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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Tuesday
Jul222014

In Which You Helped Pull My Bicycle Out Of The Water

by amy stein

Different Corners

by KARA VANDERBIJL

There is a stretch of the blue line train route that rushes out of the tunnel after Belmont Ave and balances precariously between the branches of Interstates 90 and 94. The platform, while completely immobile, seems to shift to and fro underfoot. Cars rush past deafeningly, and even if it is not windy, it is all you can do to stay upright.

Once a week I find myself standing on this island, huddled below the heat lamps. There is rarely anybody else on the platform. There are only cars, blowing in and out of the city, and half-empty trains lurching down the track. I have never gone further down the line than this stop and it feels like the very edge of the world.

It is the loneliest place in the city.

+

I rarely remember my dreams, but this morning I woke up in a cold sweat with the memory of being chased by a starving tiger. I also remember waking myself up from that dream right before the feline sunk its teeth into my face, afraid to leave my bed for a drink of water in case it was lying in wait. Then, in those moments between 4:15 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. I dreamt again, this time of cockroaches crawling underneath all of our sofa cushions because we had left a few crumbs out on the coffee table. It was so very detailed that I remember the distinct crunch every time we gingerly sat down to watch television.

+

I’d like to believe that, much like the infamous “Carolyn Keene”, Harold Bloom is really just a pseudonym for a group of individuals who did not have enough talent to make it big on their own but were able, somehow, to attach themselves to some greater ideal, one that sleep and nutrition-deprived college students would later cite extensively in their papers.

+

A couple of weeks ago I decided that I would not spend my money on eating out unless I had specifically made plans to eat out with someone else. So far, it has been a great decision for me.

Today, though, I have an apple and chicken noodle soup with me for lunch. The chicken noodle soup isn’t really soup anymore because much of the broth evaporated or else the noodles soaked it all up, and all I can think about is some sort of sandwich smothered in tomatoes and pesto and melted mozzarella.

+

Coworker: Do you know, I thought this the first time I met you, you look a lot like—

Me: Shosanna Dreyfus?

Coworker: Yes!

Me: You're the 18th person to tell me that.

Coworker: You've been counting?

+

Peruse the shelves of your local drugstore to find an opaque bottle of castor oil; fill the bottom of a clear glass vial with this slow, thick substance. Then, cover it with twice the amount of either olive or jojoba oil (olive is by far the more economical choice, and works just as well). Finally, add a few drops of lavender and rosemary essential oils. Shake well. At dusk pour a quarter-sized amount into your palm and rub your hands together gently to warm the mixture. Smooth it into your face beginning at the temples. Breathe deeply; the lavender and rosemary soothe away anxiety and smell like the south of France. Let the oil rest on your face for a few minutes and then douse a clean cloth in warm (not hot!) water. Gently apply the cloth to your face, not wiping the oil away as much as letting the warmth coax it out; do not hesitate to leave a bit in your skin.

Repeat the ritual every other night, alternating with a simple warm-water cleansing. After repeated use your skin will glow naturally. You will never need to buy cleanser, make-up remover, or moisturizer again.

+

Do you ever grow weary of your own perspective? — of the mistakes you fall into, the biases you lean towards simply because you are only ever looking out your own eyes?

by amy stein

For many years my mother would switch around all the furniture in our living room once a month. While it was still in her possession, she would even move her piano around the room on its wheels and we would help by picking up the bench with its wobbly legs and placing it reverently behind the instrument. Other things — cushions, picture frames, side tables — moved around the room as if in some sort of dance. Christmas afforded Mom the opportunity to change everything around so as to open up the appropriate space for our tree; at the arrival of summer, our kitchen table moved closer to the doors of the terrace so we could dine al fresco. All this she did primarily by herself although my father helped her when she needed to move a large cabinet.

We responded with an incredulous “Again!” each time it happened, although it was secretly delightful to discover our living room all over again. The furniture seemed new, cool to the touch; for a brief disorienting evening it seemed as if we were guests in our own home.

What belongs to you has very little to do with whether or not you spend money or time on it. I am discovering more and more that for most things in my life, I feel the same level of attachment that I do for historical monuments or other tourist attractions. They belong to me in the same way that they belong to the rest of the world, and they are not more mine than anybody else’s.

“They are just things,” my parents taught me, when we moved from place to place and left more and more in our wake. But I have begun to find it difficult to escape from this mindset even in relation to people and experiences. I do not know if this is the epitome of unwellness or if it is mature; I remember crying for a pretty calico cat that my father took back to the pound because she could not accompany us on our move, but the years that separate me from that child also spunkily create distance between me and loved ones in airports as if there were no thread of feeling between us.

I do not think I will stay here forever. I have high hopes of finding a place that I will make mine or settle into. Realistically, though, I have barely been living in my current apartment for four months and I am already considering other neighborhoods and various methods of paying for heat. I quell the growing restlessness by moving pictures around, by planning to create a new reading nook, by sitting in different corners of the room. Searching out apartments in neighborhoods closer to the lake, I feel guilty and excited at the same time.

Removing yourself from any place or thing feels like a betrayal at first, and then the wounds close and the guilt only flares up in rainy weather. After I threw a penny into the Fontana di Trevi, I knew I would eventually return to Rome. When I do it will not be returning home or to some ideal of a fixed state; it will be a revisiting of what once flourished and then crumbled. We are better off different than we were yesterday.

+

Sneaking into meetings late with trays of mini pastries and fruit, meetings to which I am not invited but come to bearing food, is most embarrassing. The projector casts a blue glow on my mess of curls and I feel suddenly as if I am seven feet tall and enormous, that my hips are in the way of everything. My hands begin to shake; the platters rattle, the mini pastries fall out of their semi-perfect arrangements. I have no need to be sorry because it is the person delivering the pastries who is at fault, but I feel all eyes on me, accusingly, anyways.

Before leaving Los Angeles I went to the FIDM end-of-the-year fashion show with a friend and agonized for a few minutes beforehand about what to wear.

“Remember,” my roommate said kindly, “this is not about you.”

+

I'm really glad my mother taught me nail polish remover will remove candle wax from various surfaces, because otherwise I’d be in trouble right about now.

+

At the escalator I am taken aback by a stranger's bold greeting. My fingers brush my own coiffure, wondering if the gentle twists at the nape of my neck or the abundance of bobby pins suggest mornings spent in stark Baptist sanctuaries, the smell of stale coffee, the air whispering with the sound of paper bulletins filled with song sheets, empty envelopes for the offering plate. I contemplate waving back; imagine jumping the last two feet that separate us to catch up. She might promise to call later in the evening, to discuss casserole options for an upcoming potluck. A thousand lives whizz by on the tracks.

I feel unbearably weary. Some of it is good weariness; the weight of love, of trust complicit with the most satisfying of friendships. Some of it is the weariness of crying myself to sleep because I could not write something I wanted to write well. The last cobwebs of thought before slumber remind me, You can write something, but sometimes, you are not supposed to.

You can live one way, but sometimes, you are not supposed to.

+

by amy stein

Before I woke up, I had moved into a studio apartment approximately the size of an airplane lavatory that smelled like a dingy roadside motel. The bed and the small expanse of counter were plastic; the floor was linoleum. I thought to myself, “Good, this will be easy to clean.” I brought with me a tiny all-black cat with a white face and boots. We spent three days there together before I realized I had not fed him nor provided a litter box. He looked at me disdainfully, made a move to bolt whenever I opened the door. We sat together in complete darkness as there were no lights save for his luminous green eyes. Nobody else came.

+

There is a yellow orchid on my back porch.

Every Wednesday I nestle three ice cubes into the soil and rotate the pot ever so slightly to the right so that the plant will grow evenly in the sunlight. When I get home from work and it is droopy and unhappy I turn the hot water on in my shower and set it just outside the curtain, on the edge of the sink, until my little bathroom is so full of steam that all I can see are the bright yellow flowers and the little hard green buds trying to open.

They bloom at night.

Why can I not trust that this other person does not hurt me on purpose? And even if they do, that they are full of good intentions towards me? And even if they’re not, that I cannot expect them to be? Forgiveness (and love) have a lot to do with trust in the other’s spirit, in their desire to do good by you even when it doesn’t always happen.

My father keeps telling me that you have not forgiven someone until you have done something good for them. And I am full of words and sweet intentions but there is little good left in my hands.

+

In an early morning dream, I asked a friend which of my items of clothing looked worst on me. She unabashedly criticized all the pants I have with lower waistlines. “They give you a muffin top.” She went on to tell me that the look was so offensive that Hugh Jackman had complained.

I was so embarrassed I had to wake myself up and try on all of my pants to make sure it wasn’t true.

+

Verizon has inexplicably locked me out of my voicemail, because apparently none of the dozens of number combinations I have attempted in the past few weeks work. I seem to remember using my birthday month and day as the password. Now I have ten unheard voice messages and absolutely no way to get ahold of them.

Perhaps the problem lies with me, in my inability to remember a combination of letters or numbers that will somehow crack the code to my life. However, I’d like to believe that there is not enough room for human error in this system. People keep telling me to write my passwords down somewhere, and I keep asking, “Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?”

It’s not a good enough secret if you have to write it down.

+

Over the next fortnight I attempt an experiment in which I withdraw twenty dollars at the beginning of each week, and spend only that amount on myself.

A foggy Saturday morning I spend praying on the brown line; nothing is quite so easy as having faith on an elevated train. My headphones run like beads through my fingers. I find myself wishing for the simplicity of a command. Not praying the rosary or anything coherent, but moaning to any divinity who will listen, I receive miraculous signs: Sedgwick is next, doors open on the right at Sedgwick. Standing passengers, please do not lean against the doors.

I notice a proclivity in my relationships towards people born in June. Summer birthdays end in fireworks at the beach. I break two glasses at work and throw the pieces over my shoulder into the trash can. When I notice superstition curling up around the radiators at night or in the tea leaves at the bottom of a cup, I rinse it out with the truths I am most uncertain about.

When you lose someone close to you, most people assume that you want to be left alone, when that is generally the last thing you want. I find that I am not sure how to ask for help, so I carry all my groceries alone.

by amy stein

I'm making note of the already-sweltering heat at 7:30 a.m., the way the perspiration gathers on my abdomen underneath my dress, the way the ice melts in my tea before I walk two blocks, how the cup sweats and drips onto dusty toes, the heaviness of the air which makes every whisper seem like a shout and every shout foggy, how my curls double into more curls with each half-mile, how Tom Skilling promises this will be the hottest day Chicago has seen in six years.

I am making careful note of these things so that I will remember them in February.

+

We swam to the surface. Immediately in front of us was a rocky shoreline decorated with people in evening wear. The sun was going down in the background. I wanted to dive down immediately to retrieve the bicycles (they had been pulled into the soft, mucky sand at the bottom) but you insisted that we reach the shore. A few men at a table, garbed in tuxedos, played cards and looked on as you dragged yourself out of the water. There was a strange moment of recognition that is particularly fuzzy. I think you started running away from them, and I dove under water so that it would seem as if I had never been there. They saw me, however, and began shooting a machine gun after me. I got hit twice in both legs, but the bullet holes were only the size of freckles. I kept swimming. My bicycle was floating past, and I grabbed it. I wondered how I would manage to get it out of the water without help. When I surfaced, I was next to the beach, but it resembled the ledge of a pool. I rested my cheek against it, exhausted, but you were there, and helped me pull the bicycle out of the water. Blood was running down my legs. The holes were near my ankles, perfectly aligned like bug bites. I woke up on my back with all the covers off. I spoke to you for a moment before I realized I was alone.

Today I saw a woman sacrifice her sunglasses for a place on the train. Closing doors knocked them out of her hand as she squeezed into the last available spot, and they landed with a clatter on the platform. We stared. “Oh shit,” she said. “Oh shit!” She made a move as if to jump out of the train. I saw her debate, behind the silver half-circles of her eye make-up, sweaty hands pushing back blonde strands of hair.

There was only a moment during which she might have stepped off the train to retrieve them, but as it was, the doors closed right as she reached the end of her debate. “Oh, well,” she laughed breathlessly. I imagined her walking in the Loop without sunglasses, ducking behind buildings, a slim wrist thrown up for shade.

And what of the glasses? Are they like the mittens abandoned in January that mysteriously melt with the snow? Will somebody kick them into the tracks, steal them, throw them away?

+

I could love anybody in an airport for their foreign tongue, for their smart trench coat.

+

Down the street from my office a man leaves his blinds open. His desk is consistently messy. I tally up the damage when I walk past, before I cross the railroad tracks: one untouched glass of water with speckles of dust floating in it, three pens with chewed lids. What most intrigues me is the giant box of raisins that sometimes rests on the edge of his desk but now, oddly, on the windowsill. Not many people eat raisins because they love them. Some, like myself, put them in their morning bowl of oatmeal because there is something about raisins and milk. Some hate them but eat them because intestinal traffic is slow. I wonder which kind he is. Why has he moved the box from his desk to the windowsill? Did he eat too many and make himself sick? Did their uselessness cause him to exile them in a fit of righteous constipation?

+

To describe the process of barring someone from our lives, we call it “cutting out” or “cutting off”. The violence of this, as well as the idea that we can disregard a person — exclude them, remove them like we might remove a limb — does not ring true. You could not cut off your finger and not miss it. Subtly, the phantom remains. Rather it is like diving into the deep waters of yourself, and pulling someone out. There is beauty and darkness and truth at the bottom of this river; there is also fear, and there might be a monster or two. You say, come back to this appealing light. Here, the water is not so heavy. Here you can tread, disregard the profundity pulling at your feet. Remain at the surface where you are safe, where I can curl away from you to the places you no longer wish to visit.

+

How is that I can walk ten miles most Saturdays at a fast pace, and come home feeling on top of the world, but as soon as I run half a mile I feel like dying?

Kara VanderBijl is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find her website here. She twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.


Monday
Jul212014

In Which We Catch A Strain Of Something Wonderful

The Folscrum Effect

by DICK CHENEY

The Strain
creators Guillermo Del Toro & Carlton Cuse

When a bald man is given hair for a particular part in this case the leading role in Guillermo Del Toro's The Strain we call that a folscrum in Yiddish. Mounting a turgid wig atop the skull of bald congressman Peter Russo in House of Cards (Corey Stoll) is a capital crime. But then, there are a lot of crimes going unpunished in the world at this time. The Strain is about how all the bad things that happen to humanity are really its own fault.

Just like in the news, The Strain concerns an entire flight of human beings being murdered. While such violence seems senseless in the real world, in The Strain death at least has a purpose. The downed Malaysian Airlines flight in the Ukraine forced Western countries to send a bevy of investigators to the scene of the disaster. Because that's what this scene of total annihilation required bureaucrats from organizations with names like The Center for Security and Cooperation. Ronald Reagan would have been like, "Give me the names and locations of the people responsible."

they even stole the chyron from House of Cards - don't meet your Dad at the Washington Metro, kid

Pampered Westerners never realize the severity of aggressors until things get out of hand. Even after Hitler invaded Poland there were still British politicians who felt things could be patched up with the moustached dictator. Forgiving them their naiveté is easier than accepting those people who want to "investigate" an act of war. "The black boxes will be crucial," they scream, and then submit a report and go back to their wives. Miss you so much RR.

after 200 people have been infected with a parasite, maybe not the best time for canoodling Peter Russo, if that is your real name

The Strain has a similar group of innocents trying to figure out why all the victims perished with only a small incision in their throat to account for cause of death. Only one coroner is permitted to look over the bodies, and when the bodies start to wake up, he is overwhelmed by their need for vampiric sustenance. The Strain imagines this plague only in medical terms as a disease with a small snake-like host.

Del Toro frequently uses non-white characters in his films, and The Strain is no exception. He has carefully transcended the boundaries of typical roles offered Latino actors by casting a Queens-born Latino character as a criminal with a heart of gold who is working for some kind of undead conglomerate. Progress, indeed. At least Peter Russo's love interest is a woman of color.

The part of the open cadaver was, I think, played by Mary Elizabeth Mastroantonio

For Del Toro, presentation is everything, and The Strain takes a tired New York setting and brings the action in all the boroughs you do not normally see on The Good Wife. Originally Fox executives wanted to turn Del Toro's concept into a comedy. This is a lot less of a stretch than you might think, since there is always something hokey and broad about the way Del Toro writes characters they are so frequently exactly what they seem.

Nothing gets Corey Stoll as sexually riled up as couples therapy and the outbreak of a potentially fatal disease.

Fortunately, this fits exactly with Lost showrunner Carlton Cuse's ideas about character and plot. Cuse eschews believability at all times, preferring to opt for a more fanciful approach that means somehow the CDC would be the only organization involved in trying to ascertain why an entire plane full of people ended up dead. No FBI or CIA would even get involved; there's not even a hint of Europe's ever-so-important Center for Peace Relations NGO. It's basically just drunk congressman Peter Russo and the babe he is cuddling responsible for the answers, which makes sense.

"People, quiet please. I'd like to talk to you today about how I used to be bald. That's over now. There was a folscrum."

It is hard to complain about the silliness when a show is as slick and gorgeous as The Strain is. Del Toro's technical acumen in integrating film-quality special effects into this television series blows away anything we have seen before. He makes the amateur hour bullshit on Game of Thrones look like a kid's level diorama. I can't even look at Daenerys' pathetic dragons now without thinking how absurdly fake they are.

There is a different, more cinematic feel to what The Strain offers. Maybe it's the presence of Samwise Gamgee, or having unusual locations in such a familiar place. So much of television seems to be a matter of holding back the best material for later. This exhausting strain (cough) of set-up after set-up after set-up numbs us to what the best thrillers offer escalation of stakes and conflict beyond our imagination.

An inside look into Elizabeth Warren's master bedroom.

Despite the book version of The Strain written with the indescribably bad Chuck Hogan being so terrible, this concept was made for a series, where we can be subsumed by the vapid spectacle of watching a vampire thousands of years old wait all this time just to get across the bridge from Queens to Manhattan. It is a relief not to have to look at Stephen Moyer's face anymore.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is obsessed with Emily Gould's novel Friendship at this time, and only takes breaks from rereading it to watch The Strain and Hemlock Grove. He hates Alan Ball with an all-encompassing passion.

Hobbits aren't great with technology.

"May 15" - Wray (mp3)

"Blood Moon" - Wray (mp3)

wasn't this guy the lead singer in Mumford & Sons?
 

Friday
Jul182014

In Which We Try To Find A Way To Unwind

White Houses

by BREANNA LOCKE

I was once told that no one ever wants to hear the ‘death of a grandparent’ story. We all have to experience a first death some time, and as children, it's usually an older relative who departs from your life first. While sobering to experience as a child, it is a perverse but ordinary rite of passage. A few days after my great-grandmother's death, I ended up finding something that disturbed me in a way very separate from this new discovery of mortality.

I remember my mother’s face when she addressed me and my sister. “Girls,” she began with concerned eyes, her hands resting on our shoulders, “Great Grammy died.”

Died? I thought back to her 100th birthday party we attended a few years earlier at her big mysterious white house. Its large early nineteenth century structure always spurred overactive imaginations in my sister, cousins, and me. There were just so many nooks and crannies and staircases and rooms. While the adults mingled, we would always be wandering off, investigating. My great-grandpa — who I’d never met — used to be a doctor, and his old office remained in one large room on the first floor. It was still set up like it was in the 1950s with old glass bottles of tinctures and medical supplies nestled neatly next to each other on shelves. A leather doctor’s bag and even a stethoscope rested on the old davenport desk. It was all pretty Norman Rockwell-esque, but after dark, the scene took on a more eerie aesthetic.

The attic had two closet-sized nooks where we were told slaves lived long ago. We’d knock on the walls and listen to see if any spots sounded hollow. Then we’d crawl down under staircases, certain that we would find some kind of hidden room or secret passageway somewhere in the huge house. It had been Jamie’s idea; my big sister loved her Nancy Drew books.

Later that the night, we all sang to my great grandmother, the beautiful pink frosted cake sitting before her on the long dining room table. There weren’t a hundred candles on the cake though; I was told they just simply wouldn’t all fit. My great grandma had been so present, so warm and loving and lively despite her wrinkles and tiny, slouching frame. Her smiles were always genuine and lovely. She didn’t speak much anymore, but she could still communicate, especially with those smiles. She was one hundred! I guess I just assumed she’d live forever.

At eight years old, I had a rudimentary understanding of death. I knew it happened to other people — characters in movies and TV. And in real life too, I supposed. How else would ghosts exist? But I had never considered the fact that death was capable of intruding into my own life.

Would there be a funeral with everyone dressed in black? The only dresses I owned were sprinkled with bright, floral patterns.

I did end up going to the funeral, and my mom bought me a black dress just for the occasion. After I put it on, I found myself squirming in it, and my stomach hurt like I had eaten too much candy. I quickly made sure that Jamie would stick by my side throughout the whole ordeal. Though only a few years my senior, at 12 she was a grown-up in my eyes.

My mother explained to us that the night before the funeral, there would be a wake. And she warned us that it might be open casket. I knew she wouldn’t have black Xs over her eyes like in cartoons, but what would she look like?, I wondered. Grey and skeletal, or beautiful like Snow White in her glass coffin?

From the outside, it just looked like an attractive white house. But upon entering, it became all too apparent that it was a funeral home. We hugged my grammy and grandpa, my aunts, my uncles, my cousins, and some relatives I didn’t even know. And then I peered into the large room behind them.

Chairs were arranged in a way that reminded me of church pews. There was even a priest. But it wasn’t Father McKenzie; it was an unknown stranger holding a bible, and he was standing beside a casket. And the top lid was open, exposing my great grandmother.

For a moment, my eyes refused to look away. From this distance it seemed that she was only sleeping. Why wasn’t anyone waking her up? Because she’s dead. Suddenly, I was able to turn away.

Jamie and I didn’t have to sit in that room with the dead body while the relatives mingled, expressing their feelings of loss to each other. We were told it was okay for us to stay around the common rooms in the front of the funeral home, where collages of photos were set up. Still, the atmosphere from the back parlor seemed to keep creeping in, and it made me dizzy.

It wasn’t long before our confinement to stuffy rooms and their velvet couches wore on us. So we began to wander. And it was down a hallway past the bathroom where we came upon a door with a sign on it.

“Game Room,” my sister read aloud. It seemed like that would be the perfect place for us. Kids should be with games, not death.

“We're not allowed in there,” I said.

“I think it’s okay,” she said, her voice sounding eager, though slightly uncertain.

No one was in sight as we stood staring at the door, so finally, after some contemplation, Jamie cracked it open. It revealed a staircase leading down into the basement. Was there really a game room down there? Despite any doubts we had, she flicked on the light switch next to the door, illuminating the descending trail. And down we went.

At first it seemed to make sense. It was a game room — there was a pool table. But then we noticed a silver pole on the other side of the room. It reached from a platform on the ground all the way up to the ceiling. A disco ball hung in the center of the room, casting glints of light onto a dancing cage. There was an orange shag rug beneath our feet, and it looked dirty. And the room carried a lingering odor that made my nose tingle, like beer and smoke that would drift in from the bar section to the dining area at a local restaurant we frequented. My eyes continued to scan the room that was making me feel increasingly uneasy. I noticed the posters on the wall, each featuring an almost-naked woman and some brand of alcohol. One was a close up of a tan blonde woman with sly-looking eyes holding a pitcher of beer. Her tongue was licking white froth from her lips.

Something was not right. This was not a place for kids.

Suddenly it didn’t feel like we were in a funeral home anymore. But somehow, this place was scarier. The room was silent as my sister and I said nothing. I felt wholly unnerved, and I could tell by the look on her face that Jamie did too. But our curiosity continued to grow.

When we noticed a door on the far wall, we had to investigate. We opened it to reveal a darkness that made it impossible to see anything inside. Jamie felt around for a light switch inside by the door, but found none. So she entered the room.

She searched the air for a string to pull from the ceiling. That’s how our closets at home were—exposed light bulbs activated by the yank of a string.

My attention must have been elsewhere when that room first lit up. I imagine I was looking around behind me, feeling anxious, like someone could come down the stairs at any moment and find us in this weird basement where we did not belong.

From the corner of my eyes, I saw the light coming from the closet, but before I could even look inside, Jamie rushed out and slammed the door behind her.

Her face looked white and clammy, and her eyes began to water.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “What’s in there?”

She didn’t answer my question. “We should go upstairs,” she said. I followed behind her towards the stairs, and from the sounds of our feet hitting the steps, I realized that we were running.

Jamie threw open the door at the top of the stairs, I switched the light off, and as soon as I was out, we made sure that that door marked “Game Room” was shut tightly.

When we made it back to the main front room, we took a seat on an isolated couch in a corner.

“What was in there?” I asked again.

This time, with enough distance now between us and that basement, she told me. The room was a large storage closet. She’d walked in deeply enough so that she could find the dangling light string with her hands in the dark. But when she pulled it, she found herself standing alone in an oversized closet, surrounded by coffins.

For a moment I wondered if they were filled. Is that how funeral homes stored bodies for upcoming funerals? My stomach burned.

While being shielded from getting too close to the first dead person we’d ever known, my big sister and I had discovered an “adult” playroom. No flowers, no prayers to be heard, just a pool table and a gleaming stripper pole sitting atop a musty shag rug. And amidst any debauchery that could happen down there, there would always be that closet of caskets tucked away in the corner.

I realized that even undertakers have to find some way to unwind. Maybe it’s necessary to preserve their own sanity. But I did not think games and coffins could exist so closely to one another, so closely that they occupy the very same basement. I had never considered that coffins were stacked up somewhere, waiting for people to die so they could be filled. As the night wore on, I imagined myself being surrounded by caskets almost every time I blinked. And somehow that made me feel incredibly small.

Breanna Locke is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Medford. You can find her tumblr here.