Nicole Zelniker
COVERING A YEAR LATER: HOW LOCAL COMMUNITIES CONTINUE TO ADVOCATE FOR BLACK LIVES AFTER GEORGE FLOYD’S MURDER
TDR Regular Contributor / October 19, 2021

George Floyd’s death resonated with people across the country and around the world.

In the immediate aftermath, protests cropped up in cities near and far. Politicians and grassroots organizers have come together to change laws around policing and police brutality. Larger corporations began giving funds to organizations doing racial justice work, allowing them to expand their reach.

When the Derick Chauvin verdict finally came down, people celebrated from coast to coast. On that day, George Floyd’s uncle Roger Floyd said to ABC11 that, “As a family, we are so gratified to get the result that we had prayed for. A verdict of guilty on all three counts. It was just solidified today, what the world had been anticipating for almost a year.”

Some mourners have even come out to see the place where Floyd was killed. New Yorker and journalist Lisa Argrette Ahmad, who visited the site of Floyd’s death with her daughter, wrote that Floyd’s death resonated a little too closely. “Had I been born to another mother, in another city, at another time, this could have been my life,” she wrote.

But Minneapolis, specifically, is still struggling.

Just this month, over footage of police officers joking about “hunting civilians,” surfaced from over a year ago. The officers in a separate fatal shooting of Winston “Boogie” Smith were recently exonerated. And as LaTonya Floyd mentioned in a previous article, three of the officers involved in George Floyd’s murder have yet to be tried.

Despite this, the community is doing its best to heal itself. On Oct. 14, George Floyd’s birthday, friends and family came together to celebrate his life. Local activists have come together to try to put systems into place that would prevent more police violence from once again tearing the city apart.

The election

That prevention, in part, is contingent on the upcoming Nov. 2 election, where one of the questions on the ballot has to do with expanding public safety in the hopes that they will be able to handle certain 911 calls that do not require police officers with guns.

One coalition, Yes4Minneapolis, has been trying to spread information about the question, which will be number two on the ballot. The coalition consists of several organizations, such as ACLU Minnesota, Asian American Organizing Project, Jewish Community Action and Women for Political Change, among others.

“The charter amendment is proving to be very controversial,” said University of Minnesota professor P. Jay Kidrowski. “There are some that are sponsoring that and working to get it approved, and there are a number of other org working to keep it from happening.”

The amendment was first approved by the city council only to be rejected by a district court. The Minnesota Supreme Court cleared it in time for it to appear on the ballot.

Of the court’s decision, Terrance Moore, an attorney for Yes4Minneapolis, told Minnesota Public Radio, “As ugly as it sometimes looks, the process went through from beginning to end, and in the end, the Supreme Court followed the law and its precedent. And the voters get to vote on the ballot question.”

The mayoral election is also on Nov. 2 and includes 16 candidates. Incumbent Jacob Frey is running along with four Democrats, two Republicans, and a number of independent and write-in candidates. The last time Minnesota elected a Republican mayor was in 1957.

Candidates who are also proponents of Yes4Minneapolis’ goal of having a more public-safety-oriented approach to policing include Frey, AJ Awed, Sheila Nezhad, and Katherine Knuth, all registered democrats.

“Many organizations of color support it and want to have an amendment, but there’s a lot of misinformation that’s gone out there,” said Minnesota resident Denise Konen. “[Proponents] just want a public safety department, which would mean we wouldn’t always have to send a cop with a gun.”

Community healing

Konen does not see politics as a path to healing for her community, though. Whatever happens in the election, she believes the community itself is what will change things.

“There are a lot of grassroots things happening,” Konen said. “I think that’s the stuff that’s going to change things in the end. There’s so much changing among us and in us.”

She cited George Floyd Square as a place for people to come together and grieve. Located on the corner of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, George Floyd Square boasts sculptures, murals, and art installations.

The “Say Their Names Cemetery” falls into the latter category. A total of 150 headstones sit marked with the names of police brutality victims, including Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Jamar Clark, and Aiyana Jones.

Konen herself works with Black Lives Matter Lawn Signs, an organization that sells Black Lives Matter signs and donates the proceeds to Black-led organizations. She has headed up the organization since 2015 and says they generally see spikes after very public instances of police brutality, which can be frustrating, as she would prefer for people to care all the time, not just when Black people are killed on the news.

Still, Konen has seen “a lot of transformation in people’s hearts” over the last year or so. In an ironic twist, she has been using the pandemic to her advantage as a way to reach out to more people. She has met with activists from all over the country because of the push to online meetings.

“There’s so much that’s changed,” she said. “People are challenging themselves and creating communities. That will make a difference. Nobody can stop that if it’s real.”


Read Nicole’s Books:

A Poem by Anita Nahal

Graphite pencil art by Anthony Gartmond New Jersey, USA

Quietly awaiting my return. Arms crossed, kinda slouched, in grass blades drenched to their core, at the corner of where Arlington and DC shake hands. Puddles around me…tiny pools of hope glistening and swaying, grooving with drops that fall incessantly. Not the stormy kind. Enough to wet me, though leaving me thirsty. Cities are strange creatures. Souls of millions smacked upon each other like cardboard boxes in windowless gowdans without anything to color. That’s why, maybe, perhaps, colors of big cities can be grey, gloomy, and depressing at times, like shades of gloom at funerals. Yet, sometimes, cities when wet are like butter I love spreading on a slice of untoasted bread, sprinkled with sugar granules. Or like caramel evenings in my pointed pumps, I hasten out. Petrichor that comes from ground admixed with cloud spray uplifts me. I see outlines of bodies rejoicing, dripping clothes palpitating, enticing, despite their clinginess. New Delhi monsoon rains also join me as I walk through Arlington and DC rain. Just the petrichor and the olfactory are not buddies here. That’s why I love synesthesia. Dali’s pliable clocks seemed to be sneaking, a bit misty. Many umbrellas had pitched tents around my soul. Some had my parent’s faces on them. Some of friends. Some of school mates with whom I blurted puzzlements of adolescence. Some of my son with whom I drove in and around Arlington streets. Building new lives. I will always love you by Whitney was humming itself to warm bittersweet Thanksgiving kinda rum-spice-apple-cider memories I take along in a mason glass jar filled with tiny lights, iridescent like fireflies waiting for my soul. At the edge of Arlington and Washington DC, its face full of salt from tears. The clocks in Dali’s painting clicking loud and clear.

*Gowdan: A Hindi word denoting a warehouse

Anita Nahal is an Indian American poet, flash fictionist, children’s writer, columnist, and professor. Anita has three books of poetry, one of flash fictions, four for children and three edited anthologies to her credit. Her third book of poetry, What’s wrong with us Kali women, was released by Kelsay Books in August 2021. Anita teaches at the University of the District of Columbia, Washington DC. Two of Anita’s books are prescribed in a course on multiculturalism and immigration at the University of the Utrecht, The Netherlands. More on her at: https://anitanahal.wixsite.com/anitanahal

A Poem by Michael Cox-Maldonado

for Fred D’Aguiar

To search online if it’s your prostate?
Petrifying, like spotting
a poison tree frog on your palm.
A lump that pollutes.
My professor, polite and playful,
I will write, just like you.
Us drinking Shock Top at Wolfgang Pucks.
Picture us poeticizing with all the p’s and piss.
Pick up the pace? How with plague and police?
Us! Slices of pie, like a couple of pals,
when life pitches us into garbage pails.
I see my-writer-self, at a bay window.
Now I recall that it was you, having just moved here.
I’m happy that on this earth you’re still here,
where we play like petite princes on this planet here.

Michael Cox-Maldonado went to the University of California, Los Angeles to study English literature and creative writing. A local to Southern California, he now works as a Lighting Technician for film/tv, where he writes on the side. He has poetry published in Westwind and Beyond Words Literary Journal.

A Poem by Nicole Cosme

           My father has a pet snail, he named it One 
Because it has one antenna. When the antenna grows back, 
the name will be ironic.

           My father says, No his name will still be One.
He comes outside for a smoke, 
pulls the snail from its place beneath the stairs. 
It lives in an old take-out container filled 
with dirt, leaves, and shallots. 
Tiny holes perforate the lid,

           My father sits at a table with the container before him. 
It’s my pet, he beams beneath an umbrella, 
beneath his own perforated heaven.
but it’s only mirrors, 
it’s only a hole to catch your breath
He wraps his snail in laurels and honey,  
and my teeth turn to severed stingers, not fangs
Not really, just like a dagger is not a mirror, 
It’s only shattered glass. It’s only a million versions, 
and they’re all mocking each other, 

           My father knows Fibonacci and other snail facts, 
this is a land snail so it needs air, 
he points to the holes, takes a drag.
Look at that palace, watch that container fill,
Its occupant is indifferent to the hand until— watch. 

           My father tells me his snail had a mate but—
He shrugs, says he’ll find another mate for his snail.
To forget its lover’s fragile spiral
It’s only a shell, it’s only a moment
Only significant to some.

           My father puts One on the ground,
Watch your step, he says.

Nicole Cosme is an emerging writer/poet from New England. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Prime Number Magazine and Seisma Magazine. Most recently her work was recognized in the 90th Annual Writer’s Digest Competitions. You can visit nicolemariecosme.com for ongoing updates and information regarding recent publications.

A Prose Poem by Saba Nourollahi

They say you need strength to like those who disagree,
Even greater strength to love through the disagreements.
But why is it that when it comes to you, whom love should be unconditional, it feels like love and support are currencies
Only given when you have the desire to.
It seems that desire only exist, when I act as you see fit.
But I don’t think I can go much further,
Being someone I’m not
Chasing a future, carefully drawn by you.
And what happens after you?
I would have to live, to be happy.
But I can only do that, if I draw my own pictures, not trace the ones you’ve drawn.
And the thing is, I think I’ll be good at it.
I like to use my pen to draw what I like. Maybe France or Italy?
So please, these currencies you held so dear to your heart, keep them if it makes you happier.
But once in a while take a look at my drawing too.
They may not be perfect but their mine. and maybe just maybe, you will grow to like them, just a little.
I wouldn’t dare suggest love, even though that is what I hope for.
But I can live with Like too.
People don’t give Like enough credit, it’s not passionate enough.
Love or hate, that seems more common.
But I think if you look close enough, Like can be pretty good too.

Saba Nourollahi is 24 years old and moved to U.S. 8 years ago with her family.She recently graduated from University of California Irvine. Her work has been published in Poet’s Choice Literary journal and in Palomar College literary journal Bravura.

Nicole Zelniker
COVERING A YEAR LATER: HOW LOCAL COMMUNITIES CONTINUE TO ADVOCATE FOR BLACK LIVES AFTER GEORGE FLOYD’S MURDER
TDR Regular Contributor / September 20, 2021

LaTonya Floyd wants justice. She wants justice for her brother, George Floyd, and for every other person who has, like her, lost the people they love in an epidemic of violence.

As of Aug. 26, 2021, police have killed 705 people in the United States.

“We have so many people who have lost loved ones because of police brutality, and we’re going to stand with them like they’ve stood with us,” LaTonya said.

Like in Avon Park and Fayetteville, Floyd’s family in Houston, Texas, is not done with their activism. LaTonya still lives in Houston, where she and George grew up hanging out with his friends and playing football at Jack Yates High School.

Now, the community has come together through marches and vigils.

“We’re not going to stop protesting,” LaTonya said. “We have three more officers to take down.”

Thomas Lane, J Kueng, and Tou Thao, the other officers who stood by while Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, are scheduled to stand trial in March 2022.

After Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter after kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, Black Lives Matter in Houston organized a vigil to bring the community together and remind them that there is still work to be done.

Community coming together

Carl Davis, another alum of Jack Yates High School and the chairman of the Houston Society for Change, has been a firsthand witness to the power of bringing the community together.

This past February, Black History Month, he joined with several organizations to create and unveil a two-block long Black Lives Matter mural painted on the streets in front of the high school.

“We all collaborated with Commissioner Rodney Ellis, and we all got together to paint a Black Lives Matter mural,” said Davis. “On the front is the school mascot, and on the other side, George Floyd’s jersey. We want the kids to understand every day they go into the school that their lives matter.”

As of 2021, Houston is 22.59% Black. Jack Yates High School is 99% students of color, mostly Black.

When Davis says we, he means people from organizations 88 C.H.U.M.P. and Youth and Society for Change. The first organization is named for Floyd’s high school jersey number, which was 88, and was founded by his friends.

Another project they have taken on in recent years includes renovating the high school football field. They kicked off the project on May 28 with money from NFL, among others. The field has been renamed in honor of George Floyd.

One of the things Davis loves most about his work is working with the kids.

“They are asking questions,” he said. “They’re concerned about the environment. There’s been so much violence in the inner city. There’s mistrust of law enforcement. Each day, those kids go in that school, and they see that message we’ve put on the street. We’re instilling in them that their lives are just as important as someone of another race.”

Jack Yates High School currently ranks as having some of the lowest test scores in the state, which is not surprising. Schools with a majority of Black and brown students are consistently underfunded.

This is why Davis stresses the importance of education for young people. He and 88 C.H.U.M.P. have worked so hard to provide opportunities for young people, show them how to get internships, and offer trade opportunities.

“Not every kid is going to be college-bound, but we want them to be able to sustain themselves in their industries,” he said. “We want to empower our kids and let them know they can do anything they can imagine.”

Floyd’s former classmate and friend, Herbert Mouton, is the operations manager at 88 C.H.U.M.P. In addition to building stronger relations between police officers and the community, he says the organization is also working to educate people about the importance of voting, especially in local elections. and filling out the census, which he says is important because that is largely how the community gets funded.

“One of our biggest movements was voter registrations in Houston,” he said. At one, “we registered maybe 98 people, almost 100 people, from young to old. We had people out there, first-time voters. That was very impressive.”

His biggest goal in the community is to educate people.

“We’re keeping his name alive and pushing forward to better our community,” he said, referring to Floyd. “We’re starting in our community first. Once we set a foundation there, other communities will follow along or want to partner up. It’s one community at a time.”

Bodily autonomy and Black Lives Matter

As much as the community has rebuilt since last summer, there is a ways to go. Texas recently passed a bill into law that banned abortions after six weeks. The Biden Administration has sued the state of Texas over this law.

Brandon Mack says the right to bodily autonomy is a Black Lives Matter issue. Mack is an organizer at Black Lives Matter in Houston, the same organization that held a vigil after the Chauvin trial.

Abortions are especially difficult to access for Black and brown women, and Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. Black women are also more likely to die while giving birth.

The Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter, in Mack’s words, aims “to address is the devaluation of Black lives.” They have worked on electoral justice projects, Black voters matter and have done work around homelessness in the community.

Now, they are supporting organizations that do work around abortions and reproductive health.

“What happened in Texas was a complete disregard to the rule of law, the constitution, and Roe v. Wade,” he said. “It was the grossest show of legal maneuvering to put that into place. The fact that the supreme court refuses to see that shows how white supremacy operates in this country and the depths to which people will go to maintain that supremacy.”

Organizers have seen a definite improvement in the past year. Mack says that the new police chief, who is from Houston, is willing to work with activists to create a helpful presence in the community rather than one that disregards the community’s needs.

Still, there are a ways to go. Last year, Mayor Sylvester Turner’s task force to look at policing in the community, which had 45 community remembers, came out with 104 recommendations, which rendered almost all of them ineffective, as no one knew where to start.

Of the initiative, Mack said, “task forces and commissions are the new versions of thoughts and prayers.” Mayor Turner’s office did not respond for comment in time for publication.

Mack also doesn’t think the police haven’t tried to engage with the community in a productive way. He says the police aren’t trying to engage the community as a “two way street,” but rather tell the community what to do. They rarely listen to what the community needs from them.

COVID-19 and the Delta variant have also made organizing difficult. Houston, like many cities, is coping with a shortage of hospital beds. Given that Black communities are most impacted by the virus, this is another Black Lives Matter issue, and organizers do not want to contribute to rising COVID numbers.

At the same time, Mack stresses the importance of finding ways to bring the community together.

“There have been several memorials and there are several murals that bare George Floyd’s likeness,” Mack said. “Those things have helped the community heal.”


Read Nicole’s Books:

A Poem by Wayne David Hubbard

wanderlust is my middle name
unpenned verbs in the book of longing
alanis morissette crooning irony
through tinny speakers
   at a bar in arizona

i raise a shot glass to you
   and swallow it whole

Wayne David Hubbard is an author and educator. His work appears in Button Poetry, Eloquent, and Wild Word magazine. His first book Mobius: Meditations on Home was published in 2020. He lives in Virginia, works in aviation, and writes creatively about experience, history, and culture.

A Poem by d w Stojek

                              O’ it’s a lonely maypole
                      in three footfall snow,
                      and where may I go
                      without reason, without clothes?
                           
                      By the seat of my bicycle,
                      full of frost and icicles                           
                      let my Fancy sway,
                      unfettered in the winter’s shortened day…

                         “Yes, but well, what are you doing here?”
                      Had you noticed my axe you would not have asked.
                      Well, you wouldn’t now, would you dear?
                      Alas, I whittle with what is Little--                         
                        	    
                      I am tired traffic. A faltering star. 
                      Spring, too distant, too far,                           
                      and where would I go,
                     O’ if not to the lonely maypole?

d w Stojek is a poet, photographer, and general nuisance to those within earshot. He is eagerly awaiting the day when ‘Build-a-Bear’ re-opens as a series of genetic labs that will enliven the blighted strip malls of Suburbia.

A Poem by Susan Miller

It will be like a snow day —
all of us penned in our holes,
yearning to topple onto
barstools, strip off our
winter wool, order rounds
of Jack and uncork
our weather war stories.

Yeh, just like a snow day,
that’s what you said, as
always so rock-solid sure.
You didn’t want to hear
my what-ifs, feel my
clammy palms, see
my screaming phone.

You tried to make me laugh
at your downward dog in
our fuzzy Facetimes,
teach me Crazy Eights
by text, clink cocktail
glasses at laptop screens.
Just like a snow day.

You said the tickle was
nothing, maybe some
sneaky spring pollen
or your hardwoods
belching dust. No worries
at all — just pieces of what
would be one stellar tale.

I wanted to call you to
tell you that I finally made
it outside. How every step
felt slippery and uncertain,
how I dodged sidewalk
slowpokes before I
burrowed back indoors.

How 15 months later,
I peeked into the pub
now electric and pulsing
with people. How you should
be there, we should be there,
hugging and holding court.
Yeh, like after a snow day.

Susan Miller is an editor/reporter for USA TODAY who enjoys writing poetry as a hobby. Her work has appeared in Whimsical Poet, Gemini Magazine, Months to Years, Common Ground Review, Under the Bridges of America, Sandy Paws, Quaranzine, Written in Arlington.

A Poem by Mercury-Marvin Sunderland

today i woke up
at 7 am
so i could sign up
for my fall quarter class
at 8 am

i ate
a quick sandwich
of dollar store white bread
mustard & mayo
kraft singles
garlic baloney
pickles
potato chips

& i grabbed
one (1) pre-made canteen
of morning coffee
from the fridge

poured one (1) mug
& reheated
for three (3) minutes
then put it back
in the canteen

today i told my therapist
that i’ve just started taking legal action

for two (2) years
of stalking and sexual harassment

the title ix
just placed
a no contact order

which is basically
a restraining order

which expires
as soon as i graduate

in december

& i’m not saying
it doesn’t help but
it’ll take three-to-six (3-to-6) months
for the trial to go

& i’m just
so scared

& i know that
i’m taking the right action

but this coffee couldn’t be strong enough
to prepare me for

the reliving
of my trauma

& uncertain futures

i’m all out of creamer
& my hands

are shaking.

Mercury-Marvin Sunderland (he/him) is a transgender autistic gay man with Borderline Personality Disorder. He’s from Seattle and currently attends the Evergreen State College. He’s been published by University of Amsterdam’s Writer’s Block, UC Davis’ Open Ceilings, UC Riverside’s Santa Ana River Review, UC Santa Barbara’s Spectrum, and The New School’s The Inquisitive Eater. His lifelong dream is to become the most banned author in human history. He’s @RomanGodMercury on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

A Short Story by Mark Hall

“Christ!” Daniel McRae’s father cried. The back door slammed shut with such force that it shook the house. “Daniel!” John McRae bellowed, drawing out his son’s name. “Get your ass down here! Now!”

For an instant, all was quiet. Daniel crept from his room at the top of the stairs. On the landing, he froze in the silence. Then, heavy footsteps as his father made his way through the house. “Shit,” Daniel muttered to himself. Quickly, he searched his mind for what could have set his father off this time. His hands shook as he ran them through his mop of dark hair. He gripped the stair rail to steady himself. Then he remembered his bike.

Daniel looked down over the banister in the direction of the kitchen. His face bruised with anger, John stalked his son, one hand gripping a sturdy broom. There were specks of dried blood on its thick handle from the last time he had struck Daniel. Halfway up the stairs, he stopped. “How many times have I told you not to leave that bike in the driveway? How many, goddamn it?”

Daniel was fourteen, slight for his age. There on the landing, he stood several steps above. From this vantage point, his father appeared only slightly less threatening.

“I’ve told you and told you!” John roared. “Put your goddamn things away!”

Daniel took a step back. Cornered, he turned his back to his father and steeled himself. He covered his head with his forearms as John raised the boom with both hands. He struck his son hard, again and again. “Goddamn it!” he shouted with each blow. “Goddamn it! Goddamn it! Goddamn it!”

As the blows struck, Daniel’s mother, Aida-Claire, appeared below. She could have stopped her husband. She knew that Daniel hadn’t just left his bike carelessly in the drive. He’d put it there deliberately, to replace a tube in a flat tire. Daniel had talked to her about it that morning. There wasn’t room enough to work inside the garage. He’d only just finished and left the bike for an instant to run upstairs for his shoes.

But instead of intervening on Daniel’s behalf, Aida-Claire mirrored her husband’s anger. “Your Daddy has told you time and time again not to leave that bike in the driveway,” she echoed. Aida-Claire kept her eyes on John as she spoke. She was performing for him. “Someday, one of us is going to back over it.” She glanced, briefly, at Daniel, her voice trembling, “Then you won’t have a bike.” Daniel registered the fear in his mother’s eyes. He hated her for that. Bile rose in his throat. Aida-Claire was trying to remember her lines. “Maybe,” she added, her voice rising, as in a question, “you shouldn’t have a bike in the first place, if you can’t take care of it.” Like an actor on a stage, she looked to her husband for approval. Whenever his rage exploded, Aida-Claire stood on the sidelines like this, egging him on. Sometimes she’d even pile on additional transgressions from days or even weeks past that Daniel ought to be punished for. If John’s anger was directed at him, Daniel understood, then it wouldn’t be aimed at her. But it wasn’t enough simply to avoid her husband’s wrath herself. Aida-Claire had to become his ally, his accomplice.

His anger exhausted, John threw the broom to the floor below and turned toward the kitchen. For several minutes, Daniel remained still, to be certain it was over. Then, with difficulty, he unfolded. Slowly, he made his way back to his room, leaning against the wall as he went. He was careful not to slam the bedroom door, though he wanted nothing more than to tear it from its hinges. Curled up on his bed, his head throbbing, Daniel caught the sound of his bike as it clattered into the back of his father’s pickup. “Godfucking cunt!” John shouted, as the tailgate failed to catch. Then the truck scratched out of the drive.


The first time Daniel’s father struck him, John and Aida-Claire had been out one evening. Daniel was looking after his little brother, Will, who had had a nightmare. When their parents returned home, Will was in tears, groggy, incoherent, lost between waking and sleep. He cried out from this in-between state. They found Will on the floor, next to his bed. His father concluded that Daniel must have hurt his brother somehow. But that was ridiculous, inconceivable. Daniel would never hurt Will. But John had come for him. He’d pierced Daniel with a low, steely voice: “Go to my room and get the biggest belt you can find.”

By now, Daniel knew well how the next day would go. Ordinarily, on Sunday mornings, the whole family attended church together. But after a Saturday night beating, only Daniel and his father would go, just the two of them. Daniel hated this worse than the beatings, riding silently in the car, alone with his father, sitting next to him through the service, watching him pray, then the mute drive home.

Knowing his father would expect him at the ready, when morning came, Daniel dressed slowly, painfully. He hadn’t left his room since yesterday. Will had brought a sandwich, which Daniel hadn’t touched. His little brother sat on the edge of Daniel’s bed and laid a hand on his hip. He patted Daniel gently for a long time. Will had come to tell Daniel that he’d hidden the broom behind the living room drapes so their father couldn’t hit him anymore. Daniel could not respond. He was sore all over. Even his teeth hurt. He was deep inside himself now. There he would remain. He would not speak, unless prompted. He would not look at his parents tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the day after that. He would give nothing. He would be a blank.

As Pastor Lealand droned on, Daniel ruminated. He’d heard the expression, “This hurts me worse than it hurts you.” Daniel didn’t believe it, but he understood that his father suffered whenever he beat him. Daniel read it on his face, the deep trough between his eyes. That’s why they were at church together in the first place, just the two of them. His father felt guilty. That’s probably what he was praying about right now, Daniel thought. He took pleasure imagining his father’s anguish. How could he add to his pain, Daniel wondered.

He could tell. Daniel could tell a teacher at school how his father beat him. On Monday morning, Daniel could raise his shirt and show the angry welts across his back. By then they’d ripen, purple, black. He could show his teacher, Mrs. Winfield. “My father did this,” he would say. Mrs. Winfield would gasp as her eyes filled with tears.

Among his friends and colleagues, John McRae was respected, well-liked. Out in the world, he was charming, jovial, a successful businessman, a deacon in the church. His family was handsome and happy. But at home, Daniel’s father was silent, brooding. Night after night he sat in a worn leather wingback chair, working a crossword puzzle. From time to time, he cleared nothing from his throat. “Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh.” Daniel hated that sound. He cringed at the thought of it. No one would believe what John McRae did at home behind closed doors. If Daniel told, then maybe he would be removed from his home, he fantasized, taken into care. Even if a foster family was horrible, it would be worth it. It would be worth it to shame his father and mother. She’d be the talk of the next Junior League luncheon. His parents would hate that, all the talk. Imagine the looks they’d get at church next week when word got around.


After church, Daniel put on his headphones and set out to mow the grass. The front lawn was wide and deep and took hours to finish. Normally, he chafed at the task, but not today. Today, Daniel didn’t care, because mowing the lawn gave him an excuse to avoid his parents. This afternoon Daniel took more time than usual, moving slowly, wincing at each turn. His shoulders ached. But he pressed forward into the heat, knowing that afterwards he’d be too exhausted to think, his mind washed clean by the scorching sun and the ordered lines drawn with each pass of the mower.

Midway through, the McRae’s neighbor, Dave, pulled up, a small boat hitched to his truck. It was a Boston Whaler, just like the one they’d rented once on the Gulf. Uncle Dave, who wasn’t really an uncle, had taken Daniel and John fishing at Apalachicola Bay, not long before John began beating Daniel.

Inexperienced with saltwater fishing, the three of them had nevertheless enjoyed themselves immensely. Daniel had been impressed with his father. On the pier at Cedar Springs, a tiny fishing village on the Bay, John McRae seemed at home among the people they met there. He chatted up the old salts to learn where the fish were biting, what lures to use. On the water, John was easy, relaxed. He and Uncle Dave drank beer, while Daniel downed Cokes. They ate sardines from a tin and peed off the back of the boat. They joked and made up fish stories about “Hog-o-rilla,” the big one that got away, again and again. Lines were tangled. Hooks were caught in their hats and fingers. They bled prying them loose. A rod snapped. A pricy reel was lost in the water. They laughed through it all. Then, in the heat of the afternoon, the three of them leapt from the boat to swim in the Gulf. Together with Uncle Dave and his dad, Daniel had felt a part of something, the world of men that had seemed so strange and distant to him before.

John beamed with pride when Daniel caught the largest speckled trout of the day. “My boy,” he said with a wide smile. Afterwards, back at the pier, Uncle Dave showed Daniel how to gut and clean a fish. Daniel could tell that his father was surprised to see how deftly his son handled a knife.

At home, John set a wide, black cauldron of grease on a gas burner in the backyard for a fish fry. Neighbors gathered. The McRaes always put on a good party. Daniel watched with admiration as his father sliced potatoes neatly, with the skins on, then fried them up, at once crisp and tender. Then, without a recipe, John made up a batter of hushpuppies, with onions and jalapenos chopped fine. Before he dropped a fillet into the grease, John held up each one and praised its perfection. “My boy,” he said again, as he told the story of how Daniel had wrestled the big one into the boat, then, later, on the pier, how he had cleaned the entire catch all by himself, like a skilled fishmonger. Looking back on that day, Daniel considered it the happiest time he’d ever spent with his father.

“Nice work.” Uncle Dave said, as he surveyed the half-mown lawn. “What do you think?” He smiled back at the boat and made a sweeping motion with his outstretched hand, as though he were presenting a lavish prize on a game show. “It’s just like the one we rented at Apalachicola Bay.”

Before Daniel could speak, from behind him, John stepped out the front door and down from the porch. “Uncle Dave!” he drawled loudly, a wide smile, all hail-fellow-well-met. Daniel tensed as his father laid a hand across his shoulders, his thumb and forefinger resting lightly around his son’s neck.

“What do you say we take this baby out at the end of the month?” asked Dave. “Your Mama says your birthday’s coming up, Dan. Let’s make a day of it. Bring home that Hog-o-rilla this time.”

John squeezed Daniel’s neck slightly. Daniel stiffened. “Yes, sir,” he said to Uncle Dave.


At school on Monday morning, Daniel didn’t tell. Nor the next day either. As one day led to another, he found that he had folded so completely inward that now it was difficult to imagine turning out again. In his mind’s eye, he could see the scene in vivid detail: the raising of his shirt, the turn of his back to his teacher, Mrs. Winfield. Her eyes would widen. Tears would well up. Her doughy fingers would reach toward Daniel to touch the ugly bruises, tentatively, gently. Then Mrs. Winfield would pull him to her. She was a big, expansive woman. Daniel would wince in her fierce, soft embrace. He might cry too, as he gave himself over to her protection. But Daniel could not summons up the words to tell her what was happening at home.


The next time John struck his son, Daniel had been sitting at the kitchen table, shelling peas, while Aida-Claire stirred a pot on the stove. More than two weeks had passed since the last beating. Tensions had lifted, though Daniel, wary, continued to steer clear of his father. But he and his mother were mostly back to their old selves. Daniel enjoyed watching her cook. She was relaxed at the stove, organized, efficient. She could juggle lots of tasks at once with calm. Whenever they were alone together in the kitchen, theirs was a quick, easy, banter. They teased one another often. They laughed. Aida-Claire confided in Daniel, sometimes airing complaints about his father. Daniel enjoyed her confidence, which made him feel grown up.

On this evening, Daniel had said something joking to his mother. John had walked in at the tail end of Daniel’s remark. He hadn’t liked whatever he thought he heard. Then, in a flash, John was on him. That’s the way it was. One moment, calm. The next, pure rage. From zero to ninety in an instant. Anything might set him off. In his unpredictable volatility, John McRae was utterly predictable. He snatched Daniel up by his arm. His grip was fierce. Daniel was up and out of his seat before he knew it. The chair clattered to the floor. The peas overturned. “I won’t have you talk to your Mother in that tone of voice,” John shouted.

“What? What did I say?” Daniel screamed, his voice high, breaking. Already he could not remember his own words. He could not reconstruct the conversation he and his mother had been having. His heart pounded in his ears. He opened his mouth to defend himself. “I, I . . .” But nothing would come. Daniel looked to his mother. She would explain. It was just an innocent joke. She hadn’t been bothered by it at all. But Aida-Claire’s mouth was a straight line. Still holding a wooden spoon in the air, she would not meet Daniel’s pleading gaze.

John dragged Daniel out the kitchen door and into the backyard. He took a wide stance and held his fists up in front of him like a boxer. “Put up your dukes, boy!” he demanded.

His father’s pose, his words, struck Daniel, unexpectedly, as comical. Surprising not only John but also himself, Daniel erupted into bitter laughter. “You wanna hit me? Is that what you want?” Daniel laughed. He looked at his father squarely now. His dark eyes, the mirror of John McRae’s, narrowed. Laughing at his father, Daniel discovered in that moment, diminished him. Suddenly Daniel felt strong, commanding, and so he continued to provoke. “You wanna hit me, big man?” he taunted. “That make you feel powerful? Big man gonna beat up a fourteen-year-old kid?” Daniel’s own fists were balled tightly at his sides. His voice was low and steady now. He pressed, “Beat up a kid. That make your dick hard, big man?”

The next day, Daniel woke with a glistening black eye. He smiled wryly as he examined it in the bathroom mirror. He laughed again, the same bitter laugh he had laughed the night before, seconds before his father decked him.

Later, at school that day, Daniel told anyone who asked that he’d hit a pothole and gone head over handlebars on his bike. He hadn’t told anyone that he no longer had a bike.


With the black eye, something had shifted in Daniel. He was no longer afraid of his father. He could see his weakness clearly now. After he had laughed at him, Daniel had felt something rise up inside of himself and break loose.

Nevertheless, Daniel continued to brood about his father’s increasing violence, an endless loop of white-hot resentment, turning over and over again in his mind. Early on, his father had demanded, at the slightest provocation, “Go to my room and get the biggest belt you can find.” John knew which one he meant. So did Daniel, who learned quickly that the beating would only be worse if he chose the wrong belt. The broom had come later, then anything close at hand, once an extension cord, another time a brass candlestick. Only lately had John pared down to bare knuckles.

Daniel puzzled over the why of his father’s behavior. What had he done wrong, Daniel wondered. Aida-Claire had tried to explain once. She reminded Daniel that John had lost his own father when he was only eight years old. The grandfather Daniel had never known had died of a heart attack in his mid-thirties. “And so, you see,” his mother had said, “your Daddy doesn’t know how to be a father, because he never really had one himself. He doesn’t know what to do with a teenage boy. He’s afraid. Afraid you’ll challenge him. Afraid you’ll outstrip him, outshine him.”

To Daniel, this sounded more like an excuse than an explanation. His mother was merely propping up her husband, taking his side again. If he was a threat to his father, Daniel reasoned, then before long he would come for his brother, Will, too. Will was only eight. His father had not yet hurt Will. But he would. Daniel would kill his father first, before he’d let him do to Will what he’d done to him.


The night before their fishing trip, Daniel was lying in bed, when through his noise-cancelling headphones he heard a shriek from the bathroom that separated his bedroom from Will’s. His brother had been splashing in the tub, sloshing water onto the floor. It had soaked clear through to the downstairs, leaving a dark stain on the silk wallpaper in the dining room below.

His father had surprised Will, still naked in the tub, beating him violently with a hairbrush. “Goddamn it! Goddamn it! Goddamn it!” he roared.


The next morning, Daniel and his father and Uncle Dave were to leave in the dark hours well before dawn, driving south to Apalachicola Bay. They would be on the water by daybreak. Dave’s boat was too small for the open ocean, Aida-Claire had worried. It wasn’t safe. She wouldn’t think of letting Will go along. He was too small, she insisted. After last night, Daniel thought, Will wouldn’t have wanted to spend the day with their father anyway.

In the kitchen, Daniel tiptoed around his father, making sandwiches, packing the cooler, gathering up their gear. Already on edge, he startled at a knock on the kitchen door. Outside in the dark was Dave’s wife, Sara. Still in her nightgown and slippers, damp from the wet grass, she’d come over to say that Dave was too sick to go fishing. He’d eaten a bad oyster last night, she thought. But Daniel and John should go on without him. The boat was all loaded up and hitched. She handed Daniel the keys to Dave’s truck. “He won’t be going anywhere today,” she said, as she turned on the stoop. “Happy birthday, kiddo. You two have fun.”

Daniel smiled weakly. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. His stomach tightened, as he thought of the long, seething day alone with his father. Without Uncle Dave as a buffer, Daniel wished that he himself had eaten the bad oyster.


The drive south was silent, tense. Daniel put on his headphones and tried to sleep. But he was too restless, and so he only pretended to doze, his eyes closed, nothing in his ears but his own thoughts. He’d been wide-awake most of the night, trembling with rage about Will and the hairbrush. After his parents had shut themselves behind their bedroom door, Daniel had crept into his brother’s room, where he spooned him up in his arms, still teary, trembling, gasping from time to time, until Will finally drifted off into a fitful sleep.

As soon as John stepped out onto the pier at Cypress Springs, it was as if he had flipped a switch. He was at home on the water. It was early yet, still dim. A few old salts were tying chicken necks into tattered crab baskets and tossing them off the rickety pier. John talked tide charts and wind speeds with a toothless old man, so brown and weather-beaten he looked like a desiccated leather bag, washed ashore from some distant land.

Daniel stood beside his father, gazing out over the Gulf, John’s hand resting lightly on his neck. “My boy,” John said to the old man with pride, “Turning fifteen today. Near ‘bout grown, he drawled. He’s gone land a hog-o-rilla today!” For catching speckled trout, the small, wizened man recommended a white rubber grub with a weighted red head and a double salmon hook. He rooted through a battered tackle box and handed Daniel a small packet of lures. “Good luck catching that hog,” he said with a wink.


Daniel remained taut until he and his father had successfully launched the boat. This was just the sort of cooperative task that could easily go wrong and set his John off. Not until he settled into the bow of the boat did Daniel take his first deep breath of salt air. His father stood behind the wheel and sped, full throttle, toward the open Gulf. Daniel braced himself as the small craft bounced against the chop. One hard bump, he thought, might catapult Daniel right out of the boat. His mother had been right: The Boston Whaler was too small to be safe on the open water. With the wind in his ears, Daniel was both afraid and exhilarated in equal measure.

The first pink rays of sun peeking up from the east, John brought the Whaler to a stop and they dropped their lines. After some time, Daniel could feel a loosening inside himself. He could see from his father’s smooth, easy casting that he, too, was relaxing. They both enjoyed the quiet. On the water, the silence wasn’t strained, as it had been on the drive down, as it always was at home. Here, the silence was purposeful, attentive. The only sounds were the gentle lapping of the water against the hull, the occasional plop of their lures on the surface, a light breeze in their ears.

There was nothing to talk about until something powerful struck Daniel’s line. He popped up his rod sharply to stick the hook. John leapt up and grabbed a net. Sparked with adrenaline, for several minutes Daniel wrestled, expertly reeling in, then releasing the slack to tire the creature out. His arms began to throb, but Daniel remained cool and steady. His father praised and encouraged. “That’s it. Bring that hog in,” he coaxed. When a streak of white flashed alongside the boat. John leaned over and scooped up a shark, nearly eighteen inches long. “My boy,” he said with pride, as he held it up by the tail. Daniel didn’t want to care, but, in spite of himself, he felt the warm rush of his father’s approval.

This jolt of excitement shook both Daniel and John out of themselves. As morning turned to afternoon, they talked a little, then a little more. They talked about college and Daniel’s interest in veterinary school. His father knew a local veterinarian from his business-networking group, who might be willing to take Daniel on as an intern. Daniel was pleased when John offered to arrange for them to meet next week.

When the sun rose high above, Daniel and his father raised the Bimini top and retreated under the shade. At lunchtime, they devoured their sandwiches. John pointed out that they’d packed beer enough for two, expecting Uncle Dave to be along with them. He offered a can to Daniel. “Just one,” he said, looking over the top of his sunglasses, raising his eyebrows. “You’ll be drinking on the sly soon enough,” he smiled. “Happy birthday, kid.”

“Cheers,” Daniel said, looking at his shoes.

They clinked their cans together. Daniel had tried beer once before, but he didn’t much care for the taste. He drank anyway, to please his father.

Daniel considered the moment. This day met up with other joyful days, though Daniel had to search for them now, when he had been happy in the company of his father, like the first fishing trip with Uncle Dave. But too many other days, terrible days, had stacked up against him and made Daniel wary. Anything could shatter the calm. Daniel might say or do the wrong thing at any moment. And when he did, his father’s rage would flash. His voice, that howl, “Christ!” like a wounded animal, would make Daniel whither. Then the bottom would drop out. Thinking of it now made Daniel nervous. The sweat turned cold on his back. Suddenly, he felt trapped on the tiny boat, alone with his father.

When it became too hot to fish any longer, John tossed over a small anchor and he and Daniel leapt into the water. By now, they’d tried several spots with mixed results. As the day wore on, they’d traveled further and further out into the Gulf. Closer in, near the shore, they could see the bottom clearly, even stand in the open water in some places, the sea grass tickling their legs. But now they were far out, where the water was much deeper, colder. They could barely see land now.

Once in the water, Daniel thought of the small shark he’d caught that morning. Where there were small sharks, there were large ones. He climbed back into the boat and dosed under the Bimini top.  The beer had made him drowsy. When his head nodding snapped him awake, Daniel scanned the surface of the water, searching for his father. He found him in the distance, floating on his back. John had drifted far from the boat. If Daniel closed one eye, he could almost make him disappear.

Daniel’s mind turned again to his brother, Will, and to the hairbrush of the night before. He ground his teeth.

Just then, his father waved, swam a few strokes, then returned to floating on his back. Daniel closed one eye and made him disappear again. He thought about starting the motor and making his way toward his father. John was a strong, confident swimmer, but here the current was stronger. He had drifted too far to make it back to the boat on his own.

Daniel could make his way toward his father, he considered. Or he could turn the boat in the opposite direction, toward the shore. He held this thought for several minutes, like a delicate sharp object cupped in his hands. He unspooled the idea. There were no other boats nearby, none in his field of vision. There was no one to call for help. Their cell phones were back on shore in Dave’s truck. There would be no reception this far out in the open water. How long, Daniel wondered, could his father swim in the open Gulf? How long before he got a cramp, or just tired out? Daniel would need to take his time getting back to shore to call for help. Anything could happen. His father might have been drunk when he went in for a swim. Daniel could pour out several more beers on the way back to shore. Maybe his father had drunk all the beer, intended for Uncle Dave and himself. Or maybe his father had had a heart attack while swimming. Anything could happen. His father had been there, floating on the water, and then he wasn’t, Daniel would report. He had searched and searched, he would say. He hadn’t given up, even when a late afternoon thunderstorm rolled in. Only when night began to fall did Daniel return to shore.

Daniel looked up and considered the darkening sky. He scanned the surface of the water again. It was becoming choppy. Thunder rumbled low in the distance. When he spotted his father again, Daniel closed one eye and made him disappear once more.

Then Daniel pulled in the anchor and lowered the outboard motor. He turned the key in the ignition and the engine sputtered to life, belching a cloud of blue smoke and fumes. The sound of the motor caught in his father’s ear. He popped up and waved vigorously, this time motioning for Daniel to swing around and pick him up. Daniel stood and waved back. He smiled. He turned and squinted toward the shoreline, then back at his father. Daniel put one hand on the wheel, and with the other, he pressed the throttle lever.

Mark Hall is a professor of writing, rhetoric, and digital studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His creative nonfiction has appeared in The Timberline Review, Lunch Ticket, Passengers Journal, the Sand Hills Literary Magazine, Hippocampus, The Forth River, and others.

A Poem by James Croal Jackson

(Columbus, Ohio, 2018)

Shades of Colorado, bleak
as winter sky packing gear
in the trunk before your
flight, reverberations of
song trapped in guitar
from the blinking purple
show at the grime dive.
I went to exhaust their
pierogi supply, to sit
in crowded silence
watching the people around
me, wondering why I came
here, the question resonating
along the ceiling, silent
as raindrops falling
from the bare rafters.

James Croal Jackson (he/him) is a Filipino-American poet who works in film production. He has two chapbooks, Our Past Leaves (Kelsay Books, 2021) and The Frayed Edge of Memory (Writing Knights Press, 2017). He edits The Mantle Poetry from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (jamescroaljackson.com)

Welcome to the 2021 Dillydoun International Fiction Prize

WeeksDaysHoursMinutesSeconds
0
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6
:
0
0
:
0
9
:
1
6

Enter Now

Entries must observe an 8,000 Word Max / No Min

Open to all works of fiction and all genres whether categorized as a short story, flash fiction, or self-contained excerpts from longer works.

Please familiarize yourself with all the Rules & Guidelines prior to entry.

Contest Opens: June 2, 2021
Contest Closes: October 31, 2021 Midnight CST / GMT-5
Winners will be announced by November 30, 2021

Cash Prizes

1st Place – $2,000

2nd Place – $1,000

3rd Place – $500

Honorable Mentions – $50

All winners and honorable mentions will be published in the print anthology,
and will receive one (1) free contributor copy.

All other entries will be considered for publication in a TDR Issue or TDR Daily. All TDR publications are considered at the end of the year for our Best of the Best print anthology. The writer has the right to refuse this offer of publication.

Entry Fee: $25

You may enter the competition as many times as you wish prior to the closing date. All entries must be accompanied by the $25 entry fee.

Online Entry Only

RULES:

  1. You may enter as many times as you wish but each entry must be accompanied by the $25 entry fee. We accept entries via Submittable / Online Only.
  2. Entries must not have been previously published in print or online, been broadcast, or won a prize. Online publication includes your own personal blog/website/social media.
  3. Entries must observe an 8,000 word max. No minimum. All genres, themes, and fiction categories are welcome. Work must be original.
  4. This competition is open to all writers whether published or unpublished with the following exceptions: writers who work or have worked on The Dillydoun Review Editorial Staff (or are related to a past or present member of The Dillydoun Review Editorial Staff).
  5. There are no geographical restrictions on this competition. All international entries are encouraged but must be written in English.
  6. Judging will be conducted by the TDR Editors. Judging will be blind. Please do not include any personal, identifying information about the author in the actual manuscript.
  7. Please format your entry as follows:
    • Give your entry a title. This is how your entry will be identified throughout the judging process. If your work has been short-listed or long-listed by another contest, please make sure to give the entry a different title to ensure our ability to blindly judge.
    • Number the pages but do not add any other information that would identify the author.
    • 1.5 or double-spaced.
    • Use an easily readable font like Times New Roman (or similar) 12pt.
    • Use reasonable margins, preferably 1″ on all sides.
    • Accepted formats: doc, docx, pdf.
  8. Refunds will not be considered. No changes, alterations, or substitutions can be made after your entry is received.
  9. Simultaneous submissions are fine but please be aware, if you place the work elsewhere during the deliberation period, the entry fee is forfeited. If you would be so kind, please notify us as soon as possible should the work become unavailable so that we may remove it from consideration.
  10. Prizes are as follows: 1st Place: $2,000, 2nd Place: $1,000, 3rd Place: $500, Honorable Mentions: $50. All winners and honorable mentions will be included in a print anthology and will receive one (1) free contributor copy. The number of honorable mentions will be determined by the contest judges.
  11. The Dillydoun Review is not responsible for contributor copies once we post them. Please make sure that you provide the correct postal address.
  12. All winners and honorable mentions will be awarded cash prizes via Submittable.
  13. By entering the competition, writers agree that honorable mentions and winning entries can be published, using the author’s name, on our website and/or in our print anthology, in local or international media outlets, on social media, or may be broadcast with media outlets for up to one year after the closing date without further remuneration. After which time all rights revert to the author.
  14. Winning and honorable mentions included in our print anthology will not receive future royalties beyond the payment of the cash prizes stated above.
  15. Winners and honorable mentions will be notified by email. Results will be made public on our website and celebrated via social media and newsletter.
  16. All other entries will be considered for publication in a TDR Issue or TDR Daily. All work published by TDR is considered for a Best of the Best print anthology at the end of the year. The writer has the right to refuse this offer of publication.
  17. By entering, acceptance to all the Rules and Terms & Conditions are implied. Entries that fail to comply with the Rules and Terms & Conditions will be disqualified. No correspondence will be entertained in these matters and all judges’ decisions are final.
  18. Please feel free to contact us at thedillydounreview@gmail.com if you have questions or need clarification about the Rules and Terms & Conditions.

Enter Now

Welcome to the 2021 Dillydoun International Fiction Prize

WeeksDaysHoursMinutesSeconds
0
:
6
:
0
0
:
0
9
:
1
6

Enter Now

Entries must observe an 8,000 Word Max / No Min

Open to all works of fiction and all genres whether categorized as a short story, flash fiction, or self-contained excerpts from longer works.

Please familiarize yourself with all the Rules & Guidelines prior to entry.

Contest Opens: June 2, 2021
Contest Closes: October 31, 2021 Midnight CST / GMT-5
Winners will be announced by November 30, 2021

Cash Prizes

1st Place – $2,000

2nd Place – $1,000

3rd Place – $500

Honorable Mentions – $50

All winners and honorable mentions will be published in the print anthology,
and will receive one (1) free contributor copy.

All other entries will be considered for publication in a TDR Issue or TDR Daily. All TDR publications are considered at the end of the year for our Best of the Best print anthology. The writer has the right to refuse this offer of publication.

Entry Fee: $25

You may enter the competition as many times as you wish prior to the closing date. All entries must be accompanied by the $25 entry fee.

Online Entry Only

RULES:

  1. You may enter as many times as you wish but each entry must be accompanied by the $25 entry fee. We accept entries via Submittable / Online Only.
  2. Entries must not have been previously published in print or online, been broadcast, or won a prize. Online publication includes your own personal blog/website/social media.
  3. Entries must observe an 8,000 word max. No minimum. All genres, themes, and fiction categories are welcome. Work must be original.
  4. This competition is open to all writers whether published or unpublished with the following exceptions: writers who work or have worked on The Dillydoun Review Editorial Staff (or are related to a past or present member of The Dillydoun Review Editorial Staff).
  5. There are no geographical restrictions on this competition. All international entries are encouraged but must be written in English.
  6. Judging will be conducted by the TDR Editors. Judging will be blind. Please do not include any personal, identifying information about the author in the actual manuscript.
  7. Please format your entry as follows:
    • Give your entry a title. This is how your entry will be identified throughout the judging process. If your work has been short-listed or long-listed by another contest, please make sure to give the entry a different title to ensure our ability to blindly judge.
    • Number the pages but do not add any other information that would identify the author.
    • 1.5 or double-spaced.
    • Use an easily readable font like Times New Roman (or similar) 12pt.
    • Use reasonable margins, preferably 1″ on all sides.
    • Accepted formats: doc, docx, pdf.
  8. Refunds will not be considered. No changes, alterations, or substitutions can be made after your entry is received.
  9. Simultaneous submissions are fine but please be aware, if you place the work elsewhere during the deliberation period, the entry fee is forfeited. If you would be so kind, please notify us as soon as possible should the work become unavailable so that we may remove it from consideration.
  10. Prizes are as follows: 1st Place: $2,000, 2nd Place: $1,000, 3rd Place: $500, Honorable Mentions: $50. All winners and honorable mentions will be included in a print anthology and will receive one (1) free contributor copy. The number of honorable mentions will be determined by the contest judges.
  11. The Dillydoun Review is not responsible for contributor copies once we post them. Please make sure that you provide the correct postal address.
  12. All winners and honorable mentions will be awarded cash prizes via Submittable.
  13. By entering the competition, writers agree that honorable mentions and winning entries can be published, using the author’s name, on our website and/or in our print anthology, in local or international media outlets, on social media, or may be broadcast with media outlets for up to one year after the closing date without further remuneration. After which time all rights revert to the author.
  14. Winning and honorable mentions included in our print anthology will not receive future royalties beyond the payment of the cash prizes stated above.
  15. Winners and honorable mentions will be notified by email. Results will be made public on our website and celebrated via social media and newsletter.
  16. All other entries will be considered for publication in a TDR Issue or TDR Daily. All work published by TDR is considered for a Best of the Best print anthology at the end of the year. The writer has the right to refuse this offer of publication.
  17. By entering, acceptance to all the Rules and Terms & Conditions are implied. Entries that fail to comply with the Rules and Terms & Conditions will be disqualified. No correspondence will be entertained in these matters and all judges’ decisions are final.
  18. Please feel free to contact us at thedillydounreview@gmail.com if you have questions or need clarification about the Rules and Terms & Conditions.

Enter Now

A Poem by Anita Nahal

Blame It on My Wild Heart, 12×12″, mixed media on canvas by Lorette C. Luzajic
Toronto, Canada

Which might explain why like pieces of bread dunked in hot tea or milk I may fall off suddenly. Pliable and desirous to be held. You’ll try picking up remains metastasizing like kneaded dough gone awry, rolling like a gooey ball stuck. Stuck and stuck, refusing to budge. Not mine nor your peace wanting to smudge. A wholesome life I crave, and craving has a mind of its own, walking behind or eons ahead. It’s not that my heart is not beating love, not that my heart is not oozing desire, not that my heart doesn’t wanna give or receive. If not, why would I be waving it as a flag then? Or place it bejeweled and blushing outside my body, then? I even carry a magician’s hat tossing and turning, conjuring spells out the Book of Shadows.

At twenty-nine I gazed at distant stars gently urging and rubbing shoulders with them, wistfully beseeching voyages. Now stars rubbing shoulders with each other gaze at me, nodding sympathetically at the frayed knots of my virgin romances gone astray. Baggage becomes dense and worn out, yet wheels are not ready to squeak and repose. I let the stilettoes of yesteryears go. Switching to block heels instead. Shorter I appear and the shorter and shorter I become, wider and wider the distances between you and me. On many tongues sit #&’s and the #&’s increase in quantity and volume as they attempt replacing, #buts. A mammoth robotic lottery wheel circles my face becoming one with partitions in my brain. Not many can keep rolling without any moolah coming their way.

*Book of Shadows: A book containing religious text and instructions for magical rituals found within the Neopagan religion of Wicca

* Moolah: slang word for money. Being employed in the poem to denote anything of value.

Anita Nahal is an Indian-American-diasporic poet, flash fictionist, children’s writer and columnist. Anita Nahal has three books of poetry, one book of flash fictions, four for children and three edited anthologies to her credit. Her third book of poetry, What’s wrong with us Kali women? was released by Kelsay Books in August 2021. Two of her books are prescribed in a course on multiculturalism and immigration at the University of the Utrecht, The Netherlands. She teaches at the University of the District of Columbia, Washington DC. More on her at: https://anitanahal.wixsite.com/anitanahal

A Poem by Anna Papadopoulos

She’s twelve —
a faux-leather fringed bag
holds her confidence in place.
The tips of her ballet shoes
peep out like a Labrador’s face
framed by the partially rolled-down
car window.
Her pigtails swish back and forth
and greet the day.

He’s older —
with limbs that have outgrown
their roots
like wild weeds.
His red cap flaps
without saying much.
His Pumas hit the pavement with a groove as he draws closer.

It’s unclear, even years later,
why he pushed her into that well-manicured,
prickly, piercing bush;
tore the bag from her torso
until all that was left
were the bag’s fringes —
hanging on the shrub-like ornaments
and waving the summer goodbye.

Anna Papadopoulos has been a cashier, columnist, wedding photographer, chandelier, marketing professor, and corporate executive. She adores New York City’s gritty beaches and littered streets, where treasures exist everywhere. She and her husband share their home in Staten Island, NY with their twin sons, daughter, a poodle, a Siberian cat, and her mother’s neglected Lenox collection. Her poetry has been featured in The Monterey Poetry Review, Newtown Literary, The Dillydoun Review, The Closed Eye Open, Second Chance Lit, Conestoga Zen, and the Poetry and Covid Project, an initiative funded by the UK Arts and Humanities.

A Poem by Joshua Bridgwater Hamilton

When winter solstice turns
the river slows.
It will slow again.

From the alcove
I watched you:
a disaster of peppermint.

Saints with fractured smiles
trod carpets of clover.

You pressed a silver ring in your palm
I never gave you.

Outside, a pale ferry glides
on ice
across the Ohio

To a shore dotted with lanterns
our grandparents bring
from farms.

I wake you to tell you
something has happened.
You come to

pissed as hell.

A blurred
train sweating diesel
tears me
away:

oak tree rotting
in my hands.

Golden cloud, your hair
fades in the window.

I never make it to shore.

Joshua Bridgwater Hamilton is a Louisville, KY native who migrated to Corpus Christi with his family. Between Kentucky and Texas, he has traveled and lived in several places, including Spain, Appalachia, Panamá, Peru, the Philippines, and the Colorado River. He has two chapbooks: Rain Minnows (Gnashing Teeth Publishing), and Slow Wind (Finishing Line Press), and his poetry appears in such journals as Windward Review, Driftwood, Voices de la Luna, Tiny Seeds Journal, and Sybil Journal

A Prose Poem by Mary Lynn Reed

The bluffs drop fast to crumbling sand, a dangerous cliff to startle, lose your footing. Late afternoon sun glimmers across the ancient scrub plain where the Torrey Pines grow slow and steady, their roots burrowed, deep and twisted. Sometimes you have to stop and close your mind to everything and everyone. Stop trying so hard to dazzle, to win. Why do you drive so fast? Why is there no time to waste? The trail is flat, roped off, switches back and forth slowly. Until you reach the sign with the red line through the wheelchair and you know things are about to get worse. The ropes are gone, the path narrows, rocks appear. The thing you never think about, the thing that’s been lost for so long you wouldn’t know how to retrieve it if you tried, is: What the hell do you want? Where are you going and what are you looking for? A boardwalk covers a fragile low pass. Singular chirp from the brush gives pause. The absence of birds, now noticed. To walk alone is not such a horrible thing. The pace is your own and the sky is still blue. No other comfort to worry. No other’s need to serve. Hold your head up. Look around the bend. A jogger stops short and holds his hand out. “Shh—,” he says, pointing down. Six feet long with soft diamond markings slithering slowly across the sandy path. Breathless while your senses search for the rattle, quick impulse to coil. But its movement stays smooth, silent. Harmless, you think, peering under the brush, watching it go. At the summit the hill breaks wide open and the light hits the cactus just right and you can hear the waves crashing onto the beach, far below the cliff’s edge. Stand there a minute, take it in. Be still and whisper: here we are.

Mary Lynn Reed is a writer, mathematician, and editor. Her work has appeared in Mississippi Review, Colorado Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and many other places. She lives in western New York with her wife, and together they co-edit the online literary journal MoonPark Review

A Short Story by Bill Garwin

One more time, am I dining in the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory?

I’m sorry, what?

The darkest place on earth.

A little obtuse, but okay. They call this dining in the dark.

Because?

Because it’s very dark.

No shit. But why are we dining in the dark? Our first date and you bring me here. Is this your online dating debut? Are you embarrassed?

Of course not. You’re beautiful. After two weeks of serve and volley, I feel like I know you. I wanted something special, something you’ll remember. They say the other senses are heightened when you’re deprived of one. The food will smell better, taste better, the conversation will be sharper, more focused, absent visual distractions.

Glad I spent so much time getting ready. I should have cut a slit in a little black trash bag. Would have been more in keeping with the ambiance. Can you help me find my water?

Right side at two o’clock.

You’re saying that only because water is always right side at two o’clock. I absolutely assure you, if I spill, it will not be in my direction.

You won’t spill.

Oops!
Is that your chair I heard sliding away?

You didn’t spill, did you?

Nope.

Just having fun?

Yep.

At least they let us order in the foyer. Do you remember what we ordered?

Honestly, no. I couldn’t keep from staring at you. You’re so much prettier than your picture. Why?

Life lesson. Set a low bar and exceed it. Instant success without effort.

You’ve done a lot of this social app dating?

Some. How about you?

Lately, yeah.

Madam and monsieur, my name is Aramis, and I will be serving you tonight.

Aramis, as in the cologne?

No madam. Aramis as in the Three Musketeers. My mother was a Dumas fan. But enough of me. I am prepared to serve your appetizers. Please place your hands in your laps to avoid any culinary catastrophe.

How can he see our hands?

Night vision goggles.

Why can’t I have night vision goggles?

Kind of defeats the purpose.

For the madam, the fried squash blossom stuffed with a savory ricotta filling resting upon a cushion of our house-made marina featuring local heirloom tomatoes,

And for the clearly more adventurous monsieur, the pan-fried pufferfish tails with a delightful sweet and sour apricot accouterment.

Wait, I didn’t order pufferfish tails.

I may have made a menu modification for you when you went to the restroom. You surprised me with this dark dining. Thought I’d spice things up for you.

Aren’t pufferfish poisonous bottom feeders?

Monsieur, our chef is highly skilled and can only remember a single instance of adverse reactions to this most delicious morsel.

Aramis, you’ve tasted them?

No. But more importantly, I’ve served them numerous times.

More importantly, to whom?

That would be who. But I assure you, prepared by a knowledgeable chef, the toxins in these delicate tidbits cause nothing more than a pleasurable tingling or numbness in the lips and mouth and a slight high.

And the chef is knowledgeable?

So he has informed me.

I’d like to change my appetizer.

Aramis, you still there? Where is he?

I think he’s gone. Left in a puff of smoke. Man up. If I hear a loud thump on the table, I’ll call for help. Besides, I’ve got more important problems. I’m certain the squash blossoms are wonderful, but how do I find my mouth.

It’s below your nose and above your chin.

Eat up. I’ll just wait for the thump.

Too late, I already took a bite.

I’d put you on the clock, but I can’t see my watch.
You feel okay?
Did you hear me? Are you all right?                                                                                           That was your fist hitting the table. Say something.

May I offer you a taste?

Very funny. Not a chance.

Can I ask you a question?

Why do people do that? Ask if they can ask a question. You’ve already asked a question. You should say, may I ask you two questions? Sure, you can ask a question. After you answer mine. What do you think of Hawaiian pizza?

Suddenly I wish I could see your face. Are you kidding? No answer, so I’ll assume you’re not kidding. You’re serious.
Okay, a question demanding a multi-layered response. Medically, adding a food group to an otherwise divine entre can only be a healthy choice. Theologically, there are those who say God didn’t intend pineapple on pizza. Structurally, the wet of the fruit may damage the integrity of the crust. Politically, liberals are more likely to accept, while conservatives will look back for guidance to Queen Marguerite of Italy. And of course, libertarians believe it’s the domain of the individual to decide. Philosophically, is it still pizza, although possibly quite delicious, does it become something else? Sociologically, can Americans justify making radical changes to a dish created by Italians or is it an inappropriate appropriation?
How’d I do? And as important, why’d you ask? Maybe this restaurant wasn’t such a good idea. I wish I could see your face. A little help; I’m working hard here. You still there? Why so quiet?

You are different.

Different good. Right?

Yes, intelligent, funny. A good man. You care about this. It’s not just dinner.

Finally, this stupid restaurant is serving a purpose. You can’t see me blushing.

You wanted to ask two questions. You’ve asked one. What’s the other?

Madam and monsieur, we will be removing your appetizers and serving your entrees. You have both selected the salt-encrusted branzino. The chef has chosen a little-known method which allows the crust to seal in moisture. The fish will steam in its own juices, while the crispy skin prevents the salt from penetrating. The crust is a mixture of kosher salt and egg whites reminiscent of the appearance and texture of wet beach sand. Please enjoy.

The madam has a question. This branzino, does it have a face?

Of course, madam.

Can you guide me as to where I might find the face?

Above the shoulders.

Great question, but he’s gone again. Am I right?

I believe you are. I’m going to use my finger to figure this out. I’m not eating fish eyes. Give me a second, then you can ask your question.

Right with you.
Found it!

Ditto. Executing a lobotomy. You ready for my question?

The wind-up has been massive. The question better be commensurate.

How do you feel about short-term relationships?

Short-term relationships? Isn’t that an oxymoron? I’m not even sure what it means.

Let me help. Picture your normal relationship, but with an abrupt ending.

You do remember this is a first date? You’re proposing some relationship with a baked-in exit strategy? Is it because I’m only semi-worthy?

No. No. It’s not you, it’s me.

Finally, we agree.

I have an expiration date.

What are you, a bottle of milk?

I’ve got cancer. A year, maybe eighteen months. I don’t want to be alone, but I don’t want to lie. I don’t want to make impossible promises.

Suddenly dining in the dark makes nothing but sense. You’re hiding in the anonymity of the shadows.

It’s a balancing. I’d love to see your reaction, but I’m not sure I could ask the question in the reality of full light.

You’ve done this before and I’m guessing with zero success. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. Look, I like you, although it’s more accurate to say I’ve enjoyed our 45 minutes together, but this is insane. What if I just commit to give you an answer sometime in the near future?

I can work with that. I just don’t want to hide anything.

Can you get our waiter’s attention? I need to use the ladies’ room. I’m feeling the stress of your second question in my bladder.
Did you just whistle?

Sorry, trying to be helpful.

Monsieur, you beckoned?

The lady wishes an escort to the restroom.

Madam, please place your hand on my shoulder.

If I can find it.

Monsieur, I am sorry for the delay, but the madam seems to have vacated the premises.

Aramis, she’s not coming back, is she?

No sir, I do not believe so.

Did you offer her the money?

Yes sir. As always.

Her response?

Quite typical. She hit me.

Slapped you?

No. Hit me. Fist to face.

I knew I liked her.

She did leave you this note. Take my flashlight. Please place the note under the table as you read it.

The Dance – Garth Brooks

And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance

Thank you, Aramis. Did you read the note?

I must admit, I did.

The lady should have paid more attention to the last two lines of the song.

I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance

Will you be dining with us again tomorrow night?

It seems I will.

Bill Garwin has several degrees and a third-dan karate black belt. He believes stories indelibly enrich our lives and relishes in their telling. His novel, City of Schemes, received first place, Utah League of Writers 2020 Quill Awards for its opening chapter.

Nicole Zelniker
COVERING A YEAR LATER: HOW LOCAL COMMUNITIES CONTINUE TO ADVOCATE FOR BLACK LIVES AFTER GEORGE FLOYD’S MURDER
TDR Regular Contributor / August 23, 2021

George Floyd left a lasting impact on Avon Park, Florida, where he went to South Florida Community College for two years. His coaches all loved him, and his classmates admired him.

“He was a very fun, outgoing person,” said former classmate Gerald Snell to Fox13. “I really remember him when he would come to church with Coach Walker. Walker would bring the team in from time to time to attend services at the Avon Park Church of Christ.”

According to Scott Dressel, the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer, the local police department made several changes in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. First, they modified their use of force policy. Deputies are now required to intervene if they see another deputy using excessive force.

They also increased the number of hours needed in de-escalation training, which includes training in active listening and how emotions dictate behavior.

“We have a community-oriented policing unit that spends a lot of time interacting with minority communities to try to increase non-serious encounters with law enforcement,” Dressel added. “They spend a lot of time on foot and bike patrol in what we call our Partner Communities, meeting people and having discussions.”

The community also came together in mourning. When Floyd’s former coach George Walker and his wife returned to Avon Park, which is 31.29% Black, they reminisced about Floyd’s time there.

When Floyd’s family visited in 2020, representatives from South Florida Community College, now South Florida State College, met with his son and memorialized Floyd with a basketball jersey. Floyd played the sport at SFSC.

Advocacy in Avon Park

More recently, Floyd’s son Javionne has chosen to carry on his father’s legacy in a new way.

“We don’t have problems with the police here, but we do have problems with poverty,” said Javionne. “So we’re trying to get a scholarship set up with South Florida. We’re trying to make it so we can grab kids and show them things they aren’t being taught.”

These things include building credit, buying cars, starting businesses, and anything else kids may not learn in schools. Javionne’s program would cater to middle and high schoolers in the area.

“I don’t try to focus on the negative side,” Javionne said. “If you can try to catch something before it happens, we can make things better.”

Recently, Javionne took a group of kids to pick lychee fruit off his tree and sell them to the public. The kids all got to keep the money they made. “I’m trying to show them how to make money without risking their life,” he said.

As Javionne put it, he isn’t reinventing the wheel. He has modeled his program after the RISK Club, an organization in Lakeland, Florida. Jeffery Williams, a teacher, and his team teach their kids about financial management, navigating college, and applying for jobs.

“I’m basically doing exactly what he does,” Javionne said of Williams. “He’s taking kids who have murder charges and reinventing them. When you’re a juvenile, and you get convicted or accused of something, they can still make it out if nobody gives up on them.”

Studies show that children who grow up in poverty are more likely to both commit crimes and be the victims of crime in the future, but that providing these children alternative paths can change their lives. This is what Javionne wants to do.

Remembering George Floyd

Before George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Javionne says he was in a really good place. After, Javionne struggled to get back to that.

He finally went to Minneapolis on the anniversary of his father’s death in May, which he said was the first time he was really able to enjoy remembering his father. This was also when he realized that contributing to his community would be the best way to lift himself back up.

“I just want to help people,” he said. “That was what my dad was about, helping people. No amount of money or publicity would make me happy if I wasn’t helping people in my community.”

About his father, Javionne added, “That’s part of why his death was such a tragedy. They killed a man who didn’t want to hurt anybody, who would give you the shirt off his back. He was really well known on his own.

“He had a lot of impact in the third ward, in Avon Park and, as you can see, in Minneapolis. In the places we have family, they call him Big Floyd. He’s a big guy, but he’s a gentle giant. You’re gonna notice him and love him, and he’s gonna show you love. That’s what I’m all about.”

For George Floyd, family was everything. Javionne says he used to have a saying, ‘One roof, one family.’ This meant that no matter what happened and no matter how many people were literally in one house, he loved and supported them all.

The rest of his family lives by this mantra. The George Floyd Memorial Foundation is working out in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, instilling programs like Javionne’s. “We don’t want people to think we forgot about the world after the world gave to us,” he said.


Read Nicole’s Books:

A Poem by Benjamin Rose

In the autumnal mode

The cowards of state have panicked and fled;
The young men lay down their rifles for lost,
For we have betrayed the quick and the dead,
And roots dug in vain are slain by the frost.
Now in the glare of the harsh summer sun
The bullet-bit banner wavers and fades
Corrupt and deserted, scorched in despair;
The skies are vacant and void as the grave.
Dreams dissipate, and the hopes of the young
Fade into nothing. Dissociate, numb,
Frenzied with panic, they take to the air.

The streets of Kabul are filled with grenades
Borne upon shoulders, recalling the scars
Carved through the city when rockets arrayed
The city in terror; when Hekmatyar
Strove with Massoud to portion the spoils
The Mujahideen had won from the Bear
By strength, Stinger, and obstinate valor
Ripped from the Soviet’s maw. But the snare
Of greed and ambition marred the toil,
Till blood flowed current, bitter as oil,
And chaos trailed the contest of power.

The copter’s propellers sever the sky.
What hubris drove us to make such an end?
Turn and bear witness as their nation dies.
The world shall know we abandoned our friends,
Abandoned the young to torment and death,
Abandoned women to murder and rape,
Abandoned the roll–call last and the toll.
Now, for the many there is no escape.
Fanatics will rob the land of its breath,
And garb in oppression those who are left
To bear the long grief arms could not annul.

Benjamin Rose is a poet based in Washington, D.C.

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.