WRITEANGLES JOURNAL is an online publication for people affiliated with the WriteAngles Conference. A special issue devoted to the theme of “resolution” launches Jan. 1, 2017. Submissions of flash memoir and flash fiction – in the form of prose, poetry, or playscript (excerpts or stand-alone pieces that capture a slice of life) — can be e-mailed as Word documents to firstname.lastname@example.org from Jan. 1 through Jan. 30, 2017. Word limit: 500 words for prose or drama, up to 35 lines for poetry. Submissions must be titled and accompanied by a 50-word author’s bio and JPG headshot photo.
by Diane Kane
“Jeff and I are getting a divorce.”
“But why?” I asked.
“Mom, it’s complicated.”
“Can’t you work it out?”
“We’ve tried,” Shannon said. “There’s no other solution.”
I grieved over twelve years of marriage and two children, broken. What could I do? There was no room for my pain. After all, it was my daughter’s heart shattered. Why then did I feel so betrayed?
When introduced to a charismatic young man who told me he loved my daughter, I believed him. His eyes sparkled when he looked at her. There was tenderness in his arms that held her.
Jeff was in the Army when they met, stationed at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville N.C. They couldn’t wait to be together. After only a few months, they eloped to be married. Shannon still wanted a big wedding. So six months later, when Jeff was on leave, she had the wedding of her dreams. I never had a son; now I had a son-in-law.
I rode the train to North Carolina to visit them often. When he transferred to Fort Stuart, I traveled to Georgia. He hugged me and told me he loved me. I welcomed him into my family and heart.
Six years later, they announced with joy that I would be a Grandma soon. Casey was born, and two years later Finn completed the family, so I thought. But things are not always as they seem, are they?
I had not witnessed the slow painful stretching of the moral elastic band that had held their marriage together. I was not the one dishonored and deceived when that band finally snapped. Still, I felt the sting.
Shannon asked that I remove his pictures from my walls. Carefully I packed away the evidence of happy times — their wedding, vacations together, and birthdays. I put them in the drawer and closed it. Jeff had disappeared from my life, but not my memory.
Unlike a son who never stops being a son, Jeff became my ex-son-in-law. He moved in with his girlfriend and her two children. Shannon doesn’t mention his name. My grandchildren rarely talk about him in front of me. At ages seven and five, they already seemed to understand the separation of families — perhaps better than I.
A judge decided the final particulars. Assets divided, as well as bills. The children’s schedule with each parent made, including holidays. Details set, divorce final.
Why does it seem so unresolved to me?
Diane Kane’s self-published children’s book, Brayden the Brave, is featured at Boston Children’s Hospital to help families cope in emotional times. Diane’s short story, The God of Honey: A Love Story, is published in The Goose River Anthology 2016. She is at home in rural Massachusetts or on the shores of Maine.
by Kevin Cooke
It was dusk, and I was done. Totally emptied. There wasn’t an emotion left in me. I grabbed a beer and headed out onto the deck. October had been cool enough to keep the mosquitoes down, so sitting out there was tolerable.
The house was set high enough above the dunes that I had a good shot of the water to the west, with a barrier beach on one side and a flat calm bay stretching away to the horizon. I sat and waited for the water to extinguish the sun.
I took a deep pull on the beer and set it between my legs, safe from spilling. Watching the sun at this time of the evening didn’t seem as dangerous as at midday. I’d still wake up in the morning with my sight intact. It didn’t matter to me. Nothing much did anymore. I didn’t even pay attention to my breathing. At this point, my body was on its own, and if it wanted to keep going, that was fine with me.
My world had started with my boat and the sea. It was on the way up that I took on Meredith, and the sun shone twenty-four hours a day for quite a while. Along the way, she brought aboard a dog, along with all of the unconditional love that goes with such a creature. The weight of the dog’s big head on my leg at night was great comfort.
It took me four months to lose Meredith. She was more of a trouper than I was, and even though I promised her, I couldn’t make that voyage out to scatter her ashes on the water that we had sailed together for so long. I kept her, right over there in that pot. Jordie made it for me, and for her to live in while I’m still around.
A storm took the boat, and a long life took the dog. I wake up these days when I have to, still feeling the weight of her head on me. I remember her as I make the morning coffee and stare out over the deck at the water. There’s no reason to look there. The dog, and for that matter Meredith also, are wherever I’m looking. They often go romping over the horizon before me as I walk along the beach.
The sun is touching the water now, and I imagine great billowing clouds of silent steam rising up to the sky. The roiling of the sea just makes the dark come faster. I take a sip of the beer, gone warm by now, and the bottle drops back down as I focus on the sun disappearing into the water. There is one final, brief flash of light as the dark takes us both to rest at last.
Kevin Cooke is a graduate of Syracuse University and Antioch Graduate School. Kevin lives in Belchertown with his wife Linda, and has been writing with Kathy Dunn’s Main Street Writers group in Amherst for six years. His collection of short fiction, Sweet Caroline, will be released this spring by LifeRich Publishing.
by Sally Sennott
Janus had double booked a barber appointment.
He stood me up for a haircut.
Janus is the god of time.
The new lunch date showed promise.
“I was up and fully dressed,” Janus said,
“With face washed and beard trimmed.”
But Janus has a secret he doesn’t share.
“I think I’ll lay down for just a second,” flashed in his head.
“Take me down the passageway…”
Janus is the god of doorways.
He says he couldn’t hear the doorbell,
Or the persistent knocks on the door.
He didn’t hear the cell phone ringing
Three times in quick succession.
Deep in a heroin nod, Janus dreamed on.
Nirvana is his preferred reality.
He simply spaced out again.
Janus looks forward and back.
“So very sorry I missed our luncheon date,” he says.
“Are you okay?” I loyally ask.
“Don’t leave me,” Janus pleads.
Should I walk away?
Will I catch my breath?
I will not go through his revolving door.
It’s time to turn and walk away.
Sally Sennott is a graduate of Duke University and lives in Milford, NH. She is a retired newspaper correspondent and editor of a local museum newsletter. Sally has written two plays as well as a children’s story that were produced into videos and featured on the local cable access channel (AOTV).
TEN THOUSAND JOYS, TEN THOUSAND SORROWS
by Jody Callahan
On the third day after going blind, Rita felt relief. For years her sight would return only to be lost again. This time the doctor confirmed it would not be coming back.
It wasn’t her faith which kept her upright, not her god or her religion but something inside her, she knew, made her wake each morning expecting joy. Every life has ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows as the Buddhist saying goes but each joy, each sadness, is not equal. The fear of complete, irreversible blindness had been a constant and now without it there was this, unmistakable relief that the worst thing that could happen to her had, and yet here she still was, breathing, looking forward to her morning cup of coffee.
Now nearing fifty and finally legally blind, Rita went at the state’s expense to a center to learn how to adapt to her new life. She learned how to cook blind, something she had rarely done sighted, and received mobility instruction on how to get around independently with the use of a white-banded cane.
At the center she met other blind adults in group classes and therapy and found herself falling in love, an emotion she hadn’t realized had been missing all of these years. Perhaps the fear of going blind had dulled her sense of losing herself in someone else but now it was back.
Gerard was another who tended to look at the bright side of things. “Did you know,” he asked her the first time they met, “that the blind don’t have to pay for stamps? That’s right! The blind get to mail, for free.”
He had Matilda, a sweet German Shepherd as a guide dog. “Did you know,” he asked Rita, “that I don’t have to pick up Matilda’s poop? The blind are given a special exemption. Yup it’s good to be blind!” he roared. “Easy street!”
The morning after Gerard first slept over, he took Matilda for a walk and to buy them bagels for breakfast. Mrs. Conti from upstairs knocked on Rita’s door immediately. She had always been nosy but with Rita’s newly blind status had felt it her duty to double her intrusiveness.
“That man!” Mrs. Conti said.
“My boyfriend?” Rita asked.
“Oh!” Mrs. Conti said, grabbing one of Rita’s hands and holding it prisoner with her left as she stroked it annoyingly with her right. “He’s black you know.”
“He is?” Rita asked with a mock horror that failed to register with Mrs. Conti.
Mrs. Conti gasped. “He didn’t tell you, did he!”
“Maybe he doesn’t know,” Rita suggested.
“But he should! Someone should tell him!”
“I’m afraid it can’t be me,” Rita said. “I’m color blind, Gerard will never believe me.”
Mrs. Conti paused in her patting of Rita’s hand for a moment and almost, just almost, accepted the sarcasm in Rita’s voice.
“Don’t let this being blind change you,” Mrs. Conti said.
Now that, Rita knew, she never would.
Jody Callahan’s writing has appeared in the online literary journals Liars’ League London, Liars’ League Hong Kong, Gemini Magazine and Story Shack and in the anthology Foreign & Far Away, and Writer’s Digest. She lives in Northampton and is currently at work on a satirical novel tentatively titled POINTLESS PRAYER.
THE GOOD THIEF
by Rose Oliver
Thou shalt not steal. It’s a commandment of the Lord posted over the blackboard along with nine others in Sister Perpetua’s third grade classroom.
“Stealing,” she said, “is a mortal sin. Children, be free from all sin. This is called being in the state of grace.” That was the state that Sister told us made God smile.
Well I was not making God smile. Already I’d stolen two dollars and thirty-five cents. I was a third grader bent on a life of crime.
It started as a nickel and dime operation. My parents were in the habit of leaving pocket change on top of their dresser. Pilfering a nickel or dime at a time, I amassed a small fortune. Each time I approached the dresser to rob my parents I confronted my reflected image in the mirror — a scrawny bird-like girl with uneven bangs. My portrait seemed destined to hang in the local post office along with the other criminals.
I was purchasing popularity. My schoolmates followed me like a gaggle of geese after school to the corner store. I bought them Mars bars, Three Musketeers, Bazooka bubble gum – whatever their greedy hearts desired. I was widely acclaimed for my generosity.
Every Saturday I kneeled in the dusty stuffy darkness of the confessional box. Father Murphy pulled aside the small curtain that separated us. It always reminds me of the start of a puppet show. “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” I say that I am heartily sorry. I always receive the same penance – three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys.
The stealing went on unabated. The threat of hell fire and damnation proved not to dissuade me. Death and the afterlife seemed eons away. Besides, I’d have plenty of time to repent.
One day after school I arrived home ravenous. My mom was in the kitchen cooking dinner. I opened the Frigidaire and stuffed an entire hot dog in my mouth. I was in a big hurry. I needed to get to the dresser to continue my thievery before my father came home.
I couldn’t breathe. I was choking-choking to death.
My mom delivered a sharp rap to my back and the hot dog became an airborne projectile depositing itself in the sink.
“What,” my mom asked, “were you thinking?”
“Just eating a hot dog.”
“Today is Friday!”
Uh-oh. Catholics were forbidden to eat meat on Friday. It was a mortal sin.
What if I’d died with the hot dog still in my throat? I’d be spinning around forever on a rotisserie in hell. The shiny pile of nickels and dimes went untouched.
I now knew third graders could die and not have time to repent. I vowed to live a life free from sin. I doubted my biography would find its way into the Lives of the Saints.
And as for making God smile – doubtful. But I was growing more and more certain that I could make God laugh.
Rose Oliver is a retired psychiatric Registered Nurse who lives in rural Western Massachusetts with her partner, but her heart lives in (tired cliché) San Francisco, her home for several decades. She writes poetry, fiction, and memoir. Her idea of paradise is a library.
by Tara McNamara
Although we are still legally married,
I am writing to inform you that,
Regretfully I will no longer be available to you.
I must gracefully decline your offer
Of employment as dishwasher and sock folder.
Also, general household maintenance and personal chef,
I will not be around to fulfill.
As the benefits that were previously arranged
You have failed to provide (see marriage vows).
As for accounting services,
You may decide to pay your own bills online,
And I do not have your email account password.
I believe you can locate it under gojumpoffacliffyoulazys**. com.
In other words, my employment
Under the umbrella of “housewife” has expired and
No further action on your part is needed.
I am providing this notice to you
Because you seem to have forgotten
That I left this position last year.
If you are still having trouble filling it,
I suggest you take out an ad in the back pages.
They do excellent work.
I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.
With the utmost regards,
Tara McNamara facilitates and participates in writers’ workshops for women previously incarcerated and/or in recovery. A compilation of her work titled God Doesn’t Draw in a Straight Line, so Why Should I Walk One is her latest project. She loves sharks and resides in Turner’s Falls, Massachusetts.
A CAT NAMED SAM
by Anne Pinkerton
When my brother died, he was unmarried and childless (or “childfree,” as he likely would have framed it). David had spent his adult life working long hours as a radiologist in part because he loved science and helping people, but in equal part because the associated paycheck and vacation time afforded him the life he really wanted: that of an elite athlete. He had traveled much of the world competing in mountain biking races, ultra-marathons, and adventure racing quests. He had many girlfriends, but never yearned for a traditional family life, to the disappointment of said girlfriends. When at age 47, David fell from one of the “14ers” in Colorado – a range of 54 spectacular, jagged 14,000-foot mountains – he left behind a sizable bank account, a largely unlived-in house, and a small orange tabby cat named Sam.
Once upon a time, David had had a dog, a black lab called Harley, who was genuinely his best friend and a companion on many journeys. Harley had hung himself on his own leash by jumping out of the bed of my brother’s pick-up truck where David had tethered him while he hiked nearby. After that accident, David never wanted another dog. He probably didn’t even want a cat, but one of those girlfriends had picked up a teensy, flea-covered stray and convinced him to keep it. Despite his resistance to the vulnerabilities of love, he fell hard for Sam.
My six-foot-tall, rugged big brother would cry out girlishly, “Squeaky! Squeaky!” to summon Sam when he got home from work. The nickname came from Sam’s high-pitched voice. David would scoop him up and kiss his head and scruff loudly, unabashed. Because he often left Sam behind for extended periods when he traveled, I’ve always wondered how long it must have taken for Sam to realize he wasn’t coming back that last time.
It took months to figure out what to do with the abandoned kitty, not because he wasn’t wanted, but because both my mother and I wanted him so desperately. She and I are nearly equal crazy cat ladies. We were equally in love with my brother and equally devastated by the loss. But in the end, she won out by convincing me that a plane trip to my house would traumatize Sam more than a car ride to hers.
Last night, eight years later, Sam was barely breathing. “Do you think I’ve paralyzed him?” Mom asked me, desperation in her voice as she described his condition over the phone. She had given him twice as much pain medication as prescribed after he suffered a long bout with lymphoma, willing him to die at home rather than at the vet’s office today.
She got her wish. A text message this morning confirmed the little orange cat had left his body: I’m feeling sad . . . I am too, saying goodbye to Squeaky, saying the last goodbye to my brother, wondering what shred we will hold on to now.
Anne Pinkerton holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Bay Path University and is currently working on a memoir, a chapter of which was published recently in riverSedge Literary Journal. She is contributing writer for the Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly, and has a blog called True Scrawl.
by David H. Coulter
I was in the back lots with my new friend Bobby Peru playing in the dirt on a hot summer day.
As Bobby was scraping a little pile together he wiped tiny beads of sweat off his face and looked up at me.
“Hey, if I eat this spoonful of dirt will you eat one too?” he asked right out of the blue, startling me.
Eat Dirt? No one does that – it has to be awful.
“Boy this smells good enough to eat,” he said.
Oh boy, now he had me wondering if you really could eat dirt.
“No, I don’t wanna, you do it . . .” I said, looking down at some dead ants.
Then it happened.
He put the spoon of dirt in his mouth and it came out it clean. Then he opened up and the inside of his mouth was covered in slimy mud. It was a fascinating sight.
“It’s good,” he stammered. “Try it.”
“C’mon don’t be chicken,” he teased. “It’s good, honest.”
I put the spoon of dirt right in my mouth.
Oh my God.
It was the worst thing I ever tasted in my entire life. The sheer dryness and grit was horrifying. I was going to choke to death and my mother was going to be really mad at me for being so stupid.
I tried to spit the dirt out but it wouldn’t come out. In fact it only got worse. It was glued to my tongue and teeth or something and was choking me to death.
I looked at Bobby who was standing up now and spitting out muddy dirt out and making gagging noises. I ran over to the hose and turned it on full blast but when the scalding water came out I threw it down and stomped my feet in frustration. Bobby grabbed it and shoved it in his mouth and started spitting out dirty water.
Was I stupid or what? I couldn’t believe that I’d actually eaten dirt and was getting really mad that I let Bobby trick me like that.
“Why didn’t you tell me it was so awful?” I yelled, wanting to hit him.
“I wanted to see if I could get you to do it, that’s all,” he said pointing to me and laughing hysterically.
“No one eats dirt; you’re a big idiot,” he taunted then sprayed me in the face with the hose.
Then it dawned on me why I liked my new friend so much. He actually put dirt in his mouth and pretended that it was good just to see if he could get me to do it – and he succeeded.
He was really crazy but I liked him all the more for it.
What a summer it was going to be.
David H. Coulter is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and the former owner of Coulter + Bass Design, an award-winning design studio based in Providence. For the last several years he has been writing novels and short stories. He resides in Massachusetts with his wife and their cat Coco.
by Alice Knox Eaton
Sherry says, “He finally figured out I have two boobs.” She is talking about Jimmy, the boy I like. She has spent two afternoons making out with him in the backseat of his friend’s car. His friend and another girl had the front seat.
Sherry is from the city. She is visiting my friend Jeanette over spring vacation. It is March and muddy and gray. We wait for rides to wait at playgrounds for someone to bring us booze or pot. No one brings anything. Maybe cigarettes.
Jeanette and I both like Jimmy, but he opts for Sherry from out of town. I don’t really want to make out with Jimmy, though, so I am sort of relieved. I don’t have boobs. I wear a 32AAA bra that makes camouflaging lumps in my shirt. I don’t want anyone under it.
Jeanette pretends she doesn’t care and says Sherry is still her best friend. They have known each other since they were three. That means I am not Jeanette’s best friend, though we spend every weekend and afternoon together, unless we fight and take a break.
Jeanette knows people who can get us pot, or maybe vodka, though I prefer pot. So I forgive her when she hangs up the phone while I’m talking. Maybe not forgive, but I forget. Whatever.
Jeanette is hilarious when she’s stoned and I laugh and laugh.
This vacation is a bust. We wait on playgrounds in the drizzle. I don’t smoke but I smell like everyone else’s cigarettes. I crave the deep burn of dope in my lungs. Tobacco is just lame.
Jimmy looks like the picture of Romeo on my copy of Romeo and Juliet. Dark hair, smoldering eyes. Only the advanced ninth graders are reading Romeo and Juliet. In Jeanette’s class they are reading To Kill A Mockingbird. I saw the movie and had to look up rape in the dictionary. So rape is what white Southern girls accuse black guys of doing – well, back in the thirties. So we shouldn’t talk about rape. I like a black guy in tenth grade, Kenny B. He’s smooth and quiet, smiles kind of sideways. But I don’t really talk to guys, except lame ones.
I don’t think I will ever get boobs
Alice Knox Eaton teaches writing and literature at Springfield College. She has published essays in the First Person column in The Chronicle of Higher Education, fiction and creative nonfiction in the online journals Flash Fiction World and Mothers Always Write, and academic articles on Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer.
MRS. GAMBLE’S GRAVE
by Martin Henley
I am seventy years old. The preceding sentence is simple and declarative, yet for me it is as unfathomable as time itself. How did I get to seventy years, and why am I still here while some of my closest childhood friends have died? These were my thoughts as I stood over Mrs. Gamble’s grave. Her tombstone is a simple gray granite marker. Wreathed with grass and leaves, it lies flush with the ground. The inscription is brief. In letters worn smooth from 145 years of weather, it reads: “Mrs. Gamble, Died Dec 17th, 1798.” Her simple stone is the only visible marker in a neglected colonial cemetery in Syracuse, New York.
In 1955, when I was twelve, stately elms and shady chestnut trees dotted the open green fields of the cemetery. Kids from the neighborhood made it their playground and called it “the Park.” In the fall we played football, and during the winter the diminutive cemetery hills bristled with sleds. Summer was the best. Baseball games followed the sun. We started early, suspended play for lunch, and resumed until supper. We chose sides by picking the two best players as captains. Chosen last was a temporary humiliation quickly dissipated as we embraced the flow of the game. The batting order was determined by the quickest to speak up. “I got first ups,” “I got second ups,” the chorus continued until the sequence of “ups” concluded with the last batter. For the rest of the day the cemetery resonated with the crack of wooden bats on rawhide baseballs and the shouts of hooting kids.
We devised several ball fields, each with its own set of ground rules and golf-course contours. On one field a ball hit over a path was a home run. On another fly balls bounced through tree branches. An improbable catch earned a week of bragging rights. Trees, rocks, and stumps served as bases. In my favorite field a chestnut tree was first base, a forlorn baseball mitt served as second, and Mrs. Gamble was third base. My friends and I sailed together through the boundless summer joking, teasing, swearing, and playing. They were precious times, and we knew it.
These days I travel to Syracuse infrequently, but when I do I visit the cemetery. It is quiet and empty. Kids don’t play there anymore. I clear off Mrs. Gamble’s tombstone, and I look around recalling the bittersweet days of my youth. The neighborhood has changed. The big red house I lived in on the corner is divided into apartments. Surrounding houses look worn and weary. The Irish and Italian families who were the backbone of the neighborhood moved to the suburbs years ago. The park seems smaller, shrunken. Blight destroyed the elm trees. A few stunted chestnut trees still stand. Only Mrs. Gamble is unchanged. Her solitary tombstone remains, an obscure memorial to the joy of childhood and the melancholy of old age.
Martin Henley, a Vietnam veteran, retired as Professor Emeritus from Westfield State University in 2009. His retirement presented him with the opportunity to pursue his passion for history. He has authored several books on educating at-risk youth and, at every opportunity, pursues his lifelong challenge of hitting three good golf shots in a row.
BROKEN PIECES OF MY LIFE
by Diane Kane
I knew her well. You can’t live in someone’s body for nine months and not know them. I felt the anger. I smelled the sadness and tasted the salt that would burn in a lifetime of my wounds. With no choice; I was born, living in constant fear of the woman who bore me. I would be the target of her displeasure.
I survived in silence.
“Diane’s so shy,” she told people.
Silence would not save me.
“You have to learn to walk down the stairs,” she told me.
I kept falling.
My father tried to protect me – a little.
“Your father says I have to go to work to be away from you,” she told me at three years old.
She had days off.
“I told you not to do that to her ever again,” he said to her when he came into my bedroom and saw my naked five-year-old body.
She worked nights. At seven years old, I discovered if I was quiet I could get myself ready for school before she woke up. After school, I went to my grandfather’s, (her father). He knew, but he didn’t talk about it. My father would take me home after she left for work. I could go five days without seeing her like this.
Then I would see her.
I wouldn’t smile. My happiness enraged her.
At thirteen years old I ran away for the first time.
I walked the streets, used my thumb to hitch rides, slept in the woods or the houses of people who didn’t know my story and didn’t want to ask. Police would bring me home. They didn’t know what else to do with me. I couldn’t tell them why. So I ran away again and again.
“Diane’s spoiled,” she told people.
I got married. I moved, not far enough.
“I’m glad you had a girl so now you can know what real disappointment is,” she told me the day I came home from the hospital with my first born.
I cried. She laughed.
I never cried in front of her again.
I couldn’t put it into words. If I could say, who would believe me? Sometimes I wondered if I was the one who was insane. Then she would hurt me again. Never forget, I told myself. But I would forget a little, and I would hope. Hope that this would be the last hurt. Hope that she would change.
Fifty years later I hit the limit of my resistance. “No more. No more. Go away. I won’t let you hurt me anymore. “
“Diane’s crazy,” she told people.
My life shattered into a million tiny pieces.
Everything changed. Without her who am I?
Lost, wandering, unsure, I keep trying to puzzle together the broken pieces of my life.
Diane Kane is an author of short stories and poetry. Her work has been featured in local media and periodicals. Diane’s newest short story, The God of Honey, was recently published in The Goose River Anthology 2016. Diane has a home in Phillipston, Massachusetts, and is a seasonal resident of York, Maine.
by Steve Bernstein
As usual Jimmy’s presence put me on edge. He was leaning against the storefront of my dad’s plumbing shop, drinking Colt 45 out of a brown paper bag, an unfiltered cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth. His lips formed a smug grin, barely hiding his rotten, brown teeth.
I never understood why my dad kept Jimmy around for so many years. He was in the habit of stealing my dad’s tools and then selling them to junkies who usually sold them right back to my dad. And, he’d still have his job the next day. Jimmy was my dad’s drinking and whoring buddy. One time, Jimmy tried to get me to do some heroin. Another time, he was fooling around with a woman in the back of the shop and told me to join in.
I hated Jimmy. And he knew it. Although I was only fourteen, I let him know to stay the hell away from me.
Just behind Jimmy, the front door of the shop was propped open with a wooden chair. Inside, the fluorescent ceiling lights were glaring. I could see old meat hooks still hanging from the ceiling. The worn and stained butcher block counter had been converted to a workbench with a pipe vise on one end. Wrenches, black steel pipes, pipe fittings and liquor bottles scattered all over. The door of the walk-in meat freezer, where all the valuable plumbing tools were locked up, was wide open. The stink of rotten meat still very present. Towards the back of the shop, I could see my old man snoring on a makeshift bed, an empty bottle of scotch dangling from his hand off the side of the cot.
I knew this shop all too well. After school and on the weekends my job was cleaning up and re-arranging the mess from the previous week’s work.
I looked right past Jimmy, through the broken plate glass window to the shelf where Wolf slept. I couldn’t see him. Only the leash and collar were on Wolf’s shelf. His empty food and water bowls on the floor. No Wolf.
I screamed at Jimmy, “Where’s Wolf?”
Jimmy was all too eager to answer, knowing how much I loved that dog. With a smirk, Jimmy said, “He’s gone, man.”
My fists and teeth clenched. “What do you mean, gone? Where the hell is he? What did you do with him?” I was frantic. I almost reached into my pocket to get my knife. I wanted to slit his throat. Because I knew.
“I didn’t do nothin’. It was your daddy,” he said with a smile. “Yeah, he got good and drunk, and lost your dog in a card game.”
It felt like a kick to the stomach. I ran wildly, crazy with fear and rage, all over the neighborhood, in the alleys, in basements, up and down the block, down in the schoolyard. No Wolf.
I went upstairs to the apartment and collapsed. The house was dark. I didn’t cry. I do now.
Steve Bernstein is a retired plumber who for over three decades has been a teacher and mentor for at-risk teens. The full length version of “Wolf” is one of six true life adventure stories from Steve’s upcoming memoir, STORIES FROM THE STOOP, about his gritty childhood in the South Bronx in the 1960s.
by Christian Escalona
My mother never chased me with a garden rake like my second cousin after his college mental breakdown. Her type of sickness isn’t caused by the abnormal tangle of blood vessels in her head. Her type of sickness hides behind the guise of brain surgery aftermath. Her type of sickness rules my mother’s life and often her family’s lives too.
I remember when I was 5 years old, my mother, step-father, and I were having a pillow fight in our condo’s living room. I swung my pillow, full of goose down feathers at my mom, embracing the rare moment of levity in our home. My pillow smacked her across the back of her head, right along her incision line. Everything changed abruptly. My mother stumbled like an intoxicated bar patron.
“Lisa? Are you okay?” My step-dad ran over to her. In that moment, she might have considered him an intruder.
“Who are you?” She questioned, backing away from him.
“Lisa . . . It’s me. Your husband.”
My mother looked around frantically before grabbing the lamp from an end table. She yanked its cord out of the wall and wielded the lamp at him.
“Stay away from me!”
My step-dad held his hands up.
“Okay! Okay! Just calm down . . .”
“Mommy?” I uttered.
My mother turned around and stared at me before dropping the lamp to the floor.
“My baby . . .” She kneeled down and hugged me tightly. “Are you okay? Did he hurt you?”
I shook my head and cried. My mother rose from her knees, filling our living room with an energy that could stifle the most fearless person.
“WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY CHILD?” She cornered my step-dad.
“Lise,” he choked up. “I didn’t . . . We were all having a pillow fight and your head was hit. Look around.”
My mother took in the scattered pillows across the living room floor. She walked over to her Steinway piano picking up a photo of her and my step-father.
“That’s our wedding photo, baby. Do you remember that day?”
She dropped the wedding photo to the floor. She turned and looked at both of us completely vacant, existing anywhere but in that living room.
“Do you want to go to the beach?” My mother asked me in a cheery tone. “Let’s go to the beach.”
“Mommy, it’s nighttime.” I pointed to the window.
“Lise, maybe you should sit down.”
My mother ran and jumped onto our couch and then without any warning, urine flowed out from under her nightgown and onto the cushions.
Fifteen years later, I moved 3,000 miles away from my California home. I fell for a woman who reminded me so much of my mother, I missed home less and less. After our first breakup, I turned to outside help for the first time breaking my mother’s pact for silence. My therapist would guide me through four breakups with the same woman as I worked to make sense of my own mother.
Christian Escalona is a business manager by day and a writer by night. After completing author Dori Ostermiller’s manuscript course, Christian continues work on his first memoir: a young man’s transformation against the backdrop of an unstable mother. He is a collector of good vibes, transcendent experiences, and high quality tattoos.
THOUGHTS OF THE DAY
by Laura Poth
I woke up this bright, sunny Massachusetts morning with not one cloud in the sky.
I have all I need to live well enough. My family enjoys good health. Though life does have its high and low points, it generally gives us much joy and happiness.
Why, then, do I have this feeling of desperate hopelessness? A cloud of doom hovers over me. I am filled with longing for something almost too difficult to describe.
I lack control. That’s not me, typically. Whenever life presents problems, I usually find a way to take care of things. I can usually find a way to choose a positive path to the best possible outcome.
News that streams to me minute-by-minute via cell phone, newspaper and television instantaneously informs me of shootings, stabbings, graft, greed and corruption worldwide.
I am 70 years old.
What can I do?
I am one of the first baby boomers. We were the generation that was to change the world. Those born after me were the flower children. With all the love-ins and talk of peace; with all the desire to end hate and racism, war and injustice in the world. . . . I was filled with hope back then.
What went so wrong?
Why can’t we all get along?
Laura Poth grew up in Connecticut, received an A.S. Degree at Dean Jr. College and a B.A. at Westfield State College in Massachusetts. A true believer in continuing education, she appreciates the little things in life that are often most important.
by Leoma Retan
The sky was as dark as the inside of a closet. Sue’s flashlight provided just enough light to see the single-engine Mooney’s ice-coated wings.
“Don’t worry, the Mooney’s a great ice hauler,” she said.
There wasn’t supposed to be ice on our route from Van Nuys to Oakland, California. No sane person plans to fly a small plane into icing conditions. Ice adds weight and changes the shape of the front edge when it builds up on the wings, reducing lift. When lift becomes less than gravity, the plane can’t maintain altitude.
The report when I called flight service for the weather at noon mentioned icing. It was expected to move east, away from our destination, within a few hours. There were still icing reports at two o’clock. And at four o’clock. The cold front moved away slower than predicted.
Sue considered buying an airline ticket even though she didn’t want to fly commercial. “That’s no fun,” she said. But it was her mother’s eightieth birthday and Ruby was having a party at her women’s club. Sue needed to be there.
At five p.m., the go/no-go time for the three-hour flight, flight service said that the icing had moved east into the Central Valley. We could fly.
We’d head generally north, keeping Interstate 5 on our right and the coastal mountain ranges on our left until we reached the north end of the San Joaquin Valley, then turn west over the Diablo mountain range and into Oakland. It was six o’clock by the time we took off; we’d definitely be late.
For the first half of the flight we took turns flying and napping as the winter sunset. We didn’t discover that the weather prediction was wrong until we turned west. The cold front unexpectedly stalled. Rime ice formed on the Mooney’s wings; it thickened with every minute. Air Traffic Control changed our flight path, then our altitude, trying to find us a safer way through. Flying became a two person job. We shared the controls. Sue frequently checked for ice; I talked to Air Traffic Control.
The lights in Fresno, east of us in the central valley, beckoned with the promise of safety as the ice build-up grew to a quarter inch. But Sue promised her mother we’d be there for her party. We flew on.
God smiled on us that winter night. Less than an hour from Oakland, about to give up and divert to Fresno, we reached warmer air, an end to the icing. No trace of it remained by the time we touched down and parked.
We arrived at the party at eleven o’clock, barely in time to have dessert and wish Ruby “Happy Birthday.” We didn’t know that it would be the last time.
That night Ruby, who had been ill, was taken to the hospital. A few weeks later she died. Because we continued despite our fear, Sue was able to share that one, last good time with her mother.
An engineer by day and a writer by night, Leoma Retan continuously adds to her bucket list because so many items from the original are complete. For the past three years she’s helped to plan the WriteAngles conference. She is currently working on her first fantasy novel, DREAM SONGS.
by Lisa Papademetriou
You are eating that cookie just to infuriate me,
Chomp, smack, slurp, smacksmacksmack.
I can’t believe you would chew that way
When you know it makes me crazy.
Especially after you
Said that thing
Well, I’m giving you
The Silent Treatment.
I’m not going to tell you how much your cookie eating
Irritates me, because then you will
Get angry and we really will fight.
Once I asked my mother
Why she divorced my father.
What was the final
The way he ate cheese,
My mother said.
I can see that now.
Why do people get married?
Is so different from the picture that lingered
In my childhood mind.
There, marriage meant never having to say you were sorry,
Because you were never sorry
Because you and your husband
It has been two hours, and you haven’t even noticed
That I am giving you The Silent Treatment!
There you sit, at your computer, typing away.
Working at bedtime!
After you ate that cookie smacksmacksmack
And after you said that thing
I am lying here, hugging a pillow,
Staring at the window
When you finally pull back the covers.
Your arm snakes around me.
A soap bubble kiss shimmers at the base of my neck.
I wrap my foot around your ankle.
I feel your chest rise and fall against my back.
Your body radiates heat.
Your breath is even.
In. Out. In.
My breathing falls into your rhythm.
This way, at last,
We fall asleep.
Lisa Papademetriou is the author of the CONFECTIONATELY YOURS series, A TALE OF HIGHLY UNUSUAL MAGIC, and many other novels for young readers. A former editor, she serves on the faculty of the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College and is the founder of the humorous grammar site IvanaCorrectya.com.
by Tim Parker
Somehow, as a guy from a small New England town who ultimately became an aerospace engineer, I found myself center stage before the Apollo 11 launch in 1969 for the first lunar landing. Standing in front of a myriad of press microphones and cameras under the hot lights at Cape Canaveral in Florida, I explained what a space suit was and why it was necessary to protect the astronauts from the hostile environments of space and the lunar surface.
In government parlance, the suit was called a Pressure Garment Assembly. An Integrated Thermal Micro-meteoroid Garment is worn on top of the PGA for additional protection. At this joint press briefing, DuPont’s corporate marketing people were there to field questions on their high performance materials developed for use in the Apollo Manned Space Program to get astronauts to the moon and returned safely. I was surprised to see so much interest expressed by the international journalists. If their enthusiasm had been bottled. the excess energy could have supplied the Saturn V rocket with an extra boost off the Kennedy Space Center launch pad. Due to their excitement, the foreign press couldn’t seem to ask enough questions. Many scribbled notes as fast as possible, but most extended their arms with tape recorders through the sea of flashbulbs so as to not miss a bit of information.
Then I had a call that my one-year-old son was in the hospital and I had to race home. Among other things he had a heart defect. At that time, if it became worse, he would have needed open heart surgery to determine if it was a valve problem or a hole in his heart. Recently my brother had a catheterization where a tiny pressure transducer was threaded up through an artery to measure blood pressure differentials in the heart. The miniaturized transducers were developed to monitor the astronauts in flight along with a zillion other advances from the space program which allows things like a room full of 1960s computer power to sit on your desktop.
Since my son has been an adult, he has asked how does it feel to reach my goals in life? I’m certain I gave him a strange look when I replied, “What?” He started to list:
You were a rocket scientist and helped get people to the moon and back.
Your pictures were in World Book Encyclopedia under Aerospace and Engineering.
You have the Apollo Achievement Award for contributions to the space program.
You hold numerous patents.
You wrote “the great American novel” twice so far.
I told him that none of that was planned. What I did wasn’t in anyone’s crystal ball before I did it. I just kept meeting challenges head-on and had a lot of fun solving problems. After I was hurt, writing was one of the few things I could do at my own pace because I didn’t know when I would have a good day to be able to work. Now I’m in the process of writing my aerospace memoir to encourage the next generation to solve tomorrow’s problems and meet new challenges as they are encountered.
Tim Parker grew up on a farm in western Massachusetts and worked his way through college. An aerospace/industrial career in engineering and management followed. After an accident, he started a writing career. Combining his diversified background and experience at running businesses, he addressed conflicting world environment to protect our shores.
MEMORIES OF MÉMÈRE
by Sarah Whelan
Though it’s been twenty years since her death, I feel like I’m still learning about the woman I called “Mémère.” When I was younger, my grandmother was a simple person to understand. She was patient and kind — never critical or judgmental. No word of complaint ever left her mouth – even when she was in physical or emotional pain – even when she knew others were.
She would sit politely among the well-nurtured spider plants and precisely arranged knick-knacks on the shelves of her home. She sat on the very edge of her chair, with legs pressed together and angled daintily to the side. Her hands lay atop her lap in a decidedly feminine pose. Her closed mouth formed the slightest smile in its freshly applied lipstick, and her short white hair was styled and neat. She wore a straight, dark skirt that reached just below the knee, and her modest, rose-colored shirt ended in petite ruffles at the neck and wrists. All evidence suggests that she was incapable of slouching.
She would engage in pleasant conversation until the coarse, obtrusive voice of her husband, who was perpetually smoking outside on the porch, forced its way into the room. “Irene, get me a drink,” or “Tell those kids to shut up.” Then, she would gracefully rise, all five feet of her, and without complaint, without a change of expression or emotion, without saying a word, do exactly as he said.
Years later, with her husband dead and her home lost, my cousins and I could always count on Mémère to listen to our teenage-variety problems and give much-needed hugs. Even when she knew we were in trouble or sick or even in danger, she would heed our appeals not to report the information to our parents and refrain from any criticism or judgment. She would, without complaint, without a change of expression or emotion, without saying a word, do exactly as we said. And we loved her for it.
It is true that my Mémère was patient and kind, but I now realize that these traits were a consequence of the true nature of her character. Above all else, Mémère was acquiescent. She was submissive to her husband and to nearly everyone else. She did what was told without protest, even if it resulted in physical or emotional damage to others.
I was a young adult when Mémère died, and my naïveté ensured that my appreciation for her was both uncomplicated and unchallenged. As I look back at her life now through the more mature eyes of a mother, I am developing a broader and more accurate understanding of the person she truly was. I no longer think of Mémère as flawless or saintly, as she was by no means perfect. But instead of diminishing my feelings for her, this evolving understanding is increasing and reshaping my love for the woman I called “Mémère.”
Sarah Whelan is a professional grant writer and freelance author. She has an advanced degree in Criminology and writes for both business and pleasure. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including New Jersey Family, Bay State Parent, Police and Security News, and International Association of Chiefs of Police Magazine.
by D. K. McCutchen
I was dancing in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Just dancing. The Otago Zoology Department dress code seemed to be dowdy nightgowns and frayed tweed. My eye was on the one other outsider stomping out a Haka in black motorcycle leathers (dear reader, I married him). An almost-friend burst into the hall, pale with news, and bee-lined straight to me. “Simon fell off the cliff at Taiaroa Head.” I stared, speechless. “Banding Albatross. He chased one downhill in the dark.” And fell 100 meters down into black waves, headlamp still burning — like my ears while I listened; but not closely enough. Albatross — planet gliders — with a four-meter wingspan, who might hope to catch one? “You never listen,” Simon said, two weeks and a new girlfriend later. She’d been there for him. “You’re a bad friend.” Mr. Motorcycle Leathers had broad, gallows shoulders built to endure tears. When the chanting of the Haka finished, he listened to the echoes reverberating far out past the cliffs, like soaring birds calling out “no, no” at dusk. Years away from the hall of dancers, he remembers the plunge from the cliff, and the updraft that carried him half a world away from home.
D. K. McCutchen’s publications include THE WHALE ROAD, a Kiriyama Prize Notable Book & Pushcart nominee, writings in Fourth Genre, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Rosebud, Identity Theory, Fish Publishing anthologies, The Mossy Skull, Small Beer Press, etc. In a literary attempt to save the world, she’s working on a slipstream series.
WHAT AIR-CONDITIONING TOOK FROM US
by Marty Damon
My grandfather’s big white-washed brick house in Oklahoma was where I spent much of the summer during my pre-air conditioning childhood. My family drove across country from our home in Virginia, the hot summer wind whipping through the car. When our car finally pulled into the hotly shimmering slate-covered drive, my grandparents would come smiling out of the kitchen door to greet us.
If the day’s heat had set in, we would visit in the living room, the French doors to the porch closed against summer’s bake. This was a house built when you had to gather up the rare cool breeze of an Oklahoma July any way you could. In the dining room there were also double doors, and on cooler days they might be opened during dinner as we drank our iced tea with the mint I’d gathered from the garden.
The double porch ran across the back of the house, enveloping both the living room and my grandfather’s study. One floor up, it ran outside my grandparents’ bedroom and the next door guest room where my sister and I slept when we all came for a visit. There was no screen on the window and I was fascinated by the fact that I could climb through it onto the porch.
The second floor porch held only two plastic-wrapped beds, folded in half and rolled up against the wall. This was not a place for socializing, like the one below with its green and white metal chairs and swing. This was a sleeping porch, for nights so hot you had to sleep with arms and legs akimbo, as though you were making snow angels on your sticky sheets.
One evening, when it was especially hot, I climbed through the window, leaving my more dignified older sister behind in the guest room. Grampy then opened up a bed for me and pushed its head against the house and its foot closest to the screening of the porch.
He tucked me in with a kiss and reminders about sleeping tight and bedbugs, and wrapped plastic over the sheet at the bottom half of the bed. I lay there, awake now not from the heat, but the sensations around me. Adult voices drifted up from the porch below, the cicadas called to one another, and June bugs as big as peach pits thunked harmlessly against the screen. I could smell a new dampness in the weak evening breeze – a storm was coming.
First came the heat lightning high in the sky as the blackness beyond the screen was filled with flashes and distant thunder. The wind picked up and soon the rain was there in earnest, throwing itself against the house in bursts. It cut through the screen, but I was dry, my top half positioned against the house, my legs enveloped in my plastic cocoon. I lay there, safe and sheltered, and storing a memory that I would keep forever.
Marty Damon is amazed and delighted that after twenty years of standing at the front of an English classroom, she still has something to say. She lives in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, where she is happily retired and working on her third mystery. Her first book, EARTHLY NEEDS, is available at Amazon.
by Laura Elizabeth Nelson
O New York, my mistress, my summer lover
How many times must we say
You take my hand, pull me into your blistered masses
You ask me to remove my shoes
And I do
I follow you
I walk along in bare feet across tapestries woven
In blood in dreams in ambition and broken glass
My own trails the streets
You absorb me
O New York, my child, my winter’s desert
Do you miss me when I am elsewhere?
When I am thinking green thoughts,
Crisp enough for birds to perch on their vibrant edges
You are a chill wind sending the birds away from me
O you sleepless city, you bitch, my spring fever
I watch you rise from the morning haze
All spires and plot points
You reach for me across the hours
I feel your grungy palm, smooth, chameleon
My body turns, my shoulder the pivot
Sink into the ocean, love
For me, for humanity
Don’t forget to take us with you
Elizabeth Nelson is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, theatre director, and communications professional working in New York and the Berkshires. Graphic designer: SDC Journal. Published: FUGUE, A TEN-MINUTE PLAY (Black Box Press), THE GOING PRICE (Stage Rights). Elizabeth is a playwright with the Playwright Mentoring Project of Barrington Stage Company.
Uncle Blake, red nose, bright hooded eyes,
that funny smell I now know was booze,
I was crazy about you. You can drive
this thing, Sugar, of course you can,
with those long legs of yours. Just git up
on that seat and push the pedals. I need
some help down at the River Corral. Don’t
be a sissy, come on. It was like being
set free: you cussed and drank and played
gin rummy until your head fell over, so
there weren’t rules for me
either. Oh, Uncle Blake, I think you were
my first real love. But it wasn’t you
I loved so much as it was me. When I was with you,
river stones sang, mesquite leaves shone silver
in the hot, yellow sun, and bleating sheep
moved slowly, eyes like amber watching
as we rode on by. And you could dance!
Like a great bear, light and swaying, belly
hopping over your belt buckle, caked boots
remembering the day’s work: you’d grab me
and away we’d jump to a Texas two-step. It’s a long time
since you died. These days, I have to remind myself
to watch light dawn on folded mountains
and not shade myself. But today, the sudden
thought of you, cussing, teasing, fills my belly like a sun;
and in its heat I toss my head and stretch
my legs and dance, heart hopping, with the bear.
Reprinted from A Kind of Yellow, Patchwork Press. Patricia Lee Lewis offers writing workshops at Patchwork Farm Retreat, Westhampton MA, and writing & yoga retreats internationally. MFA in Creative Writing, Vermont College of Fine Arts; BA, Smith College, PBK. Founding member, Straw Dog Writers Guild. Award-winning poet. Books: A Kind of Yellow, and High Lonesome. Patricia’s photo by Bob Marstall.