Thirty Nights

By: Ani Keating

Chapter One

The End

I walk into the cold federal office, gasping for breath. The air here has a slight tang to it that burns on the way down. The weight of the United States government permeates my skin, like pressure before a storm. The American flag hangs proudly over an immaculate desk where there is only a stack of Post-it Notes, a ballpoint pen and a stamp with red ink. I lay my binders on the desk and spread out the stacks of papers in neat, organized piles—my life, in pages and numbers. I sit on the stiff, wooden chair and rub the strap of my father’s Seiko watch to calm my shaking hands. Only three minutes left. I rehearse my talking points in my head one last time.

My name is Elisa Snow. I am twenty-two years old. I was born and raised in Burford, England. I am here on a student visa. My parents passed away when I was eighteen. That is why I moved here. This is my home. I go to Reed College. I graduate in one week. I majored in chemistry. I have developed a nutrient component that in small doses can deliver the equivalent nutritional sustenance of a serving of wild salmon. It can fight malnutrition with very little cost. Please let me stay. I do not plan to harm the United States. I have nowhere else to go.

The immigration officer walks in abruptly. He is wearing an efficient-looking brown suit and is carrying a single sheet of paper. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

“Miss Snow.” He nods curtly, sitting in the chair behind his desk. His chair is comfortable, padded, ergonomic. I open my mouth to begin, but he stops me.

“Miss Snow, I am sorry to inform you that we will not be approving your request for a work visa. Your qualifications are impressive, as is your invention. However, I am not convinced that it serves our national interest. This decision is final. Your J-1 student visa ends on the day you graduate, a week from today. I will grant you thirty days from graduation so that you can pack, say your goodbyes and return to Burford. Thank you for your contribution to our country.”

He stands up, seemingly unaware that he just ended the life I have painstakingly built here for almost four years. He stamps the single sheet of paper with red ink—DENIED—and hands it to me. But I cannot move my hands so he simply lets it drop on the stacks of paper that contain my entire life, from my birth certificate to my measly bank account statements.

“Take some time to collect yourself here,” he says as if he is giving me a gift, as if time to collect myself will make this right. He nods curtly one more time and leaves the office. The door closes behind him with a firm thud.

I have no thoughts. No words. My only goal at this moment is to draw in a breath. But that effort alone makes my nerves creak like rusty cables. The tangy air stings my lungs as the officer’s words did my brain. Suddenly, the image of my parents’ white caskets pops in my mind. I wasn’t there when they died. The only goodbye I wish I had. Instead, I get to say these other goodbyes to people who are still alive.

I leap to my feet, desperate for motion, for anything that will delay reality just a little longer. I stuff my papers into the binders, feeling an irresistible compulsion to burn them. Hot tears spring in my eyes, but it feels like giving this office the privilege of tears is too generous. I open the door and run down the hall in my roommate Reagan’s sensible pumps, making my way through the security line, past the men in uniforms and into the May morning with its signature Portland, Oregon, sprinkle.

Once I am outside, my knees give out and the tears start. I lean against the cold wall of the building, not giving a damn about curious passersby who are writing me off as hysterical. Because that’s what I am. There is nothing waiting for me in England. Nothing but my parents’ graves.

I take a deep breath and start reciting the periodic table to silence the sobs. Hydrogen, atomic weight 1.008. Helium, 4.003. Lithium, 6.94… For the first time in four years, the table does not calm me. It merely brings the rest of the world into focus. The smell of wet bark, the bluebirds, the phone beeping in my pocket… Oh, bloody hell, I have to be at work in thirty minutes. Not at the Reed chemistry lab where I have been developing my nutritional supplement. My student visa only allows me to work twenty hours per week there. If I want to eat more than the protein I concoct in a vial, I need something else. I push away from the cold wall and wrap my mum’s scarf over my head. I start wobbling to Reagan’s MINI Cooper, trying to ignore the sidewalk rosebuds that this year, I will not see bloom.

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