To telescope, we begin with 300 words, then slice the word count in half for each successive section. We stop when the numbers stop dividing evenly. This week, four Nass writers telescope the word “cavity.”
Charlie Nuermberger (cn0260)
It’s really beautiful, under the gas station canopy lights, when snow falls, and Emmylou Harris plays on the radio, and Luci gives me the first hit of her disposable vape. I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham, says Emmylou.
A hot January. Snow runs to slush then wetness and antifreeze at my feet. Her vape crackles softly. It’s grape flavored, says Luci.
Under the canopy lights, we can barely see the ordered rows of loblolly pulpwoods, which project themselves interminably far into the dark. They’re whispering, just out of earshot in this noise-dampening snow. Everything keeps telling itself how beautiful it all is. The snow pats the ground with snow words, and the canopy lights hiss in their own cryptic language. An advertisement plays on the small screen of the gas pump. The gas gurgles then stops.
We haven’t been drinking this time. We haven’t been smoking. And we wash our hands in this not unusual but maybe uncommon occasion of abstinence. It’s like we forgot about it, I tell Luci. Almost a million charged particles irradiate the hollow space between us. Anyways, it’s beautiful.
So we drive into the night. The hard night, the warm night, the night that’s become mostly vacant and thin between my fingers. We leave the pulpwoods and their uncanny orderliness that actually scares us and sets us off running like animals.
By the time we get to the tunnels, which channel deep into the mountain like sacral lines, the snow has turned completely to rain. I know the way, in the dark, through the rain, to a fourth tunnel all covered with knots of brown mile-a-minute. Luci and I enter the ventilation tunnel like virgins, in the dark, which has already been pierced almost a million times, as if by radiation.
In the evening, Sam tells me about what happened to Faith’s brother.
It’s Thursday, Sam says. All his roommates go out, but Faith’s brother stays in, just getting piss-drunk. He leaves the apartment, Sam says, drives west, and at some point, he gets to the mountain; so he climbs. And he goes up some path, up to some hilltop. He can see the whole valley: the campus, the town. The quiet houses, the Thursday night. He wants to go higher, to get a better view. Luckily, there’s this electrical pylon, a whole line of them. Sooner or later, he touches something he shouldn’t have. Gets electrocuted. Falls fifty feet. His friends see he’s not at home, but they think he’s out in town. Some jogger finds him in the morning.
Jesus, I say.
Couldn’t happen here, Sam says.
Not enough parking spaces. Not enough apartments to get drunk in.
Her cat died almost a year ago, but when Luci takes her antiarrhythmics, she drinks from a mug that says, “Life’s Better With a Cat.” Big swallows. Peach-flavored wine.
Even more rain tonight, and it tears apart the crabgrass lawn; it rivers down the slope. We don’t know where all the rainwater goes, where all the wine goes. Someone turns on Rockin-New-Years-Eve, and Ryan Seacrest is also hopelessly, stumblingly drunk. Everywhere you look, someone says.
We clean each other into long, boyish bodies;
we leave faucets at a drip.
Overnight, pipes freeze.
A vampire bat suckled my toe in the dream;
A mist off the water called to say I love you.
Alexandra Orbuch (ao3980)
You were planted in a cavity in the soil, patted down by gentle human hands, wrinkled from years of tending to you, to your stately, trumpet-shaped white petals littered with pink accents and your rising stem and lace-shaped leaves; they potted you when you were just a handful of buds, huddled protectively inward. They unfurled slowly as you became comfortable with the delicate hands, and now you inch closer to the sun with each passing dawn. The hands never stray too far, the wrinkles on their palms intersecting and dispersing in unending patterns because they have been with you for so long; for the growing and the wilting, gathering the petals from your darkened soil and tending to the ones that open, facing the sky’s countenance. You can’t say thank you—at least not in words. But your incremental growth and vibrant petals are thanks enough. They know that when they tend to you, you flourish, and when they haphazardly sprinkle you with water or forget to position you by the sun-drenched, blue windowsill in the sitting room, you feel the cool shadow of their absence. They don’t often forget you though. But the pale yellow orchid that sits across the road that you lock eyes with through the window has a different tale to tell. Shriveled yellow and green leaves and wilted petals spotted with brown envelop her. The human hands around her grasp the tassels on the curtains day after day but leave her untouched. Sometimes they splash water on her soil. Other days, they tilt her towards the sun. But on most, she sits in the shadowy corner of the counter, just out of reach of the light. Soon dark brown overtakes her pale yellow, and her stem atrophies, descending into the cavity from which she sprang.
You were planted in a cavity in the soil, molded by gentle human hands, wrinkled from years of tending to you. You inch closer to the sun with each passing dawn, the hands never straying too far. They have been with you since you were just a seedling. You can’t say thank you – at least not in words. But your growth is thanks enough. They know that when they tend to you, you flourish, and when they haphazardly sprinkle you with water or forget to place you in the sun, you feel their absence. They don’t often forget you, but the pale yellow orchid that sits across the road has a different tale to tell. Shriveled leaves and wilted petals spotted with brown envelop her. The human hands around her leave her untouched. Soon brown overtakes pale yellow, and her stem atrophies, descending into the cavity from which she sprang.
You were planted in a cavity, molded by gentle human hands. They have been with you since you were a seedling. You can’t say thank you, but your growth is thanks enough. The yellow orchid across the road has a different tale to tell. Shriveled leaves and wilted petals envelop her. The human hands around her leave her untouched. Soon brown overtakes yellow, and her stem atrophies, descending into the cavity from which she sprang.
The yellow orchid across the road. Shriveled leaves and wilted petals envelop her. The human hands around her leave her untouched. Soon brown overtakes yellow, and her stem atrophies, descending into the cavity from which she sprang.
Beth Villaruz (bethanyv)
I know my mother has always regretted getting me that toy dentist set when I was five, but this is a new low, even for her. The text says: Ruth, I signed you up for a matchmaking service. It cost $100. Don’t make me regret it. Maybe you’ll find someone to fill your cavities. Hahaha.
Gross. Ew, mom, I text back. It’s outlined in old-person-Android green. God. You’d think she’d be happy I’m the best pediatric dentist this side of the Hudson. I’m referral only. I was voted “Most Painless Cavity Filler” at the Kids’ Choice Physician Awards three years consecutively. (Okay, that’s not a real thing, but I’ve never made a kid cry). But my mother has been trying to marry me off since I finished dental school, as if I need to add another three letters to my name.
Another buzz. I click my phone open again. You’ll do it, right? A second message appears. You just seem so lonely these days.
I’m not responding to that. Lonely my ass. I know that she had a daughter in the first place just so she could eventually plan a wedding, and I’ve failed to deliver.
I look at my inbox—and right there at the top, subject line surrounded by heart and sparkle emojis, is a message from TrueLove Perfect Match, Inc. I glance at the clock in my monitor’s bottom corner. Definitely at least 15 minutes until I have to check out another kid’s teeth. Enough time to fill out a matchmaking profile, certainly.
Name: Ruth Kincaid. Easy enough. Profession: Dentist. And a damn good one. Hobbies: Dancing, LEGO, Westerns. A rare combo that had failed to get me married thus far. My special skill: I didn’t know what to say. Eventually, I settled on filling in the gaps.
I assumed the whole thing would be stupid, and for the most part, it was. The first match was awful, a bumbling accountant with no sense of humor who was definitely not worth my mother’s hard-earned money. The second was fine, but too into theater for my taste. But the third—oh, the third. Tall. Well-dressed. Shared my distaste for soda. Knew how to approach a dance floor. But best of all, the matchmaking company had used the last of my mom’s membership to set me up with another dentist. It was the first match I’d cared to continue seeing, and three days after our first orchestrated date, we’re drinking sugar-free cocktails while the sun sets.
“Good day tomorrow,” I say. “Doing a bunch of fillings, seeing my best patients.”
“A good day?” he asks. I begin to nod, until he shocks me with a tentative follow-up: “I hate filling cavities.”
My jaw drops, revealing perfect teeth.
“Nice maw,” he says, grinning.
I close it indignantly. “Filling cavities is the foundation of dentistry. It’s a common task, but you wouldn’t be able to do anything without that skill! How can you hate filling cavities?”
“How can you love it? You’re fixing rot!”
I down the rest of my drink. “Wait,” he says. “Open up.” I do, suspiciously.
“I think… I think you might have a cavity.”
He took care of the cavity himself, even though he hated it. We shared a kiss under the fluorescent office lights. So Mom was right—the matchmaking did fill the cavities in my life, in more ways than one.
Daniel Viorica (dv5925)
I’ll write this as an elegy, but I’m not yet sure for what.
I started on Zoloft two months ago. It felt necessary; I couldn’t be alone because there was something crawling in my throat. Even anxiety became an escape. Better to lose time than to feel it dropping upon me.
Heavy. Almost like rain.
At first there was nothing. Sleep wouldn’t fill me in the evenings. I’d lie in bed, too tired to move, too tired to read. When I had a headache I would be too nauseous to turn around, so I’d lie face-up with closed eyes.
I woke up each morning not knowing when in the night something had changed.
The first thing I noticed was a shimmer: an error in the dark. The air above me laced with ripples, wide and layered. But invisible somehow. My sheets melted under me. I felt warm and was thinking when I vanished.
So now I could sleep again. And now the pit in my throat was gone, but it was cold outside, and the light in my classrooms thickened, I felt my head trailing against the sunlight, my eyes going grey. On weekends there was nothing I could do except drift in and out. Put my head down at one, maybe. Then wake back up at five.
This went on for weeks.
At one point I stopped taking it. Then went back on. Called a friend for advice. Started again, with a lower dose.
Whenever I got asked if it was working I just said I don’t know. Sometimes got told to stay on it. Sometimes that I should stop. Maybe switch. But always, don’t worry. It’s subtle. Maybe impossible to tell.
Every day I knew: I’ll open my eyes. Today will be the day that changes my life.
In the morning I picked up the pieces. Material and immaterial: clothes on the floor, and pens and books and notebooks. But also emails and texts. Regrets from the haze before sleep.
I had trouble with these. They seemed very real.
Last semester, I felt the same way during all my lectures. I flipped through my notes at the end— sometimes they were neat, sometimes illegible.
Can we ever tell how we’re doing in the moment?
A while ago I read Milton—or I was supposed to. I only remember one thing. Paradise Lost tries to capture impossibility. Tries to imagine a state now lost to us. Syntax shattered. Fallen language pushed past what language can be.
I don’t know how it happened every morning: waking up, putting on clothes. Out of my head and into the world.
Stepping outside to see the sky. Blossoms just breaking from the trees.
When the air is warm and soft, life feels numinous. Pleasant and uncomfortable. Kept seeing people I knew, one after another. And I realized each one of them has a world in their heads. Every person, each stranger a possibility.
In Lund, we came across a runestone on a hill, just sitting there. A thousand years old. Meaningful if illegible. Carved in granite.
I teared up. Here’s a world that can still surprise us, sometimes.
Want to know a secret? I planned this piece from the start. A rhetoric of change. First nothing. Then richness leaking in, then color.
In the end I can’t be sure. The sun is cold today but bright.