Written by Atticus Payne
Art by William Blake

(Ihminen: human)

We humans, all so tastelessly mortal. Dropped onto cliffs hugged by ravines, a cord around the neck our only harness, frantic fingers; opposable, fragile thumbs, gripping, slipping, holding on ‘til we fall.

No landing kills you—just your own porous bones.

One by one, I watch them lose their hold. Fingers with skin worn ‘til only bone shows, others more torn by their eyes and not the stones. One by one, I watch them die, hear them cry, shake most from anger in their last sigh as they try so much to stay alive, while next to them, another ihminen falls.

I’ve seen some try to climb—upwards, in a game of chasing the rain. The air thins that far above; presses down on the chest ‘til ribs crack, ‘til you can’t catch your breath. “Searching,” they say. “For what?” I reply. 


Then, again, I watch them die.

They crumple from the shivers, so easily that for a moment you could forgive yourself the thought that they’d gone and done; that this was their climax. 

It’s just death. Just as futile as the rest.

So I stand and wait and lock my muscles as best I can. It’s useless, I swear. All it does is make you stare at the gasp of the gallows and wonder if you’re next. I stand, and wait, and watch, and pray; for mercy, for control, for anything to end it all. Slowly, I lessen the pleas. Just gouge my eyes out.

Words get swept by the wind.

Ihminen. Human. Frail, and unmade for this plane. 

Unknot the cord, step off the ledge. What end is there if you can’t see it?

Should I die, I will have earned it.

Have flown, for a second, and not cared.

A Robot Drives Me Home

Written by Cassidy Bull
Art by Alejandro Skol

A beep—the sensor scans the chip in my arm, clocking me out for the day. The automatic doors of my office building slide open, and I breathe a sigh of relief as I step out. 

The city’s bustling swarms me as I head to the bus stop. People glide across the sidewalk, wearing the latest i-glasses. Texts and TV and video games scroll over the lens screens. The skyscrapers are covered in digitized advertisements. Everywhere, there’s no respite from all this urging to buy.

Three different pop-up holograms appear in front of me as I walk. Prostitute androids coo and coax, claiming they’re more lifelike than ever. 

I guess the city’s algorithm senses my misery. 

I pass straight through them.

I can barely remember life before it turned robotic. 

Once I reach the stop, I stare down at the screens built into the ground while I wait for the bus. 

I hate the bus. But it’s better than the self-driving taxis, which often malfunction. Despite the deaths every day, they’re still the most popular mode of transportation. Their original design was faulty, something with the proximity sensors, but profits would have tanked if they issued a mass recall. So they didn’t. Only the rich own their own cars. The rest of us sign waivers saying we won’t sue if we die. 

I keep waiting for someone to do something about this artificial existence. Sometimes I think I might. I’m not sure what I would do exactly. I could burn down the server district, or plant a garden. 

The bus stops in front of me. 

I peer at the faceless robot in the driver’s seat. I shouldn’t get on. I don’t want to. But if I don’t, I’ll get a visit from the government androids, asking why I broke routine. 

With a sigh, I swipe my wrist under the scanner on the bus’ side. 

The doors open.

Drawings in a Notebook

Written by Miriam Fernandez
Art by Anete Lusina

To be able to write and draw was all that mattered to her. She would spend hours sitting on the floor, sketching in her notebook, the sun coming in the window with a little wind. She had had that notebook for years now; her first drawing had been of a tree and a few flowers. Back then, she hadn’t realized how much it mattered to her, how happy it made her when the notebook was slowly filled with her drawings. They were all simple and she only drew how she knew, but it was her happiness. That notebook was the home of all the drawings she had ever made in her life.

And she carried it everywhere. Even when there was no school and she stayed in her room. Even when she traveled with her family, driving in the car. It was actually one of her favorite times to draw, as she would watch everything from the window. The cars that passed by her car, all the trees and bushes and roads. The clouds that drifted away, some staying and others moving with her car. Sometimes, she would try to close her eyes to remember everything she saw, imagining how she would later draw it in her notebook. When she would start drawing and sketching everything she thought about, she would write a little of everything on another page. 

When she didn’t know what to draw, she would open her notebook and write about her day. She would even write about her dreams and think about the drawings she had drawn before. Stories and characters and places from the drawings. And when she looked back at her drawings, it seemed to her that the places and people and everything she drew became real in her room. It was like she could see everything and everyone again. She would keep writing until the evening came and the light from the sun disappeared. 

Her drawings were pictures. They were stories that she was able to capture before they were gone; people that she knew and her favorite places all in one small notebook. The same notebook that held the tree and the few flowers she drew kept her memories too. And she knew that one day, there would be a last page. One last time to keep a memory, to save a story that someone could see and read. It was another reason why she loved that notebook. She could always look back to the time she was learning how to draw or the year she met her closest friends. She could see again the dreams that she might have not remembered if she had not drawn them. If she had not written them in her notebook. 

She knew that she would grow up and stop drawing as much as she did when she was young. There would be a day when her hands would no longer be able to draw the same picture, when the notebook would no longer have another page for another drawing. But her notebook would never be finished. Just like her drawings. There was always something more to draw.

Sick of the Stress

Written by Varrick Kwang
Art by Josh Sorenson

I’m so sick of the damn stress. 

I am not a slab of dough, I am not a hunk of machine and neither are my fellow human beings–so why are we treated as such? Why do we have to fit into this cookie-cutter? Why are we on the conveyor belt? Is the product that we are indoctrinated to be even relevant for the world anymore? 

The world has changed. Degrees no longer guarantee you a high wage and a cushy career. Hard work no longer guarantees success in the factory. Graduates with straight As and stellar portfolios don’t even get the basic courtesy of being a full-time worker with proper benefits. Instead, they get put under agencies and get shortchanged as an external contractor, while still having to work as much as a full-timer. 

On the other hand, people are making big money playing their favorite games and through various unorthodox means that were unfathomable ten or twenty years ago. Trade school students are making big waves with the skills they picked up in the industry and apprenticeships. Any child with a computer can access every free resource in the world. Late bloomers are starting businesses and making huge gains in investments. Artists are getting commissions from clients who visit their social media pages. 

The world has changed. So why has the thinking and policies of the leaders not changed? Why are they still forcing circles into square holes? Why didn’t the foolish senile old fuckers at the top update their thinking? Their antiquated thinking is hurting us, our development and our potential. Why do we always have to adhere to their bullshit? Why do they act like their advice still matters? Why can’t they properly respect our views and experiences? We are the ones suffering on the ground, we are the ones being driven crazy. We are the ones that have to live in this new world long after they are gone. Why can’t we live by what we want?

As I sit at my desk, chained to my bedroom as I log in to my work computer, my every mouse stroke being logged and the work system noting the exact hour, minute and second I log in to the system, I start another day of time-wasting, mind-numbing work, for a mere ten dollars per hour. The old boomers would have lauded ten dollars an hour as good pay, but the world has changed. Ten dollars today is no longer ten dollars of yesterday. But really, they don’t even care. 

When I was a child, I was promised that once I had turned old enough, I would be able to enjoy and live, but if only I kept sacrificing, kept studying and kept giving instead of actually living in the now. All the future faking sure kept my hopes up, and now, where hope has vanished, now replaced by a void. A phantom pain stings at my being; there should be something more to my life than this banality I live. 

Now that I’ve done everything that is supposedly required, where the hell is my fucking life? Where are my sunshine and rainbows at the end of the tunnel? I’m still trapped. 

All the stress has fried me out, and there is nothing I can think of outside of work or studying or surviving. 

How would you be happy if you are constantly told that you are just another cog in the system, a piece of equipment, a spare part?

I’m so sick of the damn stress.


Written by Jessica Liu
Art by Alex Conchillos

There is a group of people standing in the dark. Each one staring straight ahead, lost in their own thoughts. A girl is lying on the ground, sleeping peacefully..

Her dad allows a small smile as he thinks back to his last birthday. He was turning forty-nine and his daughter hadn’t so much as mentioned a present or a cake.  Trying not to feel disheartened, he forced a smile and didn’t bring it up. 

What was the big deal? He thought. I’d be happier without any birthdays; I’d be younger that way. After dinner, he went to the garage to finish some work he hadn’t completed. 

Suddenly, his daughter sprinted in and told him to close his eyes. She took his hands and led him into the kitchen. She was bouncing with anticipation, excited as she stared expectantly at her father’s emotionless face. Her dad’s eyes remained closed.

“Oh, you can open them now.” She giggled. Her dad slowly opened his eyes and a surprised gasp escaped him. 

“I thought you all forgot.” He beamed at his family. They never disappointed him. His daughter urged him to make a wish and blow out the candle. Then, he cut the cake and smiled at the pile of cards and drawings on the kitchen counter. Afterwards, they watched a movie together as a family. Even though it was simple, the care and love that went into planning it made the birthday memorable. 

Her mom looks up at the stars with a rueful smile. Though she could barely remember her online passwords, she remembered a specific memory like it was yesterday. 

When her daughter was six, she loved to go to the nearby park, sit by the pond, and look at all the ducks and geese for hours. She whined and begged for a baby duckling to keep as a pet, but was always denied. One day, when she and her mom were at the park again, she made an impulsive decision. She ran to the tall reeds near the back of the pond and reached in. Her goal was to find an egg and hatch it herself; she had read online that waterfowl imprint on the first creature they see, whether that be their mother or a naughty five-year-old human. 

Obviously, the ganders were not okay with this and chased her away, honking and snapping their beaks. Her mother looked over and swallowed a scream. Her tiny daughter was being chased by four huge geese with menacing orange bills. She ran toward her daughter and grabbed her hand as they sprinted away, terrified. 

Her daughter lost a flip-flop in the scramble. Mother and daughter had a good chuckle after that. There was no one in the world who understood her more than her mom. 

Her brother looks down at his shoes. He wasn’t as close to his sister as some of his friends were with their siblings, but they made some memories that would bring a smile to his face whenever he thought about them. 

When he was seven, he took piano lessons and won points for his hard work and practice. Points could be used to win prizes. He looked at all the cars and toy trucks, tempting him, but after an hour of indecision, finally chose a purple Tinkerbell wallet. It was for his little sister. 

His mom smiled and took a picture of her two children together. They hugged each other and smiled with toothy grins. 

“我的好哥哥!” My dear brother! His little sister beamed. 

A lump settles in her dad’s throat. He remembers the first time his daughter saw him cry. The kitchen light reflected off his round glasses until he had to take them off to wipe away his tears. Her words stung like rubbing alcohol in a paper cut. He could see the guilt in her eyes after but he also knew that she had meant every word. And he didn’t disagree.

The nights he spent working in his lab and the humming of machinery drowned out everything he wanted to avoid back at home. Increasingly frequent I’m not coming home tonight texts allowed him to not think about questions he never wanted to answer.

He hadn’t even been home the night it happened.

Her mom dabs at a tear in the corner of her eye. 

Her daughter used to be a playful, carefree child, but lately, she was always in her head, quiet, and forlorn. One day, she was sitting at her desk and her eyes started welling up. Her mom looked over concernedly, but didn’t know what to say.

After a while, she asked her what was wrong.

Not wanting to talk about it, her daughter just shrugged angrily. She couldn’t quite figure out what it was that she wanted either; she didn’t want to explain, but she also wanted someone to care.

Unsure of what to do, she reassured her daughter that everything would be alright.

Words meant to comfort were received with anger and indignation. Her daughter’s constant moodiness was testing her patience greatly.

“What do you kids even have to worry about? You think too much because you don’t have enough tasks to fill your idle time! When I was younger than you, I had to work in the fields every day just to make sure there was food on the table!” she snapped. What did kids these days have to be stressed about—to be depressed about? She couldn’t understand it.

Her brother couldn’t remember a time he had a big argument with his sister. They didn’t even have anything to say to each other, much less to argue about. 

Last year, a family trip was made to the kids’ grandparents’ house. On their last day before going back home, their mom said she wanted to take a picture of them together with their grandparents. Reluctantly, her son and daughter stood next to each other with stiff bodies and forced smiles.

“Hug your little sister,” the mom chided her son.

As he went to put his arms around his sister, she flinched and made a face. 

“Ew, no.” she ducked away. 

Embarrassed, he turned back to the camera, holding up a half-hearted thumbs-up instead. The photo turned out nice, but everyone could see the uncomfortable tension between the two siblings. 

Their seven-year-old selves would’ve been so disappointed by that picture. 

Family members, relatives, and friends all interrupted their busy life schedules to come together tonight. She was a niece, cousin, friend, sister, daughter. 

She always thought that she wasn’t important to them—that she didn’t matter to them. They wouldn’t care. They wouldn’t care at all. 

Loud sobs that can be heard from miles away echo in the dark. Countless people gather tonight to mourn a girl who believed that not one would bother to show up.

A sea of people, with shining eyes, remembering a girl who took her life.

Note: If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States: 1-800-273-8255.

Death on the Page

Written by Cassidy Bull
Art by Steve A Johnson

I write about what it’s like to exist every day. That’s the purpose of an author. To explore the human condition, picking it apart until every ounce of our experience has been put into words on a page. 

I write about divorce. Mine wasn’t messy, just a relief. I write about growing up on a farm. Ill-prepped for city life. I write about writing. It’s easier to write about the struggle of writing than to actually overcome the struggle and write. 

I write about existence. It comforts people to see themselves in others’ words. The words themselves are rarely comforting, but to see our experience spelled out is the ultimate consolation—a validation of our experiences, no matter how disturbing those experiences may be. 

But what about what it’s like to not exist? To write about death is to truly wade into the unknown. 

When my mother died, all I craved were words that captured my feelings. I just wanted to be less alone. To know that someone somewhere had gone through the same thing and come out the other side.

It was impossible to find something that emulated the gaping cavity in my chest. The way my lungs felt pierced and drained of air. The way my heart had been carved out. The way my ribs seemed to crack under my own emotional pressure. 

Everything I read was disappointing. Some books came close, scraping the surface of my grief, but never diving fully into the state of my psyche. I wanted every nook and cranny of my lamenting spirit displayed and available to the world. Available to me. I wanted to see myself imagined by someone else. I wanted assurance that my anguish was appropriate. 

 When I couldn’t find anything to comfort me, I decided to write the words myself. But they wouldn’t come. For weeks, the blank page stared back into me as I stared into it. Whenever I thought some semblance of an idea was taking shape in my mind—the inability to fall asleep at night, the tongue like lead in the mouth when a friend asks how you’re doing, the paralysis in the kitchen after realizing Christmas dinner would never be the same again—my fingers would try to form it into language as a potter would with clay. But my hands could not mold the vision. 

I remember slamming my laptop closed and letting the sobs shake me until I passed out on my desk from exhaustion. 

Why was this up to me? Why has no one bottled this emptiness and turned it into familiar vocabulary? But if I could not type out my grief, I couldn’t expect others to type out theirs. Perhaps we are doomed to suffer alone. 

Since I was incapable of writing about grief, I figured I would write about death. But what is it like to die? Only the dead know.

I have seen death written as dark and nothing. The darkness closes in. And then there is nothing. But we do not know if it gets dark. And we do not know if there is nothing. 

I wonder what my mother saw as she died. Was there a light? Or did the light go out? Dylan Thomas urges us to rage against the dying of the light. Do not go gently. But what if life was not gentle? Life pummeled my mother. Widowed her on my first birthday, destroyed her home with a hurricane, and demanded a grueling battle with incurable cancer. Life is uniquely brutal to everyone. Perhaps our own personalized suffering is the only thing we all truly have in common. 

What if death is gentle? The grim reaper might hold out a bony hand and guide us slowly through the threshold toward our inevitable nonexistence. I imagine death was relieving to my mom. Like a breath of fresh air. I witnessed her last literal breath. A small sigh, as if shedding the burdens the world forced her to endure. 

I find peace in eternal nothingness. Like sleeping, but without the nightmares. 

How do I write about nothing? How do I describe the absence of everything? 

If the aftermath of death is not nothing, the writing process grows exponentially more complicated. I do not know how to imagine the afterlife, let alone describe it. Did my mother’s soul find my father’s? Are they holding hands and floating through space, exploring the cosmos? 

If a god exists and has blessed them with an eternal utopia, perhaps they finally got to take that road trip across the country my mother told me they always wanted to. She spoke with such longing in her voice for what could never be. I hope it can be now. 

If there is a god, what’s the point of living? What’s the point of all this suffering? Life requires torment. Demands pain. Why does existence not just begin in the afterwards? 

I can’t write about grief. I can’t write about dying. I can’t write about death. I am incapable, unqualified, and unimaginative. 

The words I long to write remain unwritten. My hands hover over the keyboard, twitching with frustrated energy that has nowhere to go because twenty-six characters and a handful of punctuation is nowhere near enough.

Maybe there are no words. Maybe that’s why they don’t exist yet. And why I cannot create them. The lack of words describes the hollowness, and any attempt to fill the page with lettered description would present a lackluster account of death and dying. Perhaps the blank page is more indicative of grief than any attempts at words could ever be.

She Lived

Written by Miriam Fernandez
Art by Vlada Karpovich

She had always liked running through the field, feeling the wind as she ran and with every step, her heart seemed to beat with joy. It was a time where she didn’t have to think about anything else but the way her feet almost flew each time she ran faster. And sometimes, when she finished running, she would lay down on the grass and stare happily at the sky, closing her eyes; everyone knew running was one of her favorite things to do. 

She had always liked waking up a little earlier, grabbing a jacket, and running outside until she saw the morning light appear, the sun rising behind the mountains that surrounded the place she grew up. She would go to her favorite tree, the one where her parents had built a treehouse, and climb up. Flowers that she had gotten from her mother’s garden, collages of her friends and her family, along with books filled this space that she knew completely. When she was there, she would sit on the floor with a few books next to her and read.

She had always liked walking into the library, entering a place that she could come any day and find stories that she could read. As soon as she finished her homework, she would run to the library and walk inside, waving hello to people she knew. Every time she came, she would slowly walk past the bookshelves and read the title of the books. And when she found a title that she could not forget, she would carefully open the book and turn to the first couple of pages, sitting down on the floor, peacefully reading. 

She had never stopped running, never thought about waking up later or waking up any time after the sunrise. She had never thought about leaving her treehouse, disappearing and leaving everything she had there. She had never thought about walking past the library, walking somewhere else where books were not on bookshelves and she didn’t recognize anyone. It was a life that made her happy, gave her a smile even when she felt like her day was not going like she wanted. She lived.

Son of Sirens

Written by Atticus Payne
Art by John William Waterhouse

“I saw him once, the son of sirens. That’s all you ever need to go mad,” the crone said, to no-one in particular.

“He kept to himself, his back turned and unmoving till I approached, tapped a shoulder, and felt skin on skin, a snap like two magnets finding each other at last; skin on something else entirely, something rough, tough like hardened leather. Like the rocks of the sea, shapes beautifully slicked by the potter of the waves, hundreds of years forming textures one of a kind. To know this was my first mistake; to let it draw me in, my second. Though I’m not sure I could’ve resisted either way—one does not hope against the work of a riptide. ‘Tisn’t done. 

“He faced me, and my eyes caught not on the well-worked yet wild features that I can’t ever hope to forget now, but on the resin-glossed piece of art in his hands. Casually held, irreverent to the meticulous carving of ebony, flamed maple and spruce. That was the trigger of that ringing noise I’m always having now. If sounds could burn the ear, this would be a concentrated assault. Does that paint a picture clear enough for you?”

The mist breaks for a moment, and darkness replies. It groups into vague shapes, jagged around the edges and never visible for longer than a second, before the landscape clouds with gray once more. For a moment, this sequence is comprehensible. 

“‘Are you one of ——’s students?’ he asked, and the name left me in half the time it took to say. Two syllables, I think. Can’t recall much since that day. His accent clipped the words gently before they finished, playing to a High rhythm. 

“‘No,’ I replied. ‘I seem to have the wrong person, I was—’ the ringing grew louder, bearing through my skull and into whatever part of your head was used for synthesising words. The echo of his voice, the flamed streaks of the instrument’s back; now not simply magnetic, but familiar. 

The crone gasps. She feels her hands shake, realises she has a body for the first time in…time. How long does a second stretch when there isn’t anyone to measure with breaths? Time has become the enemy, for lack of better company. 

This part. One of a cycle.

One note. A wrong note, and a whole movement turned to a broken, imperfect ruin, and to an ear trained for discrimination, it was not impulse, but self possession. Remember. Remember, remember, ‘you will not be like him’. 

“Do you know me? Do you know who I am?” I grabbed him by the shoulder, curling my hand to focus my nails on the skin instead of my palm. Seaspray and coarse rock threatened to blind me again, but I was careful this time, keeping ahold of that unfinished sentence. ‘I was looking for my brother.’ I was looking, and I had found him. That discordant note, the cough in the pianissimo was the mast I lashed my limbs to, binding tight enough to bite till it bled. 

He growled, widening his eyes to Hold mine. I blinked my gaze away, then back, just for a second, then away. 

“I know you,” I spat. “I know your mother destroyed my life.” 

“I am sorry for your father—” he began, and I used the sound of his voice to locate a spot in his jaw. I punched it. Gods, even his groan was musical.

I know you. I know you. I have been searching for you.

“You didn’t know my father,” I said, grabbing his neck and holding it downwards. “You didn’t know the man you stole from this world before you Thralled him.”


“You raped him, then shattered his mind!” I kicked him to the dirt. No sea would aid him here. Our voices were barely audible to others over the din of the people milling about on the street, crying out about prices and services and other stupid things. I knew the words I said, had rehearsed them for decades on end. “You took my father from me—”

I am not my mother!” he cried out, getting up again. I fell backwards, right ear struck with a ringing so loud it pinged when it began. And again, unending, infernal grate—

My mistake, in kicking him. I’d lost control.

I looked up, my final, damning wrong. Looked upon him, as if I could aim a blade through the cavity of his chest even when I tried. His eyes bore into mine, freezing the rest of the street’s sound away in a muffled gale. Seaspray and wind and waves. 

Adoration above.


Brother. He was coming again. 

That was how it ended. Now, the crone remembered.

His steps sounded, and it began the last movement of the song against the walls of the crone’s space. The final memory the crone ever had, she knew by then, was the sad reflection of her own face, turned High, turned into a boy. 

“Forgive me, sister,” he said, his voice breaking. “Forgive me.”

“Why?” The crone knew, but knowing the end notes of a symphony didn’t make it any less terrible when the silence came again. 

“You saw your father’s end. It’s no life, living without the Thrall’s siren. You don’t want to live that way. I know you don’t.”

“Where am I?” 

“It’s better not to know.”

The crone wept, and wept all the harder as the boy left. His eyes, so beautiful, and so sad, had left her. She hated seeing him leave. She hated the silence. 

The crone couldn’t live without putting a stop to it. 

“I saw him once, the son of sirens. That’s all you ever need to go mad,” the crone said, to no-one in particular.

Glasses Lost

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Tony Sebastian

Venkat thrashed against the waves, stretching his arms towards the distorted image of his glasses. When his fingers almost grasped the ends, he was yanked backwards. Air replaced water and he could see Aunt Arivai wrenching him away from the violent waves. She was dragging Alar, the neighbour girl, along too.

“Why would you both do something like that?” she demanded, voice louder than the waves.

“My glasses!” Venkat said, throwing his arms up in defence. He could taste salt around his lips as he spoke. “I was trying to wash them in the water and the waves just took them away.”

“So?” asked Mother, hitting him hard on the shoulders. Once, twice. And a third time.

“Ah,” said Aunt Arivai, separating Mother from him, her harsh grip loosening. “Don’t beat the child.”

“Still!” was Mother’s argument.

“See Venkat,” said Aunt Arivai, clasping his wrist. “What is more important—your glasses or you?”

“Me,” he muttered, tracing circles on the sand with his toe.

“In situations like this, you have to choose yourself, right?”

“Yes,” he mumbled, lifting his head so he no longer looked down at his temporary canvas. “That’s because I almost died. If I didn’t, it would’ve been the glasses being more important for Mum.”

“What?” screeched Mother, hints of embarrassment in her voice. “Say that again?”

“I just said that my glasses are important too because I can’t see without them.”

Mother arched an eyebrow. Venkat took a deep breath, bracing himself for her scolding. He was saved by his younger brother Varun tugging at Mother’s dress and pointing at a cotton candy vendor. She fixed Venkat with a stare before walking away. 

Aunt Arivai dropped his hand and began collecting their stranded beach toys.

“Why did you run?” she asked with a soft voice.

“My glasses—” he began once again only to be cut off by Alar.

“The waves took away my toy.”

Aunt sighed, pressing two fingers to her forehead. 

“What is more important—you or the toy?”

“Me,” she said, glancing at him before she turned to face Aunt again. 

“We can afford to lose the toy. We can’t lose you now, can we?”

Alar bobbed her head up and down. Aunt smiled and motioned for her to walk along. Alar picked her slippers instead of wearing them and it struck him then that she had run into the sea as well. She still held the toy she had run after. His glasses, however, weren’t with him.

The trio walked towards the footpath lining the beach. Venkat observed the people around, his eyes solely falling on those with a coloured frame around their eyes. He felt empty with the weight of his glasses missing atop his ears. Beside him, Alar stood on her toes, swivelling to look at the beach. She dropped to her heels, face scrunched in annoyance and advanced a few feet forward before she turned to look back again. She repeated this ceremoniously and Venkat had to force himself to not say something unkind. 

“What are you trying to do?” he asked unable to keep it any longer once Aunt Arivai had moved ahead of them. He tried not to sound too friendly since he didn’t want the little girl anywhere around him. His friends had mentioned how this neighbour of his was a complaint box, always telling the elders about their pranks, always trying to be Miss Goody Two Shoes. 

“I’m looking for your glasses,” she said as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“My glasses?” he scoffed. “You honestly hope to see my glasses from all the way here? We’re not even standing on the beach anymore.”

“I know we’re on the footpath,” she said, pointing down. “But what if the waves decide they don’t like your glasses and drop them back on the sand? We could go pick them up.”

He was baffled by the childishness of her words. Another surge of annoyance flared in him. 

“How old are you?” he asked. 

“Is that a rhetorical question?”

“No, really, how old are you?”

“Eleven,” she said, hopping and turning around to face the beach behind them. She went on her toes and scrutinised the beach before dropping back to her feet.

“And you think the waves will drop back my glasses onto the sand because they won’t like it?”

“Yes,” she said, starting a game of hopscotch on the footpath tiles. “They look hideous.”

“Looked,” he corrected before jogging to catch up with Aunt Arivai.

Mother and Aunt Arivai decided on an early dinner in the beachside restaurant. His head hurt from trying to read the minuscule letters on the menu, because of which he ordered the usual chapatis and paneer. Everything blurred into shapes and colours like Varun’s drawings—as though the colours were made to fit into the shapes by a little child.

Mother was probably guilty about her outburst in front of everybody else and tried to serve him but he made sure to snatch the flatware and do it himself. Alar spent the whole dinner playing Rock Paper Scissors with Varun, something Venkat found irritating. Both of them seemed to have bonded over dinner, this being the first time they all spent more than ten minutes with the girl next door all because her parents would be late from their office. 

After dinner Alar suggested, with Varun looking at Mother and Aunt Arivai with puppy eyes, that they stand at the beach for five minutes only before leaving for home. Mother thought it was a brilliant idea and Aunt Arivai was easy to persuade anyway.

Varun’s hazy form ran to meet the waves, yelping as the sea touched his toes. Mother and Aunt Arivai laughed, wide smiles plastered across their faces as they watched him. Alar crouched to the sand and Venkat couldn’t make out what she was doing. He yearned to run to the sea, wet his clothes all over again and play with Varun but heard Mother’s reprimands from earlier in the back of his head, and thought it better if he stood alone. He hoped she’d notice, call him, apologise for shouting at him and make him feel better about losing his glasses.

She didn’t.

With no watch in hand and nothing else to do, he began counting numbers. At 50, his feet lowered into the sand, at 67 Mother laughed looking at Varun, at 126 Alar squealed in excitement and at 127 she was bolting towards him. His head hurt from trying to focus his eyes but he could make out the blurry navy blue and white of her dress.

“Aunty! Varun!” she shouted as she made her way towards Venkat. “All of you come here!”

His insides squirmed in anticipation of what was coming. She was going to complain about him standing alone, or maybe something he did when playing cricket. His friends’ words rang in his head, a cacophony of voices with Alar’s excited squeals presiding over them. 

She stopped when she reached a few feet away from him and waited with her hands tied behind her until the others arrived. Every step Mother took towards them felt an eternity long. He remembered how he had knocked over Alar’s cycle with his football a few weeks back. That was the only bad he had done to her. He had been wearing the same green shirt then as well. Maybe that prompted her to remember and she was going to—

“Look at what I found!” she exclaimed, thrusting a blur of black and blue in front of his eyes. A familiar black and blue. 

His glasses. 

He snatched it away from her, wearing them in a flash. It was his glasses, no doubt. Brown spots and dried salt caked the lenses allowing him to view an ugly image of the beach and the people around him. It was the most beautiful sight he’d seen all evening.

“Thank you Alar,” said Mother. “Thank you so much, dear.”

“It’s nothing,” she replied, hopping and twirling on her heel. 

“Good girl. Now Venkat has his glasses again,” remarked Aunt Arivai patting him on the back. Venkat felt warm for the first time the entire evening. “Can we go home now children? We spent about five minutes already.”

Varun protested, leaning towards the sea and in a moment, trotted away from their group. Aunt Arivai was quick to catch him by the arm.

“We’ll come back next weekend?” she offered and Varun stared for a moment after which he wore his slippers without whining.

They strolled on the footpath once again, this time searching for a cab. Alar was playing her game of hopscotch on the tiles, trying to persuade Varun into joining her. The gratitude slipped out of his mouth effortlessly. 

“Thank you,” he announced.

“I told you the waves wouldn’t have liked your glasses,” she said nonchalantly, hopping from tile to tile. “They dropped it back.”

“Yeah,” he said, smiling at her for the first time. “Glad to know the waves think like you.”

Music Notes

Written by Miriam Fernandez
Art by Pavel Danilyuk

Brielle knew she could always count on music. She would often grab her guitar and strum a few chords, humming as she played, sometimes a song that she knew or a melody she composed in just a few seconds. Soft sounds from her guitar came when she wanted to sing quietly, whisper a few words as she played different chords. Other times, she would play faster and faster, louder and louder until her siblings would come into the room and complain of the noise. 

Brielle loved the way music surrounded her life. It was so simple, so lovely to hear a few notes or the beat of a song when she walked through the neighborhood, listening to the music playing from the houses she walked by. Or when her friends played other instruments, inviting her to bring her guitar and join them as they played their favorite songs. 

Her parents had always encouraged Brielle to learn an instrument, whether it was piano or guitar or cello. Both of her parents were musicians and hoped that she would want to play music like they did one day, so when they realized that she loved music and would recognize the notes they played at a young age, they began teaching her to play guitar. Brielle had chosen that; she had wrapped her hands around a guitar and her parents knew she wanted to play the guitar. 

Now, she spent her days playing songs in the evenings, happily singing while strumming her favorite chords, hearing the beauty of every music note she played.