Foliate Oak December 2018
By Skylar Blicq
At age 11, she got her first acrylic paint set. Her first canvas was filled by the sloppy imaginings of a horse, and her shoulders swelled when her parents hung it on her bedroom wall. She went to the beach that year, and she remembered the warm sand flooding between her toes as she dashed to the salt-dampened earth by the water.
When she turned 12, middle school began and she learned that not everyone loved everyone else. She painted her nails and toes black, sloppy chips of the polish coating the skin around her tattered fingernails. She carried a sketchbook around and drew squirrels climbing trees and her friend sitting at the lunch table in front of her.
At 13, her parents started to fight more. She would sit in her rooms with earbuds jammed into her ears, so the music was personal and close enough to drown out the screams from the other room. She would draw twisted fantasy creatures: zombies, vampires, werewolves, or anything with a hint of dark. She dyed her hair black and red and pierced her ears. When the divorce was finalized, she held her younger brother’s hand and zipped his hoodie up. They climbed into their mother’s car. They would climb into their dad’s car next weekend.
14 rolled around, and high school began. She made new friends. She went on a drive with her friend and their older brother, and they went to the beach at night, and the cool sand curled around her toes as she walked down the coastline. That year, her first sloppy kiss happened behind the school walls in between fourth and fifth period. That year, she felt hopeful that things would come together, and maybe things wouldn’t be her fault forever.
15, and she broke up with her best friend and her first boyfriend. She curled on her bed and listened to old playlists, and she cried and felt that the world fell onto her shoulders and broke into pieces, gathering around her toes and cutting them. She went to her first party, and had her first beer, and threw up her first four beers. Her new best friend rubbed her back and took her home, and she cried into her shoulder about how the sky was falling.
She was 16 now, and she began therapy. She felt that the therapist simply stared into her brain and wished it would be magically fixed, so that the therapist could receive their pay and move on with their lives, move onto more important patients with more important issues. The therapist told her she had guilt issues and possibly depression and possibly PTSD from her parents’ divorce. She told her therapist to kindly fuck off, that she didn’t have any problems and she didn’t even see the point in being in this cramped office. After a few weeks, she convinced her mom to stop sending her. At her dad’s house, they played Xbox and didn’t talk about the elephants sitting in the corner, and at night she would paint the sky and the ocean and lighthouses while sneaking vodka from her dad’s fridge. She experimentally made a cut on her upper abdomen with his hunting knife, and found the rush took the mental weight away. Her grades dipped into the B-C range, but she still had above a 3.0, so it was okay.
When she turned 17, it seemed that things piled onto her shoulders and weighed her down every second, but she kept herself upright and shoved it down. She went through two boyfriends and another best friend, and countless cans of Bud Light and shot glasses of crappy whiskey. She tried pot for the first time, but found it made everything heavier, so she gave it up. She began to feel that the world was out of place. She smoked for the first time, sitting on a curb by the road with a boy a few years older than her. They lit their cigarettes in the wind and sat under streetlights, cars driving slowly by, music playing faintly in the house behind them, a clump of pollen floating up into the night, kissed by an invisibly soft wind. She kissed the boy, and he tasted of smoke.
18 slipped by, and she went to a college not too far away. The atmosphere was heavy. Her heart beat faster and her breathing became more ragged, and she felt horribly out of place and watched, and she didn’t quite believe that other human beings took up space, that other human beings felt lost and emotion-full as she did. She just didn’t believe it. She took a dozen sleeping pills. Her roommate sent her to the hospital. She dropped out of college. Her mom held her as she cried.
19, and she walked on the beach with her brother. He told her she felt as lost as she did, and he hugged her and wished her well and told her that it would all be okay. Then, she decided to stomach all of her problems, shove them inside, and strive for contentment in this life. She went back to college. She put her major as architecture.
20, and she met a boy.
21, and she lost her father. She drank half a bottle of vodka in his honor.
22, and she married the boy.
23, and she graduated and got a decent job designing building plans. She began to think about children, and then realized that she couldn’t bear to think of the possibility that her mind would be passed on. That her kids would watch and analyze her. The thought of it choked her.
26, and the boy wanted kids, and she didn’t. They fought and went to counseling. The counselor said she had a guilt complex, and he had an ego problem. They managed to scrape by for a bit, trying to work out their issues, solve each other, and make it work. It became clear it wouldn’t work. She followed her parent’s footsteps. Her celebration partner was a case of beer.
She was 27 now, and her life felt like the overstuffed build-a-bear she made at 7. It pressed against the seams, and she choked on the stuffing and the atmosphere flooding into her mouth. She remembered her father, and how he would sit at their dining room table with half a bottle of whiskey, and after a few shots he would bury his stubbled face in his hands and his shoulders would shake, and her mom would come up behind him and rub his back and sometimes cry with him, or sometimes shout. They always thought that the girl was asleep, but the curious mind of a young child had prevailed in her, and she often watched her daddy drink from a large cabinet in the kitchen. She’d hide in the cabinet and breathe slowly and quietly, pretending she was just a fly on the wall. Now she was the one with half a bottle of whiskey, listening to the glass bang against her kitchen table after every sip in the quiet of an empty apartment. Her friends were married with kids, and she was alone.
28. She sat in the quiet of her home, and a buzz broke the silence. She picked up to hear her mother’s quavering voice, saying un-processable words. Words like “your brother hanged himself.” The funeral was small and short. She didn’t cry, just sat in shock and stared at the presentation thrown together by his old friends and his mother. She hadn’t helped plan it, just sat with her mother as a limp, warm, tear-stained pillow. Insects had crawled into her throat and made a home there. She rubbed her palm. The night after the funeral, she picked up a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of whiskey and headed for the beach. She walked along it, and saw a teenage couple holding hands and staring out into the water, so she turned from them and sat by an alcove of chipped and broken rock wall, drinking directly from the bottle between inhales of smoke. She flicked the butt into the water and followed it, dipping her toes in the quiet motion of the waves, staring at the starry horizon reflected by the turbulent waves. She waded in waist deep, and she stood there, feeling the current collect around her waist, drawing her deeper into the drowning water, drawing her towards the earth. The moon shone brightly above her, coating her still-youthful skin with the silver of promise. And she thought about the years when it didn’t feel like she was choking, and she thought about how it seemed like she kept going back to floundering. And she wondered if that thrashing ever stopped.
Skylar Blicq (born Reagan Lee) is a Champlain College student who originates from San Luis Obispo, California. She enjoys things like walking late at night, watching the leaves fall from trees, writing poems in the early morning, and generally observing the earth around her. Her work can also be found in The Hanging Lantern Review.
* * *
by Laury A. Egan
The slender peninsula of Sandy Hook jutted away from the curving coast, its road taking Kim as far out to sea as she could drive and still get home for dinner. If she planned to go home for dinner. She certainly wasn’t going to cook it, that was for damned sure. No baked chicken and mashed potatoes.
She kept her foot even on the gas pedal, although in her present mood, the urge to floor the old butterscotch Mercedes was a sore temptation. It was early in the season to have the convertible’s top down, but the day was unusually warm for March and, besides, all that steam had to go somewhere. On impulse, Kim swerved into the lot across from Horseshoe Cove, parked, and set out at a killing pace, as if the faster she walked, the more anger would dissipate. Elliott could go to hell, she told herself. What did he expect? That she’d close her therapy practice and follow him to Los Angeles? He hadn’t even consulted with her before applying for the teaching position. Honest communication didn’t happen when only one person practiced it.
On the footbridge, Kim clenched the railing and checked the osprey nests perched on man-made poles. No one home, but perhaps ospreys didn’t select their real estate until later in the spring. She inhaled the peppery smell of salt marsh and listened to the gurgle of the water sluicing through the culvert into the bay. The tide was low, exposing bright green glasswort and cord grass slick with brackish mud. Sighing, she continued along the walkway, appreciating the tapered plumes of the juniper trees that stood like sentinels on either side of her path. The Lenni Lenape Indians had picked the blue-purple juniper berries and fermented them into alcohol. She wouldn’t mind a quick swill of gin at the moment, she thought, even though she wasn’t much of drinker.
A westerly breeze stirred the tall grass that fringed the path. At the end of the trail, Kim navigated an embankment and slid onto the beach. She sat down, removed her shoes and knee-high stockings, rolled up her black pants, and lay back, folding her arms beneath her head, exhausted from the argument.
Elliott didn’t love her. What he loved was living in her house and enjoying the lifestyle her income provided. He’d been out of work for ten months and seemed content to stay home—or so she had thought until today. When had he decided to apply for the job in California—the one he’d accepted? Why hadn’t he told her he was searching across the country? Kim was happy he’d found work, but this felt like a betrayal, a cowardly way to break up with her.
A boat horn blared. It was all too much—the countless hours of listening to clients each day, the hours of listening to Elliott each night, the hours of searching for the right things to say to absolutely everyone. She stood, dusted off her clothes, and walked to the edge of the lapping water, surprised at its cold temperature. Retreating to the wrack line, Kim ambled along until she saw some writing on the beach.
- Free -
Low Tide Only!
→ → →
In spite of her mood, Kim smiled at the message. She followed the arrows “scrived” on the sand, wondering if a sage resided at journey’s end. Looking around, she saw no one. Was this a prank or was she walking into a madman’s lair? About forty feet from this communication was another note:
All Questions Answered.
The arrows pointed to the World War I gun battery that had been built to protect Fort Hancock. She stepped off the narrow beach and made her way around the back, which was in shadow. Now a little anxious but also curious, Kim considered and dismissed the “No Trespassing” sign, then climbed up on the disintegrating construction. As she neared the top, she saw an elderly man sitting on a slab of concrete, which was pierced with rods rusted orange. He stared at her with pale gray eyes shaded by unruly white hair capped by a navy blue hat. Gold braid decked its black brim, and to make the wearer’s authority clear, “Captain” was written across the front.
“Good afternoon,” she said, feeling a little silly.
The old man nodded and kept nodding as if he totally agreed with everything.
Kim studied his white painter’s pants, sweatshirt, and old-fashioned red Keds. The man was thin and not very tall, but his presence seemed larger than his physical self.
“Well, did you come for advice?” he asked, startling her.
Was this guy serious or nuts? She couldn’t tell. So much for her fine-tuned therapist’s instincts. “Yes.”
“Then please sit.”
She did so with some reluctance. “My name is Kim.”
“Yes, I know,” he said, as if his premonitory knowledge was of no account. “You may call me Captain Roy.” In a small aside, he added, “That may not be my real name, you understand. Aliases are necessary in this world.” A jovial wink accompanied this statement. “But for the purposes of our conversation here this afternoon, it will suffice.”
The fancy verbiage surprised Kim. He sounded educated, with the trained voice of an actor. Was this a set-up for some kind of crazy “Candid Camera” episode?
He smiled at her confusion. “No doubt, fair Kim, you would like to know who I am.”
“Who I am is not germane,” he replied, studying her with care. “I see by your countenance and bearing that you’re of good breeding, well-clothed, properly fed. Therefore, we may assume what ails you is not financial in nature. Thus, if we rule out money, we come to love. That is often what drives a beautiful woman to wander alone on a deserted beach. Has my perspicacity impressed you?”
“Then we have a fine start!” he exclaimed cheerfully. “So, either you have left someone or he has left you. Which? Looking at the whites of your eyes, I would say you were angry, not sad, since no tear has fallen down your rosy cheeks.”
A little stunned, Kim replied, “Both. He’s leaving me, and I have left him.”
“Ah, I see,” he said, patting the end of his chin. “In that order? If he is leaving, did he ask you to go with him?”
Elliott had suggested that she go with him to California, but the offer had been made without enthusiasm and in the knowledge she wouldn’t close her practice which had taken years to build. She explained this to Captain Roy, who listened attentively.
“A desultory invitation, shall we say? The gentleman in question did not really expect you to accompany him?”
“No, I don’t think so. I have responsibilities to my clients, a house—”
“And has he been living under the shelter of your roof?”
She nodded again.
“He’s out of work?”
“For over a year. A professor.”
“Good gracious! A professor? The most irresponsible of men! Perpetual students,” he scoffed. “I sympathize with your plight.” He waved a hand toward Kim. “The gentleman is a traitor! Without a doubt, he has used you ill.” Here, Captain Roy paused to gauge her reaction, and then in a quieter voice, he continued. “But resentment cuts both ways. He resents you—that’s why he is leaving—and you resent him. And have for some time. Is this hypothesis correct?”
Kim remembered how attractive and easygoing Elliott had seemed at first, then thought of the chicken in the refrigerator, of all the meals she’d cooked, the groceries and house expenses she’d paid for. She pictured Elliott huddled over the computer whenever she returned from work, a flotilla of stained coffee mugs and crumbled food wrappers surrounding him. Tightening her hand into a fist, she said, “You’re absolutely right.”
Captain Roy brayed with jubilant laughter. “Oh, ho! The foul bugger! That egregious excuse for a man! How dare he treat you in this despicable fashion!”
Kim was amazed by this sizeable explosion of concern on her behalf. A small smile crept over her face. Captain Roy saw it immediately.
“You are pleased by my vituperative dialogue. I am glad.” He cocked his head. “It’s my pleasure to be your champion. I suspect you are rather in need of one at the moment.” He smiled and was silent, contemplating her with a gentle expression. “Now, what remains is the advice…what you came for. Let me cogitate on this matter.” And with this, he closed his eyes for a considerable time—so long that Kim wondered if he had fallen asleep.
Finally, his eyelids fluttered open. After he resurfaced into consciousness, he instructed her to follow him to the edge of the battery’s parapet. There, from a pile of rocks, he selected five good-sized stones and handed three to Kim. “You’re angry, yes? Well, then, take these and throw them into the water…as far as you can. Then shout whatever comes to mind. Loudly! From the center of your being.”
Kim thought of her clients abashed looks when they were asked to role play. She suspected her expression was similar. Captain Roy’s request went against her nature. She absorbed pain and anger and frustration; she didn’t release it.
“I don’t know…”
He clapped her on the back. His touch felt kind, as if he could heal pain with his hands. “Try it.”
Feeling undignified, Kim hefted the rock and tossed it.
“Now…immediately…shout!” he reminded her.
“Damn you, Elliott!”
“Oh, you can do better than that,” he chided. “With brio! With passion!”
Kim threw another stone. “Son of a bitch!”
“Better. Louder! From the diaphragm!”
“You pig!” Wham.
“Brava!” he said. “Here, try a quartz conglomerate and a nice piece of gray granite.”
“I want you out of my life!” Plop in the water went the quartz conglomerate.
“User!” Splash. The gray granite.
She grabbed her own rocks from the pile. “I never loved you!”
“Lousy lover!” A high lob.
“I hate you! I hate everyone!” The longest throw yet.
This litany continued until all the ammunition was expended. Exhausted, with perspiration streaking her face, Kim turned for Captain Roy’s approval.
He wasn’t there. Where had he gone?
There was a rustle below. A park ranger in a green uniform appeared. He tipped his tan hat, observing her with the cautious glance reserved for lunatics and drunks.
With a shock that colored her cheeks, Kim realized how crazy she looked, dressed in her black suit, screaming and throwing stones.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She straightened her jacket. “Yes, my apologies. I suppose I got a little carried away.”
The ranger smiled. “Yeah, I’d say.”
“I can explain. There was this old man…”
“With a captain’s hat?” he chuckled. “Ah, so, he’s back again.”
“You know him?”
“Sure. I’ll tell you about the Captain, but come on, let’s get back to the path. The tide’s coming in.”
They descended from the battery and walked along the beach. A message was being nibbled by the water, but the words were still legible:
Closed for the Day.
The ranger laughed and shook his head. “That’s what he likes to do best. Fish.”
“Does he work on one of the charter boats?” Kim asked, still trying to paste together her composure.
“Oh, no, but somewhere nearby he hides a two-piece surf pole and tackle box.”
“Do you mean he’s homeless?”
“Far from it. The Captain—er, Dr. Ian Kent—is a retired professor. City University of New York. Neuropsychology.”
“Oh, my god! You can’t be serious!” She stared at the ranger.
“Once brilliant, now absolutely, completely bonkers. He often doesn’t know his name. Every once in a while he wanders off from home, takes the ferry to Highlands, and walks here. We catch him, call his wife, and she comes to get him.”
Kim drifted to a stop. “I’m so sorry to hear that.” Her instinctive therapist’s reaction. It sounded hollow and dishonest, not genuine like Captain Roy’s responses to her. Disturbed by this realization, she turned to the ranger. “Do you mind if I stay here for a few minutes?”
He gave her an uncertain look. “Sure, but the park closes at sundown.” He tipped his hat and left.
Kim walked a few feet and sat down on a boulder, stunned by a new and unwelcome awareness. She had changed over the last year. The process had been insidious, as much a product—or a cause—of her failed relationship with Elliott as from the daily demands of her practice. Although it was painful to acknowledge, she had devolved into a cool, well-meaning automaton, one that spouted correct, sympathetic words to her clients but had lost her warmth and humanity. With Elliott, she had avoided noticing the disintegration of her feelings and had been blindly nourishing petty animosities rather than confronting the fact that somewhere along the way they’d fallen out of love.
“You think you’re so smart, Kim! Well, you’re a fool.” She laid her head in her hands. Tears began to stream down her cheeks. “What am I going to do?” she beseeched the sea air. Yet, even as she asked this question, some of the answers were becoming clear. Despite the loss, living without Elliott would be a relief. She also suspected he’d be happier without her. Shortly after they met, they had merged into a couple because it was comfortable and easy, not because of a grand passion or because they were well matched. She had been afraid to face this reality because it meant being alone. Now, she knew it was better to be on her own than with him.
When her tears subsided, Kim stared out at the bay for a long time. Finally, she stood and picked up three stones and chucked each one far out over the water. The effect was not the same as when she had done this with Captain Roy.
She missed her new friend, the only person who had listened and understood. Kim considered for a few moments and reached for a driftwood branch. After scanning the deserted beach, she walked to a spot above the tide line. Staring at the damp brown sand, she smiled. Then she began to write:
Dear Captain Roy,
Laury A. Egan is the author of "The Outcast Oracle" (a Kirkus Reviews “Best Book of 2013”); "Fog and Other Stories;" "Jenny Kidd;" the comic work, "Fabulous! An Opera Buffa; and "Wave in D Minor" (2019). Four limited-edition poetry volumes have been published: "Snow, Shadows, a Stranger;" "Beneath the Lion’s Paw;" "The Sea & Beyond;" and "Presence & Absence." See her website here
* * *
By Roger Floyd
The hotel was the same Martha and Harry stayed at for their honeymoon, but that was fifteen years ago before he left to join his Army unit. He’d been ordered to England to prepare for the cross-channel invasion everyone knew was coming, and they celebrated those last few days at this small resort on the beach in North Carolina.
The hotel may have been given a new coat of paint since then, and perhaps some minor repairs and upgrades had been made, but it was still the same lonely building out on the broad expanse of sand dunes and salt grass that made up the beach here. The hotel management wouldn’t give Martha the same room she and Harry’d had before because they stayed in the bridal suite and it wasn’t available for a single person. They gave her the next best thing, a corner room on the third floor overlooking the beach.
The storm blew in about an hour after she arrived. She disregarded a few speed limits in her haste to make it to the hotel where she’d be able to spend the night in safety, but no one stopped her. The roads were deserted and the Highway Patrol may have been busy warning those who lived in low-lying areas. The weather bureau hadn’t forecasted a hurricane and they didn’t give the storm a name, though it was still supposed to be strong. Winds of thirty to forty miles an hour, they said.
As soon as she reached her room, she dropped her suitcase on the bed and opened one of the windows. The breeze cooled her face and rustled her hair, and sent the familiar vapor of salt and sea cascading into her room. In what afternoon light trickled through the gray and umber clouds, the ocean took on a dark, foreboding cast, and it chilled her just to look at it. She closed the window and drew the curtains.
As she kicked off her shoes and began to unpack, her reasons for taking this trip once again intruded into her mind. She’d suppressed those thoughts while driving here, but now in the quiet of the room, they returned. Why was it that Harry did that to her?
Harry survived the war and returned in 1945 to a hero’s welcome, both from her and her family, and from the little town where they were living. He’d been the only youngster to go to war from that town. He was in medical school when Pearl Harbor was attacked, but he finished and joined the Army as a first lieutenant in the Medical Corps. She was so proud of those silver bars on his shoulders. But with the town’s population aging and very few teenagers or young adults still living there, his joining the Army and being the first person to go to war from that town in over twenty-five years caught the town’s imagination and they had a big send-off party for him, and an even bigger one when he came back. But it was the secret he brought back from the war that so terrified her now.
As Martha stood again at the window and stared at the gathering storm, the first few drops of rain splattered the panes. Then more drops, faster and more furiously, bathing the glass in a curtain of water. After about five minutes, a real squall had developed, and the wind began to howl, sending sounds of shivering and wailing down her spine. In the dim twilight, the heavy surf burst over the shore and drenched the backshore, and ten-foot high sprays of salt splashed the boardwalk that ran about a hundred yards from the back porch of the hotel to the beach. Then, when the evening dissolved into a somber, starless blackness and she could see the ocean no longer, she was alone with her thoughts.
Midnight. Her sleep had been shattered by the letter. She rose and went again to the window. The major portion of the storm had passed and the rain had ended, but the wind still swirled around the hotel, flapping some of the looser shutters. The shutters were meant for decoration only, none of them actually closed to protect the windows, and as she watched, one shutter a few windows down from her room tore off and sailed past her window and landed on the sand only a few feet from the hotel. It was barely visible in the light from the large porch at the rear of the building. Her mind turned to Harry, and to Donny their son, now fourteen years old. They were off in the western part of the state, camping out near Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the state of North Carolina. Tomorrow they’ll try to scale the mountain.
How ironic, they’re high and dry and here I am, weathering the storm.
The worst part of the storm was the letter. She’d found it in the cardboard box that contained most of his army stuff when they cleaned out the attic a few weeks ago. It was from that woman in England. Harry’d been billeted in her house during the wait for D-Day. As an officer, he’d been allowed to take advantage of the willingness of the British people to open their houses to American personnel. The letter didn’t go into any detail about what had taken place between Harry and the woman who wrote it, there was no mention of sex or anything like that. But the tone—the voice—the friendliness of the letter—that was what disturbed her. It was so intimate and affectionate. The writer used the word “darling” several times—Martha counted six. There was even a reference to “your wife.” And she even suggested coming to the United States to see him—how audacious of that woman. She would come furtively, of course, so “no one else” would know.
Martha found it impossible to come to any other conclusion.
“What did you do?” she asked Harry when she first found the letter.
“Listen, Marty, please,” he said, “I can explain.”
“I hope you do.”
“I’m sorry. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t help myself.” His explanation never did sound convincing. “. . . she and I . . . we’d just met, and . . . well, we got together, and . . . I guess it was fate, y’know, we . . . .” He fumbled around, grasping for an explanation, but nothing came and he couldn’t explain away the pain and heartache she knew was coming, and that told her this was as bad as she thought it was.
“Did you think you could get away with something like this?” She shook the letter in his face, pushing him, goading him to give her a clear, straight answer. Make it okay, she thought. Make it okay. But he stayed quiet. “Did you think I’d never find out?”
“Well . . . I . . . .ˮ
“How could you? You were only gone a year. Was that—ˮ
“Actually, fourteen months, but—ˮ
“Oh, yeah, okay, fourteen months. Was that too much for you? You couldn’t wait?” Oh, my God! Listen to her! She sounded so pedantic, so cliché-ridden. But she couldn’t think of anything else. Words just didn’t come right now.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It just happened. I couldn’t control it. She and I . . . .”
“Don’t tell me about her,” she bellowed. “I don’t want to know about her. I want to know about us.”
In the end, Harry said very little in his own defense. What could he say? He just stood there, staring at the floor, embarrassed that all of this had come out, embarrassed that she’d found the letter, certainly discomfited that she knew about his relationship with the other woman. Perhaps even too bewildered to say anything. Yet, no explanation he could give would ever have made things all right. The letter said enough.
“I waited for you,” she repeated. That was her best argument. “I waited. I had Donny to take care of. You had your job. I would have thought you could wait too.” But her argument was so strong and so intense, yet so pathetic and fragile she broke into tears and couldn’t continue. All she could think of was getting away and trying to think things over.
Martha went back to the window a few minutes after seven a.m. The little carillon of bells in the lobby and on each floor tinkled to announce breakfast, but she didn’t feel hungry. A thin band of pale orange light crept up over the horizon and blended into the lemon-yellow of sunrise as the sun’s disk appeared. The wind was spent and the waves no longer crashed over the shore. Now they slid up toward the hotel as though on ball bearings, breaking softly so as not to disturb the sand. A pair of killdeer darted silently over the wet surface. The boardwalk had been cracked and splintered in several places by the winds and the pounding of the surf. That’s all right, this hotel has weathered many storms, even hurricanes, those big tropical storms which slither north along the Atlantic coast and blunder inland, throwing their fury over everything, mauling and shattering houses and homes as though they were cardstock. And even had this storm been a hurricane, it wouldn’t have mattered to the hotel. The management would just repair whatever broke and give it a new coat of paint.
Roger Floyd is a retired PhD medical researcher who's committed to a new career in writing fiction, particularly science fiction and literary short stories. He's completed a trilogy of sci-fi novels for which he's currently looking for an agent or publisher. This is his first story in a literary journal.
* * *
Anywhere but Here
By Philip Goldberg
Desiree mounted the bull, grabbed the reins, and fought to keep her balance on the bucking beast. At each jolt, she shrieked. Her widening eyes threatened to break free of their sockets as her heart hammered. She heard her clipped breaths and was sent flying off the bull and into her bed, which she shared with her baby sister, Emerald. Awake but dazed, she caught the raised, angry voices of her mama and the guy she called “her man”, arguing somewhere in the house. The reason for these disputes changed daily. But she understood one thing: sooner or later, her mama would kick him out, or he’d leave with little more than the clothes he wore. Either way he’d leave them in a bad way.
She got up from the creaky bed and headed down the narrow hall. Her footfalls clapped the worn planks of wood, and roaches scurried out of the way. Summer sun flooded her eyes from the window ahead and made her squint, turning her mama and her mama’s man into silhouettes, verbally sparring inches apart.
Her presence silenced them. Her eyes adjusted to the light, and she caught the man’s face flushed with anger and witnessed her mama’s disgusted look. At their feet sat Emerald, babbling. The baby’s eyes brightened seeing her sister, who swooped in and grabbed the little one and then squeezed past the adults.
“Where you goin’?” Her mama’s voice was an odd mixture of anger and desperation.
“Let ’em go,” the man said.
Desiree stopped and stared at him, thinking of her birth daddy that she’d never met. What she knew of him, she’d learned from her mama, who’d told her that she looked a lot like him with her strong chin, her wide nose, and her broad brow.
“What yo lookin’ at with yo ugly face?”
“Nothin’.” She wanted to say, nothin’ much but held her tongue.
She glanced at her mama, who said nothing in her defense, instead looking down at her bare feet. Simmering, she left the house. Anywhere was better than here. She slipped her feet into the flip-flops on the porch and walked off, cradling Emerald in her arms.
Wandering the neighborhood, she gazed at the sidewalk where sharp summer sunlight appeared burned into the pavement. It dazzled her eyes, mesmerized her, until she heard Jade’s voice shouting her name and looked up to see her friend sitting on the sagging porch of her house. At thirteen, Jade acted like the mama to the younger kids.
Desiree walked up to her. “Yo! What up?”
Jade took Emerald from Desiree’s hands and answered: “Waiting.” The baby babbled in her grasp. Jade cooed back, tickled her, making her laugh.
When the baby quieted, Desiree asked: “For who?
“Heard Cassie’s brother’s comin’ home today.”
“No, dummy, from Afganostrand, Afgunastone, Afgan. Whatever… Can’t wait to see him in uniform. Cassie say he won a medal.”
“For savin’ someone or doin’ somethin’,” she answered, shrugging. “Damn, girl. Stop askin’ questions.”
Desiree’s look grew far away. “Think I’ll go downtown.”
Jade cast a scowl. “You know dat bullshit statue downtown ain’t real.”
She shook her head in disbelief. “Knock yourself stupid, den.”
Desiree shrugged her shoulders, smiled and then grabbed her sister. “Don’t worry, girl, I will. See ya’.”
“Enjoy your soldier boy.”
“I plan to.” She winked playfully, sticking out her tongue.
With Emerald in her arms, Desiree walked off, becoming lost in the soothing sound of the baby’s babbling. She hastened her steps until finding herself before the bull. Bigger than her, it was painted blue and orange, part of the city’s art project over a year ago. At least, that’s what her fourth-grade teacher had said.
She looked at her sister “As beautiful as ever—ain’t it?”
The baby began squirming and pointed at it, cooing gleefully.
Desiree brought her close and let her touch the bright-colored metal with her tiny fingers. Soon the baby was happily slapping it. Her eyes sparkled, and she squirmed more. Sighing, Desiree rested her atop the bull and unbridled babbling bolted from the little ones’ mouth.
Desiree mounted the bull behind her baby sister, keeping a hand on her the whole time. No easy feat, but she did it and then placed both hands around Emerald, holding her tight so as not to topple down. She studied the bull: its solid body, its powerful neck, its sturdy legs. What most caught her eyes were the two horns on its head. Most people, like Jade, viewed them as sharp, threatening, and deadly. Not Desiree. She saw them as triumphant, proud prongs, pointing in the direction she longed to go.
Suddenly she felt it lurch forward. She grabbed her sister tighter with one hand, while holding onto the reins with the other. The bull charged, and she balanced as best she could. She heard its savage snorts and watched its pointed horns spear her mama’s man, flinging him aside like some cloth doll, his body crumbling to the ground.
She eyed the lady, who’d just spoken, standing close while snapping a cell phone picture of the bull, Emerald and herself.
“Sorry. Y’all just looked so adorable on it, I thought you were riding it.”
The lady’s penciled brows arched higher. “Of course, you were.”
Desiree asked the woman if she would hold her sister.
She nodded and took the baby into her arms.
Desiree jumped off the statue, grabbed the baby, and thanked the lady.
“Sure is.” Desiree grinned and walked off.
Back home, her mama’s man was gone. A thought took hold: maybe the bull had gored him. She hoped so.
Her mama was sprawled out on the shabby sofa in the living room, looking as if the bull had thrown her. Being so scrawny, it would’ve been easy. Her gaunt face looked mean. At the same time, her eyes set deep in her head appeared scared. “He gone,” she said. “Damn fool wasn’t good at much. But he paid the bills.”
“He Emerald’s daddy, too.”
She hissed through her nose like steam from a radiator. “Any dumb-ass man can be a baby daddy. You got that, girl?”
The baby started puckering her lips and began blowing kisses.
Her mama cackled. “Look at that silly thing. She a happy fool, clueless as a sinner on Sunday.” And then her eyes darkened like two threatening rain clouds. She shook her head as if trying to free some hard thoughts. “Guess I gotta git another job. How that worked out? Either some manager try to git down my pants, or somebody accuse me of stealin’ somethin’ somebody else took.” She shook her head as if dumfounded by it all and then peered at Desiree. “Guess I got to. Yo skinny ass too young to git one. “ She looked at Emerald. “And all she want to do is blow kisses.” She followed these words by letting loose a harsh laugh.
“How ’bout gettin’ checks like Jade’s mama do?”
“Tried that. They won’t give me none.”
“Maybe if we didn’t move aroun’ so much, we’d get ‘em. That what Jade says.”
“Damn that girl. Best keep her shit stuffed in her mouth.”
She knew what Jade had said was true but said no more about it.
“Just like yo daddy—head full of dumb-ass dreams.”
Desiree felt as if a bee had just stung her. Wasn’t the first time her mama had said that and wouldn’t be the last. What’s wrong having a head full of dreams? Sure beats the opposite. A burst of breath blew out her mouth, and she stalked off, ignoring her mama’s continuing words. She was tired of being the mama here. After all, she was nine, hurtling toward ten and couldn’t wait to reach out and grab that number as if it were a fake gold ring on the carousel in the park north of downtown. What it meant was being one year closer to living somewhere by herself, or maybe with her sister.
In the tiny, dank kitchen that reeked, Desiree laid the little one on the wobbly table and changed her diaper. When finished, she returned to the living room and placed her sister next to her mama, watching the little one cuddle up to her mama, who barely moved a muscle. The baby fell fast asleep within moments.
Desiree shook her head and turned to go, but before taking another step she heard her mama say: “Turn on the tee-vee, girl.”
She found the show her mama liked best, where some guy proved that men were daddies. Her mama loved screaming at these men, clapping when a man was shown to be the father. She wondered how loud her mama had yelled at her daddy. Her mama never said, probably never would. But she concluded it must’ve been long and ear shattering.
She went outside and sat on the plastic chair by the door, watching cars and people passing. A couple greeted her. She nodded back and thought about how she didn’t care much for summer. At least the rest of the year she had school. It wasn’t much, but it provided her with a temporary escape, five days a week. These thoughts were interrupted when she heard her mama cursing the man on the tee-vee. She knew summer wasn’t over yet.
The next morning, Desiree sat down next to Jade on her family’s porch. “So did you see him?”
The girl’s eyes watered; looked as though tears might spill at any moment. Her head trudged right to left to right as if it weighed a ton.
Jade stared into space as if she was seeing her thoughts floating out there.
“Did you see his medal?”
“Damn thing blinded me when the sun hit it. But den I saw them crutches. Then I saw he missin’ somethin’.”
Desiree studied her friend with great curiosity. She leaned closer to her and placed a few fingers on her shoulder.
“Pants’ leg was empty—flappin’. And dere wasn’t much breeze blowin’.”
Desiree gulped, stared at her own leg and let loose a sigh of relief. “That’s bad. Real bad.”
“Sho’ is,” Jade replied. “But dat scar ’cross his cheek—.” She paused, appearing as if she just saw her dead daddy. “Medal he got should’ve been bigger.”
Desiree fidgeted with her hands. “Guess he’s not a pretty boy no more.”
“Nah, he not.”
Exhaling a shaky breath, Desiree rose from the porch.
“You going to dat bull again?”
“Nah. Just feel like walkin’.”
“Me too.” She joined along-side her.
The two girls strolled the sizzling streets, passing empty stores, storefront churches, and a boarded-up gas station. Desiree eyed everything as if for the first time. The decay in this section of town spilled sadness on her. Still, she had the bull, which helped brighten her spirits some.
The girls continued walking without any destination. Finally, Jade said: “Later.”
“Where you goin’?”
“Later.” She turned and headed to her house.
Desiree nodded and watched her friend go for a few moments. Turning, she continued walking.
She came home later and found her mama and the baby asleep on the sofa. The tee-vee was on. A mama and daughter screamed at each other on the screen, while the audience hooted and hollered. She shut it and then walked to the smelly kitchen and rummaged around, finding some slices of bread in a cabinet. She watched the roaches scatter. From the fridge, she pulled out what was left of a stick of butter and made a sandwich. She devoured it and then filled a glass with tap water, gulping it down.
Returning to the living room, she caught sight of the paint peeling walls before squeezing next to her mama, who grumbled but accepted her presence on the now crowded sofa. She stared at the chipped ceiling and began holding her breath to do something—anything. Held it for twenty seconds or so, exhaled and gasped. She tried again and again until she grew bored. So bored that she fell asleep.
Shouting roused her. She jumped to her feet, noticing how dark it was outside the window. Angry voices were coming from her mama’s bedroom. And then she heard it—the baby’s cries.
She pushed the door open and saw her mama’s man, who she’d thought was gone. He wobbled on unsteady legs, while her mama sat on her knees rubbing her cheek. He faced Desiree and snarled, his words slurred: “What you want?”
Her mama, with pleading eyes, uttered: “Take Emerald and go.”
Desiree stood there as if her legs were stuck in cement.
“You heard yo mama. Git.” His voice was all menace.
The smack followed by her mama’s yelp stopped her, and she worried about what to do: the bull reared up in her head. Putting her sister on the sofa, she raced back into the room and charged him, crashing into him and pushing him hard. But he was a buck, big and strong. He grabbed her and flung her against the wall, which shook as if it might crumble. Stunned, she glanced up and glimpsed his eyes: two flaming balls. He came at her ready to do further damage.
But her mama stepped between them and screamed at her: “Go. Run. Get help.”
He pushed her aside and said: “Better run, girl. Better git yo skinny ass out of here ’fore I kick it ’cross town.”
Desiree got to her feet, grabbed her sister from the sofa, and fled into the night. Fireflies blinked around her. Crickets chattered from front yards. She jumped on to Jade’s porch and rapped on the door. Some moments passed before a face peered out a nearby window and then moved away. The door opened, revealing Jade’s mama. “What you want? Know what time it is?” She noticed the baby, saw the girl’s anxious face. “She in trouble?”
Desiree nodded in pained jerks.
“Come inside. I’ll call the cops.” She stepped aside, allowing the girl space to enter.
Desiree handed Emerald to her, but she didn’t budge.
Jade’s mama appeared puzzled. “Git in here, child.”
She shook her head vigorously and then ran off with her name in the woman’s voice racing across the still night air, stinging her ears. She ran and ran until the bull stood before her. Its unmoving dark eye willed her to come closer. She obeyed and patted its huge head and then mounted it, emitting a deep sigh. A police car’s siren wailed in the distance, but she ignored it. She took the imagined reins and felt the beast’s power once more.
It began moving, heading in the opposite direction of where she lived—each gallop faster than the last.
She held on with arm-straining strength, as tears fell—tears of joy, and happy hollers and whoops shot from her mouth.
But then Jade’s voice caught her ears from behind, pleading: “Git down, guuurrrlll.
She couldn’t. She wouldn’t.
The rotating red light of the stopped patrol car projected on to the wall beside her. It mattered little. She tightened her grip on the reins and rode that bull like she never had. Soon Jade’s pleading voice quieted, and the flashing red light vanished as if they’d never been there.
Before her, a bright path appeared—warm and inviting—glimmering like the carrousel’s fake gold ring. She rode along it, determined to go as far as her imagination would take her.
Anywhere. But here.
Philip Goldberg’s short stories have appeared in both numerous publications including Junto, Thrice Fiction, Straylight Literary Arts Magazine, and The Chaffin Journal. Three of his stories have been published in Best of collections and one was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is currently finishing a novel.
* * *
Thursday Nights with Edgar
By Dave Gregory
Edgar Mekarski’s flagrant disregard for hygiene and personal appearance unnerves everyone. Wrinkled and spotted with age, overweight with a fat, bulbous neck, basketball-shaped belly and sagging jowls, he is cursed with a severe stoop and a disconcerting habit of scratching himself in public. His tattered, tormented clothing is brown and grey, as though improperly laundered. The smell of sour milk clings to him, intermingling with chronic halitosis and body funk.
Thick, jet black hair grows from his ears but the unwashed, uncombed hair on his head is sparse, grey and lifeless. He has dandruff, too. A visible powdering is a permanent fixture on his threadbare overcoat. Calling it “Pixie Dust” fools no one. Strangers uneasily stand next to him in elevators or at cross walks.
His right hand is the most troubling. Two decades ago, he severed three fingers in an accident at his auto repair shop. Reddish-purple scar tissue covers much of his shattered palm and looks like it might start bleeding any moment. It never occurs to him to hide his mutilated hand. Shop clerks cringe as he takes money from his wallet, bank tellers look away when he fumbles with a pen and no one wants to shake hands with him – but Edgar is oblivious to their discomfort.
At seventy-three, Edgar has few pleasures in life. A simple man on a fixed income, he lives in a gritty, ground-floor apartment with an ant problem, peeling beige paint, and urine-colored water stains on the bathroom ceiling. He’s owned the same brown behemoth of a car since before the oil crisis and remembers having all ten fingers on the shiny black steering wheel.
Thursday nights are Edgar’s only social outings. That’s when he and “the boys” – Abe, Al and Tommy, his partners from the auto shop which closed a decade earlier – descend on the Stately Raven, a warm and friendly but dingy little tavern. They come out of habit, keep to themselves, tell dirty jokes and feel younger talking about the old days.
Unfortunately, the Stately Raven is half an hour south on a crumbling, two-lane highway. Edgar refuses to drive if there’s the slightest hint of winter in the air – which is from the time all leaves are on the ground until crocuses bloom on the grassy hill in the park across the street. This means he misses up to five consecutive months of Thursday nights, each year. His buddies live closer to the pub. Edgar considered moving to the tall, grey apartment building nearby but the threat of change overwhelms him.
In mid-October, before half the leaves have fallen, a freak storm dumps four inches of the white stuff. Edgar feels cheated. Late the next evening he walks through the park, kicking at snowdrifts. Hanging like a lightbulb in the dark sky, the full moon diverts his attention until he notices his moon-shadow, crisp and steely-blue against glistening snow. It is the brightest night Edgar can remember.
The glowing terrain is blotched with dark, brittle leaves, lying on the powdery surface like spilled gravy on a white table cloth. Edgar fancies sweeping them away with a whisk broom as though the snowy ground is pearly linoleum.
In the morning, temperatures climb above freezing and fallen leaves dampen with melting snow. Dark patches in a sea of white, they absorb the sun’s rays and sink deep into the ivory carpet, hungrily consuming fragile flakes below.
When Edgar walks to the post office that afternoon, he notices countless pockmarks in the wintry landscape. People saunter along without gloves. He loosens his scarf. It is still autumn, Edgar reminds himself. Looking toward proud maples for confirmation, he sees many red and yellow leaves clinging heroically to lower branches. In three days it will be Thursday. Maybe another trip to the Raven is in order.
The next morning is warmer and wide patches of grass appear. All day, sunshine beats down as leaves gently fall. At noon, the ground shows more green than white and, by three o’clock, a thin, bluish-grey layer of snow remains only in shaded, low-lying areas.
On Thursday afternoon, Edgar takes another walk in the park, bathed in warm, reassuring sunlight. Standing on the path, atop a small hill, he slowly inhales, detecting notes of wet earth with a hint of decay. Approaching strangers see a crazy old man, lost and hyper-ventilating, scratching himself below the waist. Most choose another route. Holding his sour breath, a smile creeps across Edgar’s weathered face. The decision is made: he will drive to the Raven that evening.
Smug and satisfied, Edgar arrives early and nurses a cold beer. The crowded bar is loud and dark. None of the stools match. Edgar sits alone, staring at scuff marks on the floor. Half an hour later, Al sneaks up behind him. “Ed, you crazy ol’ fart.” He greets him with a slap on the shoulder – even Edgar’s friends won’t shake his hand. “Didn’t expect you tonight.”
“Couldn’t let you boys drink alone.” Edgar’s spirits soar.
Al orders a beer. Seeing Edgar’s is nearly empty, he tells the bartender: “Make that two.”
“There’s a good lad,” the older man gushes.
“Don’t mention it. But say, ain’t ya worried ‘bout the comin’ storm?”
“Storm?! What bloody storm? It ended days ago.” His jovial mood tapers. Worry sinks in. “You’re joking.”
“No joke. There’s another blizzard comin,’ just like the one kicked up last week.”
“But . . . but winter’s a helluva long way off. Leaves are still on the trees, for Christ’s sake! That last storm was a fluke . . . a freak.”
“One freak storm, another freak storm. This is a freaky season.”
The bartender slaps two beers on the counter. Al takes one. Edgar stares at the other. Thin traces of mist seep from the narrow spout. No longer wanting to talk or drink, getting home is his only concern. “It can’t snow tonight,” he protests. “It’s Thursday.”
“It’s snowin’ already, Ed. Take a look.” Al points to Abe and Tommy who have just entered. Illuminated by neon beer signs, they weave through the crowd, brushing dime-sized flakes of snow from their overcoats. “That ain’t Pixie Dust, my friend.”
Edgar’s heart pounds. Right hand to his chest, he wipes cold, dry skin on the back of his neck with the other. He turns to see the bottle waiting for him, condensation forming on the label.
When Tommy and Abe pat Edgar on the shoulder, his greetings are gruff and muttered. Eyes fixed on the brown bottle, he fidgets while the others talk. He is morose and his friends know why.
“Maybe you should head home,” Tommy suggests, “before it gets worse.”
Edgar yearns to heed that advice but departing seems cowardly. Leaving an unfinished beer troubles him, too – it’s rude and wasteful. Nonetheless, he drinks faster than usual.
Abe sees Edgar’s hands shake. “Relax, Ed, I can put you up for the night. My son’ll drive ya home in the morning. Forget the weather, we’re here to have fun.”
“I am having fun, damn it,” Edgar claims. Confirming this, he takes a long swig from his beer and nearly chokes. One drop spills down his chin. He smears it with the back of his ravaged hand, which he wipes on his pants.
Though tempted by Abe’s offer, Edgar hasn’t slept in any bed except his own in decades. The strangeness overwhelms him.
After his final sip, Edgar pushes away the empty bottle.
“Can we at least call ya a cab?” Al asks.
Hands trembling as he buttons up, Edgar insists: “I’m fine to drive with a few flakes in the sky,” but his refusal is based on cost, not weather. He also wouldn’t know how to retrieve his vehicle in the morning, when the roads will be buried in snow.
Stepping outside, Edgar shudders at a thin blanket of whiteness. Cursing, he unlocks his car, gets in and revs the engine. Falling flakes become magnified in the beam of his headlights.
Before shifting into gear, he takes three deep breaths and is soon heading north along the highway. Edgar’s foot is heavy on the pedal, windshield wipers at maximum speed, defrosters on high. His surviving knuckles are white as they grip the aging steering wheel.
Heart thumping, he switches on the radio, hoping it will calm him. It doesn’t. Tuned to a station playing hits from the fifties and sixties, the speakers suddenly roar. Christ, not that, Edgar thinks. He reaches for the dial as a horn suddenly blares from a yellow cube van headed south.
Edgar jerks the wheel. When his old Pontiac begins to swerve on the snowy highway, he tries steering out of it but fishtails in the opposite direction. Then he slams his brakes and the car spins. Staying on the road, he comes to a halt, blocking both lanes of traffic. A second southbound vehicle tries to stop but rams the passenger side of Edgar’s sedan, shattering two windows.
Following the crash, the southbound driver remains buckled, too shocked to move. Looking straight ahead, he watches Edgar’s body convulse before it slumps over the wheel.
A brave soul emerges from one of six cars stopped on the highway and runs to Edgar’s aid. After laying him on the cold, wet road, he forces breath into his putrid mouth and pumps his blubbery chest. More cars arrive and others come to assist but see it’s useless. Many drift back to their vehicles for warmth while a small crowd stares, awestruck, as a stranger wrestles a gruesome corpse.
Once motorists adapt to the tragic situation, they become aware of indecently inappropriate music. Through smashed-out windows, Edgar’s radio roars like an abandoned child. The Lion Sleeps Tonight, by the Tokens. A high-pitched whine is followed by endless chanting. Repetitive lyrics transport everyone deep into the mighty jungle.
The man performing CPR notices his chest compressions are synchronized with the melody. He shudders, leans over and vomits onto the wet roadway. Sensing hopelessness, he takes Edgar’s right hand to check his pulse but throws away the mutilated claw in favor of the other.
Edgar dies as the Tokens wail happily. Their piercing falsettos penetrate the frigid night and mock the tragedy. Most people on scene find the song irritating under the best of circumstances. Those who like it are ashamed to catch themselves foot-tapping to the rhythm, in such close proximity to a cadaver.
Eventually, the station cuts to a commercial but this offers no relief as the song effortlessly slips from the airwaves to the audio replay mechanism of their brains, where it remains long after police arrive and the road is cleared.
In death, Edgar Mekarski continues to unnerve people. His grim memory lingers like an unshakable song. As long as the witnesses live, the slightest provocation of sound or image recalls that macabre night and the high falsetto of those familiar, prophetic words urging them to hush and not fear.
Dave Gregory used to live and work at sea but now writes in a bay-windowed, book-lined room. He has visited six continents, published stories in seven countries, and reads fiction for journals on both sides of the Atlantic. His publication credits include the Nashwaak Review, Sky Island Journal and Literally Stories.
* * *
Love at First Kill
By Lyle Knightly
“So, uh… do you think the program messed up?” I asked, feigning casualness.
Ellie knotted her hands together and nodded. “Probably,” she replied, voice soft, nervousness masked with a breathy laugh.
The program’s algorithm usually made sure dates were scheduled on nice weather evenings. The rain outside wasn’t so much falling as it was being thrown down in a barrage of icy bullets. It hit the window next to our table with passionate aggression and dulled out the classy violin music otherwise filling the empty air of the restaurant. There was a lot of empty air tonight. Only one other couple was seated on the far side of the room, the rest wisely hidden away at home and sending off “sorry cant make it :( weather is bad” texts.
It sounded like Johann Pachelbel. I didn’t consider myself a classical music pundit, but the gentle mix of piano and string instruments that could be heard over the rain was a soft and lovely tune bearing familiarity. When it reached our ears, I found myself gazing at Ellie across the table. She was a dainty and fragile-looking young woman, much like the music. If she were a character in one of my books, I would describe her akin to music and maybe name her after Pachelbel─and not because he was the only classical artist I knew… of course.
“Then again, it did come out of nowhere. It’ll probably lighten up by the time we leave,” I concluded, then straightened and rested my elbow lightly on the table. My voice drowned out the rest of the music, but we couldn’t sit in silence forever. “So, ‘how to remove fingerprints after strangling somebody,’ huh?”
Ellie reddened. “It’s… It was for a school project,” she answered, the lie flowing smoothly. I might have believed it, too, what with her green, summer-y dress and soft, honey-brown hair woven into a braid down her back. She was the epitome of innocence, in multiple respects. Her instrument would be a harp.
I was dressed a bit more fancily, but only because my formal-casual shirts were still at the dry-cleaners, and the only available one that went with these pants happened to be from my black-tie ensemble. So I had given up and just worn the whole ensemble instead of playing mix and match, topped with a pale, red tie that matched my hair. My instrument would be a flute.
“Fine. Quiz time,” I amended. I leaned forward to show her I was serious. I had read over the screenshots of her browser history the program had provided. She had been provided screenshots of mine as well, so all was fair in love and orchestra. “Best way to mimic a heart attack?”
“Air shot between the toes.”
Her answer was quick and confident. She immediately closed in on herself for it.
“Time it takes to bleed out from a stab wound?”
“Between two to thirty minutes, depending on where you’re stabbed.”
Another quick, confident answer.
“Best place below the belly button to aim for an artery.”
“Upper, inner thigh.” She couldn’t help herself; she was getting into it. Her eyes brightened and a small smile pulled at her lips. I felt similar exhilaration. She knew as much as I did, and she showed no hesitation or concern at the questions.
“Last one: stiletto or shiv?”
“Stiletto. Shivs are for amateurs.”
I leaned back, my smile confident, smug even. “I see I’ve finally found another horror writer,” I stated.
But Ellie only grew embarrassed again. She didn’t seem excited in the slightest at the conclusion. “Actually, I’m not a horror writer… Or a writer at all for that matter,” she began sheepishly, and I felt my smile slip. She pulled her braid over her shoulder to fiddle with it. “My friend signed me up for this stupid dating website, and I only hoped the algorithm would just cycle my browser history out as bullshit…”
I sat in disturbed silence for a second. “Wait. So… what do you do then?”
“I’m…” She trailed off and her eyes slid sideways to the floor.
The waitress approached us with our appetizer: a romanian salad. It held a sharp scent of blue cheese and a spicy dressing. She left us with a, “Please enjoy,” but neither Ellie nor I acknowledged the food.
“Please don’t judge me,” Ellie continued once the waitress had retreated. “I’m actually a fan of your work! It’s─ it’s inspirational. When I found out I was matched for a date with the Oliver Connor, I couldn’t… didn’t want to say no…”
I licked my lips as I found myself, for the first time tonight, at a loss for words. Where words usually burst at the seams and demand constant attention, I felt as if I was drawing on an empty well. I took a sip of water to give myself a moment as my mind raced over every single book I had published, connecting the dots between my characters and my own inspiration found in books of the same genre. I could only garner one fact from the quick thinking.
“You’re a serial killer.”
I couldn’t even put it into a question to give Ellie the benefit of the doubt, for there was no other possibility that would connect us.
She nodded shyly. “Yes… Well, of sorts. Technically, I’m a hitman─ hitwoman, but I… I prefer the more… complex deaths.” She laughed as she pulled at her hair, channeling her fear into her fingers strangling the end of the braid. “Opposite of my father, actually─ I mean─ Never mind. I knew I’d have to tell you tonight, but… hopefully no one else has to know?”
Oh gods, she thought I was going to call the police on her when I meant to do no such thing!
I reached across the table for her hand. “Ellie,” I started sternly, locking our eyes so that she would have no doubt that I believed what I said, “I think your profession is remarkable. If you’ve really taken inspiration from my books, then I can only assume your work is as graceful and professional. I admire that you tried to spare my feelings, but I understand the urge to meet one’s idol. I had always used my imagination and interest in Lovecraftian lore to inspire my characters’ actions, but I’ve been wrong all along! I should have been looking to the real and the now. Why be caught up in the fictional when I know someone as talented as you exists!”
Her eyes watered and she tried to keep her smile subdued under my praise. “R-really?” she asked softly. “You really think that?”
I couldn’t think of anything else at the moment. I nodded sharply twice. “I do. Everyone makes fun of this dating service, but it has brought us together, and I think that’s a sign. Maybe it’s the romantic in me speaking, but─”
“No! Please, don’t worry about that,” Ellie argued. “The romantic is just as important as any other part of this. Like how Claire chases after Roland in A Sky of Blood, I was nearly in tears! Their story is so passionate.”
The words went straight into my heart, twisting it, and I smiled apologetically. Her praise was for my worst selling book. “A Sky of Blood had too much─” I began.
“The critics were wrong,” she argued immediately. “The focus of the story wasn’t Roland’s guilt that turned him away from Claire, or Claire’s indecision that drove her over the edge to kill him, it was about their potential to still love each other. That despite everything that─”
“Ellie.” I cut off her words that invoked relief so strong I could cry. There was something more important to discuss now. “Ellie, will you go out with me? Will you be my inspiration? My muse? Will you let me love you for everything you are?”
Ellie finally smiled, and her smile became one of the few things I would never be able to put into words. But if I tried, I would say it was as bright as the crescendo of a symphony orchestra.
Lyle is just your everyday student reading a book on their way to class and searching for the perfect song to listen to while writing. Their writing process is like the camellia sinensis plant; ideas often start in one place, but by the end they’re refined into a hundred different flavors.
* * *
By Jason Jacovini
“Can I ask you something?”
“Of course, dear.”
“When I was little, you told me the angels knew Grandma would pass soon. That they
waited outside of her hospital room window and took her to heaven when she died.”
Branwen stared into the remaining bits of foam in her coffee, still whirring from when she
stirred it. “Do you think they took my parents, too?”
“I’m sure of it,” her grandfather answered. His hands shook as he delicately cut his third
pancake in half. The scratching of his knife on the plate distracted Branwen from the tune
of the morning wind crashing over the siding.
“Were they following the plane or something? Sitting on a wing?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it was too sudden.” He looked disappointed.
Branwen sighed. She was never interested in religion. It was especially difficult for her to
believe in it when her grandfather seemed just as uncertain. As the only remaining
members of their family, they’d decided it was best to spend as much time together as they
had left, not to mention the financial encumbrance they’d soon face. For Branwen, this
meant abandoning her education down in Galway, and a return to her ancestral home in
rural, Northern Ireland. Her tuition accounted for the most money the family had spent on
anything since her grandparents purchased the home decades ago, and although she
appreciated it, she never believed she was worth it. She didn’t know what she wanted to do
after graduation, anyway.
“Thanks for breakfast,” Branwen said, prodding at her second pancake.
“You usually finish both.”
“I know.” The edges of her fork nearly cut into her palms from how tightly she pressed her
fingers onto it.
“Just eat some more later, okay?”
“I know.” She raised the fork slightly, its tines hovering over syrup pooling in a dent in the
“I just worry,” her grandfather said. “Around your age, your mother-”
“I’m not like her.” Branwen’s wrist tensed and she jabbed the fork downwards, syrup
pulsing away from the collision and dripping down the edges.
The girl stood and stretched, and to hide her lightheadedness, grabbed onto the back of her
chair and pushed it in. “I’m gonna go for a walk,” she said.
The old man nodded, pouring the syrup from her plate onto his own.
Branwen left the house, considering whether to return inside for a heavier jacket. After
making it halfway to the mailbox, she did, and on her way back outside, paused to examine
her grandfather's gun rack next to the fireplace. Not too long ago, and before he put on
weight, he was a hunter. Only did it as a hobby with her father, but often and for long
enough to amass a bit of a gun collection. His favorite was a shotgun, completely silver
other than its black stock and forend. He said he liked the way it looked like a sword before
he put his glasses on in the morning. Branwen never cared much for hunting but found
herself more fascinated by the “sword” than she ever had been as a child. She shook her
head, then continued outside.
She walked along the dirt road behind the cottage, hoping the grey sky above meant
nothing more than a phase of morning humidity. But as noon approached, the sun still hid
behind thick layers of clouds. The trail was familiar, but as with any memory, seemed to
have warped over time. A misplaced hill, or a tree that appeared taller than before. Less
wildlife scattered throughout the fields. She remembered running into a neighbor’s dog, big
and golden and fluffy, at least once a week on her walk to school. Just roaming around its
owner’s home, who she’d never meet. It was nice. But this walk was dull, duller than she
had hoped it would be, and much duller than she remembered. That was, until something
caught her attention on a nearby hill.
The carcass of something that was once rather large -- perhaps a farm animal that escaped
its property -- laid dead, a decaying testament to nature’s brutality. Its flesh had been
shredded and segmented, presumably by the desperate predator that killed it. But it wasn’t
what interested Branwen. Above it, she noticed three vultures circling, with their great
black wings and long, trailing plumage. As she approached their carrion cuisine, she felt as
though the birds were glaring at her, so she stopped and continued watching from afar. The
birds cawed as they descended, pausing as they landed around the carcass and pecked at
the surrounding blood-stained grass. As much as she wanted to, Branwen couldn’t drag her
eyes away as they began to devour their prey. There was something compelling in the way
the birds choked down the meat and tissue, their necks twitching as they swallowed,
emitting intermittent, guttural chirps between bouts of consumption. They sounded
satisfied with what they were doing, as though it was a service they’d been tasked to
complete. And maybe there was something beautiful to it, Branwen thought, how the
vultures willingly removed such a disgusting sight from the otherwise rustic landscape. For
only a moment before walking away, she imagined them tearing her apart. She almost
Branwen thought her grandfather’s white truck would be gone by the time she got back,
expecting him to have gone to the market. But it still sat in the driveway. It looked as
pristine as it did when she first saw it as a child, a monument to how well her grandfather
treats his belongings. She was certain the inside was as clean as it used to be, too, and still
smelled of varnish and caramel like it did when he’d take her to get ice cream on the way
back from the hardware store. He quit smoking as soon as he could after hearing his
daughter was pregnant with Branwen, but left an ashtray on the dashboard, perhaps out of
consideration that he’d start again one day, or only to preserve it as an artifact of his past.
He was sentimental like that. Always taking pictures, saving newspapers. He played out his
vinyl records until they cracked, but saved them anyway, only to give their sleeves some
weight on the shelf.
As Branwen went inside, she stopped to look at the framed pictures lining the mantle. At
the center was a portrait of her grandmother, smiling, her long grey hair draped over her
lavender sweater. On the far left was one of Branwen’s parents, newlywed and dressed at
their finest, under the white arbor they had built for the event in a flower field. Although
she didn’t smile like her husband, there was a light in the woman’s eyes — a glimmer that
suggested joy, at least in the moment. The next photo was one of Branwen as a child, sitting
on her mother’s lap, looking into a telescope on the back porch. She remembered how
much the stars amused her, and how her mother would show her constellations. She’d
never seen her more passionate about anything than when she spoke about space. But
Branwen hadn’t seen the stars for so long, at least not in the same density as they appeared
back home. The city lights at her university disallowed stargazing. There were more
pictures to the right, but Branwen didn’t like them. Her mother wouldn’t smile.
“Welcome back.” Her grandfather entered from the back, sliding door. “You have a nice
“No.” She handed him the photo of her parent’s wedding. “Could you tell me about this?”
“What do you want to know?”
“Anything, I don’t know. Why wasn’t Mom smiling?”
“I’m sure it was just... poor timing on the photographer’s part.” He sat in his chair and
adjusted his glasses. “It was the spring of ‘94. Your dad was working two jobs, and your
mom sold her entire collection of astronomy books off just to buy the dress she wanted. It
was a cheap wedding, but it was nice. Your dad and I drove down to the field early in the
morning to set everything up, the tables and decorations we built. All the farmers from
around showed up, one even brought some sheep to entertain the kids. Yeah, it was nice.
Everyone had a good time. They couldn’t afford doves, so we just caught some crows from
the wheat fields and let them go instead. Damn black feathers got everywhere.” He kind of
Branwen wasn’t entirely satisfied. “Mom was happy though, right?”
He sighed. “Branwen... of course, she was. Sometimes. Past your age she just... stopped
smiling.” He placed the picture down on the table beside him. “I thought things would
change after the wedding. We all did. But not long after your birth...”
“What? Was it my fault? Dad’s fault?”
“Oh God, no. She was just... troubled. Perhaps more so than before.” Branwen’s grandfather
traced the edge of his beard with his fingertips, nearly pressing them together at his chin
then before pulling apart again. “The crow sees it chick as white. Have you ever heard
“No.” Branwen reclined on the couch across from her grandfather. Her eyes followed a
beam of sunlight that entered through the window and reflected off the black and silver
“She thought you were perfect, completely unlike herself... your father hoped so, too. He
was so protective of you, didn’t want you seeing your mom at her worst. He was worried
you’d end up the same way some day.”
“Grandpa,” Branwen said, voice shaking. “I’m fine.” She crossed one arm over to hold the
other. Branwen had never flown before but tried to imagine the plane her parent’s lives
ended in, with its great metal wings and massive, roaring engines. A bullet through the
atmosphere. Performed by a mechanical orchestra, the electric hum of the airplane’s
turbines was the last song her parents would hear, crescendoing as the craft descended
abruptly. Her mother was probably calm and staring out of the window, almost smiling as
the ground approached, realizing fate was beyond her control.
“Do you think she’s happy now?” Branwen asked.
“Yes, she must be.” From the table’s front drawer, her grandfather retrieved a pack of
Benson & Hedges and tapped it on his knee.
By midnight, Branwen still couldn’t fall asleep. She was glad to have spent the rest of the
evening with her grandfather. Cooking dinner, working on the paper’s crossword puzzle,
watching Into the West, then baking some cookies together. But there was something
keeping her awake. She rose from her bed and rummaged through her suitcases, using only
the blue moonlight seeping through the window as a guide in the dark. She let her hair
down and dressed in black and white. Branwen wanted to feel pretty. Passing through the
kitchen, she grabbed a cookie from the jar, and continued into the living room where she’d
procure her weapon and its ammunition: her grandfather’s favorite shotgun.
She closed the door quietly as she slipped out of the house, then ventured far down the
path she had walked earlier, much further than where she watched the vultures in hopes
the distance would be great enough as to not wake anyone with the sound. Her task was
not one she wanted her grandfather to witness. Branwen sat in the grass, the cool tips of its
blades tickling her exposed ankles. She took the cookie out of her pocket and began to eat
it, cherishing each mouthful of dough and chocolate. She laid the gun in the grass next to
her and leaned back, supporting herself with her palms on the ground behind her. The sky
was almost entirely black, only occasionally stained in swirls of dark blue and violet.
Countless white stars flickered throughout the expanse, only surpassed in brightness by a
Branwen felt at peace, as though everything were correct with the world. She was ready.
Above, she noticed three angels circling, with their great white wings and ethereal, flowing
robes. They descended towards her slowly, waiting desperately for their moment to swoop
down and drag her to where they thought she belonged.
“Mom,” she whispered, dragging her fingers along the length of the weapon. “I’m not you.”
She glared at the angels, stood with her gun and loaded it with six shells, then raised it
towards the sky. Branwen had gone hunting with her grandfather before, but never got to
use his sword. She stared down its barrel like a telescope, directly into the brightest star
she could find. It twinkled, writhing. The angels looked confused, ceasing their rotation.
Through the center of the distant halo their bodies formed, Branwen prepared to shoot. She
took a deep breath, adjusted her shoulders back, then exhaled. She pulled the trigger.
The angels, unwilling to put themselves at risk, flew away haphazardly in different
directions, leaving trails of white light behind them. She chambered the gun and shot again,
directly upwards into space. The star, her target, seemed to have begun to crack. Her
shoulders ached more intensely from the recoil of each shot and pained her greatly as she
unloaded the chamber of all but her sixth. Through the tension in her upper arms she
raised the sword towards the heavens for a final round, determined to shoot the star down.
For the last time, she pulled the trigger.
The star shattered, a soundless, downward firework. Streams of light followed behind its
falling shards, spreading themselves across the country. At some distance away, one could
assume the plummeting bits of cosmic light were shooting stars, ones upon which wishes
could be made and likely unfulfilled. They coruscated in Branwen’s eyes, and for only a
moment, she smiled.
Jason Jacovini is a third-year writing major at Champlain College in the cold hills of Burlington, Vermont. He owes his interest in short fiction to chronic daydreaming and constant music listening.
* * *
A Small Flower Bed
by Yoshiro Takayasu (translated by Toshiya Kamei)
Yoshiharu decided to tear down the storage shed in his backyard. While he sorted out its
contents in preparation, he found the equipment he had used when he was a member of the
Mountaineering Club at his college. In his junior year, Kayo, who would become his future
wife, joined the club. Attracted to Misako, who joined at the same time, Yoshiharu would go
to the movies and stroll around Oze National Park with the two girls. For one reason or
another, however, he ended up marrying Kayo. Judging from the New Year's card Misako
sent out every year, she was apparently still single. "I wonder how things would have turned
out if I had married Misako?" Such a thought suddenly came to Yoshiharu and he smiled.
He found a golf bag while he was cleaning out the back of the shed. He pulled out an iron and
took a swing. Then a surge of sharp pain ran down his back. "It's a good thing I quit playing,"
he mumbled to himself.
He began golf to socialize with his boss. He remembered he had bought the golf set on the
advice of his boss and an expensive membership while his wife complained that he was
thoughtless about their household budget. When his boss fell ill, Yoshiharu lost his support
and a means to climb the corporate ladder. In the spring of that year, he had retired after
having worked as a subsection chief for what seemed like eternity while finding solace in
golf, which had become his hobby. If he had associated himself with a different superior, he
would have been promoted to manager, and he might have landed a cushy job at a
subcontractor by then.
He found a tape recorder among the drawings and crafts his children made when they were
small in a wooden box in the back of the shed. There was a cassette tape inside. When he
plugged the tape recorder into the outlet near the entrance and played the tape, he heard his
son and daughter, who were kindergarteners, sing, vying for the microphone. His children
had become independent and left home.
"They had cute voices back then. Come to think of it, my daughter said she wanted to learn
ballet, but I forced her to go to cram school instead," he said to himself as he listened to his
daughter sing on the tape.
His son liked baseball and wanted to go to a private high school known for its great baseball
program, but Yoshiharu convinced him that he could still play at a local regular high school.
He found his son's glove and metal bat covered with dust. His son had hit a home run only
once with this bat.
Yoshiharu remembered his son thought this bat had brought him good luck. "He struck out
most of the time after that," he said to himself, immersed in those distant memories.
When Yoshiharu had finished carrying the junk he had found in the shed to the incineration
plant in town, he began to dismantle the shed. It came down more easily than he had
expected. When a dealer removed the waste material, an empty plot of about three tsubo was
"Let's make a flower bed here," Kayo said when she came home from her part-time job.
"What will you plant?" he asked in a listless tone.
"What do you want to plant?" Kayo asked.
"But flowers don't interest me."
"That's beside the point. We have to turn it into a flower bed no matter what," Kayo said
forcefully. "Summer flowers are in season, aren't they?"
In high spirits, Kayo went out to a flower market nearby. Many seedlings were lined up in the
shop. Marigolds, petunias, surfinias, salvias, impatiens, Sunpatiens. She pictured in her mind
a flower bed that had been in the kindergarten her children had attended.
When Kayo got home, the spot where the shed had once stood was neatly leveled. She
arranged the flowers she had bought in the flower bed. She formed a border with bright
yellow melampodiums and planted orange marigolds in a circle. After finishing planting
sunflowers in the back, she let out a sigh. "I wonder if I should have planted begonias
instead." After a while, she mumbled, "Sunpatiens may have been better here." Then she gave
out another sigh.
On hearing this, Yoshiharu said in a mumble, "Now that you have planted them already,
you'll just need to give them good care and enjoy them. What you chose to plant isn't
important. What matters is how you make them bloom."
"It sounds like you're talking about you marrying me," Kayo said and laughed.
Hearing her words, Yoshiharu suddenly recalled Misako's face and saw her in his
imagination. Even so, he muttered to himself, "Kayo turned out to be the right choice for
Yoshiro Takayasu lives in Togane, Chiba, where he edits Village Tsushin. He is the author of several poetry collections, including Mukashi mukashi (1982) and Jigenkyo (1987). In the US, Toshiya Kamei has published English translations of his fiction in The Broken Plate, The Dirty Goat, Gargoyle Magazine, Metamorphoses, and Nebo, among others.
* * *
Two Poems by Robert Allen
Shells on the Beach
Each morning he comes,
by waves of beachcombers.
Once a mover and shaker,
whose opinions counted
in government corridors,
he treads on knobbly knees,
eyes vigilant through coke bottle glasses.
Already stooped, before bending
into the surf, his arthritic hands
work the shelling nets.
Folds of tanned skin,
hang loose like tent flaps
on his shrinking frame,
as he hunts exoskeletons from the sea.
On netting rare finds,
a Fighting Conch, Lightning Welk,
or coveted colored sea glass,
he savors once more
the taste of relevance
and pumps his fist to a fling
of wary sandpipers skirting nearby.
At morning’s end, treasures secure
in an over-the-shoulder bag,
he checks his still empty voice mail.
Heading homeward, halting steps
crunch over the unwanted flotsam
rimming the white sand.
for Noemi and Sadie
You arrived too soon,
twins only twenty-two weeks,
snatched from your snuggery.
Furious hearts racing
despite the machine’s assist.
Together you weighed
less than four pounds
Tube-fed, temperature controlled,
tiny toes and fingers pink,
you survey your world
from a plastic isolette.
Monitors flashed red,
alarms shrieked warnings--
the nurse in the circus-themed top
deemed it “routine.”
The neonatologist with salt and pepper hair
shook her head,
For hours, the fates
flogged your tiny bodies.
Heart rates slowed, blood pressure fell,
you no longer breathed on your own.
Soon one monitor stilled
the lines all straight,
then the other.
Wires lay detached in disarray
still anchored to surgical tape.
Settled in the corner
in an aqua vinyl recliner
your mother held each of you,
cooing as her fingertip traced
lifeless delicate eyebrows.
After she finished
your father placed you in turn
in the palm of his hand
and gently laid you down.
Robert Paul Allen is a new poet who lives on a pond in the Maine Woods where he sees and hears the beauty and mystery four seasons brings. He works in the medical field and has witnessed the gamut of human trials and struggles and first hand. Much of his poetry springs from this. He has been writing seriously for a few years and was recently had a poem accepted by the Aurorean for publication.
* * *
Three Poems by Evan Anders
we must undress our confidence
we must be patient in beautiful defeat
we must uncenter our beliefs
the peacock will gratefully give up her feathers
for a chance at freedom.
it’s worth remembering every human has questioned
their worth among stars.
confident without sorrow
a rock finding the bottom of her ocean.
set from this rustic birdcage
a sparrow drifts towards the crippled dawn
taste of moonlight swirling within
luck on her wings.
A Nest had Fallen
do you really not recognize the scares on a peach?
the teeth marks on the throat?
i want to look but cannot.
to think, all we need is a little care, water, and sunlight
we are fortunate i suppose but i feel little, often.
we can share a cab into town but i’d prefer to walk
once i found a nest that had fallen from a tree
the wasps don’t mean to sting you.
i had an unprovoked thought
collapse with me and i’ll whisper
silences at the end of your name.
Pitting Olives While the Moon Suffers Another Panic Attack
the final grandparent has passed
now death works towards mother and father.
i used to be proud
somedays i am still.
i thought i would be sober in this late stage of youth
an embrace isn’t always what’s needed
don’t judge others for dying their hair
this shade isn’t natural.
beans are soaking in chilled water
i pit these olives like time pits all
once this mosquito is done feasting
i will kill it and wipe my blood from the wall
check for a ripe avocado
and wait against your hip
for the beef to defrost.
Evan Anders brews coffee for mass consumption in Philadelphia. His poems have appeared in Five 2 One Magazine, California Quarterly, and forthcoming in North Dakota Quarterly. He changes diapers, thinks Bob Dylan was best in the eighties, and makes his own spaghetti sauce.
* * *
Two Poems by Joshua H. Baker
Birds Talk About Sin
A woman stands at a bus stop
Talks to herself, moistens paper towel bits in her mouth
Affixes the damp bits to her sleeves, torso
Like so many feathers
Anything to fly away
Three ospreys dance in a helix above 36th Avenue
I hear them cry, wonder what they are saying
crane my neck to see the beauty of their arcs
A man on a porch swears they are praying
Late afternoon, a broad driveway
Black, brown, white tufts out of sorts
A chickadee lies motionless on concrete
A tiny song silenced
Perhaps the birds are not so different
They want only to take pride in their feathers,
Flap their wings with style, find a perch
to discuss the nature of sin
At the edge of the Mojave sage, ragged plastic strips flicker
tickle the eye, pale consumer flags flying
Yards off a dusty track, what grows is sporadic: sagebrush, flowers, grass
while trash and abandonment seem ubiquitous
A discarded bra, shaving cream can, fast food sacks
Everywhere, plastic bags stuck on brush, flayed further by scudding winds
Under the yellow stare of the sun, the earth is dotted
with the detritus of humanity in every hollow, every shadow
Lumber with embedded nails, a phone book, its pages rustling
A Triscuit box, a stack of truck tires, a shattered mirror
Nobody owns this sand, sage, sky, this space for escape
Nobody pines for dustbowl authenticity, an economy of lack
Yet residents drive loaded trucks onto this baked earth
dispense with their superfluous to avoid garbage bills.
Here there are no beer cans or bottles, no condoms, needles,
nor campfire scars. There is no sign of hidden indulgence
A quarter mile out, a tattered sofa faces a reclining chair
near shards of a toilet. Stuffing emerges, unraveling this diorama
On my return, a pair of boxers, a desk drawer, a fruit box
One last horizon glance towards Arizona, towards tomorrow
At all compass points, the plastic flags, stuck and fluttering
like flocking on a Christmas tree in a land without holidays
Joshua H. Baker lives with his wife and pets in Oregon, where he works for the U.S. Postal Service and enjoys hiking in remote wilderness areas. His writing has recently appeared in Willard and Maple, Cirque, The Opiate, and The Hitchlit Review. Photographs often inspire his writing.
* * *
No One Left to Blame
By Susan Barry-Schulz
who left the light on/the window
open /the milk out
who took the scissors /the scotch tape/ my book
who ate the last pickle /left the empty sleeve
in the Ritz cracker box/ used up the toothpaste/ the napkins/ the stamps
who left this lip gloss/pen/gum/crayon/wad of tissues
in their pocket in the wash
lost the house key/ clogged the drain/chipped the crock pot
who knocked the nail polish over
on the new comforter/carved a smiley face
on the windowsill/stuck Little Mermaid stickers on the fridge
did not replace the garbage bag/ the toilet paper/ the soap /shampoo
who left the gas tank empty and the dryer filter filled
with lint /who spilled the birdseed in the front hall closet
and forgot to feed the dog
who cracked the vase by the fireplace
kicked the tennis ball through the French door
who broke the tiny porcelain fingers off of Mary’s outstretched
who left their shoes
multiplying and growing in size
at the foot of these stairs
right by the front door
for so long
I miss even the tripping.
Susan Barry-Schulz is a healthcare professional with a special interest in incorporating Mindfulness and Tai Chi into her practice. Her work has been published in The Five-Two, The Wild Word, Minute Magazine and most recently, SWWIM. She is a member of the Hudson Valley Writer's Center and the Mahopac Poetry Workshop. She grew up outside of Buffalo and lives in a lake neighborhood in Putnam County, NY with her husband and one or more of her 3 adult children. It all depends.
* * *
By Seneca Basoalto
There was a farmhouse on the edge of the road
we were lost on
I fell in love, and it followed me everywhere;
bottle of milk and ivy stone, midnight cheeks
bred from oak - sometimes maple filled like
pancakes on the crest of your belly,
Buick backfire pine that scrubs you every August
Dry breathing, six lakes, a wilderness that probably
doesn’t exist anymore I travel west
to escape the north I could never appreciate without you
I’d move back...for the first time
I’d pick a house that felt like kin
I’d smell of rotten, wet, old, and brave
and live in lament with no one
but your ghost.
Seneca Basoalto is a student of Psychology and Philosophy with two decades of intimate involvement in published creative writing. Having a background in the backstage music/movie scene – she's adapted her unusual experiences to fuel her insightful writings. Some of her works include poetry collections published through Terror House Magazine, Glasgow Review of Books, Words Dance, and North of Oxford.
* * *
Two Poems by Dick Bentley
Lines Composed Upon the Brooklyn Bridge After an All-Nighter
Wind peels waves off the river
and heaps them against the pilings.
Gulls cry and dip low,
then shoot straight up again.
We wonder, why don’t doormen
ever go to sea? Why don’t nuns
pray before the great stone Buddha
up in the Bronx?
“Deliver us from the heavenly
beauty of the sunrise over Queens,”
Our hearts are armored
with booze and grass,
and we ask the prayerful nuns
“Spare them the knowledge
of where they are going
when the bridge they cross
disappears in a thick rain.”
From the teeming sky he falls
Sizzling past the spacemen.
This infant is a house on fire,
Burning into our spirits.
We close our eyes and hear the blaze rage,
Catch the rooftop’s crackle.
Soon he’ll lift his empty spoon
To catch the embers.
He came from far away, trillions of light years,
Before he came hurtling into our kitchen like a comet.
Eternity is endless even in a universe as young
As our newborn.
Until you are healed.
Dick Bentley’s books, Post-Freudian Dreaming, A General Theory of Desire, and All Rise are available on Amazon. He won the Paris Writers/Paris Review’s International Fiction Award and has published over 260 works of fiction, poetry, and memoir in the US, the UK, France, Canada, and Brazil. He served on the Board of the Modern Poetry Association and has taught at the University of Massachusetts. Check his website, www.dickbentley.com.
* * *
Psychopaths on the Cycle Path
By Steve Cooke
The park is saturated with the shuffling horde
Evil Residents with their corporate umbrellas
Listening to their Stephen King Cell phones
Impelling fast per Talahassee’s Rule 5 Cardio
Shambling feet and slacking maws on every side
Slathering jaws or stretching limbs will prove lethal
Some stay singles -- crazy collective couples congregate
A loopy loner lethargically lifeless in the lane
His navy hoodie head half eaten by murky gloom
Dodging isometric windmills of flappy forearms
Shirking past oleaginous swiveling on stubby pilings
Eluding backhanded rotations of clinical fragments
Instant port pivot instead of casual right turn
An unsignalled about face defaulted by counsel
I wallop to the walkway in a brassy clatter
Involuntary conveyance of the bicycle home
No more wholesome exercise to fade the fat
Today taxed its pound of pain in stiff and sore
Steve Cooke has enjoyed writing for over thirty years, with dozens of published works. He has lived in Kearney Nebraska for over 5 years. Steve currently manages the Kearney Goodwill and is the Creative Writing instructor at Central Community College. Steve volunteers with Junior Achievement and Crane River Theater.
* * *
Two Poems by John Cullen
The forecast predicts rain and shifting
wind. We remember passed
thunder and gale
force wrenching stop
signs into hulas and flipping
both cars and weather-
men’s umbrellas inside out,
so we plan ahead
buying bread, a hammer,
and a paper bag of nails.
But we know the weather’s
puff and brag, something
we photograph and pause
to examine later, drinking wine
or watching from someone’s
smiling at children who hunch
under flash and rumble.
breaks every promise,
leaves us bleeding.
It is frightening
to hear instinct squeal
and screech warnings,
or remember a sobbing
uncle slowly eaten alive.
Most of us just can’t
bake bread with
Maybe God is our excuse
not to think of such
excess or potential.
The world smacks hungry lips
and leaves white-haired fleas
screaming for mercy.
We guzzle, sip, tipple
and boast, nibble
hard cheese and gather
at night to tell a story.
Usually it’s about the rain,
how it wrenched apart
the world, but we nailed it
in place one shingle
at a time.
The eyeball nests in muscle,
a miracle, a tolerance
so accurate a slight
lack of control crashes
the picture. Electric signals
repeatedly blink, snap
messages to the brain, and make us
understand what we think
we see. Darwin envisions
the eye awoken from a photo-
sensitive dream, a protein
patch on protestant larvae
lurking in the grasses, a perennial
argument waiting in the dark
to hatch and mate. The eye
isn’t the only organ shuffled
through the back door.
The fish bladder expanded
to hold your breath.
But, don’t hold your breath
waiting for the next incarnation.
We never know how many rogue
spots ran rampant and crossed
the finish line renewed once
briefly, their fuel fatigued
at last. No one’s at fault.
Evolution’s like a card trick
we can’t unravel. Ripples
bubble the cortex,
but it’s a struggle just to see
what waves at the speed
we say “perception.”
John Cullen has published in places like American Journal of Poetry, Grist, and Streetlight Magazine. His chapbook "TOWN CRAZY" was published by Slipstream Press in 2013.
* * *
At The Jetty
By Barbara Daniels
Blue paint stripes the asphalt.
You tell your story to dirty sand.
It’s not solace, saying you didn’t
try to save the boy who wanted
to die but someone tried—medics
came in their shining vehicles.
This happened: they brought
your friend to a hospital. He’s not
on the bench beside you. You
have his guitar, his red jacket.
The iron bars of your bench
clang. He is a wave now, a ring
of salt crusted on scattered
rocks on the jetty. Go home.
Draw the heavy drapes. No one
wants to see you alone at a luminous
screen, scrolling, searching,
listening to recorded calls of birds.
Barbara Daniels's Rose Fever was published by WordTech Press and her chapbooks Moon Kitchen, Black Sails and Quinn & Marie by Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press. She received three Individual Artist Fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and earned an MFA in poetry at Vermont College.
* * *
It's A Life Like Any Other
By Nigel Ford
The feet tripped up the step of shining stone
Far off, a flimsy star lit up the glaze of fear
Old scribe put down the clinks in night black ink then spat
Night-light paced and self-sufficed
The pen scratched help upon the paper day.
Where to wander when and how to tune
Atoned surprise what attitude surmised
Cold and waiting the sunrise dips below the misted curtain
Creaks and groans throughout the months and fast turned years
Where days spurn to dungeon a mighty hungry plight.
Though it’s a life like any other.
Nigel Ford is English, lives in Sweden and works as a writer, dramatist, visual artist, journalist, curator and translator. Recent publications include a short story in The Fortnightly Magazine (UK) and poems in Orbis (UK).
* * *
Three Poems by Michael Garrigan
a thicket of alder growing in the soft bank
of coniferous loam my leaves map out
and skim the surface of the water after heavy
rain and a chipmunk runs down my spine
and birch keep me awake
on a windy night and my back spoons
the conical spruce my feet gather
around tall grass where crickets crawl
their first and last steps and my heart is in everything
is in the water
is in the gravel
is in the dirt
is in the thick pattern of lives laid bare
in the fall covered by my leaves my
branches cold and naked.
Can You Bring Me Some Bahn Mi?
It’s only 10:30 and I should be watching
this presentation but all I can think about is a Bahn Mi.
I will devour its deliciousness
kiss your neck
birds so loud, an ornithological orchestra
in the morning
thin slices of pickled cucumber tucked
in between airy light bread
We will fall asleep
after eating the grilled pork
covered in that nuoc mam sauce
that soaks the bottom of the hoagie
and I save it for last, savoring the flavors
Your shoulders and their little clavicle
shallows and how they shape
the rest of your body,
hints of crushed chili peppers with every other bite.
Ah. I know I should save the rest for later
but it tastes so damned good and the meat,
you can’t slice it so we have to keep biting
and I can’t resist that last bite
the edges of bread just a bit harder
a julienne carrot, a slice of pork, a Chinese radish.
Sharp bow, blunt stern
Scrapes against tall grass, wooden pilings,
rotted teeth of Appalachian winters.
A foothills pond
frozen Generals fallow
fields of Pickett’s Charge
tucked between two cabins, a porch empties into late summer
the bow slices a full moon, leaving a crepuscular wake
the aluminum hull of college kids home for summer
shimmers its way into the darkest corner, deepest spot of water
unable to remember who wore the shirt
draped across its yoke
settling into the sunken July dusk.
The blunt stern of his path
ripples wider, laps the grassy shore.
His sides shake
with the paddle brush
streaking the water
a loon the only answer.
Michael Garrigan lives along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania where he explores its tributaries with a fly rod, teaches, and writes. His work has previously appeared in publications such as Gray’s Sporting Journal, The Wayfarer, The Drake Magazine, Piedmont Journal of Poetry & Fiction, and San Pedro River Review. You can find more of his writing at www.raftmanspath.com.
* * *
A History of Joy
By Ben Hall
The news of your death is a blank wall. Lips tighter than a conman's.
Someone left a message on your memory: Fuck addiction.
A year earlier, I went back there. To see Larry. To see Nate.
To see if anyone was doing better than I was. But everyone
was worn thin, barely less haggard than their sullen flock.
Court mandated patients flooding the facilities. People with no interest in getting clean
wearing the staff down to this throbbing gristle of thwarted compassion.
Larry seemed so small. Overdose deaths recorded in Ohio:
Dealers started cutting the dope with fentanyl.
In the photo used for your obituary,
your arms were cradling a fawn.
It was once a monastery. In the front of the nave,
there was an old baby grand.
All ash and asbestos,
I didn't care who heard me sing,
belting out "fuck me up, steal my records"
ten feet away from the chancel.
I close my eyes when I feel it.
The reaction is instinctual, a history of prayer.
When I looked up, Aaron was sitting in the pews.
That was wonderful, man.
He kept coming back,
night after night, just to listen.
Eventually he asked if I would teach him. Aaron, that sweet, doe-faced kid, who could make
grown men belly-laugh. Tall and strong, even after the heroin had taken much
of what he'd built up over years of football and wrestling, his hands were huge compared to mine as I moved them across the keys, shaping them into chords. He'd ask me questions, not about
the music, but about getting older, women, God. Six years his senior, I felt like a fraud.
Don't you get it, kid? Do you know what a fucking loser I am?
I don't recall what I told him on the day he "graduated."
It didn't seem, then, like it would matter.
drunk as fuck
on the staircase down
I am keenly aware of what I am
(punched a pane out of the window last week so I could piss without leaving my room.
The cold slips in like a country song.)
but I make it
to the keys where I will,
for the millionth time,
sing an arrangement of Cohen's "Hallelujah" that I cobbled together from some chords and a bastard riff from "Holiday in Spain."
I sing and my eyes are closed
You couldn't really call it art. It knows no artifice.
It's never heard of guile.
And there was no one there to hear it, but I know
I never sounded better
than I did on those nights,
each note hurled upwards, shot higher
by the force of my need.
My mother once told me that it frightened them when they heard me play that song. They feared for me.
They should have been afraid of the day that I stopped.
Fever means I'm still here.
And sometimes joy is like that:
wild hatchet-swing against the dark,
punkish middle finger from the floor,
The nave was deserted.
I sat down at the piano where,
two years prior, I'd moved
Aaron's hands across the keys.
One last time, the walls vibrated to Ryan Adams,
but it was just a song.
As I rose to leave, I heard the door open. I expected Larry, but it wasn't him. It was Jeff.
Jeff had entered rehab shortly before I left. We'd not known each other very well.
I never imagined I'd hear you sing again, he said, giving me a hug.
How can I explain this intimacy? We've stared into darkened mirrors and seen our faces fade.
Larry was still in his meeting. Jeff and I left and sat at the picnic tables outside.
We lit up some cigarettes.
We talked. We kept talking.
The last words you ever said on social media:
A friend asked: Hey there, Mr. C------, where you been?
Around the world, but I'm back again.
Ben Hall currently teaches English and writes in South Korea. His essays have previously appeared in The Cobalt Review and Contraposition Magazine. He has poems published or forthcoming in Bitterzoet Review, Bangalore Review, and Buck Off Magazine.
* * *
By Christina Harrington
don’t say tumor
Mass like the stucco
incense so thick you break
out into a fit of coughing
dog eared bible
church of my childhood
how small it seems now
how big it looked then
don’t say tumor
mass like golf-ball size
organic bomb breast tissue
ultrasound then biopsy
one simple incision will leave
barely a scar where
he’ll never notice
betrayed by the
body you’ve always had
how small it seemed
Christina Harrington received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, where she was also the managing editor for Lumina. She's been pursuing a lifelong dream of working in comic book publishing, first as an editor at Marvel and now as the managing editor of AfterShock Comics.
* * *
Elegy for Virginia
By Sneha Subramanian Kanta
The sea spat out its silver child.
The next day, I saw a large fish washed ashore.
I see you walk through fields
of cornflowers & poppies as they gleam in thaw.
The roses rested on white fences.
You mourned the graves as you passed them.
You visualized the house in flashbacks.
The cream pages of diaries & stalks bent by winds.
You walked through weald thickets.
You collected pebbles as starlings on the banks of Ouse.
I see you drown in the shape of sleep.
The world smudged into dusty window panes.
The scarce sky yielded light.
I see your body dissolve into water & residues of froth.
Sneha Subramanian Kanta is a recipient of the Charles Wallace Fellowship 2019 at the University of Stirling, Scotland. She is a GREAT scholarship awardee and has earned a second postgraduate degree in literature from England. She is the founding editor of Parentheses Journal and poetry reader for Palette Poetry.
* * *
Two Poems by Autumn Konovalski
All it takes is a curtain slightly pulled back.
A night before the full moon.
Her halo glows over the waves.
From here they’re clay taking shape.
Their dull and steady rhythm.
A closer look at the moon won’t hurt.
A quick walk to the ocean should be okay.
Down the porch steps.
Cotton red shorts.
Sun burnt legs to match.
And red cheeks.
And bony red feet.
Bare burnt shoulders adorned with their latest freckles.
And just like that the night swallows me up.
Palms stretch open.
Fall to the sand.
The ocean insists on reminding me how devastating water can be.
It pulls on my hair. Shoves salt, sand and grit into my lungs.
The wind and waves bully me away.
Above us is the obnoxious spectacle herself.
Making all of the fluids on the Earth churn.
Making everyone’s eyes shine.
Out of the body, into the spirit realm.
Leaving her asleep in the sand.
I craved a plunge under the ocean.
This is why I drove the body here.
Wasn’t she a little too tempted by a rock in the sky?
I go deeper onto the ocean floor.
Flow fast past all the spiny pale creatures that the body will never know.
Out of the ocean on to the other side.
No land in sight.
A lighthouse stands at my small lapse in eternity.
I see all the floating souls in between.
Most of the time I stay here. Alone.
Perched above this ocean overcrowded by wanderers.
No one notices when the heavier clouds settle above.
It takes the thunder ripping through this sky.
Then all the wanderers, the lost souls, cling to the tower.
They think this is my lighthouse.
No one listens when I try to explain how I don’t belong here either.
I choose to come here while the body sleeps.
Trying to help them back onto their path.
So I might remember mine.
I wait for another storm to pass.
It makes me nervous when you meet my gaze.
I'll remember you from waking life.
Someday I’ll see you in the physical realm.
Possibly at a stop light.
Bored in a traffic jam.
A quick bump to the shoulder at the grocery store.
For a moment, I’ll remember what you looked like with the wind and the water engulfing your face.
You couldn’t even scream.
I’ll see myself in you.
When your gaze pleaded with me.
Your weight heavy and clumsy.
You reached for me.
For the tower.
A Dallas Girl's Exit
This is where people come to take pictures --
the street where they killed another Kennedy.
They want to see exactly where his brains blew on to Jackie O’s lap.
A high of 108 degrees.
How are you surprised that downtown is depressing?
From the outside it looks like something your mother bejeweled in the 90s.
Exactly. Flashy— no creative direction.
Just like these wedges. Just like these daisy dukes that march me down the wrong street.
Past the Greyhound station.
All the displaced and the wanderers sleep outside on benches or against the building or
on the ground.
They sweat all day.
They even sweat in the nighttime.
They sweat sitting inside the McDonald’s across the street.
Crossing Main and Jackson.
The sound of a truck’s horn overpowers the street’s competing mixes--
Two manicured nails rise to meet his gaze.
Bright, fake and red.
I’m sorry, Jackie O, that you ever had to come here.
112 degrees now.
It’s quiet on the sidewalks. Too hot to talk.
A security guard standing near JFK’s demise calls from across the street.
He asks how I am.
For whatever reason, I’ve still got something to smile about.
Autumn Konovalski was born and raised in Dallas, TX. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Texas Woman’s University. Personal poems and vignettes paired with photography projects are her creative outlets of choice. She has currently settled down long enough to submit her work and resides in Austin, TX.
* * *
The Santa Fe Trail
By Scott Laudati
you can read maps by starlight
in places i've been
and you sleep like shit off the mexican beer
and wake up covered in bites
in hotels where life is impossible
and anything still breathing
did you know what you wanted
at the taco truck in dale hart?
do you know that there’s a
whole country out there
that doesn’t care about new york?
i do now.
i might know everything now.
i’ve drank from the shallow creeks.
i've chewed the taco rellenos with
fire still in the seeds.
i looked up for god and every grackle
in the tree followed my gaze.
next time i’ll follow the trails in the sand
and the small streams will lead me to the window rock.
or maybe the other way -
to lie down in a graveyard
where desert rats use cow skulls as ashtrays.
and if the rains ever come again
maybe white petals
will bud up from my bones
and a lost rabbit can
spend a day
sleeping under my shade.
Scott Laudati lives in New York with his Chiweenie, Drake. He is the author of Hawaiian Shirts In The Electric Chair (Kuboa Press) and Bone House (Bone Machine, Inc.). His work has appeared in the Columbia Journal, The Stockholm Review, and many others. Visit him on instagram @scottlaudati
* * *
Three Poems by Edward Lee
At Night We Sin
Your eyes are stained
with a translucent disease,
I can smell its putridness
when you turn your gaze
upon me, your head tilted to one side
as your dark tongue
your broken teeth,
a fallen god
studying a stain.
My soul shivers
as I quicken my step,
the night suddenly
too dark for me,
the cleansing morning
a lifetime away.
A Foetal Heart
As night folds itself
across the sky,
a strange sound fills the air,
like a dog howling backwards,
or a feline retreating out of heat,
and we lie awake
on the bare mattress,
every possibility narrowed
to this point,
as we search
for the second heart
beating inside you,
the beat that was there yesterday
but seems elusive now;
we keeping searching
and searching, refusing
to stop and admit
what our own hearts,
beating with a pain
which crowds their constricting chambers,
whisper to us,
whisper so fiercely.
The body hanging from the tree
is dead, and has been dead
for some time,
for so much time
that it is barely there anymore,
but it is there all the same,
swaying slightly in the silent wind,
present in the memories
of those who knew it
when it was a he,
a human being
just like the human beings
who hung him there
and cheered as his feet danced
until his feet danced no more,
just like him
but for the colour of his skin,
just like him
but for the colour of his skin,
colour which doesn’t matter,
but it does,
it does now
as it did then,
not enough colourblind minds
to change the world,
Edward Lee's poetry, short stories, non-fiction and photography have been published in magazines in Ireland, England and America, including The Stinging Fly, Skylight 47, Acumen and Smiths Knoll. His debut poetry collection "Playing Poohsticks On Ha'Penny Bridge" was published in 2010. He is currently working towards a second collection. He also makes musical noise under the names Ayahuasca Collective, Lewis Milne, Orson Carroll, Blinded Architect, Lego Figures Fighting, and Pale Blond Boy. His Facebook page can be found at here.
* * *
By Laurence Levey
Sobriety comes in the middle of the night
after two days without a drink,
dreams give way to darkness,
you do not sleep but think
of losses, griefs, and grievances
great and small,
petty contrivances that
may not matter at all
and ages-old wounds
that once tore you in two,
which with each reappearance
tear you anew.
The options are few,
each carries a cost,
Laurence Levey has work published in or forthcoming from Versal, Ellipsis, the Barcelona Review, New Guard, Broken Pencil, Drunken Boat, Word Riot, Fulcrum, and elsewhere. He was a semi-finalist in the 2018 New Guard Fiction Contest and a finalist in the 2016 Breakwater Review Fiction Contest.
* * *
By Rebekah Lorton
Every day I took my daughter for a walk in the park
Fastened in stroller
Ziploc bag full of cereal in her lap
Me, exercising off baby weight
Every day at the fork in the trail
at the bottom of the hill
By the bench with the plaque
I met a woman and her dog
Every day we stopped to chat
My daughter slipping
Marshmallows from Lucky Charms
To the dog, named Lucky.
Every day I would smile and ask
How the woman was doing
And she would begin
“Did you know I got this dog
As a rescue from Hurricane Katrina?
Her home was flooded, destroyed
And she was terrified until she came here.”
Every day I nodded politely
Cooed compliments like the doves
in the tree above us,
Applauding her selfless decision
And then we would continue on
Our separate ways
Me to rehydrate at my car, change a diaper
Her to volunteer or drink coffee. I’m not sure.
I’ve often thought about that daily interaction.
The repeated tale of heroism day in, day out
And I’ve thought about Lucky
And his morning walks to meet a sticky handed little girl
And I wonder, who was most rescued?
Was it the addled brain woman who adopted a homeless dog?
Was it the traumatized dog that snacked quietly on sugar cereal treats?
Or was it the lonely, chubby, stay at home mom who stopped to hear the same story
Rebekah Lorton is an incorrigible observer of the mundane and a lover of words. She writes about what she enjoys most: motherhood, Southern culture, and people watching. She lives in the Panhandle of Florida and homeschools her favorite kids in the world.
* * *
Three Poems by Joan McNerney
berries new grass.
Beneath honey locust
through hushed woods
we found a spring.
My feet throb over
hard pebbles. Threading
soft water the sun
dresses us in golden
Between deep night
and soft dawn the
mist covers fields
spreading over daisies
wetting seeds, leaves.
Milky smoke roams
back and forth
Whistling in fog
up cloudy layers
up up circling
I see you in bright colors
Eating red ripe watermelon
while searching verdant trees
for bluebirds flitting pass us.
Remembering how fields
of brilliant wildflowers
beguiled us as we inhaled
fresh mowed grasses.
You would smile fingering
purple passion leaves.
Your favorite hour when
wide awake you listened
to the sounds of dawn
calling all colors out to play.
We shared the calligraphy of
oceans watching orange sunsets
splash through waves.
No one else has ever evoked
such a shinning palate as you.
Joan McNerney’s poetry has been included in numerous literary magazines such as Seven Circle Press, Dinner with the Muse, Moonlight Dreamers of Yellow Haze, Blueline, and Halcyon Days. Three Bright Hills Press Anthologies, several Poppy Road Review Journals, and numerous Kind of A Hurricane Press Publications have accepted her work. Her latest title is Having Lunch with the Sky and she has four "Best of the Net" nominations.
* * *
By Anne Mikusinski
Tonight I read
As if you were listening
In a quiet corner
An imaginary spotlight
My true intentions.
Bio-Anne Mikusinski has been writing poetry and short stories since she was seven years old and most probably making them up long before she could hold a pen or pencil in her hand. She finds inspiration in music and art, and sometimes, even little things that happen every day. Her influences range from Robert Frost and Dylan Thomas to David Byrne and Nick Cave, and she hopes one day, her work will inspire others in the same way these writers have been an inspiration to her.
* * *
Three Poems by Hanan Muzafar
One man's possession,
and another man's dream
'We have enough to pay the cost',
and the devil calls for a shot
There you go,
Hitting your hammer hard,
In this paradox,
even love behaves false.
Inmates exchanging letters,
Iron bars to keep them inside,
and there's a dog mourning for a drunkard
Did you heard
'He's gone, vanished without a form'
Making his way,
Through woods and streets across,
Some choose to go slant,
and failed lovers will rip it apart.
There are perspectives and judgements,
and they take part in mocking shows,
To create suspects,
with no purpose;
How far you can run,
for denial and ignorance,
when it has just begun:
In the direction of sun,
A burst out of gun.
The killing spree going on,
This too shall pass,
then another season awaits,
To slay the cause,
It keeps going on,
Till its path ruptures apart:
As barbarity has downfall,
and violence carves its scar.
It's quite hard to say,
The way you pluck chords,
Enough to drag me back,
To your pine yard,
where chinar is on fire,
like candle wax spilling around.
Nobody is here,
just you and me;
Stay with me,
I'll tell you,
what I've inside.
makes us to forget and laugh,
and our wildness,
cleaves a still thought.
Why do they deduce,
and then blame;
For they do not know,
what we've inside,
While we share a four-leaf clover,
and I feel calm,
It's a delight,
To meet you in this chaos:
when will be the next chance;
you look elegant tonight,
and I came here,
To celebrate my defeat;
So far we go,
and what's meant to be,
I hardly know,
All the lights in dark,
looking for someone,
To rely on,
But I held your gaze,
like a fragrance from sage;
As we sensed the impulse,
That murmur and scratch around.
There's a news from gallow,
for a while defied death,
Fugitive carrying faith and fate.
What makes me,
To dream of you;
I'll hold you,
like a leaf,
trying to flee.
Snow falling down,
A silence covering dream,
and we feel cold,
But our warmth burns,
like a coal,
A wooden chair,
you're keeping me alive,
and I believe.
where I don't belong,
Some folks remember my name,
performing all roles,
But I'm pure as flame
Hanan Muzafar lives in Kashmir where he writes about life.
* * *
Why We Need Trees
By Martina Reisz Newberry
Breezes do not stop
where there are no trees.
Empty spaces can’t even
hold on to the air traveling
Everything speeds up.
Empty spaces plead
Stay a while; fill us!
But, as with most things,
winds won’t listen.
High in the hills, the sun plays
Chinese Checkers through
California Pines and expatriated eucalyptus.
(The Japanese call this “Komorebi”
[sunlight filtering through leaves].
See how it searches–the sunlight–
for a center which is desired
by everything, seldom found anywhere.
Spaces where there are no trees
are minor keys–
dissonant, causing dissatisfaction,,
moving closer to a resolution,
then away again. The dissonance
of empty is a violation; it courts insects
and investors and ignores items of desire.
Our cravings can’t all be resolved,
but, if there are trees, the wind
will certainly recognize them.
Recognize and resolve...
Martina Reisz Newberry’s most recent books are Never Completely Awake (Deerbrook Editions), and Take the Long Way Home (Unsolicited Press). She has been widely published in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. Passionate in her love for Los Angeles, Martina lives there with her husband, Brian, a Media Creative.
* * *
Three Poems by Bibhu Padhi
Look at the trees
leave each of them
alone, all to itself.
at them hard or straight,
or for too long,
but only sideways;
each tree has its
It might be dreaming
of the leaf that its
do not hold now.
It is patient,
And knows what waiting is
your other forms too.
Trees, hills, clouds,
rains, the sea.
Why are you sad
when it is bare,
They will come
when the tree needs them.
There is some kind
of time and space
for this too.
Learn how to
look at that tree and smile.
You will see how pure
its smile is, how
close to your own.
On the Terrace
On the tall apartment building’s
terrace, the sky was clear
like my mind. Hobbes’s
clean slate waited on the brain’s
grey-white wall. And then
the planets sailed towards us--
countless stars, their planets.
The sun was elsewhere.
The colourless cosmic space
was a distance that we could
touch, feel its vast emptiness.
The planets sailed towards
us and back. Their quiet journeys
were like air on the grass.
Each planet came, smiled,
whispered a word
beyond our ears.
We stood and greeted each
with a smile we never learnt
in our lives, never smiled in the past.
And then, a shining circular disc
with a slim, simple figure
rising toward the centre
that looked like the sun-dial
at the middle of the quadrangle
at Ravenshaw College that
we watched for
a long time to guess
its recorded hour.
The disc seemed to shed its shine
to a soft cream-white, as if
it never wished to hurt our poor,
modest eyes, came to the nearest
of the lot, stood before
our stunned surprise and thrill,
and said in a king’s voice,
“I am Jupiter,” and then
sailed back to what seemed
its customary place.
I remember how others--
earth’s residents for a while
just as we were--struggled
to reach the terrace
by the staircases, dark
ill-functioning lifts, and fire-escapes
only to stumble somewhere.
We stood still. Time had
evaporated into space
and space had turned into a
a vapourous zone through which
each planet and star trembled
just as we see them now, this
September night of low-pressure rain.
Our world was there,
is still there. Like the planets
and stars. Like Jupiter.
Small, Nameless Plants
coastal showers are here.
Day is delayed, then denied.
A bright, flaming yellow
in the afternoon’s night, glazes
like a new mosaic of desires
on the ceiling, slowly
flowing down to cover
the walls and its damp racks
of books and rags of paper.
turning into a red,
deepening, brightening further,
as if the room was on fire.
I keep watching
what might not have been
there, then look at the floor, see
its shining water, slippery like
much in my world,
feel its wetness with my fingers.
Shining, slippery still,
like my sleeplessness.
What else could it be except
a mosaic on the ceiling and the walls,
neglecting the promised floor?
Why? To what purpose?
The flaming red flowers
merely a blind return to
history and memory?
Is it true there can be no
veneered marble, no red or
lemon-yellow mosaic of flowers,
no the Byzantine gold
on a provincial Indian floor?
Questions stay on.
Who else can answer?
No, I haven’t heard of how rich were
the Romans of fifteen hundred
nor a poet who was
ever famous and rich
except by way of heredity.
But I guess the rich and famous
will be able to, but may not
choose to answer.
Bibhu Padhi has published eleven books of poetry. His Selected Poems was published recently. His twelfth book of poetry will be published in 2019 by Harper Collins.
* * *
By Michael Passafiume
You awake long before the alarm
can begin its incessant whine,
body a purpose-less stranger,
bed a black hole from which you will
eventually extricate yourself
but not before losing
a few more stars, a few more rings.
Back, stomach, side to side...
best thing you can do to fall back
asleep is not think so,
of course, you begin to think:
endless meditations on death
(really, you could win a goddamn medal),
back, stomach, side to side...
an occasional I’d complain, but who’d listen?
back, stomach, side to side...
deep dive into existential angst,
& on & on & on & on...
Finally, you rise, clumsy feet navigating
an unsteady universe,
eyes burning, stomach intoning
its familiar empty lament.
Dressed, shoed & gazing into
a newly formed wormhole called
The Bathroom Mirror:
“In space, no one can hear you scream.”
Silence a house of cards,
Each card a locked door,
Mind a master key
with broken teeth.
it’s going to be
one of those days.
Michael Passafiume is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer who holds an MFA in poetry from Antioch University Los Angeles. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Flypaper Magazine, The Manhattanville Review, Meat for Tea and Mojave Heart, among others. His chapbook, "archipelagos," was published by Blue Hour Press in 2015.
* * *
Pullman, September 1979
By Bruce Pemberton
Almost as soon as we met, we
were inseparable, college kids,
professing our feelings quickly.
She tells me that she’s off to a
concert with a group of guys
from our dorm, and made the date
before we met. As I just paid my
tuition, I’m broke, otherwise, I’d go,
I tell her, have fun. She’s gone
two hours and calls. Please
come get me, they’re all sloppy
drunk and one of them just grabbed
my butt. I’m on the way, I tell
her. It’s a warm, late summer,
after harvest, night, not that I
know a combine from a grain
truck, but I know there’s an early
crescent ready to set. She’s waiting
outside at the curb, happy to see me.
We’re almost out of town when
I get pulled over for speeding. I
sign the paperwork and the officer
asks if I’ve ever been to Ellensburg.
There’s a speeding ticket there
that I’ve ignored. I’m cuffed and
deposited in the back seat of his
patrol car. She drives my car back
to get money to bail me out. An
hour later, she does. This is all my
fault, she says. It’s not, I tell her.
I’m the idiot who ignored the ticket.
Hours later, we fall asleep in her twin
bed, which has more than enough room
when you’re young and in love and when
you sleep wrapped around each other.
I’ve never been in love like that since.
Bruce Pemberton is a retired high school English teacher, tennis coach, and Gulf War veteran. His work has appeared in Snapdragon, Palouse Journal, Northern Journeys, The Redneck Review of Literature, Third Wednesday, Sky Island Journal. He has work included in the following anthologies: In Tahoma's Shadow and Spokana Writes. He lives on the Palouse, in rural eastern Washington state.
* * *
Three Poems by Simon Perchik
From far off though this wall
still grieves, stone over stone
closing from inside as mist
–still sags into each corner
the way mourners come by in twos
binding their dead to the dim light
that covers the Earth with your forehead
–you’re lost, sinking in
till you stop as you did before
and again your back breaks open
for air and wings and in your knees
the bones that will go no further
are filled with an immense arch
pressing down on the thin shadow
waiting at home and loosening.
A losing toss though the dirt
hears you stretching out
for nourishment –the thud
grows wild now, every rug
smells from bare wood
and the unforgiving heaviness
pressed against a door
that wants more room
–you have to splash each floor
the way the Earth is pieced together
expects something underneath
to lean forward as the sound
its shadow makes from your arm
heavier and heavier, almost through
can’t be seen from the air.
And though there are no planes
it’s still a room, is standing by
has winds side by side
the way this fleece-lined jacket
never dries, hangs from the ceiling
around and around, loosening
in the ice, struggling with moons
and the drop by drop from your chest
left open for more sky
points to rain, to engines, wings, oil
no longer spreading through these walls
as the dim light near the window.
Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Osiris Poems published by boxofchalk, 2017. For more information including free e-books and his essay “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities”.
* * *
Two Poems by Kari Rhyan
sniper with nine
skulls wrung round
his wrist told me after
an argument that I didn’t
sound like anyone who had
ever served in the military before
and I knew I had finally come home
sandwiches on a wrought iron balcony
overlooking choked river junkets
in a black city
women dressed in snuff-colored oils
hang over our ruined four-post
in a black city
scotch at a bar with brass rails on
Bull Street as you held me
in a black city
in a flat caravan, billowing
in a black city
Kari Rhyan has been writing poetry and nonfiction since 1983. Her previous works include "Standby for Broadcast" (2016), a memoir chronicling her time in a British medical hospital in Afghanistan and was featured in The Huffington Post as one of the best indie books of 2017, and "Dancing with Chows" (2018), a chapbook of images and poetry centered around Bellingham, Washington--The City of Subdued Excitement. Both books are widely available online and in print. Her upcoming work, Past the Savages, is due out in 2019 and features the paintings of prolific Dutch painter Marcel Herms.
* * *
By Stephanie Smith
The night is a tongue
in the shape of a sword
An imaginary friend
on a drunken rampage
and spitting expletives
The moon is the scythe
that lops off lovers’ hands
A cello’s bow
that slices the sky in two
Elgar’s ghost floats in the clouds
as the stars stare down
in their rooms
Midnight is for madmen
who share their beds
with Whitman in white linens
He reads to them all night
as they pick at scabs
that never bled
Stephanie Smith is a poet and writer from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in such publications as PIF Magazine, Poetry Quarterly, Liquid Imagination, Third Wednesday, and ILLUMEN.
* * *
Reunion in Annandale
By Archana Sridhar
Our eyes searched the darkness
for where Woodstock should have been.
We listened for alien voices from the
heavens and the hoods of our cars
staring up at the Catskills
across a purple haze.
Memories were sewn into a circle
of unbreakable aluminum,
sharpened into rabbit-ear scalpels.
Embers of cigarettes commingled
with chipped paint as we laid
in wait for another
Meteor shower to fall upon
our eyes, our bodies, our selves,
silently transcribing tongues into print.
Meanwhile, field mice pushed
their skeletons up through the foundations
and crevices of our built-form sky-castles.
Dream-house renderings of our youth-
full ambitions turned
to middle age as we gathered
together in personal revolutions
and dreamt our pasts like a filter on
our present reality.
Archana Sridhar is an Indian-American poet and university administrator in Toronto. A graduate of Bard College, Harvard Law School and a former Fulbright Scholar, Archana’s work has been featured in the Brown Orient Literary Journal and The /tƐmz/ Review, Sidereal, and will soon appear in Neon Mariposa and elsewhere.
* * *
Seek 'til You Find It
By Lisa Stice
this is where I dreamt
the same dream each
walking into the ocean
stepping into a pool
letting a lake swallow
to turn and smile--
I’d see myself
like I was smiling
the water about me
like a sheet you discover
Lisa Stice is a poet/mother/military spouse. She is the author of two full-length collections, Permanent Change of Station and Uniform, and a chapbook, Desert. While it is difficult to say where home is, she currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, daughter and dog. Please visit her website here. Keep updated with her work here.
* * *
9/11 Is Just 9/11 Now
By Tim Suermondt
Most are heading for work,
some will do a little shopping later
and the NFL is alive in the land once more.
I sit in my study, tallying what I’ve already
done this morning and have yet to do.
I click on photos of relatives and their newborn
baby girl—we all wish her a wonderful,
prosperous life, and so fortified I start writing
this poem. Lower Manhattan knows this better
than anyone else: We remember by living,
alone or hand in hand even for a tragedy
that feels as if it happened a million years ago,
the flash of a burly fireman crying amidst piles
of debris is disappearing in the light of the sun.
Tim Suermondt is the author of four full-length collections of poems: Trying To Help The Elephant Man Dance (The Backwaters Press, 2007), Just Beautiful (New York Quarterly Books, 2010), Election Night And The Five Satins (Glass Lyre Press, 2016) and The World Doesn’t Know You published by Pinyon Publishing in late 2017.
* * *
Three Poems by Lanette Sweeney
A blunt instrument
but an effective one
for silencing and shutting down
exuberance. Churches have used it
to bludgeon supplicants for centuries;
what better way to make a sensual,
hungry people cover themselves
and take the blame
for their own starvation.
I’m ashamed to say
I’ve shamed the unprepared --
laughing at a misused word,
rolling my eyes, cutting a glance --
then tried to counter
with shame’s antonym,
pride built up with praise:
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean…
I was just surprised…
you’re so smart, usually.”
But the hole shame digs
is too deep for backfilling,
especially with a slotted spoon.
In my home now I struggle
to make things happen
for someone paralyzed
by deep shame
buried beneath bravado.
She wants to be a perfect mother
and is so afraid of failing
she’s hidden her child from help,
told herself nothing needs to change
for fear she can’t change a thing.
What if I’d been told
there was no shame in need?
I was once and never forgot it:
My boss, a former deputy mayor,
a future New York Times editor,
found me crying in a bathroom stall
because I was hungry, broke and 19.
A colleague found me first and berated --
shamed – me, by saying she had just
returned from Yemen, and I clearly
had no idea what real hunger was.
But my wiser, kinder boss walked in on us,
silently wrote me a check and insisted
it was a gift I’d pay forward someday.
She didn’t blame me for my poverty,
gave no advice on managing my money,
and in telling me to pay it forward,
she let me know she believed
I wouldn’t always be as poor
as I thought I was that day.
I’ve helped a lot of people
in the 30 years since then,
but I cringe to think how often
I’ve clubbed them
with advice and condescension
while I doled out my loose change.
The woman in my house is my chance
to learn a new way
to lift someone up
without pulling the rug out
from under their shaky feet.
Four hundred women woke that morning
feeling fat, sluggish with sugar hangovers
or light-headed after three days of nothing
but Cup of Soup and Slim-Fast shakes.
They stepped naked on scales, eyes
squeezed in prayer, toes white with fear
on the rubber mats. Their nostrils flared
as they saw the number that set their mood.
After, their bodies heavier than before,
they grunted into pantyhose
whose control tops reminded them
how out of control they were.
When they lay down to zip their pants
they wished they never had to get up.
They turned their heads from mirrors
or bent closer, squinting for their lost hope.
They ignored the sun and smoothed
thigh-length jackets around their hips,
skipping hugs for fear their men would feel the fat
that bulged where the bras dug into their backs.
Uniformly swaddled, they rushed to catch trains
and ferry bewildered children,
who wondered all through the pledge of allegiance
what they’d done wrong, again.
In those last few minutes, inside those sleek columns,
they raced past the donut stand -- or stopped and ate two,
because what the hell difference could it make?
No one tasted a thing.
Now, every one of those women
is weightless as ash.
All those years of dieting --
and finally, they are light as vapor.
My fantasies are financial.
Money the background music
that underlies all.
What is Prince Charming, if not,
first, a prince,
with all the power and privilege
Who is Cinderella, if not,
first, a pauper,
whose great good fortune
is not landing the man
but his money.
Why do I love to put on my whore shoes
if not to parade myself
like a horse on the lot?
Horses learn to trot with vanity
because we groom them that way,
chins pulled in, tails held high.
Cinderella is a story about
dressing the part,
a fairy tale for pretending
class doesn’t matter,
while demonstrating finery
is the secret to happiness.
The Cinderella fantasy
is that the poor, overworked wretch
gets to stop being exhausted,
gets to be well-rested and refreshed,
her only job to love generously --
easier when fatigue won’t interfere.
No more running
from one life to another
in a mad effort
to be perfectly pleasing,
an uncomplaining domestic by day,
a sparkling dancer by night,
one shoe in each world.
Yesterday’s Cinderella story
is today’s Extreme Makeover.
The overlooked, down-trodden drudge
into the swan, adored,
seen at last
now that she looks
nothing like herself.
As if moving from one world
into another were effortless --
the soot turned to silk
with one wave of a wand --
or a scalpel.
The original Cinderella story
carries the same message:
Goodness and virtue never
earn Cinderella her reward.
All her years of toiling
in uncomplaining compliance
earn her nothing.
But one night of beauty
changes her life forever.
The moral of the story
is that every girl has just
one fragile hour
to seize before midnight,
a magic moment
when the already waning moon
shrouds her in ephemeral light
and gives her one enchanted
chance to be rescued.
Lanette Sweeney (formerly published as Lanette Fisher-Hertz) is a fierce femme, grieving mother, former fund-raising professional and ex-teacher whose poetry, essays, and fiction have appeared in newspapers, literary journals, and national anthologies, including Women: Images & Realities. Lanette and her wife live in South Hadley, MA.
* * *
By Elaine Wilburt
fingertip to fingertip,
keeping the ground
beneath her feet,
through the shouts:
Go left. Now this way.
Flesh on flesh,
his touch forces
her round and
her eyes open
to the sneer.
Elaine Wilburt’s poems have appeared in hedgerow, Jalmurra, Failed Haiku, and Under the Basho, among others; devotionals, in The Word in Season. Forthcoming poetry will appear in Better Than Starbucks, bottle rockets, The Cresset, and Akitsu Quarterly. She graduated from Middlebury College and lives in Maryland with her family.
* * *
Three Poems by Les Wicks
As they raced past oil rigs & ruined crusader forts
two young men decide
the 21st century is a poem
& that they are brilliant.
A sea of wheat
becomes a sea of blood.
The unschooled die in pits of destiny
while bets are laid by minor visionaries.
Lines are drawn
across the rivers & fields.
Those lines gouge the ranges
& plough the children in their wake.
The east will rise.
The west will fight back.
The north is fat
while the south has diseases.
Daily he added stone to his garden.
As winter spread its infection the walks were shorter
his bones fought nerves up towards the peaks
that he would never reach again.
His daughter came by
worried at this new obsession.
Was it the mind
that truly wandered?
He worked beneath the shelter of his plan.
Pitiless months held back the spring.
There was the chock & rattle of the yard,
scree of a life.
Not one casual choice.
What is living if not method?
One day it might be a polished pebble,
the next a shard from the bones of Green Hill.
After a while, less talking to be done.
Why explain any obsession
amongst a species so cluttered with them?
In his trees, the birds repeated themselves.
He was found smiling in the flowers
that had defied the flinty impossibilities of his yard.
A last season had erupted as breath fled.
He knew each memory had mortered his cairn.
After Paris we race through towns
where the bomb craters
are tourist photo opportunities.
Kosovo plans its future.
Trees hang around the hills acting all
nonchalant & innocent.
There may still be mines.
Three peaks backdrop the shocking blue -
squatting within its compound
the NATO base swimming pool
All the mosques & wineries are refurbished
we ask about it, our guide shrugs with a smile said
Allah gave them the best grapes for a reason.
The past is liquid over
this rocky land.
Everyone is fighting back though
war has become economics.
Over 40 years,Wicks has performed at festivals, schools, prison. etc. Published in over 350 different magazines, anthologies & newspapers across 29 countries in 14 languages. Conducts workshops around Australia & runs Meuse Press which focuses on poetry outreach projects like poetry on buses & poetry published on the surface of a river. His 14th book of poetry is Belief (Flying Islands, 2019).
* * *
Gone, Daddy, Gone
By Bethany Bruno
Dad, it’s been one year since you died.
And this past year, I’ve had to go through violent battles for emotional stability inside my head because of it. These confrontations have destroyed who I once was. The Bethany you loved and kissed goodbye with your thick mustache tickling my skin as you pulled away from our embrace, is gone. The strong young woman who could take on anything wedged in her way, has become a crumpled-up shell of a human being who cowers in the corner, afraid of even the smallest inconvenience. Bethany has been replaced with someone I’m unfamiliar with. She’s a stranger that my body attacks daily through panic attacks, leaving me utterly spent and completely useless. I often wonder during these attacks if it’s my time to go, to leave this world and become death’s newest club member. The only connection I have to who I once was is your death. Mom says to “think about the happy times, not the bad!” but, I will not allow myself to erase the final moments of your life from my daily thoughts. Over and over and over again, it plays in my mind. Like a discordant melody that begs for an audience, I willingly sit in the empty auditorium and force myself to listen. Like the story of your death, that song deserves a chance to be heard. Everyone has moved on with their lives, but not me.
It hits me out of nowhere, like a punch to the back of the head. I’ll be pouring myself a glass of water in the kitchen when suddenly it appears. That image of you seizing while surrounded by so many people watching and waiting for it to end. I had been preparing myself for your death for six months. When it arrived, and I was ready to be done with all of it, and to be done with you. I was unsure of what to do, so I grabbed your hand and held it. Your leg began shaking and your breathing began to get steadily shallower. Your eyes shot open, blinking uncontrollably without rhythm. I realized that what laid behind your dark brown eyes was not the father I knew. Those eyes were part of a body that was running on fumes. Frank Bruno was gone, but now the battery life of his body was slowly and drastically draining to a dead stop.
I released your hand and ran out of the room toward the nurse’s station. All I could manage to physically do was scream “Help!…Help!… Help!” I felt like a defenseless child, looking for an adult to swoop in and save me from danger. I ran back into the room to see mom hovering above you, holding onto your arms, to keep you from hurdling yourself off the bed. Your son, Scott, is holding mom incase her knees buckle, sending her to the tile floor. I keep looking at the jugular vein in your neck, unsure of what to expect when you stop breathing. Will it be a rapid halt or a slow stop? For those last six months, all I had thought about was what the end would look like. This ending was not even close to the hundreds of scenarios that ran through my head. No, this was much worse for you and for me.
And with a final gasp of breath, you stopped. Everything and everyone just stopped. The vein in your neck slowed until it expanded once more and stopped cold. It took a few minutes, but every ounce of warmth left your body and you became cold. Your hand, that I held long after you died, began to stiffen. You were gone, and you were never going to come back.
I thought I was ready. I thought I could get some peace from finally letting you go, but I didn’t. I selfishly wanted you to just go, so I could be free of the pain of watching you slowly die. I selflessly wanted you to die, so you could be free from the pain of cancer. Either way, I thought your death would bring some sort of peaceful closure for you and me, but it didn’t.
I remember the night before you died, I was sitting in the chair beside your Hospice bed. It was around 2am and the Hospice House was silent except for the sound of oxygen machines running in various patient’s room. Every 15 minutes a nurse would come, check your vitals, and then insert a Tylenol into your anus to bring down your high fever. As you laid there, in a medical coma, I cracked a joke about that tiny pill actually being an alien probe. I thought it would make you laugh, by some miracle, but you remained still. I wondered if it made you feel uncomfortable when it was inserted, but I need you to know something, Dad. I had fought for that Tylenol, because the nurses questioned my willingness to “let him die without prolonging his suffering.” I didn’t want you to suffer with a high temperature. I didn’t want you to feel the heat that accompanies a fever in your final hours of life. You deserved a cool, relaxing send off, so I demanded that pill. “No, he deserves to die in comfort,” I said to the head nurse. She nodded and left the room. She didn’t argue with me any further after that, knowing that I would be your deathbed guardian who wasn’t afraid to tell a bitch off.
I just sat there watching you gasp for air with every breath. I whispered into your right ear in the off chance you could actually hear me. I apologized for all the shitty things I said and did over the years. I told you how mad I had been at you for being disabled the last few months, which required giving you constant care- even though I was really mad at the situation and not you. I told you that I would take care of mom and Scott. I recounted stories that we experienced over the years, like when we used to occasionally go to the movies together, sharing a large buttered popcorn, and driving back home while you schooled me on how “Southern Rock is the best kind of Rock music.” I told you how ironic this whole situation was. That it took your death to make me realize how much of a great father you were.
Do you remember when I asked you to look after me and to help me get my life back on track? I whispered, “Send me some good things- help me get the hell out of Port St. Lucie, would ya? You and I both know there’s nothing here for me to make a life for myself.” I did this with half hope and half shame. I had always openly expressed, much to your groans of disapproval, that I didn’t believe in God, signs, or any of that kind of spiritual stuff. Yet, there I was, talking to you as if my years as a member of Club Atheist never existed. At one point, late into the night and when I desperately needed something reassuring to say, I lied to you. “Dad, I want you to know something, I do believe in God, and I believe you’re going up to Heaven to be with your family. Granny will be there, Papa, Uncle Tony, all of our pets who died, and it’s going to be amazing. You’ll sit around a giant table, covered with all kinds of Italian food that Granny cooked up. And, you’ll just shoot the shit.” I laughed to myself after I said it, not knowing what I believed anymore. It seemed ludicrous, yet I desperately hoped that it could be a possibility. I waited for you to twitch or to move a finger, as a sort of sign that you heard me. But, nothing happened. You just remained comatose and breathing with your mouth wide open. I remember thinking how full of shit all of those dramatic cancer movies were. Not one had ever gotten it right.
One time during the night, a nurse came in to check on you. As she was giving you yet another Tylenol rectally, she asked me “How are you doing, honey?” It kind of threw me for a loop, as there she was putting a pill into your anus and somehow trying to converse with me.
“Fine,” I said. “I’ve been preparing for this to happen for 6 months now. I just want him to be at peace.”
This was my go-to line for anyone who asked me how I was doing, knowing that your death was inching closer every minute. You get asked it so many times in the time after you announce the impending death of a parent that you need to create some sort of automated response.
But, the nurse said something to me that has been ingrained into my mind ever since.
“But,” she said, “you’ll miss these nights. He may be in a coma and unresponsive, but you’ll miss seeing him like this,” as she waved her hands over your body, like some sort of showgirl drawing attention to grand prizes on a table.
And you know what, Dad? She was absolutely right. A part of me wishes you were still here- coma, constant anal pill insertions, and all. I know your quality of life was terrible even leading up to the coma, but I’d still take that over not having you around anymore, period. I’ve become selfish with my yearning to see your crooked smile. I just want to see your face one more time, just once, please. I want to brush your thinning black hair with my fingers, to hear you complain about something-anything, and to call my name and ask for a refill of water- even though I found this task to be annoying since you were always closest to the fridge.
Dad, I worry most that my mind is starting to forget you. What you looked like, smelled like, sounded like. I am scared that my memories of you will one day fade. That all I will have are hazy memories at best. The only memories that seem to pop up in my mind now are of your final moments, and of your eyes staring up toward the popcorn ceiling. A few minutes after you died, I realized that your eyes had never closed. I took my hand and slid it down your face, but your eyelids refused to remain shut. I did this motion at least three times before I stopped trying. Even as the room was filled with the sound of sobbing from Mom and our family members, I stood there and just stared at your eyes. Those large brown eyes haunt my dreams. I wake up in a panic, surrounded by my empty room. My mind, in those moments upon awakening, can’t figure out if it was real or simply a nightmare. Sometimes, I wake up, get out of bed, and walk over to your bedroom, desperately hoping to see you lying in bed as I watch your chest rise and fall with each breath. But, that hope is useless. I walk by your room now and all I see is a mountain of clothes that Mom has piled up onto your side of the bed. You no longer exist, much to my constant dismay.
One realization I’ve come to is that ultimately, I was wrong all around- I was not prepared, no matter how hard I tried to be, for your death and its aftermath. I did everything I could for you, yet I didn’t do enough. I should have stayed home and been your full-time caretaker. I should have shut up and stopped getting annoyed with you for blocking the hallway with your wheelchair when all you wanted to do was move around after lying in that hospital bed all day. I have so many regrets, but none more than what I left you with. I should’ve show you more love and affection, instead of lashing out at your constant need for help with this or that. I wasn’t mad at you, Dad, I was mad at having to act like things were fine- that you would make it through. I hated having to lie and put on this false act of having high hopes when the Doctor discreetly said to me, “3 months, tops.” We didn’t want to scare you or let you lose hope, so I kept my mouth shut and became your personal motivational speaker for kicking Cancer’s ass. I’m sure you understand now why I did this and would agree with my decision. But, I wonder now if maybe you secretly knew all along and kept silent for my sake. You were always strong, even until the end.
I also think about the six weeks you spent at the rehab center and I feel so selfish for not making the fifteen-minute drive over there and spending more time with you. You were so lonely and scared, yet I hated going to that place. This was such a selfish act and for that I’m sorry. I should have sucked it up and spent more time in that hell hole with you. I would sit in an uncomfortable wooden chair and stare at you or my phone for hours while you watched the nightly news. Your body was growing weaker each day from the cancer literally eating you away. You required so much physical help that I could not provide. You were a prisoner, stuck in a shattered body and guarded by incompetent nurses. I was cheated out of six weeks that I could have had with you at home and that angers me now and forever. But, anger is only one of many emotions I experience when I think about your final months, weeks, days, hours, and minutes.
I wake up every day in our house that we lived in together for over twenty years. It’s filled with remnants of you, everywhere. You’re everywhere, but not really. Not the way I want or need you to be. Everything reminds me of that final night and day with you. I look around and I see: the Mr. Coffee Coffeemaker, the TV remote that’s missing its backing because you threw it onto the floor too many times, the couch that contains a permanent indent from your ass, your green Incredible Hulk mug, the Florida patio where you enjoyed sitting in with your coffee and newspaper each morning, your dog who doesn’t understand where you went, and the bathroom where you spent hours in agony from vomiting or constipation due to the chemotherapy. This house contains nothing but memories of you. I can’t escape you. To live where you’re constantly surrounded by relics of life that no longer exists is just torture. I don’t know how to get past this, to get past having you in my life anymore. Will I ever recover from this loss? If I were able to somehow get over you, would that mean losing you forever? If so, I’d rather suffer for the rest of my life than forget you ever existed.
Some people say “it gets better with time. The pain lessens, time heals all wounds…” and etc. Some choose to always look on the bright side of life and remember that there are good things to come. “This was just one bad moment of your life, but there will be good moments to come” is a phrase I tell myself daily. Yeah, that’s probably true, even if I think it’s bullshit. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t get to grieve how I want to grieve. Everyone does things differently when it comes to grief. Some do drugs, some drink, some have terrible relationships in search of replacing that loss. But, I choose to suffer. I have chosen to allow myself to fully feel every bit of emotion and remember every memory that appears when I think of you, Dad.
I will think about you every single day and grieve for the fact that you will no longer be a part of my life. I think anyone who’s ever lost someone feels this way. When you lost Papa, you were never the same. Holidays were just never as bright as they once were. But, unlike me, you kept your feelings silent. I wish now that you had talked to me about how you handled those internal battles with yourself over your father’s death. Maybe you had some insightful wisdom about death to bestow upon me, never knowing how soon I would need it with the loss of you. It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn on my own. It feels like a class that drags on forever, as I stare at the mounted wall clock waiting for it to end.
I believe that everyone always holds onto their grief in some way, shape, or form. Your grief tears you down and destroys you, but it also creates you once again. This new person is unrecognizable at the moment, but she will eventually become entangled with the old Bethany that must be present somewhere deep inside of me, like the mixing of primary colors to create a new shade that stands out within a crowd. I hope to become that beautiful shade of green, the one you were so fond of.
Maybe then, you would recognize me, wherever and if we ever meet again.
Bethany Bruno is a born and raised Florida Writer. She attended Flagler College, in St. Augustine, FL, where she earned her B.A in English. She later attended the University of North Florida for her M.A. Before becoming a Library Specialist, she was a English Teacher and a Park Ranger with the National Park Service. Her work has been previously published in The Flagler Review, Lunch Ticket Magazine, and The Paragon Press. She is currently working on her debut novel, “From the Passenger Seat.” She lives in Port Saint Lucie, FL.
* * *
Casser Tour, Summer of Love
By Glenn Moss
In the Summer of 1967, as heat and anger gathered to explode in Newark and
Detroit and love gathered in San Francisco, I boarded a bus in New York’s Port
Authority with my parents. This was the last vacation I remember my parents
taking and the last I felt obligated to take with them. I was 13, wouldn’t be turning
14 till after we returned with images in my bag I would unpack and explore after
Midnight when the voice of WNEW-FM’s Allison Steele added her purple throated
voice to my Brooklyn nights.
My parents could teach a class in pretending to a middle class life while seeking to
cover working poor income. This may be far more common today with recessions
great and small and an offshore technology economy, leaving many with memories
of assumed solidity and finding liquidity only in the sweat from fear. Back then,
even as the ‘60’s opened rifts in perceptions of permanence, we weren’t yet at
recessions, gas shortages, rooftop escapes and disco.
My few friends were all at camp, volunteering or working at places with doors
opened by parents. Me, with a stutter and imagination, I packed a small bag and
joined my occasional bookkeeper mother and always women’s shoe store salesman
father. How did they even come up with the money for this 7 day tour of upstate NY
and a day trip to Expo ’67 in Montreal...the last world’s fair of any note. Back in
September, when I had my poor kid bar mitzvah on a Thursday morning, apparently
the other sanctioned day for this particularly Jewish American affair, what little
money was offered by the 15 or so family in attendance was quickly handed to my
parents so the rent could be paid that month. “Today I am a renter”, is what I should
The “should have saids”, especially self-damning for a stutterer, would have
prominence one particular night on this trip. The thread of that evening’s tapestry
began when we first entered the bus. My parents sat in the fifth row of two seats on
the left side while I took the window seat across the aisle so I could lose myself in
the scenes that would roll by, knowing that everyone else would be coupled up and
no other kid would be dragged along.
Within minutes, my parents and the couple in front of them started talking and
laughing. I was pointed at, and I turned my head and waved. No need to attempt
saying “hi”...I could get stuck on that ‘h” until the bus reached Westchester. So
began a vacation connection that dominated my parents’ attention, not to my
surprise but to my liking as it allowed me to be separate and wander.
The other couple, Sal and Donna Bonneti from Newark, was as authentically middle
class as my parents were not. Sal owned two plumbing and hardware stores and
Donna was a junior high school teacher. They had two kids, both boys, 16 and 17, at
sports camps in Pennsylvania. Just the kind my father wished I was and knew I’d
never be. I was the son who he beat at boxball and handball every Sunday morning.
The one who threw the Passover meat down the incinerator by mistake.
As the bus took its route north to the first stop in Lake George, I heard the shared
laughter as my parents and their new friends exchanged histories, real and shaded. I
looked out the window as suburbs and then more rural space opened up to the July
sun. In just a few days we would hear the news about riots in Newark with fires
burning a city that would see ashes and broken glass as a turning point; where blood
and national guard boots marked spaces where homes and stores stood only a week
before. Sal and Donna, shaken and the easy smiles gone, would leave the tour early
to return home and become part of the Newark exodus to find a new place to try and
renew. Memory advises that they moved to Westfield, with a new hardware store
and stories to add to the July that changed Newark and Detroit and the hopes from
1964 and 1965.
Lake George was a half-day stay in a town where a beautiful lake and history from
the French and Indian War were obscured by the honky-tonk commercial drapes.
We likely had lunch somewhere, but no memory is attached even as an aftertaste.
The taste that mattered would come that evening.
We pulled into the parking lot of the St. Moritz in Lake Placid around 5 PM. It was a
large Victorian hotel with all the requisite dark wood and American imaginings of
Old World grandeur. High ceiling lobby, polished floors, uniformed employees,
overstuffed chairs and a genteel hush.
My parents’ room had a large bed and pillows, and thick curtains. Mine, smaller, had
a single be set against the wall with the window opposite. The Casser group was set
to have dinner at 7, so I asked if it was OK to take a walk to town and be back in
time. As I took many walks on my own in Brooklyn, this was an easy ask.
An Adirondack town of once and future Olympics, Lake Placid allowed me to easily
imagine I was walking in a village in Switzerland or Germany. That’s the beauty of
an imagination nurtured by time alone and internal architecture; my eyes become a
projector of images that mix reality and dreamscape. Walking past shops keeping
winter like a child you don’t want to change, I could feel a chill and hear the glide of
skis on snow.
I made it back by 6:30 and my parents were wearing their best. My mother in a dark
blue floral dress and my dad in a suit. I had dark brown corduroy pants and a dark
shirt. We took the elevator down to lobby and were shown to large dining room,
almost a ballroom it seemed, filled with tables for the Casser tour and one or two
others. Sal and Donna were already seated at a table and waved us over to the three
As we walked over, my heart sped up and I could feel sweat forming in my scalp. She
wore a black dress and black stockings and her black hair framed a face with red lips
that were slightly open and eyes the color of a lake at dusk. We sat down, and no one
noticed my sweat or my breathing. And then, she came to the table.
“Good evening. Welcome to the St. Moritz. My name is Beth and I’ll be serving you
tonight.” I saw my father and Sal glance at each other and I felt angry. I tried to lift
my eyes to hers but couldn’t. Donna told her how lovey she looked and asked if she
was a student or worked at the hotel full time. Beth said she was a student at Ithaca
College, majoring in English and her family lived in the area.
She asked for drink orders and when she came to me, I managed to look up and, in
of those moments I could never rely on, I said, “Coke” without a stutter. She smiled,
and I reached quickly for my water glass, almost knocking it over.
Dinner was a blur of my watching Beth as she approached the table, asked how
everything was, asked about the tour and where we were from. When she heard,
“Brooklyn”, her dark lake eyes widened, and she said a friend lived in Brooklyn
Heights. She visited during Christmas break and the streets were so pretty and did
we live near there. My mom smiled and said we lived across the street from
Prospect Park, only a few subway stops away. Hinting that it was as nice as the
Heights, maybe even a little finer. Another pretend, but so much had become that I
wasn’t sure if she knew the difference. Beth looked over at me, smiled, and said,
“Sounds like a nice place to grow up.”
I swallowed my third Coke and managed,
“Oh, yeah. I l-l-love the park.” My stutter brought looks from Sal and Donna, but it
was Beth’s that mattered. In her eyes I saw more than the usual mix of
embarrassment and pity. Or believed I did. I wanted to say more but could not.
I did love Prospect Park. It was my escape in many ways; a place where I could be in
Middle Earth or the England of Edward III, anywhere but Brooklyn and the three
room apartment I choked in. I would sit in the living room that was my parent’s
bedroom at night and read Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia. Or sit out on the fire
escape outside the bedroom I shared with my older brother and read, getting lost in
the story and the sound of the open subway trains rolling noisily just beyond a
concrete wall. In that moment looking into Beth’s eyes, I knew I added something
special to my walking dreams. And maybe to my sleeping ones.
As dessert was being served, a group of four from the hotel came into the room
carrying a microphone and moved to space at the back of the room near a large
piano. Three were musicians, one guy carrying a bass fiddle and the other a
saxophone. The other sat down at the piano.
The fourth guy set up the microphone and said, “Good evening, ladies and
gentlemen. On behalf of the entire staff at the St. Moritz, we hope you are all
enjoying your stay with us and thanks to Casser Tours and McClellan Vacations for
choosing us for your visit to Lake Placid. Tonight, we would like to continue with a
tradition we have here at the hotel. We’ve discovered through the years that every
summer we are lucky to have among you some real talent in song. So, we’d like to
invite anyone who has talent and feels brave enough to come up and share a song or
Oh no. I knew what was about to happen. Whatever happened to their lives,
however smaller and plainer they became, my parents always saw themselves as
entertainers, at least together. My mother did have a fair husky kind of voice and
back in the late 1930’s was asked by a quartet who played Brighton Beach to
accompany them on a tour. They had heard her sing, maybe on the boardwalk one
summer afternoon when she was with friends, and thought she’d be perfect for their
sound. They even had group name picked out, Gypsy and the Four Kings. But when
she asked her parents, Rachel and Morris, a clear ‘no’ kept her in Brooklyn and
singing at family gatherings, and maybe still at the boardwalk. But no farther.
My father wasn’t a singer. He could help my mother keep a tune moving, but his real
talent was in dance. He looked a bit like James Cagney and he moved a bit like Gene
Kelley. Together, my parents found their escape through dancing, gliding in sync
with an energy and grace they could never replicate in lives that seemed to forever
recede from pre-war dreams. And I existed in the regrets when the music stopped.
One or two people from other tables found the courage and need to step up and sing
a standard the band knew and could adapt to the singer. Then, I heard the chairs
move and I saw my parents heading toward the microphone and the space where,
for a half hour, they could make all the pretend real.
As they began with Gershwin and switched to Berlin and began to dance, you could
feel each table’s conversation turn to silence and surprised admiration. All the
attention they always wanted right there amidst the coffee and chocolate cake in a
ballroom at the St. Moritz in Lake Placid, New York. Sal and Donna watched them,
smiling. Sal turned to me, and whispered, “Hey, they are really good. You must be
proud.” I nodded, looked down and wished I could get up and leave. I thought about
it and then suddenly, sitting down next to me was Beth. She leaned over to me and I
stopped breathing. She leaned into me and said, “I know. “ She put her hand on mine
and continued, “Once you are a little older and can get away, it will be OK. I
She got up and maybe she smiled at me, but I couldn’t look at her then. Only when
she walked to other tables could I watch her walk, stop and lean in to a whispered
request. I wished I had said something.
My parents continued to dance, now to Porter and I did get up and walk away
unseen. Or so I thought. As I turned to look back, I saw Beth looking at me and she
I walked to the lobby, sweating and my hands shaking. I heard applause as I left the
hotel and walked towards town. The lights from the shops were on now and I
stopped to take a breath, and then another. I started walking again, and imagined
Beth was with me, not saying anything just holding my hand. After a while, I told her
about England in the 14th Century and she smiled. I saw that smile for a long time.
When I was older and left for college, it did get better and I remembered Beth’s
promise and I smiled back.
Glenn Moss a media lawyer by trade and has been writing poetry, stories and plays since high school ( a long time ago). He grew up in Brooklyn, went to college in upstate NY and law school in Cleveland. Returning to NYC, he began work and continued writing; and looks to have clauses and exclusions dance just a bit. His stories often fall into the “creative/memoir” category, others into imagined possibilities just around the corner of space and time.
* * *
By Danielle Wunderlich
This past summer took its toll on me, not because of any looming summer assignments ruining my fun, or any physically taxing summer job I had to take on to stock pile money for the coming semester. I actually didn’t have to worry about any of those things. Instead, I struggled with myself. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what it was, really. Everything just felt off. I didn’t feel like myself, my friends weren’t how I remembered, and even my home town just seemed to ooze a feeling of discomfort and unrealism. I had known I’d been feeling strange during the last semester of my first year of college, but I had figured once it was finished the long break would be my chance to get back to how I normally was. I was terribly mistaken.
I, without realizing it, began to isolate myself. My room became like my self-enforced holding cell. I wouldn’t allow myself to leave unless I had deemed that enough work had been done, or I had finally finished a project that I had been lagging behind on. The thing is, I could barely force myself to do anything, and so my room ended up being my main space of living for my first three weeks back from school. I didn’t even see anything wrong with this until my parents, rightfully, chewed me out for my hermit like actions. I still remember not knowing why they seemed so upset and concerned as they dragged me out of that room for the first time in weeks. Even while knowing that their actions were for the best, I still remember wanting to retreat back into that room as soon as I left it.
Forcing myself out of my shell that I had built up, and having to act normal, even if I didn’t feel like it, was something I never thought I’d have to deal with. My parents were understanding, and tried their best to help and learn, but I could never truly find the right words to convey what I was feeling. I’d never had that happen before. I still couldn’t pin point what was causing this dysphoria, but I was getting out more, so that must have been a good sign. I even managed to drive out to Rhode Island to pick up a friend of mine, which in and of itself seemed like a huge accomplishment. Yet even as I was proud to have taken the four hour drive all by my lonesome, I would hear a voice reminding me that I had promised them I’d come down weeks earlier. There was a failure to balance out what ever pride I had managed to scavenge.
Having them with me in my hometown suddenly made everything feel better, if only for those two weeks. They had been there with me when school started weighing me down, and having them back meant stupid jokes to distract me from my encroaching thoughts. We talked about what we had done, what this upcoming school year would be like, and we even bought a fish for our future dorm. I felt normal, if only for those two weeks. When I drove them back home, I had been planning to leave that next day, to go back home, and back to that enveloping feeling. I ended up deciding to stay, not a conscious choice, but I definitely did not want to return to that feeling of being alone when surrounded by my loved ones.
The last day I spent in Rhode Island with them would be, without me being aware of it, a very important one. Their mother had to work that day, but she dropped us off near an isolated, peaceful stretch of Rhode Island coast. It was a lovely day. Shining sun, no clouds, soft sand interspersed with sharp piercing rock not yet broken up by waves. We spent hours combing that shoreline for the best ones. I always picked up the smooth white rocks, and they always went for the cracked, striped, and war torn. We splashed in the waves as we discussed which kind of stone was better. We never came up with a definitive answer.
We would have periods when we had walked enough, and would then lounge on the SpongeBob blanket my friend had been kind enough to lay out for us. I would sit and feel that sand sticking to my damp thighs, and would look down to see they had already turned a little pink, a sign that sunburn had already set in. That would develop into one of the worst sunburns I’d had in my life, but it was the only thing I’d come to regret about that day. These periods of sitting and watching the waves were when we would have the most emotional conversations of the day. Then we would drop them to go rock picking again, and return to them as soon as our bottoms touched the yellow and blue fleece laid out on the sand.
One of these conversations I remember vividly, as it had meant a lot to me, and yet at the time I wasn’t quite sure why. My friend and I had begun talking about writing, as it had been my favorite hobby for years. Recently I hadn’t been writing as much, for reasons still unbeknownst to me, so we were discussing ideas I may like to try out when I got back to it. I forget who suggested the idea first, but I remember how much I loved it. What would it be like if you were standing in the ocean, and the waves stopped dead? Not slowly petered out, or eventually came to a standstill, but as you were standing there you saw the ocean become like a pane of glass in front of your eyes. No sound, no movement, just silence.
I thought, at the time, that since I favored description and image that I loved the idea for the pure descriptive potential that it held. Having to eloquently explain the sight and sound of a completely still ocean seemed fascinating to me. At some point I may still want to write that story, but I’ve come to realize that image held another meaning for me. It fascinated me so wildly simply because it was a strangely good metaphor for how I was feeling. It’s a bit convoluted, but in the end I’m surprised I didn’t realize sooner. Waves crashing on a beach, are a well-known and counted on phenomena. The ocean will always have its tides and wind rushed waves, that’s a fact. We can always count on the pull of a wave on our legs and the sound of it rushing to meet the sand at our feet. Always.
How would we feel however, if these reassuring things were to disappear? If the waves failed to fizzle at our feet and the ocean failed to keep its perpetual motion, what emotions would rise to the surface? In my own way, I think I found out. When I was younger, I had some self-esteem issues, nothing abnormal though. I didn’t like how I looked, like any middle schooler. Once I hit high school, though, I realized I had nothing to worry about. I was confident, both in my appearance and my skill. I didn’t think I was the best person to ever grace the earth, but I had a good judgement of my self-worth. I was confident I’d have this back bone of self-confidence throughout my life. Once again, I was mistaken.
The reason why I’d been feeling so strange and so uncomfortable was something had sapped out all of my confidence and self-worth, making me almost terrified to take on any new task for fear of failure. For lack of a better word, I felt adrift in my feelings of mediocrity and melancholy, and pushing myself to do anything simply whipped up those moods. While this lack of belief in myself applied to everything, the thing that took the greatest hit was my writing. I went from feeling at least decently adequate in skill, to feeling like an imposter who fancied herself a writer. Even now, typing this out, that feeling looms over my shoulder, and I can’t quite brush it away. Without the confidence I felt I would always have, I now find myself terrified and trying to live with the lost reassurance I know I need.
Like the ocean’s crashing waves, I felt that I would always remain myself. Confident, bold, and smart. Now instead I feel like I have to convince myself of those things now that my own waves have stopped crashing. Much like I thought when my friend and I first started batting around that idea, I discovered losing something that was always there will leave you with an empty, horrified feeling. While you stand there reeling, you don’t even know where to begin to get it back. So, as I try my best to desperately reform the worth I had before I started college, I feel like someone gently paddling their hand in a still ocean, hoping the miniscule movement will somehow conjure the ocean back into its reassuring waves.
Danielle is a Champlain College student studying to be an English teacher, and hopes to teach writing someday. She loves to study the Victorian Era, to write within it, and has been told her writing is reminiscent of it. She misses her cat back in Easton, PA immensely.
* * *
By Sarah Frey
The wind hits my face as I look upon the tree. It’s bitter. I’m sure your last words were too, but I can’t be sure. I wasn’t there.
You climbed this tree when we were coming home one day. You laughed and jumped to the nearest branch, clutching on as if for dear life. We immediately took out our phones and snapped a picture of you by the second story window. When it came time to jump down, you simply stared at the ground, and did so, thudding into the fresh leaves.
We could see the tree from our window as we watched cartoons. You came by to chill with us for the first time, hiding under a bed as you ran from the nerf war. We thought nothing of it but to take a video, laughing at the strange circumstances, your head poking out from under the bed. You bolted out a few minutes later, narrowly missing a foam bullet.
The tree was laden with snow by the time we were all friends. You tried to show us a lighter trick, flicking the flame into your hands. I began to record, but it didn’t work. You tried for several minutes to flick the flames, but eventually you told me to cut the camera. I laughed, and you got it right after I put my phone down. You shrugged, tossing the lighter aside and going back to Jackbox games.
I did a short film with you in October, your character had cheated on me and I had to punch you in the nose. We had to take ketchup from the dining hall, the film was black and white, and the director needed blood. You kept insisting it was okay to punch you, for real, but I kept trying to lightly hit your nose. We spent so long trying to get the take that the moon was far along in the sky by the time we got it. You patted my head afterwards, and I beamed when the director showed us the decently convincing footage.
We came back up one day from walking around the town, laughed about the tree, and decided to make cake. As poor college students, we had none of the ingredients. The cake was crumbly, and none of the four of us could get it out of the pan, any attempts feeble as they fell to the floor. You didn’t mind, you sat on the table with a spoon and ate it out of the pan, the only comment being, “It’s good.”
I took a picture then, too. You smiled, your pink hair falling over your face.
There’s only one video that I have to search for. You made a fake coffee shop, Business Bear Coffee, jumping off your bed to exclaim, “Do you like coffee?” You smiled and your hair was in a tiny ponytail that stuck out of the top of your head. Other people volunteered footage for the commercial, ranging from good to intentional stupidity. You stood outside in your dashiki, reciting the tagline: “It’s better than bearable.”
It was the middle of a snowstorm when you let us do your makeup, the tree laden with crystals. You weren’t concerned with any stares you might get; you just let us paint your face. I gave you eyeshadow and eyeliner, and you obliged when I asked you to not open your eyes until it was dry. I painted your lips dark purple, and dusted glitter on your cheekbones. You left it on when we went to get food, the makeup not hindering your pizza consumption or your ability to douse it in barbeque sauce.
The snow melted a little, you got weary. I cannot ask you how you felt but your eyes became a little emptier. We talked about music and lamented that an album we wanted was no longer in print. We talked about Pokémon and Charizard. You dyed your hair purple, stained the shower, and left your timberland boots in the bathroom.
And that was it.
I turn my face up to the sky, feeling the sun hit the bridge of my nose. It is summer, and the breeze flicks a strand of hair into my face. I leave it.
An echo of a laugh comes off the building. I turn to go, settling my hands in my pockets, knowing all I’m left with is a recollection.
Sarah Frey is a student at Champlain College studying Professional Writing with a specialization in Editing and Publishing. She specializes in snarky fantasy and will proofread for chocolate. She currently resides in Burlington, Vt.
* * *
By Adam Kelly Morton
The Andrews are our next-door neighbors, and even though Myriam is really pretty, I don’t have
a crush on her.
Okay, maybe a little one. But she’s so out of my league, with her long, slim arms and dark hair.
She looks a lot like Justine Bateman from Family Ties. Anyhow, she’s a whole year older than
me, even though we’re in the same grade (on account of me skipping grade four last year) so I’ll
never have a chance. That takes the pressure off. Besides, all the boys in upper grades are after
her, but all Myriam ever wants to do is hang out and play, so it works out great for me.
Sometimes, we hide in the high laurel hedges between our houses and we smoke—not cigarettes,
but bits of “bamboo”, which are hollow twigs from the laurels that we could light the ends of
with Myriam’s dad’s Zippo. Mr. Andrews smokes a pipe, which is why Myriam always smells
like pipe smoke mixed with girl smell.
We’re sitting there one fall afternoon and I say to her, after taking in a good puff of smoke,
“They’re really dry, man.”
“Yeah,” Myriam says. She even inhales the smoke and can blow little smoke rings. It’s really
sexy when she does that, because her lips are really pink, especially when she’s all tan from the
summer sun. I just look down and focus on keeping my burning twig lit. “Do you like your
classes?” she says.
“They’re okay,” I say. “I like my English teacher, Mrs. Horovitz. I tell her how great she is and
she gives me A-plusses.”
“I’ve got Black,” she says.
Everyone knows that Mr. Black is the toughest teacher in the school. He has a big belly, bulbous
eyes, gives out the most homework, and the most detentions. Plus, he is actually black.
“Oh, man.” I say. “Is it true that you have to learn that raven poem off by heart?”
“To the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore, nameless here for evermore,”
It’s a good thing we’re sitting down, because I’m wearing jogging pants. “Gimme your Zippo,” I
Myriam hands it to me. “You wanna play 500 after?” she asks.
“Sure. In a minute.”
When we’re done our smoking our bamboo, we grab my aluminum baseball bat and tennis balls
and head out onto the street to play Popfly 500. It’s not as fun with two people, but we make it
competitive by seeing who can get to 500 in the shortest number of catches. I give her my
baseball cap so she can shag the fly balls better in the sun. She’s got her own right-handed
baseball glove though (because she’s a leftie). I start whacking tennis balls into the air and
Myriam leaps around like a gazelle, catching nearly every ball. She’s really good. She’ll
probably be a professional athlete.
At the bat she’s better than I am, even though I’m stronger (which I know because when we
wrestle I always win). She can’t hit the ball as high, but you can tell by her easy swing that she’s
got more accuracy and overall hitting skill.
I fail to catch five in a row, and I’m soaked with sweat, when she says, “I win. Wanna play
Panting, I wipe my brow with my baseball cap. “It’s my mom’s fault,” I say. “She always makes
such big dinners and desserts.”
“And you eat them up, Fatty.”
Myriam calls me that sometimes, and I don’t like it. Mainly because it’s true: I am kind of
chubby. Still, I get enough of it from kids in the upper grades.
I grab the aluminum bat from her and take a practice swing. The bat goes all the way around, and
pangs off the back of Myriam’s head. She screams and starts crying, then runs for home.
I’m standing there in the middle of Harmony Street with the bat in my hand. I toss it into the
laurels, run into my house, down to the basement, and turn on the TV.
In a few minutes, Mrs. Andrews is at the door with Myriam. I can hear her talking to my mom:
“ALAN HIT MYRIAM WITH A BASEBALL BAT!”
“Alan!” my mom says.
I stare into the TV. It would be so good to just watch this rerun of Night Court in peace.
“Yeah?” I say.
“Come upstairs please.”
Slowly, I make my way up. I’m dead. I’ll be grounded for the rest of my life.
I look up from my dirty socks and sweat-stained jogging pants just long enough to see Mrs.
Andrews with her arm around Myriam.
“Alan,” Mom says, “did you hit Myriam on purpose?”
“No! I was just doing a practice swing. It was an accident. Honest!”
“Then apologize to her, please.”
“Sorry, Myriam,” I say. I can feel tears coming, and my face feels hot.
Myriam sniffs. Her mom pulls her a little closer.
“Are you okay Myriam?” my mom says. Myriam huddles in even closer to Mrs. Andrews. “I’m
sure it won’t happen again,” my mom continues, “and that Alan is very sorry. Aren’t you?”
I nod my head up and down like a madman.
“Okay, then,” Mrs. Andrews says. “Come on home, Myriam.”
“Alan,” Mom says, “you head on up to your room. No dessert for you tonight.”
Now I feel the tears come. As I start heading up the stairs, I look back at Myriam, whose face is
buried in her mom’s armpit, and I can’t believe it.
Adam Kelly Morton is a Montreal-based husband, father of four (aged 5, 3, 2, and 1), teacher, filmmaker, actor and writer. His most recent publications include Black Dog Review, (mac)ro(mic), Soft Cartel, and Fictive Dream. He has pieces upcoming in Cabinet of Heed, and Anti-Heroin Chic.
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Seven Second Stories by Richard Baldasty
Richard Baldasty, Foliate Oak veteran (Oct. '13; Nov. '17), is a recent contributor in prose poetry, flash, and collage to Spelk, Cuento, and Angry Old Man. His current work is text/image.
Four Broadsides by John Elkerr & Stephen Berry
John Elkerr has widely exhibited his paintings and drawings in galleries across the United States and in France. His work has appeared in Décharge Art and Literature Magazine, the Detroit Free Press, Detroit Monthly, Metro Times, Ann Arbor Observer, Soundings East, Puerto del Sol, and The Ilanot Review.
Stephen Eric Berry is a film-maker, composer, and a recipient of a Jule and Avery Hopwood Award at the University of Michigan. His work has appeared in Salamander, Third Wednesday, Soundings East, Puerto del Sol, California Quarterly, and The Ilanot Review.
Digital Painting by Edward Supranowicz
Edward Michael Supranowicz has a graduate background in studio painting and printmaking. About 350 of his b&w drawings and 2,000 of his digital paintings have appeared in lit magazines and online galleries. His family hails from the coalmines and steel mills of Appalachia.