Susan Kikuchi

Election Night

george b. sánchez-tello

Before Restore, or the Practical Messiness of the Process

Election Night

Susan Kikuchi

That year we filled paper ballots.
We tried to stop what we thought was the worst of the worst. We worked late
on the phone, grandmas mad
when I spoke English.

One girl liked to talk about God
and I liked to talk to her.
She took everything I said so serious. In the car, we played a game:
who can sing the saddest song?
She left for church not long after.
Are you sure, I thought but didn’t ask, sure you want to do this—
Run headlong into misery?
You deserve pleasure.
You should know joy.

I should have said so.
Should’ve offered
Instead I chose a man—

Maybe I chose a few.
None of them the worst of the worst—
Not even the worse. I’ve seen worse.

Walking up lamplit that night
we won
breathing relief onto our
cracked glass phone screens—
democracy doesn’t die
In the light, blue & red I saw
what someone’s hands had done.
Inside my house I gave her

  • a glass of water
  • a blanket and
  • questions, too many.

She tried to give me herself.
I said no—
who did this?
She gave me a woman’s name.

I searched for things to give her in return.

Finding nothing, I went in search of new disaster.
Another time
another man
also not the worst.

He gave me nothing
but a lot of texts that said:
I know I’m bad in every way
I just want to talk
I’m sorry

This other man had a lot of teeth
eyes too wide.
I see them everywhere:

  • two sets of eyes. That’s four
  • two sets of hands. That’s eight when you count the eyes
  • too many teeth. That’s forty, or sixty teeth. Each tooth a man.
    Not just men. All the people endless
    and a threat.

I can’t see a way out of this room. See only her hands. Her neck in the lamplight
and what is written in this book:
sunlight dappling a lie
with golden teeth.
I try to turn the handle of this place
and come up clutching skin.

That year people filled paper ballots and the year before I wrote down every evil thought I’ve had
and crammed them back inside.
The ink purpled my shit for years to come. Back then the worst of my worst
was not so bad.

I hadn’t learned a basic rule:
better out than in.
I kept all the threats—
all the ones who wore them.

This year again I write down the worst of what I think
throw it down my throat
and swallow.

Paper slips through sunbeams
circles to the floor.
Far below sit men curled against the wall.
It’s been an effort
making room.

I turn the handle to my own body.
Here I am,
with them

Don’t worry, don’t misunderstand.
I’m not talking about the worst of the worst. I only mean I don’t know
what to do with what I cannot fix.
I’ve tried to stuff us all inside
the only place I truly own.

I am filling out a ballot. You may vote once on each proposition.
Proposition A: judgment shall be passed on those who’ve harmed us.
Proposition B: judgment shall be passed on those we’ve seen harm others.
Proposition C: we shall be judged for what we’ve done, and what we’ve failed to give each other.
Proposition D: resources, including but not limited to breath, blood, memory, and internal organs, shall be requisitioned to hold prisoners;
Proposition E: no formal distinction in feeling shall be made between harm the body has caused, and harm the body has experienced;
Proposition F: Sentences are indefinite
Proposition G: We live, inside you, forever.
Proposition J: May those we’ve harmed live forever.

I swallow. Paper falls
to the hollow column at my center
caught by hands below that see—
I have voted. Which is not
the worst thing. It’s
a right withheld from many.

Outside, open-mouthed,
I catch the sunlight on my tonsils. Send it down
the well of memory.
Swallow rain,
write down a prayer.
Fold paper tight.
Press it to lips

Before Restore, or the Practical Messiness of the Process

george b. sánchez-tello


There is a chemical process. It begins with a signal. Neuroimaging reveals it is like a storm cloud over a lobe in our brain. Signal travels through water and protein. Flesh and blood. To the organs. Signal becomes instruction. Guides movement. Movement seemingly primal but in actuality a process learned through repetition. First mistake. Eventually intention matches action. Organs learn the signal and move accordingly. Adjust. The right tone. The right inflection. Chemical process begets movement. Movement begets sound. Sound begets hearing. The process repeats, but in reverse as signal makes its way back through water and protein. Scrambled. Unscrambled. Storm again.
Process begins in response. Signal. Water. Protein. Flesh. Blood. Organs. Instruction. Movement.


Though set to silent, the phone vibrates. Someone is calling. Or a message. The phone buzzes, convulsing left and right. Silent for a beat. Then continues to buzz. The buzzing is compounded by the sound of the heavy polycarbonate shell scratching the pressboard surface of the lectern, where she left it. At the moment, she was facing the chalkboard. Yes, her campus still uses chalkboards. She was in the middle of using a piece of the white limestone to illustrate her point on the black board. For the moment, all they heard was the scratching. That was, until the rattle of the phone. She turns from facing the board, moving to her right and out towards her class. Sees two dozen faces facing back, all quiet, all surprised, hands poised over keyboards or fingers curled around pens hovering over paper pads. Unsure. They know. As does she.
She completes her spin, nearly three hundred sixty degrees and now her torso faces towards the sound. Still buzzing between beats of silence. She remembers switching it to silent and leaving it there a few minutes before class started. As she always does. Echo of sharp heel landing on formica tile as she paces toward the lecturn. Buzzing. Scratching. Phone has begun to propel itself from initial right angle to obtuse. She feels her eyeballs lower to view the digital display. Reads the fourteen numerals. All they heard was a sign. Watch her reach towards the lecturn and force the machine to go silent. She returns to the black chalkboard. Reviews the equation. Closes her eyes for a moment. Seems them. Not they in the class. But them. Remembers. Hears the memory. Then pushes past the images toward the number. Find the equation back there, buried like a wall beneath decade-old vine growth. Sees the number clearly and replicates onto the black chalkboard what she sees in her memory. The lesson continues. Fingertips complete their downward stroke, which manifest in numerals, vowels and consonants on the screen facing them. Others complete the swift infinity loop of pen over pad and black appears in clear strokes and lines where there was once complete white page.


Hair wrapped in towel and body warm in tracksuit, she eases into the thick cushions of her couch. Sighs aloud as she allows her body to relax. The cotton slowly yields and takes form to her thighs, buttocks and lower back. Stretches back into the pillow meant to support her back.
Behind, the drapes haven’t been pulled in front of window yet. Allows in the darkness of night. The glow of the corner lamp gives the room a golden hue that fades into beige shadow and eventually muted black. She reaches for the aroma collector that she filled and placed before cleaning her body. She enjoys the taste she discovered from decanting while she showers. Fingers curl under the bowl, the stem lodged between ring and middle finger. As her hand and arm slowly curl back to her body, hand brings the bowl under her face. She slowly inhales. Eyes slightly close to focus on the scent. Bowl’s lower lip meets her own and she sips slow. Simultaneously, body eases further back as hand and arm unroll aroma collector back towards its spot on the end table. Eyes still closed. Sees the memories. Hears them. Takes her away from the join of the scent and taste. Eyes open as she lets out a sigh only she hears. Left hand reaches to her left for phone left in darkness of other end table. Fingers and thumb grip around rectangle as her arm pulls itself back in, towards her and towards her direct line of sight. Ring, Middle and Index finger on her ring hand crash in volley of waves into her palm and thenar. Thumb rubs against Index middle phalange. She wonders. Questions. Imagines the various scenarios. And their most likely conclusions. Eyes pace back and forth between face of phone and fingers rubbing themselves into her palm. At this point there are no other conclusions. No other outcomes she can imagine, though conscious to accepting there is an unimaginable. Speaks aloud to command phone. Says their name. “Llamada,” she commands the phone.


Hand still clutches the rectangular phone to her right ear. Right ear is warm. Hand and phone follow the movement of her skull as she nods back and forth. The rocking could be a silent approval. Or a silent acknowledgement. But no one is there to see and interpret. Or question. Her eyes close. Breathes in deep through nostrils and exhales with a slight corresponding sound of pressure and force. “Ok,” she says. “Ok,” she repeats. Eyes open. Begins to open her mouth until the tongue is slightly visible from behind whitened teeth and deep red lips. She closes without speaking. Nods her head forward one more time.
Her left hand feels near her thigh on the couch. The cushion is warm from body having been in place for so long. She looks out past the room, into the rest of the apartment, cloaked in darkness of late night. No lights were left on elsewhere. And there’s been no motion to trigger the others. She closes her eyes again. Nods again. Let’s out another sigh. Opens her mouth and this time speaks. “Igualmente.” The phone pulls away from her ear as she eases back into the couch, into the back cushion and stretches from toes to shoulders. Her feet deep into the long cotton of the small rug at the base of the couch. Fingers spiraled out and holding her cell phone, She looks at the screen. Blows a blast of air out her lips. Rests her head back fully onto the couch pillow and looks up. She thinks of the recorded length of the call that ends every call on her phone. Flashes in her mind of all the other things. Sits still for a moment, staring up at the flush wooden paneled ceiling. Then closes her eyes. Breathes.


Sitting in the conference room, my notebook lays on the famous long table, once pounded on by other editors, writers and sources. I guess today is our turn. I’m seated upright – not slouching like usual. Beneath the rich mahogany tabletop, no one can see my right thigh lifted from the seat, knee at angle and heel tipped to stretch calve – both gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. Body moving involuntarily. Trying to release that adrenaline. That anxiety. I hate meetings like this. I was assigned a feature profile. A puff piece. Then I asked: Why? Wait, what? What do you mean? Then I couldn’t not know what I had just heard. Then it wasn’t what I heard. I reported it out. I did my job. I confirmed. It wasn’t what was said. It’s what was true. No longer allegations, but fact. I look over at my editor. His right hand is rubbing bald head more bald. He’s got that grimace. Poor guy. I once asked if my work gave him heart burn. He said it was more like lower G.I. He is trying. But that is all. An attempt. His superficial calm cannot hide the anxiety I know this work has caused. “We have a process for this. And it’s not public for a reason. Honoring privacy affords the grace of mistakes and forgiveness.” I nod. I want to be done with this. This moment. This story. This weight. But I’ve got something else that feels like a question but is really a statement.
What if she doesn’t want to forgive? Because it wasn’t a mistake.

Susan Kikuchi is a 2022 Periplus Fellow and an MFA candidate at Rutgers University in Camden, NJ. They love reading and writing about memory, identity, the collective and the individual.

george b. sánchez-tello lives, writes and teaches in Los Angeles, CA. An award-winning reporter, Sanchez-Tello is at work on his first novel. Sanchez-Tello is a lecturer in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at California State University, Northridge. In addition, he works as a mitigation specialist in support of defendants facing the death penalty.

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