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Issue 11: Winter 2017




The Winter 2017 issue of Mangrove Journal is an online-only edition. Print books of select Spring issues are available on the University of Miami Coral Gables campus for a suggested donation of $5-$10 to the Creative Writing Program. Please contact for more information.


Parents, the Hot Air Balloon Pilots

Tom Bent is balancing on top of a guardrail that runs parallel to I-65.

The way the semis cut through the black night in front of him, with reflectors outlining the trailers in yellow and white and red, remind him of those deep-sea fish that glow like sci-fi creatures. He hasn’t seen one of those fish, not even on TV, since his parents took him to the aquarium in Chicago when he was a kid. They had entered a dark room where walls of tanks were filled with an almost toxic blue that washed over everything in an eerie haze. His mother pointed to the tank closest to them. “Darling, look,” she said. She cupped his small shoulders with her long, thin fingers. Tommy, standing in that room with his parents, looked around and saw dozens of jellyfish floating up and up as if they were balloons that had been released. Looking back on that moment, as the trucks pass, he can’t picture anything or anyone else in that room except for himself, his mother, his father, and the walls of luminous jellyfish. 

The low rumble of a motorcycle snaps him back to the present, where he is being pressed between the stillness of the field behind him and the violent wind from I-65. How easy it would be to go stand right in the middle of traffic and let a truck do all the dirty work. There’d be no more thinking. No more anything―just a bunch of nothingness like the aquarium so long ago. He could jump right over the guardrail, get smashed by a truck going ten over, and he’ll be a guy in a crudely-made skeleton costume splattered across the interstate. The glow-in-the-dark bone decals he glued onto his hoodie will be just as reflective as the damn trucks in the light of headlights and the moon. 

“Zephyr!” he hears someone call behind him. He hops to the ground and turns to see five flashlights slice through the darkness around the field. One is shining out from atop a combine harvester reel that has been left there among the soybeans for a week. Holding his breath, Bent hopes that what he’d heard was the shout of someone having found the damn cat so this search would be over, and these people could go back to the Halloween party from which Olive had pulled volunteers. “Come back!” the same person shouts again, and Bent hangs his head. 
The search continues. 
Stupid cat. 

Zephyr had run off only once before, and it was because he got scared during a thunderstorm. Two minutes after they’d given up searching and shut the back door, they heard scratching and a mournful, drawn-out mew coming from the porch. There Zephyr was, soaked like a toothpick with a mohawk, angry and ready to come in. 

This is not the case tonight though, and Olive is not happy. 
Since realizing Zephyr had gone missing, she’s been glowering at Bent even more than she normally does. She’s probably blaming him. Maybe he is to blame, but he can’t remember. He doesn’t know. He’s only now starting to sober up enough to think about it. But Olive, she’s been ruffling the peacock feathers that she’s strapped to her ass, screeching for the damn thing to come back, and stomping around with her heels in her hand and her blue tights getting ripped and dirty. Last Bent saw, she had her boyfriend, Ian the fighter pilot, at her side. She waved a flashlight in her free hand while Ian checked if the night vision goggles he got from his dad for his costume really worked. 
Stupid cat. Stupid party. 

Bent squints and finds Olive brushing back some overgrowth as she plows toward the edge of the field where it becomes just weeds and deep mud holes. She’s carrying Ian’s helmet and has his goggles and her shoes tucked inside it. She bites down on the flashlight and crouches down, sinking out of Bent’s vision. Ian is hunched over with his arms out in front of him, probably trying to think like a cat, probably hoping to figure out where Zephyr went, probably being a dumbass. 

There is now a disjointed chorus of Zephyr! and Where are you? and Come back! The disembodied voices drift across all sections of the field, and Bent turns back to the interstate. Even though he knows he probably won’t do it, off himself right here, right now, a part of him doesn’t ever want to return to either party. The reason he was invited to the Halloween party anyway is because it’s Olive’s, first of all. Second, he lives with her, so he was bound to find out sooner or later. Third, their other roommate, the dumbass, had come into the kitchen while Bent ate cereal alone at the table. Ian asked, “Did Olivia tell you about the party we’re throwing next week?” No? “Oh. Well, you should probably stay away from the alcohol if you decide to join us, my man.” Ian laughed and swatted the air. Bent just stared at him. “I kid, man. Chill.” 

Bent had dropped his spoon, which clinked against the porcelain rim of the bowl, and pushed himself out of his chair, walking past Ian to his bedroom. And that was how Bent ended up at the party at his own house while managing to be unanimously voted the number one asshole. 

Olive giving him the cold shoulder is tough because he met her sixteen years ago when her parents moved to the little white bungalow across the street. The second he saw her stacking small boxes that were handed to her out of the back of the moving truck, he was completely mesmerized. Something about the way she neatly placed the boxes in perfect towers around the yard, forming a circle around herself, impressed him. And even then, he knew she was pretty. She had this golden brown hair that looked soft and bright in the sun and small eyes that widened when she laughed at who he assumed was her dad. She hopped around in jean shorts and a white tank top and had that brown skin kids got when they were out outside all the time. 

Bent, on the other hand, was not at all impressive: he was a knobby boy with reddish hair that was turning brown the older he got, at least, but back then…oh, they’d all teased him at school because of it. To make matters worse, he had freckles on his nose, a squeaky voice, a collection of comic books taller than he was, and could count the number of friends he had on one hand―if he were to chop off four of his fingers. His new neighbor seemed like the kind of girl who’d have a lot friends, and he wasn’t jealous of her; he was jealous of them for being able to know her. 

When they were fourteen, Olive sat in her blue jeans in Bent’s basement. By now, he was no longer Tommy at school. Still, over the years, Bent managed to acquire more friends just through association with Olive, but she was the only one who would sit quietly in his room for an entire weekend and do her homework and read and talk on the phone with her chick friends while he fastened himself to a controller and glued his eyes to the TV screen. But this one afternoon in his basement, they were watching bad horror films and drinking beer he snuck from the fridge. In the movie, women walked into a dense fog, and Olive hid her head behind Bent’s shoulder. Their hands began wandering. And they kissed. On TV, spikes were driven through the women’s eyes. Olive and Bent didn’t taste or feel anything other than the beer. 

Olive giggled when they pulled away, and he said he was sorry. “Don’t be,” she said. “My girlfriends claim they kiss each other all the time, so I guess this is kind of the same thing. Oh. That was stupid to say.” 

Kind of stupid, he thought, but kind of true. He watched her wipe away strands of brown hair that had gotten stuck on her saliva-sticky lips. He squinted, feeling pretty sure that he should’ve felt insulted, like his masculinity was a snail that had just gotten salted, but what he felt for her wasn’t something he could quite― 

Blood. He pictured them joined at the head with their veins and bones and blood all mixed and attached. Siblings in houses across the street but in each other’s blood. 

Fourteen, and his parents were still around.


Bent was just a kid when his parents became lost. He can’t say for sure whether they’re dead because there was never any evidence, no remains, and over time, people stopped looking or they forgot to look. And that was that. His grandma, who had been staying with him while his parents were on vacation, didn’t like to talk about it. Since she ended up moving in permanently so he wouldn’t have to transfer schools, nothing was ever mentioned. The funeral director at the memorial service couldn’t give him any information either. “These things happen,” he had said, patting Bent on the back. 
That was that. 

Because there weren’t any answers, he and Olive would sneak out their windows late at night and walk a couple blocks down to the park where there was a swing set underneath a white ash hidden behind a tennis court. They wouldn’t say a word until they were each on a swing and up in the air, kicking their feet. It was then that Bent could finally speak, and they’d go all night, creating stories to explain his missing parents. Some stories involved his parents dying. 

In others, his parents did something crazy like, say, they simply realized that they no longer wanted to be parents and so they just, you know, stopped. 

Bent understood how easy it’d be to become lost if you really put your mind to it. Or, how easy it’d be to just close your eyes and allow yourself to make a wrong turn, never knowing how you ended up where you are. Never knowing the way back. 

“Maybe they were sucked into the sky. They were riding their bikes, and my dad started being funny and went so fast that he started going up, and he probably looked back at Mom and laughed. At first my mom laughed, too, because she always said my dad was charming. But he couldn’t get back down, and the way his eyes looked made Mom know something was wrong. So she started going faster too. And soon, she was also flying. Their feet moved so fast when they pedaled that it probably hurt to keep going, but they had to ‘cause they needed to get to each other and somehow get down. But they never could. They just kept riding higher into outer space, leaving behind those trails, like airplanes make in the sky.” 

“Well, then maybe they’re still out there, Tommy. Maybe they’re flying their bikes all the way back home from Florida.” 
“Pressure of space would’ve killed them.” 


Bent sighs and sticks his shoes underneath the guardrail and bends over to touch his toes. He droops there like that for a bit, and a couple cars and a truck honk at him as if he doesn’t know he’s hanging over a guardrail. A third car slows and pulls over. 
“Hey, man, are you okay?” 
“Yep.” He’s still just hanging there, doubled over the rail so that his costume is hidden. 
“Did you break down somewhere?” 

Bent stands up. “See that house way back there with the fire going?” He points. “That’s my tribe, and they kicked me out for a while.” He draws back his leg and kicks a rock at the guy, who rolls up his window and drives off without saying anything more. Bent realizes he should probably go back before some cop comes by. Even though he knows there are a ton of cops in the region, he can’t help but have an overwhelming paranoia that, somehow, they all know his face, his name, and have his history pinned to their dashboards: Thomas Cameron Bent, five-foot-nine, 169 pounds, twenty-seven, brown hair, green eyes, arrested for drunk driving two months ago―crashed into parked pickup and totaled Olive’s little beater. How long before the accident had he been promising that this temporary stint with alcohol would soon be over? And how long had Olive been rolling her eyes and saying it was beginning to look more like a permanent condition? The answer was too long. According to Olive. 

He still remembers the first time she spoke to him after it all happened. She stood in the doorway of his bedroom with one hand holding onto the doorjamb and her head leaning on that arm. She looked at him as if she couldn’t hate anything nearly as much as she hated him in that moment. Her face was so ugly with hatred, her scrunched face pressing her glasses up into her eyebrows, her wide eyes then just narrow little slits. 

But then she sighed and loosened her shoulders. “You’re sad, I know.” The tenderness in her voice killed Bent. 
“I’m not sad.” 
“And I understand it’s all been really difficult on you, even after all this time.” 
“No, it hasn’t. What has?” 

She shuffled around a bit and crossed her arms. “But you are a fuck-up, Bent. I…I just―you’re a fuck-up.” And then she walked away. He tried convincing himself that if he’d been parentless for the last twelve years, he could probably survive being an only-child again. But then again, probably not. He laughed at himself when he remembered thinking they’d been attached at the head, and then imagined a gaping hole above his eye where he had ripped her from him. 

Olive reappeared in the doorway, and he was ready to smile for her, say something profoundly apologetic, heal the wounds. But she was there just long enough to grab the handle and pull his door shut and say, “I’m letting Zephyr out, and I know you don’t like him coming into your room.” He doubled-over and sank to his bed. No, he knew he definitely couldn’t go back to being an only child, and he still feels the same as the cars drive past and whip pebbles into the air. What the hell are you going to do, man? Just what the hell are you going to do, Bent, you certified fuck-up? 

The search party still hasn’t given up. All the fuss being made over a stupid housecat that shits in the bathtub hurts his head. He doesn’t get it, but in a way, he does admires it. But still, he just wants to head back to the yard. He hasn’t given Olive his condolences for her lost cat yet, so maybe he can catch her on the way and say something. It’s nothing heroic, but he figures it’d be a start at mending things. But, before he does this, the cars from the southbound and northbound lanes part, and he notices something moving all the way on the opposite side of the interstate. 
Fucking Zephyr. That fucking orange cat has got to be kidding. 

Bent, excited, almost shouts for the search party to come to where he is, but right as the sound begins to escape his throat, he stops, changes his mind. Don’t even bother. What’s the point anyway? That stupid thing is all the way over there, cocking his head and perking his ears at Bent. What would anyone do anyway? Drive to it? By the time someone got to a car and made it to the shoulder of the northbound side, the cat would be long gone. No point to it.


“My parents witnessed a murder on the boardwalk real late one night, and they had to run away and completely change their identities. They went and became hot air balloon pilots, and they only fly at night so no one will ever recognize them. Mom’s in a bright yellow one with different-colored stripes. And Dad’s in a yellow one with a big red sunspot in the center. They drift through the sky with cords dangling from their baskets, and they shine on lakes and ponds and rivers. Over mountains. Farmlands. Straight towards the sun. And when they get to that first sign of light, they turn their balloons around so they can always be in the night.” 
“And they’re trying to send you messages.” 
“Yeah, yeah, and I just haven’t looked up in the sky at the right moment.” 
“We should stay out here a little longer tonight to see.” 
“I’ve got all morning, too. I have homework, but Grandma doesn’t care about that shit. She never checks up on me, so I can just sleep all afternoon.” 
“But if they only fly at night―” 
“Maybe this will be the one time they fly during the day. You don’t know, Olive.” 
“I’ve got all morning.”


Bent stops mid-step and turns back to the cat. 
Well. Zephyr had to have gotten across somehow, that’s the obvious part. He just needs to find that way now. A bridge? Had he not noticed some kind of overpass? He looks left, right, and nope, no overpass. He scrambles along the shoulder, searching for some passage, but if the cat has been gone for who knows how long exactly, it could’ve found any which way to cross. It wouldn’t surprise Bent to think that the damn cat might have teleported to the other shoulder, disappeared from the house on its own just to spite him. 

Zephyr has moved further north, but Bent can still see the orange fur pop out from behind the guardrails every now and then - like in the groundhog arcade games he used to play - its tail swaying like the weeds that grow on the sides of all American roads. He looks so tiny over there like he’s nothing but a tuft of fur being blown by the wind down the interstate. And all of a sudden, he feels deeply sad for the poor thing. He slumps his shoulders and kicks at a weed. 

For it being half past one, the traffic is horrible, and Bent is annoyed at the cars and trucks that just won’t stop. How many of them are probably drunk? Why can’t they all just be at home? Muttering to himself, he slowly lifts one leg over the guardrail, then the other. People honk as he shuffles to the left where he becomes parallel with Zephyr. Through slits in the rail, he sees Zephyr methodically lick his paws clean. Bent waves away each honking car, screaming, “I know! I know! Leave me alone! I’m okay! I’m just crazy!”


“They wandered onto land that was enchanted, and they both became palm trees, and now they’re rooted into the dirt and are growing coconuts from their limbs.” 

“Yeah, maybe―maybe they walked into an enchanted forest of palm trees. But the trees came alive and ate my parents. Ate them up.” Bent made a slurping sound with lips. 

“Shh. That’s not what happened. Your dad paid a captain to let him sail a boat himself, and he and your mom were the only people on board. He did this ‘cause he loved your mom. Your dad was at the helm, and she sat on a bench with her hands folded in her lap, and she was watching your dad navigate through the waters. Further away from land.” 

The swings went even higher. Their feet looked like they might touch the white ash. 

“Everything was sparkling. The stars were like bubbles. She grabs his hand, and he holds it while he steers. But then―your parents realize that ahead, the sky isn’t sparkling anymore. It’s not that deep nighttime color. It’s pitch black. But they keep going and realize they’re sailing off the edge of the earth. Your dad can probably turn the boat around, but he just looks at your mom, and she’s smiling because it’s okay. He lets go of the helm and holds both your mom’s hands. She stands up with him. The boat jerks this way and that way, and they hug each other tightly. They whisper that they love each other. There’s nothing they can do about the boat or the edge of the earth or falling over except hug and just repeat over and over how much they love each other. 

“They’re not crying. There’s just nowhere else for them to go. Everything is okay, Tommy. Oh, you should see how pretty your mother looks. As they fall through the air, it feels like the warmest bath they’ve ever had. Like drowning. No pain. Then there was just… nothing.” 
And there can’t be nothing again. 

Bent, dressed as a skeleton and covered in weeds and dirt and pebbles, looks left. Bent, who everyone hates at the moment because of how much he’s pissed off Olive, looks right. Bent, the fuck-up, looks straight ahead at Zephyr, who has now curled into a sleeping ball. Bent plans on getting both feet on the road first, and then he’ll bolt across the southbound lanes to the median where the grass will protect him from at least one half of the traffic. Plans for dealing with northbound cars will have to wait till then. One thing at a time, man. He picks up his foot for his first step into the road. 

Everything’s going to be okay. Bent will rescue Zephyr. Olive, Tommy Bent is running across the interstate right now for you. 

Sirenna Blas

Sirenna Blas’ fiction and poetry has been published in several small press journals 
including Burning Word, Red Ochre Lit, LITnIMAGE, and Rose & Thorn Journal.
She has won awards in prose, poetry and critical essay in in Purdue University 
Calumet’s Stark-Tinkham Writing Awards in 2011 and 2012. For Stark-Tinkham, 
she has also won an honorable mention in critical essay for “The Sexual Oppression 
of Women, and Literature as a Means for Liberation.” Sirenna studies English 
literature, tutors in her university’s Writing Center, leads workshops on various 
writing topics, and teaches composition in a college-prep program for high school students. She is based out of Northwest Indiana.