Alumni Work: Emma Larson and Shilo Niziolek
These alumni works were published in the Spring 2021 issue of the New England College Magazine.
IMAGE: “I could possibly be fading”
Photographer: Emma Larson | Home State: Maryland | BFA in Photography ’21
Artist statement: “These photos are an oasis. Making these photographs creates a clear pool of safety and clarity for me, allowing me to see a little deeper into the beauty and power of the Earth. Photography is intertwined with my self because art has always been an extension of who I am. It’s not a separate animal; it’s as familiar to me as my forearm or foot. Through the process of creating this body of work, I am, in turn, learning about myself and how I move through this life. Healing from trauma and recovering from what feels like a black hole in your life sets you on a difficult path. A wound has been torn through me, but it has taught me to look at the natural world with perpetual adoration. I’ve found solace through spending hours under dappled light and wading through waist-high grass; my solace is this oasis.”
SHORT STORY: The Blue
Writer: Shilo Niziolek | Home State: Oregon | MFA in Creative Writing ’21
Jess stood on the edge of Little Crater Lake smoking his last cigarette. The glow from the tip was in front of his face but also in the blue mirror of the water. A tree, long enough to stretch across the small lake reached its tendril-like limbs under the surface. Long dead tree trunks littered the base, all visible through the glacial mountain water of Mt. Hood. It was late autumn, but the first snow hadn’t fallen yet. It would soon, he could tell. The air had that tell-tale bite and the wind whistled around him.
He hunkered lower into his denim jacket, pulling up the collar to protect his cheeks from the chill. He ashed his cigarette one last time into the clear blue, then twisted it in tight circles onto the wood rail beam that overlooked the water, leaving a perfect black circle in the embers’ wake.
Jess turned and sat on the wooden bench. It felt like ice crystals formed on his butt bones as soon as he sat, and a shiver ran through him like a shock of light.
He stared into the sheen of the lake and tried to conjure up her face, brown hair like liquid held back with a green bandana, standing on the edge of the mountain, turned toward him waiting for him to catch up. That was the last time he had seen her smile. He wiped his face with his hands, erasing the image. He couldn’t think about what came after that. Or he couldn’t not think about it. The way she turned from him in the bed. The tightness in her ankles even in her sleep, poised to run. It wasn’t something he did. It was all the things he didn’t do. He didn’t try to hold her close. Never reached for her hand. She was always there, leaning her weight against him, smiling up at his face, leaning in for a kiss. He didn’t go to the picnic with her family that one sunny Saturday she asked. “Not for me,” he said. She must have realized, at some point, that he couldn’t give.
He could only take and take and take. He was gluttonous when it came to her. And now he’d never have his fill.
The wind howled and he stood and began to strip down, leaving a hasty pile of blue jeans and black jacket crumpled over his socks and boots in the mud. In his striped boxers he looked down at the white of his legs. Sickened, he dove headfirst into the water, arching up over the downed log. He sunk deeper, opening his eyes to the blue light that shone through him. Eventually his body clamored for air and out he shot into the November mountain chill. He rolled to his back and trembled with the intense shock of the cold. Looking up at the grey sky, he watched first one lone flake flutter down and land on the water’s surface, then another until the snow catapulted all around, falling into the white of his body. He let out a howl that turned into a cry and drifted on the water into the opening of a moan. A chorus of sounds rose up around him, an infinity of animal clatter and hunger.
Jess was dying. He was freezing to death; he could feel it starting in his toes. They were no longer connected to his body; they weren’t of the body, they were of the water. He was becoming transparent, if not to the eye, then to his own heart. Soon, he knew, a rabbit or cougar would come by. They’d look out and they’d see his body turned to light, turned to crystalline blue weight, sunk to the bottom. A person could walk the edge of the lake, thinking it odd that what was normally clear was suddenly milky blue. He moved his fingers, pulled one hand out of the water and in front of his face. It was his body. The same body that had been beaten. Knuckles permanently swollen from the walls he had punched. The same body that had run from his parents’ home, slept under bridges, fingers that refused to call his mom, flipped off his dad, forgot his little sister. The same body Naomi had curled into, that he had curled around her in his sleep, unaware, only to wake and find his face buried in the smell of tea tree, like drinking a glass of rain.
He rolled to his stomach and began swimming to the edge, pulled himself from the lake. Taking deep galloping breaths, he grabbed his clothes and shoes from the ground, turned and sprinted through the field in the snow into the encroaching dark. He made his way to the dark green of his Jeep, silhouetted in the night. He sat with the heater blasting until he could feel his toes, his knees, his penis, his belly button, his collarbone, his ears, his nose; watched as his fingers tinged in the blue thawed. The moon lifted high in the sky and cast the fallen snow in a blinding light. He touched his hands to his face, discovering that he still existed. He wasn’t a translucent ghost floating at the bottom of a clear blue lake. He laughed until his throat grew hoarse. Headlights bloomed around the bend of the parking lot. An older couple glanced in his window through theirs as they trundled by. The old man’s mouth quirked up in some sacred form in recognition. Jess could not fathom to comprehend but he felt a strange sort of nostalgia for the old man and his half smile the moment they passed. The snow hushed around him as the wheels of the couple’s car crunched quietly back into the night. Slowly, he removed his damp boxers and put his clothes on one by one, his limbs still moving timidly. His fingers hesitant, brand new.
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