esau’s easel, but it will not always be so.



Laura A. Freymiller is an Oakland-based writer originally from the heart of the Midwest. Her short stories have been published in The Manuscript, Entropy Magazine, Defiant Scribe, Z Publishing House’s Minnesota Emerging Writer collection, and have received honorable mention in GlimmerTrain competitions. She lives with her perfect cat, Scout.

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