Very little can pass for magic.

The Naga fireballs are a phantasmic mystery. The Northern Lights are a beautiful illusion. A perfectly light and risen soufflé is alchemy. A memory attached to a an object is some kind of conjuring. Much of the universe has yet to be explained, and isn’t that the very definition of magic?

Lolita Brayman describes the life-giving powers of a day’s first coffee in “The Best Part of Waking Up,” while Amy Avgar could not divine the many lives lived around “Granny’s Old Oak Table.” Mystifying details in an eerie scene swirl in Isabelle Phillipe’s “The Death Rehearsal,” and Katie Finlay-Meredith exorcises darkness and depression in “The Vigil,” not by forgetting, but remembering. An apartment dweller finds themselves in the kingdom of a rodent, by way of a consecrated rock in Megan Williams’s “In the Temple of the Rat.”

The “Fountain of Youth” isn’t an age-reversing geyser, but the ocean of wonder that stays with us even in old age. Let these stories be a reminder of the magic in the mundane.

There seems to be a very deniable appeal to romance novels. Although romance is the best-selling genre of paperback book sales, topping a billion in sales annually on average, most romance readers squirrel away their desires, relegating their books to the bedside table. But can we blame readers for keeping their book affairs quiet?

Granted, a majority of romance readers could be your sister, mom, or grandmother (thus some of the last people you prefer to imagine reading Fifty Shades of Gray). Nielsen estimated in 2015 that 82% of romance book buyers are women, between the ages of 30 and 54. I think it’s also notable that—according to the Romance Writers of America website—the most popular way romance readers share what they are reading is in-person, conversations with a friend or family member, instead of, say, sharing or “Liking” the book on social media.

Unsurprisingly, one of the most popular subgenres of romance is the “secret lovers” trope. We live in a society that confoundingly glorifies sexual imagery while vilifying its language in the mainstream. Even ads for something as clinical as contraception are written almost entirely in innuendo, as if we can’t talk about sex without a snicker. Is it fair to say then that words are more dangerous than picture? Well, I’m certainly not going to attempt to answer that here.

Sense Writing helps to create and strengthen channels in our nervous system, allowing us as writers to sense the world more deeply, and interpret it more clearly. As we exercise these neuronal pathways, we train ourselves to experience the world with increasingly lucidity, and, furthermore, making those connections between the physical and emotional. Sexual experience is seldom unchained by emotion, and the stories selected for this issue are just a few examples of how the psychosexual is interpreted in writing.

Shannon Lior’s “Ride” reminds us there’s really nothing like young love, but the memory endures into old age. In this fond recollection, there’s a subliminal notion that there’s something equally special in being able to share that memory with your lover for years to come. On the other hand, Mateo Lynch Gil shows us how relationships, sexual or not, are always evolving. His story “Neverland Smile” is a snapshot of a romantic relationship between two young men, who once let their lives be ruled by it, and now sit spectator as love carries on without them.

Often the physical entanglement is fleeting, or can only be anticipated, never taking place. The title "Salvation," by Collier Lumpkin, suggests that such an encounter can have an everlasting impact. Sometimes, though, just a little is just enough, as in Hannah Mann's "The Stud Farm." She writes, "Though our skins never touch, I feel our souls holding hands." The question remains, are there any regrets?

Christian scripture writes, and you may have heard before, “The truth will set you free.” And while not a theologian, I am confident other religious doctrines contain a similar teaching and that several interpretations exist as to what this might mean. For me, a woman in her twenties working and living in New York City, being free means staying true to myself. 

Truth and telling can have potent consequences in narrative. When you speak the truth, a weight is lifted, and the burden of your secret is spread evenly throughout your history. The truth becomes a part of the fabric of your life. But it’s not always our turn to share our truths; sometimes, secrets are revealed to us. And they are frequently not welcome.

We sometimes talk about protagonists revealing and not revealing secrets in Sense Writing III workshops, as a way to create subtext in a scene and anticipation in the reader. In the stories chosen for this issue, our protagonists find themselves, instead, on the receiving end, either dealing with or just enduring the weight of the truth.

 The story “Mourning” from Christie Barron, set in Israel, begins and ends with a boom. I like to think of these as “truth bombs,” relentlessly blasting reminders of this fractured reality. In this apocalyptic landscape, our protagonist is reaching out for tranquility, even vapidity (“the vacuous Twitter feeds”), only to be inevitably shattered by another boom.” But there is no shelter from what she knows is coming and cannot stop.

Mortality is possibly the most difficult truth anyone will face, and many don’t give enough credit to achieving its reconciliation—until it’s too late. In Pilar Rueda García Yakar’s “Intimate Silent Storm,” we find the narrator approaching this very milestone when she visits her dying aunt. This realization is depicted almost literally in the cleaning of the jar: “ I surrendered to knowing with all my being and sobbed quietly, with the sparking clean vessel…”

In the other stories, our narrators assume a more proactive role.  Dan Martin’s “Old White Dude Does Hip Hop” explores, almost aggressively, what it truly means to be an “old white dude in a hip hop club.” Amidst hearty conversation with just the right kind of inquisitor, he is finally able to ask himself that question. In “Wound,” a wife imagines her divorce as a personified version of the severed tree outside her window. Healing would take time, she knew that much, but how to treat the gash? Emily Tobey writes, “I didn’t know whether to cover it or let it breathe.” The pain of divorce did eventually subside, as it should, and the narrator finds herself free to explore her unencumbered truth.

Certainly, in any good story there is a revelation. Conflict by its very nature reveals at once unseen truths that at least one character was not wishing to face. From compartmentalizing it or rolling with it, the intrigue in a story does not arise from the truth itself, but how the characters use it. 

Untitled by Lynley Shimat

I’m walking down the hallway to meet my friend Dhara for lunch. I smell wind and leaves. I pass classrooms, people spilling out into the hall, I see tan lockers, I hear the sound of lockers opening and closing. I feel footsteps, I hear people moving echo down the hall. I walk fast, I feel my muscles, strong from track team practices, the angular slant of my hips. Fluorescent lights follow me down the hall into the geometry room. Berkeley grey cool morning slants diagonally through the window into the class, which smells of chalk and desks and math smell. I smell the cold. And I hardly walk into the room and he’s there, luminescent brown eyes. He’s standing with Dhara, looking at math books, and I don’t even see him cross the room and he’s asking me about a geometry final. I hear him say, “Are you in first period?"