Palo Alto Weekly 19th Annual Short Story Contest
Young Adult Third Place

Untitled #4

by Michael Jiaravanont

About Michael Jiaravanont

For 18-year-old Michael Jiaravanont, writing spells relief.

"It's something I like to do as reflective, sort of in catharsis," he said.

Despite an interest in writing that stretches back years, Jiaravanont is finally being rewarded for his literary efforts. The Sacred Heart Prep senior garnered a third-place prize in the Young Adult category of this year's Palo Alto Weekly short story contest. His colorful tale -- "Untitled #4" -- spotlights a lovelorn teen and the "divine woman" of his dreams, a radiant young lady aptly named "Angel." Jiaravanont found scripting the imaginary yarn, as others he's penned, to be a rare outlet for self-expression.

"Mostly I write because I feel creative, and I don't have many ways to express it," he said.

One other way Jiaravanont does have to express himself creatively is through playing the guitar, a passion of his for five years now. The Atherton resident, who lives with his parents and two younger sisters, also enjoys soccer and golf. With athletics, music and literature possibilities on the horizon, Jiaravanont is beginning to consider higher education.

"College is still in the works," he said. "I'm looking at both California and the East Coast. I'm being very broad."

Perhaps Jiaravanont will find himself studying in Boston, where one of the authors he admires, the prolific Stephen King, was seen at Fenway Park rooting on the Boston Red Sox. Regardless of where Jiaravanont ends up, he'll have a jump-start on reading material. His third-place win earned him a $50 gift certificate at Kepler's Books & Magazines. The options of what Jiaravanont could purchase are like an open book to him.

"I'll probably do what I always do when I'm at Kepler's -- bum around for a while and pick out what catches my eye," he said.

-- Tyler Hanley

I had experienced an epiphany of sorts through an incident of singing in torrential rainfall, it was a badly planned and unglorifying rite of passage. I suppose that every sentient being with hopes of grasping a little something called romance must at some point at least attempt this ridiculous feat. Having no idea of its origins but well aware of how deeply rooted and pervasive this single act is in culture and lore, there is no easier way to catch unwanted sickness. However, the fact that I had even tried this was a sure sign of insanity, as most people would assume that this was purely a movie spectacle. I hesitate to place blame solely on the shoulders of love, as they are already tremendously overburdened. In some ways it was perfectly apt; we had both placed burdens of insurmountable emotion and inner soul-cluttering turmoil upon each other. I had the terrible curse and blessed luck to be in love, while love had to reap the fallout of its terrible mark on me.

The irony cuts deeper as the unfolding continues; the girl of my dreams is named Angel. Angel. As in heavenly divine woman with wings and the grace of eons of reckless hope. And like most angels, she rarely frequents mortals. Not to say she neglects or ignores, but her ambience of mental aloe always seems to be just out of reach. When I was younger I was closer to Angel. We had spent time together, back when the boundaries of unspoken and unmarked adolescence were still low enough to be leapt over by our lack of shyness and self consciousness. It was the beginning of trust, and while a false trust because we were too young to know the depths of our seemingly placid minds, it built what would eventually be our capability to attempt to hold together relationships. Before our generation would try, and most likely extraordinarily flame out over, the beginnings of spending the lost darkness of night with another. The end of fifteen years of solitude would be brought about with sweet whispers of sweet nothings under the covers of woven hopes. Multicolored strands of excitement hinting forbidden discovery, lust, and adventure, just like space explorers peeking around galaxies hoping to catch a glimpse of the beyond around the corner.

My time of comfortable interaction with Angel had dissipated before I even realized it; my anger moved to shatter my window. Why had I not seized an opportunity? Why had I done nothing? The window stared out toward streetlights which hovered over pools of dirty white. It seemed doomed to rain in shards on the uncaring asphalt, but I caught myself. If executed, I would no longer have a window, but only masking tape to stare at. As much as frustration and regret filled the corners of my vision, I could not bring myself to destroy my sole ocular portal to the world.

This longing to change the past while wishing to improve the present left me undoubtedly unhappy. There is no joy in wishing all things to be different and I was certainly not accepting what I was given. It is a subtle pain in living, one that is nearly undetectable. From all other perspectives, I was filled with the spirit of living and heartily enjoyed, as best I could while being at a chemically unbalanced age, the entire human experience. Love had somehow sabotaged this peerless plateau, and like a parasite, began to devour my life from within. But at the same time my mind burst with the creativity and ecstatic genius of ages, thoughts rolling faster than could be addressed and the world filtering in kaleidoscopically at a breakneck speed. The brilliant zeal brought by my infatuation, I thought, would allow for my transcendence and passage above a commonplace life to a bloodless Valhalla where each day I could be reborn to experience the wonders of dawn over the glittering heavens.

There is a park nearby, compliments of a well planned track-house neighborhood. Being on a hillside, however, makes it an interesting playground. This park was the epicenter of much of my younger days when school did not occupy as much time. Nowadays it seems awkward, as if growing up had slowly cut a rift that got progressively harder to cross. Walking down the rows of bleak swings and monkey bars, I realize I've reached the age where these simple amusements cease to be thrilling enough to capture and captivate. I would have to seek roller coasters and tumultuous relationships with parents and friends to get a stomach-turning effect. The park is a memoir, a nostalgic frame of the past, a reminder of what once was. I wander here occasionally, to try to flush away crowd of angry demons, their voices resonating and deafening my rational capabilities. I stand at the epicenter, spinning around to garner and grasp the full crowd surrounding me. Though their faces and features are blurred to grey outlines, I still vibrate with their resounding noise. The beautiful cacophony that makes my ears bleed in ecstasy, that I may fall to the ground in pain weeping in gratitude, at least knows that I am alive.

The park slowly fades away under my footsteps, but with me I carry sand in my shoes, the irritating grains like obstinate memories still resisting eradication. The sidewalk winds on its own and the wanderlust takes me to dazzling heights of normalcy: past the school, the local grocery, and finally to the forest's edge. From an aerial view the trees look like a razor's wound dividing green and the grey of suburbia. Up close, it sneaks up upon those who venture in, and if walking unaware, the forest can envelop and swallow unwitting people. The path winds itself like the sidewalk, and the trees and track homes provide no recognizable landmarks. Gentle winds and bowing trees fill the air with formality and decorum which leads to an unsettling uneasiness. The quiet stillness is isolating, causing whatever emotions are harbored to swell and fill the vacuum. I fight myself towards ordinary, as crying, even while alone, pours shame over unhealed cuts. There is no time to think as I suddenly stumble across a glade polluted with bottles and humans. Without knowing it, I have donned my presentable self and am ready for interaction. What I am not ready for is Angel, sitting cross-legged on the trampled grass lolling on a friend's shoulder with one hand holding a bottle and the other flailing. They see me, and quiet instantly with a sharp intake of breath. For a moment, all that can be heard is the silence and speaking of trees, the same harmony that the glade enjoys most other days.

I am normal. I sit, pass the bottle with the others, and laugh. And how I laugh! Blind and ignorant, there is no difference if the root is a racist stab or indescribably bad pun, the laughter comes out all the same. Laughter knows no hurt, no feelings, and that is perhaps why it causes as much pain as it absolves. Angel laughs with me, and I smile with the thought that perhaps the situation is not as dire as it may seem, that this glade might enjoy our company and the merriment we fill it with. Maybe the satellites can see an aperture in the deep green, and maybe scientists can see our circle of flushed faces and saturated smiles. Maybe they can scan us, and plot the waves emanating outwards, concentric circles of frustratingly unclassifiable energy. We lie down on makeshift pillows of sweaters, facing heaven and shaping passing clouds with our minds. Our feet lie strewn and tangled in the center of a loose circle from which our bodies radiate. Looking up I cannot see any other faces and I constantly turn my head to make sure I am not alone. The occasional glancing blow, accompanied by laughter, qualifies me and with each touch I can feel myself cement into their existence. There is no reassurance like physical contact, and the brief moments I can feel a foot under mine or the brush of an arm are sweet and euphoric. A still life shows the sticky sweet nectar of comfort and compassion dripping down our countenances, frozen like our faces that have stretched into impossibly contorted masquerade masks. Angel holds her head softly, her laughter starting like the first unexpected rainfall of spring. It is born softly, slowly sprinkling before turning into the torrential deluge that washes over me, infusing that unnamable fuzzy feeling inside that warms the soul on colder days. Her face still angelic despite herself, Angel's lips part to let loose an invitation to a party, offering a chance to glimpse the hidden corners and curves in her face that I have been desperately seeking. After the novelty of ever deep woods wears itself thin, they leave to find other amusement. Angel smiles intoxicated and intoxicatingly at me while both pushing the bottle into my hands and reminds me of her party. I smile, say my goodbyes, and lie in the now-silent glade, nursing the bottle and counting the clouds.

The sun sinks into shallow waters of a far-off sea, deceitfully darkening the cracks in the pavement and throwing the shadows of the grass impossibly long. Ambling home never had such purpose to it. The anticipation of the eager waiting of another presses upon the body a most fulfilling sense. To be given a reason, a purpose, albeit a small and perhaps inconsequential one, is both pinnacle and goal. With the sun gone, the night is eternally long, shadows melting into darkness, feasting on the everlasting youth of a night dripping opportunity.

Angel's door is large and looks to be oaken, heavily stained with a morbid varnish streaking the wood with sharp and dripping darkness. A solitary light above the entrance floods away any shadows, but when the door is opened, Angel's face appears with her countenance murky. The shadows cast by her eyes and nose are thrown down violently, ripping the edges of a smile apart. I am welcomed in, and through the doorway push into pulsing waves of music. I recognize people, those I have encountered before. Here, in this unfamiliar landscape, I realize they are not astronauts like I am, but aliens in their own home. I move slowly, bouncing off conversations and wild stunts, weaving through dancing bodies. Angel's house is a vast storehouse of teenage normalcy. So why is this so unrecognizable? The dim lights and loud music, the soda and chips strewn about like shrapnel; I trace my fingers along the dark cherry-wood walls that coat the family room. They run down veins of sorrow, bounce through throes of ecstasy, meander through history as easily as walking backwards.

I cannot find Angel. Wandering in vapid exploration, she has disappeared. I ask around for direction, most mislead me. The kitchen, the bathroom, this room, that room. All wrong, and I feel more lost than ever. Swallowed by the monstrosity that is her house, I come across stairs I should have seen earlier. I go from bedroom to bedroom, most locked by either her parents or by inhabitants wishing to go undisturbed. As I reach my hand towards the last shiny intricate doorknob, the door violently swings open, and there is Angel. Someone is behind her, one hand resting on her hip and the other against the wall next to the door. He smiles, nonchalant, amused at the how close I came to colliding with Angel. The moment of surprise settles, and she asks what I am looking for. I want to say hope or love or eternity, but I stupidly mutter a question to which I already know the answer, and she points needlessly to a bathroom I have already found. I watch them stagger down the hall, laughing with his hands in her hair and her fingers tickling his side.

Later, I face her to say goodbye. People have begun to filter out, slowly emptying the rooms and leaving a vacuum of silence and stillness behind. She is still on his arm, I had seen him bragging of his exploits to his friends and Angel furiously whispering details of secrets to her friends. Friends, lovers, soul mates, there is no difference. Before I leave, I stand in front of her, tall and sad. I reach up above her head, my fingers wrapping around the glowing halo, the golden circle of light that hovers above her. Her face is marred by its harsh lighting, and I begin to gently pull. It gives ever so slightly, and I begin the use of force, my grip turning my fingers pasty white and causing both hands to tremble. The halo gives and releases into my hands; a circlet of glowing gold slowly cooling and turning dimmer into black onyx, reflective of only the brightest stars.

Abandoned momentarily, she stands alone smiling and draws me close. She whispers something, he's just a friend, come again, your smile is gorgeous did I ever tell you that? She beckons and I lean down, all our unspoken words tangling on our lips. They only linger a moment, and we draw up slightly abashed, trying to decipher the messages sent. Angel's face gradually begins to return to ordinary, as if she were crumbling away to reveal a hidden soul.

What a great relief, to see her disintegrating before my very eyes. When she notices the tear squeeze out, there is no way to hide. Are there any words to tell whom you set free? Whom you kill? Whom you love? Is there such thing as relief? A feeling that washes though the soul to reassure and reaffirm existence surely cannot be worth less than everything. Maybe in a kiss can lie all the answers. The cool night air greets me like a friend not seen for some time, and walks with me as the house lights disappear in the background. In the corner of my eye, it becomes a lonely star in the endless sky, and the tears of joy and relief and sorrow mix while falling down my face, leaving a trail of absolution.

While the prose in 'Untitled #4' works way too hard, the story of love and human connection it often masks reveals a writer of genuine ability. The narrator's epiphany is at once well-prepared for, touching and quite believable.

--Tom Parker

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