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Breath & Shadow

Winter 2019 - Vol. 16, Issue 1


written by

Arriane Tolentino

8 hours until Midnight

She supposed this was an appropriate ending.

In fact, she could say she was expecting this to happen from the start. Though, a small
part of her, the hopeful and delusional side really, wanted to believe otherwise. She was
watching Glas by Bert Haanstra with only half a mind to take in words floating against
the wave of smooth jazz. Or, at the very least, what she assumed to be smooth jazz.
She kept her breathing even and nodded silently to the woman sitting next to her. It was
fitting that Rose would end things with her since she was the one who started what they

She never looked away from the screen, but she felt the soft fingers on her scalp and
the mumbled “it’s for your own good, honey.” In that moment, she wondered if she had
agreed to this in the first place because she had some sort of a mother complex.

11 years and 3 months until Midnight

She supposed this was where it all began.

At the age of five, she learned that, apparently, she did have a mother named Michelle.
The idea had her baffled because this was a woman she had never remembered
meeting but here was her father, shoving the telephone into her hands, telling her to say
hi to her mama. She was five and always did what she was told so she held the phone
against her ear and began talking about the butterflies on Discovery Channel. She told
the woman on the other side of the world about their life cycles, the process from
caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly. She told the woman about the song she wrote about
butterflies and the butterfly umbrella her aunt got her for Christmas. When she came to
the story of how she fell down the stairs while holding her beloved umbrella and singing
her song, the woman became livid and demanded to speak with her father. She handed
the phone back and went back to the tv where lions were the highlight of the day and
the roaring drowned out every other voice.

4 years and 10 months until Midnight

She supposed that it would have been a good time as any to approach her father.

He was reclined on the couch, watching a variety show she didn’t care to know the
name of. It was the most relaxed she had seen him in weeks. She sat beside him and
gathered all the courage she could to begin a conversation. She was never the type to
be a riveting speaker, but she swallowed down the knot in her throat and asked her
father what he was watching. She figured being direct to the point would be too
dangerous, so she carefully steered the conversation from something her father was
interested in to what she really wanted to talk about.

He was watching a show where celebrities tried to win money through a battle of song
memory. She wondered why in the world celebrities were trying to win more money
when they already had lots of it, but it was neither here nor there. One of the celebrities,
she knew based on careful research of magazine scandals and gossip, was an out and
proud gay comedian. She saw her opportunity, so she asked her father what he thought
of that celebrity. She listened carefully to his opinion on the man’s stand-up comedy and
the few times he was a guest for variety shows for the fun of it.

That was all he was good for, according to her father. With his sharp laughter, she felt
the urge to scratch up the itch in her throat.

12 years and 9 months until Midnight

She supposed she could not fault her father for what he did.

Neil Hermana was a conservative man, so it makes sense for him to have hated being a
house husband. She figured the whole “stay at home and take care of your daughter”
thing got to his machismo and made him a bad father because he wasn’t enough of a
man to bring money in like his wife so of course he absolutely just had to leave her in
Aunt Alice’s care.

Ashley had not minded though. Aunt Alice was a nice woman. She was a former math
teacher and she made money by teaching online classes and tutoring kids around town.
She was patient and kind and always gave her nice gifts like books and shoes, and best
of all: her favorite butterfly umbrella. Alice was her favorite relative because at age six,
that’s all a child really cares about.

7 days until Midnight

She supposed that she would hit this stage in her life eventually.

She was on her second year of college and she should have been in class, but she
wasn’t. Instead of being a good little sheep, she skipped and went to watch
documentaries in the cougar’s den. Well, it was less of a den and more of the living
room of a nice townhouse that was a thirty-minute jeep ride away from her university.
She almost tripped over the toys on the floor as soon as she stepped in.

Ashley wasn’t quite sure, but she figures she had already failed at least six out of her
eight classes this semester due to the amount of absences. It wasn’t like she hated
going to class. But between spending her time sitting in a room, on an uncomfortable
plastic chair at that, and not listening to the professor, and spending that time watching
a riveting documentary on how pencils were made, on her girlfriend’s nice leather couch
with said girlfriend cuddling her… Well, it was obviously going to be the documentary
and the comfy couch.

10 years before Midnight

She supposed that she should have kept a diary.

She did not remember any of the details but one minute she was asleep in her aunt’s
bed, the cold air contrasting with the heat of her aunt’s palm, and the next she woke up
in her father’s car, on the way back to their subdivision. No one would tell her anything

that happened, but she heard bits and pieces from accidentally eavesdropping. It was
not like she meant to listen in on private conversations, but she needed to go to the
bathroom one night and at seven, she figured she was old enough to go on her own.

She heard booming whispers and hushed fists on cement walls and her aunt’s name
and other words she had never heard before. In hindsight, she figured that keeping a
diary would have meant she would have been able to take note of them and search
what those words meant later on. But, then again, she was seven and she might not
have been able to spell them anyways. It was the last time she ever saw or heard of her
Aunt Alice.

15 hours until Midnight

She supposed this would have been the only plausible reaction.

When parents finally hear of their daughter failing her classes due to a great number of
absences for unknown reasons, the reaction could not possibly be soft and concerned.
No, not at all. At that moment, with her mother on speaker and her father staring down
at her with wide eyes, red from a lack of blinking, she knew this was how it was going to
end. Her father silently held his ground while her mother screamed bloody murder at

It was not as if she was about to disagree with them. No, what her mother was yelling
out was true. She knew she was wasting their hard-earned money by enrolling into
classes she did not even attend. She knew she was hurting them by spitting at their
tired, aching bodies. She was fully aware of all the aches and pains her parents went
through so she could get access to education, food, gadgets. Oh, she knew all the
things they had given her and how easily they could take them all away. When she
figured they were done with her, she simply walked out the door with nothing in her

6 years and 6 months until Midnight

She supposed it wasn’t her father’s fault.

He was a full-time working, conservative, straight man so she couldn’t blame him for not
being able to teach her how to use a tampon or napkin, how to deal with cramps, how to
fend for herself. She figured he would never have the time to teach her all of the things
she needed to know as a girl, let alone the time to learn what those things are. So she
went looking for the answers herself.

She spent her afternoons at a local library, reading everything she would need to know
throughout her puberty. She read about menstrual cycles, hygiene, pubic hair, and Sex
Ed. She devoured every book she could on the subject. It wasn’t like anyone else was
going to tell her these things.

20 minutes until Midnight

She supposed the car ride was nice enough of a gesture.

She had walked there without bringing anything with her so she was grateful for the free
ride. She figured it would have been more awkward to talk so she just stared out into
the window and thought about the gentle way the men in Glas rolled the pipe they used
to blow glass. The old-fashioned way. It was soothing in a way she wished would have
lasted for eternity but could only last for less than the ten minutes of the documentary.

As Rose dropped her off outside her subdivision, Ashley wasted no time in getting out. It
was as if she were on an Uber ride home instead of her ex-girlfriend bringing her back.
It was not like she was expecting anything more to happen that night. She waited for the
car to disappear from her sight and hoped it could disappear from her existence, but
she was not holding her breath on that one.

She turned around and walked away from the subdivision’s gates.


Arriane Tolentino is a bisexual university student at the age of 19. She is currently
studying in a Catholic university due to the lack of availability of colleges which have a
literature program.

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