Robert Fromberg
Covering Autism and Creativity
TDR Regular Contributor / July 21, 2021

Now available for pre-order: Robert Fromberg’s How to Walk with Steve

Autism is repetition.

As a boy, my brother Steve would play the same 15 seconds of “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles 50 times in a row. Today, he sometimes has to touch a doorjamb with the edge of his foot five times before entering a room. Our phone conversations must occur at the same time on the same day each week, and they follow a strict template for what I ask and how he responds.

Some of Steve’s repetition is for fun. The passage in “A Day in the Life” that he used to repeat is the accelerating sound collage toward the end of the song. The effect is really cool, and who wouldn’t want to listen to it multiple times?

Some of Steve’s repetition is for comfort. He used to do what we called “bounce.” When he sat, he bounced forward, fell back into the seat, bounced forward, fell back, bounced forward. As a boy, I tried to bounce. It felt good, like sleeping in motion. This type of repetition, in the autism world, is called self-stimulation and has an addictive quality. I don’t know about Steve, but I wanted to bounce forever.

Steve’s repetition sometimes creates order. He craves minor variations as a means to reinforce highly familiar structures. He adores the small differences among the omnipresent sameness of McDonald’s restaurants and interstate highways, to cite just two examples. In a world composed of movements, behaviors, words, signs, and symbols that operate in a way that seems inexplicable to a person with autism—and to me as well, I suppose—the ability to create order through repeated sorting is an understandable refuge.

And sometimes, his repetition is an expression of despair. I have been tempted to write an essay about Steve during the COVID-19 pandemic that would consist solely of the following statement repeated 4,800 times (that’s roughly the number of days of the pandemic so far multiplied by five repetitions per call, multiplied by two calls per day):

“I’m worried the pandemic will last for the rest of the year or two years or ten years or for the rest of my life. I’m worried I won’t go back to work for the rest of the year or next year or for ten years or for the rest of my life. I’m worried I won’t be able to see you for the rest of the year or next year or for ten years or for the rest of my life.”

Writing is also repetition, sometimes for obvious reasons, and sometimes not. Over his 50-year writing career, Rex Stout repeatedly used the name ‘Darst’ for peripheral characters in his novels. (Speaking of repetition, I didn’t notice this until I had read his books more than 10 times.) In his brilliant novel The Glass Key, Dashiell Hammett repeats the full name “Ned Beaumont” 860 times. The central feature of Raymond Federman’s oeuvre, along with frequent textual repetition, is an evocatively inconsistent rewriting of his own life story.

Repetition of words, phrases, syntax, and grammatical structures is critical to transitions, pace, emphasis, and parallel concepts, among a thousand other facets of prose and poetry. Outside of verbal repetition, there is repetition within an author’s body of work of detail, character, theme, setting, and, well, you get the idea. Despite this presence and usefulness, repetition gets a bad rap in writing specifically and in the arts in general.

A quick Google search shows that the internet is dotted with articles warning against unintentional verbal repetition in writing. One begins: “Children love repetition. Adults not so much.”

When I used to be a speechwriter, more than once I was reviewing an intended-to-be-inspirational scripts with speakers, only for them to point to some repeated word or phrase I had used for emphasis and say, “You have this word here” (pointing at the one spot on the screen) “and the same word here” (pointing at the next sentence). “Why would you want to do that?”

I remember in my graduate writing program when I was 21 years old being told that I had done one type of story enough and should now try something different.

I am a prodigious watcher of the TV show Project Runway. I re-watched the entire (at that time) 16 seasons plus several seasons of Project Runway All-Stars while going through a divorce. The contestants are forever being praised one week for mastering a certain type of design and criticized the next for repeating it: “You’re beginning to seem like a one-trick pony,” the judges inevitably say.

How many artists of any kind have enough breadth to master more than one style? How many of our lives have more than one idée fixe? Surely, any form, technique, subject, or style has enough richness to warrant a life’s attention, and surely the richness of any one life warrants spending its creative portion immersed in that singular richness.

Skepticism about repetition seems rooted in the same ideological framework that would presume it is not necessary but wrong for my brother Steve to draw pleasure from listening to a 15-second portion of a song 50 times (at its extreme, the “normalization” school of thought for the developmentally disabled would not tolerate Steve in his room for a couple of hours with a Beatles album on the turntable and one hand on the tonearm).

It is not wrong but necessary for Steve to touch a doorway five times before he enters. It was not wrong but necessary for me to draw comfort from 240 similarly structured episodes of Project Runway during a period of upheaval. It was not wrong but necessary for my brother to issue as many repetitions of despair as he wants during a pandemic that has blown apart his experience of a pleasurable present and his expectations for a predictable future.

Writing, like all expressive arts, and like autism, is a necessary life-long grappling with what each of us craves and fears. Repetition is how we do that.


Forthcoming September 7, 2021 from Latah Books:

“Robert Fromberg knocks me out.”
Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead

“In refusing easy consolations, Fromberg has created a memoir that shines like polished bone.”
– Patricia Eakins, author of The Hungry Girls and Other Stories

“Without a trace of affectation or adornment, Fromberg depicts the searing moments that made him who he is. Never have I read a more authentic, deeply-felt rendering of a child’s developing mind.”
– Leslie Lawrence, author of The Death of Fred Astaire and Other Essays from a Life Outside the Lines

Anthony Emerson
Covering FAMILY, PLACE, AND HEALTH
TDR Regular Contributor /July 15, 2021

Part One: Where I’m Coming From

There is a town north of Bangor, east of Moosehead Lake, and 200 miles west of the Bay of Fundy, where great men went into the woods to make a life. Their wives lived with quiet, determined intention, and their children were reared beside a river engorged with timber and lakes bespeckled with rocky isles. These families built a life, a community out of the northern forests of snow and pine. They lived off the land because they had to, because prosperity loomed in the collective imagination of the community. But it was not ripe for the taking, it was a thing to be etched in hard stone like a sculpture, a promise seen only by those who knew their way in the woods. Like a birch bark canoe, it had to be coaxed from the hardwoods of the north country by men with skill and grit and a drive to go places that were unforgiving and wild. Those men were pioneers who turned their backs on the sea and the sun-weathered faces of their fathers, said goodbye to their mothers and the dreary coast, the fisheries and promises of a good life; or bid farewell to their mother countries like Italy and Lithuania, and followed the hallucinations of manifest destiny inland, to the Maine frontier. And there they built a city in the wilderness, the largest paper mill in the world, and churned out newsprint for publications like the New York Times. This town, named after an Abenaki word, that means “land of many islands,” that sits on the West Branch of the Penobscot River, with its leafy gold that lays in the shadow of a great mountain, where tough men drove logs and felled trees the size of buildings, and made paper out of pulp… is still there, though long past its glory. It is called Millinocket, my people are from there, and today I call it home.

People that I love, love it here. They fit in. They drop their r’s and eat fiddlehead soup.

They’ve mourned and wedded and grown up and then became old here. They’ve sat in the pews, the grandstands, headed unions, hosted knitting groups and Tupperware parties, and joined or started every organization that makes a person a bona fide local.

Today, the mill is gone and only rubble and emptiness occupy the space where the pride of Millinocket once stood. The last version of the mill left in 2008, but the dream of a day when the mill would again be up and running and return the town to paper-making splendor has died only recently. In my time as a resident, I have felt the slow anguish of a dying thing fade into the cold nothingness of death. For more than a decade, the people of Millinocket have resisted the tides of change, balked at non-papermaking proposals, and languished in economic hardship exacerbated by the opioid crisis. There is a confounding ethos of anti-conservationism, something the locals refer to as “tree-hugging.” I feel like an outsider. And yet, these are my people. I want to know them. I want to know what they want for themselves, for their community, and for the wilderness just beyond their homes—the forests where our fathers’ fathers worked and lived and made a life for themselves; and where our fathers drove trucks and built second homes after they got hired straight out of high school and “followed the window.” What are we to do with the acres of pine and hemlock and hardwoods that were to be our birthright, but that stand to this day steadfast in the face of climate change and the inexorable will of man to forge on— all while our dreams dissolve into dust?

This is not a love letter nor an appraisal of what is right or wrong about a place or a community. It is not a critique, nor could it be; I don’t know how I feel. I don’t know what it all means to me, but I find solace in examining the bonds between myself and the here and there. No matter how I feel about it, I come from here. But I came back for the woods.

Beyond the borders of town, a brilliant expanse unfurls in all directions, blanketing the earth in summer’s green, autumn’s amber, and the soft cotton of winter snow. Just past the banks of the Penobscot River’s West Branch—in a far-off country—the crown jewel of Maine rises from the wilderness. It is a special place that I love wholly and inexplicably, where men I admire found meaning in the formidable landscape and where I search for my own meaning among mountains and men.

Without ever having reached Katahdin’s peak, I knew I was in the presence of something special. The way the mountain materialized on the horizon, beyond a lee or muskeg and around every wooded corner of the backroads outside of town—was a gift; it was a thing that never got old, its majesty deserving of celebration. Katahdin’s crown seemed to hang from the sky like an ornament and changed color with the seasons or glowed different purplish hues with the cloudbursts of spring and early summer. It remains a monument in my life, both literal and abstract: it’s a wellspring of inspiration—the mountain and the wildernesses that skirt its base—and a vestige of my childhood; it’s a place on earth that scrapes the firmament, where I have always stored my aspirations, and a luminary, a symbol for what I care about: the land and its most vulnerable inhabitants. It is an idea, a gospel, a thing created in the image of god; it is a revelation. Man could never conquer nor make sense of it, only fight to preserve it and store it in our consciousness. The wilderness at its base is the altar upon which I worship; on Knife’s Edge I risk becoming a martyr, and in the waters of Chimney Pond, Katahdin Lake, and Wassataquoik Stream, I am baptized. Fording the rapids of the West or Each Branch I pay my respect to past disciples, wild Bodhisattvas like Thoreau and Roosevelt; I can feel their presence and their reverence too. Their wilderness dreams are mine now, we store them in the clouds with the words of the man who made it happen, the one who decreed that this land remain “forever wild.”

I want to know myself and I never feel more rawly myself than when I am paddling or hiking or camping. In fact, just being in nature strips me down to who I essentially am; and being in this nature—the north Maine woods— makes me feel rooted, connected to a timeless throughline that is elemental to my personhood. Who I am in relation to the Maine woods is who I am as an individual, on the most basal and primal level; in the wild, the good and bad of my character are revealed. But I am not a hermit, the whole of my spiritual and psychological makeup cannot be deduced from the wilderness alone; I am a member of a family, a community, and a generation. MY generation, whether born and bred or interloper, has no memory of the good times, the prosperous years when Main Street had an opera house and teenagers could afford to buy their own homes. We may be few in numbers, but we carry the burden of ancestral trauma with an unentitled poise that I am genuinely proud of.

This essay and the ones that will follow are my attempt at probing the consciousness of a place, a people, and a landscape, so I may better understand what it means to be from Millinocket, of the north woods, and to see what remains of the noble lumberman of our past. Is it only names, geography, and frostbitten skin we share with the strong men and women who built this town? Or is an inimitable desire to live and work in a place where most men couldn’t coded into our DNA? Who are these people? And how do I fit in?

Ronald McGuire
Covering The Business of Being a Writer
TDR Regular Contributor /July 12, 2021

Writing is not easy, it seldom pays well, and it fills your inbox with rejection. In early 2020, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I decided to write full time. If I knew then what I know now, I would have made the same choice, but with a better strategy.

Writing is emotionally rewarding, intellectually stimulating, and can provide a good living for those who persist and hone their craft. As for rejection, it’s like table stakes in a poker game. If you can’t manage the baseline bet, you should sit out the game.

With that said, I am no expert. I did write for a major news outlet years ago, but that was a side job to my real job. Since last year, I’ve completed three novels, a book of poetry, a script for a TV pilot, and have a growing collection of short stories. In my first year, I made every mistake a rookie writer can make, and it’s possible I invented some new ones.

The last six months have gone much better. I’m not a rookie anymore. What do I have to show for all this you ask? Good question. 

My first script was a finalist in a TV Pilot competition, my self-published novel (under a pen name) was a finalist in another competition and cracked the Top 100 in its genre on Amazon (#98 briefly), and I’ve had several short stories accepted for publication. I have one novel in the hands of a publisher right now, another one just completed, and I have begun querying agents.

So far, I’ve made exactly zero dollars. The Big Payoff for me is experience. I learn best from hands-on experience. Now I’m on this journey, and I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned so far. Let’s start with the most basic – Do the Work. 

Do the Work

It sounds simple, but many aspiring writers never write, and for active writers, writing is haphazard and filled with distractions.

I spent years dreaming of being a novelist, and I didn’t write a single word toward my goal, mostly out of fear and self-doubt. Your dream of being a writer won’t materialize if you don’t sit down, put your fingers on the keyboard, and type. Hemingway wrote his first drafts in pencil, so that works too. 

As new writers, the odds are already against us in this business. But there are ways we can start to tilt things in our favor. I’ve found the three most important things for me are:

  • Having a dedicated space to work
  • Blocking out distractions
  • Setting a writing a schedule (and sticking to it).

I work in the afternoon, six hours per day minimum, on average. This includes research, querying agents, or submitting to publishers, contests, and literary magazines. Mornings are for strong coffee, light reading, and walking the dog. In the evening, I do more research and a lot of brainstorming. Yet, I still struggle.

My schedule was recently obliterated by a piece of mail. Its contents presented a frustrating problem, but not an urgent one. I spent ninety minutes of my afternoon dealing with it. Then I spent the rest of the day trying to refocus on writing. I got next to nothing done. It felt awful. I didn’t properly prioritize my time, and I paid for it with a lost afternoon.  If I’m to have any hope of succeeding as a writer, I have to learn to be selfish with my time, my space, my priorities, and my writing.

A loss of focus can cost even more time by allowing loads of errors to sneak into my work. The less focused I am, the more likely I will make mistakes which will cost time in the editing phase. The most insidious of these are typos. I am a self-taught typist, so I make a lot of typos.

But Editing is Easy with Tools Like Spellcheck & Grammarly, Right?

For the record, spellcheck is not your friend, and auto-correct is your declared enemy. Spellcheck won’t tell you when you’ve typed “form” instead of “from,” and it won’t tell you when auto-correct changed a mistyped “decided” to a correctly spelled, but wrong, “denied.” 

These tools are unreliable and can often be more hindrance than a help. Plus, I tend to read right through typos and incorrect words, my mind filling in where my eyes refuse to see. 

I’m not saying, ‘don’t use them,’ I’m saying, ‘don’t trust them.’

I learned this the hard way when I wrote my first novel and decided to self-publish. I ran spellcheck and grammar check, fixed what was found, and sent the manuscript off to The Land of E-Book Publishing. 

When I loaded the ebook into my reader, I discovered it was filled with typos. I stopped counting at 47, across 42 chapters. One was in the opening paragraph. It wouldn’t have mattered if no one had downloaded the book. But they had, and I was embarrassed.   

Don’t trust automated tools, ever. Reread, reread, then reread some more. If you have someone in your life to proofread your work, or can afford to pay someone, consider yourself lucky. 

Quick Tip

My solution is to reformat my text every time I read it. Change the font, the spacing, the borders, or even print the work if it’s not too long. If it’s a novel, I export it as an EPUB and read it on my favorite device. Think of it like driving down a bumpy road, then driving down the same road after it’s been repaved. Same road, different experience.

When I do this, I’m more likely to catch my errors and correct them before anyone else sees my work. It’s not a perfect system, but I’ve gotten good results from it.

In the end, writing is editing and editing is writing. I allow myself one exception to this rule. I try to avoid extensive editing while writing a first draft, whether it’s a novel or flash fiction, or anything in between. I like to capture my thoughts, finish the story, and clean up the words later.

Whatever I write, I expect to edit and revise until the work is polished. 

Another Quick but Helpful Tip

Here’s another useful tip: take some time between each pass. A day, a week, a month, you’ll figure out over time what length of break works for you.

Work on something else, read a book, improve your third-person bio, or research publishers, agents, journals, and competitions. Create some space to let your mind forget some of what you just wrote, then come back to it and edit with fresh eyes. 

A Final Thought

Don’t believe everything you read about writing. 

People like to Tweet quotes by famous writers, and Hemingway’s missives are no exception. The attributions are often wrong, or the words taken out of context.  Hemingway is often quoted as saying, “Write drunk, edit sober.” 

I’d argue that’s objectively bad advice. But, according to Katherine Firth, Hemingway never said it. What he wrote in A Moveable Feast was: 

‘…my training was never to drink after dinner nor before I wrote nor while I was writing’ (p.61).

You can see the difference. 

The internet, and book stores, are loaded with advice for writers and a lot of it is good. But even the good advice won’t always be a good fit for you, and the bad advice can send you on some costly detours. Consider the source, take what works for you, leave the rest. 

I said I was no expert, but after 18 months of full-time writing and research, I know where to find a few experts. 

Below are links to some websites I’ve found useful. If you’ve been writing for a while you know them already. If not, they make terrific companions for your writing journey. 

To sum it all up, work hard, be selfish with your time and attention, write-edit-repeat, take advantage of the help that’s out there, trust yourself, and learn from your mistakes. 

You got this.

Helpful Links

Writer’s Digest: workshops, free downloads, how-to articles, competitions, you name it, they’ve got it, and most of it is free.  https://www.writersdigest.com

Winning Writers: one of the Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers, they’ve got a focus on competitions and a massive list of links to great resources for writers, everything from advice, to literary forums, to ways to spot scams targeting writers. https://winningwriters.com

Alliance of Independent Authors: This should be your first stop if you’re considering self-publishing. There’s a LOT here, just like the two websites above, but one of the most useful things you’ll find is their ‘Best Self-Publishing Services’ list. If you read nothing else before you self-publish, review this list. https://selfpublishingadvice.org/best-self-publishing-services/

Lit Rejections: A site with stories, quotes, and a blog about literary rejection, it also has some great interviews as well as information about literary agencies. If none of that sounds useful, at least visit and take a look at the collage of book covers from best sellers that were initially rejected. It’s eye-opening. http://www.litrejections.com 

Authors Publish Magazine: Everything is free on this site and their email newsletter is filled with great information, but not overloaded. They research publishers and provide links to ones that are open for submissions, with a healthy dose of paying markets. https://authorspublish.com

A Short Story by Amanda Schroeder

Echo and I dream up powers that no one will believe. In the midday Summer heat, we lay side by side in her backyard under a linen teepee. She’s so tall her legs poke out the front holes, but I fit perfectly.

We spent the whole day in her backyard, exploring every patch of grass as though the lawn behind her house was the whole world. We catch box elder bugs and stow them in pencil cases while we build them a castle made of dirt and sticks. When we come back to release them into their new kingdom we find them dead, suffocated slowly in the yellow plastic. I hold back tears of frustration, but Echo assures me everything is going according to plan. We dump dead box elders onto the muddy castle and assign them their roles, moving their bodies like they’re Barbie dolls. I think This must be heaven.


Echo’s parents are never at home, which is why we always spend our days at her house. Her dad works at a law firm where they make money when people get injured at construction sites. Her mom works in marketing and is always talking about the copy for her latest mock-up. When my parents would ask me about her parents, I would always pretend to know that they are doing well.

Echo and I always like to make up games. Echo would play dead and I would dance around her like a witch, trying to bring her back to life.

Or we huddle in silence in her living room, listening for any sounds the house makes, making up stories for the ghosts that created them. The tapping of the heater springing to life is the soul of a young dancer who died dramatically on stage, a loose latch under his tap shoes plummeting him 8 feet to his death. Echo and I always argue about which of us he is in love with. The moaning of the pipes was a woman who died hot and heavy in the middle of childbirth. We don’t know what childbirth looks like, but we imagine it orange, like a flame in the dark, and damp. We imagine her wafting through the house trying to find her baby and we sit close, holding our breath so she can’t find us instead. Echo can hold her breath for longer than me, but I always cheat, sneaking in air through my nose.

We sneak into her mother’s closet and dress ourselves up in her clothes, smearing makeup on our faces and pretending to be prostitutes. We don’t know what prostitutes are, but we know the way men talked about them from the movies. We look at each other in the full-body mirror and think THIS was what it means to be a woman.

One day, we painted our faces red with her mother’s lipstick and chased each other around the house, screaming for our lives. We didn’t hear her mother come in over the sounds of yelling and laughter. When she found us with a full tube of Mary Kay’s Red Stiletto smeared onto our faces, she started hiding her makeup.


In fourth grade, Echo’s parents move to a house with big windows overlooking a flower garden Echo isn’t allowed to set foot in. She starts at the catholic school in the neighborhood and I don’t hear from her for weeks.

One day, my parents tell me Echo is coming over. They say it like I have no choice and I look down at my dinner, embarrassed that my loneliness is so apparent my parents need to intervene.

When Echo comes into our house, it feels like welcoming in a stranger. Echo and I sit in my basement and our silences feel like smoke. When the heater makes a creaking sound, I imagine an old man who died in a rocking chair opening the doors to the heating closet peering out at us, but Echo doesn’t seem to notice. She tells me about her new life and her new school and I try my best to picture it, but I’ve never imagined a place I’ve never been before. I ask her to describe the coat rack where they hang their book bags in the morning, but she doesn’t understand the question.

I try to ask a different way – where are you in the first five minutes of school, between where you drop off your backpack and walk into the classroom. Those minutes had always been my favorite, but I dreaded them without Echo to fill the silence. I found myself praying that she was just as lonely as me.

She tells me Tommy always waits to walk in with her. When I ask her about Tommy, she says they kiss after school lets out. She shrugs like it’s nothing and I blush thinking about all the things she has done that I have not.


Five years later, I hear that Echo has died. I haven’t heard from her since the day in the basement in fourth grade, but my parents still get a call from her parents.

When my parents break the news to me, they hold hands and cry. I don’t shed a tear because I don’t feel a thing. Echo has died so many times and has always risen again. I try to let the truth sink in, but all I can remember is playing Romans in her backyard. She was Jesus and I was Pontius Pilot. I washed my hands in the little puddle at the bottom of the drainpipe, then dragged her body to the cross, a tree low enough where she could hang her arms from the branches. She hung there for three full minutes until her skinny arms gave out.

We played this game on Good Friday the year before she moved schools. Echo called it her favorite holiday after we sat in the chapel at school and got chills on our arms when the pastor slammed a book into a wall – the closing of the tomb. The silence was so dramatic and our exhilaration was so high that we sat giggling into each other’s necks.

I can’t imagine the person Echo became at 14. She died of alcohol poisoning, something I have never even tried. We miss the open casket but show for the burial. While her parent’s friends all give speeches about the person Echo would’ve become, I stare into the face of the girl in the memorial photo. She looks like a fox, except she’s cold instead of warm. Older than 14. I don’t recognize a single thing about her except for her white-blonde hair, a color most people lose as a baby.

I try to fill in the blanks of who she became. I imagine her as a doll being thrown around in a castle made of sticks and mud, her exoskeleton keeping her safe from prying fingers trying to get inside. Her pretty blonde hair never gets dirty. I imagine her in cars with leather seats going places I’ll never be at hours I’m already asleep at. I imagine her dying little deaths every day, only to get back up and start again. I imagine her smarter than me, the kind of person who realizes we need to seize the best of life every day, but who slipped too early and couldn’t get back up.

Amanda Schroeder is from Utah but is currently based in San Francisco, California. She has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Utah and her work has appeared in Cathexis Northwest Press, The Crack the Spine 2019 Anthology, and others. She is the co-founding editor of F3LL Magazine and currently serves as the web editor for Split Lip Magazine.

A Poem by Gabby Mijalski-Fahim

Four tires marry the border of two states
while the rain falls with the temperature and
trees trade in their mottled hands for pined hooks,
dipping down to kiss the roof of the car
that soon abandons acres of empty pasture lands,
left to settle in the mirror of its left wing.
Ahead, the road tenses and buckles its neck, producing a stampede of several breeds,
some silver and flat with tinted windows, others auburn and stout,
seesawing within lanes across a bustling plain that spares no time for living.
Tamers at the head of each beast steer semi-trailers with tattooed claws sailing
in the wind while they mouth a song too distant to hear.
I take the exit; a beastless road soon acquiesces to the night’s darkness
as I perch the tips of my lips on the head of my styrofoam cup,
following the dwindling path of light before.

Gabby Mijalski-Fahim is a 22 years-old cat parent, queer poet and karaoke aficionado who lives, breathes and works in the somber state of Oregon. Her work is featured in Passengers Journal, Tempered Runes Press, and Cathexis Northwest Press.

Nicole Zelniker
COVERING A YEAR LATER: HOW LOCAL COMMUNITIES CONTINUE TO ADVOCATE FOR BLACK LIVES AFTER GEORGE FLOYD’S MURDER
TDR Regular Contributor / June 28, 2021

Last summer, it was impossible to turn on the news without seeing protests. George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020 sent people into the streets in record numbers.

Last year, police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes during an arrest for counterfeit bill, resulting in Floyd’s death. Chauvin previously had 18 misconduct complaints. Because several bystanders took videos, Chauvin was arrested and found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

In Fayetteville, North Carolina, where Floyd was born, the scene was much of the same. People came out to demand police reform and justice for Floyd. Though people are not in the streets to the same extent now, that doesn’t mean activists aren’t doing important work.

Criminal justice reform advocate Kimberly Muktarian is one such person, though she’s frustrated with the lack of change on a community level.

“With George Floyd, it woke a lot of people up, but not to change,” said Muktarian. “America doesn’t want to change unless it’s done by force.”

Six months ago, Muktarian and her allies requested an African American affairs board, but she says the city government is still debating what that looks like. Additionally, activists are asking for subpoena power, police accountability boards across the state and the dismantling of North Carolina qualified immunity. Muktarian hasn’t seen any of this happen.

“Even down to the Juneteenth federal acknowledgement, we’re getting symbolic victories but not real victories,” she said.

The Market House

One of the biggest frustrations for activists is the still-standing Market House, building where white settlers formerly sold enslaved Africans. Especially given the removal of so many confederate monuments across the country, Muktarian and others are frustrated that the house still stands. The city plans to turn it into a museum.

The Market House has existed in Fayetteville since 1832 and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1970. Market House advocates argue that enslaved people weren’t sold there “that often” or that white settlers only sold enslaved Africans “occasionally,” though it did happen, resulting in at least dozens of enslaved people sold at the Market House.

“We should not have to pay for the upkeep of a slave house or slave plantation,” said Muktarian.

During protest after Floyd’s murder, local activist Mario Benavente says several people tried to break into the Market House.

“I was present for things after the sun went down, and at that point the police started coming around,” Benavente said. “It was at that point I made my way to the streets and documented everything I could that night, May 30. I went live and I was on there for a while. My focus was on making sure the police were doing what they should be doing.”

Earlier this year, Benavente occupied the Market House with several others in the community. Folks would bring them water, generators and canopies, so they were able to stay at the protest around the clock and offer their excess supplies to people experiencing homelessness.

At last, city officials promised to make changes. Benavente has yet to see them do so.

Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin has a different take, although he agrees that doing nothing is not an option.

“We chose to repurpose it,” he said of the city turning the Market House into a museum. “History has a dark past, but we have to tell it in its entirety.”

Kathy Greggs, co-founder of Fayetteville’s Police Accountability Community Taskforce, says the Market House is one of the reasons she feels there hasn’t been any change since George Floyd’s death. She says people look at it and understand they are still in bondage.

Greggs and others asked the City of Fayetteville to remove the monument back in 2014.

”To me it’s just the most ignorant thing right now when we have other states removing their confederate monuments,” she said.

Police accountability

Greggs and the other organizers at Fayetteville PACT are dedicated to assisting folks in Fayetteville in regards to racial disparities, which for them includes issues of the criminal justice system, climate justice and more.

In the last few years, they’ve worked on cases of police planting of evidence and police corruption. They’ve worked with the North Carolina Justice Center, the ACLU of North Carolina and Black Voters Matter.

Right now, their main goal is to get an independent citizen review board in Fayetteville.

“Police have edited and tampered with plenty of evidence,” said Greggs. “We’ve had that here in Fayetteville.”

In the last year, Greggs said, “I don’t believe there’s been any change in Fayetteville. There’s been no policy changes.”

In fact, there have been few changes in the last decade, Greggs noted. She cited the “driving while Black” controversy in Fayetteville, a term coined to express how police officers are more likely to stop Black drivers just because of their skin color. Black drivers are still dealing with this disparity.

“Nothing has changed since George Floyd,” Greggs said. “No policy changes, not even budget changes to help the homeless. We’re in still water and have not moved.”

Greggs believes that until officials work with the people, there can be no change. “In order for us to be in unity, we must trust our officials,” she said. “Without trust, there is no unity.

“Right now, no one is held accountable. Everything they do is based on what they want and not the people.”

In fact, the city has requested four times that the North Carolina legislature give them the authority to make a review board according to Mayor Colvin. They have yet to do so.

He says that the frustration from the community is that “the police are policing themselves.”

“Even before the national conversation, we had some severe problems with our police department,” he said. “In 2013 the Department of Justice came in and gave us an analysis that showed we were targeting Black drivers. We had a number of police shootings. They worked with us to institute more community policing. Of course activists want to see more, but if you look at the last few years, we’ve made a lot of progress.”

Local activist Mario Benavente, however, said that there is still a lack of accountability, and that it was very present during the protests immediately after Floyd’s murder. He saw police officers teargassing small pockets of people protesters during the May 2020 marches.

“People were literally tripping over themselves, falling on the floor, choking,” Benavente said. He is still waiting to see an investigation done.

“It’s not just the Minnesota cops,” he said. “Every police dept. across the country has those root issues. Their focus at the end of the day has less to do with public safety than cracking sculls.

“A year later, nothing has changed. Our city council has been cowardly. I’m not sure what special interests are afraid of upsetting, but they’re not doing anything regarding the demands activists are making of them.”

A little bit of hope

In spite of all of this, some activists are still hopeful that things can change.

Dawn Blagrove is one example. As the executive director of Emancipate NC, she has spent the last year fighting for transparency from the police department.

Folks like Blagrove at Emancipate NC have dedicated themselves to dismantling systemic institutional racism and mass incarceration. They do this largely through community education.

“Our overriding philosophy is that the people closest to the harm are those who are most well equipped to find solutions,” said Blagrove. “So we do community educating and meetings. We created a program called the Justice League where we bring in people who have been touched by the criminal justice system. We then give them the tools they need to make change in their communities.”

Similarly, much of the change Blagrove sees is how we talk about race, which she says is just as important as taking to the streets.

“Part of the change we’ve seen is one of a change in the collective psyche of America about what conversations are acceptable to have,” she said. “Without the uprisings of the last year, there would not be interest in abolition. Defunding the police has been a thing since years ago, but has only come into the public lexicon in the last two years. That’s progress.”

Blagrove won’t stop at conversations, however, and hopes that others won’t either.

“We have changed the conversation,” said Blagrove. “We’ve introduced terms and ideas to the American psyche. Now the work is turning those ideas into concrete changes that result in equity.”


Read Nicole’s Books:

A Poem by Lorrie Ness

Leave room in the duffle
for Velveeta and dryer sheets,
the pool of light below the lamp
and your appetite for chewing
pencils. Toss them in—
a collection of wine-stained corks,
fishhooks and thread. We’ll string them
into a necklace of bobbers, wear it
as a flotation device because shiraz
has always kept our heads above water.
Go ahead and pack the froyo,
the modesty we lost in high school
and a vintage can of Coke.
Strap the hammock to the roof rack
but leave the trees. When we get there
don’t forget to remind me that the cooler
in the trunk is empty, the macaroni is back home
and our Velveeta will never miss it.

Lorrie Ness is a poet working in Virginia. Her work can be found at Palette Poetry, THRUSH Poetry Journal, Typishly and various other journals. She was twice nominated for a Best of the Net Award by Sky Island Journal and she was a featured poet at Turtle Island Quarterly in 2021. Her chapbook Anatomy of a Wound is being published by Flowstone Press in July of 2021.

Robert Fromberg
Covering Autism and Creativity
TDR Regular Contributor / June 23, 2021

Between the ages of about 5 and 12, my brother Steve, who has autism, drew many hundreds of pictures. Although the number of pictures was large, the number of subjects was small: school buses, highway signs, house layouts, and street maps of Peoria, Illinois.

Steve drew with the shaky hand of a child, but with relentless precision, capturing minor variations in the window shapes among the city’s school buses; the subtle differences in logos and lettering among interstate, state, and county highway signs; and the shape of toilet bowls and direction each door swung in a house he had visited only once. He drew accurate freehand maps of the entire city of Peoria, which is 50 square miles and at that time had a population of 120,000.

As Steve, who is now 59 years old, entered his teens, he drew less and then not at all, shifting his attention to postcards, then photography, and later the internet. However, his subject interests have remained consistent. He still investigates new brands of school buses, describes the exit sign from interstate route 474 to Illinois highway 6, knows after one visit whether a house has two basins or one in its kitchen sink, and finds a YouTube video of the slight curve on Kickapoo Creek Road just outside the Peoria city limits.

Steve’s interests are not choices. To Steve, choice is excruciating. Just watch him try to select a candy bar from among the dozens of varieties at a convenience store and finally wail, “This is hard!” Steve’s interests chose him, not the other way around, and he has pursued those non-choices for a lifetime without the hesitation or doubt that defines pretty much everything else he does.

For writers, the notion of choice is in a constant war with the creative process. Our fertile but fearful brains wade through options from subject to diction, assessing them against criteria from significance to salability. As for what has chosen us, we are ready, even eager to ignore those mysterious things, so tiny and weak and weird and wrong-headed they seem when held up against our notions of what others expect from our work.

As a writing teacher at Northwestern University for almost 20 years, I had only one idea. At the time, I felt pretty silly, leaning on just one idea when my colleagues and students seemed to have so many. But I feel better these days about my idea, which was simply to point at something, anything, that reminded me of my brother Steve, that is, anything that seemed to have chosen the writer from among the many things the writer seemed to have chosen.

It wasn’t so hard to do. Often, it was just a matter of sensing when the writer was having fun. At other times, it was a particularly sharp detail. At other times, it was an unexpected digression. At other times, it was a sidestepped convention or conventional wisdom.

These non-choices stood out like bright marbles on a sidewalk. There was the student who, in an otherwise conventional crime novel, wrote an outrageously long description of the contents of the shelves inside a roadside gas station. There was the student who wrote a computer program (this was in 1990) to randomize the sequence of his story and included the code in the manuscript. There was the student who, in the midst of a typical I’m-sad-that-Grandma-died essay, suggested oh so briefly that the clicking of Grandma’s dentures had made the writer’s scalp feel like it would leap off her skull. There was the student whose dialogue was so lengthy and digressive that any sense of narrative was buried. There was the student who wrote a story about a lonely boy who joined a club of people learning to speak Esperanto.

More recently, I see writers online talk about choosing the next scenes of their novels in progress or choosing between traditional and independent publishing. Thank goodness, there is also Alex DiFrancesco, author of the story collection Transmutations, who posted this recently on Facebook:

“I’m saying again: There is straight up Neutral Milk Hotel and Leonard Cohen fanfic in my new book and it’s being widely reviewed and loved and I’m saying this because you should definitely, without a doubt, no questions asked, write the things that matter to you, and to fucking hell with everything else.”

The challenge for so many of us is to recognize, not choose, those things that matter to us and to have the courage to hold them up to the light.

I am jealous of Steve. Unencumbered in this respect by the tyranny of choice, he has a direct line to what is important to him. For those things, he is a fan, a recorder, a student, an interpreter, and an accelerator. A true artist, Steve is defined not by his choices, but by his celebration of what has chosen him.


Forthcoming September 7, 2021 from Latah Books:

“Robert Fromberg knocks me out.”
Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead

“In refusing easy consolations, Fromberg has created a memoir that shines like polished bone.”
– Patricia Eakins, author of The Hungry Girls and Other Stories

“Without a trace of affectation or adornment, Fromberg depicts the searing moments that made him who he is. Never have I read a more authentic, deeply-felt rendering of a child’s developing mind.”
– Leslie Lawrence, author of The Death of Fred Astaire and Other Essays from a Life Outside the Lines

A Poem by Anabell Donovan

My friend is dying.

His life is torn
memory brocades
fluttering in arched
window panes
about to be blown
into a dark night,
and no corner
is hidden enough
for me to cover him.

He is lost on a stroll
by crumbling mud walls
on abandoned
tarragon tangled gardens
bitter in the sun.

Where is the undiscovered
healing temple?
I blame it for yesterday’s headlines
and tomorrow’s hauntings.

He’s trapped in
a limbo of tubes
and induced sleep
until prosaic
instruments beep
a prolonged alarm,
his son told me
matter of factly,
as if quoting
today’s weather forecast.

Overhead,
thunder and wind,
hurricane brothers
want rum to run
thick on their tongues.

Anabell Donovan (Anna Eusthacia) is a psychologist and educator dedicated to student success of minorities and under-represented individuals in higher education. She loves words and would always like to “start where language ends.”

A Review of Jeeyoon Kim’s Over.Above.Beyond. (Namus Classics, 2018)

Jeffrey Hampton
Covering Contemporary Classical Music Artists
TDR Regular Contributor / June 21, 2021

Over.Above.Beyond. is the 2018 release from pianist Jeeyoon Kim on Namus Classics.  I bought my copy of the CD from the pianist’s website, but it is available on most music streaming platforms.  The liner notes open up with a user’s manual for listening that gives several easy-to-follow steps, providing an original way to enjoy the album.   This user’s manual encourages the listener to take a moment to breathe and be present while listening to the music, cultivating the perfect environment to engage their imaginations. It is recommended that the listener read the liner note for each individual piece which shares Kim’s thoughts and feelings while encouraging the listener to imagine their own scenes that they can look for when out in the real world and share on social media with #OverAboveBeyondProject.

This is a great idea! Listening to classical music can sometimes feel intimidating. But Jeeyoon Kim’s liner notes provide a rather original way to engage with the music for those who want to take the musical journey with her.  The first time listening to this album, I found myself enjoying the small anecdotes from each piece and imagining my own scenery and stories over the music.

The pieces chosen present a variety of composers, displaying some of their easily digestible, shorter works instead of hammering the listener with one titanic warhorse after another.  The first three pieces—Nikolay Medtner’s Forgotten Melodies I, Op. 38, No. 8, Edvard Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Op. 65, No. 6, and Frederic Chopin’s Nocturne in D-flat major, Op. 27, No. 2—are wonderfully played, showing off fine attention to melody in all three works.  The works are played without an overwrought sense of sentimentality, which could drag the pace of the music.

The next piece, Johannes Brahms’ Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21 No. 1, spans almost 20 minutes, making it the longest piece on the album.  Kim’s liner notes make clear her love for the piece, which is not often performed.  She encourages the listeners to imagine something different for each variation.  This piece is an emotional journey that needs unpacking, and Kim is up to the task.  The opening theme, easy to follow, is given to us with a thick, full-bodied harmony of luscious chords. Each variation grows organically from the last, and Kim never loses sight of that original theme from Brahms.  The piece, despite its length, never grows dull and is full of many wonderful surprises.  When one reaches the end, they can almost feel the sun on their back after an incredible journey.

The following two pieces are from the famous French impressionist composers Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.  The pieces are not as heavy as what has come before and are both popular piano solos wonderfully realized here.  “Pavane pour une infante défunte” is both powerful, yet tender.  The music paints a picture of elegance fitting of a pavane, a dance that used to be performed by young princesses in the Spanish court.  Golliwogg’s Cake Walk is a playful romp full of humor.

The next piece is a rarity of a piece by Giuseppe Martucci. The Nocturne in G-flat major, Op. 70, No. 1 is wonderfully melancholic, with once again great attention paid to making the melody sing. Kim’s liner notes describe this one as an image of an old man remembering his past—an apt description of this nostalgic work that could have been written off if played by a lesser musician.

The album ends with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Twelve Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” K.265, a famous set of variations based on a melody most commonly associated with “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” This is the perfect lighthearted way to end the journey.  The playing here is dazzling—playful but elegant and ultimately delightful.   It is the second-longest piece on the album, but that does not weigh it down, as it leaves us feeling refreshed.

The “User’s Manual” provided in the liner notes gives a perfect way to listen to the record overall.  I found myself more engaged as I connected both with the playing shared by the pianist as well as the guidance offered.   I found it easy to picture various images of nature and even some of my own stories with the music. Many times a classical record gives us either a concert program or a collection of pieces all from one genre with no clue of how to engage in it. Personal preference for more programmatic presentations in albums, the idea of the user manual was a breath of fresh air.   None of the music is overwhelming, and it is all aesthetically pleasing to the ear.  Jeeyoon Kim’s playing shines here. It is confidently assured and beautifully realized; the pieces played are melodic and beautiful, but not overly sentimental—a guilty pleasure of a lot of musicians who will drag and distort a melodic line until it is unrecognizable.  For anyone who wants to embark on a thoughtful musical tour, this is the album for you.

A Poem by Wren Donovan

We burn the witch, the old goat
the little old man of the old year
and our scapegoat carries our sin.
We are blameless now, we are forgiven.
We burn the Other for easy atonement, give over the bad ones
surrender the sorceress, conjurer, evil eye
hand over the misfit, misbegotten, miscreant.
Consensual fire cleans bone to white
and dissolves fleshy folly to ashes
while we sleep gently tucked beneath a blanket of snow
by cool white long slender hands.
Come a cold morning those ashes
will mark each clean brow with grey dust
but tonight we dream the blank white screen
while our shadow selves scream in the bonfire.

Wren Donovan (she/her) writes poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Her work is published in The Mark Literary Review and upcoming in Cauldron Anthology and Luna Luna Magazine.  She is also a Tarot reader and meditative dancer who tends to hide in plain sight but likes to wear things that jingle. Wren wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up, but when that didn’t work out she studied literature, Classics, folklore, and psychology at Millsaps College, Chapel Hill, and the University of Southern Mississippi.  She lives in Tennessee among many trees and can be found on Twitter @WrenDonovan.

A Poem by Oakley Ayden

— after Lucinda Williams

Raw heartache is
axed clean by my
prairie smoke love
somewhere deep in
honey wheat Helena.

We stay up eating
up only sweet
truths, potato
plain as pie.

Oakley Ayden (she/her) is an autistic, bisexual writer from North Carolina. Her poems appear in Ghost City Review, The Cabinet of Heed, Maw: Poetry Journal, Not Very Quiet, Blue Bottle Journal, Brave Voices Magazine, Neologism Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. She lives in California’s San Bernardino National Forest with her two daughters. Find her at oakleyayden.com, on Twitter (@Oakley_Ayden), or Instagram (@Oakley.Ayden).

A Poem by Sarah Warring

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” – Albert Einstein

Does God create a human’s skill for wit-
Or maybe spiritual enlightenment?
Some cleverness of carpenter’s kit
An analysis and environment

The insight is in adapting to change-
An understanding in the need for shift.
The ingenuity to accept strange-
Athena has wisdom to coexist.

The tidings brought are not always wanted
Cailleach may freeze your mental flow and flux-
While Lakshmi’s brilliance makes one bonded.
Information, by pixies or by pucks.

Words from the cosmos, may never be true
Knowledge leaves, unless you find it in you.

Sarah Warring has a B.A. in English Education, a M.S. in Literacy, and is a New York State certified in English Language Arts. She has been writing for over 20 years, and has been both an unofficial and official English/Literacy/Writing teacher for the past 10 years in classrooms and various organizations. She was accepted to the Inaugural Yale Writers’ Conference. She was accepted to be a speaker for the World Literacy Summit. This talk was published online, but was originally slated to be given at Oxford University. Recently, she has had 2 articles published on the World Literacy Foundation’s blog.

A Short Story by Dylan Webster

Blue foam reflux collects on my hands as I scrub the bathtub. Some of it pops up into the air like fireworks as I shove my weight into every stroke. I have to hurry – time got away from me again. I hate rushing – the sweating, the stress of trying to beat some sort of impending deadline. Like I’m the servant of the house, waiting for the master to return.

I finish the tub up quickly, and sprint to the kitchen to grab some more of the cleaning supplies that I forgot. Yet another thing I hate – the forgetfulness I suffer from while rushing. But I guess it doesn’t matter, it has to get done. None of my complaining will alleviate anything. And it definitely won’t help me if I try to use that as an explanation for why the house isn’t finished.

You’ve had all day!

I know, I’ll say. I’m sorry I got… I got distracted wi –

Ohhh you got distracted? Of course you did! The impact of the keys on the table will startle me. It’s always something, or you’re always too damn tired. Well how you think I feel? Huh! I’ve been at work all day!

And it’ll just go to shit from there. It always has. How am I supposed to react? I don’t know? What can i say to not set off that bomb?!

I spray the windex haphazardly on the mirror, squinting as some of the droplets kamikaze themselves into my face. I fold the paper towel into my favorite sturdy square, and quickly wipe the glass. I need to hurry. There’s still so much that needs to get done. I’m not even sure how long I have left. I reach for my pocket to find my phone, but I freeze as my fingertips make contact with the cool aluminum. I don’t want to look at the phone. It always makes time slip away faster. There might be a text. A question. And how am I supposed to respond?

I’m almost done! Love you – maybe a loving emoticon? But that text will only beg for the response I dread.

Almost?!?! Babe, it’s 4 o’clock… what’ve you been doing all day?

And I know what I’ve done all day. I’ve been taking care of our son, of course, he needs to be fed and washed and played with.  Not to mention the fact that if I try to clean the house while he’s awake, it’s almost a useless venture. I mean, all he’ll do is pull everything out again as soon as he sees me put it away!

Not that I’m angry, he’s two. What should I expect? What should we expect?

I can tell you what I expect! I expect that we don’t live in a damn pigsty!

My heart quickens its beat as I think of these things. It’s a frightening feeling, really, but it’s more than just frightening. It’s haunting. The changes that people can go through. Most of the laughter and the dreams have all died out, and in their stead are these conversations and sighing exasperations. I don’t know if it’s the stress of having a child, or the stress that comes from work, but it wears people down. It drives them against those they love, even spouses.

I toss the paper towel in the wastebasket and make my way to the living room, where many of our son’s toys lie strewn across the tile; like a grand battle of nations has taken place, and here lie the dead. I reach down to pick up some of the action figures, and suddenly I remember the wastebasket I just threw the paper towels in is full.

I toss the toys into the bin and rush back to the bathroom to take out the trash. But I forgot a replacement bag! Dammit.

I stop now, for a second. I need to breathe. I need to calm down. I’m getting so worked up over cleaning a house. Over trash bins and toys.

But that doesn’t help as much as I’d hoped. I can still feel the soreness swelling in my throat. The heat in my face. I hate this, I hate the feeling of teetering on the edge of tears.

Oh god, now we’re gonna cry about it? So, instead of you just doing what I say, we’re going to have a little counseling session? Nice.

I’ll jump again as the wall implodes in the shape of a fist. Then the windows rattle in their old sills as the door slams shut. And I’ll just sit there. Feeling… well, I don’t even know really. The last time I felt so many things, I don’t know if I could actually describe them. A lot of my friends say I look sad, but I hate that word. Some of them say I should be angry, but how could I? There’s nothing left to fuel that anger when I’m too busy trying to get our screaming child to sleep, and get some ice for my face.

Should I just haul off and lose control? But how is that going to really change anything? I guess it could, if I got a good enough hit in, grabbed my son, and left right away. But if I don’t get a real blow in, then I’ve just stoked the flames, and I don’t know if I could handle the blind rage that would follow.

I wipe the miniscule pools from my eyes, and head to the kitchen for some old shopping bags to put in the wastebasket. I try to sneak past my son’s room so as not to wake him up.

I take the bag out of the trash, replace it, and walk outside to throw it away. The sun is threatening to give up, and I know the drive home from work doesn’t take too long. I better hurry. Not all the toys are picked up yet, and there are still way too many dishes.

Maybe if I’m still doing the dishes, it won’t be too bad. But who am I kidding? Of course it will be. It always is. It has been for so long now, I don’t know how to think of it any other way. But though I know it to be hopeless, I still try. With the cleaning, and with the relationship. It’s so interesting to me.

Interesting.

My own life has become an interesting phenomenon to look upon. Like when you see some wild animal’s carcass being eaten by even wilder animals. Maybe that’s why I don’t say anything – do anything. The carcass is already being eaten, and there’s no more life to be saved anyway.

I think this a lot, lately. It’s like I’m watching myself in a video game. I’m the third-person camera right behind the character, and I watch as they rush around and worry and get beaten. I watch as this character cares for its wounds in secret, and lies to protect. But I’m not the player. I don’t have the controller. I’m not sure who does, but I know it isn’t me.

I’m back inside scrambling after the last of the plastic warriors from the tile battlefield, when I glance at the time. God, it’s insane. It’s like time winds up and goes faster when I’m trying to get something done. Time has no consideration for what I may endure.           

Now that the floor’s clean I begin sweeping. I can’t help but think about how I’m not going to make it in time. I won’t be able to finish! My mind wanders into the myriad ways in which this will end, and all the different ways I will suffer.

Suffering has passed the oppressive phase at this point. I no longer feel crushed, defeated. I had felt that once when I had to explain a bruise that I couldn’t have hidden – but that passed. It was overtaken by humiliation. For a while I could not believe that I had put myself here in this position. But now, I am numb. I don’t feel much of the physical pain, I don’t feel trapped – I feel nothing. I feel it slipping away into that nothingness faster and faster. I only fear for my son. He is what has kept the bullets out of the chamber and the barrel out of my mouth. I cannot bear to leave him here alone in this house. In this environment.

But there is still hatred, although now it is hatred for myself. I find myself with these thoughts that feel foreign. As if it’s not me who thinks these things, but more like they are placed in my mind, and then forced to the forefront. This self hatred, and this guilt.

I put the broom away and run over to the kitchen sink. This is finally the end, the last thing I have to finish. I clatter all the plates into the right side of the sink, and start washing the pots and pans. There are quite a few of them now, as they seem to pile up so quickly if you miss even one day. And naturally I will be the only one to do them. But my mind begins to clear a little bit, knowing that this is the end; and once this is done, I’ll be okay. I won’t have to worry about the abuse.

And that sends a chill down my spine.

Abuse.

But that’s what it truly is. Even the times where I’m not left with a bruise or a scar, there is still the emotional aftermath. The manipulation. When I feel obligated to cover things up, and to lie. When I’m feeling boxed into forgiveness and forgetfulness, and the impetus remains on me to move on and make things work. This stings, and I can’t help the introspective inclination to reconsider so many aspects of my life. I need to stop dwelling on the dreams of the past, the hopes I had when we first married, and recognize what’s actually happening.

I’ve thought this before, but it’s becoming clearer now. Now is the moment when the fear begins to set in heavily. In my lungs, in my stomach. Sinking and weighing me down. This is the moment when I always turn back, but I know that I can’t do that this time. I know I can’t. I need to be strong, and I need to find the strength some—

My son is screaming in his room. I thought he was asleep? His cries are growing louder, so I know he won’t fall back asleep, something’s wrong.

I try to dry my hands, but only leave them moist rather than wet. I set the rag down on the counter as I turn and—

The high, cracking sound of glass shattering echoes in the kitchen. I look down and realize the rag knocked one of the glasses off the counter. A million glinting shards now glitter on the tile. My son still screams from his room.

My heart kicks back up to its high beat, and I feel the pressure on my chest. The anxiety is beginning to take control. Like a phantom version of myself wrapping around me, trying to become the real me. Whatever that is.

I carefully tip toe over the shards, and head to my son’s bedroom. I open the door, and the acidic smell of vomit crashes into me immediately. I turn his light on and see his entire body covered in the chunky orange vomit. So are his sheets.

I can’t stop my shoulders from slumping at this point. The nearly breathless anxiety, again, seeps in. The shattered glass in the kitchen is all over the floor, and probably also in the dining room, knowing how the little fragments go flying. Now my son’s sheets need to be washed, the mattress sprayed and flipped, and my son needs to be showered and changed. All this! Right as I was trying to get the last of the house finished in time. I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do now. I feel my fingers running through my hair.

I grab my son, and take the wet clothes off. I remove his diaper and put him in the shower, knowing he’ll be able to occupy himself for a moment and cease the piercing screams. I take the sheets and his putrid clothes and throw them in a bag quickly. I glance at my son, and then begin thinking about how quickly I can clean the mess in the kitchen.

The sweat begins to gather in a small audience of beads on my forehead. I wipe it away, and try to wash my son as fast as possible. He babbles now, happy and unaware.

The front door reverberates through the hall.

“What the hell?” I hear the car keys slam onto the kitchen table, as I’d feared. Shoes kicked off, impacting the wall. I can sense the frustration and anger.

My heart is pounding now. I’ve failed. It’s too late, and I can’t try to cover everything up. Here comes another long night, the heart gripping anxiety, the anger, the fighting. I’ll say nothing. Again. What can I say? And if I get hit, what can I do? I can’t hit back. 

“What the fuck happened in here?” She says from our son’s bedroom.

Dylan Webster lives and writes in Phoenix, Arizona. Previously published in The Dillydoun Review and Quillkeepers Press.

A Prose Poem by Anne R. Gibbons

Were they desirable because they were forbidden? Had they been
freely offered would we have turned away with a shrug? No thanks.
We’ll use the ones from the kitchen.

For a certainty the others—in bedroom, kitchen, study; the ones we
could use without fear of reprisal—they held no allure. The forbidden
pair tempted us from where they dwelt inside the satin-lined basket
with other accoutrements for patching and darning, hemming,
mending, and dressmaking.

The sewing scissors were not for cutting pictures out of McCall’s or
making colorful chains from construction paper. They were not to be
plied on paper napkins folded and refolded and refolded again into a
multilayer rectangle that my brother transformed into starbursts and
doilies, snowflakes and birds on the wing. They were not to be used
for curling ribbon on packages or trimming hair.

They were to be used for cutting cloth. That was all. Period. End of
discussion. The sewing scissors were for sewing projects. Fabric was
their medium and they were to have no truck with anything except
cloth. We had been admonished and scolded and fussed at more than
once about misuse of the sewing scissors.

Other scissors were not taboo. No objection was raised when they
were pressed into service. Scissors from bedroom, study, and kitchen
were fair game. We knew the rules.

But the sewing scissors beckoned. They crooned in their siren’s voice:
we’re right here . . . so close . . . reach out your hand . . . you only
want to trim one paper crown . . . just one crown . . .

Sometimes we succumbed to their blandishments.

Anne R. Gibbons grew up in the Deep South in an atypical southern family—they did not drink iced tea. Neither sweet nor unsweet. Adults drank coffee, children drank milk. Anne now lives in Vero Beach, Fla., with her husband, Bill Fitts, and their two cats, Amos and Luna. She still doesn’t drink iced tea.

A Flash Fiction by Kate MacDonald

Is there a place somewhere for me, a cosy cave, complete with soft furnishings and WiFI? There are deadlines to meet. I also need quiet to concentrate. Unfortunately, at this moment, every nerve ending in my body is vibrating. The cacophony made by my three children echoes through my skull.

The tenth circle of hell is reserved for writers, awaiting readers. Therefore, the dichotomy of a writer’s existence is the need for solitude to write, the desire for an audience to exist.

All true, but as a working mother, life intrudes, interjects, influences. If some considered hell to be on earth, I knew where that tenth circle was.

There was not so much a lightbulb moment, more the slight flicker from a guttering candle. My Celtic heritage might be of some use here. I was the keeper of our family ephemera, going back generations.

Great-great-grandma Harraughty had earned the soubriquet of Wise Woman. I knew there was a tattered book of her’s, in the obligatory battered old tin trunk, in the attic. Among the dust motes and the cobwebs, there it stood, as I remembered it. At the bottom, I found the aptly named “Book of Shadows.” Back in my study, I riffled through the pages. I was amazed to find this passage;

Take a tallow candle.
To harness time, etch “one minute= one hour” down the length of the candle.
Light the candle. Chant:
“While fully conscious mine eyes shall see, a portal open up for me.
I summon the space that I desire, to come to me for just one hour.”

I am sure there will be questions. For example, did it work? All I can say is, I have written four books in two weeks.

Kate MacDonald is a retired septuagenarian insomniac. She dabbles in buying junk and selling “Antiques” online, but writing has become her quiet passion. So suitable to help fill the still dark hours. Kate has only returned to writing in the past year or so. Kate has had five poems published in Stardust Review. She has also had two short stories published, one in Stardust Review, the other in Nonsensically Challenged. A poem, “Surprised” has just been published by High Shelf Press, volume XXIII. WinglessDreamer printed Dark Danger and Different Drum. A Tanka “Languid” was published by Spillwords Press.

A Flash Fiction by Jeff Harvey

With his toothy smile and black hair, Robbie reminded me of Donny Osmond. On Labor Day weekend his mom found him in a shed with their preacher and kicked him out, but she continued attending the same church. My mom let him stay with us until graduation. He slept on an air mattress in my room and always wore a red Speedo. I listened to him for hours insisting President Nixon worked for the Chinese government.

On New Year’s Eve, we hung out alone at my church rec hall playing ping-pong and chugging wine I’d stolen from my dad. Robbie asked if I would ever get married. I told him no because I preferred men. He threw the paddle at me and called me queer.

That spring Robbie started speaking with me again. He’d met the director of a local theatre group and was using expressions like drag queenfag hag, and what a dump. I wanted to be his friend, but he scared me when he talked about the voices. At the end of May, we graduated and went to another kid’s party. After smoking weed, he jumped off this kid’s roof in an attempt to fight the man. I felt relieved when Robbie moved to live with his dad in Ohio.

Jeff Harvey lives in San Diego. His fiction has recently appeared in MoonPark Review and Potato Soup Journal. Find him on Twitter @JeffHarveySD.

A Poem by Penny Senanarong

I dream of Oðinn upon the towering tree,
Its bone-like branches, a spine jutting through the earth.
Tight throat, choking on a swollen tongue–
How long is nine days and nine nights
When you can’t breathe?
Time constricts and dilates into an eternity.

The Hanged Man says to let go and Four of Swords to rest.
Forget the envious, evil eye that pierces and
Nails you with its gaze.
I pray to the Devil: defend me from those eyes,
Against the people’s eye, against the stranger’s eye,
Let no eye bear witness to my shame.

Let me tell you a secret, sweet one:
The blame is not yours to take.
Thrice-born Zagreus committed no crimes
Yet he too was torn asunder.
May you be an isle in the sea, my love.
May you be a staff to the weak.

Wear an iron coat, iron cap, iron mantle and iron boots.
Snow-white of heart and innocence,
Make the tithe of wrath though the heavens fall.

Penny Senanarong is a Bangkok-born poet whose work can be found in Better Than Starbucks, Burnt Pine Magazine, 50-Word Stories, and ENIGMA Journal. She is a human rights advocate with interests in queer theory, mythology, and the occult. During her free time, she likes to sing to musical show tunes.

A Poem by Benjamin Rose

To himself as he was at six years old

Let me rise from this bed insensate
Where, with inconsolable eyes, I weep;
A child of no–one sobbing in darkness.
Desperate to ease the burden of his fate.
They have gone, they have gone—Damnit, where am I!?
Where is the shining joy of the light?
Of amber candles inflamed in the night
Dappling with splendor the husk of Spring.

O crimson branching Nihon sentinels
Richer in loveliness than blood red wine,
From your shadow I passed to Orodruin
Longing now only to sleep in oblivion.
But the land of my dreams is one of nightmares,
Of Nazgûl shrieks and Ixion pains,
Beaten, blinded, broken and castrated,
A weight of gold suffocating my throat.

All that was green and good in this world
Long since hurled in the furnace of wrath,
I grope across a barren land blindly
Turning on the throats of my friends with a sword.
For I have forgotten the taste of bread,
The sound of wind whistling in the leaves,
Till all that remained was the unfulfilled knell.
Hide me in darkness till I pass away.

They have gone, they have gone—Never to return.
No, spare me your contemptible pity.
For, though it shone with consummate tenderness
I would run horror–stricken from you.
I would render my flesh with the razor,
Quick–shattered shiv of self–flagellation.
But, though I beg through enervated tears,
I am sunken forever in loathing.

Give to me now, O halfling melodist,
Wherever your heartbroken reed may blow,
In tremor beyond all fruitless words
The sanctity to remember and pretend
That I, in my righteous gall, might have spared you
This burden unbearable that degrades.
Now we are far from the light of the Valar.
Beyond all human subscript of grief.

Benjamin Rose is a poet born and raised in Washington, D.C.

A Short Story by Heather Whited

Christmas Eve. The unheated attic. Marcy and Otis, passed a joint back and forth and drank ciders as they watched Christmas unfold out the window. The neighborhood was brittle, gray. No snow this year, not even rain, just a sharp wind that ripped at the empty tree branches. Still, decorations were up, and a tree glittered in most windows that they could see.

It wasn’t late, only around 9:00, but the house was quiet. Silent in the tense way a space that should have been filled with happiness, created a chafing, nagging void instead.

Dad was out with Uncle Rod, probably drinking too, probably enough to make tomorrow uncomfortable, and Mom was asleep. The house smelled of cooking though, enough to lull them into thinking for seconds at a time that the holiday was going to go well. It never did though. It hadn’t for years, not since they were children.

Next door, a half-deflated plastic Santa wavered on someone’s roof, battered by the wind. A group of carolers sang for their neighbors. Their scarves whipped around their faces, their sheet music rustled and threatened blow away, but the singers clutched at them, joyous still.

Marcy grinned tiredly down at them, passing the joint back to Otis.

“I wonder if anyone’s told them that the new family there is Jewish?”

“I’d guess not,” said Otis after a too long pause.

He pulled his coat closer around himself and blew smoke out the open window. They sat watching for several minutes and the carolers shuffled off and started up a new song at the next house.

“You’re in a shit mood,” said Marcy. She popped open another can and watched Otis fidget as he smoked. “What’s up? You’ve obviously got something to say.”

He looked away, briefly toward some boxes in the corner, at the joint in his fingers, then down at his shoes.

“I… saw something in the news. But you can’t tell Mom and Dad.”

He pulled out his phone and passed it to his sister. On the screen, a picture of a dark-haired young woman about their age, taken at just the right moment to catch her smiling. Underneath, the circumstances of her death the month before. Marcy’s heart sped up as she skimmed, wishing with each word that she hadn’t read it. Marcy stared at the spot where, “murdered by her partner,” appeared in the text. Her shoulders slumped as the words weighed her down. She absentmindedly set her cider on the windowsill.

“Is that…” she started to ask, not looking up at her brother but still staring down at the woman in the picture who had been their sister for a few years, when they were children.

“Yeah, it’s Mindy.”

“Well, she got a new name with her next family. I guess, really, it’s Candace. Was Candace. Fuck. Where did you find this?”

Otis worried at the dry skin of his lips. He was too thin, Marcy thought, chiding herself for not noticing sooner.

He continued to look out the window as he spoke. “You remember Mike Salas?”

She did. Her brother’s friend from elementary school who’d run around their yard, up and down their stairs, and jumped through their sprinkler in the summer. Ate bologna sandwiches on the front steps with them, back when the siblings were three. He’d only lived a couple of streets over and he and Otis had run back and forth from each other’s house for a few years, inseparable. It was a name she hadn’t heard in over two decades, not since she was barely ten years old. Much like Mindy’s name, relegated to whispers.

“You still talk to Mike Salas?”

“Not really,” said Otis. His hands were shaking. Marcy noticed he’d been biting his nails. One finger was bandaged. “But we kind of keep in touch. Comment on posts and things every now and then mostly, but he’s nice, checked in on me when I was…”

He did not say ‘in the hospital,’ but he didn’t have to.

“His mom saw this last week and he sent it to me.”

Marcy locked the screen, and it thankfully went black before she had to look to look at Mindy’s face again, or read the new name she’d been given when their parents decided they didn’t want Mindy anymore. She passed the phone back to Otis, who stuck it in his pocket.

“How did he find out?”

“Well, I don’t know if you remember, but his family moved away a few months after everything.”

Everything. The most concise way, the most polite way to talk about it, when they needed to, which was rare. The weeks of their sister running away, tearing through the neighborhood in her bare feet, darting across traffic as cars screeched to stop in her path. The broken television when Mindy threw a block at it as hard as she could. Mindy one day going red in the face at lunch and biting their mother. A screech escaping their mother’s throat, a slap that sent Mindy reeling and dislodged her. Dad running down the stairs. A green towel with blood seeping through. Black stitches snaking down from Mom’s thumb. Visits from people they didn’t know, always couples in beige and pastels, all of whom wanted to meet tiny, five-year-old Mindy, who had become their sister three years before. Marcy and Otis were always made to play outside then, no matter the weather. Then one day, after school, they came home and Mindy’s bedroom was empty. The smell of fresh paint and Mom washing her hands over and over to get the specks off. It’ll do wonders, she’d said to herself as she scrubbed and scrubbed. New paint always does.

Marcy looked at Otis and said, “Yeah, I remember they moved.”

Otis nodded. His overlong hair, the ends bleached and parched as the dead grass of the lawn, had fallen into his eyes and Marcy fought the urge to push it back. She also remembered that he hadn’t talked for weeks after Mike and his family left.

“Well, his parents were apparently disgusted with Mom and Dad. They were all part of this Christian parent’s group that had been encouraging Mom and Dad through all the rough spots of getting Mindy settled. You know, the tantrums and things. Mr. and Mrs. Salas hated everything about what had happened. Giving her away after being her parents for three years, how they’d done it, just letting some other family take her and not letting the agency know for months. I guess there was some big fight about it and then Mike’s family decided to move. Mike says his mom searched for Mindy and wanted to make sure she was okay.”

“Shit,” muttered Marcy. Her stomach lurched and she was suddenly freezing. She didn’t want to be up here anymore. She didn’t want to be at home. At her parent’s house, that is. She wanted to be back at the apartment she shared with her friends two hours away. That was home.

“Mrs. Salas found out her new name and she searches for her every now and then to see how she’s doing. Last week she found this. Mike decided I’d want to know.”

“Did you?”

Otis shrugged and wiped at his eyes.
“I really hated all that,” he whispered. “I was so scared. I went to school and came back and she was gone and all the pictures of her were gone and Mom just said she’d found a new family that was better for her, that could take care of her. I used to worry myself sick. Actually sick, puking sick. I used to get so scared I’d just…”

He mimed scratching at his arms.

“There was blood. It got infected once. Mom took me to the doctor then never said anything again.”

“I know,” said Marcy. Her voice barely audible. She hugged herself and looked out the window. Christmas lights twinkled in most of the houses. At her real home, her roommate Kate would be baking, there would be a movie on. She hated it here.

“I know. I wanted to help. I just didn’t know how. I was only ten.”

“It’s okay. It wasn’t your job. It was Mom and Dad’s.”

Marcy picked up the cider she’d abandoned and took a large swig, then another. It dribbled down her chin. Now she was sure she would be sick later, maybe very soon, actually, but she wanted to keep drinking. Sick would not be bad, the blackness of a deep, drunken sleep would not be especially welcome. She had never understood her father so well. She finished the cider and her stinging eyes again wandered to the boxes in the attic.

“I wonder if they kept anything at all?” she asked.

“No,” said Otis. He glared back at the boxes, their lids gaping. “I looked at everything. Everything. They got rid of it all.”

“I figured.”

Mindy opened another cider.

“Was she happy? Do you think she did okay after those new people came for her?”

“No.”

They both jumped at a noise from downstairs. They peered out the window to see the group of carolers on their front porch. A tall blonde woman at the front started singing and the others followed. They did not look up at the attic window where two young people watched, unmoving.

Heather Whited is a writer and teacher from Nashville, Tennessee currently on the west coast in her second home of Portland, Oregon. She lives with an evil dog and a much nicer cat. She’s been lucky to have a number of magazines take a chance on her.

An Essay by Jenevieve Carlyn Hughes

The sea is everything…
Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

When I was growing up, Sunday evenings were spent watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, which aired at 6 p.m. on public television. From aboard his ship, the Calypso, Cousteau would dive deep below the ocean’s surface to explore the wonders of shipwrecks, sunken caves, and sea creatures. He shared his fascination with marine life large and small, from the colorful and prickly sea anemone to what he described as “the soft intelligence” of the giant squid. Cousteau’s work shaped the future of marine biology and fostered broad public interest in the earth’s oceans, but it was not until decades later that the first living giant squid was photographed in the wild.

As a child, I remember visiting the Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, Connecticut, where an enormous replica of a giant squid was suspended from the vaulted sandstone ceiling inside the museum’s entrance. In scale, it is similar to the massive model of a blue whale that hangs in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The squid is a subtle shade of coral, bathed in light from the arched windows of the three-story French gothic building. The Peabody Museum was built in the 1920s to house collections of fossils, gemstones, and other artifacts acquired by scientists since the mid-1800s. Nicknamed the “Sistine Chapel of Evolution,” it remains a cathedral of science.

The replica squid was based on an actual giant squid that had turned up dead in a fishing net in Newfoundland, Canada, in the 1960s, after attempting to wrap its tentacles around a small craft vessel—leaving its impression, literally, on the fishing boat. Long after the era when natural history specimens were bought and sold as curiosities, the Newfoundland squid was acquired for research purposes, making its way to New Haven where it became the model for the Peabody Museum’s replica squid. Somehow, the artist who created the replica was able to convey the squid’s deeper essence: its eyes soulful, its tentacles expressive. Although the museum is now a global research institution, the replica still suffuses the space with the feel of a natural history museum from the Romantic Era of science.


During a grade-school fieldtrip, I also visited the USS Nautilus museum, where we climbed aboard a decommissioned submarine. The ship sits docked in a river that empties into the Long Island Sound, which eventually connects to the Atlantic Ocean. After descending an iron ladder to explore the vessel’s cramped quarters, we were invited to imagine being attacked by a giant squid, just like Captain Nemo in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. As we peered through the tiny submarine portals into the murky water, I recalled a children’s storybook version of Jules Verne’s classic novel. It contained a pen-and-ink illustration of a giant squid engulfing Captain Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus.

The notion that a giant squid would attack a ship was frightening, even horrifying. Moreover, Nemo’s nemesis was nothing like the squid that I’d seen floating above my head at the entrance to the Peabody Museum. For a time, after my imaginary encounter with a squid aboard the USS Nautilus, I managed to convince myself that giant squid were alive only in the realm of science fiction. Contained safely to seafaring mythology. Relegated to storybook depictions of squid swallowing ships whole.


For centuries, the giant squid has been demonized as a monster in seafaring myths and legends. Called “the Kraken” by sailors who tried to hunt it and often failed, it was frequently depicted in art and literature engulfing wooden ships with its eight arms and two extra-long tentacles. Until the nineteenth century, the existence of the giant squid was doubted by scientists.  For most of human history, it remained a mythological leviathan. Today, it is one of the most sought-after creatures of the deep.

Although the giant squid (scientific name: Architeuthis dux) usually grows up to 30-40 feet, or the length of a school bus, the largest ever recorded reached 60 feet long. Larger still is the colossal squid, found in the waters off of Antarctica, too remote for most sailing vessels prior to recent history. Giant squid prefer the earth’s warmer waters. Using their own bioluminescent abilities to hunt and to communicate, they will migrate throughout the oceans to find a place where they can thrive.

The giant squid has only one natural predator: the sperm whale. Beaks of giant squid (yes, squid have beaks) by the thousands have been found in the bellies of sperm whales, along with plastic bottles and other signs of human activity. This is a testament to how polluted the oceans have become. Yet, it also reveals that even giant squid are vulnerable to predation. Despite their immense size, they are not the most powerful creatures in the sea.

Over the years, giant squid have come to fascinate marine scientists, precisely because they are so elusive. With a complex central nervous system and brain that extends into each of its arms and tentacles, a giant squid can camouflage almost instantly with its surroundings. Classified in the phylum Mollusca, giant squid are grouped with other soft-bodied marine creatures, including scallops and sea snails on the entirely opposite end of the size spectrum. Within Mollusca, squid are part of the class of Cephalopoda, which also includes various types of highly intelligent octopuses.

Until the early 21st century, no living giant squid had yet been photographed in the wild. After years of concerted efforts and close-but-not-quite encounters, a research team in 2004 spent months aboard a ship in the Ogasawara Islands of the North Pacific attempting to catch a glimpse of a giant squid. More than glimpse it, they sought to photograph a giant squid in its natural habitat, in the wild. Research grants were obtained, preparations were made, and entire careers were dedicated to this endeavor. What followed can perhaps best be described as a gripping tale of incredible suction on the high seas.


Attracted by the bait that had been tethered to the marine scientists’ ship and lowered deep below the surface of the sea, a giant squid eventually swam close to where the research team was stationed. Using a bright yellow underwater camera, at long last it seemed that photographic footage of a giant squid would finally be obtained. The creature in its natural habitat, in the wild, would be captured on camera for the first time in history.

However, an arduous struggle ensued when the research team sought to reel in its equipment, which had become ensnared in one of the squid’s tentacles. The creature had suctioned its tentacle so thoroughly onto the lure that when the scientists tried to haul in their equipment, a large part of the squid’s tentacle came with it.

The squid sank back into the deep. The bright yellow submersible camera, which remained intact, had managed to capture a series of digital photographs more up-close and personal than anyone could have anticipated. Ultimately, however, the researchers were left standing on the deck of the ship holding a piece of tentacle from the very creature they had devoted themselves to study.

Like starfish, a giant squid can eventually regenerate a missing limb, although not without great effort. Meanwhile, because of the complex system of nerves that extends throughout the length of a squid’s arms and tentacles, a severed limb will retain its suctioning abilities. Thus, after the scientists pried the tentacle off of the camera, it suctioned itself onto the scientists. And then it gripped the deck of the ship, like a newborn child grasping the thumb of its mother.

DNA testing later confirmed that the eighteen-foot long piece of tentacle was indeed from Architeuthis dux—a giant squid.


In the years since that fateful expedition, giant squid and other cephalopods have gained legions of new fans and admirers, fascinated by the myths, the history, and the science. Beyond photographs, there now exists digital video footage of more than one giant squid in the wild, recorded during subsequent expeditions and offering a dynamic glimpse into their deep-sea lives. A giant squid’s movements and overall gestalt come across through video footage in ways that photographic images simply cannot capture.

In 2019, a juvenile giant squid was identified by marine scientists in the Gulf of Mexico, 250 miles off the coast of Florida. The first living giant squid to be filmed in U.S. waters, it was drawn towards a newer submersible camera, the Medusa, which quietly simulates underwater bioluminescence like a jellyfish glowing in the dark. Although jellyfish are not a food source for giant squids, a jellyfish will light up, as a last resort, when it is trying to escape from one of its own predators. This, in turn, alerts even larger animals (such as giant squid) that a potential food source is nearby, in the hopes that they will eat whatever is threatening the jellyfish. For a jellyfish under duress, bioluminescence is a Hail Mary pass—a last-ditch effort to seek help from a giant squid.

Because the newer submersible camera, the Medusa, is able to effectively mimic a jellyfish’s bioluminescence, there will likely be more videos of giant squid in the future. Still, the deep sea can be a harsh reminder of the laws of nature and life in the wild. The giant squid is no longer viewed by most people as a monster, but rather as a complex wild animal that humans are still learning about. Although giant squid might seem like otherworldly creatures, embodying the mysteries of the deep, their shifting migration patterns could start to draw them closer to shore. As the world’s oceans continue to warm, these creatures might begin turning up in places that they hadn’t before.

Soon, a giant squid could even be as near to you or to me as a bottle of H2O. Recently, researchers have been working to manufacture an eco-friendly, biodegradable form of “plastic” from the proteins found in the tentacles of giant squid. By harnessing the tentacles’ intense suctioning ability, this breakthrough could have numerous applications, from biodegradable bottles to textiles to timed-release capsules for medicines. Since the proteins can now be synthesized in a laboratory, this process will not require further harvesting of squid. It may lead to a decrease in the amount of toxic plastic being produced, and less plastic pollution ending up in the earth’s oceans. If so, the giant squid’s natural habitat would stay a little more wild.

One day, you might find yourself sipping from a biodegradable water bottle created from the proteins found in squid tentacles. When that day comes, savor each sip. Imagine what else might be possible for this world. And then remember the story of that one giant squid who just wouldn’t let go.

Jenevieve Carlyn Hughes lives near the coastal coves & salt marshes of Long Island Sound, and she explores the environmental humanities through her writing. Her work has appeared in Typishly, the Connecticut River Review, Reliving History Magazine, Northern New England Review, Autumn Sky Poetry, Braided Way Magazine, Rue Scribe, Caria, Trouvaille Review, Amethyst Review, and elsewhere. She teaches humanities for Southern New Hampshire University’s global campus.

A Short Story by Bill Garwin

A Short Story of the Life of Dan Ivan Sensei

They’ll come. I need them. I left a light on as a beacon or maybe more like a flame. They can’t resist. It’s what they do. Inflict injury on the weak. Humiliate and take a life’s accumulation. They’ll come in numbers preceded by their stench and the spittle from their bikes. They’ll be loud, wearing leather in the night heat; unafraid of a single old man floating in the isolation of this desert shack. It’s taken me a lifetime to get here. A lifetime of violence. A lifetime of honor.

The Great Depression and I were born within hours of each other. I was raised, if that’s what you call it, in Alliance, Ohio. My dad, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, was twice as old as my 16-year-old mom when they married. He left six months after I was born. Mom waitressed to survive, leaving little time for mothering. We lived with my grandmother; the house language was Hungarian. I bathed every Saturday night in a large, galvanized tub. I can’t remember having toys, electricity or phones.

I began riding the rails when I was ten. Hop a moving train from here to there. The hobos were decent, the guards brutal if they caught you. At thirteen, I took the train to California. Slept in boxcars, ate when I could, usually at the kindness of the hobos. Kept a club and never, ever, let anyone see I was afraid. Stoic. I’d steal vegetables from gardens, shoplift groceries. Did some work when I could get it, sweeping floors, washing dishes. Never panhandled. I’d rather steal than beg. When I came back, I think my grandmother was glad to see me.

Sammy, Frankie and I were the worst kids in town. I carried a blackjack until the police took it away. They never did find the brass knuckles. I fought. A lot. So did everybody else. But I was never a bully, except maybe when we were rolling drunks.

I’m fifteen, driving with Sammy, we see a guy who turned us in to the police a week earlier. Maybe for stealing from the market, robbing drunks, fighting. I can’t remember. I tell Sammy to pull over, jump out and beat the crap out of the guy. Next day, Sammy, Frankie and I are picked up by the cops. They take us to court and the judge decides it’s Juvie or the army. I complain I’m only fifteen. Judge, pen in hand, allows as how he has my birth certificate in front of him and I’m eighteen.

Boot camp’s great. Bed, clean sheets, indoor plumbing and all the food I can eat. There’s nothing better than hiking, drilling, camping out with a can of sterno and K rations. Tough guys back from the war taught me discipline and respect. I learned to kill.

I did a tour in Guam, was discharged and went back to Alliance. I started to slip into the same destructive cycle. Not who I wanted to be so I re-upped. They sent me to Japan where I met my wife and the love of my life, karate.

I courted my wife floating on the canals of Tokyo. We couldn’t be seen together on the streets, so our romance was limited to the low-tide stench of the canals or a well-hidden small café. Surprisingly, her family mostly accepted me. Maybe she’d have been better off if they hadn’t.

I’m at Camp Zama in the Criminal Investigation Division, CID. A military cop with a mandate to “Do what has to be done”. It’s a violent job for which I’m perfectly suited. Just another extension of a life of fighting.

I managed to spend some time learning judo. I’m paying for my lessons by selling my GI cigarette allotment on the black market. I will eventually have black belts in karate, judo, aikido and kendo.

I studied judo at the Kodokan, a large gray building which had evaded the American bombing. Wide steps led to an always open double door, behind which as many as a hundred students could be found training. Beginning students would show up early practicing falls to warm up the frozen straw tatami mats for senior students. Training would last 2 or 3 hours.

I’ve spent my life fighting, dominating. It’s who I am. I hear about this karate dojo. I grab an interpreter from the Provost Marshall’s office and tell him what I want. He’s so busy shaking his head in the negative, he doesn’t even notice we’re on our way.

Off the train at Ueno, through the underground where entire families live in stench and poverty. We emerge to the smell of charcoal hibachi fires and lean-to living. Through the destruction to what seems like the uninhabited bones of a bombed-out building. Yes, he’s certain this is the place. I move towards the basement and sounds of men screaming. I follow the smell of sweat into the dojo of Gogen Yamaguchi Sensei, the Cat.

There stands a short, but massive man. Shoulder length black hair, commanding in a deep guttural voice. Gi clad students matched off in pairs down the length of the room. Each strike, each block emphasized with a shout concentrating the energy of the blow. I stopped halfway down the stairs, sat and watched. Yamaguchi Sensei approached. We communicated through gestures. If I wished to train, I was to leave and return with my uniform.

I come back the next day, gi in hand. Training was brutal, especially for a gaijin. A senior student took me to the back and taught basics. But soon, I did much more. Other dojo’s practiced kata and staged sparring. Yamaguchi Sensei introduced free fighting. Manners were observed, control required, but blood flowed. Blocks hurt as much or more than strikes. The injured, the truly injured, could lean against a wall to recover.

My wife and I returned to the States. The Army sent me to learn Japanese at the language school at the Presidio, Monterey. After my discharge, I begin establishing dojos. At one point I’ve got eight of them. I bring instructors from Japan. I start the Japan Karate-do Federation. I’m the American Director of the first World Karate Championships. I’m elected to the Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame. I write a book, invest in real estate, get involved in movies and Las Vegas productions. I travel and teach. In Japan, they award me eighth dan in karate for a lifetime of achievement. I receive it from a Zen monk who is a descendant of Ieyasu Tokugawa, a 17th-century shogun.

I’m hurting. The VA docs tell me it’s cancer. Not much they can do. Eventually, it’ll eat me up. I’ve got this isolated, little place in Whitewater, California, population 892. A shack painted loud pastels. Maybe 500 or 600 square feet that never saw a building permit. Concrete ramps between small rooms with mud walls. And this is where I sit. A bird on a perch waiting for vultures. For one last fight. The coda of a lifetime of violence, achievement, and honor. A singular life.

In memory of Dan Ivan Sensei

Bill Garwin received a B.A. from UCLA, an M.S. in Journalism from Boston University, and a J.D. from the University of San Diego. He studied martial arts for 20 years, holds a 3rd dan karate black belt, and practiced and taught fencing. He is the author of the soon-to-be published, City of Schemes.

A Prose Poem by Jason M. Thornberry

Upon the sand I stood and watched the water rushing past, scuffing itself over the rocks, racing toward a distant diamond sea. Then I kneeled and opened the box at my feet, removing relics I hadn’t seen in years. Dropping them, watching the current drag them away. A conveyor belt of tumbling mementos: the box of letters, the unfinished photo album, the pages of your handwriting. The things that bobbed, the others that sank. Then I found that forgotten picture. I stared and saw us as we were: you wore my boxer shorts. One of my undershirts. Your short, messy hair pasted to your forehead with sweat. The light brown freckle above your lip. The one I used to kiss. Your tiny wrists, your soft bare feet. Concert posters on the wall behind us. I never showed that photo to anyone. You were already gone. Reaching and pulling and closing my eyes, I emptied the box and stood. Before I looked away, I saw the ring before it sank, a few inches of red ribbon trailing behind it.

Neurodivergent Seattle writer Jason M. Thornberry’s work appears in Route 7 Review, The Stranger, Adirondack Review, Hash Journal, Entropy, and elsewhere. His work examines disability, family, and social justice. An MFA candidate at Chapman University, Jason taught creative writing at Seattle Pacific University. He reads poetry for TAB Journal.

A Flash Fiction by Ben Wrixon

Relationships are like milk. 

My friend told me before my first date with Her. We were drinking at the bar as part of our regular pre-game routine. I fell asleep confused after stumbling home, but woke up feeling stupid. Generations of dysfunctional men have passed down that metaphor to warn each other about being attached to something (or someone) that might curdle. 

Exhibit A: my parent’s marriage. 

Too different and married much too young to work through those differences together, they convinced themselves that changing for someone was self-betrayal, not unlike most people in their mid-twenties. Nonetheless, I’ve always been thankful they ended before I grew out of my diapers. I’m lucky to not have lived my childhood through their fights. Sometimes I wonder whether their flame could be rekindled, but I know the stubborn calluses that drove them apart have only hardened with time. Sometimes broken is better. 

Their split has become my greatest teacher. 

I first met Her in a sweaty t-shirt with shaking heads. When she smiled at me, I looked over my shoulder, figuring she’d seen someone better. Despite all my worries, the thought of Her in my life excited me. Her giggly laugh made me laugh, too. Her ornate jewelry commanded my attention. Our conversation almost sucked me in enough to forget, yet I walked home with hardwired skepticism. My errors weren’t reprogrammable.

Relationships are temporary, but children of divorce are forever. 


Now we’ve been dating for two years. 

Life is different than before we started. Sometimes I still go out with the guys, but our wallets are empty, and we’re all busier with school work. Catching up with them (when it does happen) is admittedly fun, though spending time with Her still beats walking home drunk and cold and contemplating my existence. It’s all simpler now. 

My parents remarried—to different people, of course. 

I have my doubts, but I’m happy for them. Seeing my dad settle down after fifteen years of playing girlfriend roulette gives me hope. She’s nice. My mother has only dated selectively since their messy divorce, so I’m relieved she’s found someone suitable. He’s nice, too. They all deserve someone to hold onto during their loneliest nights. 

I might have stopped hoping, but I still wonder. 

Sometimes I also wonder about Her and me. We’ve spent a couple birthdays and Christmases together, even done a little vacation. I almost had enough fun to trick myself into thinking life won’t drive a stake between us. That doubt is usually buried below my intestines, but on the worst days, it’s in my esophagus like a sore throat. I feel it most when we’re just coasting through our attached life on borrowed time. 

Sometimes I miss being alone. 

Being single was less stressful. I felt more at peace when our emotions weren’t intertwined. Love is intoxicating; Her unrelenting needs and desires consume my fragile psyche. She says she loves me for who I am, but I haven’t been myself in two years. 

Will she ever know me? 

Maybe. We could be meant to last. 

The first time that thought wormed into my brain, Her and I were curled up on the couch watching a TV show. For whatever reason, everything finally made sense to me after living a lifetime of confusion. While it wouldn’t be easy, I realized I could put my fears aside to believe in forever with Her. Us. But like all things, our moment expired.

My stomach churned when I kissed her cheek. 

Ben Wrixon is an emerging Canadian writer whose work was first recognized by the Stephen Leacock association. He studies psychology at Queen’s University. When Ben isn’t writing, he’s most likely playing guitar and cheering on his favourite sports Toronto-based sports teams.

A Short Story by Simon Plant

Every year comes the cold dark winter and every year I dread it. Hektor tells me I’m neurotic; my paralyzing fear a hysterical response to something benign, a natural event—should not be feared by rational-thinking humans. “You’re being ridiculous,” he says now as I nail plywood over the windows in our living room. “And ruining the architraves! We’ll have to repaint—again.

Every year I do the same and every year it drives him mental. But he doesn’t know what it’s like to live with this annual phobia. How it feels to be a man who cowers during a cold snap; crackling of the radiator; pattering of sleet upon windows turning him frail.

Yes dear, I think. We’ll repaint… Painting holds no flame to what I saw in the flurry. Hideous open void. Her eyes like crystals from another realm…

“It’s for the best,” I say, adding—for good measure—another snippet of psychological jargon received from a quack therapist I invented years ago; a professional whose (fabricated) words I now use as diversions to avoid explaining myself properly: “Dr Kershaw said I need to take control of my fear.”

“But Wilt, does control have to be so… destructive?”

“A proactive approach.”

Hektor finishes decorating the Christmas tree while I drill plywood over the windows in the kitchen; I hear him muttering irritably to himself as he props the star on top. Staring in horror at what has become of our home: windows and doors shuttered-over with plywood as if in preparation for a hurricane.

Poor Hektor. He didn’t know when we embarked upon these renovations it would forever be a work in progress; I never warned him of his husband’s manic neurosis. (If neurosis justifies my having once sighted a door to another world.) Christmas should give him cheer, and that should please me. Despite the fact this fixer-upper—which Hektor and I bought with the intention of flipping—is never going to be finished, we are at the very least both loved on Santa’s Eve. Still, his resentment is tangible.

It’s better this way. Better he not know the truth; what I saw twenty years ago…

We sit on the couch together and watch the news. My knee bounces, and Hektor applies a staying hand. I drink my wine quicker than normal, knowing the weather report is next. A chubby woman in a too-short dress speaks of a “bomb cyclone” and I feel my body shrinking into the cushions. Hy hands tremble, wine sloshes precariously.

“Maybe we should watch something else—” Hektor suggests, reaching for the remote.

I stop him with a shrill objection. “No!” My voice cracks. “Better the devil you know, right,” I add with a nervous laugh. A valiant feat of acting, this summoning of humor even as my stomach plummets like a dysfunctional elevator. You think it’s just the snow I hate? If only changing the channel could protect us from Her.

On screen the map is overlain by swooping purple graphics, gradient shades which represent concentrated parts of the coming storm: light lavender the least intense; deep, ruddy burgundy the most. Our house might be somewhere beneath that splotch in the top corner—a warning color not too dissimilar to the wine in my hand. I force myself to breathe.

Hektor, ignoring my agitation, ends the news, starts some carols playing, and climbs to his feet. “Dance with me,” he soothes. Timidly, I do. But cannot keep my body from shaking. I hear it; pitter-patter of ice tapping the glass—just beyond the plywood. It’s begun.

“Who’s she,” says Hektor, stopping mid box-step to study me curiously.

I blink up at him. Didn’t intend to speak out loud.

“The Queen,” I sputter.

He laughs, but gravity in my eyes snuffs his humor like a candle at a birthday party. “Wilt, what are you—”

“Twenty years ago she came…” My ears are ringing. There’s a blizzard on the underside of my eyelids. “Rode in on arctic breeze, slipped through a keyhole, straddling ice like it was her beast.”

“Keyhole?”

“A crack. A soft spot. A doorway.”

Boom! rends the walls of the universe.

Hektor stares in lax comprehension, but my mind is elsewhere…

Poor little boy cowering on his bed as She descends from her void—whatever hellish reality She came from; punched through from a cold dead world where no good deed goes unpunished and where charity is a condemnable offense. Her blue eyes pierce darkness with domineering moon-glow and carry a hunger in them like that of a thousand-year-old famished vampire. Sovereign of misery. Queen of sorrow.

Humoring me—for Hektor knows when I get like this there’s little else to do: “What’d she want?”

“I… I don’t know!

Yes, you do. It’s you she wants. That night She laid sights on you, promised one day to return. Your very own boogeyman. Stalker. Haunting face of a frozen woman whose domain is a corrupted place where everything pure turns sour like rancid milk. Where good cheer and sanity are sucked and sundered like fingers in a blender.

Cold eyes sparkle as she laughs. “Little boy you will come when I tell you. When you’re old enough. No choice.”

The snow’s heavier now. Wind rattles the rafters and sends groans through the house like creaking bones. Hektor regards me warily, a warden appraising a patient in a psych ward. “A bath might calm your nerves?”

Minutely I nod.


In the warm water I lay, head propped back against the iron tub, feet crossed on the other side, wineglass within reach. I’m grateful. Hektor knows how to allay me, how to make me sane again. Even as the tempest howls I am validated by warmth, love, alcohol.

Pleasures that don’t exist in Her cruel cold world—

Stop. No more. Not real. Something you dreamed when you were young. Part of your phobia. “Forget about Her. Nothing but a night-terror—”

A great resounding crash shakes the house to its foundations. Then Hektor; his scream reaches me over the querulous storm.

“Hektor? Hektor!” No reply. An eerie silence (void) down there now…

I’m out of the tub, wrapped in a town and heading for the stairs. Wet feet scamper down wooden treads. When I reach the living room, I stop. Carols are still playing. Fire crackles in the hearth. And the tree stands tall, decorated in the corner like some sweet confection—picture of joy; but I am filled with dread. No sign of Hektor. And a stinging breeze is puckering my skin in gooseflesh, threatens to freeze the droplets of water on my naked body. I turn to face the kitchen—where chunks of plywood cover the tile floor; flurries of snow blanket bench tops and continue to fall upon scattered slivers of glass.

Something has punched a hole in (reality) the wall like the fist of an angry giant.

“No…”

I approach the window—what’s left—ignoring the pain of splintered wood and shattered glass underfoot. Steam rises from my body; warmth whipped from me by an arctic breeze cutting in through a cavity left by some destructive passage. Through it, in the night beyond, I perceive nothing. Just whiteout. Snow. Darkness.

But I hear her. Laughing as she retreats to her malevolent world. Ascending back through the trench she dug—new recruit in hand.

“No! The wrong man! You wanted me! Take me!”

But she’s gone.


Twenty years had been the golf of Her absence, time in which I invariably convinced myself of and tore myself away from the notion that I’d made her up completely. But there’s no arguing with proof. Hektor’s missing now. Days have passed and still no sign of him.

The threshold between worlds is shut, and She alone holds the key to unlock it.

Simon Plant is an Aussie expat short writer and dancer who lives in NYC with his husband and cat. When he’s not performing on a stage somewhere, you’ll find him writing something or neurotically watering houseplants (it’s not an addiction…). He grew up in Sydney, Australia before finding his place in the world as a professional ballet dancer. His stories have appeared in anthologies by the following: Red Cape Publishing, Raven and Drake, Not a Pipe, Breaking Rules Europe, Hiraeth, and Black Hare Press. You can learn more about Simon and his writing endeavors at his website: www.simonjplant.com

A Poem by Noah Sisson

He had the wings of angels that were feathered softly with light. He blessed me with kindness when all I’d known was fright. What did he see in me, a mere mortal void of grace? What worth did he find in my sobbing, tear-streaked face?

He hugged me close and took my hand 
             saying, “Do not be afraid my friend.
	                   This world is cruel to boys like us
	                   And it’s hard to know who you can trust.
	                   But follow me and we’ll see it all.
	                   See, I’m like you and need a friend to call my own.”


So, I took his hand and we soared through the heavens, over green mountains and white puffed clouds. My heart started racing while my mind started guessing, “Ok, what happens now?”

He said, “This planet has more than grief and heartache, my friend, but that’s all you’ve seen.
	        If you want to go back just say the word and we’ll forget everything.”

I grabbed him tighter and gave him a smile
	     I said, “No, I’ll follow your lead.
                          We have the wind at our backs
                          And I promise you, that’s all we’ll ever need.”

Holding him close we soared over oceans, we made our course without worry or care. Because no matter the destination, it was better than the damnation of living alone and scared.

We landed on an oceanside; I heard his soft wings shifting the sand. When I looked in his eyes, I finally realized that this angel, this boy, would take my loving hand.

I said, “Yes this world is cruel
             For boys like me and you
             But we have something they’ll never have.
             A Freak and an Angel,
             All too relatable,
             Seemingly brought together by chance.
             You’ve opened my eyes
             I’ve soared through the skies
             And I’m never turning back!”

There was some time that we traveled. We saw sights that most never see. But in the end every wonder of the world simply could not compete. Not with his kindness nor his wit, though the latter is dryer than reeds. For a simple life together with him, I would give everything.

So we bought a cottage in the country, far from oft traveled paths. In the back I planted a garden, a future to erase my past. The winters we’d spend baking together. He’d make fresh custards, fruit pies, and jams. While I’d create fluffy muffins and tasty gingerbread men.

Then in the cozy firelight, after dinner and the dishes were done, I’d snuggle closely into his chest and with his wings he’d keep us warm.  He’d sing a heavenly ballad about something; anything I didn’t care what. His loving voice was all I needed, all I wanted in the snow and mud.

As gentle snowflakes tiptoed on the window ceil and the scent of evergreen tickled my nose, the world softly waxed by around us, like two squirrels cuddled up close.
                    “Can’t we stay here forever?” I asked,
                    “The two of us snuggling so tight.
                    Let me hold you for an eternity
                    Forgetting about the storm and ice.”

He chuckled warmly at my request while delicately fiddling my curls. As I nuzzled deeper into his neck, his laughter lost its control.
              He laughed, “That’s very tempting dearest
              But despite your persuasive frill,
              I wish to see the whole of you
              Through autumn’s crispness and spring’s swirls.”
So we laid there, two souls -two hearts- by the fire 
Basking in the season of chill.

We must have stayed there a century, 20 years, a decade at least, but when my eyes flickered open the next morning, I still felt his soft hand on my cheek. I could not describe how peaceful he looked or how content with us under his wing. All I knew was that this moment was perfect, even with the weather so bleak. The fire sat dead before us, as winter sunlight pierced through the room. A sleeping house on Christmas morning, it was cold, cozy, and new.

He wouldn’t wake for some time yet, so I snuggled back into his warmth. 
I closed my eyes nodding off into darkness, 
feeling so grateful for the fact I was born.

That afternoon we packed ourselves into layers and placed soft mittens over our ears. We downed two cups of hot chocolate before entering that brisk, December air. Wool gloves concealed our fingers as we held our skates close with care. Behind us our sweet cottage faded, a memory and promise shared.

The pond was neatly frozen over, just perfect for what we had planned. It took me some practice but with his assistance I found I could balance and stand. The circles we skated and laughs we created made me wish to never again step on land. 
                    His gloved hand for me to hold, 
                    That raw December cold;
                    It was perfect, he was perfect,
                    A moment of sparkling gold.

As we slid across the ice, his wingtips, they left their mark. A delicate portrait meant for gods that pierced its way into my heart. We wove ourselves through snowflakes and smiled amidst ice and bark, from now unto forever may we never be apart!







Noah Sisson is a graduate of Beloit College with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. While completing his degree, Noah also worked as the News Editor for Beloit College’s student newspaper, The Round Table, where he received training and experience in journalism. Noah found his love for poetry in high school after his poem “Tickets” was published from a writing contest in Eloquence. During his time at Beloit College, Noah continued to write poetry and produced several individual poems as well as small poetry portfolios for various classes.

A Short Story by Kayla Davis

I climb down the side of the mountain. Although my flimsy flip flops are no match for the crumbling rocks, my mother helps me down, supporting me as I slowly slide. I tumble into her, spraying her jet-black bathing suit with bits of grime from the mountain. She laughs, then points towards the ocean and tells my grandparents where to set up their umbrellas. I throw off my shoes and toss them to the side, knowing that my dad will pick them up.

I run toward the water. The sand is warm under my feet, stinging my toes with its sharp heat. I ignore the rocks and bits of shells jutting into my heels while I dash across the shore. I cross the line that separates the land from the sea, and the sand isn’t hot anymore. It’s gooey, almost gelatinous. I spot sand crabs digging into the divide, and I grab my grandmother’s pail, digging where I see bubbles. I spend the next half-hour making a habitat within my bucket. The sand crabs will be safe within this little world, able to paddle around without fear of a seagull or whatever else invades their soft crustacean shells.

I make drip sandcastles, using the wet sand to my advantage as I build towers spiraling high into the crisp air. My grandmother sits next to me, laughing, then gasping as my favorite tower falls. I finally release the sand crabs and watch them burrow into the beach/ocean mixture. I eat lunch, crunching on the sand that has infiltrated my peanut butter-banana sandwich and my strawberries, prepared by my grandmother, who cut the tops off just for me. I run my tongue along my teeth, trying to pry the grit off, but the little bits and pieces of beach won’t budge. I ask my grandfather about his book and why he won’t come into the water. He grunts and returns to reading. I look over at my dad, who winks and makes a joke that I’m too young to understand. My grandpa chuckles, and I hug him, then run towards the water.

This time, my mother jogs after me as we both cackle along the shore. Just as the water reaches chest level, she snatches me up in a hug, then dunks my dry head into the water, explaining that it’s the best way for me to get used to the temperature. She says that she’ll teach me how to body surf. She teaches me to ride the waves, throwing her head back to laugh when seawater gets in my mouth, and I spit out the salt. Finally, I am ready. I pull my goggles tight and begin.


We both swim out, avoiding other divers and the seaweed floating in the water. She drifts in and out of my vision. After going out just a little too far for my liking, we meet up at what seems like miles from any sign of civilization. I bob up and down, barely keeping my head afloat as the waves begin to engulf the bottom half of my face. The only thing my toes touch are particles of dust in the otherwise crystalline water. I do my best to face the shore, scanning the beach for any sign of my dad, any glimmer of sun on my grandpa’s glasses, any glimpse of the multicolored umbrellas. My mom looks out to the seemingly empty skyline, surveying the thinning clouds and, with a wink, she asks if I’m ready. With a sour gulp, I tell her, yes. I’m ready.

Suddenly, a wave approaches behind us. I swim as fast as I can, trying to catch the break. I search but don’t see my mom anymore and, figuring that I’ll find her on the shore, I dive under the wave, praying that the current pushes me forward, towards the shore, towards the drip castles, towards the sandy strawberries, towards my family.

Wait.

I forgot to take a breath.

I didn’t breathe.

Wait–

It’s too late. The undertow pushes me down. I flip onto my back, looking up at the surface of the water, giving thanks that I can tell which way to go, but suddenly, a dark figure floats over me. At first, I think it’s a shark. I begin to panic, but then I realize that it’s my mother. I try to scream, but the sound doesn’t travel well underwater. My attempt at a squeak only squeezes what’s left of my air out from my aching lungs.

My mother’s pass over me seems to take forever. I feel trapped, under the waves, under the current, frozen in the icy water. I’m sinking. My eyes are slowly closing, trying to protect themselves from the salt. It’s as if a tentacle is wrapped around my leg, pulling me deeper, dragging me down. Somehow, I can still see, but my perspective has shifted. It’s like watching a horror movie. I can see myself sinking and crying — I’ve been on the verge of sobbing for weeks, and it’s finally here. More sinking. Where am I going? What am I doing? It’s too cold. Deafening silence. An inferno of tranquility.

A muffled whisper echoes through the water, pleading with me to swim. I look to see where the whisper is coming from. Nothing. Is it my voice? I can barely hear it. But I notice a small coin at the bottom of the sea that catches my eye. It’s flickering, reflecting safety. I lift my head and see the light shining through the depths. I start kicking.

I’m doing the best I can. But it doesn’t feel like I’m moving at all. I kick faster, and I can feel myself warming up ever so slightly. It’s not much, but it’s giving me just enough to continue. Slowly but steadily, I kick my way closer and closer to the surface. The whisper is now a yell.

There’s so much running through my head. Am I going to make it? This isn’t fair. This isn’t right. For a moment, everything goes dark. And then — I break the surface.

I take a deep breath, looking around my surroundings.

Finally, it is over.

I pull myself back to the shore, back to earth from my foamy prison. I spit salt onto the sand. There is seaweed wrapped around my right foot. I no longer have my goggles. I gasp for air.

My dad hurries over to me with a water bottle. He unscrews the cap, then hands it to me, watching as I take a few sips. Are you okay? I’m fine, I say. I’m fine. I made it out. He looks me over, then takes my hand. With a tight squeeze and a soft blessing tingling across his lips, he walks me back over to our setup. My mom is waiting for me, unscathed under the umbrella, blissfully unaware of the terror I had gone through. Ready to go again? It’s time to go again. She smiles, hoping I enjoyed it. It was her favorite pastime as a child, after all, and she was passing it down to me. Might as well make an effort.

I force a weary grin, and nod.

And I run towards the water.

Kayla Davis is a high school junior from Menlo Park, California, although she often says that she’s based “40 minutes south of San Francisco” to simplify things. When she’s not stressing about college applications, she can be found spending time with her friends and playing saxophone.

Please help us welcome The Dillydoun Review’s new Poetry Editor, Patti White. We look forward to working with you Patti!

Patti White is the author of four collections of poems, Tackle Box (2002), Yellow Jackets (2007), Chain Link Fence (2013), and Pink Motel (2017), all from Anhinga Press. Her poetry has appeared in journals including Iowa ReviewNorth American Review, River Styx, Nimrod, DIAGRAM, Forklift OhioMissouri ReviewParcelMcNeese ReviewSlippery ElmVine LeavesWaccamaw, and New Madrid; her nonfiction in Gulf Coast, Miracle Monocle, and Mulberry Fork Review. Her most recent publication is Particularly Dangerous Situation (Arc Pair Press, 2020), an experimental novella. She lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

We are looking for a group of Regular Contributors (on a volunteer basis) to help diversify TDR Daily.

Currently, we publish fiction, flash fiction, poetry, prose poetry, nonfiction, and flash nonfiction five days a week, and will continue to focus on those categories. But, we’re also interested in developing long-term relationships with writers who are interested in publishing a series of four related articles/essays/reviews/ interviews (insert brilliant new idea here), about 1,000 words each, to be published once a month.

What Are We Looking For?

We are interested in writers who wish to Pitch an idea for a four-part series of related articles on a particular topic.

What Topics Are We Looking For?

Possible topics? Well, what’s your specialty? Your passion? Some topic suggestions (but not limited to):

Race, Gender, Identity, Culture, Academic, Pedagogy
The Craft of Writing, The Art of Reading,
Conversation Between Writers
Conversation Between Artists
Interviews, Reviews, Opinion Pieces
Historic, Scientific, Economic, Technology

This is a new project for us, so we’re sure the idea will evolve over time but this seems like a good start.

If you’re interested in pitching an idea for a series, you may do so here: Pitch It!

A Poem by Jeffrey Hampton

Youtube education today…
Sitting at home, the video plays
while one stays in their seat.
A presumptive expert (Which he is).
A receptive hard headed pleeb (Which I am).
Enter into a one sided dialogue for two.

The expert is confident that his grand
expertness is essential. He went to
Yale, so he would know. Research,
Preparedness, score reading (He is a
music critic don’t ya know) are all
essential ingredients in his word soup.

The pleeb keeps asking himself…Why?
Does the writer have a six figure student
Loan debt waiting for him at home in a
loveless marriage, founded in passion,
filled with frustration knowing one
can never measure up. Decades of reinforced
abuse about the truthiness in the world.
Where can the pleeb filter out the bullshit
from purple prose from fact.

A cynic’s view needing an optimist’s touch.
One fact gleamed, it seems one has to enjoy
the cooking. A taste whether, good or ill,
is essential. The rest is just salt and pepper.

Jeffrey Hampton is pianist and educator, having went to school for piano performance at Indiana State University. He splits his time performing as well as teaching privately out of his home studio, finding time to write when he can. He currently lives in Vincennes, Indiana, with his wife, Cahtlyn.

A Poem by Alex Dako

Soothing my soul with
aching appetites, with
sad songs, these
soliloquies and screams,
of caffeinated,
sobriety.

Soaking through notepad
assumptions, in a
scoff of slippers, on
late-night,
linoleum.

When all you need is
the world to slow down,
just a little, so
you can catch up, or
slip up, on the same
people, over the
same lines, read aloud,

in the pages of
the soul.

Alex Dako, a Canadian writer residing in Niagara Falls, Ontario, is a former columnist for the Niagara Falls Review Editorial Board, with poetry appearing in the Night Picnic Press, Daffodils: A Poetry Chapbook, and The Stirling Spoon Literary Journal. He is a single father and enjoys spending his time listening to music, shadowboxing, or rereading the classics.

It’s been about six months since we sent out our ‘weekly’ newsletter. I know, right? Finally, it’s here. A lot has changed since the first newsletter. Hope you enjoy catching up with what’s new and what’s on the horizon for TDR.

Read Our Newsletter Here:

A Prose Poem by Emily Wagner

I wonder what my coffee mug saw. It was left outside overnight, sitting politely on the porch railing facing the road, waiting to be remembered. It had been used last evening as a comfortable distraction, during a visit with a friend I had not seen for months, and when I did remember after a hasty clean up before putting my boys to bed that it had, in fact, been left there on the front porch, I was already on the verge of sleep myself,  the rice bag positioned perfectly at my feet. The mug would have to wait until morning. So as I was walking out the door this morning to take my son to school, there it was, wettened by the morning drizzle, just where I had left it, of course. This particular mug has a cartoon image of me on it,looking a little bit like a character from The Simpsons, and I am sitting behind a large desk surrounded by books. It was a personalized gift from my teaching colleague and the very same friend I had been visiting with last evening when the change from my normal routine had me leaving things where they did not belong. I felt the twinge of guilt as I picked it up, for the rain looked a bit like tears. Then I quickly remembered that one should never, under any circumstances, make assumptions about others’ feelings. After all, instead of earnestly longing for the warmth the house provides, feeling uncomfortable about the coldness of night closing in, maybe my mug was exhilarated by the spreading coolness, the endless possibilities of being in a different place, new things to see and explore. This mug had certainly never been left outside overnight, despite its frequent use. Perhaps it ended up having a congenial conversation with the critter that is currently digging in our front mulch bed, or maybe it shared an untested joke with the Carolina wren that sings at 6 am while perched in our arborvitae. The wren did seem noticeably more jubilant than usual this morning, now that I think about it. As I washed the mug later in the morning, I noticed the image of me there now looked different, arms more forcefully crossed, brow most certainly furrowed and pointing down to a disgusted frown. And as I wiped it dry and turned toward the place where it belonged, in the cabinet next to the coffee filters and between the other mugs, it started to grumble under its breath. Then just as I began to turn it upside down into its usual position, it let fly a string of horrible profanity, causing me to step back in shock. I closed the cabinet door quickly to quell the all-out coffee mug revolt at its start, for who knows where else that could lead. But as I was turning toward the dining room, I felt a sense of obligation, and so I called back toward the kitchen,

I’m sorry, friend.

Emily Wagner teaches English at a public high school in rural central Pennsylvania and tries to share her love of poetry with her students by making it as accessible as possible. She lives with her husband and two sons.

A Poem by Allison Lemel

Routines begin
Wash, makeup, try to appear thin.
Designer top, glazed persona
Let’s see who can bring the drama.
Turn on the camera, the lights
So they can capture all the fights.
Miss the old days, when things were normal
Things didn’t always end in turmoil.
They’re back again, time to roll.
Smile, cry, doesn’t matter the toll.
Just make every second matter
And don’t look any fatter.

Allison Lemel is a writer and performer in New York. In addition to writing, Allison has stage managed over 80 productions, as well as assistant directing. She performed her one-woman show, Places Please, in the Plus One Solo Festival with Tongue in Cheek Theater.

A Poem by Anita Nahal

Corrida (Bullfight) by Pablo Picasso

Yes, we let our ego be center stage on occasions and my ego became the Trojan horse. I myself constructed the Gulliverian prop, then willingly revealed the path to the sanctity of my comprehensions. It proved treacherous hastily and it seemed clear I wanted it to be found willingly by my conscience. The necks are twisted, eyes massive and bolting, legs twined and tails growing from navels. Mouth’s grinning, hooves puffing, manes stiff like frightened quills fallen from a porcupine. A few men’s faces focus on the fight, unnerved. Rest appears barren with cardboard cut outs filling the arena. As my Trojan horse fell on its back, the bulls came darting poised for the final denunciation. I upturned my hands to face the sky seeking alms of forgiveness. The bulls transformed into thousands of Ganesha, some airborne, some prancing, and one sitting near me engrossed, observing my expressions. I was able to walk away, ego bruised, subdued and ready to start anew. That night I pushed my Trojan horse into Ganesha’s care to be melted and reused as asphalt binding me to modesty.

Ganesha: Hindu God of prosperity and success

Anita Nahal, Ph.D., CDP is a professor, poet, short story writer, and children’s writer. She teaches at the University of the District of Columbia, Washington DC. Anita has two books of poetry, one of flash fictions, four for children, two edited poetry anthologies and one edited nursery rhymes anthology. Her third book of poetry is set for release in August 2021 by Kelsay Books. Originally from New Delhi, India, she is the daughter of novelist Chaman Nahal and educationist Sudarshan Nahal. She lives in the US with her son, daughter-in-law and golden doodle. For more: Visit Anita Here.

The Dillydoun Review submission categories underwent a massive overhaul today in an effort to address requests from contributors. We want to make the submission process easy and enjoyable while also tailoring it to meet the needs of as many writers as possible.

Submission Categories

Each category now has its own, simplified link on Submittable:

Notice anything different? We added a category! Flash Nonfiction. Several writers have emailed to ask if we accept super short nonfiction submissions and the answer (now) is yes. Yes, we do.

Fast Track / Feedback Changes

We also made some changes to what was previously known as the Fast Track / Feedback option. As many of you know, all the submission categories listed above are free. We never charge a submission fee for regular submissions. However, when the financial reality of trying to keep a growing literary magazine afloat met changing contributor wants and needs… our Fast Track / Feedback option was born.

It’s been a great way for us to get to know many of you and it’s a supremely kind, generous way to support The Dillydoun Review. But, as with many things, the Fast Track / Feedback option wasn’t without its flaws.

We Came Up With an Answer

The old Fast Track / Feedback option has now undergone a bisection! Here are the details:

For Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry –
Receive a Response Within 24 Hours No Feedback Provided – $15

Our typical response time is 12 weeks or more. For those of you who want a response within 24 hours and aren’t interested in feedback, the Fast Track option is for you.

For Fiction and Nonfiction –
Receive Detailed Feedback Within 1 – 3 Days – $25

We tailored the Feedback Option to cater to those writers who are less interested in publication and more interested in in-depth feedback. Sure, there is an option for contributors to indicate Yes (I’m interested in being considered for publication) and No (I just want feedback); but for those who are really interested in someone carefully studying their work and providing a considered response, the Feedback option is for you.

Here’s What We Hope

We hope these custom options allow you to tailor the TDR experience to fit your own creative needs. You told us what you wanted. We listened. And then, we did something about it! So, yay! On the horizon are even more changes. We’re in the process of developing one-on-one, mini-virtual workshops. The idea of meeting you in a virtual safe-space to talk in detail about your work is thrilling (for us and, hopefully, for you).

Thanks so much for your continued interest in The Dillydoun Review!

A Flash Fiction by Kristen DiLandro

“All of this time you have been living your life like a Taurus.”

Rita, the astrologer shook her head at me from the 12 x 10-inch rectangle that connected to the keyboard resting on my lap. I first noticed her shiny, light hair, then her flawless skin with her ruddy cheeks. But the view through her window out across the San Francisco Bay stole my attention. The bright California sun lit up her office. Depending on how she turned, the backlighting made Rita look like an illuminated silhouette. The sun’s golden rays surrounded her like an angel. She looked like she wore a glowing halo. Then when she turned to the opposite side, her delicate features morphed into an unsettling mix of shadows. 

“You’ve got so much Gemini in your chart. Mercury is vibrating next to your sun and you have this fascinating duality that makes it hard to be you, doesn’t it?”

Our mutual friend, Pia, paid for my reading. Pia’s a conceptual artist who has too much Air in her chart. She needs some Earth. Taurus is an Earth sign. Taurus gets things done, does things well. Pia and I discussed working together in a creative capacity. Rita is sure that Pia and I are “karmically connected.”

She keeps asking questions which help explain planets, houses and suns or moons. I want to answer correctly. I want to do everything right.

“What a fraud?” is the phrase that flashes through my mind. I question how I ever made it this far in life. I have been living as a Taurus and my spirit has to manifest into its entire Taurus self over the course of my life. I have been doing this all wrong. All of my compulsive monthly check-ins with the Susan Miller Astrology Zone website, all of the Buzzfeed Quizzes about who my 1970’s folk rock persona would have been–based on my astrological sign, all of the outfit of the day quizzes on Refinery 29, all of it; I’d been living a lie. I’d been wearing tomboy chic as a Taurus when my life as a Gemini called for tunic glam.

I have so much Gemini in my chart that I’m basically composed from the same cosmic dust as Kanye West or Angelina Jolie. This leaves me befuddled. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler comprise the triad of “prominent Taurus” personalities according to Google. So many obvious differences set the world’s Wests and Jolies apart from its “The Rocks,” Feys and Poehlers that listing them all seems like a waste of time for all of us.  Just imagine my surprise; I had spent my entire life believing I was an Amy. Now, March 20th, 2021, I learned that I was actually an Angelina! No wonder I’ve wandered through this life in a haze.

Rita tilts her head, furrows her brows, and places her hand over her heart when she nods empathetically at me.  

“It’s a lot. You are a walking contradiction. People don’t understand you.”

I love this woman. Rita unknowingly validated my romantic notion of self as an impossible loner. I remember the emotional outbursts of my adolescence. Stomping my feet, slamming doors, and declaratively shouting, “You just don’t understand me!” Now, I get it. How could anyone have understood me when I didn’t even understand myself?

“Totally!” I nod back, “that is totally my truth,”

I know. You have these forces working together and against one another. It’s like pushing down two keys next to each other on a piano,” she starts, “yeah, they’re together but they aren’t compatible when you strike down on them at the same time.”

“I feel that.”

We don’t proceed with a “where will I go from here?” conversation. But I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the new life I’m going to live.

“From now on,” I tell myself, “You have to read the Taurus AND the Gemini horoscopes!” I wag a mental finger at my brain.

Rita has gifted me a new lease on life. I secretly hope that with each new month of astrological due diligence I’ll be struck sexier since being a funny girl is a Taurus thing. Starting all over again as a Gemini sounds like swapping out an old fragrance for an exciting new perfume.

Rita and I go back to talking about how amazing Pia is before blowing each other kisses and hitting “leave meeting.” I have two sets of feelings after our session ends. First, I feel grateful for the new cosmic insights. Second, a yearning to change everything in my life overwhelms me: my wardrobe, my hair, my ideas about myself, all of it must go NOW. Then I sit and think.

“What a fraud?” How did I ever make it this far in life?

Kristen DiLandro goes by Kiki; and while she feels like her life is lived primarily in the realm of the internet, her San Francisco rent reminds her she is actually sleeping under a California sky. Her most recent work was published by New Feathers Anthology. She writes a newsletter called “Aspiring to hate you less.” Kiki is working toward an MFA in Creative Writing at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

A Poem by Colleen Kennedy

Once out of the woods,
my mother began to run

She didn’t stop as I slipped
and lost my footing

She pinched my chubby child’s hand
tighter
but didn’t lift me up

Muddied knees,
gravel embedded in corduroy piping,
arm wrenched

She screamed

Neighbors rushed out
to her aid.
Breathless,
panting

My little hand was free from hers
and an older neighbor pulled me
into her home
–we all lived in small trailers
in a cul-de-sac of working-class poverty and generosity

Drying tears,
cleaning scraped knees,
administering vanilla wafers
and weak tea

Outside, my mother,
thinly waving her arms,
talking to uniformed blue,
a neighbor’s arm around
her narrow and shaking shoulders

I only barely saw the girl,
Her back and limbs,
Shimmering in her azure beauty,
Nude, submerged in the thawing river
Her hair a tangled nest of twigs and algae

And the air outside that morning
was brisk,
watering my eyes

My mother’s fear
stunk of sweat and menthol cigarettes

I couldn’t yet understand the confusion and need to escape—
neither my mother’s urge to flee the woods to safety—
nor the girl’s decision

But I sometimes think about
my mother’s hand dropping mine
once we reached safety
and the hand bobbing in the water

Previously, a university instructor of English and Theatre, Colleen Kennedy is the publicist and managing editor for Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., where she is also a teaching artist. She has published arts and cultural interviews and reviews for District Fray, On Tap, Upstart, and Little Village, and academic essays for Appositions, FORUM, Shakespeare & Beyond, and The Recipes Project.

A Short Story by Kip Knott

I drink a lot of coffee. I’m talking a lot of coffee. What’s a lot? Ten cups? Fifteen? How about thirty cups? Well, I drink six Mr. Coffee pots a day. That’s sixty cups. And I’m not talking about orange-handled pots of gas station decaf. I’m talking about sixty cups of black, full-bodied, caffeinated Eight O’Clock coffee with just a pinch of sugar to honor my late wife Daisy, who I called “Sugar” because she sweetened my life.

I never looked back after Sugar gave me my first cup and an ultimatum one morning to sober me up from a particularly hard night of whiskey doubles. Her hope was to get me to trade one addiction for the lesser of two evils. Before then, it was nothing but Bloody Marys in the morning, beer after lunch, and whiskey from dinner till bedtime. After then, it was coffee, coffee, coffee.

It’s no real secret how I’m able to down so much coffee in a day. Getting up every morning at 6:00 helps. And snapping off the light at midnight doesn’t hurt either. That gives me a full eighteen hours every day to squeeze in sixty cups.

This morning, just like every other morning, the first thing I do is kiss my Sugar’s picture on my bedside table and say, “Good morning, My Sweet.” Then I make my first trip of the day to the bathroom. I usually don’t make more than five trips there a day. And I never have to get up in the night to go, which you might find hard to believe given my daily liquid intake. Sugar, who must have had the bladder the size of a gnat, had to go at least a dozen times a day and twice in the night. She’d even leak a drop or two if she laughed too long or sneezed too hard. She always said, with a touch of anger, that I must be descended from a camel because of how I could hold my water.

Next I brush my teeth, which, despite the brown rivers of coffee that wash over them daily can still be classified as pearly whites. Sugar was a dental hygienist when we met back in ’65, and imposed upon me her own rules of proper oral hygiene, which began with a toothpaste concoction of baking soda and a splash of peroxide.

After I’m showered and dressed, I commence with the coffee by firing up Pot #1 on the Mr. Coffee that Sugar gave me for our fifth anniversary. Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio wasn’t lying when he guaranteed a better cup of joe with Mr. Coffee. I’ve estimated its given me over 82,000 cups over the years, while I’ve only had to give it three new heating coils and one new power cord in all that time. And Sugar wasn’t lying either when she promised coffee could see me through the tough days ahead of me, that was if I still wanted her to stay next to me in bed every night.

I wash down my two sunny-side-up eggs, two strips of bacon, and bowl of oatmeal with my pot of Eight O’Clock while I scan the obituaries in the newspaper for any names I might know. After I do the dishes (Sugar never allowed a dirty dish to sit in the sink), I top off the two birdfeeders just outside my apartment window with the best black oilers money can buy. Then I settle in my La-Z-Boy with Pot #2 and watch the cardinals, juncos, and goldfinches fight it out at my expense.

At seven o’clock I flip on Good Morning America to see what’s new in the world. Sugar never missed it, but if I’m being honest, it wasn’t anything but background noise for me until after she passed just over a year ago. Even so, David Hartman’s deep voice was much more soothing to my ear than whiney George Stephanopoulos.

By eight o’clock I’m through with Pot #2 and ready for my walk. Seton Circle Senior Center has beautiful walking paths that snake their way through the wooded one-acre courtyard surrounded by our building. The paths are clearly marked with signs every hundred feet or so for the “Bad Memory Bunch,” as I like to call them. But my mind purrs like a super-charged engine fueled by caffeine, so the signs are lost on me.

The real trick for me every morning is to get from my second floor apartment, through the hallway, down the elevator, past the rec room, and out the doors without having to make small talk with any of my neighbors. What I see as a gauntlet I must survive just to get outside, Sugar—a true-blue people-person who loved to chew the fat with anyone willing to chew back—saw it as one of the highlights of her day. With a quick nod to Dorris Veech, the 92-year-old woman who thinks every day is Pearl Harbor day, I make it out the doors unscathed.

I take two trips around the courtyard, making sure to keep my head down except for when I check the two robins’ nests for any new progress before I go back inside, make my way past the rec room, up the elevator, through the hallway, and back into my apartment without running into anyone.

Once inside, I take my second bathroom break, then make a beeline for Mr. Coffee to get Pot #3 going, which will see me through both The Price Is Right and Let’s Make a Deal. I’ve got to admit that Drew Carey was funnier as a heavyweight back in the ‘90s than he is in his current welterweight incarnation. And that Wayne Brady is a ball of energy that puts Monty Hall to shame.

By noon I’m ready for the first forty of my daily eighty winks. Coming up fast on 80 years-old counteracts any amount of caffeine I’m happy to put in my body. Truth be told, though, I’ve never had any trouble falling to sleep. Whenever I want, I can hit an internal “snooze” button and nod off. Sugar used to blame the booze, but once she boarded me on the Coffee Express and I was still able to slip off to Dreamland as soon as she snapped off the light, she had to admit that my conscience must have been clean enough to not worry about my fate in the dark.

 When my alarm rings at one o’clock, I’m ready for Pot #4. This is the part of the day I look forward to the most. Between one o’clock and three o’clock every day, I read a book from the list Sugar wrote me before she passed.

“You’re going to need something to get you through your days once I’m gone,” she told me. “When you read these, just remember I’ve read them, too. It’s like we’re reading them together.”

With more than a hundred books on the list, and with me being a slow reader touched by a bit of dyslexia, I’ll probably never get through them all before Sugar and I are together again.

At three o’clock I dog-ear whatever page I’m on, close the book I’m reading, then settle in for the second forty of my daily eighty winks.

I’ve never been one for dreaming. I don’t know why. Instead, when I sleep I have the sensation of floating; not in the air like a balloon, but like the way I imagine a ghost must float between this world and the next. Sugar believed that it was a sign of some kind of sixth sense I was born with. She believed that if only I believed myself, I could be some kind of link between me and whatever world it was she was headed for. Now that’s she gone, though, I’m not sure what I believe in. Except for coffee.

My alarm set for 3:55 p.m. every day wakes me in time for bathroom break #3, Pot #4, and Jeopardy. While I was always a fan of Jeopardy, Sugar didn’t really come around until Alex was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the same cancer she fought. From that point on, she never missed a show, even on the days after her chemo when she needed to have a bucket nearby just in case. No amount of nausea could dampen her competitive spirit, though, and she’d mumble “Shit,” every time I yelled out the question before her. Wheel of Fortune, which comes on right after Jeopardy, was never her thing. Now, just as when she was still alive, I watch it alone.

Pot #5 fills up precisely at five o’clock every day, and accompanies whatever frozen delight I choose for dinner. Stouffer’s lasagna is my absolute favorite because it tastes as close to Sugar’s cooking as I’ve been able to find. Banquet fried chicken is also a good bet. Better, I think, than the greasy rotisserie chicken that stinks up the grocery store on our weekly trips. Tonight it’s Panda Brand Kung Pao Chicken. I still have one of Sugar’s chicken tetrazzini casseroles in the freezer, but I’m waiting for our 50th anniversary to eat it.

By the last pot of the day, Pot #6, I slow my consumption down considerably so that it sees me through the local and national newscasts, the hour between seven o’clock and eight o’clock when I record the day’s events in the diary I promised Sugar I would keep after she was gone, all my primetime shows, and SportsCenter at eleven.

By 11:30 I’m ready for my last bathroom break of the day, after which I wash up and change into the pajamas Sugar got me on my last birthday with her.

I walk back to the kitchen and pour the last cup of coffee—always the sweetest yet saddest cup of the day—from the pot. I rinse out the pot and set it on the drying rack so that it’s ready first thing tomorrow. I snap off the kitchen lights and walk with my cup of coffee into our bedroom where I set it in front of Sugar’s picture on the bedside table. I reach under the bed and pull out a solid silver urn with lapis lazuli accents. The urn is cold and never seems to warm in my hands, no matter how long I hold it.

“How was your day, My Sweet?” I ask. “My day was fine. Still just coffee. I haven’t strayed. Lots of coffee. Nothing new with the robins.”

I run my fingers along the name “Sugar” etched in deep Gothic lettering on top of the lid. “I’m not sure how much longer I can last without you, My Sweet,” I confess.

I gently unscrew the lid, reach inside, and take a tiny pinch of ashes between my thumb and forefinger before replacing the lid and sliding the urn back under the bed. I gently rub my thumb and forefinger together over my cup. Sugar’s ashes feel soft and velvety before they drift down into the coffee. I hold the warm cup between my hands just as I used to hold her face when I would kiss her goodnight, then lift the cup to my lips and drink her in.

Kip Knott’s writing has appeared in Beloit Fiction Journal, Flash Fiction Magazine, Gettysburg Review, The Sun, and Virginia Quarterly Review. His debut full-length collection of poetry—Tragedy, Ecstasy, Doom, and so on—is currently available from Kelsay Books. A new full-length collection of poetry, Clean Coal Burn, is forthcoming in 2021, also from Kelsay Books. More of his work may be accessed at kipknott.com

A Poem by Montgomery Maxton

This morning there is no
Brooklyn Bridge, no
Mannahatta, just shadow
castles encased in sonic fog.

From this thirtieth floor perch
I see no one except
ghosts, whirling about
in all their confusion.

In the villages south
they prepare for the
hurricane, its anger a
guaranteed destruction.

But here, just quiet,
just blank, but I am certain,
somewhere, still,
there is the promised Eden.

Montgomery Maxton is a poet, writer, photographer, and mixed-media artist. His fourth and fifth books will be released in 2021. He lives in New York City.               

A Flash Fiction by Nicholas E. Timm

My arm bled. It wasn’t the only injury I had, but it was the worst.

Somehow, Elroy had caught me – He’d found me after all these years of running and hiding – the chase was over and I’d lost the race.

It was because I’d stopped. I’d felt safe, at home, at ease with life for the first time since I’d escaped his pallid grasp a decade ago.

Now, too late, I realized I hadn’t escaped – he’d let me go, and my whole life had been a game to him. He the cat and I the mouse.

Hiding in the shadows of the room I’d barged into, my heart hammered in my chest, bouncing painfully off my ribs. Old, tattered plastic sheets billowed in from gaping windows, hungry mouths for the night. The sheets snapped against the few tacks still holding them in place – teeth gnashing.

Moonlight echoed in, a fragment of light from the all new chrome and glass building opposite of this derelict three story Brownstone bound for demolition.

If I died here they wouldn’t find my body. The building which rose in its place would be my tombstone and the earth below a forgotten grave.

A cackle came from the bottom floor and I knew it belonged to Elroy. It was the same way he’d found me in my parents home as a child.

It was our fault. We’d called him.

We’d been playing a stupid game, like Bloody Mary, but real. All too real. My four friends had found that out before me – gone missing one by one, until I was all that was left from that midnight congress in the cold.

The blood dripped from the deep wound on my arm despite the pressure I kept on it. Each drop added to the growing puddle on the cracked wooden floor, contained on the edges by hardening scabs formed from decade of dust and rat droppings left in this sealed room.

A stair creaked between the first and second floor and I inhaled. Each breath wasn’t enough. They couldn’t feed the fear which sapped my muscles – My knees shook, my thighs were weak and all over I felt as if I would collapse.

Elroy.

“Doodle, dee doodle, who’ll win the prize?” The rhyme went, “Doodle, dee doodle who’s telling lies?”

A bottle spun and we five sat evenly spaced around it, too young to know what game we looked to be playing.

“Doodle, dee dee, the prize for me?” We chanted as one. Ellie, Vic, Mariah, Keller and myself, all around twelve years old.

The bottle landed on Ellie first, and she’d squealed in terror and delight.

She’d been the first to go, not a week later.

They’d found her bloody nightshirt in the river, down by the hobo camp. The cops had carted one off and blamed him – but we four knew. The old, crazed man hadn’t done it, even though he screamed about a bloody figure in the dark.

No, he hadn’t done it.

The bottle landed on Mariah next, she was older, more refined, and had simply sighed and rolled her eyes. She spun the bottle again without pause. She hadn’t believed.

Her parents found her eyes in the milk jug, staring up as if alive, coloring the milk a pale strawberry. They never found the rest of her.

Keller and Vic went next – they fought. They were smart and strong and they’d seen what happened to the two girls, or at least they’d seen what was left. Fear fueled them and they tried to recruit me, but I balked. I hid.

It was just a coincidence I thought, a horrible, terrible coincidence… But, it was cowardice talking. I knew Elroy was real, but I was too afraid to do anything about him.

A sickly, sweet sigh came from the second floor and my eyes ran wide and terrified to the stair case which turned out not ten feet from me. There was no banister around the top – it had fallen into the stairs years before, and I’d been careful to leave it in such a way as to block the steps.

I knew it wouldn’t work. Elroy walked through walls.

“Doodle, Dee Doodle,” Came the sickly sweet voice, “Doodle, Dee Doodle, who runs from me?”

The voice was high-pitched, whining and dry. It was the voice of the grave, and of a long-promised fate.

“Doodle, Dee Doodle, Who’s hiding from me?”

I shivered and pulled back into the corner.

When the cops found what was left of the Vic and Keller they’d said both had been alive until the end. I wondered if the girls suffered the same.

I wondered if I would suffer the same.

Some small part of me, the part caked in guilt, hoped that I did. I deserved it after all.

The bottom stair creaked as Elroy’s thin, sharp foot put pressure on it.

The sound resonated through the floor and the pool of blood under my fingertips jiggled like red gelatin.

The next step eked out it’s rusted melody, and the next, and the next and the next in quick succession.

My heart hammered in my chest as Elroy came to where I knew the fallen banister lay.

The obstacle gave him only a seconds pause before the steps sang again.

I backed into the corner, my arm aching from the deep slash. I willed myself to vanish, praying to whatever god was listening that Elroy wouldn’t see me, couldn’t see me.

But, as his corn yellow head of hair burst from the stairwell and the jaundiced eyes followed, rotating towards me though it was too dark to see, I knew I was done.

His slash of a mouth split open revealing cracked, rotted teeth – Or maybe they were scabbed over with blood?

Enough had been spilled. Why not?

“Doodle, dee doodle, Elroy found his prey.”

“Doodle, dee doodle, it’s time to play.”  

Nicholas E. Timm is an Native American graduate of The Evergreen State College in Washington State and is currently a Masters student at The University of Washington. At The Evergreen State College he earned a BS in Business Science with a minor in Statistical Analysis. He serves as a Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force and flies on C-17A aircraft.                 

A Poem by Lillo Way

Tuesday sunset went baroque, all gold-edged
and filigreed in a frame of holy squiggles.

Yesterday it was high renaissance muscle,
flesh-colored and fingering the clouds.

There’s been a reformation this evening, giving us
hard-edged still life, not a breath of movement.

Until you came leaping up the stairs, parting
the air, dispersing clouds. You grabbed me

by the waist and laughed me onto my palette.
You painted me creamy in broad brushstrokes.

Our borders blurred in your rich impasto.
Adhered and embedded, we heard the rain begin.

Lillo Way
Lillo Way

Lillo Way’s “Dubious Moon” won the Hudson Valley Writers Center’s Slapering Hol Chapbook Contest. Her poem, “Offering,” won the E.E. Cummings Award from New England Poetry Club., and “Appropriation” was awarded a Florida Review Editors” Prize. Her writing has appeared in RHINO, New Letters, Poet Lore, North American Review, Tampa Review, Louisville Review, Madison Review, Poetry East, among others. Way has received grants from the NEA, NY State Council on the Arts, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation for her choreographic work involving poetry. Her collection, “Lend Me Your Wings,” is forthcoming May 2021.

A Poem by Walter Weinschenk

In the afternoon, when sun is king,
I walked along the shore;
Three shadows followed me
Each one longer than the next.

The first was child in adult form
Groping for a hand to hold;
Sinking steps in yellow sand;
The sweater he wore had once been mine;
I buttoned it up so he wouldn’t catch cold
And did my best to arrange his tie;
It made me cry as we walked along.

The second was worldly,
Propelled by the tide
Of habit and experience,
Pale with fear despite the sun,
Furrows deep along the brow,
Creases in the cheek,
Desire dried and cauterized
Long before he had reached the beach;
It made me cry as we walked along.

The third was a shepherd,
Sober eyes, solemn pout,
Crooked neck and head bent forth;
He’d lean upon his walking stick,
Bronze wood scarred by wind and salt;
He lifted it up when the sun turned red
And pointed to the mountain ahead,
Dim blue edifice, azure crest
And, all at once, we all looked up;
It made me cry as we walked along.

Walter Weinschenk
Walter Weinschenk

Walter Weinschenk is an attorney, writer and musician. His writing has appeared in the Carolina Quarterly, Sunspot Literary Journal, The Esthetic Apostle, The Gateway Review, A Rose For Lana, Cathexis Northwest Press, Tempered Runes Press, Button Eye Review, East by Northeast Literary Magazine, an anthology entitled Falling Leaves published by Day Eight and forthcoming in The Courtship of Winds, Months to Years, Penumbra, Ponder Review, The Raw Art Review, and Iris Literary Journal.
Walter lives in a suburb just outside Washington, D. C.

A Flash Fiction by Abby Asmuth

At the sound of her third alarm – which she put across the room so she had to get up to turn it off – Cassidy Forrester finally rolled out of bed. Groggily, she trudged across her bedroom and slapped the alarm off. Once the noise had stopped, a little voice tempted her back to bed. But today, she knew she couldn’t do that; she had to be up and alert. She switched on her light for good measure, and her frustrated eyes blinked to adjust to the brightness.

“You ready for today, honey?” Mrs. Forrester said as Cassidy entered the kitchen. “I’m sure you’re nervous, but I know you’ll make National Merit. You know how much you need that scholarship.”

Cassidy was tempted to roll her eyes; why did her mom have to make this such a thing? She was nervous enough all ready. “Thanks,” she mumbled instead. Cassidy grabbed a bagel and sat down at the kitchen island, scrolling through her phone. Her mom had the news on in the background and Cassidy half listened to the stories. Republicans and Democrats refuse to compromise. Devastating car accident on Main Street. Celebrity X overdoses. Why her mom watched the news, Cassidy had no idea. They always aired the most sensationalist, tragic stories.

“I’m headed out,” Cassidy said, leaving the room before her mom could pressure her more. She got into her car and chose some Indie artist – something that she hoped would be calming. Left turn, right turn, red light. The lyrics were drowned out by the thoughts and fears swirling through her head. What if she didn’t get National Merit? Right turn. How disappointed would her parents be? Signal left. And she would be so disappointed in herself. Green light.

Cassidy moved forward, mind distracted with thoughts of a test, one little test. So distracted she didn’t notice the car with the right away going straight – straight into her.

Cassidy’s whole body shook with the impact. She couldn’t move, couldn’t think. The last thing she heard was an alarm, a siren. Everything went black.

Abby Asmuth
Abby Asmuth

Abby Asmuth is from Madison, Wisconsin where she is currently a junior in high school. Her work has previously been published in the Wisconsin State Journal, Blue Marble Review, Inlandia Journal, and Appeley Rising Star Collection. She was also recognized as a Gold Key winner in the Scholastic Art & Writing competition. Outside of writing, her love for literature continues, as she spends hours reading fiction and as lead editor of her school’s literary magazine. When not writing, she can be found spending time with friends and dog, Zuzu.

A Short Story by Eric Knowlson

The bedroom walls were adorned with loud punk-rock posters. The vanity on the right held a large mirror that sat between an impressive collection of make-up. The mirror reflected a blackened spoon, lighter and a few orange syringes. A fan buzzed in the corner dousing Setti and Easton with bursts of dry air. They sat on the bed, swinging their legs and watching the closed bathroom door. Sweat dripped from Easton’s forehead. He looked over at Setti, she rolled her teary eyes before readjusting her position in a slow and deliberate motion.  

“I hope she hurries up,” Easton sighed as he rubbed his arms.

Eventually, the bathroom door swung open with a waft of perfume. They watched as Le (pronounced like Ley) strolled into the room. She was a tall girl clothed in a careful mishmash of attire. Her skirt dripped with Harajuku bubble-gum while her studded belt, and leopard-print top hummed a forgotten punk song.

She had a round face, creamy almond skin and straight black hair. Her haircut framed her cute features ­—which were further accentuated by her perfectly applied makeup. The only cracks in her image were pricked pupils that seemed to disappear into her iris.   

“Sorry,” Le said. “You guys got here earlier than usual.”

Easton couldn’t help but feel an air of inauthenticity radiate from the bright medley of make-up and mannerisms that Le paraded in front of them. He looked over at Setti and winked.

Setti smiled, she gathered from his amused face that he was contemplating the absurdity of Le requiring fully done hair and make-up to sit at home and sell dope, especially to her friends.  

Setti softly chuckled at Le’s expense before feeling guilt for not putting on such a flawless front herself.    

Le was fiddling with something on her dresser but looked back at them with a raised eyebrow. “So, what can I get for you today?”

“We were hoping to do the same as yesterday. A front and then we’ll pay you back tonight.”

Le paused and then averted her eyes, “Sorry, I can’t today.”

“Why not?” Setti asked. “We always pay you back.”

“Have you guys?” Le feigned ignorance shrugging her shoulders.  

“Of course, we have,” Setti replied.

“Really?” Le swung her palms open and raised her eyebrows. “Honestly, I can’t keep track, I have so many customers,” she paused and squinted her eyes, before continuing, “I remember doing it a few times, but not every day. Besides, Nautic told me that I can’t do anymore fronts.”

“Can’t you just do a dub?”

Le shook her head no.

  “How many times have we helped you? Huh?” Setti quipped. “This isn’t cool.” She was angered Le would do this without warning, allow them to drive to her house, wait an hour while she got ready and then deny them.

Yet, Setti was more hurt by Le’s seemingly flippant disregard for their friendship. Before this period the three had been included in a close circle of friends. Le and Setti had been inseparable, people even mistook them for sisters. But that was then. Now that their clique had been dissolved and dispersed, like powder in a spoon, they were only left with faint traces of what used to be.

Easton stood up and glanced at the two girls, who were staring fiercely at each other and decided to fix his gaze on Le.

“Well, thanks anyways,” he said in a dejected tone. “Let’s go Setti.” Setti shot Le a malicious glance before storming out of the room. Easton slowly followed, stopping in front of Le. He wanted to affirm that there was still something left from their past friendship, but he couldn’t think of anything to say. So, he gave her a weak smile instead, before frowning again and walking out the door.

.

Outside, the Albuquerque sun was already starting to bake the ground. Despite the warmth, they shivered as they made their way to the car.

“She’s a fucking bitch. I’m done with her.”

“Yeah.” Easton thought for a moment, “But she is our friend after all, maybe Nautic really…”

Setti cut him off, “No, you believe that? You’re so gullible. She’s lying, I know she remembers. It was only yesterday for god’s sake!” Setti stiffened her body and hit Easton, “I wish you would take my side. I know she has something against me and did this on purpose.” Setti knew this because it’s something she would do. Now that the girls weren’t close, perceived slights, no matter how small, were met with passive aggressive behavior.

“I am on your side. I’m out here with you, aren’t I?” Easton hated this argument. “We’re about to get really sick. It’s not worth arguing about.”

“Okay then, what do you propose we do?” she growled and kicked the gravel in Le’s front yard, spewing rocks all over the street. “Fuck!”

“Let’s just forget about Le.”

“I’m not going to just forget about her,” Setti said mockingly. “Once we get money, I’m never buying from her again. She’s not our friend, she only wants to make money.” Easton sighed and agreed. He felt a tinge of guilt, but he had to admit Le had changed. They all had changed. He knew Setti was (mostly) venting but he wished she would let things go.

.

He changed the subject, “How are we going to get well?”

There were no more money or valuables left in either of their parent’s homes, or some of their neighboring homes, for that matter. They didn’t feel like they had parents anymore. Both had been disowned due to their parent’s shame. Easton remembers his parent’s reaction, a great wail followed by anger and tears. He tried to comfort them but they didn’t want to hear it. They said becoming a heroin addict was the worst thing he could have done. Just leave, they said.  

Setti’s parents had been worse and gotten violent with her. Easton remembers her frantic phone call, later dodging blows from her dad and haphazardly carrying a bleeding and crying Setti to his car. After their parent’s reactions, it felt unsafe to tell anyone.

They didn’t have insurance. There was no one to help them. They were stuck using. Ostracized from society and on their own, they had to adopt new rules. Neither of them could have conceived of stealing from their parents before this, but being told you are scum has a weird effect on you.

 “We could steal records or clothes.”

“We just did that.”

“Maybe textbooks or a laptop but…”

“No.” Setti waved her hand. “It’s too much work.” Despite their cold facade, they both felt guilty when they stole from actual people. They didn’t mind big stores or corporations. She nervously paced back and forth. “What about the other day when you had that money?”

“Laura and I burrowed Max’s car. We did the gas scam with his license plate. Made like three hundred each.” Easton smiled with momentary pride, “all within an hour but…” he scratched his head, “but my car’s a piece of crap and has a NM plate. Plus, Laura is a blonde white girl. People felt sorry for her.”

 “I wish I still had money. It went so fast.” Setti sighed. She had received a large scholarship disbursement at the beginning of the semester but that was long gone. Still, the thought of it made her smile. She took pride in her ability to keep up with school, especially with all the chaos surrounding her.  

“I think we have to go to Wal-Mart,” Easton shook his head.

.

The Walmart parking lot stretched on interminably, while the sun created mirages of water on the distant asphalt.  Setti or Setareh (her given name) wore light but delicately applied makeup that was beginning to run. She flipped her black straightened hair back, attempting to keep it away from the beads of sweat forming on her bronze Persian skin.

“I hate being sick in the summer, it makes my hair turn curly again.”

“I love it,” Easton replied.

“It looks like shit to everyone else.”

“For real! It’s like a lion’s mane. Majestic,” he laughed.

Setti allowed herself a smile but didn’t reply. The word majestic spawned a myriad of thoughts. She believed she was a princess in her past life and it was no coincidence she was born under the star sign Leo. She was a glowing star trapped in a frail mortal shell. Easton seemed to intrinsically grasp this. He understood her, probably more than he knew. She looked over at him with wide teary eyes and a thankful smile. But he didn’t see her. She frowned.   

Easton was distracted. He rubbed his arms again; goose bumps were forming on his milky white skin. “I’m starting to get pretty sick,” he complained as he wiped away tears and snot from his face.

“I know! You don’t need to keep reminding us,” she hissed. “Let’s just get this over with.” She pointed towards a small xeriscaped median in the parking lot, “go that way.”  

They walked in separate directions, staring at the ground.

A receipt blew in the wind, he picked it up, examined it, and threw it back down. He found another and briefly looked at it before crumpling it and littering it on the sidewalk. He looked over at her, she was looking at another receipt. He watched her study it for longer than usual. “I got one!”

 He jogged over.

It had multiple items listed; socks for 3.95, toilet paper for 8.75, laundry detergent for 21.76 and a utility ladder for 58.99.

“So, the detergent and the ladder?”

“Yeah, I’ll do the detergent. You do the ladder. Here put this item number in your phone.”  

.

As they entered the store the bright florescent lights strained their eyes. They split up and went different directions. He headed for the home and garden section, stopping at every type of ladder. He compared the last four digits of the barcodes to the number in his flip phone. After looking at a few different ones he found a match. It was a large stepping stool ladder that could extend up to a few feet. Carrying it took both hands. Just as he picked it up, she appeared around the corner carrying a large bottle of detergent.

They smiled at each other. Something about the absurdity of this scan amused them.

They decided with some consternation that it would be better to take the items to another Wal-Mart rather than trying to do it here.

“This would be a whole lot easier if it wasn’t for Le. Does she know how hard it is to hustle while sick?

“Yeah, she does. She just didn’t care.”

“Karma’s gonna get her.” Setti’s eyes narrowed, “She never has to be sick because of Nautic, but one day her luck will run out. We are out here hustling every day —sick too. I’ve seen her sick, and she can’t handle it.”

“That just proves how strong you are.”

“Ah, shut up.” Setareh blushed Lightly.” She took Easton’s hand, “Let’s go.”

They held the items and walked to the front of the store. They casually walked past a register making their way towards the bathroom. He sat down on a bench with the items while she used the restroom.  

She looked in the mirror and frowned. Her face was flushed and red, her eyes wide and alert surrounded by smudged makeup that gave her racoon eyes. She thought about Le and how she had all day to put on a full face of makeup. It wasn’t fair, she was supposed to be the glamorous one. She’d seen better days, but she consoled herself that it was okay. She was Heroin Chic. She pulled a pair of large bug-eye sunglasses from her purse and put them on. She watched herself toss her hair back and look over her shoulder at the mirror.

The motion made her dizzy, she leaned against the counter top for support and let her head droop. Life wasn’t supposed to be this way. She was a straight A student. She did everything her teachers and parents asked. She did everything right! Yet somehow, she found herself detoxing in a Walmart bathroom on a Wednesday afternoon. The absurdity made her chuckle.

She flipped her hair again, this time more slowly. She dabbed her forehead and lower back with a paper towel, threw it on the ground and exited the bathroom.

She picked up the detergent and he grabbed the ladder. His heart beat quickened. He scanned the store and to his relief it seemed everyone had forgotten them. But he couldn’t be sure. Feeling the danger served to focus him. He strolled towards the exit, behind Setti, ignoring his churning stomach that urged him to walk faster.

She held the old receipt visibly in one hand and the detergent in the other, he followed behind using both hands to carry the ladder. She walked past the greeter first.

“Have a beautiful day,” Easton smiled with a hint of irony.

The greeter nodded.

The summer heat, past the sliding doors, was a welcome relief.

“Another flawless escape!”

He loaded the items in his car and took a deep breath.

.

A few miles away, at the next Walmart they talked to a new greeter, telling him they needed to return some items. He stamped an orange sticker on each product and they proceeded to wait in line at the returns counter.

Easton’s legs bounced up and down.

“Don’t worry, we’ve done this hundreds of times.”

“I know, that’s what makes me nervous. They must recognize us by now.”

“Who cares? It’ll be fine. I just hope we don’t get that beast of burden,” Setareh pointed with her eyes towards one of the women working behind the counter. She had much too bright of makeup, especially for her worn-out Walmart uniform. Rather than making her look better, the makeup made her look worse. Her drawn on eyebrows sat in a state of perpetual exclamation that didn’t match the dreary countenance that seemed to afflict her and all her fellow Walmart employees. Her uniform also appeared to be two sizes too small. Her looks weren’t the reason they didn’t like her though.

“Next,” she squawked.

“Of course,” Easton laughed quietly.

Setti smirked, and they dropped the items on the counter.

“We need to return these items. My senile aunt bought the wrong things.”

“Well, I can do an exchange for you,” said the clerk. She eyed them suspiciously.

“Oh, no that’s okay, there is nothing wrong with them. She just buys stuff we don’t need, my mom has me return it for her.”

“Uh, huh,” said the clerk unbelieving of Setti’s story. She picked up the receipt, “I see they were purchased with a debit card. Do you have that on you?”

The clerk knew they were up to something and wanted to try to make it difficult.

“No, my aunt has it. My mom puts money in her account. Why? I don’t know.” Setti flipped her hand in a dismissive gesture, “Oh, crazy aunt Ingrid always buying useless stuff. We must keep an eye on her, ya know? If we didn’t there would be no room left in our house. Have you seen the show hoarders? That’s Ingrid for you.”

Setti was trying to keep from laughing while she spun her tale, she liked using outdated names that she dubbed, old white people names. The fact that she wasn’t white and was using the name Ingrid to describe a relative made it even funnier to her. “Oh, our Incompetent Ingrid,” Setti sighed and shook her head to mimic bewilderment.

Easton could barely keep from laughing too, he wrapped his arm around Setti’s shoulder and chimed, “it’s true.”

A look of confusion came over the clerk’s face, for just a few seconds, before she reclined back into her previous Walmart face.

The clerk grunted. The couple could almost see the gears turning in her head, she was trying to think of a way to refuse them, yet she knew she couldn’t. They didn’t need the card. They knew Walmart’s policies better than the workers did.

 She scowled and eventually pushed a button. The register plopped open. “Sign this,” she pushed a proof of return slip towards Setareh. She signed as Le Nhan, slid the paper back and chuckled.  

The clerk threw the 86.40 at them and yelled, “Next.”

.

“She really doesn’t like us.”  

“Nope.”

“It’s just because she is exploited by Wal-Mart. I honestly feel bad for those employees. They don’t understand that we are just doing a different kind of work.” Setti brushed back a few strands of curling hair.

“Work with higher risks,” Easton added. “Did you see how everyone stared at us? We are just trying to get by. We’re not doing anything wrong for once.”

“Well technically, we’re stealing, but it’s from Walmart so who cares?” She paused, letting the strands drop before flipping and shaking her hair back in a regal gesture. “If people had any idea what being addicted meant they would show more compassion. We’re not lying in bed all day nodded out, like some stereotype. No, we are out here from dawn to dusk running missions, just to be able to function. Tell me that’s not dedication.”

 Easton laughed. “Any job would be lucky to have us.”

“Yeah, if we could get jobs. You know, not having to steal to survive is a privilege. Most people don’t realize that.” 

“Hmm, I never thought about that before…”

“It’s tragic times we’re living in.” She coughed. “But I’m getting delirious.” Setti shook off her thoughts, beamed and lightly jabbed Easton, “Call the Mexicans already.” 

.

Easton dialed a number labeled The Mexicans. On the third ring a voice answered, “Bueno…”

“Hey, can we meet?”

“Si, Podemos. Vas a la calle de San Mateo y Candelaria,” he then switched to thickly accented English, “one East on North side.”

“Cuanto tiempo?”

“Twenty minute. Hasta pronto.”

Once at the intersection of Candelaria and San Mateo they turned to go east and then looked for the first side street that headed north.

They took a left turn. It was a sleepy neighborhood that led to a park. They pulled up and let the engine idle under the sparse shade of a park tree.

Easton called again 

“How long did they say?” asked Setti.

“A couple minutes.”

“That could be hours, they are horrible judges of time.”

“Yeah, I hope they don’t take too long,” Easton yawned, “when they give an exact time you can usually trust that.”

Setti bobbed her head in agreement and asked Easton to roll down the windows. Already the car was beginning to get extremely hot. The air-conditioner was running, but to no avail. Both their shirts were soaked in sweat. Their legs bounced up and down with restless energy. Their chests and stomachs vibrated with a creeping anxiety that had steadily increased since they left Le’s house. By now, the word anxiety was much too benign to portray what they felt. Their eyes were wide and wet, their bodies moving, shaking, sweating and changing positions. About once every minute one of them looked in the rearview mirror to find nothing but an empty street and worried thoughts.

“I’m starting to get the true terror,” Easton exclaimed. A phrase he previously coined to reference the overwhelming dread that eventually crept in during the sickness.

“How long has it been?”

“About five minutes,” he careened his head around to glance out the back window but saw a black SUV drive by. He quickly glanced forward to watch from the mirror again. He needed to watch for undercover cops.

“Fuck! Five minutes, those assholes said a couple minutes. It’s been like 24 hours since our last shot. They need to hurry up,” Setti reached into her purse and pulled out a red pack of Pall Mall cigarettes and shakily lit one. As she dragged it, the smoke burned her throat, but she held it in. Her chest vibrated with more anxious energy, but the cigarette mildly soothed her thoughts. She took another drag and started coughing violently, the cigarette flew from her mouth onto the floor. She reached down to pick it up and her coughing morphed into a quick succession of six sneezes with no space in between. Her head resurfaced with the cigarette between her lips, the filter soaked from spit and snot.

“Let me have a drag,” Easton looked over and held out two fingers but when she handed it to him, he dropped it. “God dammit,” he reached down fumbling beneath his seat, following the trail of smoke.

Setti hit him, “forget about it, He’s here! Let’s go!” 

A brand-new gold SUV drove by. Easton put his car into drive and followed it as it snaked its way through the suburban neighborhood. He used his left foot to try to blindly stamp out the cigarette.

“Did you see who was driving?” The person who answered the phone was never the driver. After receiving a call, he would use a walkie talkie to radio the driver who was closest. Because of this they never knew which driver they would get.

“It looked like Jolly Poncho.”

“Yay,” Setti exclaimed while clapping her hands.  

Jolly Poncho was a moniker that Setareh had made. The man had claimed his name was Poncho, but she felt he was lying to protect his identity. So, she decided to make up a name for him. She dubbed him Jolly Poncho, or Jolly for short. She thought it was clever because jolliness was indeed Poncho’s defining trait: he was always smiling, he was always happy to see them, and he had a jolly buddha body. Setareh knew more Spanish than Easton and always enjoyed talking to him.

“He’s like our Santa Claus. Jolly Poncho! Bringing the presents!”

Easton laughed and continued to follow Jolly’s SUV until it pulled up to a curb in front of a neighborhood house. Setti grabbed the wadded-up bills from the middle console and jumped out, accidently slamming Easton’s car door. She skipped up to the front passenger side of the SUV and got in. Easton finally retrieved the ashy remainder of the cigarette from the floor and inhaled its last spark of life.

Again, the SUV meandered forward, and Easton followed behind. They turned down a few more streets until Jolly stopped in another seemingly empty neighborhood. The mid-day summer sun was the perfect cover as it confined most of Albuquerque’s population to humid, swamp-cooled living rooms.

The transaction was made, and Setti jumped out, a large smile gracing her face. She climbed back into Easton’s car. She displayed two water balloons that had been tied and stuffed with two marble sized objects.

“He gave us two Gs.”

Easton waved to Jolly. Jolly smiled before he sped off in an opposite direction. 

“Let’s do a mother fucking shot,” Setti exclaimed.

“Yes, lets,” Easton sighed with relief, “I’m just going to go over to Comanche. I know a good place we can fix.”

“Okay, just don’t take too long. You always take forever to find a place.”

“I already know where it is, calm yourself.”

Setti slumped back into her seat and reclined. “So, hey! When I was in their car, I told Jolly, Thank God for this, but then he shook his head and got all serious. He said, No Senorita, thank El Chapo.”

“Ha! El Chapo? Isn’t he that drug lord?”

“Yeah. I suppose this is his cartel.”

“I’ve always wondered…”

“Yeah, you don’t want to fuck with these guys, they’ll kill you. Like what’s his name, he talked to the cops and then later he was found decapitated.”

“Yeah…” Easton trailed off before enthusiastically adding, “but I can’t deny they have great service.”

“I know, I love them.”

The two laughed as they thought about this. They had learned laughter was better than the alternative.

.

Setareh turned on the radio. An overplayed pop anthem blared through the speakers. It was a song by Miley Cyrus called See You Again.

Easton felt the song was cheesy and reached to change it. They usually alternated between his underground punk tapes and Setareh’s various Lou Reed and Elliot Smith CDs. Setti’s hand grabbed his and said, “Wait!” Her fingers tenderly curled around his, she squeezed once and let go. “Let’s just listen,” she said.

The words, I feel like I must have known you in another life felt prophetic. The two intimately stared into each other’s eyes before Easton looked back at the road and swerved to avoid hitting a car.

This caused Setti to laugh. “I love you so much baby.”

Easton laughed too, smiling back at her. Then he began to shiver and sway to the music. “Damn, it sounds so good when you’re sick. I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but I’m actually enjoying this song.”

“See, I told you we shouldn’t change it… Except it’s making me all emotional. Le had this as her ring tone, do you remember?”

Easton nodded.

 “It reminds me of all the good times we had at her house with Krista, Braeden and everyone else. Before the junk, back when Le and I were friends.” Setti paused and then melancholically added, “I miss the old her.”

“Me too,” he mused. “but mostly, I miss the old us… Those times were special, it felt like anything could happen. We were so in love, we had friends, families. It wasn’t just us against the world, like it is now…” Easton readjusted his seat and involuntarily twitched a few times; his hands tightly gripped the sweat-soaked steering wheel. “This is intense, it’s like when you hear a song and your hair stands on end, except I’m feeling that sensation everywhere.”

 “As much as I hate being sick, I sometimes like being sick. Everything is so magnified.” She then turned up the dial and began singing along, “My best friend Leslie says, Oh she’s just being Miley.

Easton sang too, except he said, “Oh, she’s just being SETTI.”

She looked over at him and smiled. Tears were forming in the corner of her dark almond eyes. Seeing this, Easton began crying. He shook and balled while still choking out the lyrics to the song. Setti glanced at him again, this time with concern.

“It’s not because…” He wiped his large blue eyes, half laughing, half crying with tears continuing to flow. “I’m not sad, I’m okay. it’s just, it’s just… So beautiful.”

She had never seen him cry before. She looked out the window to gain composure, the blue sky seemed mammoth and the heat felt like a thick blanket wrapping the world tightly in its embrace. The huge purple mountains appeared ancient and wise. She could feel them watching her, not in judgement but in acceptance of all that she was. And the music, oh the music. It was like wind that fluttered her emotional butterflies up, up, upward to her eyes. Easton placed his hand on her shoulder, and she realized that she too was crying.   

They continued down the road; in this unique moment they felt a reprieve from the war that had become their lives. They laughed at the absurdity of the moment, two hardcore junkies crying to Miley Cyrus. For the first time in a long time they felt happy.

 Yet, they instinctively knew, like all good things, this moment was only temporary. A realization that brought more tears and a fresh gash of sorrow.

“I never knew life could be this hard. I wish we could… I wish we could quit and go back to how we used to be” Easton babbled out. “It’s like I just woke up one day and everyone I knew was addicted to heroin.”

“Yeah,” she wiped her eyes. “It happened so fast. Everything…” Her voice shook. “And everything was gone. I miss my family. I wish I still had a family. Besides you I’m so alone.”

Their feelings continued to overflow and spill from every emotional nook and cranny. Joy and sorrow released themselves in poignant bursts of tears and shivers. They remembered the good times they’d left behind. They remembered friendships past. They remembered the friends that had died. They remembered who they used to be. Maybe one day they would see their happy selves again. 

Setti suddenly felt empathetic towards Le. Yes, she had fucked them over. But they had done fucked up things to her too. They had done fucked up things to everyone they knew. Even their parents, who weren’t bad people —they just didn’t understand.

Their tears seemed to purify the monsters inside.

They smiled at each other, clasped their clammy palms together, and tried to hold the moment a little longer. The line, I can’t wait to see you again, took on new meaning. Miley had intended it to refer to her crush, but for the couple it was an ode to the transient moments in life.

Easton asked, “Is it possible to feel nostalgic for a moment that hasn’t yet passed?”

Setti didn’t answer but gripped his hand tighter attempting to hold onto the feeling.

“We can be in love again.”

 “We don’t have to use.”

“Life can be fun again.”

Despite their words, there was another force at work. Easton was driving, but something else was driving him. Something base, something reptilian was in control. It steered the wheel and guided them into a quiet neighborhood. As a passenger in his body, he parked the car by a wall between two houses.

She looked over and said, “I don’t want this to end. I think we could do it. We could be sober together.” Yet even as her lips uttered these words, her hands were pulling out the spoon, syringes and balloon.

“I think…” She tore open the balloon with her teeth

“everything…” She placed a black rock into the spoon

“is going to…” She cooked the liquid and drew it up.

“turn out…” She slid a syringe into her arm and pulled back to reveal a crimson steam.    

“beautifully…”

 Eric Knowlson
Eric Knowlson

Eric Knowlson is a writer and poet hailing from Albuquerque, NM. He is fascinated by the fleeting moments of beauty that sometimes only last seconds, but shape lives forever. He attempts to capture these transient moments in his writing. His work has appeared in The Leonardo, and Coffin Bell Journal. He can be reached at Etknowlson@gmail.com

A Short Story by Joe Phipps

Today I ran errands. I usually run the errands and my wife usually does the chores, except for cooking. She doesn’t run errands because she believes that, if one commutes to work like she does, it is bad luck to stray from one’s established route for any reason. She does not cook because she never learned how. She never learned how because she claims to be afraid of certain vegetables. I find this hard to believe but, in our five years of marriage, she has maintained her position on the matter even though she is fine with eating most of the feared vegetables when they are undetectably added to her meals.

However, the one vegetable to never enter the house: onions.

Once I asked, “What is so much more horrid about onions than any other vegetable that you are afraid of?”

My wife responded, “There is nothing so much more horrid about onions than carrots or beets or any other vegetable.”

“Then why are you so much more afraid of them that they cannot even come into the house. You are fine with other vegetables if I disguise their presence well enough?”

“It is not accurate to say that I am afraid of onions. Onions are like wolves. I find that most people do not have an accurate understanding of wolves. And, while most people are not afraid of wolves, and really why should they be, these same people would not willingly let a wolf into their home,” she said.

“I think that a pet wolf would be nice to have in the house. If we let it come and go when it wanted it could keep me company while you work, and keep deer out of the yard at night,” I said.

“If I cannot have a cat you cannot have a wolf either.”

“I’m allergic to cats, but okay. No onions.”

That was on Monday, and on Sunday I did the errands. I went to the grocery store, bought my usual assortment of food, and picked up a large bag of birdseed for the neighbor’s chickens. I told him that I thought he wasn’t feeding them enough because they look far too skinny. He told me to stop bothering him about his own birds.

I said, “I am not trying to preach anything to you about how to take care of birds that aren’t my pets. It’s not like they are your pet either, and I guess you can raise your food however you like, but in my opinion your rooster looks more like a parrot than a chicken given how skinny it looks.”

This was an exaggeration that made him very upset with me and he told me that if I cared so much about the birds I could go out and buy food to feed them myself, which I decided to do so I could watch him pop a blood vessel when I walk into his yard.

After that I went to city hall to pay our water bill. Outside were a couple of kids playing baseball. One girl hit the ball so hard that it went flying over a fence separating the field they were playing in from an apartment complex. It wasn’t really that far, but the kids had looks on their faces like she had hit that ball hard enough to create a sonic boom, and the ball had burnt up trying to leave the atmosphere. To them it was enough to pack up and go home for the day. The score up to that point had been forgotten, and in a team sport that one girl was recognized as the singular winner.

The sun was in the middle of the sky and all that was left to do errand-wise was to stop by my friend Georgie’s house to return his toolkit. I needed it to fix one of the doors after I accidentally bust it down moving in a new bed frame. My wife was concerned about the cold air killing us and demanded that I fix it that day despite loaning my tools to her brother to fix a window in his kitchen. He did not have his tools because he had loaned them to a friend who’d loaned someone his tools, and so on to the point that I am beginning to think that no one owns tools. Instead they just exist in a constant state of being used by someone who didn’t buy them.

When I got to Georgie’s he was already outside stripping the metal off a broken-down truck that had sat in his driveway for years. He was shirtless and covered in sweat. His entire upper body was pink from a fresh sunburn, and his black hair was greasy. When I pulled into the driveway, he ran over to my car and said, “I was hoping you’d stop by soon. I want to talk to you about this plan I got. I know a way that we can both get set up real nice once I get my hands on some bees.”

I responded, “I’m not exactly sure what you are trying to get at.”

“There is no way that this can go wrong man. I know that you don’t really know nothing about bees, but you got to trust me that this can really be something worth the money, and I want you to be a part of it.”

“How exactly is this supposed to work?” I asked.

Georgie said, “Its real simple man. All I gotta do is go and buy some bees and build them little bee homes for cheap, and then they start making honey like it is no one’s business, and there are plenty of suckers out there that’ll pay big bucks for honey if you tell them it is straight out of the bees’ ass and you treated the little buzzers nice. And I do intend to treat them nice. I’m going to make them little houses out of bean cans, and that is where you come in, because I went ahead and did the math on all of this and for the number of bees that I intend to buy the most cost effective way to build the houses is to use old bean cans. So, while I am out taking care of the bees, I need you to start eating beans up a storm so I can keep making them houses. And make sure that you actually eat them and not just throw them out because food waste is a real problem man.”

“How many cans of beans are we talking, Georgie?”

He said, “I don’t know. Couple a day at the start, but you should be able to slow down eventually.”

“Okay,” I said. “I got to go then. Here are your tools back. I lost a screwdriver somehow under my house. It rolled under while I was working, and I’m not going onto that snake-pit to get it. If you want to get yourself bitten you can go down there and look for it, but I don’t do snakes.”

I parted ways with Georgie and drove off back to the store to stock up on beans.

Back at the store I thought about what I was going to cook for dinner and decided that it was going to be something with onions in it to prove a point.

When I got home first, I fed the neighbor’s chickens, and then I made me and my wife two separate meals. I made her a meatloaf where I diced the onion up so small, and put so little in it that there was no way for her to notice I had slipped them in. At the dinner table I served it to her while I ate beans directly out of the can to avoid dirtying more dishes. When she asked me why I was eating something different than her I told her I was doing a favor for Georgie.

“You shouldn’t just accept everything he says like it’s always right,” she said.

“But he’s usually right. He was right about the weather. He was right about what times are best to go to the grocery store, and he was right about what horse we should have bet on at the fair. If we’d listened to him, we could spend all day wasting time like he does ripping apart machinery and partying.”

“Those are things you want to spend all day doing. Most days I want to drive to work and back. I don’t really like the job, but I like going to and from it. There are several stores on the way there that I always look through the windows of as I pass to see the decorations the owners have put up. And there is a hayfield that I think about how it might be nice to disappear into. In the summer an old farmer goes through it and bails it all up. Sometimes he smiles at me like he recognizes me,” she said.

“Those things do sound pretty nice,” I said.

“Did you put something different in the meatloaf?”

“I did.”

“I don’t like it. What is it?” she asked.

“Chives. My mother said to put them in.”

“Lair,” she said before taking a loud drink of water.

“Onions,” I said.

She took another bite and chewed it slowly. “I understand,” she said.

“I can make you another one if you want,” I offered.

“No, this one is fine,” she said as she continued eating, “but we are going to have to talk about things when I get done.”

“Things like divorce?” I asked.

“Yes, and other things like, is there any alcohol in the house?”

“We still have the bottle of wine we bought for your birthday that we never opened.”

“Good. I feel like opening it tonight.”

“That seems like a good idea. Do you plan on running away with that elderly farmer?”

“I might. If I do be prepared to get dressed up nice for the wedding, because I am going to need a maid of honor. We’ll probably get married in the fall, in the middle of his hayfield where we first met. That to me seems appropriately romantic for a second marriage. You can even bring Georgie if you want, as long as you promise that he will clean himself up. Do you think that the farmer is allergic to cats too? How unlucky would it be for me to find myself smitten by two men in a row allergic to cats? It would make me think that love and cats are completely incompatible,” she said.

“I’m not sure that smitten is the right word for it. Smitten implies something divine or forceful, and I don’t really remember it happening like that. I just remember I was here, and you were here too, and it just made sense to us to be here together. That just doesn’t feel like anyone was smitten,” I said.

“I suppose you are right, but even if I wasn’t smitten, I still think love’s an accurate word for it,” she said.

“I agree, and maybe you actually will be smitten with love by your farmer. Assuming he is not allergic to cats, what do you think you will name it?” I said.

“I am thinking of something like Turkey. I like it when animals are named for animals they are not. I think it confuses people in a good way,” she said.

“That sounds like a great name for a cat.” I said.

“And once Georgie goes and makes you rich enough to do whatever you want, what will you name your wolf?” she said.

“I think I like the name Lawrence,” I said as I began collecting her empty plate.

“Lawrence is a good name for a wolf,” she said.

Joe Phipps is a writer from Logan County, West Virginia, an MFA Candidate at Syracuse University, and a lover of comic books.

A Poem by Rex Wilder

     Since I was locked up and the key dangled 
Like a body from each nurse’s neck,
This gray matter has lost the privilege of shades

And the world is black and white. 
Either I was fucked or it’s just a phase. 
Either you climb from the wreck

     Or you burn in the tangle of the metal.
Only so many flames can fit in a forest,
Have you ever thought about that?

I was hit at 5, at 50, hated, emasculated, 
Locked in/out but low-grade, first-world, 
Not worth moving heaven and earth for

     And if I walked into the sea, the drowning 
Wouldn’t make waves. Abuse gets used
Up, no matter how much hurt’s rained down.

My wife used to spit
On me so who needed tears? Hats off
To Lady Saliva and the horse she rode in on.

     Whether I’ll be back is a matter of fate
But where I’m going is so big and gorgeous 
There’s room enough to recover,

Like the open road of summer
When I was 18, like Georgia, wildflowers 
Bent at the waist like a retinue.

Rex Wilder was a misfit from the good old days whose mind finally forced the issue in 2018 — a nervous breakdown, hospital lockup, the full Sylvia Plath. Before and after that, three books of his have been published, and he has poems in TLSPoetry IrelandPoetryPloughshares, The New CriterionThe NationNational ReviewYale ReviewHarvard Review, and many anthologies, including the celebrated Together in a Sudden Strangeness from Knopf. This poem is from his new book, Faces Around a Room.

A Prose Poem by Sabrina Bustamante

I want to write about history. I want to stop fearing genre, and I want time to collapse so that I can write about the past while writing about myself. I want to be less narcissistic. I want to make sweeping statements about causation, and I want to be right. I want to find names and places, drawn from the past, green from mis-remembrance, and then I want to exalt them, even though I reject sainthood.  I want to know how to read history textbooks without being bored. I want to make a story of neoliberalism’s false promise, but I do not want to use the word economics. I want the ruse to fail in the third chapter, die quickly of a fever.

I want to have access to a university library, but that right was revoked months ago. I want to be a fishhook, get caught on the abdomen of something big. I want to be deft and formless, and I don’t want to use citations. I want to pour history out into a feeling –  less about fact than about feeling over time, a pileup of the dead. Then a keening from the soil, a compulsion to hold the words in your hands and see how they taste, so you will never forget. Tales that you never can un-swallow, (so chew hard, and go slow). But poetry was never my genre. What form can a warning song take?

Sabrina Bustamante is an emerging writer who studied creative writing and history as an undergraduate at Yale University, where her non-fiction essay won the Henry P. Wright prize. She has a work of creative non-fiction forthcoming in Bending Genres Journal. She lives in Washington, D.C.

A Flash Fiction by Julie Benesh

Publish or perish. Last year, quarantining, should have been the perfect time to work on my research and avoid the fate of the Permanent Visitor. But working at home during quarantine, I got so anxious and distracted, everything blurring into mush. Sometimes you have to …get away. Business people decided the word “retreat,” describing a corporate junket, sounded cowardly, briefly relabeling them “advances,” betraying gender bias and, ultimately, #MeToo connotations. But, I’m a woman and a professor of business psychology, specialization in Jungian organizational interventions. I know my yin and yang. So, after the blessed vaccine percolated through my body the requisite amount of time, I flew to my favorite Santa Barbara resort– retreating, if you will, to advance my research and hopefully maintain my employment.

I stayed in my favorite oceanfront room, and I was getting my mojo back, until my third day there. I was awakened from a restorative sleep by a knock at my door, where, inexplicably, stood my mom, my dad, and a man resembling character actor J.K. Simmons. I figured he was either my mom’s latest boyfriend and/or my dad’s personal trainer/life coach because Dad looked fit and fab, like he lived in Santa Barbara himself. He had a classic tennis cardigan, sleeves knotted over an anchor-patterned polo shirt, and slender cut taupe pants discreetly hugging his toned glutes and legs. The only familiar item part of his ensemble was the deck shoes, which looked entirely different without their usual Iowa Hawkeye hoodie and stained sweatpant teammates.

Out of habit and an abundance of caution, we all refrained from hugging or handshakes.

“We didn’t want to just call you up. We wanted to tell you in person,” my mother was saying, her tone apologetic, as ever. My nose itched, and I felt queasy. Was my mother engaged to J.K. Simmons, and, if so, what did my dad have to do with it? They’d been apart for more than a decade.

I remembered how my mother cried when she saw Dad’s black and white retirement party pictures. He was only 59 at the time but, in the pictures, he looked 75, with deep lines and shadows. “That photographer was too good,” he had said. In retrospect, his retirement was the beginning of the end. They drifted apart, separated, and eventually divorced.

Now I looked at my dad, and he smiled reassuringly. That’s when I noticed his teeth, all in place like in his old portrait in his officer uniform, before the painful army dental work and subsequent dentistry phobia and alcohol anesthesia whose vicious cycle left him toothless. I ran my tongue over my own teeth—I had them cleaned and whitened four times a year.

“Are you a dentist?” I asked J.K.Simmons, and he frowned in response.

“He’s a grief counselor from the insurance,” said my mom. “He’s here to help us say goodbye to your dad.” Her voice got lower. “He passed away yesterday.”

Oh, god. Every time I saw my dad, I knew it could be the last. So hearing he had died was not as shocking as seeing him all tricked out in my room, despite it being so much sadder.

“That’s so nice…” I began “…I mean, so nice of you to come all this way to tell me. But I don’t quite understand how Dad can be here and…there… at the same time.”  My voice caught on the “there” and I could feel a welling behind my eyes and in my chest.

My best friend had a thing for angels—she collected them. Beautiful as he was, Dad didn’t look like one; no wings or flowing hair or musical instruments. I didn’t say the word “ghost” but it also hovered in the air like, well…you know. And I’d read about bardos, those Buddhist afterlife jails, and I wondered if my dad were in one, trying to move on, and, if so, were the rest of us even for real, or just cosmic props? I pinched my arm and it reddened and hurt, but I didn’t wake.

Dad ran his hand over his silver mane and my mother gazed at him, glared at JK and glanced toward me. He was too solid to be a hologram, then I remembered the documentary about the Japanese customer service robots and it struck me as the only thing that made any sense at all. Dad 2.0, as memento.

Everything had been so crazy the past year, and mostly crazy-bad, but within the crazy-badness had been, hints of progress, of betterment, renewal. Techno-fixes.

“Can I…umm…keep him?”

J.K. Simmons, suddenly seeming utterly miscast as a grief counselor, pursed his lips just like they always pay him to do, and said, “Do you really have that kind of plastic to burn through?”

I imagined acrid, toxic smoke, then realized that he meant money, like he had flubbed his lines which probably read “dough” or “coin,” or he was improvising, trying to twist a cliché into a fresh metaphor, (though why not “Bitcoin”?) and that Android Dad (Andrad?) was a demo, like a free sample test-drive, and J.K. deploying the reverse psychology of the neg. My promotion, once I got it, would net me a 7% increase–my dad had always lauded my ambition, saying all he ever tried to do was get by– but I sensed even that might yet be insufficient.

Reaching for my phone, I realized its camera could never do this moment justice, and a more advanced app for recording would no doubt be proprietary. I set it down.

Perhaps I could rely on my own mind to remember him this way, new and improved, or perhaps merely restored, the exact way he was meant to have been all along.

Or not.

Probably not; none of the above.

I supposed I would have to manage to live with that, too.

An alum of Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers, Julie Benesh is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Grant. Her writing can be found in Bestial Noise: A Tin House Fiction Reader, Tin House Magazine (print), Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Gulf Stream, Cleaver, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, New World Writing, and many other places and is forthcoming in Hobart and Drunk Monkeys.