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Cecilia Kennedy

Along the Lines of Improv

by Cecilia Kennedy

Pythons move in straight lines forward. They stiffen their ribs and lift their ventricle scales on their bellies to keep pushing ahead. A straight line extends infinitely in either direction, without curving, but in a realm of infinite possibilities, where straight lines may intersect, any number of them could determine the path a python takes, and where it ends up.


Plagued by what she calls “brain bumps,” Peggy vows to make creativity flow on the job by taking an improv class. At work, her mind clogs with thoughts, pelted by self-doubt, so she travels twenty minutes to the theater at the edge of the Millerstown Strip Mall to take Saturday-morning classes, but here’s what she doesn’t understand: Why does all improv have to be funny? Peggy dreams of moving an audience to silence with admiration—a story so powerful that a rush of emotions builds, and people leap to their feet to applaud when she’s done.

But so far, the skits and exercises inevitably lead to bathroom jokes or characters she doesn’t understand, but she keeps going, hoping to learn something. There’s a mirror in the classroom space, which also doubles as a dance studio. In the mirror, they can practice making faces—or see other’s reactions.

Today, Bob is playing his chain-smoking character who wants to teach his student (Peggy) to play the blues, which of course requires her to sing—horribly—and she doesn’t want to do it.

“Push the note like you’re grunting one out,” he says, in his fake, raspy voice, but she doesn’t want to. Such a thing is so ugly and crass. She’d strain her neck, and her face would transform into something hideous with lines and wrinkles.

“I’m actually here to buy a guitar,” Peggy says, trying to change the scene—to avoid having to make a fool of herself, but Bob insists, and she feels cornered. She catches her face in the mirror—all red and scrunched up. She also sees the faces of the other students in the class, reflecting looks of cringe and pity. The instructor steps in, stops the exercise, moves to the next person. A hissing sound expels from the radiator-heater in the back, as Peggy follows the lines of the floorboards towards the exit, reaching her car at the edge of the wooded area behind the theater. The stream is alive with sound and movement—splashes, jumps, and sun light, but she’s headed straight home.


During rehearsal, right before the matinee improv production, the instructor reminds the students to listen to one another, to respond with open hearts, to let the story unfold in any way it might. Peggy tries to quiet her bubbling and fizzing brain, so overloaded with a toxic mixture of ideas and doubt, that she can hear banging on the pipes overhead, the creak of a door, a slither-sound of the wind as it rushes through the tiny holes of daylight dotted into the roof and frame of the building.

When rehearsal starts, Stan assumes a stubborn character who is waiting for a bus. Peggy tries to get him to do something other than stand there and smile and repeat the same two lines, but he won’t budge. The more he resists, the more her gestures become desperate. She jumps up and down, screaming that they’re wasting their lives, just waiting for a bus. With her entire soul, she yearns for a transformative moment on stage, a breakthrough, but at the end of the class, everyone decides that Stan stole the show.


Hours before the performance, Peggy reads news headlines on her phone, but they keep getting interrupted with alerts from a neighborhood website she signed up for, where frantic neighbors post warnings about car prowlers. Apparently, a neighbor has discovered that the area behind the Millerstown strip mall is overrun with unusually large pythons, and when the wildlife team and sheriff’s department split one open, they find missing people’s bones. A strong discomfort in Peggy’s stomach overtakes her, but it’s quickly erased by thoughts of the performance ahead.


A small audience has gathered in the theater, mostly friends and family of the other actors, but Peggy is determined to elevate the form of improv. Improv has a pure soul, and so does Peggy.

The first scene is a bank, and they’re supposed to count imaginary money and develop the story from there. Peggy’s legs feel weak and wobbly, but she stands up tall and moves forward.

“Money isn’t the most important thing in life,” she says, and when she’s said those words, she hears the doors creak open in the lobby, and she takes the sound as a sign that she’s on the right path. She’s really listening now, opening herself up to the moment. She must continue, right along the line she’s started.

“Like hell, it is,” Bob replies, and the audience erupts in laughter. But Peggy will not be shaken. Behind her, from down the hall, she hears a smooth sound, almost imperceptible, and she faces the audience head on.

“It’s the ruin of souls,” Peggy says. “We stand at its mercy, and it divides us.”

“Here, divide this and stack it,” Bob says, but Peggy persists. The smooth sound is in the wings now, and she knows this moment is pure and true.

“I’ve loved with all my heart, and I’ve earned nothing in return. All of this is nothing.”

She feels a stillness in the air, and when she looks out at the audience, and into their faces, all eyes are on her. She feels a rush of warm air surrounding her, on all sides, from behind, and opens her arms to take a bow. When she turns around to leave, the unhinged jaws of the biggest constrictor anyone has ever seen, are gaping wide, its patterned scales breaking the straight line around its lower half, coiling tightly around her.


Cecilia Kennedy taught English and Spanish courses in Ohio before moving to Washington state and publishing short stories in various magazines and anthologies. The Places We Haunt is her first short story collection. You can find her DIY humor blog and other adventures/achievements here: (https://fixinleaksnleeksdiy.blog/

The UMAMI Museum Field Trip

by Cecilia Kennedy

A swarm of children from the St. Lawrence Catholic Elementary School—all dressed in blue and white plaid uniforms—descended upon the University Museum of Art, Muses, and Inspiration (UMAMI) in the center of town one afternoon.  They were on their best behavior, having previously been banned from field trips.  (Henry and Justin, as the story went, had startled the monkeys at the zoo by throwing “snap-its” fireworks into their cages.  The teachers and parents in charge of the trip thought that someone was shooting a gun in the area, so they made the children run for cover.  However, security cameras in the vicinity caught the two St. Lawrence boys throwing the fireworks.  Shortly thereafter, the second-grade class was banned from the zoo for life, and the school administration decided that the children shouldn’t be treated to anymore “experiential learning opportunities.”  However, the school administrators also realized that they couldn’t keep them from cultural experiences.  It just didn’t seem right.  A zoo was one thing; art was another.)

            At the same time that the children entered the museum, the Senior Citizens’ Home was treating residents to a trip to this very same museum.  The occupants of that bus filed out in orderly fashion, and promptly expressed their disappointment that they’d have to share their outing with a group of school children who, at the moment, were not misbehaving, but who could turn on them at any moment.  They just knew it.

            The featured exhibit at the museum was called “More than ‘Eats’ the Eye”—a clever nod to a particularly talented food photographer/artist who happened to be presenting a lecture on his work.  He was especially eager to speak to impressionable children.  How precious! How delightful!  He would certainly rock their world.

            Meanwhile, the principal of St. Lawrence Catholic School, who was called in as extra back up if things turned ugly, directed her gaze upon the children.  Many were smart, but many of them came from what she considered “broken homes.”  No wonder they acted out, the poor dears.  And, the ones who didn’t have strong reading scores, could probably excel at something. Some were showing great promise in art.  They could grow up to be artists, perhaps . . .

            The children began to form a circle in the central gallery. The artist—Reginald Piper—stood off center at a distance to gauge their reactions.  They stared blankly up at the walls of photographs, which included a shiny stream of milk pouring out onto cereal flakes in a bowl, colorful ice cream scoops perfectly stacked upon one another inside a waffle cone, shiny red apples in a basket, enchiladas dripping with cheese and sauce, and fluffy pancakes covered in syrup. 

            They’d seen these things before. They’d probably eaten them too. What made this art?  Reginald could read their presumptuous little minds, but he couldn’t stifle his laughter, which spilled out into the gallery and made the children turn around.

            There, in a dark corner near the exit, they saw a strange, thin man dressed in a rather garish Kelly-green suit that was paired with a pastel pink and yellow checkered tie. He wore exceedingly round spectacles, which made his face seem small.  Certainly, there was much that the children could make fun of. However, there was also something about him that they didn’t quite trust. Perhaps he knew their weaknesses and could gut them with humiliation. 

            “Yes, yes. Gather ‘round,” Reginald said, as he moved closer to the center of the circle.  The senior citizens edged in closer too. They knew the presentation was for the children, but who would kick them out?  Who would dare tell them to leave?

            “I suppose this exhibit bores you,” Reginald began.

            Truthfully, the children were bored.  The zoo was better. 

            “I suppose you think you could take pictures of food that are just as good—” Reginald continued.

            “I could take a better picture of Mrs. Motley’s face,” one of the children said.  The others erupted in laughter.  The senior citizens frowned.

            “That’s enough!” Mrs. Motley, the principal said. She knew she wasn’t what the children would consider “pretty,” but she believed she was the most successful adult in the room. She had a job. A good job.  Still, it hurt.

            Reginald—not one to lose control of a class—stood right next to the boy who made the comment about Mrs. Motley’s face.  All Reginald did was stand there quietly. The boy grew silent—not out of respect—but because he thought Reginald, standing so close to him, was creepy.

            “Good. That’s good,” Reginald said, smiling.  “Now that everyone’s paying attention, I can tell you that there’s more than ‘eats’ the eye in these photos. 

            Pointing to the photograph of the cereal in the bowl, Reginald said,

            “I didn’t just snap a picture of a bowl of cereal.  This photograph took nearly four hours to shoot correctly.  Children, do you know what happens when flakes of cereal just sit in a bowl of milk?”

            “They get wet and limp like Mr. Zenkins’ p—”

            “Stop it!” Mrs. Motley shouted to the boy who made the comment.  “I will send you home on the city bus now! You’ll be the only child on it, and I won’t care what happens to you!”

            Reginald just raised his pointer finger and smiled. The children turned their attention back to him.

            “Let me ask you a question—a simple one.  How many of you have a bottle of glue in your desk at school?”

            All of the children raised their hands.

            “Well, glue looks a lot like milk. And, if you use enough of it and let it harden, it won’t ruin cereal flakes.  Lots of things I use in these photos can’t be eaten—or maybe you could eat them, but you wouldn’t want to.”

            During the rest of the presentation, the children learned how the ice cream scoops were really mounds of mashed potatoes, dyed in different colors. The maple syrup was actually motor oil, simply because it was thicker and more luxurious looking.  The shiny red apples in the basket had been lovingly doused with hairspray.

            “And now, we come to the enchiladas. Don’t they look delicious?  Who likes enchiladas?”

            A few of the children raised their hands. 

            “Well, many of us food photographers know, that in order to make the enchiladas look like they are stuffed with incredibly tasty ingredients, we could use mashed potatoes for the filling. But I found something better, children. Much, much better.”

            Now, the children were paying attention.  This was what their deranged little minds craved. By the time Reginald finished his story about how he found his enchilada stuffing in the alley, behind this very museum—on a body covered with boils that, when squeezed, looked like ground beef—Mrs. Motley was convinced that the children could definitely make something of themselves someday.

            After the presentation, the children filed past the museum’s cafeteria, which displayed perfectly formed sushi rolls in the window.  Little Rosie thought that the cubed pieces of tuna looked like the tip of her grandmother’s tongue, which she stuck out slightly when she would thread a sewing needle.  And, for the first time, Rosie thought that maybe she had what it took to be an artist.  Oh, if she could just get a hold of that tongue! Just the tip—sticking out from a roll of sushi—would make for a lovely photo.


Cecilia Kennedy earned a PhD in Spanish from The Ohio State University, and she taught Spanish and English Composition in Ohio for 20 years before moving to the state of Washington with her family. Twenty-three of her short stories have appeared in 17 literary magazines. She also writes a blog called Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks, where she details her humorous attempts at cooking and home repair:  https://fixinleaksnleeksdiy.blog/

Gray Yogurt

by Cecilia Kennedy



The lotus flower on my laptop will devour me.  Its creator chose the most desirable qualities, magnified them ten times, and set the whole thing afloat, drifting through an eerily dark void on my screen.  The petals reach for my chin. I take the bait, click the mouse, and check my status:  unread, pending . . .

People once crossed networks of roads and took sidewalks lined with green grass and tulips to enter office buildings and drop off resumes on creamy, weighted paper. If they were lucky—and sometimes they were—they might meet the CEO and get a tour, shake a hand, and leave behind a trail of perfume or cologne—a hint of an impression that lingered.  That’s how I got my first job— and the last one I held for ten years before moving and discovering that the rules have changed: “No potential candidates allowed on the premises in physical form.  Send links instead to portfolio websites. Include a bio in X amount of characters or less. Use key words.”

For practice, I invented stories of 66 words or less:  Armed with a cursed pen, Cliff writes a memoir that haunts the Internet forever; To save her life, Ann drowns in the pages of a book. She lives on; A tragedy takes Lyn’s memory, so she writes the future on fortune cookie slips; Sparks fly as a mad scientist kisses her lab rat, turning it into a zombie.  I didn’t send any of these in. Instead, I spliced them together for my own social media pages in an attempt to attract jobs as a “content writer.” My Professional Summary link now reads:  Uses cursed pens to haunt the Internet and write the future zombie apocalypse on fortune cookie slips.

I check my status and hit “refresh:” unread, pending.

Minimizing the page, I start a new search and discover the elevator pitch, which answers questions that people may want to know about me: Who am I?  What do I do? How do I do it?  What do I do it for?  Who do I do it for?  The answers don’t form readily in my head, so I drive to the grocery store and stand under the fluorescent lights for a while.  Who am I? At the moment, I’m a consumer. What do I do?  I make lists and shop for the items on the lists, but sometimes, clever displays and non-food items distract me.  How do I do it? Quickly. The lights hurt my eyes and the man who beats me to the frozen food section every Saturday strangles me with a scent that penetrates my skin. What do I do it for?  I think that’s obvious. I can throw that question out.  Who do I do it for?  Again, an obvious question, I think . . .

–My side feels as though it’s splitting. I have to double over the shopping cart, until the pain passes–

When I return home, I put the groceries away and let the lotus flower on the screen lure me in again. Closing my eyes, I imagine that the petals are stroking my chin.  I click the mouse and check my status and hit refresh three more times. Pending, pending, unread . . .

There’s my profile picture.  It makes me look like something is suddenly funny and I’m tossing my head back with laughter. I’m just so struck by some secret punch line that I have to share the joke with the viewer, who will never understand and who will perpetually ask, “What could be so funny?”   This picture, which took over five hours to take and edit, makes the hysterically laughing woman, with the creased forehead look too old.  The light perhaps makes her hair slightly gray, though it’s not.  She’d never admit to that.

I minimize the window.

One of those social media surveys pops up:  The color of the outfit I’m wearing and what I just ate is my gangster name.  I’m gray yogurt. Who am I? I’m gray yogurt.  It doesn’t sound gangster enough, so I shout it out loud and listen for the echo.  I’m convinced I’ve convinced myself I’m gray yogurt. Now, I just need to figure out what I do.  I search for ideas through job postings and decide that I could tailor my qualifications to fit those for an administrative assistant in a medical arts building, but the pain returns to my side—as if hot needles were piercing into my flesh, over and over again—stitching something up inside me—or attaching something to me, but I’m ignoring the pain— typing furiously now because the deadline is approaching and I need to create a Twitter account with a very clever handle.  When I’m finished, I realize I won’t be able to get into an elevator with the hiring team for this position because actual physical candidates are never allowed “in person.”  So, I call the number listed on the job posting and leave my elevator pitch message, shouting loudly and clearly:

I’m gray yogurt—ready to deliver stellar customer service with my hardcore humanities degree! I’m all about hardcore customer service—able to write effective, meaningful, 25-character Tweets that will rock the Westside Medical Arts Building staff and potential patients—and existing patients—with a 100% zombie prevention rate.

When I’m finished, I cry. Of course I sound ridiculous—and I just sent my resume without including the key words. The pain in my side intensifies and my sobs echo off the pale walls of my windowless apartment. The burning, knitting together of needles in my side won’t stop.  Minimizing the window on the computer screen, I watch the lotus flower open its petals wide, to eat me I suppose.  The pain grips me—rips into me—and I have to pull my chair back from my desk, so I can bend over.  I believe that if I just hold my middle together, I can soothe away the agony, but the crease in the center makes the burning sensation stronger and I notice a leak—a trickle of thick, puss and liquid, angry and red, seeping out onto my shirt.  A round, lumpy mass bulges from the gray cotton fabric, as nausea pours over me in waves of hot and cold.

On the screen, the lotus seems to pulse and bloom in steady staccato rhythms. It grows a head with teeth, yet I’m more frightened by the lump beneath my shirt.  My body twists, convulses, and expels the contents of my stomach onto the carpet.  The air is ripe. Stepping outside seems to be the only relief. So, I stand up and gather the courage I need to look at the lump that’s seeping and oozing. My trembling hand pulls away the fabric, and I take in the sight of some kind of fluid-filled sac that’s purple, blue, and riddled with veins.  It too pulses in time with the lotus on the screen and I can see the stitches.  They are thick and black, holding this thing together.

The fowl stench in the air grows unbearable, and I remember to go outside. If I can manage to get outside, I can at least overcome the impulse to retch, which only prolongs the burning.

Outside, it’s raining.  The heavy drops cool my skin. I let the rain fall on the sac that’s stitched to my side.  The fluid mixes with the water and sloughs off into the muddy soil below. The whole thing simply detaches, and I’m left with just the stitches, which I begin to pull, carefully from my skin, letting them untangle and fall onto the shapeless sac in the mud.  The driving rain forces the gel-like material and the black stitches into the ground, making them into a form that’s much larger than it ever was before—and something about it looks familiar.  The blues and reds mix together with the outline of the stitches to hold them in place, if only temporarily. I recognize the beckoning petals unfurling.  A new lotus floats on pools of water in the mud.  It occurs to me to snap a picture and post to my social media page—to capture it for likes and comments—to attach it to my Professional Summary, but I don’t. I let it dissolve, and I walk away.





Cecilia Kennedy earned a doctorate in Spanish literature and taught English and Spanish for 20 years in Ohio before moving to the Greater Seattle area with her husband, teenage son, and cat. In 2017, she began writing fiction for the first time. Since then, about sixteen of her short stories have appeared in eleven different literary journals/magazines online and in print.  She also has a blog called “Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks,” where she chronicles her humorous attempts at cooking and home repair. (https://fixinleaksnleeksdiy.blog/)