Tight Faces and Public Aid 

by Morgan Chittum and Olivia Stevers

Editor's note: the pieces in our Order and Chaos series were originally submitted to the Creative Writing competition as part of Interregnum XV at The King's College. The following piece won first place. It was submitted on behalf of the House of Queen Elizabeth the First.

Manhattan had a dash of home because it was loud and survived off public aid. 

Big fat clouds of smog stood in front of her. Walking down the block, drops of bird shit hit her shoulder. The smell of urine and cigarettes warped their way through the streets, reminding her of the home she grew up in. 

Before things were complicated, she heard screams and things breaking. It was 9 p.m. and she was back. Her close people made big sounds and their faces were always red with frustration. 

They draped their clothing over the bannister because the dryer broke again. Moldy towels were thrown about. And the toilet was doing that loud thing where it leaked onto the shag rug. She yelled at her brother to add more water to the empty shampoo bottle until the 13th of the month. He still didn’t get the routine. 

These were the things. The known things. The comfortable things.

Manhattan had a dash of home because it was loud and survived off public aid. 

She walked through those big fat clouds and held her breath as she walked through the revolving doors. 

Pristine. Sterile. Unbecoming. 

They planned on kidnapping her. She knew. They sat around all day talking philosophy and theory. It was all code. She knew. It was too neat. Too concise. A secret language they developed perfectly to fool her. 

She was skeptical of their fake decorations, their pressed ties and straight spines. 

She understood exactly what was going on. They wanted to groom her and place her on the shelf too. It’s what happened to Brittany from Camden last year.

But the tower had to topple soon. There’s no way they could keep it going any longer. The light foot tapping during second meeting. The planners with connect the dot events. 

It was all cemented in: the gestures, the postures and the systems to the decimal. 

She was paranoid but she played along. She was familiar with the language now. 

She stopped in the lobby where Lydia Moniskhya sat to study everyday from 2:03 - 6:01 p.m. Lydia was a creepy crawly straight haired freak with a Macbook Pro and Michael Kors smart watch.

Lydia kept her hair tight and braided. Lydia had a tight face with tight skin and teeth that fit perfectly inside of her tightly wound mouth. 

Lydia made her skin crawl. Lydia’s skin was like a topographical map of North Dakota. She was so smooth and painfully symmetrical. 

Lydia knew about modesty and understood God’s divine providence. It helped her formulate her four year plan. Lydia spoke in perfect verse, every word a rehearsed oration. The audience loved her. 

Suspended from strings she sat straight, perched in her spot like a marionette. Controlled from above, the audience loved her.

Fire rushed through her veins as Lydia sat quiet and still. It was what they wanted. But she saw through it. She would not be another book on the shelf. 

She left the building and left Lydia Moniskhya. The air was thick with smog and the aroma of hot garbage. It wrapped its arms around her like an old friend. 

Her heart leaped when she was bombarded with free flyers and free mixtapes. A herd of nannies and Tribecan children on leashes knocked her to the ground. 

A woman dropped her papers and the city steam shoved them away. A drunk man pissed his pants and a cockroach danced at his feet to the melody of the subway car squealing to a halt below. Perfect harmony. 

Manhattan had a dash of home because it was loud and survived off public aid. 


Photo by Seth Trouwborst