In this section:
ELEGY FOR A SENIOR YEAR by Katie Christoph ’21
Ana Mia by Tessa Rudolph ’22
Turn. Turn. Turn. by Angelina Li ’23
Saved by Cheryl Wang ’23
a gentler phoenix by Van An Trinh ’24
The Times Machine by Angelina Li ’23
ELEGY FOR A SENIOR YEAR
There’s a sign a hundred yards down the street from my house that reads: Wellesley Road. I pass it nearly every day on my drive home. The day I moved here and drove past that sign for the first time, I stopped, turned around, and inspected it again. Of course. The one September I can’t go back to Wellesley, Wellesley finds its way back to me.
Wellesley Road connects Maple Street and Lester Road. It is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it through road dotted with small houses on either side. That first day, I turned down the road to see where it would lead. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it leads, well, somewhere—and that when you make it to the end of Wellesley Road and take a right (and a right and a right), you end up there again. You can’t go back down Wellesley Road the way you came—it’s a one way street—but you can always come back around.
For the past three years, I’d always known I’d be back every September. Three clicks and I’m home, making my way through the Quad again. The euphony of all the lives we’ve ever lived contained within the walls of Beebe, Shafer, and Cazenove spills out the windows and over me like the golden hour sun. I pass the Davis on a late afternoon and it glows an arid red-orange, inferno. Lake Waban beckons, asks me to find the penny I tossed in that first night. First year, first tradition.
My first September in recent memory without Wellesley is uncanny. I grieve the small moments that constituted a life: the candy dish on Founder’s third, the magnolia off Paramecium Pond that embraces each April with a dusty pink kiss, my yearly ritual of adopting a succulent that falls victim to my negligence by mid-October (every time). Saying: “we should get lunch next week!” to a friend crossed on the long walk from Clapp to Shafer and never following up. Beholding this wondrous place and being beheld in return.
Any other year and senior year is an exaltation. It’s the black robes you wear to the first day of class on a late summer morning that say: look how far I’ve come, look at where I’m going. I watched 2020, 2019, and 2018 dazzle us each first day, thinking: one, two, three years, that’s me. It wasn’t. The first in a long line of traditions that will never be. “Sorry, no [insert tradition of your choice here] this year. But there will be more years at Wellesley.” Not for all of us, no. Instead, this year is a cruel last, a lamentation, a one-two punch. And the dominoes fall.
Wellesley is a through-road, the transient ‘now’ that connects my ‘before’ to my ‘after.’ I am grieving a place I was never meant to hold for too long anyway.
Wellesley Road is the closest I will be to Wellesley until February of next year, knock on wood. By then, it will have been one whole year since the last time I was on campus. It will feel like an even twenty. When I left to spend seven months in Germany, I’d desperately needed to get away. Wellesley had burned me, and in some ways, I felt I’d burned Wellesley too. I needed space in the way that you do even from a most beloved friend or partner. I love you, but I need to go on a long walk, alone. Leave the porch light on, I’ll be back soon.
My long walk away from Wellesley became an exodus. For the last time, I am ready to go home.
after “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid
cw: Eating disorder
Count out your almonds before you eat them—twenty-four for a meal, seven for a snack, though really you shouldn’t be eating snacks; count them again, just to make sure, and then again because three is a safe number and two is not; don’t eat more than three pieces of fruit a day; an apple has nineteen grams of sugar, did you know that?; eat your fat-free plain Greek yogurt out of a coffee cup—one of those paper ones they have in the dining hall—so you know you’re only eating eight ounces, maybe less; instead of buying smaller ones, roll up your jeans at the waist; eat your eggs hard-boiled, never scrambled; fried? are you kidding me?; this is how you turn down dinner invitations; this is how you fall asleep at three in the afternoon, because when you’re sleeping you don’t have to eat and you don’t have to think; don’t eat anything you don’t prepare yourself; but what about restaurants?; do you want to be thin or not?; tell the dining hall manager you’re vegan, to convince him to cook your food without butter; when the doctor says you have an eating disorder, tell her it’s just “disordered eating”; this is how you run a half-marathon with your shoes untied; this is how you do lunges in the stairwell of the humanities building, after your evening seminar; this is how you write an English paper when you’re so hungry you forget basic words, like “acceptance”; wear your workout clothes to bed so you don’t waste time getting dressed in the morning—time is calories is money; eat in your dorm’s bathroom, then hide the wrappers in the metal box where other girls throw away their tampons (not you, though—you haven’t had your period in months); never drink—alcohol has calories; pot’s okay, but definitely don’t eat when you’re high; what about parties?; do you want to be thin or not?; this is how you run three miles; this is how you run six, nine, twelve; the more you run, the less of you there will be, and the less of you there is, the more you will matter; this is how you run through stop lights, because if you stop you’ll burn fewer calories; would you rather get hit by a car or get fat?; this is how you run so fast even your own body can’t catch you; you know the Greek, right? an- = without, orexis = appetite, anorexia = without appetite; so why do you dream about food every night?; try on bulimia for size: bous- = ox, limos = -hunger, bulimia = ox hunger; you’re as huge as an ox; really think you can trust yourself around food?; drink three cups of water before bingeing, then eat three scoops of ice cream after; I don’t even like ice cream!; so? you’re going to throw it all up anyway; use three fingers because just one doesn’t work and two is unlucky, we went over this; this is how you eat peanut butter out of the jar when you don’t have a spoon; this is how you lose the bracelet your therapist gave you, when you left treatment for the first time: in the crevice between bed and wall, which your arms are too fat to reach into; this is how you avoid your dad’s eyes when he picks you up from the hospital; this is how you avoid the cashier’s eyes when you put the chips, the cookies, the six-pack of coke, and the bottle of laxatives on the counter; this is how— what do you mean you want to get better?; what do you mean you don’t want me?
Turn. Turn. Turn
The key spins. Notes trickle out, silvery as a nightingale’s song.
The music box is a glass ball on a pedestal. Inside, a figurine ballerina twirls on one leg. Her left arm wrapped around a violin, her right fingers curled around a bow. With perfect balance, she draws her bow back and forth. Back and forth. The mechanical motions of a song without its soul.
The glass ball is glacial to the touch, yet the ballerina’s breaths do not fog the crystal’s wall. There is no air inside. If only she could shiver.
At last, a note breaks off. The ballerina blinks.
Turn. Turn. Turn.
The key spins again. The song repeats. The ballerina tries very hard to let her fingers slip. Miss a note, pick up a heartbeat.
Turn. Turn. Turn.
The key spins yet again. The ballerina wobbles very slightly. She pulls her arm with all her might. She blinks furiously. She twitches and twirls. An ugly note emerges like a raven’s cry.
The song halts. The ballerina drops her arms. She stands still. Ragged breaths turn into gentle fog on her glass wall. For a heartbeat, she steals the silence for herself.
Then the key spins again, and the song restarts. And the ballerina tries again. And again. And again. She will steal the song for herself.
Grandma sends me pictures of the lotus blossoms in Chengdu. I save them dutifully, in the iCloud, as I do with all things she sends these days. I have become a master of religious clicking. Nothing is spared, even the flashy tabloid articles that I will never read.
After that, I take screenshots of our conversations and record the audio messages with my computer. The playback is hardly perfect but at least the important things are present—namely, her scratchy voice, the sound of the big city in the background. She must be grocery shopping at the current moment—I hear the sound of the cashier beeping, and then a child coughing. I send her a message asking if she is wearing a mask. She is, she says, and tells me not to worry about it. I frown, and then take another screenshot including the new message.
My friends are rather laissez faire in their attitudes about the looming ban. Some say it will only affect big businesses and government officials. Others talk about how I will still be able to access everything except for Wechat Pay. I ask Grandma to download WhatsApp, but she brushes me off with the characteristic stubbornness of her generation. You are worrying too much, she texts. Focus on your studies.
I save that message too.
At night, I think about a lot of things. It will be three or four years until I will be able to see her again in person, or even longer if US-China tensions worsen. The very last time I saw her, the summer before last, she had cradled my face in her hands, as if memorizing the curves of my jaw. Your face is so round, she laughed, and leaned in to rub her leathery cheek against mine. I leaned in, breathing in the faint smell of ginger. Memory and smell are intertwined, I read once in my freshman biology class in high school. In English, it is called olfactory memory. The smell stays in your mind far longer than images and words, until the moment—a brief breeze, the muggy summer heat, her fingers squeezing patterns on my skin—is distilled into a single, pure, memory.
What happens next is not quite as vivid: my dad calling from the rental car for me to hurry up, and me, laughing and pulling away, promising to come back slimmer the next summer. I look away and do not turn back.
I wake up with more messages. My baby cousin taking a few tentative steps before falling flat on her face. Her garbled attempts at pronouncing my name. I am supposed to be there, I think as I download the videos, and the thought is numb.
There is no new information on the news when I search up the ban. I half-wonder if it is real, or merely a bad dream. Maybe the President has forgotten. The bill sits on his desk, hidden under a stack of unsigned proposals, and some hapless intern will throw it out with the morning coffee.
Any news? I text a group of friends. They shrug. They are not worried. There is QQ, or VPN, and illicit downloading websites already being offered on Baidu. I save the links for future reference.
The next morning, I call Grandma. She is already talking about seeing me next year. She shows me the bed that I slept in when I visited, with its majestic pink mosquito nets. Is waiting for you, she says in broken English, and laughs, before switching back to Mandarin. When does your dad say that you will be coming this summer?
I text Dad. He tells me not to get my hopes up. Grandma does not understand the implications of global politics. She is Chinese, and I am American, and we are divided by virtue of 7000 miles and the enmity of those playing far greater games. I must remember this.
I text back, o.k., and save his words to memory.
a gentler phoenix
Van An Trinh
I once fell, face-first, onto the perfect circle of my family’s koi pond. Against all expectations, my eyes were open and stayed open, glued to the brightly painted, patterned skin swimming just inches from my face. I was five, I remember, because only a five year old could ever look at something so simple as a fish with absolute, reverent awe.
Grandma found me right as I scrambled out of the water. “There you are,” she scolded. “What have you been doing here? And what is that black thing on your face?” She put her spectacles on and squinted at the tip of my nose.
And there it was. One baby koi fish, delicately balanced, bright blue fins with spots of white and vermillion. The moment stretched and passed in silence, as Grandma’s eyes widened into a look of remorse.
“It seems like you’ve found your grandfather.”
I stared at her quizzically. “Isn’t he in the living room?”
She smiled, and let out a hearty laugh. “No, treasure, he’s your father’s father. This,” she pointed to the fish, “is your mother’s father.” Her face softened. “And that will be me one day, too.”
Grandma gingerly took the tiny koi fish — shining under the lamplight — from my face. Eyebrows furrowed, she wiped away a film of iridescent green on its skin.
I reached out, childlike curiosity and all, to feel the slippery dust underneath my fingertips. “What’s that?”
“It’s just algae,” Grandma sighed. “These little things somehow double every morning. See these little circles?” I nodded. “The moment the sunlight hits them, they somehow split in two, except each of the pieces is as big as the original one. I don’t know how I missed this; we’ll have to clean the whole pond up before it gets out of hand.”
“Aww,” my shoulders heaved in disappointment. “But it all looks so pretty!”
“It only looks beautiful under the light. But your grandfather can’t see it from down there.” Grandma gently slipped the fish under the pond’s surface. “In fact, when the algae covers the whole pond, he can’t breathe or see anything at all.”
I’d like to imagine that those were her parting words. Never mind that it happened twelve years ago; the past few weeks have been twelve years in themselves. But after that night, I never asked Grandma about the garden she stayed fond of until she could no longer maintain it. I wish I did, though — especially with the three newborn fish I’m now holding. I look at them, bought newly born at the aquatic garden this afternoon, and prod them through the plastic bag. Three fish for three bodies I could never see. They would have been sallow and rigid with rigor mortis, but still very much real in the flesh. Even that would be warmly welcomed, when all I have left are blurred memories on an endless loop.
In mourning, the house now reeks of a thick incense. I can’t concentrate amid the smell; can’t bear to lay my eyes on an ever-growing mountain of work. I come back to the garden in search of solace; as I slide its glass door open, it creaks loudly out of disuse. In my hand is the bag with the little koi fish. They’re frantically squirming to the edge of the plastic, as I move ever-closer to the pond they will know as home. Dust is sprinkled all over the surrounding rocks. It’s only right for me to clean it — along with the rest of the garden — in her memory.
Tonight, the pond is split into two half-moons. One half of its surface is plain old pond water, dark blue under the stars; the same liquid that I remember splashing my face into all those years ago. The other semicircle is coloured a bright, iridescent green.
As I kneel towards the water, fishlings at the ready, I notice sunlight peeking from the edges of the ground.
The Times Machine
In Year 3020, twelve spaceships left Beacon, New Haven star system with forty-three thousand databases of historical records from pre-space Earth. Many of these databases contain first person accounts of the inaugural Internet, the first iteration of what was then known as “the World Wide Web” or, even more figuratively, “the Cloud.” It is through the strands of this early, archaic ‘web’ that I will take a special interest in exploring Earth’s 21st century timelines, most notably those that branches from Year 2020’s coronavirus plague.
Etna paused in her writing and looked out her window as the Seeker Space Station rotated. Her pale reflection gazed back, a lonely spectre.
She heard a smooth chirp behind her, the sound of someone at the door. The entry panels slid back unprompted and her fellow researcher Joul marched through.
“Still up?” they said, “What are you working on?”
“Twenty-first century Earth,” Etna said without turning around.
“Another family project?”
Etna was slightly annoyed. “Yes, I know my ancestors are from Earth, but this one’s on the coronavirus pandemic.”
“I would have looked at the first Mars colonies in the twenty-fourth century,” Joul remarked off-handedly.
Etna had a lot to say about that too. “You could easily say that one led to the other. Earth’s considerable advancements in epidemiology in the twenty-first century contributed to the biowarfare of the twenty-second century, and then pressure on governments to establish havens on Mars in the twenty-third century led to the first colonies.” She took a deep breath, then tried to barrel on.
But Joul stopped her with a wave of their hand. “Oversimplification—we do enough of that during the day already.”
“Right.” Etna sighed.
What she was just working on was only a side project. Both her and Joul’s day jobs were Times researchers, historians who combed through thousands of years of history to feed into the Times Machine, which ran through their sorted anthropological data to mathematically construct “predicted timelines” for the future. Questions like what event led to another filled their minds during work and spilled into their off-hours.
Joul took a seat next to Etna and scrolled through the database she was looking at, tapping nervously with one foot. Etna pretended to ignore them, but secretly she didn’t mind their company. Joul bent over her writing and highlighted the word “timelines,” then wrote a little note beside it.
All histories are not one. History, the singular, is a construct.
Etna heaved a little air through her nose. It was the mantra of Times historians, the truth of their work as well as its counter-truth. It was ironic that they streamlined one history for the benefit of constructing alternate histories. And it was precisely why the pre-Times intrigued Etna. Histories back then must have felt organic.
Etna could see Joul out of the corners of her eyes, pointedly hovering about after the small talk. Joul stood still, pressed their hands together as the seconds ticked by, then bursted out, “Actually, I want you to see something.”
“Hmm?” Etna didn’t draw her attention away from the databases.
Maybe it’s the way that Joul said it, the way that their voice had gone dark and deep, all hints of humour gone, that made Etna afraid to turn around. She blinked hastily. When she was ready to face Joul, she found them waiting at the door, the panels already sliding open.
The two walked silently down the familiar hallway that led to a circular room that hosted the Times Machine. Etna didn’t ask where to go. If Joul had said it was pressing, been hesitant to admit that something was wrong, and waited until after work to find her, it could only mean one thing.
The Times Machine had made an outrageous prediction. And a terrible one.
Etna thought of pandemics and the fear that comes with not knowing what comes next. It jolted her heart. Made her afraid to take the next step, or even the next breath. She quickly reminded herself that whatever the Times Machine had predicted, she would soon have knowledge of. And everything would soon be fine.
The two paused before the door. Joul gave Etna a little shove.
The room was walled with a single monitor, and it read:
New Times Machines have been built beyond New Haven. They have new pasts, new presents, new futures. A thousand years from now, theirs will be the only histories.
Silence collected in the room.
Etna could sense Joul watching her. She reached out one tentative hand toward the monitor, as if that would do anything. Her hand shook.
“Which timeline is this?” She asked, even as she knew the answer.
“All of them. Ours.”
“No. No, that can’t be it. We’ve got to look back further, find records we haven’t found, make other predictions. We just got these new databases, I can—” She started to head back, but Joul blocked her way.
Joul made a throaty sound. Etna looked at them, looked at them for so long that she memorized the soft lines around their eyes, the exact brown of their pupils and skin, the tense thinness of their lips. Memories that no Times Machine could predict or erase. Then Joul’s lips parted in a question.
“When you looked at Earth’s 21st century, what year did you start in?”
“The year 2030, our current year,” Etna said weakly. She swallowed. “To look at histories from where we are, isn’t that our job?”
“But what have you left out of our histories?”
Etna couldn’t answer.