by Susan L. Lin


Scene: A room with glass panels on one side and a door. Shelves of books cover the back and sidewalls. In the foreground, a girl in her early- to mid-twenties sits in a leather armchair. In her lap is an open book. She is lit softly by a light from above. To the back right corner of the room, a redheaded man hunched over a desk, working with great concentration. He is a shape in the darkness.



I love this room. I always have, I loved its sound, I loved its voice, and when other kids were tripping each other on the playground, I was watching words spill out its throat. Mom told me stories here, she told them standing at the doorway, right outside, when I was sleeping. At school, I crawled all over the furniture: I couldn’t sit still. It was like I had too many legs—they were always moving, always propelling me forward and forward, but then back again. To the side. Forward. (Pause.) I always felt like I had too many legs.


(writing as he speaks) “The wings of the Ulysses Butterfly are iridescent blue-green when fully open and extended…”





Sometimes I wasn’t sleeping, sometimes I was just pretending to. I could hear her feet on the carpet outside the door, her hands fingerprinting the windowpanes. Through my half-open eyes, I would see her looking through the glass at me. Her voice sounded oddly far away. She told me about people I didn’t know. A boy who flies too close to sun. A man who leaves home only to return twenty years later. A girl who tries to avenge for her father’s death by killing her mother. Later, she told me he kept books in the trunk of his car. She told me I was too old for this room. She was closing the door and I had to walk away. (Pause.) Art was powerful. Or could’ve been. She told me that too. Art caught her by surprise, left her wanting. She wanted to reach out and touch it.


The man sits up abruptly.


Where the hell’s my eraser?


He flips through the papers on his desk.



Art was everlasting. I learned that one myself. The day I dropped all of her photographs, I picked them up and put them all back where I’d found them, all but one. That first photo that had fallen onto the floor—I slipped you under my shirt when Mom wasn’t looking and took you to my room. How old were you then? Twenty-two? Twenty-three? I’ve never been able to get that picture out of my mind. The way the lines of your body instinctively left one place and entered a new one: the past meeting the present, meeting the future. I didn’t care anymore then whether I had a right to touch the photo, claim it as my own. In art class, chalk pastels coated my fingertips with dust. (Pause.) Everywhere I went, I left fingerprints.



It’s getting dark. I need a light.


He strikes a match and lights the birthday candle on a frosted cupcake, creating a yellow glow around his work area.



They were in small glass jars we kept in our desks. I never knew where the second grade teachers got them from exactly. Is there such a thing as mail-order caterpillars? Is there a catalog for these things? There must be. This is what I remember: each day we had to record our observations on worksheets like we were scientists. How fast were the caterpillars growing? How much were they eating? How old were they when they started forming their chrysalis? (Pause, softly.) Undergoing their metamorphosis.



(whispering) I’ll never finish this.



A metamorphosis. That’s what the teachers called it. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the word, but when they said it, it felt different, not at all like the echoes of my mother’s voice late at night. The day all the butterflies finally came out, we let them go in the garden behind our school. It was my eighth birthday that day. In the cafeteria during lunch, I brought everyone cupcakes and they sang “Happy Birthday” before I blew out the candle on my cupcake. That day… (Pause.) I wished for the impossible.


The lights on the girl start to dim.



(flinches visibly, suddenly) Shit.


The man reaches around for a tissue and presses it to one of his fingers, then gets up and walks quickly out of the room.


A moment passes.


The girl gets up and walks to the desk, closing her book and setting it down in the space where the man had been working.



Come back to me.


She blows out the candle.








Susan L. Lin

Susan L. Lin hails from southeast Texas and holds an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts. Her novella Goodbye to the Ocean, which this piece is excerpted from, was a semifinalist in the 2012 Gold Line Press chapbook competition, and she is currently editing her first novel. You can fish the waters for her recent publications and blog posts at

Contributions by Susan L. Lin