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The Writing Disorder is a quarterly literary journal. We publish exceptional new works of fiction, poetry, nonfiction and art. We also feature interviews with writers and artists, as well as reviews.


Finding Jesus

by J L Higgs



As was customary, Rabbi Zeitel arrived at his office at precisely 9:00 am.

“Good Morning, Mrs. Lieberman,” he said to his assistant, who was seated at her desk in the outer office.

She returned his greeting. Then handing him a note, said,“You have a message.”

Having removed his hat and winter overcoat, Rabbi Zeitel adjusted his yarmulke and scanned the pink slip of paper.

“An emergency meeting of the council?” he said, massaging his beard and furrowing his bushy eyebrows. “He said nothing else?”

“What else should he say to me?” she responded.  “The phone rings, I answer it.  He asks, is Rabbi Zeitel in?  I say no.  He asks I give you a message.” She pointed at the note.

“Thank you, Mrs. Lieberman.”

“You are very welcome Rabbi Zeitel.”  She smiled.  “Would you like some coffee?”

“No thank you, Mrs. Lieberman.”

“Perhaps a bagel or a danish.”

“No, I am fine, Mrs. Lieberman.  Thank you,” he said going into his office.

An emergency meeting of The Interfaith Community Council was unprecedented.  The council promoted respect and tolerance for differing religious views and practices and its next scheduled meeting was only two days away.  Its members were the ministers of the churches on the town’s aptly named Church Street.  On one side of the street, within a few blocks of each other, were a Temple, a Catholic Church, and a Christian Evangelical Church.  Across the street, splitting the distance between the Catholics and the Evangelicals were the Unitarian Universalists.  The Lutherans were separate, about a mile further down the street.

The council had been founded following an act of vandalism to Temple Beth Israel. In a show of community solidarity, the other church congregations had appeared unannounced and helped remove anti-semitic graffiti defacing one of the temple’s walls.

With his colleagues gathered in a circle in the basement of Church St. Christian, Reverend Johnson, a bald, stout, black man with a bull neck, began speaking.  “I’m sorry to call all of you here today,” he bellowed.  “A serious matter has arisen that requires the council’s attention.”

“What’s happened?” asked Reverend Robyn, the height sensitive UU minister, a wearer of always sensible black shoes, flats.

“Well, I’m sure as each of you arrived here this morning, you probably noticed it,” said Reverend Johnson.  “Our nativity scene?” he said to their blank expressions.  “Baby Jesus?  He’s gone from the manger?”

“That’s awful,” said Reverend Robyn, reaching out and touching Reverend Johnson’s hand.  “What can we do to help?”

“I don’t mean to sound insensitive,” said Rabbi Zeitel, “but this is a crisis?”

“It’s probably a prank by one of those teenage juvenile delinquents we see around town,” said Father Omyzanski of the Polish Catholic Church, Our Lady of the Assumption, not to be confused with the Irish or Italian Catholic Churches in other sections of the town.

“We don’t know that, Vincent,” said Reverend Robyn.

“When we were young, something like this would never have happened,” replied Father Omyzanski.  “And if it did?  Sister Mary George would’ve gotten a confession in less than two minutes.”

“Well, that may be true, Oz,” replied Pastor Brown of the Lutherans, steepling his stork-like patrician fingers while Father Omyzanski’s face reddened.  He hated the undignified image it conjured up of him amid a group of gaily attired munchkins.  “But, the facts are the Baby Jesus figurine is missing,” continued Pastor Brown.  “We need to focus on what can be done to find it.  Do you have any leads, Julius?”

“Just this.” Reverend Johnson held up a jaggedly torn yellow paper.  He slid his horn-rimmed glasses down from atop his head and read aloud, “My birthday is not for three more days.  I should not be here.  JC.”

“Well, he has a point.  The 25th is three days from now.”

“That’s irrelevant.  It’s a nativity display for God’s sake!”  shouted Father Omyzanski.  “Sorry,” he quickly added, seeing his colleagues shocked expressions.  “I didn’t mean to offend anyone.”

“Did you notify the police?” asked Reverend Robyn.

“Yes, but it didn’t sound like they considered Baby Jesus’ disappearance a priority,” said Reverend Johnson.

Rabbi Zeitel, who had been sitting quietly, leaned forward in his metal folding chair.  “If I may make a suggestion,” he said.  “The solution to this problem seems rather straight forward to me.  A plastic figurine molded in the image of an infant that has a light bulb above its tokus has disappeared.  We buy a new one.  Replace one tchotchke with another.  Problem solved.”

“Well, it’s not as simple as all that.”

“Please.  What is it I’m not understanding?” asked Rabbi Zeitel.

“We’re talking about something more than a piece of plastic.  The infant Jesus is an important symbol of Christianity,” said Father Omyzanski.

“And Christianity is somehow injured if we replace this symbol with another copy?”

“It’s difficult to explain, Herman, you’re not being a Christian,” said Pastor Brown.

What chutzpah, thought Rabbi Zeitel.  “Bob, Jesus was a Jew.  I am a Jew.  Please.  Explain how not being a Christian is relevant in this instance?”

“Please everyone,” said Reverend Johnson, holding up his hands.  “We need to work together.  Church St Christian has displayed this nativity set every year since its founding.”

“So, you are saying its significance has to do with tradition.  That I can understand.  Tradition is important,” said Rabbi Zeitel.  “Robyn, what do you propose we do?”

“Well, for starters, we could create posters and attach them to telephone poles.  And I’m sure the local supermarkets will let us place notices on their entryway bulletin boards.”

Pastor Brown sighed, thinking – Lost Dog.  Named Fido.  If found please call… “Sounds reasonable,” he said, smiling at Reverend Robyn.  “I suggest we email the members of our congregations and ask if anyone knows anything about the disappearance.”

“It wouldn’t hurt to search the neighborhood,” offered, Fr. Omyzanski.

“Herman?”  asked Reverend Johnson, looking at Rabbi Zeitel.

“I am happy to do whatever I can to help.”

“Thank you, everyone,” said Reverend Johnson.  “With all of us working together, I’m sure we’ll find Baby Jesus before our Sunday School’s Christmas pageant.  For as in Matthew 7:7, ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.”

The following morning, Reverend Robyn, a skilled organizer of things ranging from protests against social injustice to delivering meals to shut-ins, was in her element.  The UU church basement was full of volunteers creating colorful posters.

At Oakgrove Lutheran, Pastor Brown and the Lutheran Church’s Secretary were reviewing membership lists and composing an email to be sent to the members of all the congregations.

In Our Lady’s parking lot, Reverend Johnson, Rabbi Zeitel, and Father Omyzanski were dividing the neighborhood search volunteers into groups.  Before beginning their mission, Reverend Johnson had everyone join hands.  Then he delivered a long prayer, ending with an emphatic Amen to rousing cheers.

On Thursday, when the council gathered for its scheduled meeting, all the attendees were feeling downcast.

“Are there any positive developments at all?” Reverend Robyn asked Reverend Johnson as he entered the basement meeting room.

“Here,” he said, taking a group of photos from his suit coat’s inside pocket and handing them to her.

Reverend Robyn, thumbed through the photos, confusion etched on her face.  Then she handed them to Father Omyzanski.

“Disgraceful,” he said, handing the entire lot to Pastor Brown after reaching the final one.

Pastor Brown flipped through the photos, his facial expression altering from surprise to amusement.  He then handed the photos to Rabbi Zeitel.

On top of the stack was a photo of the missing Baby Jesus figurine in front of the Eiffel Tower.  Rabbi Zeitel turned the photo over and on the reverse side it said, “Having a great time!”  Next was the Baby Jesus lying at the base of the Taj Mahal and on the back of that photo was the same message.

“Boy,” said Rabbi Zeitel, with a twinkle in his eyes, “that Baby Jesus, he sure gets around.”

Rabbi Zeitel continued through the stack.  Baby Jesus standing alongside a bear skin helmeted guard at the Tower of London.  Lying across the tips of the Pyramids in Giza.  Leaning against the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  And the last photo, Baby Jesus scaling the Empire State Building in New York City.

His head shaking, Rabbi Zeitel said, “Talk about a wandering Jew.”

Pastor Brown burst out laughing and Rabbi Zeitel joined in.  Reverend Robyn, trying to contain herself, covered her mouth with her hand. After a few minutes, Pastor Brown and Rabbi Zeitel regained their composure.  But, when their eyes made contact, they erupted in another round of tear producing laughter.

“Hunh,” grunted Reverend Johnson taking the photos from Rabbi Zeitel.

“C’mon guys,” said Reverend Robyn, her face deeply flushed.

“I am sorry,” said Rabbi Zeitel, wiping tears from his eyes and trying to catch his breath.  “Please.  My apologies.  Let’s continue.”

“You must admit, that’s a great job of PhotoShopping,” said Pastor Brown, stifling a smile.  “But seriously, does anyone have any thoughts on what we should do next?”

“Well,” said Father Oz.  “Perhaps we’ve been overlooking the obvious.”

“Which is?”

“Praying for the safe return of Baby Jesus.”

“That’s a fantastic idea, Vincent,” said Reverend Johnson.  “After all, doesn’t The Bible say we should call upon God in the hour of need?”


“It couldn’t hurt,” said Reverend Robyn interrupting Rabbi Zeitel.  He shrugged his shoulders.

“Fine,” said Pastor Brown.  “We’re in agreement.”

Reverend Johnson immediately dropped to one knee and bowed his head.  “Heavenly Father,” he began, “we come before you, your humble servants, asking for your help in our time of need.  As you know Lord, Baby Jesus is missing.  We’ve done our best to find him and bring him safely home.  Psalm 55:22 says, cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you. That’s why we’re asking for your help.  For The Bible says when the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.  And whatever you ask in prayer you will receive if you have faith.  So, Lord, we’re asking you to please restore Baby Jesus back to our loving arms.  For this, we pray, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.”

As he got back to his feet with a big smile on his face, Reverend Johnson boomed, “I feel better already.  How ’bout you, Robyn?”

She nodded.

“Well,” said Pastor Brown, standing up. “I am sorry my friends, but I must leave.  I have promised to visit a member of my congregation who has been ill.”

“A good shepherd must attend to his flock,” said Reverend Johnson, patting Pastor Brown on the shoulder.  “I think we can call today’s meeting to a close.  We’ve done what we can.  Now, it’s up to God.”

The following morning, being Christmas Day, Rabbi Zeitel arrived at his office well before his customary 9:00 am.  He’d expected roadways clogged with holiday travelers.

“Good Morning, Rabbi Zeitel” called out Mrs. Lieberman as he unlocked the office door.

“Good Morning, Mrs. Lieberman,” he replied, bending down to remove his galoshes.  “And how are you on this beautiful morning?”

“Why kvetch.  I am wonderful.  Thank you for asking, Rabbi Zeitel.”

“Mazel Tov.”

“Would you like some coffee?  It will warm you up.”

“No thank you, Mrs. Lieberman.  I’m fine.”

“Perhaps a knish.  I made them myself.  A little nosh is always good to start the day.”

“Not right now, Mrs. Lieberman.  Perhaps later,” replied Rabbi Zeitel as he hung his coat and hat on the hooks outside his office door.

“Rabbi Zeitel,” said Mrs. Lieberman, following him into his office. “I should tell you, Reverend Johnson called just before you arrived.  He said something about a miracle.  God being good. And answering prayers.”

“A miracle?”

“Yes.  He said, when Rabbi Zeitel arrives, please tell him there has been a miracle.  So, now I have delivered his message.  There is a miracle.”

“And he said nothing about the nature of this miracle?”

“No, he did not.  The only other thing he said was that he would appreciate it if you would come see him this morning if that is at all possible.”

“Well,” said Rabbi Zeitel snatching his hat and coat off the hooks.  “We must go!”

“Go where?”

“To see Reverend Johnson of course.”

“But Rabbi Zeitel.  The goyim?” she said shaking her head no.  “I cannot do that.  Why… who will mind the office?”

“Mrs. Lieberman.  No one person or group has a monopoly on God.  Come.  We go now,” he said, holding her coat for her.  Mrs. Lieberman slipped into her coat while continuing to shake her head in bewilderment.

Rabbi Zeitel led the way, taking Mrs. Lieberman’s arm whenever they encountered a large pile of slush.

“Rabbi,” said Mrs. Lieberman.  “You forgot your galoshes!”

“Eh, no matter,” he said, grasping the handles of Church St Christian and pulling the doors open.

As the doors swung closed behind him with a muted thud, Rabbi Zeitel saw that Mrs. Lieberman was not beside him.  He pushed the doors open, took her by the arm, and steered Mrs. Lieberman inside.

“It’ll be fine, Mrs. Lieberman,” he whispered to her.  “They’re all God’s houses.”

On the dais at the front of the church, Reverend Johnson stepped from behind the lectern.  Spotting Rabbi Zeitel, he waved for him to come to the front of the church.  Rabbi Zeitel reassured Mrs. Lieberman that she was safe among the goyim and that he was not meshuggener.  Then he started down a side aisle.  As he reached the front pew, he saw Reverend Robyn, Pastor Brown, and Father Omyzanski seated there.  They each shook his hand as the congregation jumped to its feet,  hooting and hollering.

Leaning over, Reverend Robyn shouted in Rabbi Zeitel’s ear, “He’s back.  The Baby Jesus was back in the manger this morning!”

The congregation roared loudly, drawing Rabbi Zeitel’s attention back to the dais.  There, Reverend Johnson, his entire face a smile, held the Baby Jesus out toward the congregation.  Claps, cheers, and foot stomps erupted.  Baby Jesus was back!





J L Higgs’ short stories typically focus on life from the perspective of a black American.  The primary goal of his writings is to create a greater understanding between racial, ethnic, and religious groups in America.

He has been published in various magazines such as Indiana Voice Journal, Black Elephant, The Writing Disorder, Contrary Magazine, Literally Stories, and The Remembered Arts Journal.

He and his wife reside outside of Boston.

Drawings as well as URLs to published stories are located at:









by Sara Truuvert


If there was a way
To take that face in my hands
And skip over the time in the evening
When my spine slips between metal
And my foot drums faster than rain
When far away fluorescent scatters
Its absence on my fingers
And my eyes sink into my skull
To make room for his

My mind flattens like
Water drops finding flesh
To flow aside for the
Hands and
Lips and
Eyelashes against oak doors
I swallow them like a seed
But its tendrils bore through the back of my face
To bloom into his

If I could keep them from seeping beneath my door
And up the sides of my mattress
I would
I would






like tarpaulin
the tension ‘round my mouth
slips down my left shoulder
and I’m left rather slack jawed
watching pure blue whirl
as we sit and talk in hot water

I watch
as golden squares from condominiums
glide over your nose and forehead
a thousand little acts of coming home
made glorious on your skin

on the street below us
            an old man in a stained white t-shirt
            thrusts scraps of paper at passersby
            blaring at them to believe

            a miniscule woman in a pageboy cap
            gathers recycling into a plastic bag

            a young boy crosses the street alone

up here
suspended in windows
still whirling
you smooth your hair from your ears
and tell me the price of a flight to Boston

and I think that
the spidering thoughts
that tried to drown me all those nights
are cleared with one sweep
of your fingertip






You came through the door in your black fleece sweater and red backpack
(The kind with a nice mesh pocket for a water bottle)
You hug me and I shrink
Because you still smell like seven years old
When I couldn’t fall asleep because I’ll
Miss you if you die, Daddy

I want to sink and collapse
And fold like a paper doll in the rain
Lie quietly with my face in your shoulder
And ask you to remind me
Where my breath has gone

I want to shift
I’m missing a limb in static
But you press sink weigh down on my neck
And my hips
Take me like a throw pillow
That caught your eye on a table at the back
Buy one get one free

Would you call me the names
Our teachers only spelled out in letters
I could not imagine saying your name aloud
In a quiet cushioned office
Making you an incident
A fresh manila file folder
Maybe I’d rather be those names

But now
You sit
Comfortable like a child
Open hands cleans hands
Like a child
I tell you silly playground stories
Because how do you begin to tell
How do you say
How some mother’s son
Gripped and pulled
And here I am finally

And you would never
You would

Never never




Sara Truuvert graduated from Victoria College at the University of Toronto, where she studied English, Drama, and the History and Philosophy of Science. She wrote humour articles for the student newspaper, The Strand, for which she was shortlisted for a John H. McDonald award. Her poetry has appeared in Cadaverine Magazine. Sara is also an actor and screenwriter with a short film in production with Toronto’s Labyrinth Pictures. In her spare time, she runs the web comic Marvin and Pip.




An Intercourse with Ghosts

by Anika Gupta



“Each word in its adult form possesses two sides: it is intelligible on one hand and moving on the other. These two qualities generally depend on each other and are therefore, in this way, contradictory. Furthermore, they are variable, because if the emotion conferred by a word increases, its intelligibility decreases and vice versa.”

– Epstein, La Lyrosophie, pp. 167-168.


At age 25, I live in New Delhi in a hopeless apartment. At night, the ceiling in the bathroom flakes away from its beams. In the morning I find slivers of plaster in the sink. The railing that borders the stairs curls upwards like a witch’s fingernail, and on my birthday (I can’t remember which one) the power goes out, so I eat my cake in the dark. My life feels dark and unmoving, like the green water that gathers in potholes in the street, where mosquitoes breed. I dream that I’m somewhere else, doing something else, with someone else. It’s a dream I’ve had for years, and sometimes I don’t know how to separate the dream from my life.

I dream of the future, including grad school. A friend’s cousin agrees to advise me on graduate school applications. Over the course of several weeks, he encourages me to aim high; he believes in my abilities. I write out essays, I try vainly to summarize and justify my life. In the evenings, as New Delhi’s heated rain gives way to dust, I date a few of his friends, but without much success, until one winter evening in Delhi when he invites me to a party at his house. The air is smoggy with the crumbled particulates from a thousand small fires, and the roof of his apartment building is paved flat. When my friend sees me, he asks if I’ve cut my hair. I have, but only by two inches, so instead of saying yes, I say no and look confused, as if to suggest, who told you that?

I scuttle downstairs and into his bedroom, where I find myself enraptured by his bookshelves. Years from now I’ll remember this moment, this spread. I gaze at his books with reverence, respect and avarice. They’re organized, and not by color. By genre, by historical period, by their authors and their essences. He has hundreds of them, possibly more than a thousand, and to me in my early 20s these books feel more like home than any home I’ve ever lived in. I look at his bookshelf and I remember, at age 16, climbing on a step to reach the top shelf in the Rockville Library. I remember tumbling titles out onto the floor, sifting through plastic-wrapped covers. Thinking, oh there you are, friends. Oh, there you are, future.

Everything about his life combines into a pastiche of what people can aspire to: the structure and aesthetics of a particular form of success, of maturity, of forward-moving life. I think about his stable, successful career and his graduate school diploma. I think about the business he moved to New Delhi to start. I think about myself, my life, described by a colleague a as “a startup that has received series A funding.” Make no mistake: she was talking about my dating prospects.

I leave his house feeling hollowed out by longing. Over the next few months I spend hours on graduate school applications for MBA programs in fantastic universities, because this is what I’ve been taught to want. And I do want it, in a sense. What’s the line between what we want and what we’re taught? In between writing out essays on the power of the word in my life, things that will not sway admissions committees for the types of programs I am applying to, I write a series of short notes to my friend. A sample that now makes me cringe: “You’re obviously interesting and smart and I feel like I learn things from talking to you.” After I send it, I feel like I’ve lost a limb, but instead of losing blood, I stare at my computer screen, shedding tears. He replies with an emoticon, but at least it isn’t the winking face. The graduate schools to which I apply do not, for the most part, reply.


I learn about Franz Kafka’s love letters when I offer to write a series of book reviews for a site whose logo features a picture of a woman reading naked in bed. The editors send me a galley for a new biography, the story of Kafka’s life as told through his love letters. In paging through the letters themselves, I find myself on the brink of someone else’s madness, and yet it offers me a comforting map. In his mid-30s fading Kafka, engaged to another woman, tubercolic, begins a series of letters to his translator, Milena Jesenská, with this bold provocation:

“The rain which has been going on for two days and one night has just now stopped, of course probably only temporarily, but nonetheless an event worth celebrating, which I am doing by writing to you. Incidentally the rain itself was bearable; after all, it is a foreign country here, admittedly only slightly foreign, but it does the heart good. If my impression was correct (evidently the memory of one single meeting, brief and halfsilent, is not to be exhausted), you were also enjoying Vienna as a foreign city, although later circumstances may have diminished this enjoyment, but do you also enjoy foreignness for its own sake?”


Let us enjoy the same difficult thing, for its own sake.


In Delhi, not prone to monsoon rains, I nonetheless find that the weather can be a generous metaphor. When it rains, the water gathers like silted treasure in metro stations and under highways, and children ford the sudden streams with yelps of delight. Motorcyclists pause under overpasses, alongside roadside vendors and English teachers, to mop their brows. The world stands still, for eight to ten minutes, and afterwards, the aftermath of rain magnifies faces and signs like a crystal prism. Brief human camaraderie – the fellowship of the waylaid – evolves, solidifies, and is lost. Maybe in my other world I’d find these rains intolerable. But these bursts of pleasure open up to me another corner of Delhi’s unknown heart. I want to love someone else like I want to love Delhi, for love’s sake, because love for its own sake does us good. I want to love someone else like I love Delhi, slowly unfolding the secrets of an unknowable heart.

Kafka populates his solitude with Milena:

“I would very much like to share Meran with you, recently you wrote about not being able to breathe, that image and its meaning are very close to one another and here both would find a little relief.”

The work they do together moves between them, shaping their correspondence, recalling it to reality in ways he cannot abide. He receives her translation of his text and lays out his disappointment: “I wanted to hear from you and not the voice from the old grave, the voice I know all too well. Why did it have to come between us? Then I realized that this same voice had also come between us, as a mediator.”

I imagine the voice from the grave as the voice of necessity, the things we do because we must. In between filing a police report for my broken door or beating back anxious palpitations over the machinations of an abusive boss, I perk my ears for a voice that heralds my work as a source of life. In Kafka’s letters, his illness becomes a transcendental state, and Milena figures as a sun burning through a darkness. He needs an imaginary cure because none of the real ones work.

In Delhi, I call my mother, my sister, just to hear their voices on the phone. My sister and I spend hours together on Skype without talking. I read, she cooks. Where’s the seam between love and love’s medium?


I would like to share New Delhi with you. I would like to share it at all.

I wanted to hear from you, but not the voice I know too well.


A friend of mine writes to me from an airport, a one-line email. “He’s engaged!” it says. I read the email six times. I swallow a grief so large it feels like if I open my mouth, I (like Krishna?) will show my mother the entire universe. The world inside my mouth is bitter and unyielding; or maybe that’s just what my mouth always tasted like and I never knew.

Not to be outdone by other writers, I pen a polite congratulatory note, even though I feel like I’m swallowing ashes. It ends, “I wish you all the best as you open this new and very exciting chapter in your life.” I feel as if something – the future? – is draining out of the cracks in my existing life. I consider an engagement gift: my copy of In the Presence of Absence, a love poem to life written by a dying author, the margins full of my notes. Love and its medium seem the same, the same.

Before he dies, Kafka gives Milena all his diaries. He never gives them to anyone else.


I wish I could fall asleep in my life and wake up in yours.


“German is my mother tongue and as such more natural to me, but I consider Czech much more affectionate, which is why your letter removes several uncertainties; I see you more clearly, the movements of your body, your hands, so quick, so resolute, it’s almost like a meeting; even so, when I then want to raise my eyes to your face, in the middle of the letter – what a story! – fire breaks out and I see nothing but fire.”


By some strange chance, I meet another friend for dinner the same evening I learn about the engagement. My friend – my actual, flesh-and-blood friend – normally lives in Stockholm. He arrives for dinner wearing a suit and carrying flowers, and I have a terrible sense of premonition. Over dinner he says, “I would never forgive myself if I didn’t say the following.”

He has written me a poem. It ends:

“Now as you look out for pastures anew,

Your tenure in New Delhi you never should view

When the bells ring for the last post…

Know that Delhi has turned Mughal and British invaders into burnt toast

In this regard, you’ve lasted longer and done better than most.”

He’s called it ‘Inferno at Midnight,’ and long after the recitation is done and years have passed and we no longer speak to each other ever, I’ll still have it.

The cousin – my imaginary friend – does not reply to the congratulatory note about his engagement.


As time goes by, Kafka’s letters to Milena seem to become more urgent and more sad. He begs her to leave her husband, but she waits and waits until waiting becomes its own answer. And into this waiting, Kafka writes: “Although my own room is small, the true Milena is here, the one who ran away from you on Sunday, and believe me, being with her is wonderful.”

He persists in claiming that he knows her: “I can no longer write to you as to a stranger.” In a parenthetical, as if it’s an aside, a private conversation hidden from the mediators, he writes: “(you belong to me, even if I should never see you again).” Who is Milena? The Milena he carries like a marble in his pocket, whom he bears like a shield against life: it is impossible to address her as a stranger because he has created her out of himself. She comprises verbs and nouns and prepositions strung together across a ravine, an invisible bridge, between the world and ourselves.

Milena, the version of her that may be true or may be false but anyway the version of her that is legally verifiable, does eventually divorce her husband. By then Kafka is dead, and she writes to someone else: “I was incapable of leaving my husband…I have, however, an insuppressible longing, a maniacal longing for a completely different life than the one I am leading now or ever will lead…And this is what probably won out over everything else inside me, over love, over my love of taking flight, over my admiration, and once again over love… And then it was just too late.”

Milena wakes beside Kafka in his exile from wellness, Milena marries someone else but dreams of children she’ll never have, Milena loves Kafka and will write him a beautiful obituary.


My mother: “He was too old and too Indian for you.”

And then it was just too late.


Kafka to Milena, March, 1922:

“All my misfortune in life…derives, one might say, from letters or from the possibility of writing letters. People have hardly ever deceived me, but letters always have, and as a matter of fact not those of other people, but my own…Writing letters is actually an intercourse with ghosts.

How did people ever get the idea they could communicate with one another by letter! One can think about someone far away and one can hold on to someone nearby; everything else is beyond human power.”


One evening, after seeing his books but before he marries someone else, I sit down and light a candle – maybe my power is out, like it often is – and write him a letter. It is three paragraphs long, but I edit it down to its essence: I like you so much, and I never expected it. Give me a chance? I fold it into a tiny square and carry it with me like a talisman, until I forget about it. I am afraid of what it suggests and the life it enables.


I move back to the United States. Years pass. I’m standing on a street corner in New York, rooting for something in my purse, when my fingers find the familiar softness of old, worn paper at the bottom of my bag. I pull out the letter. I recognize it and something cold passes through me, not unlike a ghost. I feel a brief sadness, a mourning for a girl I knew and a dream she had. The mourning – the way it prickles in my scalp – feels like happiness, too. I’m holding the memory of something I loved, and the memory is precious. And yet, for all its rumored truth, I never sent it. Or maybe I sent it to myself. I am Kafka and Milena, the man who loved and the girl who waited. How did people ever get the idea they could communicate with one another by letter! I tear it up and toss it in the trash. I cross the street. It’s gone.




Anika Gupta is an essayist and fiction writer who lives and writes in Washington DC. Her work has previously appeared in the Common Online and On She Goes. She writes about migration, literature and travel. She spent five years living in New Delhi, India, and working as a journalist.






The Art of Annelisa Leinbach 





abstract houses












time to spare






in jail





Annelisa Leinbach is an artist and illustrator. Her work focuses on politics, fantasy, and the complex interactions of people that make up a society. She has painted in Mongolia, Iceland, Israel/Palestine, France, Germany, Barbados, around the US, and beyond. She has most recently been published in the law journal of the Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic at Yale University and The Art of Eating magazine. You can find her painting a wall somewhere in the world or wandering around in the desert in her native Arizona.

See more of her work at annelisaleinbach.com or instagram.com/annelisaleinbach.











The Ministry of Brooms
a Children’s Story

by Patrick Moser



Brad Totenberg will tell you that his title, Minister of Brooms, has no religious significance. His job is to administer. But somewhere along the line the ad dropped out, and now he’s just Minister. He’s fine with it. He has no religious convictions save the usual ones (the Ministry more or less expects them). Brad doesn’t pretend to be a devout man—there’s no special collar or hand signals or anything—but if people believe him to be some kind of religious figure, he doesn’t disabuse them. That’s their right. At any rate, the title makes his job easier.

He travels to areas where people have been swept. They call them “dust-ups.” He offers sincere condolences to the community and monitors reactions. The dust-ups are awful. People get lost. His job as Minister is to remind the people who are not lost that buying brooms is the best way to protect themselves from being swept.

Brad and I have settled into our seats on a commuter jet. We’re flying to Kansas City, an airline hub. From there Brad will take a connecting flight out to the desert where there’s been another dust-up. Fifty-eight people were swept. Our flight to KC is less than an hour, so I don’t have much time to interview him.

“Good morning, Mr. Totenberg,” says the flight attendant. “How’s business?”

“Business is broomin’,” Brad replies.

The flight attendant grins at the line and passes on. Brad takes this hop frequently, so the crew has gotten to know him well. Brad himself doesn’t smile when he uses the slogan. He understands the play on words, of course—he used to get quite a kick out of it when he first started at the Ministry. It’s not that the line has become so commonplace among people outside of the Ministry these days. It’s simply that Business is broomin’ is an accurate description of his job now.

No joke.

“You say you’re writing a children’s story?” Brad asks me.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“You mean it’s for children.”

I shake my head. “No, not really.”

“But there’s children in it, right? I mean, it’s about children.”

“Well, you might say they’re the inspiration.” I reflect a moment. “But there’s not any children in the story, at least not yet.”

Brad nods politely. My explanation makes no sense to him. I imagine his water-cooler conversation back at the Ministry: How the hell can it be a children’s story if it’s not for children and they’re not in it?

The flight attendant walks by again, and I make sure my seat belt is securely fastened. If we hit turbulence, I don’t want to bang my head off the overhead bin or fly into the lavatory. “It’s hard to explain,” I tell him. “I’m not quite sure I understand it myself. That’s why I wanted to talk with you.”

“As long as you’re not one of those broom-banners,” he says leaning toward me confidentially, pushing his shoulder into mine. He’s got the aisle, I’m the window. “We get a lot of crackpots chasing after us.”

I shrug with my right shoulder—he’s got my left pinned. “I can’t vouch for not being a crackpot.”

He laughs. We both settle in now as the crew and plane make final preparations for the flight. I’m not sitting next to an emergency exit so I don’t have to read the special instructions card located by the seat. I don’t have to ask the flight attendant to reseat me because I can’t or won’t perform the functions described on the card in the event of an emergency. I’ve made sure my portable electronic devices are set to “airplane” mode until an announcement is made upon arrival.

The flight attendant begins the safety demonstration. She doesn’t talk or make eye contact with the passengers. A recording provides information as she pulls out various props and goes through the motions of what to do in the event of an emergency. I can’t tell if anyone is paying attention to her. Her face is neutral as she demonstrates how to fasten a seat belt. Mine is already fastened. She indicates the emergency exits (behind me), the oxygen mask (above me), and the life vest (beneath me). I don’t think I’ll need a life vest on this flight since we’re flying over land, but there are some deep lakes between here and KC. In that scenario, I’d be glad to have a life vest and know how to deploy it. I would not inflate the vest before evacuating the plane. Once the emergencies are covered, I’m encouraged to sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight. Before we know it, we’re taxiing over to the runway. We’re at a small airport, so the whole process doesn’t take long.

“You sweep yourself?” Brad asks me.

I confessed that I didn’t. It’s silly, but I’m a little afraid of brooms. I’d probably brush myself first thing if I ever picked one up. I’m sure it’s me and not the broom. To ease Brad’s mind I say, “I got my broom safety training pretty young. At camp in the eighth grade.”

He wags his index finger at me. “You see there, that’s the key.”

We zoom up the runway and lift into the air. I ask over the rattle of my tray table, “How young?”

He raises his voice over the engines: “Teachers should be sporting brooms at Daycare. There should be broomories in every elementary school, middle school, high school, and college in the country.” He points his index finger straight up to emphasize his point: “If the first thing a preemie sees from his glass bunker in the ICU is broom bristles, then at least he knows he’s got a fighting chance of getting out alive should some nut job bust in.”

We reach altitude in a matter of minutes and level off. When the flight attendant starts the drink service, Brad orders a soda. I ask for water with no ice. I’ve taken out a notebook and written down “nut job.”

Brad glances down at my pad of paper. “Know what they call a crackpot who works in a big grocery store?”

I lift my head. “No.”

“A wal-nut.”

I smile. “Know what they call a nut job in California?”

Brad lifts his eyebrows. “What’s that?”

“Picking pecans.”

He wrinkles his brow a moment, then says, “Good one.” He’s being nice. I know my nut-job humor needs work. I wouldn’t have Brad’s facility, given his occupation and constant traveling. He takes me under his wing a bit and recites others he’s heard on his latest trips—to Florida, California, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Connecticut. Apparently the jokes are all well known. I’ll just give the punchlines: pea-nut, chest-nut, hazel-nut; and of course, the funniest one: donut.

“The nuts sure add up,” I say.

“A passel.”

There’s a pause in our conversation that tells me the chit-chat period has come to an end. Brad’s a patient man. He has to deal with dust-ups, after all. And crackpot broom-banners. He waits for me to begin the interview.

I dither with my pen. It feels too soon to ask him my real questions. We haven’t even gotten our snacks yet. I’m not a professional journalist. I don’t interview people for a living. I’m just a writer with an idea for a story that I’m not sure is going anywhere. When you write a story, the reader expects you to have a point and get to it quickly. If I bumble my question to Brad, offend him in some way, it could be a very long short flight. And we’re sitting so close together, as airline space goes these days. If a nut job broke from the galley with an electric broom, we’d all be swept in about five seconds.

I pick up the thread of our conversation before the jokes. “So you want to see brooms everywhere.”

“That’s the goal. A broom in every room. Normalize them.”

“On planes?”

“Planes, trains, automobiles, motorcycles, mopeds, tandem bikes, baby strollers.” He ducks his head slightly, looks down the aisle behind us. “I’d feel a lot less naked, believe me.”

As Brad straightens up to take his soda and bag of peanuts from the flight attendant, his coat pops opens and I see a dark handle sticking out of a shoulder holster.

I’m alarmed. My armpits suddenly feel like someone is pricking them with pins. I lower my tray table carefully, not making any sudden movements. I accept my own plastic cup of water and peanuts. When the flight attendant has left, I nod discreetly at Brad’s holster. In a low voice I say, “Is that what I think it is?” I don’t know what the rules are for Ministers—maybe they’re allowed pack-a-brooms on planes when the rest of us aren’t.

Brad half-grins, the way Harrison Ford does in some but not all of his movies. He slips his right hand inside his coat and whips out a pint-sized lint roller. “I wish,” he says. He runs the roller down his sleeve a couple of times. “Optics are everything. I can’t ever have people seeing dust on me, not even a spec. That’s not going to be easy with this latest deal in the desert.” He eyes his sleeve, scans the front of his coat. Satisfied, he returns the roller to its holster. “Whisk brooms are where the kids need to start. As they get older, you graduate to the mid-range jobs. With the upgrades and converters nowadays, they practically sweep themselves. But all of them, big or small, will protect kids from being swept.”

“Will they?” I ask.

“Absolutely. And they need to know it’s their right to sweep. At the appropriate age, of course. Until then”—he jabs his thumb toward his chest for emphasis—“we’ve got their back.” The gesture is very effective. It gives me confidence in what Brad is saying.

I write down notes, mostly for something to do. I decide there is no good time for me to ask him what I want to ask. I just have to jump in and feel it out as I go.

“The dust-up in Connecticut,” I begin.

Brad nods. “Now that was a real tragedy, pure and simple. My heart goes out to those folks.” He pulls on his bag of peanuts and it explodes. Whole nuts and tiny halves fly into the air. They land on our clothing and down in the seats. Some hit the floor in the aisle where they bounce and scatter.

“Goddamn it!” he gripes. He checks his coat and pants, assessing the damage. “That really chaps my hide. Why the hell can’t they make a bag of peanuts that opens without raining nuts all over the damn cabin. Jesus, is that possible? Just lower the broom on me right now.”

I set my bag of peanuts on his tray table to calm him. “I already ate lunch,” I say.

“Thanks.” He’s gruff, but it’s not directed at me. He flicks the nuts off his lap with his hands, then gives himself a quick once-over with the lint roller. When he’s satisfied there’s no peanut crumbs clinging to him, he returns the roller once again to its holster. The second bag of peanuts he opens more carefully. Once he’s got a couple of them in his mouth, with a swig of soda, he’s back to his friendly self.

A woman walks by, headed for the lavatory. Her heels grind the tiny peanuts into the carpet. The little jobbers look oily, so it won’t be easy to get the stains out. I imagine this happens frequently enough nowadays so the airlines take it into consideration when they design the carpet. It’s probably easier than changing our whole approach to bags of snacks. You never know when one’s going to explode on you, so you simply manage the fallout. If it were me, I’d go with a camouflage design: forest-floor, or maybe hoedown-bar.

I ask Brad, “Do you ever think that we might . . . I don’t know how to say this . . . .” I run my eyes over his jacket. It really is very clean. “That we might be over-brooming?”

Brad chomps a nut. “How’d you mean?”

I let out a breath. “Well, we have so many of them. You’d think the streets would be, I don’t know. Cleaner, I guess. Do more brooms really keep the dust down? Or do they stir it up more? I guess that’s part of my question.”

Brad nods. He points his index finger at his mouth. I give him a few seconds to finish chomping. “I see what you’re getting at,” he says finally. He brushes his hands together a couple of times to clean them. “You have to understand the basic principles.” His voice is calm and clear, a professor at the podium. “You’re mistaking brooms for what they stand for. That’s freedom, which you can never have enough of. Without brooms, there is no freedom. We’d all be swept. So that’s the first thing.”

I’m taking notes, trying to get his exact wording down so that I understand the basic principles.

“The second thing, don’t confuse sweeping with being swept. That’s absolutely the worst greenhorn maneuver there is. They’re two completely different planets. It’s like Venus and Timbuktu.”

I didn’t realize Timbuktu was a planet. Then again, we lost Pluto awhile back, so maybe there’s been a discovery.

Sweeping is for normal people,” Brad explains. “Guys like you and me. It’s our God-given right. Being swept is for the nut jobs. And since there’s always gonna be nut jobs in this world—What are you gonna do?—you have to protect yourself against them. Mr. G-man can’t help you. It’s swept or be sweeped.” Brad stops, shakes his head. “It’s sweep or be swept.” He nods to himself, getting it right. “I hate to say that, and I wish it were otherwise, but that’s the reality.”

I write silently for a minute. “You don’t sell brooms to people on your trips, do you?”

“Me?” Brad shakes his head. “Not me personally. That’s a different section of the Ministry. I just minister. Make sure, as I say, that everyone knows their rights.”

“How is that?” I ask. “I mean, whenever I hear about these dust-ups, I’m shocked. I’m horrified. Afterward I feel numb. I don’t know what to do. I think that’s why I’m writing this story. Somehow it makes me feel less helpless to put words down on paper. It helps me sort out my feelings.”

“Feelings about what?”

“I’m not sure. The people it happened to, I suppose. People sweeping, people swept. I imagine myself in their shoes, losing someone I love.” I turn to Brad. “But you, you actually go to all those places. You see the sites and speak with the people. How does that feel?”

“Feel?” Brad shakes his head. “I don’t meet with the actual people. I’m there post-op. For the clean-up.”

“Making sure people know their rights,” I say.

Brad cocks his wrist and pistols me with his thumb and forefinger. He also winks and makes a clicking sound out of the side of his mouth like he’s calling his favorite horse. The finger, the wink, and the clicking sound all pop simultaneously. Brad’s timing is perfect. The combination is impressive yet folksy, a reassuring gesture.

“Do you ever want to speak with them?” I ask.

The plane bounces roughly a couple of times, and the seat belt light blinks on. A voice over the intercom tells me to return to my seat and keep my seat belt fastened. I’m already in my seat. My seat belt is already securely fastened. I pull my cup of water off the indented circle on the tray table, which is a smart convenience. It’s a very effective use of space, which the airlines are tops at.

“That wouldn’t be appropriate,” Brad says.

I spell out appropriate on my pad of paper. I hope I remember to look the word up later in the dictionary to get all of the meanings. I don’t want to short-change Brad. I know one of the meanings is fitting, which is appropriate in itself given my last observation about the cup holder. Though I suppose there wouldn’t be a connection between Brad’s verbiage and how the airlines go about their business. That would be like two completely different planets.

I take time to formulate my next question, a work-in-progress. “Do you ever feel . . . I don’t know, soiled by it all? I mean, once the dust settles. Do you bring it back with you? Not actual dust, of course, since you have the lint roller. But maybe the cloud of it might be the best way to put it. Because you know there are going to be more dust-ups. More people swept away.”

“There’s always gonna be more dust-ups. That’s a given, God forbid. But you know what?” Brad leans against me again. “The dust-ups energize me. There’s no other way to say it. What your writing does for you? I tell you what, a good broom will do exactly the same thing for people. Makes them feel less helpless. When they grip that handle and know with one little sweep of the arm they can take out a dirtbag, that’s real security of mind. That’s something they can holster and take home with them. Or go shopping, or to the grocery store.” Brad snaps his fingers and points at me. “Your book clubs. People are afraid out there. They’ve got a right to be afraid. That’s what I tell them.”

I write for a minute after Brad finishes. I look over my notes, trying to get the rights sorted out. “People have a right to sweep,” I say slowly. “And they have a right to be afraid. Brooms help them feel less afraid. And you sell them brooms.”

Brad frowns a bit and looks up, like he’s doing math in his head. Only the numbers don’t seem to be adding up for him. He pops another nut in his mouth. “I just let them know their rights.”

It’s hard to argue with Brad’s logic. Brooms carry a lot of power, I admit. Certainly more than my pen. I can’t say I haven’t felt it myself. “You know, I dream of lowering the broom.”

He stops chomping. “On people?”

I nod.

“But bad ones, right?” He shifts in his seat. “You’re not talking about . . . .”

“Oh, no,” I say. “Of course not. Not me. They’re always bad people.”

Brad looks relieved. “Well, of course they are. And you know what? I hear that a lot. It’s perfectly normal.”

The plane is humming along now. No more bumps. The seat belt light blinks off. Simultaneously a voice tells me the Captain has turned off the Fasten Seat Belts Sign. I may now move around the cabin.

“They’re not really dreams,” I say. “I mean, I’m not asleep. It’s just before I fall asleep. Usually it helps put me to sleep. They’re more like . . . fantasies.” I say the word cautiously, like I’m ready to unsay it, depending on his reaction.

Brad nods. “You and me both, brother. There’s a lot of bad dudes out there. It’s not only normal, it’s your duty to lower the broom on them. You need to protect yourself, and your family.”

I sit a moment, trying to sort out my feelings. “I worry that the dreams make me numb,” I tell him. “Or that I am numb for having them. That I’m kind of a nut job myself.” I say these last words almost in a whisper. “I worry that the bad dudes are thinking exactly the same thoughts as I am. That we’re all numb to one another. That we don’t know how to listen to one another anymore.”

“But you don’t act on those thoughts,” Brad says. “That’s the difference. You understand what’s what between fantasy and reality. The nut job, he’s way out in left field.”

“Sometimes I feel like I could cross into left field pretty easily.”

Brad turns to face me now. “You know what’s going on here, don’t you? You’re preparing. That’s what that’s all about. Should you ever need to actually lower the broom on someone—‘cause the bad dudes are out there, sure as shootin’ and God forbid—you’d be ready. And you know what?” He points his finger at my chest. “You’d be a goddamn hero. Put that in your story.”

I stare at my note pad and recite the Ministry’s official slogan, which I’ve written down: “Our lives are better with brooms.”

“Course they are,” Brad says. “Mine is.”

“What about the people who are swept?”

“You can blame the nut jobs for that.”

“What about their lives?”

Who? The nut jobs?” Brad almost comes out of his seat. Then he leans back and laughs. “Now that was a good one,” he says, slapping my arm. “You had me going there for a second.”

Brad checks his bag, but all the peanuts are gone. I can feel us descending already. Following the landing announcement, I make sure my seat back and tray table are in their full upright position, my seat belt is still securely fastened, and that all carry-on luggage is stowed underneath the seat in front of me or in the overhead bin. I actually don’t check this last one since I’d have to climb over Brad to do that, and then my seat belt would not be securely fastened.

“How’s it gonna end?” Brad asks.

“That’s a good question.” I rest my pen. In a few minutes I’ll be using caution when opening the overhead bins as heavy articles may have shifted around during the flight. A bizarre image pops into my head of chubby A’s, An’s, and The’s rolling around up there, one of them tumbling out when I pop the hatch and hitting me in the face. I try not to be alarmed by my own brain. “Endings are tough,” I admit. “They say it’s supposed to make complete sense, and yet still be surprising.”

Brad finishes his soda. He uses the napkin to wipe off any last crumbs on his hands, then wads the paper up and sticks it in the cup. The flight attendant makes a last pass and collects our trash. If she notices the peanuts ground into the carpet, she doesn’t show it. I imagine there’s a crew coming aboard in KC. They’ll hoover up any stray nuts, or blow them so far into the corners that no one will even notice. The cabin will be all groomed for the next flight.

“What you could do,” Brad says, “if you wanted to work a kid into the story. Have a tyke bust out of the broom closet, as they do, pretending to sweep a bunch of his friends, who are play-acting bad guys. That makes sense. But it’d be surprising too, like a little Jack-in-the-Box. If you did it right, you’d scare people. It’d be like Stephen King.”

“That’s a possibility,” I say.

I press my notebook in my lap. The landing gear doors bang open beneath us. I hear the wheels lever down and lock into place.

It’s always hard for me to talk about my stories. They sound dumb when I try to explain them out loud to people. It’s like listening to someone yap about their dreams. Boring.

But Brad is a friendly ear, and I doubt I’ll get the chance to meet someone from the Ministry again. They’re so busy helping people. Even if my ending doesn’t turn out exactly this way, I try it on him for size. I’m interested in his reaction as a Minister.

“What if I had parents standing in a school parking lot,” I say, “waiting for their kids to come out. A siren suddenly blasts, and a mom sees a group of boys running from the building carrying her son’s body on their shoulders. He’s bloodied, but she recognizes his clothes—his red jacket, the jeans, his white tennis shoes with the rainbow laces. Then his hair and face. He’s on his back, lifeless, arms dangling down as they race him across the playground. He’s heavy. His head and neck jerk up and down as the boys run. They’ve never practiced this before. They’re all screaming, except for her son. Other kids are doing the same thing. Running from the building, carrying the limp bodies of their classmates. This mom has her hands to her face. Just as they reach the parking lot, and the mom is running toward her son—she’s supposed to stay behind the yellow tape with the TV cameras, but she can’t help herself—he suddenly springs off their shoulders with a shout of triumph and lands on his feet.”

“He’s alive?” Brad asks.

I nod. “The mom knows this is just a drill, but she breaks down crying anyway. They’ve scared her to death.”

Brad waits for more. When I stay silent, he says: “Doe she die?”

“No,” I say. “Not literally.”

“Oh.” He nods and rolls his bottom lip out. “Does anyone die?”

“Not in this version. They’re just practicing, but they have to act like it’s real. I don’t want anyone to die, not if I can help it.”

I’m saved by the plane bouncing hard on the runway. “I’ll probably change it,” I add. “Go more with the Stephen King idea.”

“No,” he says over the sound of scraping wheels. “It’s real good. I was surprised.”

We deplane and say our goodbyes in the terminal. Brad strides off. I wish him well in the desert and wherever else his travels take him. He waves back, tells me Good luck with the story.

I find my gate and take a seat. I have a couple of hours before my flight back home, time enough to work on my ending. I look up at a television news program. I’m too far away to hear anything. I just get the visuals, four or five separate shots that are repeated so they run together in a continuous loop. They’re at a small-town church somewhere. The newscasters continue moving their mouths, though there doesn’t appear to be any new information. The story is on-going. A woman’s voice, friendly yet insistent, asks for my attention, please. And not just me, all passengers. She tells me if any unknown person attempts to give me any item, including luggage, to transport on my flight, not to accept it, and to notify airport personnel immediately. The message is so important that she repeats it five minutes later.

I look around the terminal to see if I can spot an unknown person who might attempt to give me any item, including luggage, to transport on my flight. If I do spot one, I’d like to report them.

I wonder if anyone else is listening to the woman’s voice.





Patrick Moser has an MFA in fiction from the University of Arizona and teaches writing and French at Drury University (Springfield, Missouri). He writes mostly nonfiction about the history and culture of surfing, including essays in Gingko Tree Review, Kurungabaa, Sport Literate, and Bamboo Ridge. He is the editor of Pacific Passages: An Anthology of Surf Writing and has collaborated on two books with world surfing champion Shaun Tomson: Surfer’s Code, and The Code. He is a recipient of the Carol Houck Smith Scholarship at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. This is his first short story.






by Ruth Bavetta



I will wake the lilies under
the window. I will bite deeply
into the apple’s defenseless cheek.
And when the man comes in the dark,
I will show him the family
silver’s shining secrets.

I will follow the seagulls over
the waves as they etch the air
with their wings. I will ride
the tide. I will not be safe.
I will not be good. What
kind of love would keep me
withered in the nest?




Curves, but No Edges


When the faint gravity of her puberty pulls
through the family, it clots and breaks.
She curves her mouth into an arc as if tasting
something soft and unexpected,
her tongue sliding forward.

Nothing means what it did before.
Words sling past each other
with centrifugal force. Thoughts
sail like a curve balls,
slamming the windows shut.

She turns away
at the approach of those whose love
has become insufficient. She lives
in her body like music, slightly
out of tune, the melody yet to come.



Elegy for the Three-Cent Stamp


For the postman
with the heavy leather bag,

the house on the hill,
the mailbox hidden in the hedge.

For the new blue Studebaker,
the cheerleader in the knee-length skirt,

the stolen chocolate Cherry-a-let,
the can of Ipana tooth powder.

For the edge of the bed,
the crutch in the garden,

the shiny Schwinn bicycle,
the woman who loved to hike.

For the man in the lab coat,
the swing on the bridge,

the pink-eyed rat,
the three-legged dog.

For the girl with the broken
glasses. Who is she now?






Coyotes in the canyon
yipping like crazy,
Coyotes in the hills, racing
through the brush, coyotes
in the gullies running in a pack.

Neighborhood dogs going nuts.
Dogs behind walls, dogs behind
fences, dogs on decks,
dogs behind glass, barking.

Dogs singing of kibble and Bonz,
of nights spent warm
on the foot of down comforters.

Coyotes crying of hillsides and stones,
the crunch of rabbit bones, wild
nights under the moon.




Before Dementia


The Middle Fork of the Feather River
flows slowly in the summer,
arrives deep and still
at the old swimming hole.
My mother swam there
almost every day. Floated
on her back beneath the trees,
looking up at the sky,
until she fell asleep,
circling slowly
under the pines.




Ruth Bavetta writes at a messy desk overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Her poems have appeared in Rattle, Nimrod, Tar River Review, North American Review and many other journals and anthologies. Her books are Fugitive Pigments (FutureCycle Press, 2013) Embers on the Stairs (Moontide Press, 2014,) Flour Water Salt (FutureCycle Press, 2016.) and No Longer at This Address (Aldritch Books.)  She likes the light on November afternoons, the music of Stravinsky, and the smell of the ocean; she hates pretense, fundamentalism, and sauerkraut.






Happy Home

by Jessica Bonder


There was John the Saint, rescued dollhouse on his shoulder, salvaging the damned from its curbside purgatory. The trash heap cross the street from 24 Cleveland, the punk house John the Saint calls Heaven, for what was a Tuesday, he’d been eying the lot. The amassed sinners—busted electronica, three-legged chair, neck-crooked lamp—spilled out into the street like drunks down an alleyway, unforgiven vagrants. Throwaways. Squatters loiterers deviants weirdos—to the forlorn rejected, John the Saint could relate. The family cross the street, apparently, was moving; or cleaning out their garage; or maybe they died. The dollhouse turned sideways, its insides exposed, gutted and empty. Abandoned memory, it needed saving. It needed a reason.


John the Saint’s legs like exclamation points, skinny and black, exact. Navigating a maelstrom of anarchist artists, girlfriends passed out, stepping over their bodies. A game of tic-tac-toe just to get to the door, the Saint’s paint-splattered Docs tap-dancing through chaos. In the front room, what was once a living room, before milk crates and fixies and a drum kit took over, knelt Tomás at his shrine, his sacred vinyl reliquary, spinning 7-inches. Rad. The latest Meat Sweats, limited edition LP, Do the Shit My Way, Side B. Oh the temptation! To abort the mission, pull up bucket overturned, pop a squat and flood heardrums. Talk shop. But no! John the Saint’s committed—after all, he’s a saint—committed to his calling, his ministry to the lost. Call it recovery. Of the dollhouse he spied, from his perch on the roof, dead leaves mildew cigarette butts pigeon poop. For Luz, he thought, it’ll be a gift for Luz. Mascara plastered procumbent Luz. Luz on the floor on vodka on vicodin. His almost-bride, his last-chance wife. Last night or this morning, they’d had a fight.

Hey John man, where you goin’, que pasó?

Be right back yo, gotta go get somethin’.

Luz had been a lot of places and had seen a lot of things. None had been nice—there’d been no nice things. Even on days blue sky and birds chirping, days standard beautiful, did Luz fascinate the ceiling. Did Luz lay wasted, did Luz lay waste, closed curtains on a sun so badly wanted in. John the Saint met Luz down at Veterans Park, she had been pepper-sprayed, there was a protest. Luz coiled on the ground, tight as a spitball; John a fallen angel, reluctant descendant, apostate apostolic. As it happened that day, Cupid copped the enemy—his bow riot shield, his arrow, baton. Upon John did her immolated eyes first fix, Luz the first thing saying: My name means light.

It was love instamatic, a Polaroid love.

John loved Luz because Luz knew his past. Knew the things he did, knew he wasn’t no saint. Luz had the goods on this stray of a man, his fleas, ticks and bruises. Took him anyway.

Luz coming-to is Dorothy out of Oz, from black-and-white to color, homecoming to night. What is that, she says, scrounging for a ciggy, spoon-banging Mr. Coffee to evict las cucarachas. The machine was infested again. Stuck it in the freezer, doused it with vinegar, Luz tested all remedies, swore nothing worked. God! She hated living here, really she did, this two-story infection, open-plan open wound. So what is that, plays Luz on repeat, fractured princess pointing her rusty spoon wand. Misfit bent permanent. Gone. It’s a dollhouse, says John, and lays it at her feet, her feet bare and dirty. Splintered toes. Scabby bug bites. Half-shell nailbeds coated obsidian, dagger rose ankle—she was no Venus. John says here, it’s a gift for you babe.

I got this for you.

Do you like it.

What sounds a dollhouse before it crashes, prior its defenestration, ruled not a suicide? What sounds a dollhouse launched out a window, when a tiny home humbly meets the sky once? What sounds the site before the asteroid hits, comet of pretend, implodes on the lawn? What sounds a mad girlfriend, storming up the stairs, hated gift piggybacked, she be little but she be strong? What sounds a bedroom door, kicked down and dreams flown, en route to the highest ledge in the joint? From the zenith of despond, does Luz pitch the offering, with a fuck you John, she wants a ring. A ring with a diamond. A ring that is gold. The dollhouse rots, grows dandelions in spring.

What sounds a question asked over and over.

Tell her John tell her.

Why can’t she have nice things?




Jessica Bonder is an American fiction writer. She has published short stories and prose poetry in The Stockholm Review, The Lonely Crowd, The Honest Ulsterman, STORGY Magazine, Split Lip Magazine, Black Heart Magazine, The Bohemyth, Vending Machine Press, The Fiction Pool, and Unbroken Journal. Honors include: Nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize by Black Heart Magazine; Longlisted for the 2017 Berlin Writing Prize; Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open (March/April 2017);  Longlisted for STORGY Magazine’s 2017 EXIT EARTH Short Story Competition; Finalist in Split Lip Magazine’s 2017 Summer Mix Tape Flash Fiction Contest; Shortlisted for Short Fiction Journal’s 2017 Short Fiction Prize; First Place in STORGY’s 2015 Short Story Contest.






At Lúpulo’s Tavern

by Sergio A. Ortiz


Soft jazz, hugs, kisses,
promises and fingers intertwined.
Me, a young man afraid of the dark.
You, a man rattled by light. You dragged me
to the back between twilight and twilight.
A waiter arrives, I ask for a hot chocolate,
you order red wine, take off your coat,
put it on the armchair. I lay my hand
on trembling places. Lights lower.
Roof rises. Chair collapses.
Coat falls, the chocolate, the wine.
Outside, the rain. Tourists. Suitcases.
The smell of Burger King.
A poster advertising Cialis.




Sitting on my corpse


I’m picking up
the pieces of my life,

disabled, winged
in agony,

the latent bottom
of my illness.

Bodies like mine
flesh and bones
already ancient.




When the dead talk about sex



trees resurrect from their flesh.
They’re storytellers of clandestine love,
barbs of rivers that penetrate,
and those delivered to the sea.
They meander desires,
pantheons smell of cum.
They evaporate kisses in the
humidity of coffee plantations,
in canyons, and banana fields.
The dead talk about sex
and invent new caresses
on the altars of the dead,
offer flower collars in memoriam
of the pleasures of the phallus.






Sergio A. Ortiz is a two-time Pushcart nominee, a four-time Best of the Web nominee, and 2016 Best of the Net nominee. He won 2nd place in the 2016 Ramón Ataz Annual Poetry Competition sponsored by Alaire publishing house. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in FRIGG, Tipton Poetry Journal, Drunk Monkeys, and Bitterzeot Magazine. He is currently working on his first full-length collection of poems, Elephant Graveyard.



Sounds of the Alleyway

by Patrick Legay




With no rain for months, the sun bleached the city. But the pear tree got its water day after day, soaking up all of that sunshine and making it green, so now its pears weighed on their branches, and of course the squirrels were after them. One little glutton was there on the ground, eating a fallen pear, spinning it in his paws as he worked his teeth.

Greta had on her gardening gloves to protect her skin if the squirrel struggled. She crouched low to the soil, stepped carefully, looking ahead, focussing through her neon-framed sunglasses. She was old. Her long, gray-black coils of hair were all pulled together at the back by a string tied into a bow. The length of her hair was tucked into her cardigan, for practicality.

She kept on stopping, smiling, cocking her head to the side, clicking her gums, and laughing a little to herself, her eyes following a bug buzzing from to leaf to leaf, or the birds calling across the sky.

Her yard was closed in on either side by tall shrubs with fences running through them, as if the chain-link had grown up with the shrubs. At the top of the fences were jagged loops of barbed wire, connecting along the roof of the garage at the back. From the alleyway, over the garage, through the barbed-wire loops, was the squirrels’ path to the pear tree.

Greta snuck between the tomato plants and the herbs she had growing in her garden. The tomato plants grew well this year. They were as tall as a man.

Something was planted in every inch of the yard that caught the sun. There was a hose set to spurt on a timer to keep everything green. She had punctured a line of holes all along the rubber to the end, and capped it with a wine cork, then crisscrossed the length of it through the garden, and around the pear tree.  The tomato rows stretched just short of the tree. The herbs were on the other side of them. Corn along the shrub/fence. Kale, spinach, collard greens, lettuce, beans, beets, potatoes, carrots. Everything.

Rascal the Cat waddled along behind her. He was a rotund orange tabby. A skirt of fur-enveloped fat was thrown up from his belly as he trotted. He wasn’t crouching like a sneaking cat would. He wasn’t paying any attention to the squirrel. Rascal was watching Greta. He followed her as she crouched along. He waited, watched her move ahead a little, then trotted up to her, and waited again. The soil was moist, and he didn’t like the feel of it. Between trots he flicked his paws behind him. When he stopped, he stuck his nose in her direction, smelling, his whiskers moving, and his eyes closing as his cheeks puffed.

She wanted to show Rascal how to hunt like a cat. It was his job. She made low meowing and cooing noises to him. He meowed back now and again, but he was meowing about the treats in her cardigan pocket.

All the while the squirrel was under the pear tree with his back to them, happily munching.

She was a little girl when her parents lifted it out of the bed of her father’s truck like it was a Christmas tree. They set it down in the yard, and let her unwrap it from the twine and burlap. Mostly her father dug the hole. They only had one shovel. But they each held a branch, each uprighted the tree, and filled in some soil. They planted the pear tree together. She had a photo from that day up in the kitchen. There were pictures all over the house to help her keep her memory. Some they painted on the walls. Her mother guiding the brush in Greta’s hand to show her the strokes.

On this block, in this house, with this yard, Greta Washington had lived. Her parents brought her here when she was an infant, before she had memory, when the house was empty and rundown. Her parents spoke of it when she was older. How the doors were warped and wouldn’t close, the windows were warped and wouldn’t open, and the roof leaked in a different spot each time it rained. Before they fixed it up. When the old, European neighbors cursed them and moved away.

Now she was 76 years of age to be exact. Sure, she smoked the odd cigarette, and drank the odd spirit, but she ate clean, stayed fit, and kept busy around the house.  Yes, she was old, but she did not feel elderly. And she had her home, her place in the world. Being a Detroiter: that was her secret to living.

On her way to the squirrel, she reached up, and squeezed a low-hanging pear. The pears had come early this year. The tree’s flowers had been early too. The tree always bloomed white flowers in spring to tell her when the pears would come.

In his grand voice, her father had threatened to shoot the squirrels for their plundering. Her mother shook her head and called them poor creatures. But, he kept on saying it, that those squirrels should be shot. When he had said it too many times, her mother raised her righteous voice, and told him that there was no reason to be shooting at those poor squirrels.  It wasn’t the time for that. And he should hope that time never comes, “when food is hard to get, and when children don’t play in the alleyway behind our tree.”

After that her father would repeat the threat, but laugh to Greta as if it had always been a joke, and her mother would laugh too, shake her head, and call him a dangerous man.

Greta was in her first year of junior high, sitting in class one day, in one of the rooms with all the windows, watching the teacher write equations on the blackboard, when she heard a bunch of loud, deep pops. Bullets shattered the glass, flew invisibly over their heads, and snapped into the wall. All the kids were in shock. The teacher yelled at them, and they ducked under their desks like they had been taught to do for the bomb. Her seat was close to the window. Glass kept falling, and cut the back of her head.

Her father picked her up in his truck. Across his lap was his rifle — the gun he had brought home from the war. Greta’s head was all bandaged up. He asked if she had seen them. She hadn’t. He told her to sit on the floor of the truck, down on her bottom in the foot space. As he drove, he kept telling her it was alright, that he didn’t see anyone bad. They watched the white hoods marching on the news.

Her father went to a meeting in the church basement. Then he sat in a kitchen chair on the edge of the front lawn, with beer cans and cigarette buts on the grass around him, his rifle held up between his legs, and a newly bought extra-long phone cord stretched out of the house. The phone was sitting beside him on the stepping stool from the kitchen.

Greta’s mind was still as clear as ever, but she had lost her hearing. She had been ignoring it for years. Tens of years. Her ears were so dead now there were times when Rascal would have his claws out, ripping at the side of the couch, with Greta lying there reading, but all she heard was quiet. Eventually, she would catch the blur of orange limbs out of the corner of her eye, mark her page, and get up to spray him with the water gun.

The kettle whistling, her rattling pots and pans, slamming the door, bounding down the stairs two at a time — nothing roused her ears. Day and night, she saw things make noise, and heard nothing but quiet.

Back when she could hear well enough to tell a calamity coming, she boarded up the front of her house with plywood. She already had the fence with the barbed wire and gate, but figured an extra touch wouldn’t hurt. She painted one special board with white primer, let it dry, and then wrote in big letters with a fine brush:

Toxic Breathing Hazard



She painted her best rendition of the biohazard symbol in red (she had practiced it on cardboard) and signed it “By Order of the Detroit City Police.”

Now she couldn’t sleep at night because it was so quiet. Someone could be busting down her door, and she would hear nothing but quiet.

So, before she was after the squirrel that day, Greta went out to the Wal-Mart to see about a pair of hearing aids. She asked the store attendant to lean in close, and repeat himself loudly and slowly. “But, say the same words. I’m no technopeasant,” she told him.

The hearing aids were tiny buds that had these fine little stems on them that you held between your fingers when you put them in your ears. The attendant wouldn’t let her try them out before she bought them. For sanitary reasons, he said. You can adjust all of the settings once you install the app on your tablet.

She bought them with some pension money.

She took her tablet out of its drawer as soon as she got home.

When the app was installed, she put in the buds. At first they only plugged her ears, and felt like they’d let nothing through. She swiped through on the touchscreen, following the prompts to set up the basic settings. She couldn’t quickly figure out what all the bars meant — some went up and down and some went diagonally — and she was impatient to try it, so she swiped each bar to the max, clicked that she was sure about the changes (even though she wasn’t), and put the tablet back in its drawer.

She went out to smoke in the backyard with Rascal following.

The buds let the sound in, and she could hear everything. The spring scraped the bolt in the door. Her sandals squeaked. The tobacco crunched when she pinched the cigarette. The flint scratched and clicked to light. She pulled in smoke, and the tobacco leaves crackled as they burned.

When she was first out there, she stood hearing, remembering, surveying her garden, and smoking in the sun, crossing her arms with one hand holding out the cigarette.

The day the boy next door was born, James, that was her earliest memory. Balloons tied to the mailbox. Everyone shouting “Itsa boy!” She had more memory of his parents than she should. She was still an infant, and she didn’t know them long, but she had seen photographs of them, heard stories, and thought about them a lot when she was older. They were walking on a crosswalk in front of a bus that had been rigged with a bomb. Greta remembered sitting in a scratchy dress on her mother’s lap on the seat of her father’s truck in a line of cars.

James’s Auntie came to take care of him. She was loud and silly. She let teenaged Greta borrow her clothes. She lived with him in the house next door until James was in his 20s, then she moved into an apartment with some younger man she had met when she worked at the grocery.

Greta looked at the pear tree, and the sky. She listened, and was struck by sound. She closed her eyes, and let the sun hit her face. She felt strange about what she heard. Like she heard everything that touched the air. Like she heard more than she remembered ever being able to hear before.

The breeze moved the leaves of the pear tree, but didn’t shift the pears.  Bees and dragonflies did flybys in her garden. There were so many bugs on the air. So much birdsong, from all around and far away, so many different types of birds calling and answering each other. She could hear creatures moving through the weeds, crackling, in the yards around her.

Someone down the alleyway was saying slurs. A bottle shattered, Greta flinched, the birds got quiet, and there were footsteps running off. After a moment, when the steps were gone, the birds got back to their song.

The garage with the barbed wire on the roof protected her yard from the alleyway. It had a little window onto the yard, and she could see her father’s old red pickup, still there inside, tires flat, the hood rusted through, and the innards all dried out.

Annabelle was out dancing with her friends. Demetrius boasted to her and bought her a drink. They dated, in the way that people dated back then. He was drafted, sent to Korea. Greta had found their letters stacked in her father’s dresser. Annabelle’s writing was worried and poetic. Demetrius’s writing was factual and obscene. He asked for pictures. She sent a department store portrait of her with her parents.

Annabelle never went to school but she read a lot. She taught Greta. She worked different jobs, cleaning houses in the suburbs, and when she was older, she worked as a secretary. Greta had brought home a portable typewriter from school, and taught her to type.

Annabelle wore patterned dresses all year round. It was only when she got old, and had trouble with her bladder, that she wore slacks.

Demetrius was first a cleaner in the factory, then did heavy work, and then put together auto-parts. When the parts plant closed, he got a job in another place piloting a machine that bolted the doors on the cars. Her mother said he came back from Korea thinner, quieter, with less of himself. All he brought home was his gun. He took it apart and cleaned it almost every weekend.

After Greta wore her mother down enough to allow it, he taught her how to shoot. He would take her out of town to shoot at garbage.

He wore denim. Polyester shirts. His breast pocket always had the imprint of his cigarette packs. After he got sick and was told not to smoke, he kept a pack of playing cards in that pocket, with half a deck, and a bunch of cigarettes crammed in. He and Greta would sneak a puff when the coast was clear of Annabelle.

He would spend most of his time in the bedroom, listening to the radio, reading sports magazines, smoking, and drinking beer. Her mother couldn’t take it anymore. All the beer cans, and the radio at all hours, all the smoking, the snoring, and the kicking and shouting in his sleep. She had a long list. She moved into the other room, but she still picked up his beer cans, vacuumed, stacked the magazines, emptied the ashtray, made his bed, and picked up his shirts. Greta asked why she bothered, and she said that was the arrangement. She was still his wife.

Demetrius died pretty quickly of throat cancer. Started coughing at work. They made him retire, full pension though. The plant closed not long after.

Then her mother’s health deteriorated sharply, and Greta took care of her. Annabelle lived on too long, bedridden, in that deteriorated state. She couldn’t do anything but eat and sleep, and otherwise she wasn’t herself.

Greta remembered being in the yard, on the grass, before she had the garden, hearing her mother in bed, through the window in the room above, saying something loudly that didn’t make sense, just a jumble of words. But, she was saying it as if someone was there listening. Then she would hiss and shriek as if she was being burned. Greta would check on her, and she’d just be in bed, asleep, nothing wrong.

Greta would read books to her, ones she used to like. For the short bursts that she was awake, Annabelle would repeat the same questions, asking what time it was, or whether the letters had come. Greta wanted to do something, but couldn’t decide if she should, so she didn’t, and then Annabelle passed on her own.

Now for the first time in a long time, the quiet cocoon had been broken.

Greta heard a squirrel jump onto the side of her garage from the alleyway, his sticky fingers gripping the wooden wall. He climbed to the top, went through the loops of barbed wire, and across the roof. She saw him jump into the tree. Rascal was lying in the sun. Greta was still smoking, hearing everything, remembering, and surveying the garden.

Soon the squirrel settled on a branch with a pear in his mouth. She walked towards the tree, and shouted, hissed and blew smoke at him. The squirrel looked ridiculous with his tiny grey head, and his yellow and brown buck-teeth clutching the heavy pear, bigger than him. He looked at Greta a little while, then held the pear in his teeth, and jumped back onto the roof.

But, somewhere in the air, the squirrel lost the pear. It fell to the ground between the garage and the tree. After the squirrel landed without the pear, his little head looked down over the edge of the roof. He jumped back onto a branch, and climbed down to the yard, passing by all of the pears in the tree to go after the one he had dropped.

When Greta was a teacher, it was at the same school with the windows. She’d start the first class every year by stepping outside of the mandated curriculum right away. The boys and girls would come in, some stone-faced and staring, and others hunched over, keeping their eyes down, shifting in their seats. Greta wanted to get them talking about real stuff, so she told them stories, her own stories: What happened to the Fosters next door. What it was like for her when she was in junior high. How there was a man on her street who played the electric guitar — ‘Pinky,’ they called him, because he wore rings on his pinkies. He would sit on his big copper amp and play, making it sound like ten guitars, not one, warping the sound by tapping his foot on something that looked like the pedal of a sewing machine. It was fun to watch his pinky rings wiggle and dance as he played. She could hear his guitar at night and on the weekend. The alleyway would bring the sound to her window. As she spoke, she would watch the faces, and sometimes some of the kids would smile, and say they too heard music on their street.

She would tell them how one day, every summer, her street would be blocked off with cars, and all the neighbors would have a big party. Pinky’s band would play. They would grill food right on the street. They would paint the pavement, Greta with her mother and the other children. Watercolor zoo animals, trucks, trees, flying saucers, an ocean with fish in it, along with some other depictions, very colorful, but hard to say what they represented. If she put enough glee in the telling, sometimes the stoned-faced kids would loosen up, look at each other, and smile sarcastically.

She would tell about the day when she was in grade school. She got let out of school early and told to go straight home, and on the way home, she could hear there was something wrong in the city. She saw smoke. Heard sirens. Shouting. Pops and bangs. Greta ran into her mother along the way, who was sweating and out of breath, saying she couldn’t find her father. They went to look for him. Buildings were on fire. People were running around. They gave up quickly, went back home, and saw him walking down their street with his rifle on his shoulder. He wouldn’t say where he had been. He claimed he had been looking for them. He took them to the church, and they all waited inside while he stayed out front with some others. As she spoke, the class would fall silent, mesmerized.

She would also tell them about the pear tree, what the squirrels looked like when they ate, and that Greta and her mother used to paint things on the walls in their house.  In the kitchen, they painted a mural of their tree, with the squirrels like gremlins gorging on the pears.

It wasn’t long until the students would start telling their own stories: About who their parents were. About snow forts in the winter, and baseball in the summer, and the pheasants, how they would startle and rush out of the bushes if you came upon them. How someone’s brother fell in the river, and another one’s dog jumped up on the kitchen table and their father punched the poor thing in the ribs. About sad things being said or done. Beatings and illnesses. People drinking too much. The stories of living.

Sometimes they told her about things happening, and Greta had to do more. She’d knock on doors, talk to whoever needed talking to, and she’d go to meetings in the church basement. Doing that was what had kept her going.

The squirrel was chomping under the tree. The sound grated her.

Rascal was curled up in the sun, half watching the squirrel. She whispered to him: “We could both afford to be a little more cat-like.” He looked up at her. She reached into her pocket, took out a treat, and let him smell it. He stood up. She returned the treat to her pocket, and put on the gardening gloves. He watched her. Then she snuck up on the squirrel, stepping carefully, in that crouched stance, through her garden towards the pear tree. Rascal followed, sniffing the air in her direction.

The squirrel was on the other side of the tree, sitting there on the ground, filling his mouth luxuriously with pear-flesh. From behind a tomato plant, she peaked around at the squirrel, then back at Rascal. The cat flicked the soil off his paws, and just looked at her. She meowed at him, and gestured towards the squirrel. He looked only at her hand.

The squirrel was aware of the approach of the slender old black lady, and the fat, slow orange cat. He chewed more rapidly, to fill himself — the pear was the most important thing.

Greta heard the squirrel chew, then pause, then go back to chewing, but faster. She looked around the tomato plant again, and watched him with one eye.

She shifted her weight, lunged around the tomato plant and pounced, grabbing at the squirrel with her two gloved hands. But the squirrel had heard her first step. Before she got there, he jumped into the shrub, and climbed onto the fence with what remained of the pear in his teeth. She hit the ground, hands first, in the spot the squirrel had vacated.

She stayed down, rolled onto her back, breathing, and laid there listening to the sound of the squirrel escaping. She took the gloves off, and watched from below as the squirrel climbed up the chain-link, jumped into the tree, and onto the garage. She relaxed.

When Annabelle finally did give in, and allowed Greta to go shoot at the dump with her father, it wasn’t unconditional. “Fine,” she said. “But, don’t kill anything I can’t cook.”

Her father was showing off his marksmanship, and asked, “Think I can hit that gull?” aiming the rifle at the birds swirling above the garbage.

“Can Momma cook it?”

“Nah. It’s just a gull.”

Greta shook her head. He re-aimed and smashed a glass jar.

The squirrel sat on the roof and finished the pear. She heard him, but couldn’t see him from her view lying on the ground.

Rascal waddled over and lied down beside her, sniffing her pocket. She gave him a treat.

She heard the squirrel stop chewing. The pear’s core rolled down off the roof, and bounced on the ground. It tumbled along in the direction of her head, but slowed and stopped just short. She stayed lying there, looking, hearing, but not moving. The squirrel landed on a branch above her, and looked down, sniffing at her. Greta, directly below, watched him, then she closed her eyes.

The wind changed. The leaves fell silent, letting in all of the sounds. Squatters coughing and spitting. Someone snoring. Somewhere a basketball. The sound of dishes clanking. Someone hammering. Drunken screaming. Children throwing rocks through windows as a game.

She heard things moving through the dried up yard next door, James’s old place, all rundown and grown in thick with years of weeds taking over, and new trees planted by the wind. Maybe it was mice or birds, more squirrels, or other little wild creatures.

She grew up beside James, not with him. They were never kindred spirits. He was a few years younger than her and that mattered most when they were growing up.

They went to school together, a couple grades apart. He was always bigger than her. When they were teens, he started paying more attention to her. He snuck up behind her in the school hallway and threw her on his shoulders, spun her around, and said he wouldn’t stop until she said his name. The way he picked her up, the way he held her, she knew he just wanted to touch her. She refused to say it. She would punch him and claw him, but not too hard. He would get tired, and put her down. She learned to steady herself, and not to fall from the dizziness. She would kick him in the groin if she saw him coming. She liked older boys.

She had enough boyfriends. She liked some things about some of them. But, they were never worth the arrangement. She hated the arrangement. It meant doing all the work and making none of the decisions. Getting scolded like a child. She couldn’t do or say certain things, but they could do or say whatever they wanted.

It was her senior year in college when she broke up with a boyfriend, and decided he was the last one. Not the last man. The last arrangement.

She saw James one autumn night. It was late and the band was in full swing. She danced with him. He had been working outside all summer, and his body was lean and hard. He was different. Older.

She made it clear to him there would be no arrangements. He was shocked by it, but agreed. She remembered how he was then. How he moved, how he smelled, how he felt. They went on like this for a while. Years. Living next door to one another. She would come to his place. For a long time neither of them spent time, that kind of time, with other people.

Until she met the new teacher at her school. He wore a jacket and tie, and they talked about teaching. James saw them out together. He didn’t like it, and he told her so the next time she came over. He lost his temper. Greta just went right back out the door, and shut it on him. She hadn’t even taken off her coat.

A week went by until she knocked on his door again. It was Friday. He let her in. She took her coat off, spent the night, and they didn’t talk about it. The next day she cooked him breakfast and told him her doing so was a one-time occurrence. They drank coffee spiked with whiskey, and then just the whiskey. In the afternoon, he took her to a burger joint.

He swallowed down his burger before Greta had hers out of the wrapping. Sitting in the booth, mustard on his lip, he fumbled, held out his mother’s ring, and stuttered through a proposal. She sat chewing, choking. She swallowed. She muffled a laugh into her napkin. But, it couldn’t be muffled. She looked at him, that dumb smiley look on his face, holding that ring out to her in the booth, as if she should throw up her hands and scream with girlish delight. She couldn’t stop laughing. Right from the belly. He shouted for her to stop. She still couldn’t. He slapped her. Heads turned and the place got quiet. She got quiet. Shocked. She swung a punch back at him. He dodged it, laughed at her, and called her a disgrace. He got up, spat, and left.

She walked home, and his car wasn’t there. After that, time went by, neither of them broke the silence, and they settled into never speaking.

A moving truck pulled up to James’s house one day, a small one, but it came full of boxes, mirrors, dressers, and the pieces to a big canopy bed. James’s car followed, and he got out, opened the door for a woman, and got her suitcase out of the trunk. Greta saw them together on the street. One night she heard them shouting next door. After a time, the moving truck pulled up again. The woman moved out.

Greta saw James coming and going, getting older. She heard him on the other side of the shrubs raking the leaves that had blown from the pear tree. She grit her teeth, sucked in air, and went inside. When she began to lose her hearing, she liked it a little. Without her putting any effort into it, a quiet cocoon was forming around her.

Now lying there, eyes closed, with the earbuds, she could hear the squirrel’s sticky fingers on the bark, and the thinner branches bend and creak as he walked along. She could hear exactly where he was in the tree.

The squirrel paused on a branch, then reached up, and pulled on a pear with all of his weight. The pear’s branch bent down, and rattled back when the pear snapped off. Other pears hit the ground near her head.

She opened her eyes, rolled over, moved up on all fours, and stood up.

She went to the house. There was a bucket holding a spade, rake, and other long-handled gardening tools beside the back door. She pulled a garden hoe slowly and quietly out of the bucket. She breathed carefully. The handle of that old garden hoe was heavy red hickory.  She looked over her shoulder at the squirrel, then back. The steel of that old garden hoe had a shine to it. She kept it sharp to cut through the roots of weeds.

Rascal was back in his dry spot in the sun. As she went by with the garden hoe, she touched him with the red hickory end to wake him up. He opened his eyes, and looked at her dazed. She gave him another treat, and whispered for him to “Watch and learn.” Then she moved towards the squirrel with the garden hoe held high, and angled in front of her.

The squirrel was on a branch at about the height of her shoulder. Maybe just above. He was bent over the pear, spinning it, gorging. She could see his neck.

She stopped, and raised up the blade very slowly.

The squirrel sat up. He didn’t run away. He just sat there on his branch, looking at her, shifting the pear in his grasp.

She watched him, and waited for him to go back to the pear and show his neck again. They stood there frozen, looking at each other, the squirrel with the stolen pear, Greta holding the blade of the garden hoe over him. She kept her eyes on the squirrel, but her ears were with the little creatures rustling on the other side of the fence.

When they got the fences and barbed wire, James wouldn’t pitch in. Greta assumed it was because of her. She had gotten a group of her neighbors to go in together so they could all get a better deal. Some of them might not have been able to afford it otherwise. James told the neighbor on the other side of him that he wanted nothing to do with it, and to stop asking. It made it more expensive for them all.

She hosted the party after the fences were installed. Her neighbors from both sides of the street were in her backyard, eating ice-cream cake on paper plates, lamenting the cutting of Greta’s shrubs. Saying nothing about James. They talked about how strange all their yards looked with the chain-link and barbed wire.

The shrubs grew back, but those neighbors were long gone. Moved away. Got sick and died. Or just disappeared. James’s car was gone and never came back. His place got all grown in, got condemned, and boarded up from the outside. That was before the city went bankrupt.

Greta was the lone holdout of the old neighborhood. But now the place around her was something else.

She held up the blade of the garden hoe. The squirrel still had his head up, listening. Squatters were shouting by one of the houses down the alleyway. Pounding on the door. The squirrel turned his head a little. A woman’s voice screamed hysterically from inside. “Don’t you dare,” or something like that. “Don’t” something. Another voice yelled back. Then someone hit the door with something big. And hit it and hit it. The door came down. A bunch of voices laughed and hooted. The woman screamed something back. There was a gunshot. Greta flinched, the garden hoe dipped slightly. The squirrel looked up at it, then looked away, and turned his ear back to the sounds. They heard the woman scream something more. Then some sort of scuffle. Another shot. Something fell. The woman laughed, spoke, and then it all fell quiet, peaceful. Just the bugs and the birds.

The garden hoe was getting heavy.

The squirrel went back to the pear, hunched down over it, eating and spinning it. She adjusted her grip. The squirrel ignored her. She turned her head for a moment, and looked at Rascal, who had darted back near the door of the house. He was sitting motionless, wide-eyed, watching her.

She shook her head at the cat, then turned back to the squirrel, lined up the blade, and chopped it down, hitting him on the neck, taking part of his head off. The blood, the body, the partly chewed pear, and some of the branch fell down onto the yard.

Rascal shrieked, jumped into the air with all fours, and puffed up to triple his size.  He clawed at the seams, trying to get in the back door, but it was closed.

Greta put down the garden hoe, and went after him. Rascal didn’t run from her. He waited facing the door, and she picked him up. He tried to get away but didn’t scratch her, then went limp in her arms. “I’m sorry my scaredy cat,” she told him. She pet him, hugged him, kissed his head, and laughed at him. He dangled in her arms, puffed up with his limbs sticking out like he was a balloon in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. She pet his neck and his ears, and he stretched up to her, rubbing his forehead on her chin.

She put him down, and gave him a treat from her cardigan. He ate it, still puffed up a little. She showed him another treat, and backed up with it. He followed. She gave him the treat. He ate it, then looked up at her. She showed him another treat, and moved back through the garden. He followed, pausing to flick dirt off his paws. She held the treat closer to him. He reached his mouth out. She led him a couple feet more to the pear tree, and he followed with his mouth open, trying to take the treat. She put the treat down near the squirrel’s partially beheaded body. He ate the treat, and sat down on the spot, sniffed at the body, then settled there with each ear sticking up and moving independently of the other. The cat was listening to the sounds of the alleyway.

Greta picked out a spot near him, and carefully sat down on the ground.  Both of them were listening, heads-tilted in the same direction.

They sat there well into the afternoon.

Then she was at the kitchen counter, putting some foil on the cutting board. She brought out the knife, and watched a YouTube video on how to skin and clean a squirrel. She went through the steps, wearing yellow rubber gloves, cutting under and pulling the skin, pinching and pulling out the bones. The squirrel’s cheeks and stomach were all full of mashed up pear.  Rascal meowed at her, and laid over her feet. She heated a pot of water on the stove, dropped the squirrel’s meat in the boiling water, cooked it, and rinsed it in cold water.

She put the meat in Rascal’s dish. He trotted over. On the side, his dish had a little painted depiction of the fat cat himself. He smelled the meat, licked it a little, and then gulped it down with only a few chews.  She ate a salad with kale, cubed beets, shredded carrots, and thinly sliced pear on top, unripened and bitter. It was all glazed in balsamic. Greta was a vegetarian, but Rascal was not.





Patrick has been writing since he was a child — his first work of fiction being a brief supernatural detective story that had something to do with voodoo in New Orleans. He was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In most of the candid childhood photos, he is wearing a green Robin Hood costume, which he sewed using a pattern his mother ordered for him from a catalogue. Sometime after the costume no longer fit, he moved to Toronto for school, but stayed to do human rights and pay equity work with university unions. He now lives and writes by the far ocean in Victoria, B.C. pdlegay@gmail.com





by Pam Munter


I don’t know where he came from but when I got off the school bus one afternoon at the corner of my street, my mother was holding him in her arms. He was an agitated ball of black and white fluff and he looked to me like a perfect puppy. His snout was white with little black dots all over it. The rest of his body looked a little like an Oreo cookie.

“I brought you a surprise,” my mother said.

I thought my brother’s arrival less than a year earlier had been a surprise, too, but this was something else. This one was mine.

“Oh, thank you. Thank you.” I could hardly wait to go back to my second grade class the next day and tell them my wonderful news.

She handed me the puppy and asked, “What do you think we should call him? He needs a name.”

“Uh. I don’t know.” All I could think of was the names of my movie star heroes. “How about…”

“I think we should call him Sparky,” she said, as if she had already given this some thought.

“Sparky.” I liked the name as soon as I heard it. “Why Sparky?”

“Dad’s an electrical technician. It’s perfect.”

“OK. I like it. Hi, Sparky.”

It was the late 1940s. My father worked for Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica, California and my mother was a housewife. Looking back on it, I wonder why she chose this moment to adopt a dog, especially a hyperactive breed like a Springer Spaniel, so soon after giving birth. I was already a bit of a handful, myself, always out exploring the neighborhood on my bike and questioning most everything.

It wasn’t long before Sparky became a constant companion, trailing behind my bike as I toured the alphabet streets in the middle-class section of Pacific Palisades. He had become used to sleeping on my bed, too, even though I shared the room with my brother. A few years later, my father would build an addition on the house, allowing me my own bedroom and installing a dog door in the den which helped avoid accidents in the middle of the night. Sparky was excitable, we all knew that.

Though he was puppy-dog sociable, it seemed whenever I had kids over to play, Sparky would enact one of his frequent vomiting performances. A kid would call him over, start to pet him and, without even the courtesy of a warning cough, the dog would puke all over him. It was hard not to laugh, but, of course, I feigned concern and disgust. I wondered if Sparky was a mind-reader. It could have been a coincidence, of course, but it seemed to me he chose just the right kids.

The only accommodation we made to this emetic inevitability was avoiding certain scraps. For instance, it was clear after one especially egregious episode that spaghetti leftovers were best just thrown away.

These were the days when dogs were free to roam without a leash and he was out of the house as much as was inside. If he was gone too long, my mother would plaintively call for him, in the same tone she used for her children.

“Sparrrrrrky. Sparrrrrky. Come here. Sparrrrrky.”

We joked about his selective hearing. There was never any lag time between her call and his appearance at dinner time. In the afternoons, without the promise of food upon compliance, sometimes she’d just give up and leave the front door open so he could come home when he felt like it. She was far more permissive with him than she was with us.

Before much time had elapsed, Sparky became my best friend. When I was angry or sad, I knew I could go over to him, lie down next to him and bury my face in his furry nape. I’d tell him what was wrong and he’d kiss my face. He let me snuggle with him as long as I needed then would follow me into my bedroom when we were done, awaiting further disclosures.

The Palisades was a populated suburb but on some summer nights the distinctive aroma of skunk filled the air. We never saw the culprits but there was little doubt they had been there. They weren’t the only evidence of wildlife, either. One July afternoon, an intrepid neighbor killed the rattlesnake that she found in her back yard, the yard right next to ours. After that, I hardly ever went out in the backyard without first surveying the ground and never after dark. But Sparky did. He had no fear.

Though it was dark and I was asleep, I heard him scamper into my room and jump up on my bed, accompanied  by great commotion. The light flipped on suddenly.

“What’s going on?”

“Don’t touch him. Don’t touch him,” my father ordered.

“Why? What’s…” One intake of breath and then I knew what it was. Skunk. “Uhhhhh.”

“Fran, get a blanket.” My mother quickly obeyed and returned with a pale blue wool blanket she often used in the living room for her naps. She wrapped Sparky up and my Dad carried him outside. I followed, if only to get the smell out of my nostrils.

He held Sparky on the ground and pointed to my mother. “You hold him while I hose him off.”

“That won’t help. Let me see how much tomato juice we have.”

I was watching this middle-of-the-night excitement like it was a suspenseful drama. My eyes were wide with anticipation. What would happen next? Would Sparky be OK? Would the smell ever go away? Would I have to go to school tomorrow?

Once again, my father picked up the dog and placed him the bathtub while my mother poured tomato juice all over him. I wondered if it were some secret rite, known only to adults. Once the deed was done, Sparky remained locked in the laundry room for the night. We all went back to bed.

I’d like to report it never happened again but such events apparently were  inevitable then and could be prevented. But the next occasions were dealt with more alacrity and a ready supply of  rattier blankets and tomato juice.

As Sparky aged, I dreaded the thought of losing him. His gait was slower, his adventures shorter. I no longer rode my bike much so he wasn’t getting as much exercise. One of my other’s coffee klatch buddies down the street had two children for whom I had babysat. The parents had bought the girls a Belgian Shepherd for Christmas and was named Shirley, after the oldest daughter’s favorite doll, Shirley Temple. But long-forgotten circumstances required them to give Shirley away. My parents stepped up and now Sparky had a playmate.

Shirley was little more than a pup but much bigger than Sparky. Her favorite sport was to back up to a sleeping Sparky and abruptly perch on his head. This did not go down well but the two never fought. They didn’t play much together, either, but Shirley’s presence seemed to bring Sparky back to life a bit.

But soon, there were more puke episodes, more trips to the vet, more really long naps. He no longer cared if Shirley sat on his head. When I came home from high school one afternoon, Mom greeted me at the door.

“We had to let Sparky go, honey. It was time.”

I nodded and ran into my room, crying. I knew it was time but it’s never time. Some dogs you can never just “let go.”




Pam Munter is a retired clinical psychologist, performer and former film historian, working on a deconstructed memoir and short stories based on old Hollywood. Her essays and short stories have appeared in The Rumpus, The Coachella Review, Lady Literary Review, NoiseMedium, The Creative Truth, Adelaide and Angels Flight—Literary West, among many others.









Free as the Ocean

by Rae Monroe



The screen door slapped shut behind her as she crossed the porch. She stepped onto the sand and walked to the water’s edge.

The waves beat her backward and forward. She walked until her feet lost touch with the sand and she began to swim. Salty spray hit her lips as the current grew rougher.

Ahead of her she saw only the cloud-filled sky and undulating ocean. A tiny fish brushed by her foot; she giggled with appreciation. Her head sank back and her legs lifted until she floated. Her copper hair caught the light of the setting sun, flashing fire above the water.

“Maeve! Maeve!” her husband screamed from the shore.

She heard splashes as he ran into the water, but of course he wouldn’t catch her, she was far away, so far away, too far away. She was free…


The Coast Guard looked grim as he pulled her up from the coal-black water. The ship’s spotlight had nearly blinded her, but now that her eyes adjusted, she could see her husband, standing by the railing with crossed arms. He shoved her into a hug as soon as her feet landed on the deck. He still wore his work clothes, and when she leaned back, his carefully ironed suit and tie were wet. He grabbed her cheeks with both hands, pulling her to him again. He pressed his forehead against hers like he was trying to keep her there.

She hadn’t realized she was cold until he touched her. But his fingertips seemed to have brought sensation back, and she started shivering. The Guard wrapped a heavy blanket around her and put her in the cabin, where a floor heater glowed red. Carson sat beside her and cradled her icy hands.

He didn’t speak. After the third incident, he never said a word at all.

The boat hummed as it sped through the water that she was just a part of.


At home, she collapsed onto the couch and wrapped her fingers around the coffee the Guard had given her. A residual chill remained, and she fumbled for the blanket Carson’s mom had knit them last Christmas. The yarn felt like shackles, but it warmed her.

Carson got ready for bed after failing to persuade her to eat. She couldn’t eat. She didn’t know if she ever would again. She hated that she’d left her true home for this dry cage. Her body still drummed with the rhythms of the waves.

In baggy boxers and a stained T-shirt, Carson knelt in front of her and smiled limply.

“How are you?” he asked as he tucked a strand of damp hair behind her ear.

“Fine,” Maeve brought herself to answer. “How was work?”

“The usual,” he said, scanning her face worriedly.

“What did you eat for lunch?”


He wouldn’t stop staring at her like she was likely to disappear.

“Are you coming to bed?” he asked.

“In a bit.”

“Do you need anything?”

She shook her head and he nodded stiffly before sighing and standing.

Just before he left the room, she said, “I’m pregnant.”

He froze, his every atom seeming to still.

She wasn’t sure how she expected him to react. Maybe anger or horror, after her behavior today. Maybe disappointment, or worse, sorrow.

Finally, he faced her. She prepared herself.

“Pregnant?” he repeated, like he’d forgotten what the word meant.

She nodded.

His face struggled with emotions before lighting up with joy. The stress and confusion of the evening dissipated. She answered his avid questions: five weeks along—we won’t find out for a while—of course we’ll name it after your Uncle Ben if it’s a boy.

They talked until he fell asleep on the couch next to her. A cool breeze rustled past her from the open window and she turned to gaze at the churning ocean. She felt it calling her.

Carson’s hand was warm on her stomach, where her new anchor was growing.


There wasn’t another incident. Carson hoped preparing for the baby would distract her and for a while, it seemed to. She started walking, stopped smoking, worked more. In fact, was more productive than he’d ever seen, finishing a painting nearly every week.

Despite the incident, Maeve seemed genuinely eager to learn as much as she could. Their end tables were overwhelmed with baby books: How to Name Baby, How to Feed Baby, How to Make Baby Sleep.

Yes, he thought things were better. But a couple of weeks after the incident, he found bits of paper in the sea oats by the back porch. They were covered with words written in Maeve’s handwriting, and they were all the same word, “free”.

He worried. He knew she had a difficult childhood—her mom was crazy and believed the whole of Ireland conspired against her, so she and Maeve lived alone, in a cottage, on some godforsaken corner of the country. Carson thought Maeve’s occasionally erratic behavior was due to the trauma she’d endured then. She refused any kind of treatment, though; therapy was laughable and she had no need for “crazy pills”. And nothing she had done was ever dangerous enough to justify his intervention.

And she wasn’t doing anything dangerous now. She was better, she had to be, because in the evenings, they sat in the sand, Maeve sipping tea, Carson sipping wine, and they would talk of the future. And Carson swore she was happy.


While Carson was at work, Maeve would sit before the ocean like a worshipper before a throne. She thought about how it was always changing, always shifting…Its restlessness was addictive.

“Salt water runs in our veins, baby,” she would whisper. “They say we can never leave the water. I could never leave it. And now, neither will you.”

“My mum would carry me to the top of the cliffs,” Maeve told her baby, “so high I couldn’t see the shore, just the water and grass. The wind was so loud, it hit the cliffs like the waves.” She whispered, “But home made me feel stuck. Nowhere to run, no room to breathe…”

Carson gave her room to breathe. Ever since he met her. He gave her everything, in fact. Everything except the ability to leave.

Her fingers caressed her ballooning stomach with love.


A month after he found the bits of paper, Carson pulled into the driveway. He saw Maeve’s shadow on the living room curtains, moving about sporadically. As he got out of his car, he heard music.

He walked up to the house hesitantly. When he opened the door, the music amplified, and his head began to pulse with the beat.

His wife twirled in the middle of the living room. Her hair swung out and whipped her neck, and her fingers trilled in the air. She wore only a polka-dot bra and striped underwear, and her bare skin shone with sweat.

A battered record player stood on an end-table, spinning a record with dizzying speed. Speakers screamed an old rock song.

The end-table was the only piece of furniture left standing. The other end-tables, the coffee table and the bookshelves were smashed, both couches were overturned, and the lamp lay on the ground. Wood splinters littered the Oriental rug.

Carson!” Maeve cried. She hurried forward, hair and breasts bouncing. “Oh, Carson, it’s the Eagles! The Eagles!”

She was stupidly gleeful, her eyes and smile too wide. Mascara tear streaks ran down her face like claw marks.

“What happened?” he shouted, but Maeve laughed and tugged him toward the chaos. He tripped over a broken chair.

“The Eagles!” she cried again, throwing herself into a freewheeling turn that knocked her into a fractured bookshelf.

“Love, let’s—“

He shut off the record player. Ears still ringing, he grabbed Maeve’s hands and tried to pull her back to reality.

“What don’t you like ‘bout the Eagles?” she asked.

“What’s happening? What are you doing?”

“The dog dances to jump, Levy,” she said, suddenly serious. Her gaze shifted to the front door, her face as blank as a sheet of paper.


Her eyes focused on him and she grinned.

“Pizza’s for dinner, Carson, love. Are you deaf?”

She flounced out of the room, Eagles forgotten.

Carson fell onto the upside-down couch, shaking. Somewhere in the distance, the back door slammed shut.

Carson hadn’t experienced this kind of fear before. He didn’t know what was happening to his wife. And he didn’t know what he could do about it.

He stumbled to his feet and began to pick up the mess she had made.


A few days later, Maeve wandered out onto the sand. A storm was about to hit, so the waves threw themselves onto the shore with renewed violence. She felt the ocean’s rage, its mounting fury.

Maeve climbed to the top of a dune, where the wind’s arms caressed her. She closed her eyes and the arms were her Mum’s.

“I counted out his money and it made a pretty penny…”

Her mum’s arms carried her home to the peeling wallpapered walls and the bitter tea when Mum forgot to buy sugar, and the sting of her fingers during one of her uncontrollable spells.

Maeve reached out her hands and lifted her voice to the heavens, singing:

“But I couldn’t shoot the water so a prisoner I was taken…”

Maeve screamed to the dunes, to the wind, to the ocean, to anyone who would listen:





The last word trembled in the air before finally extinguishing like an exhausted flame, and she collapsed onto the sand, musha ring dum a doo, dum a da.


“Where the hell are my fags?”

Carson woke up. He was nearly nose to nose with his wife, who leered over him like a vengeful god.

“What?” It took him a minute to remember to his Irish wife “fag” was “cigarette”.

“I said where in the actual hell are my fags?”

He pushed her away and sat up.

“You’re pregnant,” he said. “You can’t smoke.

“We discussed this, Maeve. You decided—“

“You don’t understand!”

She collapsed onto the carpet, her fingers tugging at her hair.

“Help me, then.”

“I can’t—I can’t even think. I could think before, I was okay…”

He rubbed at the sleep in his eyes and tried to concentrate through the haze of exhaustion.

“Smoking helps you think?”

“Smoking helps me live.”

“Love, I can’t let you smoke when you’re pregnant. It will hurt our baby.”

“One fag! Just one, so I can think!” She quickly stood and grasped his sleep-swollen cheeks.

“I’m not letting you,” said Carson, his lips squished and his words distorted, “because I love you and our baby.”

It took her a moment to switch tactics.

“I can’t believe you,” she said. She clenched his face harder, then tossed him aside. She crossed over to the dresser and dug through the drawers.

“Your cigarettes are gone, Maeve,” he said, rubbing his throbbing jaw. He had decided to take precautions after the night of the Eagles, since he couldn’t predict her behavior.

And why would she want to smoke? She had seemed intent on having the healthiest pregnancy.

“You think you can take my things? You think you control me?” Her voice broke, as if it couldn’t handle the injustice. “I’m my own person, I—I control what I do. Not you.”

He took a weary breath. A storm front loomed before him, and all he wanted to do was sleep.

“I’m your wife, not your—your slave,” she said. She yanked a drawer our and it fell to the carpet with a dull thud.

“I’m taking care of our baby—“

“How? By taking away my rights? I’ll call the cops. I’ll tell them you won’t let me think.”

“You can think without cig—“

I have my rights!

She tugged out another drawer and tossed it in his direction, clothes flying. He threw himself out of harm’s way. “I deserve to be free! Free.”

She stilled, suddenly lost in that idea.

“Free,” she whispered.

Carson looked up from where he cowered by the nightstand.


“Free from you!”

She came to life again and tripped over her feet as she ran out.

He stood and followed her to the living room, where she was throwing couch cushions into the air. He eyed the furniture worriedly; it had taken hundreds of dollars to repair the damage she’d done last time.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m getting the keys. I’m gonna buy me some fags.”

“The keys aren’t in the couch,” he said, aghast. The keys were on the dolphin hook by the front door, as always.

She started towards him.

“Taking away my rights is not enough? You want to take my car?”

She headed towards the back porch, fumbling with the door latch before stumbling outside. He followed her, the porch’s wooden slats cold and sandy under his feet.

“I want to help you, Maeve, I do,” he said. “But I won’t let you hurt our baby, don’t you see?”

They were among the dunes now, her hair twisting about her in the night wind. Her eyes burned at him in the darkness as he followed her farther and farther. She reached the surf, but kept going until the cold water was up to his waist.

“I thought you loved me,” she said, turning towards him.

“I do.”

“Then let me think. It’s all too much—too much—I can’t get away—”

“I know this is scary,” he said,  “but we’re meant to have this baby. We can do this. But we have to protect our baby. Together.”

Her gaze slipped from his. The water seemed to have captured her concentration. She smiled wistfully, and he ventured close enough to grasp her hand.

“Maybe the conch will hold the burger in,” she said. “You know?”

“Yes. Yes, love, I know.”

He led her back inside.


She began to draw up plans, in her head. Never on paper, where Carson would see and get upset. He wouldn’t understand her reasons. His love for her blinded him to truth. The baby was most important; the baby had to be saved.

She set a date. She prepared with all the care of a woman for her wedding day, rubbing on lotion, shaving her body, getting her hair styled.

She took the large cleaver they used for chopping meat and hid it under her pillow. During sleepless nights, she’d touch it longingly. She’d slice her fingertips, she stroked it so hard.

The pain made her smile.


Carson began to think his wife didn’t just have residual trauma.

He researched mental illnesses during lunch breaks and slow afternoons at work. One, schizophrenia, stuck out at him. Some of its symptoms were nothing like Maeve, but others were so exact that he grew a chill. One scientific article mentioned “word salad”—when someone with schizophrenia spoke in grammatically correct sentences, but with nonsense verbs and nouns. Maeve had done that more often than he liked to recall.

But Maeve always corrected herself. She was going through a lot with the baby; it was just stress.

Then Carson remembered the look in her eyes the night she approached him about her cigarettes and the ruined living room in which she danced as carefree as a child.

Carson didn’t want her to be sick, but something was wrong.


Maeve made a resolution: she was going to teach her baby all she could, while she could.

One day she dove into a wave, the current knocking her backwards and pushing against her striving muscles. When she emerged gasping, her feet finding the sand, she whispered, “And this, Baby? This is life.”

As she painted, sometimes she pressed her paintbrush against her stomach and whispered, “And this, Baby? This is escape.”

At night when Carson and Maeve were huddled on the couch watching TV, she whispered, “And this, Baby? This is love.”


Carson made an appointment with a psychiatrist. He described Maeve’s behavior, and admitted his fears. The psychiatrist wanted to see Maeve immediately, so Carson arranged an appointment for Monday. He’d tell her they were going out to lunch, baby clothes shopping, out for damn ice cream—anything but the truth.

On Saturday night, when Maeve was twenty-nine weeks along, they washed the dishes together. Maeve was quiet, ignoring his attempts at conversation. When they were done, he left for the bathroom, and as he turned to go, she gripped his arms.

“I love you, Carson,” she said. There was a desperate urgency he couldn’t understand in her words.

“I love you, too, Babe,” he said, but she didn’t seem comforted.

Later, as he washed his hands, he remembered the psychiatrist’s instructions: “If her behavior changes at all, call me. Cases like this are unpredictable.”

Carson dialed the psychiatrist’s number, but he wanted to check on Maeve before he called.


He searched the house futilely, then ventured onto the porch and scanned the shore. It was dark, but he didn’t see her. He stepped onto the sand.


He heard distant singing of an old Irish song. “Whack for my daddy, oh, whack for my daddy…” He followed her voice, praying to every god he knew that she was alright.

She was several houses down, almost to the pier, on a high sand dune. Her figure, silhouetted against the streetlamps, stood tall and alone. Her restless hair blew in the wind, and one hand occasionally reached up to wipe the strands away from her face. The other hand held an object that flashed with the light.

It was the knife that had been missing from the kitchen for weeks, and it was pressed to her chest.

Carson ran towards her until she screamed at him to stop.

“What are you doing?” he yelled. He was close enough now to see her features. Her eyes were hooded by knit eyebrows, and her lips shook with each breath she took. Her nostrils flared and the veins in her neck tensed.  Here was his love…his love turned monster…

“It’s too late for me.” Her voice drifted down to him lazily, like moonlight through half-open blinds.

He fumbled with his phone, erasing the psychiatrist’s number and dialing 911. He said it was an emergency and named the pier.

“Just—stay, okay?” he asked his wife as he hung up.


The sudden shriek made him jump, and the very leaves of the surrounding trees stilled.

“No, don’t you understand?”

“Make me,” he pleaded. If he could just keep her talking until the police came…

“I’m not good. No matter what happens—I can’t be good. My mind…” She sobbed, and he watched her pride break as she confessed, “I’m sick.”

The waves were calm and constant behind them. Maeve’s eyes lifted to them and a glimmer of a smile lit up her features.

“There are people who can help you—us,” Carson said slowly, taking advantage of her change in mood. “You can get better.”

“It will never get better.” Maeve’s face closed and her gaze fell back to the knife in her hands.

“I love you.” Carson’s voice broke, his desperation choking him. He couldn’t risk running to her, but every fiber of his being longed to. “This sickness…we can get through it together. But right now, you need to put down the knife.

Police sirens blared nearby. They were going to make it. Everything would be okay—

“I can’t, Carson.” She said his name as if it pained her. “I love you, but I love our baby more.” She whispered, “And this, Baby? This is death.”

She plunged the knife.


Maeve opened her eyes. She was in a beige room, fluorescent lights flickering above her. There was an IV in her hand and a machine beeped beside her. Her head felt thick, her mouth dry.

A young woman came into the room, smiling at her condescendingly.

“Feeling better, Ms. Cole?”

She unlooped a stethoscope from his neck and pressed the cold end on her sweaty chest.

“Where’s my baby?”

Because only then did she realize the large bump on her stomach was gone. And no longer could she feel the fluttering kicks of her child inside her, the constant companionship of pregnancy.

“Your baby was successfully delivered while you were unconscious, Ms. Cole,” the doctor said.

“I was in-induced?”

Hope sprang. This was what she had wanted. It had all gone to plan…except waking up. That was unexpected.

“We had to save the baby.”

“Where’s my baby?” she asked again, floundering in the bed, like it was somewhere in the blankets.

“Your daughter is in NICU.”


“She was two pounds and two ounces, which is healthy for a baby that premature. You’re very fortunate.”

“And my husband?”

“He hasn’t left your baby’s side.”

Maeve leaned back in the bed, stiff hospital pillows against her back. Knowing her daughter was safe was good. Yes, she might be cursed, but if Maeve wasn’t in her life, she wouldn’t be stained by her like Maeve was by her own mother.

“Can we discuss what happened?” the doctor asked.

Before, her pain had always been internal. She’d envied the violence her mother unleashed; it seemed to relieve the pressure inside her. For the first time, Maeve had experienced that relief when she had stabbed herself, and she craved it again.

“Your symptoms resemble those of schizophrenia.”

Maeve eyed her stethoscope, limp around her neck.

“We have several psychiatrists available to advise you. We’ve filled a prescription for pills I feel you’ll benefit from.” She held out a bottle helpfully.

Maeve took a deep breath to prepare herself.


(Seven years later)

Carson sat down on the sand. He set his coffee and her Coke beside him.

“Saoirse,” he called.

“Dad,” she said when she walked up, her tiny figure black against the setting sun. “You said you’d try out ‘Sarah’.”

“I’m sorry, love. But you’re not Sarah.” He reached out and tugged on one of her copper curls.

She shook him off, took a sip of Coke and said, “I’m not Saoirse, either, at school. I’m Sao-Shay or Sway-shay or soy sauce.” She glared at him over the edge of the can. “I want a normal name.”

“You should be proud of your name. It’s Irish, like you. And your mom chose it,” he said, “because it means ‘freedom’.”

She grew quiet, like she always did when they discussed her mom.

“How about you show me how many seashells you can find?” he asked.

As she left, he surveyed the horizon. The ocean was different here, in Maine: greyer, colder. He wondered if Maeve would have liked it, then remembered that he, like Saoirse, couldn’t think about her. It only reminded him of that hospital room, the strangled doctor on the floor, Maeve peaceful on the bed, purple half-moons under her closed eyes. She’d overdosed on the medication the doctor had filled for her schizophrenia while he’d been down the hall, baby Saoirse’s fingers wrapped around his thumb.

Now, his daughter’s hair flew as she spun in the sand. She dropped the seashells she was holding and spun faster.

“Look, Daddy!” she cried, the inadequacies of her name forgotten. She reminded him of Maeve, the way she did that—moved so fast past things, like they had never happened. “I’m the wind!” Waves crashed behind her, splashing her legs. This seemed to inspire her, and she laughed, “I’m the ocean, Dad. I’m as free as the ocean!”

“Yes, love, you are.” Carson smiled.




Rae Monroe is a short story writer and aspiring novelist. Born in the South, she has since lived all over the world. She has taken writing courses with Stanford University’s gifted youth program, and her short story “Marie” is pending publication with Banyan Literary and Arts Magazine.








by Cliff Saunders


Yearning for unity, I whistle at the county fair
at just the right time and the hunt begins

for a bridal kimono. I baffle gulls everywhere
with nursery rhymes. It’s what I do.

For the first time, I need to strike a swimsuit
with a biscuit because I feel alienated,

anxious as a blocked artery. Crying and scared,
I thrash like a fish among rows of crash victims.

I bounce past three sisters beating the street
with Christmas trees but see no clouds

just over the horizon. I topple a barricade
of jellyfish and slip by a little robot

ruined by a mud ball. Along the way,
I collide with echoes of immaculateness.

Such snow and ice I have never seen!
I finally feel like I am alive again, soul

of blue and still in love with the wind.
Am I some rabbit hole? Some pumpkin king?

I’m just elated that great hair blooms
in every sea. As clouds gather, I finish

covering roses with metal whistles.
I rise before the storm gives voice

to its grief and reach for the sacred:
a glass of ice clouded by blue acid.





Tonight, a drum has my name on it,
but is anyone listening?

Who inherits a self that never ends?
I, too, have a real dream

infected with tuberculosis.
It hits me when I go home and try

to sleep with stones on my heart.
I see chimney swifts returning

to lighthouses full of fast learners,
full of divers gobbling up turnovers.

Time arrives to harvest its bright spots,
its earthly campus of root, root, root.

A flutist hits the high notes, thanks to me
and my generation of painful goodbyes,

of shirtless young cousins.
I’m not one to let the grass grow

on the moon, especially in the evening.
Moral blinders still in place, I lift my dog

to find his soul wrapped like a piece
of birthday cake on the catwalk.

Better to tolerate clutter than stifle
freedom, it’s as simple as that!





I hate my grass, and it hates me
more than a pink skirt on a witch.

How can I get a deeper shade of blue
in my lawn? I’m just totally lost.

The lizard in the house has created
a conspiracy against me.

The shuddering beast wakes me
with his big mouth while pondering

an afternoon of drift and mastery.
As the lizard lands with a thud

on the floor, I pursue a giant snail
around the edge of the porch,

but my heart is driving me nuts,
and I carve it up into toothpicks.

This is my home — I could turn
into an old putter, an abused

French mastiff, a hard autumn,
a newly opened book.

For a sweet few hours, I probe
the batting cage of the self

with a restless intellect, then
ride off into the real world

on a bicycle wrapped in mink.
Just doing my job, man.




Cliff Saunders has an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Arizona. His poems have appeared recently in Serving House Journal, Five 2 One, The Big Windows Review, Rumble Fish Quarterly, and Whale Road Review. He lives in Myrtle Beach, where he works as a freelance writer.




How Not to Come Undone

by Richard Thomas



The family heard that the meteor shower would be visible from the cornfields of northern Illinois, just twenty minutes away from their sedentary suburban bliss, but Robert had been sleepless for weeks already, images flickering across his dreams—shadows and voices, a burning sensation running all the way to his core. They were mother and father, sister and brother—nothing special, rows of houses the same, but in blue, or yellow, or brick. But the boy—half of a set of twins, all the magic and wonder resting in his cells—the darkness and vengeance in his sister, Rebecca. So as they snuffed out the lights of the family sedan, hand in hand down a dirt path the boy had mapped out, trust so easy to come by in this family—the girl sparked danger in her squinting eyes, as the boy’s ever widened to the stars, and possibility. Fresh cut grass lingered under buzzing power lines that disappeared as they stretched out to the horizon, a moist smell ripe with cleanliness and godliness—a hint of something sour underneath. The girl grinned as the rest held their noses, so eager she was to embrace death.

There was little talking, words so often failing them—the father full of muscle and pride, a quick arm around them all, a comforting presence on most days. The mother overflowing with worry, her long black hair often charged with static, as if thought and trembling nerves bubbled up to the surface of her pulsating skull. They did their best. And as the dry grasses and weeds rose up around them they held hands again, as the twins parted, spying each other, mother and father taking a breath together, searching for peace. They had spoken of meteors, talked about aliens, listed off planets—space so wide and unforgiving. Such potential, still, and yet, so much that was unknown, unimaginable. In each of them a different static, signals from far away mumbling welcome, whispering promise, giggling failure.

At the top of a hill they stopped, a blanket unfurled, some of them sighing, others grimacing in pain. The questions they would ask themselves on nights like this, and were in fact contemplating at this very moment, ran the gamut from inspired to self-destructive. Why me? Why not me? What does it all matter? Why are we here? On the darker nights when children lay healing, or feverish, or sick with disease, the father might pray a little—ask for the burden all to himself, willing to eat such pain with hardly a hesitation. On the darker nights the mother asked for forgiveness—somehow feeling that it must surely be her fault. Both asking quiet gods to pass over their twins, to find their sacrifice elsewhere. The boy might lie staring at his sister, the room black around them but for a singular bulb in the closet, her eyes as dark as coal, yet shimmering all the same.

“Becca, don’t,” he’d say.

“What?” she might reply.

“Any of it,” he whispered, pausing. “All of it.”

But he knew what she was, what she would become, and no matter his hope, his spark, there was little he could really do.

Or so he thought.

In the grass, on the hill, they scanned the sky for falling stars, for meteors, bits of fire and light and danger. The father fell asleep first, one last deep breath, searching his mind for the answer to so many questions, unable to quite figure it out before he went silent. It was like this on most nights—but then again, some evenings he solved many a riddle. The mother felt her husband go, and let it happen, the weight of it all just too much to carry, letting worry run off of her like rain on a slicker, giving in to weakness, expecting only the worst. But it rarely came. The girl had been waiting for this, the parents to slip away into slumber, for the darkness was calling to her, from every corner of the field.

“No, don’t,” the boy said.

“What?” she laughed.

“Any of it,” he sighed. “All of it. Please. No. Let it be.”

She batted her eyes, as if confused, and then lowered her gaze, incantations slipping over her lips, as the wind picked up, fireflies dancing on the breeze, a faint brush of lavender from the bushes back by the car.

But the boy was curious, and so he propped himself up on his elbows, the night full of so much curiosity—why not her? Maybe he was wrong. He could be wrong.

She found a stick and broke it into pieces, quickly stacking the twigs on a flat rock that sat exposed to the moonlight, forming the wooden splinters into a triangle, and then a pyramid, crossing one over the other, pulling a clover with four leaves from the grass, running a sharp thumbnail over her scarred palm, drops of crimson falling to the stone.

“No,” Robert said, standing up, his parent oblivious, as if spellbound. “Not like that.”

“This is the moment you always get queasy, brother,” she whispered. “Not all that glitters is gold,” she said, staring at the moon, baring her long, white neck as the boy took a step toward her.

“Must it always be death?” he asked.

“No,” she said, bowing her head, as if that was the only trick she knew.

A flash of light overhead and his eyes shot toward the heavens, black felt dotted with pinpricks, slashes and sparks darting right to left, right to left, disappearing and fading over the hills and into the distance.

“So it begins,” he said, embracing what she’d set in motion.

“I don’t think that’s me, brother,” she laughed.

He spread his arms wide, as the stars fell around them, filling the sky, but so very far away. To the horizon it was as if they might land upon them, but no, that wouldn’t happen. Couldn’t happen.

If she had asked for death, then what had he asked for?

Evoking a crucifix he open his palms, and stardust fell upon them, as their eyes grew wide, a distant spark growing closer and closer until it lit up the field, the two of them trembling, his right hand catching something red.

He brought his hands together, the left hand over the right fist, a heat inside, bouncing and struggling, his hands glowing yellow beneath the flesh, orange seeping out, the girl coming closer, smiling wide, the boy trembling, skin gone pale, sick and uncertain.

What had he done?

“Open your hands,” she asked

“No, I can’t,” he said.

“You must.”

And so he did.

It glowed and pulsed, voices like underwater mumbling, a dark sphere spinning and rolling, spilling into itself, some sort of question being asked—forgiveness, perhaps, favor maybe, unable to breathe, his mouth open wide.

Without thinking he swallowed it down, hands to his mouth, as it burned and healed down this throat, burned and sealed as it descended, as it burrowed deeper, filling his body with light, rays pouring out of his mouth, his nostrils, his ears, leaking out of his eyes—arms wide, his sister stepping back in horror, his chest thrust out, neck bent back and then it was over.

Darkness again.

The boy collapsed.

The girl grinned.

And the parents woke up.

It was only the beginning.




After that, things were different.

The summer unspooled like a giant ball of twine, the boy glowing everywhere he went, his skin tan, eyes sparkling, his brown hair more blond every day. And the girl, just the opposite, pale to the point of translucence, her eyes two black orbs, her fingernails bitten to jagged daggers.

As long as they had been aware of each other, and possibly even before that, the twins had balanced each other out in so many different ways—yin and yang, dark and light, day and night. Things were more established now, nearly teens, the concrete nearly set, but it hadn’t always been that way. The balance, it had been fluid. When Robert was joyful, Rebecca became angry. When the boy fell ill, the girl danced around the house, trying to cheer him, full of life. The best they could wish for was a rare neutral state where neither was happy or sad, just present—equal. And that was no way to live a life. Was it?

The family didn’t talk about the meteors, the light show, what might have happened. It was a buried secret that no one ever brought up. Partly, the parents felt responsible, no surprise, and partly they didn’t believe. But the twins knew, and their eyes lingered on each other, opening their mouths to speak, like baby birds eager for a worm, only to snap shut. Quiet. Uncertain.

More and more the boy would find himself sitting on the front porch of their house, Chicago brick, split with wooden frames, windows facing out in all directions, enough of a yard to run around. Rebecca would find him sitting with his legs crisscrossed, applesauce, eyes closed, open palms resting on his knees, a smile filling his face. Oh how she hated him then. The stories he told now, about what he could do. Had done.

And the she saw it with her own eyes—the boy so still, for so long, that a gimpy squirrel approached him, sniffing out the acorns he had placed in each open hand, its hind leg crooked, fur missing, a scar running across the mottled flesh. The little creature took first one acorn, and then the other, chewing at the shell, getting to the meat, finally resting in the boy’s lap, against all odds—taking a well-deserved nap. The boy stroked the animal, gently, his hands resting on its hindquarters, his face rippling in pain as if he’d found a tack, and not soft fur. Her blood boiled. She opened the door, and shooed the creature away, its gait no longer hesitant or slow, bounding to the nearest tree, and up it in a flash.

When the boy opened his eyes and turned to her, she scowled.

“Did you see?” he asked.

“No,” she growled.

“You did. I know it.”

“There is nothing special about you,” she whispered, her dark side of the scale dipping lower, as his face shone brightly in the sun.

It had come to this.

The rest of the summer would find strange cars parked in the driveway, bikes tossed to the grass, neighbors wandering over to return borrowed power tools, each of them pausing to say hello to the boy. They made it a point to shake his hand, slowly, to grasp them both, to hold them a little bit longer than necessary. He knew. And he smiled. Sometimes they gave him a hug, and he would hug them back, fearless, hands on their shoulders, sometimes moving lower to where a kidney might reside. Eventually he set a basket on the edge of the porch, so the giving would be less awkward, the words needed to explain, to thank, to rejoice now left on quivering lips—this would be their secret as well. The basket filled with candy and toys, with crumpled up dollar bills, jars of fruit preserves and plates of homemade cookies—whatever they had to offer.

Robert was not blind to Becca’s descent, it had been up and down as long as he could remember, but there was so much darkness now, so much pain. He felt that he had driven her there with his joy, his love of life—and his gift.

He offered her a deal, but she refused. She hated him now. Perhaps it was too late. So he decided to trick her.

On the next full moon, when the parents were asleep, they went out to the back yard, behind the pile of wood for the winter, past the birdhouse swinging in the breeze from a rope tied to an ancient oak tree, past the pet cemetery down by the azaleas, to the makeshift altar the girl had built.

“What is it you want to see?” she’d said.

“Any of it,” he whispered. “All of it.”

She smiled in the darkness. She’d been building the shrine for days—the sticks, the feathers—the twine. There were acorn husks, a rotten apple, and a handful of writhing earthworms. There was paint in complicated hieroglyphics—stars, and circles, and lines. When she chewed at her ragged fingernail, pulling away a bit of keratin, blood blossomed to the surface, running down her finger, a single red coin landing on the rock below.

He acted quickly.

Robert took her hands, as she gasped and tried to escape, holding them tight, his own fingers now slick with her blood.

“You will not come undone,” he said, anger flushing to the surface, a truth that danced across his skin, his eyes fading, his skin dulling. He pulled her close and held her tight. She struggled at first, and then realizing how strong he was, gave in. Her pain and suffering, it quieted for a moment, the voices dissipating, her tension unwinding into his frame. They met somewhere in the middle, brother and sister. A single cough, and the last of the glow escaped from his mouth, now a dancing firefly, heading out across the yard. As one lost its shine, the other filled with light, and as the moon overhead sat witness to it all, a shooting star ran across the sky, a spark of hope to all that saw it.





Richard ThomasRichard Thomas is the award-winning author of seven books—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), Transubstantiate, Staring into the Abyss, Herniated Roots, Tribulations, and The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). His over 140 stories in print include Cemetery Dance (twice), PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), and Shivers VI. He was also the editor of four anthologies: The New Black and Exigencies (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and Thriller awards. In his spare time he writes for Lit Reactor and is Editor-in-Chief at Gamut Magazine. For more information visit www.whatdoesnotkillme.com or contact Paula Munier at Talcott Notch.






American Spirits

by Joe Gianotti



Do you live in a 600-square-foot home
in the smaller town ten miles south
of the small town, where you grew up?
How many children have you had
since you declared you would never have children?

Does your house need a new roof?
Do the windows leak heat?
Does the hot water run out too soon?
Do you have a fenced in backyard,
where cats come and go
like the transient you said you’d be?
Did you get that Indiana tattoo on your left thigh,
the one with the heart in the state,
meant to remind you of the roots
you’d never return to?

How much do you hate the man you’re with?
How much do you already hate the next man you’ll be with?
How much do you hate yourself and the life you’ve built?

How often do you think of the museum life
your old anthropologist self could have lived?
Brushing dirt from artifacts instead of dust from bookshelves.




Haute Couture


The Christmas card’s not right.
I got a balding headshot of the Senator
instead of the family photo.
What happened to the embellished wife,
the two appliqué biological children,
the flanking gilded labradoodles,
the tailor made adopted Downs baby
that would push his blue election
over the red hump?
Where are the green and white sweaters
each of them would wear in front of their
stitched Lockerbie Square fireplace?

She crushed them with judgment.
When she told me
that age one Lindsay’s left leg
would always thread out
like a brocaded baby from an O’Connor story,
she made sure to say
that cheerleading was out of the future.

She approved of the Senator’s robust porn portfolio,
adding a ruched Sasha Gray here
and a tucked Jenna Jameson there.
Have a drink
or two or three,
and go to as many Cubs games as you can.

Haute Couture begins so beautifully,
but in families like the Senator’s,
the lace gets sold on Ebay,
piece by piece.





Joe Gianotti grew up in Whiting, Indiana, an industrial city five minutes from Chicago. He currently teaches English at Lowell High School. He is a proud contributor to Volume II of This is Poetry: The Midwest Poets. Among other poets, he represented Northwest Indiana in the 2014 Five Corners Poetry Readings. His work has been published in Former People: A Journal of Bangs and Whimpers, Steam Ticket: A Third Coast Review, The Tipton Poetry Journal, This, Yes Poetry, and other places. You can follow him on Twitter at @jgianotti10.





The Wine Sniffer

by Alexander Carver



“Perhaps you would care for a table upstairs by the window,” the maître d’ said, blocking our pathway into the dining room after a few words of French had sputtered from our mouths.

“Upstairs?  Well…sure,” I said, a bit confused because all the tables on the first floor were available, save one.

“That sounds lovely.  By the window would be lovely,” my new bride said, injecting her usual enthusiasm into the moment.

It was the end of our first full day in Paris, and Eva and I were trying our very best to play the role of the good Americans.  Happily honeymooning, well-behaved, notably courteous and conforming, good Americans.  We had just enjoyed a bottle of wine on the patio at Les Deux Magots, and felt that the waiter had rewarded our polite behavior, and attempt at speaking French, with a small bowl of pretzels.  Sure, everyone else had been treated to the pretzels, too, but at least we hadn’t been denied them for being suspected disciples of Donald Trump.

Upstairs at Brasserie Lipp, we were escorted to a corner table next to a narrow, dirt-streaked window, which would have looked out onto the bustling Boulevard Saint Germain, if we could have seen through it.  About twenty minutes after the maître d’ handed us our menus, the waiter made his first appearance.  I’d never thought of France as being a nation of giants, but this man was a six and a half footer–almost as wide as he was long—with big, dark, hostile eyes like 8-balls, which caused me to drop mine towards the table when they fixed themselves on me.  I was already tense because I’d left my wallet back at our Airbnb and was being forced to live off my new wife for the evening.  Though I rationalized my dependency by reminding myself that only a few days earlier, Eva and I had vowed to share all our worldly possessions–which technically included the contents of her purse.

Taking our order, the waiter switched from exemplary French to stilted English when we came up lame in his native tongue.  I selected the second least expensive bottle of Bordeaux on the menu and the least expensive entrée, the pâté en croûte pistaché salade.  Eva ordered the filet de boeuf en sauce béarnaise, the most expensive item on the menu, winning her sole attention from our massive waiter, who ignored me and my friendly smiles throughout the rest of the meal.

Before departing to place our order, the waiter grabbed the half empty basket of bread from the deserted table next to us, set it down in front of me, turned on his heel, and pranced off towards the kitchen.  I examined Eva’s astonished expression, then peered into the depleted bread basket to find three remaining slices from a no longer fresh baguette.

“Did he just give us someone else’s used bread?” I said.

“Yes, he did,” she responded, leaning forward to get a closer look inside the tainted basket.

“Well, what was that about?”

“I don’t know.  I’m kind of in shock.”

“Do you think maybe that’s a thing here?  Everyone shares everyone else’s bread?” I said.

“No.  I don’t.”

“So, you think he was just being a dick?”

“I think he was just being a dick.”


I was starving, having only had a few pretzels at Deux Magots, so I reached into the basket and pulled out a slice of bread.

“Do you want a slice?” I asked Eva.

“I am not eating that bread,” she responded.

The anger and repulsion in her tone told me that I shouldn’t eat it either—so I dropped the chunk of bread, picked up the basket, and set it back down on its original table.  An action that changed Eva’s expression from someone who was etching a strike in her mind against the character of the man she had just married, back to neutral.

The Brasserie Lipp had been a big haunt of famous American expatriates in the 1920’s, and an even bigger haunt of American tourists ever since.  Wide-eyed, loud-mouthed state-siders, looking to lasso the spirit of Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and the rest of the once in a millennium gang.  A legacy that helped me understand, if not condone, the anti-American sentiment at such a celebrated restaurant, where the wait-staff was afflicted with unilingual American tourists at lunch and dinner every day of the week.  Another, and possibly even greater contributor, was the fact that waiters in Paris don’t work for tips.  Tips are factored into the bill.  So, there really is no incentive for them to pretend to like anyone, much less the dreaded American tourist.

Attempting to shake off the Lipp experience after dinner, Eva and I strolled down the cobblestoned alleyways of the 6th Arrondissement, and like good little tourists, sought out Pablo Picasso’s studio at 7 Rue des Grands Augustins.  We snapped iPhone pictures of each other hamming it up beside the commemorative plaque on the wall, and then continued down the exclusive street, peering into the gallery windows to find out what art was fashionable in Paris that spring.

Fearing our blood/alcohol level was dropping, we ducked into a trendy little watering hole a few blocks from Picasso’s pad called Prescription Bar.  Inside it was candlelit and dark, other than the abstract paintings hanging on the walls of an unnerving green subject matter, reminiscent of plasma, you wouldn’t want to contemplate twice before bedtime.

The alcohol count for the newlyweds at that point was two beers with lunch, a 4 o’clock bottle of wine at Deux Maggots, and a second bottle with our begrudgingly served dinner at Lipp.  Figuring we had already gone that far with our drinking, we decided to go the distance.  Like most weddings, ours had been stressful, and our frayed nerves required a slightly higher alcohol intake then they did during any other week.  At least that’s how we justified all the empty bottles we were leaving behind us.  Deciding to take it up a notch at Prescription Bar, we asked the young, smiley-faced bartender if they served absinthe.  He laughed for some reason, probably another American tourist thing, then told us they didn’t serve it straight, but that they made a cocktail with fruit juice that had absinthe as one of its ingredient.  We nodded eagerly when he asked if we’d like to try it, then drank it down quickly after it arrived in tall, narrow glasses, featuring wedges of pineapple, harpooned by tiny umbrellas.  The cocktail possessed an obscene amount of sugar, but otherwise tasted innocently enough, though we knew from what we’d read about absinthe, that it would creep up on us eventually.

“Is it me or do the bartenders in Paris pour a ton of sugar in their cocktails?” I asked Eva, whose eyes looked as dazed as mine felt after we’d downed our drinks.

“I was just thinking that.  There’s an inch of sugar at the bottom of my glass.  I need a spoon to finish my drink.”

I laughed.  “Not the worst thing in the world.”

“No.  And with all the walking we’re doing the calories will just drop right off.  Do you wanna get one more?” Eva said, as she used her tongue to scoop out the sugar she’d worked to the top of the glass in a method not lost on the bartender.

“No, let’s hit the streets again,” I said.  “We’re only in Paris a week and I don’t think we should repeat an experience when there are so many more experiences out there waiting for us.”

“That sounded very writery,” Eva said with a laugh.

“What did?”

“What you just said about experiences.  Is that a quote from something you wrote?”

“No, I just came up with it.  Why?  You think I should put it in something?  What was the quote again?”

“Something about repeating experiences.  Can’t remember.”

“Well, it couldn’t have been that good if you don’t remember it and I just said it two seconds ago.”

“I guess I just I don’t feel like trying to remember things right now,” Eva said.  “I feel like doing things.  You’re right, there are experiences out there waiting for us, and all we’re doing is sitting here with empty drinks talking about them.”

“Oh, now you remember what I said.  When it suits your argument.  Okay, let’s hit as many cool bars as we can…until we can’t anymore,” I said.

“I’m game,” Eva said, placing a handful of euros on the bar.  “We can always come back here another night if we want another one of these sugary absinthe drinks.”

“No, we can’t!  One and done, remember?”

“Oh, right.  I forgot.  One and done.”

We slid off our barstools and headed for the door.  Before stepping outside, Eva turned back towards the bar and said, “Goodbye, Prescription Bar.  Sorry, but we will never pass this way again.”

I laughed.  “Nice exit line,” I said, taking Eva’s hand and leading her up the art gallery lined street.

Eva and I don’t remember the name of the bar we entered next, probably because the absinthe had already kicked in, making us less aware of physical details and more aware of emotional ones.  But I do remember that the first thing I noticed was a red sign above the bartender’s head advertising bottles of wine for 20 euros.  The previous bottles we’d purchased that day were in the 30 to 40-euro range, and so I happily ordered a bottle with two glasses that Eva happily purchased.  I couldn’t recall ever buying a bottle of wine in a bar in America and I liked the novelty of it, along with the price.

With the open bottle in hand, Eva and I sat down on a pair of wood block chairs, at a wood block table, which made me feel like an actor in a low budget play back in Los Angeles.  The dim lighting, set design, and staging, all appropriate for the surreal scene we were about to act out with the young French couple that sat down next to us…

The wine glasses the bartender gave us were as small as they come, like shot glasses with stems, and after we drank our first glass, a tall, handsome Frenchman with a face as unshaven as mine, sat down at the wood block table next to us with his equally attractive blonde-haired date.  I say date, instead of girlfriend or wife, because unlike me, he wasn’t wearing a brand-new wedding band, and because there was a stiffness between them that implied a lack of familiarity and comfort, like two people on a first date.  Apart from those observations, it was soon apparent that he was trying to impress her by what he said to me after sitting down and eyeing our bottle of wine.

“You are American, no?” he said.

I laughed.  “Yes.  What gave me away?”

Ignoring my question, he pressed on with another one of his own… “Did you purchase bottle of wine here?”

“Uh…yes.  Right here at the bar.”

His questioning the obvious confused me and I wondered if it was due to his lack of familiarity with the English language.

“This is not the place to order bottle of wine,” he said, turning a bright white grin towards his blonde date.

“Oh, well…we’re not from around here,” I said.  “The wine’s actually not too bad.  Right, Eva?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty good.”

The Frenchman eyed Eva incredulously and then eyed his date again.  The date seemed bored by the topic and kept her eyes averted from us, looking out through the open doorway towards the street.

Attempting to extract myself and my new wife from the conversation, I pivoted my body away from the annoyingly handsome Frenchman and squared it with Eva’s.  I smiled at her and then moved my shoulders to the beat of “Pump up the Jam” the 80’s techno song playing in the bar—an action I hoped would convey to him that we wanted to be left alone.  Eva laughed tensely at my attempt at physical comedy, then tried to make me laugh at her own funny dance moves.  A few moments passed before the Frenchman inserted himself back into our evening.

“Do you mind if I look at it?” he said, reaching towards our wine bottle.

“Uh…no, go ahead,” I said, gesturing politely with my hand.

He grabbed the bottle by the neck, held it to his nose, and sniffed the contents.  Then, offended by its bouquet, he made a sour face, set the bottle down, and without another word to us, stood up, and ushered his blonde date over to the bar.

I turned and looked wide-eyed at Eva.  The anger over what the Frenchman had done having yet to seize me.  Disbelief is always my first reaction when cruel people treat me cruelly.

“What was that all about?” I said to Eva.

“He was just trying to impress that girl,” she said.

“So, he sniffs our wine and then scoffs at it?”

“I guess so.”

“What the hell?” I said, eyeing the wine sniffer, now leaning against the bar.

“Let it go, Andrew.  It doesn’t matter.”

“It doesn’t matter?  That guy just tried to make a fool out of me.”

“Okay, calm down.  He’s not worth getting upset about.”

“Of course he is.  I’ve had it with these French people.  They don’t like Americans?  Well, fine, I don’t like them either.  Screw it!  I’ve been defending these French pricks for years, saying they’re not as bad as they seem–and this is how I get paid back for it?  By some pretty boy sniffing my bottle of wine and then making a face at me?!”

“Lower your voice, Andrew.  We’re not in America.  People act differently here.”

“Do you know what Ernest Hemingway would’ve done if that wine sniffer had done that to him?  He would’ve taken him outside and kicked the shit out of him.”

By that point my anger had been fully realized.

“Well, thank God you’re not Ernest Hemingway.”

“Yeah, thank God for that asshole!” I said, gesturing at the Frenchman.

“Please lower your voice.  I don’t want to have to bail my new husband out of a French jail.”

I reached for the bottle the wine sniffer had so vehemently objected to and filled my little glass to the rim–all the while keeping my eyes trained on the bar.

“It almost feels morally wrong not to do something about this.  At the very least I should go over there and tell him he’s an asshole,” I said.

“Please don’t.”

“No!  I should go over there and grab his beer, take a sip, and make a sour face right back at him.”

“Please don’t do that either.”

“I’ll take a sip of his beer and then spit it in his face and tell him that the next time he sniffs someone’s wine and makes a face, I hope the guy’s in the Mafia and he ends up at the bottom of the Seine.”

“I don’t think they have the Mafia in this country.”

“Of course, they do.  The Mafia is everywhere.”

“Okay, I think it’s time we go to the next bar,” Eva said, reaching for her little black purse.

“Not until I’m finished drinking my bottle of shitty bar wine,” I said.

I chugged my little glass of wine, grabbed the bottle in question, and filled the glass back up to the rim.

“Well, I’m going downstairs to the bathroom.  Could you please try and cool off before I get back?”

“Eva, I don’t think you quite understand the lack of civility we just experienced.  It’s not the kind of offense someone just cools off over during the course of a two-minute bathroom stop.”

“I understand that, but you have to try and get over it.  Because I’m not sure you understand that you can’t get into a fight in a foreign country, where the judicial system will be heavily biased against a belligerent citizen of a country they unanimously despise.”


“Getting there…”

“Hey, you’re the one who’s getting belligerent.  This little incident is not going to end up in Federal court, so you can just calm down about that.”

“Look–I’m just saying that if you start a fight it’s going to be everyone against you.  And the French police will come in here and ask what happened and everyone will say you started a fight for no reason and you’ll get arrested…and, yes, probably end up having to defend yourself in court because you can’t afford legal representation because we’ve spent all our money on our honeymoon.”

“Okay, please go to the bathroom.  I want to be alone so I can finish my shitty wine in peace.”

When I’m good and angry and at war inside my head, I tend to turn on even those I value as my most beloved and trusted allies.  It’s an odd and inexplicable tendency.  A need to cast everyone aside with a few harsh words, so I can brood by myself in some sort of self-destructive, go-down-fighting-alone impulse.  It’s not rational.  It’s not healthy.  It’s not effective.

While Eva was downstairs, I sat at our cubed little table looking towards the brightly lit bar trying to will the wine sniffing Frenchman to look my way.  But he never turned his head.  I could tell he was aware of my psychotic stare by the way he was overacting his role of fascinated listener as his date regaled him with her words, but with impressive poise–which I envied–refused to acknowledge my attempt to reengage him.  Soon, Eva returned and took her seat next to me.  She, too, was angry by that point.  Angry at the Frenchman.  Angry at the interruption of our magical day in Paris.  And angry at me for not having the emotional self-discipline to shrug it off and go back to having a fun night.  Discovering the wine bottle was empty, Eva reached over, grabbed my full glass of wine, and drank it down in two gulps.  It was a dramatic move for which I was quietly impressed.

“Okay, let’s get out of here,” I said.

As we walked out of the bar, my eyes stayed fixed on the wine sniffer’s face, but he went right on enjoying his evening, more so now that he had ruined ours.

Heading back along the sidewalk towards Picasso’s, I recited aloud for Eva the litany of offenses we had incurred that day–from being treated like 2nd class citizens (or 2nd floor citizens) at Brasserie Lipp, where we were given another table’s used bread, to the unnecessary cruelty of the wine sniffing Frenchman ridiculing my choice to purchase a bottle of cheap wine at a dive bar.

“Andrew, I’m not going to let you turn our honeymoon into a war against the French Republic,” Eva said, after I’d finished the list and thoroughly psychoanalyzed the rude behavior of some of its contributors.

“Hey–you’re acting like I’m the one misbehaving here.  All I’ve done—all we’ve done–is smile and be friendly, while sitting there taking one slap across the face after another.  It’s obvious that whether it’s Trump’s fault for the way we’re being treated, or not–the majority of the French people hate Americans and are finding every opportunity to let us know just how much.”

“Well, let’s face it, Trump is a prick, and you can’t blame them for holding it against the Americans for electing him!” Eva said.

Immediately after she said it, she looked like she regretted it.  I spotted the look of regret, but like anyone who wants to win an argument, I pounced anyway.  The absinthe was now working together with the cheap wine and the French people to ensure that enough gas was thrown on the fire to produce a significant explosion right there in the 6th Arrondissement.

“Wait.  Are you taking sides with the French against me?!  Against your husband?!” I said.  “Okay, that’s it.  I need to be by myself.   I need to take a walk.  I need to take a walk by myself.”

“What?!  It’s midnight.  Where the hell are you going to go?”

“Don’t worry about it.  Grab an Uber and I’ll meet you back at the apartment later.  I need to be alone right now.  It’s my right as an individual human being to be alone if I want to be alone.  Marriage doesn’t change that!”


Drunk and irrational, I started down the sidewalk at a quick pace, turning to give Picasso’s studio another glance as I passed by it.

“Do you even know how to get back to the apartment?!” Eva shouted at me, with a touch of irony in her voice.

“I know the address: 15 Rue Paul Delong!  2nd Arrondissement!

Lelong!  Not Delong!”

“Paul Lelong!  I know!”

“Andrew?  ANDREW?  Do you really know your way around this city?”

“Of course I do!  This is my 5th time in Paris, remember?!”

The truth was I knew all the tourist haunts on the Left Bank in the 5th and 6th Arrondissements where Hemingway had once lived, like the Dome, the Closerie des Lilas, Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Company, but we were staying in the 2nd Arrondissement, on the Right Bank across the Seine, far away from anything I remotely recognized, and it took me two and a half hours to find my way back to Eva.

Of course, there were other complications.  I had been too cheap to purchase an overseas cellphone plan, rendering my iPhone useless for navigational purposes.  Also, as I said, I had forgotten to bring my wallet, so even though I knew the address on the Right Bank where we were staying, the taxi option to transport me there was unavailable to me as well.

At first it was thrilling to be lost in the most charming and beautiful city in the world, in the middle of the night, drunk, and getting drunker, as the cheap wine continued to infiltrate my bloodstream.  It was like being in a giant labyrinth, where I couldn’t find the end, but thought I recognized several locational clues, which didn’t turn out to be clues at all.  After an hour of stubbornly thinking I could find my way back to the apartment without asking for help, I finally gave in and began asking other late-night carousers if they knew how to get to Rue Paul Lelong.  The darkness, my poor French, their drunkenness and mine, all working against me.

It worked like this… I’d step in front of someone and blurt out: “Rue Paul Lelong?  Rue Paul Lelong?”  And then, when they shook their heads uncomprehendingly, I’d mispronounce: “Rue Montmartre”.

To which they would inevitably respond: “No, no, I am sorry,” and quickly shuffle away.

Eventually, I resorted to yelling: “THE LOUVRE!  THE LOUVRE!”, which I knew was fairly close to our apartment, and someone would give me complicated directions in broken English, which I was too drunk and too navigationally challenged to follow.

It was the dead of night and there were only so many people who appeared in front of me, not one of them American.  Soon, I began to panic, thinking that Eva was back at our Airbnb worried out of her mind.  Thankfully, I had worn my red New Balance sneakers that day, so I decided to turn my nightmarish predicament into an opportunity to get some exercise, and began jogging down street after street, stopping to peer up at the little blue signs on the corners of the buildings revealing the name of the street and number of the arrondissement or district of the city.

My jog took me from the 9th Arrondissement to the 3rd to the 4th to the 2nd–where I must have been close to home–then back to the 3rd, and somehow all the way back to the 9th, where, when I saw that the little blue sign above read: 9 Arrondissement, I collapsed on the curb and broke down in tears.  Like many lost and helpless people, I then turned to religion and accepted God back into my life after a decade long hiatus, promising that if He got me out of this jam and safely back into the arms of my beloved wife on the 5th floor of an apartment building on the elusive Rue Paul Lelong, I would never drink again…at least not absinthe.

Finally, somewhere in the 3rd Arrondissement, I asked a young, dark-haired woman walking her dog, if she could direct me to Rue Montmartre, the main thoroughfare that ran perpendicularly to Rue Paul Lelong.  Like the others, she didn’t recognize the name of the street due to my horrendous pronunciation, but wisely handed me her cellphone, so I could type it into a Google search.  She then found a map and gave me directions for the half mile distance home.

“You see streetlight at end of the block where big statue is?” the woman said.

“Yes!  Yes!  I see it!  The big statue!”

“Go to light and then go left and then go for five minutes and then you will take another left and then you will find Montmartre,” she said.

I thanked her profusely and gave her a hug, and she seemed charmed by the plight of the desperately lost, cellphoneless American, and I thought: “Well, she certainly makes up for all the other French assholes that led me here tonight.”

When I arrived back at the apartment, I raced up the four flights of stairs, and opened the door, expecting to be greeted by my devastated wife, only to find a single light burning by the window and Eva upstairs in the loft, sleeping.  Apparently, the absinthe had been bad for some things and good for others, like putting Eva soundly to sleep, free of worry.  I stripped off my clothes, crawled into bed next to my bride, wrapped my arms around her, and slept until noon.

A few days later, when we were back to being best friends, Eva and I decided to make a return trip to Brasserie Lipp–one for which, this time, we, not the French, would set the terms.

“Let’s go back there and really American it up,” I said, as we sat on the rooftop patio of our Airbnb, drinking wine, and listening to the sentimental playlist from our wedding.

“But, I thought we weren’t going to repeat any experiences in Paris,” she said.

“That’s true.  But I think this experience needs to be repeated so we can both feel better about it years from now when we’re reminiscing about our honeymoon.”

“Okay,” Eva said.  “And maybe it’ll be good for me to try and be a little less nice for a change.”

“You could probably benefit from being a little less nice…yes,” I said.

To appear as American as we could, we both wore our bright red Phillies baseball caps, flannel button down shirts–rolled up to the elbows–blue jeans, and the his and hers cowboy boots (a wedding gift from my Colorado cousin) we had lugged all the way from L.A.

To the chagrin of the same Maître d’ we had experienced during our first visit to Lipp, this time I insisted on a table on the first floor, and vehemently pointed to an available one facing the entrance of the restaurant.  After our assorted cheese plate appetizer, Eva confessed to me that she had never eaten squid ink pasta before, one of the specials that night, and I insisted she try it.  I ordered the same, and when the mounds of pasta arrived on large oval plates, she was baffled to discover that squid ink meant actual ink.  Black, teeth-staining ink.  After I had twirled a length of pasta onto my fork and shoved it into my mouth, she looked across the table and saw that the ink had turned my front teeth black.  Realizing that her teeth were likely mirroring mine, she wiped at them with her napkin after each bite, and later swished water from her water glass as well.  As she wiped and swished, the uptight, middle-aged French couple seated next to us watching her performance, whispered back and forth to each other in exasperation.

After dinner, while we waited out on Boulevard Saint Germain for our Uber to arrive, I said to Eva:

“You were really working that napkin at dinner.  And all that water swishing, too.  Did the squid ink really bother you that much?”

I was legitimately worried about the newly introduced neurotic eating habits of the woman with whom I had agreed to spend the rest of my life.

“No,” she said.  “I just noticed that the French couple next to us were disgusted by it–so I kept doing it more and more to gross them out.”

“Wow.  I had no idea you were like that.”

“Well, I am,” Eva said with a grin, as the white Prius we were waiting for came into sight.

“That’s fantastic!” I said, grabbing her hand and leading her into the backseat.

“Take us to the Eifel Tower please,” Eva said to the driver.  “We’re Americans and it’s mandatory that we get a picture kissing in front of it at night.”

The driver laughed, completed a harrowing U-turn, and then drove the Americans off to get the money shot that would hang in their bedroom for the next 40 or 50 years.




Alexander Carver’s stories have appeared in ZYZZYVA, Foliate Oak, The Satirist, The Southern Pacific Review, and Dark Matter.  His story “Uber Trouble” was a prize winner in the Razor Literary Magazine short fiction contest. As well as being an author, he is also a produced playwright and screenwriter.






Dogs of Kathmandu

by Brett Horton



There is a clear view of the green Himalayan foothills from my 4th floor window.  October blue sky with clouds floating by, low in the background like puffs of smoke from the invisible Hindu gods- invisible, yet represented everywhere.  From my rooftop balcony, our rooftop, I have a panoramic view of the multi-colored, dusty, squat, rectangular buildings all varying size, the different levels of life, different levels of rooftops, balconies, porches, streets, that ride and sit on their portion of the wave of the valley.  There is a rooftop above and below me.

Wei Lin has just returned with a copy of the Kama Sutra, in Spanish, for the English version was sold out and the Chinese version’s drawings didn’t look as authentic.  Too cartoony.  We are leaving now, splitting a taxi to Patan Durbar Square with an American who just arrived from D.C.




The golden top of the temple of Suryambhunath, one of the most ancient Hindu sites in the world, atop its hill, points to and touches the sky, directly in front of me.  I see it above the red brick and cement rooftops, a little ways across the city, as I face west.  Laundry hanging, blowing, striped flags billowing.  The rooftop terrace railings are lined with bowling pin-shaped supports.  The sky is still blue, the air warm, much warmer than anticipated, with a slight cool breeze that breathes, periodically.  There are people, enjoying their breakfast, tea and coffee, on patios below and above me.  Large dark birds swoop low through Kathmandu valley, circling and soaring and gliding.  They could be hawks or vultures.  Pigeons are alighting on rooftops below me.  Pigeons perch on crumbly temples.

The Himalayan foothills beckon the wayfarers.  Flowers are in bloom all around.  A lady waters her rooftop garden slightly below me.  The spiral staircase to my left goes to the rooftop above me.  That is the highest rooftop of the Family Peace House yet there are only more views of higher rooftops and yet a mightier panorama when it is summitted.  Everest and Nuptse and Lhotse and their tall siblings are far off across the foothills and deathly peaks.  Everest, the rooftop of the world, we saw from the airplane, rising high above the level of clouds on our flight from Kunming.  My camera has a zoom like a pair of powerful binoculars.  One almost could mistake the mountain’s white and blue for the white of the clouds and the blue of the sky if one wasn’t paying close attention, but upon a closer inspection, it is unmistakable.

The house cleaning lady, in her red ornate garb, smiles as she walks by, the red blessing dot of the tika smeared on her forehead.

Wei Lin comes up the stairs and asks for the key.  Padlock doors.

“Did you buy something?” I inquire.

“Yes.  A dress.”

“You have a dress in that tiny bag? How can you fit a dress in that bag?”

“I’m tiny,” she replies and giggles, steps in, steps out and reappears with a black dress of embroidered turquoise and purple flowery design and a light, handmade cashmere scarf.  She matches the exotic scenery.  She sort of followed me over here, but she’s a likeable companion.

With all these surroundings, words fail me somewhat, but out they come from inward.  I could just take a photograph or video, or my fascinations make me want to paint or draw, or I can also record my words as I can speak faster than I write oft times, but no matter, all these mediums and forms of expression are good.

There is a large mural downstairs that reveals, “Better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace.”

We are now on our way to Suryambhunath, the Monkey Temple.




Yesterday, we made our way to Patan-Durbar Square.  Needless to say, we walked around, taking pictures and videos, which contain memories and vivid details, so there’s no real need to go overboard with descriptive writing.  The long walks are good exercise, but I’d prefer to get up in the foothills where I don’t have to watch out for being clipped by a wayward motorcycle or car- where other dangers lurk.

We are now sitting on the roof terrace of La Bella Café & Acqua Bar in the Thamel district, the traveler’s ghetto, near to where we are temporarily living- just for 10 days, but living, nonetheless.  The days have been long and full, as we’re early birds, as Nepal is 2 1/2 hours behind China time.  That’s the first time zone by a half-hour that I’ve ever seen.

It’s 4 pm and my Irish coffee has arrived with cream and chocolate on top.  Wei Lin has just gotten her third heart in a row upon ordering a cappuccino.  The first heart was prepared by me at La Renaissance in Mianyang, my attempt at latte art, for the bizarre and surreal purpose of the movie, a reenactment of ourselves, which had been actually transcribed.  The reenacted video was actually filmed before, a video at the same location of spontaneous conversation that was lost.  To me, it is slightly unusual that the scene was filmed at all, because I didn’t know if it were likely that Brian and I would be in the same Chinese city together again.  And it was transcribed to paper only because I used it as a scene in the script that was typed mainly for approval/permission, and while that drawn-out process has dragged and perhaps even dwindled, a huge portion of part one has been independently made, already.  I ducked out of China to nearby Nepal for a visa duration reason and will return late next week.

The whiskey is now flowing through my veins and I feel fairly good, but stuffy in the dust.  All the color is dusty.  Not too dusty, though.  Not Grapes of Wrath dusty, which I am reading lately.

Now, I’m drinking a big bottle of Everest beer, though I prefer Nepal Ice, but it’s sold out.  We walked back to our area from Kathmandu’s Durdar Square.  We also made it to Boudhanath and Pashupatinath yesterday.  Along the Bagmati River, we looked down as the people carried out their Dashain Festival ritual of setting free the painted statues of gods and goddesses down the eternal life flow of the river.  Durga was the final goddess to join the float, it seems, and for some reason she didn’t go as easy as the others.  We sampled the momo. Wild monkeys ran through the streets between cars and watched and swung from the trees.

At Boudha, we joined the Tibetan monks walking clockwise around the stupa and spun the prayer wheels, then surveyed the view from a café balcony.  We were joined with a Japanese American named Ryan who worked as an assistant to a national security advisor to a Democratic senator in Washington, D.C.  He’d minorly injured himself before he could execute his plan of trekking to the Everest base camp, so he went to plan B and took off to Chitwan on a jungle safari and to Lumbini, Siddhartha Gautama’s birthplace, the Buddha.

A flute flutters notes up from down somewhere in the alley-street.  Hindu and Buddhist temples reside tranquilly next to each other. Monkeys and dogs roam free.  It is like walking through a friendly ghetto.  Through earthquake rubble.  A picturesque and holy trashcan where gods of gilded gold and intricate artworks and relics reside.  There are no trashcans to be found.  No functioning traffic lights.  Slum children on sidewalks learning to live like pigeons.  More businesses are opening as the holiday winds down.  The whole city is an ancient temple with bars, restaurants, hotels, stores, streets and traffic inside.  I am learning more of Hinduism and Buddhism.  If it is all superstition, it is still fascinating.  The old bearded monks bless me with the red dot of a tika and humbly ask for money.  We’ll soon be off for a day into the hinterlands, perhaps near Nagarkot.

Wei Lin pointed out a black cat running along the fence, and it’s about the only cat we’ve seen.

Descending the high steps from the Monkey Temple, we sampled some “poli” (?) from a street vendor, fried balls with something (?) inside, dipped in a spicy lemon sauce.  Also, the local dahl bat meal w/ mutton and chicken biryani, naan, masala tea- I am trying to learn a little more, but sometimes it seems I merely push old stuff out the more I push new in.  New words in foreign dialects push old English words out.  Some days I am just a weary traveler who knows not where he is going in the long run, and I can’t express myself with any eloquence.  Though, I still attempt to stack knowledge like Jenga.  My head is expanding like a balloon.  I feel the need to hone vocabulary, but few things are true needs.  Taking a cue from my environment, I could focus on one word.  Meditation station.  Too many loud mufflers and horns for meditation.  There is a constant barrage of information everywhere and little if any time made for recall.  Animal blood is spilled and stained on stone temple floors for ancient sacrificial rites.  It is all a sight to see, but I am a traveler with not much of a tourist soul, and I get enough of sightseeing quickly, after 2 full days.  I prefer to sightsee casually, slowly, at random, if possible.  I just aim to balance with grace.

I’m templed out for the moment.  Wei Lin finished her cappuccino and went shopping for an hour.  I’m not interested in much shopping and just want to mostly lurk in cafes from here on out.  In the streets, the shops, I am hassled by salespeople especially because I’m a white male- though, I’ve been remarking that I am peach.  As I walk with Asian companions, it is me that the sellers cling on to.  Nepali mother after me to buy her child milk.  At the top of Suryambhunath, I bought 3 original oil and acrylic landscape paintings on small pieces of canvas that easily roll and fold for transport, for only 4500 rupees.  I love to support the local artists and local all sorts, while being international.




            Sitting in the Garden of Dreams, it’s like an ancient civilization sprung to life.  The high pillars of the café patio rise into the dome’s archway beneath.  I ponder the colonnade.  Together with the gazebo, elephant statues and circular railings painted a soft yellow- proper descriptions elude me these days- specific English words of detail sometimes are sleeping in the recesses of my searching mind, the more I learn Chinese and Spanish, but it will come to me later, the words are there somewhere.          Pretty Nepali girls take each other’s picture next to the fountain and sit in the green grass.  The high bamboo swing is taken turns upon.  I am tired today so it is almost like dreaming.  Children splash their hands in the pool.  The only thing missing is a hammock.  I could lay there and swing and nap and smile the whole day.  Maybe I will stretch out on the grass or go back and take a nap.  This is another day when I focus on drinking much water as feeling a little dehydrated.  Any anxious feeling will eventually dissipate.  I can sleep in a chair.  No reason to despair for too long.  I am a seeker of the truth of God.  There is a river of eternity of God to learn.  Lily pads float in the small pool.  I once named a woman Lily.  I named another Lily in a movie.  I wish to be pure, to alleviate pain.  A painkiller poet.  I’ll take a heart of gold, but moreso I pray for a heart that beats and beats and beats on.

– Black Olives Café, Thamel

            Got a cold in Kathmandu or something similar, maybe just a reaction to the surroundings.  Hard to tell the difference- may be wearing my black bandanna on the street like a masked bandito, soon, amongst the face masks, silk scarves and shawls.  Brian wechats me, “How is Nepal?”

I reply a short summation and ask if he got a designer face mask while on his Beijing jaunt, like so many sport.

Wei Lin has gone shopping, and I certainly don’t want to go along.  My white male face gets hustled, though gently, but nonetheless.  Serious solicitations, though not as aggressive as some other places I’ve been.  Most of my shopping is already complete, my Xmas shopping mostly done in October, an early bird this season.  There are deals you can’t find just everywhere, even if they are overcharging me.  This is a bargaining land.  Basically, you just cut the price in half from what is 1st said.  Except in the bars, restaurants, cafes.  Ryan of DC said I was a good bargainer, but I am only just checking the other prices 1st.  Many don’t give you a chance to browse even the 2nd item before sinking their sales claws into you.  Some are chill.  I bought a handmade Nepali cashmere scarf, 3 landscape paintings, a bracelet, a shape-shifting toy made of gold semi-ringlets and beads, oblivious to the proper name, as I was latched onto on the busy street and usually I will decline approaches, but this one got me.  Also, I found a pair of hiking shoes, one of the only sizes that fit me in the area.  They started out at 9000 rupees then went down to 4800- then, I ended up with the same pair for just 4000 rupees at a nearby shop.  The trick of bargaining is simply to walk away and return, or not even to return, in many instances.

I’ve relocated now to my rooftop and have washed a pair of socks in the sink and hung them on the clothesline on the rooftop above me to dry.  There is a solar panel directly above our room.  Now and then, the electricity turns off briefly.  There are black hot water tanks on rooftops across the city, heated by the sun.  A blue and green one.  Gray buildings, red bricks, mint-colored building, blue roofs, aluminum roof below, salmon-colored houses and apartment buildings with white trimmed windows, 7-up signs hanging, a dwelling with a shade of painted blue that is both bright and dark, blush red roof shingles.

I am sniffly.  Last night, I bought some nasal spray from a pharmacist whose counter opened directly to the gravelly inner-city street.  He recommended Rhinozol, a couple of drops 3 times a day, which is made of the chemical Xylometazoline.  I’ve had a couple of snorts, and it is clearing me out with a runny nose, sneezing and some coughing.  Blowing my nose over coffee and tea.  I’ll be better soon.  The side of the decongestant box reads that it is to be prescribed by a registered physician.  Maybe the pharmacist is the physician.

Wei Lin now just went downstairs to fill 2 water bottles, 3 flights down and back up, but it really felt like she went down one flight and turned right back around with 2 full bottles, such is the blurring of time in a Hindu land.




We’ve been taxi-hopping then walking through all the areas of ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples.  1st, Patan-Durbar Square- the temples all reside peacefully next to each other.  I’m learning some more each day, always.  The stupa in Durbar Square is said to be from 250 BC, built with 3 others by King Oshoko, ordered by him.  I doubt he lifted a finger.  Maybe he was a good king, though, out there stacking and cutting stones with the serfs.  Ryan sat in gum- who puts gum on a seat?  Later, I felt a little guilty for spitting gum out on the ground, but I did it over in a sidewalk corner among rubble and rocks, in the hopes that dust and debris would cover it before it found its way to somebody’s sole, not thinking it a place where anyone would stand.  I never spat gum on the ground before, but there weren’t trashcans anywhere.

We went to Pashupatinath, one of the most sacred temples in Hinduism and took a stroll.  Only Hindus are allowed inside the actual temple.  The smell of fresh cow dung hung in the air and you had to watch your step.  We turned down the entry fee to witness the funeral, where masses of Hindus are cremated along the littered banks of the Bagmati.  I’ve already mentioned all these places the other day when I let loose with a sangria, then Nepal Ice, a gin and 7-up and more beer.  Not sure how much of my current condition is owing to a 3-day lingering hangover or the dust and polluted air or a legitimate cold or allergies or all of the above.  I am sneezing less now only a few hours later.

The day before, we walked to Narayanhiti Palace and went inside.  A palace now turned museum.  No bags, cameras or cell phones are allowed.  Inside, there are stuffed tigers mounted.  Not toy stuffed tigers like Hobbes (who is arguably real in Calvin’s world), but real life tigers who were stuffed by a taxidermist and stand on their hind legs, growling in fierce poses.  These are like the bears you see in the homes of hunters in America.  Rugs, full body with the heads snarling- there was a bear and a tiger.  The furniture was in stark contrast to the luxurious, sprawling palace.  Sofas and carpet rugs that looked like they were from the 70’s or early 80’s- the long lime-green carpet, for instance, which I did a double take on to make sure it wasn’t shag.  The old TV set had been sitting for a long time showing no shows.  In the crowning room hung the longest-hanging chandelier that I’ve ever seen, perhaps 40-foot long, like long cylindrical crystals.

The monarchy was dissolved and now Nepal has a president.  Prince Dipendra murdered King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, all in all 10 members of the royal family in mysterious circumstances, debatably because he couldn’t marry whom he wanted.  There was a sign outdoors that pointed to the “site of the massacre” and a haunted empty building where the shooting took place.  The shooting which is typically labeled a “mass murder, massacre, murder-suicide, fratricide, patricide, sororicide, regicide, matricide, avunculicide.”  It makes one wonder, if reincarnation were true, what a prince would be reincarnated as.  Nothing near as holy as a frog.  There is a small, low stone bridge over a stream out back where the Prince was found, dying, and oddly enough, he actually became the King for a few days while in a coma, until he died and his uncle, Gyanendra, became king until the people ran him off and elected Ram Baran Yadav to be president.  It had actually been Gyanendra’s 2nd reign.  But all this can be read about elsewhere.  There are rumors about what really happened, such as it being a framed set-up job by Gyanendra to assume the throne.

In one of the guestrooms, Wei Lin marveled at the huge mirror facing the bed, saying that in China, that is bad luck.




These are the kinds of streets you can move through like a masked outlaw and no one takes a 2nd glance, though they are relatively safe.  There is a constant, incessant roar of motorcycles and honking taxi horns, weaving through the flowered rickshaws and occasional bicycles- bicycles, these cities should have stuck with bicycles.

Whistles blowing, loudness~ Wei Lin has just left to the airport in a taxi, and I’m ready to leave.  I should be back in about 100 hours.  If I lived here, my teenage angst would maybe return and I’d start vandalizing cars- vengeance for driving through what should be pedestrian areas and just being a nuisance, stirring up noise and dust and taking up space and stinking up the air with pollution.

I’ve relocated to a room on the ground floor.  It is only 600 rupees a night, still with a private bathroom, but with a twin bed, and I’m smoking it out by burning a mosquito coil.

The crowds blabber, the horns get louder, at night the mongrels bark and bark and howl like they’re wolves.  I’m tempted to yell from the rooftops for everyone to shut up.  Isn’t this the land of meditation.  Of course, I’m in Thamel.

Back here, where I’m staying in the Paknojol area, it’s much quieter.  I’ve had someone to talk to all week, so I hadn’t actually noticed the extent of the noise in the daytime cafes.  It was more pleasant when we first arrived and most of the businesses were shut down due to the Dashain Festival, which is their #1 Hindu festival.  It’s almost like their Xmas.  Not too long after is Diwali Festival.

Moving through the streets, the whisperings of smoke & hashish in my ear, one-armed beggar extending his hand.  A rat runs by in broad daylight, but it came from an area of potted plants, so it doesn’t seem as repugnant.  Let’s not forget there are disgusting human beings, too.  A mosquito lands on my arm.  I shoo it away.  I’m still smoking them out of my room so they don’t wake me in the night- hopefully- there are some cracks in between the bricks and gaps in the wood, so we’ll see.  That octagon coil can burn up to 10 hours.  The mosquitoes can transfer the Zika virus.  About 1 in 5 people will get it, warns the airport sign.  It’s like a fever for a week and goes away.

The Buddha teaches that all life is suffering, and I can see that to a considerable degree, as I sit with a runny nose swatting mosquitoes (I just got one with this book) on an uncomfortable seat.  All the seats are broken in some way, wobbly or just hard.

I’ve considered upgrading to a different room, but it’s only 3 nights.  It’s almost like camping, but a step up, and I’ve camped many times in my life.  I like it in some ways and hate other aspects of it.  Nature, city and town are all miserable, just in different ways.  This is why the world needs those kindred souls who deflect the constant barrage of misery.  I am able to enjoy myself more when drinking, but if I don’t check it, I just end up sicker, and checking it can also sometimes be a drag.

The sun is going down, and I will go find a restaurant soon.  I have eaten meals in so many restaurants in my life, a superplethora, around the world- I only hold a fraction of the memory of their names.  I’ve loved it and sometimes felt guilty about it.   I will do a 16-hour fast soon, not 24 hours as not being top of the weather, seeing as how I’m in the land of fasts.




I buy cheap cigarettes, sometimes, out of addiction, smoke some, then throw them away.  Like last night’s Surya, on the street, pictures of disease on the box, for 220 rupee.  No bargaining when everything was closed and the bars were still going.

The Black Olives Cafe every morning lately.  Nepali omelette, Tibetan omelette, Israeli special breakfast, Shakshuma- an Israeli-style meal served w/ masala tea or milk coffee along w/ freshly squeezed papaya juice, a multi-vitamin and a big cold bottle of water.  Though it’s much cheaper than most other countries, I could still be even more frugal, if necessary.  Drinks and smokes add up anywhere, though most nights I don’t even do that, lately.

I dropped the soap in the toilet this morning and look forward to American bathrooms.  I am eager to make money somehow without being someone’s slave and while being legal.  Maybe start a business.  I have paying music gigs coming up, but maybe should get more.  They’re not for a while.  If I were lucky, too, I could sell some paintings or writings or this movie.  The streets are quiet this morning.




There was visa confusion of a lesser caliber than at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco when I arrived at Kathmandu Tribhuvan Airport, where many people were lining up to get their visas upon arrival.  Some of the visa machines were out of order and the other lines were moving slow, until I found out those machines were simply for the passport-size photo, of which I already had one.  The visa application papers were actually on a rack further back.  Then, I paid the fee and waited in a long line.  When I got much closer, I was informed that it was a line for Chinese citizens only and that my line was the next one over, which was not a line because there was no one in it.  There was an immigration officer sitting in his booth.  He was really polite.  If I would’ve known, I could have practically walked on through.




Just ordered a Kahlua, Cream & Coffee in the Jesse James bar, with my black bandanna mask tied around my neck and a feather in my fedora, amongst candlelight.  Avoiding exhaust.  The streets are a game to walk, though just now as I’ve sat down, they’re not nearly as blaring as before.  Need to go pretty easy and get more good sleep and get back to better health.  I’ll feel a little better with a dose of alcohol flowing.

Not long ago, we were watching live music, some Nepali flute folk at the New Orleans Bar, a Nepali rock band at the Reggae Bar playing classics by American & English bands:  Hendrix, Doors, Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Nepali Rock and we saw some others playing real softy, but some Clapton and Rolling Stones.

Now, with the night, the still busy streets but much less honking, fire glow, the bugs not bugging, the BLT and tomato soup (which is superb, and I haven’t had such a thing in ages) I am content to be here some more days, alone.  I haven’t been alone in a while, but I can get used to it pretty quick, anytime, these days.  I think of past days and days to come.  I’ll keep learning is one thing that I feel sure of.

“Namaste,” said the native village children on the hillside, as we were led by Raju, our guide.  We hiked from Nagarkot to Changunayaran.  Our driver dodged the potholes and oncoming buses and motorbikes coming directly at us as we climbed the ever-narrowing road with no railing and an almighty drop-off, villages or a construct of sort dotting the way.  It was a mountain of around 2000 meters but a foothill compared to what would come.  The Himalayan foothills were foggy that day so no view of the snow-capped peaks.  The trail was littered near the villages and cleaner the higher you got.  The walk was only a few hours, pretty mild.  Wei Lin almost looked like a native, as we both had a tika on our forehead and she wore a pink silk shawl with sparkles in the sun.  The old ladies passed us on the path, carry their dokos on their backs, the weaved basket-backpacks.  We each took a turn on the ping, the high bamboo swing, up on a plateau with a panoramic view of the valley.  Careful not to step in cow dung or dog poop, which Wei Lin said some Chinese say that is good luck.

We walked amongst mountain cornfields, orange trees, grapefruit trees, millet, which produces the national Nepali wine, potato plants, tobacco and marijuana plants and drove past rice fields and dusty dogs.  The hike was about 16 km.  Changunayaran is the oldest temple in Nepal, built under changu trees.  We were told the legend and how there are millions of Hindu gods.  It is vast and complicated mythology.  The 3 major ones, you may well know, are Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer and all around there are temples dedicated to the various ones, it goes without saying.  The Hindu do a prayer gesture similar to Catholics crossing themselves, but they just touch their forehead and heart.

There are, of course, mini souvenirs of all these gods.  Many people are a mix of Hinduism and Buddhism.  There are Buddha statues all over- skinny, serious, curly-haired Buddha.  I’ve seen the fat, bald, laughing Buddha finally in some shops.  Ganesh, the elephant head god, Krishna, the flute-playing god, the topless flying goddess who plays the pipa behind her head (inspiration for Jimi?), Chhinnamasta, the naked self-decapitated goddess who stands on a divine copulating couple and holds her severed head in her hand, a scimitar in the other, while 3 jets of blood spurt out from her neck and is drank by two attendants and her beheaded head, but I didn’t see her anywhere.

We saw a clumsy goat tumble and fall down a dirt cliffside then stand up and look blankly at us, a slapstick moment.  For lunch, we had the local dhal bhaat: lentil soup w/ rice and chicken curry and more, as sheep came bleating up to our outdoor table and were quickly shepherded away.  Raju mixed all the curry sauce and rice and ate with his hands.  We washed our hands by pouring cool water from a plastic container.

Now, we’ll see what the next day’s incarnation is and my candle has literally burnt down to the last flicker of the wick, 2 dancing flames, and I’ll finish my Everest, get the bill and go to my room.  Now, before its final breath, the flames are kissing and joining into one bigger flame.




Brett Horton was born on the edge of Kansas City and grew up in a small oiltown called Ponca City, Oklahoma and the more metropolitan Wilmington, Delaware.  At age 15, he began a music career playing the local venues and bars of Oklahoma and has since traveled and moved extensively.  As a teenager, he worked as a paperboy, then later, in the circulation room of the newspaper.  He has worked as a gas station clerk, a seasonal cook, a folk musician in an Alaskan vaudeville show, a foreign English teacher, a TV show host, a barista,  and a free-lancer of various jobs just to name some.  These days, he is making indie movies, playing music, throwing art shows and writing, writing, constantly on the go.

Please check out more of his work at: www.bretthorton.org





Try Not

by Garth Pavell


Try not to eat meat on the Chinese New Year
my girlfriend teased, egging on my fragile new
vegetarianism poking out like a pot-bellied silhouette
of a newborn leaf quivering in a cage-free wind.

I arrived at Wongs restaurant where her family occupied
four round red quadrants: immigrants and first generation
Americans mostly at the children’s table, which is where
we sat since chairs were scarce in the old country.

Her century-old grandmother crooned when the piglets
were brought out, eyeless faces charred to horrific perfection.
One teen saw videos online about the horrors of factory farming
so he supported (in theory for now) boycotting corporatized cattle.

I told him most people don’t realize protein-packed edible art
remains unknitted in the patchwork of our veggie sweater. I said
gold-leafed beechnuts and rosy-hued crabapples fall like confetti
as we breed and feed livestock under wrinkled rotting sunsets.

But then the Mongolian beef arrived with mashed plums and garlic.
I chewed the boneless flesh realizing it was seasoning that I craved.
I drank cold-hearted Tsingtao beer and picked at the seared scallions
until a plate of sliced oranges arrived to purify the cow’s candied blood.




The World Is Missing


I can see it in the faces of empty-headed subways at midnight or when the pavement follows me to the undiagnosed part of town. I can feel it while looking through my cross-eyed window at the rain in the alley lit by a dazed streetlamp where a homeless poet panhandles for stamps to send a letter back in time. He once told me the moon’s chipped tooth smiles upon a midwest wine-colored river where he fished as a boy and later got lucky before eventually hitching his way across the vascular highway.

The sugar-junky yuppie across the hall is perennially out of milk, bread, toilet paper and cigarettes but she doesn’t mind asking as long as snickerdoodle cookies bake into the counterclockwise ruminations of her brain. When we cram conversation in the elevator, she directs the naked truth like a go-go dancer that can’t be touched. I once kissed her sugarcoated lips; it was Friday and we were blowing off a week of words when the power went out. We opened our doors and made our candlelit bodies into personified furniture.




Looking Up


the other day I read how our Milky Way is destined to collide
with the all-night party permeating through the Andromeda galaxy

which gives one’s family tree a future forest of speculative poets
tinsel to testify that we’re on track for something infinitely touchable

surely you’ve heard between slutting in front of social media’s mirror
as the evolution of revolution bloodlessly streams captured kings

into soon to be corporatized countries coming in for a huddle
like fish must feel in depths we can only perceive by looking up





Garth Pavell writes stories, poems and songs. His writing most recently appeared in Drunk Monkeys, Main Street Rag and Mudfish. Garth works for an international animal welfare nonprofit in New York City.





The Beautiful Art of Ashley Urban






























Ashley Urban’s childhood and adolescence were spent living deeply secluded in Pike national forest of Colorado. Because of this, she had to be creative with how she spent her time. Far removed from the nearest town and a normal social life, her greatest pleasures were spent in solitude, reading, creating art, and connecting with nature, being completely immersed within it for hours on end, every day. She was always intoxicated with its delicacies and dangers. Over time, she learned to relate with flora and fauna on a deeper level than with the people around her. To this day, her work and life are deeply influenced by the natural realm.

Art has always been a way for Ashley to speak without having to say anything. A means of channeling the harshness of life and the losses she’s endured into something stunning. Through her work she continually strives to reflect the immense amount of pain and beauty that surrounds us.

Ashley is a self trained artist who currently lives and creates in downtown Los Angeles, working as a fine artist, freelance illustrator, art writer for 35mm Magazine, vintage clothier, fashion designer and model. She moved to Los Angeles 4 years ago, at first resistant to the culture shock of leaving Colorado, she has since deeply fallen in love with LA. She interned at Corey Helford Gallery as a tear down and installation engineer and gallery assistant from May, 2016 through June, 2017. This opened up her world to learning the business side of the arts, as well as befriending many of the New Contemporary, Pop Surreal, and street artists she’s idolized for many years. Her artistic life continues to bloom forth, being nurtured by the endless opportunities in the Los Angeles art scene.

In the last month she launched a line of hand-made women’s neck scarves and men’s pocket squares, featuring her illustrations printed on various fabrics. Scarves, pocket squares, fine art prints, and original artworks can all be found on her websites. Keep an eye out, as there are many more fashion designs to be released with regularity.





Art: TheAshleyUrban.com

Shop: Etsy.com/shop/GoldenBeeOddities

Instagram: @AshleyUrban.Art


Image info:

Image 1:
Platonic Solids: Mother of Flora
4″ diameter
Micron pen, watercolor pencil, hand stained paper

Image 2:
Platonic Solids: Mother of Tropics
4″ diameter
Micron pen, watercolor pencil, hand stained paper

Image 3:
Platonic Solids: The Overseers 
12″ x 9″
Micron pen, watercolor pencil, hand stained paper

Image 4:
Platonic Solids: The Future is Female
9″ x 12″
Micron pen, watercolor pencil, gold acrylic, hand stained paper

Image 5:
Divine Hexagon
24″ x 36″
Micron pen, watercolor pencil, gold acrylic, hand stained paper

Image 6:
Los Angeles State of Mind
6″ diameter
Micron pen, watercolor pencil, gold acrylic, hand stained paper

Image 7:
Hurt Manifested
16″ x 8″
Micron pen, watercolor pencil, hand stained paper

Image 8:
Healing Manifested I
18″ x 6″
Micron pen, watercolor pencil, gold acrylic, hand stained paper

Image 9:
Healing Manifested II
9″ x 12″
Watercolor pencil, hand stained paper

Image 10:
Healing Manifested III
14″ x 12″
Colored Pencil

Image 11:
Healing Manifested IV
9″ x 12″
Watercolor pencil, hand stained paper

Image 12:
The Thinker
Micron pen, watercolor pencil, gold acrylic, hand stained paper

Image 13:
Self Portrait
18″ x 10″
Micron pen, watercolor pencil, hand stained paper


Image 14:
Artist Photo
by David Farkus







by Briana Morgan



Mom says hi to the army man at the front door. I’m playing with my model T-Bird (the one me and Pop put together before he went to war). Me and Pop like making models. He and Grandpa used to put them together when Pop was my age, so Pop says me and him are “carrying on tradition.” I asked my teacher what tradition is, and she said it’s something to be proud of.

I’m happy me and Pop have something to be proud of.

I’m playing with my car on the living room floor when Mom tells me to go back to my room. I don’t want to. Mom has lots of stupid rules. She tells me to do things that don’t make sense. Pop always makes sense, so I listen to him.

I go to the kitchen instead of my room. There’s a window over the counter, and I can peek out without being seen.

The army man isn’t talking anymore. He must be waiting for Mom to say something. It takes her a long time to talk. She says bad words I’m not allowed to—words she won’t even let Pop say in the house.

“You’re shitting me,” Mom says. Shitting is a very bad. Pop uses it all the time, but Mom never uses it unless something goes wrong.

My tummy feels wobbly, like something’s crawling around inside.

Did something happen to Pop?

The army man shakes his head. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Pearson. That’s all we know right now.”

“What the hell does missing mean?” Mom asks. “How can you lose an entire human being? He’s not a set of keys!”

Hell is another bad word. Mom’s using so many off-limits words, she must be worried about Pop. She says something to the army man that I can’t hear because her voice is tiny.

The army man says sorry again. Mom shuts the front door in his face. She closes the blinds and pulls the curtains together, blocking out the sun. When she walks past the kitchen, she doesn’t see me. I must have turned invisible.

Mom goes to her room and shuts the door.

The house is quiet forever. I’ve been sitting so long that my butt is sleeping now. I’m not supposed to say butt, either, but it’s not a bad word like shitting or hell.

I slide off the counter and tiptoe down the hall.

The door to Mom and Pop’s room is still closed, and it’s so quiet. The cool doorknob twists easily under my fingers. I slip into the room and shush the door for making creaky sounds. Mom must have turned invisible too. I can’t see her.

I trip over the stupid rug and fall flat on my face. Even though I’m so big now, I’m crying like a baby. Sticky blood runs from my nose and stains the clean carpet. I’m scared that Mom will spank me for the mess—so scared I don’t feel the pain in my face.

Mom comes out of the closet. She hasn’t turned invisible. Her eyes are red; her nose is running. Instead of being mad, Mom hugs me and tells me she loves me.

“I love you too,” I say, “but why was the army man sorry?”

“We’ll talk about it later,” Mom says.

Why can’t we talk about it now? Too many stupid rules.

“Was it something bad?” I ask.

“I said later, Johnny. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

Mom cleans me off in the bathroom. Her wedding ring gets covered in blood as she wipes my face, and I feel a little bad. I don’t cry anymore. Mom tells me I’m brave and touches the flag pin still stuck to my shirt somehow.

“I’m not as brave as Pop,” I say.

Mom doesn’t say a word.


The next thing I know, it’s Sunday. I sit at my desk working on a plane that Pop and me started before he went away. Mom rests on my bed while I work. She’s too long for my mattress, so her feet hang over the edge. I laugh at that.

Mom doesn’t laugh. She hasn’t laughed in a long time.

I stick my tongue out (it helps me do better) as I squeeze the tube of glue. I’m not allowed to glue stuff on my own, so I can only work when Mom sits in the room with me. She isn’t watching me put the model together, but it’s still okay. She doesn’t make sense—not like Pop does, anyway. Pop always knows what’s all right and what’s bad. Pop knows everything in the whole wide world.

Mom doesn’t even know when Pop is coming home.

“When will Pop be back?” I ask.

“Did I say we would talk about this later?”

“No,” I say, “you said we could talk about the army man later. It’s later.”

“You wouldn’t understand,” she says. “I’ll tell you when you’re ready.”

I don’t have anything to say because I’m ready now. I want to know what the army man said to her. I want to know about Pop. I don’t want to make Mom mad, though, because then she might go back to the closet and cry, and then I won’t know anything.

When Mom says nothing else, I go back to making the model. I’m squishing the tube of glue, but no more is coming out. There are still a lot of pieces to put on, and Pop isn’t home. “You said he’d be back before I ran out of glue.”

“He will be,” Mom says.

“No, he won’t,” I say, “because the glue is all gone.” I get up from the desk and drop the tube into the trash can. Mom is sitting up on the bed. I go and sit beside her.

Mom sighs and ruffles my hair. Her eyes are red like she’s been crying for a year, and maybe she has. “You can’t be out already, dear. He’s only been gone for a couple of months. We got that before he left, remember?”

Pop’s been gone forever. “There’s no more, I promise. Can we pretty please get some?”

Mom scrunches up her face, and her hand falls from my head. “That glue’s expensive, Johnny, and the store is closed today.”

“Tell Mr. Slattery it’s an emergency,” I say.

Mom chews on her lip, and her voice sounds dreamy. “It doesn’t work that way, but it won’t hurt to call him.”

I pretend I’m in the army while Mom talks on the phone. My imagination turns the chairs into trees. I crawl through Vietnam on my hands and knees, looking for that guy named Charlie. The grown-ups in town talk about Victor Charlie. I figure he must be a really bad guy.

After Mom hangs up the phone, she tells me to get in the car. I run back to my room first to get my flag pin off the desk. Mom’s fingers fumble to stick the pin to my shirt. Her wedding ring glints as she fusses over me.

“You miss Pop,” I ask, “don’t you?”

“Of course I do.” Mom steps away from me and smiles, but her face looks hard and scary. Her skin’s pale like this morning’s oatmeal. “Let’s go.”

The hardware store is locked up when me and Mom get there. Mr. Slattery opens the doors for us with a big grin on his face. I grin right back at him. He’s a nice man even though he limps. It isn’t his fault he got shot in the war—the one I’m too small to remember—Coreeea, Pop calls it.

Mom says that life isn’t fair. She means people get hurt for no reason sometimes.

Mom and Mr. Slattery talk about the weather as they go off to find the glue. Mom tells me to wait by the register. She doesn’t want me touching anything. She thinks I’ll break something, but I won’t. I do what she tells me anyway, and she and Mr. Slattery disappear behind the shelves.

The lights in the store are turned off, so it’s dark. I’m scared without Mom nearby. I have what Pop calls heebie-jeebies. I glance down at my flag pin and try to be brave—as brave as Pop is for fighting in the jungle. I want him to be proud of me. I want him to know how brave I’ve been, and how grown-up I’ve gotten while he’s been away.

Something runs across the floor behind me, and I don’t want to be alone anymore. I forget about being brave, and the heebie-jeebies take over. I don’t know where Mom and Mr. Slattery are, but I go running down the aisles. My feet make a lot of noise. I wait for Mom to yell at me and tell me to be quiet.

Mom and Mr. Slattery are in the middle row of shelves. By the time I find them, my heart punches my ribs. I have to stop to catch my breath. They still haven’t seen me. Maybe I won’t get in trouble after all.

Mom’s back is touching the shelves. Mr. Slattery stands in front of her, leaning on his cane. Mom says something I can’t hear because she’s still so far away, and Mr. Slattery smiles. He reaches over her head to get a tube of model glue that looks just like the one I threw away. Then, he holds it out to Mom and smiles even bigger.

I’m happy Mr. Slattery found the glue. I can finish the plane before Pop comes back home. He’ll be so proud and so will I—the plane is my tradition. I close my eyes and see Pop’s face inside my head. He’ll be so happy when he sees what I’ve done.

I open my eyes. Mom’s hand touches Mr. Slattery’s face, and she leans into him. I think she’s going to whisper something in his ear, but her lips land on his mouth instead. They’re kissing and it’s nasty, but I can’t believe my eyes.

She’s kissing Mr. Slattery like she kisses Pop, and I feel sick.

The oatmeal from breakfast wants out of my tummy. I bend over and puke on the shiny gray floor. I feel wetness on my face. I’ve been crying. I’m crying and I smell like puke and I taste oatmeal and I want to go home. I just want to go home.

Mr. Slattery looks sad and scared at the same time, just like I do when I get caught stealing cookies. He’s leaning on his cane again. “You said you’d tell him, Debbie.”

“I didn’t want to upset him,” Mom says. “He doesn’t even know about the telegram. I didn’t have the heart to tell him.”

I don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t like it when grown-ups confuse me. My tummy is still doing flips, and I hate that even more.

“I want to go home,” I say.

Mr. Slattery sighs. “Use the bathroom in the back, all right? But we need to talk about this soon, Debbie. I mean it.”

Mom cleans me off in the hardware store’s bathroom. She lays her wedding ring on the sink while she wipes my face again, and it makes me cry. I can’t stop crying. She touches the flag and tells me to be brave. That makes me think of Pop, and I’m crying even harder.

Me and Mom leave without buying the glue. She doesn’t say goodbye to Mr. Slattery. We go straight to the station wagon and drive away without cleaning my puke off the glistening floor.

We’re halfway home when I remember that Mom left her ring in the bathroom. I tell her through my tears that we have to go back so she can get it. If she puts the ring on, everything will be all right.

“Don’t cry, please,” Mom says. “Your father’s been gone for a long time now, Johnny, and I don’t know when he’ll be back. Mike’s a nice man, you know. He wants to take care of us.”

I touch my flag pin without saying a word, because Pop’s taking care of us too.


It’s Thursday, forever later. Mr. Slattery is at the house when I get home from school. He and Mom sit at the kitchen table. They’re drinking coffee. Mom looks at me when I walk inside, but Mr. Slattery stares at his cup.

“How was school?” Mom asks.

“Boring,” I say, even though it really wasn’t. Some girls were making a big fuss over Elvis, and this boy named Nathan danced around with his hips. Everyone thought it was funny except Mrs. Harper. She sent him to the office.

“Sit down, please,” Mom says.

There’s an empty chair between her and Mr. Slattery. I sit and scoot the chair over so I’m closer to Mom. I’m still mad at Mr. Slattery. I hope he knows it too.

“Mr. Slattery brought you some more glue,” Mom says. “He remembered that you needed more. Wasn’t that nice of him?”

“I don’t want it,” I say. I don’t like Mr. Slattery, and I don’t want his presents. Pop’s the only one allowed to get me presents. Mr. Slattery isn’t my Pop, and he never will be. My Pop is the best man in the universe.

“Use your manners,” Mom says.

I try again. “No, thank you.”

Still, Mr. Slattery doesn’t look up. “I knew this was a bad idea. He hates me now.”

“He doesn’t hate anyone,” Mom says. “He’s not even allowed to use that word. Isn’t that right, Johnny? You don’t hate anyone, do you?”

“I don’t want to answer,” I say.

“Johnny,” she says, “that’s no way to behave. Why don’t you show Mr. Slattery your models?”

“I don’t want to show him my models,” I say. “I just want to go to my room and play with them all by myself. I want Mr. Slattery to leave. I hope he never comes back.”

I get up from the table and run all the way back to my room. I sit against the wall on the other side of the bed. No one will see me in the corner.

As I sit on the floor, I get madder. Mom knows the models are for me and Pop only. I don’t want Mr. Slattery to touch them. If he touches them, I’m scared they won’t be special anymore.

It feels like years before Mom comes in. Mr. Slattery’s walking stick thumps into the room. That makes me so mad, my face feels like it’s burning. My eyes are hurting and I really need to cry, but I can’t cry right now. I have to be brave—brave like Pop is while he’s fighting off the bad guys.

Mom’s feet stop at the edge of the bed, and I crawl under it before she can see me. It’s cool and dusty under the bed. The springs squeak as Mom sits above me.

“Johnny, I’m sorry, but Mike makes me happy,” she says. “God knows I need some happiness right now.”

“Make him go away.”

“That’s not fair,” Mom says. “You don’t understand how I’m feeling right now, Johnny. Grown-ups have needs, and sometimes, when those needs aren’t met—”

“Debbie,” Mr. Slattery says as he thumps into the room, “You should tell him what happened to Tom. The boy deserves some honesty.”

Mom sighs long and loud before she answers, “I suppose.” She gets down on her hands and knees on the floor and reaches out to me under the bed. “Can you come out so I can talk to you, please?”

“I don’t want to come out.”


“No way.”

“What would Pop say if he saw you like this?”

I feel sick inside at the mention of Pop. He doesn’t like it when I don’t listen to Mom, and he spanks me whenever I talk mean to her. It’s safe under the bed, though. I don’t want to come out. I don’t want to talk to Mom. “Is this about the army man?”

“Yes,” she says, “it is. Now could you please come out from there?”

I crawl out wiggling like a worm because I want the truth. Mom pulls me onto the bed and holds me on her lap. My feet are dangling in the air. I look at them instead of Mom.

Mr. Slattery stays at the edge of the room. He leans against his cane without saying anything. He’s waiting. I glance up at him and look back at my shoes.

“The officer the other day was here to give a message about Pop,” Mom says. “I sent you to your room because I didn’t want to scare you.”

“I hid in the kitchen.” I look up at her. My fingers brush the flag pin. “I was trying to be brave.”

Mom’s mouth tightens, but she doesn’t get mad. She just goes on with her story. “Your father’s all right, but the telegram said that he’s missing in action.” She waits for a minute to see if I understand, but I don’t. She says more. “That just means the army… doesn’t know where your Pop is right now. He got lost is all, Johnny.”

“That might not be bad,” Mr. Slattery says. “Your father and I knew men in Korea who went MIA and were found alive later.”

Mom shoots him a mean look that I’ve never seen before. When she looks back at me, her face is hard. “The army doesn’t know where he is. They’re looking for him, but… they might not find him. Understand me?”

“He might never come back,” Mr. Slattery says. “This guy Tom and I knew was taken prisoner, and he never—”

“I think you should leave.” Mom is madder than I’ve seen her in a while. The tone of her voice makes me feel really sick. My stomach drops into my bottom.

“You told me Pop was coming back,” I say.

Mr. Slattery shakes his head. “You shouldn’t have told him—”

“Get out of here,” Mom says, and it’s clear she really means it.

“He could’ve gotten killed,” Mr. Slattery says. “The boy needs to know—”

“Get out!

Mom pushes me off her and drops off the bed. She rushes toward Mr. Slattery and knocks the cane out of his hands. The attack makes him lose his balance, and he grabs onto Mom’s shirt. She falls with him. Then, she’s screaming in his face and scratching at him and it’s so scary that I want to cry.

I don’t even want to be brave anymore. I rip the flag pin off my shirt so fast that the back of it falls off. I yell at Mr. Slattery and tell him that I hate him. The pin flies out of my hand and across the room before I know I’ve thrown it.

It hits Mom’s cheek. She freezes.

I can’t hold the anger and the fear in any longer. I cry and can’t help thinking Pop won’t like me when he comes back.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m so sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to hit you.”

“It’s okay,” Mom says. I don’t believe her.

Mr. Slattery sits up and puts his arms around Mom. He holds her as she cries into his shoulder. I can’t hate him—I can’t hate someone who makes Mom happy. I’m not mad at him either. I’m mad at the war. I’m mad at the war for taking Pop away and not letting him come home yet.

After Mom gets quiet, I walk over and pick up my flag pin. The sharp part sticks my hand. Mom wipes her face on my sleeve and looks confused when I hold the pin out to her.

“I don’t deserve this. I stopped being brave.”

“Oh, Johnny,” Mom says.

Mr. Slattery picks up the back and takes the pin from my hands. He motions for me to come closer. I have to step over his cane, and I feel bad that Mom knocked it over.

Mr. Slattery is close enough to touch me. He pulls the front of my shirt away from my chest and holds the pin in his right hand.

“You’re still being brave,” Mr. Slattery says. “Even soldiers still cry on occasion.”

My tears splash against his hand as he puts the pin on me. As I glance down at the little flag, pride fills up my chest. If what Mr. Slattery’s saying is true, then even Pop cries, and he’s the bravest man I know. I don’t feel bad about crying now. Pop would still be proud of me.

Mr. Slattery reaches into his pocket and takes out a silver tube full of model glue. Then, he holds it out to me. “This is for you, if you want it.”

The silver tube is shiny. I reach out and I take it.




Briana Morgan is a thriller, crime, and horror writer who loves dark, suspenseful reads, angst-ridden relationships, and complicated characters. Her interest in Jay Gatsby scares her friends and family. You can find her in way too many places online, eating too much popcorn, reading in the corner, or crying about long-dead literary heroes. She currently resides somewhere near Atlanta, Georgia. For updates on her work, visit her website, http://www.brianamorganbooks.com.








Random Sound Bytes

by Lillian Hara


Holy Mother Mary
is not
the only woman
God screwed

It’s risky to live
In the corridors of life
Spirits lurk there
encouraging surrender
to distressing acts

Editing the Primordial Mystery
we’re quite confident
it’s we who created The Story
But I’m mindful it may all be
a roll of the dice

Last month was eventful:
I healed a grandchild
unhooked from my daughters
consoled my analyst
saved my marriage
and wrote a poem

When Jewish women
spin with wit
follow the thread:
it’s tinged with irony

Coming to terms with mortality
Is less thorny than acknowledging
greatness is not in the cards

Authenticity is the frame
that begs “truth” to hang
without quote marks

Human connections endure
when the partners evolve
a set of modest expectations
It’s defined as “compatibility”

Some poems are short because
they’re fearful of going on
Others – the scared few are brief
because they’re able to keep secrets

I’m not up on herons, hawks
or meadowlarks but I do know
the haunted old eyes
of the boy with missing front teeth
punched out by his father

Countless numbers of women
spend infinite numbers of hours
on mind-numbing tasks
They lose valuable time
because they don’t have a wife

Is it in the realm of possibility
to write a novel
fall in love
cure the cancer
bear a child
run a marathon
sculpt a poem
without a Holy Day of Rest?

Among my mother’s talents were
her homilies, often employed
to mutually rich advantage:
“Take better care of Mother Earth
or your poems will haunt you”

Poetry inhabits
a killing ground
pulling, tugging, ravaging – second only
to lung disease

There are images that persist a lifetime
the woman’s gown is electric blue
the man’s hooded eyes flood with desire
The vision haunts the decades

Octogenarians , nonagenarians
know they will not outrun death
Against all odds, the flame endures
something feeds the fire

Poets with cascading black ringlets
or silky blond locks perplex me
they appear to lack authenticity
Close-cropped or bald-headed
moon-faced prophets suit me fine

To doubt is
to make a stab
at the truth
When you stab
you shed blood
At times, it may be
the only way

When the fledgling Supreme Sorcerer
meets up with the Empathetic Caregiver
the dynamic is the predicament:
the mother-daughter dilemma

My literary agent tells me
poetry may be limiting, Memoirs
are flying off the shelves, she says
especially if you fucked celebrities

Q. Do you believe in God or what?
A. Well, I think there is a Universal Elemen—
Q. – Aaaah, you’re a chicken agnostic or – an atheist?
A. No, just chicken

What if Abraham, Isaac and Yahweh
were instead, all women
would the elements of
the crisis remain the same?
No way

Rumi said maybe God
is the impulse to laugh,
perhaps we are the joke
or it may simply be
a nerve signal
creating a sound



Peaceful Woman … Mother to Violence


The events of her life prompted the question
is death ever “The Distinguished Thing”*
It was so for her aged in-laws until their son
fell from the mountain. In their life plan
death was long established at a clear site
clear because one had a torn heart valve
the other boldly suffered varied octogenarian
closing stages; for both, it suited the order
of things. But the night their son died
they rallied against God, no one other

It was their son she had proposed sparking
the lively decades before he climbed the mountain
The pitons held until the summit; he slipped on ice
was gone. He frequently had said he cared less
how long he lived than how short he died
Snow, ice, majestic peaks – Hedda Gabler
would’ve found his death “beautiful”

That night one mourner fixed his grief on a portrait
above the mantel: a copy of Michelangelo’s Jeremiah
“A resemblance beyond a doubt,” he said, it was surely
the dead man’s father. A surge of laughter moved her
into a far corner of the room, ever mindful that her
heaving shoulders gave the image of a weeping widow
She heard the mourners: “a man utterly without cant…”
“keen to explore, question everything on earth…”
“He was the most guileless, the least vindictive of anyone…”

Knowing loss would distill the last into rectitude and roses
she conceded to a complex of thorns: his rage fierce, unbidden
its source in all the Bibles, its fountainhead Jehovah
It moved him to anger, to sorrow for the hungers of the world

Late one night, she dared to look into the abyss
She stuffed bedclothes down her throat gagging the horror
All three, mother and children shunned his funeral:
“he’s not in a hole in the ground, he’s here with us,” she said,
“forever.” Her daughters echoed without comprehension,
“here with us,” the years passed, they failed to find him.

Her two daughters married. Defying probability
both husbands died by suicide – one by immolation
An artist who tinted the world but couldn’t get it right
His wife held watch until the final breath of the charred body

The other husband, part mystic, all gentle spirit
dubbed himself her son-out-law. When his wife left
he drove a knife into his heart – violence learned in Vietnam
The three widows went to his house searching for a clue:
on his kitchen wall he had painted a rainbow; on the bedroom
floor, the mattress had an ineffaceable bloodstain

One daughter proposed they alter history: reject widowhood
claim divorce. In their finest family tradition, mirth damped
down despair, their laughter splashed across “The Days of
(their) Lives”

In time the scenario was perfected, love came to their pocked terrain
For all three it was welcomed: mother, daughters, peacefulwomen
they asked, they answered: Why us … Why not


*”Here it is at last, ‘The Distinguished Thing’”
— Henry James on his deathbed



Rilke and I


I sift the colors of the Poet
The Mystery of the word
winds with the simple stealth
of a rivulet
past my open hand
around my heel
to etch a print in the stone

The Poet wakes me
into pools of surprise
A stone drops rippling
a primal laugh
It lances my mouth
halts at my eyes healing





Lillian Hara is a poet and playwright. Her current collection of poems, Peaceful Woman … Mother to Violence, is a chronicle of loss and grief and renewal. Her work has been published in the University of California, Riverside periodical, Mosaic, and in Poetry/L.A. She has read her poems for the public at Mount St. Mary’s College, Women Writers West, George Sands Bookstore and the California Rehabilitation Center, a women’s prison. A member of the Dramatists Guild, Hara’s plays have been produced at the University of California, Riverside; Los Angeles Theater Center; Oxford Theater; The Jewel Box Theater; East West Players; and the New Playwrights’ Theater in Ashland, Oregon.