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March 2023

Image by Max
Wallpaper for a funeral
by Vallie Lynn Watson
Image by Jon Tyson

On Playing god
by Kalie Johnson 

I remember a rocking chair before bed, my father shushing me on his lap, a smell I would later realize and welcome as marijuana. He slipped away before I was asleep, but I pretended I was out, so I would no longer need him. Memory is painful. I think if I could remember everything, I would sleep to pass it all. Too little to remember; no real pain in sleep, but then I suppose there are dreams. I have been told that dreams do not mean anything, that they only depict what we were thinking of seconds before we fell asleep. I rebelled against the notion that you cannot create, that nothing is new or original, just recycling and mantras of repetition until I decided I could not play God. And then, we always dream; I do not remember most of them.


On Giving Up on Others

I dream I live inside my father like Jonah inside of that whale. In his stomach acid, I sit on a slowly-dissolving, sugar-sucked sour gummy worm and try to reach his lungs, unaware or perhaps blissfully ignorant that lungs do not connect to stomachs. I begin to liquify, burn with every stomach convulsion, watch my foot crumble like the macadamia cookie nearby. I grapple-hook with spaghetti up his stomach walls, become the hero from every childhood film. He coughs the unmistakable smoker cough and I fall again and again, but it is not a bad dream, just a tired argument. I converse alone, spew facts on cigarettes and slip angrily into stomach acid. I release from the walls and begin to swim in my father’s meals, dipping beneath broccoli stalks and tater tots. He sings and the sound is muffled, but calming. Familiarity in his raspy voice melts me more.


On an Identity Crisis

I dream my grandmother is in pain, a cactus cry in the middle of the night like the one time before. No one hears it, but me. Again, she shakes and grips her blankets to protect herself, but she is angry, absent, weak, not the woman I know. I touch her shoulder like I did the last time and instead of swearing she met an angel, when she wakes, she sees the devil. Instead of crying and holding me in her arms, she screams deeper than when she was asleep, her fingers eating my skin to get away from me. She trembles into a bottle of melatonin, slips too many into her still-screaming throat and pushes herself into the corner of the bed. She speaks in tongues and I understand it now; I go back to bed.


On the First Break-Up

I dream I am touching a stingray at the aquarium, but it is only me this time. There is no lingering cocoa butter or summer sweat gluing my hand to yours, there never will be again. Naked now, I ease into the kiddy pool. The stingray scatter and push to the edges of the caged water. I understand the rules, lay down in the middle of their home, my nose right above water, and I spread my arms to be a starfish, fingers webbing to be offered to the un-barbed stingray. They warm up to me and begin to glide over my body, slip over my stomach, over my hips, around my legs, their fluttering edges tingling my forehead, wrapping themselves in my twisting, seaweed hair. I am not afraid now, even alone. They cover me silent and unaffected, a gift I do not deserve. I begin to scream, feel them scatter from my body, and I stand, dripping slimily, determined to save them all. I scoop into the water and grab a shaking, fearful stingray and throw it into the ocean, an ocean that has suddenly appeared, an ocean I have never seen. I am violent, not cautious, lobbing stingray into the ocean and shaking. Some do not make it into the water, but land on the sand and dry up like sugar-sucked lemons on hot summer pavement. I ignore death out of desperation to empty the cage, but as soon as I throw one, more appear. I look down at my feet and there is one small stingray, who is still barbed. I push myself toward the edge of the pool, back to the aquarium, but slip instead. The stingrays are greedy now and begin to cover me.

On Dying in Dreams

I dream the same dream, watch every time, never learn. A series of logs break lose, bowl me down, and I break under the first log. It rolls over my body, thick and fast. It reels over me too determined to live on and then suddenly, as if none of it happened, there is another one. And another one. A cycle. I realize I am drowning under the freshly-milled logs, being crushed like an empty can of soda, shattering against the weight of a dying forest. It smells like pine, but scratches my skin. There is a brief second of that blue sky, of the thought of maybe, but it does not last. Hope is my greatest fear. I fight to get back up, but eventually, my eyes accept the rough bark and I am strobe-lit into passivity as the logs increase in speed, wear me down to the comedic size of a cartoon character. Except here, I am dying. Outside of my dream, I am sweating, wrapped up in a pamphlet of blankets, pressed against the wall, and I begin to cry. It is the only time I cry when I am asleep.


On Loss of Willpower

I dreamt last night that I was curled up in the hook of his body under my half-out Christmas lights. He didn’t speak, just held my face and ran his butterscotch fingertips from the broadness of my forehead to the line of my nose and around my lips to stroll beneath my jaw. He tilted my head back down and cupped my cheekbones. He told me he loved me again and when I did not respond, he told me my cheekbones were tree trunks, that they were carvable, scarrable, the perfect place to write his name. Because he was mine and I was his. He never wanted me to forget him he said, so he pulled out a pocket knife and carved his initials into my left cheekbone. It didn’t hurt at all.


Kalie Johnson is a 25 year-old living near Chicago on her way to get her MSW to work in communities. She's published in BW's "The Mill," California State's "Watershed Review," “Fatal Flaws Literary magazine,” "The Bookends Review," and "Coffin Bell Journal." When she’s not writing, she enjoys traveling, hiking, roller skating, and camping.

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