TABLE OF CONTENTS
ELIZABETH R. CURRY POETRY CONTEST WINNERS
To the Reader Who Buys Every Fairy Tale
Along the Lake Highway
Bubbe’s Irish Wake
Cut and Paste, or Neither
S. Frederic Liss
The Sorrows of Young Chainsaw Accident
Alexander Todd and the Inexplicable Joys of Never Worrying About Anything Anymore Forever and Ever and Ever
Emily K. Jones
I Found You In Your Eyes
James M. Hilgartner
The Forbidden Fruit
Maxwell Morgan Ingram
Lise Marisol Quintana
Facing the Fire
Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb
I Worked in a Prison for Five Months
Amber Graves of Rain
Brad G. Garber
the dummy visits the hospital
Yet Another Piece of News on a Shitstorm Day Full of People Being Disappointing
Scopophobia: at me
Found Poem II
Buy me a house on the mainline
Trying to Decide If I Should Write a Poem About Suicide or Nature
Flotsam & Jetsam
What the Rats Saw
Katharyn Howd Machan
Charles W. Brice
Send Something Back
Anne Marie Macari
gestures toward a love poem
Ghosts of the North Country
Richard King Perkins II
Your Wife’s Confessions
Charles Farrell Thielman
Breaking Out of the Frame
Vincent J. Tomeo
Hannah L. Nelson
Morning: A Myth
The Ice Man
One Presumption, Two Presumption
Reaching Baja from Points North
Cycles of Rage and Confusion
Richard E. Smith
The End: A Meditation
The Nameless Girl
Susan E. Kelley
Flat-Chested Chickens and Picasso Potatoes: Learning to Live With Food That’s a Little…Different
Thanksgiving on the Bosphorus Hamams and Sacrificial Altars
Angela Smith Kirkman
TEXT & IMAGE
Eatin’ Out with Eddie
ELIZABETH R. CURRY POETRY CONTEST WINNERS
—[SHood] used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions
“Women should know better than to drink (up/with) strangers”
you are hell
like childhood sidewalk
picnics in winter like early
my teeth, you fill
with new stick
y warmth. Hello,
Hard Touch are you the same
as hands felt like
velvet under quilts under parents’
kitchens under our new adult-smell: sweat
and drinking, I knew
you loved me
Sweet, the first time
You made you spit
on me, wanted me to clean it up
But I curled up,
(and summer, or winter)
the bedroom cut Like white teeth
The two touches I remember.
The world loved me twice. Once to hold, once to punch
beneath the wings
To the Reader Who Buys Every Fairy Tale
Nobody believes the stepmother—
the one with two daughters
who overslept the day God
was handing out looks.
Their mother had hoped
an advantageous marriage
would fatten the coffers
to pay for much needed
rhinoplasty and essential
the bank account
was another fairy tale.
Nobody doubts Cinderella.
No one believes that lips
so sublime would spit
out so many lies—
all dressed up like fairy tales.
Look at her sitting
in her own little corner,
conjuring up stories—
scrubbing floors, sweeping ashes.
It’s so easy to fall under
the spell of clear skin
and bright smile, no matter
how outlandish the tale.
It all seems so plausible
when the messenger
has a face like hers.
Along the Lake Highway
All summer snowmobiles slumber under tarps;
garages choke on motorcycle parts,
old couches and loneliness so deep
it comes around to marry ecstasy.
In winter boys wait on the bridge
to throw snowballs so hard
one driver skids to a stop
and dangles the one he can catch
by the ankles over the dark creek.
In spring slow trucks spray for mosquitoes.
Broken glass gathers in gullies where
snails congregate in Pepsi bottles.
Trees crowd curves in roads.
Safe enough to ride your banana-seat bike
to the drugstore where the girl at the counter
doesn’t understand when men ask for “prophylactics.”
Boys catch housecats and skin their tails alive;
housewives overdose the day after Halloween.
Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb
Facing the Fire
What a wicked, wild night—the useless,
dry clouds backlit by spreading flames,
forest screaming with fire, moon all bloody.
Desperate for information, I rely on Google,
on updated search results to find how much
time we have before we’re forced to flee—
resenting the sensationalistic prompts
to watch live streaming images of residents
evacuating homes, faces shadowed in denial,
in confusion. My ninety-year-old neighbor
knows how to handle this situation.
Having been a farmer most of his life,
he’s seen a lot of loss, grieved over a wife
and blackened fields. He knows what it’s like
to hose down the roof of a threatened house.
He hates living in this subdivision; outside,
his frail, hunched body firmly facing the fire,
he yells, “Come get me, you smoky bitch!”
I Worked in a Prison for Five Months
On the fifth month, I got attacked by an inmate who had a face
like a sandal. He kicked me so many times that the guard said he lost
count, but he looked like he couldn’t count very high. They turn
prisoners into numbers. They can add years to their sentences.
They take away all their valuables. They give them shelter,
a Charles Manson shelter, as if there’s no perfume anywhere.
I had to go to the E.R. where the nurse told me I had nothing
to worry about, that I would heal even if the prison refused
to cover any of my bills, saying that I was part-time, saying
that I could be subtracted myself, another minus in a world
filled with sixes and sevens, packed with eights, stuffed
with nines and stabbings and tens and heat like hell.
Found Poem II
—-The Feel of the Road (1963)
1. Necessary Precautions
First, make sure the car can’t start rolling
by itself. It might, you know,
if parked on the slight slope
of a driveway or graded street.
Having secured your steed
against running away,
it’s time to “mount.”
Now you’re in the driver’s seat.
Great feeling, isn’t it? But
if you sit in the car alone
for this exploratory lesson,
better leave the ignition key at home.
The powerful murmur
and pulsation of the engine
would be too exciting right now.
2. Let’s Be Realistic
Without you, the machine is
blundering, mindless, aimless,
and never knows when to stop.
With you, it’s marvelously strong
and swiftly responsive.
And yet to look at things as a driver
means acquiring a new set of habits.
The girl driver in Chapter 1,
who hit the pole during her road test,
might have been so happy to see her boyfriend
that she unconsciously aimed the car
straight for him! Her “psychological set”
was fine for romance,
but a bit impractical for driving.
3. The Feel of the Road
An experienced driver will slip into his seat
and get the car under way
so swiftly that, watching him, you imagine
there’s nothing to it. The beginner
owes it to himself to master the routine
before he starts grabbing knobs and handles.
He’s in somewhat the same position
as the awkward boy who took a shy girl
on their first date. He didn’t know
whether to drape his arm around her shoulders or
around her waist.
He never did get to kiss her.
Anne Marie Macari
Send Something Back
If his absent parts cry
quietly from some place
we cannot hear, if he seems
to be steering through a new
language, if he doesn’t go
into the kitchen carrying
bags of lobsters he will cook
and crack with his strong
hands, and if he has no plans
and doesn’t rise early to go out
for pastries or drive his
cars and if I bend to him now
as I would to my own child
and stroke his hair before I leave. Yes,
for years we could not say I love you
and when I started saying it
he would freeze and almost shake,
looking stricken he’d try to reply,
to lift the heavy words out
of himself. Now when I say them
he pauses—practice has made
him stronger but still he must
carefully carry three words
out of the ocean of words.
Slowly they drift toward me:
me you more
Your Wife’s Confessions
To the lover she is hoping to land include
her lust for the woman’s hips, the scent of her Chanel,
the desire to twist and turn her chestnut hair.
Her heart is a dollhouse, floors filled with furnishings.
You think about lying down, all that plastic.
The letter is a forward in your inbox. For three days
you can’t get past the line that starts,
Something I want to tell you…
So you text your own love interest.
You say I love, I love like a partial list of artifacts.
Who knows how it might play out: she unravels
into a pile of thread, tears open your vocabulary
from an archive of snow?
At the fairgrounds, the hopeful lover-to-be turns
your wife down while standing in line at the Ferris wheel.
Later, around a campfire, your wife cries over and over.
Everyone is covered in ash. She wails that you can’t
have your lover unless you tell me everything.
You can’t unknow words like “corset,” “dildo”, “fuck.”
As your wife sleeps, you text them in rhythm to her breath.
Summer heaves into autumn,
with sluggish heat,
unable to relinquish
its humid grasp on us all—
but winter is greedier, I think,
Gray days and cruel nights,
with a frost like iced teeth
settling in deep places—
the corners of windows,
shadows of floors, and
even, under the eyes.
Seasons seem separate,
but if you see the curvature,
they are actually one.
Sometimes, the latest August
chills like the fiercest January—
shiver in heat, and languish in cold.
Alexander Todd and the Inexplicable Joys of Never Worrying About Anything Anymore Forever and Ever and Ever
If Alexander Todd could tell this story, he would tell it like this. Of course, Alexander Todd can’t tell this particular story because of the condition Alexander Todd has (which is quite serious) and also because of what happens in the end. But if Alexander Todd could tell the story, it would go something like, but not exactly like, this:
Soon Alexander Todd will be on TV. Not physically on TV but on a program inside of the TV. He and his older sister, Pamela Todd, will be standing alongside their parents, Allison Todd and David Todd, and they all will be watching themselves on the television. Later, some of the family will come over to watch them on the TV as well. Aunt Mary and Uncle Tommy Harper and their kids will come and probably Uncle Robert and Aunt Chrissy Todd and their kids too. They will come later. A lot later. Or maybe, it will not be that much later at all.
Alexander Todd doesn’t care much for the cousins. So who cares if they come over or if they see him on the TV? Or in the TV. It is unlikely any of his friends will see him and that’s what matters most. His friends don’t watch the TV news. And why else would you want to be on a TV or in the TV if your friends won’t be able to see you on the TV. Or in the TV. Allison Todd and David Todd want to watch the TV news but Alexander Todd wants to watch SpongeBob SquarePants. All Alexander Todd wants to do is watch SpongeBob. People want different things. Sometimes lots of different things.
Like Allison Todd, for example. Allison Todd wants tonight to be the start of a new and better life.
“Tonight, it’s family only,” Allison Todd says to Alexander Todd. Alexander Todd makes a bit of a fuss about that. After all, this was TV and he wanted his friends to see him on it. Also, after all, how many 15-year olds watch TV news if they are not invited over? Also, also, after, after all, other than Brody Porter how many friends does Alexander Todd even have? Also, also, also, what would be so awful if Brody Porter came over and saw him on TV? Or if he came over to watch SpongeBob?
Allison Todd says, “If you have someone over then Pamela will need to have someone over too and she won’t be able to choose just one friend. It ‘s best to keep things small.”
Alexander Todd screams his disagreement as loud as he can.
“Why must you always be so much work?” Allison Todd shouts back. “Just once can you do something I ask without causing me to explain a hundred times?”
She says that earlier — much, much earlier in the day, maybe. Or maybe, it was a few minutes ago. It was definitely more than a few minutes ago. Maybe. Maybe, it was much, much earlier.
Alexander Todd has been told he is annoying. That’s why he tries to keep things straight in his head. He tries to keep Allison Todd, Alexander Todd, David Todd and Pamela Todd and what they all want and when they want it. It’s even annoying in his head. It is an awful lot of work to keep things straight.
Later, Allison Todd says: “Alex, time to get cleaned up.” But all Alexander Todd really hears is his name. He tunes the rest out. Right now, he is watching cartoons on the TV and SpongeBob SquarePants is such a good show. There are the colors, SpongeBob’s laugh and Patrick. Patrick is the absolute best. He is also purple. Or pink. Or brown. Pinkish, purple, brown. Alexander Todd is munching on cheese doodles. His fingers are a powdery orange. Munch. Munch. Cheese doodles are crunchy and there is a blast of cheese with each bite. It may be the best food on the entire planet.
“Dave, can you take Alex upstairs and get him cleaned up.”
Alexander Todd hears his father’s name and not much else. Allison Todd’s words are competing with Squidward and the goings on at Bikini Bottom.
David Todd appears in front of the TV. Not on the TV but in front of the TV. Later, David Todd and all of them will be on the TV. Not on – like on top of the TV. Not like standing on top of it. But in it. He will be in the TV. On a TV show inside the TV. Not a real show that his friend Brody Porter would watch. But a news show. Maybe it will be two hours later. Maybe, it will be sooner than that. It is hard keeping things straight.
“Hey Alex, can we go upstairs?” David Todd asks Alexander Todd, as he
blocks his son’s view of the TV. Alexander Todd moves his head right to see around David Todd but David Todd mirrors him. Alexander Todd tries moving his head left. Again David Todd follows him. Alexander Todd laughs.
“Upstairs,” Alexander Todd repeats.
In the upstairs bathroom, David Todd runs the water in the sink and then disappears into the bedroom.
“Wash your hands, ok Alex?”
Alexander Todd sticks his hands into the lukewarm water and begins rubbing them together like he is told. Alexander Todd has come a long way in following directions. The powdery orange disappears from his hands. He looks in the mirror. Alexander Todd sees orange powder on both corners of his mouth. Colors are easy. He rubs the orange away. Alexander Todd looks harder into the glass. Alexander Todd’s eyes are blue. Blue and green actually. Bluish green or maybe greenish blue, actually, actually. And there are little red squiggly lines in the whites of the eyes, as if he has been rubbing them. So that makes Alexander Todd’s eyes red and white and blue. American eyes. Red and white and bluish green or greenish blue. Or blue. There is no green in America. Keeping things straight is hard.
Alexander Todd’s face is pink with brown freckles. His hair is also brown and straight. Allison Todd says he needs it cut. But Alexander Todd doesn’t cut it. He knows other people do that. Alexander Todd takes a hard bristled hairbrush and pushes half of one side of his hair to the right, half the other side to the left. The bristles cut into his head and hurt a bit. They also feel good. Alexander Todd parts his hair in the middle just like his friend Brody Porter.
Alexander Todd is wearing a long white sleeve t-shirt, which he rolls up because he doesn’t like the way shirt sleeves feel around his wrists and because he doesn’t want the sleeves to get wet when he is washing his hands.
“You can turn off the water Alex. And take off your shirt too,” David Todd calls from outside the bathroom.
Alexander Todd does as he is told and puts his white shirt in the bathroom hamper. David Todd comes back to the bathroom, two hours later. Or maybe it is sooner than that. Maybe it is much sooner than that. David Todd is dressed nice but different than he was for the TV. He has a dark blue dress shirt and long tan pants and penny loafer shoes. David Todd dresses that way sometimes when he goes to school. Not as a student at school but as a teacher at school. David Todd goes to a different school than Alexander Todd. He teaches at a different school than Alexander Todd goes to as a student. Alexander Todd has a different teacher. There are many teachers at many schools. His teacher is not David Todd. But he sort of likes his teacher anyway. His teacher is Sarah Gleason.
David Todd gives Alexander Todd a red and blue plaid shirt to put on. There is no white in this particular shirt. So it does not match with the red and the white and blue or greenish blue or bluish green of Alexander Todd’s eyes. Alexander Todd creates a bit of a fuss. David Todd does not understand why. Keeping things straight is hard.
Alexander Todd wants to keep his blue jeans and white sneakers on. The white sneakers will mean he is wearing red, white and blue. Only there is no green in his clothes. And his eyes are bluish green. Or greenish blue. For a minute or maybe it was longer than a minute, Alexander Todd thought his clothes had matched perfectly with his eyes but they don’t. It takes a long while or maybe it is not very long at all before Alexander Todd and David Todd head back down the stairs. There is no green in America.
Before the aunts and uncles arrive, Alexander Todd resumes watching TV. There is a knock at the door. Alexander Todd looks to the door long enough to see a man with a brown face wearing a green shirt and blue jeans talking to Allison Todd. Alexander Todd does not say hello. The man goes in and out of the house a few times, bringing trays of food. Krabby patties, Alexander Todd thinks and laughs. He knows they are not really Krabby patties but wouldn’t it be awesome if they were?
The man with the green shirt, brown face and trays of food eventually leaves for good. Or maybe he will be back. After he leaves, Allison Todd and David Todd hover around trays covered with foil in the kitchen. Alexander Todd goes back to looking at SpongeBob; Allison Todd and David Todd talk for what seems like a very long time. Or perhaps it isn’t very long at all.
“Seven hundred and thirty eight dollars?” David Todd says looking at the receipt. “That’s a lot of money.”
“We can afford it.”
“I suppose,” David Todd says, scratching himself.
“I don’t even like lobster.”
“I bet you’ll learn to like it. I bet you learn to like a lot of things now.”
“You don’t think it’ll come across as obnoxious?”
“Caviar would be obnoxious,” Allison Todd says. “Lobster is… class-ified,” Allison Todd thinks she is being funny because she laughs. A minute later, maybe longer, maybe a lot lot longer, Allison Todd sighs.
“Is it really so bad that we get a chance to enjoy life a little bit?”
A little while after Allison Todd says this, or maybe it is a longer while, Pamela Todd comes down from the upstairs and looks into the room.
“Hey Alex,” Pamela Todd says. ‘Hey’ can also mean ‘hello.’ Keeping things straight is hard.
Alexander Todd never wavers. His blue green eyes with a little bit of red in them are transfixed on the events at Bikini Bottom. Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Everybody knows the answer to that. SpongeBob SquarePants! Alexander Todd is sitting on a red carpet that is soft but not as soft as a blanket but softer than a floor. Floors are hard. Keeping things straight is hard. But they are not the same kind of hard. The room has tan walls. There are pictures of him and the others on the walls. Pamela Todd enters ever go lightly into the kitchen.
“Does this look all right?” Pamela Todd asks. Pamela Todd is showcasing a new orange blouse, which hangs off her shoulders. Pamela Todd is also wearing black leggings and also, also ballet slippers. And also, also, also, they are new.
“It looks amazing honey,” Allison Todd says. “Where did you get it?”
“Bloomies,” Pamela Todd says.
“An excellent choice.”
“Can we go car shopping this weekend like you said?”
David Todd scratches above his left eyebrow; his face has become quite flaky.
“You need to make an appointment with Doctor Marcy,” Alison Todd says to David Todd. “Your eczema is getting worse.”
“What kind of car do you think I can get?” Pamela Todd asks.
“What kind do you want? Allison Todd replies.
“Something pretty and white and new.”
David Todd changes the subject and says it is five-thirty.
“Are you really going to work tomorrow dad?” Pamela Todd asks him.
“Yes, of course.”
“All of my friends think that’s weird.”
“I like my job,” David Todd tells his daughter. Then David Todd asks Allison Todd: “How about you, hon? Do you think you’ll go back to work now?”
Allison Todd’s jaw drops like she is shocked by what she has heard.
“It’s just that you always said you wanted to get back into the classroom,” David Todd says, trying to explain himself.
Allison Todd stifles a laugh.
“Fifteen years ago, maybe, when I could barely handle Alex,” Allison Todd says. “But he’s a little better now. And think of it, we can get him better care. We can afford a better school – a special school. Maybe there can be someone to come in and really work with him now. Maybe I won’t need to be here every day, day after day after day. Maybe I won’t need to worry about other kids being so mean to him. Maybe I won’t always be so tired or so broke. Maybe Alex will come out of his shell a little bit.”
Allison Todd wants a better life where she doesn’t have to worry so much about Alexander Todd. And that better life is supposed to start tonight. That’s why the cousins are coming over.
Allison Todd’s voice cracks. She starts to cry. Then, Allison Todd puts her tired, crying head onto the shoulder of David Todd.
“Nobody knows better than me, how much you’ve done with him. How hard it has been. You’ve been amazing,” David Todd says.
Allison Todd is sobbing now. Her eye shadow is a bluish green or a greenish blue. Allison Todd’s eyes are red from crying and make-up is running down her crying cheeks. There is no green in America. Allison Todd will need to clean up before the company arrives. David Todd whispers that he is tired too, but it is not loud enough for Allison Todd to hear. Also, Allison Todd has again buried her head into his shirt, burrowing like a crab trying to hide in the sand.
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
Later, the family arrives. Aunt Mary and Uncle Tommy Harper and their eldest Dianna Harper, and their youngest Richie Harper come to watch the TV. They usually spend most of the time during their infrequent visits staring at Alexander Todd. Uncle Robert Todd and Aunt Chrissy Todd come as well but their kids do not. One kid is not feeling well and the other kid is at a friend’s house. Not Alexander Todd’s friend Brody Porter’s house but some other non-Brody Porter type of friend’s house.
Earlier, Allison Todd explained to Alexander Todd that for a short while they would have to turn off SpongeBob SquarePants so that they all could watch themselves on the TV. Or in the TV. It was very understandable. Even though Alexander Todd really prefers watching SpongeBob. Why Allison Todd even needed to explain it so much was unclear to Alexander Todd. A little later or maybe it is much, much later, Allison Todd turns on the TV news. Alexander Todd does not create a big fuss at all.
Aunt Mary Harper stands near the TV. Aunt Mary Harper wears a dark blue dress and some white pearls and a white sweater over the dark blue dress but under the white pearls. She has yellow hair with some brown in it. She also has a very pretty Taylor Swift kind of face, even if it is a much older Taylor Swift kind of face. It is like maybe 50 years of a not so swift Taylor kind of face. Or maybe, it is 10 years swifter than old Taylor. Or maybe, she is not that much older than Taylor Swift after all.
Alexander Todd thinks Aunt Mary Harper is the prettiest of all the relatives. Uncle Tommy Harper got lucky because Uncle Tommy Harper has a big nose, bushy eyebrows and wears dorky glasses, a gray shirt and brown shoes. Uncle Tommy Harper is what his friend Brody Porter calls a douche bag. Not a shopping bag or a sleeping bag or any other kind of old bag but a douchey kind of douche bag.
“I read the article in the paper the other day,” Aunt Mary Harper says, playing with the pearls around her neck. “You all looked lovely.”
“We didn’t want any publicity,” Allison Todd says. “But it is part of it. You don’t have a choice. You have to do the publicity.”
“Oh, I’m sure,” Aunt Chrissy Todd says and makes a frowning face like she doesn’t believe it. “Just like you have us over to the house to watch you on TV … they make you.”
“We just wanted to share our good news,” David Todd says. David Todd knows Aunt Chrissy Todd thinks they are showing off.
“I’m getting a new car,” Pamela Todd says to cousin Dianna Harper, who is older than Pamela Todd and has a car. Dianna is very quiet and respectful. Dianna Harper is never quiet and respectful. Diana Harper is the one with the new boyfriend, who buys her gifts like earrings and who will be going to the same very impressive college that Dianna Harper will go to. Dianna Harper is going to be a lawyer the same as Taylor Swift-looking Aunt Mary Harper. Pamela Todd tells her about the new car to make her jealous. Cousin Dianna Harper recognizes this and looks to make Pamela Todd uncomfortable as well.
“What college will you be going to in the fall, Pamela?” Dianna Harper asks.
“Any college I want to,” Pamela Todd says. “Isn’t that right mom?”
Allison Todd says that it is right.
“Or maybe I wont go to college at all,” Pamela Todd says. “After all, what’s the point?”
The stuck-up smile on Dianna Harper’s face disappears.
“How’d you pull it off?” Uncle douchey douchebag asks David Todd.
“The birthdays,” David Todd says. “The secret is the birthdays.”
David Todd is not bragging; David Todd is explaining.
And then, suddenly, or maybe not so suddenly, Allison Todd is waving her arms and shushing everybody.
“Here it is,” Allison Todd says. “Look.”
The man in the TV or on the TV has a gray moustache and a deep voice. He is in the TV. Not on top of the TV and he is speaking inside the screen:
“And now the story of the Todd family of West Chester, PA. They’re the family, who last week became the sole winners of the $260 million Powerball jackpot.“
And then it is David Todd who is in the TV screen talking. “I played all our birthdays,” he tells everybody who might be watching. “That was the secret to the winning numbers.”
“Look Alex,” Pamela Todd says. “That’s you!” Alexander Todd sees that another version of Alexander Todd is waving from inside the screen. It doesn’t really matter because his friend Brody Porter isn’t watching.
“You all look so great,” Aunt Mary Harper says.
Allison Todd is crying on the TV or inside the TV now.
“This means so much to us,” Allison Todd says to the screen. “It’s like you have one lucky day and suddenly all your worries are gone.”
Allison Todd is getting what she wants. Maybe all the Todds are getting what they want.
Then, the man with the gray moustache and deep voice is back inside the TV and he is saying, “It is a great story for one lucky Pennsylvania family. We will be right back.”
After that, Alexander Todd gets what he wants. Alexander Todd gets to watch SpongeBob again.
After, after that, all of the family eats and talks. Talks and eats and then talks and eats some more. They are talking and eating a lot. Alexander Todd eats too but does not like the lobster. He has the tiny hot dogs and some chicken on a stick. The family stays for a very long time. Or maybe, it is not too long at all. No, whenever the family stays, it is too long. After the family leaves, Allison Todd says to David Todd and Pamela Todd and Alexander Todd, that everybody needs to help clean up.
“We all have to pitch in until, we get a live-in.” Allison Todd says.
“And a new house,” Pamela Todd says.
“Maybe the Main Line,” Allison Todd also, also says.
David Todd scratches himself.
Alexander Todd doesn’t say anything.
The paper plates are thrown away and so are the aluminum trays.
“Everybody sure did like the food,” David Todd says. “There’s hardly any left.”
“I call shower,” Pamela Todd says.
“Imagine a house with four showers,” Allison Todd says.
“Imagine,” David Todd answers.
“Alex,” Allison Todd says, “can you take the garbage out and bring the cans down?” Alexander Todd loves taking the garbage out. Alexander Todd is good at following directions and it is his favorite chore. Alexander Todd takes the white plastic bag from Allison Todd’s hands and walks through the room with the television.
Alexander Todd opens the front door, closes it behind him and steps outside the house. Alexander Todd goes to the side of the house and drops the white plastic bag into the green plastic garbage bin and he rolls the bin down the driveway. It has wheels! Alexander Todd loves the sound of wheels rolling on the pavement. Vrooooom. It sounds like a rumbling truck.
Alexander Todd parks the garbage bin in the street and is about to head back up the driveway for green bin number two, when a bag, not a douchey-douche bag but a thick heavy bag is pulled over his head.
Alexander Todd thinks Brody Porter is playing a trick or maybe one of his other friends from school is pulling a prank. They do that to him sometimes. But then Alexander Todd realizes he is being carried on a man’s shoulder. Also, the man is running down the street. Also, also, Alexander Todd is thrown into a car. Also, also, also the car speeds away and Alexander Todd, though he tries as hard as he can, cannot find his way out of the douchey-douche bag.
A long time later … or maybe not too much later, Alexander Todd is on the floor of a darkened room. There is a rag stuffed in Alexander Todd’s mouth. Also, his hands are tied behind his back with some harsh plastic cord that is cutting into his wrists. Also, also, Alexander Todd’s feet are bound. Also, also, also through the door, Alexander Todd can hear two men talking. The television is on and Allison Todd is crying again. She is probably on the TV, or in the TV. Allison Todd says, “We want Alex back.”
That is what Allison Todd wants now.
“They will pay any ransom,” one of the men says.
“They just want to be a family again,” the other man says. Alexander Todd hears the men laugh.
Not too long after that or maybe it is a good while after that, but really it is probably not that long after that at all, Alexander Todd closes his eyes and begins singing a question to himself. Alexander Todd wants to watch TV. That is all Alexander Todd wants.
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
Emily K. Jones
I Found You in Your Eyes
“Come with me.” A child’s voice, emerging in air. In summer, we ran through the wooded trail behind the orchard, the calloused soles of our bare feet skipping along parallel tracks worn into the earth by wagon wheels long gone. We chased each other through the apple trees, kicking up rotting fruit, smelling pungent like apple cider, and jumped to grab apples from the lowest hanging branches. Moss ran between the wheel tracks and we ran along this strip, one foot touching lightly down before the other, perfectly aligned, a balancing act. It was love.
My body matched your own, narrow hips and flat chest. We both had bowl cuts and high voices and long, lanky limbs. You taught me the words your family spoke at home, taught me words that felt round and exotic in my mouth. Un arbre. El cel. T’estimo. We developed a language in which gestures stood in for words and silence stood in for gestures. Sometimes an hour would pass by without an utterance exchanged, as we overturned stones in search of salamanders or navigated a new path through the underbrush.
In another time, farmers trudged across this space in the midday sun, tending to livestock and wheat pastures. I liked to think that I could sense their presence on this now grown-over land, liked to think that this earth would capture a person here, transcending time. Stonewalls marked squares across the earth, squares meant to corral, to contain, to hold in. Now the stones traced patterns through chaos—birch trees and oak trees tangling together toward the sun beyond the apple orchards, blueberry bushes sprawling across poison ivy beds. We returned home with teeth stained blue from the sweet berries and poison glistening up our calves.
When your father lost his job, your mother cried with relief. She knew this meant home, she knew this meant dry Mediterranean air and the green blue of the sea and Spanish wine shared late into the early hours. Your mother missed Girona’s stone architecture, the winding streets, the sounds of home. Your parents told you not to cry, my mother wiped away my tears. But in our child’s world, a great chasm had formed between everything we knew and could not quite understand, not yet, and everything that would not be. You moved back to Catalonia. When you left, we were children. We sent letters, addressed and postmarked by our parents. We sent e-mails when we learned how to use the Internet, discovered instant messaging, pinging murmurs back and forth across the world.
Still, I ate brown bag PB+J’s under the lunchroom’s florescent light; now, you walked the one-mile from school to home for the large midday meal your mother prepared. El dinar, you called it. Sometimes you invited classmates home and your mother beamed to see you making friends—she had worried about that, of course. Still, I talked about the Super Bowl and Boy Meets World and when Ellie Sherrington would finally cut her hair; now, your friends shared a language I could not understand. You decoded snippets of your conversations into our blinking chat box, but sometimes the nuances didn’t translate, sometimes I couldn’t recognize the jokes. I didn’t know Acció or LaCote or LICOR d’Ensaïmada, musicians you told me, your favorite. I couldn’t watch 16 Dobles, which aired in 50-minute episodes each Tuesday night. And yet, even as our worlds slid further apart, we seemed to grow into something that had been there all along.
One day, you returned. You drove two hours from your uncle’s home in the city, where your family had set up camp for the week, arrived on my doorstep, accent thicker, hair shaggier, four years older. Square jaw line and a stranger’s voice. I found you in your eyes. Familiar.
I brought you to Ali Carson’s barn party that night, leading you up her gravel driveway, pushing open the large splintered doors, pulling you by the hand through the sweaty crowd. Boys turned. Girls flirted with their eyes. Your accent, now heavy, drew stares. “How exotic.” No, no, I wanted to say. He belonged here once. He belonged to me.
“I am different,” you said, brushing your olive skin gently against my own, pale despite the summer sun. I pulled my hand away. “I don’t belong here,” you said. “Yes, you do. You do.”
You were taller now. The trees were taller now. “Come with me.” The next day, I held your hand and led you to the woods again. “Do you remember?” I walked along one wagon track as you walked along the other, our shoulders barely brushing. In the woods, your memories matched my own. We picked our way through the brush and I blushed as you held aside branches that in another time, I would have torn through on my own. We pulled each other further and further away from the world, murmuring secrets to the trees. We marveled at the way the stonewall stones fit so perfectly together, the way someone had selected and paired each groove to fit another. We walked on. Miles in, someone had carved initials into oak bark on the trailside, “LM + JT,” nestled within a lopsided heart. Do you love me? I wanted to ask.
The soft earth hugged us, cradled us in pine needles and fern. I wanted to stay within this wilderness, decided that we would never leave this perfectness behind. I spun dreams into the air and let them settle over us like mist. We sank into the trees, let their branches envelop us, allowed the tree bark to grow over our skin like armor. We became the forest floor, becoming moss, becoming soil, becoming sand and silt. Becoming granite, iron, silicate rock, becoming, until my longing became the heart of the earth, beating a rhythm at gravity’s center.
“Toss the world away,” I said, pulling the key to your uncle’s beat up pickup truck from your back jean pocket. “Do it,” I whispered, pressing the key against your palm and grinning into your eyes. I imagined running away, living on berries and apples and squirrel. You would build us a cabin; we’d live one with the land. My reincarnated Thoreau. You held your hand up, as though to throw the key into the brush behind us.
“Do it,” I said, giggling. “Give me this earth and you, and you, and that’s all I really need.”
You kissed me on the mouth, wet, messy, and then you did, you threw that key high up over your shoulder. Silence, silence, we heard the key land, so faintly, silence. I looked at you. You looked at me. “You didn’t,” I said. You nodded, eyes wide. I shook my head. We laughed, and then we weren’t laughing anymore.
For hours now, on hands and knees, we picked our way through the brush, upturning rotting oak leaves and broken branches, pulling at tree roots, pulling our limbs through briars that pulled at our flesh. We bickered—crawled around blindly with our eyes fixed to the forest floor. Bumped heads. “What were you thinking?” I chastised. “Oncle Carles will kill me,” you said.
I sighed loudly when you strayed too far. You cursed at me in Catalan and I threw these curses back at you. Hostia! Quina putada. Callar. Shut up. You laughed at my accent. I clenched my fists. I fumed. I wanted you gone. “Keep looking,” you said.
I wanted the New England pines to speak the same sentiments that Girona’s rio Onyar spoke to you. I wanted us to live in one world, una món, to speak with one language. I wanted to close my fist around the Catholic cross resting against your collarbone and see love with the same eyes. “No,” you said.
I translated. “No?”
We were weary from the sun, weary for water and food. You unwrapped a stale peppermint from your back pocket and handed it to me. Sustenance. A peace offering. I held it in my mouth gently, letting its sweetness slowly melt across my tongue, savoring its presence long after it was gone.
The sun was setting when I set my hand down upon something cool and hard in the soil. I pressed my weight into the ground, letting the key’s sharp ridges bite into my palm before calling out to you. Finally we rested. I remember crying. “I’m leaving tomorrow,” you said.
And then, after we brushed the dirt from hands and knees, after we followed the trail back down toward Fruitlands, after we picked our way between the apple trees so heavy with unpicked fruit, you drove me home and kissed me on the cheek gently, goodbye, and you drove the two hours back to your uncle’s home in the city, and you lifted into the sky, stretching the space between us taut.
Making a Point
The band played a break-up song for the bride and groom’s dance, but halfway through, the best man—who had been romantically involved with the bride in college and had remained subject to unbidden recollections of her aggressive and insatiable desire—made them stop. The singer announced the bride and groom; they gave a little bow, and as the band launched into another, more innocuous number, the best man bellied up, a bit shakily, to the bar at the edge of the tent.
The bartender pulled a beer bottle from the ice. “Same again?”
The best man nodded. He was drinking thirstily when one of the ushers sidled up next to him. “Dude, that was really low rent. Dan Halloway says you threatened him.”
The best man regarded him from a great distance, one of the walking wounded. “I threatened him? Really? I told him to stop playing that song, or else. You’re the lawyer; do you think that’s actionable?”
The usher shrugged. “The point is, you made him feel unappreciated. I mean, how does that contribute to the festive atmosphere?”
“How does playing ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ for the bride and groom’s first dance?”
The usher shrugged. “They had a specific request; Halloway showed me the note. Anyway, that’s their freaking signature song—they play it at every gig. You know that.”
“This isn’t a gig, it’s a wedding. I promise you Scotty and Marilyn didn’t request that song. Nobody who cares about them would have.” The best man poked a finger into the usher’s chest. “Did you?”
“Get real, Dude. It was probably her old man. He’s always hated Scotty. But that’s not the point, is it?”
“I don’t know,” the best man said. “You’re the one making a point. I’m just having a quiet beer.”
“Okay. Whatever.” The usher pushed away from the bar. He patted his friend condescendingly on the shoulder and eased off across the grass, scanning the crowd.
The best man, however, didn’t notice the usher’s condescension. At the mention of the bride’s father, he had been almost physically transported to another time and place, a waking reverie that did nothing to calm his nerves.
Green Hills of Ithaca
In the living room, the one object so arresting it seemed to preclude Brett’s noticing anything else was the head of a lion on the wall above the mantel. The taxidermist had done an amazing job: he’d created such a natural and realistic look of ferocity that the stuffed head, its glass eyes, seemed actually to radiate hostility and bloodlust and rage. It was at once fascinating and frightening, and Brett, waiting awkwardly for his girlfriend to finish dressing for their date, was so taken with it, or taken aback by it, that he didn’t hear Marilyn’s father enter the room.
“I made rather a bad shot on that one,” Mr. McEgan said loudly, behind him. Brett started, and immediately resented both his own fallibility and his girlfriend’s father’s rough bluster.
Mr. McEgan came and stood beside him, affecting not to notice Brett’s discomfiture. “I hit him high, and too far back. Severed his spine and left him thrashing in the grass.”
Brett, who was learning such tricks at Bowdoin, adopted a coolness of manner he had no legitimate claim to. “And how did you administer the coup de grâce?”
Mr. McEgan shook his head. “I didn’t, you see. Not right away. The brute lay there crippled and raging, trying to launch himself forward and tear me to bits.”
“Makes sense,” Brett said, boldly leaving Mr. McEgan to decide whether he meant it made sense that someone would want to kill him.
“Indeed it does, Brett my boy. And you know, I respected that dying lion. I admired it. Doomed but defiant, singleminded in his determination to take his killer with him to the grave. That’s when I decided that I would eat his heart. To take his power, you know. To become a lion.”
“I see,” said Brett, who didn’t.
“I went up quite close to him and stood watching. He must have been in agony, of course, but he never let it show. All I saw, or felt, was his overwhelming need to kill me and his frustration at being unable to do so.” Mr. McEgan paused. “It was quite terrible. Quite beautiful. It was,” he searched for a word. “Sublime.”
Brett swallowed, as quietly as he was able.
Mr. McEgan seemed not to notice. “Eventually, one of the native bearers came up to me carrying an assegai. He understood; the good ones always do. So he came forward and gave me his spear, and I stabbed the beast through the throat. And as it raged, and struggled to kill me, and roared out the last of its life, it sprayed me with flecks of bloody foam.”
Mr. McEgan fell silent, and Brett found himself wishing for a cigarette he wouldn’t have known how to smoke.
“You know,” Mr. McEgan said, startling Brett for a second time, “I fell in love with that lion. And yet I stood a long time watching him suffer—and then I cut his throat. Can you imagine what might happen to a person I didn’t much like or admire—someone who saw fit to threaten my family or take advantage of one of my girls?”
Not much later, heading north along the lake past vineyards and cornfields, to a clandestine party in someone’s parents’ summer cottage, Marilyn remarked that Brett seemed unusually quiet, and asked if he’d been subjected to the story of her father’s lion.
Brett nodded, relieved that the question had finally been broached. “Is he, like, an anthropologist or something?”
Marilyn laughed. “He’s an insurance actuary. He’s never killed anything in his life.”
Brett took his eyes off the road to stare at her.
“The truth is, that lion was a zoo animal that mauled its keeper and had to be put down. My father bought its stuffed head at a specialty shop in New York.”
“You’re shitting me, right?” Brett had hated the story, but he was trying to make peace with it, and a boyish part of him wanted it to be true.
“No,” Marilyn said. “Daddy was. He can be kind of a jerk that way.”
“Well, I never called him that,” said Brett, who might have if he dared. “He’s just trying to protect you.”
“Yeah,” Marilyn said. “Sure worked for my sister. Thanks, Daddy.”
Up ahead they saw a blue road sign with a tree and a picnic table, and just beyond it, a gravel pullout beside the road and a bit of lawn with a picnic pavilion and a view out across the lake.
“Pull in there for a minute,” Marilyn said.
Brett did, and before he had the car in park he felt her fingers on his zipper.
The bride’s father was unhappy about the events of the day. His daughter was marrying the kind of unctuous putz he’d always tried to keep away from her—a smarmy law student who would spawn a bunch of children and ditch her with them so he could remarry upwards. The bride’s father was sure of this, but no one would listen to him, and he had, in the end, stopped trying to be heard. As a reward, he was now bankrolling the celebration of his baby girl’s leap into the abyss.
He’d had his moment, of course, bribing the band to play his favorite torch song for the doomed couple’s first big dance. But he was robbed of even this cold comfort when the best man (the bride’s former boyfriend and lover, to make matters worse) made a scene with the band and forced them to choose, like Tarryton smokers of old, whether to fight or switch. Of course, kids these days, the band had taken his money and run.
His highball glass was empty. He told his wife, “I want to stretch my legs.” His wife lit up for an instant, anticipating a dance. Then she saw him looking toward the open bar, where the best man stood gazing out at the dancers under the tent with an air of unfocussed agitation. “Don’t you start any trouble,” his wife told him. “This is Marilyn’s day, not yours.”
“Trouble? Me?” The bride’s father forced a smile. “Never.”
His wife hissed, “You watch your step.”
At the bar, he ordered another double scotch, then turned to the best man. “Well, you’re a regular fucking buzzkill, aren’t you, Brett?”
The best man blinked. Recovering, he strove for austerity. “So it was you. Toby thought as much.”
“Toby? Shit, Romeo. What did you think? That’s what counts.”
“I didn’t think. I couldn’t believe it, is all.”
“Uh, huh.” The bride’s father swallowed most of his whisky. “You still have a thing for her.”
“As if.” The best man shook his head, then checked the level of his beer.
“Well, the denial is mutual. She’s probably already wishing it was you she married, instead of that goddamn jackass.” The father gestured with his drink at his new son-in-law, dancing with SuEllyn Winslow, the best man’s current girlfriend, putting his hand on her ass.
They’d checked out the park on the internet, and decided to try fishing there based on the satellite images: a wide creek emptying into the lake, a jetty providing access to deeper water. When they got there, however, they found the place quite crowded: the campground loop packed with RVs, a party tent beside the picnic shelter. The gravel lot was overflowing with cars and trucks. They hesitated a moment in silence. Then the brother spotted an open space near the creekside, and the uncle, looking over from the passenger seat, said, “Jesus. It’s a freaking wedding.”
His nephew, in the backseat, said, “Really?” He sounded disappointed.
“No worries,” the uncle said. “It’s a joyous occasion. They won’t bite.”
His brother glanced at him, perhaps to assess the ratio of irony to earnestness. The uncle’s reputation for sardonic excess had more behind it than his status as the family’s expert fisherman.
They got their rods and tackle from the trunk, then did some reconnaissance, walking down the creek, past the nuptials, to the lakeshore, which, as it turned out, had a swimming area roped off with red, white, and blue plastic floats. The jetty was crowded with people out walking, a golden retriever, an elderly couple fishing from folding chairs.
They walked back and set up between two creekside willows, not far from the picnic shelter.
The nephew, who was thirteen and, like his uncle, knew less about fishing than the minimum necessary, picked up a chartreuse plastic worm and an appropriately enormous hook. “Are these really going to work?”
“Can’t hurt to try,” the uncle said. “Just rig it the way we saw on YouTube, and bump it along the bottom. At least we know what to expect if we stick with worms and bobbers.”
The nephew nodded. “Panfish.”
They spread out along the bank and fished for a while, working around one another to make slow headway back upstream.
Other things being equal, the uncle would have preferred a quieter, more private venue. Joyous occasion notwithstanding, he felt the eyes of the revelers on him, and he couldn’t tune out the rockabilly-inflected band. In the heyday of his fishing life, twenty years earlier, he had found in it quiet harmony and solitude, a needed respite from his then-wife’s humorless puritanical rigidity.
But he made do, and worked on his retrieve: in the slanting afternoon light he watched the bait bumping the bottom, leaping forward, swimming back down. He wouldn’t have said it looked particularly lifelike, but then, he wasn’t a hungry fish.
“What are you catching?”
The uncle turned to face a woman perhaps thirty years old, holding a can of beer—evidently not her first. He said, “Bass, with God’s help.” He paused. “Do you fish?”
The woman’s smile conveyed a kind of world-weary, inebriate irony. “Not for bass. My husband is a big fly fisherman. He wanted me to learn, too.”
“Fly fishing.” The uncle imbued the phrase with the requisite aura of respect. “That’s cool.”
The woman said, “Let’s say, it’s better than the alternative.” She brushed, as if unconsciously, at a small scar on her left cheekbone. “He can be pretty . . . persuasive.”
The uncle knew what to make of this, but not how to respond.
“He’s a dick,” the woman added, unnecessarily. “If he was here? All that?” She waved her beer can vaguely toward the revelers under the tent. “It would be a damn free-for-all.”
“You know, it’s none of my business,” the uncle said, “but— ”
“Why haven’t I dumped him?” She drank some beer. “I have. He just doesn’t know it yet because he’s still in Iraq. I’ll hit him with the papers as soon as he’s done out-processing. Then I think I’ll go on a cruise.”
“A cruise?” The uncle, fifteen years afterwards, and despite the fact that he was happily—enthusiastically—remarried, was still unable to look back on his own admittedly tepid divorce without pangs of outrage and betrayal. He had no sympathy for the wife-beating husband, but this woman’s plan, if that’s what it was, seemed antagonistic and strategically unsound.
“Hell, yes, a cruise. Can you imagine the look on his face?”
“I can,” the uncle said.
“Well, he deserves all that and more.” The woman finished her beer and stood holding the can. “I’d better get on back up there. My baby sister just made the biggest mistake of her life.”
The bride knew exactly what to make of her trouble zipping up the dress, and of her goddamned mood swings. She’d known for a good two weeks, since her second missed period and the furtive EPT. But she’d really known for much longer, since the moment of conception and the arguably monumental lapse of judgment that had precipitated it.
Of course, it was Scotty’s fault, mostly. He’d been such a little bitch lately: all argumentative and irrational and freely admitting (as if Marilyn were somehow to blame) that his heightened stress and agitation had everything to do with the fact that he was about to “put on the ball and chain.”
He’d even confessed, unbelievably, that he feared he wasn’t cut out for monogamy. This had happened at their romantic dating-anniversary dinner at DiNozzo’s, at a bay-window table that looked down across hillside vineyards to a long, lovely stretch of the lake.
Marilyn had stood up, dropped her napkin into her plate of veal, and told him he’d better by God find out. And she’d left him there with the check and no ride, having driven that evening because his rusty Volvo wagon was in the shop with a stuck brake caliper. Even his piece-of-shit vehicle was getting cold feet.
When he didn’t come by her place later to apologize, and didn’t even call, Marilyn dumped all his crap—clothes, condoms, and toiletries, the current Yale Law Review and Field and Stream—into a box, and tossed it out on the porch. Then she wedged a chair under the doorknob (Scotty had a key), opened a bottle of cheap local red, and caught the second half of High Fidelity on cable.
Two days later, having still heard nothing from him, she felt the need to talk to someone close. It was Monday; she’d been at the lab all day, reviewing the latest published research into biological control of Agrilus planipennis, the invasive Emerald Ash Borer, and it was slow going. Dr. Balasubramaniam and Dr. Lam were ignoring her, as usual, (though, also as usual, she did catch Dr. Lam, in passing, trying to peep down the front of her lab coat). The doctors were not people with whom she could discuss things personal.
She stopped at a farm stand on her way home, and thought about calling SuEllyn, her putative maid of honor, while she was out of the car. But, punching the speed-dial, she was struck with the unexpected fear of hearing Scotty’s mellifluous, fickle voice in the background, and she stopped the call.
The farm stand’s proprietress, who knew Marilyn by sight, called out, “We got rhubarb! First of the season. And some really lovely strawberries.”
Marilyn bought some of each, and a couple of frozen pie crusts, and then, not even trying to argue with the inner nagging voice saying this was a terrible idea, she called Brett.
“I just need someone to talk to for an hour,” she told him when he picked up. And then, to set the hook, “The rhubarb is in. I’m making pies.”
The rest, of course, was history. They both must have known from the outset how it would turn out (except for the getting pregnant part, Scotty’s condoms on the front porch as inaccessible as El Dorado), and they both must have known that it would never go any further.
But, oh, my God, what a ride while it lasted!
The maid-of honor had never realized she was the type to steal her best friend’s beau. But then, she’d never given it much thought. When Scotty came in for his usual wash, cut, and dry, late one afternoon a couple of months before the wedding, SuEllyn was struck at once with how freaked out and vulnerable he looked. So when he asked her, once seated and smocked, if he could tell her something in confidence, it turned out that he could: it was the end of a long day, and SuEllyn had the shop to herself.
“Have you ever been serious about anyone?” Scotty asked her, his face as earnest and imploring as a shantytown urchin on a late-night infomercial.
“Honey.” SuEllyn rolled his chair back against the sink. “I’ve been serious about every one.”
Scotty smiled sadly, and then he blurted out his fears: that he was making a huge commitment he’d prove unable, in the end, to honor; that he was not cut out for monogamy, and would end up letting down the one person he cared most for in the world.
SuEllyn smoothed his hair back soothingly. “You’ll be fine,” she told him. “Trust me.” Then she said, “Shoot, I need a new thing of shampoo. Don’t go away.” And she hurried back to the stock room, where she reached up inside her shirt and removed her bra.
She didn’t do much else different that afternoon. She acted, perhaps, a bit more solicitous than usual, given Scotty’s vulnerable state, and was perhaps just a touch more physical, smoothing back his hair more often than needed, and leaning her chest in, once or twice, against an ear. But what she told him was, “Don’t worry, Scotty. You’ll work it out. You two are going to be awesome together.” And what he said back was, “Yeah, I guess. Thanks for letting me vent.”
She was testing him, basically, in that old-school, you’re-at-a-crossroads, sort of way. If he found himself tempted to stray, he might consider this afternoon and wonder if she was amenable to such a project. And if he made an escalating move, she’d have to decide how far she was willing to go, and how hard to make him work for it.
Of course, a few weeks later they were fully into the affair. She was getting a real feel for how anxiety—guilt and the incessant fear of discovery—ramped up the adrenaline and the arousal. She’d begun pushing past the limits of her experience into new ways to keep him guessing, to keep enticing him back for more, and she was thrilled that he had taken, and kept taking, the bait. If it came to pass that Scotty dumped Marilyn (or vice versa), and she ditched Brett, and she and Scotty ended up together, well, it didn’t hurt that Scotty was good looking and energetic, or that his family had piles and piles of money. If they didn’t end up together, well, that was okay too.
Scotty, for his part, never told SuEllyn just how delighted he was at the superlative efficacy of his opening, sad-faced gambit, or that he hadn’t even wanted a haircut that day.
Catch and Release
The nephew, anticipating glorious things, had brought his mother’s digital camera to shoot videos of the fish they caught and released. When the fish finally convinced him, with their persistent refusal to bite, that there was something wrong with the bait, with the fish themselves, or with the way he was trying to bring the two parties together, he concluded that there wasn’t much chance he’d be able to fix whatever was wrong. He laid his rod on the grass, got out the camera, and started making short videorecordings of the things in his immediate environment: the weedy water, the dragonflies on the cattails, the talkative hole in the toe of his sneaker. Out in the lot behind him, he spotted a truck with a “Come the Rapture” bumper sticker and an empty gun rack. Experimenting, he pushed the zoom while filming; its twenty-power magnification put him right on top of the mud-crusted trailer hitch.
This impressed him, and he realized that with the zoom, this camera provided opportunities for amusement that their misguided foray into bass-fishing could only fail cataclysmically to deliver.
Spying on things distant (as he conceived it) was engaging and strangely empowering. For a while he watched a kingfisher on a branch across the creek, preening with its spearpoint bill. Then a small woody knob poking up from the shallow water, once properly magnified, became the head of a painted turtle whose dark shell showed vague and wavy through the water’s reflective sheen. A heron flapped into view and, as the nephew watched, lit in the top of a bare, barkless tree, and took a dump. The nephew caught it all on disk.
This was far better than fishing without hope.
He’d been ignoring the wedding party more successfully than his uncle, who’d gotten buttonholed by a loose-jointed and unsteady woman in a blue dress, and had just minutes ago resumed fishing. Still, when a collective shout of surprise came to him from the tent, followed by the singer interrupting his own campy rendition of “Crazy” with a startled, “Whoa! Hey, now!” the nephew looked that way.
What he saw was fantastic; it would make him famous, if he could manage to record it without getting himself killed. He pressed and held the shutter button and crept, recording, to the cover of a nearby willow.
What he’d missed, apparently, was the first wild punch: the bride unloading on a woman in peach-colored satin, dropping her on the dance-floor grass. (“That was probably the maid of honor,” his mother would tell him later, capitalizing on this unexpected opportunity to advance her son’s cultural education). In any case, the recording began with reactions: shocked faces of paralyzed onlookers, the bride, in profile, raging at her fallen friend. Then one of the (ushers) unfroze himself and hurried to help the victim, and the woman in the blue dress caught the bride in a kind of bear-hug from behind.
This was, at least tactically, a mistake, although it made awesome video. The bride began thrashing back and forth like a washing-machine agitator with fists. The woman in blue lost her grip, and then her balance, and then went cartwheeling backwards, blood gushing from her nose.
When the (groom) rushed over, the bride kicked him in the balls. He folded in on himself like a jackknife, drawn up around the point of impact, and the bride sent him to the ground with a slash of nails across his face.
The nephew could scarcely contain himself: you could live a whole lifetime and never see anything so freaking epic.
He had decided it was over, and was about to stop recording, when the woman in blue lurched back into the frame with one bare foot and a shoe in her hand. She charged at the bride, again from behind, and smacked her sister (as the uncle would tell him later) with the shoe heel, hard, just above the ear. The bride staggered forward, into the arms of the hapless (best man). He passed her immediately to an old guy—surely her father—who was, apart from the nephew himself, the only person present who seemed really to be enjoying the fracas.
The bride’s mother joined the father, and together they got the bride seated woozily at one of the picnic tables in the pavilion beside the party tent. The father patted the bride reassuringly on the shoulder, then straightened up; he faced his wife, and she slapped him so hard he spun a full three-sixty. When he got his feet back under him he was laughing, then laughing harder, and finally doubled over, holding his sides. The bride’s mother turned on a heel and walked away, and the nephew, still recording everything, made a note to himself to ask his dad and uncle to please let him in on the joke.
Maxwell Morgan Ingram
The Forbidden Fruit
Outside it was not too hot, but not too cold. The sun shined indifferently through some tall trees onto an unsuspecting house in a neighborhood in the suburbs. They had spent the better half of their day in bed celebrating their anniversary, and now they found themselves lying there smoking cigarettes. They were talking about the rectangular picture of a half eaten strawberry hanging across the room.
“Why do you think it’s only half eaten?” Lisa asked.
“Because if it were completely eaten then there would be nothing to frame,” Said Benjamin with not much inflection in his voice.
“You don’t think somebody got hungry?”
“Nobody eats half a strawberry. They would’ve just eaten the whole thing if that was the case,” Benjamin replied.
“Maybe the photographer wanted us to be bewildered,” she said.
“Yes I guess it’s possible,” said Benjamin.
There was silence for a few seconds, and they both smoked their cigarettes in the brief lull.
“Where did you get the picture?” She asked.
“An old girlfriend gave it to me in college,” said Benjamin now becoming increasingly interested in the picture.
“Why would she do that?”
“She thought she was a photographer. She was always taking pictures of strange things,” he said.
“If she took the picture then maybe she took the bite herself,” said Lisa.
There was momentary silence as they both flicked their cigarettes out the open window. A soft breeze blew inward and the light drapes began to breathe.
How was she in bed?” Lisa asked.
Benjamin looked at his wife sharply as she looked back, smirking widely.
“Not as good as you, but then again that’s your only redeeming quality,” he said now with a smirk to match Lisa’s.
“You pig!” She said, hitting him on the arm.
He turned on his side to face her and once their gaze met there was a temperate and peaceful aura between them.
“I love you,” he said.
“Even though I can’t take pretty pictures?” she asked.
He looked at her for a few moments and then kissed her passionately. The sun had gone down. The moon now full.
When Monday morning came, Lisa found herself being awoken from a deep and tranquil sleep by the sound of Benjamin walking down the stairs. She had a smile on her face when she opened her eyes, and the sun came through the window down in rays upon her blonde hair. He was in the kitchen, and that is where she found him. He was pouring a mug of coffee only half-full because he was on his way out to work. He drank it rather quickly because it was not too hot, and then he turned around to be met by his wife standing in the still doorway. Benjamin went walking towards her.
“I have to go love,” he said.
“Did you mean it?” she said.
“Do you really love me?”
He stopped in the doorway, inches away from her warm body, and looked into her eyes for a few severe moments.
“Yes. Of course,” he said.
“I love you too,” said Lisa.
“See you tonight” he said before kissing her on the forehead and briskly walking out the door.
The night before, Benjamin dreamt that he was skating around the rings of Saturn. He skated around them several times before being flown off into the black mass of space. Floating through the thickness, he saw Lisa’s smiling face appear on a grey moon. Little did he know that this was the last time that he would see her face with any vibrancy. What he suspected even less was that when he arrived home from work that day, he would not find Lisa at all, but a lifeless corpse.
They had moved into the house one year prior, soon after their wedding. Lisa liked it because of the tall trees in the front. She said that it would keep the sun out. He liked it because it wouldn’t take him a lifetime to pay off. Nonetheless they had lived in the house very happily. Years before they were married, Lisa had swallowed the contents of a bottle of painkillers, and consequentially had to be rushed to the hospital to have her stomach pumped. Benjamin remembers finding her in their small apartment bathtub with the bottle spilled over beside her. He remembers how she didn’t down every pill. There was one single pill left over and it spilled out of the bottle onto the cold tile floor. He also remembered the look on her face and her limp eyes, his own shocked reflection in the tepid bathwater, and the shrill buzz of the overhead bathroom light. When they were in the hospital, he thought she would die. She didn’t. When she was coherent enough to talk, he asked her why she did it. He was in the hospital room watching her barely breathe, noticing the gown that they had put on her. The smell in the hospital made him feel sterile, inhuman, scared. Her eyes opened.
“Lisa! Oh god I didn’t think you would wake up,” he said as he quickly stood to make sure what he was seeing was real. She didn’t say anything. Her eyes closed again, and Benjamin sat back down in the chair to wait.
“Benjamin,” she said very softly, reaching for his hand.
He took her hand.
“Yes my love?” He asked.
“Get me the fuck out of this hospital,” she said with squinty eyes and a still soft voice.
“No you have to stay here until the doctors say you can go.”
“I don’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be here,” she said more to herself than to her husband.
Suddenly an anger overcame him that was actually fear, and he walked briskly into the hallway where he would pace for several minutes. Eventually he would feel tears well up in his eyes, but would hold them back. Lisa, in her bed, gazed out the window into the vacant parking lot. It was the early morning, around four. The tall lights were shining over the empty parking spots.
“What a waste of space,” she muttered to herself, and she turned back to the ceiling. Benjamin walked in.
“He sat down and looked at her fiercely.
“Why would you do that to me?”
“I didn’t do anything to you,” she said now much more lively.
“Do you know how it felt to find you like that? Do you know how scared I was?”
“Scared? Scared of what?” she asked.
“Scared of losing you,” he said.
She was silent.
“I just don’t know. I thought you were happy. Aren’t you happy?” Benjamin asked.
“Yes I suppose so,” Lisa responded after thinking about the question for a few seconds.
“Don’t you know how I depend on you Lisa?”
“Yes. I know because that is all there is,” she said.
The tears in Benjamin’s eyes would not relent this time, and he cried. Lisa turned back to look out the window, the warm smoggy horizon now aglow. The light there just coming up. Later Benjamin would take her home and tend to her at bedside. For three weeks, she stayed mostly in bed, and Benjamin slept on the couch, afraid that she would reveal something to him that would break his heart. On one bright morning, Lisa awoke with a thin smile on her face. The sun was in shards around her. She walked downstairs to find her husband still sleeping. She kissed him on the forehead and he awoke.
“Do you love me?” she asked. He sat up.
“Of course” he said after a moment of confusion.
She slowly dropped her gown before lying her warm body over him. They made love that morning, and Benjamin imagined that the wound was mended.
When Benjamin closed the door, Lisa scurried over to the window to watch his car pull out. She watched him zoom down the street, and she went upstairs to take a shower. On her way out of the bedroom, she noticed the picture of the half-eaten strawberry. She went into the kitchen to make a fresh pot of coffee. She turned on the small radio sitting on the windowsill above the sink. There was jazz buzzing out of the radio. There was just enough static in the melody so that it became endearing. Lisa smiled. She sat on the counter and wiggled her toes, pulling out a nail file from a cabinet drawer beneath her, and filing her nails while she waited for the coffee to brew. She tried to hum the melody that she recognized as Moanin’ by Art Blakely. In college she dreamt that she would marry a musician. She looked out her window at the tall fern tree, and thought that maybe this was better, but maybe not. The coffee beeped. steam came from the top of the machine. She jumped down and filled a mug, took a sip, and then went off into the dining room. The hard pull of the snare surrounded her as she tiptoed in her bare feet. She was looking for, and eventually found, the cabinet full of whiskey and gin. She drank her coffee down some and then poured the whiskey in. She went back into the kitchen. The saxophone now coming alive through the static. She turned it up, and reached in the drawer below her and pulled out a pen and notepad. She scurried a little note and then drank the rest of her coffee mixture. She placed the coffee mug on top of the note for a few seconds before realizing the careless drip on the bottom. She placed the mug in the sink, and went out the front door. The snare still alive. A small half-lip of coffee stained on the note on the counter.
She was looking at the nicer cameras. They were at the half rotunda towards the middle of the large electronics store. An associate asked her what kind of camera she was looking for, and all she said was that she wanted the best money could buy. He explained what she was really asking for and described the elements of the different cameras to her, and asked if she would like any other lenses. All she wanted was for it to take a picture of pristine clarity. When the associate asked her how she would be paying, she pulled out a credit card with the name Benjamin Tyler on it. She walked out of the store with a few bags in her hands, and went to the grocery store to pick out the ripest kinds of fruit.
Benjamin Tyler had by now arrived at work, and he was wondering why every tragic or momentous event in he and his wife’s life was surrounded by the words ‘I love you.’ He then realized that this was only the case when she was the one saying it. His cubicle was flat and droll. The air blew steadily from the vents overhead. A picture of Lisa lay on his desk next to his computer. She had given it to him the year before when she went on vacation with her sister to the beach. He looked at it for a few moments, and then picked it up. He took it out of the frame, and admired it for a few moments. She was very pretty, and even more than that she made him feel whole. He felt that he needed her or he might die. He turned the note over and it read “So you don’t forget.” She had always been eccentric. He put the note back in the frame perfectly, and placed the picture back down. His head began to hurt.
At the grocery, she found herself humming a tune that made her happy. It was not boisterous and nobody else could hear her. She was walking slowly with a buggy in front of her, and the wheels moved smoothly over the linoleum as she browsed the selection of fruits. She picked an assortment from the slanted baskets. First she grabbed a peach, then an apple, and then a few pears because she always had enjoyed pears. She then moved to the more succulent fruits and she chose a kiwi, an apricot, and finally a box of strawberries. She then went to stroll the aisles until she found the aisle with the bleach. She grabbed the largest bottle. She went to the check-out line and when the cashier asked her how she was, she said that she was very well.
On her way home she saw the most beautiful patch of clouds in the sky, the still heart of the sun nestled behind them, shining outward in daggers. She rolled the window down and when the breeze hit her hand, she felt goosebumps rise on each pore of her body. Her legs began to tremble slightly, and a not so somber smile came across her face. She made it to the house, and drove into the garage. The euphoria subsided.
The fruits were submerged in the bleach for about an hour in a tall and wide bowl. After she removed the fruit, she placed a bone white sheet of paper underneath each of them so that the bleach might not seep the hardwood kitchen floor entirely. Laid out first was the apple and then the pear, followed by the apricot and finally the kiwi and strawberry. She was in the kitchen. The radio was still on and now playing Vivaldi. She took the camera out of the box and momentarily placed the camera on the kitchen counter while she broke down the box and placed it into the recycling bin. She went to the camera presets and found the setting that would make her pictures frame-worthy. She sat down on the floor and slowly she took a long bite from the hard apple, her teeth making a perfect indentation. She swallowed the morsel with much joy, and then took a perfect picture of the fruit. She became aroused, and the euphoria she felt in the car was back. The frantic violin and organ pulsated. The pear was soggy, and as she took her bite, some bleach dripped down her chin. She wiped it away with the back of her hand. She sat back down and when she felt the shutter of the camera click, the hair on her neck and arms stood up. The apricot was firm, and after this bite her esophagus burned, and she relished in it before snapping the picture. She never liked Kiwi, but this one she enjoyed so much that it was all she could do not to eat the whole thing. The shutter clicked. Vivaldi was playing high in the air. Finally was the strawberry. In this one she took a long and slow bite, swallowed, and with her tongue she felt a few small and robust seeds still in her mouth. She slowly worked her tongue around her teeth and mouth until she was able to swallow all of them. She put it down on the paper and took a moment to play with the green top, turning the fruit in several directions until she was satisfied with the way it looked. She then picked the strawberry up, plucked the green top and ate the fruit whole. She took a picture of the green bit left over after placing it perfectly onto the piece of white paper. She sat back against the cabinet beneath the kitchen sink and looked at her pictures. She was immensely satisfied. Slowly her insides burned, and she felt an uncharacteristic and distinct terror inside of her that she had never felt. She at last grabbed the bottle of bleach from under the sink and began to chug. After a while she felt a sharp pain in her stomach and esophagus, and she tried to stand but could not. She crawled to the bathroom and made it there in time to vomit. She died there slowly.
When Benjamin Tyler walked in the front door, he saw several fruits lying on the kitchen floor, but that was not before he saw his spouse in the hall bathroom sitting propped against the sink. He rushed to her, and when he touched her shoulder, the lifeless body slumped further. It was then that he knew that he no longer had a wife, and he at once felt that perhaps he also did not have the will to live. He began to weep for a few moments. He slunk down next to her, and kissed her forehead, and somewhere inside of him there was a voice that told him to not be sad. He slowly went into the kitchen and looked at the scene. He picked the camera up off the floor and looked through the pictures of a few beautiful pieces of fruit and one picture of a green strawberry top. On the counter there was a note. It read “Don’t forget me.” On that day, the paramedics took a very long time to arrive, and the police questioned him only briefly.
6 months later, Benjamin Tyler was in love again. She was beautiful, and had long red hair. Around his house, he had pictures of assorted fruits with perfect bites taken out of the side. One night he was lying with his girlfriend in bed smoking cigarettes, when she noticed a rectangular picture of a green strawberry top hanging across the room.
“Where is the rest of it?” she asked, gesturing to the fruit.
“I’ve been asking myself the same thing,” he replied.
Lise Marisol Quintana
I woke up in the hospital. It was a relief, because when I fell asleep I was in the hospital. The last thing I remember was fumbling for my insurance card – who takes their insurance card out for a jog, right? Anyway, it was two a.m., and my next-door neighbor had been yelling for more painkillers for an hour, but the nurse walked into my room.
“Hi, I’m Amy. I’m your night nurse. I’m here to give you your exposition injection?”
“My what?” But before she answered me, Amy had injected something into my I.V.
“You should start feeling better in a minute.”
And sure enough, before she had even left the room I felt like I had read twenty pages of tedious backstory, enough to send me crashing back to sleep.
I awoke as someone was putting a thermometer in my mouth. I opened my eyes to see a small, wiry man in scrubs smiling at me.
“Good morning! I’m Phil Baker. I’m your plot doctor.”
“Well, we’ve run some tests, and it turns out you’re a two-dimensional character.” He held my chart out in front of him and flipped through more pages than I thought were warranted for an overnight stay. “Let’s see, you’re a thirty-one year old biochemist with twelve patents for breakthrough drugs, and you’re an ultra-marathon runner. You lost your college boyfriend, a fledgling broker, on 9/11 and are still mourning his loss, choosing to bury yourself in your work. You’ve been told you look like a model, but you’re insecure and doubt you could ever love another man.”
“Um…was that on my blood test?”
He looked at a page of pie charts and graphs. “I see you’re also a black belt in tae kwon do and a gourmet cook.”
“Well, yes, but…”
“Ms., um…” here he consulted his file. “Can I call you Mary Sue?”
“That’s not my–”
“In layman’s term, you’re a cliché.”
And suddenly, I knew it was true. The wasted years, the hours of revisions, and all I had to show for it was a stellar career, a perfect body and my family’s fortune. I turned my face to the pillow as tears tracked down my cheeks, leaving my eye makeup untouched.
“We’ve got some experimental therapies we could try,” he said, taking my hand. “Don’t worry. We can fix this.”
I was back in his office a week later for my follow-up.
“Well, how’re you feeling?”
“I don’t know that anything has changed. I tried watching television, but that crap was all just so…unbelievable.”
“Interesting,” he said, making a note on my chart. “And how about the mall?”
“I went, but I couldn’t find a parking place. I just can’t get excited about driving at all, unless I’m going on a really long motorcycle trip where I have plenty of time to think about my life and what it means, and wear black leather.”
“I’m going to put you into therapy.”
“Is physical therapy necessary for my condition?” I asked, my enormous eyes dewy with concern and barely-repressed sex appeal.
“It’s less physical and more…structural,” the doctor said, with a nuance that I could only dream of. “She’s not a physical therapist. She’s an MFA.”
I spent two afternoons a week with the therapist, a waiflike woman with black leggings, too much chunky silver jewelry and a haircut that looked as though she’d lost a bet. We talked for hours, discovering that we both loved herbal tea, cried when we saw photos of cute puppies, and had thought about becoming ballerinas when we were children, although I had spent years studying dance before turning my heart to medicine while she had taken lessons at the local Y for a summer before giving it up because it was just too much bother. She asked me about my motivation, about anything from my past that might uncover some secret weakness that would allow normal people to identify with me.
Had I ever worn a diaper on a long road trip? Of course not. Was I unable to remember the names or faces of those I’ve met? My eidetic memory is more a curse than a blessing, I told her. Was I a terrible dancer, forcing me to sit at the table and watch everyone else’s purses at parties? Well, ballet wasn’t my only passion – I did competitive ballroom dance as a hobby, and dancing at clubs helped keep me in shape and gave me new dance step ideas.
I stared deeply into her eyes as we talked, and I thought that we were really communicating. By our last session three months later, I thought that she might even be falling in love with me a little bit. Everybody does.
When I went to my doctor for a last check-up, though, I found out the truth.
“I got Ms. Fullerton’s report,” he said, flipping through my enormous file. “It doesn’t look good.”
My large, blue, slightly-tilted eyes misted over on cue, and a single crease of concern appeared between my perfectly-plucked brows. “But I thought we really got along,” I said.
“Well, let’s just say that it’s not what Ms. Fullerton wrote. It’s what she didn’t write. She loves you. She thinks you’re perfect. She’s now in therapy for depression brought on by comparing herself to you.”
My initial shock of guilt and concern was quelled by the realization that other people’s defects weren’t my fault, and that I had to give other people space to solve their own problems. In Ms. Fullerton’s case, a really lot of space. Miles.
“I’ve written you a few more prescriptions,” the doctor said, handing me a bunch of little paper slips. I looked at them, confused by the absence of references to medication.
“Target? Home Depot? Safeway? Cheesecake Factory?”
“Just follow the instructions on each slip. I’ll see you next week.”
Exactly a week later, I sat in the doctor’s waiting room, hot and uncomfortable.
“Mary Sue?” the nurse called from the doorway. “Step on the scale, please.”
I gasped when I saw that I had gained four pounds over the week. My weight, which hadn’t varied by more than an ounce or two since my senior year of high school, had shot up by four pounds.
“Mary Sue, it’s nice to see you. How are you doing?” the doctor asked. “I see you’ve followed my instructions.”
“I’m considering suing you,” I said without smiling. I wanted him to know I was serious. “I bought the clothes you recommended. They don’t fit. The pants keep crawling up my butt, and they’re all baggy in the front. Who sews these things together? Blind people?”
“I thought you looked very nice,” the doctor lied. “And how did your trip to Home Depot go?”
“They threw me out.”
The doctor’s eyes first widened in shock, then he hid a smile behind his hand. “What happened?”
“I bought the shelves like you told me. I got them all put together, but then I realized that I didn’t have the right screws to fasten them to the walls. I went back for the screws, but when I got home I realized I needed something called an anchor bolt. I went back for it, but realized I needed a Philips head screwdriver for it. After about my sixth trip just to put up the damn shelves, I punched a guy in the paint section who asked me if I needed help.”
“Oh, that’s too bad,” the doctor said with a smile that said it was anything but. “So, you’re feeling a little stressed?”
“Is that what this is? I was afraid I was getting cancer. My heart is racing, I feel tired, I’m hungry all the time, but on all these pointless errands, I don’t have time to do the gourmet cooking I’m used to. I’ve been living on Red Bull and Funyuns. I’ve gained FOUR POUNDS.”
“And you’ve got a little pimple on your chin,” the doctor said.
The nurse escorted me from the building as the doctor picked himself up from the floor.
“I don’t think we’ll need to see you again, dear,” she said. “It sounds like you’re cured.”
If only Joanie hadn’t been worried about the war, if only she didn’t have her head craned high in the air, scanning the Chicago sky for Japanese bombers emerging from cotton candy clouds. If only her head wasn’t in the clouds, like Sister Matthew told her when she struggled with long division. Then maybe she would have avoided the Bogeyman.
Mama had been making supper and ran out of oleo to fry up the cabbage so she sent Joanie to the grocery store with a quarter and a tiny red ration stamp. Mama warned, “Don’t lose that Joanie! Put it in your pocket.”
“Can I buy some candy?”
“Only a penny’s worth!”
Mama told her not to take a short cut through the alley but she never paid attention. The fronts of people’s homes were boring, but their backyards revealed their lives. Underwear of all shapes and sizes hung on laundry lines. Vegetables too big or sloppy for front yards grew free, guarded by mangy grey mutts. Wild weeds pushed their way from the asphalt seams that separated yard from alley, and tangled themselves in chain-link fences where they were visited by insects too exotic for the neat green lawns up front. The alley was a dangerous place, but now the whole world was a scary place where anything could happen. Joanie checked the sky for Japanese bombers. Nothing but big black birds—crows or starlings? How could they tell Jap planes from American if even the birds look the same when they’re up real high? If she saw a Japanese plane, what would she do? Scream? Then what?
“Whatcha got for me?”
He was older than Daddy, her grandfather’s age, and wore a wool coat although it was hot outside. She looked behind her, thinking that maybe he was talking to somebody else.
“I’m talking to you, girly.”
And before she could run or scream he grabbed her arm, pulled her against a storage shed, shoved his calloused hand under her blouse, beneath her undershirt, and squeezed her budding breasts: one squeeze on the left, the other on the right. He even said, “toot toot” as if he were squeezing a horn, but before he could get in another toot she somehow squirmed away and began running, the smell of stale beer and urine following her down the alley and onto the safety of 26th street, which she ran across without looking for busses.
Once she got home and gave Mama the oleo, she locked herself in the bathroom and washed her breasts where the Boogeyman touched them. She scrubbed until the bristles left red tracks around her nipples, all the while praying to sweet Jesus that she could wash his germs off quickly enough.
“I scrubbed and I scrubbed and I scrubbed,” my mother laughed.
“What did you scrub with?”
“Grampa’s nail brush.”
“I thought I could get pregnant.” She noticed the quizzical look on my face and added, “People back then never talked about that kind of stuff.”
She thought I was surprised by her naivety, but at age eleven, I myself was naïve. At least now I knew that women could not get pregnant through hand-breast contact, adding another piece to the puzzle. My other clue came from the drive-in movie Village of the Damned, in which every fertile woman in a small town, including virgins, gives birth to platinum-haired baby geniuses. Endless scenes of shamed women crying to their doctors, “But I didn’t do anything wrong!” led me to believe that pregnancy was caused by A) nameless things married couples did, B) shameful things unmarried couples did, or C) blonde space aliens. Complicating my curiosity was the Catholic church’s directive against “impure thoughts,” which suggested that my attempts to solve these mysteries was in itself a sin.
I had a minor meltdown over this directive only two years prior, when I contemplated the odd shape of my babysitter’s behind. She was our neighbor, Clara, who squatted down to search the bottom shelf of our refrigerator, her backside and hips forming an strangely-shaped oval. Perhaps my mother bent over more than squatted, or perhaps her butt was perkier, but for whatever reason, my “buttocks contemplation” suddenly spooked me—was I having an impure thought?—and I broke out in tears. Already an insecure woman rendered more nervous by her inability to find the mayonnaise, Clara now had a hysterical child on her hands who refused to explain why she was crying.
Later, when my mother asked me why I’d been crying, I couldn’t find the words to articulate my lunacy. Clara never babysat for me and my little brother again.
Luckily, by the time I was eleven, my butt-gazing and other sin-related phobias subsided, although the Catholic Church made sure my natural curiosity about sex was still tinged with anxiety, just as my mother made sure her titillating stories never provided definitive answers. Another of Mom’s favorites involved her overnight stay as a teenager at an alleged “girls only” party. A group of boys were also invited, but Mom hid this information from my grandmother, not wanting to upset her and assuming the boys would leave before bedtime anyway. Unfortunately, that night one of those boys slipped my mother a “Mickey Finn.” In the gangster movies of my mom’s generation, this meant spiking someone’s drink—usually with chloral hydrate—to incapacitate and rob him. However, no gangster movie or newsreel had warned my mother about date rape.
“I don’t remember getting on the bed, or even how I got into the bedroom,” she told me. “I woke up and this boy was lying on top of me, kissing me. My blouse was unbuttoned and my skirt was pulled up. My garter belt and underpants were still on, but he was trying to get them off. The boy still had his pants on, but they were unzipped. Nothing was, you know…”
I didn’t know.
“Anyway, I started to cry, and the boy suddenly got really scared and said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ I was lucky I woke up before he did anything…”
Like what? I wondered. Grab her boobies and mutter, “toot toot”?
My mother told me these stories not as cautionary tales but as pure entertainment. Her favorite part of the date-rape story was its O’Henry-esque denouement: a few days later this boy declared his undying love for my mother and asked her to marry him.
She politely declined.
Mom loved telling me about boys who pursued her before she met my father. These tales were meant not only to prove how desirable she had been, but also to justify her marrying my dad. There was Walter the aspiring dentist who declared he’d buy her a sizable engagement ring if she’d “fool around once a week” until they tied the knot, or Billy, whose idea of dating was sitting on the front steps watching the grass grow. My father, she claimed, took her to plays and movies; they went skating, to parties, to ballgames—my father belonged to an amateur team—went to picnics, to the beach, to Riverview amusement park. Between the lines, the implication was your father wasn’t always like this.
When I was in seventh grade, I hoped our school nurse, Mrs. Winters, would put an end to my questions in an upcoming girls-only school assembly. The boys had a separate assembly, and we all needed signed permission slips from our parents to attend. Unfortunately, that day I was sick with the flu, so my mother decided to prepare me for my first magical day of menstruation on her own. I was already 12, but in 1964 had not been exposed to the nutrients or toxins that would soon create a generation of fertile nine-year-olds. But instead of sitting me down for “the talk,” Mom presented me with a book published by Kotex, and assured me that because I was “so smart” and “such a good reader,” I’d be able to figure everything out for myself.
One of the first things I learned was that I had ovaries. This snippet of information explained a quip my dad threw at my mother whenever she was angry: “Don’t get your ovaries in an uproar!” Now I knew why my parents broke out in hysterical laughter when I yelled the same at my little brother, Georgie.
I learned that my ovaries would someday produce eggs—not chicken eggs, but microscopic eggs that would cause my uterus to slough off a “lining,” a sweet euphemism that brought to mind satin and taffeta. Of course, this lining would stay put if the egg grew into a baby—but for that, it would have to be fertilized.
Fertilized? How does that happen? I turned the page, but Kotex refused to explain.
Several days later, my best friend Tina told me about the assembly. She said that Mrs. Winters made a big deal about how we should never flush our sanitary napkins down the toilets. Apparently protecting our school’s plumbing was a great responsibility of budding Catholic womanhood. Nurse Winters also told the assembly that pregnancy could only take place “within the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony.”
One girl raised her hand and said she’d heard stories of unmarried girls having babies.
Nurse Winters replied that these “wild tales” were “dirty back alley stories” and girls who spread them were nothing but filthy liars.
“Can you imagine her fibbing like that?” said Tina.
I said something inane like “wow,” and hoped that Tina would divulge the specifics—unlike my mother, Kotex, or Nurse Winters. But she didn’t, and I was too embarrassed to ask. By now I had seen movies like Aunt Mame and A Summer Place in which single women got pregnant without any help from space aliens. I knew the answer lay firmly in boys and biology—not magic Sacraments—but I didn’t know the details. Unfortunately, Nurse Winters felt the devil was lurking in these details, and that revealing them might cause some daring students to seek concrete evidence and the rest of us to think impure thoughts.
A few months later, I was lying in bed reading my new Catholic Missal—revised to include the post-Vatican II all-English Mass—while my parents entertained their old chums Maureen and Lenny from back in the days when my father’s social activity consisted of more than just spending his evenings getting smashed at the local pub.
In the kitchen I overheard the four of them laughing, my father whispering dirty jokes and shouting out the punchlines as he stomped his fist on the table: Whisper, whisper, whisper—How in the hell did you win first prize?— Stomp, stomp, peals of laughter. Meanwhile, my new Missal encouraged me to examine my conscience to detect recent sins against purity:
- Did I commit impure acts?
- Did I think impure thoughts?
- Did I dress in an impure manner?
- Did I look at impure pictures, photographs, or movies?
- Did I read impure books?
- Did I tell impure jokes? In same or mixed company?
- Did I enjoy listening to impure jokes? In same or mixed company?
- Did I dance in an impure manner? In same or mixed company?
- Did I touch myself in an impure manner?
This was the same interrogation presented by my earlier “children’s” Missal. However, a new
bullet point suddenly garnered my attention:
- Did I use artificial birth control?
I don’t know, did I?
That night the presence of Maureen and Lenny emboldened me. If my parents didn’t know, maybe they would provide me with answers.
“What’s artificial birth control?” I suddenly appeared in the kitchen, jumping straight to my scandalous question without even prepping my audience, who gazed at me over the tops of their playing cards, dumbstruck. Years later I’d hearken this moment to the scene from The Exorcist when little Reagan comes downstairs—ostensibly to say hello to her parents’ guests, but instead pees on the carpet.
“Where’d you hear that?” my mother asked accusingly.
I handed her the Missal, which she shared with her guests. Mom was relieved that I was introduced to this concept through Catholicism and not some filthy back alley story and within seconds everyone returned to their card game, ignoring me. I’d have to pee on the carpet if I wanted to regain their attention.
Days later, however, when my mother was out Christmas shopping, my Dad asked me, reproachfully, if I had finished my homework. He was sitting in a flannel shirt and long underwear at the kitchen table, nursing a Manhattan, and pissed at my mother who— although she had left him pork chops in the fridge—was still out spending “a shitload” of his “hard earned money” at nine o’clock at night.
“Yeah, it’s finished,” I said, hoping I could sneak away before he made me listen to a litany of drunken complaints.
I knew—at least I thought I knew—what was coming. He would use his squeaky, ear-piercing voice that supposedly mimicked my mother but sounded like a drag queen Donald Duck: “I have to buy Christmas gifts for all my friends and all the neighbors . . .”
But surprisingly he didn’t bitch about my mother—at least not about her spending habits. He lit a cigarette to hold me in suspense, then blurted out, “You wanted to know about artificial birth control.”
I thought I did.
“Your mother and I…”
When my father talked to me, there was no real conversation, especially when he was plastered. He asked no questions and expected nothing but a rapt audience. He’d leave long pauses between sentences to take drags off his Newport, between clauses to relish his drink, and between words and even syllables to burp, sigh, or collect his tipsy thoughts.
“…use rubbers …”
Huh? Was he telling me they use artificial birth control? Isn’t that a sin? Was my mother going to hell?
“… also called condoms. Now, a rubber is something that a man puts on his…” He mixed his Manhattan with his finger; the ice made a clinking noise.
I was stupefied with embarrassment. I mean, here was my father talking to me about his penis like it was no big deal.
“Now the rubber, see, keeps the sperm that comes out of the man’s penis from getting into the vagina so it doesn’t swim up there into the uterus and fertilize the woman’s egg.”
Fertilize?! This should have been a pure “eureka!” moment for me, but I was too mortified to appreciate the fact that I had finally solved the mystery. Forty years before “too much information” became a catch-phrase, Dad was its king.
I learned that my conception resulted from naivety and bad planning; my little brother’s, drunken horniness and closed drugstores. I also learned that Dad didn’t like rubbers because they cut back on sensation, and that Maureen and Lenny used diaphragms, a “barrier device” that a woman “stuck up there.”
“But your mother says . . .”— he switched to his drag-queen Donald voice—“’I don’t like diaphragms.’” His statement caused him to muse deeply. The ash on his cigarette grew so long it threatened to fall on the tablecloth. Then he muttered, “I think she’s frigid.”
Suddenly, Clara’s oddly shaped posterior was tiny compared to the burden of knowledge I carried.
My parents had a “finished basement,” our Chicago neighborhood’s status symbol, equivalent to the suburbanite’s “rec room.” Here my father installed a bar and built several shallow rooms along three walls: two clothes closets, a furnace room, a laundry room, a junk room, a tool room and even a Cold War “can room” to store provisions for the impending nuclear holocaust. The leftover space was for recreation: a party room.
My father covered its concrete floor with wild stripes of 9-inch tiles that came into his possession very inexpensively. (Dad worked in construction; Mom often accused him of getting “cheap shit” either “hot” or “through friends” instead of “from Sears like normal people.”) Dad laid a long, wall-to-wall row of salmon pink tile with metallic gold flecks, then next to it, a row of phony wood-grain tile, and next to that a row of faux grey-green marble—and continued on in this fashion until our floor was striped with over a dozen different clashing patterns. Dad’s friends ribbed him and called him a cheap Polack, but my and Georgie’s friends thought our “psychedelic” floor tile was cool.
Dad bought a used refrigerator and installed a working sink behind the bar, but his biggest source of pride were a hundred or so miniature airlines liquor bottles he got “through a friend.” Mom’s pride was her decorating skills: She turned the basement support beams into palm trees with crepe paper bark and plastic leaves, and hung fisherman’s nets and seashells over the bar to complete her tropical theme.
A party room this glorious needed a party, and when I was 14, it finally got one. In preparation, Dad stocked up on big-boy bottles of various alcohol—the airline bottles displayed behind the bar were for decoration only—and mom went into a cleaning frenzy.
At 35 my mother was no longer svelte, but still had her hourglass figure, albeit a bigger hourglass. She may have eschewed the skin-tight tops of her youth, but she still championed cleavage-baring necklines. Mom’s youthful looks and playful personality attracted men who flirted with her and women who sought to befriend her. It seemed that only the most humorless tight-asses—and my father—ever expressed annoyance at her eccentricities.
Speaking of tight-asses, my parents’ invite list for this party was shockingly bereft of any. None of the neighbors on either side of us were invited, nor were any of Dad’s much older siblings. Dad called it a “work party,” as he invited most of the folks from his job; however, the greater number of guests were my parents’ friends from the halcyon days of their youth. Some I knew well, like Maureen and Lenny; others I’d never met yet were legendary, like Artie.
“Artie’s coming and he’s still single!” Mom told me breathlessly. “He was the one, remember, who had a thing for me. He said if I ever divorced your father, he’d be waiting.”
I couldn’t understand why she expected me to share her excitement, or why she was thrilled in the first place. She had no intention of divorcing my father, and no serious interest in “fooling around on the side.” Mom always let it be known that she was “not that kind” and a virgin when she married. Boys had called her a “prick tease” and her answer to them was “so what?” She seemed equally proud of her ability to incite impure thoughts as her unwillingness to bring them to fruition.
After all, she was frigid.
But apparently that didn’t stop her from also mentioning that Dad’s bachelor workmate Frankie was also coming to the party, and that he looked like a cross between James Mason and Montgomery Clift. “You can tell me if you think he’s good-looking too,” she said, as if we were both giggly fourteen-year-olds.
Meanwhile, Dad was equally thrilled that the “colored guy” at work had accepted his invitation. “Wonder what the neighbors think when they see Milton and his wife come to our door. Ha!” Ironically my father felt no solidarity with the civil rights movement and would later vote for segregationist George Wallace in the 1968 presidential election. He just liked the idea of sticking it to the neighbors.
Dad stood behind the bar, in his Jackie Gleason as Joe the Bartender mode, mixing highballs and Manhattans for the men, and dessert drinks blended with crushed ice for the ladies: screaming banshees, white Russians, grasshoppers, and pink Cadillacs. Dad may have been an alcoholic, but tonight he wasn’t a nasty drunk who fell asleep at the kitchen table, his face in a bowl of spaghetti. Tonight he was immersed in the niceties of cocktail culture: cherries and lime wedges and little umbrellas and cocktail napkins with racy cartoons.
Mom never drank, but that night she sucked down a screaming banshee and invited me to take a couple sips of creamy chocolate-banana wonderment. Then she asked me to change into my bell-bottomed leopard jumpsuit, which was supposed to be only for lounging around the house. Coincidentally, that night both my mother and her friend Dorothy wore low-necked, belted, wide-legged jumpsuits that accentuated their ample breasts while diminishing their prominent hips. So at 14, I momentarily became the youngest of the jumpsuit triplets, posing with Mom and Dorothy for my first cheesecake photo: sucking in my tiny gut, jutting out my tiny breasts—foam falsies, actually, that my mother encouraged me to wear. Snap! As Dad changed the flashbulb, and bright haloes of light flitted before my eyes, I noticed Frankie, the only handsome man at the party, with his chiseled features and five o’clock shadow. Unlike the other men who dressed like the ‘60s never happened—including Artie— Frankie wore a black turtleneck sweater that made him look like a beatnik, and he was staring at Dorothy, my mother, or maybe even me. Snap!
Later I also managed to weasel a taste of a minty grasshopper from Dad, who was eager to show off his drink-blending skills, but then Georgie was at my heels demanding his share.
“You’re not old enough,” said Dad.
“Neither is she.”
“Ya gotta point,” Dad told Georgie, and just like that, I was cut off.
Then Dad said to me, “Make yourself useful,” alluding to the nickname he had dubbed me, “Useless.” He continued: “In the bedroom, in my top dresser drawer, is that little silver book—you know what I’m talking about—bring it down.” The book was titled Female Sexual Behavior and supposedly was written by Alfred Linsey.
I brought the book downstairs and Dad immediately shoved it at Milton’s wife. Perhaps he felt that as the only “colored” woman at the party, she’d be honored to be chosen as the butt of a practical joke.
Go ahead, open it,” he said. But she saw the title and demurely said “no thanks.”
“It’s not what you think,” said Maureen, who I now knew used diaphragms.
“Then you open it!” said Milton’s wife.
“I’ve already seen it!” said Maureen, and of course, as a regular guest at our home she had. Everyone Dad knew had seen the “book,” actually an empty shell holding a nine volt battery and a primitive electrocution device, designed to jolt the curious who ventured a peek inside. Mom shrieked and laughed hysterically the first time she opened the book, and Dad felt it appropriate to let Georgie and me lift the cover and get electrocuted, too.
Tonight Dad needed fresh blood. He surveyed the room and saw Dorothy.
“Dottie, come over here!” he commanded.
It was time to go upstairs. The men were getting loud and obnoxious, all except for Frankie, who silently brooded. But he was too old for me, and I was too young for anyone, even though Channel Nine ran the movie Lolita late at night and Susan Lyons was only supposed to be fourteen, like me, but she looked older and probably had real breasts, not foam ones.
Upstairs was where the adults had to use the bathroom, because according to my mother, “your father’s too cheap to put a bathroom downstairs.” Georgie and I sat at the kitchen table, watching TV and playing Monopoly. The basement stairs led directly into our kitchen, and we were constantly interrupted by a parade of alcohol-loosened adults and their ridiculous questions: Where’s the bathrooms? Which one’s the ladies? Where did your mother put all the coats? People are getting too tanked up down there—they need food–when’s somebody gonna order the pizzas? This last question was the dumbest one to ask two hungry kids, but fortunately Mom came bounding up the stairs a few moments later.
She picked up the kitchen phone and ordered one pizza with sausage, onion, and green pepper (my favorite), some oddball mix of pepperoni and olives and ham that had never entered our home before, and a couple with just cheese. Then she went into her needless story-telling mode, telling the guy on the phone, “We’re in the middle of a big party, and it’s really noisy, so could the driver ring a couple times just in case nobody hears, and could he possibly rush the pizza because the guys are starting to get inebriated…”
Like always, Georgie cheated at Monopoly, stealing extra money from the bank whenever he passed “Go” or my back was turned. Finding no joy in playing a crooked marathon, and knowing Georgie would whine and fuss if I quit the game, I purposely allowed him to win—even miscounting my moves around the board so I’d land on his high rent properties. After eating a couple pieces of cheese pizza, I was ready to go to bed.
At age fourteen, I no longer read my Missal at night. The Beatles were my new gods, the Monkees, Herman’s Hermits, and Paul Revere and the Raiders my new saints, and each night the transistor radio beneath my pillow lulled me to sleep. But tonight sleep was impossible. I was wired on caffeinated cola and pizza, and the raucous adults below me with their tropical lounge music were drowning out my rock and roll bliss. Worse, my radio’s volume was waning—a sure sign that I needed a new battery.
I heard my mother come upstairs into the kitchen, laughing. I was going to bug her for a fresh battery when a man’s voice joined hers. Because I didn’t want any of the men seeing me in my dorky flannel nightgown, I quickly changed into my jeans and T-shirt. As I did, I heard them come down the hallway and turn the corner into the living room. I figured Mom was walking someone to the front door, saying goodbye—probably a couple. I opened my bedroom door and turned into the darkened living room. Mom was saying goodbye all right—to Frankie. They were standing too close when suddenly Frankie pulled her in and kissed her. This wasn’t a pursed lip peck; this was a tilted head movie kiss that lasted a few seconds, right in the middle of our living room. He grabbed her hand and led her past the tropical houseplants and cage of nine assorted finches to the front door, where a tiny atrium blocked my view; I moved a bit closer—not too close, just enough to see Frankie lean my mother against the wall and kiss her again—pressing his body against hers. I felt energized, excited, but in an unfamiliar way that disturbed me, like I was watching a movie that refused to telegraph its ending. Anything could happen. They stumbled out the door toward Frankie’s car—would they drive off together?—and he kissed her a final time, a shorter kiss, in deference to their public setting—neighbors could be peeking through curtains. Then Frankie got into his car and sped off.
Mom floated back toward the front door, yards of polyester swishing in the moonlight, yards of polyester carrying her up the stairs and I, like a fool, stood there behind the birdcage, strangely grounded to that spot. I woke up the strawberry finches that had been sleeping on their perches, and the cordon bleu who rested in his wicker nest; they began to flutter, just like my mother fluttered when she walked through the door and saw me.
She giggled—not her usual “hih-hih-hih” giggle but a wilder, liberated devil-may-care chuckle as if nothing in the world mattered.
“No more banshees!” she said.
If only she hadn’t married George, if only her head wasn’t in the clouds, clouded by love, clouded by dreams of white tulle gowns and white sand beaches. The war was over and there was enough sugar and nylons for everyone. But sweets and a house and a husband and babies– was that really enough? It was only a kiss. Her daughter could prove it. He tried to fondle her derriere but she swiveled her hips and he kissed her again but it was only a kiss. He gave her his number but she’d never call. Even thinking about calling frightened her to the core. But she thought about that kiss—those kisses—again and again. She stood in front of the bathroom mirror and stared at her face in the mirror, at her smeared pink lipstick. She thought about washing up, but didn’t.
Susan E. Kelley
The Nameless Girl
In about November of 6th grade, I realized my grandmother was actually dying. Our town’s tiny community hospital only housed about 20 patient rooms, lined up neatly along one hallway. The other corridor of the L-shaped facility had a small lobby with brightly colored vinyl seats in shades of turquoise, orange and yellow, a glass-doored reception window, and a row of wide-doored rooms. The ambulance bay, home to our town’s single ambulance, faced out toward Chestnut Street, and more specifically my best friend Shana’s house. She and I used to make up outlandish stories about the tragedy and gore we could see arriving at the hospital from our vantage point on her front porch. We imagined that we could view all manner of carnage on display, so we spun wild tales to each other about the wreckage we witnessed. We of course saw no such carnage whatsoever, but that did not prevent us from telling barbaric tales of gore to one another just for our own entertainment.
I vividly recall one of the exam rooms in this second corridor. It housed the x-ray machine hovering over a steel slab of a table, topped with a duller shade of the same vinyl as the lobby chairs. It was upholstered in army-green, and in fact it is not altogether unlikely that this little hamlet hospital purchased both table and x-ray equipment from a military surplus vendor.
I remember this room so clearly because it was the only one I had any experience with before my grandmother was a patient in this place. In there, I earned a set of stitches in my head from leaning so far back in my chair that I toppled backward, dragging my scalp across a protruding nail.
When I asked Dr. Niles if the stitches would hurt, he flatly replied in his monotonous, unforgiving tone, “No. They’re all done,” and then he gave my mother whatever wound-cleansing instructions were necessary and the date and time we were to return to have the stitches snipped and removed. Dr. Niles was a good doctor, but he was no pediatrician, and his bedside manner left no room for childhood shenanigans. He tended to every person in Port Allegany, from the youngest to the oldest, and that left him little time to soothe my worry while he stitched my scalp.
I was in the same room the time we met Dr. Niles there, my having just broken my ankle while sledding. I asked if the x-ray would hurt and the nurse laughed at me, saying, “It’s just a picture, honey,” leaving me to wonder what that heavy lead drape was for, then.
By the time I broke my ankle, my grandmother was already dead. Her belongings and her body were no longer in that hospital in a room around the corner and down the hall from the x-ray machine. My ankle was hideously swollen and mangled, but did not require surgery. Dr. Niles ordered a few days’ bed rest and elevation which bought me a week off of school where my dad, when he was home, would carry me from the living room couch to the kitchen or to my 2nd floor bedroom. He would change ice packs and deliver chocolate milks. I was too young to appreciate how similar this must have been to caring for his mother, dying of cancer, just weeks before. Or maybe it was altogether different and yet it cleansed him of caring for the dying by letting him care for the knitting and mending.
In going for this x-ray, I had no real sense of the familiarity the place would bear, having hosted a family death not long prior. Although I was certainly aware of my grandmother’s death, the place seemed disconnected, like they were two separate facilities. For me, they were. I had gone there for a fix-up. My grandmother had gone there for an ending. For my parents, though, and especially my dad, they were not two separate places at all, but one aluminum-sided spectacle of unpleasantness.
When I broke this ankle, had it examined and later encased in fiberglass, I could not have recognized this similarity of place.
Throughout that winter, I had gone to the hospital after school or on weekends to visit my grandmother. Though her room had 2 beds, she was the only occupant. Her bed by the window had a bedside table littered with a box of Kleenex, the standard dusty pink plastic hospital-issue cup, some pieces of ceramic nick-knack she had made, and an assortment of family photos. I doubt she had word puzzles or magazines or even a novel. These would not suit her. The windowsill was peppered with get-well cards propped open and standing for display. Get well cards for a dying woman now seem to me to be purposeless things, selfish of the sender.
She kept a multicolored afghan on her bed, either spread to keep her warm or neatly folded to drape the foot of the bed. She no doubt had crocheted it herself, long before the cancer took away her ability to make this and the other pretty, but useless, adornments of her life, like the matching his and hers Chopper Hopper denture keepers she had painted according to a photo pattern in ceramics class. Back when she still canned every vegetable from her garden without the real intention to use it, just so she could put them on the dining room table for Sunday dinner, bragging that she had canned them. Back when she baked spice cakes from a box while still claiming the praise for a from-scratch confection.
I liked to sit on the afghan when it was folded at the end of her bed, but if it was pulled all the way up, I just stood. I don’t know if I was afraid to sit on her bed without that afghan-delineated safe zone or if I just didn’t feel welcome. Perhaps, even though I didn’t realize what cancer was, or that it was killing her, I knew sitting on her bed was not a safe space.
Aunt Carol sat on her bed all the time. I would see her, close up to my grandmother’s head, stroking her head or fixing her hair, maybe spooning halfway melted vanilla ice cream into her mouth from one of those tiny single-serving cardboard containers. Her hair was matted and flat from the pillow, but there Carol would sit, fussing over every little thing, seeing to it that her mother was presentable to any and all visitors, straightening the sheets, rearranging the cards, primping the flowers, generally keeping up appearances. Carol kept with her a copy of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ “On Death and Dying.” I didn’t make the connection. My mother made it for me.
As a matter of adequate preparation, my mother made some reference to “after grandma dies.” I was taken aback. Hospitals, to my young brain, were places of healing. Everyone I had ever known had come out of the hospital better than they had gone in. In that single phrase, my mother schooled me about the reality of death for the very first time. Soon,, I arrived at the solution.
“If grandma dies, I want to die too,” I claimed.
“Don’t be silly,” she said. “It will be sad, but it’s just her time.”
I don’t think that I was saddened so much by the thought of this old woman dying as I was inexperienced and confused by the thought of death itself. I knew it was inalterable. This would be my first real loss, although not my greatest.
I continued to visit her, keeping this fatal knowledge to myself but now understanding my aunt’s book.
I wasn’t allowed to visit alone. That didn’t surprise me, even though the hospital was an easy two-block walk from my house. I had never gone there by myself, because the only times I’d been inside were for the few minor childhood accidents I’d had.
I’m told my mother carried me the full two blocks, piggyback, when I was five and I managed to wedge an enormous splinter in my heel, deeply enough that good Dr. Niles was summoned to remove it. Although he was the only doctor in town, a general practitioner caring for everything from birthing to splinter removal to cardiac arrests, I don’t think he was my grandma’s doctor. Except maybe he ordered the increases in morphine as she slid toward her end.
Port Allegany Community Hospital was, I’m sure, chosen for her not because of any medical expertise in advanced cancers, but because it was close. Piggyback-carrying distance. And my grandmother’s own house, where my grandfather still lived and that was Carol’s and my dad’s childhood home was over the hill in Smethport. Just tem short miles away.
Carol spent her nights in Smethport tending to my grandfather, but she spent her lunches and other breaks in our house. She botched up the system and got in the way sometimes, but that’s just what visitors do. That’s all I thought it was, anyway. She could drop by in the evenings to give updates and then head back over the hill for the night.
I didn’t pay much attention to the times she and my father would bicker because it seemed, too, that they had soft talks. My own brother and I rarely spoke kindly to each other, so I accepted their differences as the sort of thing that siblings do. When your mother is in the hospital down the street, you’re allowed to be tense.
We had Thanksgiving at our house and my cousins came in from New Jersey. They hadn’t been able visit because they had to stay in school. I felt like I had an advantage, being able to be with her more often. They brought her two kittens to visit. To cheer her up, they said. But I really knew they had just talked their dad into buying them a kitten apiece since their mother was away. Dads will do that kind of thing for their daughters. That much I knew.
I was not to visit when the girls were with grandma because Aunt Carol said that the room would be too crowded. I figured as soon as they left, I could go back.
On Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, my brother was allowed to visit at the same time as my cousins. I was too young to understand the rules were different for him than they were for me. The kittens went home with them. I was right about that much.
Everyone seemed tired. Lots more people driving in to see us and my grandma than usual. Plus, the holiday season always got busy for my dad, who ran a State Liquor store about 45 minutes from home, past Smethport even. In the winter months, driving across the steep section of the Allegheny Mountains sometimes took more than an hour. Dad took great pride in making the trip five days a week, season after season, and having never gotten a speeding ticket or hit a deer, smashing up the car the way so many people in that area did. It meant he was responsible.
Because he worked in retail and because his commute was far and the length of time varied, he was sometimes be home at six and sometimes as late as eleven. So, my mother and I visited grandma sometimes without him, although I think my mother did it out of duty more than out of a daughter-in-law’s affection for her husband’s mother.
We’d bundle up against the snow and head, my mittened hand in her gloved hand, walking to the hospital. Winters in Port Allegany are bitter, thanks to chilled Lake Erie winds and the surrounding mountains. The town often became a snow-blanketed wonderland barely accessible without four-wheel drive trucks and tire chains. Braving the cold, we’d walk the short distance briskly, welcoming the warm rush of air guaranteed in the hospital lobby. Though it was twilight outdoors not long after 4 o’clock, the lobby’s fluorescent overhead bulbs made it seem almost cheery.
One cold night, kicking and shuffling the wet snow from our boots, we swept through the doors and turned left down the hall. My mother gave a friendly, obligatory wave to the nurse at the front desk. The nurse probably merely nodded in return, a Harlequin Romance or patient chart deserving more attention than a regular visitor. There were only three or four patients in the hospital, a key reason for its closure a handful of years later.
We walked down the hall, brushing the remaining flakes from our coats and loosening our scarves, tucking my mittens into my pockets since I was so good at losing them one at a time. They were handmade by my mother who knit instead of crocheted. As we tentatively approached my grandmother’s room, we could hear murmuring voices. My mother was always careful to check before allowing me in, just in case my grandmother had, just moments before, expired and was surrounded by the fever pitch and cleanup of death.
She wasn’t dead. She had visitors. Old friends from out of town, just passing through perhaps, were coming by to pay their respects in advance. Snowbirds, saying goodbye one last time before they flew off to enjoy their winter in Florida, aware they would not bother to make the trip back for her funeral. Casual friends. My grandmother had oodles of those, having been a hairdresser for years she had in some way served countless people and moderately befriended them, the way bartenders do. I knew they were not close, lifelong kinds of friends because Aunt Carol was chatting on and boasting about events of the past few years. Besides, I hadn’t seen them here before and I had been around enough to know all of the regulars.
My mother motioned to me to wait here, in the corridor, rather than going inside. She stayed outside, too; presumably she could tell that they were winding things up in there and didn’t want to intrude.
I wandered down the hall, trailing my fingers along the banister meant for those who needed it as a steadying guide. It was thick, molded plastic with a curve inward toward each door opening. My boots dripped melting snow onto the pathworn carpet. I had reached roughly the halfway point; I had curved along with that railing, leaping across each door’s opening, for 3 or 4 doorways.
I heard my mother’s coat rustling, her footfalls coming behind me, and she scooped up my mittenless hand in her warm, dry one. She was walking fast.
“Come on, sis. We have to go now.” She said. Her voice was clipped, quick.
“But –“ I protested, confused but obedient.
“We’ll come back some other time.”
She didn’t slow her pace. She maintained a good clip, but not a run. It wasn’t panicked, but it was determined, that pace of hers. It made me nervous.
She wrestled my mittens on in the lobby, and re-wrapped my scarf before we slipped through the glass double doors and back out into the dark, cold, and snow.
We didn’t speak on the way home, which was unusual, but dashing out of a hospital was pretty unusual, too.
At home, we unbundled and my mother routinely set about making dinner. While she chopped and stirred, I rearranged record albums in my room or contemplated the Andy Gibb poster on my bedroom wall, or any of a dozen other mindless pre-teen pursuits. I had simply dismissed the odd exit and return home. It no longer seemed important. One of the gifts of being an eleven year old is that things that don’t matter to you simply don’t matter.
Dinner was still on the stove when my dad got home. I heard his heavy work boots scraping on the wooden porch. Pictured his reliable entrance. He kept to a routine that I could follow by sound. The jangling of his keys as he looped them onto the crisscrossed key rack by the door, the extra push to be sure the heavy wooden door was secured, another scraping of his boots on the mat. He wouldn’t unlace them standing up. Instead he would sit in the black, plaid-cushioned rocking chair as he untied each one and dropped them onto the rag rug for dripping. He would slide on his leather moccasins and complete the pattern by hanging up his coat on his way to the kitchen.
Dinner preparations came to an immediate halt as I could hear my parents’ voices. My bedroom was directly above the kitchen, so I had the distinct advantage of being able to hear them, although I could rarely make out the words. I could gather, from tone and volume and tempo what kind of discussions they were having any time I wanted to listen in, which I did often. My parents were a great composite, and had frequent, fruitful discussions. Coming from a generation where still most households were divided into one spouse acting as the benevolent dictator of another, my parents were far ahead of their time. They held equal footing. They valued one another’s insights and opinions. One never overruled the other. In matters of importance, they negotiated like allied nations until a fair and respectful decision was reached. All parties left the table satisfied. In parenting, there was not a single occasion when one undermined or contradicted the other. That was the strength of the two, and I did not know how often that strength had been tested or how much weight it would someday bear.
The tempo in the kitchen rose. The water in the faucet ran and then stopped. A brief silence followed, but was soon broken by sharper sounds, muffled frustrations. I eased my bedroom door open slightly, hoping to hear threads of this rising pitch. I may as well have taken the door off its hinges because I heard, clear as day,
“That woman is never to set foot in this house, Jim! Not EVER. Not in my house. I can’t do it!”
I heard this, followed by sobs. A desperate, heaving sobbing that came deep from within her chest. I pictured them, now near the dining room doorway, unable to imagine who this evil woman could be. I’d never heard these sounds coming from my mother. I’d never known a time when my father had to console her this way. She was a remarkably stoic and measured woman, now hefting sobs of anger onto this man.
It couldn’t be about my grandmother, because, as it had been made clear to me, she wasn’t leaving the hospital again, let alone coming to our house. Maybe some nurse had insulted my mother. Maybe I was totally off base and this had something to do with work or neighbors. It was a puzzle.
Things quieted back down so that I could no longer hear anything of their conversation, if there was any. I nudged my door closed again and made myself think of something else. I knew I had math homework to do, so I found ways to avoid doing it. I pushed the brief explosion away from my brain.
Mother came up the stairs, and I expected she would tap on my door to call me to dinner. Instead, she retreated to her room and closed the door behind her.
Dad rang the bell at the bottom of the stairs. He had tired of bellowing for my brother and me, so he had installed a replica of a ship’s bell at the base of the stairs. My brother could hear it even when he was blasting heavy metal through his oversized headphones. That was the point. We’d hear the dinner bell, no vocal disruptions from downstairs, and scramble into the kitchen. My father especially did not tolerate lateness to meals. He often told us about his Air Force days, when showing up late could mean not getting a meal at all.
My brother and I gathered in the kitchen to eat the meal my mother had prepared but would not get to enjoy. She stayed in her room through dinner; she did not emerge to negotiate the inevitable argument my brother and I would have about whose turn it was to wash and whose it was to dry. My brother hadn’t heard the outburst. Those headphones had swallowed his head and protected him from knowing.
Long after the dinner, the dishes, and the dishwashing argument, Aunt Carol came in the house. I was again in my room, but I knew it must be her since no one else would enter without knocking. She went toward the kitchen, where my dad would be sitting, smoking his cigarette or pipe and savoring his last coffee of the day. After-dinner coffee was a given in our house, usually brewed while Brian and I fumed over our clean-up duties. Black coffee, not decaf, always present in the evening hours and all the more pungent when the windows were closed and the house warm and soft-lit.
Again I heard the undulating voices in the kitchen below me. I’d already put on my warm pajamas and dug in under the multiple layers of blankets. Aunt Carol was probably getting her own cup of coffee and updating my dad on his mother’s condition.
This time the tone was low. My father’s voice seemed to have dropped an octave and his speech was measured, slow. I couldn’t make out Aunt Carol’s end of things, but then there was a sharp, jarring slam. A kitchen cupboard slapped closed in anger, shock, or both.
I heard the coffee cup clink against the porcelain of the kitchen sink, but not shattered or thrown. The scurrying of feet that could only have been my aunt’s. The rustling of her coat as she fluttered from the kitchen through the house. The doorknob turning, door opening, and closing resolutely but without great force.
I drifted off to sleep with a tattered, doll-sized version of my grandmother’s afghan folded at the foot of my bed. I imagined grandma crocheting it for me as a baby. Pink and white, zig-zag stripes so similar to the one on her own bed.
On December thirteenth, a Saturday or Sunday morning, when I padded down the stairs in my footed pajamas, my dad was waiting for me in his plush brown recliner. His small array of pipes rested neatly in their oak holder on the end table beside him. He motioned to me with a sweep of his arm, his usual gesture to get me to come and sit on his abundant lap. I did so with ease, knowing his big arms would provide a perfect nestling spot. A spot where I could plan a snow adventure while staying warm and cozy.
He hugged me a bit more tightly as he gently said, “We lost grandma last night, sis.”
I cried. Heat washed over me, and I caught the familiar smell of my mother’s winter-morning coffee cake, the one reserved for Sundays and snow days. The house was warm and dry. My face was hot and wet. The snow outside now looked repulsive now. I had a hundred questions and I didn’t know how to ask any of them.
There were blurry days of swift preparation, my cousins coming back from New Jersey – this time without kittens – phone calls and plants arriving at the house, clothes being laid out for my brother and me, and three full days off of school with no sledding or snowman building. We stayed indoors. We fetched things when asked. We made polite small talk with people bringing casseroles or muffins. I thought maybe I would be asked to sleep over this time, but then I realized that they were staying at grandpa’s house and grandpa’s wife had just died and this was no time for a sleepover.
When we did go over the hill to Smethport and pulled up in front of the house it seemed eerie to me. I hadn’t been here since grandma went to the hospital. Everyone had come to our house instead, at least until the day of the hospital-leaving and mother-shouting.
I didn’t like wearing the chunky boots with my fancy dress, but the snow was knee-deep. The lining of the boots pulled and tugged at my pantyhose and made me feel awkward and askew. The funeral process took three days and each of those days we had to drive to Smethport. Most of the time, my family went straight from our house to the funeral home and back again. There was no church service because grandma didn’t go to church. But there was a minister at the funeral home service and he rode in the car way up ahead of us on the hour-long trip to the cemetery. My brother rode in the car with my cousins, and they played tic-tac-toe all the way, or so he told me. To get to the cemetery, we had to drive right back through Port Allegany, and past it through several other tiny towns. It was a very long ride to be all alone in the back seat of my parents’ silent car.
After she was buried, I imagined snow filling up the grave hole. I thought they would have to dig it all back up to fill it in with dirt. I was tired, and so was my mother, so dad took us home before going back to Smethport again. I don’t remember if my brother was tired, too, or if he rode the whole way back with my cousins, but he probably did. He was older, and that arrangement would make sense to me. Plus, I don’t think the cousins-car stopped to drop him off with us.
A day later my uncle and his girls drove back to Jersey. Drove back to see their kittens and left their mother to finish up whatever adults finish up when their parent dies. I heard that Aunt Carol would spend some weeks going back and forth between New Jersey and Smethport, making some sort of plan for my grandfather because he simply shouldn’t be left alone.
The tension rose and fell all winter at our house. Grandpa spent Christmas in New Jersey. We had record snowfall in Port Allegany. Aunt Carol made a couple of trips, but each was brief and involved no visiting. I only even knew she was there because my father would go, too, and my mother would be quiet and reserved and stayed home with us.
By late January, when winter is at its harshest in that part of the country, Aunt Carol stopped making the trips. We had several days of school closures due to harsh snows and impassable roads. Perfect days for sledding unless you’re about to break your ankle barreling down an icy hill heading straight for a crooked tree. Perfect days unless you’re going to wind up back at that hospital, with a nurse assuring you that x-rays don’t hurt and your father is going to have to carry you around everywhere. And perfect, until you discover years later, that your rapid exit from the hospital with your mother was just as much about someone else as it was about you.
All of that tension, all of that outburst that night in the kitchen while you were trying so hard to listen – that was about you. And Aunt Carol, Aunt Carol was the source and your dying grandmother was just the vehicle. Really, that day was as sure to crash as your sled was destined to smack against pine bark.
While you were tracing your way down the hall, your aunt was inside that card-and-afghan-clad room pointing out the people in the photos to those unfamiliar visitors:
Aunt Carol was showing off some family photos on the bedside table…
“Yes, this one is me and my husband and our two daughters Melissa and Melinda. No, they’re not twins. They’re a year apart. Oh, thank you. They are lovely, aren’t they? And that’s my brother Jim and his wife, Bettie. That’s their son, Brian, and the little girl they adopted.”
Your sixth-grade self has just been introduced, nameless, as a distinctly separate entity from the rest of the family. “The little girl they adopted.” It must ring in your mother’s ears like a close-range shotgun blast. The little girl they adopted eleven years ago, who looks strikingly like her father despite not sharing a shred of DNA, who climbs on her daddy’s lap every chance she gets, who has never been referred to by them as anything but their daughter the same way that they’ve always called their son their son.
The little girl who, not long from now, will rely on her dad, not her adopted dad, but the only dad she knows, to forget mourning the loss of his own mother long enough to tend to his daughter’s broken ankle and her every need. The dad who will choose, not despite this venom, but because of it, to quietly ask his sister not to return to his house even as their mother is dying. He will tell her that the bond to his wife and daughter, both enacted on legal documents and not bloodlines, has far more tensile strength than the tie of lineage.
The hospital, and the ties to it as a place of hospice, will melt away. The swelling around the ankle will go down. The wounds of the heart will sting less severely with distance. But the brokenness of a sister who will not name her niece – that is the cruelest tie, the sharpest knife.
When your mother lies, dying, and your wife stands, pleading, there is only one choice you have as a man. To choose your girl. My father chose me, Susan, never to be his Nameless Girl.
*The Port Allegany Community Hospital closed years ago. It’s now a Community Fitness center, housing an aerobics and jazzercise room for overweight women and a nautilus weights and treadmill room for aging men. I spent countless evenings on Shana’s porch trying to catch a glimpse of some mangled body, being moved from ambulance to ER and had nothing but fiction and speculation to tell about it.
“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs […] [T]hey’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are….”
– Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Adverbs are routinely disparaged in writing guides. Even Stephen King, the king of horror, is horrified by them—and by dandelions.
While weeding my lawn, I try out Stephen King’s likening of adverbs to dandelions. To try out is to essay. I’d rather be essaying indoors, but dandelions now demand all my writing time. There is nothing more trying than a dandelion.
I’m tempted to fertilize this field of screams with selective toxins, like my luscious-lawned neighbors, or at least target the suckers individually, getting trigger-happy with a bottle of liquid genocide. I’ve tried greener techniques like spraying vinegar, but it leaves acid burns under stick-figure dandelion skeletons. Someone recommended pouring boiling water on them, but please. So I essay to pull them up by hand, one by one.
I write not bird by bird but weed by weed, dandelionly. Trying to compose as I weed, I pull up only adverbs, like laboriously and resentfully. Over the course of a yard, these adverbs multiply like dandelions. “Like dandelions” is an adverbial phrase.
To maintain a lawn you must constantly fight the way of all flora. A lawn proclaims the mastery of the human ego over nature, but dandelions are the return of the repressed. Or so I tell myself to justify the dandelions multiplying like adverbs across my happily-ever-after.
I, myself, don’t much like nature, so full of weeds and bugs. I never wanted a yard, or even a house. But I was once a we, and half of that we wanted house, lawn, and garden. He promised to take care of it all. Then he went and died. Cancer, too, spreads with weed-like, adverbial insidiousness. It lends the verb metastasize to the lexicon of horror.
As an environmental engineer, my once-we knew the truth about herbicides; he studied them for a living. So our lawn was to be all natural. If he were alive, I could reason with him, plead for an exemption. Because this is ridiculous. But he’s dead, which trumps any appeal I could ever make. Using herbicides would feel like cheating on him, desecrating his life’s work.
There is no herbicide for adverbs, but as a makeshift adverbicide you can type “ly” into your Find function, then search and destroy, otherwise known as Delete. You must deracinate them one by one or risk losing words like rely and lyrical. Still, the suffix “-ly” is the telltale flowering head that can yellow a whole field of green prose.
Yes, flowering. Technically, the dandelion head is a flower, at least botanically speaking. I read up on my nemesis, trying to find its weakness. Taraxacum officinale—the binomial nomenclature for the common dandelion—is described as a “flowering plant.” If dandelion classifies as a flower, then what is a weed? (Next they’ll call adverbs poetry.)
Dandelions, I read, proliferate through asexual reproduction without pollination (not unlike adverbs), cloning themselves endlessly. T. officinale evolved 30 million years ago in Eurasia. They greeted the first humans. They paved the first roads to hell.
They weren’t always hated, these “monk’s heads” of yore. The ancients cultivated them, say anthropologists. The entire plant is edible and nutritious, the head high in potassium, like bananas, and the roots an effective diuretic. Taste one. At a mere 25 calories per cup they’re dandelicious. Instead of eradication, I could eat them.
Adverbs are edible but very fattening.
Just don’t eat dandelions if they’ve been anywhere near herbicides. The toxic chemicals get taken up in the plants’ roots. My dead life-partner used to study this uptake. The herbicides, chemotherapy for lawns, can ultimately be more toxic to humans than they are to plants.
Once herbicides get in the groundwater they can travel for miles, leaving cancer in their wake.
Damn him, my once-upon-a-we, for leaving me behind to deal with the dandelions. If I weed for an hour a day all summer long I still won’t conquer them. Unlike us, they’re immortal.
The nursery’s herbicides continue to taunt, tempting me despite my mortal partner’s immortal moratorium. It’s time for chemical warfare. It’s time for adverbs like recklessly and irresponsibly and traitorously.
Instead, guilt prevails, and I try the organic potion. “Kills weeds naturally.” Naturally, it doesn’t work.
Even synthetic herbicides, I know, only work for so long. Like chemotherapy.
But a dandelion is not a cancer cell. Adverbs are not malignant. If dandelions are like adverbs, cancer is a verb. Both dandelions and adverbs deserve better metaphors.
The French dent de lion, or lion’s teeth, refers to the jagged leaves, but I think of the flower head as a dandy, randy lion sporting a spring mane. Dandelion is King of the Lawn. It throws its golden head back and laughs at my vain efforts.
When you bend over enough dandelions, measuring their resilience against your tug, you develop a tactile intimacy with them. You feel the tenacity of their roots.
Sometimes I can’t help but admire the bastards. Despite all attempts to uproot them, they regrow overnight, stealthily, doggedly. They’re tricksters. They’re survivors.
Instead of fighting an unwinnable war on dandelions, I could try to accept their nature. I could essay to be more like them.
Or I could decide—decisively decide—that dandelions, like adverbs, are beautiful, and see them for the flowers they really are, their seed heads tiny fairy Afros. I could call my yard a flower garden and my adverbial prose a lyric essay, composed in lion’s teeth.
Angela Smith Kirkman
Thanksgiving on the Bosphorus
I have an hour to myself with my notebook, and I’m stretched out on the ottoman like a cat. A warm fall breeze flows through the lofty windows of the flat we’ve rented in Istanbul (not Constantinople). I alternate between sips of Turkish coffee and bites of syrupy baklava, which my husband, Jason, and the kids brought home yesterday from a bakery in the neighborhood. This afternoon they’re on an expedition in search of the city’s finest Turkish delight; we’ve grown addicted to the petite jelly confections.
Last week, as soon as we were each able to go a few hours without running to the bathroom, we broke our swine flu quarantine and began venturing out into the city. Every afternoon since, when energy levels are at their highest, we’ve spent a few hours seeing the sights.
Some days we take a ferry to the Asian shore to explore its fish market and tranquil neighborhoods. Other days we ride bikes around the Prince Islands; the kids stop to make friends with skinny cats running from one Roma encampment to another. Sometimes we just stroll around our neighborhood in Beyoglu. Or cross the Galata Bridge, where scruffy fishermen cast their lines, then pour cups of red tea and wait. Bakers in wool jackets stroll the bridge balancing wooden planks on their heads, stacked high with freshly-baked simit. The Turkish version of bagels, simit are covered with sesame seeds and sold on nearly every street corner, much to the delight of my New Yorker husband.
Through colleagues in the translation business (which is funding our family’s two-year big field trip around the world), I was able to find a man named Alper who’s been coming to our apartment a couple times each week to give us Turkish language lessons. Alper is a plump, reticent man in his thirties who’s kind and patient with the children. He refuses to accept payment, saying he’s pleased just to have a cultural exchange and practice his English. He’s even helped Jason prepare a few traditional Turkish dishes in the tiny kitchen of our flat. Though Alper is the first to admit that he’s not much of a cook, he’s happy to help us decipher recipes from our new Turkish cookbook, and also to taste and offer criticism. Thus far the feasts have been delectable—grilled lamb with pilaf, carrot puree, and cacik, a tangy yogurt sauce with heaps of fresh dill and garlic.
In addition to language instruction, we’ve also enjoyed many off-the-cuff lessons from Alper. Through his eyes, we’re learning a great deal about the history and culture of his homeland. Alper’s family lives in Istanbul, but they actually consider themselves to be Spanish, he told us one evening. Seeing as how they only migrated here recently: five hundred years ago!
His family is Jewish, he explained, and back in 1492 when Spanish Jews, together with resident Muslims, were forced either to convert to Catholicism, leave the country, or be killed, his ancestors decided to escape. They fled by way of North Africa and eventually made a new home for themselves in Turkey since they’d heard of the tolerance of the Ottoman Empire.
Alper reflects with pride on his city and when asked about the legacy of the Ottomans, he repeatedly uses the word tolerance. The Turks, he explains, conquered many lands, but in general they allowed their subjects to maintain their traditions, language, and religion. They even welcomed outcasts from other lands, like Alper’s family fleeing from Spain.
The tolerance of which Alper speaks is very much apparent in Istanbul today. Although 99% of the population of Turkey is Muslim, and enormous mosques tower over the city, Christian churches also dot the horizon, along with Jewish synagogues like the one where Alper and his family worship.
I was surprised to hear Alper say that his family still speaks Spanish, despite the fact that they’ve lived in Istanbul for so long. At the news, I switched excitedly to Spanish in hopes of easing our communication. (My Turkish language skills thus far amount only to what Alper has taught us, plus our podcasts, and Alper’s English is iffy at best.) Alper responded, enthusiastically, in a Spanish so antiquated that I felt as though I were speaking to a Cervantes novel. We switched back to English.
Every evening, thousands of Turks pour into our neighborhood in the Beyoglu district to promenade down the wide pedestrian boulevard of Istiklal Caddesi. An historic trolley line runs from Karaköy to Taksim Square down the center of the elegant street, which is flanked by late Ottoman-era buildings housing boutiques, galleries, theaters, cafés, pubs, music stores, and patisseries. On weekends, the famous avenue can see nearly three million visitors, and our children love being part of the customary stroll. And also having a chance to burn through their allowance.
Musicians strum baglamas and sing traditional folk songs on side streets. Vendors peddle flowers, pashminas, baby dolls, and roasted chestnuts. At one-and-a-half kilometers, Istiklal Caddesi is a long promenade, so we usually make an evening out of it. When the kids start to fade, we duck into an eatery to sample traditional dishes. Some of our favorites have been köfte—spiced meatballs, manti—the Turkish version of ravioli; gözleme—savory pancakes stuffed with spinach, cheese, or potato; and lahmacun—flat bread that’s topped with spicy lamb and tastes a bit like pizza. A sure kid pleaser.
Our beloved American Thanksgiving holiday coincides with the beginning of Kurban Bayrami this year. Kurban Bayrami is one of the most important events on the Muslim calendar, and the city is in a festive mood. In Sultanahmet, the main historical and tourist district of Istanbul, families stream from the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, and pack city squares.
Muslim tourists from throughout the Islamic world—Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria—are busy enjoying a holiday in Istanbul and the relative freedom it offers compared to their home countries. Hijab-clad mothers with almond-shaped eyes cheerfully ask us to sit with their children for a group photo: shots that will go into their Istanbul vacation album when they return home. We pose compliantly with awkward smiles. Somehow, after thirteen months in six countries we no longer feel like zoo animals in such situations, which have been common on this journey, just happy to help make their holiday more interesting. When the photo shoot is over, our children run toward a push cart selling fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice.
I’m amazed at how much more social traveling is when you have children in tow. Traveling alone with Jason when we were in our twenties was always exciting, but also sometimes lonely. When locals see two adults together, they assume you’re a cohesive unit with everything you need between the two of you to get by on the road. They don’t want to bother you. But when you’re wayfaring with children—children who sometimes unpredictable or exhausted or giggling or needing to pee—locals reach out to you. Children, much like eye boogers, are a great social equalizer, and they give locals a reason, permission even, to approach you, which is great when you’re trying to learn about a new culture.
The Muslim holiday Kurban Bayrami commemorates that age-old story—told in the Koran, the Torah, and the Bible—of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son on the top of Mount Moriah. Exactly which son he was offering up, I’ve learned, seems to be a matter of some debate. The way Ma told the story when I was growing up, Isaac was the chosen son who narrowly escaped being sacrificed, and who then went on to father the Judeo-Christian people: the chosen ones. Islamic tradition, however, maintains that the poor kid on the altar was in fact Ishmael, the son whom Abraham fathered with his maidservant, Hagar, while waiting patiently (okay, maybe not so patiently) for his wife Sarah to bear him a legitimate son.
In the Judeo-Christian version of the story, Ishmael was little more than a bastard child who was later banished into the desert. Islamic tradition, on the other hand, maintains that Ishmael, who was the eldest and firstborn, was Abraham’s rightful heir. So, according to the Koran, it was Ishmael who was strapped to the altar that day and saved by the hand of God. And it was Ishmael who then went on to become the father of the chosen people: the Arab people.
Though I’m not sure how Ma would feel about this version of the story, I love the spirit of Kurban Bayrami. The entire holiday is a celebration of the mercy and compassion of Allah. After all, he did allow a ram to be sacrificed in place of Abraham’s son.
Muslims still commemorate the holiday by sacrificing their finest lamb or goat. Across Turkey, thousands of animals are slaughtered during Kurban Bayrami, and according to Alper, the countryside runs red with blood. Thankfully, we have been sheltered from the actual carnage here in Istanbul since most city-folk no longer keep livestock.
“Those who live in the city,” Alper says, “will pay family in the countryside to make sacrifice on his behalf and donate meat to charity.”
To be honest, I’m not terribly disappointed to be missing out on some of the particulars of the holiday. After all, our Spanish bullfight taught us that we don’t have to participate fully in everytradition.
In addition to Kurban Bayrami, the children insisted that we also celebrate Thanksgiving, aka Turkey Day. Jason and I had actually hoped that they might let us get away with dining at a traditional Turkish meyhane (dining room) to mark the holiday. Meyhanes are scattered throughout the city. When you enter, you kick off your shoes and sit around a low table on floor cushions. Throughout the evening, the chef sends out dish after dish of his daily specialties from which to choose. There is no menu, or at least no need for one. Waiters continuously circle the dining room with trays, displaying a variety of small savory plates known as meze. Take what you like, leave the rest. Meals in meyhanes can stretch for hours and are generally gluttonous affairs, lubricated with loads of raki, the anise-flavored aperitif that’s the national alcoholic beverage of Turkey.
I was initially startled by Istanbul’s fondness for raki, given that alcohol is forbidden by the Koran. However, it’s beginning to make sense. The Ottoman Empire was a vast and multi-ethnic place, mostly tolerant of the various cultures and religions coexisting within its borders. The kingdom was also renowned for being a bit loose in its application of Islamic norms. Istanbul, due to this history and its cosmopolitan nature, has inherited a tradition of lenience and diversity, which might explain the city’s long-standing tradition of boozing it up.
To Jason and me, spending Thanksgiving lounged listlessly in a meyhane sounded like the perfect way to celebrate the holiday, but the kids would have none of it. The morning before Thanksgiving, we were out-voted three to two.
Due to present circumstances, we had to modify our family customs a bit. We spent Thanksgiving morning perusing a produce market on the shores of the Bosphorus seeking ingredients for a traditional American feast and, though we were successful in acquiring nearly everything necessary for the side dishes, after hours in turkey pursuit, we came up empty-handed. There were just no turkeys to be found anywhere. Some cold cuts, yes, but no whole birds.
The irony of our predicament was not lost on us, of course, and the kids made up a little chant to pass the time as we searched (which they sang to the tune of “Yes, we have no bananas…”):
Yes, we have no whole turkeys
We have no whole turnkeys in Turkey!
Alas, even if we had found a whole bird, we wouldn’t have been able to fit it into our counter-top toaster oven, so after much deliberation and negotiation with the children, Jason finally decided to make fried chicken. The mashed potatoes and gravy would be easy. To round out the menu, he was planning to try out one of the recipes in our new Turkish cookbook: moussaka, which is an Ottoman casserole with eggplant and ground lamb.
Alper joined us for the feast and brought along a platter of roasted goat, which had been slaughtered for Kurban Bayrami. He also brought a traditional Turkish dessert called asure, also known as Noah’s Pudding. Legend has it that when Noah’s ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, which is located in the northeastern part of modern-day Turkey, Noah and his family celebrated by making this special dish. Noah’s supplies were, understandably, limited by that time, so he made a mush of everything they had left—primarily grains and dried fruits. It was no pumpkin pie, to be sure, but if it was good enough for Noah’s Thanksgiving, it was good enough for ours.
As required by custom, we feasted voraciously until our bellies were so full there was no skin left to cover our eyeballs when we blinked, at which point we sat around the table comatose, unsure of what to do next. Our normal Thanksgiving tradition back in the states would have dictated that we now retreat to the couch and melt in front of the football game for a few hours of slovenly relaxation and digestion. Since that was not an option this year, however, Alper suggested that instead we treat ourselves to a relaxing massage at our localTurkish bath. I’d been itching to experience a Turkish hamam, so to me this sounded like the best idea since the garlic press. We abandoned our dirty dishes on the table and waddled to the nearest the metro.
Hamams are generally large, vaulted, communal, marble bathhouses constructed, much like their Roman precursors, in the center of each city, thereby enabling its citizens to stay clean even in areas with little water. Though most Turkish homes now have indoor plumbing, the hamam is still an important tradition.
When we entered the bathhouse, we were divided according to gender: the men disappeared into the men’s section, and Bella and I were ushered to the women’s, the door of which was slightly smaller and less ornate. Over the course of the next hour, we endured the most memorable massages of our lives.
One thing the experience taught me is that the word massage is a term that Turks use rather generously. Perhaps a more fitting description would be a fierce scrubbing. The Turkish version of massage seems to involve being laid out in the buck on a marble slab, along with a throng of other womenfolk, and waiting your turn to be scoured by a seventy-year-old, nearly-toothless woman wielding a goat-hair mitt and a sudsy pail. Following the burnishing, the woman throws buckets of lukewarm water in your face until you emerge, an hour later, squeaky clean and a bit woozy.
You just have to keep in mind that it’s all about getting clean, not about being pampered. Nothing that can’t be cured by going home to a puff of apple tobacco from the nargileh.
On Thanksgiving evening, when the children were nestled all snug in their beds and visions of turkey legs danced in their heads, Jason, Alper, and I sat on the ottoman in the living room indulging in one more bowl of Noah’s pudding and some Turkish coffee.
Jason and I agreed that, although our Thanksgiving traditions had to be altered a bit this year, there could have been no finer place to spend the holiday, which is after all meant to commemorate new friendships and acceptance between cultures. In true Istanbul fashion, our festivities had revolved around tolerance—in celebrating a Christian holiday with a Jew in a Muslim country; in feasting not on turkey but goat, goat that had been slaughtered to honor that poor Arab kid (whatever his name was) who narrowly escaped death up on Mount Moriah so many years ago; in swapping football for a bathhouse, pumpkin pie for Noah’s pudding. It was a Thanksgiving we will not soon forget.
As Alper set up a game of backgammon, I asked his thoughts on how his family is treated as Jews in Istanbul.
“I love Istanbul. This is my home,” Alper reflected. “But, I am Jew in Muslim country. No matter how many centuries pass, my family never will be completely in ease here.” He went on to suggest that, though Turkey is very stable today, things could always change. That Islamic fundamentalism could flare up here at any moment, as it has in other areas of the Middle East. “But, even if that does happen,” Alper continued, “even if my people are forced out of the city tomorrow, still it will have been very lovely the few hundred years we have spent here.”
We’ve only had two weeks in Istanbul. And yet, we know exactly how he feels.
TEXT & IMAGE
Eatin’ Out With Eddie
Questions and Answers
In Addition to providing a biography, our contributors answered the following:
1. What’s the first thing you remember reading and weating to read again?
2. Wha’ts the worst haircut you ever had?
3. If you could live during any time period, which one owuld you most like to live in?
4. What’s the best thing you can buy for a dollar?
5. If you could only listen to one band for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
6. What is the most overused phrase in the past year that needs to go away?
7. If you were a scented marker, what would you smell like?
We hope you enjoy their answers as much as we did.
Steve Abbott lives in Columbus and has edited the anthologies Cap City Poets and Everything Stops and Listens. His third chapbook, The Incoherent Pull of Want (Night Ballet, 2016), is forthcoming. He recently served on the Ohio Arts Council panel selecting Ohio’s first Poet Laureate.
1. Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories.
2. Scalped by a traditional barber, Beatles era, 1965.
3. I was born at the right time. I like Being Here Now. (If this seems like a dodge, I’d say, “The one in which human beings treat one another like human beings,” whenever that is/was/will be).
4. A shot of well vodka.
5. Van Morrison.
6. Anyone who (still!) uses “a perfect storm” should be drowned.
Jeffrey Alfier won the 2014 Kithara Book Prize for his poetry collection, Idyll for a Vanishing River. He is also author of The Wolf Yearling, The Storm Petrel and The Red Stag at Carrbridge (2016). He is founder and co-editor of Blue Horse Press and San Pedro River Review.
- A sixth-grade valentine card from a girl who I’d thought hated me.
- The worst haircut I ever received was from my first wife. When I walked into work with it, the boss said I should sue my barber.
- First century, CE. It would clear up a lot of questions. But I’d want to go there with my shots up to date.
- Ten pieces of Fireball candy.
- Nik Tyndall’s because it’s the most peaceful, idyllic music I’ve ever heard, the best for me to write poems to.
- “Like,” inserted between like every like other like word like in like the like universe.
Aaron Anstett’s most recent collection is Moreover. He lives in Colorado with his wife, Lesley, and children. See <aaronanstett.net> for more.
1. The Story of Dr. Doolittle, when I was six or so.
2. My wife would say one I gave myself.
3. The future.
4. Now that Prosperity Dumpling in NYC is closed, I’m not sure.
5. Parliament-Funkadelic, because that’s two bands in one, nobody sounds better, and this is hypothetical.
Brian Baumgart directs the Creative Writing AFA program at North Hennepin Community College, and he has an MFA in Creative Writing from Minnesota State University-Mankato. A poetry chapbook, Rules for Loving Right (Sweet Publications, 2016) is forthcoming. He reads, he writes, he raises children and animals.
- I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and then immediately started over. It was both confounding and illuminating, which is maybe is just as a good a way to describe childhood as anything.
- Barring a few experimental haircuts, (think Keith Flint from “The Firestarter” video) I’d have to call out a rather awful side-spike style that I rocked in ninth grade.
- I’d have to go with our own time period, as I’m enjoying my life and who I am (despite all the terrible shit going on in the world).
- Generic Silly Putty at a dollar store. I bet you thought I was going to say a book at a garage sale, but it would have to be a specific book.
- The Beatles. The wonderful thing about The Beatles is the variety of music, how they can go from simple pop to thrash to rap (sort of) to classical to blues to folk, and so on. I’d like to say something more obscure to be cool but really, I’m not cool.
- “Politically correct.” Mostly because calling someone out for being “PC” has been used to cover up being a complete asshole. Look up Neil Gaiman’s comments on political correctness (whether this is a fake quotation or if Gaiman actually said it, I have no idea).
- Coffee. No question.
Luke Bell is a senior creative writing major and professional writing minor at Ball State University. He is currently the lead prose editor of The Broken Plate, Ball State’s national literary magazine. Luke has been previously been published in Outrageous Fortune magazine. He likes to read, write, and play guitar.
- The Old Man and the Sea. It was an easy read when I was younger, and despite the ill fortune of the old man, I always felt it to be a happy story. It remains one of my favorite books.
- My senior year of high school, I went to a girl that was learning to cut hair. It looked fine until she “trimmed” my sideburns; unfortunately, my senior pictures were a week later. My mother was not pleased.
- I enjoy the benefits of modern technology, so I would probably stay where I am.
- A 48oz pitcher of beer at The Chug in Muncie, Indiana on a Wednesday night. Or Chapstick.
- It sounds clichéd but probably the Beatles. They’ve got a song (or several) for my various moods and emotions.
- “What are thooose?” Crocs are actually quite comfortable.
- Wild fig.
Doug Bolling’s poems have appeared in Slipstream, Water~Stone Review, Redactions, BlazeVOX, Posit, Agave, Connecticut River Review, and many others. He has received several Pushcart nominations and a Best of the Net nomination and is at work on a collection of poems. He occupies a patch of space-time in the Chicago area.
- Little Red Riding Hood.
- My first one in the US Army.
- Winter, 3020.
- Half a dream.
- So many, so many. Can’t pick only one!
- “This is really cool.”
- Eve’s apple.
Charlie Brice’s full length poetry collection, Flashcuts Out of Chaos (WordTech, 2016), is forthcoming. His poetry has appeared in The Atlanta Review, Chiron Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Sports Literate, Paterson Literary Review, Barbaric Yawp, VerseWrights, The Writing Disorder, and elsewhere.
- A Farewell to Arms.
- 1964. I asked Hank the barber at the Frontier Hotel in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to give me a “surfer cut.” He squinted through the smoke from the cigarette he held in his mouth and gave me a flat top.
- This one, because of spell checkers.
- You can buy something for a dollar? Where?
- The Beatles. I grew up with them. Everyone I ever loved is located in one or another of their songs.
- “We will make America great again.”
Heath Brougher is the poetry editor of Five 2 One Magazine. He has published two little books titled A Drought of Ichor and 2 (Green Panda). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Diverse Voices Quarterly, Chiron Review, Riprap, Gold Dust, Main Street Rag, and elsewhere.
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
- The time I entrusted my best friend’s sister to cut my hair and she ended up giving me a buzz cut.
- The late 1960s.
- A toothbrush.
- Tool. Because they’re the greatest rock musicians of all time.
- “Cool dat.”
Julie Castillo is a college anthropology instructor, writing instructor, enrichment curriculum designer, and futurist. She holds an MA in sociocultural anthropology from Catholic University with a specialty in gender studies and ethnopsychology. In contrast to the chorus of confrontational voices on many sides of the food debate, Julie frames the discussion of alternative foods in positive terms and peaceful language.
- A Wrinkle in Time.
- The one I have now.
- This one, or a thousand years in the future.
- Dark chocolate.
- The Beatles: they have the widest variety of sounds and trigger the most memories.
- “See what I did there?”
- Chambord and hazelnuts.
Jesse Cole is a senior English major with minors in Spanish and philosophy at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She calls rural southwest Michigan home, and moved to Pennsylvania to attend college. A lover of travel and adventure, she’s excited to see what’s ahead for her.
- The entire Chronicles of Narnia series. I still never get tired of those books.
- It was actually my hair as I grew out from a haircut—straight-parted and un-layered and just generally awkward.
- Today. I’m eager to see current social and technological advances and what is beyond them.
- Can you buy anything for a dollar? I can’t think of one thing. Wait! Arizona tea. Ninety-nine cents.
- Fall Out Boy, because they have made music to complement every mood and stage of life.
- “2k15.” It doesn’t save time or space. Just call the year what it is.
- Cookie dough ice cream. My sweet tooth is pretty strong.
Debka Colson’s work has appeared in two anthologies, North American Review, Folio, GAMBAZine, Construction, Roar, and elsewhere. She placed third in Folio’s 2015 fiction contest and was a finalist for the 2014 Normal Prize. She is the Program Director of The Writers’ Room of Boston where she is also writing a novel.
- My great uncle had a glass cupboard filled with classics. I don’t remember which one I reread first: Rebecca, Little Women, Black Beauty,or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
- When I was young, my mother always cut my hair. She had a tendency to trim my bangs in a straight line far too high across my forehead.
- I would like to witness the tremendous changes from the 1890s onward, a period that challenged traditional roles, especially for women, and inspired exciting innovations in literature, politics, and art.
- I could purchase a spontaneous poem from a poet hawking her work on the street.
- Juan Luis Guerra—because he would offer boleros when I want romance and ease, or salsa and merengue when I want to get up and dance. A side bonus: If I could only listen to his music, my Spanish would undoubtedly improve.
- “Polar vortex.” I’ve lived through too many frigid winters in New England. I don’t need a new catchphrase to describe the experience.
- Lilac—that early spring scent that tells me I’ve made it through another polar vortex.
Jack Cooper has published his first poetry collection, Across My Silence (World Audience, 2007). His work has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rattle, Slant, Bryant Literary Review, and many other publications. He is a contributing editor at <KYSOflash.com>.
- ViVa by ee cummings. I discovered these remarkable and beautiful poems in the 1960s and I am still discovering them today.
- For my first day in the sixth grade, my mom clipped my hair too short using her sewing scissors, and I wore a straw hat to school, which was in tatters by the end of the day.
- The 1960s. Prior to that time, mass consciousness was inordinately low, intolerance high and health standards minimal. During the 1960s, the world awakened to many of the great developments we enjoy today, including Zen, liberal democracy (including equal rights), environmental activism, solar power, organic food, and unparalleled movements in art, literature, education and music.
- A nice pencil with a gum eraser.
- Jesse Cook, an extraordinary electronic flamenco guitarist who also plays classical, jazz and Latin rock.
- Oh, there are many annoying phrases that won’t die, such as “mother of all (fill in almost anything),” “perfect storm,” “LOL,” and single words like “amazing” and “robust.”
- Sage, cedar, or lime.
Charlotte is from St. Mary’s County, Maryland. She is currently a senior studying Creative Writing and Psychology at Salisbury University. She has poetry published or forthcoming in journals such as Salamander, Slipstream, The MacGuffin, and The Summerset Review. She is co-editor-in-chief of Milk Journal.
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I was seven.
- When I was in the seventh grade, there was an eighth grade dance at the end of the year. I wanted to go, so I got my eighth grade friend to invite me. Right before the dance, I wanted to cut my hair to just below the shoulders, so I’d look older. The woman cut it to just above the shoulders, and I was devastated. Now I realize I had the long bob before it was cool.
- I like living now. I think we still need to make a lot of progress in the world, so it’s better to look forward than backward. Hooray for modern values!
- Honestly, I can’t think of much you could buy for a dollar. You can get a Natty Daddy for 99 cents, but I don’t know if I’d want to.
- La Dispute. I love the lyrics—they remind me of poetry. I also have their band logo tattooed on my thigh.
- “Literally.” Does that count as an overused phrase? It’s an overused word, anyway. Except I am literally guilty of using it. I love overused phrases.
- Pain and suffering.
Laurel DiGangi’s work has appeared in the Chicago Reader, Fourth Genre, Denver Quarterly, Asylum, Ray’s Road Review, Atlanta Quarterly, and Cottonwood, among others. She teaches at Woodbury University and is current director of its Writing Center. “Innocence” is from her memoir-in-progress, Things We Couldn’t Live Without.
- My first grade reader. The copyright page had a nihil obstat, the bishop’s seal of approval, assuring me that David and Ann wouldn’t be eating cheeseburgers on a Friday, like those heathens Dick and Jane.
- I was eleven. My mother decided I needed a “cute summer haircut,” then added insult to injury by calling me “coconut head.”
- The Spanish Inquisition—bet you didn’t expect that.
- A winning lottery ticket.
- The Beatles. Because I have this thing for obscure bands.
- “Literally.” I literally hear it several times a day—like, you know, literally.
- Vicks VapoRub. I could help someone decongest as she created art.
Brad writes, paints, draws, photographs, hunts for mushrooms and snakes, and runs around naked in the Great Northwest. Since 1991, he has published poetry, essays, and weird stuff in such publications as Embodied Effigies, Clementine Poetry Journal, Barrow Street, Aji Magazine and other quality publications. He is a 2013 Pushcart Prize nominee.
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
- It wasn’t so much a haircut as a hairdo—when I permed my bone-straight hair to try out curls.
- I pretty much enjoy living in the moment; now is just fine.
- I can’t remember when I was last able to purchase something with a dollar—maybe an avocado or ear of corn.
- The Rolling Stones—classic rock with great lyrics, lots of moods, intelligence, and fun.
- “It’s all good.”
- Juniper and sage.
Sandra Graff lives within view of the Shawangunk Ridge in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her work includes chapbooks Girl in Garden and This Big Dress (Finishing Line), and poems in Rhino Poetry Journal, Fourth River, Potluck, and Copperfield Review. She is an Associate Professor of English at SUNY Orange.
- One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.
- When I went to a one-note hair salon where everyone emerged with the same haircut: a blow-dried mullet.
- The pre-Civil War era when women gathered for the first women’s rights convention and wrote the Declaration of Sentiments (1848).
- A book of poems at a used book store.
- Credence Clearwater Revival.
- “How awesome” has turned into a bad verbal habit and should go away.
John Grey is an Australian poet and US resident. He has recently been published in New Plains Review, Perceptions, Gargoyle and in the anthology No Achilles, with work upcoming in Big Muddy Review, Main Street Rag, and Spoon River Poetry Review.
- The Counterfeiters.
- The first one I gave myself.
- Paris in the 1880’s, the heyday of the Impressionists.
- A tune from a street musician.
- Fairport Convention—I have so many CDs and albums by them I could not only listen to them for the rest of my life but would barely have to repeat a track
- Not exactly a phrase, but when I order something in a restaurant and the waitress says “absolutely,” it sets my teeth on edge
- Burnt marshmallow.
Marie Hartung writes from her living room recliner in the smallish town of Monroe, Wasshington. She holds an MFA in Poetry and her work has appeared in Talking River, Third Wednesday, Raven Chronicles, and in the anthology The Burden of Light. She has an essay appearing in East Jasmine Review this spring.
- A toddler book titled Mrs. Mooley about a cow who wanted to be able to have cool talents like the other farm animals but in the end, she figures out it’s special enough to be a cow.
- All of them until I was twenty-five. Until then, my mom cut my hair like a bowl and later, I cut my hair into a mullet. I finally figured hair out at twenty-five.
- The one where we save our planet and its resources and there are no more wars.
- A chance. I prefer lottery scratch tickets, but a roulette spin works too.
- “Fair Enough.” How is something “fair enough?” I mean, if it’s FAIR then it is ENOUGH, otherwise it’s not fair.
James M. Hilgartner
James M. Hilgartner has published in journals including ACM: Another Chicago Magazine, The Chapbook, Greensboro Review, Mid-American Review, and New Orleans Review; he has twice been awarded the Fellowship in Literature from the Alabama State Council on the Arts. He is an Associate Professor of English at Huntingdon College.
- In November, 1984 (I was living in Boston), I shaved my head bald. It made for a ridiculously cold winter.
- If I had to abandon this time period, I’d choose the turn of the twentieth century and beyond.
- There’s a café in Montgomery, Alabama that has these wonderful little biscuits with cheese and sausage baked into them. They’re about a dollar apiece.
- The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam, for their excellent musicianship, wide repertoire, and catalog of nearly 1,000 recordings.
- “Life hack.”
- Synthetic lemon.
Maxwell Morgan Ingram is a student at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw Georgia. When he is not writing, he is either reading or stumbling around pretending that he knows what he is doing. “Forbidden Fruit” is his second publication.
- The Great Gatsby. There is something about Fitzgerald’s style that is indescribable in its allure.
- It happened in 2013 when I let my (now ex) girlfriend cut my hair. You could see my scalp for weeks.
- Despite all the terrible things in the world, I’d like to live in this current time period, because I feel that there are just as many good things as bad, and I can’t wait to see the state of things in a decade or so.
- AriZona Sweet Tea.
- This question kills me. I suppose my answer would have to be The Grateful Dead.
- “On fleek.”
Gunnar Jaeck’s fiction has appeared in Infinity’s Kitchen, Used Gravitrons, and decomP. The University of East Anglia gave him an MA. He lives in Tacoma. His blog is <metalreality.com>.
- Doktor Faustus.
- Bald and ponytail combo.
- Right now. After I figure right now out, maybe then I will try something else.
- A song on Bandcamp.
- Paradise Lost. They have a lot of albums and they all sound kind of different.
- “Illegal immigrant.” The phrase should go, the people should stay.
- CD insert booklets.
Susan Johnson’s poems have recently appeared in North American Review, Oyez Review, Off the Coast, and Pinyon Review. She teaches writing at UMass Amherst and lives in South Hadley, Massachusetts.
- A recipe for molasses crinkles.
- An at-home permanent when I was seventeen. I soon learned to love my painfully thin straight hair.
- It’s romantic to think I’d like to live in Paris during the 1920s or Boston at the time of the Revolution, but I think I’d want to live right now.
- A box of my favorite cereal at our local discount store.
- Talking Heads.
- I’m not really sure what a scent marker is—like a magic marker only with smell instead of color? Or like my cat peeing around the edges of our yard? Either way, the answer is fresh-cut grass.
Emily Jones lives, writes, and teaches in Concord, Massachusetts. She holds an MA in English from Georgetown University.
- The Trumpet of the Swan.
- Bowl cut with bangs straight across the head.
- I would live during the nineteenth century and befriend Louisa May Alcott, one of my childhood (and current) heroes.
- A spiral-bound notebook.
- The Beatles, easily. Their songs never get old!
- “I can’t even.”
- I’ll go with orange.
Hope Jordan’s poems have appeared recently in Crosswinds Poetry Journal, Redheaded Stepchild, Slush pile, Amoskeag, and Many Mountains Moving. She served as a trustee of the NH Writers’ Project and was the first official poetry slam master in New Hampshire, coaching the inaugural NH Poetry Slam Team in 2007.
- Hop on Pop. I was maybe four. I probably wanted to read it again, because I read everything again.
- One I gave myself in my senior year of high school. I butchered mine and my little sister’s bangs. It was so awful that I gelled them back into punk spikes on top of my head until they grew out. It was okay to have a chick mullet in the 80s.
- Maybe seventeenth century America. To see the land before humans screwed it up too much. Also, I used to get all fetishy about the few possessions the family had in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I just loved that they would be out of their minds with joy over getting a stick of candy and an orange with cloves stuck in it for Christmas.
- My commute to work requires me to go through a toll and pay a dollar. I have resisted getting a transponder for my car because I actually like physically handing my dollar to the human in the toll booth and having them wish me a nice day, or evening. On a really good day I’ll pay the toll for the person behind me as a random act of kindness.
- It would totally suck to listen to only one band for the rest of my life. That being said, it would be Richard Thompson. His amazing range of material is the whole package.
- I wince every time I hear myself say “at the end of the day.” I wish I could make it stop.
- Cinnamon and green bananas.
Gary Kay is a retired professor from Broward College, where he taught reading and English for thirty years. He was also an adjunct at Florida Atlantic University and Nova Southeastern University. His poetry has been published in Litchfield Review, River’s Edge, Earth’s Daughters, Otter, and several others. He currently resides in in South Florida.
- A Tarzan book. I was amazed that I could picture and inhabit a strange, dangerous and exciting place, by simply processing words on a page. Sadly, my reading speed was so slow, but this got me started and I am still standing (oops, reading.)
- When I went to a barber training school to save a few dollars. I was a beginning teacher and thought it would be a good idea. Wrong.
- The present time is amazing: filled with surprises, innovations, uncertainty, dangers and opportunities abounding.
- Another dollar.
- Must be the Beatles and the album, Rubber Soul—clear, clean and often very moving.
- “Are you kidding me?”
- A scented marker.
Susan Kelley lives and works in Pittsburgh, where she adds to her collection of English degrees, trains for triathlons, and doles out prescriptive grammar to unsuspecting students. She also writes astonishing technical documentation. No, really.
- “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
- Grades one through four.
- The Roaring 20s. I have great ankles, and I can vote.
- Pop Rocks.
- Ben Folds. That was too easy.
- Anything that ends with “on fleek.”
- Green Apple(tini).
Angela Smith Kirkman
Angela Smith Kirkman recently returned from a journey around the world, during which she snuck into dilapidated communist headquarters in Bulgaria, rode camelback through the Sahara, and taught in Rajasthan. Kirkman blogs at <thebigfieldtrip.com>, and her stories have been published in Literal Latte, International Living, Asia Literary Review, Halfway Down the Stairs, Under the Sun, and Your Life Is A Trip. She was awarded prizes in both the Literal Latte Essay Contest and the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition.
- The back of the Wheaties box.
- Ma gave me a godawful mullet back in the 80s, which I thought was totally rad at the time.
- The Sixties. I could have made a really good hippie.
- Bubble gum. And also BAND-AIDS.
- Phish, of course, because why not?
- “I know, right?” Say it and I’ll slap you.
- Wacky Watermelon. Or maybe Rambunctious Raspberry. Or Cantankerous Cantaloupe.
Andrew Kozma’s poems have appeared in Blackbird, Subtropics, Copper Nickel, and Best American Poetry 2015. His book of poems, City of Regret (Zone 3, 2007), won the Zone 3 First Book Award. He has been the recipient of a Jentel Residency, a Houston Arts Alliance Fellowship, and a D. H. Lawrence Fellowship.
- It was a result of my mom reading The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia to my brother and me when we went on long car trips. In eighth or ninth grade, I read those books again, with my eyes rather than my ears.
- In high school I decided I didn’t want my mom to cut my hair anymore, and so over my entire senior year my haircut went from bad to badder to worsest.
- I’ve always felt like I was writing too late for a number of genres I write. But I don’t want to live in the past. Maybe ten years in the future? I mean, to be perfectly honest, I’m happy with now.
- A hundred brand new pennies.
- The Decemberists. I can sing along (their songs are mostly within my range) and the stories they tell are engrossing and sad and mostly what I want my own work to do.
- I guess there’s no overused phrase I’d send to the isolation room. The more phrases infecting our shared language, the merrier, as far as I’m concerned.
- Coal dust.
Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, Virginia Poet Laureate Emerita, has co-edited three anthologies and published seven books, including The Embrace: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, winner of the 2014 Art in Literature: Mary Lynn Kotz Award. Her poems appear in numerous journals, including Nimrod, Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review, and Best of Literary Journals.
- A Child’s Garden of Verses. Even today, I credit my love of poetry to this collection.
- An unflattering pixie. I’ve “banned” haircuts for years and instead prefer waist length hair.
- The 1920s–1940s, the era of jazz, jitterbug dancing, and the east coast swing. An avid ballroom dancer, I’ve often longed for the days of the Arthur Murray dance studios.
- Living in a coastal rural area, I can still buy a rejuvenating cup of coffee with cream at a local restaurant for less than a dollar.
- The King of Swing, Benny Goodman, and his band. In fact, I credit the musicality of my writing to the enthralling effects of fast-paced dance bands such as Goodman’s.
- “Just sayin’. . .”
- Ornamental cherry blossoms.
Courtney LeBlanc believes wine, coffee, and poetry are key ingredients in life. Her poetry is published or is forthcoming in Connections, Welter, Plum Biscuit, Pudding Magazine, The Legendary, Germ Magazine, and District Lines. Read her blog <wordperv.com>, follow her on Twitter <Twitter.com/wordperv>, or find her on Facebook <facebook.com/poetry.Courtney LeBlanc>.
- I am a voracious reader and I am constantly writing, so there isn’t one book or one author that prompts me to pick up my pen—nearly all of them do!
- Most of my childhood haircuts were awful.
- This one. I’m quite happy with the time period I’m living in.
- Five quarters.
- William Fitzsimmons—he’s haunting and beautiful.
- I’m the worst person to ask these kinds of questions. I pay no attention to pop culture!
S. Frederic Liss
S. Frederic Liss, a Pushcart Prize nominee and finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Prize and Bakeless Prize Competition, has published or has forthcoming forty-one short stories. Liss received a Grant-in-Aid in Literature from the St. Botolph Club Foundation, Boston, Massachusetts, where he leads a workshop in writing fiction.
- When I was a kid I was a big fan of comic books, both superhero and horror. Sometimes I would buy new ones, but often I bought overstocks with the cover ripped off at substantial discounts. I read each issue over and over.
- Being descended from generations of bald men, my most recent haircut is always my worst.
- The future is a blank page except for the conjectures of science fiction. I’d rather live in the future than in the past, say 500 to 1,000 years hence.
- My favorite is a Machu Picchu baseball cap cost the equivalent of $.08 and believe it or not, has yet to fall apart.
- Boston Symphony Orchestra. Most bands, especially rock and roll bands, are frozen in time. Symphony orchestras, at least the good ones, evolve, playing both the old and the new.
- The drivel of sportscasters who babble about how a good play builds confidence and creates momentum. A close second: illiterate athletes who toss in the phrase ‘you know’ after every second or third word. It is clear these athletes do not know.
- Dark chocolate brownies fresh from the oven.
Wulf’s poems have been published in various places, but he wonders why he bothers to write poetry at all. Wulf supposes that there’s a quiet pride that one earns by repeatedly suffering the electroshocks of the Muse’s cattle prod.
- P D Eastman’s book / Go Dog. Go! It was Kerouac / for six-year olds!
- mother’s haircuts were / atrocious—as a teen I let / my hair grow long.
- if you’re Buddhist / you’ve lived every history’s time / but you can’t remember.
- one dollar buys one / third of a macchiato / one third morning bliss.
- songs heard too often / bore me—I’d prefer / to replay my monologues.
- I’m tired of people / calling themselves poets, because / we’re just people.
- I’d smell like musk, but / I’d mark my territory / with fluorescent pee
Anne Marie Macari
Anne Marie Macari is the author of four books of poetry, including Red Deer (Persea Books, 2015) and She Heads Into the Wilderness (Autumn House, 2008). In 2000 Macari won the APR/Honickman first book prize for Ivory Cradle, which was followed by Gloryland (Alice James, 2005). She has also coedited, with Carey Salerno, Lit From Inside: 40 Years of Poetry From Alice James Books.
Katharyn Howd Machan
Katharyn Howd Machan, Professor of Writing at Ithaca College, is the author of thirty-two published collections, and her poems have appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies, and textbooks, including The Bedford Introduction to Literature and Sound and Sense. She edited Adrienne Rich: A Tribute Anthology (Split Oak, 2012).
- The alphabet that was printed all around the top of the walls of my first-grade classroom in Woodbury, Connecticut.
- My grandmother gleefully had her hair stylist cut off my curls when I got gum stuck in it at age three.
- I’d very much like to visit 1888 in Western New York, as I have written hundreds of poems set then in my fictional town of Redwing.
- Gifts to give to children when I do StoryDance with them as Zajal the Sugarplum Fairy.
- Too horrible to think of being limited that way! If forced, it would have to be one I could dance to in fuchsia sequins, such as Pangia, the bellydance band from southern California.
- “Awesome”—watch Harlan Ellison’s excellent diatribe against it.
Rebecca Macijeski is an Assistant Editor in Poetry for Hunger Mountain and Prairie Schooner. She has attended artist residencies with the Ragdale Foundation and Art Farm Nebraska. Poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Potomac Review, Nimrod, Gargoyle, Sycamore Review, Storyscape, and others. Visit her online <rebeccamacijewski.com>.
- A children’s book called The Teeny Tiny Woman. I think she made soup out of bones.
- In seventh grade I transitioned from bangs to no bangs. It was rough.
- The 1920s.
- A chocolate glazed donut.
- Not choosing. No way. (honestly, it would probably be something with fiddles)
- “Just sayin’.” Then just say it!
- A New England forest when the ground first turns green again in spring.
Janice Majewski is a poet living in Northern Virginia with cats & other creatives.
- The Hobbit.
- The bowl cut, in third grade. Strangers thought my mom had only sons.
- The current one.
- I’d probably be listening to the soundtrack for Beasts of the Southern Wild because it’s the only music I’ve found (so far) that I can write to.
- Just showered.
Stephen Massimilla is the co-author of Cooking with the Muse (Tupelo, 2016). He received an SFASU Press Prize for The Plague Doctor in His Hull-Shaped Hat, the Bordighera Prize for Forty Floors from Yesterday, the Grolier Prize, a Van Renssalaer Award (selected by Kenneth Koch), and others. His poems have appeared in hundreds of publications. He teaches at Columbia University and the New School.
- Harold and the Purple Crayon.
- The bowl cut.
- The late Victorian era.
- A pound of greenmarket onions.
- A band of geese, or a pink band of clouds.
- “It is what it is.”
- Pumpkin pie.
Brian Mulligan, a writer from Long Island, New York, is the author of The 1940 Cincinnati Reds: A World Championship and a Baseball Suicide (McFarland). His work appears in Elysian Fields Quarterly Reviewand EDGE Literary Journal (forthcoming). He is currently completing a book of stories and a novel.
- I remember Green Eggs and Ham being read to me by my parents and me wanting them to read it over and over. The first book I read and then immediately re-read was The Catcher in the Rye.
- The first one. It made me cry.
- I am a 20th –21st century fan.
- A really good song.
- The Beatles. The voices, musicianship, variety of styles, and harmonies are second to none. And the songs—even after a thousand listens—remain pretty magical.
- “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
- An evergreen tree.
Hannah L. Nelson
Hannah L. Nelson is a freelance writer currently residing in South Florida studying Dance Performance and Creative Writing at Palm Beach Atlantic University. She has had works published in Artifact Nouveau, The Sucarnochee Review, and Outrageous Fortune.
- I was an avid Nancy Drew reader when I was younger and would spend hours reading and re-reading the novels at the local library.
- I had a really short bob haircut in the sixth grade that made me look like a mushroom.
- The 1920s before the Great Depression.
- Anything chocolate.
- Mumford and Sons because their lyrics are very deep and meaningful and they have a very eclectic style.
- “YOLO” needs to die (ironically).
- Something tropical like pineapple or mango!
Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. His most recent collection is Almost Rain (River Otter, 2013). For more information, including free e-books and his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities,” please visit <simonperchik.com>.
- The Brothers Karamazov.
- The one I gave myself at age fourteen.
- The Twentieth century.
- Coffee at Citarella’s.
- Any bluegrass band. I like the music.
- “Have a nice day.”
- Leaves after falling.
Richard King Perkins II
Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He lives in Crystal Lake, IL, USA with his wife, Vickie and daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee whose work has appeared in more than a thousand publications.
- The Enormous Egg.
- In 1970, I had really long hair and fell asleep with bubble gum in my mouth. I got buzzed down all the way to the scalp. When I went out to play, none of my friends recognized me. I cried.
- Any dystopian future. The war against the machines, zombie apocalypse, alien invasion, gamma world or thought-police state would all be acceptable.
- A Granny Smith apple.
- R.E.M.—it’s good poetry set to music in which I find inspiration to write.
- The horribly common, bastardized use of “verbage” instead of “verbiage.”
Tom Pescatore can sometimes be seen wandering along the Walt Whitman Bridge or down the sidewalks of Philadelphia’s old Skid Row. He might have left a poem or two behind to mark his trail. He maintains a poetry blog:<amagicalmistake.blogspot.com>.
- It was an issue of Amazing Spider-Man. My mom used to get me comics and read them to me, by the time I was two or three years old I had memorized the words and would “read” them to people even turning the pages at the right time.
- Once in high school, well I think I was in high school, I just put my air up in a ponytail and cut it straight across. It looked like I had a bob cut for a few weeks.
- The mid-20th century. Easier to bum rides, easier to make living as a migrant worker, less surveillance, more freedom, who knows? But then again, to be given the chance to meet Whitman at a tavern along a dirt road in the 1840s . . . you know, maybe I’d like to be a pioneer going west in 1800 crossing the plains, the Rockies, finding the Pacific waiting for me at the end, yeah, it’s probably that.
- A D20.
- The Misfits, to see if it’s possible to get tired of them. I guess I’d get the whole discography, right?
- “Af” is first thing that popped into my head.
- Campfire smoke and flannel.
David Potsubay graduated from Slippery Rock University with a BS in Creative Writing. Currently, he is pursuing an MA in English Literature at West Virginia University. He has found a passion for teaching writing, while striving to write honest lines about his life and the lives of others.
- “The Cask of Amontillado.”
- I once received an Amish-style haircut from my grandfather when I was a child.
- I would have lived in the 1970s because then I would be able to see my favorite bands from that time period in concert.
- One hundred pieces of penny candy.
- Father John Misty because his music could fit many different moods in my life and he’s fun.
- “Netflix and chill.”
- Old book pages with a touch of bourbon.
Lise M. Quintana is the EIC of Zoetic Press. Her work can be found at Drunk Monkeys, Red Fez, Role Reboot, Extract(s), and other fine journals. In addition to writing, Lise is the developer of the Lithomobilus e-reader, which can be found at <lithomobilus.com>.
- The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I think I probably read it six or seven times before I got out of eighth grade.
- One day, my best friend was cutting my hair while fighting on the phone with her boyfriend. Her neighbor came to the door; I answered it, mid-haircut. He said, “I was going to ask if I could borrow an axe, but I guess you’re using it.”
- Now. As a woman of color, I have more of a voice than I would have had at any other time in history. We have medicine that means we don’t die every time we get a scratch or a sniffle, and we have things like candied violet gelato and iPhones.
- Two hours of parking in downtown Santa Cruz.
- I would have to go with Cake. I can sing all of their songs, their lyrics perfectly express my moods, and they make fun videos.
- I’m completely done with “squad goals,” or any construction that ends with “goals.” I cringe whenever I see people publicly announcing their desire to be more fake, more unrelatable.
- Licorice. I have found that the vast majority of people don’t like licorice, but the ones that do are a little more interesting and fun than average.
Erin Redfern works as a writing mentor and has recently served as poetry judge for the San Francisco Unified School District’s Arts Festival. In 2015, she co-edited Poetry Center San Jose’s print publication, Caesura. See <erinredfern.net>.
- Make Way for Ducklings.
- No bad haircuts, but a truly regrettable perm in ’87.
- Tricky—as a woman, it’s hard to want to go back (see: coverture); as a human who appreciates polar bears, it’s hard to want to go forward.
- Smarties! Or a stamp.
- This question is waaaaay too hard; not A Flock of Seagulls.
- Anything Trump says.
- Black tea.
Benjamin Renne lives in the Washington, D.C. area, where he is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) and a Certificate in Secondary Education (English) from George Mason University. He enjoys playing long complicated board games that make everyone frustrated and unwilling to play with him ever again.
- A Wrinkle in Time.
- A terrible and unfortunate mullet in eighth grade.
- The Romantic Period (Europe).
- A warm soft-pretzel with salt.
- The Mars Volta, because there is always more there every time I listen to them.
- “Netflix and chill?”
- A kind of faded green apple that might be confused for lime
Ron Riekki’s nonfiction, fiction, and poetry have been published in River Teeth, Spillway, New Ohio Review, Shenandoah, Canary, Bellevue Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, New Orleans Review, Little Patuxent Review, Wigleaf, and many other literary journals. He loves listening to music from all over the globe, e.g. By2, Grimes, Loco Locass, Namika, Anna Abreu, and too many others to name (and he’s a big fan of CISM in Montreal).
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. Also the Choose Your Own Adventure series.
- I got a perm once. Some guys driving in a car at NMU yelled something about how they wanted to fight me. Just because of my hair. Life is dumb.
- Hmmm, maybe twenty years later than when I was actually born. It seems like the world is on track to some huge advancements in things like technology and medicine and I feel like I’m just barely going to miss what those things will be.
- The worst thing: a lottery ticket. The best thing: give it to a kind poet. Just because poets ooze greatness.
- Either Radiohead or The Mummers or Danny Elfman or Coeur de pirate or Beck or The xx, because they all rule. But really I’d be most happy listening to all of the various recordings done for Later . . . with Jools Holland. By the way, here’s a list of my 800 favorite bands: <rariekki.webs.com/my700favoritebands.htm>.
- Thich Nhat Hanh.
Deirdre Roche graduated from Franklin & Marshall College with honors in Creative Writing. She and her fiancé lived in Berlin, Germany before moving back to Baltimore.
- The Seer and the Sword when I was ten or so. I read it twice right away and wanted long red hair and magical powers for years afterwards. Actually, I still want long red hair and magical powers.
- When I was in elementary school, I had a bowl haircut that made me look like a little blonde Beatle.
- I would most like to live in the utopian future. If the future is only dystopian then I would like to live in Regency era, marry well, and say shocking things at teas.
- I can refill my coffee at my local coffee shop for $1.
- I would listen to The Grateful Dead’s album “American Beauty” forever. I think it would bring about world peace.
- I try not to yell at people for their phrasing, but one that left me hanging for an embarrassingly long time was “I can’t even.”
Ruben Rodriguez sleeps near the Pacific Ocean where he writes, paints, and sells T-shirts to tourists. He is the fiction editor of The Great American Lit Mag and author of the chapbook We Do What We Want (Orange Monkey, 2015). You can find him at <rubenstuff.com>.
- Little Gorilla. Me, a little boy sitting among the shoes in my parents’ closet, sure I was the gorilla.
- There was a time in my life when I’d take clippers to my scalp. Years. It wasn’t a good look.
- I think I’m too soft to live in any other time period. I guess I’ll have to stay here.
- A used T-shirt.
- Portugal. The Man: They have lots of music in varying moods. They’re also pretty active, so more would come.
- “Suh Bruh.”
- Cashews & doubt.
Carl Scharwath’s work has appeared internationally with over eighty publications selecting his poetry, short stories, essays, or art photography. He won the National Poetry Contest award on behalf of Writers One Flight Up. His has published one book of poetry book titled Journey To Become Forgotten (Kind of a Hurricane Press).
- Classics Illustrated comic books. They started me on the road to reading classic literature.
- A crew cut at age five.
- A York Peppermint Patty
- R.E.M. I love their sound writing and skill on many instruments.
- “It is what it is.”
- Pepper—I love pepper on my food.
Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb
Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb’s work has appeared in many publications, with poetry forthcoming in the anthologies Talking Back and Looking Forward: An Educational Revolution in Poetry and Prose and The Great American Wise Ass Poetry Anthology. She is a past Pushcart Prize nominee and a recent Best of the Net nominee.
- Most likely any collection of Roald Dahl’s stories.
- When I was learning how to cook, there was a mysterious little burst from the oven that caught my hair on fire—the rest of it had to be cut to match the part that the flame snatched.
- I used to think that I wanted to leave in the Victorian Age of Decadence, so that I could meet Oscar Wilde, but the death rate from consumption was extremely high.
- Either a cup of strong coffee or an unwanted pet tarantula.
- The band that perpetually stimulates my neurons into creativity is definitely Spyro Gyra.
- “Have a nice day,” used more as a shorthand social signal, for one.
- I would be a hypoallergenic, unscented marker.
Matt Schumacher serves as poetry editor of the journal Phantom Drift and lives in the shadow of a Paul Bunyan statue in Portland, Oregon. His poetry books include Spilling the Moon, The Fire Diaries, and two forthcoming collections, favorite maritime drinking songs of the miraculous alcoholics and Ghost Town Odes.
- Greek myths, particularly The Odyssey, were very early favorites.
- I found gum in my hair after one trip to the “stylist.”
- I would like to live during a future age when time-travel will be tantalizingly affordable.
- A vintage record at Portland’s 99 Cent Records.
- Guided by Voices. Robert Pollard is inventive, prolific, and a fine singer/songwriter.
- “Make America Great Again.”
- Datura flowers.
Richard Smith wanted to write since he was a young boy. His desire and drive was hindered by dyslexia, and he never finished anything until years later when the fire for writing began to burn within. Determined to overcome, he completed his first article. He has been published in Airboating Magazine. He is also a contributing writer for The Echo prison newspaper.
- Where the Red Fern Grows.
- The worst haircut I ever had was the first time I cut it myself.
- Medieval times.
- A bag of instant refried beans.
- It would be Jesus Culture, because it was playing the night I gave my life to God and now it is connected with that special moment in my life.
Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing, Emerita, at Montclair State University, Carole Stone’s most recent poetry collections are LATE, (Turning Point, 2016) HURT, THE SHADOW, (Dos Madres, 2013) and American Rhapsody (CavanKerry, 2012).
- Books in the Sue Barton, Nurse series.
- A pageboy.
- The Bloomsbury period.
- Chocolate kisses.
Kelly Talbot has edited books and digital content for twenty years, previously as an in-house editor for John Wiley and Sons Publishing, Macmillan Publishing, and Pearson Education, and now as the head of Kelly Talbot Editing Services. His writing has appeared in dozens of magazines.
- The first two things were Harold and the Purple Crayon and Where the Wild Things Are.
- The short, conservative hair cut I had from elementary school through high school was pretty bland. Before and after that period, my hair has been longer and naturally curly. I like it.
- I’d want to be born in 1940. I’d be in my twenties throughout the 1960s. What could be better?
- Sure, you can buy a U.S. congressman for a dollar (sometimes two congressmen when they’re on sale), but there are so many things that are better than a congressman.
- I think the answer is probably Miles Davis. He has such a range of enjoyable material that covers every mood and emotion.
- “It’s huge” is the most over-used phrase of the past year. The best way to make it go away is to teach people that they are far funnier when they think of something unique to say as opposed to repeating everyone else’s jokes.
- The man-made chemicals that are toxic to our environment and pollute our land, water, air, bodies, and souls. But I would dream of smelling like trees, fresh water, the cool spring breeze, beauty, laughter, and freedom.
Charles Farrell Thielman
Raised in Charleston, S.C., and Chicago, educated at red-bricked universities and on city streets, married on a Kauai beach in 2011, a loving grandfather to six free spirits, Charles Farrell Thielman’s work as poet and shareholder in an independent bookstore’s collective continues! Google his name to read more of his poems.
1.Clip Clop Lil’ Pony.
2. In a barber shop just outside Pearl Harbor, 1971.
3. A time of peace & unity.
4. A small glass of Perrier at any Paris café.
5. Keith Jarrett Trio—they bop.
6. “Trump Wins.”
Deborah Thompson is an Associate Professor of English at Colorado State University, where she helped to develop the new master’s degree in Creative Nonfiction. She has published creative essays in venues such as The Missouri Review, The Iowa Review, Fourth Genre, Creative Nonfiction, Passages North, Upstreet, and Briar Cliff.
- Green Eggs and Ham.
- DIY bangs.
- No time like the present.
- Dollar-store single-serving tiramisu.
- Pink Martini, because the band is playful and endlessly explores new (and old) genres.
- “Donald Trump.”
- Banana, because every scented marker eventually smells like banana by the time it reaches middle age.
Caitlin Thomson is preoccupied with absence, usually in terms of the apocalypse. Her work has appeared in numerous places, including: Eleven Eleven, Tar River Poetry Review, and The Adroit Journal. Her third chapbook Territory Prayer (Maverick Duck) was just released. You can learn more about her writing at <caitlinthomson.com>.
- I read Princesses Don’t Wear Jeans by Brenda Bellingham one night in second grade.
- My father trimmed my hair while watching television. He did such a bad job that my mother had to take me to a professional. All they could do was even it out into a pixie cut and tell my mom to hope for the best.
- As a female, I would have to say the present.
- An Alter Eco Dark Chocolate Truffle.
- Bruce Springsteen.
- When people use the word “migrants” when they mean “refugees.”
- Pine trees.
Vincent J. Tomeo
Vincent J. Tomeo is a poet, archivist, historian, and community activist. He has been published in The New York Times, Comstock Review, Mid-America Poetry Review, Edgz, Spires,
Tiger’s Eye, ByLine, Mudfish, The Blind Man’s Rainbow, The Neovictorian/Cochlea, The Latin Staff Review, and Grandmother Earth VII–XI. He has published 719 poems, is the winner of 99 awards, and has held 79 public readings.
- The Melody of Earth, an anthology of ecology poems. One poem in particular beckons me, and I have often read and reread this poem, “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” by W. B. Yeats.
- On the streets of Beijing in China, a local barber put a bowl on my head and cut my hair. It was the worst haircut I have ever had: uneven, unattractive, and simply “Maoish!”
- During the Roaring Twenties. I could imagine walking up Lexington Avenue the way James Joyce would perambulate up the streets of Paris with Samuel Beckett.
- A bottle of water.
- Stan Kenton’s Orchestra. “Dragonwyck” on the Mellophonium Moods album will jazz up my life and put me in the mood.
- The most overused phrase is heard in the rap world and it is “She is a ho.” It is demeaning to women and to all humanity. It needs to go.
- Vanilla and cinnamon with a hint of pine, because I am multi-scented, delicious, and strong.
Emily Walling’s work can be found in journals such as Apeiron Review, The Caribbean Writer, Cactus Heart, and forthcoming in The MacGuffin, and Riding Light Review. Her creative work is about the physical, emotional, and psychological connections people have with nature. She lives in Ohio with her husband.
- The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. My mom read it to me almost every day when I was a kid, and then I started reading it every day on my own once I learned how to read.
- I had a bob haircut with bangs in seventh grade. I don’t know what I was thinking. The bob didn’t work because I have very curly hair.
- Nowadays, gas.
- Sheppard. They had me at “Geronimo.”
- There are too many, and I probably use most of them anyway.
- A bag of Skittles.
Sara Whitestone is a writer, photographer, and teacher. In exchange for instruction in English, her students at John Jay College introduce her to the mysteries of the world. Her works appear in book anthologies and popular and literary magazines. To learn more about Whitestone’s inner and outer adventures, visit <sarawhitestone.com>.
- When I was little, my dad used to call me Sare Bear, and the first book I ever read all by myself was Little Bear by Elsie Holmelund Minarik. In some ways, I am still that Sare Bear, excited when a new book comes in the mail from Amazon, because reading is still every bit the pleasure it was all those years ago when Little Bear first brought his stories to me.
- I was twelve. My great-aunt took me to a beauty college. The hairdresser was a student who was giving her first haircut. Need I say more?
- I’ve always loved the 1800’s as romanticized in literature. But in reality I probably wouldn’t have been born as one of those women who marries for love and money (like all of Austen’s heroines seem to do). Rather, I’d be the scullery maid, scrubbing floors all day and not being able to marry at all.
- A candle. Not so much for lighting as for ambience. I burn them all the time in the winter, and dollar stores keep me stocked for cheap.
- My daughter is a professional violinist, and although she is not in a band, she plays chamber music, in orchestras, for special events, and can improvise any type of music with anyone. She’s the music I would (and will) listen to for the rest of my life.
- “Like, really?”
- Given that I never liked scented markers (they give me headaches), can I choose to be au natural? If you’d asked me what color I would be, well, that is a different thing altogether.
Kathleen Williamson began her career writing fiction but now devotes herself to poetry. She takes classes at Gotham Writers Workshop, Writers Studio, and the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center. Her work has been published in Inkwell and The Westchester Review in addition to being anthologized in Pieces of Eight: Autism Acceptance Benefit Issue. Kathleen lives in Pleasantville, New York.
- I was always a voracious reader and never wanted to read something again. The first book I did reread was Lolita and it is the only book I’ve read a third time.
- I can’t say I’ve ever been upset about a haircut—it might be the only area in my life where I’ve been stoic.
- Mid-nineteenth century—Darwin and Dickens, Bronte and Twain. And—oh!—the dresses!
- Can one buy something for a dollar? A parking spot?
- The Who—they remind me what it was like to be fifteen and they always tell a good story.
- Can’t say there’s any phrase that’s bothered me. I like how the language shifts and changes.
Mark Zingarelli is a native of Pittsburgh and has been a freelance cartoonist and illustrator for over thirty-six years. He has also worked as a writer, teacher, and professional eater. His latest graphic novel, Second Avenue Caper, (Farrar Straus & Giroux) won the Lambda Award for Best Graphic Novel of 2014.
- It was either Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Thuvia, Maid of Mars, or The Warlord of Mars.
- Once while living in San Diego I went to a barber on a friend’s rec. I thought I’d described what I wanted, but it turned out looking like a Marine Corps fresh recruit haircut.
- I’m excited to live right now, in this time period.
- I used to be able to buy a good slice of pizza for a dollar, but that was a while ago.
- Sebastian Bach . . . okay, he wasn’t in a band per se, but I find I can listen to his music over and over, especially the concertos.
- Oh my, there are so many words and phrases that need to go away. Can we please stop describing anything as “awesome”? And please stop saying “my bad or “hashtag” anything.