Three Pieces

Issue 2

by Susan L. Lin

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Almost Certain

That hallway hadn’t been there yesterday, Polly was almost certain. But she was a child, and she knew she sometimes misremembered things. At least, that’s what grandma and grandpa always said: With time, her underdeveloped brain would ripen like theirs. With time, her fleeting, mouse-like memories would be trustworthy like theirs. She only needed to be patient. Still, she had been living in their house for at least a month now. She was almost certain of all this.

The incomprehensible hallway, with its familiar patterned wallpaper, still stood the next morning. At the far end, a closed door. When she peered down the length at it, she got a weird feeling like being in a bad dream. She had a lot of those. Bad dreams. In fact, the very first dream she could remember ever having, at age three or four, was a nightmare. In it, she’d been overjoyed when her mother surprised her with a plastic water gun from the corner drugstore. But as soon as Polly tore open the package, her mother crumpled to the floor, face pale as white powder. The picture of death. Polly told her mother about the dream the following night, weeping in her arms. “I thought I lost you,” she cried over and over again. “I know, baby, but it wasn’t real. I’m right here. I’m right here.” That’s when her mother taught her to pinch herself the next time she got scared. If she were stuck in a nightmare, the pain would wake her up.

Polly pinched herself now, staring at that door down the corridor, but nothing happened. Grandpa drove her to kindergarten. She decided that she would not spend the day thinking about strange houses that refused to stay the same, and so she didn’t. She received a gold star for reciting the alphabet quicker than anyone else in her class. Then, grandma drove her home.

That night, it was all still there: the hallway, the door, that awful feeling. Except now, a strip of light was visible underneath, like someone was on the other side. It couldn’t be grandma or grandpa. They were both downstairs in the kitchen, arguing over the television. She could hear their voices. But she thought she heard a woman humming, too, from somewhere up above, a tune her mother had always loved. And in that hallway, wafting towards her, she even thought she smelled her mother’s perfume.

This wasn’t a dream. She pinched herself once more to make sure. That’s how she knew she must be imagining things again.

Polly walked in the opposite direction, back to her bedroom. She wanted to sit in the darkness of her closet, the one place in this peculiar, shifting house where she felt safe. But the door to the little room was gone. She ran her hand up and down the wall where the frame used to be. Nothing. She was almost certain it had been there yesterday, but now it wasn’t. Defeated, she flopped onto a rug on the floor instead.

She thought about that nightmare she’d had, the first one she could remember. She thought about how her mother had said it wasn’t real, but then a year later she’d left the house to run some errands at the corner drugstore and never came back. Wrong place, wrong time, a stranger with a concealed gun. At least, that’s what Polly remembered being told. But of course, her unreliable memory couldn’t be trusted. Maybe when she was older, when her brain was no longer a raw, unformed thing, she would finally know for absolute certain what had really happened.



It was always the shortest crayon in the box, he says, showing me, setting it down next to the others. The whole set is lined up on the plastic table, sticks of rainbow color naked without their paper wrappers. There was too much nature to draw: bushes, grass, trees. Nothing changes color here, not until it dies.

His drawings are taped to the wall. Each leaf, each blade of grass meticulously drawn. Perfect, but not real. Not alive.


That’s the color of the sun, he says, pointing to another crayon in the row. It isn’t, not really, but I don’t argue. To him, color is still black and white, the sun a circle with rays emanating from the center. I can’t be the one to unravel the false lessons we learn so early in life. He continues: I’ve hardly used this one. It barely shows up on the paper. I don’t know why they don’t make it darker.

The clouds shift; a square of sunlight blankets the carpet with a brightness and a warmth that can never be put to paper.


This one is my favorite, he says. He’s touching the first crayon in the lineup, which lends its color to the flowers in his pictures. I can see them from where I’m sitting: round centers scattered throughout the fields, surrounded by petals shaped like tears.

On the street, the echo of a car horn interrupts the present. A light turns green, then yellow. It turns red. Another honking of the horn, and then the screech of tires. Go. Yield. Stop. I hear the impact before it happens, steel crushing steel.


It was always the shortest crayon in the box, he repeats, and he’s looking at the green again. I should get a new one, soon.


To preserve my sanity, my mind attempted to conceal a traumatic memory by barring it from my daily thoughts. Unfortunately, this form of denial was not a long-term solution to my problem. No matter how much time had passed following the incident, my unpleasant recollection of it would eventually seep back into the corners of consciousness like raw sewage.

On the street corner outside my home, I encountered a reedy man in a top hat touting a box-like device that he swore could physically perform the same procedure my brain had clearly failed to execute. Painless, he claimed. Inexpensive, he promised. And best of all? Permanent. Only a fool would take him at his word, but I was a desperate fool.

His mysterious instrument was covered in unlabeled pastel buttons that looked to me like pieces of hard candy. Colorful wires broke free from the side panels in thick twisted ropes. He hooked me up to the other ends; I drifted off to sleep.

When I awoke again, he declared the operation a success and presented me with a commemorative token. On one side, a startling reproduction of my head: It floated there at the center of the silver coin, detached from the rest of my body, which had disturbingly been omitted from the image. On the other side, an embossed depiction of that harrowing experience I’d been trying like hell to escape—for good this time. Looking at it now made me feel nothing in particular.

The souvenir troubled me though. It reminded me of a thaumatrope, those optical toys that had once been popular long ago, before theatrical movies gained prominence around the world. Two disparate images on opposite sides of a disc. Spin it fast enough, and they still merged to form one.

I realized then that what happened would always be a part of me.

Susan L. Lin is a Taiwanese American storyteller who hails from southeast Texas and holds an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts. Her novella GOODBYE TO THE OCEAN won the 2022 Etchings Press novella prize, and her short prose and poetry have appeared in over fifty different publications. Find more at