Shishir 2022 Stories - Laura Martens


The Middle of Nowhere is Everywhere
By Laura Martens


They meet on the highest storey of the mall parking lot. He sits on a low wall, the heels of his trainers drumming an unsteady beat into concrete. His parents have forgotten him here; he lacks the language to describe how he feels, so he just sits quietly and waits for the universe to righten itself.

She sees the boy’s socks peek out beneath his too-short trouser legs and immediately says, ‘We absolutely must be friends.’

Bewildered, he nods, then holds out a hand. ‘I’m Jasper.’

She grins wide, curls bouncing, and carefully touches her fingertips to his. ‘My name is Riot.’

Fourth grade. They are in the same class, run laps and laps around the school grounds. One of the taller girls sticks out her leg with a grin. Riot falls, hands bracing too late against asphalt and grit. Jasper is at her side a moment later, panting, sweaty, eyes terrified. He watches her spit stone and blood, furious eyes following the tall girl.

She will regret that, both think. Only one of them means it.

Jasper’s parents send him to church camp over the summer.

Riot cycles along abandoned suburban roads, watches the dragonflies that rise out of the public pond, neglected and overgrown. Summer feels as endless and abandoned as the cloudless sky. She smokes five of her mother’s cigarettes alone on the roofand is violently sick behind the flower beds. The night sky feels too crowded with stars.

At church camp, Jasper leans how to pray. He meets God in the feeling of warm lips against his, the way his temple fits perfectly against the soft slope ofa boy’s throat. In the dark, he discovers words that he cannot say. Here, for the first time, he is alive.

At home, he tries to communicate this to Riot, feet swinging in the ancient love seat in her parents’ garden. She only places a hand against his cheek and turns it away.

That night, he tries to call the number scribbled across a thin scrap of paper, but it is disconnected.

Jasper’s friends know a club that you can get into with the worst fake ID, and they go, giddy after stealing a bottle without a label from his parents’ liquor cabinet. They finish it in a small alley full of newspapers and abandoned furniture, then, stumbling, join the queue. The music vibrates in their chests and the crowd is a sea of shadows that drowns them.

When a man grabs Riot’s waist, turns her around and presses wet lips to hers, she lets him. Her hands are at her side, struggling not to curl into fists. Then she is pulled away, as the man shouts and clutches his right eye. Shadows and lights and music, then only night sky.

Angry, she turns, hair wild. ‘What the fuck did you do that for?’Something sharp presses into her throat.

Jasperhas grown taller than her. He pushes his glasses back a little and ignores her rage. ‘Are you okay?’

She is, of course she is. But a moment later, she is sobbing:huge, ugly sobs that threatento break her apart. He steps forward and holds her, arms perfectly solid. They can still hear the music, damp and hollow. After a moment, or twenty, he holds her face between his hands and very softlykisses her lips. ‘There,’ he says, not quite smiling.

There are the perfect number of stars in the sky.

They get on a bus and sit at the very back, curled against each other. The lights of the city paint blurry pictures across the windows. Soft jazz music plays on the driver’s radio. In that moment, Jasper feels every bone, every muscle in his body, and he knows that he, too, isa small part of this endless, glorious world.
I love you, Riot thinks, and is not sure if that is enough.

‘Are you staying over?’she asks after an hour, and, thinking of the cold walls of his house, Jasper nods.

Jasper graduates at the top of their class, and Riot cheers loudly as he accepts his roses. The two seats that his eyes are drawn to are empty. He wears white socks under rolled up jeans and somehow that is all Riot can think about as she walks across the stage, her family cheering. Jasper catches her eyes with a smile. She slowly turns towards the crowd and rips her degree in half.

That night, she meets him in front of his house. She has brought two river-smooth stones that feel perfect against her palms and kisses them both before handing them over. Jasper blinks owl-eyes behind his glasses. He takes them and hurls them straight through his parents’ living room window.

Glass splinters and alarms wail and along the street, lights flicker on. The asphalt is summer-warm beneath the soles of their shoes. The air tastes like promises. They run until they can't anymore, and then they lie flat on their backs in the middle of the street. Jasper traces the worn-down line of paint between them with a fingertip.

Tomorrow, they will leave. A rusted, red Toyota Corolla will bring them all the way to San Francisco, the back full of memories. He got a scholarship for a creative writing degree; she will start a job in a bar and save up for art school. The world seems large and bright and impossible.

He reaches out and curls his fingers through hers, and she holds on tight until the starlight fades.


Laura Martens is based in London where she writes things and sells books. She loves skyscrapers, busy train stations, and cafés with window seats. Her writing has appeared in CP Quarterly, the Journal of Erato, and others.


Our Contributors !!

Some of our writers!

  • We occassionally invite writers to send their musings. Do send in your work, and we will host it here.
  • Do visit the Submit page to submit your work.