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Unspoken Understanding

By Brad Tramel

Nineteen years old. We get fifteen minutes to talk through a ten-inch screen. You begin with Happy Thanksgiving! and I begin with WhythefuckamItalkingtoascreen? You evangelize jailhouse pizza, which I disregard after the words ramen noodle crust.

You missed my birthday and my first tattoo, I say, holding my forearm to the webcam. I don’t ask you about the details of your conviction. I don’t ask about meth, its process or allure. But I ask about a Jackson’s chameleon. I ask how much it costs, what critters to feed it, and where to get one.

Six years old. We catch lizards with our bare hands. We walk to an undeveloped desert patch in Suburbia, Las Vegas, one of its last bastions of nature. I shake and stomp on one side of a little lizard’s thin shrub shelter, scaring it toward your longer arms and quicker reflexes. We walk home with a lizard or two, and you give me the smaller one, the one that already shed its tail.

Reptiles regenerate their tails, you reassure me. Looking up at you, squinting at the sunlight, I ask questions about geckos, snakes, and scorpions—hoping one day I will know so much.

Nine years old. We share a bunk bed at the new house. You jump into the bottom bunk with chips and Mountain Dew, and I wake atop the wobbling metal frame. An ugly smell emanates from the closet, the same smell that makes you cough and makes Mom and Dad mad. I ask about it in the morning—twenty times, actually, because I sense you’re hiding something. So you feed my lizard to yours. There we are, standing on opposite sides of the bay window, each crying, and only one of us with laughter; between us, half of Lucky’s body wriggles away in vain from an unexpected end.

Thirteen years old.  We live in Minnesota now. By day we live dangerously: I practice my kick flip, you navigate a small town in which you have three girlfriends. At night we play your PlayStation 2 and talk about girls—usually, specifically, about which one is mad at you today. The day before I leave Faribault for Bemidji, you drive seventy on sinuous roads, teaching me how to live without rules.

Twenty-one years old. You called me the other day. The conversation starts like usual: Wassup, bro?!—loud and excited, like you just sat a three-year sentence.

I tell you I just escaped a mosh pit and turned down cocaine in Minneapolis. You are uncharacteristically quiet for a moment. You’re stunned I put myself into a situation where the words mosh pit and cocaine  would have to form on my tongue so nonchalantly, so seamlessly and in tandem.

Work is good. You have a home. You tell me about your girlfriend. I keep forgetting her name, though, so my mind wanders—to the county jail, to the Thanksgiving dinner table, to a lone desert shrub.

The shrub is thin, dry, and still, like the alert lizard prone at the base. We lock eyes—an unspoken understanding forms under the Nevada sun—and we catch one for old time’s sake.

 

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Dumb Brown Dog

By Rachel Guck

On the way home from the shelter Lucas sat on the floor of the van with Maisy so she wouldn’t be afraid. She wouldn’t go into some rooms if the door wasn’t fully open. The little laundry room was an absolute no. She would half-enter then back out like she was afraid of it.

Lucas taught her everything she knows. She’s not the smartest dog in the world, but she makes up for it by at least trying really hard. Her nickname is Dumb Brown Dog when she tries but doesn’t…quite get it right. When Lucas started training her she didn’t even know what a treat was, so it was slow going. Somehow the command to sit got mixed up with the command to lie down, so she does the opposite of what she’s told. She thinks she’s being a “good girl” and gets rewarded for it.

Lucas began to tell that he was her favorite when she got so worked up over who was at the door. If it’s a different family member, her excitement is containable. When it’s Lucas, she nearly falls over her own feet to reach him. Maisy chooses Lucas over all others, no matter what. Even if she’s getting all the attention she wants, when he calls she gets up and totters over to his waiting arms.

Now that he’s in college, she’s begun to understand when it’s time for him to leave, and that she won’t see him for weeks at a time. As he’s packing to leave, her head hangs a little lower and her tail remains motionless.

Maisy is like normal dogs now. She sheds her chocolate brown fur like it’s her job. And when she hears the faintest whistle from upstairs she comes running—though on the hardwood she can’t find a grip, so she tends to slide into walls on her way.

I am the outsider, the girlfriend. Maisy was wary of me at first, but when she saw I was with her favorite person, her guard dropped. Except when Lucas and I wrestle. He and I are on the living room floor in the midst of a heated tickle fight when Maisy comes bounding up, howling and whining, pawing at our faces so that we have to stop. She lies on his stomach as if to protect him with her very life.

She has her quirks. When Lucas is asleep on my lap, she’ll rub her butt up against the couch until she has my attention. If I fall asleep petting her, she’ll lick my face and nudge me until I wake up and resume the motion.

 

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Deserving

By Morgan Bartlett

I am five. I love my parents, as small children do. My parents are my whole world. I need them for everything, except when I insist I am a big kid and can do it myself. They tell me they’ll always love me. I love them, too.

I am ten, and I love my parents, like most kids do. We are on the cusp of preteen years of backtalk and arguments. I still need them for most things, even though I act like I don’t. I love them as much as ever, even if I don’t always say it.

I am fifteen, and love my parents as most teens do—whenever it suits me. My parents are surviving life with a teenager and handling it well, even when I don’t think so. I start to rely on them less and less, but they love me as much as ever.

I am twenty, and I still love my parents. I am on my own, and they are as supportive and loving as ever. Oddly enough, I am realizing how much I need them at a point in my life I didn’t expect to. I love them separately and at times less than I ever thought possible.

I am twenty-one, and am discovering the importance of security and assurance of unconditional love. My father made decisions I despised, culminating in my parent’s divorce, but I tell him I love him anyway. He assures me I can share anything in the world with him, that he’ll always listen. I watch him cut out his sister after she shares her true feelings about his actions. Suddenly I am facing something I never thought I would—the possibility that my father won’t always love me no matter what.

Is it really that easy? All I have to do is tell him how much I hate the things he’s done, and he’ll cut me off too, just like that? So much for being honest with him about the divorce. I tell him I am afraid of telling him what I really think because I feel my aunt’s fate awaits me too, if I am brave (or stupid) enough to confront him with my true feelings. Ridiculous, he says. How could I think that of him, that he could do that to his child?

“My relationships with my kids are the most important things to me,” he says. “If you think I’d do that to you, then you don’t know me at all.”

I don’t know how to respond. Finally I tell him I am capable of setting aside my feelings towards his actions. I can’t ignore the things he’s done or how I feel about it, but I can love him for the man he is instead of hating him for the decisions and choices he’s made. If I expect unconditional love from him despite what I’ve done, doesn’t he deserve the same from me?

***

 
Brad Tramel writes literary and video game criticism, short fiction, and creative nonfiction. He will graduate this spring with a BFA in creative and professional Writing. Rachel Guck is finishing up her senior year at BSU and hoping to continue into grad school for a master’s degree in English and library science. Morgan Bartlett is a senior BA and BFA major who enjoys reading, writing, and watching Jeopardy. She is also counting down the days until graduation.