Spend a Minute with Some Good Reads
“We hoped the contest would be a quick, fun way for students to do some writing without having to think about that 10-page research paper that’s due after break,” said Writing Center tutor Cass Adler ’24, who coordinated the contest. “Writing Center tutors judged the entries and had fun, too, reading the submissions and discussing which were the best constructed and those that were their favorites.”
We thought that you, too, might enjoy taking a break from whatever work you’re doing to spend a few minutes reading the winning essay and the two runners-up.
A Letter after Three Years’ Time
By Eva Hays ’24
I watch the squirrels finish their nests in the tree outside my window, the ones I’ve been tracking all November. I see them skitter between branches, collecting browned leaves in their little hands. Sometimes, their movement causes a scattering of crows, taking off and pressing their ink black wings against the watery gray sky. Or a cascade of acorns, bouncing across the ground like wooden raindrops.
It seems that every year at Thanksgiving, there are fewer seats drawn up to the table. Once, my sister and I used to share that old wooden bench with the creaky leg, stuck at the end. Since your disappearance we each get our own seat now, but I feel greedy, taking up space that was never meant to be mine.
Even if you were to come, I’m not sure I’d recognize you anymore. In the past three years, you have become the shake in my grandmother’s hands as she holds a candle at Christmas Eve mass, the furrow in my mother’s brow as she grips the steering wheel. I’m not sure I know your face anymore, just the many faces of your absence, twisted in grief. I’m not sure I know what you look like now that you’re being hunted in the halls of your own house.
I set out to write this letter to you, but it turns out that I don’t know what to say. I still have the books on my shelf that you gave me, and I imagine how your fingers once turned the pages. The flannel in my closet still smells like your detergent, no matter how many times I’ve worn it to bonfires, washed it, sweat in it. And since you’ve left, I’ve done that plenty — I’ve lived the life in your clothes that you never had the chance to.
I don’t know how to tell you about me without feeling like I’m bragging.
I press my hands to the grass, my feet into the snow, knowing that while I’m here, you’re somewhere none of us can reach, though we’ve all tried. Tell me, do you light candles to fend off the dark? Do you smile when you smell brewing coffee? Sometimes, I live in fear of you and your vices. If I had the power, I would leash your demons, drag them out of your house. I would paint your ceilings yellow so you never forget the feeling of sunlight.
Now, I watch a crow take off, the weak sun gently kissing its feathers. There, just there, the hidden iridescence, a glimpse of purple flashing in the pitch. The bough of the tree shakes with the weight of the bird’s departure, and I watch it go, rounding a corner where I can no longer see. It snowed for the first time yesterday, yet already the white dusting has faded away, leaving dirty puddles and trampled grass in its wake. It feels like a strange rebirth, the world renewed in a soggier, more sluggish version of itself. I’m waiting patiently for the snow to return.
This coming Christmas, I will happily bring out that old bench again if it means you’ll reclaim your seat; I was only really borrowing it anyway. I’ll tell you about the squirrels and the crows, because I know you once built birdhouses in your backyard. I’ll tell you about the flannel because I want you to know that I see myself in you, in the restlessness you try to staunch like it’s a bleeding wound.
And if I no longer recognize you, teach me how to find you again. I have time to learn.
Eva Hays is a senior creative writing and Hispanic studies major from Stratham, N.H. On campus, she participates in women’s club soccer and the Pretty Tough fitness club. After graduation, she plans to move to Spain to teach English and continue working on her novel.
By Maddie Mulligan ’24
The snow falls in fractals, disintegrating against the top of my red umbrella. I used to watch the snow from the west facing window on the third floor of Gringham House, but due to my exemplary behaviors, Mother allowed me to go on the short walkway from the southern door to the edge of the garden eleven and a half feet before the tree line. The snowflakes flurry in a series of patterns that are new. I wish to learn every one.
It takes me forty-six steps each way, but I make my steps shorter in the slick slush. Mother warned that I was only allowed out if I stayed beneath the red umbrella. It rests on my right shoulder now between the crease of my jacket and sweater. Today I wear orange like pumpkins or sunsets or the soda cans that Mother thinks I don’t know are stashed in the bottom right corner of the pantry. Mother says colors are good for me, and one at a time I grow accustomed to each. So far, I have learned four colors called blue and red and yellow and now orange. White and black don’t count. Snow is white but Gringham House is a black house with a pointed triangle roof and big windows but only on the third floor. Mother lives on the second floor but she mostly stays in the drawing room on the third. I like to sit with her and we watch each other. I like to see how she moves her yarn into itself until it becomes something new. She watches me watch her.
I wonder how snow feels — if it feels sharp like the points of each flake. Mother told me once that it was soft but if you pressed it together it could get hard. She said that you could throw it. I have read sixteen books and none of them say that snow can be thrown. Mother said there are more books than sixteen, but the shelf in the drawing room only has sixteen. I reach the end of the walk, the furthest point from Gringham House, eleven and a half feet from the tree line. I wait for twelve seconds and wonder what might happen if I step beyond the edge of the garden. If I walked through the forest, I would be able to measure exactly the distance between Gringham House and the opposite edge of the forest.
I look back up at Gringham House. The first three days I was allowed to go on the walk, Mother watched me from the south facing window on the third floor, but after the fourth day she stayed in her armchair and waited for me to return on my own.
The snow flurries closer, nearly crossing the bottom lip of the red umbrella. I observe each pattern of flake that I can discern. Mother said that one day I would get a microscope so that I may observe them even closer. The red umbrella darkens the light, making it difficult to see.
I lower the umbrella and the snow collects on my hair and skin, nestling into the crease where the umbrella rested between my jacket and sweater. I observe that snow does not feel sharp. Mother was right, it feels soft like flour or yarn.
Error: system malfunction. Hardware damage. Liquid detected. Shutting down.
Madeline Mulligan is a senior creative writing and classical studies major from Guilford, Conn. On campus she founded the fitness club Pretty Tough. After graduation she hopes to work in publishing as she continues to write long form fiction.
God and Crossword Puzzles
By Hadley Rogers ’26
My mom raised me religious, but God never meant much to me. He was no different from the elusive plasticky, cottony toys that my mom kept in the cabinet under the bathroom sink: fun to play with, but there for what? To unwrap, pop the hidden cotton out, and then throw away? As a kid, I toyed with and then tossed out tampons the same way I toyed with then tossed out God.
As I got older, my mom pushed CCD and summer bible school, but my only biblical relationship was with crossword puzzles. She looked forward to Sundays for mass, and I looked forward to Sundays for the New York Times Sunday Crossword. While she filled some empty part of her with Jesus, God, and whoever else cameoed in that Sunday’s preachings, I filled empty squares with letters scribbled in blue Bic ballpoint pen. She’d come home and tell me about how she learned to make the most of her struggles and dark patches, embarking again on her sisyphean task of trying to pull me back to God. Instead I told her about how I’d learned to appreciate the dark spots by doing crosswords. The dark squares were helpful. They were simple squares amidst a grid of puzzling ones.
As my mom got closer to God, I got closer to crosswords. We both felt more at home with pages than with each other. I started to go deaf from the relentless screaming of capital letters trapped inside suffocating boxes. I thought in terms of three across, aloe, era, ore, aria. My mom got lost in the tales of Eden, and I got lost in “23 down, From the Biblical Garden meaning delight.” We sat next to each other at the kitchen counter, her face in a bible whose pages were the same color as her coffee-stained teeth, my face at home in the Arts section of the New York Times. Side by side but without acknowledgment of each other, we both puzzled for solutions.
We sat in silence and puzzled together daily, at home in the other’s presence, through the day I moved out. I moved out, but was not driven out, of my mom’s house. We toed different lines but the lines were parallel, mine across from hers. Toes behind our lines, noses buried in pages, we grew side by side but separately. Even apart, when tampons became more elusive to my post-menopausal mom than to me, she came to my apartment every Sunday, armed with her bible. I always welcomed her with open arms, even when the corners of her bible dug into my spine as we hugged. Every week, we engaged in our ritual exchange of the appropriate mother-daughter pleasantries, followed by the assumption of our usual spots on the couch. My mom would then open her bible as she slid her glasses down the bridge of her nose, and I’d reach into the bookshelf beside the couch and pull my crossword book, wedged between an untouched bible and the shelf’s end, into my lap, and we’d puzzle as religiously as ever.
Hadley Rogers is a sophomore from Wallingford, Conn., who competes on Hamilton’s varsity softball team. Although she is undecided about a major, her post-graduate plans include adopting a dog.
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