Human contact, in the era of the coronavirus, is ever more difficult. Though our electronics grant us video calls, a pixelated face, even on the smoothest of screens, holds no weight. It is nothing more than a literal trick of the light. Look close enough, and you might see the arrays of coloured diodes. As those of us who can afford to sequester ourselves behind our front doors, we search for different ways to connect to others.
We believe that the arts can answer that call.
An artwork, literary or otherwise, is an act of self-preservation. A writer bears their thoughts on to the page. Then, that page transmits its coded message to any willing eye, even long after its author has forgotten writing it. And so, the message (the thoughts, the feelings, the prayers and regrets) of the author live on in others. Coincidentally, it is not unlike the virus in that sense. Although, writing thankfully only causes occasional emotional distress and very rarely any physical discomfort.
The Foredge Review invites you to experience, vicariously, the thoughts of Amanda Kay, Ariel Kim, Avalon Felice Lee, Ayesha Asad, Celine Choi, Emily Peng, Esther Sun, Mary Zhang, Michelle Huang, Quinn Christensen, Sara Cao, Yejin Suh, and Zoya Yan. Young though they are, these writers and artists skilfully fuse their voices and ideas into refined works.
We are proud to present to you the second issue of The Foredge Review. As we continue to publish young voices, our digital foredge gradually accumulates pages that build towards a larger picture. Through this collection, we hope that we can help ease the difficulty of social distancing.
Thank you for your continued interest in The Foredge Review.
Foredges are the vertical edges of a book directly opposite the spine. Each page is essential to the existence of the foredge. We looked at it as a metaphor for cohesion and unity—the bigger picture created by a collection of diverse voices. Indeed, some artists use the foredge as a medium to paint their ideas. This is the message we are sending: our pages and our words are our mediums, and, disparate as they may be, they come together to form an identity.
We would like to thank Iris Chen, Claire Hong, Jessica Hsu, Carly Kiang, Nicole Li, Carlos Lao, and Annie Qiu for their contributions to The Foredge Review. Their voices fuse into a collection unified by shared passion for the arts. They understand that, though the knowledge we glean from the arts seems secondary, it is powerful in the way it shapes our thinking. No, we can't send people out to the stars with poetry, but it is that imagination that first made us point to the sky and find gods in planets.
The fascination the writer finds in the obscene and the beautiful, in equal parts, is the same elegance an entomologist sees in the plain thorax of a ground beetle. We hope that you find that this first issue of The Foredge Review captures such a sentiment. We selected each poem, each short story, and each artwork provocative for their execution and technique. The writers and artists published may be young, but their age is by no means indicative of their skill. In fact, perhaps their youth lends them an otherwise inaccessible perspective, something fleeting like the name of a colour you once loved as a child.
With this in mind, we take great pride in presenting you with The Foredge Review.
Thank you to everyone who expressed interest in this magazine. In particular, we would like to acknowledge Barbara Boyer for her guidance and continued support through the creation of The Foredge Review.
The city is a thrumming thing in November, all crackling leaves and car horns. Congested too, early holiday shoppers and families bumping all up against one another. Ahead of me, dusty children kick an orange peel around, obstructing the sidewalk. I cross the street impatiently. I’m seeing a friend today, and I can’t be late.
The sweat-sharp smell of the subway entrance hits me soon enough, and I imagine Don on the other side of the city descending an identical set of stairs. In my head, we both lean back against the wall as the train approaches—never know when some creep could push you in. Don’t know whether he really takes the subway, but I’ve always liked its mind-numbing speed, so I bet he does too.
Six minutes later, I’m spit back out into the cold. I wave to the lady in khakis and badged shirt by the entrance of the park next to the station. Part of the park police, I suppose, though what she guards us against I never knew. I take a seat on the familiar iron bench across the hot dog stand. Now it’s a waiting game. Don’s always here by eleven am, so I make sure I’m here by ten fifty-five.
So much has happened that I need to tell him about. Maybe I’ll start with yesterday night. Mom told me she’d come home early since it was my birthday, and last month she said we could get one of those expensive sea-salt cupcakes from Zingerman’s that taste better than heaven. But she didn’t come home. I didn’t hear the garage door open until maybe three in the morning. I don’t blame her though—she probably had extra work to do. I thought about going downstairs to see if she’d secretly left one on the table for breakfast but then it wouldn’t be a surprise so I didn’t.
Don will squint his eyes like you do when you’re thinking hard about something. Perhaps she’s going to get you a dozen today instead, he’ll say, because sometimes people make you feel like they forgot about you just to surprise you with something even better. Or he’ll say, maybe she’s just a witch.
I check my watch again. Eleven ten. The faded banner of the nearby hot dog stand flits in the autumn breeze. Don’s Hotdogs, its serif font reads. Usually, a short man with a nose wart works the previous shift, but it’s past eleven and he’s still here. At eleven twenty, I try to tamp down the small, nervous thing that bounces around my ribcage. He might be sick. Or have some family business. Or a doctor’s appointment. Normal people take days off from work and don’t tell their friends, right? I’ll come back and he’ll be there, humming some unfamiliar foreign song like usual. As I’m heading back towards the entrance, I remember the park ranger lady.
“Hello ma’am, do you happen to know anything about Do—that hot dog guy that’s usually here in the afternoons? Stout, got a real bushy beard.”
“Hmm… I don’t know, honey. Hey, I seen you sitting there sometimes. What you doin’?”
“Oh, nothing much. Enjoying the weather, you know. Just thought I’d ask since I’ve seen him around here a lot.”
“Wait, I know who you’re talking bout. I think Antonio, that’s his name, mentioned he found a new job a few weeks ago?”
The thing behind my ribs ricochets.
“Yeah, something at one of the banks or insurance companies downtown. Y’know, I’m happy for him. Never thought he’d become one of those nine-to-fivers but I guess it pays more than bein’ a hot dog man, ha. Do you know him?”
I pause, a strange burn creeping through my veins. But if mom taught me anything, it’s that lying catches up to you no matter what.
“No, no I don’t.”
I roll the weight of this information around my mouth on the way home. A flock of girls passes, giggling in unison about something on a phone. One of their pointy elbows hits me in the side.
So Don—no, Antonio—is gone, has been for weeks. I’m not sure what I expected, what to feel. At least he lasted longer than the Costco cashier or the tour guide or the boy on the subway. As I descend the steps to the station again, I remember that last person – the moment he walked out of the car and I walked in. The fleeting second we made eye contact, and the next when the doors snapped shut. A thousand alternative realities had fast-forwarded through my mind. In one, there was a white-picket fence around a house stuffed with laughter. In another, dozens of afternoons we spent skipping stones or digging holes to China. Instead, the subway had only bulleted away in the dark, impossibly unstoppable.
After reaching the apartment, I take my keys out of my pocket, and my hands are raw from gripping too hard. I know what I’ll find behind this door. Dust collecting in the cracks of the furniture. The unwashed milk glass I left on our plastic garage-sale table this morning. The second glass, untouched and souring even in the cold. Just a silly second-grade relic for Mother’s Day, painted with exaggerated hearts and people holding hands. When I was younger, mom made me drink milk every morning. Said it was good for the bones. So it’s only force of habit that I keep leaving two cups out like we’ll sit around the table and eat breakfast together like we used to.
My thoughts drift to the frivolous girls and dirty kids and yapping parents from today. All of them caught up in their own eddies of hopes and fears, tangling so effortlessly around others’. I silently tell Don, subway boy, Costco cashier, all the other strangers I’ve fallen in love with and will fall in love with, the same thing. That I get it. People have things to do and places to be. People who leave you are just headed somewhere better. I’m not sure if I say it for mom too.
Sighing, I pick up the two glasses and make my way into the kitchen. The faucet is nearly rusty with disuse. I rinse my glass, but when I move on to Mother’s, I realize the milk has congealed onto its sides. Must’ve been there for a week, at least. I yank the faucet left until it can’t go any further and steam rises and splits my skin pink. Finally, the milk peels off in curling strips. I dry the glass off and tuck it somewhere deep in the cabinet, somehow feeling a little like I’ve been reborn.
“O me! for why is all around us here
As if some lesser god had made the world, But had not force to shape it as he would,
Till the High God behold it from beyond,
And enter it, and make it beautiful?
Or else as if the world were wholly fair,
But that these eyes of men are dense and dim, And have not power to see it as it is:”
– Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The squares arrange themselves in a manner such that all their edges align, gesturing towards a vanishing point that doesn’t seem to exist, or a horizon that some lesser god had forgotten to draw. The squares seem to line the walls of some long-forgotten hallway, so buried in memory that it had simply ceased to be. With no other options, you resolve to go to the nearest square.
One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi.
You count 5 minutes 4 times before reaching the first square. Though from afar you had assumed it a painting, now standing mere inches away from it, you realize that its contents are moving. Reaching out to feel the texture of the canvas, you’re surprised to find that your hand instead comes in contact with the cool surface of what is apparently glass. A window, you think in a sudden bout of hopefulness. A small figure dashes by and you begin banging the window with the force of your desperation. You yell for help, but your voice is muted by the suffocating vastness of the void. The figure doesn’t return for you. You peer deeper into the scene, hoping to see someone—hoping to be seen. Through the distortion of the glass, behind your own reflection, you see children squealing in delight and darting to-and-fro about a playground.
A chorus of screams follows as the children all flee from the new tagger. You rest your forehead on the window to look closer. To your surprise, beneath the window you see a mop of sandy brown hair: a young child sitting alone beneath the window sill. For a moment you dwell on his desolation, but are quickly reminded by the pressing nature of your own struggles. In a final attempt, you bang on the window until the glass ripples and shudders. The child turns around to look up at you.
Help! You cry out.
He shakes his head, pointing a finger at himself before striking it against the opposite hand. He points once at their ear, and once at his mouth. The movements are graceful but foreign, and the message is clear.
“I can’t. Deaf.”
Suddenly the edges of the window begin fading, closing in on your chances of escape. You catch one final glimpse at the child’s face, riddled with despondence, before it is consumed by the milky oblivion. Your head, once rested on the window, now hangs low. You are alone again. But you think, for a moment, of all the times that you were not. The tides of your mind wash you back to the sandy hair beneath the sill. How long will he be alone?
You look up, in the trance of a foolish wish that you might see the child once more, but what faces you is that same, all-consuming whiteness.
You turn your head to view the other two squares that line the invisible hallway, overcome by the joyous realization that they have not gone. Two more windows? You wonder. Two more chances? You pray.
One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi.
You count 6 minutes and 6 seconds 6 times before you reach the next window. You’ve learned your lesson this time. No more fruitless banging and yelling. Instead, you try to make eye contact with someone. It seems rather difficult.
Behind the glass pane, is an elementary school classroom adorned in garish blacks and oranges, overflowing with students dressed in costumes so intricate that their form is nearly obscured. A wicked witch here, a haunted ghoul there. The room is crowded with laughter, but you don’t mind the din because it helps to fill the blankness.
Peering through the ruckus, you take a minute to observe if someone, anyone, might be able to catch sight of you. However, you find that everyone seems to be looking at something else. An entire room of students has set their eyes laser-focused on a single individual. You follow the leading lines of their eyes and find that all of their attention has been rested upon the singular person in the room that is not laughing. They aren’t laughing with one another. They’re laughing at another.
The boy looks at you for a moment, eyes wide like a deer in the headlights. His face is delicate, but his features are marred by smeared lipstick and runny mascara that dribbles down his cheek. He shuts his eyes and rips off the tiara that rests upon his crown, flinging it on the floor in an explosion of plastic jewels and metal. He opens his eyes once more, but you can hardly make out his pupils through the tears that now obstruct them. He lifts up the hem of his dress that’s soaked in water, paint, and hatred, and stands up to leave. Your attention is drawn away for a moment as you see something fly across the room.
Before the little boy can leave, the apple core knocks him in the skull. He turns around and looks at you once more, lip quivering, and you watch as a single black tear rolls off his chin. He shakes his head and, like the first time, the void bleaches any semblance of him into oblivion.
It’s no different, you think. They didn’t see him, they didn’t want to, and now I can’t see him either. A tear rolls down your cheek, and you catch it in your palm. It’s spitefully colorless. You let the droplet roll off your palm to join its bitter kind in the briny, bleached abyss.
You raise your chin and take a moment to take in the last window. The last chance.
One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi.
The last walk takes you a grueling 40 minutes. On the way, you almost stop thrice. The first, because the hunger begins to gnaw away at your stomach, but you deny the void the pleasure of cutting you down with starvation. The second, because you feel the flesh on your whole body begin aching—aching for simply being. Yet, you deny the void that same pleasure of stopping you with exhaustion. The third, because you hear your mind tell you to simply stop and consider staying, because searching seems much harder than not trying. Yet, you deny the void—the lesser god that created this nothingness—the pleasure of succumbing to its will.
The last window is the worst of all. There is no lead-in. There is no attempt at saving yourself. The moment you peer out the window, your ears are assaulted by a barrage of flesh-rending words—harsh Ns with hard Rs. Then you see her, the most vibrant spot of color in your chalk-white world. Her ebony skin and chocolate eyes glisten with seawater. Blue oceans swirl about in pools on her skin, and the saltwater cascades from her eyes. You hear her smooth caramel voice cut through the cacophony.
But the bleached bodies that pile atop her say “yes” when she cries “no”, until, when the last of their grunts had settled, she is no longer crying. They stand in a circle surrounding her. “No,” she whimpers a final time. Then you hear a sound so harsh it’s blinding. You’re forced to shut your eyes. No! You yell. But it’s too late.
You open your eyes just in time to see the last bit of color. A beautiful crimson the seeps through her ebony skin, before the whiteness takes it away.
You scream in agony. No more chances. Just alone in the void forever. Alone, thinking of all those you wish you could have saved though you can’t even save yourself. You collapse to the floor and cry out in a flurry of frustration, anger, and pain. Frustration that can’t be felt, but heard. Anger that can’t be calmed, but worsened. Pain that can’t be healed. Pain where nothing can be done. But then you hear it, a cry that’s nearly indiscernible from yours and forces you to stop your thoughts at once. You look up and see the figure, cradled on the floor just as you are. You both seem to notice each other at the same time because, in the instant you find the strength to get back on your feet, the figure does the same.
You run up to the figure until you’re face-to-face. You scream about the horrors you’ve witnessed and rant about the perfect whiteness and the broken void it is. You scream, and so do they, but their mouth produces no sound. You can hear the crystal-clear wail of your thoughts and words but while you stand with a racing heart and a broken voice, they seem to stand before you simply opening their mouth and closing it again, as if to mock you.
You’re disgusting! You shriek until the rasp in your throat becomes a stinging burn. You look at their face with eyes too far apart—or perhaps too close together. Eyes that melt and mingle with the pristine whiteness that surrounds your two bodies. Their nose is too large—or too small. You can’t decide because, after every blink, every shape deforms itself into a new monstrosity. You touch your eyes and nose to ensure that the void hasn’t taken them too. The figure also begins touching its disfigured eyes and contorted nose, mocking you.
Stop! You scream. But your voice is gone too. Lost to the whiteness and perfection.
You aren’t real. The Deaf child was real. The boy in the dress was real. The ebony lady was real. But you aren’t. This void is full of perfection and free of humanity, and it’s terrible. You are not perfection. You are not a part of this terrible existence.
Your thoughts ramble but you don’t make noise. You never made noise, because there can be no noise or pain in the whiteness.
You aren’t a part of this, you tell the figure before your fist breaks through it. —
The mirror shatters.
Perfection isn’t real. Perfection is an idea formulated and propagated by a lesser god. Perfection isn’t real, but beauty is. Beauty is the way the child’s hands danced, the bravery of the crying boy, and the voice of the ignored woman. It’s about being, not trying to be. Perfection was not, is not, and will never be. Beauty was, is, and will be. Though obscured by a curtain of faux-perfection, beauty is now for those who chose to draw it back.
You take a shard of the shattered mirror and, looking at your arm, see how hard it bites.
You watch as rubies drip from your veins, and the scarlet roses that surge within you spill across the void and make it full. The whiteness disappears, and the void falls apart.
Everything in life is either black or white. Or sometimes, though rarely, gray. At least that’s what my mother told me when I was younger. Yin or yang, dark or light, bad or good, wrong or right. There were few “in-betweens” in my world before moving to America.
However, a few days ago my moral senses were overcome by a barrage of new hues. Harsh yellows clouded my vision and glaring shades of red constricted my chest. Bright tendrils of green and blue swirled about me and my head grew light from the sensory overload. I was overwhelmed.
You might ask what could possibly cause me to go into such a catatonic state of shock. It was a small sheet of paper. Not a letter, not a law infraction, not a message of condolence. Just one simple piece of card stock paper. An invitation—a wedding invitation.
Though I admit at first, I was utterly bewildered, I soon realized how blind I had been to your circumstances. I hadn’t talked to you in two years since our falling out and I didn’t expect any sort of contact with you, much less an invitation to your wedding. I thought you might never want to see me again; yet, you still reached out. Though no amount of apologizing could ever excuse my actions, I want you to feel that maybe—just maybe—your effort was worth it.
I have a story.
By the time you were three years old, you were already enchanted by the wonders of the “great outdoors”. Most notably, you suffered a sort of separation anxiety each time we departed the playground. Quite frankly, I found it strange at first. How anyone could be drawn to that thing was beyond me. The equipment looked sickly: rust-ridden and covered with anemic patches of blue and yellow that peeled at the edges. It was a tetanus case waiting to happen. The concert hall for a cacophonous symphony of laughing and whining children. However, you looked upon it each time with such a renewed sense of wonder that I couldn’t help but feel enchanted by it as well. To all of the children of the park, each rise and fall of the swing was a ticket to the moon and back, each creak of the see-saw was the booming rumble from the chest of a mighty dragon, and each person was a fellow adventurer and ally. The sense of camaraderie you felt with one another was truly magical. Each child from every walk of life sought friendship with others despite drastic differences, a skill that adults can’t hope to achieve. It was there, in that mystical wonderland, that you met Mary.
Though you may not remember, you and Mary were friends. You two could roll around in the sand giggling and making mess for hours on end. Every day, Mary’s older brother, Tim, brought her to the playground. Tim was a nice boy. Different. Where our other neighbors often looked upon our family with superciliousness or bewildered curiosity, Tim saw us as no different than anyone he may have bumped into on the street. He and I often exchanged a kind word or two before he took to studying on a nearby park bench as I watched you and Mary. Every day, the same routine. Then, Tim left for college.
Mary’s mom was a different case from her son. A pompous lady who held her nose up in such conceit you would’ve thought she was some sort of superstar diva that had been trapped inside a middle-class woman’s body. She was no different from me (save for the fact that she was dressed from head to toe in garish clothing). Her hands were worn and calloused from years of housework and, despite her excessive and tacky makeup, you could see deeply-set worry lines that creased her forehead and created the illusion that her eyebrows were constantly raised. She was no goddess; yet, she was so patronizing and carried herself with such an above-it-all attitude that one would have expected such. I didn’t like her. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to seem like a woman with shallow judgement and decided to approach her.
I walked over and gave her a shy “hello,” offering my hand. She barely glanced as she walked past me. I froze for a moment, in shock at her coldness, but eventually resigned back to the park bench. Once seated, I began watching you and Mary happily playing, completely oblivious to the world around you. Though Mary’s mom reeked of self-importance, I found it nice to see that our children’s attitudes weren’t predetermined by their parents.
It took a good five minutes before Mary’s mother finally tired of her vanity and began watching her daughter. She looked up to find you and Mary boisterously laughing as you descended the slide. Her face suddenly became riddled with such a putrid mix of disgust and loathing that it made my heart drop into my stomach. She tilted her head back and glared at you down the bridge of her nose. “Mary, who is that you’re playing with, honey?” She said with such intense condescension that it made her nostrils flare. Her voice was shrill and pierced the ear like metal scraping concrete. Mary looked up at her mom with surprise, as if in disbelief that her mom had not met you. “Mary. I said, who is that?” Her mom repeated fervently. She was loud, despite her gaunt frame, as if her personality was trying to escape through her mouth with every word.
“Avery, mommy.” Mary replied matter-of-factly, raising a brow at her mom.
“Avery?” Mary’s mom yelped in surprise, as if an Asian child with a Western name was an impossibility. “Well,” she stammered “I don’t think you should be playing with him, or any of them.” Her mouth contorted on the last syllable in a most grotesque manner, as if each phoneme brought her a new bout of excruciating pain.
“Who is ‘them’ mommy?” Mary questioned innocently.
“Never mind. Let’s just go to the park in Amy’s neighborhood, okay honey? The equipment here is... contaminated,” her eyes glanced over at me, “and I’m afraid you might get sick.” She whispered loudly. You furrowed your brow in confusion as you watched Mary get up and take her mother’s hand before making her way back down the road. They were gone almost as quickly as they had come.
Mary’s mom may have thought she had been tactful or that her actions were discreet, but I can say that her “caution” was to no avail. My soul had already been punctured at her first utterance.
How anyone could dislike a child—my child—was beyond me. You were my baby. You are my baby. Nothing anyone says or does can change the fact that the innocence of all children, especially my own, are entitled to preservation, not harm. If you recall any of your broken Chinese you’ll remember that baby in Chinese is baobei. What you may not know is that it also means treasure. Children are a treasure and should be treated as such, not defamed with the insolence of ignorant people. After all, beneath our differences we all are human and it was astonishing to me how Mary’s mom thought that we were in any way beneath her. I cried. Just you and me in the park with no one watching. Me sobbing on the bench. You, sitting in the sandbox, playing in blissful ignorance.
Now, there is no way to express how incredibly furious I was, but with time, I saw the gray. Before this I knew that there was black and white and gray but this, this was the first time I’d realized the multitude of shades that existed between the three. To me, what Mary’s mother had done was black as night, but I grew to realize that, growing up, there was no one to tell her that she was misinformed and no one to clear the muddle of misconceptions in her mind. Yes, she was ignorant, but it was, at its origin, a fault of her upbringing. I don’t mean to undermine her disrespect. Her actions were plainly inexcusable and she was guilty of lacking the initiative and the want to understand the world outside of her own. Her actions were black, but with the smallest trickle of white. They were gray. A very dark gray, but not black.
Now, I’ve digressed for long enough but you must see how this relates to our situation now. When you decided to open up to me two years ago about the strange feelings you’d long been aware of, I was shocked and instinctively retaliated violently. I selfishly tried to make it about myself. Had I raised you improperly? Was it a problem on your end or mine? But I jumped so far ahead that I forgot to ask myself the most important question of all. Was your “problem” a problem at all? Like Mary’s mom I became so caught up in my preconceptions that I forgot you in the process—a most dark gray. I forgot my baobei. My treasure. But, now that I’ve opened up my mind, I can finally see what Mary’s mom refused to. Receiving your wedding invitation brought the flood of sensations I felt back then with a renewed clarity.
Everything in life can be either black or white or gray. But that’s not all. The world is an abstract painting. It’s not monochrome, but rather splattered with the technicolor pigment of human emotion. Sometimes it is red when we make decisions based on anger and unrestrained passion. Sometimes it can be orange when we pursue things with enthusiasm and determination. Sometimes it can be yellow when we act out of fear. It can be green when we are overcome by envy. It can be blue when we act out of woe and misery and loss. It can be purple when we act with the certainty of intelligence. It can be pink when we act out of the love that we find in one another. I was colorblind, but now I understand the love that motivated you to live your life as the person you are, not the person people like me want you to be.
Avery. My son. If there is any knowledge that I would like to pass on to you, something you can tell others that “my mom told me”, it is that there are shades and hues and colors and values to everything. Everything has color, but only if you choose to see it all. Frankly, I know that you have found the most beautiful shade of pink to share with your husband-to-be.
I love you and I very much look forward to the wedding.