Gone Lawn
a journal of literature
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Gone Lawn 37
Summer Solstice, 2020

New Works

Lucy Zhang

Paper Clips Are Not Biodegradable


The orange plastic box lives in a pencil case, a blue roll made of twill weave and pearl cotton, held together by a top zipper fraying at the seams, edges creased and covered in lint. The box hides under empty, leadless mechanical pencils, dried out ballpoint pens and one rollerball pen, a highlighter with a more grey than yellow felt tip, an eight gigabyte USB stick containing school documents from before the days of Google Drive. It once was a bright orange, smooth and slick slide-to-open sort of box, without ink stains and dark blemishes from years of who-knows-what. Now it slides open with the exact normal force applied while holding the edges of the boxes just gently enough so it can slide, just tightly enough so it doesn't go flying. The inner container jolts, a movement of stutters, rattling the paperclips inside.

Once, there were a full thirty paperclips, metal wiry ornaments too small to properly hold together a stack of papers. Now a few remain, cluttered together, in the dark of a zippered and worn pencil case, and even though they are no ordinary paper clips—they are horse-shaped paper clips with folded tails and triangular ears so horn-like one could mistake the horse for a unicorn and thin legs rounded at the bottom with hooves—time suspends them in purgatory, where objects no one uses nor throws away go.

Most of the paperclips had disappeared in attempts to force them to execute their functional purpose. But essays and portfolios and exam papers returned with staples, the original horses decorating the corner of the packets abandoned in the void where missing (or stolen) Morning Glory pencils go, so the paperclips retired from functional stationary society. Only one vanished paperclip's fate is truly known: a boy had stolen one clip from the box, unwound the metal wire into a 'Y' shape and tied a cut rubber band to the fork, a makeshift slingshot for taunting the girl he liked. The slingshot had failed, the paperclip's metal too thin and soft to hold up against the aggressive transformation of elastic energy to kinetic energy. The metal, a horse turned inside-out, whose face and body and legs and tail had been straightened and bent into lines as best as a tiny child's hand could, could not be bent back into a horse, and, in the trash can of torn post-it notes and snapped pen caps, what was once useless and pretty and indispensable became disposable.


The trail winds upward around a mountain, a gradual incline noticeable only by the horses carrying people and eighteen-kilogram western saddles on their backs. Gunshots echo from a shooting range in the distance. The people see everything down below, a clean grassy plain leading into the city. Houses gradually fade to monoliths of suburban buildings, glass spaceship structures housing thousands of workers, scattered evergreens among the gentrification.

The horses toss their heads, sneeze, snort, stomp their hooves when they get too close to each other in line. The guide leads them—horses and riders—around a sharp bend, where the trail narrows, one side the rise of a mountain and the other a steep drop cushioned by toppled trees and their protruding branches.

"In the 1980s, dead horses were thrown down this cliff, far enough from the vineyards and pastures that it took the whole day to move the bodies," the guide says.

"Were they buried?" one rider asks.

"Yes, after there were enough horses, they would be buried all in one go."

"That's kind of morbid," the youngest rider in the group, a middle schooler eager to show off a recently expanded vocabulary, says.

Accustomed to these comments, to the high hanging sun and sweat building beneath the foam padding of a carbon fiber riding helmet, to fields of prunes and apricots and light dust from hooves kicking up dirt that has gone without rain for months, the guide shrugs.

Lucy Zhang is a writer masquerading around as a software engineer. She watches anime and sleeps in on weekends like a normal human being. Her work has appeared in Barren Magazine, X-R-A-Y, Heavy Feather Review, Ghost Parachute and elsewhere. In addition to her website she can be found on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.