1st Place Poetry Winner, "The New Frontier"
How to Be Houseless
by Phillip Larrea
Take care of your teeth- that’s the first thing to know.
Everything else is fungible.
Second, own a good pair of medium-sized scissors;
large enough for your head, small enough for your nose.
Third, a sixteen-ounce water bottle is best.
More is too heavy, less not enough for hot days.
Fourth- talent. A guitar or violin, if you play. If not, learn.
You have time, and nobody likes someone who just flat begs.
Personally, I prefer to set up near a Starbuck’s.
They have electricity, and bathroom doors that lock.
On a good day, I can wash up and recharge my
Cell phone and laptop. Don’t be surprised.
I never said I don’t work for a living. I got family, too.
Which reminds- good to set up a Paypal account.
Oh… find yourself a really big towel. It can double as a pillow.
Now, some of my well-to-do friends have bicycles. Nice.
Libraries are not always in easy walking distance these days.
As for me, I’m rich. Got a bike, backpack AND a bedroll.
But, you know, I’ve worked hard, saved my money.
Even used to check into a hotel now and again.
For a treat. Can’t do that anymore. They don’t take cash.
No worries though. I’ll be down in sunny San Diego by November.
Back up here, cooling my jets in Half Moon Bay by mid-June-
God willing and the cops don’t lock me up, that is.
Look, I’m just saying- not a bad life, but let me tell you what-
You got to take care of your teeth- that’s the most important thing.
1st Place Prose Winner "The New Frontier"
By Catherine Masaoka
Laura leaned back as a car turning the corner illuminated her face with the twin beams of its headlights, pushing herself down in the seat and turning her face away. When the street grew dark and quiet once more, she shook out another cigarette from the box and lit it with a flick of her thumb, then threw both the lighter and the pack into her purse. The house she watched was warm with muted lamplight, and the windows glowed in the darkening gloom of the fall night. She had watched from her car for the last hour, holding her breath whenever she saw him walk by the window as he made his way through the family room, into the kitchen, back to sit by the board game he and his kids were playing. With each glimpse of his face, each smile and laugh that she saw, her anger grew.
She had first met him at work, his charm and confidence drawing her to him like a moth to a flame. Coffee turned into lunch, which turned into drinks after work, and then she had invited him over to her apartment for dinner. She had never felt so connected to anyone, so relaxed and happy, and as she had been stirring the spaghetti into the boiling pot of water, he had pulled her into his arms and kissed her as the steam billowed up around them. Evenings of romantic dinners, relaxing on her couch watching a movie, taking a half-day off from the office on a whim so they could drive out to the coast, each scene echoed in her thoughts as she watched through the window.
The two boys were sprawled across the couch as their dad rolled the dice and moved his piece across the board. Laura imagined that she could hear their laughter, and her eyes narrowed and her lips tightened into a scowl. A co-worker had revealed that he was married, happily married according to everyone, with two adorable little boys and a wife that made the best potato salad every year at the company picnic. The coworker had sighed dramatically, fanning herself as she leaned casually over the cubicle wall. “Too bad, huh? He’s a hottie. Annette’s a lucky woman.”
“Yeah,” she had answered, her mind blank. Her breath had been loud in her ears, her hands gripping the armrest of her chair so hard that her knuckles were white. There had been no warning, no way to soften the blow. He had never worn a wedding ring to work, he didn’t even have the tell-tale tan line around his fourth finger, or the permanent indentation of a ring worn for so long that it became a part of the hand. Every woman knew to check for that, but perhaps she hadn’t paid close enough attention. His office down the hall had no personal touches, no pictures except for the motivational posters that championed “Teamwork” and “Respect” with inspirational quotes and depictions of soaring eagles. Annette. Annette, his wife. Annette, who, in an instant, had become both her enemy and perhaps the one person who could truly understand her.
As a car swung around the corner at the end of the block, she quickly threw the cigarette out the cracked window and slowly opened the door. The car was a sleek silver SUV, one she had ridden in countless times on daytrips to the coast, or quick jaunts to grab lunch. Swinging out and standing on weak legs, wobbly from having sat in the car for so long, she stood cautiously watching as it pulled to a stop at the mailboxes across the street. Watching as his wife casually sifted through her purse and pulled out the mailbox key, she imagined for an instant what it would be like to be her. To be the one coming home to her family, mundane things like getting the mail, making dinner. The children, the security, the money and the right to call him her husband. Annette had gotten out of her car, leaving the driver’s door hanging open while she pulled the mail from the box. Shaking her head, clearing the thought away, Laura pushed her door shut.
Annette jumped at the sound and turned to look over the hood of her car. Annette’s blonde hair hung gracefully to her shoulders, her red jacket buttoned up like armor against the fall chill. Annette held the stack of mail with both hands, gripping it tightly to her chest like a shield.
“Annette?” Laura called quietly, not daring to move from behind her own car.
“Yes.” Annette answered, softly, as if accepting a fate she had expected for a lifetime. Annette waited, unmoving, as Laura slowly walked across the street, pausing on the other side of the SUV.
“I – I wanted to, um - ” she paused, glancing down and shoving her hands into her jean pockets. Annette’s eyes were wide, and Laura noticed they were blue. Just like hers. He obviously had a type, blonde hair and blue eyed. They were both tall and lean, their builds almost exactly the same. “I work with your husband,” she finished, lamely.
“Okay.” Annette said, relaxing her grip on the envelopes in her hand. The edges were crinkled. Words escaped her, and the night air was filled with the sound of their breathing, both shallow and loud. She felt Annette’s gaze on her, and she dropped her head to scrutinize the asphalt beneath her shoes. Shuffling her foot, she ground a piece of gravel, the scraping noise filling the void.
“Your husband and I – ” she began, hesitating.
“No.” The force behind Annette’s voice stopped her from continuing. There was no need to shout, Annette’s voice had been calm and commanding, but barely above a whisper. Looking across the silver pool of reflected light on the car hood, Laura met Annette’s gaze. The woman stood rigid and tall, having pulled her chin up and facing her straight on. Her hands had dropped to her sides, the mail still gripped in one of them, dangling precariously from her fingers. “Don’t.”
“But – ”
“Don’t say it.” Annette said, louder this time. Sighing, her body lost some of its stiffness, relaxing in a sort of acceptance. “If you don’t say it, we don’t have to acknowledge that it’s real. Please, just – just let it go.”
The sadness in Annette’s voice made Laura pause. The anger that had built up inside of her for the last few months collapsed into nothing, like an old building disintegrating into dust. She had come here intending to reveal his betrayal, to revel in the resulting chaos and hurt. He deserved it. But now, watching Annette across from her, she realized that Annette did not deserve it. Annette had known, had perhaps always known. Maybe not about his affair with her, but looking at the woman’s tired face, the acceptance easy to find in her gaze, she realized that she wasn’t the first.
“Okay.” Laura nodded haltingly, backing up a few paces. “Um, just so you know, I took a transfer at work. So…” Annette nodded in acknowledgment and watched with an empty look on her face as Laura retreated across the street and hurriedly jumped in her car. Annette hadn’t moved when Laura glanced in the rearview mirror as she sped away. She stood still, alone on the side of the street, the mail clasped in her hands.