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Literary Chemistry

Stephanie AustinBy Stephanie Austin

I realized in high school that I didn’t much like journalism beyond writing editorials and frantically scrambled for some other career to plan my life around before I finished high school. I chose editor. I enjoy reading critically and can never help myself but mark typos when I see them. I manage to resist the urge when it comes to billboards while I’m driving. (I keep my eyes on the road, of course).

I’ve over-simplified the reasoning behind my life plans and glazed over the feeling that I had to plan my life out so soon. I couldn’t even drive, yet. But after devoting so much time to creative writing, and planning on continuing that dedication, I wanted to see it carry into my occupation.

I maintained that plan to the present moment, where I’m about a decade into sticking with my drive to take writing classes and contribute to a future career. I’ve even gone onto an editing position, which I figured might be a helpful step towards my occupation. Yet I also had some strange assumption that when picking up such a position, I’d pull away from any direction of writing until it slowly became a hobby and I was consumed by my love for editing.

However, on my second semester into being a part of FLARE’s editing staff, quite the opposite has happened. Rather than silently writing for just myself, classmates, and professors, I’ve ended up pushing myself out into a role as a writer along with cultivating my editing skills. I expected to withdraw into a background role, yet I’m instead sending my work out for others to judge. Quite soon, in fact, and it is terrifying. But I will have done it. Not once, but at least twice. See? Now I’m starting to wonder just how crazy I will get with sending my work out.

Knowing me, it will probably just be those two submissions.

I think I’ve realized two things from these developments, though. Writing and editing aren’t separate. Putting more effort into one thing than the other doesn’t mean I have to ignore the importance of what got me interested in editing in the first place. In fact, I haven’t written many new things for what I’m planning to submit this semester. I’m really just editing a manuscript and a paper. The fact that editing is also a part of the individual’s writing process itself should’ve clued me into the fact that I can’t put one down to keep up the other. Other than that, I’ve realized I enjoy writing in it’s various forms too much for me to just let it sit in the backseat. There’s so much more to learn about writing. Too many things for me to try with my writing. It’s an experiment and I’m going to keep mixing various chemicals to see what concoctions I can discover. I’d miss out on some colorful reactions if I didn’t.

 

FLARE: The Flagler Review to unveil new edition with readings on April 18

FLARE: The Flagler Review, the student-produced literary journal at Flagler College, will mark the publication of its Spring 2016 issue with an unveiling and reading at Flagler’s Markland House on Monday, April 18, at 6 p.m.

This is the 26th volume of the publication, which seeks to publish both up-and-coming and established writers. FLARE includes poetry, fiction, nonfiction and art. The literary journal is edited and published by Flagler students in the college’s English Department.

Markland House is located at 102 King St. in downtown St. Augustine. The event is free and open to the public.

In 2015, FLARE won third place in the Four Year Literary Magazine of the Year category at the College Media Association’s Pinnacle Awards.

 

A Perfect Boy

By Alex Austin

For thirty minutes the footsteps followed mine, never getting louder, never getting softer.

It was the third day of my journey and I was on Karakoram Highway, which connects Pakistan with China and runs southeast to Islamabad. Behind me to the north were snow-covered peaks and on either side rocky hills, glistening streams and stands of forest. God had given me these beautiful creations as company since three days ago when I turned into a boy.

My transformation happened in a cornfield only a few miles from my husband’s house. Sitting beneath the growing stalks, I cut off my hair and exchanged my salwar kameez for a boy’s pants and shirt. I used my hijab to flatten my breasts, and with a good tight knot, they hardly remained. I buried my hair and clothes in the earth beneath the corn and piled on rocks for good measure.

A cap on my head and I was one of a million Pakistani boys, aged thirteen.

On the previous three nights, I slept in the wood, shivering when the winds shook the branches and showered me with pine needles, but grateful then, for the fallen needles accumulating over the years that provided me with a comfortable bed. If I found a berry bush, I’d pick it clean, but only to save money. Along the many roads I’d walked were markets where I bought my fruits and vegetables without saying a word or getting close to anyone. I feared that my girl’s voice would give me away or that my body would accidently brush another’s, and that person would detect my shape.

No more than five minutes ago, I passed a general store and gas station, and though I’d have liked to buy bread, I didn’t stop. I hoped that the person following would leave the highway to purchase something similar and reveal that my fear was unjustified.

Now I approached an intersection, where the sign indicated that the road to the right led to a nearby town. I’d avoided every municipality that I could. A few times it was impossible not to pass through these dangers, but I tried to go at midday in the heat, when people were not so alert. Men looked at me, but no more than to determine they didn’t know me, and then they looked elsewhere, for I as a boy was unimportant.

So I had to make a decision: Stay on the main road or go into the town?

If I continued on the highway, the person behind might well follow me, but I wouldn’t know if it was intentional or not. Perhaps he had a phone and had called someone who would arrive soon in a car. If I went into the town, it would be easy to see if he was really tracking me.

Or I could simply turn and look.

Mr. Snowe, who taught English and history in my school, once told us a story about a Greek named Orpheus who stopped and looked back when he shouldn’t have. For that man it did not turn out well.

A paneled truck drove by. Two men in military uniform stood with their backs against the cab. One of the soldiers stared at me, and after traveling another hundred yards, the truck pulled to the side of the road and stopped.

I didn’t want to walk forward, but I wanted to turn back less.

As I approached the parked truck, I saw that one of the two soldiers was gone. The soldier who had stared at me while driving by now stared all the harder as I walked toward the truck. I could no longer hear footsteps behind me.

“You want a ride, boy?” asked the soldier as I walked past the rear of the truck. I shook my head.

“It’s very nice up here,” said the soldier. “Come see.”

I kept my head straight forward. The bushes at the side of the road shook violently. My heart stopped. The second soldier stumbled out of the bush, buttoning his fly. He could have reached out and touched me as I skirted by him.

I heard the soldier climb up into the truck behind me.

The trucks engine revved and then fired. The truck’s black exhaust enveloped me.

“Last chance,” cried the soldier whose interest I had caught. “Come, lie down, rest.”

The truck slipped onto the highway, slowed and then picked up speed. The soldier was soon no larger than a child’s toy, and then a speck, and then nothing.
Finally breathing, I stopped and leaned against the railing at the roadside.

My marriage had arrived like a sudden storm. I was in my bedroom reading my science textbook when my father told me I was to be the wife of Sameer, a wealthy businessman whom my father sometimes worked for.

“It’s not something I intended, Sinela, but …”

I looked at a page with some helpful illustrations of a machine intact and then exploded. A car’s engine in one picture and in the next all the parts of the engine flying outward and labeled. I was now Sinela exploded. My head, my limbs, my torso, my bowels and heart were pinned to the walls of my sunlit room.

I heard another truck and looked up fearfully only to see a civilian vehicle painted in every color of the rainbow, ornamented and sculpted like some fantastic Hindu god, the depictions of which my religion forbids us to look at, but in encyclopedias many forbidden things can be seen. The truck was so strangely beautiful that I laughed and in that instant of recovery, I again heard the steps.

If it was my husband Sameer or one of his men, I would walk in front of the next passing truck.

I really would, just as I poured Drano on my face to deprive Sameer of a wife of whom he could boast. But I couldn’t contain my scream of pain at the lye’s heat, which brought my mother and father and then the milk that neutralized the acid.

After that, I was not left alone.

The steps continued.

My stomach tightened as if a doctor had sutured a big wound and was now pulling the thread tight. Look back, Sinela.

I stopped and turned around. It was a boy about my age, and dressed similarly to me. The boy took one more step and stopped. He stared at me, his head moving mockingly from side to side.

“Hello, girl,” he said.

I thought of what a boy would say. “Don’t call me a girl.”

“I have been following you for almost a day. I know you are a girl.”

“Why have you been following me?”

He took another step toward me.

“Stay away,” I said.

The boy laughed. “Are you going to beat me up, girl?” I wanted to tell him how I had not long ago bashed in the head of a very fearsome man when he looked away from his victory, but then the boy moved his hips. I looked at his glittering eyes, a snake that had just spied a mouse. He moved his hips again. They not only went from side to side, but rose and fell.

“Yes?” he asked of my silence.

“You are not a boy,” I said.

“And you are a girl,” he said. “I knew from a quarter mile that little ass was not a boy’s.” He or she walked towards me.

“Stay away.” I said.

“Two boys together are better than one.” She came within a few yards of me. “My name is Niya.”

“Why are you dressed as a boy?” I demanded.

“How old are you?” this strange person named Niya asked.

“None of your business. Now go away before I hit you.”

“I am fifteen,” said Niya. “You are, oh, fourteen?”

“I won’t be fourteen until September” I said, and regretted immediately that I’d told her anything.

“Have you ever run away before?” she asked.

“Who says I am running away?”

“Everyone.”

I looked around and she laughed. This was a clever girl. I’d have to be careful.

“This is the third time I have run away. Few girls get a second chance. But you see, I can help you. I know the ropes.”
Another military truck zoomed by. This one too had soldiers in the bed. This time each soldier seemed to gaze at me or Niya. Overhead, something beat rhythmically. I looked up to see a helicopter passing.

“Are you peeing your pants?” asked my pursurer.

“How do I know you are really a girl?” I asked. “You may be trying to trick me.”

She gripped her hat and started to lift.

“No,” I said and glanced down the road both ways.

“Well, come on then,” she said, walking to edge of the road and starting down an incline. I waited a moment and then followed her. Fifty yards distant, a fast-moving stream flowed by a few acres of forest. She led me towards the trees.

When we were hidden by the thicket, she stopped and studied me.

“Well then?” I asked. “Show me your hair.”

The girl lifted her tunic with one hand and with the other pulled down her pants and underwear. I stared at her sex and said not a word as I duplicated her action. So there we were, a couple of Pakistani girls a hundred yards from the highway, exposing our private parts like passports.

“Ok, we are girls,” I said pulling things back into place. “My name is Sinela.”

“Where are you going to?” asked the girl, refitting her clothes.

“Islamabad.”

“That is where I am going.”

“Why?”

“To be free.”

“Is that possible?”

“In a big city anything is possible. Where are you coming from?”

My stomach clenched. “No. That I won’t tell you.”

“Do you have any money?” she asked.

“A little. Not much. And don’t think of stealing it from me. I am as big as you and very strong.”

Niya reached into the pocket of her tunic and pulled out an apple. She dug her fingers into the apple, groaned with effort and split it in two. She gave me half of the apple and said that we should be on our way.

We continued on the Karakoram Highway, eating our apple bit by tiny bit. From time to time, Niya would slap me on the ass to warn me I was walking like a girl. By the time we got to Islamabad, I would be a perfect boy.

___

Alex Austin’s stories have appeared in Black Clock, carte-blanche, This Literary Magazine, River and South, The Dying Goose, Heavy Feather, Apeiron and Beyond Baroque. His novel “Nakamura Reality” is published by The Permanent Press and will be released Feb. 28, 2016.

Poetry: At the End of Peninsula Avenue

By Deanna Silvey

Most of my childhood memories consist of playing with my sister on the Coast Guard Base in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, located just at the end of Peninsula Avenue. My father was Senior Chief, which didn’t mean much to me until I was old enough to understand how great of an achievement that was. My sister and I would play on the beach, explore the classrooms, and watch TV in their recreational area. We would tune out all of the important work being conducted around us and pretend to be anything we wanted. Our birthday parties, family cookouts, and celebrations all happened on that base. It was our playground and our home. My father sacrificed so much for us. He retired early so he would not have to be away for months at a time. It was such a great sacrifice, because the ocean was the love of his life. The first time I ever saw him cry was the day of his retirement. As we drove out of that base for the last time, I remember realizing that I would not be able to sit in his office and watch the dolphins from his window, or play in my favorite spots. My childhood was just beginning to turn into memories. I wrote this poem to thank my father for his service, and for the sacrifices he made for his children. He made sure to give us everything he could, including those fond childhood memories. Even though he retired many years ago, he will always be a sailor man.
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