Cellar Door has published the creative output of the undergraduate student-body at Carolina since the mid 70s. We release two issues per year and welcome submissions of art, poetry, or prose from all currently enrolled students at UNC. If you have any questions or would like to inquire as to submission or involvement, contact us.
by Amanda Baldiga
He sat down on the couch. The skin beneath his eyes was dark, nearly purple. He wore socks that had been navy but were so dusty and thin they looked gray. It was dark and the TV flickered, garish candlelight. The walls of the room were bare except for a few unadorned nails. His hand landed on an open packet of nuts on the cushion beside him. He ate the remaining ones individually, examining each sphere and crunching down deliberately with his jaw.
“What’s wrong?” It was 4 am. She was in the living room, huddled under an afghan. Only her head and her hand, clutching the remote, were visible. He leaned against the doorframe.
“Nothing. I can’t sleep again. Go back to bed.”
He glanced at the television. “Is this what you watch every night? Infomercials?” Images of women wearing sweatbands and beaming men in aprons flashed by.
“Yeah. Silly, aren’t they?”
“They’re ridiculous. I can’t stand them.”
“Really?” She shifted under the afghan. “I like them.”
“How can you like them? They aren’t likable.” He thought about sitting down next to her but didn’t move.
“I don’t know. They’re always so cheerful.” She turned back towards the figure of a pockmarked woman talking to an earnest Cindy Crawford. “Go back to sleep.”
He held his finger down on the Channel + button. Images raced each other, studio audiences and boxed sets of “I Love Lucy” and attractive families making pancakes while they roasted turkeys in a single sleek machine. The sound of the TV was barely audible. His eyes focused and unfocused as his finger pushed down.
“I can’t do this anymore. I can’t.” She jerked the locket around her neck back and forth on its chain. Her skin bulged as she pulled it tight.
“You can’t do what anymore?”
“Be here, with you. You barely leave the house. You should talk to someone- it’s selfish, do you know that? What you’re doing is selfish,” she said. He watched her, hoping the taut chain burned her neck.
“Selfish? How am I selfish? You’re not making any sense, stop yelling.” He kept his voice even and loud.
“I’m not making sense? What do you mean I’m not making sense? Don’t you dare tell me what to do, I’ll yell if I want to.” She dropped the chain.
He got up from the couch. “This is idiotic. I’m going to bed.”
“I can’t do this anymore, I feel like I’m suffocating.” Her hands spread.
“Jesus Christ, calm down. You’re being ridiculous,” he said, watching her sway.
“It’s you, you’re suffocating me. I need to breathe, I need to get out -“
“Shut up.” She looked at him, matched his gaze, until he felt self-conscious and walked into the kitchen.
He paused on Channel 131. A woman with lustrous blonde curls cocked her head and smiled at him. He turned up the volume as she said “Call the toll-free number on your screen within the next ten minutes to order. Trust me. It’ll change your life.” A number flashed on the screen. He picked up his cell phone and wallet from the coffee table.
“Come to bed,” he said, leaning over her.
“Then talk to me. Look at me. This is ridiculous.” He looked at her profile. She stared straight ahead. He waited but she didn’t budge. He went to their room and made the bed, cut his nails, sat on the trunk under the window and read a program from a play they saw two years ago. He leaned against the doorframe and looked into the living room. The TV was flickering and tears were falling thick into her lap. Everything was silent.
Within two weeks, the second bedroom was full. Juicers, two exercise machines, hair curlers, several types of moisturizer, an inflatable clown, a deck awning, four closet organizers, a grill. He unwrapped each package as it came and arranged the items into towers forming a rough circle. He left the packaging materials in the center of the room. After everything he ordered had been delivered and was in place, he sat cross-legged in the middle pile. The crunching of styrofoam and popping of bubble wrap echoed as he shifted position. He built low walls made of cardboard and used tape, concentrating. In an hour, he was surrounded by a barrier that came up to his chin. He looked around him and pulled his knees to his chest.
by Katie Jansen
Come out with me tonight, Alex’s text reads. We’re celebrating the end of an era.
So I do, even though we are a couple of lightweights who feel nicely buzzed after only two beers, even though we both find the bar scene laughable. I do it because that’s the way things are with Alex: once he gets an idea in his head, you go along with it.
It is so like him to call the past however many years of our lives “an era” – to Alex, everything is more grandiose and important than it appears at first glance. Everything is an opportunity, an adventure.
He has that sparkle in his eye when I push open the grimy door to the bar he’s chosen. The look is mischief combined with visions of grandeur. “David, my kind sir,” he greets me. He’s acting even more jovial than usual, completely ignoring the fact that come tomorrow he’ll be halfway across the country for basic training, and if he survives that he’ll be shipped off to who the hell knows what third-world country, and if he survives that he might come back to visit. But it won’t be the same.
“Three words,” Alex says, nodding to a girl standing at the bar.
It is a game we play, or rather, that Alex plays and I participate in: three words to describe the object in question. No explanations allowed. The girl is dressed in tiny ripped shorts, and she is leaning against the bar on her elbows while surveying the room with a cold stare.
“Duck-faced,” I decide. “Condescending…and tragic.”
Alex furrows his brow, pretends to be confused. “Oh. I was gonna say my next girl.”
We sit for a while and discuss anything that is not the impending flight than Alex will board in the morning. We have been friends since fifth grade, which sounds like a cliché or an exaggeration, but in our case, it’s true. The only hiccup we’ve had is when we entered middle school and I was trying so desperately hard to be cool. After Mike Peterson left me in the dirt (quite literally), Alex picked me up, dusted me off, and showed me what being cool really meant. It wasn’t about being a football star, but instead about charisma, about finding adventure, about being someone who was exciting. Someone like Alex.
Alex always has crazy shenanigans, and I’m always along for the ride. Sometimes he calls them “entrepreneurial endeavors,” like the time in seventh grade we sold Air Heads out of our lockers until the cafeteria shut us down for being in competition with them. Other times they’re just plain off the wall, like the time in tenth grade when he bought two tuxedos at Goodwill and planned out an entire photo shoot. The shoot was going to involve performing bizarre activities while wearing the tuxes. Slip ‘n’ slide in tuxes, grocery shopping in tuxes. That plan came to an unfortunate end when we decided to begin with playing paintball in tuxes. Although we went to different colleges, we stayed close, driving the half hour to see each other at least once a month, discovering drinking, dancing, girls.
But now we are both 24, that precarious age where you’ve been a college graduate for a couple years and if you haven’t yet found something permanent to do with your life, you’re approaching the brink of major failure. For a while there, we were both back at the restaurant we worked at in high school, but while I was busy studying for the LSAT, Alex went and signed up for the Army.
It’s not like in the old days, when going off in the Army was not only a civic duty but also glorious, romantic, and sentimentalized, something you did with all your buddies. Now it’s a choice – a choice where buddies leave behind buddies, where sons (and daughters) leave behind mothers. I mean, I know someone has to do it, but I never thought it would be someone I know. Or let me rephrase and say I never thought it would be Alex.
Maybe it’s what he wants, but I’m worried it’s one of his whims. I study his face, searching for the cloud cast over it, the silent signal that something isn’t right. But no, it’s glowing, his face is pink and smiling and a faint sheen of sweat is gathering on his temples from the beer.
He leans in conspiratorially. “Three words to describe this place.” It’s one of those nameless joints, one we haven’t been to before.
I look around and above me, pretending to think. “Dismal. Bleak. Depressing.” I immediately hate myself for being a cynic, for not being the life of the party and giving Alex a last night to remember, but he just shrugs. He’s used to this from me.
“Bleak, eh? Been reading Dickens lately, old chap?” He smiles, shoves away from the table and goes to get us another round of beers even though we both know we don’t need any more.
On the walk home, I want to talk about life but the words stick in my throat as though I’m eating an unmanageable caramel apple, one of those monstrosities you can buy at the fair. Alex was the one who got me to go on all the rides when we went in sixth grade, and he didn’t even make fun of me for being afraid. My place is on the way to his, and we halt awkwardly in front of my complex, hands shoved in pockets, toes scuffing the cement.
Alex squints in the yellow glow of a nearby streetlight, waves his hands in front of his face dramatically as though he’s being blinded. I look up into the light, see the silhouette of a moth fall dizzily from the sky.
“I’ll talk! I’ll talk!” Alex jokes. “All right, Mr. Lawyer – I’m cutting your sentimental soliloquy short. No pulling the heartstrings of juries today.”
I want to remind him I’m not due to take the LSAT for another month, but then he says, “Three words.”
There is no prompt attached to this assignment; it is completely open-ended. And three words is just not enough. I can’t say I love you because there is not enough room to explain, you know, platonically. Like the brother I never had. Women can say I love you and that’s just assumed, but with men there can never be enough clarifications. I can’t tell him I’m worried about how dull and mundane my life will surely become without him. I can’t ask, Is this right? and effectively question every decision he’s made in the past year. But this is the way Alex wants it, so I embrace him – more of a clap on the back – and say, “Take care, bro.”
Alex gives me one last salute and turns away. I should turn the opposite direction, head into my apartment, but instead I watch him. Is it just my imagination, or does his posture slump as he puts his hands back into his pockets? I watch him until he becomes just a ghostly figure in the distance, nothing more than the silhouetted moth. Three words ring over and over in my head: an era ends.
He kicked the door open glaring at
my flaunted smug.
“Here,” he hissed, slapping
a plate of secrets onto the table and
demanded that if I was so damn starved,
stop staring at him and eat it already.
I licked each one
snaking my tongue through
foreign, sandy peach chap stick,
oily, wormy morals,
vinegary dried blood,
briny, charred aspirations
spewing it back onto the plate.
— Jessica McAfee