Valerie Pavilonis


11:53 p.m. on a Sunday night and I still have a math worksheet on vectors to finish. I like to run my fingers over the graph paper. When I get my cup of strawberry ice cream with cookie dough, I watch as the pink cream melts onto the paper.

The pieces of cookie dough swim in the thick ice cream soup. I don’t like strawberries but I love strawberry-flavored things. Strawberry frosting. Strawberry cheesecake. Strawberry mousse. Strawberries themselves are too sour. They remind me of long afternoons spent with my uncle picking strawberries in orchards that feel now like calculated, alternate realities — landscapes I touched with my feet and left behind.

Whenever my uncle took me to the orchards during a school break he did so to escape the chaos of everyday news. And yet, in the middle of the strawberry fields, he would take out his phone and scroll through the news.

“Sometimes it’s inescapable,” he’d whisper. I listened to the stories rolling off his tongue. The tragedies came smooth as cream. I wanted to feel sad but then the next one came before I could breathe.

As he read statistics of wildfires and shootings and deaths, I stared at the rims of his thick eyeglasses and how they enclosed his dark eyes. In the frames of glass, I could see the strawberry fields.


“Where are you from?” my classmate’s mother asks me as I’m walking to the bus. “Zara. Such a pretty name.”

What do you mean? I want to ask. My name is not beautiful. It is just my name. I want to blend in, to be uncharacteristic, to be a detail within a landscape and not the landscape itself. I realize I still haven’t answered her.

“I was born in California.”

“No, I mean where are you from?” She puts an emphasis on the word, and the letters seem to lodge in my throat.

I stare at her. Most days, I would answer quickly, but I do not want to give her a lesson in the lineage of my skin.

Ahead of us, I see elementary school kids playing on the tire swings and slides. One of them drops an ice cream cone overflowing with chocolate ice cream. I hear his gasp and then the crunch of his foot stepping on the bark chips and fallen waffle cone.

I imagine that the chocolate and bark chips bleed together, becoming one.


“I don’t know why I can’t write complete things anymore,” I tell my sister, as we lie on our backs in our driveway.

I don’t know if this story is fiction or truth, if the two seep into one another more than anyone wants to admit.

“Because no one thinks complete thoughts,” she says. There are things I remember, like the time I tried to play dodgeball in seventh grade and fell to the gym floor. I remember staring at the ceiling, the bright gym lights blinding my eyes, wondering why we look up each time we fall down. And I remember reading poems on airplanes that gnawed at my chest, poems that were concise and haunting, words that inched easily beneath my skin. I remember reading through my college application essays again and again, scrutinizing the commas, the word choice, the rhythm of the sentences because I was afraid, because I wanted so badly to move away. I remember sitting in parks and sometimes I don’t remember where and sometimes I choose to forget where because I don’t think it matters much. In every space I will find people who populate it and I will imagine their stories, never knowing them. I do not want to know them. I do not know where I am from.

It is enough to know there are possibilities. A graph sloping upward. Exponentially.

We’re lying on the concrete and the plastic white spoon with residue of coffee ice cream still sits in my mouth, ajar.

“Maybe coffee ice cream is bad so late,” my sister says. “Don’t you want to sleep?”

“No, I could drink some iced coffee after this.”

“You’re an owl.”

I watch the moon; as my eyes close, it dulls, recedes into the sky.

More than anything, I want to be awake, to be seen.

Meghana Mysore