Foliate Oak May 2016

Fiction

Wings of Doubt
By John Beyer​

Being an amateur lepidopterist, I have always considered butterflies to be amazing creatures. Besides their obvious beauty, I’ve often been mesmerized by how they gracefully flutter and float through the air as though they were simply taking a walk in a lovely garden. I don’t profess to be an expert, I’m not in many things, but butterflies have always held my fascination ever since I was a young boy growing up in Northern California. I would watch as hundreds, if not thousands, of these marvelous insects would descend into my backyard. As children we, of course, chased them, caught them, studied them, but always let them go back to the freedom of the air.

I had a rather successful career as a CPA for a firm outside of San Francisco in a small town named Corte Madera. But I could never get away from the idea of traveling up and down the coast, or inland for that matter, to study these flying wonders. I’m not saying it cost me a marriage, I wasn’t that obsessed, but my first wife would complain that I spent more time chasing those damn bugs than paying attention to her. I wasn’t sure what she meant since the amount of time she sat in front of the various mirrors in our house should have squelched the idea that no one was paying attention to her. The most important person in her world was always staring back at her.

She wasn’t exactly a monster but often behaved like one with her hitting, screaming, and breaking anything of value near her and very often I believed she would have broken me if she had the chance. She did try a few times. We had two small daughters who had to listen their mother berate, threaten and then finally divorce me. As was her narcissistic character, she seduced my darlings who barely spoke to me after the divorce which cost me a fortune in finances as well as a broken heart. She called me a monster in court but who would turn their children against the other parent so gleefully? Only a monster or some other evil entity would even consider doing such a thing. As one psychologist, and there were many during the years of court fights, told me – she had no care of the damage to the children but only proving to herself that it was you that caused the great chasm while punishing me, and was willing to sacrifice her own children much like the painting Saturno by Goya.

He may have had a point, though I was never a fan of the 19th century Spanish painter. I didn’t like the idea of guys painting pictures of a parent eating his own children. It was sort of creepy.

Whatever my sin was, she never told me. I suppose working hard to ensure my family had everything they needed, everything they wanted. She wanted more money, I worked longer hours; I worked longer hours, and she complained I wasn’t there to help with the kids. I couldn’t win.  Perhaps my enthusiasm for studying butterflies may have been a contributor. Perhaps it was the fact that the more hours I worked, the more money she spent. Who knows and who will ever know the real reason, and I doubt reason had much to do with it.

So, the marriage ended.

For my redemption, and in this I am truly a believer, I met the woman of my dreams five years later. Not one for the soul mate statements but Lara probably fit that mold better than anyone else on this planet of seven billion humans.

We were married and spent the next fifteen years in each other’s arms never once fighting, feeling sorry for ourselves, or those other rather boring tales couples tell you about their marriages which sound disastrous.

She even joined me on my butterfly adventures in and around the giant Redwoods and beyond. She was marvelous, but the one hideous thing about our marriage was the fact we had not met earlier. How often I had dreamed of meeting her on the Island of Oahu where she had grown up with her parents and siblings.

The tales she told me about the beaches and such made me almost envious, and we visited often but it still couldn’t turn back the hands of time.

Then, there was the butterfly effect, the theory surrounding how the gentle flapping of a butterfly’s wings in South Africa can cause a hurricane in the North Atlantic. It makes many scientists scoff with disbelief but being one who believes things happen because of a host of other factors, I never scoffed at the concept. There’s no arguing that butterflies had their effect on me.

Besides, didn’t Jacques Hadamord discuss this very thing in 1898? And Pierre Duhem followed up with more research in 1908? Even the great American writer Ray Bradbury wrote a short story in 1952 which later became a film, A Sound of Thunder, based on this very concept. My goodness, the chaos theory was up and around before Hadamord came up with his and they were all as interconnected as everything can be in both time and distance.

Who was I, a simple Certified Public Accountant, to contest these minds?

It proved to be true when I was killed in a car accident after I had just exited the Golden Gate Bridge coming from San Francisco on my way home to my wonderful and loving wife Lara on a rather rainy Christmas Eve. An errant, foolish driver decided that he wanted my lane even though at the current time I was occupying it. A side swipe from his Dodge Ram pick-up truck sent my much smaller BMW careening into the center divider on the roadway and then catapulting over into the oncoming traffic.

Luckily, I was the only fatality.

There was no Tom Sawyer moment here, watching my own funeral, but simply death and a bit of apprehension leading me down what seemed like a long tunnel. I am, was, faithful, but believed I didn’t have to attend a church to know my God. The same God, I also believed, we all share except for those
who profess being atheists. Never did understand them but that’s not where this story goes.

There was pain, darkness, and then relief as I opened my eyes and instead of seeing the pearly gates of Heaven or God-forbid the other location I had often heard about in my childhood, I was simply standing on a white beach facing the rolling waves.

I determined it was winter by the location of the sun in the sky, and suddenly I started hearing voices around me and within seconds realized I was standing on a beach with dozens of people lying on beach towels. The smell of sun tan lotion and coconut oil drifted into my nostrils and I suddenly took a deep breath and enjoyed being alive.

Alive or dead didn’t matter at that moment – it was a lovely beach.

I slowly looked down at my legs. They were sticking out of a pair of shorts while my feet were in a pair of canvas boat shoes and a Tori Richard aloha shirt was clinging to my chest and back. A few moments ago I had been wearing a very natty blue-striped suit which was the standard uniform in the world of a successful CPA.

I felt really comfortable standing there on that sand and suddenly it hit me.

The butterfly effect.

Perhaps, I hadn’t really died but had been given a second chance at life. Of course, I calmed myself and then started walking to the cement path just west of where I was standing and recognized the place
immediately.

Even in winter it seemed like summer on Queen’s Beach in Waikiki.

Lara and I had been there dozens of times during our marriage.

We had loved to stroll holding hands and poking gentle fun of the tourists. Not a nice thing to do perhaps, but without pointing fingers, we would observe a bulky tourist and think, “You’re too fat to wear that!” It was simply quiet murmurings into each other’s ears and low laughter.

How I missed her, but could this be the chance I had always wanted? The chance to punch time in the face and go back in the past to meet my true love before another had wasted my years.

I was almost giddy walking by the small restaurants where we had eaten and the shops Lara would drag me into to look at this or that. Not that I ever really minded. Those memories were welling up inside me as I walked yard upon yard wondering beyond wondering what year I had suddenly found myself. Could I be that lucky?

Nonchalantly, I looked in a tourist gift shop at a calendar with different sharks for each month and felt my knees, sticking out of the shorts, go weak. It was exactly the year in which I had met my first wife and fourteen before I had the fortune of meeting Lara. Turning from the calendar I quickly scanned a mirror used for checking out how one looked in sunglasses and then stopped and really stared.

I was young again, and quite handsome, if I do say so myself, with a full head of dark hair and no lines etching my face like a clay model. I never had much of an ego but looking at yourself that much younger does something to you.

Moving out of the store and back on to the boardwalk, I steadied my pace and started scanning for familiar faces. Of course, my Lara was beautiful in the years we were together but time had edged us on and now I had to see if I could imagine what she may have looked like at such a younger age.

This was my chance to meet her and start over. Or, this could be Heaven.

Calculating in my small but active brain over the numerous photographs she had shared with me, I knew I would instantly recognize her at any time and since I was thrust back in to the past she must be around one of these corners. It had to be.

Dozens and dozens of people walked by me and I studied every young woman but never felt that tug at the heart that I knew would be there when I spotted her.

An hour or two passed and I started to feel helpless to the point I sat down on a bench across from Waikiki Beach in the shade of a giant banyan tree to ponder my next steps. What was I to do? I couldn’t just drive to her house, or any of the places she worked. I didn’t have intimate knowledge of the addresses or locales and knew the only thing I could do was sit and wait.

How was I supposed to approach her?

“Hi, you don’t know me, but we’ll be married a dozen or more years from now and I wanted to get an earlier start.”

I would be arrested and held in a Honolulu jail until transported to the loony bin.

Then it hit me sitting on that bench. The chemistry will be there when I approached as though asking for directions and one thing would lead to the other. I had seen it played out in so many Hollywood films. It couldn’t fail.

I began to feel enthusiastic again, when suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lara across the street walking purposefully toward a small market.

She was gorgeous. A younger version of my spouse, or I suppose my widow, but stunning all the same.
I had to meet her and somehow convince her we were meant to spend eternity together and I knew something about eternity now.

Getting off that bench took a moment as I suddenly got cold feet. How does a man approach his future wife years earlier when they weren’t supposed to meet until years later?

I was unsure but got the courage to stand up, walk to the curb and look both ways, as I was taught, before crossing the street.

One of the most beautiful butterflies I have ever seen was the Painted Lady, Vanessa Cardui, when we had visited Hawaii years ago. With its mostly orange color and black spotted wings, I had always loved the sight of this creature, and I never got tired of watching the graceful movements of the insect.
One of those spotted Painted Ladies just happened to come into view as I stepped into the street in front of one the local bus lines that crisscrossed the island.

The only memory I have is hearing a young woman scream. I wonder if it was Lara.

John R. Beyer served nearly 10 years in law enforcement and over 20 years in public education. He has two novels - Hunted(2013) and Soft Target (2014)- which was published by Black Opal Books and his third, Operation Scorpion will be released early in 2017. He lives in Southern California with his spouse on a small ranch.

* * *

Mayonnaise, The Bastard
By Andrew Davie

Year 1

He passed away before she and I met. An inoperable tumor left him cognizant but crippled. Slowly, it metastasized into his soft tissue stripping him of his dignity. An imposing man, before the disease ravaged him, he was bone and sinew at the end.

While the final papers were drawn, he included a provision in his will, on her birthday, for the rest of her life, a local florist would provide her flowers; marigolds, her favorite.  
 
We’d met when she was emerging from her hiatus. A frightened animal, being released from captivity, the slightest misstep would trigger an alarm. It started with coffee then dinner. I found myself drawn to her.

We had only been dating for a few months before the flowers arrived. The card undid all of the work she’d put into constructing her new life, and she retreated. It was a precarious position; I wanted to remind her of the irreversible nature of death but kept my distance.            
 
Year 2
 
She’d purged herself of their mutual possessions, but his aura shone in the reflection of the new appliances. We had grown closer to the point where discussions often turned toward what the future might hold. The flowers arrived as I was making her breakfast. She placed them in a vase on a ledge above the kitchen sink. This time, she’d held it together, but later I heard her dissolve under the strain.  While her reaction had become less extreme, the sense of loss still resonated deep within. We talked about it; she was open about her feelings of guilt and longing and wondered if they’d ever go away.

Year 3

She didn’t outwardly change when the flowers arrived, but I didn’t want to stick around. I came home black out drunk and incoherent. The following morning I was met with silence, shame, and a crippling hangover. The remnants of the flowers were escaping from the mouth of the garbage disposal.     
 
Year 4

I got angry and unleashed long winded diatribes. He was Machiavellian, a rogue, who even in death served to strip her of any autonomy and castrate me, a man he never met. I tried to switch perspectives and understand this was in no way a threat to our existence; what harm was it if she continued to reserve a small piece of her life to him? The thoughts would slowly turn as the anger infused with reasoning until I could no longer rationally consider any other side to it than my own.
 
Year 5
 
I have forgotten.
 
Year 6

I threatened the delivery boy; beat him to death and replace his organs with marigolds like the ancient Egyptians would. An eight iron in my hands, I stood on the lawn and parted the air with swift cuts. Half crazed, mouthing profane threats, my bathrobe parted to reveal my shame. The kid froze. He couldn’t reconcile the enormity of what was happening staring at some deranged customer who harbored a vendetta. The kid collapsed to the ground; an infantile response. The police arrived. Sanity rescued me before it could escalate beyond reproach. Cooler heads later prevailed, and my contribution to the kid’s college fund did wonders for allowing everyone to forget.
 
Year 7

Without her knowledge, I sought to have an injunction to overturn “The Marigold Provision” on grounds of cruelty and mental anguish. The judge saw me because of an old family connection and admonished me for wasting his time but finally relented. Shame was not the right word, but it was close.

However, the flowers were delivered once again; gold reminiscent of the sun. Later, I was to learn he’d had a private investigator on the payroll, a friend of twenty odd years. They’d served together, had sworn blood oaths, the whole nine.

Days after were spent stewing, spiraling, looking for a target for my rage. What could I do, exhume and desecrate the body? How do you enact revenge against someone who no longer exists?

I found him at his office.

Overweight, he was popping antacid tablets like Tic-Tacs.  A two-bit skip tracer, most of his work was done on the information superhighway.  In the movies, PI’s always look like Robert Mitchum. He was seasoned enough; didn’t flinch when I produced the gun. He’d done matrimonial work before, adultery. It wasn’t the first time a weapon had been brandished. I was advised to take serious consideration of what I was doing. His calmness only seemed to unnerve me further, and I doubted whether I had the fortitude to see it through. Swinging a golf club at an adolescent was one thing. He sensed my mission would be futile and relaxed.

Go home. Reconcile that nothing is going to be perfect. The flowers will continue to be there. There are worse things.

He picked up the phone, dialed the number, and continued with his day as if I ceased to exist. I put the piece away and sat back down in his chair.

I can’t, I told him.
Hold on he said into the phone, then put it down as if he was just seeing me for the first time.
What?
          
There’s no home to go back to anymore. She left me three years ago. My body began to tremble as the thoughts manifested themselves into emotion. The PI sucked his teeth and paused for a moment. Perhaps, he’d offer up some infinite wisdom he’d pooled from years of seeing the worst in people; some philosophical tenets I could hold onto as I began the rest of my life. We stared at each other for a moment before he returned to the call.

Nothing, he finally said into the receiver.

Some guy messed up. Heh, yeah, man is a bastard.    

Andrew Davie received an MFA from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant and currently teaches in Virginia. His work can be read in Bartleby Snopes, Necessary Fiction, Menacing Hedge, and LitroNY, among others.

* * * 

He's No Mel Gibson
By McKenzie Livingston

It happened while I was making a peanut butter and honey sandwich. A slightly overripe banana was smashed between the two slices, smashed like I was when your name appeared on my phone.
 
Have you ever seen the movie Signs? There’s a scene where Mel Gibson is summoned to the scene of a crash, and the victim happens to be his wife, who is wedged between a tree and a truck, pinning her like a tack to a board. I can only stand to watch this scene for precisely one minute, when she is speaking to him and looking him in the eye, telling him things she doesn’t want him to forget. The love between them is palpable, I can almost reach through the screen and pull it out, it would fit nicely in my hand I think. There are tears in her eyes as she tells him goodbye, and there is no question of its finality.
 
I think of this scene now while you are on the other end of the telephone, my heart a shivering muscle inside of me, telling me to stop, stop, please. I know that you do not love me, and while this thought hangs over me like a scythe, I don’t stop, I don’t disconnect the phone. I listen. The sandwich remains uneaten on the counter.
 
It has been a solid two weeks since I spoke to you, since I told you not to talk to me again. As you speak, I concentrate on the small petal of peanut butter that is stuck on the back of my thumb. You’re stumbling over your words like someone’s holding a gun to your head (maybe it’s you), but this is just how you talk, and I forgive you for that because I know it’s just “who you are.” I forgive you, even after only knowing you for eight weeks, twelve days, 22 hours, and these past 5 minutes on the phone—they pass like a kidney stone. I can feel my legs giving out like every parking garage in Los Angeles circa 1992. Weak in the knees, ha. You make me forget I have knees at all.
 
You start to say things that sound like apologies, like things I only imagined you could say, and you hang up asking if we can speak again. How strange it is to end a conversation asking if it can continue. I could never figure out where my feet were planted with you: friends or not, dating or not, on speaking terms or…yes, okay, we’ll try speaking terms, I decided. But I’ll do all of the speaking.
 
A month later, it happens, finally, while I’m sitting on the couch in my room, you sitting next to me and holding my hand, which makes me laugh pitifully. Because now I’m Mel Gibson’s wife pinned against the tree. But you were never Mel Gibson. I never had anything more I wanted to say to you at the end of it all. You held my hand and your voice shook, but I knew. My last words to you were, “I think you should go now,” which can sometimes be mistaken for I love you or I’ll miss you. Sometimes.

​McKenzie Livingston is a graduate student studying English Literature and Writing at Utah State University. She currently teaches English composition and is beginning work on a thesis in poetry. She enjoys riding her bike, smelling old books (yes, one of those weirdos), eating chips and salsa until she hates herself, and trying to talk about herself for 100 words (however, this has proven to be impossible, clearly).

* * * 
The White Mistress
By Thomas Sanfilip

Perhaps she did not intend to reveal so much, but her story came spilling out like so many seeds waiting to take root. The room went silent, though the sky, so dreary and overcast when I arrived in the early afternoon, came alive with the sudden appearance of the sun. A sudden splash of several golden rays found their way into the interior of the apartment facing the Hollywood freeway, so close you could hear the traffic, a continual hiss and underlying roar that made it nearly impossible to think. She opened the door wearing a skullcap and looked up at me. On a small coffee table sat several cups of tea. I took a seat opposite her in the living room on a threadbare chair. The apartment was completely barren, a floor rug worn to threads, everything dead green, the walls, the coloring, the air.

A small, shy, elderly woman, at times sanguine, at other times bitter, she was eager to talk about herself, like a tableaux calling for a final reckoning. I detected some hesitancy on her part, assuring her I was harmless, interested only in seeing her collection of paintings by a painter completely unknown to me. A chance telephone call to the gallery where I worked led to conversation and permission to visit and see for myself the paintings of Ashkenazy who had no provenance either past, present or future. She was searching for more information on him, some catalog of his work that would give some idea of their value at auction, but I could find nothing.

“I’m trying to find one of his paintings now,” she said, “a very special painting of me I thought no one would ever see. A woman says she owns it, but cannot find it. I'm afraid she just doesn't want to part with it. The work is beyond description.”

I was certain Ashkenazy was a myth, found no mention of a Russian artist by that name in any book, past or present, which made me think he was pure invention. That this little wizened woman before me was living some kind of delusional fantasy I found not uncommon for those stranded for years on the west coast. I met many of them hanging on to some tattered shred of life. There was Lenore, once an assistant director at Columbia studios with dreams of making it as a scriptwriter. She wound up with stomach cancer and a heart pacer, living a hand-to-mouth existence after losing her membership to the screenwriters’ guild, hoping for calls that never came from old writing pals. Then there was fat David who won an Obie for one golden performance on the New York stage sometime in the 1950’s, thereafter, straight downhill, ending up the road manager for some third-rate Hollywood lounge singer. He stayed all day in his two-room apartment surrounded by everything Snoopy, stuffed dolls, ashtrays, until losing both his legs to diabetes. What made this old woman’s story any different?

“I could tell by your voice over the telephone you were very young,” she said looking at me from the opposite side of the coffee table. “I knew you’d be disappointed when you saw me. I’m not the beauty I once was.”
     
She was mistaken to think the ravages of old age carved into her face were offensive to my aesthetic sensibilities, but my curiosity was piqued at the idea of seeing her collection of paintings by an artist who left little or no trace of his existence, except for his works supposedly languishing in the recesses of her rundown Hollywood apartment.

“I’ve never seen your kind of expression before,” she said looking at me intently. “I want to say something, but it wouldn’t be right.”

“But where are your paintings by Ashkenazy?” I asked.

She pointed to her bedroom.

“Every day I sit and look at them. They’re in that room, but I don’t sleep there. I sleep here on
the sofa.”  

She paused long enough for me to ponder that fact, but before I could ask why, she confessed
she modeled for him many times for many of his paintings.

"It was after one of my symbolical dances," she said. "I was very interested in dance and did so only for Russians. They're funny people. They come to America and think they’re aristocrats.  I was a star among them. I had agents who wanted to make me a miracle of the world because I combined dance with words. One of my best agents wanted me trained right away.

“‘You cannot be more ready than you are,’ he said.

“‘No, no, I'm not ready,’ I said.

“I did three different versions of Salome. One was pantomime, one without, and another only dance. My teacher came to me one day and said, 'My God! You're such a breathtaking beauty, your body, the way you move!'

“'Everything for art,’ I said.

“I started writing poetry and fairy tales for the movies. A Hollywood director saw me on stage one night and was very interested in a fairy tale I wrote. He wanted me to play the role on screen. “‘No, I cannot do anything but dance,’ I said. When he came backstage, he introduced me to a Russian friend. ‘This is the artist Ashkenazy," he said. ‘He would like you to model for him.’

“I had no idea who he was or why he was even interested in me, but his eyes were so sad and he hardly said a word, but for some reason I did not refuse his request. It was all done very quietly, very formally, as if we were meant to fall in love.

“At the beginning there was nothing between us. I was older than him, but it made no difference. There was something about his expression, the way he handled himself, very self-effacing, intense, full of self-control, relaxed but underneath aware of everything. He looked at me with curiosity, as though trying to understand me with his eyes. Everything I was emotionally and physically was his, as if he saw more of me than I saw in myself. I was beautiful, but did not know how beautiful until he began painting me. No man ever worshipped me the way he did.

I never thought a man could love a woman in such a way. His friends said he studied the stars. I just knew I wanted to be with him.

“'You are one of the rarest women I've ever met,' he said. ‘You have two natures. Luck will fall into your hands, but you'll end your stage life only when you fall in love.'

“I didn't know what he meant, but little by little I turned away from my symbolical dance and found his worship enough to gratify my yearning for artistic expression. He called me ‘angel’ and wanted to change my hair red for a painting. I said no, but did it anyway because I loved him. He gave me the painting and another of me sitting with my back turned, dressed in an elaborate white, silk Chinese gown.

“At first his paintings were modest, but one day he asked if he could paint me nude. He said he would die if he couldn't. I wasn't afraid at first when he started painting, but then I ran away and said I would never come back. Talent, you see, is like a chain. One links to another, until you are so entangled there is no escape. I was never so vulnerable and weak as I was with him. I couldn’t refuse him anything, even my body.

“When I came back, I asked him, ‘what do you want me to do?’

“He gave me a pair of white gloves and asked me to sit in a chair with only a coverlet draped over my hips and legs. The next painting, he asked me to sit nude next to a white, floral bouquet, in another next to a white cockatoo on a perch, and in another simply with arms folded. But each painting seemed to make me more and more vulnerable. He asked me to pose in unspeakable positions and I was afraid and ran away again, saying I would never come back, but I did. Still he was never satisfied because he said there was something missing, something about me he couldn't express.

One afternoon, he asked me to pose in a particularly obscene position. Even after all his other requests to pose in the nude, I could not refuse. When it was over, he looked gratified in a way that went beyond anything artistic. What did my beauty matter then? The next day his mother called and told me his son was seriously ill.”

“‘His son?’ I said. “‘Didn't he tell you he was married?’ “I was shocked. “ Didn’t he tell you about his heart problems as well?”

“I was stunned. The man I loved was unattainable from the very beginning and I gave him everything.”

She paused and looked out the window. "I talk too much, take too much of your time," she suddenly said in a voice tinged with embarrassment.

I glanced toward the bedroom. "May I see Ashkenazy's work?"

She looked into my face measuring my sincerity. Did she fear I would take away something from Ashkenazy that she herself secreted all those years gazing at herself the way he saw her? Was it all idealism and nothing more on Ashkenazy's part, or did he really believe there was something eternal to beauty? After decades of devotion by the one object of his obsession, this wizened little woman who could barely walk, who poured out her story to me in vindication for a life of trials and unhappiness, even with my hand on the door knob ready to enter the bedroom, I felt some profound understanding of beauty that had eluded me up to then, a novice and innocent who, like Ashkenazy, revered the enigmatic, but compelling beauty of women.

For several seconds longer I stood before the door without making a move to enter the room.

"What's the matter?" she said.

​I feared there was nothing there, or something too profound to see, as much an illusion for me as perhaps for her. It was impossible to say. I felt the sky's softness and realized, leaving the old woman standing at the door of her apartment, wondering why I never entered the room that I probably would never see her again, but promised I would and found out by chance she died six months after my visit. I set off instantly for her apartment, hoping to salvage something of the old woman's letters, photographs, newspaper clippings, anything to validate the truth of her story, but when I arrived, no one had saved a thing, or even knew if she had a family, the management having disposed of all her possessions, including the paintings of Ashkenazy.

Thomas Sanfilip is a poet and writer whose work has appeared in the Shore Poetry Anthology, Thalassa, Ivory Tower, Nit & Wit, Tomorrow, Ginosko Literary Journal, Maudlin House, Feile-Festa, Per Contra, and Brilliant Flash Fiction. Five collections of poetry have been published, in addition to a collection of short fiction, The Killing Sun (2006).

* * * 

The Christmas Zephyr
By David Watson 
 
December, 24 1941

Otto grabs the Zephyr’s frosty handrail and eases himself down the steps.  He tightens his grip, takes a deep breath and thrusts his head out into the icy wind.  The cold dampness smacks him square in the face.  With tears from the frigid air welling in his eyes, he sees the fast-approaching lights of Monmouth.  They sparkle like polished jewels on the dark Illinois prairie.   He slips back into the shelter of the vestibule, pulls out his watch—right on time.  He snaps it shut and stoops to pick up the step stool.

The high-pitch whine of the engine fades and the streamliner slows.  Otto squeezes the stool tight against his chest and leans back, letting his body melt against the swaying train.   He closes his eyes trying to block out the worry jabbing inside his stomach.  All because of a letter, thinks Otto—a goddamn letter.

It arrived in the mail before his run out east—a government letter telling him to report on the day after Christmas.  The inhumanity of it all, the day after Christmas, how could they do that?  The cold seeps around Otto’s neck, and he pulls the collar of his navy blue jacket higher.  He hadn’t told his wife Kitty yet.  How was he going break the news?

The brakes on the train hiss.  More tears sting his eyes, and this time not because of the cold.  The Zephyr eases to a stop and the engine’s air horn sounds. The shrieking whistle startles Otto.  He bites his lower lip and shakes his head.   He smacks the stool against his chest trying to gather himself.  He’s got a job to do.  He wipes the tears from his eyes, jumps to the ground and places the stool.

A soft light glows inside the station.  Otto looks through the window.  A Christmas tree stands with a slight tilt squashed against a wall.  Its branches are covered with silver tinsel thrown in jumbled clumps, colored glass balls hang precariously from bent branches, a child’s paper chain is draped around its crown.

Two passengers emerge and stride up to Otto.  A tall man with an overcoat wrapped tight at the waist, hoists his travel bag onto the first step.  His clerical collar is visible under the lapel of his jacket. 

“Evening Father,” says Otto.  The priest climbs aboard without speaking.

A young soldier, his uniform pressed and polished, is next.  “Hello, bud,” says Otto.

“Is this the train to Fort Madison, sir?”

“Yes, of course.”  The soldier lifts his duffle bag and pulls himself aboard.

Otto turns to the station and sees a young woman struggling to carry a suitcase across the cobblestone platform.  A little boy follows her.  Even in the dim light, Otto notices the young woman’s bouncy hair, her long, slender legs, her bright red lipstick.   He leaps across the platform.  “Can I be of some assistance ma’am?”

The young woman, Sarah Dressden, nods.  Her olive colored eyes meet Otto’s.   A jolt of excitement seizes Otto’s soul.  He reaches for her suitcase, their hands touch as he slips his fingers into the handle. The corners of Sarah’s lips curl into a smile.  She turns, grasps the small hand of her son and the two climb aboard.  Otto stands frozen watching Sarah’s figure twist up the steps.

The engine’s horn sounds.  Otto lets out a low whistle under his breath.  He lifts the leather suitcase into the vestibule, picks up the step stool and signals the engineer with a wave from his flashlight.

Sarah is waiting inside the warm coach.  The train lurches and she reaches out and steadies herself on Otto’s arm.  “Thank you,” she says.

Otto shoves the suitcase into the luggage rack.  “No problem, ma’am.”  He bows and notices the diamond ring and wedding band on her left hand.  He glances at his own left hand.  A gold band fits snug on his finger too.  A wave of nausea swirls inside his stomach.  The weight of an invisible hand presses on his chest.  He labors to take a breath.  Otto straightens himself, and before Sarah can say anything, tips his hat and leaves the car.

Sarah leads her son down the aisle.  She walks slowly, steadying herself against the sway of the Zephyr that reminds her of the roll of a ship.   By habit, she chooses the seat at the front.  She removes her brimmed hat, letting the curls of her dark red hair fall onto her shoulders.  She slips off her black wool coat and turns slowly hoping to catch a lustful gaze.  Except for a priest and a soldier boy, the car is empty and both are looking out the window and not at her.

Sarah lets her body sink into the plush seat, and her son, without her assistance, climbs into the one next to her.  Her husband, Ethan, has been gone only two weeks—off to training camp—and here she is, nearly back to her old self.    She looks down at her hand with the rings, wraps both arms around her waist and squeezes.  What is she doing? Four years of marriage should have changed her.  She thought it had.  With Ethan home it was easy to suppress her longings, but now, with him gone…
Sarah takes a deep breath.  She lets her arms fall onto her lap.  She smoothes out the seams of her checked tweed skirt then closes her ringed hand into a tight fist.  Why had he enlisted?  He knew how she was.  He’d get leave and come to see them, he promised.  That wasn’t going to be enough.  She lets out a low sigh
Sarah unfastens the clasp on her purse and pulls out a compact.  She flips it open and looks into the mirror.  Only, she loves Ethan unlike any other man she has ever known.  But when they ship him overseas?  What if… a horrendous thought slips into her mind.  She grits her teeth forcing it away before it can gain a foothold.

She snaps the compact shut, turns and looks at her little boy.  Her face softens.  He is a picture isn’t he?  His cap tucked over his ears, he looks so much like his daddy.  The little boy looks up into Sarah’s eyes and for a moment she thinks she might melt.
“Can I sit with you?” he says.

Sarah nods and her boy climbs over the seat’s arm and into her lap.  He slips his warm hand into hers. She relishes the soft touch.  She takes her free hand and reaches into her purse.  She pulls out a handkerchief, pauses, then wipes the red makeup from her lips.
The door in front of the car slides open and in walks Otto.  “Tickets please, tickets.”  He stops next to Sarah.  She pries her boy’s hand free and reaching into her purse, hands Otto their tickets.  Avoiding eye contact, Otto punches them and hands them back.

He moves to the young soldier, Tyler Burton, who hands him his ticket.  “This is the train to Fort Madison?”

Otto looks over the top of his glasses.  “The last stop on the run.”  He hands the ticket back to Tyler who promptly drops it to the floor.

Otto fusses with the gold chain attached to his watch.  “Your unit shipping out soon?”

“Yes, sir, next week.”

Otto’s face wrinkles into a frown.  That queasy feeling stirs inside again.  He winces and tries to shake it off, but it’s entrenched in his gut. He lets out a sigh, then reaches out and slaps Tyler on the back.  “Stay safe,” is all Otto can think to say before heading off down the car.

Tyler frowns.  Everyone’s been telling him the same thing.  Stay safe, how the hell is he going to do that?   He’s not sure where he’s getting shipped to, but he knows damn well it isn’t to go on some Boy Scout hike.

Tyler closes his eyes.

It was supposed to be over now.

He wasn’t planning on going to war.

He should be on his way home for good, getting ready for college, getting ready to live his life, but now…  It had been a mistake listening to his buddies.  One year in the service, what adventures they’d have.  And the girls—girls loved guys in a uniform, they’d be all over us.  It all sounded good when they talked about it that summer after high school.

But there hadn’t been any adventures.  And what girls had they seen?  The little time they did have in town, those girls weren’t Tyler’s kind.   And now, thanks to the Japanese, the army’s changed one year into two.  Hell, the next thing they’ll change two years into four.  Four years is an eternity.  There was no way around it, his life is over.

Tyler picks up his duffle bag and traces his finger over his last name embroidered in the canvas.  Instead of coming home for good, his trip is to say good-bye.

He sets his duffle bag on the empty seat next to him and sees the priest across the aisle.  The priest looks familiar, but Tyler’s not sure.  An invisible force seems to pull him to his feet.  He moves down the aisle for a closer look.  Even though the air inside the coach is warm, the priest is bundled tight in his overcoat.    His hands are clenched laid one on each leg.  Tyler moves closer.   The man’s face is drawn with tight lines, his skin a pale white.

“Good evening, Father.”

​Father McConnell turns toward Tyler and grimaces.  He knows what the boy wants.  It’s what every soldier boy wants to know since they bombed Pearl.  Lord, enough have stopped him on the street.  What makes them think he can read their future?  He’s an ordained Catholic priest, not some psychic fortune teller.  Father McConnell can’t even manage to lift his eyes into Tyler’s face.
“I…I just wanted to say…Merry Christmas,” says Tyler.

“You too,” is all Father McConnell can think to say.  Tyler nods his head and walks back to his seat.
Father McConnell turns and looks out the window seeing only his own reflection and the sight sickens him.  The years in college and seminary he had done his best.  He prayed for guidance.  He prayed for a path to follow.  But for reasons he can’t explain, his calling never came.  He should have never taken his vows.  The bishop was wrong, being ordained hadn’t changed anything.  His heart, instead of softening, had grown thick with callus.

Father McConnell looks over his shoulder at the young soldier fidgeting in his seat.   He turns back and lets his chin fall onto his chest as if to pray, but it’s too late for that now.  The humiliation of being wrong, of being a failure, was too much…too much.

He sighs and tries to swallow, but has no spit.  In a short while, it will be over. He’s gone over his plan for months.  He places his hand on the breast pocket of his coat and feels the square envelope resting over his heart.  When Christmas Eve Mass starts at St Catherine, he’ll have time to slide the letter under the Monsignor’s door without being noticed.  The Monsignor won’t understand, but at least he’ll know how to deliver the news.

From St. Catherine, it’s only a short walk down the street to the river.   How many times he’d made the trip when he was a kid?  He’d cut across the city park, down the alley next to Krueger’s hardware store and follow the dirt path behind McGuilly’s bait shop until he came to the double decked girder bridge that connects Iowa to Illinois.

Father McConnell squints looking out the window.  The train is up alongside the river, the girders of the double-decker tower above the river.  Bright lights from the bridge shine into the blackness of the Mississippi illuminating chunks of ice floating in the current.  On the edge of the structure, he makes out the jutting steel platform, where as a kid he used to dive from into the river.

The railroad men would yell at him and his buddies.  But, they’d just lie in the weeds along the bank and wait for them to leave.  It was a safe place to dive, deep water, but you had to be a strong swimmer to get out of the current.

Father McConnell feels a hard hand on his shoulder and his insides lurch.   He turns his head. It’s the soldier boy.  “Excuse me, Father, but I think I know you.  Aren’t you John McConnell?” Tyler sits down in the seat next to Father McConnell.   The door of the car slides open.
“Next stop, Fort Madison,” says Otto.  He looks at the young woman who has fallen asleep with her son on her lap.  He nudges her gently and her eyelids flicker open.

“Fort Madison’s the next stop ma’am.”
He pulls out a red-striped candy cane from his pocket.  “For your son?”
Sarah smiles.  “What do you say?”
“Thanks,” squeaks the little boy, and he reaches out and takes the candy cane.
Otto tips his hat and moves out the back of the car.  Standing in the vestibule, he sees Fort Madison casting a hazy glow.  Specks of light, lit homes and street lamps rising on the river bluff, seem to fly like burning embers into the sky.  He feels the train slow as they twist on the lead up to the bridge.  Otto moves down the steps, and clinging to the railing feels something soft and cold bounce off of his cheek.

He thrusts his hand into the wind momentarily then yanks it back.  Glistening snowflakes cling to his navy blue sleeve.   Snow on Christmas Eve, thinks Otto, what a nice gift.
The Zephyr pulls to a stop in the siding next to the station.   Otto jumps to the ground and places the stool.  The young woman, clinging to her son’s hand, climbs down the stairs.  “Merry Christmas,” says Otto.  The young woman doesn’t answer, only smiles.  Otto watches as the two disappear in the swirling snow.

The priest is next standing in the vestibule.  His face is stained with tears.  “Is everything okay, Father?  Can I call you a taxi?”  Otto is about to climb aboard to help, but the young soldier grips the priest around his shoulder, whispers something in his ear and helps the man down the steps.
“Thank you sir, but I’ll make sure the Father makes it home.”  Otto nods and listens to their feet scrunch in the new fallen snow, then climbs back onto the train.  He walks through the whole train like he always does at the end of a journey and returns to the last car of the Zephyr.  The engine falls silent and the lights in the train flicker before going out.

The bells of St Catherine ring out in the distance calling the town to Christmas Eve Mass.  Otto flips open his watch. Kitty will be in church, and she won’t be expecting him.  He’ll make it on time if he hurries.   Won’t she be surprised.

He eases himself off the train feeling the smooth railing slide against the palm of his hand.  He stops and looks one last time at the Zephyr.  He was a good conductor wasn’t he?  No matter what happens, at least no one could take that away from him.

Otto steps into the falling snow that, for the moment, covers the world’s imperfections in a soft blanket of peace.

Dave is a large animal veterinarian from southern Wisconsin. When not attending to the needs of his dairy cow patients, he finds snippets of time to write fiction. He is currently working on a young adult novel.

* * * 

Via Dolorosa
By Fred White
 
Donna Vale always seemed to be smiling, even when her dark-brown eyes were sad. Ryan Pritchard, who lived next door with his mother, wondered if Mrs. Vale’s husband might be the reason behind those sad eyes; a moving van driver, he was on the road for several days at a time.

One Friday, Donna Vale invited Ryan to dinner, aware that his mother had to work late on Fridays. Mrs. Vale was lighting candles when he arrived. “Please help James set the table, sweetie,” she said. She wore a red satin blouse buttoned to the neck and a gold crucifix which swung like a pendulum as she placed bowls of potatoes and vegetables and a platter of halibut on the table.

Once they were seated, she reached for Ryan’s and her son’s hands, bowed her head, and began reciting a prayer. Her hand was soft and warm. Ryan felt uneasy not knowing the prayer, and recalled how his father started praying after joining A. A.  “As if praying can make up for all the misery you caused!” his mother had shouted at him just before he walked out of their lives for good.

Ryan complimented Mrs. Vale on the halibut, even though he didn’t much care for fish. She thanked him with a radiant smile. Then she dabbed her lips and said quietly, “We live in a dangerous world, boys. That is why we must open our hearts to receive God’s grace.” James nodded absently, not pausing in his eating. It seemed to Ryan that she wanted to say more because her perpetually smiling mouth suddenly tightened. She turned to Ryan, “You’re friends with Marie Rankin, the one-armed girl, aren’t you?” 

“Yes.” 

“Yes, James said you were, but I wanted to make sure.” She closed her eyes. “Last Wednesday morning Mr. Vale found her stretched out behind the back wheels of his truck.”  She touched her crucifix. “She had wrapped herself up in an army blanket. It looked as if—as if there was nothing but a rumpled old blanket behind the wheels.” 

James said, “It’s too bad she only got one arm.” 
   
“Do you have any idea, either of you, why that poor child would do such a thing?”

Ryan felt queasy. “Did your—did Mr. Vale—I mean, did he—?” 

Donna Vale stared at her tightly folded hands. “Mr. Vale had actually switched on the ignition and was about to pull out when Providence intervened, urging him to jump out to retrieve the morning paper that he suddenly noticed on the lawn.  That was when he saw the blanket . . .”

“Marie likes to pretend she’s dead,” said James. “Maybe she’s depressed about having only one arm.”

There was a moment of silence. “I . . . don’t think that’s the reason,” Ryan said.

“Yeah, Marie does like to brag about how she can do more things with one arm than most people can with two,” James said.

Donna was staring hard at Ryan, as if she could sense that there was more he wanted to say. He took a deep breath. “I think she hates her dad.”

Three days earlier he, James, and Marie had been playing basketball at Our Mother of Sorrows parochial school. Ryan loved to watch Marie, with her long slender legs, dance with the ball, and then, using her stump and normal arm, make one spectacular basket after another.  Later, they walked to the nearby park where they took off their shoes and splashed in the brook. Afterwards, while James chased squirrels, Marie and Ryan climbed an oak tree with lots of perches. At one point, Marie scuttled over him. A dirt-stained foot grazed his neck. “Hey, what the heck are you doing?” 

“Hold still!  I’m trying to get onto that branch above your head.”  After several false starts that nearly sent Ryan toppling out of his niche, Marie leaped up into her new roost; then she dropped her legs down and squeezed the sides of his head with them.  “See how strong my legs are, Ryan?  Who needs arms anyway?”  He reached up and clasped her calves. 

“Ryan Pritchard! Are you feeling me up?”
   
He tried to push her legs away. Suddenly she started groaning.  “Oh-h-h-h . . . I’m gonna faint!” 

“Wait, let me help you down.”  He kept an awkward grip on her as she worked her way out of the tangle of branches.  At one point she clutched his arm and pressed her face against his. 

“Are you my lion, Ryan?”

“My what?”
   
“My protector! Or are you just a beast who’s gonna eat me?”
   
“Grab that branch, Marie.”

“Let’s run away!  I’ve got seventy-three dollars saved up from baby-sitting.”
   
“Don’t be ridiculous.”

Marie let go of the branch she was holding, slid to the ground, and lay on her back, arms and legs splayed. James rushed over.  “What the heck happened? Is she hurt?” 
    
“She got dizzy in the tree. I think she’s okay now.”
   
“She don’t look okay,” said James, reluctantly inspecting her. “We’d better take her home.” 
    
“No!” snapped Marie. She kept her eyes shut and was breathing heavily. “Ryan?”

Ryan put his ear to her lips.

“I’m dead,” she whispered.
   
“That’s not funny.” 
   
“Feel,” she said, louder this time, grabbing his hand and slapping it between her small breasts.  “No heartbeat!”

James pulled him away. “You’re not supposed to be horsin’ around like that.”  He tried to pull Marie to her feet but she yanked herself from his grip and flopped back onto the ground. “Beat it, James. Better yet, go beat off somewhere.”
   
Ryan bent down to her again. “C’mon, Marie, we’ll walk you home.
   
She twisted away—then turned back to face him. “Promise you’ll come inside with me.”
   
“No,” said James.
    
“I’m not talking to you, pansy.” 
    
“I promise,” said Ryan. As they began walking out of the park, he could feel her stiffen. By the time they reached her house, she was trembling.
   
Her father was laying sod.  He glanced up when he saw the three of them and wiped his bald head with a rag. His eyes darted from Marie to James to Ryan, then back to Marie.  “Where the heck have you been?”
   
Marie pressed her body against Ryan’s.
   
“I asked you a question.”
   
“Tell him,” Ryan whispered. 
   
“I was in the park, Daddy,” said Marie.
   
“I told you to ask me before you go runnin’ off.  G’wan inside.”
   
Marie stayed put.
   
“Got a hearing problem, Missie?”
   
“Don’t call me that!” she screeched, and then darted away.

“Get your ass back here!” Rankin started after her—but stopped after reaching the sidewalk. He turned to Ryan and James. “Did you just tell her to run off like that?” 
   
“No sir,” said James.
   
“What’d you say to her?”
   
“Nothin’”
   
“Like hell.” He glared at Ryan. “I saw you whisperin’ in her ear.” 
   
“I just told her to tell you that we were only playing in--”
   
“Go find her; tell her that her old lady’s been bitching her head off for her.” 
   
“We don’t know where she went,” James said.
   
Rankin scratched the back of his neck. “She likes to hide in weird-ass places. Found her under my car once.”
   
Ryan and James returned to the park, but she wasn’t there. They yelled for her up and down four streets. They looked for her under cars. They searched the alley behind her house.
    
It was as if she had vanished into thin air.

After dinner Ryan asked Mrs. Vale if he could help clean up, but she shook her head. She put her hand on Ryan’s shoulder. “Why do you suppose Marie hates her father?”
 
He shrugged. “It’s just the way she avoids him when he’s around.”
   
“Has she ever explained why she avoids him?”
   
Ryan shook his head.
   
James was leaning against the refrigerator, staring at them. “Maybe,” said James, “she acts strange because that car accident she was in affected her brain. Isn’t that how she lost her arm? I know I’d act strange if something like that happened to me.”
   
“Something happened to her mother in the accident too,” said Ryan, “I saw Marie’s father helping Mrs. Rankin into a wheelchair once.”
   
Donna Vale gazed out the kitchen window for a long moment. “You pray to the Lord don’t you?” she asked Ryan. 
     
Ryan felt his face redden. “Yes,” he lied. His father used to try to get him to pray.  “Life is too damned tough to go it alone,” he would say. “That’s the first thing they teach you in AA. You gotta acknowledge a higher power.”
   
Ironically, Ryan would pray—he would pray for his father never to drink again, never to lose his temper again; but he vanished into thin air instead.
    
“Then would you and James do something charitable for Marie this evening?  Would you walk down to the church and pray for her? I would come along, but Mr. Vale promised to call me this evening from wherever he plans to stop for the night.”  

“Well . . .” said Ryan.  He should have kept his big mouth shut about praying.

“Sure,” James said, elbowing Ryan. “Come on!”

They walked in silence in the cool dusk to the Mother of Sorrows church at the opposite end of the block. “I’ve never come here this late before except for midnight Mass,” said James. “Have you?” 

“No,” said Ryan, remembering how his mother used to get into a shouting match with his father because she didn’t want Ryan being brainwashed by religious fanatics, as she put it.

James was explaining how he liked being inside a church when it was dark and empty. “I sometimes come here just to pray for a few minutes,” he whispered. “I had this little conversation with God about my dad, who has to deliver stuff from one end of the state to the other, and was always in a bad mood when he got home.”

Ryan detected a faint, sweet, smoky smell inside the church. James explained that that was the smell of incense, what the priests used to spread holiness through the church.  They walked down the aisle, and Ryan waited for James to kneel and cross himself before entering a row of pews. James pulled down the kneeler, crossed himself, and mumbled a prayer. Ryan sat tensely next to him, waiting.

“There,” I just prayed for Marie to be okay. What about you?” 

“We should be out there looking for her.”

“Okay, but you gotta say a prayer for her first.” 

I don’t have to do any such thing.” Ryan fixed his eyes on the bronze crucifix above the altar. “I want to start looking for her now before it gets too dark.”

“But if you prayed for that, God—” 

“Praying is dumb.”

James look mortified. “So you’re calling my mother dumb, and all the priests and nuns dumb?”

“No, I said praying is dumb, not priests and nuns or your mother. You don’t listen too good.” 

“Don’t you believe in God?” 

He wanted to tell James to shut his mouth. 

“I wouldn’t want to live if God didn’t exist,” said James. 

Ryan tried to stifle a laugh; but it burst out anyway. James stared at him like a frightened cat. “If God does exist, I wish he’d give me a sign.”

“You gotta pray for that,” persisted James.

Ryan pressed his palms together and raised them over his head. “Hey, God, drop whatever you’re going and send me a sign that I’m not just talking to myself, okay?”

James pushed him. “Stop it. You’re being sacrilegious inside a church.”

Ryan was convinced there was no such thing as God, or the Devil, for that matter, but had no doubt that evil existed. There was plenty of evidence for that. Evil was as real as gravity, and just as difficult to pinpoint. Evil cast terrible spells over people, making them do awful things without caring or even understanding how awful they were. 

“I remember once during catechism,” James was saying, “how Sister Ann told us about people who couldn’t decide if God existed. She used a word, not atheists but ag –  something or other. “I bet you’re an ag…nog . . . are you, Ryan.”

“No, James, I am not an egg nog. The word is agnostic. I’m not an agnostic, but a creepy-crawling atheist. Woooo-wooooo!” Ryan made claws.

James shrunk away from him and started wandering up the side aisle of the church, gazing up at the walls. “See those, Ryan?” his voice echoed through the empty church. He pointed up at the rows of bas-reliefs. “Those are the Stations of the Cross.”

“What are they?”  Ryan knew what they were; he just wanted to hear James struggle with an explanation.

“Uhm, they, uhm, you know, show the path that Jesus took on the way to where he was, uhm, crucified. It’s called the Path of Tears, the Via . . .  Dolorosa. Mom says she wants us both to go there someday and walk that very same path that Jesus took.” He continued to move along the wall. “Look! There’s Simon; he helped Jesus carry the cross for a while, before the Roman soldiers forced him to stop.”  James suddenly crossed himself. 

“Is that what you’re supposed to do when you look at Jesus?” Ryan taunted.  
 
“Gosh, Ryan, can’t you feel his suffering?”  

“I’m too worried about Marie.” 

James walked over to the last Station, where the dead Jesus, wrapped in a blanket, was being placed inside a tomb. Ryan shuddered. It reminded him of Marie, wrapped in an Army blanket, lying behind the wheels of James’s father’s truck, waiting to be crushed to death. He clutched James’s arm. “I’m going now.” 

“But you should—” 

Ryan hurried out of the church, fearful that something terrible had already happened to Marie. He ran down the block, calling out her name, peering underneath every car—in the street, in every driveway.  He scanned the next block and the next. He scoured a nearby alley. Where could she be?  He prayed that she was still hiding, and not crushed under the wheels of a truck. He prayed that he could find her before it was too late.

Fred White's fiction has appeared most recently in Limestone, Mad Hat Lit, and Rathalla Review. He lives near Sacramento, CA.

* * * 
Poetry

Places and Names
By Carl Boon

I’ve always wanted to live
in a common noun:
Patches, Kansas,
Butterfly, Arizona,
or any place of the dozen
called Tombstone.
Songbird, Pennsylvania…
how beautiful is that?
And blend in and soon be 
wanted by the modelesque 
blonde waiting tables
at the Broadside Grille--
the one with thumb-length 
scars her apron can’t hide.
One June evening 
amid serious thunder
I’ll slide in, sit in the corner,
and order an Iron City beer.
And she, as in a song,
will tie my shoes 
and tremble, remembering
what it was to be wanted
Her little boy back home
on Apron Lane
won’t know how beautiful
we are, two strangers
in Songbird conversing
in thunder, dreaming
of life in Skin, Idaho 
or Snowpack, California.

Carl Boon lives and works in Izmir, Turkey. His poems appear in dozens of magazines, most recently Two Thirds North, Jet Fuel Review, Blast Furnace, and the Kentucky Review.

* * * 

​X by Jayd Green
*archive unavailable

Ojee
By Penelope Gristelfink

​Drooping tiger, his stuffing is older than you or me.
His holes have been plugged with cotton batting,
badly, like memories we can’t make congruent.
His insides clump together unevenly like refrigerated lard.
Black strings insinuate the pads of his paws, 
and his dumpling-shaped nose has shed its pink
for a silly-putty shade.  His fur is like the lawns 
in winter: yellow, scalped, patchy, a dry stubble.
I want to rub my soft cheek against it.
It makes my skin purr.  

Your love of him
has shorn off his whiskers, his Bengal stripes.
His tufty ear sticks up like a cowlick 
and has the legacy of being the only one.  
His green-gray eyes are flecked like stormy weather,
and obdurate with an anaesthetized glaze,
glass dials in a stalled out dashboard.  

Relic of your childhood, obsessed over, put away,
he sleeps in the drawer with your loaded gun.
He never comes out.  
He is not a toy anymore.

He has survived you.

Penelope Gristelfink is 35 years old, and she lives in Norristown, Pennsylvania. She has a B.A. in English from Temple University. She has worked as a newspaper reporter, chef, cocktail waitress and personal trainer. Her writing has appeared in Loch Raven Review, The Potomac, Eclectica Magazine, Bird’s Thumb and Adanna. Her first novel will be published by Propertius Press in early 2017.

* * *

Trusting the Senses
By Carol Hamilton

​My cat likes to sit on photos
or anything else paper
that might draw
  my attention from her
She never notices another of her species
or even recognizes my face flattened out
  squared off from true space
      held tight in suspended animation

She gets excited about television birds
or a cat cry emitted from the speakers
        She leaps at herself thinking
  that one backed in silver
is her rival, almost a twin
perhaps friend of that wildcat I feed out back
But the true disturbing thing
  that drives her crazy

is my voice from the recording machine
  as she finds me sitting there
                 doppelgänger sound my magic
         my spirit set free
of everything we hold true

Carol Hamilton has recent and upcoming publications in Pontiac Review, Sanskrit Literary-Arts Magazine, Poet Lore, Limestone, Louisiana Literature, Off The Coast, Palaver, San Pedro River Review, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, Hubbub, Blue Unicorn, Abbey, Main Street Rag, Two Cities Review, Poem, Tipton Poetry Review, and others. She has published 17 books, most recently, Such Deaths from the Visual Arts Cooperative Press in Chicago. She is a former Poet Laureate of Oklahoma and has been nominated six times for a Pushcart Prize.

* * * 


Reflections of a Father
By Mark Livanos

Looking from the window,
my thoughts wander            
about kids grown,
memories lost.

Marveling at fingers
wrapped around my pinky
that once took hold
of my soul.
 
Rocking my eldest
in arms full of youth
slowly sapped by
never ending cries of anguish.

Crawling from the crib
towards the door
for down time
with my wife.

Holding an empty mayo jar
from which chicken pieces
are spoon fed in ever
smaller loop-de-loops.

Enduring screams
to force down medicine
used to suppress
rampant symptoms.

Listening to teachers
blame me
for my son’s
not fighting back.

Calming fears
caused by his visions,
known to no others,
that stole his youth.

Going into the abyss
of mental illness,
to slum around
for solutions.

Learning to let go of control
as one day
his relentless torment
will proceed without me.

Marc Livanos's poetry has appeared in recent issues of Poets’ Espresso Review, Emerald Coast Review, Straylight Magazine, Old Red Kimono, The Poet’s Pen, Stray Branch, Conceit Magazine, The Ultimate Writer Quarterly, PKA's Advocate, WestWard Quarterly, Zylophone Poetry Journal, Feelings of the Heart, FreeXpresSion, Shemom, Ceremony, The Legend, Creative with Words, The Poet’s Art, JerryJazzMusician, and The Pink Chameleon online.

* * * 
The Dream
By Stella Pappas

He tells me I’m pregnant
thirty days after our wedding.
His yiayia told him so,
forty days after her soul’s
last day on earth.
 
She tells him to take good care of me.
She tells him I am the mother of generations to come.
She tells him we will have three children, two boys and a girl 
​She shows him their photo,
the foreground sharp, our first child, a son,
the background increasingly blurry revealing
our second son and then our daughter,
roots of generations multiplying, spreading under their feet.
 
I am in disbelief, just a dream, I say.
 
Two weeks later, the fishmarket’s whiffs and tangs of
dried, salted cod, stacked stiff in their wooden crate, 
quahogs and cherrystones and littlenecks,
blue-black mussels with beardy attachments,
silvery mackerel, bluefish, flat flounder,
rosy swordfish half moons edged in rough darkness,
translucent scales and tangled guts,
fishmonger boots and aprons and
sullied sawdusted floors,
dredges up,
hauls up
from my womb’s watery depth,
a drowning, enveloping wave of nausea,
a desperate, gulping need, a panic for fresh air,  

a confirmation of prophetic dream stronger than denial. 
 
Thirty-seven years later,
after a harrowing morning of gasping for air and
nurses working with confident, skilled patience,
clearing obstructed airways,
bloody matter streaming like seaweed caught on a line,
my husband’s energy and breath restored and death still hours away,
he smiles, assembles our children at the end of his hospital bed,
our daughter taking her customary place between her brothers.
 
No, no, he tells her.  Go to the end.  
He tells one son to stand to the left of the oldest, but one step behind and
our daughter to the left of him, one step behind with
the proud, careful eye of a fisherman arranging his morning’s catch.
They take their places with quizzical eyes, willing to indulge.
All smiling back at him, all in sharp detail.   
 
There it is, he says,
My dream come true. 

Stella Pappas believed her father’s words that education is a beautiful bracelet that dangles on your arm forever. Her graduate degrees in English literature and library science have proved unexpected golden charms. She taught English, raised a family, searched for information through library stacks, designed restaurant menus and is now delighting in the creative malleability of words. Stella has studied with The Elizabeth Ayres Center for Creative Writing since 2012. She has lived east and west of Manhattan her whole life, growing up in Astoria, Queens with an Empire State Building view and now living in northeastern New Jersey. 

* * *

If He Could Buy the State of Wyoming
By Yvette Schnoeker-Shorb

The article that listed
the top ten states
in which to retire
placed Wyoming first
because it doesn’t have
a lot of crime, but then
the state doesn’t have
a lot of people;
the source obviously
did not consult
my brother-in-law
who feels there are
already too many folks
in his home state
and announced
in our discussion
of possibly winning
the lottery that if he had
unlimited wealth, he
would buy Wyoming
and ask all those people
he doesn’t like
to leave.

In addition to Foliate Oak, Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb’s work has appeared in Twisted Vine Literary Arts Journal, Lingerpost, The Conium Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and other journals and online forums, with work forthcoming in SLAB Literary Magazine, Eastern Iowa Review, and Soliloquies. A past Pushcart Prize nominee and a recent Best of the Net nominee, she is co-founder of Native West Press.  

* * * 

Tree Work with My Grandfather, Over Eighty
By S.A. Volz

Half-sized but hungry, the chainsaw gnaws 
through limbs and branches linked 
like a protest march. After years 
of leaving nature be, he is back 
ascending ladders in his widowhood, 
reckless and strong in that piddling way 
old men stay young in the country— 
mowing grass and burning trash, 
keeping a little garden. 

Atop the ladder, his paunch 
and spindled legs seem like cartoon--
the hatchling partially hatched. 
But he’s steady as he shears, 
unfazed by the juddering saw,
the sink of shifted weight. 
My hands shake as I try and stifle 
the ladder’s sway, the saw spitting 
chips and dust like sunflower seeds 
from a ballplayer’s mouth. 

He knows that my yard is a square 
cropped in concrete, so he keeps 
the angles of attack to himself, 
which way the limb will fall.
I remain the helper of boyhood
when nothing was better than a cold soda 
and a five-dollar bill at afternoon’s end.

He works on, in control of his own 
like the aged Eskimo who takes his time 
until he takes to the ice--
leaving me to stand on what seems
like solid ground.


Doing the Sunday Crossword

She folds the newspaper with measured creases,
barring out advice columns and Op-Eds.
I smooth the bed sheets and turn the TV
to an old Western, sepia-toned and tuned low.
The fan’s oscillations flutter her gown,
paisley like a desperado’s bandana. 
   
The changes with the passing moons have been many, 
the nightgown not-so-loose to conceal the belly 
that curves like the taut bend of an archer’s bow. 

Soon, these nights will be blitzed by bedside walkie-talkie. 
Like infantryman we’ll wait for news of the next wave.
Too long a lull and we’ll wonder at radio silence, 
risking remounted assault for reconnaissance--
across-the-hall confirmation of safe in sleep’s cradle.

But now it’s time to prove that brain power 
will come from both sides of the family tree. 
Feeling as lost as the film hero’s horse, 
I try and unspool threads of half-forgotten fact— 
noble gases and Roman emperors; 
capitals and cloud types. We parse play-on-words 
until the answers groan and give way. 

There’s a showdown in the Western but I withdraw, 
taking away a plate from the nightstand— 
leavings of cream cheese and cucumber.
From the sink window the moonlight slides 
into the night, the fat side of the crescent 
like a woman with child. 

I find the finished puzzle on the nightstand,
its defeat sung in the lamplight shine.
The Western is over as well, and I find that
I cannot recall if the hero’s wound was mortal. 

As I get into bed I joke that John Wayne 
would’ve used a pen had he been doing 
the Sunday crossword. But she is fading,
turning on her pillow and turning off the light.
The darkness grows into longing: 
rain softly falling through September skies, 
a lonely ride to sunset.

S.A. Volz lives in Evansville, Indiana. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the Gravel Literary Journal, Twisted Vine Literary Arts Journal, and the Red Earth Review.

* * * 

Overhead Maze, Come Night
By D.S. West

Bethany tugs at the vines overhanging the wall, brick,
that they can't get over. She's the one with pink on.
 
Heather, blue shirt and skirt, accuses the moon of abandonment.
"We do everything you say, and still you act like a stupid dohk."
 
'Dohk' is supposed to be 'dork,' but through two new gaps
where baby teeth were, she hasn't mastered the new acoustics yet--
 
and blue starts stomping, while pink, Bethany consoles a leaf
with no name, on the wall, the middle of nowhere and growing.
 
"But you promised!" Heather howls, fists curled
 
until Bethany, at last, has had enough. Bidding adieu
her new friend and fellow climber, scaling the grid,
 
she addresses not just Heather but the brick and mortar
eighty-year maze, the vines and captive leafs, whose echoes
 
come to her manipulated, distorted untrustworthy echoes,
but, echoes from the aquatic; subdermal of alleged meaning,
 
junk succulent flesh which, stripped, gives visions of true pith;
so, chew: the prize isn't savory-sweet taste, but promise of life.  
 
"The moon makes nor breaks promises," says pink, to blue;
"she only encourages you to. So you're the dork, dork."


Charlotte Brontë Sets Fire to Inner-City Brothel
 
Don't break the bank, sleepyhead…
manuscript arrives via airborne bubbles,
commercial pink supersensory backdrop…
 
identities, interpretations, soft-serve oozing
out the mouths of sousing machines
running on egg-timers
 
establishes sweetness;
cane sugar, then the cane:
ten-thousand cups, and then the brown,

burial-ground brown, wherein Mr. Rochester
descends the stair, upholding a prosthetic replica,
his earthly mother, original killer, to accuse her
 
of damning him to cruelty, love and blindness,
yet then, a shamed animal shunned from its bowl,
he pleads her forgiveness for what he's wrought,
 
skinning his knees needlessly
for ossified quills, immortal author
presently decomposing.

D.S. West is a pedestrian, help desk attendant, and imaginary snake charmer, presently hopelessly lost in Lafayette, CO.

* * * 

To the Accordion Player Outside  Whole Foods
By Sally Zakarlya

You conjure whole geographies of tune
Scottish moors, streets of Tijuana, hills
           of Italy
 
Rattle of grocery carts
           children’s shrieks
                       dusty parking lot
all dissolve as your fingers find their way
from song to song around the globe
 
Few shoppers stop and fewer still toss
           coins into your hat
but I am caught by melody
forgetting apples, milk, and cheese
 
I am lifted out of dailyness
taken up, transported by your chords
           and trills
let the shopping go—while you play
           I’ll listen

Sally Zakariya’s poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including Tishman Review, Apeiron Review, Broadkill Review, Edge, Emerge, Third Wednesday, and Evening Street Review, and has won prizes from Poetry Virginia and the Virginia Writers Club. She is the author of Insectomania (2013) and Arithmetic and Other Verses (2011) and the editor of Joys of the Table, an anthology of poems about food and eating. Zakariya lives in Arlington, Virginia.

* * * 
Flash
​​
The Nihilist Visits Ms. Peters’ Third-Grade Class
By Mark Brazaitis

“Life sucks,” says the Nihilist. “Any questions?”

He is standing in front of Ms. Peters’ classroom. He has a thick, chest-long, brown-red beard and holes in his jeans. His t-shirt says, “Don’t Believe Anyone.” 

Sally, who has blond pigtails, says, “Your t-shirt contradicts what you just said.” Sally is the class goodie-goodie. “Contradict” was on the previous Friday’s spelling test. Sally is the only student in the class who can use it correctly in a sentence.

The Nihilist says, “Only believe someone who tells you you shouldn’t believe anyone.” He crosses his arms over his t-shirt, but there is no life-negating certainty in his expression. Indeed, there is something disturbingly like whimsy in his eyes. “Any questions?” he repeats.

“Is your beard real?” asks Peter, who has been trying to grow a beard since he was two years old. He wants to live in a cave whose walls he can paint on. If he can’t be a caveman, which Sally tells him isn’t a career, he will settle for being an astronaut. 

“Go ahead,” says the Nihilist. “Feel it.”

Peter, whom his parents, Tantric sex maniacs as thin as yoga mats, fear he might be obese, skips to the front of the room. Rather than touch the Nihilist’s beard--or even gently tug it--Peter grabs hold of it as if it were a rope swing. “Weeeeee!” yells Peter, swinging.  

The Nihilist says something profane as Peter swings off his beard, soars out the open third-floor window, and flies into the morning sky like a plump, beardless bird.

“Oh, my God!” exclaims the Nihilist with astonishment.  This is the third thing within twenty-four hours that has disappointed Ms. Peters about her boyfriend, the Nihilist, who, as a self-proclaimed nihilist, shouldn’t be astonished by anything, including an airborne child, and shouldn’t invoke God’s name
(twice in succession now, including his pain-induced expletive). 

But these are minor infractions compared with what the Nihilist said to her the previous night. As they finished an intentionally mediocre bottle of red wine--the credo “Life sucks,” they believe, must be reinforced at every opportunity--he said--and not casually, not off-handedly, not ironically, but with a sincerity that devastated her—“I love you.”  Hoping she’d misheard--or at least giving him the opportunity to pretend she might have misheard--she said, “Excuse me?”  But the Nihilist didn’t walk through the door she’d opened for him back to nihilism and the cold realism of her heart. He repeated what he’d said. Worse, he grabbed her hand (a little jerkily—it was clear he’d never performed this act), fell to his knees (with a resounding and doubtless painful thud), and asked her something she can’t even bear to think about now, it was just too silly and romantic and hopeful and life-affirming.    

True: Two weeks ago, as the Nihilist was sleeping in her bed after they’d made intentionally disappointing love (which was actually less disappointing than either of them wanted to admit), she found a butterfly in his beard. It was silver, the color her hair, at last, was turning after all her years of attempting to force this outcome by being as cynical as a dried-up witch. She brought the butterfly to her open window and released it into a May night far too fragrant with flowers. She saw the butterfly catch the starlight and light up with unearthly radiance, like a fairy or a miniature god. Later, she dismissed the scene as a somnambulist’s delusion.  In her classroom, the Nihilist turns to her, the open window at his back, Peter filling the sky like a prepubescent zeppelin. She scheduled the Nihilist to speak to her students months ago, and although, given his recent apostasy, she considered rescinding her invitation, she’d let it stand--much, now, to her regret.  “He’s flying!” exults the Nihilist, looking at her as if hoping she will share his wonderment, his joy, his ridiculous faith.

“No,” she says. “No, he isn’t.”  But of course he is, so she turns to the blackboard, where she writes the hardest math problem she can.

Mark Brazaitis is the author of seven books, including The River of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala, winner of the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction Award, The Incurables: Stories, winner of the 2012 Richard Sullivan Prize and the 2013 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award in Prose, and Julia & Rodrigo, winner of the 2012 Gival Press Novel Award. His latest book, Truth Poker: Stories, won the 2014 Autumn House Press Fiction Competition. He also wrote the script for the award-winning Peace Corps film How Far Are You Willing to Go to Make a Difference?

* * * 

The Closet: His and Hers
By Sara Codair

​You open the closet on Monday morning, trying to decide what to wear. His side: everything is ironed, organized by color and meticulously hung. Your side: wrinkled shirts cling to hangers and sleeves dangle dangerously close to the floor. Dresses are draped over hangers, twisted beyond recognition.

You stare at your phone, mindlessly pressing the screen until it cooperates, telling you the high for today is nine degrees. You consider a pair of boot-cut khakis, but you know they are too tight - sweat pants will never fit underneath. All your button ups look thin and flimsy, like the wind could tear right through them.

“Women’s clothing sucks,” you mutter to the cat that is curled up on your bed, wearing nothing but fur. It’s fluffy, brown, and much softer than anything on either side of the closet.

Then your eyes roam to your husbands clothing. His khakis aren’t sewn to cling to his legs; they fit nicely over sweat pants. You don’t even need a belt. You put one of his thermal waffle shirts on, and button a brown and orange shirt over it. It’s a little loose, but it hides the parts of your chest you’d rather people not stare at. You restrain your hair with elastic, feed the cat, and rush out the door.

When you get to work, you worry people will criticize your clothing, but nobody does. Your colleague calls your shirt cute and asks you where you got it. Sheepishly, you tell her it’s from your husband’s closet. You both laugh like teenagers confessing their first kiss.

You’re more you in men’s clothing, and you’re not surprised. Whenever your friends post memes complaining about the annoying things their husbands do, you can’t laugh because you do those things. You stink at folding laundry. Your husband smirks at your inability to close cabinets and never stops complaining about how you leave candy wrappers all over the house. He’s better at baking, his handwriting is neater, and he knows how to make things look pretty. If social media can define gender, then he is the wife and you are husband.

When he gets home, he glares with raised eyebrows. “Those look like my clothes.”

“That’s because they are,” you say.

“You didn’t ask to borrow them,” he snarls hanging his jacket. He scans the house, searching for a mess to complain about. You read, ignoring him until he kisses your forehead and asks about your day.

You could get mad at his rudeness, but you don’t. You just smile, return the kiss and ask what he wants for dinner. You understand what he’s really upset about. There have been too many mornings where you’ve seen him stare longingly at your crumpled dresses, wishing he could wear them.

Cooking dinner, you ponder how unfair it is. You cross-dress and get compliments, but the blonde newscaster is reading a story about a man who was nearly beaten to death for wearing a dress on the subway.

​Sara Codair writes because her brain is overcrowded with stories. If she doesn’t get them out, she fears her head will explode. When she isn’t making things up, she is either teaching college students how to write essays, digging in her garden or just enjoying the beauty of nature. Her short stories have appeared in or are forthcoming from Centum Press, Sick Lit Magazine, Fantasy Crossing and Mash Stories.

* * * 

Story of His Life
By Ron Gibson, Jr.

​Hubert was restless. Perpetual motion. His mother said he was a tempest, a tsunami, a trick motorcyclist in the velodrome of her body, always moving, defying gravity, but never getting anywhere.

Story of his life.

Nearly a month late, her swollen body ached as if gut punched twelve rounds a night. She was either carrying Jack Dempsey or Gene Kelly, dancing and singing in placental rain, pink gums for a smile.
But then he was born and it all ended. Hubert moved little as possible, sleeping all night, conserving energy as if in a marathon to the grave.

Story of his life.

When work called, he ducked. Hid in nooks and novels. No one could find him. Not his mother, boss or wife. If you were Chicago, he was Antarctica. He read in fugitive twilight until the movement of his eyes was too much and slept. He dreamt of living forgotten yet dying remembered.

Story of his life.

Every candle added to the cake became another wish that something big would happen this year. Even when the cake took on wildfire proportions, and his eyes were failing, and his skin spotted and thinned, and his ears distanced themselves from the world, Hubert still felt like a teenager in training, lining the wall of his high school dance, waiting for the Eureka moment to find him, secretly afraid of the pain of breathlessness after blowing out his candles and the lights going out.

Ron Gibson, Jr. has previously appeared in Pidgeonholes, Maudlin House, The Vignette Review, Ghost City Review, Word Riot, Cease Cows, Spelk Fiction, Unbroken Journal, Ink In Thirds and Gravel Magazine, been included in various anthologies, and been nominated for two Pushcarts.

* * *

Transference
By Allison Gruber

I tell them not to throw pretzels across the room. We devise a class-contract stating that it is rude and unacceptable to “take paper out of someone’s hands while they are writing.” I scold two boys for conspicuously passing a Cheez-It during workshop. I catch a girl teaching her peers how to “French kiss,” lasciviously licking the back of her own hand.  I field convoluted, unsolicited anecdotes about their parents’ faltering marriages, tales of impossibly fabricated weekend activities, grotesque details about contagious illnesses, I puked three times yesterday.  
 
They are pungent, random, fidgety, stream-of-consciousness in extremis.
 
They enjoy being read to; girls absently spin strands of hair around their fingers, boys relax into slack-jawed focus. They become pliable, tender. I read to them whenever I can.
 
I’m reading from “Flowers for Algernon,” and a twelve-year-old girl interrupts.
 
Why does the character have a rabbit’s foot in his pocket?
 
The other students look up.
 
It’s a superstitious thing, I say. People believed they were good luck.
 
And I remember them myself – dyed yellow, blue, soft and solid under my thumb.
 
They sold them in gumball machines, I add. With spider rings, and bouncy balls, and, you know, gumballs.
 
Their mouths drop, as though I have arrived from another dimension to shock them with the peculiarities of my world.  
 
So they chopped the feet off rabbits and put them in gumball machines? Another kid blurts, horrified.
 
Well, yeah, I guess they did –
 
That’s horrible! A more precocious female student exclaims. That’s so wrong, Ms. Gruber!
 
I didn’t come up with the idea –
 
But did you buy rabbit’s feet? She is accusatory, self-righteous.
 
I did buy rabbit’s feet, at the K-Mart just beyond the Cold-War-Era-Nike-Missile-base-turned-arboretum. Day-glo jelly bracelets, gum in the shape of cigarettes, Blue Icees, rabbits’ feet.
 
I’m sure I had a few, I admit.
 
A boy who is obsessed with diabetes and Maine offers that his dad told him about animal experimentation, He said they only do it on old animals that are about to die  --
 
The indignant girl turns her scorn on him, Oh! That’s just great! So if your grandpa is sick, then it’s okay to experiment on him –
 
The topic implodes. They love animals; they are horrified by the commodification of rabbits’ feet, disgusted by my admission, shocked by the erroneous assertion that animal experimentation is conducted only on the “old, sick” animals.
 
I shout over the cacophony. Yo, folks! Listen up! Focus!
 
Before this, I was out of work for six months. I’d never been so unemployed. My terminal degree and ten years of college teaching experience made menial jobs impossible -- my MFA as helpful as a felony record where Home Depot, coffee slinging, and data entry positions were concerned. For six months, I was a string of abstract nouns. 
 
No one taught me to teach. Every pedagogical approach I have ever had, a result of experiments and mimicry of teachers I admired: the frenetic high school teacher who played Led Zeppelin in Biology, the no-nonsense warmth of the woman who taught me how to spell “loquacious,” the sturdily rigorous intellectual musings of female college professors on whom I developed excruciating crushes.
 
In classrooms, I was always a verb: shattering or dying or falling in love.  
 
Therapists call it transference. There is no equivalent word in education.
 
They used to call these loathsome years “junior high”: my small, sore tits, my scraped knees, my crooked teeth, my ink stained backpack. They tried to make an athlete out of me, a pretty girl out of me, a heterosexual out of me, a Catholic out of me.  
 
Call it “junior high,” call it “middle school,” no one pines for these sticky, cruel years.
 
My students guess my age – somewhere between twenty-two and fifty.
 
They compliment my red Converse.
 
They discover I am from Chicago:
 
Can you tell the difference between a firecracker and a gunshot?
 
Have you been to the Sears’ Tower? All the way to the top?
 
Why are you here now?
 
To the latter, I state simply, frankly,  “I got married,” as though all married people live in Arizona.  
 
They speculate on the topic of romantic love.
 
For them, love is a matter of extremes: unimaginable bliss, exquisite destruction -- the whole thing an incomprehensible event, a blurry figment of their adolescent imagination. They furtively exchange bits of misinformation about the high-schoolers they’ve seen holding hands in the hall, name drop teenage couples -- Norah and Jake, they say. David and Maya.
 
The references are somewhat esoteric, and the kids who don’t know dare not ask for fear of extensive, condescending, back story.
 
They are afflicted by back story; back story is a condition from which they suffer.
 
In medias res, I write on the board.
 
That’s Spanish! Blurts a girl who recently wrote a story about a creature that was part lizard, part rainbow, and part bucket.
 
In the middle of things, I say. Latin. Start in the middle of things.
 
They are skeptical of this approach, and I will die of boredom if they don’t embrace it. Start where things are now, I implore them. Start with the exact moment. Start where the character presently finds herself.
 
Start with the classroom, the borders of this square state your teacher couldn’t accurately find on a map until she knew the name “Sarah.” Look out the window, see the mountains, start with the age the peaks are now, snow capped and sharp like terrain manipulated into a beer ad. Start with your current longing for lakes. Start with the shards of memory wedged between the folds of your brain, bookmarks for the fears you return to again and again, but not right now. Start with the staggering swiftness of love, the heart’s worn token thumbed as it dangles on a frail chain. Start with your weird, dumb luck. 

Allison Gruber is a writer and educator. Her debut essay collection, You’re Not Edith (George Braziller, 2015) is Lambda Literary Award finalist. Her work has appeared in The Literary Review, Timber Journal, The Hairpin, Huffington Post, and in the anthology Windy City Queer, among others. A Midwesterner to the core, she now lives with her wife in Arizona where she has the privilege of teaching (and being taught by) young people.

* * *  
On the Ice
By Beth Konkoski

She climbed out of the pickup and her skate blades banged against her chest. Cold pressed at her cheeks, and the tall lights above the rink glowed through frost like the particles on her window in the morning.  The door was heavy and hard to close with the thickness of her hands in double mittens.

“See you at 8:30,” her father said between the small space where heat almost lived and then the bang of metal.  He pulled away in his truck.  Her boots crunched, and the noise moved up through her body and jaws.   It was a short, uncertain walk across icy gravel to reach the skate room crouched between two rectangles of ice: The Town Rink.  To her left she saw the swirl of hockey players, the crash of boys against boards and the puck she could never quite keep an eye on when she tried to watch them, especially Robbie, play.  A whistle sounded over the noise of her boots and then the clacking of sticks and the scrabbling of blades as the bodies swept down the ice together.  To her right, beneath a string of yellow lights that glowed weakly in the January sky, groups of skaters circled and wove, some fast and alone, others hand in hand; a long connected line of them swung by playing pop the tail.  The lead skater stopped and forced the circle around a center until the final skater gained momentum and screamed while shooting out in a circle faster than anyone could skate alone.  She had been that tail and felt the rattling of her teeth as she shot out like a bullet, trying to keep her legs in line and her feet beneath her.  

In the shed she tightened her skates the best she could and looked up as two girls sauntered in whispering together; their skates chunked on the black mats that crisscrossed the room to keep the blades sharp.  As they passed her, their bodies gave off cold, pressed it like a layer of skin out into the room.  They were older, probably high school and did not notice her as they huddled in line for hot chocolate.  But she was pretty sure she had seen Debbie’s green coat pass by the boards as she came in.  It was important to her that someone moved with her in circles, to cut the cold and hold it between them as she waited.  Hockey practice ended at eight, and she had insisted her dad drop her off by a little after seven so she could be there, involved and on her own, skating not just waiting, when he finished. Her breath caught a little as she stood to test her ankles, see if she could possibly be straight enough. She wanted to look like a better skater than she was, wanted the grace of someone who has worn skates a long time, has moved across ice as if it were walking.  In her mind she could feel it, could see the straight glide, the turning backwards and letting the wind of her own making shift her hair to the front, as it did Debbie’s.  In truth, to make herself move backwards, she had to be at a full stop and carefully step her feet, getting almost no glide and then a little pushing and wiggling of the hips to generate motion.

“You’re getting it,” Debbie told her each time and then skated off at her actual speed.  She was a good friend, returning and returning, taking her by the hands to give her a sense of greater speed than Margaret could generate on her own.  And so she worked at it, this new skill, important in this new town, in this new season called winter.  The Florida girl in her wanted to stay huddled in her room in these cold months that shouldn’t involve the outdoors.  But she was in seventh grade and the thought of nights alone, stretching to spring because she could not skate, was a picture she would not accept.  Her parents bought her the skates before she asked for them.  Both of them had grown up in this world of endless winter and seemed to love its glare and promise.  They even showed up at the rink with her to teach her the first night, until she told them she would never go back unless they let her go alone.  

She knew she was making progress when Robbie finally spoke to her; it was three weeks after she got her skates.  In math class he paused near her desk and bent over just seconds before the bell rang and Mrs. Griffin settled them all for attendance.  “I’ll be around after practice tonight if you wanna skate.”  She had nodded and then focused on the homework sheet in her folder, the pencil marks across her page appearing as the arcs and angles of blades on ice.  

Begging her ankles to hold straight, she maneuvered herself out of the shed.  The night’s cold was a wall she had to push herself into.  There would be a storm by morning the weather man had declared; the clouds above her, hiding the stars as she stepped toward the ice, seemed to agree.  The green coat was not her friend Debbie, so she had to make her slow way around the rink alone, her arms outstretched to keep her balance, much younger kids slipping in and around her.   It took five or six trips around the circle before she was warmed up and steady.  The other skaters were the picture of how she wanted to look as she tried to imitate their ease.  And then there were hands at her waist that spun her and sent her arms flailing.  It was Robbie, set free early from practice; he was quick and bouncy in small circles around her.  His blades moved like the knives of chefs, carving the ice with their silver speed.   He made quick cuts and angles back to her, dropping her hand and then picking it up again as she pushed each skate forward and begged herself not to fall, not to look afraid of each swerve he made in her direction.  

Lifting both of her hands, he shifted himself backwards and began to circle faster, pulling her with him. The bumps in the ice rattled her from her knees up through her shoulders, but she held on, stayed upright.  They circled the ice again and again, Robbie swerving backwards in and out of other skaters, making her hair whip in the wind as she had longed for it to do.   

They were still moving nearly an hour later when the lights went out.  She had been ignoring the numbness in her toes, the sharp ache in her calves where the top of the skate cut in.  Her hands were clenched in his through mittens so thick they could be holding wooden sticks.  As the rink shut down and the skaters drifted off the ice, he guided her in a final circle, through the sudden black, and snowplowed in the far corner. Pulling her into the shadows, he pressed her against the wood.  Across the ice she could see other small groups, darker than the night, huddled on the perimeter of the rink.

There was something else this ice had to teach her as it settled into its silence.   Its cuts and tracks did not speak, but contained the story of each night carved on a silent face.  Her back leaned away from Robbie as he trapped her between the boards and his chest; she felt the urge to struggle, like a small animal caged by a pressure that could collapse even as it admired.  The blades of her skates shifted forward until she was slipping, but his hands were there, under her arms, to set her up straight again. “Easy,” he whispered as they resettled, his voice deeper than she had ever noticed.  She was afraid to breathe and afraid of falling, afraid of her own heart that battered at her ribs and her eyes that looked anyplace but into the face before her.  Still holding her under the arms, he lowered his head toward hers. Their freezing lips touched and she drew in a surprised breath. The salt and sweet of bubble gum and long hours on the ice mingled on the rim of his mouth as they made warmth, a match striking flame and fear, kissing away the cold of a January night.

Beth Konkoski is a writer and high school English teacher living in Northern Virginia with her husband and two children. Her fiction has been published in journals such as: Story, Mid-American Review, The Baltimore Review and New Delta Review.

* * * 

Night Swimming
By Jennifer Met

--For my Heathers
 
Sleeping naked one sweaty night in just my scanty sheets, I roll to the cooler side of the bed.  The ceiling fan traces gentle sighs along my bare back, every humid inch.  The bruise-blue covers
rippling  over my stretching legs like water, the cotton slipping against my skin and sticking to me
a little--I feel raw.
 
dreams of missed finals--
my sprinklers shushing the past
day’s heat into mud  
 
Later I dream I am the ocean.  The moist sand glowing in the moonlight, the salt spray filling the 
sky and shifting between my outstretched fingertips.  I sling my damp hair back from my
forehead and jump as the surf, seaweed caressing my bare legs as I gasp and laugh wet breaths. 
The tide slowly consuming my clothes to artifacts with each, deliberate lick.
 
And, again, I feel raw.  

Sublime.  Alone in the endless wide.  And all at once I am losing my balance.  Sea bubbles shiver
up my back.  An elbow rubs along the shells and rocky bottom.  I scramble for a second until I 
know, for certain, that my voice no longer matters.  The indigo waves crashing, plunging and 
pulling, forever pulling, overhead.
 
from my secret spot--
the spiraling milky way
telescopes open 
 
But it is a dream.  And suddenly I am seven years old again and sitting on the curb next to
handlebars sprawled at such an uncomfortable angle against the summer asphalt.  A breeze
whispering on my skinned knee--a glazed red sea with pink tattered shores and a tide dazed
unearthly still in the blowing wind.
 
rose petals blooming
from the depths of my scraped knee--
accidental grace
 
I sit for a long while, there on the cement curb, just feeling the cool sting.  I sit and sit, alone in
myself, enthralled and startled anew at each continued breath.  And while it throbs, it is oddly
exhilarating to feel so deep--so raw--my skin peeled open, my private blood so naked to the
outside air.
 
with his eyes closed tight
the newborn puppy shivers--
and we watch from here
 
When I wake, I will call your name.  A part of me will still miss you.  I will turn off the alarm
clock and make my way to the bathroom, ever waiting to heal a little tighter, a little cleaner.  And
I will go on living for yet another day—fated to forget, once again, the infinite depth of black…  

Jennifer Met lives in a small town in North Idaho with her husband and children. Her poetry and hybrid work has appeared or is forthcoming in Gulf Stream, Zone 3, Weirderary, Kestrel, Barely South Review, Apeiron Review, Moon City Review, Juked, Sleet Magazine, Haibun Today, the Red Moon Anthology, and elsewhere. Recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize and winner of the Jovanovich Award, she is Assistant Poetry Editor for the Indianola Review.  

* * *

Winter Nights
By Jason Vaughn

​The windows went dark in the workshop.  Snow had been falling intermittently for hours, but now it came in big, feathery clumps that squeaked under Harold’s rubber boots as he stepped outside.  I’ll go in before she can come out and get me, he thought.  See what she makes of that.   

The house looked cold to him.  The yellow light from the kitchen window especially.  But he only slept in the house and had his meals in there; the workshop was his real home.  The house and nearly everything in it was Maureen’s.  The mauve curtains, the lacy throw pillows, the decorative platters displayed above the kitchen cabinets.  These things were his wife in the way his hand tools were him.  Sometimes the house seemed even to sigh like her, on windy nights. 

Having dropped his boots in the mudroom and then washed his hands and seated himself at the small kitchen table, Harold said, “I finished that rocker tonight.”
 
“Oh, good,” said Maureen, setting a plate of steaming food in front of him.  “Looks colder out there.  That snow’s really coming down, isn’t it.”
 
“My shop’s warm.” 
 
“I put another blanket on the bed tonight.”
 
Harold picked up his fork and studied his food.  “We’ll sure need it,” he said.
 
Maureen sat down across from him with her own tidy portion.  She salted and peppered it, then spread a napkin smartly in her lap.  The house was quiet, except for the scraping of knives and forks and the muffled grinding sounds of chewing.

“I really like these chicken patties,” Maureen said.  “And I put some basil in the mashed potatoes this time.”

“I thought they looked a little green.”

“That’s the basil.  Can you taste it?” 

Harold worked the food around in his mouth, his left eye squinting.  “Don’t guess I can.” 

Knives and forks against plates.  A quick sucking noise from Harold’s mouth.  Quiet, quiet chewing from Maureen.

“Tomorrow I’ll start the hope chest,” Harold offered.  Then he half-emptied his milk glass, leaving a wash of white over his lip.  “For that young couple here last week.”  

“Oh, yes,” Maureen remembered.  She wiped her mouth slowly and precisely.  “The Martins, was it?”

“They got a baby coming.”

Maureen stared at his milk mustache.  How can he not feel that? she wondered.  Always he drinks milk and always he gets those disgusting mustaches!

When she finished, she took her plate and silverware to the sink, washed everything, dried it and put it away.  She tried to look out the window, to see that calm of the snow, but caught Harold’s reflection and thought, Wipe your face, you old fool!

“Extra blanket might feel nice tonight,” he admitted, then wiped his mouth firmly, the napkin making a raspy sound over his whiskers. 

Maureen shivered.

“Any more pudding?” Harold asked, his hand resting on his already-taut belly.

“Let me warm you some,” Maureen said.  She got out the leftover rice pudding and slid it into the microwave. 

“It’s pretty good,” Harold had to say. 

“And so easy to make.”  Maureen looked through the window of the microwave and watched and listened.  She took the pudding out just before the beep, then stirred it for Harold.  “Eat up while it’s hot,” she said. 

Why’s she always gotta tell me that? Harold wondered.  She think I don’t know when to eat my own pudding?  She never says eat your ice-cream while it’s cold!

Maureen studied his reflection as she washed his dishes.  Harold’s hand was hovering over the bowl.  What on earth’s he waiting for? she thought.  I won’t heat it again if it gets cold.  He can heat it again.

Finally Harold started in on the pudding, with smacking sounds that probably could have been heard in the farthest corners of that house. 

Maureen sat down again.  Noticing her Pocket Dream Dictionary in the napkin holder, she grabbed it up to see if “pudding” was listed inside.  She’d never dreamt of pudding, but thought suddenly that even in waking life it had to mean something bad.  She drew a quick breath of surprise when she actually found the word PUDDINGS in her book:

To dream of puddings denotes small returns from large investments, if you only see it.  To eat it, is proof that your affairs will be disappointing.  For a young woman to cook or otherwise prepare a pudding, denotes that her lover will be sensual and worldly minded.  And if she marries him, she will see her love and fortune vanish.

Maureen chuckled at the ‘sensual and worldly minded’ part just as Harold’s spoon clanked in his bowl.  She noticed a small glob of pudding at the corner of his mouth, then looked back to her book and thought, Does he have no feeling there at all?  I’ll tell him, I will.

At the same time, Harold was thinking, Well, I’ve eaten it while it was hot, by God.  Let her tell me that again.  I’ll give her an earful; I swear it. 

He reached for another napkin then and knocked over the saltshaker.  It made a tinny clack that startled them both out of their thoughts. 

They stared at the shaker, and the light spray of salt on the table.  Had this ever happened before? 

Finally Maureen said, “I’ll clear this away.”  Then she stood and brushed the salt off the table into her hand.  She hadn’t even thought of the bad luck, only that she would look up SALT in her dream book later on. 

Reaching again for a napkin, over-careful in his movements this time, Harold said, “Hell, I’m sorry,” and wiped the pudding from his face.

Outside, the snow continued to fall, equally covering the rooftops and the square, gray-white bodies of both the workshop and the house, and falling always in those big, feathery clumps until long after every window went dark.

Though Jason M. Vaughn lives and writes in L.A. now, most of his life has been spent on a farm
in Kansas City, Kansas. His poetry and short prose pieces have been circulated by various print and online journals, including Contrary, Monkeybicycle, and The Missouri Review. His first screenplay, The Synth House Wife (now titled The Green Sea), was a grand-prize winner in the 2012 Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition.


* * * 

T​wo Stories
By Teresea Zemaitis

Stargazer

He stargazes in the Astronomy section imagining the cool dark spaces scattered throughout the universe. He draws constellations in his ragged spiral notebook. It doesn’t matter that the cover is torn, the blue faded, the color erased by the folding and unfolding and the putting it in and out of his satchel. What matters is that later, when he unfolds his box and lays out his only blanket—the one that is not to keep him warm but rather to soften the concrete—he will have those images. And he will write. 

He will write of Lyra because it reminds him of his mother. She was gentle and beautiful with fingers that combed his hair as she hummed him to sleep. Aries always interrupted. She tried to protect him, but her hands were not strong enough. Her will was not strong enough.

Now, he nestles into another book, but tonight he will write. 

​Armed Robbery

Desperation seeps under the crack of the door with rusty hinges and an eviction notice. I look through muddy windows and metal bars as people go about their business while my hunger makes me feel my body is eating itself to stay alive. 

Across the street, people come and go, happier on the way out under the neon yellow glow that reads Cash Advance. They have managed to survive for another week. But you have to have a pay stub. It would be easy. I still have my 9mm. I could wear my sweats and baseball hat with a bandana to hide my face so the camera wouldn’t know I was a woman. I could get enough to pay the rent. Eat every day. 

An old black car screeches to a stop in front of the door as I contemplate my crime.  A person—smaller, jeans, black hoodie—looks up and down the graffiti covered, grimy street and goes in, runs out. Sirens scream to the scene two minutes later. Black hoodie long gone. 

Tomorrow the streets will be my home. I will hunt for food and keep my gun ready for I will become prey. I walk outside. Breathe in the stench of the block, the scarceness of hope. I head across the street towards an officer and raise my arms in the air. He looks at me quizzically. 

“I did it.”

My gun is tucked in my belt. My face hits the window as my arms are pulled back. I am dizzy. What’s going on? I am pushed in a car. The day is a blur. I did it. I did it. I did it. 

The day has gone dark and I am finally allowed to rest. My clothes are clean and my hair is damp as I lay on bleached sheets. I look through the bars watching people come and go. Music is drifting on the air, dancing through the cells. A tray is placed on a ledge nestled in the gate that secures me. I don’t have to rush, eat like a wild animal. I know another tray will come in the morning. 

Teresa Zemaitis, a native New Yorker, is a creative writing and journalism teacher in St. Petersburg, Florida. She is completing her MFA at Lindenwood University this fall. Teresa was an editorial assistant for the Lindenwood Review. Her creative nonfiction has been published in The Poeming Pigeon and New Barker magazines. She loves her husband, her daughter, dogs, and coffee. 

* * * 
Creative Nonfiction

Canopic Jars
By Aubrey Bjork

Canopic jars. What can be better than that?

I wonder how they should be painted. Of course, I want them to look like actual canopic jars. No chintzy glitter or chevrons, which essentially ruins my list of craft product knowledge dry.

Google, speak to me.

Hear, I speak.

The search results range from creepy cat lady to state-of-the-art airplane magazine. The steel canisters look too Tron to me—very handy if aliens invade, but a little bit too stiff for everyday use. Maybe pseudo wood? Ooh. Mufasa. The polished mahogany glints in the sun—or at least in the fake photography flash, which is almost like the sun—hinting at the birth of Africa and shaman sticks.

My dad is printing me a complete set on his 3-D printer, the hobby fad of the closet genius. The printer, that is—not the complete set of Canopic jars soon to grace my humble abode.

Canopic jars, incidentally, are the containers where the embalmers entomb a mummy’s organs. Organs rot, but skin preserves. It’s pretty simple, really. Since the body is part of Ka, the soul, it wouldn’t do to take out necessary pieces and throw them away. The stomach, intestines, lungs, and liver rest safely in ceremonial and highly decorated jars. Well, at least the jars should be highly decorated; I don’t want my set to look like I accidentally tripped over a sacred alligator or something. It’s one thing to be cursed in life, and another to be cursed for eternity. (The Egyptians don’t do YOLO.)  Hilariously, the Egyptians didn’t think the brain important enough to keep, and extracted it by fishing it out a little metal hook through your nose. Whoop! Amygdala soup. I wonder who made that executive decision when organ relegation came up on the Pharaoh’s staff meeting agenda.

I return to the Google search. No, I don’t want the jars to look like an actual excavation find, all crumbly and dirt-covered with broken ears and whatnot. I want the heyday jars, not the run me down, discovered by a Brit with a pick jars. More options flitter by, but none settle an impression as did the pseudo dark wood. I learn the names of the guardians: Duamutef, Hapi, Imseti, and Qebehsenuef. Was Tut just a fluke, or did he luck out with a one-syllable name? Oh—that’s short for Tutankhamun. His jars definitely make a statement—large, pristine heads of Pharaohs bearing the symbols of each guardian like phylacteries, each decapitated member nestled in a box ringed in royal inscription. An obliging meme informs me that Tutankhamun only had one set of grandparents because of intermarrying. Awkward.

But oh—my eye alights on the gold jars. Now that’s what I call classy. They’re the color of real gold, not the kindergarten-almost-yellow variety. I pause in my search to appreciate the full affect. Not quite as earthy as the wood jars, but regal, mysterious, as Horus himself perched on his noble throne.

I envision the finished products, burnished gold and lovingly polished; each jar graces the kitchen display spot of honor (on the low counter, next to the spice rack). What would I keep in them? Gummy worms. I chortle. Would anyone get that but me? Sugar or flour, perhaps, or coconut shavings. No matter—I can decide content later. It’s the fascia that’s critical now.  The burnished gold transports me to Ramses, to the pyramids nestled in shifting beds of hot, dry sand.

Now I’m torn. The throaty call of matte pseudo wood echoed through my soul—not my brain or my heart, mind you, but through my very being. The burnished gold contests that connection, usurping the roots of Uganda and supplanting in their place the authority of the upper and lower kingdoms.

Why the liver would need a guardian is beyond me.

What do normal people do during the day?

Aubrey Bjork graduated from BYU-Idaho and National University with degrees in professional writing and English, respectively. Previous publications have been featured in Balloons Literary Journal and in critical anthologies. Aubrey lives in Utah with her husband, two children, and complete set of canopic jars.

* * * 
At 2am
By Shannon Forchheimer

It’s 2am, and I am abruptly awoken from a deep sleep by the baby monitor next to my bed. He's grunting and whining, and I know what's to come.  I can lie in bed for 5 more minutes and let him fuss – just five more minutes. But soon his fuss turns into a wail, and I pry myself out of bed. My husband is still sound asleep, and I feel a simultaneous twinge of resentment and pride. He gets to sleep, but he can’t do what I do. Our six-week old baby only wants me. 

I come into Colin’s room bearing a glass of water – breastfeeding always brings on an insatiable thirst. I make the conscious decision to leave my iPhone behind, as looking at it only awakens me further and makes it harder to fall back to sleep, should I be given that luxury.

The lights remain off, and I rely on the glow from the hallway seeping under the door. I take him from his crib, change his diaper, and resist the urge to kiss him on the cheek. He needs to learn this is nighttime - no interaction, no lights, no stimuli. Colin is my third child, and I know the drill. Still, he is precious, with his gurgles and half smiles. But I am also annoyed, and exhausted. Please let him sleep until 7am after this.

And so our nursing dance begins. He latches immediately, and I turn on some baby lullabies on the iPad set up next to the rocking chair solely for this purpose - Baa Baa Blacksheep, Hush Little Baby, Twinkle Twinkle - all instrumental renditions that I have come to associate with the newborn period, especially this third time around. I relax in the chair and rock gently, feeling the tingling sensation of milk flowing through my breasts. His eyes start to close as he drinks, and so do mine, but I know I won't fall asleep in the chair. The fear of dropping him overwhelms my fatigue, and so I think.

About how many hours of sleep I have gotten thus far (about three), and how many more hours I need to feel somewhat normal the following day (about three more). About the day to come, and how I'll be flying solo with the three kids, my husband back at work after a brief paternity leave. About school pickups and how I will organize my breastfeeding schedule around them – at least one of the feedings will have to be in the car.  

About my two older sons, Braden and Casey, and their karate classes and how I feel guilty that they have been missing so much. They will only miss more, because there is no practical way for me to take them in the near future. I halfheartedly assure myself that whatever has been taken away from them with the arrival of this new baby – time, attention, resources - will be outweighed by the gift of having an additional sibling. I take a moment to pray to a God I don’t necessarily believe in that the three of them always remain close. 

About Braden's school search for next year and his graduation from preschool to kindergarten. How will we ever make a decision between public and private and how on earth we will afford private if that’s what we decide? I ponder Braden’s quirks and how he flaps his hands when he gets scared or excited, and all the few years of angst and doctor’s appointments we went through to realize that there’s really nothing more to it than that – no diagnosis, no treatment, just part of what makes him unique. It doesn’t bode well for grade school, though, and if a kid is ever mean to him I vow to track him down and kick his ass, simultaneously knowing I won’t and that cruelty in childhood is inevitable. Somehow he and I will both survive it. 

About Casey's nut allergy, and how I need to follow up with Johns Hopkins to see if I can get him enrolled in a clinical trial. What if someday in college he’s drunk and eating at a diner at 2am and takes a bite of a banana nut muffin and doesn’t have the wherewithal to use his epi-pen, if he even has it with him? How is it he ended up with this allergy, anyway? Surely it’s something that I did wrong during pregnancy. Too many nuts? Not enough? The antibiotics I took for a sinus infection two months before his birth?

About my six-week postpartum OB appointment the following week, and what will happen if my bleeding still hasn't stopped. I may get the all clear for exercise and if so, I have to get working on those 13 pounds I have left to lose. I make a mental note to research gyms with childcare, and look into that half marathon I’ve been talking about running for the past decade. Will I ever really do it?  I must.  It will make my kids proud. 

It's time to switch sides. I hold Colin up and attempt to burp him, but nothing comes out, so I sit him upright for a minute or two. Our faces are just inches apart, and his eyes are closed – he is milk drunk, passed out, and looking peaceful and satisfied. The sight of him leaves me awe struck. He is so small, so peaceful, his chest bobbing up and down with each breath, and his eyelids fluttering as he enters REM sleep. How is it that I made this human being? I realize that I can't remember what my other two children looked like when they were this exact age, though I know I stared at their faces in this very way. This realization scares me, as it dawns on me that someday I may not remember this picture, this moment. Closing my eyes, I try to imprint it in my mind. 

My forehead touches his and I feel his sweet breath on my face. I wonder what happens when we die and if, like many have claimed, you see flashbacks of your life like a slideshow. I know for sure that this moment - this scene - would be in that reel.

I gently jostle Colin awake and he starts to nurse on the other side, as my thoughts go from introspective to practical. Will I ever get him to fall asleep on his own without rocking him? Will he ever sleep through the night - the entire night? Though I know it will eventually happen, I feel a sense of desperation because I don't know when. I begin fantasizing about a weekend trip my husband and I can take - just the two of us - once this milestone is reached.

I think about the medication I am taking and how I can't wait to get off of it eventually - to be normal again. I recall the desperate nights with Colin’s older brother, Casey, in the throes of postpartum depression and anxiety, when I had the very real, yet irrational, fear that I would never sleep again EVER, and how my mind would take that to the darkest of places – that I would end up in a mental institution and lose my children. The panic attacks, the loss of appetite, the insomnia, the shame at my inadequacies as a mother, the desire to just run away, the sheer terror of not understanding what was going on with my mind and my body – it all seems surreal in retrospect. The extent of my mental illness shocks me even though it was I who lived through it. I have a moment of gratitude for the medication that cures me, and I remind myself that it’s okay to take medication – that I’m not weak, I’m not inadequate, just sick. My therapist’s words enter my mind like a mantra:  If you had pneumonia and needed medicine, you’d take it, right?  How is this different? I try to ignore the vision of the chemicals leaching from my breasts into my baby’s precious, innocent body, and reassure myself that the benefits of the breast milk outweigh any side effects of the anti-depressants. It took me seven months to get off the medications with Casey, and I wonder if this stint will be shorter, as the symptoms are much less severe. 

As I look down at my breasts, I consider how long my body has been devoted to another human being through pregnancy and breastfeeding - off and on for the past five and a half years. Breastfeeding is so incredibly time consuming, and much harder when I have two other children to tend to. It’s been weeks since I have been able to put my two other children to bed at night, my husband filling in on my behalf. I consider trying to breastfeed for a full 12 months regardless. This is my last baby, after all. As my baby eats, I caress his head and think:  I will try.  

Colin drifts off to sleep and stops sucking. I gently pull him off, and place him on my chest. He fits perfectly in the crevice of my shoulder, as if my body were designed just for this purpose. I rock him, feel his body against mine, and breathe a deep sigh, thinking –

I was meant to be this baby’s mother.  

I get up to place him in his crib, walking carefully, as I have learned where exactly to step so the floor won't creak. Putting him down softly, I keep my hand on his stomach, saying shhhhhhhh. I pray to anyone who will listen for him to PLEASE stay asleep, resisting the urge to linger and stare at his tiny body, dwarfed by the vastness of the crib. Instead I tiptoe out with anxiety, awaiting a cry that will mean I have to go back in and soothe him for who knows how long.

I make it to my bed, and then I hear it. My muttering of several expletives wakes up my husband, who promptly rolls over and goes back to sleep. I return to Colin’s room, thinking about the fact that my two older boys will be waking up in three short hours.
    
This too shall pass, I tell myself, as both a reassurance and a plea. The thought brings immediate relief, followed quickly by a bittersweet sadness. Because even through my sleep deprivation, sore breasts, and heightened anxiety, I don't want this to end. As a seasoned mom, the term “fleeting” has taken on a very real and tangible meaning.

I return to Colin’s crib, pick him up, and he immediately spits up down the back of my pajamas. It’s warm, and in a weird way, I like the smell – sweet, sour, and fresh.  

It’s the two of us once again, in the darkness, and I hold him close, spit up and all. That saying comes to mind, that once seemed so benign, but could now bring immediate tears to my eyes: One day you will pick your child up, and it will be the last time you do.    

My baby, I whisper out loud. For now, he is just that – all baby, and all mine. I rock him some more, and he nods off to sleep. Eventually, so do I.

Shannon Forchheimer is a former lawyer and full-time mom of three boys seven and under. She chronicles her life with them on her blog, "But I Do Have a Law Degree," and looks forward to diving head first into writing once her youngest child (the subject of this piece) starts school next year.

* * *
Manahawkin Vice
By Christina Fulton

Memories of my father often elicit strong scent based recollections of salt, sunscreen, and diesel fuel. My father loved boats. No, he was the reincarnated form of Saint Francis of Paola[1]. No, he wanted to exclusively date Stella Maris[2], a seafarer’s wet dream, and the ultimate woman to bring home to Italian mothers everywhere. No, he was my cheerful water sprite, my menacing Loch Ness Monster, and my spiritual Leviathan.

When I was little I would go with my father and his party pals/employees on boating adventurers in and around the marshes of Manahawkin and Long Beach Island, New Jersey. My mother was hesitant, but I was persistent. He was hardly ever home, and when he was, I wanted more than anything to be involved in his nautical shenanigans. She relented and strapped a little wine-colored life jacket on me, smeared sunscreen war paint on my cheeks, and threatened to promptly divorce him if anything happened to me. I use to hate how she would stand in between me and my father’s famous boat fiestas; complete with floating buckets of beverages, his roughneck entourage, and the bikini gals that everyone always called broads. 

Looking back, she had every reason to fear my father’s seafoam affinities. When she was pregnant with me he talked her into going out on what we use to call The Baby Boat. Just picture a miniature speedboat with a few coats of blue sparkle paint on it. This thing couldn’t even stand up to the wake of other boats, much less real, angry ocean waves. He stopped to let my mother get something to drink, but before she was properly seated, my father took off without warning, hit a wave, and sent my mother and the developing tadpole version of me into the brown brink of the Manahawkin Inlet. He thought it was funny.

Then, when I was a toddler my mother decided that on her birthday she deserved to take a nap and left me under the supervision of my father. About an hour later, I snuck out of the house, crossed the street, and jumped into the bay. Swimming had become my obsession over the summer. However, this was October, and I had neglected to factor in the cold and my lack of arm floaties into this exciting aquatic equation. According to the doctors, I went into shock, sank to the bottom, inhaled the seafloor, and floated back up. I was found face down in the water by my Uncle Bernardo. I was dead for a few moments and had to be revived by him. I was in a coma for twenty-four hours and the doctors told my mother there was a high chance that when I woke up I could be blind or mentally retarded. My father didn’t think any of it was his fault, while my mother jackknifed into an emotional breakdown that would leave her dealing with panic attacks and bouts of agoraphobia the rest of her life.

Luckily, I woke up with my brain still hard boiled, and the only things that got scrambled were my bladder, kidneys, and just a few nerves in my eyes. It translated into the need for glasses and Interstitial Cystitis when I got older. My mother asked every specialist if my drowning may have had something to do with those bodily malfunctions. They would always look at her in shock, and then, slowly nod.

My mother would stand on the dock and wave goodbye to me, as the boat and its rowdy inhabitants prepared to pull away. I think she was trying to reconcile her maternal conundrum of my safety vs. my almost rabid need to be with my dad. Either way, the memories that I have of him out on the water are equally conflicting. 

One memory that circles the drain between nightmares and therapy sessions is the time one of my father’s boats caught on fire. It was on one of the cabin cruisers he named after me. One moment I was sleeping below deck of The Christina Marie, after a long day of making haunted driftwood castles, and the next moment I was being carried up the stairs through thick smoke by my aunt. I remember her screaming, “What do I do?”

I don’t know who ended up answering her, due to all the loud shouting, but they must have had a few beers and absolutely no child rearing experience. She threw me over the side, half asleep, and still holding my blankie. My only saving grace was my mother’s mandatory life jacket policy that, thankfully, I wasn’t even allowed to take off during naps. I quickly surfaced just in time to watch my father’s entourage evacuate in similar fashions using everything from Jet-Skis to partially inflated inner tubes. I was scared, but not of being left behind or eaten by Jaws’ younger brother, like my father’s friends would always tease me about; no, I was scared that my father was going to die. The flames coming out of the engine, which he was fighting with a ridiculously tiny fire extinguisher, had now become as tall as him. It is only now I realize that in the mind of every little girl no one is taller than her father. Those flames might as well have been up to the Jolly Green Giant’s ass.

I never got to see how that little fire fight ended. One of my father’s friends plucked me out of the water and drove me home on his WaveRunner. I was asleep when he finally came through the door, but earlier that night my mother put him on the phone from Sea Tow’s headquarters to assure me he hadn’t been Kentucky Fried.

My father always looked more at home when he was boating. I don’t want to say “at peace” because that definitely wasn’t it. His elevated and sometimes unnatural level of energy was just not so out of place surrounded by the fluidity and instability of the ocean.  It was the perfect setting for all his manic moments and wild fantasies. In essence, it was liquid camouflage. I love to remember him shouting into the wind,
“Get him, Crockett!”

As a child, I was never quite sure who Crockett was, but apparently he was always after someone. It was only later that I discovered my father’s love for the TV show Miami Vice.

In fact, I hold Don Johnson (the actor behind the Miami Detective, Sonny Crockett) fully responsible for my father’s transition into the cigarette boat/ painfully flamboyant wardrobe stage of his life. In addition, my father viewed monogamy as a No Wake Zone. Perhaps, a habit he picked up from the fast pace set by Sonny’s Casanova sidekick, Ricard “Rico” Tubbs, played by the handsome Phillip Michael Tomas. There was a lady for every arm and every episode. To give you an idea of how long this Miami Vice stage lasted you should know that in March 2011 my father’s mistress, along with her googly gal pals, and my mother were at his funeral, and he was buried in a suit that even Crockett, himself, might say,

“Damn, that’s too bright even for me.” 

They weren’t all bad memories. My father loved to have fun in, on, or around the water. There was tubbing, skiing, fishing, and more fun trips then any little girl could hope for with him and the more responsible and loving neighbors from down the street. Life was one long beach day with cookouts, fireworks, and one man’s shoulders that I could stay up on forever. He would even let me jump off the tip of the boat and drive the WaveRunners all by myself, which were both things that my mother had expressly forbidden. I remember him stopping for an hour on the way back from Long Beach Island one time just so I could watch a family of dolphins and pretend to be a Marine Biologist.

“Which one do you think is the daddy?” I asked.

“He’s not here. He’s off making all the mackerel,” he laughed.

“You can’t make mackerel. You catch it,” I laughed, not getting his sexist humor.

However, the most vivid memory I have of him on a boat is not as fun. It was back in the years before the cigarette boats. We were taking The Christina Marie all the way from the Florida Keys to the Bahamas for Christmas vacation. My mother begged him to consider leaving the boat and to take one of the Island Hopper planes.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” he laughed, as he picked me up and playfully tossed me on board. My mother was still clutching the newspaper with the weekly boating advisories, as she cautiously boarded. I remember her trying to show them to him over breakfast, and she even circled them with one of my red crayons from my Adventures on The Seafloor coloring book. He just ignored her.

I never saw my mother put on a life jacket before. I always thought that was just a kid rule, but when I saw her dig out one of those moldy, orange neck brace numbers from under the back seat, even the little kid version of me knew something was not quite kosher that day. 

About half-way through the voyage, I remember the waves climbing up to be about piss-in-your-pants high, because I did just that. They rolled over the sides, came up over the bow, and with each one came a stinging hiss of viscous and salty mist. My mother grabbed a rope and tied my lifejacket to hers. I remember her screaming the Lord’s Prayer at every nosy white cap that peeked over the side. Today, whenever she reminisces about that incident, she always emphasizes that she refused to lose me when that boat finally rolled over and let the ocean have its way with us. That was how scared she was. To this day, it is not “if” but “when” in her mind. My mother thought there was an extremely high probability that we were going to die that day on my father’s boat. Even though we somehow made it to The Bahamas, every time my mother tells that story the deluge of time reverses for her, and she is caught in a terrifying trans- dimensional whirlpool.  

I don’t remember my father being scared during that trip. I remember him laughing and whooping it up with the wind. He turned back to check on us at one point, and for a moment, I was caught up in the torrent of his, no, our slippery genetics and could hear nothing but the ocean. Almost as if on some sopping wet cue from the universe I screamed,
“Get him, Crockett!” 

__________________________________
[1]The Italian patron saint of boatmen, mariners, and naval officers.

[2] A title of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Translated in to English it means, “Our Lady, Star of the Sea.”

Christina Fulton teaches at Miami Dade College. Her story “The Old Freak is Dead” is in The Rozlyn Press Anthology. Her non-fiction piece “Secret Agent Man” is in Sliver of Stone. Her stories “South Beach Die—It” is in If and Only If, and “River Monsters” is in The Chaffin Journal.

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Relentless
By Blake Kilgore

We were limping toward the summit.The climb was arduous, sodden by blood and broken souls. But fingers reached down,clutched toward our yearning. Palms pushed the heaviness from below. Some hands were rugged, lined by sorrow and toil. Others smooth and green, sinewy, untainted and uncrushed by storms. A boulder loomed at the pinnacle. Rooted, it stood sentry to holy riddles. Cresting at last, known eyes and a familiar tongue bid us welcome. Emboldened by sentiment, we accepted guidance to their altar.Yet, something twisted snarled in the wind, and dissonance peeked from behind brotherly smiles. Instinct fastened children to rib bones and resistance boiled inside the perdurable columns of our spines. Coals, smoldering on lids of our beholding, illuminated the lie -hungry horses come to gallop and gorge on flesh of our weary flesh. Winged, demon stallions circled, oozed thorny tentacles around supple limbs, injected rage until kind eyes burned orange, until scorched marrow hoisted and poured regret down weatherworn cheeks.My wounded will not follow, neither will I. Windstorm sadness carries my kin above the deluge of jots and tittles. The fog will abate as Sun pushes in, mats hair to skin, plunges courage into the baptismal font, to rise again. Holy waters stir and drip, relentless, following the trudging of muddy heel and toe. Another shrine discovered, another hope destroyed. The sandbag is almost empty, we near the point of no return. Still we hobble on, searching.

Part Texan, part Okie - Blake Kilgore fell for a Jersey girl and followed her east. A history teacher by day, he also coaches basketball and performs original folk music. Blake is a skeptic who still believes. As such, he is grateful for much that is still good, and particularly for his wife and four sons. Blake's stories have recently appeared or are forthcoming in The Alembic, Forge, The Bookends Review, ginosko, The Stonecoast Review and Thrice Fiction.

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​A Fine Line by Cyndy Muscatel
*archive unavailable 

Last Chance
By Louise Turan

After my father died, Mom summoned me to assist her with long-overdue housecleaning. I was relieved, hoping the fact she was ready to clear out years of accumulated possessions would lessen the weight, physical and mental, of living alone. I said of course I would help. I felt guilty enough, with a full-time job and family, that I did not have as much time to spend with her as she wanted. On the other hand, it wasn’t as if she were asking me to lunch or tea or something fun we could do together, something that would give us both pleasure. I was, as always, prepared for pain.
 
Since the early 1960s, moving from country to country, state to state, house to house, all of our worldly belongings had traveled with us: steamer trunks, boxes of clothes, books, toys, photos, favorite pots and pans, antique furniture, paintings, and more clothes. When Dad finally retired from the army and they moved to a gated, adult community in West Chester, most everything came with them. The one-level duplex was small, but they didn’t throw anything away because they didn’t want their surroundings to be any different, they wanted their lives to stay the same.
 
That changed when my father died; there was no way her life was going to stay the same. That and she had always been project oriented; she had to have one. On her to-do list was the attic, the garage, her bedroom, several closets, and the guest bedroom where Dad had slept most of the time because of her deep snoring. She planned to reward me, she said, with things of hers that I might need for my new house in Maine. She wasn’t giving, she was offering; like the final decision of what I would take was up to her. My mother was famous for having the last word, like everything was a battle and she had to win.
 
I arrived on a Saturday morning, leaving my husband and kids to fend for themselves. It was a beautiful day. Spring bulbs were up and new growth sprouted on the trees. We decided to start in the garage since it was nice to be outdoors. She announced we would make two piles: one for Hunks Hauling Junk to remove on Monday, and one for me. She had already made up some boxes in advance and had lined them up by the garage door.
 
We started with a box of flimsy aluminum men’s shoetrees. There must have been about fifteen pair. I had no idea Dad had had so many shoes. There were also a number of hangers, mostly white-coated-wire ones from the dry cleaners.
“Here,” she said, pushing the box toward me. “Take these.” I must have looked at her like she was crazy.

“No,” she insisted, ignoring my disbelief. “They are perfectly good shoetrees. Bill can use them. And you can always use hangers. Don’t you have a lot of closets in Maine?”

“Ah, no thanks, Mom.” I didn’t tell her that Bill’s shoes all had cedar Brooks Brothers’ shoetrees. And that we already had plenty of hangers. “We should throw this box away.”

“Fine,” she replied, pushing the fine white hair out of her face.

Losing on her first try, she decided to leave the other boxes and work inside the garage. We entered the cool cement interior. She pointed up to a high shelf that held Dad’s sixty-year-old metal Head skis and Rieker clip boots.

“They are very, very good skis, you know,” she said in her expert voice.

“Mom, they are 190 centimeters. No one uses skis that long anymore. The average length even for men is more like 160 centimeters,” I explained, thinking she must remember how ski length is measured.

“That’s not true,” she said, bewildered. “I watch skiing on TV. They use long skis all the time.”

I was stuck in the place where I’d either have to agree or argue. Neither offered satisfying results.

“Mom, we need to just throw the boots and the skis away. Okay?”

She stared at me with hard blue eyes, a look that used to petrify me, like I was being fried alive in hot oil. I could see her temperature rising, flames licking up from long-banked fires.
 
Flushed, she decided we would go back to the boxes. This one had old garden tools: a rusted pair of hedge clippers, an ancient water sprinkler with spikes that looked like a torture device, and cracked terra-cotta flowerpots. I said no to each item, taking them from the box and putting them in the junk pile. Saying no thanks to the hedge clippers sent her over the edge.
“How can you throw those away?” she asked heatedly.
“Mom, they look more dangerous than useful,” I replied, showing the blades barely opened and closed. My humor did not touch her funny bone, it hit her sad bone. I thought she was going to cry.
“But,” she whimpered, “they belonged to me.”

It probably would have hurt her less if I had stabbed her with them. By refusing, I was saying I didn’t want a piece of her to hold and cherish. I should have told her that I already had plenty of her: she was my other arm, making me do things her way; she was the other side of my mouth, hurting and teasing the ones I loved; she owned the other part of my brain, controlling my thoughts, reminding me I was a good daughter but never good enough.
“Mom, why don’t we go and have some tea? Take a little break?” I coaxed.

She nodded and took my hand. It was hard for her to get around now, having gained so much weight. Her breathing was labored due to heart problems, yet she pushed herself hard to keep going—but she had always been that way.
 
The kitchen had nice big windows overlooking a little garden and bird feeder. It was a cozy, comfortable room with two armchairs, a coffee table in between, and cabinets filled with her cookbooks, at least a hundred, copper pots from Florence, and gold filigree tea service from Turkey. She had hung blue toile wallpaper; she had always loved wallpaper. There were two matching armchairs covered in a coordinated blue-and-white stripe, coffee table in between. She plopped down in her chair and I sat in Dad’s, facing her. Her yellow sweater wore a constellation of small stains, driving home the perils of old age and a busty chest. She had given up wearing skirts some years ago, finding pull-on pants with elastic waists much more comfortable. Ease of movement and comfort were paramount to her now, not fashion or making heads turn, which had always been the norm. She smiled weakly, her eyes rummy and red. I wished I could turn back the clock for her, make her beautiful and happy again, though I had my doubts about how happy she had been. And as usual, just as I was about to tell her that I love her and how sorry I am about losing Dad, she decided that we would go upstairs and keep working. Like a bad smell she detected vulnerability—hers—and she didn’t want anything to do with it. Task One completed. Now Task Two, she said, clapping her hands. I had little choice but to do what she wanted, which was the attic and, if there was time before I had to leave, the guest bedroom.
 
The house was basically one level, but there was a flight of stairs that led to an open loft with a bright skylight. Up there Mom had her “office”: a desk with filing cabinet where she paid bills and kept important papers. The room had a couch, easy chair, and low bookcases used mostly to display beloved objects liked wood carvings from the Black Forest, ceramic plates from Istanbul, photos of her grandchildren, and arrangements of dried flowers. A door from the loft led to the attic, more a crawl space under the eaves, airless, lightless. We ducked inside and switched on the one light bulb. There was a bureau in there, and six steamer trunks. They looked tired and worn, almost glad to have found a final resting place after eight transcontinental moves. Even empty they weighed a ton.
 
My mother took a deep breath and sat down on one of the trunks. There wasn’t anywhere else to sit. She pointed to one marked “TURAN.” The stencil was faded and scratched. I got on my knees and undid the clasps and the buckle lock. The smell of mothballs hit me as I threw back the lid. It was filled with Italian doll furniture from the 1960s, German handmade wool puppets, stuffed animals, and other toys.
“Do you want to throw any of this away?” I asked. She shook her head no.

“Let’s leave them for now. I’m sure you’ll have grandchildren someday. And they are such fine toys.
You know, made by craftsmen. You can’t buy these things anymore,” she said solemnly.
 
The next trunk was old ski clothes: parkas with faux fur trim, narrow elastic pants, après ski outfits, wool sweaters, none of which had been worn in forty years. She didn’t say anything as I went ahead and stuffed the clothes in a black plastic bag. I had won the earlier ski battle and she was going to let me have this one too. I suppose she didn’t want to be reminded that no one wore pants or parkas like this anymore.

Trunk number three was filled with swatches of fabric, bolts of cloth, mostly moth-eaten, but she didn’t want to throw these away, not yet. She might decide to go back to sewing now that she had more time without Dad to look after. And so on with the rest of the trunks until the last one.
 
She leaned over anxiously, watching as I struggled with the bolts and the lock. This trunk had not been opened in some time. I pried the lid open. This time it wasn’t mothballs, it was the thick smell of stagnant, stale wool. Mom sat down on the nearest trunk. I pulled away a layer of yellow packing paper; it crumbled into pieces on the floor. Sweaters, shirts, skirts, suits lay neatly folded. I heard my mother take a deep breath. She moved closer, reaching in and pulling out items.
“Oh, this is Bogner. Such a fine maker. We got this skirt for you in Munich, remember? You wore it once,” she said wistfully.

“Yes, Mom, that’s because you liked it and I didn’t.”

he continued with her digging, ignoring the reference to a feud that had started in my preteens. I wasn’t fat, just a little chunky, but she did not like how I looked, so she made special skirts with pleats falling nice and flat to give me the appearance of being slimmer. I started saying no to whatever it was she wanted me to wear.
“And this,” she said, fingering the silky label on a camel-hair jacket.

“This was made by Mr. Emo, the tailor in Vicenza. Remember? He admired your father so much. The ‘colonelo’ they called him. And look, these sweaters, from Bill’s in London. We special ordered to match the plaids I ordered from Scotland.”

Holding the sweaters up, there was just enough light to see multiple pinpricks of moth damage. She kept going through the clothes, unfolding, folding, pausing to look at labels as if reading postcards from an old friend. On the bottom she found a bathing suit: hers, circa 1966, a Catalina with an I. Magnin department store tag, purchased the year we lived in Carmel. The suit had hard pointy cups and a plunging neck line. It was made of elastic, see-through black lace, but the elastic had gone brittle. A size six; it would never fit me anyway.

“Don’t you need a nice bathing suit for Maine?” she asked. She held it up, turning it this way and that, admiringly. Just try and look as good as I did. That is not what she said, but that is what I heard.

“Here,” she said urgently, like it was her last chance and mine to keep a piece of her alive.

“Sure, Mom. I’ll keep it.” We closed the trunk and shut the attic door.


The bathing suit went home with me that day and not much later, after she died, many other Turan treasures: antique copper pots, the Istanbul plates, her cookbook collection, knickknacks from Dad’s bureau, a Baccarat tiger, paintings, photos, and the intensity lamp she kept on her desk and now sits on mine. And last but not least, the four hanging plastic bags filled with her cherished clothes. She had kept them in the guest bedroom closet; they were far too grand for the attic. And they needed to be easy to get to, stored in one place, like drops of water, when she thirsted for the past.
 
The clothes are extraordinary; she had exceptional taste and a talent for sewing. Self-taught, she made all her own patterns. And she had only used the most expensive fabrics: Italian silks, wools, English tweeds. She created a wardrobe of flower cotton dresses for summer; wool suits, trimmed with passemanterie, for winter; and tweed coats for spring. The buttons alone are like works of art: oyster shell-shaped wooden ones, Roman lion’s heads made of brass, smooth mother of pearl, glass beads from Venice, and shiny ebony disks. She kept her clothes, shoes, and handbags in pristine condition; they look the same today as when she wore them through the streets of Vicenza, Venice, Milan, Rome, Munich, Vienna, looking like a queen.
 
Like the bathing suit, the clothes don’t fit me. I will never wear them. For a long time I left them in an upstairs closet. They were taking up space, really mostly in my head, but I didn’t have the heart to get rid of them, so one day I decided I would give them away. I called my friend Margie; she was petite, like my mother. We spent an afternoon trying on clothes. I felt like I was back in the attic, visiting labels from long ago, memories living in the shape of a silk blouse, the patterns in a cotton dress, the shine of a button. Margie took quite a few pieces home, promising to wear them. I imagined someone would see her and ask where the beautifully made silk blouse she was wearing came from, and Margie would tell them the story.
 
I think my mother would have been pleased, and relieved that I wasn’t going to let her die. 

Louise Turan’s fiction and creative nonfiction has appeared in Superstition Review, Forge, Diverse Voices Quarterly, the dap project, and Existere. Her short story “Obsessions” won the 2014 Southeast Review Spring Writing Regimen Contest. The daughter of a Turkish-born, U.S. Army physician she grew-up in Italy and Germany, and has lived in New York, Massachusetts, Texas and California. A former singer/song writer, prep cook and nonprofit executive, she now happily lives in only two places, Philadelphia and Maine, where she is working on her first novel.

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Waking, Dreaming, Sleeping, Silence
By Laura Valeri
   
Joel wears a soft purple laser light on his head.  He dances in the dark before the
camera and the tripod, his arms swaying like wings, the laser painting fleeting designs on the wind-wearied walls of our cottage.  Joel is small, but graceful, with slender legs and thin, long arms.  His dark skin fades shadows with the moonlight; his long, silver-streaked hair alights in flashes of feathery, purple halos. He photographs himself at a delay underneath the starry sky. In the night, against the steady roar of the waves, he looks like a bird doing a mating song for the moon.   

Cottages on Dog Island must keep porch lights turned off in May for turtle nesting season. Out here, with so few homes, no cars, and no businesses, the scarcity of artificial lights translates into a Venus that gleams like a yellow sapphire, a Jupiter so bright we mistake it for a star.  There is nobody around to make noise—the cottages, the only constructions allowed on the island, are mostly uninhabited this early in May—yet Joel dances like the music is booming louder than his heartbeat, his motions fluid and uninterrupted, graceful like spring itself. The sky is so clear that earlier, we had no trouble finding the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper.  iPhone can do better: Siri delivered Virgo, Leo, Scorpio, and exotic names of constellations I’ve never heard of, her tongue of ones and zeros fluent in the forgotten language of stars.  

I give up trying to talk Joel into turning in.  When art calls, Joel answers, so I leave him there, to his starry dance, to the waves of laser light that try to rival the shimmering moonlight on the sea. Earlier this evening, we entertained ourselves declaring love to one another through the songs we selected at random from our iPhone’s playlists, but the moment is gone, our playlists exhausted, and now we have the stars, and Joel’s camera, to try to grab on to another bit of eternity. Tomorrow, late in the afternoon, we will have our first real person interaction since a few days ago the owner of the cottage dropped us off.  It happens when we decide to dare a skinny dip, even though our neighbors to the east have arrived: we will know this by the loungers that appear on the patio virtually over night, the truck parked in the dirt road, and the American flag directing the faint breeze. Otherwise, our new neighbors make themselves as scarce as our old neighbors, Mr. Neon Orange shirt and his companion Neon Green, who only appear at intervals of seconds on their lookout porch, and never together.   

We once saw Mr. Neon Orange fishing late in the evening. He was wearing Neon Orange fishing gloves and I knew him guilty of having discarded one in the sand on this otherwise pristine beach, so conspicuously untainted by the usually ubiquitous cigarette butts and plastic wrappers that the orange announced itself from yards away.  The discarded fishing glove, swollen with sand and chewed up at the fingers by curious crabs, looked at first like an exotic jellyfish. It leaked a steady stream of sand from its thumb as I picked it up. I vowed that if I found another, I would deliver it to Mr. Orange’s doorsteps with a note:

Dispose properly of your trash, or I will report you. 

A ridiculous threat. Report to whom? On Dog Island, there is no police, no court system, no law except the laws of civility forged in silent consensus among the half-dozen or so full time residents here, who agreed on their island-care duties long before Joel and I even knew Dog Island existed. I’ve only been here a few days, but already, I feel protective of this place, like the pelicans we see offshore, guarding their fishing territories as they bob over the tranquil waves, watchful of us, ready to spread their wings and open their bills wide if we swim too close. Our first person-interaction for the day is brief.  Losing my nerve on the skinny dip, I head back to the cottage for my bathing suit.  

From the porch, I see Joel wrapped in his sarong, standing calf-deep in the water, talking to a man in a white hat and blue
shorts. The man is gone by the time I make it down the length of the walkway to the beach, the stranger’s head already turned to his sand-sweeper and to his bright yellow bucket.  I’ve noticed that people here, when they’re around, like to pretend we’re not. We return the favor.  The only company we crave is that of the shore birds, whose life is always only movement and song. Joel is sitting Indian style on the sand.  “That guy caught four sand fleas already,” he tells me about the spurious visit with the yellow bucket man.  “I told him I couldn’t find any.” Joel heads back to the cottage for his bathing suit but returns moments later with his own sand sweeper and a bright neon yellow bucket all his own.  I’m also in the mood for scavenging. The tide has sculpted some interesting formation with the shallows, and I’m walking over the edges, looking for shells in the shallows formed by the sand. There are so many here, it’s not even a challenge.

The cottage is lined with a collection of hundreds picked out by previous summer-time visitors, some bearing painted initials, others years and occasions, winter break 2007; Easter 2012. Bleaching in the sun, the shells attain a dazzling white color, like crumpled hospital sheets.  They are piled in the front yard, too, and in the shrubby, creeper-crawling grounds that presumably make up the house’s backyard, which is really a bone yard of bleached dead wood, branches clinging like claws to the sunlight. I find a whelk, faint blue.  Blue is the color of the throat chakra, the energy center that the Hindus dedicate to communication, a color for writers, poets, and singers, and Joel and I spent hours last night declaring love to one another with other people’s melodies, from Harvest Moon to Moondance.  I’ve been reading a book about mantra-yoga, the mystical arts of sound vibration. To those who practice this form of yoga, the mantras, or chanted phrases and syllables, have the power to create, preserve and destroy, like the three godheads of the Hindu, Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. I hold the nautilus to my ear.  When I was little, my father told me that it’s not the ocean you hear in the spires of a shell, just the trapped wind.  I hold the trapped wind in the palm of my hand, and I suck in my breath, heady.  

Yogis tell us that AUM is the Word of the original creation. It has no meaning of itself, but each of its letters, and the silence at the end, represent the four state of consciousness possible to sentient beings:  the waking state, the dream state, deep sleep, and the silence, which is Infinite Consciousness. I gently rest the whelk back in the water where I found it, where I imagine it really wants to be. If I were a shell and I made my way to this quiet beach from the depths of the ocean, why would I want to be anywhere else? Then again, don’t we all come to a point in time when we wish to leave home? When we say to strangers, please, take me away. I’ll be a small stowaway in your suitcase. Later it changes. Later, all we want is to go home to a place we’ve already lost to time.    I remember an island I once knew in my childhood; it has been eaten over by condos and luxury hotels, exhausted by inadequate sewage facilities and strenuous water consumption. 

The place I knew exists only in time. Though I can visit its bones, so hastily buried beneath cookie cutter bungalows, most times I’d rather not even mention its name.  Instead I search for that lost island of long ago in unfamiliar landscapes, driving along coastlines of states I’ve never been to before. Joel has fared better in his shell hunt. He shows me a pale green shell that spirals inwards counter clockwise, so small it’s barely the size of a pinky phalanx.  “I’m going to keep this one,” he says, proud of this tiny treasure. Later, he tells me the shell has a hermit crab in it.  “Smallest hermit crab I’ve ever seen,” he says.   “Did you put it back in the ocean?” He shakes his head no, says, “I put ocean water in a bucket, and some sand. The hermit crab will probably eat stuff that’s in the sand, the same stuff that shore birds eat.” I don’t insist, but moments later he gets up to restore the hermit to the ocean. “I really liked that shell,” he grumbles, settling back into his hammock chair, huffing. “I’m sorry. It was somebody’s house. It was already taken.” “I know,” he says. I too am disappointed. I had hoped to find my own special shell, one different from all the ones that are piled by the dozens in the bone yard beneath us and on the railway.  I wanted the perfect Dog Island shell, formed of Dog Island sand, bleached by Dog Island sun and holding in its spirals the Dog Island breeze. 

Suddenly, I am annoyed with myself, and with humanity at large. The birds and the fishes leave nothing behind that doesn’t belong, and they take nothing with them: even the shells are recycled homes.   “Why do we need so much?” I cry out. Joel reaches for my hand and squeezes once. In his silence is another love song, one that is best shared on this hour, between us.

Laura Valeri is the author of two award-winning short story collections, Safe in Your Head, a Stephen F. Austin University Press prize winner, and The Kinds of Things Saints Do, an Iowa John Simmons Award winner. Her work appears in numerous journals, including Glimmer Train, Creative Nonfiction, Adirondack Review, and more recently, Temenos and Fiction Southeast. She is founding editor of Wraparound South, a literary journal and teaches at Georgia Southern University. You can follow Laura @levaleri and visit her here.

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Miscarriage Three
By Trisha Kc Buel Wheeldon

A long pause, then I know. “I’m not seeing a heartbeat.” The midwife taps the ultrasound screen. “There is the body. Do you see a beat?”

“No,” I whisper.
 
My husband brings purple orchids. Our living little daughter topples them then reaches down. She lifts stem necks in her fragile fist. “No!” I yell, jarring her. She lets go.
 
Flowers fall again.

Trisha Kc Buel Wheeldon has 10 rings on her fingers and exactly 30 throw pillows in her living room. She studied creative writing at BYU-Idaho and recently received yoga teacher certification at 3B Yoga. 

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Art

Taylor Belvedere
Taylor Belvedere lives half of her life in New York City and the other on an island just outside of its borders. She is a student at The Fashion Institute of Technology. She has earned her associates degree in Illustration and is currently working towards a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Textile and Surface Design. Her work can be viewed on her Behance website. Currently, she works as a writer for the Odyssey Online. At eighteen years old, she was published in the “2013 Creative Communication” book of student essays. Now twenty-one, she enjoys working as a writer, illustrator, designer, and general creator. 

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Identity by Madison Leigh
​Madison Luetge is an up and coming artist based out of Texas. She graduated in 2015 from Texas A&M University-Commerce with a BFA in Studio Art with an emphasis in painting, at the age of 21. Her work is primarily two-dimensional figurative portraiture exploring themes of anxiety, identity and both social and personal relations.

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Struggle and Redemption by Robert Zurer
Robert Zurer was born in New York City and grew up in Greenwich Village where he has lived and worked his whole life. He is a self-taught artist and has been drawing and painting since he was a child. He graduated from Reed College. Robert's favorite artists are Gorky, Bacon, Neel, Lassnig, Balthus, Ensor, De Kooning, Hopper, Turner, Bosch, Grosz, Dix, Feininger, Millet, Church, Kahlo, Benton, Dove, Kandinsky, Burchfield, Carrington, Howson among many others.

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