The Aletheia Journal

a literary & arts publication |

Feature: Nicole Nguyen

Nicole Nguyen is currently a student in the University of Houston’s College of Pharmacy. Her piece, ‘Peak’, is published in Volume 7 of The Aletheia.

Interview conducted by Adrienne Meyers, Associate Editor of The Aletheia.

The Aletheia: In ‘Peak’, you speak a lot about genetics and where the study of genes will take us in the future. Do these ideas come from topics you study in the pharmacy school, or do they spring from a more general sci-fi interest?

Nicole Nguyen: I have taken a class in genetics before, but what really made me excited to write this piece was that I could put my own spin on a popular concept. Society has always toyed with the idea of living forever, but what if it’s simply not possible? With all the medical advances, surely there would be a compromise. So, what is it about immortality that appeals to people? What I gathered is that it is not necessarily about the time, but increasing the opportunities to make memories and have experiences. Along those lines, I thought of experiences that are generalized to certain periods in a life span; awkward adolescence, declining with old age, and of course the “Peak” of adulthood. What if everyone could experience those times, and as with everything, what would be the downfalls? So in a general answer to the question, I believe that constitutes a general sci-fi interest I didn’t realize I had.

TA: What is the relationship like between your class work and your creative writing? Does the writing provide you with a chance to explore different perspectives, or does it work closely within your primary field of study?

NN: I would definitely say that my creative writing allows me to explore the line of “what if” thoughts that occasional come to mind, and while my study of pharmacy doesn’t directly relate, I notice it affects how I approach a subject. Since I’m pursuing healthcare, I like to view the situation from the point of view of the patient, or the person being affected. Considering the scenario from both sides I can address the positives and negatives of all angles and flesh out more details to make the piece more plausible.

 TA: Your writing is written in a very conversational voice. Are you writing as yourself or creating a character voice to write through?

NN: My intention was to narrate from the perspective of a typical person who is living out the aftermath of some intangible person’s design. While I didn’t rely on the factual knowledge from my classes, I did base what little scientific information I offered on how I believe patients see the aspects of healthcare they don’t understand. Similarly, here the voice belongs to a generalized character that lacks insight on how the chemical works. The narrator also speaks curtly, not giving the reader a chance to ask questions to reflect their lack of control on the situation as well.

TA:  How did you begin writing? Is it something you’ve always been interested in, or did your writing begin more recently?

NN: I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I have to be very inspired by an idea for something to actually be put down on paper. I don’t make time to write, rather if I happen to come across a concept I try and jot it down. Then when I feel like putting words together I try and decipher what my idea was and find the same inspiration. Usually the original focus of the piece is lost in side thoughts that branch out from my poking and prodding, but I like to write without restriction and see how the story molds in the end. All detours and deviations are welcome.

February Feature: Steven Asher

Steven Asher is a junior and an English/Creative Writing major at the University of Houston. He has been writing at about age ten and hasn’t stopped since, though this online feature with the Aletheia is his first publication. Steven always loved fiction in all forms, be it literature, film, theater or comic books and because of this, he is a strong supporter of local artists. Whether it be plays or musicals at a small theater, orchestra concerts, readings, local bands, he wants to support it. He thanks the Aletheia editors, for giving him this opportunity to be apart of it all.


Wordsworth to Wordsworth

by Steven Asher

            I don’t know what reading Wordsworth had to do with Mona keeping her hand over mine, as it cupped her breast in a hotel two years ago but that’s where it took me. I was taking the District Line down to Braidy’s place before we went to school and decided to pop the Crush on the ride over. He told me not to underestimate the little orange pill when he handed it to me in the small plastic bag.

“At it’s peak, it takes whatever it is you’re currently experiencing, a buried memory and connects the two in a series of emotions and images, sometimes making you relive entire memories themselves if the memory is a strong one,” he answered my question, but the look on my face must have colored me unconvinced because he capped the explanation with the phrase, “Shit works.”

I tried to recall the connections in my head the Crush connected together but it was hard at first. We had been on a trip in London our junior year led by the French teacher and Braidy had secretly invited one of his college friends, Mona. Braidy and I met her at the airport during our free hours instead of roaming the city. She was beautiful: green eyes, porcelain skin and ginger hair she insisted was “strawberry blonde.”  She was all these things and older than me.

Mona never got her own room but shared ours and ducked our French teacher when she came for the random “room checks.” One of us would coincidentally be in the shower when the teacher came looking and Mona would hide out in there. Mostly it was Braidy who in there with her but one night our teacher came for a second check after making her rounds and we panicked, Mona pulling me into the bathroom with her.

“Is this all you two do?” I asked, tapping my fingers against the sink.

“What did you think we were doing? Did Braidy tell you we were fucking?” Mona said, sitting next to me on the bathroom floor next to the running shower. Not a moments pause between the two questions.

“I don’t know what I thought.”

“Calm down dude, I was just fucking with you,” she said.

I didn’t really know what to say, mouth ready to spring with something to say but my brain was coming up completely empty. I ended up letting my eyes wander around, examining every inch like I’d never seen a bathroom. Braidy eventually opened the door to let us know we were in the clear.

I had just finished unpacking all of my clothes when the teacher came back one last time and Braidy pushed me into the bathroom again.

“You going to unpack your stuff?” I said after a minute of silence.

“Oh, so you do talk?” she said, smiling.

“I was just thinking, there’s enough room in the dressers and it’s not like Ms. Packer is going to check,” I tried smiling back.

“Sit next to me, I can barely hear you over the shower,” she sort of inched her body to the right and patted the floor next to her.

“I mean, if you’re going to be staying with us for the week, you might as well..”

“Thanks, but I usually live out of my suitcase during these kinds of things?”

It’s a phrase I would pass over at the time but would bring up later in the week.

The shower was low enough for me to hear the teacher asking Braidy why I was taking so long in the shower.

“He’s masturbating,” he blurted out.

Mona gave a snicker and I can only imagine what shade of red my face flushed. Braidy was always giving me shit for things, especially for me being straight edge for the first two years of high school.

“Being straight edge basically means no alcohol, drugs or sex,” I explained to Braidy outside the White Rabbit our freshman year. It was a local show for Ghost Town Electric and he wanted me to pop X so I could “fully experience” the light show that accompanied their sets.

“How’d you hear about Ghost Town Electric?” Mona asked.

“Oh,” I snapped, looking down at my vest to the GTE patch. “Well…”

Braidy knocks on the door this time and simply yells, “We’re good!”

“Go ahead and go, I’m going to actually take a shower now that I think about it,” she said, standing up.

“Sounds good,” I sit up but before I can even stand, she’s taking off her shirt. “Whoa!” I almost yell, “Wait until I get out of the bathroom first?”

I don’t look back on my way out but she makes a sort of “pfft” sound with her lips, which makes me look back to see her rolling her eyes with a smirk.

That GTE patch would end up draped over her chest later; she put the vest on after coming out of the shower in only a bra and shorts.

We watched TV together for the first time that night, some hour long drama on BBC that put Braidy to sleep and left Mona to put my arm around her as we sat propped up, at the end of the bed together. She held the cross at the end of her necklace in her mouth when she really focused in on something. I noticed the habit the first time her and I were in the bathroom together. I came back from the bathroom during a commercial break and put my arm around her again after she sat up from the bed headboard, expecting me to return.

“Sorry,” I said, my hand accidentally brushing her chest as it draped around her neck but instead of letting me pull away, she held it there and looked up at me. It was that look of opening a door and catching someone in the act of something but instead of being shocked with what she had found there, Mona had a stare like she had been expecting what she had found. If Braidy hadn’t been passed out due to bottles of cheap wine he smuggled in, we wouldn’t have… or at least, I wouldn’t have but we did. Braidy asked me how she was when we got home but I just told him the whole thing was a blur, which was the truth. The next day, when Braidy ordered two beers for Mona and him, I told him to make it three. We had found a place that didn’t card a few nights before and started frequenting it.

“Calm down, I’ll pay for it,” I tried putting Braidy at ease but it wasn’t until after he explained himself that I realized he was freaking out over me ordering alcohol for myself.

“And with such confidence,” Mona added in.

I later realized and told her that she was the result of that confidence.

“Not my usual pillow talk,” she said, “but I’ll take it.”

Mona had thick skin when I met her, so she never really talked about emotions. Which meant we never really talked about emotions but the night after we had sex, I told her that she made me happy. She told me I made her happy, right now. I didn’t have much time to question the afterthought because Braidy ended up making the cab driver pull over, so he could plant his hands to the pavement out the backseat and throw up, his lower half still in the cab. I got out without saying anything to Mona to make sure he was okay but he waved me off before I could touch him.

“Meter’s running,” the cabbie said.

“I’ve got the money, just hang tight. He’s throwing up, geeze.”

“Look at the balls on you, kid,” Mona said, looking over the top of the car at me.

“Don’t call me kid,” I threw back, a little more harsh than intended.

“Calm down, it’s just an expression.”

“Is that your solution for everything?”

“What?” she looked confused, not following my train of thought.

“You’re so laid back about everything.”

I let out a sigh and found myself leaning against the trunk of the car, Braidy still puking his guts out, insisting he was okay in between heaves. I look over to him and see Mona leaning against the trunk with me.

“Don’t take it as an insult, I’m impulsive,” she finally came out and said it for the first time that week. Problem was, she didn’t think that was an issue for me. Bigger problem was, I didn’t address that it was an issue for me. “I meant you make me happy right now and that’s enough for me,” she said, retracing our conversation back to where it derailed.

“I guess you’re right.”

“Are you guys fighting about me?” is what Braidy meant to say but it all comes out in one slurred phrase.

“No Braidy, you okay?” I ask.

“Mmmmyeah.” He says, throwing himself back in the cab.

“Let’s get you home buddy,” I say. “Come on,” I say and without thinking, I give Mona a kiss on the forehead through her bangs. She tugs me back, reaching into my coat pocket to pull me by my hand.

“What’s that?” I asked.

And without a moment’s hesitation she leaned in and said, “I really want to kiss you right now.”

“Right now?” I kind of chuckled but more out of confusion than humor before kissing her.

“What was that for?” I ask.

“You’re just a good person,” she says and kind of shrugs.

Not counting when we had sex, I kissed her twice in the week that I knew her. Once when Braidy was blowing chunks out the back of that cab and again the night we flew out from London, she was going to stay a few more days. Everyone was filing in at the airport and Braidy had just walked into the terminal after saying bye when she caught me by the arm and pulled me into her.

She didn’t even say bye after that, just kissed me, hopped in her cab and left.

Mona was my first, the ignition of sexual passion at the beginning of my high school years. In retrospect, that night was the start for all of what I had been putting off as someone who claimed “straight edge”. So, I guess I do agree with Wordsworth when he said that sexual passion is the strongest of them all when talking of the origin and creation of poetry.

“Huh…” the word was meant to be a thought but instead came out as an audible alarm to pull me out of my memories and the chain they created.

“Huh, what?” Braidy said, and it was only then that I realized I had made my way from the start of the District Line all the way to his side of town, to his apartment, up the stairs and to his front door.  I tried to suffice the explanation with Braidy’s phrase of “shit works” but he just said, “nah motherfucker, tell me about your trip.”

After throwing myself on his couch, I asked if he still knew Mona

“Well of course I still know her, you don’t stop knowing someone,” he retorted.

“No, I mean,” I stopped and hung my head.

He interrupts my frustration at his being a smart ass and tells me that he and Mona hadn’t spoken much in the past year. She had taken last summer to road-trip around the States, visited everywhere apparently. Braidy got halfway through describing her travels before retrieving a post card from his room. It was from the world’s largest catsup bottle in Illinois, attached was a picture. Mona stood next to it proudly with her hands on her hips, her hair blown wildly in her face by the wind. Apparently this was supposed to be the first of many but the rest were never sent out. Braidy said he got another one when she made her way to Singapore. I lament over the word Singapore for a second before Braidy decides to tell me she’s coming into town at the end of the week. He says he’ll get in touch with her then and see if she wants to hit up a bar or something.

“So Mona is where the Crush left you stranded?” he started to connect the dots.

I told him I don’t know why my mind went there but that’s the path my brain went down. Wordsworth to Mona? From poetry, to the poet, his perception of the world, man’s connection to nature, beauty, passion, strong passion, the strongest of passions, sexual desire, etymology of sexual desire, coming of age, high school, meeting Mona in this city, this city, revisiting now, admiring the skyline, not able to express my longing to return, much like a poet would, or the great “translators” for things we can’t properly articulate as Wordsworth would say, on the train reading this passage on poetry by Wordsworth.

“From Wordsworth to Wordsworth,” I say.


“From Wordsworth to Wordsworth,” I say.

“From Wordsworth to Wordsworth,” I say.

“From Wordsworth to Wordsworth,” I say, running the cycle over and over, each time the associations growing in complexity and number and…

Braidy snaps his fingers in my ear and I flinch, “Don’t relapse into the cycle, you still have to help me with this remember?”

I told him I’m sorry and rub my eyes before focusing in on the laptop in front of him.

“Wait, you haven’t signed up for next semester’s courses yet?” I ask.

He laughs and makes a smart remark about how not everyone does it the night the registration opens for them. I spent the rest of the week in my flat, sifting through possible plans for the summer. A few of us wanted to take a trip to the beach, so I started marking the possible weekends I could take off from work. I was reading through the end of a book for the third time when Braidy called me and said Mona wanted to go out with us that weekend. I had only ten pages left in that book but spent the rest of the night sifting through my closet to find something to wear.

“Calm down Rico Suave’” Braidy comments on my clothes as we walk towards the bar together.

“Piss off,” I tell him, half smirking.

We walk into the bar and Mona is sitting there with two other people, one guy and another girl. She stands up and gives Braidy a hug but pauses for a split second at me.

“Holy shit, London!” she finally says, so loud that half the bar looks over at us. We meander through a bit of small talk before I eventually ask how her trip went, but only after Braidy brings the subject up.

She saw everything, got arrested twice, spent a few weeks in Seattle after she ran out of money and lived in her car. Most of it was living in her car, when she passed through cities she knew nobody in, which wasn’t that often apparently. Braidy makes the comment that it’s a wonder she’s not dead.  She went everywhere, Seattle, Toronto, L.A., Houston, Miami, Amish country in Ohio, a concert at the Red Rocks in Colorado. The entire trip is explained in a single breath. The thought of who she saw at the Red Rocks crosses my mind in the middle of it all but Braidy interrupts me, ordering a round for the table and the conversation diverts to what he’s been doing since she left.

His anecdotes aren’t nearly as entertaining and take twice as long to get out.

“We actually just finished school,” he says, jabbing me in the shoulder.

“Really?” Mona’s eyes fix on me for the first time since she realized who I was.

“Yeah,” is all I manage.

“Maybe Braidy can stop slinging Crush and get a real job now,” Mona says.

“I’ve heard that stuff is nothing but terrible trips,” the guy next to her in a sloppy beanie chimes in.

“Not really, it just depends on the user and what’s being used as the current focus being paired with the memory,” I say.

“You’ve tried it?” Mona cocks her head slightly away from me.

“This morning actually!” Braidy proudly states, leaning over the table.

“What did it do to you?” the guy in the beanie asks.

“Nothing just…” I can feel Braidy’s eyes on me, “brought a sort of personal meaning and memory to some classic literature I was reading on the train.”

“Good memory or bad memory?” he asks and for some reason, even though I didn’t owe anything to this guy and Braidy was the only one who knew the truth of the situation, I had to be honest.

“I don’t know?” I say, looking at Mona. Her black shirt clinging tight to her chest. “Anyone got a cigarette?” I ask.

“Why don’t you ask the drug dealer?” sloppy beanie says.

“Why don’t you not point me out as a drug dealer in a public place,” Braidy says through his teeth. “Besides, I don’t smoke.”

“You don’t smoke?”

“No, I don’t smoke,” he says, leaning over the table to lower his tone, “because as much as I enjoy my pharmaceutical endeavors, I hate the idea of my breath constantly smelling like ash.”

“I’ve got one,” Mona says standing up, “I’ll join you.”

“I didn’t know you smoked,” Braidy calls after us.

“I don’t,” I say, unsure of who he was talking to.

“Just started,” she throws back.

“You got a light, love?” she says, motioning towards a guy leaning against the outside of the bar.

“You smoke but don’t have a lighter,” I remark.

“Sounds like me,” she says, lighting the cigarette in my mouth. She thanks the guy with another “love”, he winks at her and she flashes a smile.

“Yeah, I guess it does.” I say back.

“How do you figure?”

“I didn’t mean—”

“No, I know you didn’t. Remember, you’re a nice person,” she pushes me playfully.

“You remember that,” I chuckle.

“So now that it’s just you and me,” she says, “does your memory of me leave a good or bad taste in your mouth?”

“How did…”

“You looked straight at me when talking about your Crush trip and Braidy had that stupid grin on his face when looking at you he gets when he wants to say something so badly but he knows he shouldn’t.”

“Well…” I say and she looks dead at me, “it’s the whole going for a smoke without a lighter. I mean I didn’t think it was possible for someone to live ‘in the now’ anymore than you already were when I met you, but you found a way.”

“Works though doesn’t it?” she says, taking a long drag of the cigarette.

“For you, maybe. I could never be that whimsical.”

“You say that, but you’re nowhere near the boy I met back then and took his virginity.”

I almost choke to death, coughing out smoke, “You knew, huh?”

“You were seventeen, barely could look at me without blushing.”

“I guess you’re right,” I say.

The light at the other end of the street turns green and the flood of traffic is released.

“You’re more bold than I remember,” I say.

“That’s because I am more bold than I was when I met you,” she says, her dark red lipstick leaves stains on the filter each time she puffs.

“I think that’s why I’m not sure.”

“Of?” I can’t tell if she’s being coy or genuine.

“Of whether or not my memory of you is a good or bad one.”

“What does my boldness have to do with that?”

“Because… because there was always this gap between what you knew and what you could say or do and who I was as a person. Like you were a step ahead of me in life.”
“I am older, it’s kind of a package deal.”

“Yeah but then that makes me think that you didn’t enjoy yourself as much as I did all those years ago.”

“If that were true,” she drops the cigarette butt, “does that change anything for you?”

She snuffs the still lit cigarette with her heel and walks in the bar. I walk in just a few steps behind her, as I started my cigarette just a little bit after hers and have grown content my pace.


Spring Greetings

Reading Cover

 Hello to you all! We hope your semester is off to a great start. Here are some updates on what’s happening with the Aletheia Journal.

If you weren’t able to pick up a copy of our Fall 2013 chapbook, no worries! We have a digital copy available online over in the ‘Chapbook Archive’ section, and the Nook café on campus also has some physical copies for your viewing pleasure.

Spring is off to a great start! The upcoming chapbook is looking wonderful- you guys sent us fantastic work. We’ll be releasing the printed chapbooks on February 6th at our first reading of the semester. Readings this semester will again take place every first Thursday at Avant Garden, starting at 8pm. Those dates are: Feb 6, March 6, Apr 3, and May 1.

We’ll be posting updates online right here at and

or email us at


We hope to see you soon!

The Aletheia Editors



November Feature: Paris Jomadiao

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For November, we are featuring Paris Jomadiao: a visual artist and alumna of the University of Houston’s Fine Arts program.

Interview by editor Adrienne Meyers

The Aletheia: So, Paris, tell us a little bit about yourself (where you’re from, grew up, education).

Paris Jomadiao: Hello! I was born in the Philippines but grew up in Houston, TX . Although I wasn’t born in Houston, I definitely consider myself a native. I’ve been living here 21 years, and I just recently graduated with my BFA in Photography & Digital Media from the University of Houston.

TA: What brought you to Houston/ Center for Contemporary Craft residency?

PJ: During my senior year of undergrad, I began pursuing different opportunities that would allow me to continue my studio practice. I didn’t want to immediately pursue a graduate degree, especially after taking so long to complete my BFA.

By chance, I came across the residency program at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, and I felt that a residency would be a great way for me to build up my portfolio & immerse myself in my practice for the time being.

TA: Certain imagery seems to be visible throughout much of your work (trees, skulls, animals, people). What is the significance of these images? Some of your works are quite fantastical- are they based out of personal experience or primarily imagination?

PJ: A lot of my work deals the impact & significance of personal experiences;

I explore the possible purposes of our experiences and how this relates to our existence. A lot of the imagery is representative of prominent figures or concepts that stem from my own memories and experiences. The trees, for example, are used a lot in my work that deals with familial relationships and is a direct allusion to the idea of the family tree.

Altogether, the imagery in my work so far, especially in my animations, is used to construct whimsical worlds which act as retreats I like to bring my viewers into; they’re also representations of my experiences overall. These worlds I create are places where one would escape, confront, and attempt to resolve personal conflicts.

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TA: How did the cut paper work come out of your degree in Photography and Digital Media? What if any is the correlation between your photographic works and your cut paper works?

PJ: For me, artwork is equal parts process and concept, so I enjoy processes that allow me to work with my hands and do things manually. I began my photography and digital media degree doing manual, darkroom processed photography, but as the program became more catered towards digital processes, I lost my footing for a while. It wasn’t until one of my instructors introduced me to the process of stop-motion animation that I was able return to a more manual approach to my art making. I was actually introduced to cut-paper illustration when I attempted to pursue graphic communications, and I absolutely fell in love with the process. In a way, stop-motion animation allowed me to “rediscover” cut-paper and incorporate it into my work on a more conceptual level. Afterwards, I began experimenting more by utilizing cut-paper illustration along with other mixed-media techniques, primarily collage.

As far as a correlation between my photographic works and my current work, I would say that I still explore a lot of the same concepts as I did back then. I just think that now my work is a lot more approachable for the viewer and can be interpreted more ways; I think my photographic work was a lot more direct and restricting in that sense.

TA: In general, what is your process of working? How do you treat the shapes and materials in relation to your final product?

PJ: I usually start out with an image or idea in my mind and then explore whatever processes are best for achieving the final product. Not a lot of planning actually goes into my work; it’s both a good and bad thing. It’s frustrating at times, because the work can be a bit unpredictable, and it becomes harder to prepare for whenever something goes wrong. However, I do like the spontaneity that comes with this approach. A lot of times the final product will look so much more different than what I’d visualized in the beginning, and it’s really interesting to see how the entire piece turns out in the end.

I like to think that the materials I use relate a lot to the ideas I’m trying to explore. Paper, for example, is really interesting, because it’s seen mostly as a material onto which you draw or write, but the paper itself can be used to do so much more than that. I also like that despite it being a fragile medium, when treated a certain way, it can be quite resilient. It’s little details & qualities like these that I like to take into consideration whenever I am I working with particular materials, sources, or imagery. I also apply the same thought process when searching for collage materials.

For more information on Paris and her work, visit her website:

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September Feature: Colin James Sturdevant

Colin James Sturdevant is from Houston, Texas. He currently studies Creative Writing & English at the University of Houston. He enjoys the diversity of Houston and it’s rich literary community, and is more than glad to be a part of it. He is the Founder and Managing Editor of Houston & Nomadic Voices Magazine, a print based indie lit mag.


Some Boy’s Body Fed Corpus

by Colin James Sturdevant


There’s nothing more stressful than being what I call an ‘underage uncle’. The honorable right of passage of being an ‘underage uncle’ is when I’m left with my four or five year old nephew, and god forbid I forget his age since I decided to avoid his birthdays from the memorable and not-so-kodak-moment parties with children screaming their heads off. The images are a bit fuzzy, about the arts and crafts based birthday with three year olds. No one poked an eye out, but a boy decided to cut a girl’s hair and she shrieked a cry so loud my balls retracted.
Sadly, I still send the same toddler toy each following year. But the point is this: I’m in my twenties and sure as fuck can’t take care of myself, so I sure as hell can’t manage a child.
If I’ve planned on spending my wake-up-time of past noon hours to sip on whiskey and ‘work’ on academic papers: fuck it. If I want to go hang with friends: fuck it. If I want anything for myself: fuck it.

The best part of this weekend-I wake up early to the pounding front door of apartment 312 and the ringing of a door bell at eight in the A.M. I open my door to a wide eyed kid which I think is old enough to give up the tit as he literally has his whole set of fingers lodged in his mouth. My nephew-the nephew that’s the son of my sister-my estranged sister.
I eat cereal without milk, cereal that’s plain and bold and unsweetened, or I eat chips or a sandwich with a few-days-past-its-prime-ham, and so I think I won’t know what a child can eat compared to my fine collection of CPS-approved food.
“Have you eaten?” I ask my nephew, his fingers becoming removed from his mouth, innocently wiping spit onto the front of his shirt.
And he asks me, “What do you eat for breakfast?”
“Coffee and cigarettes,” I reply with a broken-lung-voice.
“What’s that on the television?”
“National Geographic channel,” I cough a smoky breath up.
“What is that place?” he pokes the screen that has crashing waves and Kawaii blue water.
“You must be kidding?”
“Kidding?’” he turns to me.
“I mean; you’ve never seen the ocean?”
“No,” he says as I decide not to light another cigarette.
“Never made sandcastles?” I motion a box-shape in mime like fashion.
“Nope,” he says, “Can we go?”

That’s where Jacob and I used to go before he fed the ocean with his body. The beach. There’s the scent of his morning shaved neck of Barbasol and the gel that he would stir his hair with that clings to memory. Even on “off” days I recall feeling his freshly grown in stubble I’d trace with my fingertips. I can remember him being beaten-crucified in Corpus Christi a few years back. Close to our, now my, apartment here in Portland, Texas where the breeze carries the scent of ocean water when strong enough.

I scan my homely apartment, the scattered articles from classes of past semesters littering each surface along with empty bottles of wine and laundry spread like satellites as if the great big bang went off inside. The stench I’m used to, a stench I’d get chewed out for if Jacob was still here, but I look at my nephew and remember the smell of what I thought was “gray” and tell him I’ll clean up so we can both go elsewhere.

“Like the beach?” he suggests.
“I guess,” I say and switch out a shirt for one that is supposedly clean since I last remember doing laundry.
I slap on some shorts after I drop my jeans, and he stares at my ankle.
“What’s that?” he asks.
“A tattoo,” I say.
“What is that?”
“Why do you want to know about everything?”
“Because you know everything,” he says.
“Wrong,” I laugh.
“But grown ups know everything,” he points out.

I look around the room and wonder if this is the habitat of a genius, turn to him, and ask, “Does this look like how most grown ups live?”
“Looks the way I have my room sometimes,” he tugs at his shirt, “I must be growing up. Becoming an adult.”
“I guess,” I toss a bag to him.
“I’ll get some cups to use as shovels.”
“To make sand castles.”
“I want a tattoo, too.”
“What would it be of?” I ask as I throw some chips and bottles of water into a plastic grocery bag, pile a few camping chairs against the wall I use for seating when guests visit, and slap an oversized straw hat on my nephew’s head that’s been stagnant in that damn “gray” and unworn for years crowned with crescents of dust.
“Maybe of you,” he smiles, “A cool grown up.”
“Even though I send you the same toy each year?”
“I like that you think of me.”

I don’t say a word back, and look to my nephew with a sigh. The words, ‘I like that you think of me’ hits me hard. Jacob said that all the time after dinner. I shake off the memory, images of Jacob, and focus on the present tense.

“Let’s go.”

He asks me who Corpus is while we are packing the car, and I tell him the name of the place we’re going is Corpus Christi, and he says it sounds like Jesus. I tell him it means ‘the body of christ’ like bread, the stuff they break at church, and he tells me he loves communion. That it’s like ‘snack time’. He loves the little cups of juice, too.


After a good fifteen minutes of tires hitting the road’s pavement, my nephew and I are sitting on the shore facing blue water. He traces his sandy fingers over my tattoo and hums what sounds like a hymn. A hymn they taught when I was child, ‘this little light of mine’.
“What’s it say?”
“Are you saying you can’t read?,” I look at him, shocked. “It should be a sin; children not being educated, freed.”
“I’ve never learned that three letter word,” my nephew looks embarrassed.
“They’re initials,” I tell him.
“What’re those?”
“Each letter is the first letter of a name of someone. These belong to someone that was dear to me. Still is. I guess he’s your would-be-uncle.”
“My would-be uncle?”
“Yeah,” I say and look to the horizon, the blue that touches blue.
“He died.”
“So, he’s in heaven?”
“Maybe,” I say.

I break out the cups I brought along so we can build a sandcastle, and load my cup with moist sand, flip it over, and remove the terrible tower mold with clumps of sand still stuck in the cup’s base. I hand it to him and tell him to try, and he does, but doesn’t fill the cup all the way leading to his disappointment.

“How’d my uncle die?”
“He was murdered,” I said as cries such as ‘God hates fags’ recanted in my mind.
“Jesus doesn’t like that. I don’t like that.”
“Moses,” I corrected him.
“Nothing,” I said.

“Here,” I tell him, and fill the cup over the top, plop it down, and lift the cup to reveal a more intact tower.
“Cool,” he says as he bobs his head up and down.
“What’s my other uncle’s name?” he asks me, putting sand on my ankle, softly patting it over tenderly as if treating a wound.
“Jacob,” I tell him.
“That’s a name from the bible. I know what it means,” my nephew says.
“What’s it mean?” I ask him.
“It means that God will protect him, hold up his heel as he walks,” my nephew said in a beautiful manner.
“Fuck that,” I said as I pulled a cigarette case from my pocket, pulled a single stick out, and light it up.
“God doesn’t give a shit,” I mumbled with the cigarette in my mouth, puffs of blue-white streaming from the end, “In fact, God might not even exist.”
“You shouldn’t say that,” my nephew growled.
“Well, why should your god hate Jacob? Supposedly ‘God’s’ Jacob. One of his many children. Your uncle.”
“What do you mean?” my nephew looked puzzled.
“Why would a group of grown men that should be wise in their years, pull Jacob away from me, beat his nose in, and tell us that their god, your same god, hates men like us?” my voice grew louder.
My nephew inched away.
“Sorry,” I whisper as I inch my way over to him.

I couldn’t get the faces of the men approaching Jacob and I out of my mind. They came at us like crusaders with torches and banners, their words forcing us back in fear. And I was blaming my nephew and his beliefs, and I shouldn’t. He’s just a kid.

“All I am saying is: how can a few fish and loaves of bread feed hundreds or thousands? It sounds like a crack-pot theory to me,” I tell my nephew.
“A crack-pot theory?”
“It’s not realistic. Like magic,” I tell him as the smell of gray rolls into his small frame and he coughs.
“Not if the fish and bread were really big, and then each piece could be just enough,” he says to me. And it calms me down. That logic, that innocent logic that makes sense of the fantastical.

I calm down, plug the burning end of my cig into the sand, and start to hum the first line of hymn my nephew was humming. We both pluck at the grains of sand by our laps, and the silence is still, the ocean water nearing us, and the foam white like textured milk.

“What happened to Jacob?” he asks me.
“Those men killed him. Broke his nose. And his good Christian blood dropped from his face, and his body fed Corpus.”
“Some boy’s body fed Corpus? And he died?” my nephew asks.
“Sounds like Jesus,” he said, “He must’ve been a great man.”
“He was.”

I didn’t tell him that my partner, his would-be uncle, died from taking his own life. I didn’t tell him how my trachea was nearly busted. I didn’t tell him how I miss Jacob’s embrace every morning, and how our, now my, apartment feels empty. I don’t tell him about how the cigarette stained walls bring his angry fits concerning my habit back, what I think of as the smell of “gray”. How Jacob’s voice is the Holy Ghost living in me these days. He wouldn’t understand that I loved Jacob the way I love my dear estranged nephew.

We sat there looking at the blue that touches blue, the taste of salt collecting on our skin, and my nephew humming that old hymn, and his hands patting my tattoo as if treating some wound, some ankle or heel that isn’t there anymore.


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