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Lambda Literary’s first annual issue of Gaslight is now available by making a contribution of $25 or more to the Writers Retreat Scholarship Fund. The e-book anthology is a collection of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and genre fiction of works written by Fellows of the 2014 Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices. These thirty-eight contributors represent among the most talented up-and-coming queer writers around the globe who each submitted selections workshopped during their summer residency.
As the editor of the first volume of Gaslight, Miah Jeffra writes in the introduction:
I realize that an editor of something like this is supposed to sit with the collection of texts, wade through their poetics, their choices (and such terrific choices!) and declare the emergent theme … Not the case, here. The only emergent theme in this collection, besides our identities as queer folks all across the spectrum, is just how much of a rounded horizon that spectrum has become. There is plot play, political jabs, social polemic, meditations on nature, domestic lensing and, of course, love. And, of course, music. And, of course, perspective, that sliver of the truth, that light of a blade or that to light the way.
Don’t miss your chance to receive a copy of the e-anthology, Gaslight, when you make a donation of $25 or more to help bring the next group of amazing emerging writers to the only LGBTQ residency in the U.S.
Morgan M Page
Yuska Lutfi Tuanakotta
Roberto F Santiago
Jenna Leigh Evans
Garrett A. Foster
Marcos L. Martínez
Below, Lambda Literary gives you a sneak peak of the collection with Christina Quintana’s short story, “A Slip of Moon.” Enjoy!
A Slip of Moon
ONE: THE MATINEE
We are in production at Zia, and so, we have our usual Saturday matinee. At the moment, we are (surprise, surprise) in between box office managers, and someone needs to run the desk. That person is me, of course—the master catch-all at our little nonprofit theater at the corner of the Plaza. I have known Zia the longest, which has its rewards and its pains. The current production is Stephen Adley Giurgus’s Our Lady of 121st Street, a hilarious twelve person play that leaves audience laughter spilling into the front of house. The show opened this week, and we hoped to fill the box office position by now, but as a part time position, the turnover is disastrous. So much so that Cheryl, the theater’s artistic director, jokes that we should enlist my future child, who will probably be a more reliable box office manager than we have seen in years.
I feel particularly nostalgic today, wrapped up in the pinkish-red of the walls lined with old show posters, the lopsided bar decked in its usual display of dusty beers and wines, the cozy box office window itself with a slow, humming desktop computer in desperate need of an update. Maybe it is the reassurance that despite the big changes about to hit my life—our lives—this theater, my theater, is a stubborn, albeit crumbling, fixture.
I am three months pregnant and can already imagine Ellie causing mischief in the theater lobby. She will grow up here—she’ll attend all of our camps, color pages on this floor, busy herself with homework in our office, walk curiously through the rehearsal room, and someday, attend our openings. Zia is where I fully fell in love with theatre; where I volunteered and interned, where I had my first kiss with Ricky Vega, and acted my first lines—here is home, and it will be Ellie’s, too.
Despite the fact that I would have preferred a Saturday off, I adore the solitude of the box office and the front-of-house during a performance. Beyond the theater doors an audience buzzes, a stage full of performers live in another world, but in this spot, I find delicious quiet. As I print and organize the will call tickets in the booth’s half-light, I have enchiladas on the brain. A rush of laughter sweeps into the lobby and I imagined our kitchen full of the hot breath of my favorite recipe. Lately I have been unnaturally exhausted from a day’s work and standing for long periods has become treacherous, so I barely cook. Kat works wonders in the kitchen, but I love the task of making a meal—the order of it. That night I plan to return to the kitchen with mighty triumph. The thought of those chicken enchiladas puts such a smile on my face. There is no greater gift to a pregnant woman than the satisfaction of a hunger craving.
Yes, I think to myself. Tonight, we will feast.
But I am wrong.
There will be no meal.
I am too late.
The most horrible part? I go straight to the front bathroom. During pregnancy, my bladder has no stamina. It’s the awful truth. I fly inside. Coat still on, scarf, too. I call to Kat—into the house—as I wash my hands with foamy soap. She loves that damn foamy soap. It never ceases to amaze her, the way the liquid instantly turns to foam with one swift pump. Like some kind of everyday magic. Hands clean, I slip off my coat and I step into the kitchen.
There she is.
I remember so many small, insignificant details from my life. I can tell you the outfit I wore on my last day of high school (jeans and a fantastic pastel yellow v-neck short-sleeve top), what I ordered (braised chicken with Oaxacan mole negro) the night Kat and I celebrated our five year anniversary, but I can’t, for the life of me, piece together all the moments of this evening. I see it like a painting on a sheet of watercolor paper accidentally dropped in a pool of water. The page is torn and separated, and the image is little more than orbs of soaked color.
I call the ambulance. That’s all I know.
They find me on the kitchen floor holding her tight, spooning her close to me. They find my cell phone open, catty corner from us. I imagine I wait there, next to her, for the brief minutes it takes the ambulance to arrive. Minutes that are the last I have of her. I imagine it is all too quiet. Cubes of ice fall into their bucket in the freezer.
The female EMT has to pry my hands from Kat’s sweater. She says I look like a balloon that might fly away if they don’t tether me down. She is right. That’s the strange part. It isn’t heaviness I feel—it is emptiness. Grief is an intolerable helium. For months afterward, I will walk with my toes barely brushing the ground.
[A copy of the EMT patient care report from the day of Kat’s death]
[This letter was written from me to you on one of many yellow legal pads shamelessly stolen from Zia’s office supply closet. The letter is undated, but it was written the week of Kat’s death. My handwriting is surprisingly neat.]
Mi linda, Ellie,
I want you to know where you come from. I gathered these pages because you deserve to know, because Kat deserves for you to know, and because the childhood we imagined for you will undoubtedly be very different from the one you’ll have.
This is the story of you, and her, and us.
Santa Fe took hold of Kat, and unlike many who wind up here, she was perfectly content to let it wrap her in its arms and claim her. She descended on the town as a wiry 18-year-old, studied the classics at St. John’s, and never left. It was hard for me to imagine her there—a Johnny. She seemed so anti-that-kind-of-place, so anti-elitist; the kind of person who would have wound up at state college to support the local economy, or because she knew it could provide just as good an education as anywhere else. But Mississippi was not the place for Kat, and despite her highest hopes, never could be.
We were our own sort of orphans. My childhood defined by the loss of my mother, my twenties in turn by my father’s death, and Kat’s adulthood equally scarred by the distance between she and the people meant to love her most. We longed to break free of our personal graveyards, to create a family to bury the sadness of what was both lost and never fully realized. And so, on a quiet summer night, we agreed to take the luck of the draw. A stranger would be the father of our child.
We sat on the carpet, our backs against our sunken living room couch. Kat always preferred the floor to any other seating option. We were on our second bottle of red wine, her tattered copy of the I-Ching open in front of us. Before I met Kat, I had no idea what an I-Ching was, let alone how to “throw” one. She swore by it—any major life decision meant a consultation with the I-Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes, a divination system akin to Tarot. Though she claimed the I-Ching was more sophisticated than Tarot, it left more to the imagination.
Every time she removed the book from the shelf, she would uncover the slip of paper with my name on it, dated the day after we met. I could spot that book in a crowded library, its grey cover like a flag. It still stands proudly on our bookshelf. By now I’ve memorized the assorted post-it-notes and other sheets of paper that crowd its pages and gather along its edges, marking so many of Kat’s questions. Sometimes I was convinced she believed so hard in things because she secretly thought that, in doing so, she could will them into being.
I used to tease her, “If you already knew, then why’d you have to ask?”
“To know I wasn’t crazy. To know the universe was on my side.” She shoveled the hair from her forehead and ripped a sheet of paper from a notebook on the coffee table. I watched as she scrawled “Ellie” onto the lined page. I loved the way her words slanted to the right, almost drunk with the passion that stirred them into existence.
“Ellie? Wasn’t that your grandmother’s name?”
“Didn’t you hate your grandmother?”
“Hate’s a strong word. Why not give the name another chance?
It’s a great name; this is its chance to prove itself.” With that, she dug out the three aging pennies from an envelope tucked inside the book’s cover flap and poured them into my cupped hands, lining them with her own like a fortress.
“You’re drunk,” I told her.
We let the pennies fly six times for the six lines of the hexagram.By now I knew that “heads” meant three and “tails” meant two, that the even lines were broken and the odd lines were solid. With each throw, she drew the according line carefully until she had produced the following. When she had our results, Kat looked simultaneously perplexed and amazed. All the lines were solid and there were no changing lines—which meant no reading of the future, she explained.
“So is that good thing? What does it mean?”
“It’s a good thing. A really good thing. I’ve never gotten this one outright before.” She kissed me hard, wine all over her breath, but I didn’t mind. She placed the book on my lap proudly and pointed to the top of the page:
THE CREATIVE works sublime success,
Furthering through perseverance.
“I guess we’re screwed if it’s a boy, huh?”
“It won’t be a boy.” Her eyes sparkled with conviction, and I had to admit, I really liked the name. (I still do.)
[The last page of Kat’s dream journal, a simple dark leather midsize notebook. The handwriting is messier than her usual and difficult to read. The entry is undated and incomplete.]
My best friend Lolly was adopted.
Once I asked if she wanted to know
who her real parents are,
and she said pretty plainly,
“I know who my real parents are—they’re the ones that raised me.”
I hope that’s how you see me.
I know you don’t hold my DNA,
but you are my daughter.
Mari and I—
are gonna love you so hard.
Hell, we already do,
and you’ve barely been incubating a month.
I’m not sure you’ll ever see this.
Mostly because I’m not sure if it’ll see the light of day.
it feels nice to talk to you already.
We’ll have to tell you the story of your name.
Maybe by now you know it.
Your mom thinks I’m superstitious,
but she believes in it all as much as I do.
The universe works in mysterious ways.
I wish I had some
of life advice
to give you.
Take chances, read as much as you can.
…Are you sick of my advice by now?
To be honest, Ellie.
I’m really scared.
It’s a weird moment,
when you recognize your parents as human beings.
Are you ready for that?
I want you to have family and friends
that surround you
on all sides
like a football huddle.
If I can help it, you’ll never feel alone.
You’re on your way, Ellie!
I can’t wait to meet you,
and know you,
and love you.
You are gonna
TWO: OUR WHOLE LIVES
It’s the day of her funeral and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. I want at least one. Just one to hold onto.
It is a bitterly cold day, this day. Regardless, I stubbornly demand that we gather a group at the top of the Chamisa trail to scatter her ashes. To be honest, I can’t stand looking at the ceramic urn any longer. The urn itself is a plain sandy color; Kat wouldn’t want anything ornate, and I have no plans to keep it on display. It is cruel that a life so full can fit into one, small jar.
I believed we had our whole lives. We would become wrinkled old ladies in our little adobe nest, we’d see our baby Ellie crawl across the floor and sneak out the back door, we’d be together the day we could legally marry in New Mexico, we would walk hand-in-hand to the Roundhouse and declare our love all over again—Ellie there, a bundle of wildflowers in her sweet, little hands.
I look around at the group, wrapped in scarves and heavy winter coats, and half expect to see Kat among them. She would smile at me, tug at my earlobe, and run her hand along the small of my back. She would tell me everything is going to be okay and I would yell back that I know it isn’t. Or, maybe I would, as I had so many times before, bury myself into her old ski jacket—the smell of sandalwood oil and ash hugging me back along with her.
I wrap my arms into myself, around my round pregnant belly—I can feel Ellie, growing inside of me, restless, and I wonder what I will say. How will I find the words?
I go to the theater office because I can’t think where else to go. I can’t face our house. Zia Theatre is run by a team of five people; our desks themselves are set up in close quarters. Privacy is a luxury above our pay grade; but today, this god-awful Tuesday in February, the office is eerily silent. Cheryl is at a conference in D.C., the rehearsal room below devoid of actors until late afternoon. I sit at my desk, buried in budget proposals and the latest grant assessment, and stare into the black of the computer screen. After several heavy minutes, I move listlessly to the old communal stereo, stacked beside binders upon binders of old programs. I pull a familiar CD case from the top of the leaning stack. A crack runs along Celine Dion’s sepia-toned cheek. “Because You Loved Me” begins to emanate from the tired machine, and all at once, I round the knob to its highest volume. Anyone who pretends they don’t blast Celine Dion any chance they get—they’re liars. They all know every word; I’m certain of it.
There’s a faint knock at the office door. I hear it, but I don’t hear it. Every bit of this day feels like it’s in my imagination, and I’m certain the sound is, too. My long, brown hair is loose and wild, hanging desperately around my head as I breathe in the chorus.
“Hello?” A neat crew cut pokes its way into the office. I turn my head; my movement slow, but certain as a bear guarding its young. The door opens a few inches, blockaded by an overflowing white file box. He steps over the box gingerly. I think about asking a sing-song, “May I help you?” but my days as an after-school supermarket clerk entrenched a deep hatred in me for those words. And I am tired, so tired.
The slightly befuddled stranger speaks again above Celine’s sultry hums. He addresses his sleek, black, handheld camera like a scene in a silent movie. I wait for the card that twill indicate his dialogue. When I say nothing in response, he repeats himself. “I guess I’m not in Kansas anymore, huh Toto?” He laughs self-consciously to himself, clearly disappointed that the joke is lost on me.
At last, I begrudgingly turn down the music. A moment or two of uncomfortable silence passes; he surveys the office politely, picks up a fallen spreadsheet from the floor and lays it lovingly on a pile at the edge of my desk. “Ah hah! So you’re the number cruncher around here.”
“So I bet you were one of those people who majored in nuclear physics and minored in fine art, right?”
“Theatre/Finance, actually.” Another silence. This is practically turning into a Pinter play. “I’m sorry, who are you again?”
“Oh wow. I’m sorry, I thought you knew!” He reaches his hand over the desk to shake mine. “Armando. Armando Sandoval.” Armando was a little enthusiastic with the cologne this morning, but he seems nice enough. He wears a pair of dark jeans, very European-looking shoes and a crisp black dress shirt. I look down at my Target-brand maternity wear and feel a little cheap. “I’m doing the documentary on the ESL Children’s Theatre Festival.”
I nod slowly. “Cheryl and Sarah aren’t in. Do you need something from the office?”
He adjusts his collar, which is in no need of adjusting. “I just got a little lost.” I doubt this, unless he’s blind, which I suppose wouldn’t make him the best filmmaker. After all, the rehearsal room is downstairs, just past the main entrance, labeled with a large adobe-brown sign that says, “Rehearsal Room.” He knows I know. “Okay, so I was actually just exploring a bit. I really love the space.”
“Well, I’ve got to get some work done, but it was nice to meet you, Armando.”
“Right! Yeah. Totally. Nice meeting you. I’m sorry—I didn’t catch your name.”
I look him square in the eyes. “Do you like ‘My Heart Will Go On?’”
“The Titanic one? Celine Dion?”
“It’s a little embarrassing to admit it, but yeah, I guess I do.”
“Mari. It’s Mariana. Good luck with the film.”
“Thanks,” he says quizzically, as if I stole his wallet when he is sure he had it in his hand all along.
[A page from the Santa Fe New Mexican. The small photo is her staff photo from work. She’s wearing a maroon collared shirt and a wide grin.]
KATHERINE MARIE GUIDRY Educator, musician, jokester, beloved partner and friend—was born in Biloxi, Mississippi on November 9, 1976, and died last Tuesday due to complications from a sudden brain aneurysm. Katherine, “Kat,” attended St. John’s University, graduating summa cum laude, and remained in Santa Fe following graduation, dedicating over ten years to community engagement through two New Mexican non-profit organizations. She spent some of her happiest moments hiking the trails of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. She loved her chile green, had a compellingly spare sense of aesthetic, and a disarming sense of humor. Described as a “loveable firecracker” by colleagues, her beautiful voice, guitar-playing, and laughter often carried on open-mic nights at Cowgirl, where she will be sorely missed. She is survived by her partner, Mariana Ortiz- Guidry, her brother, John Paul Guidry, and her parents, Joseph and Camille Guidry. All who knew and love Kat are invited to help us celebrate and remember her at the tip of the Chamisa Trail on February 11th at 2pm.
[Written on loose leaf pages, folded in four, thinly pressed into a greeting card with hand- stitched pink flowers on the cover. The inside of the card is entirely blank.]
Thank you for your call.
I realize you were a very good friend to Katherine. I’m comforted to know that she had people like you in her life. No, I never agreed with the lifestyle she chose, but I regret that it has been years since we last spoke. It is baffling to recognize your own child as a stranger. I suppose I always thought there would be more time. Or, maybe, in my deepest heart of hearts I believed she could change, that she would change.
I can only hope that in her last moments, she repented and made peace with God. I would like to believe there is a place in Heaven for all of us, despite our transgressions. As a child, Katherine was a devout Christian. It was only as she grew older that she took a different path. Though, I believe her faith never wavered. As you know, Katherine was a stubborn woman. The only voice she listened to was her own. My voice got lost a long, long time ago. But maybe I gave up too easily…
I must seem like a terrible mother to you. John Paul and Aimée said the funeral service was beautiful. Really, it was Aimée. In refusing to speak to Katherine, I almost lost both of my children. John Paul was always Katherine’s biggest champion, and he has chastised me on numerous occasions for our estrangement. Perhaps, I never truly understood her. In any case, I felt I had no place at her funeral, and should mourn her loss quietly, in my own way. I hope you’ll forgive me for that.
John Paul tells me you are pregnant, and that I am to be a grandmother. I’m sincerely trying to accept what this means, but I must confess I’m not sure what to do with the news. And so, I wish you my congratulations, and an invitation. Should you ever find yourself in Mississippi, please visit. You and your daughter or son will always be welcome here.
Perhaps when you come you can tell me about her life. I’d love to know more about this woman with the short brown hair who grew to look so alarmingly like her mother.
I want you to know that despite everything, I loved my daughter. I really did.
[A page from Kat’s dream journal. She made a New Year’s resolution the year before she died to log what she remembered of her wild dreams in a journal she kept on her bedside table. She wasn’t very regular with the entries, but flipping through the pages there are several mornings she managed to jot down a few sentences. The journal itself is a simple dark leather midsize notebook.]
M.O. is giving birth in a Glinda-the-Good-Witch sort of bubble that’s rising & rising into the sky,
And I’m on the ground jumping up and down,
willing myself to propel into the sky toward the bubble.
The dream’s in my POV, but I look like a G.I. Joe sort of plastic action figure.
I’m pretty sure I’m a male G.I. Joe, though. Is there another kind?
Suddenly it gets crazy-bright,
a gigantic helicopter circles overhead
and cuts into the rising bubble.
And that’s when I wake up.
THREE: ELLIE IN THE WORLD WITH FLOWERS
“6 pounds, 7 ounces.” The nurse announces as she cradles Ellie in her arms. She is a gorgeous little prune with a head of dark, wild hair. From the moment she emerges, the world’s fifth ocean is underway. “It’s entirely normal to get emotional.” The nurse mats my sweaty curls back, like I invite it. I wish she wouldn’t touch me, but I’m too exhausted to protest.
There are whispers among the ward about postnatal depression, but no one has any idea. It isn’t the future I fear so much as the past. Part of me wants to scream, to run to the front desk, I.V. dangling fiercely from my arm, and announce what would make them all feel like shit for jumping to conclusions. Kat used to say doctors are always jumping to conclusions. But sometimes— many times, unfortunately—they are the right conclusions.
As I hang on the edge of this thought, I notice a bouquet of flowers at the corner of the room: a theatrical assortment of lilies, multi-colored roses, succulents and baby’s breath in a large vase. I take hold of my buzzer like an anxious game show contestant. God forbid any sort of accident occur; I would bleed out and coat the floor by the time the nurse arrived. Nurse Delores is her name, but she likes to be referred to as “Nurse D.” She is the epitome of New Mexico, her internal clock a half hour behind the rest of the world. She wears her hair in a tight bun and her scrubs shout in a loud shade of pink accompanied by a nauseating floral cartoon print. Though she is clearly a veteran, and I know she means well, nothing about her do I find particularly comforting.
“Do you need anything, Ms. Ortiz?” She speaks to me as though I’ve lost a puppy, even though I’ve just gained one.
“Who are the flowers from?”
She takes her time as she carefully tears the seal of the envelope. I want her to rip it open, but I keep my mouth shut. I am fascinated by how a nurse can be so devoid of urgency. At last, she reads aloud, emphasizing each word of the note like it is the final round of a spelling bee. “Dear. Mariana. Congratulations. On. Your. Baby. Girl. Armando.”