quarterlife is: on the bathroom wall
editor: sylvie corwin
editor: han lynch
editor: bridget o'brien
editor: clara fletcher
volume 16 issue 1
quarterlife is a literary journal published four times a year that features poetry, short fiction, drama, creative nonfiction, analytic essays, alternative journalism, and any other sort of written work Whitman students might create, as well as sketches, drawings, cartoons, and prints. Each issue is composed around a given theme that acts as both a spark for individual creativity and a thematic axis for the issue.
quarterlife is an exercise in creative subjectivity, a celebration of the conceptual diversity of Whitman students when presented with a single theme. Each piece is ostensibly unconnected but ultimately relevant to the whole. Every work illuminates a different aspect of the theme. In this way, quarterlife magazine participates in the writing process. The magazine is not an indifferent vehicle by which writing is published, but rather is a dynamic medium with which writing is produced.
letter from the EDITORS
Ever gone to the bathroom? We know you have. We have too!
For your next inevitable visit to the stall, here are some writing suggestions:
1. Exclaim that you have a writing utensil! A thing to celebrate.
2. Brag about your cat. Perhaps an illustration is in order?
3. Pass along a reading recommendation. Tell the world how it
made you realize that, like, there’s so much out there, man.
4. Encourage your successor. Tell them they’re doing a great job.
5. Tell someone that you have a crush on them <3 <3 <3
6. Make up a phone number and tell readers to call it for an
outrageous service (example: 555-555-5555 If you’re stuck in a washing machine, I’m your guy.)
7. Leave a review of your visit.
8. Start a story for someone else to continue,
9. or continue someone else’s story.
10. Reflect on your current state. What libations have you consumed? What food are you craving? What party are you hiding from?
11. Advertise your literary magazine (hehe). Submit to quarterlife is: a slap in the face!
We are so happy to be back on campus, back in person, and back in Whitman’s bathrooms.
Heleana + Anna
Under the Buckeye Tree
Last night I lay down
in damp soil, either
because I was in love
or I drank too much coffee,
plunged my heart
into earth which smelled
of lemongrass rising,
tree roots digging, not knowing up
or down, just to reach.
I lay in the art school garden,
home to flowers and dog walks,
cigarettes and sculptures,
a gardener named Genine.
How often does my skin
touch the planet,
under the buckeye tree,
forehead pressing deeper
into cool, quiet minerals.
A season ago, she and I
hugged the mountain floor,
layers of pine needles
and us, another layer,
waiting out the lightning.
Storm clouds swept
over us like waves,
my raindrop hand in hers:
forest matter, swallowed.
An art student’s wind chime whistled,
leaves murmured like the stream
we followed down the mountain, one thread
in an infinite branching body of veins,
I curled my fingers
around a buckeye seed,
rose to my knees.
I held my breath like I did
to hear her sing to the bellflowers,
songs that swim in my memory
with sage smells and moon-kissed hair.
I stood up, buckeye seed in hand,
still caffeinated, still in love.
Returning to pavement, I wondered if
the same wind grazed both our heads,
cold and coastal, erasing us, unearthing us.
I hear a musical ringing. I wake up.
I grab my phone and mash my thumb on the button that turns off the alarm, and I nearly fall asleep again.
I scroll Instagram in my bed for the next hour. Then,
I get up.
I slowly gather my clothes for the day; there’s nothing I want to wear. I walk upstairs to shower.
I use 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner.
I stay in the hot water too long.
I work on a puzzle.
I don't make much progress.
I walk to class. I am almost late.
I am bored for an hour; we sit and listen and watch. I walk to my next class.
My partner and I work slowly.
We spill chemicals,
we take too much time on each step,
we use the wrong mixture,
we start over again.
We are there an hour after everyone else leaves. We are tired.
I walk back to my room.
I do nothing for half an hour. I walk to my last class.
I get to where I need to go—Point A to Point B. I am just early enough to visit the bathroom.
I look at myself in the mirror on the wall above the sink. I look tired;
I have red stains on my hands and bags under my eyes; My hair is flat and greasy.
I try to wash the color out of my hands.
I read the button on the sink faucet. It says, "Push On." I do.
I walk into the classroom, only to see everyone else walking out. I check my email. The schedule I see is wrong.
I am late... Actually late.
I leave and sit outside, alone.
I do nothing for fifteen minutes.
I think about the sink. It says, "Push On." I do.
Four hours earlier, I had the luxury of finding an empty table on the fourth floor of Penrose Library. I find it to be the best place to study in all honesty, with the old globe, the smell of biblichor, the spooky atmosphere. It was raining and I had a mug of tea, so it was especially nice while the tea lasted. It was 1:00 AM now, however, and with my mug and stomach empty, I rummaged through my bag to find something to have as a late night snack. There were two cough drops, an empty bag of Cheez-Its, an assortment of pens and pencils, a paperclip, two erasers, notebooks, loose papers, a box of pocky (half eaten and melted), and a package of Jell-O brand instant chocolate pudding. I sat there and looked at the pudding, mouth watering. I hadn’t had pudding in so long. Silky smooth, thick, voluptuous, decadent, chocolate pudding. My fingers trembled as I picked it up. Oh, I really shouldn’t, I thought. The package glittered in the dim lights of the library, tempting me. After all, what am I going to do with just powder? Throw it back? That’s crazy…
I looked at it a little longer, and then there came a second voice, deep and rich just like chocolate: You know you want it.
Entranced by the prospect of pudding, I listened on as it spoke to me: Come on, baby, we can do it in the bathroom. Just five minutes. The taste of cacao danced on the tip of my tongue, and images of cocoa nibs pirouetted in my head. My pupils dilated, legs quivered, and I got up and opened the door to the bathroom. I rushed over to the sink, poured the silty mixture into my mug, turned on the faucet, and mixed the two together with a spoon I had used earlier. The water beaded and clumped over the mixture before seeping into the pores in the soil and planting roots of flavor firmly. I watched the mixture go from thin, to clumpy, to smooth, and I sat down on the closed seat of the toilet and lifted the spoon to my lips. I closed my eyes, opened my mouth, stuck out my tongue, wrapped my lips around the thin, white plastic of the spoon, and licked it clean.
I let out a sigh of relief, which turned into a frown of disgust. It tasted of water and chocolate (like Swiss Miss) and lacked the richness that is so often the pleasure of pudding. I looked at the package while I still had the pudding in my mouth. “1. BEAT pudding mix and milk with whisk 2 min.” I sat on the toilet with a blank expression for a few more minutes as feelings of melancholy, desperation, and pity washed over me. Hey, it’s ok, baby. Where are you gonna find milk around here anyway? The voice said, trying to comfort me. The pudding made a flump as it fell into the bowl of the toilet, and it slid sadly around in the water as it was being flushed. Out of revulsion I looked at myself in the mirror, hunched over the sink and wondered where this monster had come from.
The Girl in Tights
Tears them, scraping fish-scales
from her skin down to her ankles,
down to the grimy floor. Her
cries echo around the narrow stall:
Oh, please forget that I am here!... But
her words are forever engraved on the
dull grey metal, scrawled in thick
Her hair is ghostly under
fluorescent light, her skin iridescent,
frigid. If you were to touch her,
would burn immediately, your joints
would stiffen and swell. She went there to be
alone–she made no pledge to you, has no
library, nor key. No
in-tune music, lipstick to
extra pair of tights.
Still, it is our bathroom
Four naked light bulbs, one burned out. Hours spent
cutting hair or sinking into the
floor or breathing in steamy air.
A towel hangs like wet butterfly wings,
spotted with bleach.
We’re supposed to split those shelves; I should have
cleaned the top of the mirror;
hair dye still freckles the wall.
Two black paper silhouettes (one of my sister,
one of me) watch over it all.
thanks for telling me (sorry i made you)
In the mirror
My face fades into the mirror–
into the silver, the same as
countless girls before me.
Together we gather,
merely flashes of ourselves;
whispers of our days
reverberate through the
vast space. The air is burdened.
Heavy. I turn and the now foggy
mirror lets me back into the
The girl stepping
out of the stall behind me
adjusting her skirt
will soon hear what I left behind.
Scrawled, Scrawled, Scrawled
It all began, as so many things do, at the Cleveland Commons--in one of those individual locking stalls that are usually so clean and quiet. As I reached to open the doorknob, it shifted and twitched, writhing serpentine away from my grasping fingers, hissing in deep pitch some phrase indecipherably beautiful. A line of dark ink spilled down from the ceiling, bleeding through the walls into glyphs and letters in some script I could not read, shifting and striding towards some conclusive meaning I could not guess. I screamed in my surprise and grabbed the serpent by its head, by some act of fearful strength holding its jaws shut until I breached the bathroom door and fled.
Back at my table, my roommate and their companions inquired as to my disheveled state, but as I made no attempt to explain, they transferred the conversation to more congenial subjects. I made every effort to forget the episode. I almost succeeded, until the second visit.
It came to me on the second floor of Olin Hall, whose bathroom I had ducked into for an expedient escape; the sight of my notorious rival, approaching down the stairs, induced me to seek cover. As I entered into that bathroom (suitable as a hiding place if nothing else), I heard laughter. At first thinking it to be my rival, I prepared myself for battle of wits or blades, but, after a time, I realized that the sound of laughter was not drawing nearer, nor changing in volume, nor even pausing for breath. It was, in short, no creation of a human throat. Once again the walls began to grow marks, which crawled like clouds of insects over their tiled faces and slowly, slowly, began to tremble like the beating of a heart. This time, I did not flee. I stayed to listen, though I knew not why. My Reader, I was soon to learn the truth.
The walls whispered and sang, they thrummed and moved, and in these strange messages I felt, sensed, suspected, some effort to communicate. There was meaning behind them, of that I had no doubt. What it could be eluded me, but its beauty compelled me just the same. I knelt down before the sink and vowed to read those pulsing walls until such time as I could understand them.
But after that day, the bathroom walls impassively ignored me, remaining blank but for frivolous gossip and poetry, the latter exceedingly rudimentary, perhaps suitable for some trite zine. Still I remained faithful, even as the days turned into weeks while I waited fruitlessly for another message. I sketched each character I could remember, and pinned each one to my bulletin board, connecting them with bits of string as seemed relevant. My roommate disparaged my new visions with such vulgar diatribes as “that’s weird,” and “bro, you’re like a conspiracy theorist, or something.” Soon, my neighbors in Stanton Hall buzzed and thrummed with similar stinging suppositions.
But I knew better. By pieces and parts, I began to understand the meaning, the meaning, the meaning, of the bathroom walls. Soon, my roommate, my rival, and every pathetic worm on the Whitman College campus would see me for the awakened prophet I truly was. Of this I had unshakable faith.
It came to pass on one October night that my loyalty was rewarded. The moon was new and the sky was dark as I studied halfheartedly, reading a paltry mortal tome for some irrelevant class. From time to time, my gaze flicked across my shrine of symbols until at last I could sit no longer. Agitated, I rose, stepped and strode through the hallways into the nearest bathroom. As I slipped into the room, the walls bloomed with arabesque patterns and an unearthly music sounded from all around me. I wept a single joyous tear.
It was then that the tendrils began to emerge from the smooth porcelain bowl of the toilet before me. They were not quite the tentacles of an octopus, nor were they those of a squid. There was no earthly animal to which I could compare them, no creation of nature that could approach their perfection. They reached for me and I did not deny them. I brought them to my own face, and as they coiled around me I gasped, for in that moment I SAW. I FELT. I BECAME- more than I had ever been before. I tore myself from their grasp and ran from the room, leaping and bounding and hurtling towards the balcony of Stanton, ignoring the looks and gasps I garnered from onlookers in my wake.
In the clear-black night, I saw the bathroom wall curling in a single strand of mist. I saw translucent shapes in the depths of space, and with my mortal eyes I glimpsed the things that crawl behind the stars. Reader, I saw beauty that defies human classification, and I knew in my soul and body that this grace was meant for me, and me alone. Reader, I threw up my hands into the darkness and I howled.
It was then that the distant clock tower began to chime out, solemnly, the central hour of this sacred night. In the shadows of thirteen chimes did I once again hear the telltale sound of my rival’s voice, far away and yet near, there and yet not.
I knew then why I had heard my rival’s laughter before, and seethed as I recognized one more indignity added to the list of those he had inflicted upon me. He, too, knew the meanings of the writings on the bathroom walls! I had resolved to keep those messages to myself, and had every impression that the forces that scribed them had appointed me as their true messenger.
A second certainty now dawned upon me. The grotesque forces from beyond would choose one of us as their true messenger, and they were waiting for one of us to prove ourselves so they could determine which was worthy. I could think of only one way to ensure my rightful place. My roommate may have seen something in my eyes when I returned to the room and took up my chef’s knife, but they gave no indication, their eyes glued to the trivial task before them. (Knitting, at a time like this?!)
My most hated rival had mercifully succumbed to sleep by the time I slithered in through his window, my shadow falling with smooth serenity over his silent form. It was a most peaceful slumber, but one from which he would never awaken.
His blood dripped from my hands as I staggered, back, back, back, to the bathroom. Screams reached me not long after, but they came to me from far away, through the thick, murky waters of reality. With this blood, his blood, I traced over the patterns, the writing on the wall, and finally it answered me directly, echoing and resounding in harmony with the brush of my fingers like a well-tuned instrument, welcoming my rusty-stained caresses as a dearest friend might.
Reader, I have no regrets. Even now I am carried away, but I care not, I care not, I care not. For none shall ever again read, as I have, the name of the universe, scrawled, scrawled, scrawled, on the bathroom wall.
The prophecy had been scrawled on the wall of the third-floor bathroom for as long as anybody could remember (not that anyone bothered to remember it until it was too late, of course). It was hastily written about midway down the wall of the handicapped stall, the one in the bathroom by the elevator, with the curtains instead of doors on the showers. One might question whether the author had a solid understanding of their audience, as people tend to have a specific goal in mind when using the restroom, and it isn’t studying the walls for poetic premonitions.
The author’s grasp on rhetorical context notwithstanding, the prophecy was concerningly reliable. Nearly every person who admitted to reading it would also resolutely affirm its accuracy. Eventually, the ruckus surrounding the graffiti got so out of hand that it was painted over, only for it to reappear the next day. So, the discourse raged on.
Some folks hypothesized that the prophecy was self-fulfilling, as if those who saw it were compelled to do as it said. One student sagely suggested that an oracle walked amongst them. Others foolishly scoffed at the idea of clairvoyance altogether. The entire campus, or at least the hallowed residence hall where the prophecy was transcribed, seemed abuzz with theories, jokes, and philosophical discussions about the fabled few lines. It went on for no more than a week before attention shifted, leaving the prophecy’s lowercase letters to fade:
“for the love of whatever it is that you love most,
you will wash your hands.”
Shrine of the Bathroom Stall
Gone From My Side
More than anything I wish you were here–
I cannot leave this place without you.
If you come back, I will never take you for granted again.
I shouldn't have assumed you would be forever by my side.
Why are you gone?
You were supposed to be here but
and I don't know how to do this without you.
As I sit on this throne, there is nobody by my side,
The waters that were once clear and calm are now murky and foul.
You are essential to me.
there's no way around it.
I'll just wipe my shit with my hands.
Goodnight Ceremony: Cruet, Glass
Porcelain, marble, and paper
adorn the most indelicate movements
like greeting cards from the gods,
milky consolations for being made human.
Under white light, first is the unveiling;
of bra-straps, buttons, zippers, tights,
the long-awaited itch so marvelously soothed,
and flesh freed into air, the opening
of poppies on an April morning.
Then ablutions; steam
and copious tendrils of scald
spreading between hairs, legs, toes,
skin delivered from the day to a new lover,
water, cloth, air, cloth, night.
A cruet, glass grown clouded
with yellow beads of olive oil opens,
chilly and divine, pooled in paper
for drawn eyes, jaw, lips, dissolving
oil in oil, anointed.
quarterlife would like to thank the Associated
Students of Whitman College (ASWC) for their
financial support, without which the production of
this magazine would not be possible.
Our utmost gratitude goes to the Whitman Print
Shop, to our faculty advisor, Professor Gaurav
Majumdar, and to our advisor, Dorothy Mukasa.
A special thanks to our staff artists who produce
wonderful art without credit to individual pieces.
All work featured in quarterlife magazine or on
the website is displayed by express permission of the
author or artist, who holds all relevant copyrights
to her or his work. Don’t steal their stuff.
staff art credits
theme spread - antara bird
table of contents - antara bird
under the buckeye tree - antara bird
push on - chloe french
bathroom pudding - sylvie corwin
scrawled, scrawled, scrawled - ally kim
the prophecy - elie flanagan
thanks for reading - antara bird