the short story project


Aspen Gage

The Horizon

When it first happened, dishes sat in the sink for weeks, their sour smell permeating every inch of the small studio. Music sounded rank. Anya’s eardrums constantly buzzed, the only noise worth paying attention to besides the desperate cries from her cat to feed it. Her bed was horribly uncomfortable at night, but in the mornings she couldn’t bear to leave it.

The days acted out in three parts. Act One; making it from the covers to the bathroom, from the bathroom to the kitchen, from the kitchen to a fruitless job. Act Two is lunchtime, though she hadn’t consumed anything more than coffee in a while. Act Three begins on a wet, cloudy Tuesday morning:

“I need, I need, I need. That’s all he ever says.” Anya sighs into her phone, as her sister whines, yet again, about her current boyfriend.

“I think I’m going to fly to Cuba,” Anya mumbles into the mouthpiece, knowing she’ll go unheard.

“That sounds nice sweety. Anyway, he called mom and asked her where I was yesterday. At two in the morning! Can you believe it?”

“He was probably just worried about you.” She thought her sister might be grateful someone cared so much to check on her when she wasn’t around. Anya felt that she could fall off the face of the earth and it would take a while for anyone to notice, much less care. This was a feeling though. Not reality.

“He never worries about me, just does his best to worry me. He makes me so unhappy, Anya.”

“Well, why don’t you leave him?” Anya says her line, rehearsed to the point of habit. Her sister is silent on the other end of the phone for a moment.
“Oh no,” she sighs, “I could never do that. I love him.”

“You do, and he loves you.” She could almost hear her sister’s smile through the cold plastic of her phone.

“I know.” Her sister pauses, then continues on, “Jordan loved you.”

Anya doesn’t answer.

“He would want you to get out of the house, you know. Live.”

“Vi…” Anya sighs again, a habit she picked up from their mother. “How is Mom?” She changes the subject.

“Good. You’d know this if you went and visited.”

“I did visit. Last month.”

“You ran into her at a Costco, Yaya. That’s hardly a conscious attempt at connecting with the woman who gave you life.”

“She doesn’t visit me, either.” Anya is suddenly tired. She knows if she resorts to blaming this argument will be over soon. Her mother is to blame for a lot of things.


“I don’t want to talk about her.” Anya rolls her eyes heavenward even though her sister can’t see. She’s glad she can’t.

“You brought her up.” This is true.

“I need to go feed the cat.” Anya glances over at the very full food bowl in the corner of her kitchen. She’s pretty sure the cat isn’t even in the house at the moment, but she needs to be out of this conversation.

“Okay. I love you.”

“Love you too.” She stays with the cordless pressed against her ear, listening to the dial tone until it cuts out.


After a month passes and every clean dish in her studio is dirty, Anya goes outside. Not for work, though. It’s a Saturday afternoon and she doesn’t need to go to her office. She does walk by it though, gazing into the dark windows. Observing its grayness, and how bleak it seems from outside when there are no busy fingers tapping or papers shuffling. She wonders how it is that this same bleakness follows her home every day.

But today is a little different. Now, it isn’t hard to breathe and she cooked herself breakfast this morning. Now, the bright sun doesn’t chase her back underneath her covers but instead encourages her to rise. Today is different. 

She tries her luck at the beach. Only about three blocks from home, it’s usually deserted. Yoga mat tied over her shoulder, she treks over dunes until she approaches her usual spot. High-pitched shouts echo over the grasses that trail the outer edges of sand. She stops in her tracks. Something is off.

The vibration of conversation hums toward her, and with each step, Anya feels dread weighing on her shoulders. She knows what she’ll see before she even climbs over the last dune. Gazing out over the overhang she sees, against all odds, that the beach swarms with families. ‘Tourists, probably,’ she curtly thinks. Anya is determined, however, to not let this steer her away from a good day.
Rolling out her mat, she finds the quietest spot she can and moves into the first position, saluting the sun that winks over the lakes shimmering horizon. A few women who lay sort of close to Anya glance up at her, whisper some things among themselves and move away.

‘Is it because I’m black?’ A stupid thought, maybe. Anya watches the women as they set up again on the other side of some boys playing catch with a raggedy football.

Her eyes scan the beach around her, not nervously, not yet. She’s calm. Taking in all the colors. Every sound. There’s something rancid smelling to the left of her so she turns her head, adjusts her warrior’s pose and breathes in the easterly winds. Anya tries to empty her thoughts and block out the noises of children playing and college boys enjoying their summers.

‘They’re not boys, men. The same age as me probably,’ Anya opens her eyes and catches a particularly close group of people waving. She reacts, waving back, and then quickly realizes their friendliness isn’t pointed towards her. Now, her face is red and she feels that slow, irritating burn prickling her chest. Deep breath in, deep breath out. ‘Avert your eyes. It’s fine.’ But it’s not fine. After 30 seconds of trying to calm herself, Anya steps off her mat, dusts off the sand and searches for a new place to stretch.

Some time ago, it wasn’t like this. Maybe in high school. Socializing used to be easy. Anya had words to share and an audience to listen to them. There was that moment of awkwardness, of feeling disconnected from her peers. But that’s adolescence, right?

College is where she felt it for the first time. The crippling fear of judgment. The uncomfortable feeling that accompanied her to every party, every event. She stayed in my dorm and read. Except, you can’t do that when you’re 18 and at a university. Reading is for relaxing, and you’re not supposed to have time for that.

Back on the beach, dark thoughts start plaguing Anya and attack her body like a returning cold once thought killed off. Spots blur her vision and she really feels she might die, even though there is nothing wrong. There is truly nothing wrong. So she counts. In two, three, out two, three. Back and forth for as long as she needs. Eventually, the noise of blood rushing in her ears calms and her heart beats steady.

Watch the horizon.


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