Scents of Time
By Calissa Treat
On Tuesdays I wear Red.
The thick scent of rum vanilla and oak wood swims around in a ruby, cubical bottle that has a plastic, golden bow wrapped around it with the word RED written across in black. I spritz it in my long, blonde hair and on my wrists. I spritz it across my mother, who is reclining in the gray hospital chair. I am careful about where I spray it, making sure not to let it float onto her IV.
“Oh my, that is by far my favorite perfume,” my mom says, closing her eyes and inhaling deeply. “It takes away the burning smell of the chemo. Sometimes I swear it will eat me alive.”
Once a month I buy the three-pack of tree-shaped car air fresheners. I always buy the green ones, the ones that smell like pine needles. I buy these when I want to remember him, when I want to remember the way the inside of his truck used to smell. It had a rich pine smell embedded in the cloth seats, the kind that was so strong it made me want to wrap a string of Christmas lights around it.
Some months it brings back that black hollow feeling, the one that seems to grow its own heartbeat. When I begin to feel the scabbed tissue he left somewhere inside me start to bleed again, I take the little pine tree down. Other months it actually eases the hollow feeling because it reminds me of why I had to leave to him.
On certain days of the year when I want to stick my toes in the muddy waters of the past, I spread my Grapesicle lotion all over my arms and legs. The sticky, light purple lotion smells just like a melted grape push-pop. This scent brings me back to the summer I got high for the first time. Even seeing the purple, triangular bottle brings that burnt, ashy taste back in my mouth, the feeling of the thick fog coating my throat, and the burnt feeling in my lungs as they beat in rhythm with my heart, puff, puff, cough, cough.
“Need another hit?” a familiar face asked as his clammy hands shoved a green bowl in my palm. The orange stripes running through it seemed to be swimming inside the green glass.
All I knew at the time was that I needed to get home, and that I kept burping up grape lotion through my pores. The smell perfumed the air inside the truck. Was the smoke purple? Would it slowly prune into raisins if we sat inside here any longer?
“No, get me home.”
The Way We Talk
By Sarah Stauffer
My phone is ringing. What time is it? 1:23 A.M. It’s my sister.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“Can you come over?” she asks in a near whisper.
“Well, what’s going on?”
“I have an awful migraine and no one is home.”
“You’ll have to give me few minutes, but I’ll be right over.”
“Thank you, Goober.”
I roll over and explain everything that’s going on to my boyfriend and ask if he’ll drive me over to Sami’s.
“This isn’t just her being bored and manipulating you for fun, is it?”
“I don’t think so.” Regardless of the intentions behind her call, we put our shoes on, grab our coats and head out the door.
About a month before, when Sami and I were heading home for Christmas, we had a huge fight that ended in me crying and her huffing off to her room. We patched things up just enough to get through the visit home, but she left early and I had to find my own way back up to college. A week later, after we had both cooled off, we took another stab at actually fixing things. I told her about all of the things she says that hurt and manipulate me, and she told me about all the ways I make her mad.
The reason I bring this up is that she made a point of saying that it’s very difficult for her to ask for help—especially from her little sister—so when she does, I need to take it seriously.
We drive the five blocks to her house and let ourselves in. We see a light coming from one of her roommate’s rooms, so someone is home. I head upstairs to Sami’s room.
“Hey, how’re you feeling?” I question as I reach the final step.
She groans as she rolls over to meet my gaze, “Not good. I took my migraine medicine but it isn’t working.”
“How can I help?”
“Could you get me a glass of water and just sit with me?”
“Sure, be right back.”
As my foot reaches the icy linoleum kitchen floor I think to myself: This seems like the real deal.
I return upstairs, glass of water in hand, and stare down at her. The only light coming from a small book lamp attached to her bed is for my benefit alone. Gingerly, I grab hold of her arm and help her up just enough to take a sip of water. I climb under the covers and conform my body to hers. I lie there, stroking her red, curly hair, unsure of how best to comfort my big sister.
Sami, lifting her head slightly, says, “Thank you for coming over, Goober.”
“You’re welcome,” I say as I stroke her hair.
By Gabrielle Congrave
In December, I lose my taste for many things.
Seventy percent of my diet becomes soaked oats spiced with cardamom and ginger, drenched with coconut oil and milk, or kitchari. I blend two recipes, one from an ayurvedic website, one from a cookbook. There is an ache inside of me, some tender place deep in my stomach.
In December I get sick. We come back from Minneapolis, and I come down with a virus. My uterus continues to swell up and out, even as my appetite turns dry as an old corn husk, belly aching with the stretch.
I soak one cup rice (sometimes basmati, sometimes Madagascar pink) and 1/3 cup green mung dal in water mixed with yogurt or whey.
Something toxic builds behind my eyes, dropping chin to chest. Pain traces from the scapula, circles collar bones, shoulder girdle, delicate as wire lace piercing into biceps late at night.
Two days later, sometimes three, I dump the rice and dal into a saucepot with three cups water and bring to a boil. To some batches I add vegetables—cubes of sweet potato, okra slices, shreds of kale and spinach. I turn the heat down to a simmer.
Always I have been a consumer. The need to fill some nameless emptiness left me holding cigarettes, coffee, tea, or food most waking moments of my twenties. Piles of pills, sticky red syrup, syringes filled with brown liquid to heat the belly, clear liquid to numb the veins and tongue. I was always trying to get full.
In a smaller pot, I fry green onions, pumpkin seeds, garlic and ginger in coconut oil and ghee. I crush fennel, mustard, cumin, and coriander seeds in the mortar and pestle. Sea salt and pink peppercorns. I add turmeric, cardamom, lemon juice and creamy coconut milk. Simmer.
Always in me there has been a divide—a split between hope and despair, rage and happiness.
Something has been happening—some letting go deep inside of me. Something sweet inside of me has bubbled up.
When the rice and dal are done, I pour the sauce from the smaller pot over them and stir well. The smell of onion and spice billow up to meet me. I eat it throughout the week, one meal a day, sometimes two or even three. Mixed with yogurt. Scrambled with eggs. Sprinkled with raw cheese or ume plum vinegar.
This time I lean into it—arms and legs out radiating starfish; spine inside me phosphorescent, veins and channels stretching out, the question as always: is this root or branch?
By Jade Dockendorf
Wax, sweat, chalk and leather calm me. Blaring music fills my soul. My hall of mirrors shows me, me. This is what I need, this is who I am. Through it, I have no doubt that I will be okay. I have no doubt that I am alive. As I stand in the middle of my studio, breathe in those scents, and listen to the lyrics, my anxieties begin to fade.
I stretch, imagining a string strung through my axis, pulling me into the different positions I must hold. I elongate my calves, arch my back, and round my arms above me. As I stretch, my muscles shake, and I smile. The emotions, my emotions, are soon to explode. My body knows what to do.
Rising, I begin to move with the music. Choreography happens, my thoughts in rhythms and motions. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I cry, and sometimes I am purely impassive, allowing no emotions to escape my stronghold. I talk to myself, criticizing each and every failure I see. I can see my own judgments reflected in the sea of faces I pass every day. Faces who don’t know me, but who I fear know the deepest parts of my being. Faces that see and emphasize that extra pound, the outdated trends, and the character flaws. But I am my own worst enemy; there is always something to improve. Can I ever be good enough?
Spinning past the mirrors, I see what’s lacking. I see my life falling apart, my future never panning out. Then I leap. A graceful, powerful leap, and my confidence surges. For now anyway, that imagined lacking is gone. Turning up the music in a valiant effort to block everything else, I prep my next trick. Before me, I see innumerable medications, a string of therapists, a hospital bed. And again I throw myself into the air, crying this time. Will those things be my life? Will they define who I am?
I land, shake it off. No, I am strong. Those things are not me. All of the diagnoses, the cures and theories, none of them truly define me. The doctors insist it is so. That my anxiety, my depression, indeed all of the diagnostic assessments provided to me, are me. But here, on this freshly waxed floor, moving as my body knows so well, I know it is not so. I define me, I choose who I am. I am a dancer and wife, a student, a sister and a daughter.
Imagine a lone girl, throwing herself into the air, leaping and stunting to her heart’s content. She spins and twirls, all the while mumbling to herself and making faces at herself in the mirrors. Would you be able to see the parts of her soul she is baring? If you could, would you think it was beautiful? Or would the judgment she so fears rise in your eyes?
Can you now understand why I do this alone?
By Nyssa Beach
Another day of the monotonous dirge: class, homework, work, the steady stream of words, thoughts, opinions—going where?
This degree is a challenge. This degree is scary. How am I going to support myself? A family, even if it’s just my future husband and me. I’m not that girl that waits for the prince to take her up in his corporate world of manly provision. I want to support, and I want independence from this monetary world.
School seems unimportant. Not because I doubt the knowledge I gain through school, but when I graduate and try to find work, who’s going to care if I can quote a passage of Hamlet, utilizing perfectly vocalized iambic pentameter? National Geographic gets to travel the world, research hot topics and capture stunning photos of baby elephants, but I get to read, write, study, and drink wine to help me get through it all.
Going to school isn’t getting a job that you want. It’s hoping to get a non-paying internship with a small-time business that starts you at the bottom rung of a very tall ladder. I believe in believing, and I won’t let all the pressure get to me, but no one’s perfect. At the end of the day, sometimes it takes a few glasses of wine to keep me studying instead of searching Google for possibilities of a shining future.
Despite that, you can bet that at the end of the day I’m turning in my work and tucking away pages of notes. Sometimes, it takes that extra push of crushed and fermented grapes to help me focus on what’s right in front of me, and forget what might be twelve months away. A neatly poured glass of Pinot Noir often does the trick: when a stack of books is chin-high on the table, a bottle of Pinot Noir shall soon join it.
When pollution is streaming into our lakes and rivers, when GMOs haunt our grocery stores, when the average American would rather pop pills than try to lose weight by exercising and eating right, then it’s hard to sit at my dining room table and read pages of short stories and cite sources using MLA. So yes, a glass of wine buffers my long study sessions. It helps me relax and stop all those thoughts going through my head long enough to focus on the task at hand. My own little America-inspired homework party.
Calissa Treat is a dorky, awkward soul; she usually leaves a mess wherever she goes, but most people forgive her because she is kind and determined. Sarah Stauffer is working on a degree in creative and professional writing with the goal of becoming a children’s book author. Gabrielle Congrave is at that magical time in a woman’s life when pushing a 7 to 9-pound person out of her vagina seems preferable to being pregnant one minute longer.Jade Dockendorf is a twenty-something college student hailing from northern Minnesota and pursuing a degree in English education. Nyssa Beech enjoys non sequiturs because they don’t make sense and often end up being much more enjoyable than the expected nonsense we usually have to live with.