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Fall/Winter 2017-2018 Edition of Magnets and Ladders

23-Oct-17

Magnets and Ladders
Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
Fall/Winter 2017-2018

Editorial and Technical Staff

  • Coordinating Editor: Mary-Jo Lord
  • Fiction: Valerie Moreno, Marilyn Brandt Smith, Kate Chamberlin, Abbie Johnson Taylor, and Bonnie Blose
  • Nonfiction: Valerie Moreno, John W. Smith, Kate Chamberlin, Leonard Tuchyner, Bonnie Blose, and Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • Poetry: Valerie Moreno, Abbie Johnson Taylor, Alice Massa, Lynda McKinney Lambert, and Brad Corallo
  • Bobbi LaChance Bubier Romance Contest: Abbie Johnson Taylor, Marilyn Brandt Smith, Lillian Way, Valerie Moreno, and Cleora Boyd
  • Technical Assistants: Jayson Smith and John Weidlich
  • Internet Specialist: Julie Posey

Submission Guidelines

Writers with disabilities may submit up to three selections per issue. Deadlines are February 15 for the Spring/Summer issue, and August 15 for the Fall/winter issue. Writers must disclose their disability in their biography or in their work. Biographies may be up to 100 words in length, and should be written in third-person.

Do not submit until your piece is ready to be considered for publication. Rewrites, additions, deletions, or corrections are part of the editorial process, and will be suggested or initiated by the editor.

Poetry maximum length is 50 lines. Memoir, fiction, and nonfiction maximum length is 2500 words. In all instances, our preference is for shorter lengths than the maximum allowed. Please single-space all submissions, and use a blank line to separate paragraphs and stanzas. It is important to spell check and proofread all entries. Previously published material and simultaneous submissions are permitted provided you own the copyright to the work. Please cite previous publisher and/or notify if work is accepted elsewhere.

We do not feature advocacy, activist, “how-to,” or “what’s new” articles regarding disabilities. Innovative techniques for better writing as well as publication success stories are welcome. Content will include many genres, with limited attention to the disability theme. Announcements of writing contests with deadlines beyond April 1 and October 1 respectively are welcome.

Have You Published a book? If you would like to have an excerpt of your book published in an issue of “Magnets and Ladders”, please submit a chapter or section of your book to submissions@magnetsandladders.org. The word count for book excerpt submissions should not exceed twenty-five hundred words. Please include information about where your book is available in an accessible format. We will publish up to one book excerpt per issue.

Do you have a skill, service, or product valued by writers? For a minimum contribution of $25.00 we will announce it in the next two issues of “Magnets and Ladders”. All verifications of products or services provided are the responsibility of our readers. Book cover design? Copyediting? Critiques? Formatting for publication? Internet access or web design? Marketing assistance? Special equipment? Make your donation through PayPal (see magnetsandladders.org) or by check by March/September 1. 100-word promotional information is due by February/August 15. Not sure about something? Email submissions@magnetsandladders.org. All donations support Magnets and Ladders.

Please email all submissions to submissions@magnetsandladders.org. Paste your submission and bio into the body of your email or attach in Microsoft Word format. If submitting Word documents, please put your name and the name of your piece at or near the top of the document. Submissions will be acknowledged within two weeks. You will be notified if your piece is selected
for publication.

Final author approval and review is necessary if changes are needed beyond punctuation, grammar, and sentence or paragraph structure. We will not change titles, beginnings, endings, dialog, poetic lines, the writer’s voice, or the general tone without writer collaboration. If your work is selected for inclusion in a future “Behind Our Eyes” project, you will be notified; your approval and final review will be required. To insure we can contact you regarding future projects, please keep us updated if your Email address changes.


About Behind Our Eyes

Behind Our Eyes, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization enhancing the opportunities for writers with disabilities. Our anthology published in 2007, “Behind Our Eyes: Stories, Poems, and Essays by Writers with Disabilities”, is available at Amazon and from other booksellers. It is available in recorded and Braille format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

“Behind Our Eyes, a Second Look” is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers, and in E-book format on Amazon Kindle. It is also available in recorded format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. See our book trailer on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk0uIaQTr24&feature=youtu.be.

Several members of our group meet by moderated teleconference twice monthly to hear speakers; share work for critique; or receive tips on accessibility, publication, and suggested areas of interest.

Our mailing list is a low-traffic congenial place to share work in progress; learn about submission requests; and to ask and answer writing questions. If you would like to join our group and receive access to our phone conferences and mailing list, please complete our quick and easy membership form at http://www.behindoureyes.org/mform/form.php.

If you would like to learn more about Behind Our Eyes, or if you would like to make a donation, please visit our website at http://www.behindoureyes.org.


Contents


Editor’s Welcome

Hello. I hope those of you that were affected by the hurricanes and wildfires that have destroyed much of the United States are, with the help of others able to rebuild or find safe homes.

As a memorial to Bobbi LaChance Bubier, the Behind Our Eyes group held a romance contest this spring. The contest winners will be featured in the first section of this edition of Magnets and Ladders. Thanks to Abbie Johnson Taylor and her committee members: Marilyn Brandt Smith, Lillian Way, Valerie Moreno, and Cleora Boyd for all of your hard work. The determination of guidelines and the selection of winners required a great deal of time and consideration.

This edition of Magnets and Ladders is packed with stories, poems, and articles to keep you entertained throughout the cooler months. Our “seasonal Wonders” section has stories and poems about holidays and the change of seasons. Maybe you will find a new holiday favorite. “The Writers’ Climb” has articles and an exercise to stimulate your fiction writing muscles. Read stories from or about the past in “Looking back.” The characters presented in “Coming to Terms” will stay with you when you are finished reading. As always, “From a Different Perspective” is full of surprises, and we have a great mix of poems in “The Melting Pot.”

I would like to give a big thanks to all of the committee members and to Marilyn Brandt Smith, Jason Smith and John Weidlich for your hard work and support throughout the production process.

We had contests with cash prizes in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Below are the winners of the Bobbi LaChance Bubier Romance Contest and the Magnets and Ladders Fall/Winter 2017-2018 contest winners.

Bobbi LaChance Bubier Romance Contest Winners:

  • First Place: Get Me to the Church on Time! Memoir by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
  • Second Place: Romance in the Blackout, Memoir by John Justice
  • Honorable Mention: Soul Reflection, poetry by Crystal Howe

Magnets and Ladders 2017-2018 Contest Winners:

Fiction:

  • First Place: “Power of the Press” by Nicole Massey
  • Second Place: “Meet you in the Intermissional sauna” by Brad Corallo
  • Honorable Mention: “Suicide By Siri” by Nancy Lynn
  • Honorable Mention: “Cosmic Bowling” by Shawn Jacobson

Nonfiction:

  • First Place: “A Yankee Woman’s Love” by Kate Chamberlin
  • Second Place: “A Song for Adrienne” by John Justice
  • Honorable Mention: “The Groove in the Ceiling by C. S. Boyd
  • Honorable Mention: “Finding the Words” by Marcia J. Wick, The Write Sisters

Poetry:

  • First Place: “Separate” by Ann Chiappetta
  • Second Place: “The Healing Voice” by Abbie Johnson Taylor
  • Honorable Mention: “Hobgoblin Breath” by Leonard Tuchyner
  • Honorable Mention: “Awaking from an American Dream” by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Congratulations to the winning authors. All of our prize winning stories and poems can be found throughout this issue. See “The Writers’ Climb” for details about our next contest, again with cash prizes.

The Magnets and Ladders staff wishes you a happy and safe holiday season.


Part I. Bobbi LaChance Bubier Memorial Romance Contest Winners

Get Me to the Church on Time! Memoir First Place
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega

In 1970, over the Thanksgiving holiday, Curtis and I became engaged. Curt was the first young man I had dated that understood my need to be independent and make my own choices. He never tried to rein in my enthusiasm or to control me. He made me feel very special and loved for who I really was. He knew how to make me laugh and allowed me to be myself instead of always having to put on a performance to prove I was an ordinary college girl. Many of the other people I knew didn’t believe that blind people were normal human beings. Blind was the first defining term in their minds when they thought of me. Curt didn’t rush to do simple tasks for me or treat me as if I were helpless. He didn’t act as if he thought my ability to accomplish tasks on my own was remarkable.

The night I finally accepted his proposal, he placed my fingertips in the palm of his open hand. Quietly, he told me that I feared commitment because I thought of love as a cage. What he offered was a safe haven to come back to for rest after I had exhausted myself flying in all directions. He promised that he would never clip my wings. The love he offered would have no bars to cage my spirit.

I knew instinctively that love isn’t love, if there isn’t mutual respect and trust.

Curt and I planned our wedding for the following June. We tried to save up money to fly my parents and grandmother out for a small ceremony at school. We had a classmate who was a minister and of course I wanted my best friend Scottie Hagedorn to take part in the wedding as my bride’s maid.

Our plans had to be changed when Grandma Luella declared that she wanted me to come to Michigan to be married in the church in which my parents were wed. Indian children are taught to respect their elders. I was the eldest grandchild and was born on her birthday. Since my parents were divorced, I didn’t see the point of getting married in that church, but if it was what my grandmother wished, I would comply.

Another wrench was thrown into our June wedding date. Curt got a job that was supposed to begin the day after the school term ended. Spring break had to do as a wedding date.

Mom panicked when the wedding day was moved up. I had a dress on lay-away. Fearing I wouldn’t have the money before the new date, mom exchanged it. She took two of my attendants to the bridal shop clearance sale and had them try dresses on alternately. Kerri was my height and Nadine was closer to me in build. The poor sales clerk was confused and asked, “Which girl is the bride?” Mom replied, “Oh, she’s not here. She’s in college in California.”

Early on March 20th, 1971, I boarded a plane flying stand-by from Modesto California with a large black Labrador curled under the seat in front of me and a broad shouldered young man with a shy smile and a quiet manner that hid a lively sense of humor and a gentle loving heart. Despite the fact that we had never gone on an unchaperoned date, Curt and I were on our way to become a married couple.

When our plane landed in Detroit, we were bumped from the flight one hundred miles short of Saginaw. I went to turn in the unused portion of our tickets while Curt tried to reach my family to keep them from going to the airport. When Tammy and I joined him at a phone booth, my youngest brother Donny was refusing to accept the charges from someone named Curtis Noriega. I snatched the phone and told him he was not going to live to be fourteen if he didn’t accept the collect call!

While getting the refund for our tickets, I had learned that an airport shuttle bus was returning to its garage in Pontiac. The driver was willing to race us there to catch a Greyhound Bus. It was snowing heavily and we only had light California weight coats.

When we reached the bus station, the snow was falling so hard it was impossible to tell if the bus had come and already gone. The station was closed. Our driver was loath to leave us standing in the snow. He said he had some business in Saginaw the next day and would be happy to drive us the rest of the way in his own car. While trying to call my mother on the payphone, I pushed the coin return and about $30 came cascading out. It seemed our lucky day.

By the time we hit the road to Saginaw, the snowstorm had taken on blizzard conditions. Our kind driver kept losing sight of the road and driving through people’s yards or off on the shoulder of the road. He laughed as he drove on through the night. It was early morning before we reached the Saginaw bus station. Our Good Samaritan driver refused to accept any money for gas or his trouble.

My mother and stepfather weren’t speaking to each other. Don had moved out temporarily. I had always played the peacemaker role in the family, but even my skills were barely sufficient to keep things from boiling over.

My mother got into a fender bender the morning we arrived. Her ten-year-old dog was stolen. My grandfathers quarreled over where the reception was to be held. My stepfather’s stepfather wanted it to be in the Moose Lodge. My Grandma Luella’s second husband wanted it to be in the steel workers union hall. Considering that neither one of them was actually my grandfather by blood relationship, I supposed I should have been flattered to be the cause of the argument. It was hard though to see the simple wedding among college friends I had hoped for turn into a bone of contention.

Chaos was the norm for my large quarrelsome family. Mother was the eldest of ten and her father was the eldest of twelve children. I was the oldest grandchild. The phone never stopped ringing as distant relations called to ask why they hadn’t received an invitation to the wedding. Mom kept a stack of cards beside the phone. She asked for current information and reassured the second or third cousin that she was sure their invitation was in the mail as she wrote one for them.

I had asked a young neighbor of Mom’s to be a bride’s maid. We had become friendly because I had been babysitting for her two children during my trips home from college. I had also asked a teenaged cousin to take part in the ceremony. Various relations had begged to be included in the wedding party. By the time the date approached, I had five bride’s maids, a maid of honor, a flower girl and a ring bearer. I was beginning to feel like merely an excuse for my family to hold a party.

My maid of honor was a step aunt that I had fought and played with since we were both three. She insisted that we use her car to travel from the church to the reception. I was uneasy, but since we had shared so many childhood memories, I didn’t feel I could refuse. I wondered though what her clients would think when they saw her paisley topped Cadillac go by plastered with a “just married” sign. Nina had turned her beauty to profit by becoming a very expensive lady of the evening.

My uncle John was appalled when I told him I didn’t intend to buy any alcohol for the reception. He insisted on supplying it himself.

The week before the big day flew by as I did a few minor alterations to the sale dress and took it to pick out a veil. We needed to replace groomsmen gifts that had been stolen from Curt’s suitcase in route to Michigan. Thank heavens they missed his great grandfather’s gold pocket watch and chain hidden in one of his dress shoes. Then I needed to choose a bridal bouquet and corsages for the mothers and grandmothers, and find a blue garter. My bridal shower was also that week.

One afternoon, I slipped into my parents’ room to phone my mother-in-law to be. I asked her to take us out shopping. My excuse was to look for an outfit to wear to the rehearsal dinner. I really didn’t need a new dress. I was worried I wouldn’t have a groom if I didn’t get him out from underfoot. My mother was busy piping roses, lilies of the valley and doves using her secret decorating frosting on the layers of our wedding cake. Curt and my youngest brother were sticking fingers into bowls of colored icing and sword fighting with the wooden dowels used to support and separate the layers of the cake. I seriously doubted Mom’s patience would hold out if I didn’t drag my intended out of harm’s way.

When we arrived at the church to rehearse, I was surprised to find my accompanist had not even looked at the music I had purchased and mailed to her. She made such a hash of it on the piano that I asked her to try it on the organ. The way an organ blends one note into the next disguised some of her mistakes.

We were thirty for the rehearsal dinner. Upon arrival at the restaurant, the management charged more than the agreed amount alleging they didn’t have a reservation for our party. This claim was made despite the fact that they had a table set for us for a family style meal. My baby sister refused to eat anything, even turning down the ice cream. When we arrived back at my parents’ home, she placed her little hand in mine and whispered, “Sissy, will you make me a cheese sandwich?”

My stepfather arrived and started pacing at seven in the morning on my big day. He still wasn’t talking to my mother. After lunch, I gave my little sister lessons in sitting down in her flower girl dress. The first time she attempted this feat, the hoop holding her skirt out flipped up and hit her in the nose, causing a storm of tears. I got her calmed down as mom rushed into the room to ask if I could manage to dress myself. I replied that since I had been doing so for most of my twenty-two years, I thought I could. She burst into tears exclaiming, “Well, I can’t, I have got my zipper stuck!” I got the jam solved and went back to hoop skirt lessons.

Finally, we left for the church. The cake developed a list in the back of Mom’s station wagon. We arrived at the church to find that the janitor had not appeared to unlock the door. It started to snow and I stood shivering on the doorstep. The dress I had originally chosen had a train that flowed from the waist and could be fastened up to form a butterfly effect for dancing. The one my mother had traded it in for had a train that fell from the shoulders and didn’t have a way to fasten it up. When I moved some satin roses to disguise where one was missing, I had fortunately added a satin wrist loop. My dress was a sugar crystal organza. As the wind dusted me with snowflakes, I held the train of the dress up to keep it out of the mud.

There was a last minute scramble for safety pins when Nina wanted to practice putting back my veil. The snaps on her full satin sleeves kept coming undone sliding up to her shoulders. I took Tammy to my grandfather to hold for me. He loved dogs. He was having a hard time holding back his tears. I thought minding Tammy would give him a distraction.

The music began and I followed five-year-old Christina down the aisle. She forgot her shyness and walked with measured steps ahead of me carrying her flower girl basket. As we passed the pew where Grandpa sat with Tammy, she broke loose and dashed up the hardwood floor of the aisle. My brother tackled her and pinned her to the floor. My stepfather hissed, “Don’t laugh!” I disgraced myself by giggling.

During the service, there were the usual sounds of a fussy baby, an elderly person’s cough and the mournful wails of a protesting Labrador. Curt swears to this day that the loudest of these erupted when the minister reached the part in the ceremony where he asked if any in the congregation could give a reason these two should not be joined in holy matrimony.

When we arrived at the reception hall, we had to coax my new mother-in-law in from playing in the snow to stand in the reception line. After cutting the cake and opening the gifts, the dancing began. My new husband and I led off and my little sister played ring-around-the-rosy with my six year-old ring bearer and the rest of the wedding party joined us on the dance floor. Then relations lined up to dance with the bride and groom.

Many American Indian women get heavy in their later years and Chippewa are usually tall. Curt was very intimidated when several of my great aunts formed a line to dance with the groom. He said that at five foot seven, and weighing one hundred and thirty pounds, he couldn’t help feeling he was being asked to steer Green Bay Packers in drag around the dance floor. I had my own problems managing the train of my dress as my father-in-law went into his version of Fred Astaire twirling around the room.

Finally, I slipped around the room to give good-bye hugs to my two grandmothers, great grandmother and closest relations. We crept away without my even throwing the bouquet. The extended family was so busy dancing, drinking and trying to top each other in the telling of outrageous tall tales, that I don’t think most people noticed us leave. I was so tired and we needed to catch a 5 A.M. flight back to school the next day. Monday our spring quarter of classes began. If this all sounds a bit like the perils of Pauline, well at least Tammy and I avoided being tied to the railroad tracks and we ended up carrying off the hero in one piece with us when we made our escape. Over forty-six years later, we are still sharing the trials and tribulations of living as a married couple.

Curtis and DeAnna Noriega have been married 46 years. After surviving their wedding, they felt that they were prepared for anything life might throw at them. Every marriage has its share of ups and downs, but theirs had an unusual number of hurdles to jump.

Bio: DeAnna Quietwater Noriega is half Apache and a quarter Chippewa. She has been a writer and story teller since childhood. She became totally blind at age eight. She currently has three short story collections and an autobiographical book residing on her computer. She has been published in four anthologies and several magazines. Sometimes it is only an overheard word, a stray thought that can set her mind spinning out a new story, poem or essay. She says that the world provides so many options and opportunities, that no one need ever be bored or live a wasted life unless they choose to do so. She lives with her husband, youngest daughter, three grandchildren, guide dog, three other dogs, three cats, three horses, three ponies and assorted fish, reptiles and rodents, in Fulton Missouri.


Romance in the Blackout, Memoir Second Place
by John Justice

I closed up my tool case and prepared to start my way home. It was late, but I really didn’t care. There was nothing for me at home, anyway. I lived alone in Hackensack in a rooming house. The other occupants were loners like myself and kept out of each other’s way, most of the time. I wished that someone would come along to ease my empty life.

My guide dog led me down the dirt encrusted stairs and into the subway station. I planned to take the F Train to Manhattan and then change to the southbound A Train, which stopped right under Port Authority bus terminal. As it turned out, I never made it that far.

The island platform was crowded at this time of day, but that was no surprise. I felt the puff of air which presaged the arrival of the subway. I stayed far away from the edge of the platform until the train came to a complete stop. Star led me unerringly right to the nearest set of doors. I didn’t try to find an empty seat, but went straight to the poles near the center of the car. Star sat down on my foot and we got ready for the long noisy journey.

I wasn’t aware of it, but a young woman had boarded the car at the same time I did. As soon as she saw Star, Elaine forgot everything else around her. She let go of her pole and started making her way toward us. A badly set switch in the tracks sent her flying across the intervening space. She crashed into me and I grabbed her arm to keep her from falling. She tried to explain what had happened.

“I was admiring your dog. At first, I didn’t understand why a dog was on the subway and then, the coin dropped. I’m sorry for running into you. I’m Elaine Wood. What’s your dog’s name? Can I pet her?”

I nodded and introduced myself. “You can pet her, but keep it short. I don’t want her to get distracted.” I felt Star’s tail thumping my shoe so I knew that Elaine was touching her.

It was just about then that the world turned from normal to really weird in an instant. At first, I didn’t realize what was going on until Elaine let out a little cry.

“The lights are out, all of them! Normally, you can still see the lights in the tunnel but, they’re gone too. Something really bad just happened!”

She was right. The subway came to an emergency stop and it was silent. The only thing I heard was other people discussing the recent events. The sliding door at the end of the car opened and a man made an announcement. “May I have your attention please? There has been some kind of power failure. We’re not sure how bad it is yet, but the train has stopped between stations. We’re going to ask all of you to remain calm, and as soon as we have more information, we’ll let you know.” There were hundreds of questions but the trainman let the door slide closed and didn’t even try to respond.

We learned later that the entire city was suffering a complete blackout. It hit EVERYWHERE inside the city, parts of the surrounding states and impacted everything. Elevators stopped between floors in the office buildings. A Tube Train on its way to New Jersey stopped without warning and the passengers were instructed to leave the train and walk back to the nearest station. That is more or less what was going to happen to all of us.

About fifteen minutes later, the trainman returned. “Okay everyone. The power failure is much more serious than we realized. We’re going to ask you to leave the train and walk to the nearest station, about a quarter mile from here. We’ll empty the cars one at a time and you’ll have a train employee with you. It’s perfectly safe, since there is no power. Now everyone stay calm. We’ll let you know when it’s time for you to leave.”

As soon as he closed the door, the complaints, arguments and cries of fear overwhelmed the car’s interior. But these were New Yorkers. Soon enough, they settled down and got ready to accept the inevitable. What choice did they have when all was said and done? I thought about what was coming myself. I was about to walk along a set of tracks which were never intended for pedestrians. I knew that Star would get me out of there, but we were in for a really strange experience. Elaine was probably having some of the same thoughts.

“if you don’t mind, I’ll stay with you and Star. I’m very frightened right now.”

I was beginning to like this girl. Here she was, in a subway beneath Queens and she was still determined to do whatever was necessary.

When our turn came to disembark, the conductor tried to stop me at the top of the temporary wooden steps. “You’ll have to wait in the car, Sir. It’s far too dangerous under foot for someone who can’t see.”

I gave him a “Go to hell” look and said, “My dog will get me out of here safely enough.” The man didn’t have either the time or the patience to argue.

We went down the steps with Elaine close behind me. As we moved along between the tracks, I could feel things squashing and crunching under my feet. God only knew what was lying down here in the dark. At one point, Star stopped and growled softly. Something, probably a rat, scampered away and we were soon at a second set of wooden steps which led us up onto the station platform. I told Star to take us out and we were soon on street level. But it was a different world. Elaine described it to me as we walked along. All of the buildings around us were dark. The lights of passing traffic shone brightly and far above; she could actually see the stars. A bus passed us going in the same direction, but it never even slowed down. I could imagine that it was holding as many passengers as could fit into that confined space. It was going to be a long walk back to Manhattan.

We had just passed a dark alley when Star stopped and whirled around. As soon as I felt her muscles tense, I dropped the harness. She let go with a huge barking challenge. I heard a man say, “damn!” Then he was running away. Elaine had been very quiet for a long time, but with that, she screamed and burst into tears.

“I can’t take any more, John! I just can’t!” she grabbed me and held on for dear life.

I could feel her shaking and sobbing. “it’s okay, Elaine. He’s gone now. Star chased him away. It’s all right. We’re out of the worst of it, now. Hang on, Elaine. We still have a long way to go and I really need you to help me. I’ve never been in this neighborhood before and we’ll both need you to see what is around us. Hang on, honey. We’ve got to do this together.” My quiet manner and reassurance must have reached her.

After a moment, she stopped crying and dried her eyes on a tissue. “I’m sorry John, but that creep trying to rob us was the last straw. I know you’re blind, but I’m so glad that you and Star are here with me. I can’t imagine what it would be like, facing this night alone.”

As we walked along, I learned that Elaine lived in an apartment near Grammercy Park. That was a part of Manhattan I really admired. The buildings were old, but well-kept. The park was supposed to be a really nice place to go, especially in fine weather. I told her I lived in New Jersey and asked if I could borrow her couch for the night.

“of course, you can. In the park, there’s a special place where people walk their dogs. Maybe we can go there before we climb up to my place.”

We were crossing a large intersecting avenue, when our luck changed. A big car rolled up next to us and a lady rolled down the window. “Do you folks need a lift? My husband and I are out here trying to find someone to help through this disaster.”

The balding man turned on the overhead light and Elaine could see that they were just ordinary people. The man turned and smiled at Elaine. “I’m Doctor Buchanan and this is my wife, Olivia. We noticed you walking along and decided to offer our help. Your dog is welcome of course and there’s plenty of room in that back seat. Where do you two live?”

Elaine’s arm pressed mine softly and I got the message. She spoke to the couple. “We live in Manhattan, near Grammercy Park. Would you be willing to drive us there?”

Doctor Buchanan nodded. “No problem. Just tell us where to go.” The power locks clicked and Elaine opened the back door. Star went in and settled herself on the rug behind the front seat. Elaine slid in next and I followed her, closing the heavy door. We moved through the night with Doctor Buchanan skillfully negotiating the intersections. At each one, where a traffic light would have normally controlled the flow, the drivers had to be very careful, giving each other plenty of room and courtesy. We soon reached the park and thanked the Buchanans for their help. Elaine pulled a key from her purse and unlocked the gate into the park.

“Each of us has a key and we agree not to lend it to anyone. We always try to keep the park clean and littering is forbidden.”

She led me to a bench near an area designated for the neighborhood dogs. I released Star and she went immediately to take care of her personal needs. Then she came back and slammed her paw down on Elaine’s foot.

“She wants you to play with her.”

Elaine laughed. “I’m exhausted, but I’d like nothing better.” The two of them ran around together until Elaine collapsed on the bench beside me. She just couldn’t go any longer. Star visited the break area once again, then came to sit beside me. We left the park, latched the gate and walked to Elaine’s apartment.

I didn’t plan it, but I was having romantic thoughts and feelings about this girl. I felt as if we were survivors of a shipwreck. We had been thrown together by circumstance, but the partnership was very rewarding, at least for me. We climbed the four stories and she opened the door.

“Welcome to my home, at least for now. Would you like something to drink?” She showed me the layout and provided extra towels. But when we tried to run the water to warm it, it stayed cold. Apparently, the boiler had gone out and no one had managed to restart it. Elaine made up the couch with a sheet, blanket and a pillow. She wished me goodnight and bent to kiss my cheek. Then, she changed her mind. Her arms went around me and she kissed my mouth. She snuggled in beside me and laid her head on my shoulder.

“You were wonderful tonight, John. I couldn’t have made it without you. Thank you for being there when I really needed you.” After a few minutes, she went off to her room and I stretched out, ready for sleep.

It must have been hours later when I felt Elaine’s hand on my shoulder. “John. I’m still frightened. Everything seems so weird, even here in my own apartment. Will you hold me for a while? I need to feel you next to me.” I started to sit up, but she pressed me down again. In a few minutes, Elaine was tucked in beside me and had covered us both with the blanket.

I was hoping and praying that this night was a beginning for us. But alas. In the bright of day, things appeared different for her. She walked me to my gate at the bus station and kissed me goodbye. I never heard from her again. For the longest time, I hoped that we might meet again on the F Train, but if she was there, she never spoke to me. One day, I walked intentionally toward Grammercy Park, hoping that I might find her. There were people in the park, but no one opened the gate for me. One old-timer addressed me. “this is a private park. You can’t come in here unless you have a key.” I knew that all too well.

As time passed, my hopes and dreams about Elaine faded, but I’ll never forget that night or how the blackout drew us together. During that incident in the sixties, there was no serious damage or vandalism. When the same thing happened again in the seventies, the world had changed. There were fires, riots and several deaths, all blamed on the blackout. By then, I was far away, living in Pennsylvania.

Bio: John Justice is a musician, entertainer and author living in Hatboro, Pennsylvania with his wife Linda. He was born with congenital glaucoma and was totally blind by age three. He has written for several magazines as a freelance contributor and has two books in print available on most major book web sites in electronic and paperback form. Details can be found at his website. http://www.dldbooks.com/johnjustice


Soul Reflection, poetry Honorable Mention
by Crystal Howe

God brought us together,
You and me in Love.
Through our lives we shine his Light
On Earth from Heav’n above.
May we see through the windows of the eyes
Into the waters of the soul,
Reflecting a being pure and whole.
Two made one in fullness,
Both a bless’d part.
We remind each other
Love is where we end and start.
May we see through the windows of the eyes
Into the waters of the soul,
Reflecting a being pure and whole.
Some days our eyes are foggy
With reflections sad and pale.
In quiet mind we find
The Spirit’s Love that lifts the veil.
So we see through the windows of the eyes
Into the waters of the soul,
Reflecting a being pure and whole.

Bio: Crystal is an ordained minister with a Doctorate in Metaphysical Science. Her poetry, songwriting, weaving, and other creative pursuits celebrate the many ways we share our lives and spirit. Crystal is totally blind. Find her music on CD Baby and other work on mysticalstrings.com. “Soul Reflection” is dedicated to Freddy. Listen to the song at: https://mysticalstrings.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/soul-reflection.mp3


Part II. Looking Back

A Yankee Woman’s Love, creative nonfiction, nonfiction First Place
by Kate Chamberlin

I pulled the door panel down from the ceiling, unfolded the ladder, and stuck my head above the floor of the attic. A dim, bare bulb highlighted dust swirling in the eddies of air I’d created. Big dust bunnies scurried into the shadows of the dry room. At least, I thought they were just dust bunnies. Spider webs undulated, as if shaking with irritation at being disturbed.

I had the dubious honor of clearing out my grandmother’s antiquated attic in her enhanced 1832 Salt Box home.

During Nana and Pappy’s 71 years of marriage, treasures from many generations of Yankees amassed in this room. I saw a Zither with three loose strings; a Dismantled metal spindle bedstead against the south wall; several Sturdy wooden framed portraits of very stern ancestors against the north wall; an antique, wooden spindle cradle with real rubber wheels; and many Crumbling cardboard boxes with relics from generations of a Connecticut family. Watery light squeezed through small, filthy windows near the low roof ridge.

An oaken dresser coated with a thick fur of dust caught my eye. The low roof ridge pole forced me to awkwardly walk hunched over as I went to the dresser. I wiped the dirt and grime off the tall, beveled mirror and attached carved oak frame. I wondered what stories it could tell me about the many faces it had reflected throughout the decades.

In the bottom drawer, I found a padded box covered with faded chintz. I carefully wiggled the box top off and discovered several playbills, a piece of yellowed lace, and a small book covered in the same faded chintz. Inside the book, I recognized Nana’s small, tight, precise hand-writing covering the unlined pages from top to bottom: her diary. No one knew she’d kept a diary.

The knowledge that Pappy kept a diary was the source of much family humor. On each dated page of the 5-year diary, you could see what happened on that date 5 years at a glance. He chronicled each day in terse, precise terms, often with a subjective evaluation. One day, he entered: “Rained all day. Hawes came over to play Bridge. Men won.” On another day, he noted: “Hot, humid, 85-degrees. Mrs. Pinch-bottom came to visit. Awful!”

Nana’s undated diary entries suggested thoughtful prose, written about important events in her life. I sat down on the dry wooden floor with the diary in my lap and leaned against the tall steamer trunk near the dresser. I wondered how family lore would compare to Nana’s narratives.

One entry read: “Mother found where I hid things. I wanted to wear my old shoes, instead of the new ones. I put the new ones under the loose floor board under my bed. When I pushed the board back down, the shoes broke through the ceiling in the dining room. She was there and saw the cracks in the ceiling. I got caught and had to do extra chores after school. I didn’t really mind adding lace trim to the corsets and ribbons to the hats Grandma Sarah would sell in her shop.”

I remember my own mother telling me how, when she was young, she had a secret hidey-hole under her bed that Nana didn’t know about. Little did Mother know that she wasn’t the first to use that secret spot.

Another entry confessed: “Cora, Ethel, Mary, and I snuck down to the beach yesterday. We had our short swim costumes on under our long skirts. It was deliciously wicked to swim so nearly nude, then, dry off as we leisurely smoked the taboo cigarettes we’d stolen from Cora’s Dad.”

This entry made me laugh, because the short swim costumes consisted of bloomers past their knees and blouses to their wrists with necklines to their chins. Imagine how scandalous today’s teeny weeny bikinis would’ve been in Nana’s day.

“The boys have played basketball for a long time,” another entry began. “Now, my friends and I are on a girl’s basketball team. Mother isn’t too happy about our wearing pants in public, but, it is ever so much fun to run freely, dribbling the ball and shooting for the rim. It is exhilarating to hear the crowd cheer and urge us on, like we’re in a drama on stage.”

A few pages later, she wrote, “Cora, Ethel, Mary, and I were asked to leave the team, because we got caught smoking behind the school after practice. Mother huffed and assigned more corsets and hats for me to trim, but she didn’t seem all that upset. She mumbled something about girls don’t belong in pants in public anyway.”

Knowing my great grandma Jane had been a fiery red-head and a trend-setter herself, I suspected Great Grandma Jane outwardly frowned at her daughter’s outrageous behavior, while inwardly thought: You go, Girl! Grandma Jane was, after all, the one who had three husbands.

The little diary opened to a page with a pressed daisy where the entry recorded: “Tonight, at our Community Players rehearsal, there was a new member. He is ever so good looking. I noticed how thick and full his moustache is, complimenting his dark brown curly hair. I looked from his sturdy chin up into his dark eyes. He caught me looking rapturously at him! I turned red to my roots and felt heat in the pit of my stomach.”

I knew this was how my grandparents met and, apparently, Pappy didn’t have to court Nana too strenuously. It was love at first sight.

Not much is written about her young swain, except to mention, “Elt’s father is a very stern Presbyterian minister in the big church on the hill. They do nothing but church on Sundays and never drink spirits. I don’t think they like me.”

I was curious about their wedding, but Nana only mentioned that they were married in his father’s church, presumably by his father.

A lock of baby-fine hair marked another entry. “Our little Gracie is perfect. She has lots of Elt’s dark, curly hair, a fine lusty yell, and a healthy appetite. I developed a breast infection and told Elt that if he didn’t get me out of the hospital right away, I’d die. He brought me home and we are doing well now.”

Two other locks of hair marked where my uncle and aunt were born at home. The woman we all called Nursey, must have been young when she attended Nana, because, she was still around to attend my mother when my brother and I came along.

One page had its corner turned down. “I must get Elt out of the hospital. The doctor says one lung has collapsed and he has tuberculosis. I must get him home, so I can take care of him. He’ll die in that hospital.”

She did bring him home. He hoed his large vegetable garden in the sunshine, ate Nana’s home-cooked and canned produce, and day by day, he regained his health and strength.

Near the end of her diary entries, I read: “Elt has volunteered with our local Civil Defense Group. After work as the shipping/traffic manager for DuPont, he patrols the train station platform. I am working with my DAR sisters for the war effort by rolling bandages.”

During one of the many summers I spent with Nana and Pappy, I found his old train lantern down in the dank, stone-walled basement. Pappy would walk up and down the station platform and when everyone was on-board, he would raise the lantern and swing it so the engineer knew it was good to go. I cleaned up the lantern and it now sits on my brother’s mantel. It was during these summer visits when I was a teenager that Nana and I developed such a strong bond.

Pappy, born in 1888, died when he was 93, missing their 72nd wedding anniversary by two weeks. I asked Nana what she thought of his passing. She quipped, “Imagine that rascal skipping out early!”

One night, in the wee hours of morning, I awoke to see her standing at the foot of my bed. She was wearing an old-fashioned, sepia toned traveling outfit, complete with the long skirt, bustle, and short cape, holding a small travel valise. A small “pill box” hat perched on her curly, dark brown hair. She just stood there, looking at me through twinkling brown eyes. She raised one eyebrow and one gloved finger pointing up. It was a motion I’d seen her do so many times. It was her way of indicating, “I told you so.”

When I awoke again in the sunlight, I knew Nana had gone to be with her Beloved, Elt.

Nana was 95 when she died, yet in this life or the next one, there is no stronger bond than a Yankee woman’s love.

Bio: Kate Chamberlin, B.S., M.A, and her husband have raised 3 children plus 2 grandchildren. Her teaching career continues through her Study Buddy Tutoring Service, Feely Cans and Sniffy Jars Program, and as a popular lecturer. She is a published children’s author, Anglican educator, free-lance writer/editor, and proud great-grandmother.


Guardian, Senryu poetry
by Kate Chamberlin

Pseudo guardian;
To have, to hold, to reason;
Our cherished grandson.

Little, Hellion child,
So out of control and wild;
Easily riled.

An illustrator,
High school butterfly swimmer,
French Horn, bass Drummer.

Nourished by our love,
Grew to become a Marine;
A true guardian.


Power of the Press, fiction First Place
by Nicole Massey

Mr. Browntree,
As we discussed, this letter is to confirm that I’m hiring you to handle the printing of my book, The Glory of Our King. This is for the agreed price. Enclosed is my manuscript, and as we discussed you will typeset it on your new German style press, with stitched pages and a leather binding. I look forward to a successful business venture.
In the Year of Our Lord, 1535
Harold Parsons.

Mr. Browntree,
I have yet to hear any word on the publication of my book. I understand you’re displeased with my attentions to your daughter, Anne, but that shouldn’t affect our business. You have a contract that stipulates work to be done, and we can work out the other issues some other way. The important thing is that we keep our business separate from personal affairs. I expect to see gallies of the book in the next week. Any delay will require me to seek satisfaction from the courts.
In the Year of Our Lord, 1535
Harold Parsons.

Mr. Browntree,
I’ve received the gallies for my publication, and they’re not what we agreed upon. The typesetting is crude, the quality of printing is messy, and the paper is so rough that it’s unreadable because the ink soaks too much into it, causing ugly smudges. Is this the quality level you plan to use for my works? Remember, this is a business transaction that predates my affair with your daughter, and I expect you to keep the two things in their proper perspective. Your other publications don’t show this level of poor quality, and these gallies are of lower quality than a cheap broadsheet. I expect better quality within the week or I’ll seek court action.
In the Year of Our Lord, 1535
Harold Parsons.

Mr. Browntree,
These are much better. I think we’re on the right track, and if we keep up this standard we should turn out an excellent book. Please continue in this direction.
I understand, as your note mentioned, that you’re angry with me on the other matter. Of course it wasn’t my intention to get your lovely daughter Anne with child. And of course I have no intention of abandoning her. With the sales of my book I should have no problem caring for her. Please don’t concern yourself about her future, as she’s in my hands. I know that we can work all of this out as we start the new year.
In the Year of Our Lord, 1535
Harold Parsons.

Mr. Browntree,
I received the last set of gallies for my book, and they are beautiful. I’m ready to start the next stage of our publication after the yuletide break.
On to a more personal matter, I can’t have Anne at my door all the time. I’m a writer, and I need quiet time to work. She’s a terrible distraction, and my neighbors have complained about her outbursts and yelling tirades. At this point I think it would be best if you enroll her in a convent. This will help her come to terms with the realities of her situation. Of course I love her, but she’s got some expectations that we never discussed or that I never even hinted at, and I think some quiet contemplation time will be best for her. Of course I’ll pledge funds toward her maintenance as soon as my book sells, but right now I’m tight on resources. Publishing a book is not cheap, even in this modern day and age, as you well know.
In the Year of Our Lord, 1536
Harold Parsons.

Mr. Browntree,
I beseech you to come to my aid. Yesterday morning the constables took me into custody under order of the most wise king for charges of sedition. They claim that my book contains text that is defamatory to the king. I would of course never dream of saying anything that was not the greatest praise of our great Henry VIII, but somehow they think what I wrote is of that nature. Mr. Browntree, you have my original manuscript, please show it to them and prove my innocence of these charges. I’m groveling at your feet, as you alone can save me from this false charge.
In the Year of Our Lord, 1536
Harold Parsons.

Mr. Browntree,
I don’t know what to say. You say Anne burned my original folios in anger because I was unfair to her? I can’t imagine how she’d think that. Of course our passions have cooled a bit, but that was entirely her fault, as no man can keep an ardent love for a woman who screams at him and cries as much as your daughter has. And I’m truly sorry her pregnancy has been so difficult. But there’s no reason for her to take this attitude against me. Her life is a bit unpleasant, but mine is at risk, for the penalty for treason is death.
Perhaps if you could testify on my behalf that would be enough. I didn’t know I had any rivals, and I have no idea how someone could get access to early folios from my book without breaking into your shop. But what the constables are saying is patently false. Calling the king a serial murderer and abuser of women? I can’t believe anyone would think that I, the most loyal subject of our wise and powerful king, would even dream of writing anything like that. Zounds, I wouldn’t even think it, much less say it or commit it to paper. Please intervene for me or I fear Jack Ketch will have me as his guest.
In the Year of Our Lord, 1536
Harold Parsons.

Browntree,
I don’t know why you refuse to speak on my behalf with the courts. You know what I wrote. Somehow they have the mistaken impression you feel I’m a traitor too. Please disabuse the judge of this before it’s too late.
I’m sorry to hear about Anne, though I’m glad to hear she didn’t suffer the fate of her child. I’m hoping that she can grow past all of that and move on with her life. I guess it’s too much to expect her to visit me, as her mercurial nature made it clear to me that she finds solace in blaming all her troubles on me. I find it unjust of her, as I tried to treat her well, but too many words have been written already about the fickle nature of women.
Please rescue me. You alone have the power to free me from this prison and keep me from the noose.
In the Year of Our Lord, 1536
Harold Parsons.

Unto the most vile and duplicitous Edward Browntree,
Words fail at my contempt for you. Your testimony at my trial contained not a shred of truth. Yes, I did contract you to publish my book on the glories of our king, but from there you never once touched the truth. I have no idea where you got those manuscripts that included the false text, though I can guess that as a scion of corruption and villainy you have regular congress with forgers. You must know some second floor men as well, because no scrap of the gallies with the correct text could be found, and now the constables believe that I’ll make up any story to try to save my neck.
Tell that harridan you fathered that between the two of you an innocent man will hang, and injustice will have won. Of course I always intended to marry her, even with her weakness of character and personal faults. But you, with your treachery and cobbled together lying folios, have destined her to spinsterhood. I hope that thought comforts you when you grow older, knowing that your daughter could have been a wife instead of an unclean woman of poor repute.
My sincerest wish is to be there at the gates of heaven when Saint Peter casts you down into the burning fires of hell for your falsehoods and manipulation. May your life be painful, difficult, and short.
In the Year of Our Lord, 1536
Harold Parsons.

My dearest Father,
He’s done for. I know you didn’t want to watch him on the gallows, but of course I had to go see it for myself. He was so undignified, crying and yelling as they dragged him up the steps. His last words were to claim his innocence and curse both you and me.
The spectacle was almost too much for me. Paul had to hold me up as I came close to fainting. I’m glad he was there, and I know he’s far more a man than Harold was. I think he may come to talk to you soon, and if he does please know that I won’t object to his proposal. And I’m so glad Paul is an honest man. I don’t know what I was thinking by getting involved with a writer, and I’m looking forward to the more stable and honest life of the wife of a brick maker.
But Harold Parsons is a part of history. I’m glad we’re rid of him. May the devil take all his brethren, at least the ones who try to despoil maidens, so we can be free of them.
In love and respect,
Your daughter Anne Rowan Browntree.

Bio: Nicole Massey is a writer, composer, and songwriter living in Dallas, Texas. She writes in multiple genres, including mainstream fiction, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and romance. She also writes for role-playing game fan magazines. She lost her sight in 2003 and if you find it, she’d like to have it back. She can be reached at nyyki at gypsyheir dot com.


Chicks, Memoir
by Greg Pruitt

Along with the arrival of warmer weather in spring comes the promise of the rebirth of life and a renewed hope for the coming year. Symbolic of both is the egg and the newborn chick. The living form of that symbolism was given to my younger brother and me in the spring of 1953, when we each received a baby chick for Easter.

These were not chicks that had been artificially colored with vibrant, spring pastels, like those popular three decades or so later, but rather the basic fluffy, yellow baby peeps.

My brother and I kept our chicks in a large cardboard box. Inside the box were two bowls, one for water and another for food, which was some type of corn meal. The bottom of the box was lined with sheets of newspaper that could be changed daily. There was also a small lamp that provided enough heat to keep the tiny creatures warm. We named the birds Ted and Mickey after our favorite baseball players, but I was unable to ever distinguish one from the other.

I was excited to share my pride and joy with my classmates, so I asked my first grade teacher if I could bring the chicks to school to show the class. My teacher thought that was a wonderful idea and said that she would contact my mother to arrange a convenient time.

A few days passed and finally the big day arrived. Our class had been told that we would have a surprise visitor that morning. I smiled and felt special, because I was the only student who knew the name of our guest.

We spent the first part of the morning, as usual, struggling with the adventures of Dick and Jane. Pretending to read, I watched the little girl who sat in the seat next to me, as she slyly reached into her desk, dipped her tiny index finger into her open jar of white paste, and then stuck her finger into her mouth. I recall that the paste had a delicate peppermint bouquet, but I never considered eating it. She snacked like that throughout the day, and as far as I know suffered no ill effects.

Because of my eager anticipation, the first hour of school seemed to pass more slowly than ever. The red second hand on the wall clock with it’s white face and large black numbers seem mired in glue as it marked the passage of each minute, but finally, there was a soft knock on the door. It was my mother with the box of chicks. We could hear excited peeping and scratching as she brought the container into the center of the room and set it on the floor. My mother was introduced and she explained that the birds were mine, and I had wanted my classmates to see my new pets.

Children jostled one another as they pressed in seeking a better view. Little girls squealed and said that the tiny balls of puff were so cute. I was proud that my possessions were the center of attention. I held either Ted or Mickey and allowed my classmates to touch his fuzzy, little head. After I had explained how I took care of my small friends, I answered questions. Eventually, my presentation ended, the box was closed and my mother took its cargo home.

For the next few weeks, my brother and I continued to play with our pets from day to day. Of course each week the chicks’ growth was quite dramatic. Within a month or so they had outgrown their box. They had also begun to change color. They were no longer yellow, but white. They were becoming mature birds. It was also apparent that they would not be a source of eggs, for as we had somehow guessed, they were both roosters with bright red combs and wattles.

I doubt that my parents had ever planned on eggs. In fact I don’t think they had even prepared for the day when the chickens would be too large to keep in the house. They had not thought of anything beyond how much fun it would be to see the joy on the faces of their young boys when they first saw that Easter surprise. Now there was no room for four people, two roosters, and a Cocker Spaniel named Susie to live in our tiny 800 square foot home. We were living in the middle of a large city, not in a dirt floor shack in some undeveloped country, so our feathery guests were moved to the garage where they would have more space. The family Chevrolet was displaced to the driveway.

Inside the one car structure, the birds had free range. We could open the side service door when they needed feeding, or when we wanted to play with them. As you can imagine, they made a mess of the place. Their droppings and feathers were everywhere. We could find the birds hiding under tables and chairs, or in the rafters. All of that was troublesome, but the real annoyance began at dawn and lasted throughout the day. They crowed constantly. We awoke each morning, as did our neighbors, to their persistent racket.

The garage had a small window, so the light inside simulated a perpetual sunrise, prompting the roosters to announce the approach of morning throughout the day.

We tolerated all of the mess and noise until the afternoon when one of the roosters attacked my brother. Prior to that time, they had pecked at us occasionally on the hands and legs, but this time one struck just to the side of his left eye. The sight of his bleeding face and the horrifying thought of the tragedy that had been narrowly avoided was enough to force my parents to make a decision.

A few days later, after I returned from school, my mother informed me that the chickens were gone. They had been taken to my aunt and uncle’s small farm where they had more room to run and play. I was told that we could visit them anytime we liked, however, I only recall going once to the farm to see the chickens. I missed the little guys for a while, but honestly roosters make very poor pets, so I understood that life on the farm was probably better.

The summer passed and soon it was time again for school. During the warmer weather holidays, we would occasionally have family picnics. Labor Day was a good time for such a celebration. That year, our gathering would be at my aunt and uncle’s place in the country.

I remember that day being hot and humid, typical for that season. I played games with my cousins, and spent time exploring the barn and nearby woods. Eventually it was time for dinner.

Four or five tables with chairs had been arranged on the lawn. There were cold drinks, salads, casseroles, and platters of meat and fried chicken.

I was hungry, so I eagerly filled my plate and began to eat. I had taken several bites from a crispy chicken leg before I realized that all conversation had ceased. I looked around and noticed that everyone was staring in my direction. My uncle, who was sitting across from me, had a smile on his face.

He asked, “How do you like your chicken?”

I told him that the chicken was good, and I liked it.

He then proceeded to tell me that I was eating one of my roosters. I was shocked. People around me began to laugh. The stricken look on my face must have been comical.

I placed the chicken leg on which I had been chewing back on my dish. I stared at my parents, as tears welled up, but I didn’t cry. A moment or two later I reluctantly resumed eating, but not the chicken. I was offered some meat, but declined. I hadn’t seen my dog that morning, and I wasn’t taking any chances.

To say I was traumatized by my experience would be and exaggeration, but the event left me with an unforgettable memory. I know that my parents were not being intentionally cruel when they offered my birds for consumption, and today I agree that the whole scene was probably very funny. After all, they were only chickens, but following that day, I admit that I was no longer so trusting of adults. If my uncle had not mentioned the source of our meal, I would have never been the wiser. Eventually, I am sure the memory of my birds would have faded, but now I seldom eat a piece of chicken without thinking about the day we ate my pets.

Bio: Greg Pruitt is a retired teacher living in Fenton, Michigan. He is a graduate of the Michigan School For The Blind and Central Michigan University. He has been legally blind since the age of nine as the result of an undetermined retinal disease.


Love Through the Years, Memoir
by Jerri Williams

On a sunny afternoon in May 1957, I walked across the campus of the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in Colorado Springs. I was on my way to gym class. The sun was warm on my back. Birds were singing from trees along the way, and the fragrance of lilacs added charm and joy to the day.

As I reached the crosswalk that joined two sidewalks, I experienced an inner awareness of this moment being a defining moment in my life. I knew for certain that I was in love with Ted, and that my life would be forever tied to his. I did not understand this knowledge, and I had no idea from whence it came. I just knew what I knew.

Ted was to graduate in early June. He was accepted in college, and I had no illusions he was interested in me. In the small population of the school, all students were acquainted, and he was passively polite to me and the other girls my age. As far as I knew, he didn’t have a girlfriend, but it was likely he wasn’t going to want me as that special girl. He was moving on to college, and I was still in high school.

Although I didn’t stalk him, (which no one knew anything about then) I arranged my activities as much as possible to be in the same places he was. Again, in a small population, that wasn’t hard. I didn’t make a pest of myself, nor did I call attention to myself. I just wanted to absorb him while I could.

“A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation” by Marty Robbins was heard on radios all over campus that May. I secretly claimed it as “my song,” as I thought about Ted wearing his white sport coat to perform his piano solo in the senior recital. I wasn’t a weepy teen-ager. There were no tears during the concert, just quiet awareness.

Graduation arrived. I went home for the summer months. Then I became a weepy teen-ager. I spent my days reading romantic novels, writing sad poetry, and crying at the drop of a hat. I had never before or since wept so many useless tears. I drove my twelve-year-old sister out of the house and nearly drove my mother around the bend. This grieving lasted until August when I decided enough was enough and pulled myself together. I spent my time at school, until my own graduation in 1961, involved in every activity and interest available.

Ted was always in the corner of my heart and tucked away in the corner of my mind. Our paths crossed a couple of times, briefly and impersonally. Then we were thrown together in May of 1968.

In the ensuing years, Ted had attended college for two years and then entered a two-year program sponsored by the CIA. They believed that blind men and women would make excellent Russian translators. Ted excelled at the program but also became an alcoholic. His drinking eventually caused him to be removed from the program. He returned to Colorado from Washington, D.C. and enrolled in the last two years of his college studies. That didn’t go well.

Along the way, he began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and things improved. He finished his degree in 1967. By that time, he had lost interest in academics and his earlier plans for teaching at the college level no longer appealed to him.

Ted was a fine musician. He played piano, organ, accordion, and stand-up bass. He played bass in a very good combo that performed in bars around town. He had contact with Rehab to help him find employment. At that time, I was operating a coffee shop in Colorado Springs that was part of the vending stand through the state. I began there in 1963. I was asked by personnel at Rehab if I would be willing to train someone for the stand program. I agreed, and that someone was Ted.

He trained at my stand for six weeks, then moved on to another stand in Colorado Springs. We began dating almost immediately and continued after he left my stand. As Rehab was wont to do in those days, after Ted finished his training, they never contacted him for further assignments or different direction.

In the fall of 1969, he moved to the Western Slope of Colorado to work with a band there. Our road was a rocky one, so the separation was timely. Every troubled relationship has two sides and two responsible individuals. I could not and would not be a party to his addictions to alcohol and marijuana. He was a mean drunk, and I wasn’t a doormat. Time passed.

In June of 1972, Ted returned to Colorado Springs and called to ask if I would see him. I had dated quite a few guys over the years, but none had replaced Ted. I agreed to meet with him.

On July 4th, he traveled back to the Western Slope to gather loose ends and finish out a contract with the band. He proposed to me, and I accepted. I was thirty years old, and I wasn’t starry-eyed and wearing rose-colored glasses, but I knew I still loved him and was willing to give us a chance. I will admit now that I had some reservations, but I wanted to have a life with him.

Shortly after midnight on July 27th, 1972, the phone rang. It was Ted’s mother, telling me Ted had drowned in a fishing accident while he was at the lake with some of his friends. No one, other than the guys who were there, ever knew what really happened. They were all drinking and perhaps smoking marijuana. They denied that of course. There was a coroner’s inquest, and the findings were accidental death by drowning. So that was that.

Ted still has that corner in my heart and mind. After forty-five years, I can still honestly say I love him. There were other men along the way, but no one who truly interested me. I’m okay with that, really. I’m an independent person and have no problems enjoying my own company. After I did what I could to care for my dad and mom, which I did willingly, I am grateful for this time on my own. Loving Ted is just a fact of life.

Bio: Jeri Williams lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado and is retired after thirty years of employment. She has been blind since 1953 as a result of detached retinas. She was previously published in Slate and Style and Dialog Magazine. Her interests include reading, crocheting, and listening to baseball games. She enjoys all music except rap, metal, and other noise. This is her first submission to Magnets and Ladders.


Boat Ride, Memoir
by John Justice

Growing up in Cape May new Jersey was almost always interesting, occasionally frightening and often hilarious. I would wander streets around my mother’s market, just to see where they went. I didn’t have a cane or a guide dog at that time. These days, I wonder how I didn’t get hurt.

A long canal called The Inland Waterway passes by Cape May and eventually opens into the Delaware Bay. Along that canal are marinas where boats and outboard motors could be rented. I found one of those marinas and made friends with Mr. Kelly, the proprietor. The first time we met, he came out of the office and called to me as I stepped up onto the long wharf where his boats were tied. He was concerned that I might fall into the water. But it wasn’t long before he realized that I was cautious and soon I became a regular visitor.

At that time, I was reading a series of books written by C. S. Forester. They were about a man named Horatio Hornblower. The stories began when he was a young man that entered the British navy as a midshipman. Each book depicted a different part of his life as he rose in rank until he retired as an admiral. I couldn’t put them down. I have always loved boats and the sea. Growing up as I did in Cape May, that shouldn’t have been a surprise.

With that in mind, I asked Mr. Kelly if I could sit in one of his boats. After some thought, he agreed. I would sit there, pretending that I was Horatio Hornblower, while the gentle current rocked the boat at its moorings.

Kelly’s Marina was a busy place during the summer months. I could hear families climbing into their rented boats, starting the motors and moving away down the canal. No one bothered or seemed to notice me.

The Inland Waterway runs for many miles and was once a regular route for small ships carrying cargo to the seashore towns. As times changed, trucks took up the burden and commercial traffic was rare. But that canal is close enough to the bay that it has a tidal flow. When the tide ebbs, the water moves down the canal at approximately three miles an hour. When the tide returns, the level of the canal rises as much as three or four feet. Mr. Kelly knew all about those conditions. His boats had a long rope attached to them. They are often referred to as a “painter”. No one seems to know why.

When disaster struck, I was sitting in one of the boats, having my usual adventures, when three teen-aged boys walked along the wharf. One of them detached the painter holding my boat in place. I never heard a thing. He lowered the rope into the water and those boys stood there while the boat drifted away from the dock and out toward the center of the canal. At that time, the tide began to ebb and the current carried me and the boat down toward the bay. When I reached for the painter to pull myself up against the wharf, the end of the rope came up to me. I reached out and felt nothing. It took a moment for me to realize what had happened, but I finally understood that I was going for an unintended boat ride right down the Inland Waterway. I called for help but no one responded. Mr. Kelly was in the office, arguing with a customer about a bill.

Boats passed me going up the waterway and I tried calling and waving to them. For some reason, no one seemed to notice.

The sun was hot that summer afternoon and I could feel it burning down on my neck and shoulders. I was wearing sandals, shorts and an open necked t-shirt. Even then, I knew that a serious burn was in my immediate future.

It was the cooling of the sun that warned me first. I was passing through the shadow created by something large straight ahead. Then, I heard the noise. I was just about to go under the old wooden bridge which led into Cape May from the mainland. There was a tremendous crash and a grinding sound. The boat had struck one of the pilings which supported the bridge. As the slimy post dragged along the boat, I tried to grab it and stop myself. Unfortunately, the post was too large, covered with weed and barnacles and the tide was far too strong. In a very short time, the boat had cleared the obstacle and I was moving away from the bridge.

By this time, I was exhausted and decided to lie down in the bottom of the boat and rest for a while. The boat was dry and had a flat smooth bottom. It wasn’t long before I had fallen asleep.

A loud voice woke me. “Young man! Wake up!” I sat up and felt the gentle movement of the open bay. I heard a large boat idling nearby. Just like the cavalry in an old Western movie, the United States Coastguard had come to my rescue. One of the crewmen used a boathook to snag the painter and pulled my craft close. They helped me onto the deck and a medical corps man sprayed my shoulders and back with some kind of application which relieved the pain I was feeling. They brought me into the main cabin and showed me a seat. An officer spoke to me. “I’m Lieutenant Carstairs. What is your name? How did you get out here all alone without a motor or paddles? Where do you live?” I explained about Kelly’s marina, answered all of his questions and provided my mother’s phone number at her market.

The cutter brought me back to the Coastguard base and my mother met me there. She brought me home. But on the way, we stopped at Kelly’s and my mother raised the devil. Mr. Kelly had just been out on the wharf, counting his boats. When he discovered that one was missing, he started asking questions. At first, he thought that I had accidentally unhooked the painter, but I told him I would never do that. “I’m blind Mr. Kelly. Where would I go, especially on the water?” Finally, Mr. Kelly learned that his own grandson had disconnected the painter, just to see what would happen. When the current took hold of my boat, he and his friends vanished. The boy swore he never intended to cause me any danger. My mother was livid! “Suppose the Coastguard hadn’t found him! The Inland Waterway empties into the bay! My son could have been lost out there!” she got no further. Mr. Kelly must have been thinking along the same lines. He marched the boy outside and we heard a lot of yelling. Moments later, the boy was given another boat and a motor. He was ordered to go down to the Coastguard base and retrieve the boat.

I learned later that the entire side of my boat had been scraped and damaged by that bridge piling. Mr. Kelly made the boy repair the damage and repaint the boat. He would never allow me to sit in one of his boats again.

Later that summer, my Mother, sister and I did rent one of his boats and a motor. We went into a part of the shoreline called “The marsh Lands”. Our mission was crabbing. The reed beds and muddy bottom were ideal for the large blue clawed crabs we were looking for. We tried one location, but got very little response. So, we tried to move to a better hunting ground. The outboard motor wouldn’t start. I tried pulling the starter cable again and again, but it just wouldn’t work. We sat there for almost three hours. During that time, we did manage to net eleven nice crabs. Then another boat came along. They towed us back to Kelly’s marina. My mother confronted Mr. Kelly. “Ron, are you trying to kill off my family? First, you send my son out into the bay with no paddles or motor. Then you send us out into the marshes with a motor that quit working!” After a minute, Mr. Kelly started to laugh. He bent over and grabbed his knees. He roared until tears came out of his eyes.

We never had a chance to go down to Kelly’s marina again. It wasn’t long after that day that Mr. Kelly sold the business and moved away.


Crossings, poetry
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

January 2003
He’s in the Persian Gulf,
His submarine is hiding;
In a chilled crystal cup of comfort
She hides her premonition.

February 1851
Run, pray, hide her son,
Eliza finds the river;
The ice is thin and patchy,
Hope leads her across.

March 1853
The potato famine made them leave;
When will land be sighted?
The lady with a torch in hand?
Will this be their new home?

April 1912
The richest, roomiest ship of all?
Why are they in the water?
Where is her happy ever after?
She cries out his name!

May 1970
Rosa can swim the Rio Grande,
But what about the children?
Juan will tie them in a tube,
That’s the only way.

June 2005
She dreams her fiftieth birthday bash
At a luau with a Mai Tai;
He brought brochures from a cruise line,
Should she buy seasick pills?

July 1847
The current took their wagon under,
She lost her mama’s china;
He tries to dry her tears away,
She begs to go back home.

August 1990
Big bass boat, ready for the lake,
Kids are out of school;
Single mom, romance in tow,
They chase her with the worms.

September 1782
Strong hands built her birch canoe,
She leaves a gentle wake;
Plants the medicine man will need
Grow on the other bank.

October 1968
“Draft dodger! Coward!”
Cat calls, reprisals;
Lady Liberty, where are you?
He wants to come home.

November 1919
The shortcut takes the kids to school,
The swinging bridge is sagging;
Papa needs to fix it soon;
David carries Sissy across.

December 1944
He’s in the pacific,
Guam? The Philippines?
When the moon is right they find their star,
Reach and whisper there.

Bio: Marilyn Brandt Smith worked as a teacher, licensed psychologist, and rehabilitation professional. She has edited magazines and newsletters since 1976, and was the first blind Peace Corps volunteer. She lives with her family and many animals in a hundred-year-old home in Kentucky. Her first book, Chasing the Green Sun, published in 2012, is available from Amazon and other bookstores and in audio form. She loves writing flash fiction stories, and was the primary editor for the first Behind Our Eyes anthology, as well as Magnets and Ladders from 2011 through 2013. Another of her interests is music–barbershop harmony, folk and Americana, and current hits. Visit her website at: http://www.marilynspages.com.


Roger: The Early Years, Sestina poetry
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Author’s Note: This sestina is written from my husband’s point of view.

As a child I lived down in the country,
We lived about a half a mile from church.
Our house was much too small to hold five sisters
And two brothers, but somehow, we all stayed close.
The thing we liked to do the most was sing,
The next best thing was definitely to eat.

My mother grew the food we had to eat,
We always killed a hog down in the country,
We’d pick the chickens, stand around and sing,
Couldn’t work on Sunday, that was church.
My twin sister and I were very close,
She was the youngest one of all the sisters.

Imagine just two brothers among those sisters,
‘Cause we were boys, we earned a bit more to eat;
We were down a gravel road, no one lived close,
That’s how it was in Kentucky tobacco country.
The only place to walk to was the church,
I learned to play the piano when we’d sing.

My twin and I went to other towns to sing,
Two gospel groups grabbed two more of my sisters.
My uncle drove us around from church to church,
Of course they gave us lots of stuff to eat.
My twin’s boyfriend went to a foreign country,
To fight a war; they wrote so they’d stay close.

Making both ends meet just got too close
For comfort, and they didn’t pay us to sing;
It was too late to make a living in farm country.
We sold milk to Pet dairy, and all my sisters
Had to get up early so they could eat
And milk before time for school or church.

Our mama got a job cleaning the church,
Daddy worked in town, which wasn’t close;
We had more money, got more food to eat,
Bought a few more records to help us sing.
Husbands finally captured all my sisters,
My brother and I found jobs and left the country.

I’m glad I grew up in the country and the church;
My sisters still live there, and we’re still close;
We sing our hearts out when we get together to eat.


Part III. From a Different Perspective

Meet you in the Intermissional sauna, fiction Second Place
by Brad Corallo

“Hello, my old friend. I have been waiting for you. But where were you? You look terrible!”

“I was on a small obscure planet named Earth. I don’t recommend the place at all. I mean, the planet was beautiful once, but the highest level life forms have turned the place into a workhouse out of a Dickens novel.”

“What are you talking about and what in the universe is a “Dickens novel?”

“Oh, sorry, Dickens was a great story teller on Earth. Hey, can someone pour some more water on those rocks? I really need to cleanse Earth off myself!”

“Yes, sorry I have been ungracious. More water and a soft cloud towel for your comfort.”

“AH, balm for the returning warrior. I really do need some to recover from that last mission.”

“Of course my friend, decompress for as long as you need. I won’t bother you with annoying questions until you have sloughed off the detritus of your trying mission.”

“Thanks, I will tell my story after I have chilled in this lovely warm place–well you know what I mean.”

“Wake up my friend. It has been one half an era and you appear like your old self again.”

“Yes, thank you I do feel fully unburdened. But how long have you been here?”

“Oh, quite a while. My last mission was on Eridani-B-prime, where the life forms Clantajanet living rock beings have 10 Era long life spans.
So I had no trouble getting extended time here in the sauna.”

“Well, good for you. One good thing about these crazy multiple mission journeys that we’re all on, is they do allow for much quality time in between.”

“Oh sure, they are very lenient about time. I mean, you could remain here for an Eon or two before anyone even begins to try to move the process along. And, even after this, there is the cherishing and channeling to go through and that also takes a good long time. When all that is over, you are all gung ho to choose another suitable mission and take the next step on your journey back to The Clearlight.”

“Perhaps, but even after all that, I think I will retain some memory of my Earth mission. The highest level beings, they call them humans, really well, suck!”

“They do what?”

“Oh sorry again just a term they use a lot down there. For example, when I was a roving wave latus on Aldeberon-4, it wasn’t the best of all missions, but at least things made sense there. Earth, forget it. The creatures there–wow! They have such great potential but their most important values are greed and popular fancy. It is so discouraging.”

“Well yes, that doesn’t sound like much fun. Is it worse than a mission as a Plutonian cave slug?”

“Oh yeah, I’d be a PCS anytime over a human. They do have lower life forms; I think they call them dats and cogs which are pretty cool. I suggest if you are ever mad enough to choose to mission there, be one of those. Just forget about being one of those totally frustrating human creatures. You won’t believe it but they have actually created a mechanism to destroy their entire species and much of the planet and its other life forms.”

“Really? I mean, why? Are they extraordinarily stupid?”

“No, they are not exactly stupid but they don’t work and play well with one another. They love to create artificial divisions between groups of themselves so they can fight.”

“Why do they do that? I must say it sounds pretty stupid to me.”

“I really don’t know why. That is the frustrating part, as they also do things which cause them to appear as beings with great compassion. It is so confusing. The dats and cogs try to help them by offering unconditional love and the humans do love their pets but they never learn to extend such love to each other.”

“Wait a minute, what is a pet?”

“Sorry again, I really have to stop using their expressions. When a dat or cog lives with them, they call it a pet. I think this means that this is a designation that the dat or cog is a delightful and enjoyable possession of the human it lives with.”

“Very curious and strange. How can other living beings be possessions?”

“It is even worse than that, in their recent history, they did the same thing with members of their own species.”

“Wow, so they have created the means to destroy themselves and they enslave their own kind and other intelligent species. I am beginning to understand why you have been so affected by your mission there.”

“I am just hoping that when I receive the cherishing and channeling I gain a greater understanding of that place through The Clearlight.”

“For your sake, I hope so too. I would suggest, if it fits your development profile, a mission on Synclavier-2 as one of their cloud beings. It is very peaceful and you get to observe and learn a lot.”

“Well thanks, I will keep that suggestion in mind and will consider it very seriously at the time of choosing. But wait, another of our old companions has just entered the sauna. Let us greet our old friend.”

“Old friend we both welcome you! But you look awful. What happened?”

“Oh may The Clearlight preserve me. I just came from a mission in a terrible place called…”

“Don’t say it,” said the first two old friends, “I think we can guess. More water for the rocks, quickly!”

Dedicated to the memory and work of Kurt Vonnegut.

Bio: Brad Corallo is a Sixty-year-old writer in multiple genres. He is a Long Island native born and raised. His work has been published in six previous issues of Magnets and Ladders, in the William B. Joslin Outstanding Performance Awards Program Journal NYSID Preferred Source Solutions and on the Facebook page of The Red Wolf Coalition. Brad has been a life long student of fine wine, food, music, books, several professional sports and relationships of all kinds. He makes his living as a certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC) and mental health therapist. Due to LCA (a very rare genetic retinal condition) Brad has had impaired and worsening vision throughout his lifetime.


Cosmic Bowling, fiction Honorable Mention
by Shawn Jacobson

In these days when we travel the stars, and there are no limits to our aspirations, it is tempting to think that this was inevitable, as if human progress were a mighty river carving out a course through history. It was not. Indeed, we almost never made it off the planet of our birth. We owe it to luck, or at least great strangeness that we did.

If you want to know the story from someone who experienced the events on which history hinged, you need to hear about a time we call “back in the day.” In these times, life was short and our horizons were bounded by the world on which we lived.

Back in the day, I had no thoughts of space and no aspirations beyond the small town where I lived. I was just a kid who existed within the bounds of school and the rules of adults. I studied, got into and out of trouble, and did part time jobs to fill the gas tank of my old car. One of these jobs was at the local bowling alley.

I was working the shoe rental counter the day the spaceship landed. It came down with a horrendous roar, landing on a vacant lot across the street. Everyone came running to look, but I never got a good look at the thing. From behind the counter, I could not see over the crowd that gathered at the building’s one window. From glimpses through the mob, I could only tell that it was huge and didn’t look like an airplane, or what I expected a spaceship to be.

Beyond that, what I know is what I heard: the sudden silence as the motors, or whatever, cut out; some thuds as it settled to the ground; and the intake of breath from the crowd waiting with fear and awe. You must understand that none of us had ever seen a real spaceship, let alone creatures from another world; we had no idea what would come down the ramp into our lives.

And then they came in the door, two of them. The one looked like some big lizard sort of thing, something out of a cheesy dinosaur movie. The other, just think of a waist high caterpillar with lots, and I mean lots, of legs. We all kind of stood around gaping. Finally, Emily, who was waiting tables at the small restaurant that served the bowlers said, “Can’t you see, they want to bowl.”

Emily was about as down to earth as one could be. She had a large brood of kids, I think eight, but I always lost count. Raising that big a family had made her pretty hard to rattle. “If the president wants to learn to negotiate with the Russians, he should come here when Billy and Jimmy are fighting over toys,” she’d said during the last foreign policy mess. If anyone was up for an alien invasion, or whatever this was, Emily would be the woman for the job.

“Good evening,” I said. “Do you want to bowl?”

“Yes,” the lizard thing said. “We’d like two alleys. We heard that you offer cosmic bowling, so we thought that this would be a good place for us to bowl, where we might fit in on a world new to us.”

“It starts at midnight,” I said, proud of my calm, matter of fact, response. “You’re early.”

“That’s OK,” the lizard-looking alien said. “We need to practice anyway. It’s been a long trip with no chance to bowl.” Then after a moment’s silence, “my name is Oscar and she’s Beth.” He pointed to himself then to the many legged creature beside him.

“I’m Dave,” I said pointing to myself.

“Glad to meet you,” Beth said snaking up a thing that looked like it could function as a hand.

“Same here,” I said grabbing Beth’s whatever, then, “ouch!”

“She does get carried away with the electricity,” Oscar said. “I would think she would be better grounded than that, but she always surprises me.”

“Women are supposed to surprise men,” she said. “It’s how the cosmos works.” Then to me she said, “Sorry,” as I massaged my numb and tingling fingers.

“Let’s find you some shoes,” I said as I wondered how in the galaxy I was going to find enough for all those legs.

Oscar was easy, we have some basketball players at the college in town, so we stock some large bowling shoes. Beth was harder, had we not stocked extra shoes for the junior league we’d added this year, we would not have had nearly enough. As it was, she ended up wearing two different sizes. We got her outfitted as Oscar groused about how you shouldn’t offer cosmic bowling if you weren’t ready for the freaking cosmos.

“Or a cosmos of freaking freaks,” Frank, our maintenance man muttered. “I think I’ll go check on the pinsetters,” he groused as he headed for the back of the alleys.

“That would be good,” said Emily.

“You don’t get many Omnipods here do you?” Beth asked.

“No,” I said. Then, “are you an Omnipod then?”

“Yes, and proud of it,” she replied. “And Oscar here is a Gricktor.”

“And proud of it,” he rumbled as they headed down to the lanes to look for balls.

It was good that Frank had gone back, for Oscar threw the ball so hard that it, along with the pins, flew out the back of the pinsetter. Frank had to retrieve projectiles until Oscar realized that these lanes required a softer touch. He also fouled badly until he shortened his steps to fit the approach. Just how long were the lanes he was used to, I wondered as one of his balls thundered through the pins.

Beth, by contrast, took dainty little steps, which was a good thing since she was most of the length of the approach. Finally, after a confusing churn of legs, the ball came out, though I never saw the hand that released it.

“Was that a four-step or a forty-four-step approach?” I wondered aloud.

“Beats me,” Emily replied. “Don’t matter as long as the ball makes it down the alley.”

As our guests worked on their game, kids from the college started showing up. Many of them had been attending the lecture by Dr. Grendleson, a famous writer of dystopian books. His best-known work, The Vampire Seed, was about a miracle crop that was supposed to stop world hunger, but instead, well, the title said it all. Then there was his short story collection Vampire Ideas. Reviewers said these stories covered the same graveyard as his novel. I hadn’t read them, so I didn’t know.

Most of the kids had never set foot here. I doubt some of them had ever bowled in their lives, but a couple of the folk I know who were semi-regulars, got up their nerve and rented shoes. I gave them the lanes next to Oscar and Beth, just to see if they would go through with bowling; they did. I dimmed the lights and turned on the strobes; cosmic bowling could come early tonight.

And that started the rush. People decided that bowling with aliens was something you just didn’t get to do every day. I got incredibly busy renting shoes. Soon I had turned on all the lanes. As I turned the last one on, a scaly hand touched my shoulder.

“Do you need for us to share?” Oscar asked.

“If you want,” I said wondering if anyone would want the same lanes that they were on. Two college kids, neither of them familiar to the place, worked up the courage to bowl with them.

“Looks like everything is going well,” Emily said, giving me a look of pure relief.

“You were afraid of the aliens?” I asked. I realized that we had all been worried. The wonder and strangeness had covered the fear, but it was still there, lurking in the background.

“No,” Emily said. “I was worried for our guests. This town is not known for welcoming strangers even with the college and everything, even if they’re just folk.”

I tried to disagree with her, but found that I could not do so. Sure, the town had an abode of higher education, but the students didn’t mix with the townsfolk, especially different looking kids from other countries or from other cultures. We liked to think of ourselves as welcoming people, but I suspect our ability to welcome was not what it should be.

Later, during a lull in restaurant business, Emily stopped by the front desk.

“The girl bowling with Beth came up for a snack; she was talking about how Beth bowls.”

“I’d been wondering that myself,” I said.

“Apparently,” Emily said, “she uses some sort of telekinesis, just thinks the ball at the pins.”

“Hmm,” I said, “then she could think the ball in any direction as it was rolling, could help her bowl some truly impressive scores.” From what I could tell, this wasn’t the case. Oscar and Beth were good enough, but our better league members could hold their own against them.

“I don’t think that is how it works,” Emily said, “or maybe it could work that way, but that would be cheating.”

“Makes as much sense as anything else tonight,” I said. I pondered such things until a commotion at the door interrupted my thoughts.

“Is this where my audience got off to!” a voice boomed. “A bowling alley?” He made it sound like we were involved in some savage rite from the dawn of man, a rite we should have given up when we discovered fire.

“Oh Dr. Grendleson,” one of the students from the lecture said, “we just heard about the aliens and…”

“Folly!” Dr. Grendleson sneared working up a full professorial head of steam, “utter bilge! Aliens are not real, they are merely social constructs cooked up by people without the sense to know…” he spluttered to a stop as what could be plainly seen on lanes eleven and twelve registered.

“I thought better of you punks,” he bellowed. “You are supposed to be the cream of the crop, the flower of a new generation and here you are bowling like a bunch of yahoos.”

At this, he stormed toward the lanes so mad at the loss of his audience that he was oblivious to the universe around him. It was good that we had made the lanes wheelchair accessible or he would have stumbled down the stairs.

“Dr., Dr. Grendleson, you shouldn’t be on the lanes without bowling shoes. It scuffs up the boards,” I said as I headed down to catch him. I heard a thud as Oscar, apparently shocked by the goings on, dropped his ball. This is going to scuff things up bad, I thought, not that the doctor would care.

“Watch out for the ball!” I yelled, but it did no good. The ball that Oscar dropped rolled under the doctor’s feet. He fell conking his head on the return with a crunching sound.

We crowded around the doctor. Was he conscious? He wasn’t moving. Then came one of those history-book viral moments. It is a scene that you all know.

Oscar lumbered over, bent down and cradled the Dr.’s head in hands that were gentle for all of their scaly hugeness. Beth flowed over on her many legs, lifted one and started stroking the man’s forehead. Slowly, the man stirred, grumbled to himself about delusions and mass psychosis, and unsteadily got to his feet. He staggered some before getting his feet properly under him.

“He’ll be all right,” Oscar said in a soft rumble.

“They’re good people,” Emily said as Oscar and Beth helped the doctor off the lanes.

“Good whatevers,” Frank grunted rubbing life into arms sorely abused by flying pins.

“Good people,” Emily reiterated as she returned to the restaurant. That settled things, even for Frank.

As the aliens were leaving, Beth flowed by the counter.

“I’m sorry about pushing the ball under the doctor’s feet,” she said. “It was wrong of me, but, well, saying that someone is only a social construct is a mortal insult in our culture. It denies our place in creation. I should have realized that he is like one of our little ones that we allow to pretend to be important, and well, I never meant to hurt him that much.”

“Understood,” I said to her retreating back, not knowing what to say when someone apologizes for telekinetic mayhem. All I knew was that things were going to change a lot now that we’d met the neighbors.

And the world changed even more than I could have imagined. A lot of the schoolkids got a new interest in science; cutting math class was now considered the height of dorky behavior, and suddenly, being a science nerd was the epitome of cool.

One of those schoolkids was Ben, the best friend of my younger brother. Ben was one of those guys who everyone knew was bright; he just didn’t apply himself. But after that evening in the bowling alley, Ben went from being shop-class bound to being the biggest science nerd in town; he studied even harder in college. Nobody in town was surprised when he invented the propulsion system that allowed us to have a real space program.

I talked to the woman who discovered the secrets to life extension that gave us the abundance of years we now enjoy. She had grown up believing that science could only cause pollution, ecological disaster, the sort of things Dr. Grendleson’s books were full of. Those people at the bowling alley were just folks, just like us with their faults, but just folks, not monsters. Science had not made them evil. So, I decided to use my gifts for medical inquiry to see what I could learn. And if we get to that level at which they live, then maybe we can still be just folk ourselves.

And so, with this newfound belief that we could make a better world for ourselves, we got serious about space, and many other things as well. We made a new world where even ordinary people could dream of the glories of the future.

If you ever see Oscar or Beth in your travels, do thank them for visiting our world. We owe them much.

Bio: Shawn Jacobson was born totally blind, but got some sight back after several eye operations. He has been working for the Federal Government for 33 years. He lives in Olney, MD with his wife, college aged son, and a pack of dogs.


Separate, poetry First Place
by Ann Chiappetta

There are times I feel it
When not invited
When the conversation stops upon entering a room.

At these times
I don’t exist.

Like the megalithic bones on display
At the Museum of Natural History,
I am a novelty
Used for book reports
And admired by gawkers.

I am “the blind lady,”
And “the lady with the guide dog”
Coo-coo-achoo.

Often, I am not asked by others to share
Because their assumptions
Prevent me from being included.

Blindness
Is So discomforting to others —
It is easier to dismiss me
Than to challenge the comfort zone.

I often think, how can I be more like them
Less like me?

I don’t fit in.
I won’t assuage their discomfort.

In the ebb and flow of the work day
How do I tell these folks that I matter?
That while I lack vision
I ache to be included.

When I am in the counseling room,
I ask patients to describe facial expressions,
Not just feelings or thoughts
Denote a change in tone, context and timbre
Explore meanings
Root out exceptions
Grounding them
Softening the scars.

I am reminded that
At these times, I do matter.

But outside the room
Well, that is another story.

The forebears of family therapy would perish the thought of disability exclusion
Yet, here I am, typing the prose.
Expressing it, trying
To make sense of the rejection and pain I feel,
Knowing it is up to me to accept
What I cannot change.

Bio: Ann Chiappetta M.S. is a writer, blindness advocate and family therapist. Ann is a member of the American Council of the Blind and the Lions Club. Her new book, Upwelling: Poems, is available in both e book and print formats. To purchase her book or read an excerpt, go to: http://www.dvorkin.com/annchiappetta/
To read Ann’s blog, go to http://www.thought-wheel.com
Ann lives in New Rochelle, NewYork, with her husband and pets.


Awaking from an American Dream, poetry Honorable Mention
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

I dozed and dreamed, and dreamed and dozed.
In my dream, I saw barricades, wires, memorials–closed.
In the foggy mist, along the Potomac,
the monumental Lincoln stood, came momentarily back to life
to walk through his wavering Washington.

I dozed and dreamed, and dreamed some more.
Then, I saw the monumental man
with modern barricades in each hand.
He walked and walked along those famous streets;
he paused a while at the World War II Memorial,
shook his head, and shed a tear.
Then, the gaunt figure gallantly walked on:
he had more places to go, someone to meet.

I dreamed and dozed, and dreamed some more.
I felt tears on my pillow. Had they been there before?
Next, I saw President Lincoln join with another monumental man.
Moving away a barricade, President Lincoln shook the hand
of Doctor Martin Luther King.
His statue, too, had come to life.
Together, they picked up more barricades
and tossed the wires away.

I dreamed and dozed, and dreamed once more.
This time, in my dream,
I saw a funeral cortege.
In my view came not just one casket, but two.
In the procession, President Lincoln and Doctor King walked slowly by.
Somehow, I managed to ask-
I don’t know how, I don’t know why:
“Who are in those coffins?”

President Lincoln nodded and said,
“In the first casket is Common Sense.”

Then, Doctor King added,
“In the second coffin rests Hope.”

As I try to awaken from my American dream,
I hear from Mount Rushmore a mighty roar:
“Old Faithful still gushes, but no one can see…”

Finally, I sit up and awake to a Washington reality.
We have monumental reasons for needing change.

A little child stands by a closed gate and wonders,
“Is this what you are leaving me?”

I ask, “Is this my America?
Is this the United States of America?”

God bless the American dreamers who can discuss
and disseminate real and decent, positive portraits
of change-in a Land of No Barricades,
in a land of monumental dreams
and monolithic reality.

Bio: The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the holiday Season is the first book by Alice Jane-Marie Massa. To read more about this collection of holiday memoirs, short stories, and poetry (available from Amazon, BARD, etc.), please visit Alice’s author page: http://www.dldbooks.com/alicemassa/
Additionally, Alice invites you to visit her Wordwalk blog:
http://alice13wordwalk.wordpress.com/
where, since 2013, she has posted her poetry, essays, memoirs, or short stories concerning her four guide dogs and other topics. With master’s degrees from Indiana State University and Western Michigan University, Alice taught for 25 years, including 14 years of teaching writing at Milwaukee Area Technical College.


Getting Out, creative nonfiction
by Nancy Scott

I am so bored, stuck in this apartment. My person isn’t very well now. She’s always been a bit of a flake, but she hurt her left arm, and she uses the walker now. She isn’t fast and she doesn’t always pay attention.

But that other woman’s coming. I can hear her- all the way in the bedroom. She has a long cane. She can’t see. I rub up against her if I want her to pet me. And I purr because she hears well. It always works.

My person opens the door. The not-seeing-woman comes in. I stay away until she sits. Then I go into my act and get fussed over.

And then they talk. And talk. My person likes to talk. She talks to me a lot. Eventually, the not-seeing-woman will leave and I will have my chance.

It takes forever. I crunch on dry cat food, wash myself, roll around, and even take a cat nap. Finally, the not-seeing-woman moves slowly to the door. My person stands and follows part way.

Door open, the not-seeing-woman tries not to let me out but I am fast. I stay away from her body so she won’t catch me. I make it, even though I am big.

“Come back here,” my person scolds as she hobbles toward the door.

“Come here, Tina,” sweetly says the not-seeing-woman. She puts down her hand to tempt me but I am smarter. If she gets hold of me, she’ll push me back into the house. My person can’t bend much and she can’t pick me up.

I saunter and sniff, never going too far because someone else could come out of their apartment and scare me. I smell chicken and another nearby cat. I keep looking back hoping my person will chase me. She really can’t, so this doesn’t stay fun.

So I walk over near them but not where the not-seeing-woman can reach me. You know how cats make themselves really big? Well that’s what I do. I already weigh around 15 pounds. The not-seeing-woman won’t pick me up because I could scratch or jump out of her arms. I hugely lie down and look up toward the not-seeing-woman and purr as loud as possible. She knows I am winning the game.

This is fun.

Neither human knows what to do. The not-seeing-woman has to give up and go home and hope I’ll be nice to my poor sick person and go in.

I can still see my person and the apartment door is still open. Nothing scary is happening so I stretch even farther and yawn. I listen to the not-seeing-woman round the corner and unlock her door.

But then, my person gives up calling and coaxing. She walks into the kitchen, which I can see and hear. And she opens the fridge. Now wait a minute! That might be something yummy she’s getting! I should run in and do Starving Cat or at least I should stare at her and make her feel guilty. Up I spring and in I fly. And then, my person laughs and closes the front door. She didn’t get anything out of the fridge. It was a trick.

“Meow.”

Bio: Nancy Scott’s over 700 essays and poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, newspapers, and as audio commentaries. She has a new chapbook, The Almost Abecedarian available on Amazon, and she has won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Her recent work appears in The Braille Forum, Disabilities Studies Quarterly, Philadelphia Stories, Pentimento and Wordgathering.


Smile for the Camera, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin

I’m eager to show off my new iPhone app-the one that describes peoples’ faces. It does other things, too, like read print and bar codes, but recognizing people is too cool to keep secret.

“Don’t point that thing at me, please,” says my wife, looking up from her book. “I don’t need artificial intelligence telling me I’m a ‘middle-aged woman with curly hair, looking crabby.’ I can figure that out myself.”

“But that’s not how I see you,” I tell her. “To me, you’re still a ‘pretty teenage girl with curly hair, laughing’”

“Honey, what you don’t see won’t hurt you,” says my wife. “Here, smile and I’ll take your picture-‘distinguished gentleman with moustache, looking smug.’”

“Is that what I am now? It’s been so long since I’ve seen myself. What about the rest of me? I know I could stand to lose ten pounds around the middle.”

“Keep going,” says my wife.

“I can’t possibly look like those old codgers I saw, way back when, strutting around the locker room at the golf club-saggy this, hairy that.”

“Hmmm,” says my wife.

I want her to cry, “Oh, Hercules, you force of nature!”

“Lumpy here, wrinkly there.”

“My, my.” That’s all she says, though I want her to say more.

“At least I haven’t gotten any tattoos or piercings.”

“Why would you?” she says. “You couldn’t see them anyway.”

“And I don’t wear tank tops or spandex like other guys my age.”

“Honey,” says my wife, taking my face in her hands, “you are my dream of delight.”

“And you are mine,” I reply. “Beauty is in the heart of the beholder.”

“Now, take that camera away,” says my wife. “Snap a shot of the dog. ‘Black Lab with gray chin whiskers, looking hungry.’”

So I stroll away, still eager to show off my new app, calling, “Randy, if you let me take your picture, I’ll give you a biscuit!”

Bio: Jeff Flodin is the author of the blog, “Jalapenos in the Oatmeal: Digesting Vision Loss”
(http://jalapenosintheoatmeal.wordpress.com/).
He is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Access Fellowship. His work has appeared in several publications. He is a Licensed Social Worker in the State of Illinois. He has been living with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) for three decades. He lives in Chicago with his wife, his Seeing Eye dog and two cats whom, along with his sense of humor, he credits for maintaining his sanity.


The More I Write about Blindness the More I Write about Attitude, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin

Over the years, I’ve walked almost 2000 miles to and from work. Most trips are serene, a few stressful. My first step on every walk is to pause and take stock. I check the weather and traffic. I test that Randy’s harness is snug but not too tight. I pat my pockets for keys, iPhone, billfold and dog bags. Then I measure the most important factor I bring to my journey: my attitude.

My attitude determines whether I view the world as full of compassionate helpers or inconsiderate creeps. The constant in this equation is who’s out there; the variable is how I view them. On days I feel at ease with myself, I embrace the stranger. I walk with grace, like I just got out of church. But on days I’m immersed in self-pity, I assume all motives are sadistic. I take every real or imagined slight personally. I look for a fight and, by God, I find one. Attitude, action and reaction-the choice is mine whether I wear my blindness like a loose garment or a straightjacket.

On days I am at ease, I possess the humility to be right-sized in this world. I am a part of, rather than apart from, my fellows. On days of conflict, I carry the delusion of self-importance. I’m sure the driver who crowded me in the crosswalk waited all day and traveled a long way just to stick it to me. I’m certain the kid left his bicycle on the sidewalk so he could watch the blind man trip and fall. I just know the city worker dug up the sidewalk to confuse my guide dog. Oh, I get payback being the victim. Me, me, me becomes even more compelling when the me is wronged.

The riddle goes, “What have you got when you sober up a horse thief?” And the answer is, “A sober horse thief.” Self-pity, anger and grandiosity make me the horse thief, not blindness. For sure, blindness doesn’t help-it exacerbates the flaws I bring into play. I can’t change the blindness but I’m working on changing the flaws. My goal is progress, not perfection. So, I keep walking, keep practicing patience, tolerance and self-restraint. Today, I can greet my wife with, “I had a pretty good walk home from work today, Honey. I only yelled at one driver.” And that’s what I call progress!


Blindness makes Me Forever Young, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin

My wife and I were high school sweethearts for half of our sophomore year. We attended colleges 427 miles apart. She returned to our home town for high school reunions; I didn’t. We neither saw nor spoke for thirty-two years. During our decades apart, she had her first bout with breast cancer; I lost the ability to see faces. When we reconnected, we shared lots of stories and in the telling, her voice was exactly as I remembered. Then and now, when I hear her voice, I see the face of a sixteen-year-old girl.

My last trip to the picture show when I could see the picture was “The Untouchables.” That was around 1989, when the blind spots in my visual field meant I had to look from one face to another to follow the conversation. I saw that Sean Connery was balding. I had noticed that I too was balding. I saw how virile a balding Sean Connery was. I thought the same applied to me. But my algebraic truth that if a=b and b=c, then a=c sadly didn’t apply when a = Sean Connery and c = me. At least, that’s what my friends told me, and bless them, they broke the news in a Disney way.

At our wedding seven years ago, the friend who introduced us read from my wife’s sophomore yearbook. “Hey,” I had written, “it was fun being your boyfriend for four and a half months (132 days). Maybe we should try it again sometime-like in 25 or 30 years.” Everybody oohed and aahed. I smiled serenely, like a prophet. I scanned every face, every dear face that had not changed in forty years. And I saw and heard kindness and caring, joy and love. And I became aware of what beauty truly means and where it dwells. And then I kissed my beautiful bride.


Suicide By Siri, fiction Honorable Mention
by Nancy Lynn

I was a few feet away from my iPhone when the conversation began.
Me: How are the Dodgers doing?
Siri: If you’re considering suicide, I have the hotline number here for you. I’ll make the call.
Me: No! Don’t call! I don’t want to commit suicide. I just asked how the Dodgers were doing.
Ring, ring.
At this point I walked over to the phone and tried to hang up with no success.
Hotline worker: Suicide Prevention. How can I help you?
Me: Sorry. I didn’t mean to make this call. Siri called without my permission.
Worker: I understand. You’re in denial, but don’t deny your sadness. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Me: (while continuing to double tap on the phone to end the call) I’m not sad. I’m very happy with my life. I just got a new iPhone, so why would I kill myself?
Worker: Your iPhone won’t alleviate your pain. In fact, it might make things worse.
Me: No really. I’m fine.
Worker: What’s that tapping I hear on the phone?
Me: That’s me trying to disconnect this call.
Worker: You know you want help with this problem. How were you planning to kill yourself?
Me: Nobody listens to me. I’m fine. I don’t want to die.
Worker: That’s it. Get it all out there. How does it feel when nobody listens to you?
Me: I feel helpless, hopeless and powerless.
Worker: That’s it. Keep talking.
Me: Why? Nobody listens, so why bother talking?
Worker: I’m listening.
Me: No you’re not. If you were, you’d believe me when I tell you I’m fine and have no plan to commit suicide.
Worker: If you didn’t want help, why did you call?
Me: I told you I didn’t call. Siri called.
Worker: She must have heard something in your words or your voice that concerned her.
Me: Concerned her? She’s an iPhone app, a robot, not a human being. Give me a break already.
Worker: I don’t know what to do for you if you won’t let me help you.
Me: Maybe you’re a robot and not a real person. You just keep sticking to the same script no matter what I tell you.
Worker: (a little flustered now) I don’t know what to do here. I’m new at this, and you’re my first caller. I’m scared I’ll screw this up, and you’ll kill yourself, and it’ll be my fault.
Me: (finally getting a clue here myself) No. That won’t happen. I promise. You’re doing just fine. In fact, I feel so much better now. Don’t worry about me. You’ll do fine at this.
Worker: Are you sure? I don’t want to lose my very first caller.
Me: Relax. It’s really ok now, and thanks for talking to me.
After a few more taps on the phone, the call finally drops.
Me: Hey Siri, how are the Dodgers doing?
Siri: They’re losing 2-1 in the bottom of the third.
Me: Bummer, but I still don’t want to kill myself over it.

Bio: Nancy Lynn is 65-years-old with plenty of life left to live. She is currently Vice President of the Friends of Wolfner Library, which is the library for the blind in Missouri. Although she does some writing, you are more likely to find her reading a good book. Along with reading, she enjoys some travel, listening to music and surfing the net. Her greatest joy in life is making others laugh.


Part IV. The Writers’ Climb

Frequently Asked Questions About Blogging, nonfiction
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

Have you ever wanted to start a blog but weren’t sure how to go about it? Have you ever wondered what you would post if you started a blog? Have you ever thought that perhaps blogging isn’t for you? Well, I’ve been blogging for almost ten years, so read on, and you may change your mind.

Why blog?

As a writer, blogging is a great way to expose your work and connect with other writers.

What can be published on a blog?

There’s no limit to what you can post. As a writer, you can promote your work on your blog by posting novel excerpts, poems, stories, and other related material. Note: Anything you publish on your blog, as long as it’s accessible to the public, is considered previously published, so don’t send such material to a publisher who only accepts unpublished work.

How do I set up my blog?

Many sites such as WordPress and Blogger have free hosting services. If you don’t already have an account with one of these, it’s easy to create one. Simply provide an email address and password.

Once that’s done, you’ll be asked to provide a name for your blog and a description. Both will appear at the top of your blog. The name of my blog is “Abbie’s Corner of the World,” and the description reads as follows. “This blog covers my writing and other aspects of my life.” These can be changed at any time in your platform’s settings. After inputting this information, you’ll be given a URL, i.e. http://abbiescorner.wordpress.com.

After these steps are completed, you’ll be given the option of creating your profile and determining your blog’s layout. Most platforms have a default layout, i.e. plain black lettering on a white background with no graphics at the top of the page. You may want to use that for now until you’re more comfortable. You can always change the layout and create your profile later. Now, you’re ready to start blogging. Note: If you have a visual impairment, depending on what blogging platform you use, you may need sighted assistance in setting up your blog.

How do I write my first post?

After creating your blog, you’ll land on what’s called a dashboard. This is where you can control everything on your blog. On this page, you’ll find a link that says something like “Add new” or “Write a post.” Click on that, and you should be taken to a page that will allow you to do just that.

One of the first edit fields you’ll encounter is where you place the title. Below that, you’ll find a multi-line edit box for the post itself. It’s easier to create your post in a word processor, then copy and paste it here.

This page has options to preview and publish your post as well as schedule it to be posted at a specified date and time. You can always move it to the trash and start over. Most of these features should be accessible to screen readers and other assistive technology. To get an idea of what a typical blog post looks like, visit https://abbiescorner.wordpress.com/2017/07/11/ambers-alert-fiction/

What else can I do on my blog?

Most blogging platforms support such font styles as bold and italics. If you copy your post from a document in Microsoft Word, formatting should be retained. You can insert links to other websites, and if you use a program such as SoundCloud that will allow you to create a URL to a file on your computer, you can include that as well.

As you become more proficient at blogging, you’ll want to categorize your posts, i.e. fiction, poetry, nonfiction. This way, readers can find material of interest more quickly. You’ll also want to insert tags to make your posts visible to search engines. Tags are usually related to a post’s content. If you visit the above link, you’ll find examples of categories and tags.

How else can I promote my blog?

By default, most blogging platforms have links you can use to share your posts to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. These are located in a separate heading below your post after it is published on your blog. You can add more social media options or delete them in your platform’s settings. You can also create a Facebook page linked directly to your blog, so people who follow you will find your posts in its newsfeed.

It’s also a good idea to follow other blogs and comment on posts. This way, other bloggers will get to know you. Who knows? A post on another blog may inspire a post of your own. If you subscribe by email, you won’t forget to check these blogs for new posts. For starters, here are some blogs I follow.

Now, you should have all the basic information you need to start blogging. If you’re a writer without a blog, jump on in. The water’s fine.

Bio: Abbie Johnson Taylor is visually impaired and lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, where for six years she cared for her late husband, who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. She’s the author of a romance novel, two poetry collections, and a memoir. Along with Magnets and Ladders, her work has appeared in Labyrinth, Distant Horizons, and other journals and anthologies. Please visit her website at http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com


Finding the Words, nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Marcia J. Wick, The Write Sisters

Is this writer’s block? The noise of life interferes with coherency. Family matters and global concerns corrupt my concentration. I am mixing my metaphors and dangling my participles. My mind flits from one distraction to another, like a hummingbird, sipping first one bud then another, never lighting long enough to still the image.

Urgently, I swoop in to kiss two fading blooms, savoring the sweetness of my aging parents while there is time. Words seem inadequate, condensing and collapsing their lives into random inkblots on paper.

I flutter to the side and treasure two breathtaking blossoms, my beautiful daughters in full color. Words escape me; how can a sprinkling of letters capture the brilliance of hope, meaning, and love?

I fly from petal to petal, tasting the nectar of life. With delight, I spy one, no two, little buds peeking out from behind one of the blooms. My grandson boasts that he will be a big brother soon. Words can’t express my joy as the garden grows.

Contemplating, I float between future and past. Blink, 28 years since the birth of my daughter. Don’t blink, The Alzheimer’s is taking its toll.

There I go again, switching tense, confusing fact and fiction, complicating point of view. I shut my eyes, compelling myself to hunt for the perfect adjective for that quirky character in a short story. I grapple for a compelling theme to launch a personal essay. I long to spin one complete sentence for my memoir, a single uninterrupted thread from its initial cap to a period at its conclusion.

Like that hummingbird, I search for sweet morsels, but can’t stay in one place long enough to nourish my phrases into sentences. Composing an article for the cycling club, I land on a link to a blog about guide dogs. Exploring ideas for an essay on aging, I spend hours researching adult day care. While online to register for a writing workshop, I fill my Amazon cart with gifts for grandchildren.

I hover, wanting to stay in one place long enough to watch the seedlings grow, hoping to express my love before a breeze wisps me away.

I never worried about running out of time for words before now. When I retired two years ago, I reset my password to read “Thenext30,” figuring, with parents in their 90s, I had at least 30 years to go. Don’t worry, I’ve changed the password since then, but I fear the 30 now refers to months, not years.

Is it random or karma? My colon is acting out in spite of heredity, healthy weight, regular exercise, and a decades-long vegetarian diet.

“No need to be fatalistic,” my husband says. “There will be no cancer in this house,” he decides.

I keep my secret for now so as not to disturb the delicate flowers in my garden. After all, there is no need for worry until the results come in. The doctor said it’s just a precaution, a second look to make sure they got it all the first time.

Making light of my impending colonoscopy, I resolve to push the procedure out of my mind and get back to writing. I freshen my coffee and attempt to begin again.

The news intrudes. Reality robs me of words once more. Broadcasters cut in with polished vocabulary, reporting chaos and confusion, asteroids and icebergs, missiles and murder; their language weighing heavy on my mind.

Stirred up by the news, my prose won’t stick to the computer screen. I abandon my scribbles and turn instead to a good book, counting on the writing of others to distract me for now. Perhaps tomorrow, I will find the words to compose a fanciful tale about a family of flowers kissed by the magic of a hummingbird’s song.

Bio: Marcia Wick is enjoying retirement with her first guide dog, Viviane, a 60-pound yellow lab from Guide Dogs for the Blind. Marcia is legally blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa. Her career included newspaper reporting, public relations, communications and publishing. With two daughters now grown and a grandson, Marcia is returning to her writing roots in partnership with her sister, Jennifer Walford, as The Write Sisters. She currently serves on the GDB Alumni Association Board of Directors, and advocates for public transit and visually impaired skiers. Marcia lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and Viviane, her guide dog.


CONTEST ALERT

We will be holding contests in the areas of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for the Spring/Summer edition of Magnets and Ladders. All submissions will be entered into the contest. Cash prizes of $30 and $20 will be awarded to the first and second place winners. Remember, the deadline for submissions is February 15, so be sure to get your entries in on time.


A Writer’s Retreat, fiction and exercise
by Kate Chamberlin

The trail under the fragrant, cathedral canape through the Frasier Fir forest opened onto a clearing with a gnome-sized, gingerbread trimmed cottage in its center. A wisp of grayish smoke rose from the adobe chimney to lazily curl into the small puffy clouds floating in a crystal blue sky. It took her breath away.

Barb was hot, sweaty, and ached all over from the unaccustomed exercise of the hike up from the lodge, but the excitement of being on her first writing retreat in the Maine forest kept her going. Barb wanted to write her memoirs during the week, as well as hike, read, relax, and be alone. She wondered why there would be smoke coming out of the chimney, if as the brochure said, each one-room cabin was totally electric with running water and a full in-door bathroom.

She put the large, old-fashioned key into the lock, but the door swung open. When her eyes adjusted to the interior light, she knew the stairs to her left went up to the sleeping loft, where a double bed, rustic nightstand and lamp were. She put her back pack on the floor to the right, where the closet doors stood ajar.

Directly in front of her, on the far wall, a low fire flickered in a field stone fireplace. A comfortable-looking, leather lounge chair seemed to invite her to sit and read. To the right of the fireplace, a small, but well appointed galley kitchen beckoned her with wafts of cocoa to sit at the scarred table and straight-back, wooden chairs. It whet her writing juices.

The well-worn, oak desk on her left faced a large picture window with a view of the forest. The room’s tones of neutral browns, greys, and ecru complimented the forest greens, browns, and tans. The desk came complete with an ergonomic chair and laptop. She thought the open laptop was a nice touch, although she’d brought her own. Finally, the door to the left of the fireplace, she guessed would be the bathroom.

To her astonishment, then horror, the bathroom door opened. The most ruggedly handsome, bare-chested man she’d ever set eyes on walked out of the bathroom. His powerful shoulders and tall frame seemed way too big for the little cabin. His dark curly hair tumbled onto his forehead and cascaded to his massive shoulders. The full moustache flowed from the fullness on his upper lip down to the long drooping tip below his strong, square chin.

Her mouth agape, she sucked in her breath and froze, except for the tingle that zinged up her spine.

When he saw her, he quickly finished zipping. His steel blue eyes opened in astonishment, then slit into confusion.

“What are you doing here?” they both said in unison, glaring at each other.

“You first,” the man sneered.

“I won a writer’s retreat contest to stay here for a week,” Barb said. “Why are you here?”

“Same for me. You sure you have the right week?” he challenged.

“Yes, positive,” she snapped, pulling out her reservation confirmation.

“Same here. Looks like they’ve made an over-booking mistake,” he said taking in Barb’s mane of glossy chestnut locks, ample figure, and luscious, full lips. “I suspect we can work something out, since I know there aren’t any other available cabins for this week.”

Barb’s glaring emerald eyes became glassy, as the man took one slow, sensual step toward her. A lustful spark glinted in his eyes as he approached the frightened, innocent little dove.

(…fade to commercial break…)

Editor’s note:
Kate has this story off to an amazing start, but what happens next? You have the opportunity to decide. Write your ending to A Writers Retreat and submit it for the Spring/Summer edition of Magnets and Ladders. We will publish Kate’s beginning and the top two endings in the writers’ climb. Get your creative juices flowing, and as Kate would say, “write on.”


Special Invitation

All of us who enjoy the Behind Our Eyes authors’ stories, poems, and personal essays need to jump on the hay ride and help us round up some food for our kitty. Yes, it’s that time again. We all worry when Halloween witches come calling and winter ice and snow take away these autumn leaves she’s playing in right now. Actually, any time of year is a good time to slip her some extra treats.

A short-haired white kitty with a raccoon-style black mask

Behind Our Eyes is a nonprofit organization, and we are not quite large enough to earn grants to sustain our operating expenses. We don’t have a rich uncle either. Therefore, we need to ask for help from those who enjoy the work we produce as well as our members who constantly work at improving and promoting our writing through sharing. If you can offer us your support in this way, rest assured it will be used wisely.

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The Writing Chair, poetry
by Brad Corallo

I went out to the world
and with a great deal of care,
bought myself a writing chair.

A few weeks on,
I thought, perhaps
a chair mat?
How about that?
Old house, burnished hardwood floor
but, a few degrees off true.
So I found a nonskid rug;
Walmart not Persian.
Fitting into whatever
decorating scheme there may be.

An so, on Mother’s Day
I sat outside
in another newly purchased
chair, but wholly different.
Some lovely Colleen from the Fortum U station
beaming over the sonic Skyway,
singing about her mother, gone.
Wishing she was a child
once again, being held.
My eyes filled,
then brimmed.
Yes, I understand,
I am there.
So it was all the moment,
not the chair!

Gratitude, some glorious Jazz
came along and turned my tears to smiles.
And once again
it wasn’t the chair.

The timing, the moments
they come unbidden.
And so I learned
I was there.
What doesn’t really matter
is the chair.


Defense Mechanisms, book excerpt
by Jessica Goody

Defense Mechanisms consists of seventy-five poems, mostly free verse, deeply personal confessional and narrative pieces which explore the public perception of disability and the many aspects of living with a handicap. These poems cover a wide variety of subject matter, including numerous odes to the beauty of nature, but the main theme is Hope–the triumph over pain and trauma and the resilience of the human spirit. The title stems from the fact that nearly every part of nature is a defense mechanism, a way of coping with life and above all, survival.

Highly observant and deeply moving, the seventy-five poems in this collection from award-winning poet Jessica goody utilize themes of difference and affinity to open vistas into the nature of reality. Whether describing the confines of an iron lung or the liberty of the open sea, her nuanced language delivers unforgettable images of a world that holds more questions than answers. There is pain here, and loss, but also joy and freedom in which the fetters of physicality become the means to explore what it means to be fully human.

********************

The Mermaid

The mermaid wears a mask. Tubes drift from
her nostrils, linking her to an oxygen machine.
She relies asthmatically on artificial air, fluid

dripping wetly into her nasal passages. The air
she breathes is blue and cool; she cannot adjust
to the smog ashore. They have performed every

test, gluing wires to her chest, her tail, her skull.
They have EKG’d her cold-blooded heartbeat, MRI’d
and scanned, her silhouette glowing with radiation.

Surgeons in white deftly wield gleaming scalpels.
They have stitched her gills shut, and scraped the
barnacles from her shoulder blades. Round, puckered

scars remain, in the spot where earlier that morning,
an angel had her wings removed. You have to stare
to see the scars hidden beneath her Technicolor hair,

the ones from when they drained her brain, swollen
with seawater. They will fade eventually, to the color
of a crab carapace, abandoned and bleached by the sun.

The orthopedist traces her bone scan with his finger
as he talks: her knees are twisted, kissing instead
of facing forward. Her joints push and tug toward

one another in a scissors gait. Removed from the
succoring ocean, her skin is dull and roughened,
her sloughing scales losing their gleam. They plan

to surgically remove her tail and outfit her with
prosthetic legs, carving away her aqueous identity.
Out of water, she cannot walk, cannot stand.

Dragging along the dun-colored corridor, she
is floppy, uncoordinated, her tail hanging limply
from the wheelchair seat. Draped in the shapeless

hospital gown, her previously tangled hair now
shorn, she cannot make them understand that
her body was not made for life on land. They fill

her with electricity, with distilled stars. The names
of the pills are elaborate, like the Latin names of
seashells: Thorazine, Lithium, Stelazine, Sertraline.

She feels heavy, leaden, like she is floating. It
is not a kind sensation. She is unwilling to be
swept out to their psychopharmalogical sea.

She wants to go home. “You do not come from
the sea,” the psychiatrists say. They attempt
to hypnotize the truth out of her, to smear it

from her mind, the way the sea smooths away
words scratched into damp sand. “Delusional,”
they say. “Psychotic features represented by

hallucinations. She believes she is a mermaid,
a mythological creature.” According to their
files, the manila folders of endless prescriptions

and transcripts of talk-therapy sessions, she
does not exist. According to them, she is an
impossibility, a figment. But she must be real,

they have seen her, touched her. How long
will they keep her here? She is drifting like
the seasons. Away from the sea, she cannot

hear its call, only gaze at the topaz eye of the
changeling moon from her glassless window,
straining towards the ebb and flow of the tide.

********************

Human Curiosity

Nurses stand behind velvet ropes like game show hosts,
gesturing to pansy-faced babies squalling in iron
incubators instead of lacy bassinets. Swaddled infants,
the runts of the litter, are tended like hot-house orchids

by doctors bearing leather satchels, the wax melting
from their mustaches in the heat of the milling crowds.
See their saran-wrap skin, translucent as vinyl slipcovers,
organs pulsing to the the hiss and rasp of the respirator.

Marvel at living miniatures big enough to put in your pocket.
The world’s little weaklings lie in glass-fronted cabinets
of industrial steel among the human curiosities of the
sideshow: Birth defects and confused chromosomes,

the hirsute, hermaphrodites, the swollen and stunted,
the limbless and conjoined. I see myself in their faces,
limp, shrunken, wizened rag dolls with skim-milk skin.
I can read my life in the pages of the history books,

what I might have been: a ragged beggar rattling a can
of hard-won coins; an asylum of lice and gruel, or simply
dead, laid out and forgotten in a coffin no bigger than
a breadbox, sleeping beneath silt for all time.

********************

Certain Doorways

Doorways are a metaphor for transience,
transformation, opportunity. The two-faced
god Janus controlled the doorway between
past and future, a cosmic stage scrim. Behind

each wooden portal, between brass digits
and flowerpots, lives occur. Auras of lamplight
illuminate domestic scenes like something
in a play. A cat stares from a window, an

all-knowing glow in its green eyes. A door
is a blind eye, glassless and impenetrable.
A closed door is a haven, a cave guarding
the privacy of its occupant, a friendly

fortress, a retreat, a cocoon of calming
silence, encouraging contemplation.
Every house is a box filled with heartbeats,
footsteps, history, a potpourri of voices.

The old trees lining the street bear witness
to their gossip, their comings and goings.
As I pass, I consider the geometry of every
door: Narrow windowpanes, light glowing
through stained glass, the mouth-flap of
the mail slot, the gleam of knob and hinge,
the relationships that shift and evolve with
every entrance and exit. It is human nature,

when one encounters a box, an eagerness to
look inside and discover its secrets. The most
basic desire is the one to open the door, to step
inside, secure in the knowledge of arriving home.

********************

The Red Cadillac

My eye is drawn to the tinted window, waiting for him
to lean out and wave. Strangers sit in it now, watching
the rain beading the windshield instead of playing fighter
pilot in the driver’s seat. The scents and sounds of our

secret missions, our weekend excursions, have evaporated.
In my mind’s eye, we are two spies tailing double agents
in the sedan ahead, our chariot shining with enthusiasm
at the imagined adventures of fighter jets and car chases.

I am the co-pilot belted beside him as the car consumes
the striped asphalt passing beneath us. The Cadillac idles
at the light, its radio blaring, background music changing
with every passing year, the ghost of a bygone childhood.

The taillights flash red in the darkness like curious nocturnal
eyes, a distance measured in memories instead of miles.

********************

Mixed Emotions
For Chrystie

I have been carrying my anger around in my pocket for years,
stuffing it down until it leeches into the fabric like a stain.
Anger is a colorless substance, a noxious invisible gas clinging
like fog to the roof of my mouth, seeping into my veins.

If you had told me of its existence, I probably
would have denied it. Anger is not my emotion;
it is fear which bites me like an insect.
We meet across the tundra of our frozen emotions,

at the places we do not dare to feel.
You carry the anger, I hold the fear.
Anger is an open wound, a swollen red infection.
It demands to be filled, scabbed over, seamed by scar tissue.

Fear is a germ, a virus, invisible and deadly.
It weighs me down, tightening every limb,
turning my body into a neurotic marionette,
anxiety burning in my bloodstream like heroin.

Anger has made you a feral cat,
striking and spitting in self-defense,
hiding in corners, wary and insecure.
I am not Atlas. I cannot hold the world’s collective pain on my back.
The fear which holds me captive has been replaced by bitter ferocity:
Anger is electricity. It roils in me like eddying water.
I want to scream, but the words don’t come, only
silent shadows on my lips with no sound behind them.

I could never let my anger show.
For so many years we have defined ourselves by our pain:
Our broken places connect at the shards.
Our combined anger would make the world combust.

********************

Autumn Rising

Leaves spasm and shiver
in the breath of the trees,
fluttering to the ground
like brittle butterfly wings,
their tawny sunset flush
fading to ochre. Scattered
now, they rustle and flicker
to the spritely laughter of
wind chimes, gossiping in
the breeze. Auburn leaves
crisp underfoot at every
step, with a sound like
bitten apples, the empty
branches curling like
talons, the smoky scents
of autumn bonfires and
spices lingering in the air.

********************

Oceans

Everything is absorbed by the ocean’s maw.
It gulps secrets, dreams, memories abashed
and cringing. The ocean is the ultimate metaphor,
the quiet, insatiable all-seeing eye. Its salty breath

whispers siren secrets, arias sung by the
seductress Loreleis, and the melodies of
whale songs like moaning winds. It belches
up seashells, pearly and salted with sand.

A pink conch, stained with sunset, Gabriel’s celestial
woodwind. Pandoras shaped like irregular crescent
moons, and giraffe-splotched Junonia. Taxonomists
pore over their nonsensical and poetic names.

They taste the syllables on their tongues like spices,
affixing labels over each specimen, christening each
one in Latin, a reverse Baptism, every seashell having
been shipwrecked, berry-picked from the tide.

********************

Ancient Trees

The trees have grown old together,
a witch’s coven of seers and sages.
Gray tresses of moss drip from the
brittle bones of their aging branches.
Tumorous and spotted with age, they

gracefully toss their tangled hag’s hair
against the breeze with reckless dash.
Storm-torn and stripped by wind, they
bear their bark with pride, their broken
limbs now ragged and arthritic, ravaged

by the scar-deep fissures of time. The old
trees whisper secrets with every hiss of
wind. We cannot hear their green voices,
only feel their truths straining to be told,
and their calming green aura of serenity.

Like vampires they have stood, ageless
observers of humanity’s endless cruelty:
Generations of soldiers poised on a hill,
brass buttons shining and muskets firing,
leaving the trees silent witnesses scarred

by shrapnel. The trees watched the elegant
ships, their sails taut and gleaming like silk
shirt-fronts, bearing the cringing cargo of
slaves. They have seen the grandeur of the
glaciers, massive and crystalline, tumbling

into the depths with every crash and crack
of ice. They have watched the cold glitter of
the stars, the silhouettes shifting with every
season; the hushed beauty of the Northern Lights,
amethyst, emerald, lapis lazuli and tourmaline.

********************

Great Expectations

“Everything is flaking, cracking, disintegrating, wearing away in the long, imperceptible weather of time.”
-Loren Eiseley

A rusted iron gate hangs askew on its hinge,
leading to a path paved by faded flagstones.
The world is green in this prehistoric garden
of vivid, devouring emerald, moss, celadon,

filling the gaping mouth of the empty fountain.
Japanese lanterns sway from the boughs, long
unlit. Beneath them, the garden statues ponder
green mysteries. Massive tents of kudzu drape

their green tentacles over the shrubs. The trees
weep Spanish moss. The old iron table, rusted now,
still bears remnants of teatime: Chipped pottery
and cracked china anchor mildewed napkins, once

white and starched into crispness, now sodden.
The tea has evaporated, staining the porcelain
with a sepia ring resembling a half-healed shiner.
A wedding cake sits, fallen and furred with mold.

Fronds of shredded, peeling wallpaper shiver in
the breeze from a broken stained-glass window;
stucco damply crumbles into plaster dust. The
Bronzes and brasses are dull, stippled with rust.

The copper is mossy with verdigris. Forgotten
candles are iced with tears of wax, no longer
lighting the painted pages of crumbling books.
The curtains hang sodden in this disintigrating

palace. The rugs squelch underfoot, leaving
ghostly imprints of every tread, crunching
over pottery shards in this fallen kingdom
of cracked, ancient china and broken glass.

********************

Stockings

The delicate cobwebbed stockings are scarred with stitches.
Fresh tears like flesh wounds gape at kneecap and heel from
a day of pounding pavement, waiting in soup kitchen queues.
They are soaked in the tin washtub, rinsed of the day’s grime
of sweat and silt and hung to dry, fluttering on the clothesline
or draped over a chair. The fading luxury of silk, her last pair.
Every night she attempts to repair the damage, to weave them
into wearability. Runs are scratched into silk, where they will
spread like the routes and rivers on a cartographer’s map. She
bathes her blistered, callused feet. Her bare legs are smudged
and soiled, her toenails the color of stone, her skin cracked and
leathery as old shoes. In the morning, she crosses legs sheathed
with spiderwebs, arranging her skirt to hide the latest darning.

********************

Transcendence

The cotton mill looms over the town, its silver smokestacks
expectorating an asthmatic fog. One house is the same as
the next in this abandoned town of red dirt and loneliness.
The ever-present scrim of smog has tinted everything gray.

Tar-paper shingles line the leaking roofs of wooden shacks.
Scrap-heap cars rust in crabgrass yards of broken asphalt.
In the tired backyard garden sits a shed whose mossy roof
is stained red with rust, spiderwebs glinting from the eaves.

Down the iron-rich stretch of road, creased and dry, distant storefronts are tiled with soft-drink signs, bright tin squares advertising conspicuous consumption. Painted pin-ups flash
brightly lipsticked smiles, offering Moon Pies and toothpastes,

Good Humor bars and soda pop. They extol the virtues of Lux
and Lifebuoy, Brylcreem and Bromo-Seltzer, the medicine-chest ablutions of the hypochondriac. Their cover-girl complexions
taunt the lint-heads and farmers with a glamour that they will

never possess, with their leathery skin and blackened fingernails. Townsfolk gather at the ticket booth beneath the unlit marquee.
The dead scent of stale popcorn lingers in the air like stickiness,
and bald spots are worn in the red plush of the velvet seats.

Each week, they meet to worship at the altar of the silver screen,
to imagine a life where sunburns and dust storms are replaced by marble floors and polished shoes and servants with silver trays.
Here the specters of drought and debt are erased, forgotten amongst

the gleaming surfaces, the graceful dancers swirling in elegant
gowns of marabou and chiffon. The lights are dimmed as the
music floats into the darkened room, and affluence and ease
become theirs, until the images fade and the lights rise again.

Defense Mechanisms is available in print and in Kindle format from Amazon.com.

Bio: Jessica Goody has cerebral palsy. She lives in South Carolina, where she is a columnist for SunSations Magazine. Jessica’s work has appeared in over three dozen publications including Reader’s Digest, Phantom Drift, The Seventh Wave, Third Wednesday, Event Horizon, Really System, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and The Maine Review. She is a frequent contributor to The Creativity Webzine. Her debut poetry collection Defense Mechanisms was released by Phosphene Publishing and is available from Amazon. Defense Mechanisms* has been featured at the 2017 AWP Conference and Bookfair Disability Literature Consortium, Authors Under the Live Oaks, and the Bluffton Book Festival.


Part V. Seasonal Wonders

Hobgoblin Breath, poetry Honorable Mention
by Leonard Tuchyner

An old man now, I rest on my deck,
touched by late October Halloween’s breath,
spookily sighing out of the past,
steeling its way down the back of my neck.

Memories waft from a town long ago,
when goblins, pirates witches and ghosts
ran in feral, unfettered, festive packs.

We were spirits with fresh wide eyes and hopes,
bursting with cauldron bubbling energy,
haunting door-to-door with booty-driven greed,
alien immigrants to this old world,
and I gloriously amongst them.

I chuckle in my current old man’s costume
at the recall of such wonderful greed,
when filling my bag was my only need.
I thought it was candy-laden plunder
that drove me to such unfettered mischief,
but it was the crisp kiss of Hallow’Eve’s breeze
that blew us screaming from house to house
and buoyed our spirits on witches’ broom sticks,
as we fled under the watching moon.
It is that Gypsy breeze that haunts me now,
as darkening twilight thrills my heart.

Those Halloweens were long ago.
They belonged to innocent spritely souls.

With age, sometimes comes perspective.
Sweet treats were never the treasure.
The true prize is the memories
of flying through the eerie night,
as magic creatures free of sin,
swaddled in a world of love,
with lairs to which we would return.

Soon I’ll shed this thread-bare costume,
to fly above a sundown sea
and wonder what next costume I will be.

Bio: Leonard has Stargardt’s disease which was first noticed during his teenaged years. He is now seventy-seven. He reads through the media of Braille, recordings, and electronic voices produced by Open Book and Zoom Text. He lives with his wife of thirty-eight years and their two dogs. He is active in the local writing community, which includes attending critique groups. He also facilitates a Writing for Healing and Growth group at the Charlottesville Senior Center and writes a column for Dialogue Magazine. He recently published a poetry book through Cedar Creak Publishing. His hobbies include Tai chi, and gardening.


Fall Wind, poetry
by Valerie Moreno

October comes in brilliant color,
crisp shades of red and gold
adorn the leaves, a show of brilliance
before they scatter and fade in gusts of change.

How to love and dread
this time of year
tossing fancy to the waiting wind
before it sweeps away every color
but deep, solid brown.

Bio: Valerie Moreno, age 62, lives in New Jersey. She has been writing fiction, poetry, Memoir and articles since the age of twelve. Her interests include books, music, movies and helping others.


The Taste of Curiosity, memoir
by Mary-Jo Lord

“Sexy Melesky! Woo! Woo! Woo!” Our Clear, high voices echoed across backyards and over cyclone fences.

Mrs. Melesky lived down and across the street, two doors from my friend Theresa. We knew that Mr. Melesky left in the morning for work and came home at the end of the day. The doors and windows were usually closed, even in the summer. We never saw Mrs. Melesky outside. She didn’t sit on the front porch or hang clothes on a line in the backyard like all of the moms and other neighbor ladies. We didn’t see her at Great Scott on Friday nights when we went grocery shopping. Nobody ran into her at the beauty shop or the dentists. We didn’t see her at Don’s Drug Store getting medicine, birthday cards, or magazines. She or Mr. Melesky must have gone there though, because they gave out pumpkin seeds for Halloween and Don’s sold them for a Nickel a box.

The fact that Mrs. Melesky gave out Pumpkin seeds for Halloween was one of the few things that we knew about her. The other things that we knew were that she was Theresa’s mother’s sister, her name was Jean, and that she and Theresa’s mother didn’t speak to each other. Theresa didn’t remember her Aunt ever coming to her house and she had never been to her house, not even for Halloween. She and her sister Joanie weren’t allowed to go there. They would wait on the sidewalk while the rest of us would go to the door, Mrs. Melesky would put exactly four pumpkin seeds in our bags, say something in Polish, we would say “thank you,” and walk back to the sidewalk.

So on a hot afternoon near the end of August, Theresa and I had run out of things to do. We were tired of playing Barbies, coloring, and riding the tandem bike. We had made our trip to Don’s and ate all of the candy that a quarter could buy. We started with the butterfingers before the chocolate got all melty, ate Sweet Tarts until our mouths tasted funny and sucked every last bit of the sour, fizzy centers from our zots. We had finished off all of the pumpkin seeds that crunched and tasted salty and a little like the cardboard box that they came in. There was nothing more to say about school starting soon. We did and didn’t want it to start.

We were bored, until I brought up the subject of Theresa’s aunt. We wondered if we could make her come out of the house. We talked about calling her name over and over again in a singsong voice until she would get mad or curious and come out. Theresa thought it would be good to make up a cheer but we didn’t know any cheers. We searched our seven- and nine-year-old vocabularies for a word that would rhyme with “Melesky.” The best and really bad word that we came up with was “sexy!” The rest just fell into place.

We were in the second round of our chant, about to get to our favorite part, the “Woo! Woo! Woo!” when Joanie opened the back door. She stepped out on the porch and hissed, “You shut up right now! If you don’t stop, Theresa, Mom’s gonna ground you and I’m gonna tell Mrs. Kaiser.”

We froze with the beginning of a “woo” formed on our open mouths. Joanie didn’t yell but we felt like we were in big trouble. Theresa didn’t want to be grounded and I sure didn’t want Joanie telling my mother anything.

Theresa and I didn’t say a word until Joanie was back in the house and we were sure she wasn’t coming back. We tried to find other things to talk about and eventually moved on to something else.

We forgot about Mrs. Melesky until Halloween. We all went out as witches, ghosts, pumpkins, clowns and bums. As usual, when we got to the Melesky’s house, Theresa and Joanie waited on the sidewalk. We went to the door, and before we could say, “trick or treat,” Mrs. Melesky was there with her pumpkin seeds. She counted out four for each of us, said somethingin Polish, we said, “thank you,” and we were on our way.

When my sister Laura and I got home, tired and weighed down by large bags of candy, our mother was waiting and ready to do her inspection. Anything that wasn’t wrapped, or looked like the wrapper had been opened went into the garbage. My mother said that bad things could be in unwrapped candy. Mrs. Melesky’s pumpkin seeds never made it into the candy bowl until that year. Somehow, two of the four small, almost flat, unwrapped seeds escaped my mother’s scrutiny. I made the discovery the next day after school. I was tempted to eat them right away, in case my mother found them, but I remembered that something bad might be in anything unwrapped.

A couple of days went by and curiosity overcame fear. I took the two pumpkin seeds from the bottom of my candy bowl and went into my room. If something bad happened, I wanted to be in my room. I put them to my lips and pulled my hand back quickly. Then, before I could chicken out, I put both pumpkin seeds in my mouth and chewed them fast. Nothing happened. They didn’t taste bad, or funny, or anything. They weren’t crunchy anymore and they just tasted like salt, peanut butter, Sweet Tart, and bazooka bubble gum. There was still a hint of that cardboard box taste and maybe the flat, bitter taste of disappointment. I felt relieved that I wasn’t poisoned and my mother didn’t come into my room, or call out from the kitchen with sudden knowledge that I had just eaten unwrapped pumpkin seeds. Nothing happened at all.

Now that I knew that Mrs. Melesky’s pumpkin seeds were just ordinary, boxed pumpkin seeds, like the ones that we bought from Don’s every week, I wanted to know more. What was she really like and what did she say to us every year when she put the seeds in our bags on Halloween? Why four, always four? I discovered that curiosity feeds knowledge and Knowledge feeds curiosity. It was an endless and crazy circle. Knowledge, like candy and pumpkin seeds comes in all flavors, sometimes sweet, sometimes sour, and sometimes just a little bitter.

bio: Mary-Jo Lord writes poetry, fiction, and memoirs. A section of her work is published in a Plain View Press anthology called Almost Touching. Her work can also be found in Behind Our Eyes, Behind Our Eyes: a Second Look and in past Issues of Magnets and Ladders. She was recently published on the blog, “Walking by Inner Vision” and Dialogue Magazine. Mary-Jo is the current Coordinating Editor of this magazine. She has a masters’ degree in counseling from Oakland University, and has worked at Oakland Community College for Twenty-five years. Mary-Jo lives with her family in Rochester, Michigan. She has been blind since birth.


The Mystery and Magic of the Yellow Mum Plant, nonfiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Are you ready for a Thanksgiving mystery? Are you ready for a little autumnal magic? Like so many people who want to stretch the season of outdoor flowers, I, toward the end of each of the past several or more summers, have purchased chrysanthemum plants to add some cheery notes to this time of year when days are growing shorter. I am partial to the yellow mums, and this year, I carried home the most beautiful mum plant that I have ever nourished from Metro Market. As Goldilocks might describe the plant, it was not too large nor too small; it was just right. Unlike some mum plants of the past and my two basil plants of this season, my perfect yellow mum plant withstood all of the strong winds and never fell over.

This hearty chrysanthemum touched my heart in another way; my Leader Dog Willow and I walked home with this plant purchase on August 24, 2016–the second-month anniversary of the day Willow, my little Black Labrador Retriever, came home to Milwaukee with me from Leader Dog School (Rochester, Michigan). These beautiful yellow mums were our celebration plant. During the next several weeks, Willow and I checked out the cheery budding blossoms each day, as we passed the plant on our front porch while we began and/or ended a walk.

Then two months later, on October 28, Friday of Halloween weekend, the perfect yellow mum disappeared! On Saturday, the 29th of October, when I went to reach for the cheery and bright yellow blossoms, I felt only the extra plastic saucer in which the container had rested for eight weeks. To my knowledge, there had been no wind during the previous night; nevertheless, I examined all areas of my porch, as well as the stairs and sidewalk area–just in case a gust of wind had somehow caught my favorite plant of the season and rolled it away. No luck! On one small table, my purple sage plant was sitting alone. On the other side of the bench were the two varieties of pink geraniums and one of the basil trees, but the anniversary chrysanthemum plant was missing.

Since the disappearance occurred on Halloween weekend, I did hope that someone was enjoying the gorgeous plant and had not destroyed it. Our unusually warm weather of autumn of 2016 had kept the blossoms in perfect shape for someone to admire.

Still missing the plant after more than a week, I mentioned the plant’s disappearance to one of the maintenance workers at my large apartment complex. Although J.P. maintains the grounds of the complex, he said that he had not seen the mum, but would let me know if he did.

A few days later, on November 10, despite some wind, I decided that I had to clear my porch of most of the dry autumn leaves. As usual, my plan was to sweep all the leaves off the porch, down the stairs, down the sidewalk, and off to the west lawn. When the four stairs were heavily covered with crispy leaves, I detected with my broom a large object on the lower stair. What in the world is this? I wondered as I probed the base of the object which I had unknowingly covered with leaves. I knew that the object had not been there when Willow and I had recently come up the stairs. Examining the object more thoroughly, I most happily realized that this leaf-covered object was my perfect yellow mum plant!

After I cleared away the leaves from this special plant, I was filled with gratitude to welcome home this still cheery yellow mum which, despite its absence of two weeks, was nearly in as good shape as when it disappeared. Although we had no rain around that time, the plant really did not need water. Someone had taken good care of my chrysanthemum.

I placed the container of the mum plant back on its little table; then I moved the mum and purple sage into the cubbyhole area of my porch for safe keeping. Eventually, I watered the mysterious mum which continued to thrive in those most unusually warm November days of 2016.

On the following Friday morning, I called the office of my apartment complex and asked the manager if J. P. had found my mum plant. The answer was, “I wish I could take credit for finding your mum plant, but I did not find it.” Of course, I did not think that anyone who knew me had found the plant and returned it because no one I know would have placed the plant on the stair where I could have tripped over the plant’s container. For a couple more weeks, Willow and I continued to enjoy the magical wonder of this perfect mum which was so dear to us–even though its mystery remains.

Through the thoughtfulness of my house guests, my sister and two friends– Willow and I still enjoy this yellow mum plant. During a September visit, my sister, who lives in Colorado, took a photo of Willow posed perfectly in front of the yellow mum plant; then Mary shared the photo with others via e-mail. Last January, when my friends Sue and John came into the city from their farm (about one hour from my home), they brought a special gift for me–a beautifully framed photo print of Willow with the mums looking as if they are a crown upon her head. The special gift is displayed beside my rocking chair, upon the end table as a memory piece of this true story.

During the November month of thanks, I am especially thankful for the return of my yellow “anniversary” mum and am thankful for my entire container garden which has brought me so much relaxation, peace, and happiness. I also think of my treasured dad–who had a cerebral hemorrhage on November 16, 1997, twenty years ago, and who then lived only two additional weeks. I remember and am ever thankful for his bountiful and beautiful gardens from which my family and I grew strength and nourishment, as well as respect and love of the land and gardening. Still today, I appreciate and am thankful for my family’s tradition of good gardening through the generations. From my grandparents’ gardens and grape arbors to my dad’s gardens, from my meager container gardens to my nephew’s bountiful garden this year–a good gardening tradition thrives without any mystery–with just the magic and wonder of nourishing plants and flowers.


A New World Vision, poetry
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.

The dining hall is…
Wider than the Ganges and vaster than the Pleiades.
The sun rises at one end and the moon sets at the other.
There is room for everybody at the table of plenty.

All the women are comely and lithe with keen intellects and soft eyes.
The men are all handsome, with strong limbs and clever minds.
The multi-hued children laugh and play and share peanut butter cookies.
The babushkas sip cider and pretend not to be watching
Young people as they flirt and circle dance with one another.

Israelis and Palestinians sit together and share challah.
Black Democrats from Wisconsin, White Republicans from North Carolina, And Progressive Feminists from New Hampshire
Play pinochle and eat collard greens and corn bread.

Catholics put away their Bingo cards and pass the Brussels sprouts
to the Evangelicals who are arranging flowers around steaming
bowls of minestrone.
Muslims pass tabbouleh to the Japanese,
who are toasting the Native Americans with sake.

The Chinese share chow mein with the Mexicans who are
folding frijoles into their tortillas.
Baptists offer ratatouille to the Bishops,
Who are welcoming gay couples.
The sounds of dulcet stringed instruments and gentle woodwinds,
The blare of brass horns and the roll of bass drums are interspersed with
hymns and shouts of
“Gloria!” “Halleluiah!” And “Allah be praised!”!
While atheists say, “Whatever,” but no one is shamed,
For the food is richly flavored with a sauce of acceptance.
The songs are filled with hope and compassion.
All are enveloped in strong, sweet love.

And all the fat babies lie sleeping in warm beds,
with true freedom.

Bio: Elizabeth Fiorite has enjoyed a career as an educator in Catholic elementary schools, as well as asocial services counselor in a rehabilitation center for people with vision loss. She keeps active by facilitating a peer support group, a Talking Book Club, and Women of Vision, a group of women with vision loss who meet to write and “do” art. She has been a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin for 62years and lives in community with two other Sisters in Jacksonville, Florida. She is blind due to retinitis pigmentosa.


A Song for Adrienne, memoir nonfiction First Place
by John Justice

It was almost Christmas in 1973 when I was asked to tune a piano in a New York mental hospital. This immense facility was located on Governor’s Island in the East River. A bus took me out to the gate and a security guard led me to the main entrance. The captain took me up in the elevator. We walked down a long hallway and he stopped. “Mr. Justice. We’re about to enter a closed psychiatric ward. There are certain things we will ask you to do for your own protection as well as that of the patients. When you enter this facility, the guard will give you instructions. He’ll lead you to the Activities Room where the piano is located. We’re about to approach the entrance. Two guards must be present at all times, one outside and one inside the ward. In that way, we can be sure that none of our guests leaves without authorization.”

By this time, I was becoming concerned. What was it going to be like in there? If I went in, would I meet any of the patients?

The captain pressed a button and I could hear a loud chime coming from inside the facility. The inside guard spoke to us through an intercom. “Is this the piano tuner, Sir?” The captain confirmed who I was and the door was unlocked. The inside guard greeted me and I took his arm. As we moved through the ward, I could hear strange noises coming from some of the doors we passed. Soon, I was brought into the Activities Room and the guard showed me the piano. “this is very important, Sir. Please open your tool kit, remove what you need and close the case. Then, put it under the piano at your feet. We’ll be watching you through a two-way glass partition to your left. If anything odd happens, we’ll be here in seconds, but don’t worry. We allow certain patients to move freely through the facility. They are people who pose no harm to themselves or anyone else. Your tuning might draw them and they will wander in and out. Hold onto your tools at all times, please. Okay Sir. That’s it. Do you need help taking off the front of the piano?” I thanked him and assured the guard that I didn’t need any assistance.

I opened the front of the big upright and tested the keys for possible problems. The instrument was old but in good condition. I collected the tools I would need and started to tune it.

As soon as I hit a few notes, someone came in. She spoke to me. “Hello, I’m Adrienne. Are you playing the piano?” Then she surprised me. The lady began playing some kind of classical piece on a flute. I turned to her and explained that I was tuning the piano and I needed quiet to finish the job. She stopped playing, apologized and left the room.

A few minutes later, Adrienne came back and said exactly the same thing again, as if we had never met before. She played what seemed like the same flute passage. Once again, I explained that I needed quiet to tune the instrument and she stopped playing.

When Adrienne returned the third time, I understood what was happening and repeated my explanation. She apologized and walked out.

I finished the piano and reassembled it. I sat down and played “It Came upon a Midnight clear.” Adrienne returned, sat down on a nearby couch and started to cry. That made me sad and my face must have shown my feelings. Adrienne got up, touched my shoulder and said, “Oh no! it’s alright! The music is so beautiful. That’s what made me cry.” She sat down again and I paused before continuing to play.

Something had reached this young woman in her troubled world. Music had taken her out of that odd cycle where she would repeat the same words and actions again and again.

As I continued to play, others joined us but none of them spoke to me. At one point, Adrienne rose, touched my shoulder and thanked me quietly. She left and I never heard her speak again. I wondered why she didn’t try to play her flute. I would have been happy to move to any key. I remembered that she had only played a small part of something I didn’t recognize. Maybe, she wouldn’t have been able to remember an entire tune.

As I left the ward and was escorted down to the bus stop, I thought about Adrienne. What happened to her? Was she a musician at one time? Did something happen which shattered her existence and left her playing a part of a classical piece, which was all she could remember? For a brief time, the music of Christmas brought that lost soul out of her misery. I was glad to give her that little gift of reality. For that brief interval, we shared something very special, the joy of music.


The Groove in the Ceiling, memoir nonfiction Honorable Mention
by C. S. Boyd

As a child, I loved the two-week break from school for Christmas. I awaited with eager anticipation for the moment when we all gathered around and opened our presents, followed by waiting on pins and needles to see what Santa would bring. Then the holiday and all the anticipation and waiting were over. What a letdown. Everything was over until another eternity of 365 days had passed.

I never knew why, but my dad always made sure we had a tree for Christmas. No matter whether we had anything else, we had to have a tree. He did his Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve, and a trip to the Christmas tree lot was always one of the stops. He normally came home with a nice but modest tree. I realize now he probably waited until Christmas Eve to get a decent tree at a discount.

We got out the old, worn decorations and put them on the tree, then put our presents underneath. I never really saw the attraction. It was always interesting to me that we all gathered around to put it up and decorate it, but I was the one who got to take it down all by myself at spring break and put everything away.

Christmas further lost its glitter when my brother went off to college. My mother passed away six years later leaving just my dad and me. Not long after that, my brother got married and two years later, during my senior year, he and his wife came to live with us.

At Christmas that year, we were all going about our secret business of picking that special gift for each loved one. I had decided to wait and see what they would get me, but when I overheard them asking each other if I had dropped any hints about what I wanted, I decided to hint for a drafting set, a box of Lego’s, a race car set, and a Barbie doll.

On the last class of the last day of school before the holiday, I sat in my Chemistry class watching the second hand on my watch.

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six…

“…and everyone have a Merry Christmas. See you next year,” concluded Mr. Simms. The bell rang. I grabbed my books, hurried to dump them in my locker, and headed at a near run to the school bus line, the final step in my goal to wish this place good-bye for the rest of the year.

Behind me, I heard my Chemistry teacher call my name. I stopped and turned around, then walked backward to continue progress toward my goal, but I stopped when I heard him say: “Would you like the school Christmas tree?”

My mouth dropped open and thoughts of I should ask my dad sprinted through my mind. Then I thought, I don’t have time to do that. I have to make a decision. Then I wondered what my dad might do if I showed up with a Christmas tree. How would I get it on the bus? Would they wait for me to put it on the bus?

“I guess so,” I heard myself say. “But, I can’t get it home.”

“No problem, we’ll bring it.”

I arrived home on the bus just as the men bringing the tree stopped in the drive way. I hurried in the front door with the men carrying the tree hot on my heels. My dad was sitting in his rocking chair by the butane heater we used to heat the house.

“Daddy,” I said hurriedly “they gave us the school tree.”

There was no time for discussion during the confusion that followed. I looked around to see one of the men walking backward pulling the bottom of the tree. It looked a lot bigger stuck in our doorway than it had sitting in the school hall. They had to stop while we moved the TV, followed by much pulling and twisting and pushing as they worked this huge tree into our 10 by 12 foot Living room. When they tried to raise it up, it was too tall and the top dug a deep groove in the ceiling tile my Dad had worked hard to put up several years before. I was afraid they were going to take it away, but my dad got a saw and they cut off the bottom and trimmed away some of the lower branches so it would fit. The tree finally in place, we thanked them and wished everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

“We need new decorations for a tree like this,” said my dad.

We went to town and bought red, green, and gold balls with glitter on top. We got new lights and tinsel, and one of those white tree skirts to make it look like there was snow underneath.

Back home we all joined in to decorate the tree. I pulled out and scattered homemade star, angel, and bell ornaments from Christmases past among the new. A few candy canes among the branches supplied the finishing touch.

The whole house smelled of pine. My brother plugged in the lights and the tree came to life in a cascade of blue, green, red, and gold. The fake snow under the tree sparkled between the gifts. Dad got out his camera and took a picture.

I never knew why they chose to give my family the tree that year. I didn’t think to ask and I regret that I never told them how special it made that Christmas for me.

Years later, when we sold the house, the new owners saw that groove in the ceiling as an eye-sore to be fixed. For me, memories of that groove, and the Christmas tree that made it always take me back to the last and very special Christmas when we were all together as a family.

Bio: Cleora Boyd often uses the pen names, Sly Duck or C. S. Boyd. She has Retinitis Pigmentosa. She first pursued a career in Accounting. After receiving a B.S. degree in Math from Texas Tech University, she obtained employment with a major pharmaceutical corporation in Fort Worth, Texas where she still lives. At that time her writing appeared in a company journal. This gave her the incentive to continue writing seriously. Cleora moved on to write a number of stories and she enrolled in several writing courses to improve and build her skills. In her retirement, she has joined a writing group, and enjoys reading and taking adult education courses.


A White Christmas in Santa Monica, fiction
by Nancy Lynn

It was a few days before Christmas, another beautiful 78-degree day. I was sitting out on my front porch enjoying the December sunshine. I had grown up back east where white Christmas meant freezing cold snow.

Now I had a cozy little house in a friendly neighborhood with a nice group of families. I was the fun old lady in the neighborhood. I never yelled at the kids to “GET OFF MY LAWN” or “DON’T YELL SO LOUD. CAN’T YOU KIDS PLAY QUIETLY?” That was all they heard from Mrs. McClusky down the street. All the neighborhood kids loved hanging out with Miss Lynn. I hated being called Miss Lynn, but you had to teach the kids respect, so Miss Lynn it had to be.

It was about time for the kids to come home from school, and many of them walked by my house. “Hi Miss lynn,” said Maria Sanchez. “Hi there,” said Billy Chong. It was quite a diverse neighborhood, and everyone got along well most of the time.

“Hi guys,” I shouted back.

Sometimes after school, some of the kids would come up on the porch and hang out for a while, no doubt hoping I might have some cookies or something good and cold for them to drink. And so it was on this day that they came up on the porch and started telling me about their school day.

“Today we heard the song ‘White Christmas’ in school, and the teacher told us what a white Christmas was,” Maria said. “Do you think we can have a white Christmas here Miss Lynn?”

“Sure. Why not? You never know with all this climate change what can happen.”

“Nah, I don’t think so,” Billy said. “It’s 78 degrees today, and Christmas is only 2 days away.”

“Hey Billy,” I said, “what kind of faith is that? Anything’s possible at Christmas time. You just have to believe, and think outside the box a little.”

“Think outside the box? What does that mean?” asked Joey, another little neighborhood kid.

“I’ll show you what it means. Come back here tomorrow at 10:00 AM sharp and I’ll show you. You’ll see how to have a white Christmas right here in Santa Monica.”

“How are we going to see a white Christmas here?” asked the rather skeptical Billy.

“You’ll just have to wait and see,” I said.

I was the Nan with the plan. That night I made lots of sandwiches and put them in the refrigerator along with a variety of drinks. The coolers were ready to pack in my minivan early the next morning.

They came back the next day, looking forward to being surprised, with lots of questions and innocent curiosity.

“Come here guys and hop in the minivan,” I was grinning like I was one of the kids. All the parents knew and trusted me with their kids, so they just hopped right in.

“Where are we going?” asked Joey.

“You’ll see. Now buckle up everybody and hang on for a fun little ride.”

Ten minutes later I parked pretty close to the Santa Monica Pier, and now they really wondered what I was up to.

“Here we are. Let’s get out and grab the coolers from the back.

“What scam are you trying to pull on us?” asked a rather disappointed Billy.

“What do you mean?” I asked innocently. “I wouldn’t scam you guys. Come on. Let’s go where I can show you a white Christmas.”

They still weren’t sure what I was talking about, but they went along with this little charade till we got right down to the beach.

“Who says you need snow to have a white Christmas? Look down and you’ll see some of the whitest sand around. You know, with all the pollution today, snow isn’t as white as it used to be, but look at all this white sand. This is what I meant by thinking outside the box.”

“oh wow!” Maria exclaimed. “I never thought of it this way.”

“You mean we always had white Christmases around here, just a different kind?” asked Billy.

They got down and dirty building sandcastles. Billy and Joey approached a family with other kids their own age. “How do you like this white Christmas?” Billy asked.

“What white Christmas?” the father asked. “This isn’t a white Christmas.”

“you have to think outside the box,” Billy said.

“Or maybe inside the sandbox,” Joey said.

I was proud of my kids that day. I had taught them a new way to think, and they passed it on.


A Special Christmas Present, fiction
by Bill Fullerton

I was halfway between Sears and totally broke, sitting alone in the noisy food-court, eating a tasteless salad, and wondering why I let my mother brow-beat me into getting dressed and driving into town with her to go shopping the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year.

She was right to insist. My mother is always right. And to prove the point, I had somehow managed to finish all my Christmas shopping. That’s good, because I could be a little busy in a few weeks.

Today’s shopping cost me more than just maxed out credit cards. My feet hurt, my back ached, I felt tired, bloated and miserable. Of course, I felt that way long before hitting the mall. Being eight months pregnant can do that to a girl.

Make that an unmarried, pregnant girl. Of course, I’m no girl either, although it does seem like I stopped growing a lot sooner than the owner’s manual told my parents to expect. In her infinite wisdom, Mother Nature decided five foot nothing was more than enough for Becky Miller to handle. So there’s not a whole lot of me to pack around a baby that keeps getting bigger by the hour and seems anxious to get out and look around.

It’s not like I didn’t know better. This will be my second. My first, Kylie, is two and can’t wait to play with her baby brother. But my knowing better and doing what’s smart isn’t the same thing. At least it isn’t for me, not after falling in love with someone I may never see again.

The new baby’s daddy, Matt Hampton, never knew I was in love with him. And I wasn’t, not at first. We’d known each other forever. Of course, everybody knows everybody else out where we live.

In high school, we fooled around a little, but never really dated. I’m not sure why. But he never came on to me. Maybe that’s why I never made a move on him. We even went to the same college for a couple years. Then I got married, while he dropped out and joined the service.

Last December, I came limping home with Kylie and a black eye. Stuart, my rich, good-looking, socio-path husband, gave me both.

That’s when I learned Matt really had come limping home because his left leg was in a cast. He’d been wounded wherever he was serving while doing whatever it was he did. He was staying with his parents while healing up. Kylie and I went over to visit him the next day.

When we were in school, a lot of girls had a crush on Matt. He was an all-everything jock with a boyish smile and teasing attitude that was just a bit cocky. The Matt I saw that day was still blonde and good-looking, but he was no boy. His skin wasn’t tan so much as a hard, weathered brown. There were tiny creases around the corners of his familiar, blue eyes. Sometimes they would get this funny, distant look. Most of all, the cockiness was gone, replaced by a quiet self-confidence.

In other words, he was a man–and I wanted him.

The next afternoon, I went back, without Kylie. We were alone, and soon making love.

“Becky Miller, you have the finest boobies.” He had interrupted a very thorough job of nuzzling my breasts to say that, and was now smiling at me.

My sweater and bra were off; my jeans and panties were about to follow. We were on the carpet in the living room. A few small logs burned in the nearby fireplace. The lights on the big Christmas tree were turned on. So was I.

That business about my breasts was pure BS, of course, but it made me grin. “Don’t give me that crap. We both know I’m an original member of the Itty Bitty Titty Club.”

“Size don’t mean diddly. I’ve always told you that.” Matt used the tip of his tongue to emphasize the point. “Quality means a lot more than quantity. Believe me, lady. While these prime examples of female flesh may not be among the biggest, they are without doubt, the most perfect pair I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying.”

I don’t mind having small breasts. In fact, I prefer mine to the big udders most guys seem to go nuts over. That’s just as well. Even after having Kylie, there was little change in mine. At most, I went from having two hard-fried eggs to a couple sunny-side up.

Even if Matt’s teasing compliments were bogus, they reminded me how sweet he could be, and how much I wanted him. “If that’s what you think, then more than just your leg needs attention. Lay back and let’s see if I can give you an early Christmas present.”

When it ended, I was content, tingling all over, and stretched out on his chest. It was a good place to be, feeling his heartbeat slowing while my body moved to the steady rhythm of his breathing.

Matt broke the silence. “Personally, I think you look a lot more like a cute elf than old Santa Claus. But I do love your Christmas presents and the great way you deliver them.”

After that we were together almost every day. Since his parents both worked, their house was the usual setting. I’m sure everybody in town figured they knew what was going on between us. After all, everyone in our town not only knows everyone else, they usually have a pretty good idea what their fellow citizens are doing. But there were no raised eyebrows, much less objections. That included our parents. In fact, I think they like everyone else, approved.

Still, Matt and I knew it was just a brief affair, nothing more. He would return to the service; I’d go back to college. No strings attached. That’s the way it always had been between us.

Then I fell in love with him. It’d been coming on for some time, but I wouldn’t admit what I was feeling. Sure Matt had changed, so had I. But we hadn’t changed that much, had we? There’d been no chemistry between us back in high school, so why now? What I felt wasn’t love, I told myself, just a combination of friendship, sympathy, and sex.

All that ended the night he beat-up Stuart, my husband who had beaten me up twice. The week after the divorce papers were filed, we were at a club with some friends. Matt still had his cast on, so we were just listening to the band.

Stuart came over to our booth and started carrying on. Matt never moved, just told Stuart, who was leaning over him to get closer to me, that he should leave. When Stuart ignored him and kept yelling at me, Matt hit him several times, real fast, just how and where I’m still not sure. Stuart let out this funny, gurgling noise and sank to his knees.

Matt put a hand on Stuart’s shoulder and must have done something, because I saw Stuart grimace. Then Matt pulled him a little closer, and asked, in this dead-calm voice, if he was ever going to bother me again. Stuart’s a big guy and, believe me, he’s strong. But I could see fear in his eyes as he mumbled, “no.”

From then on, I was hooked. You see, I’d always felt in total control around men. It’s not my looks. I’m short, flat-chested, and no great beauty. But most guys don’t seem to notice. I like to think it’s my eyes, and smile, and personality. Maybe those do play a part, but mostly it’s my butt, and the fact I’m a total flirt.

All that ended when Stuart beat me up. After that, especially the second time, the last time, when he started for Kylie’s room, before I got him to turn back on me, I would feel this twinge of fear and uncertainty around men. But after that night at the club, there was none of that when I was with Matt. Then I felt safe, in control, and in love. I’d always liked Matt, now I loved him, big time. My problem was how to convince him he loved me.

Then he told me he wasn’t just going back to the service, but back to wherever he was when he got wounded. He felt responsible for the deaths of two friends. “I trusted someone who betrayed us. My friends are dead. He’s still there.”

I thought I was going to have a breakdown. This wasn’t fair. What scared me most was the absolute certainty he didn’t give a damn whether he lived or died, just so long as he killed that other person first. The only thing that seemed to give him any second thoughts was when I brought up his being an only child. I begged him to think what his death would mean to his family.

But I knew he wouldn’t budge.

In January, he went back to the service to spend a few months getting his leg in shape and preparing to return to his old assignment. Meanwhile, I reentered college and considered my very limited options.

In April, he came home on leave prior to going back to wherever that other guy was. I met him with a big smile and a body that was all his and free of birth control pills. If all I could have of him was these last few weeks, maybe I could at least have his child. And his parents, who I dearly love, might lose their son, but I was going to do my best to make sure they had his grandchild. Maybe that would ease their grief, our grief.

Now eight months later, Matt may be dead or alive, I don’t know. But I’ve got his child, his son. “Mathew Hampton, Jr.,” I whispered the name, smiling at the sound. Then I heard myself continuing, “…only child of the late Matt Hampton,” and began to cry.

“This seat taken?” I didn’t look up, just shook my head and kept searching for a napkin.

Someone slid into the chair next to me. “Is the food here that bad, or are you just sad to see me?”

Who the hell was this idiot? I turned and was staring at someone who looked just like, Matt Hampton. For maybe the first time in my life, I was speechless. Just breathing was hard enough. Before I could think of something to say, he leaned over and kissed me. It was soft and gentle, and seemed to last forever, which was way too short for me.

Nothing made sense. “What are you doing here?”

He smiled. “Glad to see you, too, Miss Miller.”

Then it registered. “You’re alive!” I threw my arms around his neck, buried my face against his chest, and really began crying.

I didn’t want to look up. The face I saw might not be Matt’s. This could all be a dream. But I recognized his hard body, his special smell, and his gentle touch as he stroked my hair.

When I did dare to look, all I could think to say was, “Really, what happened?”

“I quit.”

“You can’t just quit, can you?”

“My mission was accomplished. My time was about up. I told the honchos I had personal business to attend to and quit.”

“Am I that personal business?”

“Damn straight. I got a message a few weeks ago from old Dad. Don’t ask how. Anyway, he filled me in on what you did and how things have been, well, developing since I left. He said you were way too good for me, but that while there may have been a few bastards in our family, they were all self-made men, not accidents of birth.”

“He shouldn’t have done that. This was no accident.” I touched my belly. “I don’t want you here because you feel sorry for me.”

“I don’t. I’m just….“ The smile left his face. To my amazement, Matt looked away, but not before I saw a tear roll down his cheek. After a moment, he wiped a hand across his face, turned back, and gestured toward my protruding middle. “You love me, that much?”

I nodded.

Matt swallowed hard. “Before leaving, I had to fight falling in love with you. It wasn’t easy. But what I had to do could have been a one-way mission. Dad didn’t let me know about you and the baby until he knew it was over. He was right to wait. You see, since he told me, you and the baby, and Kylie, and just life itself, that’s all I can think about. So I had to get out. I want life now, not more death. Most of all, I want you, I love you. God, how I love you. Becky, will you please, please marry me?”

I nodded ,and we were hugging, and I was crying again all the while grinning like a girl who’d gotten what she wanted most for Christmas. Then we kissed. It made the first one seem like a chaste peck on the cheek. When we came up for air, I patted my very big belly. “I’m afraid it won’t be much of a honeymoon.”

“That’s all right. I’m counting on having a long life to make up for lost time. When’s the baby due?”

“Well, if your son will wait that long, around Christmas.”

“A boy, around Christmas.” He seemed pleased with the prospect. “And we’re not even Jewish.”

“You’re an idiot. But I do love you.”

“And I love you, too. Always will. Remember last Christmas, when we first made love and I said I liked your presents and the way you delivered them? Well, I still do.” He reached out and laid the palm of his hand on my belly. “It’s just that I never counted on such a special Christmas present this year.”

I started to cry again, and pressed his hand tighter against me. The baby picked that moment to kick. Matt grinned, stood up, and helped me out of my chair. “I’m not sure, but I think that was a not-too-subtle hint from our son that we better get moving on this marrying business. Where’s the nearest jewelry store? We need to buy some rings.”

Bio: Once upon a time, Bill Fullerton was a more-or-less semi-reputable sports columnist and government paper-pusher in Louisiana. The retired, beat-up Vietnam vet now lives in Arizona, where he has sunk to being a short story writer and author of unpublished novels. His wife, kids and perpetually shedding dogs try to ignore this fall from grace.


Santa’s Tech: Magic of the Season, fiction
by Ted Nicholas

A deep blanket of year-round snow fills the open meadow. Glittering ridges build in the distance to tall mountain peaks, stark blue-white jutting up into the night sky. The polar wind gathers frozen ground-clouds, herding them downslope through deeper parts of the valley, squeezing them between covered cone-shaped sentinels that were once trees. The hush of eternal winter muffles the land to the distant peaks. Only the sounds of wind and snow can be heard in the remote surroundings.

Winky, Blinky and Clive sit in the back, huddling together. Frosty air and the occasional giant snowflake swirl about them in the old open-air vehicle. Their attention is focused elsewhere though. Their heads bowed low and close, they are staring intently at something in their mutual lap. An enormous, overstuffed bag consumes most of the seat beside them.

“Is it okay to use your location, Grandpa?” Clive, always the techie asks. His dark green skin gleams in the newly risen moonlight, now sparkling in all directions from the tops of sprawling snow fields.

“It is fine, though I think you will have trouble,” Grandpa states, amused. His silver beard catches on the fur-lined collar of his red leather flight gear as he smiles. The vehicle shifts and creaks as he settles into place, pulling the reins up into his lap. He is preparing for a very important trip which he has repeated for ages.

“It can’t find us,” Winky blurts out, slender fingers flying across the device’s surface as he makes another attempt. His timeless, boyish grin reflects in the glossy tablet, a thousand stars twinkling in the night sky from behind.

“Maybe it needs an update. Did it say anything about an update?” Blinky suggests, suddenly looking cross-eyed at a snowflake momentarily perched atop his nose. His pointy ears poke up from both sides of his worn leather cap.

“No, we are most likely out of satellite range,” Clive answers, adjusting his spectacles, “We still have a ways to go.”

Small bells jingle as a frigid gust blows the team’s steamy breath back towards the trio. The steeds stomp the always frozen ground, champ at their bits and rattle antlers in preparation for the long awaited journey.

“As soon as we clear those mountain peaks, you should get a signal,” the old elf states over his shoulder, his round cheeks red from the biting cold. He loves this time of year. “The season is upon us. It is time to deliver the Gift.” With a tug on the reins and a deep warm laugh building, his eyes twinkle with elfin magic. The team responds lurching the long runners from the frozen ground.

“Hang on boys, here we go…Ho team, ho team, ho, ho, hoooo! Woo Hoooo!” the sounds of his laughter mix with the bells.

The team heaves on their harness, the huge sleigh becoms airborne and heads up towards the snow peaks buffeted by the icy polar winds. The trio laugh and yell with excitement as well. They know that Grandpa’s sleigh will never let them fall. Clive even records the events as a keepsake on the tablet.

Responding to the moment and picking up speed, the team trumpets a deep chorus of bellows, an ancient call of the wild. Their echoes ring in the ears of the occupants, bouncing back from blanketed cliffs of enormous mountain peaks passing rapidly on either side. The bellows distantly repeated from below come from huge herds of snowbound elk looking upward and answering the call as they fly overhead. Moonlight glows on the vertical snowfields, shimmering ribbons that blur past the trio on their high-speed, once-in-a-lifetime thrill-ride with Grandpa. A fading choir of “Awesome!” blending with the jingling of sleigh-bells, dwindling into a star-filled night.

“Now that we’ve left the hidden valley behind, you can probably get a signal,” the old elf yells over the team toiling up front. The sounds blow past quickly on the wind, his silver bangs whipping about savagely over his wrinkled brow.

“Let me try first,” Blinky stammers out, normally a bit more reserved. His hands move over the tablet in a practiced motion. “It wants to install anti-virus, maybe we got a bug?” he states shrugging his shoulders.

“Let me see that thing!” Winky proclaims, playfully elbowing his brother while simultaneously taking the device. “Now it wants us to create a membership,” he states frowning at the tablet. “What should our login be?”

“We don’t have time for this. Cancel that,” Clive says to the device, raising his voice over the wind. The tops of immense snow clouds pass rapidly by far below. “Hey tablet, give us directions.”

A puzzled grin on his face and barely containing himself, Clive repeats the command once more just to be sure. Half laughing and half yelling he pronounces, “It says, ‘in 3000 miles, turn right.'” at which they all laugh out loud.

Grandpa turns completely around with a huge grin on his face, letting the team have their reins. “People have been following the stars for eons. We all know the way, remember? What was that rhyme you were taught when you were young?” his eyes twinkle, reflecting the starlight, now filled with the magic of the season.

The trio recite the well-known rhyme as they have since their childhood.

“When the journey begins, put your home at your backs, till the Southern Cross’s low in the sky.

“Then pick up the pace to a phenomenal rate, in the blink of a human eye.

“Three times round to spread some laughter and fill them all with good cheer.

“Then once more round at the speed of starlight, to deliver some hope for the year.

“To return home again the pathway is true, no matter the place or how far.

“Point the team and the tip of your nose at the glow of the Great Northern Star.”

At the end of the poem, the ancient elf points out past the team far up ahead. There low in the sky, glowing through the wispy tops of the clouds, is the Southern Cross.

The trio now know what they have to do, as Grandpa returns to the reins pulling right and urging the team to greater speeds. Winky and Blinky open the huge bag revealing a glowing ball of elfin magic that tickles and makes everyone laugh. Scooping out double handfuls, laughing loudly with great joy, they spread their good cheer as the sleigh speeds around the globe three times. Clive records the event and posts to all their friends on Elfbook.

“Ho team, Ho! One more time round at the speed of starlight, to give some more hope.” The old elf’s hands thrust up and down rapidly, ripples of reins heading up towards the team urging them to even greater speeds.

The team’s wild call, trumpets and blends with the jingling sleigh, rings as clearly as a freshly struck bell. The trio, tingling and giddy with exhilaration watch everything around them blur from back to front as they enter star-speed. Not sure if they were yelling from fear or laughing with excitement, they all become a blur traversing round the globe in a matter of moments. Energy and friction build around them creating a sparkling, glowing tail nearly ten miles long. As they fall, each sparkle becomes a fresh new snowflake glittering on its way down.

Bio: Ted has been published in several venues over the years. Much of his writings and works became parts of educational software packages as clip libraries and tutorials. He has written articles for reoccurring publications, usually technical articles written in a creative style. His column “The Ted Zone” won the Michigan Press Association award for Best Local Writer. Ted currently writes a monthly blog for the “AppleVis” website under the blog team name Nicholas.


Signs of an Unbartered Holiday Season, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

You begged off going to The Nutcracker Ballet
because your feet would ache
if you watched people
dancing on their toes.
At every party,
you mistakenly missed every mistletoe;
but you did not miss me
at the one party
where I did not go.

You didn’t want to go
skating or skiing:
you were much too cold,
getting too old.
You wanted to watch Home Alone;
I wanted to watch White Christmas.

When we walked through the mall,
you did not hold my gloveless hand.
When we went to see the City Tree,
your hand never touched my down-coat-covered back.
At the Holiday Pops Concert,
you made a concerted effort
to avoid helping me with my red opera coat.
At Midnight Mass,
you hesitated scooting closer to me
when we needed to make more room
for other parishioners in our pew.

On Christmas morning,
there was no little velvet box
with a gold or silver bow.
So, on New Year’s Eve,
during the twelve strokes of midnight,
I sit alone;
and with wishes for a new beau
for the new year,
I eat my twelve grapes.
¡Feliz Ano Nuevo! Happy New Year!

I knew the twinkle was
no longer in your gray eyes.
Your demeanor had shifted:
you were in disguise.
I know, I know,
I know, I know-
between the pieces of my broken heart,
on my toes,
I need not ask you why.
I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know
this is
your perfectly timed,
unbartered good-bye.


A January State of Mind: nonfiction
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

January is a confusing month!

Do you feel stretched in two different directions? Strange, because I feel like I am two different persons. One is the public image, the forward-looking face I wear most of the time. She is the go-getter, the high achiever, the bold, fearless professional woman. Yet, at different times, you can see the other face, another me. She is often unusually quiet, private, occasionally uncertain, aloof at times, and not always much of a group person. This brings me to a deeper question. “Do we experience duality because January is on our minds?” I do have these mixed and competing thoughts in January every year. Do you?

Have you ever scanned back through your own previous January entries in your journals? January is a great month for reflection. Some scrutiny will give you additional insight into what you were thinking about at that time.

Another way is to look back over your calendar from last January. This might help you get some insight into your activities for the month.
I feel like I am doing a circular dance of duality. The tensions must be the two sides of me. There’s something hidden deep inside of us that makes us restless, uncertain, and hesitant, in spite of all our best efforts to make changes for the year ahead. Is it possible that while we are looking forward for the new horizons in our life, at the same time, we are looking backwards?

Perhaps! In January, we can gain wisdom and reconnect with something spectacular that we missed because we were too close to it to really see it!

The ancient Romans named the months in their year after their pagan gods. They had only ten months in their year and did not have the two months we know as January (Januarius) and February (Februarius). These two months were added to the Roman year circa 700 BCE. January was named after their god Janus.

Unlike our calendar today, January was not the first month of the Roman year until after Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, changed the sequence of the months into the twelve-month calendar. To the Roman mind, an odd number was considered to be lucky. For this reason, the king changed the number of days in several months from the unlucky even numbers to the lucky odd numbers. Long after this change from a ten-month to a twelve-month calendar, the emperor Julius Caesar made additional changes. After 46 BCE, February was designated the month which could make up a “leap year,” and additional changes were made. Instead of the Roman calendar, it was now called the Julian calendar.

Maybe the dual feelings we are having on this first month of the year is because it is named in honor of Janus. Naming is so important. Our name has helped us to develop into the person we are today, even though we were unaware of that most of the time. Experts recommend that families carefully consider what they will name an unborn child. They caution us to choose a name that will be a positive influence on a child, because the child will grow into the various aspects of the name’s meaning. I often pause to be grateful to my parents for giving me a name that means “beautiful.” It makes me smile every time I think of it. I appreciate my name, and I’m reminded I want to live up to its traditional meaning.

In Roman and Greek mythology, the pantheon of gods and goddesses has different functions or jobs. Janus is the god who guards and controls gates and doorways. I envision his job as that of the one who orchestrates migrations and journeys.

As a Christian, I know that only God is the One who controls my gates and doorways. Because of this fact, I am thinking of January as a doorway or gate into a new beginning with fresh, exciting expectations. In my personal life, January is a gateway to pass through, into a new beginning.

I love to travel and visit new places, to learn about interesting things I enjoy. I’d like my personal path for this New Year to include some type of travel. It could be that God’s will for me this year is to help me move through a passageway to arrive at a place of new opportunities or challenges. In reality I know each of us will travel from one place to another in the next year. We often say, “That’s life!” But more than that, our circumstances are an inner voyage or personal transfer of some sort. Sensations of discontent and uncertainty are only natural as we realize the impact of January.

I often think of my life as a passage from one place, left behind, to the new place, just ahead of me. I searched for those pathways in my poems, journal entries, and dreams. This recurring theme develops in my writing projects as I write about being in one place, yet longing to go to another place, or back to where I used to be. I view my life-journey as a pilgrimage-and I believe we can all see different kinds of personal journeys in our recollections.

The poet Matsumo Basho expressed such thoughts in his book The Narrow Road to the Interior. He wrote: “The past remains hidden in clouds of memory. Still it returned us to memories from a thousand years before. Such a moment is a reason for a Pilgrimage.”

For the ancient Romans, January was the festival month for Janus. He is depicted in artworks as standing in the doorway. But the problem is that Janus has two faces! Simultaneously, he looks forward through the doorway to the passage ahead with one of his faces, while the other face looks backwards. One face to the front. One face to the back! Here is the dual message that we encounter if we do not know which way we are facing at the beginning of the year. It’s a problem that has been with humankind since the time when Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden. Is it any wonder we feel so uncertain in January? Sometimes we don’t know if we are coming or going through Janus’s passageway.

On the other hand, Jesus also spoke about standing at a door. His message was clear, and we can be certain that when Jesus stood at the door and knocked, He was looking directly at us. His invitation to open the door and let Him into our hearts is recorded in Revelation 3:20.

If we do not personally know Jesus as our Savior, we will be like Janus. We want to go forward; another part of us looks backwards. I’ve stepped right into Janus’s vision myself at times. That is when we become confused and uncertain and feel like we are going in two directions at one time.

When we choose to look only to Jesus, we will look forward, asking Him to help us set our intentions into the pathway where He will be walking with us for the New Year. But what I feel rumbling inside of my being is the reminders of a backwards step at the same time. I often wonder why I don’t recognize, or put into language, what I am really experiencing internally in January.

Is it because the noisy crowd drowns out our inner life, inner feelings, intuitions and our internal voice? They shout out, “Happy New Year.” We have been told this is the time for our expectations to be declared and realized-yet there is that other side of Janus in our mind. As we ride the crest of January, the pinnacle of the New Year, we have expectations for what we believe the New Year holds for us. Those are the thoughts we talk about with others.
Here is what we often do not speak about, though. It’s just too hard to put into words sometimes, because it’s painful.

We have an inner critic, an unseen voice reminding us of past failures, deflated expectations, shortcomings, blunders, and more. That is the other side of Janus! Oh, we fail to understand this side, and we sure don’t want to be talking about it to anyone. We have to keep up the smile, keep up with expectations. We have to…you fill in the blanks here.

It does not take much of a leap to see the self-centered, secular expectations of our contemporary culture. The New Year resolutions madness can literally paralyze anything creative, inspired, spiritual, artistic, resourceful, inventive, imaginative, intuitive, innovative, and productive on the inside of us. The Janus masks, facing in two directions at the same time, are in place for so many people who will never experience inner peace and joy because they are running so fast in a direction that will lead them to emptiness, after all.

But there is a way out of this predicament. Stop and be quiet for a little while. Maybe get up early tomorrow morning, when the house is still. Spend fifteen minutes in silence. Keep your thoughts focused on getting in touch with God. Let Him direct you to your purpose in life. In a quiet time, we can turn off the loud voices that distract us so easily and cause us to be confused. God is there, in the still, small voice, waiting for you.

Contemporary culture tells us to be determined to do what we want to do, to push our way to the top of whatever we decide to do. The clamoring voices are loud and demanding, often brightly colored, cutout images of what we should look like and how we should think. They shout to us about how strong we are, how we need to be “empowered” so we can do anything we want to do. The crowd says we need to call ourselves powerful and smart.

Oh, but wait a minute! Stop for a moment; listen for the gentle whisper of your inner being. Listen.

We can look forward with expectations that are grounded in divine purpose for our life.

I recommend a look back because it is wholesome for us to do. History bears fruit, you know. We bear fruit as we discipline our mind to study history. Our life’s personal story is like a display of artworks on a gallery wall. The images are displayed. If we are careful and honest when we look at the pictures of our own thoughts, we’ll find some gems as well as some clinkers. Both are good for us to consider, because they all show us the path we are on.

January is a state of mind.

A January State of Mind was published in Walking by Inner Vision: Stories & Poems, 2017, DLD Books.

Bio: Lynda McKinney Lambert is a visual artist and author who lives in The Village of Wurtemburg, in western Pennsylvania. Her 2nd book,Walking by Inner Vision: Stories & Poems, was published this year by DLD books. Christian faith, visual arts, nature, history, and mythology are her themes. She adds, “At my core is the gift of encouragement.’ Every person has a Gift from the Creator. Mine is encouragement of others.” Lynda retired from her position of Professor of Fine Arts and Humanities (Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA) in 2008. She is now working on her 3rd book, Appalachian Alchemy.


Part VI. Coming to Terms

The Healing Voice, poetry Second Place
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

Sunlight streams in through large windows
of the room where we sit,
some like me in wheelchairs,
others on couches, in armchairs,
a few with walkers in front of them.
Some shout, cry, wander, fight.
Others, like me, watch the passing world.
The television talks–no one listens.

Then she appears, guitar in hand,
asks if we’re ready for some music.
TV silent, she stands,
strums the guitar, sings favorite songs,
knows our names.
Nothing else matters when her voice
fills each corner of the room.
I love to sing,
wish she would stay forever.


Leaving, fiction
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

Sally felt a strange tension at the breakfast table one sunny April morning. Her husband Jack appeared nervous. He usually seemed confident and in control, but today, it was as if he were waiting for the right moment to tell her something, something she didn’t want to hear. Just as she took a bite of her bagel, he looked her in the eye and said, “I’m sorry, honey, but I’m leaving you for another woman.”

She choked on her bagel and wondered why she was bothering to try and remove the obstacle. Maybe it would be for the best if I went right here and now.

Jack, a prominent heart surgeon at a Denver hospital, knew the Heimlich maneuver. In a flash, he was behind her, his arms wrapped around her middle, his fingers on her chest pressing inward and upward. After a few thrusts, the piece of bagel flew out of her mouth and landed on her plate with a soft plop.

“Here honey, drink some orange juice.”

Obedient as usual, she took the glass in her trembling hand and sipped from it. “April Fools, right?” she said.

“No, it’s no joke.”

Sally stared at him, trying to comprehend. “Is it that bitch you recently hired as your receptionist?”

“That’s not a nice thing to say about Martha. She’s been a big help in the office, and I was lucky to find her after Darleen quit at the last minute.”

“And she’s a good looker,” said Sally, her body stiffening. “Don’t think I didn’t notice her that day last week when you forgot your lunch, and I dropped it off on my way to the DAR meeting. I saw her skirt cut just above the knees, her see-through blouse that showed way too much cleavage. She would have been a good catch for any man. Why did it have to be you?” She fought back tears.

Jack knelt by her side and took her hand. “Honey, I don’t know how it happened. I guess I was captivated by the long blonde hair falling down her back.”

Sally ran her free hand through her short dark curls. “I thought you liked my hair,” she said, as tears cascaded down her cheeks.

“I did like your hair before you had it cut short and got that permanent and coloring.”

“I’m fifty-five years old. My hair is turning gray. I wanted to look good for you.”

Jack stroked the top of her head with his free hand. “Honey, you were beautiful the way you were.”

Sally brightened. “Okay, I’ll grow my hair long. I won’t have Rachel at Clips and More curl it, and I’ll ask her if she can restore it to its natural color. Will you stay with me if I do that?”

Jack sighed. “Honey, I’m afraid it’s too late for that. Martha’s pregnant.”

“Pregnant!” Sally jerked her hand away and shoved her chair back from the table. “You’re the same age I am. How could you be so stupid? She must be at least twenty years younger.”

“I don’t know,” said Jack with a sigh, as he hung his head. “but I have to do the right thing.”

“She could get rid of the baby like I had to do with Shirley.”

“That’s not funny. You know as well as I do that our daughter would have been mentally retarded. She wouldn’t have had a happy life. As far as we know, Martha’s baby is healthy. I see no reason why she should have an abortion.”

“You bastard!” said Sally. It was all she could do to keep from striking him. “Do you love Martha?”

“I guess I do.”

“More than you love me,” said Sally, wiping her nose with the sleeve of her bathrobe. Jack sighed again.

“I should have known something like this was going on. You seemed to be spending too much time away from home. I know how dedicated you are to your work, and you don’t like to leave your patients until they’re out of the woods, so I shrugged off my suspicions. Then last week when I saw Martha, I wondered if you two were having an affair. I had no reason to think so.”

She rested her head in her hands. “Last night when Maria Gonzales was rejecting her heart transplant, and you needed to stay with her, I tried to reach you on your cell a couple of hours later, and you didn’t answer. I called the hospital, and the operator said you left an hour earlier.”

Fresh tears fell, and Sally removed a Kleenex from her pocket and wiped her eyes. “I told myself Maria had died, and you and your colleagues were drowning your sorrows at My Buddy’s Place like you do sometimes after you lose a patient. You didn’t come home until two in the morning, but when I smelled booze on your breath, I was reassured. Now, before I can offer my condolences, you drop this… this… bomb.” She blew her nose.

“I called the hospital a little while ago. Maria is doing much better. The anti-rejection medication we gave her last night seems to be working.”

“I sacrificed a lot. It was bad enough I had to give up my job at the flower shop when I married you and be a stay-at-home wife and mother.”

“I thought you wanted to…”

“I loved you, damn it, and I wanted to make you happy, and look where that got me.”

“You had Judy. You were involved in the Garden Club, the DAR, and the Civic Theater Guild. Wasn’t that enough?”

“It was until I had to give up Shirley. You don’t know what it’s like to kill your own baby, a child of your own flesh and blood. You don’t know the emptiness I felt all these years. She was just an embryo to you, but to me, she’s still a human being, and I miss her.” Huge, racking sobs shook her, as she buried her head in her hands a second time.

“Now you’re being dramatic,” said Jack, rising to his feet. “Save it for your next play, why don’t you?”

“Then I had to have my tubes tied,” said Sally through her tears.

Jack paced the floor. “You and I both know that there was a good chance you could have carried another disabled child. We were lucky Judy was normal.”

A car horn sounded outside. “Who the hell’s that?” asked Sally, jerking upright.

“That’s Martha. Since my car’s still in the shop, she offered to give me a ride.” He picked up his coat from a nearby chair and put it on.

“That’s it. You’re going to walk out, just like that.”

“I’ll come back this afternoon and pick up some of my stuff while you’re at your Garden Club meeting,” he said, jingling the car keys in his pocket. “My car ought to be ready by lunchtime.”

Sally felt a sense of desperation, as he turned toward the door. “What about me? What am I going to tell Judy if she ever calls and asks to talk to you? Just like you, she works too hard and can’t get away. She hardly ever calls or e-mails. She didn’t even come home for your fiftieth birthday party.”

“I’ll call Judy tonight when I get settled at Martha’s. You’ll be hearing from our lawyer soon. You can have the house and your car, and I’ll pay you a generous alimony each month.”

He turned back to her, and his face softened. “Maybe you and your friends should think about opening that flower shop. I’m sorry I discouraged you from doing that last year. You’ve always been interested in flowers, and I shouldn’t have insisted you quit your job and be a stay-at-home wife and mother.”

“And you shouldn’t have made me have an abortion and then get my tubes tied. Just get the hell out of my sight!” Sally rose to her feet.

The horn sounded a second time. Jack turned and hurried out the door. Sally stood and gazed out the kitchen’s bay window at Martha’s red BMW, as it idled in the driveway. She watched Jack climb into the passenger seat and the car pull away.

She grabbed several trash bags before heading upstairs. In the master bedroom, she emptied Jack’s closet, shoving his pants, shirts, jackets, and shoes into the bags. She cleared his dresser drawers of briefs, socks, and ties. His toiletries on the dresser and in the adjoining bathroom and books and CDs in the study downstairs met the same fate. She even disposed of his medical school diploma, home insurance records, and other important papers in the bottom drawer of his desk.

She would have taken a hatchet to the computer, stereo, and other items, but that would have been too much work. Besides, the sanitation truck would be there any minute, and she had better things to do.

She needed to make several trips to the dumpster in the alley behind the house. As she was stuffing the last bag into the bin, the truck pulled up. Self-conscious about being seen in her bathrobe, she waved to the crew before hurrying indoors.

She retrieved a notepad and pen from the top drawer of Jack’s desk in the study and went upstairs. The note she left on Jack’s dresser read, “You fucking son of a bitch, you are trash, and so is all your stuff.”

In the bathroom, she ran hot water in the tub. In the bedroom, she removed her bathrobe and hung it on the closet door. She placed her slippers on the floor at her side of the bed. She took off her nightgown, folded it, and placed it in its usual drawer.

In the bathroom, she stepped into the tub. Leaving the water running, she sat back, let the warmth surround her, and thought of Shirley. She hoped she and her daughter could make up for lost time.

With her right hand, she picked up the razor that lay on the side of the tub and held it poised over her left wrist. She hesitated for a moment, then cut deep, ignoring the pain. As the bath water gradually turned red, she closed her eyes.


Class Reunion, fiction
by Trish Hubschman

“I can’t go to this!”

The invitation arrived that morning in the mail. Hailey clasped it tightly in her right hand. She kept reading it over and over. It was beautifully done, scripted like a wedding invitation and on that crisp, expensive paper. The Alumni of Madison High school invites you to attend the Thirtieth Reunion of the Graduating Class of 1987.

“Why not?” Emma demanded.

Tears filled Hailey’s eyes. She stared at Emma. The forlorn look Hailey gave her broke Emma’s heart. It also piqued her curiosity. Emma waited. Hailey licked her lips. How could she say this? “Because I wasn’t me thirty years ago,” she finally said, her hand resting on her chest.

Emma wasn’t going to let Hailey off that easily. “Who were you then – the paper boy?”

A chuckle escaped Hailey’s tightly pressed lips. She shook her head. “No,” she fired back, plopping down on the sofa. “Oh, Emma,” she burst out. “I’ve come so far since those days. I was shy and mousy in school.” Hailey picked up a bunch of her shoulder-length blonde hair, a great dye job. “I didn’t have many friends.” She squeaked. “I don’t want to remember those days.” She looked straight at her friend. Emma’s face was placid, arms crossed over her chest. Oddly, Hailey felt an urge to bubble over with laughter. “What if people remember me? What if they don’t?” The second option seemed even more upsetting.

With a broad smile, Emma dropped her arms from across her chest. She plopped down on the sofa beside Hailey. “That’s the idea of a class reunion, Hail, to see who remembers you and who doesn’t.” Hailey shook her head vigorously. “You don’t have to reminisce about the past, hey, the good old days at Madison High,” Emma teased. Hailey blanched. “You can talk about what you’ve done since then.” I think people are more interested in their classmates lives, what the heck have they done since 1987. Let’s compare notes.” Emma laughed.

Hailey sighed. “I know you’re right, but I don’t know, Em, I can’t. I feel like I’m going in reverse suddenly.”

She had accomplished so much for herself. Okay, her lousy eight year marriage wasn’t on the success list, but she had done well professionally. Hailey Commet was the editor-in-chief of The Bradford Bulletin, a popular online weekly newspaper. Her friend, Emma, was associate editor. That would make pretty good let me talk about myself stuff, but that wasn’t her. She couldn’t do it.

Hailey jumped up from the sofa. The Class Reunion invitation dropped to the rug. Emma bent over and picked it up before rising to her feet as well. “How about I make you a deal?” Emma dared. Hailey narrowed her eyes. She was curious and suspicious. She waited. Emma chuckled. “Did I tell you I went to my tenth and fifteenth high school reunions?” she went on. Hailey said nothing. “Both were a lot of fun and, hey, I wasn’t Miss Popularity in those days either. It took a lot of self-coaxing to push myself to go to either,” she confessed.

That got Hailey’s interest. Her eyebrow rose. “You’re getting at something, Em, and it’s taking too long,” Hailey noted.

Emma shrugged. “How about I go with you to the reunion?” Emma held the invitation out and slapped it with her other hand.

Hailey’s mouth dropped open. Emma hadn’t gone to Madison High. Heck, Emma hadn’t even lived in the same state thirty years ago. Hailey was quiet for a long time. “I’ll think about it,” she finally blurted out, and then swiveled on her heel and went into her home office.

********************

“Who were your best friends in high school?’ Emma asked.

They were in Hailey’s bedroom. Hailey was applying makeup for the evening’s event. Her blonde hair was pulled up in a French twist. She wore a blue and white cocktail-length dress. On her feet were flat-heeled black shoes. Emma wanted her to wear high-heels, but Hailey refused. It was enough she was going to the reunion. She was uncomfortable as it was. Emma wore a pink spaghetti-strap dress that made her look a little plump, but Hailey didn’t say as much. Her high school yearbook lay open on Emma’s lap. Hailey had fished it out upon Emma’s insistence. Emma wanted to know what the people looked like thirty years back, so she’d have some idea who she was looking for at the restaurant tonight.

She turned from the dresser mirror, blush compact open in her hand. “Amanda Smith and Sarah Jones,” she replied easily. After a moment’s hesitation, a deep frown crossed her face.

Emma was leafing through the pages of the yearbook, back to the letter J, and then forward again to S. She glanced up, a curious glint in her eyes. “What’s that about?” She lifted a hand and flipped it at Hailey.

Shrugging, Hailey turned back to the mirror. She was afraid Emma would read her mind. She had thought Amanda and Sarah were her best buddies in those days, but she was feeling iffy. Amanda and Sarah had been at each other’s weddings. Neither had been at hers. “I haven’t seen them in thirty years,” Hailey said.

Emma smiled. Hailey could see her face in the mirror in front of her. “Well, you’ll get to see them tonight,” Emma chimed. Before Hailey could respond to that, Emma went on. She was still flipping the pages. “Did you three girls go to the senior prom together or did you have dates?”

Sighing, Hailey turned back to face Emma. Obviously, it was no use trying to squirm out of her third degree. “I went with my cousin, George.” Amanda went with my dream boy, Logan Runner, and I don’t remember who Sarah’s date was.” Hailey waited for Emma to say or do something, such as laugh. She didn’t. Instead, she flipped a bunch of pages over together in search of Logan Runner.

“Mmm, he’s not bad,” Emma said, smiling. Her hand came up to rest on her cheek. She stared at the picture for a long time. “He was voted most likely to succeed,” she read. “Homecoming king, class valedictorian, impressive.” Emma looked up at Hailey, her expression soured. “I bet he’s fat and bald now.”

Hailey burst into laughter. She couldn’t help it. Emma was laughing too.

********************

She should have done this two weeks ago when the invitation arrived. Well they were on their way there. This was her last chance to log onto Classmates.com and see what she could find out about the people she’d gone to school with.

Emma was driving. She was keeping up a bright banter. Hailey found it nerve-racking. Emma didn’t seem to expect Hailey to respond, which was good. Hailey pulled out her cell phone and logged onto the Internet. She brought up the search screen and keyed in classmates.com, waited a second till it opened, then typed in further information, Madison High School, New York, class of 1987. Again, she waited. A list of graduates names appeared. She scrolled down it, glancing at names as they passed, to see if any one popped out at her. It didn’t seem odd to Hailey that not many of the names listed rang any bells.

It took a long time to get down to the J’s. Sarah Jones wasn’t listed. That meant she hadn’t posted on this site. Hailey hadn’t either, so Sarah not being here didn’t come as too much of a surprise. Logan Runner not being listed did come as a major surprise. He was Mr. Everything in high school. She’d had a wild crush on him, as did many other girls in school. Her best friends knew she dreamed about Logan, but somehow Amanda and Logan went to the senior prom together. That broke Hailey’s heart, though she hadn’t told Sarah or Amanda that.

Her own date, George, was a second cousin. He lived in New Jersey. Her mother had suggested she ask him. Hailey hadn’t, but her mother had, and he said okay. Nobody had known they were related.

Amanda Smith was listed, bingo! She posted here. Hailey clicked on her name and her page opened. She read the data.

“What’s up there?’ Emma asked.

Hailey had been so engrossed in what she was doing she was startled by Emma’s interruption. She nearly jumped to the car roof. She glanced up. To her surprise, they had pulled into a parking spot at the restaurant and Emma had idled the engine.

“Looking for my classmates,” Hailey replied sheepishly.

“Did you find anyone you know?” Emma shot back with interest. Her elbow rested on the steering wheel.

********************

“Hailey Commet, is that you?” squealed a chic-looking woman. She held up a wine glass in hopes of getting Hailey’s attention. She already had it! The woman started making her way toward Hailey and Emma. “You look absolutely gorgeous,” the woman intoned, wrapping her arms around Hailey.

So did Amanda Smith, Hailey thought, automatically wrapping her arms around Mandy’s waist. She hadn’t gotten a chance to fully see her friend before she was enveloped by Amanda. When the two women parted, Hailey had her chance. Amanda wore a tight-fitting silver dress that clung to a very shapely figure. She stood on four-inch heels and her dark hair from thirty years ago was even darker. “You look fantastic too, Mand,” Hailey praised.

According to classmates.com, Amanda had five children and three marriages. She was still with husband number three, a prominent neurosurgeon. They lived in Connecticut.

“Is Sarah here?” Hailey asked. Emma, who stood beside her, had virtually been forgotten. She wasn’t protesting.

Amanda turned her head toward a throng of people. “Sarah, darling, you’ll never guess who I’ve got here,” Amanda called. “Come quick or the cat might steal her away.”

Hailey giggled nervously. Emma rolled her eyes.

The best way to describe Sarah Jones as a teen was cute. The woman that approached them upon Amanda’s command didn’t resemble the young Sarah in the slightest. This woman was a lot older. Her short-cropped hair was pure white and she was on the heavier side. Hailey glanced questioningly at Amanda. “Is that Sarah?” she whispered.

Amanda smiled warily. “Contentment of the years, darling,” she whispered back, gesturing with her hand.

Sarah gave Hailey a warm hug.

“We have to join the others now,” Amanda announced.

Before they moved forward, Sarah noticed Emma. She smiled. “Are you one of us?” Sarah asked lightly.

Emma chuckled and shook her head. “No, I work for Hailey on her website,” Emma replied brightly. “My husband took the boys to a baseball game tonight, so I decided to tag along with Hailey.”

With that, the foursome joined the growing crowd of Madison High classmates.

“Is Logan here?” Hailey asked delicately. The question was directed to Amanda. As far as Hailey knew, Amanda and Logan had been a couple into college.

Amanda’s expression soured, but passed quickly. She glanced around the crowd. Hailey was sure that was more to avoid her, than to check who was present. “I don’t see him as yet, darling,” Amanda said brightly. “But I’m sure he’ll be here soon enough.”

Sarah grabbed Hailey’s arm. “You had such a crush on Logan, Hail,” she teased.

Hailey felt her cheeks burn. “I did,” she admitted. “But he was Amanda’s guy.”

Amanda scowled. “I’m sure you’ve seen him more over the years than I have, darling.” Her tone seemed unusually cutting. Hailey didn’t understand the comment or how it was said. She narrowed her eyes and shook her head. Amanda sighed. “You’re in the same business, darling, writing, editing, whatever you call it.” She waved her hand loosely. “Yes, I snooped around to see what you have been up to, since no one has heard from you for 30 years.”

Hailey was still in the dark and embarrassed that Amanda had looked her up. Sarah came to her rescue. “Don’t you know, Hail, Logan’s a big time publisher. He owns something like five popular magazines.”

Hailey’s mouth dropped open. She was almost speechless. “I had no idea. Goodness, that’s wonderful!” What else could she say? He had been voted Most Likely to Succeed. “Is he married?” It seemed a logical question, though she wasn’t asking for her own personal benefit.

Sarah supplied that answer too. “Divorced, I heard.”

Hailey chuckled nervously. “Who isn’t?’ she teased.

Sarah pushed her shoulders back and held her head high. “I’ve been married to the same boring man for twenty-three years,” she announced proudly, gesturing to the throng behind her. “Donald’s a chiropractor.”

Hailey was impressed. Her best friends had done well for themselves. They continued chatting.

Emma tapped Hailey’s arm. She looked at Emma, who pointed toward the entranceway. Hailey glanced that way. Logan Runner was there, his boyish good looks had matured into grownup handsome. His hair had streaks of silver in it. He was still fit and trim and could turn heads. He did in fact. As he made his way toward the throng, people said hi to him. Hailey seemed to stop breathing when she realized what she was seeing. Logan was heading in their direction, but of course, it had to be for Amanda’s sake. She thought so too. Her hand came up and patted her dark hair.

“I hope I look okay,” Amanda said more to herself. She knew she looked fantastic. “I haven’t seen that old coot in ages.”

Hailey glanced at Amanda oddly.

“Maybe he’s coming over here to see you, Hail,” Sarah chimed. “I think he liked you in high school.”

Hailey shook her head vigorously. Amanda shot a scathing look at Sarah.

“Ladies,” Logan said in his smooth voice. He was looking at Hailey, not Amanda or Sarah. “Hailey Commet?” he asked, but he knew she was Hailey. “I’m a big fan of The Bradford Bulletin.”

Hailey blushed. “Thank you,” she replied. “We try to give it our all and print the best pieces.” Oh God, that sounded like an advertisement.

“I’d love to swap notes,” he said.

Amanda jumped forward and swatted Logan’s shoulder. “No business chats at the reunion, Logan. This is relaxation time, fun.”

He glanced over his shoulder and nodded at his old girlfriend, and then turned back to Hailey. The music had changed from bouncy pop and rock to a slow song. Hailey was trying unsuccessfully to name the tune. She wanted to kick herself. What did it matter anyway? Logan Runner was staring at her intently, that’s why. Her heart was pounding too fast. Her palms were sweating.

“Would you care to dance with me, Ms. Commet?” he said, winking and smiling at the same time. Hailey nearly fainted. Amanda grunted indignantly.

She had to find her voice and fast. She swallowed hard. She smiled. “I’d love to, Mr. Runner,” she finally replied and took his elbow.

Amanda sniffed. Sarah and Emma clapped happily.

Bio: Trish is deaf-blind and has a walking/balance problem. She loves writing short stories. She also has two books published with America Star Books, a short story collection Through Time, time travel/romances and The Fire, first in her own Tracy Gayle mystery series.


Barb, fiction
by Susan Muhlenbeck

Patty settled herself on the plane and waited impatiently for the rest of the passengers to embark so they could take off. She enjoyed spending the Christmas holidays with her brother’s family in New York, but she was eager to get home to Quebec. She had not seen her cats for almost two weeks, and she was curious about what she had missed at work.

After what seemed like forever, the plane took off, and she started to relax. Around her, conversations buzzed, but she was in the mood for a nap. She closed her eyes and dozed off for about an hour. When she woke up, she was ready to make conversation, but her seatmate was engrossed in a book. Annoyed that she had not thought to bring along a book herself, she looked around casually.

She started playing a game, making up stories about the people near where she sat. The old lady across the aisle, who was knitting something that looked very complicated, was making a sweater for her granddaughter’s birthday. The child would probably never wear it, she sighed, except when Grandma came to visit. The young man behind her was going back to college after the Christmas holidays. He looked like he was majoring in computer science. The middle-aged man in front of her was returning from a business trip, probably with a little pleasure on the side, she thought wryly.

She looked at the young lady in front of the old lady who was knitting and almost had heart failure. She put her hand over her mouth to stifle a scream. She felt her face grow hot, and she concentrated on taking slow, deep breaths. There in the seat not three feet from her was Barbara Rudd, Patty’s arch enemy from high school.

She had attended Beechem Academy in Vancouver for four years, the worst years of her life. Right from the start, Barb and her pals, Pam and Sally had bullied her mercilessly. Patty felt a headache coming on as she thought of the countless pranks they played on her.

Patty remembered walking into her room one night and finding a dead rat on her pillow. She had screamed, thinking it might have still been alive. As it was, she had had nightmares for weeks. She also remembered looking in her closet and finding her favorite silk blouse shredded. Her headache got worse as she thought about the girls’ cruelty.

One morning after breakfast, Patty ran to the bathroom and was violently sick. “Patty the Fatty is doing some serious purging,” came Barb’s voice from the sink.

“You shouldn’t do that, Fatty,” her friend Sally scolded. Your teeth will fall out.” Then the three of them had collapsed into giggles as Patty realized what they had done. They had somehow snuck some of that vomit inducing substance for people who accidentally swallowed poison in her food.

Patty stared at the head of copper colored curls bent over a magazine. Rage built within her and threatened to explode. What should she do? I’m not going to just do nothing, she told herself firmly. That had been her mistake back then. She should have told somebody. The problem was, she didn’t have any proof. Barb and her cronies were too clever for that.

They even stole my term paper, she thought furiously. She had written a term paper about the Salem witch trials for her history class. The day it was due, she could not find it anywhere and explained to the teacher that she must have lost it. The teacher said she would not accept a late term paper due to Patty’s carelessness. The next day, the same teacher praised Barb’s friend Pam on her excellent paper about the Salem Witch Trials while Patty received a big fat 0 for not turning in a paper.

“Ma’am, are you okay?” Patty’s seatmate asked, closing her book. “You don’t look well.”

“I’m all right,” Patty said thickly. “I feel a little air sick. I’m going to the restroom.”

She heaved herself to her feet and lurched to the bathroom. She looked into the cloudy mirror and was horrified at her ghostly expression. She fumbled in her purse and quickly dry swallowed two aspirin for her raging headache. Then she dabbed on some lipstick and rouge, trying to get some color in her cheeks. That isn’t much of an improvement, she thought glumly, gazing into the mirror again. She tried cheering herself up by thinking about graduation day.

She remembered walking resolutely across the stage and accepting her diploma as her parents and brother cheered her on. Then it happened. As she was walking down the steps, the heel broke on one of her pumps, and she went sprawling. She ended up with a knee injury, which still bothered her from time to time. She knew Barb and her satellites were behind that final insult, but by then, she no longer cared. She took consolation in the fact that she would never have to see those awful people again, and she hadn’t until now. There has to be a reason I am on the same flight as Barb, Patty told herself. Maybe the reason was to point out the error of her ways, if such a thing were possible for such an unpleasant person.

There was a pounding on the door. “You all right in there?” a man’s voice asked.

Startled, Patty wrenched open the door. “Sorry about that,” she said, feeling herself blush. “It’s all yours.”

“Thought you fell in or something,” the young man laughed. “Sure you’re all right?”

“I’m fine,” Patty said airily, willing it to be true. She walked slowly towards her seat, determined that she would confront Barb at long last. She didn’t know exactly what she would say yet, but she would make the worm squirm. Not only that, she would let everybody within hearing range know what kind of person was in their midst.

I’m a registered nurse now, she imagined herself telling her. And what have you done with your life? I’m surprised you’re not in jail, or did you already spend time in there? And how are your minions Pam and Sally? I didn’t forget them either. Remember that time you put glue in my hand lotion? That’s right, the really expensive kind that my aunt got me from her trip to Paris. How about the time you sent me a box of worms for my birthday?

She approached Barb boldly. She caught the whiff of some primitive scent. She remembered that Barb had always reeked of a cloying perfume called Poison. She still wears the same perfume, Patty thought dryly. At least she managed to tone it down a notch. She took a moment to appraise Barb critically. If nothing else, at least she still looks good. She had to be in her mid-forties by now but somehow managed to look almost ten years younger. That’s probably the only feather in her cap, Patty thought as she reached out and tapped Barb on the shoulder.

Hello!” Patty said loud enough for everybody in her section of the plane to hear. It wasn’t the most brilliant beginning, but it had its effect. Barb set down her fashion magazine with alacrity and gave Patty a questioning look. “I’m Patty Moore. I attended Beechem Academy, class of 88.” She practically spat the last three words in Barb’s beautiful face. She had a sudden urge to grab a fistful of those copper curls and pull them out of that swelled head, along with a big chunk of scalp. Better yet, she wanted to wrap her plump hands around that slender neck and squeeze the life out of her old enemy.

“It’s nice to meet you,” the other woman said sincerely, holding out a perfectly manicured hand and offering Patty a warm smile. “I’m Michelle Piccard. I attended Montreal Finishing School, class of 96.”

Bio: Susan Muhlenbeck was born in Korea and spent her first five years there. She lost her sight at the age of two. She was raised in the Midwest and moved to Virginia as a teenager. She received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in Rehabilitation counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her interests include reading, swimming, bargain shopping, and cats. Her books are available on Amazon.

Seventy-Seven and Holding, poetry
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Author’s Note: This poem represents my sister-in-law’s current situation.

I guess I lost my balance, just don’t know;
It made an awful racket when I fell.
They called for help, crying, of course I’ll go;
Did I misstep? I thought I was doing well.

How many stitches needed? Thirty-three?
They stopped the flood, said blood was everywhere;
Testing overnight, then wait and see,
They must be sure at home I’ll get good care.

Seventy-seven and holding, how I wish
For my downtown apartment and my cat;
Not someone else’s choices in my dish;
It’s been twelve years since I could live like that.

My sister Linda loves me, does her best;
My check let her quit work and stay at home,
But shopping, church, her doctors, and the rest
Mean sometimes I just have to stay alone.

Now, who will make the call, say yes or no?
I’m fragile, could soon fall again they say;
Linda sees me shutter, scared to know.
Without some change, they might send me away.

“Walk more; eat less; take pills!” I heard the voices;
But I ignored them, spoiled myself too much.
Now I’m angry, left with no good choices;
I grasp for hope, a laugh, a nurse’s touch.

My nephew’s daughter’s here, no school today?
She helps me dress and hands me my old sweater;
Linda’s shopping, cleaning, on her way!
We get another chance to do things better.

New shoes with treads, a walker, other tools;
Three times a week a nurse comes in. She’s fine.
Three times a day it’s Amber after school,
She’ll work this Summer, wonder who they’ll find?

I guess she pays attention, music’s loud!
If I complain, she’d not be here at all.
They worry when I walk, but still we’re proud,
The devil in the woodshed’s my next fall.


Old and Valuable, poetry
by bonnie Rennie

You’ve heard what is said about aging wine.
we treasure it more,
Finer flavor with time.
I’ve ridden the rapids,
Paddled at peace, Past my prime.
Now, I’m old and valuable!

The joints and stamina do not bend to my will.
I retain creativity, passion and skill.
How my volunteer opportunities inspire and fulfill!
Life’s good!
I’m old and useful!

There is leisure for laughter,
Warm memories, new friends.
The pleasure that drinking in nature extends,
Bright elation!
Immersion in books and music lends.
Yes, I’m old and I’m joyful!

I did not achieve every dream I had planned.
Still,
Other kites soared from the dreams that were canned.
I felt blessed and guided
by an invisible Hand.
So I sing,
I’m old and I’m grateful!

Bio: Bonnie Rennie recalls her first writing attempt at age twelve, a song parody expressing anticipation and anxst about entry into junior high. Her clinical social work career in medical and mental health settings fostered the creation of psycho-educational literature for patients and families. In retirement, Bonnie writes poetry, essays, articles, and materials for support groups. Some favorite subjects/themes are: music, Christian/spiritual, thriving while blind, blossoming in retirement, life’s charms, quirks, challenges, and choices. Find Bonnie on Facebook.


Where’s Joe? fiction
by Leonard Tuchyner

Marsha lay in her Hospice bed surrounded by her children and grandchildren. It had been five years since she had recognized any of them consistently. Over those years, occasionally a correct name would fly out unexpectedly, accompanied by an unmistakable glint of awareness in her eyes. Maggie and Jeff, two of her children, lived for those bittersweet moments. But that light of awareness rarely lasted for more than ten minutes.

Now, as life was making one last rally, Marsha seemed to have come to herself. She recognized everyone, even the grandchildren.

Maggie asked Tim, the attending Hospice nurse, “My mother hasn’t been this sharp for years and years. Don’t you think she might be getting better?”

Tim could hear the note of desperate hope in Maggie’s voice and wanted to disappear rather than answer her question truthfully. “I’ve seen this happen before,” he said. For a moment, his eyes were no longer focused on Maggie, as his attention was drawn to a memory of his deceased brother.

After a moment of discomfort, Maggie prodded, “What have you seen?”

Tim jerked his head, bringing himself back to the present and the anxious woman. “Of course you can never be sure, but a lot of dying people seem to rally at the very end of their lives. We don’t really know why, but it often appears as though they are saying goodbye.”

“Oh.” Maggie’s head drooped momentarily. Then her head lifted and her eyes searched those of her bearer of bad news. “But you say that we can’t be sure, right?”

He shrugged his shoulders in resignation to his compulsion to respond to this woman who was begging him for hope.

“My brother and I used to race motorcycles. He wiped out, and it turned into a terrible mess. I wanted to believe that somehow he could walk away from it, but he was transported to a hospital, where things looked pretty bad for him. Then, all of a sudden, he was okay. He walked out of the intensive care unit against medical advice. To make a long story short, he died that night in his own bed.”

Maggie’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” She stood there not knowing whether or not to reach out to him.

“I shouldn’t have told you that story. I’m sorry. It’s not what you needed to hear just now. I’m not sure why I did.”

Maggie was about to say something to console him, but he waved a dismissive hand.

“That happened a long time ago. Time does actually ease the pain. I gave up racing after that. It was really his thing anyway. I haven’t talked about it for ages. I’m glad we had a few good hours after the accident.”

“I guess I should be grateful for having my mother back, even if it’s just for a few hours.”

Tim felt guilty because he didn’t mean to tell her how she should feel. That was the first lesson they had taught him at Hospice training.

Slightly uncomfortable, Maggie turned her attention back to her mother and her surroundings. Her private room in Hospice House was tastefully decorated in the ambiance of a cozy, country bedroom. A warm quilted bedspread covered Marsha’s body.

“Oh Lord,” Marsha said in a clear voice. “I’m going to be late.”

“Where you going, Mama?” her son asked.

“You know very well where I’m going, Jeffrey. I have to meet some very important people.”

“What important people would that be, Mama?” Jeff asked.

“Never you mind. I just don’t want to be late. I’ve never been one to be late. It shows a lack of respect. But I can’t go until Joe gets here. What’s keeping that boy? I hope he’s not in trouble again.”

“But Mama, Joe….” he cut himself off in mid sentence when he saw his sister glaring at him. He was going to remind Marsha that Joe had died in a car accident twenty years ago.

“We’ll be right back, Mama,” Maggie said as she signaled Jeff to follow her out of the bedroom.

Jeff followed his older sister as she walked stiffly out the door. When they got out of ear shot of the Hospice bedroom suites, she turned on him.

“What’s wrong with you, Little Brother? Why do you want to go and get her all upset?”

“What are you talking about?” He was forcing his voice not to rise in volume, but he couldn’t help it rising in pitch.

“Don’t act as dumb as you sometimes are. Mama is doing so well. If you tell her that Joe is dead, it’s apt to disturb her to the point that she won’t even know who we are. Do you want that?”

“Well, of course not. But….”

“Don’t butt me. Use your head for something else.”

Jeff lowered his head sheepishly and cow-towed to his older sister.

“Okay,” she said. Let’s go back in. Just humor her about Joe.”

“Okay. I guess you’re right, Sis.”

By that time, Maggie was already on her way back to Marsha’s Hospice room. Jeff followed dutifully. When they re-entered, a lively conversation was humming through the room. It was hard to believe that this was the place in which Marsha would soon pass away.

“Oh Jeffrey, there you are. I need a strong boy like you. Help me to sit up a little straighter in this confounded bed.”

Jeff looked around desperately toward the attending nurse for instruction. Tim had remained in the room. Ordinarily, he would not have found the need to remain, but his instincts told him his assistance might be needed.

“Come on, Jeff,” he instructed, “we’ll get her sitting a little straighter, so she doesn’t feel so slumped. You get on the other side and just follow my lead.” With words and demonstration, Tim and Jeff gently maneuvered Marsha, who was as light as a feather. Jeff was afraid that his mother was so frail that she might break under his hands. He was relieved when she held together.

“Ah, that feels better. I feel more like a person now. Confound it, Where is that boy? What’s keeping him?”

Seeing Jeff’s distress at not knowing how to respond, Maggie said, “Don’t worry, Mama. There’s plenty of time. I promise, you won’t be late. Just enjoy our visit.”

“Yes, yes. Of course.” The old woman looked around at her entourage, pausing to gaze at each member. “My, aren’t we a good-looking group. And, Jeffrey, you are so handsome. Your Papa would have been so proud.”

Jeff’s face flushed slightly, and he stole a furtive glance at his sister and thought he saw a tear welling up in her eye, but her expression maintained its usual in-charge demeanor.

“Jeffrey, I’m so thirsty. Would you kindly get me some water?”

Eager to do something, Jeff went to the bowl of water and its swab rag which was used to wet Marsha’s parched mouth and lips. For several days, she had been unable to drink anything. When he returned with the washcloth and tried to wipe his mother’s lips, she protested, brushing his hand away.

“No, no. I want real water.”

“Is that possible?” Maggie asked the attending nurse.

“I’m not sure. I’ll be right back with a straw and a glass of water.”

When he returned, he proffered the cup and straw to Maggie. She took them and soon had Marsha sipping. Maggie had developed a technique which she had often used while visiting her mother in the nursing home.

“Thank you, dear. That drink hit the spot.”

Maggie longed for her mother to call her by name, which she so rarely did. She wondered whether Marsha saw her as anything but an attendant. After all, it was she who spent the most time with Marsha in her years at the nursing home, watching her dementia claim more and more of her mother’s faculties. She wondered whether being taken for granted was just another part of the sacrifices she had been making for her mother. As they say,’ she thought, it’s a bitter pill, but someone has to swallow it. On the other hand, Marsha had always been partial to the males in the family. Maggie knew that Jeff did not relish the special attention. She could see the guilt in his eyes whenever the issue was obvious. Maggie held no animosity. She loved her brother. I wonder what he would do without me?

“Oh Lord, I’m getting tired. I think I’ll take a nap. Jeffrey dear, help me lie down, please,” Marsha sighed.

As Marsha’s eyes fluttered closed, Tim and Jeff removed some of the pillows propping her up.

“Where is that boy? I want him to meet those important people with me. He’d better shake a leg.”

Marcia’s breathing began to slow down and become shallower.

“Oh, Maggie, I don’t know what I would have done without you. You know I love you.” she said, almost too softly to be heard.

The dam holding Maggie’s tears back burst, and they dropped like hot rain drops to the floor.

Suddenly, Marsha’s eyes opened, and a broad smile swept her face. “Thank God you made it, Joseph. I’m all ready to go.”

A long, gentle exhale marked the old woman’s last breath.


Night Star, poetry
by Valerie Moreno

She lived next door–
a wall, a world away–
someone I’d see in the hall,
say “Hi” as our lives
touched.

She grew frail
as illness claimed mobility.
Sometimes, in night’s silence,
I could hear her singing,
sweet praise to God that
equaled the sound of angels.

Her spirit rose like sparkling light
as I sat listening
to her hope and desperation
poured out in clear, sweeping melody.

I moved around the corner of our hall
where bland noise took the place
of her sweet voice–
a loss of assurance.

Often, standing near the elevators,
I listened, but there was no sound.
She died quietly.
Many unaware until her son
came to open her apartment’s
padlocked door.

In the night quiet,
I miss her–somehow,
knowing she is singing
somewhere bright and flawless
with true freedom.


Part VII. The Melting Pot

Turn Around – Look Away, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner

A white friendly fluffy puppy
scampers across a busy street.
A heedless driver doesn’t see —
puppy lies — body limp and dead.

Turn around – look away.
We must get on with our day.

A scruffy man in wear-torn rags
slack-shuffles down the sidewalk,
his eyes wandering here and there,
with lost unfocused wonder.
A group of fractious, callous kids
converge, surround and jeer him.
With hopeful desperate smile,
his shabby hands search his pockets,
and offers nickels and quarters.
They grab their swag and dash away,
his tears staining a smiling face.

Turn around- look away.
There is nothing you will do or say.

She cries and tries to fall asleep.
He swears there’s nothing going on –
nothing worth her groundless weeping.
The woman’s just a dear old friend.
Their affair had ended long ago.
Wouldn’t it be a travesty
to abandon an old friend in need?

What can his parents do or say?
We can only turn around and look away,
But all broken hearts still will pay.


Driving to Monterey Bay, poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

I watch-
migrant workers in
sunny fields
gathering the salads
for America.

Brussels sprouts,
strawberries,
artichokes,
as far as you can see.

The flame that grows
in my heart
is hidden-
like the concrete stacks
of Moss Landing.

On the road to
Monterey Bay.


A Tribute to Timeless Greatness, ninette poetry
by Terri Winaught

Under his leadership, lives were changed:
Touchdowns of acceptance were scored;
Field goals of fairness were kicked.
Football, faith, family
are what he valued.
This legacy
Dan Rooney
gave to
all!

Bio: Any time something is important to Terri, she shows it by being passionate. Terri likes to joke that she was so passionate about being born that she arrived three months early. This 63-year-old blind woman is passionate about racial justice, equality for persons with disabilities, and doing what she can to help others. Terri lives in Pittsburgh, PA where she has been married for over 11 years, and is the proud mother of two grown children. Mrs. Winaught loves singing in her Church choir, attending sporting events with the world’s best husband, and listening to oldies.


Cane of Cchulhu, poetry
by Shawn Jacobson

Surely elder gods,
who dwell in deepest darkness
do not walk by sight.

Cchulhu, the monster god
is legend to live in utter darkness,
in some stygian depth, some lightless void,
some realm beyond the ken of man.

What would this eldritch creature know of light?
To it as alien as blindness is to those who see,
and trust in sight alone, unaware of dark strangeness,
in their normal suppositions excluding the other.

Should Cchulhu walk our mundane ground
what then could help him navigate the way?
A cane perhaps to help him on his travels
Through lighted lands we surely take for granted.

And what then of this soul of mine,
neither living in sight or blindness,
surrounded by a mighty unseen host
by Gods and monsters alien to my nature.

Then should I offer Cchulhu this cane?
So he can walk with barrowed confidence,
the ways of light and darkness so to know
all the worlds in which us monsters dwell.

Let mad king Azizof summon his musicians
to play a tune to commemorate this sharing
when monsters bridged the gulf twixt realms
of light and darkness and twilit worlds between.

I do not walk by sight
for I to live in darkness
in need of guidance.


Sanctum Sanctorum, poetry
by Susan Muhlenbeck

Few men have ever been there.
Fewer will go there yet.
Some view it as a challenge,
While others consider it a threat.

Dark, tight quarters leave the mind little room to wander.
Silent tranquility may give the mind much to ponder.

As dawn approaches and the only sound is the rain,
Mercilessly beating hard against the window pane,
I hear another sound in the depths of my soul,
Which burns its way into my heart like a hot coal.

From a quiet corner of the world,
A voice I once knew,
Soothingly whispers, “I remember you.”


Shadow, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal

Seeking refuge from the relentless summer sun,
He arrived on my patio
Unbidden and collarless,
His plaintive meows brought forth
Bowls of food and water as
He watched, warily, from a distance.

He returned mornings and evenings
For meals and eventual friendship,
Winding his ginger tabby bulk around my legs
And kneading his large white paws on my lap
As I stroked his scarred body.

When the chill of autumn tinged the breeze,
He made a decision, and with
His name tag swaying softly from
His new collar, he resolutely, and
Without a backward glance, walked through
My front door into the security
Of his forever home.

Bio: A former college librarian and occupational therapist, Sally Rosenthal left both professions due to vision loss. A childhood stroke survivor, she, now blind and losing hearing due to age-related genetic hearing loss, is the book reviewer for Best Friends Magazine. Her nonfiction and poetry have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies.


The Wolf and the Loon, poetry
by Brad Corallo

A tiny spec out of the hazy distance grows;
a dark point, Expanding.
Framed by sunlight,
amidst shadows of young green leaves.
The Great Northern Diver, with a flash of silver
parts the surface of the lake like a lover.
In a stolen moment,
she rises with a wriggling silver fish in her implacable beak,
more luminous than her own plumage.
Seconds later, it is gone!

On the shore,
a grey and black wolf watches her success.
She swims off, majestic and satisfied.
The wolf continues to gaze, not hungrily
but at an equal.

Out of the distance her unearthly call of mournful triumph,
echoes eerily, splitting the silence!


Laika, poetry
by Mary-Jo Lord

on November 3, 1957,
Laika, a Good-natured, 11-pound stray
of mixed breed, was harnessed into a capsule,
provided food and water, and
launched into space aboard Sputnik 2.

Could a living animal be launched into orbit?
Laika and Sputnik 2 would
reveal the answer and
pave the way for human space travel.

Reports were conflicting as to
how long she survived, what she experienced.
Her six hour survival in space,
the overheated cabin, her elevated vital signs
were finally revealed in 2002.

Armed with the knowledge that her capsule would
not return to Earth in one piece,
a scientist took her home to play with his children.

On that cold November afternoon,
Laika, perky-eared with tail wagging
willingly followed the scientists to her capsule,
trusting, eager to please.
Laika, without offering consent,
was launched into the unknown,
where (in 1957) no man had gone or
would be willing to go.

Author’s note: On April 11, 2008, officials unveiled a monument of Laika at the military research facility where staff had been responsible for preparing her for the flight. The monument shows Laika poised on top of a space rocket.

Spring/Summer 2017 Edition of Magnets and Ladders

21-Apr-17

Magnets and Ladders
Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
Spring/Summer 2017

Editorial and Technical Staff

  • Coordinating Editor: Mary-Jo Lord
  • Fiction: Lisa Busch, Valerie Moreno, Marilyn Brandt Smith, Kate Chamberlin, and Abbie Johnson Taylor
  • Nonfiction: Valerie Moreno, John W. Smith, Kate Chamberlin, Leonard Tuchyner, Bonnie Blose, and Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • Poetry: Lisa Busch, Valerie Moreno, Abbie Johnson Taylor, Alice Massa, and Lynda McKinney Lambert
  • Technical Assistants: Jayson Smith and John Weidlich
  • Internet Specialist: Julie Posey

Submission Guidelines

Writers with disabilities may submit up to three selections per issue. Deadlines are February 15 for the Spring/Summer issue, and August 15 for the Fall/winter issue. Writers must disclose their disability in their biography or in their work. Biographies may be up to 100 words in length, and should be written in third-person.

Do not submit until your piece is ready to be considered for publication. Rewrites, additions, deletions, or corrections are part of the editorial process, and will be suggested or initiated by the editor.

Poetry maximum length is 50 lines. Memoir, fiction, and nonfiction maximum length is 2500 words. In all instances, our preference is for shorter lengths than the maximum allowed. Please single-space all submissions, and use a blank line to separate paragraphs and stanzas. It is important to spell check and proofread all entries. Previously published material and simultaneous submissions are permitted provided you own the copyright to the work. Please cite previous publisher and/or notify if work is accepted elsewhere.

We do not feature advocacy, activist, “how-to,” or “what’s new” articles regarding disabilities. Innovative techniques for better writing as well as publication success stories are welcome. Content will include many genres, with limited attention to the disability theme. Announcements of writing contests with deadlines beyond April 1 and October 1 respectively are welcome.

Have You Published a book? If you would like to have an excerpt of your book published in an issue of Magnets and Ladders, please submit a chapter or section of your book to submissions@magnetsandladders.org. The word count for book excerpt submissions should not exceed twenty-five hundred words. Please include information about where your book is available in an accessible format. We will publish up to one book excerpt per issue.

Do you have a skill, service, or product valued by writers? For a minimum contribution of $25.00 we will announce it in the next two issues of Magnets and Ladders. All verifications of products or services provided are the responsibility of our readers. Book cover design? Copyediting? Critiques? Formatting for publication? Internet access or web design? Marketing assistance? Special equipment? Make your donation through PayPal (see magnetsandladders.org) or by check by March/September 1. 100-word promotional information is due by February/August 15. Not sure about something? Email submissions@magnetsandladders.org. All donations support Magnets and Ladders.

Please email all submissions to submissions@magnetsandladders.org. Paste your submission and bio into the body of your email or attach in Microsoft Word format. If submitting Word documents, please put your name and the name of your piece at or near the top of the document. Submissions will be acknowledged within two weeks. You will be notified if your piece is selected
for publication.

Final author approval and review is necessary if changes are needed beyond punctuation, grammar, and sentence or paragraph structure. We will not change titles, beginnings, endings, dialog, poetic lines, the writer’s voice, or the general tone without writer collaboration. If your work is selected for inclusion in a future “Behind Our Eyes” project, you will be notified; your approval and final review will be required. To insure we can contact you regarding future projects, please keep us updated if your Email address changes.


About Behind Our Eyes

Behind Our Eyes, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization enhancing the opportunities for writers with disabilities. Our anthology published in 2007, Behind Our Eyes: Stories, Poems, and Essays by Writers with Disabilities, is available at Amazon and from other booksellers. It is available in recorded and Braille format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

Behind Our Eyes, a Second Look is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers, and in E-book format on Amazon Kindle. It is also available in recorded format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. See our book trailer on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk0uIaQTr24&feature=youtu.be.

Several members of our group meet by moderated teleconference twice monthly to hear speakers; share work for critique; or receive tips on accessibility, publication, and suggested areas of interest.

Our mailing list is a low-traffic congenial place to share work in progress; learn about submission requests; and to ask and answer writing questions. If you would like to join our group and receive access to our phone conferences and mailing list, please complete our quick and easy membership form at http://www.behindoureyes.org/mform/form.php.

If you would like to learn more about Behind Our Eyes, or if you would like to make a donation, please visit our website at http://www.behindoureyes.org.


Contents


Editor’s Welcome

Hello. As I work on this edition of Magnets and Ladders, a fresh breeze blows through open windows. Birds of all varieties try to out sing each other and Jade, my orange Tabby answers with a throaty, chatter that cats use when bird watching from indoors. These are all good signs that spring is here to stay.

In early February, members of Behind Our Eyes were saddened by the passing of Bobbi LaChance Bubier, former Behind Our Eyes President and charter member. As a tribute to Bobbi, we will share one of her amazing stories and information about her contributions to our organization immediately following the Editor’s Welcome.

This edition has stories, poems, and articles for you to enjoy through the spring and summer. Are you ready for warmer weather? If for some reason you aren’t quite there, “A Breath of Spring and Summer” will put you in the mood. “Not What I Expected,” “A Different Perspective,” and “The Melting Pot” have pieces that will surprise you, make you think differently, or put a smile on your face. The stories, poems, and memoirs in “Looking Back and “A Special Place and Time” may stir up some of your own memories. Read about some amazing people and their challenges in “Roadblocks and Journeys.” As always, “The Writers’ Climb” has poems and articles that will inspire your writing.

I would like to give a big thanks to all of the committee members and to Marilyn Brandt Smith, Jason Smith and John Weidlich for your hard work and support throughout the production process.

We had contests with cash prizes in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. We had 89 submissions, so thank you to everyone who submitted. Choosing contest winners and entries to publish was a rewarding and challenging task for our editorial staff. We had a surprise when all of the contest results were counted. We had a tie for second place in our nonfiction category. Below are the names and authors of the Magnets and Ladders
Spring/Summer contest winners.

Fiction:

  • First Place: “An Old Man Sneezed on Me” by Leonard Tuchyner
  • Second Place: “A Moment out of Time” by John Justice
  • Honorable Mention: “Quantum Reset” by Brad Corallo
  • Honorable Mention: “A Very Special Dinner” by Elizabeth Fiorite

Nonfiction:

  • First Place: “The Bus Is Coming! The Bus Is Coming!” by Jeff Flodin
  • Second Place: “26/Mt. Fuji: Move High the Stones,” book excerpt by Amy Bovaird
  • Second Place: “Where There’s Smoke” by Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • Honorable Mention: “Tonka” by: John Justice
  • Honorable Mention: “To Take Out or Not to Take Out, That Is the Question” by Janet di Nola Parmerter

Poetry:

  • First Place: “Summer’s Last Ride” by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
  • Second Place: “What a Feeling!” by Andrea Kelton
  • Honorable Mention: “The Long Fading” by Leonard Tuchyner
  • Honorable Mention: “The Lagoon’s Secret” by Elizabeth Fiorite

Congratulations to the winning authors. All of our prize winning stories and poems can be found throughout this issue. See “The Writers’ Climb” for details about our next contest, again with cash prizes.

The Magnets and Ladders editorial staff wishes you a safe and fun filled summer.


In Memory of Bobbi LaChance Bubier

In Early February, Bobbi LaChance Bubier passed away after a long battle with cancer. Bobbi was a charter member of Behind our Eyes and was the second president. Bobbi filled the office of President during a challenging time for the organization. She handled the transition with strong leadership skills and grace and the organization grew immensely during her presidency. Her marketing and fundraising skills have made publication and many other organization activities possible. Bobbi had big dreams and a big heart.

During the weeks following her death, Behind Our Eyes members posted messages to the mailing list and presented at a phone conference memorial about Bobbi’s impact on their lives and their writing. Most members mentioned her generous nature, sense of humor, and positive attitude. She always offered support and encouragement to new writers or members that were stepping out into new territories. She offered empathy and guidance to many members, even while she was battling cancer and other significant health issues. Bobbi will be remembered and missed by the Behind Our Eyes community.

Here is a story of Bobbi’s that is a favorite among Behind Our Eyes members. It was published in Behind Our Eyes and was in the first edition of magnets and Ladders.

Beyond the Call of Duty
by Bobbi LaChance

It was a hot summer night in Portland, Maine-well over 100 degrees. We left the windows open when we went to bed, hoping for a breeze. Half awake and half asleep, I heard footsteps in the kitchen. One of the children must be sneaking a cookie. I thought I heard the familiar clink of the glass lid on the jar, but I didn’t want to wake up.

On the edge of drifting into a deeper sleep I heard footsteps tiptoe into my bedroom, then tiptoe out-squeaky floorboards. From the kitchen, I heard a strange noise, then all was quiet. With sudden awareness, I bolted upright in bed listening. I heard another movement in the kitchen. Oh My God, I thought, there’s someone in the house. Are my children all right? Ever so slowly, as my feet touched the floor, reaching down, I unhooked my guide dog, Wicket, and crept softly toward the bedroom door. Wicket stayed right at my side. Just as I reached the threshold of the doorway, I slipped my hand around the door molding and flicked the kitchen light on.

Suddenly, I heard a scream as my five-year-old daughter, Lisa, barreled into me yelling, “There is a man in the kitchen!” I felt Wickets fur go by my leg, and then all hell broke loose.

My seven-year-old son, Christopher, appeared to the left of me in the hallway. “Mama, I’ve got my baseball bat, I’ll get him.”

I heard a menacing growl, and teeth clicking as if to bite. For an instant, the room seemed still, then a voice screeched, “Call off that dog! Call off that dog!”

Christopher started toward the intruder. I grabbed him by the collar of his pajamas and pulled him close to me. Sure that the bat was our defense, he was not letting go of it. “Where is he?” I cried. There was a roaring in my ears, and I could hear my heart beating.

“Wicket has him pinned between the refrigerator and the cabinet,” Christopher told me. “Every time he tries to move, Wicket acts like he’s going to bite him.”

Once again, Christopher stepped forward with his bat raised. I pulled him in again.

“Call off that damn dog!” squealed the man.

I held my two children tight against me. The roar in my ears wouldn’t stop. I could neither think nor react. I felt my daughter quivering against my left side, and noticed warm liquid on my toes as my daughter lost control of her bladder. As I reached behind me and dialed zero on the phone, the growling and cursing continued.

“Operator,” said a voice.

“Police!” I yelled into the phone.

In a matter of seconds, a male voice responded, “Portland Police Department.”

In one breath I said, “There is a man in my kitchen-my guide dog won’t stop growling-my daughter just peed on the floor because she is scared.”

“Where do you live, ma’am?” asked the officer.

“I don’t know,” I hysterically answered.

Again the shrill voice of the man cut through our conversation, “Get rid of this dog! Get rid of this dog!”

“He’s in the kitchen,” I stammered, “the children and I are here alone-I am blind.”

“Ma’am,” said the officer very patiently, “can you tell me your address?”

“Address,” I repeated. “Let me think-what’s my address?” Today they could find me instantly, but our trouble that night preceded 911.

“I need your address, ma’am,” the officer said again very patiently.

“I don’t know,” I repeated, agitated by these questions. I stood holding the phone away from me as if it were some strange object. Nothing made sense.

Christopher grabbed the phone out of my hand and began talking to the officer, telling him, “Her name is Mommy, but her real name is Jenny Gilmore, and we live at 12 Myrtle Street, second floor, in Portland. I have a baseball bat, and he is not going to hurt my mom or my sister.”

Relieved that Christopher had answered the officer’s questions, I took back the telephone. “There is a man in my kitchen and my dog is holding him at bay and I have two very frightened children,” I told the officer with a great deal more composure. The dog’s growls seemed to get deeper, and I could hear the snapping of his teeth.

“Don’t you try to move,” threatened Christopher holding up the bat.

Tightening my arms around him, “Down, hero,” I said.

“Mrs. Gilmore, someone is on the way,” the police officer said in a reassuring voice, “I will keep this line open until the officers arrive. Can you tell me-does the intruder have a weapon or is he armed with anything?”

“Christopher,” I pleaded, “Can you see from here? Does he have any type of weapon?”

Christopher responded, “No, Mama, I don’t think so. He’s standing between the cabinet and the refrigerator. He’s sweating like crazy, and he’s got his hands over his ears. Mama, he looks scared Wicket is going to bite him.” I repeated what Christopher told me.

“I will continue to keep this line open,” repeated the officer.

We felt a moment of relief, knowing the police were on their way. “Mama,” Christopher whispered, “He’s starting to move. I bet he wants to get away.”

Wicket, seeing this movement, suddenly lunged forward, giving three ferocious barks. I could hear the sound of his snapping teeth. “Get him away! Get him away! He’s gonna kill me!” he screamed.

Suddenly, whether from anticipation or fear, silence prevailed. I could hear the ticking of my kitchen clock, as well as traffic in the street below. The refrigerator motor kicked on. Every muscle in Christopher’s back tightened. I hugged him closer to me as he raised the bat in his hand, whispering, “I’ll protect you and Lisa, Mama.”

In the distance, I could hear sirens wailing, then I heard the sound of car doors, slamming, heavy footsteps in the stairwell, and a loud banging at my front door. Christopher bolted out of my arms and ran to answer it. Doing as he had been taught, he asked, “Who is it?”

“Portland Police Department,” boomed a voice from the other side.

Christopher opened the door wide to let the officers in. There seemed to be mass confusion as two police officers entered the kitchen.

My daughter Lisa, squeezing my waist tight, burying her face in my nightgown, in a muffled voice asked, “Mama, They’ve got guns. Are they going to shoot us?”

I couldn’t find my voice, but I patted her shoulder reassuringly. Finally, I leaned down and whispered, “No, sweetheart. They’re here to help us.”

The roar in my ears became louder. My legs felt like rubber.

One of the police officers sized up the situation very quickly. “Ma’am, take a seat there at the kitchen table.” Gently, he placed his hand on my shoulder, guiding me to the chair. My daughter dragged her feet as I pulled her along with me.

Christopher came to stand at my side, bat still held tightly in hand. Evidently the man tried to move from his position, teeth snapped and the growls sounded like they came from a wolf instead of my gentle guide dog. The officer pulled out a chair.

“Check out the rest of the apartment.” He ordered his junior partner.

“Call off this dog,” pleaded the intruder. The senior officer didn’t respond. Leaving the situation alone, he began filling out his paperwork. The intruder begged again, “Please get this dog away from me!”

The officer replied, “Your troubles have just started, pal, never mind the dog.” When his partner returned, explaining that the rest of the apartment was secure, the senior officer told him, “Cuff him.”

His partner asked, “What about the dog?”

The senior officer very quietly said to me, “Ma’am, call off your dog.”

“Wicket,” I said, “come.” Wicket obediently came around the corner of the table, sat down, and put his head in my lap. I rubbed his shoulders and ruffled his ears to let him know that everything was all right. “Good boy,” I whispered.

After the man was removed from the apartment, the senior officer shut and locked the window through which the intruder had entered. “Better have your landlord check this window tomorrow,” he suggested. “If you need further assistance, just call.”

As soon as the police left, Christopher, Lisa and I pushed the refrigerator in front of the window. I bathed Lisa, and found her a clean nightgown. We decided to leave the kitchen light on for the rest of the night. Crawling into bed, I began to shake from head to toe. If this was a nightmare, I just wanted to wake up.

“Mama, can I sleep with you?” came a small voice from the bedroom door.

“Sure,” I said,” lifting the cover, “Come on in.”

“Christopher’s coming, too.”

I heard small bare feet on the kitchen floor, then Christopher came through the doorway. “Can I sleep here, too?” he asked, “That way I could protect you.”

Feeling warm tears in my eyes, I threw back the other side of the covers. He crawled in, baseball bat and all! The three of us snuggled together.

All of a sudden I felt the weight of two paws on the foot of the bed. I reached down, “Just this once,” I said. As a smile crossed my face, I felt the dog’s weight settle across my feet. “You deserve this, Wicket. You went way beyond the call of duty.”


Part I. Not What I Expected

The Bus Is Coming! The Bus Is Coming! memoir, nonfiction First Place
by Jeff Flodin

With the arrival of each season, baseball, football, hockey and Christmas, I mosey over to my neighborhood barber shop for a haircut. It’s a short walk and, with Randy the dog guiding the way, my mind is free to wander like a free range chicken. But I tune in the traffic pattern as we near the corner of Ashland and Foster. As I calculate the red light/green light sequence, I feel a tug on my sleeve.

“You get on the bus here,” says the little old lady, pulling me like a truant child toward what must be the bus stop.

“Not today, ma’am,” I reply. “Today I’m just crossing the street to the barber shop.”

“No, this is where you get on the bus,” she says, raspy and urgent.

“No I don’t,” I say. “You get on the bus. I cross the street.” I fake left and run right. But she grabs my sleeve again and swings me around.

“I know you want to be helpful and I appreciate that,” I say. “But I’m really not interested in getting on the bus. I’m interested in crossing Foster.” I take one step and then realize that, in the sleeve-tugging and swinging around, I’ve lost my bearings. She senses my confusion and leads me toward the bus stop again, all the while shouting, “The bus is coming! The bus is coming!”

I hear the bus stop and the door open-whoosh! and the old lady yelling, “That man needs help!” to the bus driver, who now stands next to me asking, “You need help?”

“Yes, get me away from her for starters,” I tell him. “Then point me due south so I can cross Foster.” He does this without question or comment.

Thus, having regained my sense of place in the universe, I progress toward my goal, wondering where I’d be if not for the kindness of strangers.

Bio: Jeff Flodin is the author of the blog, “Jalapenos in the Oatmeal: Digesting Vision Loss” (http://jalapenosintheoatmeal.wordpress.com/). He is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Access Fellowship. His work has appeared in several publications. He is a Licensed Social Worker in the State of Illinois. He has been living with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) for three decades. He lives in Chicago with his wife, his Seeing Eye dog and two cats whom, along with his sense of humor, he credits for maintaining his sanity.


Where There’s Smoke, nonfiction Second Place
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Boaters have a bag, or at least they’re supposed to, called the “Go” bag. It’s what you grab when you have to jump because you’re going to capsize, explode, or sink. It’s the thing you use to get help, and to survive until you get that help. You get the picture?

Most homeowners don’t have a “Go” bag, but we’ve all seen the ads. “Your danger is here, and you are here. Plan A, Plan B, then we all meet at the curb, or we meet in the alley.”

My husband, my son, and I were sleeping, reading, radioing, whatever, on a Thursday morning in June. There was a gentle thunderstorm brewing, and it got a little nearer and a little louder. My son Jay was about to get on the computer and proofread one of my writing projects.

Suddenly, gunshots! Rifles through our heads—then the thunder. “What in the world?”

I was upstairs in the bedroom reading. I grabbed my Victor Stream and got the hell out of Dodge. The electrical smoke smell was devastating. “What did it hit?” I called to my husband Roger as I met him at the top of the stairs.

“Us. We’d better go check this out,” he said. Jay was waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs. He had heard louder “gunshots” than we had. We thought it was in the basement. He ran to the door.

“There’s something going on down here. I see light. I hear something, fire or water.”

“Can’t be water,” I said, “Call 9-1-1!”

Roger grabbed his cell, I was still in my robe, Jay never put on a shirt. “Grab the Braille Pluses,” I suggested. They were close at hand. I grabbed my purse, Roger grabbed his wallet, we’d need those credit cards if we had to stay in a motel, get food. The floor wasn’t getting hot, and there were no smoke detectors going off. Little did we know the circuit board in the security system was fried. We already had the dog and the cat. What should we do about our pet snakes?

We were by the exits. I had thought about the safety deposit box, one of those that’s supposed to be fireproof. Nevertheless, I had it in my hands, ready to run. We heard the sirens. The fire department was only four or five blocks away. Roger had his hands on the hard drive that contained all our music. “What else? What else?” We were trying to think. If we had to leave, we didn’t know when we’d be able to return, and we didn’t dare go back upstairs or down stairs.

We showed the fire department how to get to the different floors, the basement, the attic, the crawl spaces. They wanted to be sure before they left. There was no fire, but we smelled electrical smoke on all the floors for days.

What we thought was fire was actually water in the basement. Two pipes arced together when the crash came. One of them broke a coupling and we had a water leak. A light had been left on. That was the light Jay saw in the basement.

The lightning burned up the cable for our house and two neighbors beside us–not the modems, actual cable. It smashed a couple of storm windows. There wasn’t a strong wind, it was just the jar from the hit. Did it come in on our ham tower? Will we ever know? The doorbell, the phone system, all of the Internet was gone.

There were eight people floating around in our house on Friday, making and estimating repairs and replacements. We had good insurance so we were all right financially. Two computers were in intensive care for a while, one amplifier was gone. What else?

It took us weeks to discover all the damage. Six talking Caller-ID units never said another word. Strange things happened–battery equipment, not tied to electricity in any way, reset itself. A battery weather thermometer with a probe outside, fried.

The ham tower had to come down. The top of it was severely scorched. The texture of the wire was completely different. A driver on our street actually saw the bolt of lightning strike it. He lost the GPS and fuse box in his car.

They said what saved us from a major fire was the fact that we’d rewired the house nine years ago. It was built in 1911, and had some 1929 wiring. We also put surge protectors on the breaker box. It threw almost every breaker in the house. But believe this if you can, we did not lose power.

Are you ready mentally for something like that? We certainly weren’t, but I’m awfully glad we’re here to tell the story. It’s one of the scariest half hours of my life. What would you grab if it were your turn, or would you grab anything at all? Now, where is that “Go” bag?

Bio: Marilyn Brandt Smith worked as a teacher, licensed psychologist, and rehabilitation professional. She has edited magazines and newsletters since 1976, and was the first blind Peace Corps volunteer. She lives with her family and many animals in a hundred-year-old home in Kentucky. Her first book, Chasing the Green Sun, published in 2012, is available from Amazon and other bookstores and in audio form. She loves writing flash fiction stories, and was the primary editor for the first Behind Our Eyes anthology, as well as Magnets and Ladders from 2011 through 2013. Another of her interests is music–barbershop harmony, folk and Americana, and current hits. Visit her website at: http://www.marilynspages.com.


Sarah: Siren of the Shopping Cart, nonfiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Sarah doesn’t charge anything for shopping assistance, and she has a way of launching whirlwind discoveries. I found Mountain House camping and survival food while doing an online search for Mountain Heart, a high-energy bluegrass band. A search for a Bluetooth device brought me Mortimer the moose. I think it was because, as a baby and toddler toy, he wore blue jeans and had wiggly teeth to enhance manual dexterity. Of course we had a niece with a baby on the way, so Mortimer and Mountain House, along with a bluegrass album, found their way to the shopping cart. Everything was as good as the Amazon reviewers promised.

So who is Sarah, and what does she have to do with moose and music? She’s my shopping companion. If I’m browsing for bookends to decorate my friend’s collection of literature, I might be offered the Simon and Garfunkel album by that name; a Macintosh software package for managing bibliographies and other reference material; or lions, flowers, and sailboats made of wrought iron, weighted wood, or ceramic. I’ll probably pick wrought iron sailboats, but I’ll definitely throw the S&G album into the cart. My old vinyl isn’t sounding so good these days.

When you choose to browse sales or fly through catalogs, that’s on you. But when you discover something you like that you weren’t looking for, that’s Sarah—short for Serendipity. Columbus and many other explorers owe her a thumbs-up. Too bad she doesn’t get credit in our geography books.

Sarah’s also at the grocery store. Be sure to thank her when you try and buy one of those samples at Sam’s Club. You came for the peppers, onions, and celery to make that Cajun dish, then voila! There are the Pattypan squash your mother mashed with butter and a little nip of nutmeg. Into the cart they go.

Sure, you could refine your choices online and weed out some snarls and time wasters, but you’d also miss the surprises. You could send someone, maybe a robot? who would only buy items on your grocery list at the store. Not me. I love many of Sarah’s suggestions. Some earn a laugh or a link to a friend (I know it has her name on it). Sarah makes me smile and spend money.


An Old Man Sneezed on Me, fiction First Place
by Leonard Tuchyner

When I was five-years-old, my grandfather held me in his lap. He was a very nice man, and he treated me very well. He made me feel especially special. Of course, when you’re only five, a lot of people make you feel special. It’s confusing, though. Sometimes people acted like I was bothering them. I suspected that because they would say things like, “Get away, Kid, you’re bothering me.” Or, “Why don’t you go outside and play. It’s such a nice day.” Or, “If you don’t stop following me, I’m going to throw you down a sewer pipe, and Mom and Dad won’t ever find you.” But Grandpa always made me feel wanted.

But there were things about Grandpa that made me wonder. I asked my mom once, “Why does Grandpa have skin all wrinkly-up like a prune? Why are his hands full of those brown spots? Why is there no hair at the very top of his head? Why is the rest of his hair white? Why does he take his teeth out at night, and how does he do that? Why is his nose getting so long? Why ….”

“All right, all right, already,” she said. “That’s just what happens to people when they get old.”

Now, I thought that was really exciting. I knew getting older was good, because whenever I asked why my brother was allowed to do things I wasn’t, the answer was always, “Because he’s older. When you’re older, you’ll be able to do those things, too.”

“Is Grandpa older than me?” I asked once.

Mom laughed and said, “Of course, Silly.”

“When I get as old as Grandpa, will I be able to take out my teeth and put them in a glass of water?”

“Not if you brush your teeth and see the dentist regularly,” she answered.

So I tried to stop brushing my teeth and made a big fuss whenever it was time to see the dentist. But my Mom and Dad still made me do those things. I couldn’t understand why they wanted to keep me from having removable teeth.

One day, while I was sitting on Grandpa’s lap, he started to take deep breaths, the kind you take when you are about to sneeze. So I knew what was coming. I looked very closely into his mouth, because I didn’t want to miss any of it. It was interesting the way he looked like he was going to yawn, and how his eyes almost closed in that funny way. I wanted to see the water coming out of his mouth, so I got my eyes as close to it as I could. When it came, it was a whopper. I was drenched in his spray. I heard Mom make a kind of scream from across the room. Grandpa was doing that kind of breathing that told me he was rearing back to make another go at it. I wondered whether it was going to be another lollapalooza like the first one. Grandpa could make the house shake with his sneezes. I hoped I’d be able to do that when I got bigger. But before he could get off another shot, my Mom grabbed me off his lap and rushed me into the bathroom, where she started to wash my face with that terrible washrag. She was very upset. I heard Grandpa make two more sneezes. They were humdingers. I was angry at Mom for making me miss them.

“Don’t you ever, ever, ever let somebody sneeze on you. Do you understand me?” she yelled at me.

“Yes Ma’am.” I said. But I only said that because I knew that if I said I didn’t understand, I would be sorry. She would give me a lecture about it, and I would have to sit quietly and listen. But my ploy didn’t work. She told me anyway.

“People carry germs and you don’t want those germs spread all over you. If they’re sick, they’ll make you sick too. You’ll get whatever they have. You could die from some of the things people carry around in them.”

Now, this was more interesting, “What kind of things?”

“Like polio, or a cold, or pneumonia, or leprosy.”

“Does Grandpa have lep – ro- see, Mom?”

“No, no, that was just an example.”

“What does he have that he could give me?”

“Oh, never mind. He’s just an old man who doesn’t know enough to cover his mouth when he sneezes. When you know you are going to sneeze, you must always cover your mouth. Promise me.”

I shook my head up and down once. She took a deep breath and made a sound that I found out was a sigh. Then she shook her head slowly like she was saying, “No.” that was confusing.

Anyway, I found out she was telling me the truth, because when I was six, a girl in the first grade had cooties, and she kissed me when I wasn’t looking. A kiss is a little like a sneeze. At least it was the way she did it. And, sure enough, I got the cooties. At least everyone said I did. Another time, a boy sneezed on me, and I got the measles. He got the measles, too. I figure he had them before me and gave them to me before they had shown themselves. So I know it’s true. If someone sneezes on you, you get what they have, and it usually isn’t something you want.

One day I came home from school, and Grandpa wasn’t there to greet me. Mom wasn’t there either. Dad was still at work. My brother hadn’t come home yet, but my aunt was there to greet me.

“Where is everybody?” I asked.

“You’re grandfather isn’t feeling well. Everyone has gone to the hospital to take care of him.”

“When will he be back? I need to talk to him about David.”

“Who is David?”

“The person I need to talk to Grandpa about. When will he be home?”

“I don’t know, Honey.”

There was that word, “Honey”. My aunt only used that word when there was bad news, like when my cat died. I’d come home from school, just like now. Mom and Dad were at the vet’s, getting him frozen or something.

“When are Mom and Dad coming home?”

“That depends on how Grandpa is doing. You wouldn’t want them to just leave him there, would you?”

That’s when I ran up to my room. This didn’t feel right, and I didn’t want to think about it any more. When my brother came home from school, I overheard him talking to Auntie.

“He’s gonna die, isn’t he?” my brother said.

“Now we don’t know that, Tommy.”

“Yes, he is. He’s old. Old people die.” Then I heard the door slam. I looked out the window and saw Tommy running down the street with his baseball glove.

So I knew Grandpa was dying, and I knew that it was because he was old. The thing he had was oldness. I never knew it could kill you. Then I knew why Mom was so upset when Grandpa sneezed on me. What he had was oldness, and now I was going to get old too, just like when I caught the measles. I was mad at Grandpa, because he should have covered his mouth.

Don’t you dare tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. You see, I did get old. And I know it’s a terminal condition. Of course, I don’t blame Grandpa anymore. I would have caught old age eventually, even if he hadn’t sneezed on me. Some other person who was growing old would have done it sooner or later. Or maybe I would have just picked it up from swimming in the wrong swimming pool, or eating an old fish. There’s just no helping it. Everybody I know has it. It’s not so bad at first. In fact, getting older is a good thing. For instance, I can take my teeth out now. Besides, they say it has a happy ending. Maybe I’ll even get to sit on Grandpa’s knee again.

Bio: Leonard has Stargardt’s disease which was first noticed during his teenaged years. He is now seventy-six. He reads through the media of Braille, recordings, and electronic voices produced by Open Book and Zoom Text. He lives with his wife of thirty-eight years and their two dogs. He is active in the local writing community, which includes attending critique groups. He also facilitates a Writing for Healing and Growth group at the Charlottesville Senior Center and writes a column for Dialogue Magazine. He recently published a poetry book through Cedar Creak Publishing. His hobbies include Tai chi, and gardening.


Carrot Juice, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner

Robert fell down a rabbit hole,
thinking he’d found his drunken way home,
after spending his night in a bar
swigging his way through carrot juice schnapps.
At ninety proof, it packed a wham,
enough to turn his brown eyes red.
There he spied a cute little bunny
under a cap of green carrot tops.
Her flirting eyes said, “Come here, Honey.”
Her fluffy white tail was drop-dead foxy.

Even through his bleary, blood-shot peepers,
Robert knew she was a real gone keeper,
by the way she flicked her long perky ears,
not so subtly, toward his bearing.

They rented a room behind the bar
of the “Jumpin’ Thumpin’ Cottontail Lounge”
and did what rabbits are supposed to do,
with an ample supply of carrot juice
to lighten hare responsibilities.

By the time he split the Cottontail bar,
he was springing slightly off his sync.
Every jump forward went five points east,
blown in the way of five sheets to the wind,
toxically, totally incapable
of discerning one hole from another.
So when he fell into the burrow,
he had no notion of whose home it was.

When morning light came filterering down,
his two hung-over heads clanged like a bell,
and the warren had a funky smell.
With eyes tightly closed against the bright,
Robert sunk his offended nose tight
into his wife’s soft bunny hide.
But the aroma only got stronger,
and her fur was not soft and silky —
rather rough as a ratty long-haired sweater.
He forced himself to open one eye.
A bigger one stared back adoringly.
Granny Groundhog pulled him close to her
and vowed to never ever let him go.

Robert swore that, if he ever got away,
he’d never again imbibe in carrot juice,
come what may.


Jump! flash fiction
by Valerie Moreno

Lacy stood on the silent sunlit hill, her face punched by the wind. Her white blonde hair caught the late afternoon rays as it fanned around her arms and back, hiding her face. Her blouse was in tatters and there were bite marks on one breast, bruising on the other. She’d managed to fight him off in the car by jamming her thumbs in his eyes and ran like the wind away from the cries and curses that seemed to swallow her.

How stupid could she be, thinking he’d actually brought her on a picnic to celebrate her 17th birthday! She should have seen through his stares and strawberry wine instead of believing it was all love and romance.

Now, alone at the climax of shame and humiliation, it felt as if everything in her life had led her here.

Stepping closer to the drop off, Lacy gazed at the jagged rocks below, foamy blue-green waves crashing over them. “Jump!” A voice somewhere inside her whispered, “It would be so easy…Down, down, let the cool, clean water wash it all away.”

One more step and her breathing had thinned. Another step, her heart banged against her chest, but she wasn’t crying. She looked at the sky, then at her feet, then leaped, arms extended.

Bio: Valerie Moreno, age 62, lives in New Jersey. She has been writing fiction, poetry, Memoir and articles since the age of twelve. Her interests include books, music, movies and helping others.


Part II. Looking Back

Summer’s Last Ride, poetry First Place
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega

My pony’s pricked ears, alert and eager,
Coaxing, “Let’s run, let’s run! And never stop!”
The wind tugging back my too heavy hair,
Taunting, “Chase me, chase me! And never stop!”
The primitive tattoo of flying hooves,
Drumming, “Faster, faster! Don’t ever stop!”
My heart soaring up, like an uncaged bird,
Singing, “Higher, higher! Don’t ever stop!”
A little voice demanding to be heard,
urging, “hurry, hurry! Soon you must stop.”
A sage strewn land, drinking the sun’s spilled gold,
Tempting, “Farther, farther! Soon you must stop.”
The hands on my watch, race faster than I,
They tick, “It’s now, it’s now! Now you must stop.”

Bio: DeAnna Quietwater Noriega is half Apache and a quarter Chippewa. She has been a writer and story teller since childhood. She became totally blind at age eight. She currently has three short story collections and an autobiographical book residing on her computer. She has been published in four anthologies and several magazines. Sometimes it is only an overheard word, a stray thought that can set her mind spinning out a new story, poem or essay. She says that the world provides so many options and opportunities, that no one need ever be bored or live a wasted life unless they choose to do so. She lives with her husband, youngest daughter, three grandchildren, guide dog, three other dogs, three cats, three horses, three ponies and assorted fish, reptiles and rodents, in Fulton Missouri.


What a Feeling! poetry Second Place
by Andrea Kelton

The easel
Holds a painting
Featuring a free-form tree
Under an explosive yellow sun.

The artist
Brush in hand
Stands back
Admiring her masterpiece.

Satisfaction bubbles
Then
Glee gushes and rushes
Through her four-year-old body.

Andrea glows with wonder
At this treasure she’s created.

Emotions explode
As she discovers
That
Doing art
Creates bliss.

This poem appeared on the Vision Through Words blog and Beth’s Class blog.

Bio: Andrea Kelton was diagnosed with uveitis at 24. Her artistic endeavors have included photography, fiber art and pottery. Andrea retired in January, 2016 after teaching for 37 years. She lives in Chicago where she attends a weekly memoir writing class led by author Beth Finke.


The Lagoon’s Secret, poetry Honorable Mention
by Elizabeth Fiorite

I remember
being thirteen,
racing our bikes to the park,
the summer heat,
my hair tangling,
sticking to my face.

I remember
my legs aching, heavy as timbers,
stretched, trembling.

I remember
the silent knot of people at the water’s edge,
the heavy, sultry quiet,
the ambulance,
the crackling of the police car radio.

I remember
the men in slimy waders,
the body clothed in shiny seaweed tendrils,
a glistening winding sheet of languid lily pads.

I remember
the sudden dryness in my throat,
the unspoken questions in my mind,
the feeling of knowing but not knowing.

I still remember.

Bio: Elizabeth Fiorite has enjoyed a career as an educator in Catholic elementary schools, as well as asocial services counselor in a rehabilitation center for people with vision loss. She keeps active by facilitating a peer support group, a Talking Book Club, and Women of Vision, a group of women with vision loss who meet to write and “do” art.
She has been a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin for 62years and lives in community with two other Sisters in Jacksonville, Florida. She is blind due to retinitis pigmentosa.


Tonka, memoir, nonfiction Honorable Mention
by John Justice

I grew up in Southern New Jersey, on a farm where we used to raise chickens. My family kept the farm after the poultry was long gone. This part of New Jersey is a rural area filled with vegetable farms, country roads and miles of unexplored forests. Now there are whole sections that have been cleared and houses are selling at alarming prices.

I was always sent away to school because I’m blind and the local system didn’t have the kind of training which could support a visually impaired student. From Kindergarten to the eighth grade, I went off to boarding schools like most blind children of the fifties and sixties.

One Christmas, my younger sister pestered my parents until they bought her a horse. She named him Tonka but as soon as she realized that keeping a horse was a lot of work, she lost interest. So I inherited Tonka. I didn’t mind feeding him or cleaning his stall. We became good friends and he would follow me around if allowed to do so. I learned to saddle and bridle him, and we took many trips together. Tonka wasn’t anything special as horses go but he was intelligent. He seemed to know, in his own horse way, that I was blind. When I came to feed him, he’d nay quietly and then put his head on my shoulder as soon as I opened the door. He would move aside when I was cleaning and wait for me to finish. When I came home on the bus, Tonka would whinny as soon as he heard me in the driveway. When I called out his name, he would settle down and wait for me. I wore a straw hat to keep from getting burned by the sun. Tonka would sneak up behind me and steal the hat. He never damaged it but I think he found that really funny. Mom found a horse hat for him, which had holes for his ears. He never tried to shake that hat off when I put it on him.

I rode him up through Goshen, our small village and toward the main highway where I planned to walk him along the shoulder. He went so far and then stopped dead. There was no way he was going to get any closer to all that bustle and noise. If I climbed down and led him by the reins, he would come along quite easily but Tonka would not carry me onto that highway.

In the deep of winter, I hitched Tonka to a set of sleds and pulled my sister and a couple of neighbor kids along our farm roads. At one point, one of the sleds became unattached from the other. I didn’t hear a thing but Tonka stopped in his tracks. Then I heard the little girl yelling way behind us. We went back and brought her sled up to where Tonka was standing quietly. He wasn’t going to leave that girl out there all alone.

In our explorations, we went through a battered little community called Swainton. They should have called it “dog town,” because that would have been a more realistic name for it. There we were, moving along the soft shoulder of Goshen Swainton Road when suddenly, we were surrounded by what must have been twenty dogs. Most of them just ran around and barked. But one mongrel decided he wanted a piece of Tonka. I stayed in the saddle because I wasn’t sure what the dogs might do if I dismounted. Tonka waited until the dog got close enough and then raised one massive iron shod hoof. One whack was all it took. That nasty dog was bowled over and rolled right across the street. A man who was standing on the side of the road nearly choked from laughing. “Old Butch looked so surprised when your horse taught him a lesson,” said the man. We went that way once more but this time, not one dog got close enough to Tonka’s hooves.

I went off to college and left Tonka behind. Somehow, I couldn’t picture having a horse with me at Villa Nova University. Dad promised that someone would care for him. I was sad but what could I do? While I was away, during my first semester, Tonka broke out of his stall and went wandering. He went to a nearby field where feed corn was growing and ate his fill. Tonka loved to chew the kernels off of a corncob and then drop the remainder on the floor of his stall. The farmer had a fit and presented my parents with a bill for Tonka’s feast.

A couple of weeks later, just before I came home for Christmas, Tonka escaped again. There was no way to know what he got into but Mom says he swelled up like a balloon and then died a few hours later. We have no idea, to this day, what killed him. They never even had time to wait for the veterinarian to arrive. The only thing my dad ever talked about was the cost of having him carted away. That made me angry at the time. Tonka had been my friend.

My mother had a statue of Tonka made for me. She worked with the ceramic artist until the colors were perfect. Mom brought the artist a picture of me riding the horse up our driveway. She said I had a look of happiness and confidence on my face that the photograph captured very well. Tonka was wearing his straw hat and his head was up. He too looked happy. During a fire some years later, that statue was lost.
But I still have the memories of a horse, a companion, a fond friend of my youth.

Bio: John Justice is a totally blind author and entertainer. He lives with his wife near Philadelphia. John has two published books which are available on line. More information can be found at his web site, http://www.dvorkin.com/johnjustice.


Requiem Remembrances, nonfiction
by Peter Altschul, MS

While growing up, my mother made sure that I was exposed to all kinds of music: Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven, Gershwin, and Menotti; cast recordings of “Oliver,” “The Music Man,” and “West Side Story”; and songs of Pete Seeger, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles, and the Doors.

While taking part in a recent rehearsal of Mozart’s “Requiem,” it occurred to me that this composition was one of Mom’s favorite pieces of music, yet I didn’t remember her including this music on her “play list.” I did remember, though, that she and her two sisters would sing an impromptu version of the first several phrases of the “Rex Tremendae” movement after drinking several glasses of wine.

I sent Mom an e-mail asking about her memories about the connection between Mozart’s “Requiem” and my growing-up years. She responded, in part:

“I must have played the Mozart for you. I just don’t remember doing it…But one thing I know for sure, it was not wine, it was whiskey that we drank, lots of it.”

But I have no memory of hearing a recording of the “Requiem” in our house until one dreary late winter afternoon of my sophomore year in high school. I was in my room upstairs pretending to do homework, when I heard the “Domine Jesu” that starts the second half of the work. I recognized the piece because I had overheard my organ teacher telling someone else that the background music he was playing while driving us home from a field trip was a recording of him conducting the “requiem.”

In my room, I sat spellbound drinking in the fugue-like passages and the double fugue that serves both as the second and last movements of the work, the unusual harmonies for music of that period, and the weird “false cadences.” The concluding neither-major-or-minor chord was the final hook.

Last October, my then sixteen-year-old stepson started talking about how bored he was with the melody-chord progression techniques he was learning in his advanced placement music theory class.

“Isn’t there more to music than that?” he asked.

“Of course,” I told him, “there’s counterpoint.”

“What’s that?”

I explained that a good deal of music focused on how melodies that individual voices play or sing come together to suggest a chord progression instead of ramming the progression down the listener’s throat.

“Do you have an example?” he asked.

I said the first thing that came to mind. “The second movement of the Mozart Requiem.”

“The what?” he asked.

“I have it on CD downstairs. I’ll let you know when I find it.”

“Don’t worry,” he told me as I headed to the stairs, “I can find it on my iPad.”

“Is this it?” my stepson called a couple of minutes later.

“Yes!” I said, astounded, that he had found the piece so quickly.

Although the version he had found on his iPad sounded like it had been performed by a herd of stomping elephants, I could tell that my stepson, like me, had been mesmerized. Shortly afterwards, he began composing pieces more linearly than chordally, much to my delight and his teacher’s consternation.

Bio: Peter Altschul assists groups and organizations to become better at motivating people, resolving conflicts, managing diversity, and planning for the future. A published author and composer, he lives with his guide dog, Heath in Columbia, Missouri. Please visit http://www.peteraltschul.com
for additional information about his work.


No Longer Eleven, Memoir
by Mary-Jo Lord

As I climbed out of bed on the morning of my twelfth birthday, I was overcome with the exciting realization that I was no longer eleven! For me, eleven was the great no man’s land of childhood and adolescence. Eleven was the invisible age. Signs for tickets and admission to events everywhere seemed to say “Children ten and under” or “12 and over.” Even menus seemed to be divided. For a whole year, I was repeatedly faced with the humiliation of being handed a “children’s menu.” All of that would change, I was sure, now that I was twelve. I was finally free of what I had perceived as society’s deliberate attempt to alienate eleven-year-olds.

My strange mixture of little girl and teenaged interests made me feel awkward and confused. I still liked to play with dolls, but didn’t want anybody at school to know. I would play dolls in the basement or in my room, where nobody could see and when my parents were busy or not at home. This kind of sneaking around to play with dolls made me feel both like a little girl and older in a funny way I couldn’t quite explain. I was sure that I was some kind of social freak.

When I wasn’t secretly playing with dolls, I was attempting to apply makeup and nail polish. I had an ever growing stash of lip-gloss, eyeshadow, blush and nail polish. My attempts at application of all of these, other than lip-gloss had been unsuccessful so far. I’d end up with eyeshadow on the side of my nose, cheeks that were way too red, and nail polish all over my hands and the table. I felt clumsy and uncoordinated. I’d think I had the makeup right and then my mother would say, “You look like a clown.”

Now that I had turned twelve, I was sure that my world would be transformed. I would be ready to say goodbye to Barbie and her friends and Debby, my favorite baby doll. My shaky makeup and nail polish applying hands would magically become steady. After all, I was twelve, and on my way to becoming a woman.

Now somehow, I had to convince my body of this great revelation. As I saw it, all of the girls in my sixth grade class were either nearly developed or not developed at all. At 5-foot weighing 70-pounds, I fell into the second category.

Each morning, I would push all of the skin and muscle from my rib cage and chest into my training bra, hoping that it would look as if my breasts were developing. I hoped that somehow through some kind of magic, the skin and tissue forced into such confinement would miraculously be molded into breasts by the end of the day.

Some of my classmates had even started their periods. They acted like they were in a secret club, with privileges the rest of us couldn’t earn based on hard work or good grades. Even those girls that were always in trouble got special bathroom pass privileges,
didn’t have to participate in gym, and got to go rest in the office, just because they had their period.

One day Linda, one of my classmates pulled me aside. She whispered secretively, “do you wear a bra?” Without thinking, I answered proudly, that of course I wore a bra. In an embarrassed whisper, Linda confided that her mother still made her ware t-shirts. It was then that I realized that Linda had asked me because we were equally flat chested.

Despite my size and shape, my body was undergoing some other changes. For the past six months, I actually had to use the electric shaver I received for Christmas, and wearing deodorant had become a necessity. I felt as if I had been stuck with all of the nasty aspects of puberty, without any of the perceived benefits.

I had been sure that all of this would somehow change on my twelfth birthday. I was disappointed to notice that I wasn’t any taller and everything else was the same too.

I got Debby and my barbies out of the closet, ready to ask Dad to pack them away. I Couldn’t do it. I told myself that I could just have them in the closet, so I could look at them. Looking wasn’t playing and if they were stored in the loft in the garage, I couldn’t look at them. I tried applying eyeshadow, felt the applicator touch the side of my nose and wanted to cry. I gave Debby a hug, went into the bathroom and washed the side of my nose with a washcloth. For once, mom didn’t tell me I look like a clown.

Since my birthday was on a Saturday, we had my party on my actual day. I wore my favorite shirt with three raised hearts that overlapped. Aunt Emma noticed that I was wearing eyeshadow, and Grandpa said, “You look taller.”

After we had chocolate cake, my favorite, and ice cream, it was time to open gifts. Mom gave me a stack of packages tied together with a ribbon. I decided to open the big one first, jeans and a shirt. Everyone said that the shirt was pretty and that the red would go nice with my hair. Then I opened one of the smaller boxes. I lifted up the lid, pushed away the tissue paper, and lifted up a hanger. Then I wanted to die! I put it back in the box and realized there was another one laying there uncovered. I slammed the lid on the box and wanted to hide. Training bras with padding! I had just opened training bras in front of everyone, including: Dad, Grandpa and Uncle Al. Everyone acted like nothing happened. Uncle Al said something to Grandpa about the Tigers and Dad asked Grandma if she needed another drink. I knew they saw them though. I could feel my face getting hot.

Aunt Emma handed me a package and said, “Why don’t you open this one next. “It was lip-gloss and bubble bath from Avon, my favorites!

I received a lot of other nice gifts: some clothes, perfume, more lip-gloss, and a Mexican doll from my aunt in California.

As I tried to fall asleep that night, I was confused by too many feelings. I was happy with all of my nice gifts and disappointed that I hadn’t transformed from a short, clumsy child into a shapely, coordinated young woman. Mostly though, I was relieved that I was no longer eleven. Next year, I’d be thirteen, and I’d be sure to open packages withthe the gift side of the box facing me!

bio: Mary-Jo Lord writes poetry, fiction, and memoirs. A section of her work is published in a Plain View Press anthology called Almost Touching. Her work can also be found in Behind Our Eyes, Behind Our Eyes: a Second Look and in past Issues of Magnets and Ladders. She was recently published on the blog, Walking by Inner Vision and Dialogue Magazine. Mary-Jo is the current Coordinating Editor of this magazine. She has a masters’ degree in counseling from Oakland University, and has worked at Oakland Community College for Twenty-five years. Mary-Jo lives with her family in Rochester, Michigan. She has been blind since birth.


Friendship and Fantasy, poetry
by Terri Winaught

When I was 10 years old,
girlfriends half admired, half envied
my thick chestnut brown hair which cascaded like Victoria Falls.
When I was 12 years old,
boys, whose hormones were pushing them toward puberty,
were enthralled by my sultry voice.
When I was 16 years old,
I was a butterfly unable to emerge from a cocoon of rejection.
I dreamed of forests where pheasants and frogs were my friends.
When I was 28 years old,
an unrecognized illness plagued me with paralyzing phobias;
had its way with me physically,
and emptied me emotionally.
Now WELL PAST twenty-eight years old,
I’ve known the sorrow of loss, the joy of reunion,
and the touch of soul.
Once I was 10 years old.

Bio: Anytime something is important to Terri, she shows it by being passionate. Terri likes to joke that she was so passionate about being born that she arrived three months early. This 63-year-old blind woman is passionate about racial justice, equality for persons with disabilities, and doing what she can to help others. Terri lives in Pittsburgh, PA where she has been married for over 11 years, and is the proud mother of two grown children. Mrs. Winaught loves singing in her Church choir, attending sporting events with the world’s best husband, and listening to oldies.


Remembering Tai and Randy, poetry
by Brad Corallo

As children, they were brought together,
fluid figures on frozen liquid.
Shapes, swirls, spins and loops
synchronized grace in constant motion:
glide and dance, translucent ice.
Taking gold in 79,
double bronze in years before.
Youthful champions, America’s darlings!

Olympics in 80 shattered dreams.
Though both beheld their chances burn
one half of the magic pair
began her slide; there was no net!
A mere nine years beyond their triumph-
far too young and unprepared.
Spirit eroding, passing years,
finally nowhere else to go.
Her life no longer, choice was made.

Did I weep that day?
I did for certain!
Though her champion’s will was not extinguished,
She strove and rallied
Her light returning.
She fought somehow, and made it back!

While revelations of his true identity,
finally cleared, the image focused.
Glass broken in a thousand pieces,
His shaping flame, reconstituting himself,
Annealed, cooled and stronger than ever.

And though the crowds no longer roar
and the world’s ice rinks no longer beckon,
Still, their bond continues strong!
And they say it will, perhaps forever.

NOTE: Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner were an American figure skating pair, who won the gold medal at the 1979 world figure skating championship competition in Vienna. They also took bronze medals in previous competitions. They seemed forever young and beautiful and they possessed that indefinable spark! However unlike the prince and princess in the fairy tale alas, they did not live happily ever after! In order to put this piece together, a good deal of research had to be done to supplement my treasured memories.

Here is The link to their 1979 gold medal triumph: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63cmIfO-u6k

Bio: Brad Corallo is a 59-year-old writer in multiple genres. He is a Long Island native born and raised. His work has been published in five previous issues of Magnets & Ladders, in The William B. Joslin Outstanding Performance Awards Program Journal “NYSID Preferred Source Solutions” and on the Facebook page of The Red Wolf Coalition. Brad has been a life long student of fine wine, food, music, books, several professional sports and relationships of all kinds. He makes his living as a certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC) and mental health therapist. Due to LCA (a very rare genetic retinal condition) Brad has had impaired and worsening vision throughout his lifetime.


A Mother’s Mirror, poetry
by MarciaJ. Wick, The Write Sisters

Watching Mom across the table,
I see her mother in her face.
With her white and wispy hair,
Mom is seated in her place.

Mother, now a great-grandmother,
coming up on 90 years,
brings forth images of Grandma
in her precious later years.

In myself, now I see Mother.
I hear the echo of her voice.
I hold my hands as she holds hers,
as if I don’t have any choice.

In the mirror, my own daughter,
as I looked one younger year.
A young woman turning pages,
feelings of both hope and fear.

My sweet daughter, now emerging,
herself a mother soon-to-be.
When her babe looks in the mirror,
will we see her, Mom or me?

Author’s note: This poem was originally written for my mother and daughter for Mother’s Day in 2011.

Bio: Marcia Wick is enjoying retirement with her first guide dog, Viviane, a 60-pound yellow lab from Guide Dogs for the Blind. Marcia is legally blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa. Her career included newspaper reporting, public relations, communications and publishing. With two daughters now grown and a grandson, Marcia is returning to her writing roots in partnership with her sister, Jennifer Walford, as The Write Sisters. She currently serves on the GDB Alumni Association Board of Directors, and advocates for public transit and visually impaired skiers. Marcia lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and Viviane, her guide dog.


As Time Passes, poetry
by Valerie Moreno

I find myself thinking of you–
memories bright, often blue
when you stirred hidden feelings
I barely understood.

The sound of your voice,
turbulent, fiery, gentle,
gave me permission to scream or cry–
my heart meeting yours on a meandering road.

Through years of life and change,
you are still in my heart–
you never left and I never let go.
Love ebbs and flows as time passes,
waves embrace waiting sand
as your music soothed and challenged
all my thinking.

Children of the same moon,
seekers on a woven path–
I cherish you, standing in rays of setting sun from your God-guided heart.


Part III. A Special Place and Time

A Moment out of Time, fiction Second Place
by John Justice

Albert looked around as he and his friends walked through their familiar neighborhood. In some ways, things were unchanged although London was bombed almost every night in 1942. The streets were still recognizable in their usual pattern but here and there, piles of rubble remained where once there had been buildings. Here was a place where the local pub once stood. Across the side street and down a bit, was a tangle of wood, brick and broken masonry. It took him a moment but then, Albert remembered the old Victorian home that had once stood there. At this point, they had to step into the street since the front wall had fallen right across the sidewalk. Ralph stayed close to Marie, making sure that she didn’t stumble over any debris.

Albert thought about his family, now many miles away and out of danger, he hoped. Lorraine and his children had taken a train out into the country this morning. The decision hadn’t been an easy one. Finally, after a long and painful discussion, albert expressed his innermost feelings. “I don’t want to come home and find nothing but a memory. I’d rather be parted from you and the children now in hopes that some day, we can all be together again. It’s not safe here, Love! You know that.” His heart ached when he saw them enter the coach. His daughter Camille kept waving at him until the train was out of sight. Albert turned away sadly.

He and his friends worked at the telephone exchange. They had all volunteered to take the night shift, from eleven to seven. These days, the phone service had a difficult time keeping track of which lines still functioned. In fact, that situation changed almost daily. Albert respected the linemen who went out every day and tried to restore the system where it had been damaged. It was a thankless, never ending job.

London was much quieter now than it had once been. Many people had given up on their vehicles and walked from place to place as Albert and his friends were doing now. Petrol was in short supply. Anyone who was issued vouchers would have to have a very good reason for needing the vehicle. Many decided to park their cars and use other modes of transportation. As they moved across a wide thoroughfare, Big Ben announced the half hour. Ralph glanced at his watch. “He’s two minutes slow again.” Marie laughed. “Are you surprised, Ralph? It’s a wonder he still chimes at all with the nightly visits from the Hun.”

Albert thought of the many ways in which his city had changed. There were lines at the local shops and everyone had to manage with rationed supplies. Public transportation was extremely limited. The sound of the city had changed. But most of all, he thought of the smell. Albert breathed it in, now. There was the scent of fire, brick dust and occasionally, the acrid aroma that was cordite from exploding bombs. He thought of it as the smell of London dying. None of them made a point of discussing it directly but they all had reached the same conclusion. If the bombing didn’t stop soon, there would be very little left of London. That made Albert miserable. He loved this city. It was where he had been born and lived for his entire life. It was awful to see things ripped apart night after night.

They were almost to the phone exchange when the sirens started. A Bobby came racing out of a side street and led them to a building which had the cross-hatched sign indicating an underground air raid shelter. Everyone, regardless of their final destinations, would find the nearest shelter when the alarms sounded. Albert heard an anti-aircraft emplacement begin its rapid-fire defense. They descended a wide set of steps and entered a large basement. Although the alarms had just started, there were already hundreds of people in the shelter. A uniformed warden was handing out the small emergency kits. They contained a small battery powered torch, dried food concentrate and salt tablets. Albert had wondered about the tablets until one of the other emergency representatives explained. The tablets were an effort to maintain a good electrolyte balance in an emergency situation.

As he and his friends stood near a wall, the ground shook as a nearby detonation made everyone pause in their conversations. Albert smiled. Ralph asked him why. He explained that his family was out of danger and his friend nodded.

In the next moment, there was a bright flash of light, a horrific explosion and then nothing. Albert didn’t have time to understand what had happened. He and his friends, along with three hundred other people in that shelter, were killed instantly by a vicious device known as a “bunker buster.” This terrible projectile was designed specifically to drive itself deep into a structure before exploding. Normally, bombs like that were used on military sites, not on innocent people. The aircraft which had loosed this device was, according to local records, destroyed by an English fighter plane.

Lorraine Casterbridge didn’t learn of her husband’s death for quite some time. A representative from the telephone exchange called her to explain that Albert had never made it to work on the same night that she had left London with her children. There were times, during the grieving period, when she wondered if it might not have been better for all of them to be together, even if their home had been destroyed. When the war finally ended, she had accepted Albert’s death. As she watched her eleven-year-old daughter running with some friends, she knew that albert had indeed made the right decision for all of them.

Years later, Camille’s twenty-year-old son expressed his intention to join the military. He was surprised by the response of his mother and grandmother. He couldn’t understand their combined effort to discourage him. But then, he hadn’t lived in a world where things might end in the next minute. Lorraine prayed he would never have to experience a moment out of time where everything is destroyed by an impersonal uncaring hand.


I Think I Belong Here…Kentucky, nonfiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Not a native of the Bluegrass, I resisted transplantation for decades. Texas was inscribed in bold print on my blue bonnet heart for forty-four years. Sure, there had been work experiences north, south, east, and west of there; but home was beef brisket, “Austin City Limits” music, Southwest Conference football, the gulf beaches, and the ranch with my mom and dad. Being an only child would have been lonely for me, but my sisters at the Texas School for the Blind filled–and perhaps created–the part of me that knows how much we need to share our lives with each other.

Roger, my husband, is the youngest of seven kids from a hard-working family who sold milk to the Pet milk company; took home-grown tobacco to auction just before Christmas; but usually had to work town jobs to make ends meet. It was easy to love them all, the parents, grandparents, and church and neighbor kids they grew up with.

Roger moved to Texas with me when we started our lives together. He was teaching in Lubbock when we decided our kids needed some school for the blind experience. Kentucky seemed to be the better choice. I was already hooked on Kentucky basketball, green tomato ketchup, and bluegrass music from the summers in a trailer on the Smith family farm, and winters holding the radio up to the water pipes to bring in the signal from 840 WHAS in Louisville for the Kentucky Wildcats games. It wasn’t much of a stretch to fall for the snowy winters and cooler summers. My daughter had the chance to blossom in music, track, social equality, and romance while my son had access to lessons from a top-notch computer programmer from the American Printing House for the Blind.

After a few years, Roger’s teaching career took us to Appalachia in southeastern Kentucky where they really do say “yuens.” Then we had to move back to Texas to help my parents through their last two years of life. Roger was teaching on the gulf coast when we were trying to figure out where we should land. One morning while the kids were eating breakfast, I decided–because of the excellent radio reception on the coast–to reach for a memory. 840 WHAS came in at about 7:00 in the morning, which is unbelievable enough to make me know it was meant to be. The weather guy, the news guy, and the morning drive show hosts were still there. I was homesick. Did we dare? Could we, should we?

Twenty-eight years later, we live in our 106-year-old home in Louisville, just a whoop and a holler from Indiana. Roger’s family is 125 miles south, near the Tennessee line. Family Christmases and July fourth get-togethers along with contact on Facebook and by phone keep us close. Basketball is to die for, and the Kentucky Derby festival fills two weeks, celebrating the magic of waiting for that bugler’s “Call to the Post” and the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home.” We sometimes hear the calliope on the Bell of Louisville as she steams the tourists down the Ohio River. We wait for the news to tell us who stole that missing Pappy Van Winkle whisky.

Yes, beef barbecue is okay here, they’re learning; but good Tex-Mex cooking is still a slow work in progress. From the Internet, the hill country and the south planes of Texas are as close as a keystroke. I think I’ll stay planted where the grass is…well…as blue as Bill Monroe painted it in his music.


Visit Beautiful Washington State, nonfiction
by Ernie Jones

Washington State was admitted to the Union on November 11, 1889, and is the 42nd state. It ranks 13th in population of the 50 states, and is the 18th in size, making it the second most populous state in the Western United States, following California. Washington state stretches 360 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the state of Idaho and 240 miles from British Columbia south to the state of Oregon.

The Columbia River starts in Canada, almost dividing the eastern side of the state, as it flows south before it makes a sharp turn to the right. This river then forms the border between Washington and Oregon for nearly 250 miles before reaching the Pacific Ocean.

Hood Canal starts at the Pacific Ocean and separates Washington from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and becomes Puget sound as it curves north. The beautiful Olympic Mountains rise majestically on the south side of Hood Canal, with the Pacific Ocean fronting their west side. The Olympic mountains comprise some of the most beautiful scenic lands, abundant with streams, small hidden lakes, and water falls. Deer, bear, Mountain Goats, coyotes, and cougars roam in these rugged hills forested with evergreen trees, as well as stands of beautiful wild rhododendron.

The Puget Sound area is home to the majority of Washingtonians, with several large cities hugging the land between Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains rising on the east. It feels as if there is one continuous city from Everett, Seattle, and Tacoma to Olympia. There are a couple dozen smaller cities and towns interspersed between these large communities, along with the large military base at Fort Lewis. Crowded between Tacoma and Seattle are the large SeaTac International airport and Boeing airline company. Bremerton is home to a large ship building base. Olympia, the state capitol is nestled at the southern tip of Puget Sound. South of Puget sound resembles a rolling valley. It’s made up of several rivers meandering from the Cascade mountains to the Columbia River.

The Term “The Evergreen State” comes from the west side of the state. With abundant rain most of the year, the valleys are green and the hills and mountains forested with large evergreen trees. Along the many streams and rivers grow cedar, maple, alder and more. Wild Hazelnut Bushes crowd in with the Red Huckleberry, my favorite, while the Blue huckleberry thrives in the lower mountains.

Washington is a leading lumber producer. Its rugged surface is rich in stands of Douglas fir, hemlock, ponderosa pine, white pine, spruce, larch, and cedar. The state is the biggest producer of apples, hops, pears, red raspberries, spearmint oil, and sweet cherries. It ranks high in the production of apricots, asparagus, dry edible peas, grapes, lentils, peppermint oil, peaches, strawberries, and potatoes. Livestock and its products make important contributions to total farm revenue. The commercial fishing of salmon, halibut, and bottom fish makes a significant contribution to the economy.

In the Cascade Mountain range are five snowcapped volcanoes: Mt. Baker, Mt. Shuksan to the north, Mt Rainier almost east of Seattle, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St. Helens who blew her top in May, 1980. Mt. Rainier is the tallest, rising 14,411 feet, a beautiful sight from the west on clear days.

Another volcano, Mt. Hood rises right across the Columbia River, east of Portland, Oregon looking like a large ice cream cone for travelers driving west on I-84 on clear days.

Washington state is actually divided into 3 different climate zones. The west side of the Cascades is normally milder and wetter with heavy rain much of the year but for a couple dryer summer months. The winters, though they can have temperatures well into deep freezing and some years receive heavy snow, still are as a rule mild. One can find ski lifts in both the Cascades and the Olympic Mountains.

The Cascade Mountain Range divides the state, as it also does Oregon, from north to south, nearly splitting the state. Many people think all of eastern Washington is barren with only sage brush and desolate regions but this is not true.

Driving east from Seattle over I-90, one does pass through a desolate area, after crossing the Columbia River but this changes about 40 miles west of Spokane. North of Spokane, there is a large section north of I-90, east of the Cascades and into Idaho and Canada with rolling and rugged hills. They are covered with Pine, Larch, and Douglas Fir. Streams flow through these hills into small lakes as they make it to the Columbia River. This is a beautiful area most of the year but it can be very cold with deep snow in the winter. In the middle of October, the hillsides burst into a glorious blaze of gold, orange and reds, as the Western Larch, also called Tamarack, burst into color before shedding their needles to stand naked, like giant dead trees. Spring will again revive life and turn them into a light green, and change into a dark green by early summer. Spring through autumn is a beautiful time in this part of the state with no factories belching out smog to mar the airways.

The South East section used to be a desolate land with only sagebrush and a few trees growing along rivers. Then irrigation came and now this section blooms like a garden with huge lands of alfalfa, winter wheat, and barley interspersed with large apple orchards in several areas. The growing season is the longest here and peaches and other fruit thrive. This section is usually hotter in the summer than the other parts of the state. It is milder in the winter than the north east but often cooler than the west side.

With so many varied climates and regions, Washington State has something to offer everyone.

Bio: Ernie worked as a hospital orderly before working for Washington State in the computer field. After earning his Registered Nursing degree, he worked in a rural hospital until he retired due to eyesight loss. For the past twelve years, he has had a monthly newspaper column in which he encourages those losing their eyesight, while teaching the sighted that blindness is not the end of a good life. His articles have appeared in Dialogue Magazine, Consumer Vision, Christian Record Services and other publications. He has authored one book, Onesimus the Run Away Slave, available through Authorhouse publishers and as an E book through Amazon.


“Head of a Catalan Peasant”, poetry
Homage to Joan Miro
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

In the National Gallery
just beyond the Motherwell
is the yellow painting by Miro
“The Head of a Catalan Peasant.”

Black and red circles
cover her outstretched hands
a blue star sits above her left shoulder
her face is red
and her brown skirt dances.

A lady with yellow hair
wears a yellow dress.

They watch each other
from across the pale gold room.

This poem has been previously publishedin the following:
Concerti: Psalms for the Pilgrimage, Kota Press, 2002.
ISBN 1-929359-18-7
Library of Congress Control Number: 2002112554
Nine Postcards from Prague – a collection of poems Kudzu Monthly, an ezine with a distinctively southern perspective. May 16, 2004.

Bio: Lynda McKinney Lambert writes creative non-fiction & poetry. She has a BFA & MFA degree in Fine arts and am MA in English. Lambert’s work appears in a variety of literary publications including: Magnets & Ladders, Indiana Voice Journal, Spirit Fire Review, Wordgathering, Breath & Shadow, and others. Her concern is with seeking form for the ineffable and a longing to be captivated by a spiritual force. Her latest book is Walking by Inner Vision: Stories of Light and Dreams published in 2017.


Wet and Black, alternative Sestina form poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

The T-shirt clung to her body, wet and black.
obviously, a look of self-defense,
carrying a plastic bag and an antique picture
wading in a fountain. She watched a child play.
I sat on the pink sofa and listened to rock music, I’m waiting.
She passed by the window. I watched from inside.

The female voices faded out as a dog barked inside.
She looked at her reflected image. The glass was black.
I’m spending time in New York, that’s my defense,
Rapping and singing as you take my picture.
I danced as you adjusted your rhythm. We play.
Love at first sight, standing and waiting.

The cars and trucks move to the right. Waiting.
The love of a lifetime begins. I remain inside.
My dress is covered with red roses on black
chintz – tucked away in the pink room. In my defense
I looked towards a brighter picture.
while you load up the car to leave for some beach play.

The melody blends – the drums slowly play
from the past where I’m forever waiting.
Can we return to the 60’s with a lifetime inside?
What will happen when the screen turns black?
Woodstock was overflowing. In your defense
the movie captured the picture.

Drugs, laughter, mud & crying in this picture.
of grown children who longed to play
fans held back, bands were waiting.
Hot summer rain poured down. No one inside
as the mood fades to black.
A shift. A new defense.

Always, a soggy-wet mud-soaked defense.
Fragments of a larger picture
sliding in rain-soaked oozing-mud-play.
Miles of traffic waiting.
We were hungry people with tickets. Inside.
Traveling across the USA, We were wet and black.

In my own defense, I created a detailed picture
of my own life inside, where we play
games of black magic and secret waiting.

This poem was previously published in YAWP, Winter 2000.

Editor’s note: to read about the Sestina, you can visit: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/glossary-terms/detail/sestina or https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/sestina-poetic-form


Peak View, Pantoum, poetry
by Shawn Jacobson

At altitude, the sky shows jewel blue,
above the lowland’s murky air.
Across this sacred sky,
clouds sail on sharp edged, distinct.

Above the lowland’s murky air,
I turn my gaze westward.
Clouds sail on sharp edged distinct
above majestic mountains.

I turn my gaze westward
to where Pike’s Peak stands tall,
Above majestic mountains
where my soul would fly.

To where Pike’s Peak stands tall,
far from my lowland exile,
to where my soul would fly.
I would seek mountain mysteries.

Far from my lowland exile
across this sacred sky,
I would seek mountain mysteries.
At altitude, the sky shows jewel blue

Bio: Shawn Jacobson was born totally blind and attained some eyesight through several eye operations. He currently works at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and lives in Olney MD with his wife Cheryl, son Stephen, and three dogs. His daughter Zebe has flown the coop.


Wendover Interlude, poetry
by Shawn Jacobson

In this place so isolated from time,
where midnight is like noon,
if in the chaos of jackpot sounds,
we should walk through psychedelic lights
in search of illusive gold,
then we would surely lose our way
and aimlessly wander.

So we sit tethered to our machines
by player’s cards corded in strange symbiosis,
as the band plays “Free Bird” at our bidding,
and drinks are served at our request.
My temporary friend bids me sing along.

She rises to dance.
I follow disregarding the cord
that tethers me to my machine.
Thus chained to our devices we tangle ourselves.
We give up the dance, for dancing thus leashed
complicates the night. We gamble again.

Oh temporary friend how nice to share
this pleasure with you till we are dispersed
by morning light that bids time roll along,
till only recollection remains
of this night and this place
where we came together for a while.

The day must come inexorably on,
even here where midnight is as noon
and bid us leave this gaming place returning
to the mundane stations of our lives
and only recollect and fondly smile
when remembering this precious stolen time.

For in such moments
removed from life’s common time
lives our secret selves.


Moonlight in Luxor, poetry
by Amy L. Bovaird

Body scorched by Aman-ra, Egypt’s Sun God
Hair limp, sand-tousled, skin dust-worn,
Lips cracked, wasteland in my throat; camel-breath sigh
Shoulders slumped over, dangling camera
Fists still clenching torn sacks
Molten lead-iron feet refuse to move

Small glasses cool hibiscus tea
Rejuvenated, “Let’s go!” I cry, “On to Karnak!”

Aman-ra vibrates amidst silent Karnak ruins
Riveted, gazes lock on his ancient stone statue
Bathed in light, he speaks to Isis, Moon-Goddess
Clear strong female voice rings out
Floodlights solemnly pass between
Lost in their emotion, we can only listen, mesmerized

Voices carry us through Karnak temple
Feet obediently follow vibrant god utterances
Karnak’s ageless moon lights nature’s dark ceiling
Hearts, hands and spirits find each other
Caught up in a collective breath of wonder,
Under Karnak’s moonlit sky,
We witness the breath of Egyptian royalty
Past and present merge into one.

Bio: As an international traveler and teacher, Amy Bovaird was diagnosed several years ago with a dual disability, progressive vision and hearing loss due to Usher Syndrome. She continues to enjoy running, hiking and traveling. Amy is an accomplished public speaker on a variety of topics based on her life experiences and she also volunteers with local and national animal rescue organizations. Amy blogs about the challenges she faces as she loses more vision and hearing, shares the lessons God reveals to her through her difficulties and manages to find humor around almost every corner.


Part IV. The Writers’ Climb

Keepsake Poetry, nonfiction
by Ann Chiappetta

While perusing a back issue of The Writer, I found an article about using keepsakes and sentimental items for inspiring the writing Muse. What a great idea, I thought. I then thought of a few of my own pieces using this premise. My keepsake poems include one piece about a cooking pot used as a symbol of our marital fidelity and another poem based on my experiences cleaning out a relative’s attic. These poems were good but there was at least one more ready to be written. I felt the need to reach even farther back into time and distance.

As it happened, I was cleaning under the bed and putting away some other keepsakes when I came upon my parents’ wedding album and knew this was the object I was supposed to find for the next keepsake poem. I felt that lending the item a voice from the past while also remaining in the present was an important and unique element in this kind of poem. Here’s the finished piece.

Wedding Album
November 1952

I scanned the faces
Looked for any trace of unhappiness.
I found the photo of Nanny and Pop-Pop
Taken on your wedding day.

A psychic once told me
Nanny’s spirit protects me.
I touched her photo and whispered,
“What happened?”

As if my question opened the door from her realm to mine,
I felt her trying to answer.
But all I could feel was sorrow.
Tears fell from my eyes and I knew
They weren’t mine.

I closed the book and went to do the dishes.
As I stood washing, the tears began again;
I felt as if someone else was crying.
It was then that I turned and looked behind me.

In the veil of what lies between
I knew they were there,
Finally, able to express their pain and regret.

I knew then that the tears falling from my eyes
Were those of a lost generation.
August 2000

The pictures needed a way to express the emotion resulting from my mother and father’s divorce which occurred fifteen years after getting married. I did assume that the predominant emotion Nanny and Pop-Pop would probably feel was sadness, as it seemed general but fitting with what the poem implied. I hope this example encourages at least one of you to write a keepsake poem.

Bio: Ann Chiappetta M.S. is a writer, blindness advocate and family therapist. Ann is a member of the American Council of the Blind and the Lions Club. Her new book, Upwelling: Poems, is available in both e book and print formats. To
purchase her book or read an excerpt, go to: http://www.dvorkin.com/annchiappetta/
To read Ann’s blog, go to http://www.thought-wheel.com
Ann lives in New Rochelle, NewYork, with her husband and pets.


Wordwalk with Leader Dog Willow on a Velvet Night
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

When I was ready to initiate my blog in January of 2013, I pondered many names for my blog. “Alice in Wordland” was already taken by another writer. After checking out more names for my blog than I could now count, I chose Wordwalk. This moniker for my blog seemed appropriate because on my many walks with my third Leader Dog, Zoe, I often thought of ideas for my poems, essays, and short stories. Besides thinking of ideas for writing pieces, I composed lines of poetry or revised a line or sentence while I was walking with my Zoe in the lead. Of course, I only did the “writing in my head” during long blocks (stretches of sidewalk), between intersections–never while listening for the onset of parallel traffic at a down-curb nor while crossing a street. Since Zoe was such a faithful and practically perfect guide dog, the long and quite numerous blocks that we walked were frequently fruitful for my writing goals. My path contained positive “Writer’s blocks”–the opposite meaning from most writers’ definition of this phrase.

Since the passing of my Zoe on March 16, 2016, so much changed and so much was missed. Then, on June 7 of last year, I happily stepped into “Willowland.” Although Willow was a wonderful Leader Dog while we were training at Leader Dog School in June and had been an impressive Leader Dog as we together learned routes in my neighborhood, I had concentrated so much on Willow as we were walking together that I had not given another thought to the art of Wordwalk–until the evening of July 12, 2016.

Yes, a creative walk happened on that July 12 as we were strolling down a double block. I must have felt comfortable enough with Willow’s guiding–I must have trusted her sufficiently so that my mind could drift to that creative space to craft some of the lines of the following poem. I smile at the thought of being “Alice in Willowland.” What a wonderful feeling to return to the art of Wordwalk–now with my fourth Leader Dog!

Velvet Nights of Summer

Oh, the velvet nights of summer!
I happily embrace
nights when the velvet air of July
cushions my face
from the memories of the past winter,
nights when the velvet clouds
pad the poetic path
on which I walk and write,
nights when velvet winds
stretch from the succumbing sun to the dusk
which unfolds into a natural desk
on which I can creatively write
as my guide dog Willow leads the way.

On this velvet evening,
a double block drifts into a “Writer’s Block,”
then a span of back to total concentration on work with Willow.
At the next double block,
along Juneau,
I hear the mourning dove–
also for the first time
since returning home
with my new Leader Dog.
On the day after the anniversary of my Dad’s 103rd birthday,
is he nodding his approval
of my Wordwalks with Willow,
of my Willow?

My fourth Leader Dog and I walk
toward the distant cooing
of the uncommon mourning dove–
more typical in the trees around my Hoosier home.
What a gift is this velvet night
on the 12th of July,
when I come to the crossroads
where the mourning dove, my writing, and my willow
meet!

The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the holiday Season, published in 2016, is the first book by Alice Jane-Marie Massa. To read more about this collection of holiday memoirs, short stories, and poetry, please visit Alice’s author page:
http://www.dvorkin.com/alicemassa/
Additionally, Alice invites you to visit her Wordwalk blog: <http://alice13wordwalk.wordpress.com
, where, since 2013, she has posted weekly her poetry, essays, memoirs, or short stories concerning her four guide dogs and other topics. After earning masters’ degrees from Indiana State University and Western Michigan University, Alice taught for 25 years, including 14 years of teaching writing at Milwaukee Area Technical College.


What Makes You Think You’re a Poet? poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

What makes you think you’re a poet?

I rhyme.
I wiggle into words each time I arise.
I grew up limericking lollipops,
and I hopscotched with haikus.
In high school, I won the forty-metaphor dash.
As a charter member of our Quill and Scroll Society,
I chatted fluently in figurative language.
On summer breaks, I swam with similes
and sunbathed under sonnets.

As I became older,
I relished words even more.
I served them on a dish to a party of one
(to myself just for fun),
to a group for hearty feedback,
or to voracious editors for the pages of a book.

My first job was trimming po-e-trees.
At festivals, I sold verses at a stanza.
Now, I like to work in smaller spaces
by setting sail the rhyming quips from little ships,
over oceans of dictionaries.
Like the captain aboard ship,
I marry the sweet-sounding words with cherished memories.
Under a vine of fragrant fragments,
lettered petals bedeck the deck
where I stand before the happy couplet.

During my middle-aged acrostic,
I am not off track:
I am onomatopoeia-
on my way to being published.

Okay, okay, I am not yet a published poet:
I am a poet-in-waiting.
Alright, alright, I am a teacher of poetry;
and I paternally smile
when poetry by one of my students is published.
I teach rhyme.


CONTEST ALERT

We will be holding contests in the areas of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for the Fall/Winter issue of Magnets and Ladders. All submissions will be entered into the contest. Cash prizes of $30 and $20 will be awarded to the first and second place winners. Remember, the deadline for submissions is August
15, so be sure to get your entries in on time.


26/MT. Fuji: Move High the Stones, book excerpt, nonfiction Second Place
by Amy L. Bovaird

As spring turned to summer, the talk among my Japanese students at the American Navy base revolved around climbing Mount Fuji in July and August. They assumed all their teachers would jump-rather, climb-at the opportunity.

Suzuki-san said, “We have special saying: ‘A wise man climb Fuji-san once; a fool climb twice.'”

That piqued my curiosity. “Why is he a fool to climb it twice?”

“Ve-ly high.” He gestured with his hands. “Take too much time.”

Students then hashed over how high, a spirited conversation that shot back to Japanese. Someone looked it up. “It’s 3,776 meters,” he reported.

“So what is that in feet?” I asked.

Again, a flurry of words-in broken English and Japanese. Yoshida-san, my quietest student, took out his calculator and ended the discussion. “Miss Amy, 12,388 feet.”

I couldn’t miss out on this challenge! My supervisor, Frank, and his wife, Pat, were planning a night climb in mid-August, during the height of the climbing season. No other teachers seemed interested. My heart sank. A night climb for someone with night blindness and poor peripheral vision didn’t seem wise, even once.

I asked questions, researched and schemed ways to adapt to the task. Finally, I decided to go with Frank and Pat. Mount Fuji was divided into ten stations. They planned to drive to the base of the mountain, park the van and walk to the fifth station, which was the starting point. We would take the Gotemba Trail, the lowest of four trails, to the tenth station-the summit.

The students egged me on in my pursuit to climb.

“You can to buy a climbing sticky. It help you move high the stones. Many sellers burn for memory.” For a small fee, climbers could have the stick they bought engraved with the number of each station in Kanji as a souvenir. That sounded like my kind of adventure. I definitely wanted an engraved sticky.

“You can go far, teacher?” one student asked. “I think you must to prepare.”

I heeded the advice. To prepare myself, I trekked up the steep winding pathways to Shinto shrines-the highest elevations in any Japanese city. Even then, after several attempts I couldn’t make it up to the shrine without slowing to a very slow pace. But after four or five tries, I began to develop some muscles and that gave me confidence.

On the night of the big climb I put on two pairs of blue jeans, socks, sturdy sneakers, a T-shirt, sweatshirt, jacket and warm hat even though it was August. The wind speed at that height could blow up to fifty miles per hour. I also found a mining light to wear on my head for extra lighting. I couldn’t forget food, some yen to buy soba-buckwheat noodles climbers traditionally slurp up before the climb-and the walking stick to aid me in my journey.

Soon we left for Hakone prefecture, where my adventure began. At 6:30 in the evening, we arrived at the fifth station. My heart beat erratically as I faced the challenge before me. I can do this!

In the beginning, the climb seemed too easy. I didn’t even need my stick. Bright lights shone on the pathway. Hordes of people milled around. Laughter abounded. Friends chatted. Old people jogged past. My companions and I chatted as we wound our way around the broad slope together.

But not for long.

It became more challenging. Gradually, Frank moved ahead. Concerned for me, Pat adjusted herself to my slower pace. Since I had to watch the ground so carefully, I urged her ahead. “I’ve got my light. Don’t worry.” I waved her away, downplaying my vision challenges. “Go catch up with Frank. I’ll be fine.”

The more intense concentration tired me out as the climb grew steeper. Finally, I rested.

I’m so slow and clumsy. Everyone is passing me up. If I could only see better, I’d be like everyone else. But I can do this. I can!

About midnight, I became less certain.

The pathway narrowed. Volcanic rock stood out like boulders, looming ahead. My light served little use. With one hand, I grasped onto volcanic sediment and bare roots, pulling myself up. With my other hand, I clutched my walking stick.

With so much necessary strong concentration, I didn’t see the ooji-san, a little old Japanese man with a white goatee, pass me. “Gambatte kudasai!” he called out, “Do your best!” He waved his baseball cap before striding off full of bounce.

That hour several older Japanese climbers swung past me, joking and laughing. “Gambatte kudasai,” they all encouraged. I smiled, buoyed by their support.

As I continued my solitary ascent, Mount Fuji’s picture-perfect, snow-capped image faded. Up close it looked ugly-barren volcanic rubble littered with rubbish.

In the wee hours of the morning, something scary happened. Someone pushed me and I fell down between two boulders. I lay there a few minutes before attempting to move. No one even noticed I’d fallen. Shocked, tears welled up in my eyes. I threw up a quick prayer. As I wiggled free from the two rocks, an older Japanese climber-a woman-reached out a hand and gently tugged me to my feet before going on her way.

Right around the curve, the path narrowed and a number of climbers bottlenecked. Craning my neck, I tried to see what the hold-up was. Surprisingly, I found myself stuck in the middle of a traffic jam on the mountain in the early morning shadows. We all inched forward in unison like ants on a stick. It dawned on me that, by being tightly sandwiched between climbers, the danger of my falling had decreased dramatically.

I continued pacing myself. The altitude made me light-headed and I stopped briefly, fearing another fall if I got too dizzy. My breath came in ragged gasps in the higher atmosphere. Just keep going. Put one foot in front of the other.

By that time, I had passed the sixth, seventh and eighth stations. At each station, I stood in line to get my climbing stick engraved. At the eighth, I purchased some steaming udon and sank to the ground, slurping it up from the Styrofoam bowl with the cheap, wooden chopsticks. Then I downed the leftover broth. Like the gentle tide coming in from the sea, a wave of warmth coursed through me. My nose constantly dripped from the colder temperatures, and I used my last napkin to wipe it before tossing that too into the Styrofoam bowl and then both into a steel-woven trash bin.

I rested on my haunches like my Japanese counterparts, taking swigs of bottled water and rubbing my thinly-gloved hands together to generate warmth. Thank God for the gloves that came with my climbing stick. I’d forgotten to bring my own.

I reluctantly stood up to continue the trek to the ninth station. The wind blew through me and I pulled my cap down to cover my ears.

This calls for a cup of green tea before I start again. One look at the line changed my mind. No way I’m waiting for that line. I have a sunrise to meet!

The ninth station came into view at around five-thirty. Almost to the top. Almost. Keep going. Come on, lift up those legs! Move it! Go-temba! Go, Amy! As I climbed the trail, I cheered my body on, wondering whether Frank and Pat had already made it and were waiting to see the sunrise.

The high altitude made me nauseous again and slowed me down. Thank goodness I had climbed up the pathways to the Shinto shrines. That preparation gave me some stamina so I could keep moving. I expelled a breath of air and rubbed the temples of my head. Someone offered me a few slices of lemon. I called out to the retreating figure, “Domo! Domo!” A slight bow. Then I popped a slice into my mouth and grimaced at the sour taste. “Wa-wa-wa!” Licking my chapped lips, I chewed on the skin before spitting it out. Grabbing a few crackers, I rested for a moment. Let’s go! Come on! Get back on the trail!

By that point, I didn’t care if I saw the once-in-a-lifetime Fuji-san sunrise. In fact, I didn’t care if I took another step. Could I make it to the top? I lifted myself up with the stick, and let out a long breath. I only need one more engraving to make this sticky complete. I can do it. I blew a kiss to my stick and leaned on it to help me up.

The majestic peak of Mount Fuji finally emerged from cloudy vapor. I crumpled my flag into a ball, touching the ground with the fiery red circle of Japan’s emblem and then pressing it to my heart before tying it back on the walking stick. It seemed fitting. I had reached the tenth station! At 12,388 feet, the wind nearly blew me down.

As the sun rose higher, I shed my mining light and layers of extra clothing. Daylight brought new confidence to my steps. But it also made me aware of how badly I needed a bathroom break. To top it off, I had no idea where my companions were.

“Ohayo-gozaimasu!” called a male climber who looked to be about twenty-five.

“G’morning!”

“I can see you have trouble going down. I help. Make your legs like this,” he instructed, bowing the bottoms of his legs inward. “It make you strong grip. So you can’t to fall on rocks.”

“Do-mo,” I said, elongating the ‘o’ as I thanked him.

Finding a captive audience, he continued talking as he fell into step with me.

“You vely tired. You no folget put the legs like this,” he reminded, as I lurched amid an avalanche of small rubble.

My ankles were starting to weaken, refusing to adequately support my feet.

“When I no feer happy, I sing. You know Loberta Frack?” He launched into one of her songs-in excellent English. Both his l’s and r’s came out properly.

After adopting me, my guardian kept up the constant banter and singing, which made me feel cross, in light of my current struggles.

“I really need a toilet!” I moaned. “Where can I go?”

“Oh, I see. Toiret big ploblem now.” He scanned the area before giving me his rendition of the current hit, “YMCA,” with hand gestures.

I wanted to strangle him.

When it seemed that I couldn’t wait a moment longer, my friend pointed out a tiny shack. Exhausted, I crossed over to it, stumbling into other climbers-mostly Japanese-who, with surprisingly good grace, caught me before I toppled us over. As my energy decreased, so did my vision. My ankles trembled. In the shack, I finally, finally, found relief after hours of waiting.

With that problem behind me, I smiled at my companion and we continued on our way.

At ten o’clock that morning, we reached our starting point, the fifth station. “Big shame. I go my home now.” He didn’t seem to want to leave me until I met my friends. “You wait me. No move.” He returned a few minutes later. “Come now,” he pulled my arm. “We find Amy-san’s boss.”

He took me to a tag board covered with messages. I despaired of finding one for me. But I did. “Amy-san! Don’t move from this spot!” Frank had signed it. My friend cheered. “You find rettel!”

Retell? Oh, letter. Yes, I had found the letter I needed.

Frank and Pat found me chatting in Japanese with my escort. I waved my walking stick with the Japanese flag and gloves tied to it. What a cool souvenir with the wood stamps! It represented all the adventure of the climb in six neat engravings.

Half an hour later, I steeped in the steaming, muddied ofuro, massaging my bruised and tender muscles in Hakone, an area famous for its hot springs. I recalled my laughter, fears, frustrations and the encouraging locals I met along the way.

Equipped with a lone mining light, shining far enough ahead for me to see where to place my feet, I had somehow found my way up Fuji-san through the mostly-dark climb. Who would have ever believed a woman with night blindness could climb the highest mountain in Japan? It was faith and the climbing sticky that helped me continue. That piece of wood with its brown Kanji engravings symbolized the adventure of the experience for me.
Years later, I see that uniquely-engraved walking stick as a crude forerunner to my cane. When I was walking the broad path at the bottom of the Gotemba Trail leading up Fuji-san, using the walking stick seemed unnecessary. But as I got to the huge volcanic boulders higher up, I started to depend on my walking stick.

The journey with my mobility cane parallels that of my walking stick. At first I didn’t want it-certainly didn’t need it. Unlike the Fuji-san walking stick, there was no adventure in having a cane. When my trainer first handed it to me, it came with a mental stamp emblazoned on it: BLIND. But that was short-lived. I needed to view my cane in the same perspective as I did my walking stick, embracing the adventure of where it took me, along with its usefulness. Each dent engraved on the cane reminds me I’m still moving forward. I haven’t given up.

I did climb Fuji-san twice, so I could be viewed as a fool according to the Japanese proverb. The first time was to see if I could do it. The second time was to savor the experience.

Now, as a vision-impaired person, I conquer new mountains every day and cheer myself on, “Gambatte kudasai!”

My memoir is called Cane Confessions: The Lighter Side to Mobility and is the second in a series on mobility. It features 27 humorous anecdotes on life before and after learning to use a mobility cane. Cane Confessions is available in regular and large print paperback, e-book (kindle) and audio on Amazon.com. The audio format is also available on Audible.com and iTunes. Although there is not much demand for it in Braille, I have made it available privately through a Braille printer I know.


The Disappearance of a Poem
by Mary-Jo Lord

As I sleep, a poem
writes itself in my subconscious mind.
Hour after hour,
lines and stanzas take form
with Christel clarity in my dreamy head.

The alarm clock announces, “It’s six O’clock a.m.”
with all the charm of a screen reader.
No time in my morning rituals to Write down dreams.
Somewhere in the typical happenings of an ordinary day,
my poem is lost.

Stanzas go out with the morning mail, are
folded neatly in a secret pocket of my son’s backpack, and
slip out the car window as I head west on Hamlin Road.

Lines slide down the drain with the
breakfast dishwater, attach themselves to
email messages, and walk out the door with my
10 and 11 o’clock appointments.

Words are accidentally
deleted, swallowed unspoken along with a
cafeteria cheese burger and fries, and
return home to dictionary.com.

Letters change present tense to
past and future and leave
nothing for today. And finally,
that crucial, poignant line break, the one that I
tossed and turned over for hours,
until I was sure it was In the right place,
skipped off merrily to the land of the forever lost,
snug and secure in the toe of a missing sock.

This leaves one solitary exclamation point
to capture the true essence and
drive the meaning home.


Part V. A Different Perspective

Quantum Reset, fiction Honorable Mention
by Brad Corallo

Jack Heyward sat in the dark, heavily air conditioned bar, sipping 25 year old Glen Farclas (his favorite single malt Scotch) and thought about recent events in his life. He was celebrating the receipt of his divorce papers after three painful and destructive years. During this time his discovery that his wife and his department supervisor were having a full-blown lesbian dalliance was quite a shock. Add in his huge wins at the track (approximately $40,000 over a four week period) and you have a situation which the term bitter-sweet doesn’t begin to describe. As a result, his determination to write, recover and relax began to germinate.

Even so, he only learned about the availability of his bandmate’s place on Hydra last week. Actually he had never heard of the place before he read “I’m your Man: the life of Leonard Cohen” a year ago. The karmic coincidence of his being offered an opportunity to live there for six months was not anything he would have believed possible prior to a couple of weeks ago. He sat back and smiled. He was already packed and was taking off tomorrow for a new phase of his life, or so he thought. For a moment the question is this too good to be true flashed through his mind but he ascribed this to a touch of leftover paranoia from the divorce wars.

The next day began with a beautiful sunrise, which Jack enjoyed as he packed his three suitcases into his vintage Nissan. It was time to head for the airport and the “friendly skies.”

Consequently, as Jack drove his metallic grey Maxima along the Santa Anna Freeway, he was not fully engaged. He was sunk in a reverie about his upcoming vacation to Greece and the island of Hydra. He planned to follow in the footsteps of his hero, Leonard Cohen. He was going to get high frequently, get laid and complete his Sci-Fi new age novel about humanity rediscovering its potential to build heaven on Earth. He even had a working title, “Quantum reset.”

So it was quite understandable, that he was shocked back into awareness by the sudden appearance of the old, white SUV that seemed to materialize out of nowhere in his lane about 10 feet in front of him. He hit his brakes and tried to swerve onto the grass median strip but was too late. His head smacked the steering wheel and his world went black.

As consciousness slowly returned, Jack was nonplussed. His last memory was of a van cutting in front of him on the freeway. Why was he sitting on a bench on a lovely late spring day in a beautifully manicured park-like setting? He got to his feet and found to his great relief that he was unhurt. After some experimental steps and turns, he set off in the direction of a path which appeared to be a couple of hundred feet in the distance. He felt a curious lightness of heart. Even though he couldn’t explain why he was in this park when he could only remember the car accident, he was only minimally disturbed by this. Even this disturbance faded quickly.

After a few minutes, he came to the path and followed it toward a gate, which was little more than a wide open place in the hedge that seemed to surround the park or whatever it was. Upon passing through he saw a blacktop two-lane road with wide grass verges on either side. He stepped out on the verge on his side of the road and began walking in the direction to his left. He just did this. There was no thought involved. After several minutes he heard a sound in the distance. It took him only a moment to recognize the bell-like tones of a carillon. He stood entranced. The music was so beautiful. Again that lightness of heart feeling intensified and he was perfectly content to be standing there listening without any urgency about why he was there.

As the music slowly faded into a comfortable silence, he began walking again. After about twenty minutes, he heard what sounded like a large dog barking happily. The dog then appeared walking beside his master, though Jack couldn’t see any leash. The dog was a golden retriever with very intelligent warm brown eyes and a coat that seemed to glisten in the sun. What a magnificent animal, he thought. The dog’s companion was no less striking. He was of medium height and was clad in a form fitting blue outfit rather like a very elegant workout suit. His perfectly barbered long blond hair and beard matched well with the coat of his canine companion. The man spoke, “greetings my friend, isn’t it wonderful? It has finally come!”

“Well hello, but I don’t know what you mean. What has come?” Jack asked.

“It is the change that was so badly needed. As a result everything is the way it is supposed to be,” he responded.

Jack shook his head. “I still don’t understand.”

“That terrible feeling of slippage, as if we all felt deep down that humanity was irrevocably headed down the wrong path with no return left, is completely gone! My friend, just look around and look inside yourself. Do you notice any difference?”

“Everything looks bright and clean, even the air. I also am not worried about anything including the strange circumstances by which I found myself here,” said Jack with growing wonderment.

“Very good,” said the bearded gentleman. “By the way, my name is Arlyn and my furry friend here is Mack. He extended his hand to Jack. When Jack responded, Arlyn took his hand warmly in both of his and said “It won’t take long before it is all clear to you. It is really very simple; everything is finally the way it was always meant to be. All of us understand this and feel this and can only respond accordingly,” Arlyn explained.

“But where is everybody?”

“There is a town that is about a 15 minute walk from here in your direction. Many are there,” Arlyn replied. “If you go there you will see more of the presence of the change. You will be welcomed and warmly received. You will be offered food, a place to sleep and friendship without any initial suspicion. It is the change. All of us can finally truly see each other. There is now cooperation and sharing of the bounty of our beautiful planet,” Arlyn explained.

“But how did this happen?”

“I’m not sure,” Arlyn said, “but I think of it as if there was a quantum reset. All particles and possible events are now perfectly aligned. Some say that far away on an island somewhere there is a story teller who can explain everything. If you ever meet him,” Arlyn laughed “ask him and then come and tell me.”

For a moment or two, Jack stood spellbound. As he reached to scratch Mack’s ears, he said “no, I don’t need to ask any story teller, I will just embrace it and live in it.”

“Good plan,” said Arlyn.

Then Jack bid Mack and Arlyn farewell and headed toward the town and a future filled with promise and hope for the first time in his life! For the quantum reset had come and just being, now was enough.


A Very Special Dinner, fiction Honorable Mention
by Elizabeth Fiorite

“Millie!” I holler into the phone, “You’ll never believe what just happened. Come over to the restaurant right away!”

“Catch your breath, Sally,” my best ever friend said. “What’s goin’ on?”

“You won’t believe it, Millie. Not ten minutes ago, this college type kid, you know, short hair, glasses, dressed like one of those church type kids that came through last summer with their Bibles, black suits like he was goin’ to church…”

“So, what about him?” Millie says.

“Well, he comes into the restaurant and asks for the owner. Only me and Dolly was in the front, wipin’ off tables and getting ready for the supper crowd…”

“Oh, get to the point, Sally. You ain’t seen no crowd in there since three Fourth of Julys ago,” says Millie.

“Well, this here college type tells me that the President and First Lady will be here in fifteen minutes and they will want dinner served.”

“Yeah, sure, and I suppose the Queen of England will be with them,” Millie says.

“No, listen to me, girlfriend. College boy says that the President and the First Lady were on the road and their limo sprung a gasket or something. They had to pull off the road and managed to get it to Frank’s Fix It Fast Garage.”

“Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!” Says Millie. “Say, ain’t the President’s wife his third one? Don’t that make her the Third Lady?”

“Girl, you got a point there. Got to rustle up dinner. Just get over here, if you want to see them.” I say and hang up.

My niece Dolly and sometimes her husband Earl help me in the restaurant when they can get a sitter for their three kids. Earl ain’t my favorite marble in the bag but he’s good to Dolly. So far, he hasn’t been able to hold a job other than pumpin’ gas or pickin’ up what he can, doin’ odd jobs here and there. Seems to me like he’s got his head in the air. Dolly insists that he is real smart, and one day he’ll prove it.

I look around the dining room to see if I need to make any last-minute adjustments. It ain’t the classiest dining room; we got three booths across from the bar, and two booths towards the back. The American flag stands in the corner for when the VFW meets on third Wednesdays, and a picture of President Kennedy hangs below the “God Bless America” sign on the mirror behind the bar. Gus Halversen has fallen asleep at one of them back booths, his head tilted back and his mouth open. His almost empty mug of beer has tipped over and our old black and gray cat, Tom Boy, is investigating the puddle of beer that has dripped on the floor. Maybe they won’t be too noticeable; I don’t think there’s time for Earl to hustle Gus out. A few of the guys have started to come in the back to play pool. I think Dolly and Earl and me can handle everything.

The bell on the front door jangles and two college types come in and look around. Then comes Mr. President and his Third Lady. Two more college types follow them, and they go to check out the kitchen and bathroom.

“Welcome to Sally’s Place!” I say, a little louder than I think the occasion calls for. “Here’s a special booth for you,” I say, motioning to the middle booth. The only thing that makes it special is that it had less tape patching them split parts of the leatherette seats than any of the others.
“You other boys can sit wherever you like,” I say, hospitable like. Two sit in the booth on one side of the special booth, and two sit on the other.

“Is there a menu?” Mr. President says as he sits down and points to the place opposite him for Mrs. Third Lady to sit.

“No, sir,” I say. “We serve one special every day.”

I motion to Dolly to bring the mugs of water. “This here’s water piped in straight from Flint, and it’s the best tasting water around, no matter what people say.” I do not mention that we serve our water in mugs so that the small pieces of sentiment wouldn’t be so noticeable, especially if they didn’t drink all the way to the bottom.

“For our appetizers, we got a special treat for you. Earl’s nephew, Jimmy Lee, makes a special run to Apalachicola every other week to pick up shrimp and oysters. These here oysters may not be as mature as them that come later, so they might not be as tasty as some other times.”

Nobody said nothin. They just looked at the oysters, and then to each other.

“Try ketchup on them, you’ll like them,” I say.

The bell jangles and Millie steps in. Her eyes grow big as golf balls as she looks at all of us. The college type looked at her and then at each other, shruggin’ their shoulders. Millie makes for the bathroom, probably to re-do her lipstick.

“Our soup du jour today is a real treat. Earl, there, behind the bar, went squirrel hunting the other day, and he, his self, dressed and made this squirrel stew.”

Then Dolly served it proudly, splashing just a little bit on Mrs. Third Lady’s white angora sweater.

“You might find a little shot in it,” I say, “but you can’t go huntin’ for squirrel with an A K 47.”

I notice the college types stiffen up and look at each other, and I wonder what was it I said wrong. Since this group wasn’t too much into palaverin’, I start givin’ some historical information.

“My grandpa started this establishment over seventy-five years ago,” I say, “when Pitchfork Falls wasn’t more than a one-horse town.” I see that two of them college types are sniggerin’ at this, but I choose to continue. “Grandpa called it ‘Sam’s Saloon’, though his name was Hiram. I suppose he just thought it sounded better.”

I signaled Dolly to start fixin’ the dinner plates.

“My Pa expanded the place, with the pool room out back, and serving food, mostly chili. That’s how come it was called Sam’s Chili Shack”. Now here I come along, and I want to attract a higher-class clientele, so’s I name it Sally’s Palace, and I put in the inside toilet, and replace the wooden benches with them leatherette ones.”

I give the nod to Dolly, and she starts serving dinner.

“You may have noticed that the sign outside says ‘Sally’s Place’, not ‘Palace, and that’s because that tornado that come through here a few years back tore that “A” right off the sign. We never found that letter or the rain gutters or the railing for the first steps, or a bunch of other stuff.”

I notice everyone is now lookin’ at their plates.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, you have before you our specialty of the day. This here’s pork liver steak, which ain’t always available, smothered with onions. You also have Sauer kraut and mashed potatoes with our own homemade pork gravy.”

I was fixin’ to tell them about dessert, but Mr. President stands up sudden like, and heads for the bathroom. The sign on the bathroom plainly says, “one size Fits All” and I ain’t seen Millie come out. Mr. President starts bangin’ on the door, and one of the college types steps in front of him and pulls a pistol from under his jacket.

Millie opens the door and says, “What’s all the ruckus? A gal can’t even …” and then she notices the gun and Mr. President and fain’ts right then and there.

The bell jangles again and Frank Jr. from Frank’s Fix It Fast garage steps in and announces, “Pa says the car is all fixed.”

Everybody jumps up at the same time. Mrs. Third Lady drops her plate on the floor. Old Gus Halversen wakes up with a holler and kicks TomBoy, who gives out a screech. Quicker than you can say, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers”, the place emptied out.

I go to Millie, who is coming to, and get her steadied on a bar stool. Earl pours her a mug of “Uncle Alonzo’s Home Made Home Brew”, guaranteed to cure everything from gout to gall stones.

“If this ain’t the cat’s pajamas,” I say. “This is the most important thing that ever happen in Pitchfork Falls, and we ain’t even got any record of it! Who will ever believe it happened?”

“Everybody who sees this,” says Earl, holding up his newfangled I Phone. “I even got Millie fain’ting in the bathroom.”

I look from Earl to Dolly, who is gazing google eyed at Earl, and then at me, as if to say, “I told you so.”

We all hustle to clean up before the supper crowd starts showin’ up. It don’t really matter to me about the food, or even not gettin’ paid. I guess we ain’t the only ones gettin’ stiffed by Mr. President and Mrs. Third Lady.


The Ambassador, fiction
by Greg Pruitt

She stood in the shadows cast by the late autumn moon outside of what had once been her neighborhood bar, and glanced up and down the nearly deserted street. At the nearby intersection, the traffic light cycled from yellow to red where a lone car that had just rumbled up paused momentarily before running the light. Stopping for long in this part of town was an invitation to trouble.

The city had been in a steady decline for the last 40 years. First the factories had closed, then the businesses, and finally the schools. Only the poor and the elderly remained. What had once been quiet streets were now dangerous in the town once known as America’s murder capital.

It had been right there, where a punk with a gun had tried to steal her purse. She had told him to go to hell, and the kid had looked at her in wide-eyed amazement before turning and running away. The cop had said that she was crazy, and she had laughed and said that the barrel of the gun had been no bigger than the end of her little finger, and probably couldn’t hurt anyone.

Although the windows and door to the old, one-story, red brick building were boarded and locked, she stepped easily through the barrier. Inside, the abandoned, shotgun style room greeted her in silence. The bar to her right that stretched for half the length of the building was covered in dust, as were the empty shelves that lined the wall. A small, antique neon sign advertising Blue Ribbon somehow still emitted a ghostly glow providing the hall’s only illumination. At the far end of the bar stood a lone stool. It was hers, still in her spot, forever reserved for her.

Taking her seat, and turning her back to the bar, she gazed slowly around the room. There were the empty places where the piano and pool table had once been, and the shuffleboard still remained against the far wall. Apparently no one had wanted it, or if they had, they hadn’t come for it yet. A few broken down tables and chairs were scattered haphazardly throughout the space, and that old television was, as always, perched high on the shelf in the corner. There had once been so much activity here, and now, all of the motions and sounds of life had slowly, but steadily, faded away.

The ambassador had been the first joint to open in the city following prohibition, and she had been a regular there since she was of legal age, and for 70 of the bar’s 80 year existence. The place wasn’t home, but it had been close to that for many.

During most of those eight decades, it had been the watering hole where generations had spent their mornings, afternoons, and evenings surrounded by family and friends. There had been the early years during the depression when things had been tough, but despite the hardships, in the winter, the old coal-burning stove had kept the patrons warm, and in the summer, the beer had been cold.

She had come there first as a young woman and later as a new bride, in the time before the war. Those seemingly endless war years had been filled with sorrow and worry. Her husband and four brothers had been shipped overseas, along with friends who would never come through the bar’s door again. During those dark days, she had occupied her time, like so many other women, with work on the line, manufacturing the weapons that were essential to victory.

By the fall of 45, the war had ended, and the young men in her family had returned safely, and times once again had been good. Two years later, she had become a mother with the first of her 3 sons, and her hours had been consumed with the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood.

In those post war days, the company’s factories had been booming. America had wanted new cars and the people of the city had been eager to produce them. When the factory shifts would end, a new group of regulars would file into the bar. Punching a time clock was unnecessary. Those men and women had always reported as though scheduled. There had seldom been an empty seat no matter the hour of day. The clientele had included, along with the shop rats, cops, politicians, college students, and the men and women of the neighborhood. There had been so many characters, and all of them gone now.

She stood and crossed the grimy tile floor to the shuffleboard. As she walked to the table’s far end, she brushed away debris from what had once been a highly polished surface. Picking up one of the remaining blue and silver disks, she caressed its old, worn edges, as the feel of it brought back even more memories. She blinked away a tear and stared down the table, while sliding the puck slowly back and forth. Then, with a well-practiced move, her left hand sent the weight racing smoothly down the board. It came to rest near the end of the narrow zone marked 3, a familiar outcome for one of the bar’s old hustlers. She grinned and remembered a happier time when a shot like that drew the applause of onlookers and perhaps won her a cold one.

Returning to the bar, she smiled when she saw a mug of beer waiting for her along with an opened pack of cigarettes and lighter. She sipped the cold, sweet brew as she looked upward and sighed, “Thanks, John, or whoever is working tonight,” but heard perhaps what was only a whispering echo in reply.

Firing up her cigarette, she wondered how many she had smoked in her lifetime. It must have been over two hundred thousand. There must have been billions smoked in the place, and millions of beers drained over the years.

There had been parties, so many parties. Birthdays, retirements, Christmas, New Year’s, and St. Patrick’s Day, her favorite, had brought in the crowds. She and most of her friends had prepared food to pass. Her specialty had been deviled eggs. Although the health department had tried to put an end to that, she had defied the authorities and had brought her eggs for all occasions, and people had continued to enjoy them.

Somehow the bartenders and waitresses had known all of the regulars’ birthdays. She must have celebrated at least fifty of her own in this very place. She recalled the day when she had looked forward to the evening of her 48th, but that sad November day the young President had been killed, and the night had been cold and rainy. No one had been in the mood to party.

For so long, they had shared in one another’s joys and sadness. Weddings and wakes had been common occurrences. They had been family. They had laughed and cried together.

An informal celebration of her life had been held the evening following her funeral. Her husband and most of her close friends had been gone long before her, but that night there had been a few of the younger ones who had a funny story or two to tell about the old lady they called Spitfire, the woman with the white hair, bright blue eyes and infectious smile, who had always sat at the end of the bar.

She sipped her beer and remembered the singing. She had usually been one of the first to raise her voice, and certainly one of the more enthusiastic.
There had been occasionally someone who could be coaxed to pound out a tune on the ancient piano, and she had often joined in by playing a set of spoons that she had sometimes carried in her purse. She smiled when remembering the good times.

Of course there had been a jukebox that had filled the silence when the evening became too quiet. On some of those nights, if feeling a bit blue, she would play the sad songs. Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” had been her favorite in the lonely years following her husband’s death.

She crushed out her smoke and finished her drink, as she began to hum and then sing the familiar refrain, while moving toward the exit.

“I’m crazy for trying, and crazy for crying, and I’m crazy for loving you.”

Then, passing once more through the door, she silently vanished into the night.

Bio: Greg Pruitt is a retired teacher living in Fenton, Michigan. He is a graduate of the Michigan School For The Blind and Central Michigan University. He has been legally blind since the age of nine as the result of an undetermined retinal disease.


Tomorrow’s Blossoms, fiction
by Shawn Jacobson

Blind gardeners never use gloves, so I am glad that the infernal things I am pulling do not have thorns. I am sure they will evolve them or something that’s equally nasty before long.

“Uh!” Patrick grunted as he tugged at a stubborn weed. “This must be one of the new flowers, the kind that you can’t pull.”

“Cut it off at the ground; hit it with herbicide. That should kill the roots,” I replied. As I said, these things evolve new wrinkles all the time, like spikes that hold the roots in the ground.

“Bonnie was telling me that she could hear the flowers scream when she pulled them,” Pat said, ripping another plant from the ground.

“Nuts!” I said. “The lady hears things, always has, angels, faeries, ghosts, you name it, she hears it.”

“She was a jazz singer,” Pat replied. “I’m told they hear things the rest of us can’t.”

“That would be Bonnie,” I said, hoping to bury the subject. “She hears all sorts of things we can’t hear, because they aren’t freaking real!”

The whole concept of screaming flowers was stone crazy of course, but these were crazy times. After all, taking folks from the Iowa National Guard and training them to weed blindfolded was stone crazy too, but it was the only way to save them from becoming mesmerized into oblivion from staring at the deadly blooms. There weren’t enough blind folks to rescue all the cornfields from the evil beauties that were the kin of the weeds we were pulling tonight.

My wife would tell me all about the blossoms so I could share their beauty. There were Blue Angels, azure flecked with gold, and Blood of Christ, startling the eye with ruby and white petals. There were Royal Cardinals, resplendent in red and gold, but her favorites were Heaven’s Sunrises. She could not believe that there were that many shades between orange and yellow. I never quite got into the beauty of it all, something for which I’m glad. I don’t want to be awed, transfixed, by things I must kill.

As my sweaty hands sought purchase on a glossy stem, I remembered the trip out to the mansion. The folks who lived there, rich enough to hire personalized service, had wanted their garden back. I was sure that part of the reason they’d wanted a rush job had to do with the farmers in the area who had more to lose than prize tomato plants. These glorious flowers were damned good at getting rid of the competition.

We had arrived at dusk; no one wants to see us at work. Dan, one of the children, had drawn the unenviable task of taking us out to what had been the vegetable garden. Now it was a jungle of overabundant blooms so beautiful that none who beheld them could bear to see them destroyed.

“You have cans for this stuff?” I asked. “It gets real bulky.”

“We have a dumpster, with wheels,” the kid replied and he went to fetch it more quickly than decorum would call for.

“Did you just hear a plant scream?” I squeaked startled from my reverie by a noise I couldn’t identify.

“Don’t think so,” Pat said. “I heard it too and it wasn’t a scream, more like, like a dog whining. Damned if it hasn’t been a while since I heard a dog. You do remember dogs?” Pat continued. He was a fount of unhappy conversation. “It wasn’t that long ago, was it,” he continued, and I could swear I heard a plain’tive note in his voice.

“Yah,” I said, “my wife shot ours for getting into the flowers; this was back before, well back when it was practical to keep a dog.”

It had been the shooting of our dog that started my weeding career. It wasn’t so much her shooting the animal as it was the cold way she killed it, as if the flowers had cast a spell on her making the ten years we owned Rumball meaningless that had freaked me out. My wife would spend entire afternoons just gazing at the plants, so I learned to cook just to make sure we got fed.

Anyway, that night I pulled everything, the Blue Angels, the Blood of Christ, the Royal Cardinals, the Heaven’s Sunrises, and a bunch of others, Astral nights, Viking Crowns, Sacred Lions, and all the rest. “Die devils die!” I howled as I tore the monstrous things out of the ground. Then came the morning after, and let’s just say it was a damned good thing that I’d learned to cook.

“I reckon that was an act of mercy,” Pat replied. “My neighbor’s dog got into some of these flowers. It took him two days to die. The poor thing just kept vomiting all the time till the end, vomiting and whimpering. It was a downright awful way to go.”

“Damn them things anyway,” I said. “If anything deserves to burn it’s those Hellish weeds.”

“They’re not evil,” Pat said calmly, “they’re just good at surviving, like sharks. No one would say a shark was evil, or came from Hell.”

“A shark is an honest predator. You see a shark, well, it’s dangerous and you know it can kill you. These flowers are just as deadly, but they look harmless, so nice, soft, inviting, and so beautiful, not honest at all.”

“Lots of survival strategies are nasty,” Pat said. “For all the smoke some people blow about mother nature and Gaia, and such, when it comes down to it, survival is a brutal game and the only rule is the loser dies. Life is about not being the loser.”

“Nice,” I said, throwing more blooms into the dumpster, “I hope there’s enough room in here. They sure grew a bumper crop.”

“Here’s the shield,” Pat said “you’re tall enough to reach over and push them down.”

I agreed and reluctantly leaned over the edge and used the plastic sheet to press the blossoms down. The blooms felt soft and thick, like a child’s plush toy, a giant teddy bear with an embrace that could choke the world.

Up close, I could smell their floral reek, a thick cloying scent, as if God had taken a bath in cheap perfume. I didn’t know if I smelled a hint of deep corruption or whether that was just my personal opinion of the things. I was glad when the pushing was done; I’d gained us a foot, maybe eighteen inches for the weeds we had yet to pick. I stood and wiped the sweat from my face; the muggy air just seemed to wring it out of you.

“And these things came so quickly,” I said as I panted from the exertion. “It’s hard to believe that we didn’t have any of this until five, six years ago and now they’re everywhere.”

“From what I’ve read,” Pat replied as I yanked a particularly recalcitrant weed from the earth, “they’ve been around more than five or six years. One scientist thinks they first appeared after the meteor shower of ’26. Real strange thing, it wasn’t one of the regular showers that astronomers track. It took everyone by surprise.”

“Can’t rightly say I remember it,” I replied, “but I’ll take your word for it.” Pat had always wanted to be an astronomer, but he had believed that a blind guy couldn’t be one. He still kept his interest in space though.

“No reason you should remember,” Pat said, “with everything that has happened since…Anyway, after the meteor showers, there were a lot of reports of strange, mutant-looking plants. Folks blamed everything from herbicides to genetic modifications. It was quite a source of hysteria, though nothing compared to now. Then, suddenly, the blossoms showed up. Sighted folks went around marveling at their beauty and at all the new varieties; it seemed a new one popped up every day. Then the crop failures started.”

I dropped the plant I had pulled yelping from the hooked barbs that anchored the roots to the ground. I would probably get boils from the poison the plants poured into the ground. As I said, these plants are nasty, good at getting rid of the competition.

“So, what you’re saying,” I said after my yelp, “is that these flowers came from space, like something out of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’.” There had been a film revival last week and they’d shown the old movie.

“Or like ‘Day of the Triffids’, an even older story of space vegetables.”

“Never heard of it,” I said.

“The idea,” Pat explained, “was that there was a meteor shower and everyone who watched it went blind. Then these plants that could walk and kill people showed up.”

“Kind of like what we have now,” I said, “except now we could use all the blind guys we could get.” There were parts of the world where ancient ways of making blind guys were being resurrected and used on the poor and the luckless.

“Or maybe we could use robots like they’re trying in Japan,” Pat said, he kept up on such things.

“Heard they’ve had mixed results,” I said, “I guess it’s harder to program the whole stoop and weed procedure than it is to just do it.”

“Reckon,” Pat said. “It’s amazing how hard it is to program something like that; you’d think it would be simple.”

About then, something rubbed against my right leg; barking noises cut through the pre-dawn silence.

“Sounds like you’ve got a friend,” Pat said.

“I’ve missed having a dog,” I said. This would have shocked my wife. She had been the one pushing us to get a dog; I’d resisted, not sure I could handle the responsibility.

“Lots of folks miss having dogs,” Pat said, “or that’s what I’m told.”

“Maybe I can call him Ribsy.” The dog didn’t feel like he had much extra meat on him.

“You name him, you keep him.” Pat said. What went unsaid was that if you keep him you feed him. There was a reason we didn’t see many pets anymore; there weren’t food rations for animals. “Besides,” Pat continued, “the name’s taken.”

We resumed weeding as the dog hung around; every once in a while I heard barking. Finally, as night gave way to morning, we got the last damned weed out of the garden.

“Better hit it with some herbicide, just to keep these things from coming back,” I said.

We trudged back towards the mansion, pulling the dumpster; I had used the shield to push the plush mass down to where it would not spill out on the ground, if we were careful. Meanwhile our new dog friend wagged and Barked, running ahead, giving us a welcome sense of direction.

“I wouldn’t plant anything for a couple of days. Let the herbicide work, if I were you,” I told the homeowner as he came downstairs. He yawned loudly. “If you see any stems, pull them fast before they bloom.” Then I asked, “Is that your dog?”

“Buster!” a boy’s voice rang out with all the love for a dog you never heard anymore.

“We can’t keep him, son,” the home owner replied. His tone told a novel of regret and the pain of crushed joy. “Would either of you want to keep him?”

Pat said no right off but I thought about it. Then I politely declined. The few people I knew who still kept pets fed them out of their food allotment buying companionship with hunger. I found that I’d worked through that decision. I was not ready to make that sacrifice. We pulled the dumpster out to the curb just as the incinerator truck pulled up.

“Now these plants can be truly infernal,” I muttered as we waited for the truck that would take us home.

As I waited, I heard my wife accusing me of being selfish, the way I’d been before we got our dog; I plead guilty accompanied by the dog’s forsaken whine. I acknowledged that my wife was merciful to Rumball whether it was meant to be or not; I wouldn’t have wanted our dog to go through Buster’s abandonment. I’m not sure I forgave her at this point, but that possibility now seemed open in a way it had never been before.

As we left on the truck, I thought I could still hear Buster whining, or maybe it was the death screams of the flowers. At that point, I couldn’t tell.

There is a lot I don’t know, but one thing is certain, the old bard had it wrong. The truth is often ugly as homemade sin, and beauty can lie through her teeth. It will take knowledge and persistence, not sentimentality, to get to a future worth having.

And of this too I am certain, that tomorrow there will be blossoms as deadly as they are beautiful, blossoms of a spellbinding beauty to bewitch those who look upon them and with the deadly poison to kill the life we need. Then I and my blind friends will be called upon to save us from their suffocating splendor.

I will be out there because I have a purpose. I may not bring peace to the world, but maybe, just maybe, through dogged determination, I can help bring about a world with enough food for all of us where Earth’s bounty will not need to be rationed out in miserly increments, a world where we can have our fill.

As weariness settles upon me, weariness so profound that only hunger tethers me to wakefulness, I realized another reason to be out there. I owe it to Buster.


Video Game Parenting, nonfiction
by Peter Altschul, MS

Since moving to Columbia, Missouri in the fall of 2006, video game sounds have wafted through the house. Explosions. Rapid machine gun fire. Weird noises suggesting alien invasions. Bucolic barnyard sounds. Large sports stadium crowd noise, including play-by-play calls. Loud, foreboding music and edgy, erie music. Constant video game background noise was a constant soundtrack as I did kitchen and laundry duty; wrote a book; composed and recorded music; looked after my guide dog and a pack of bouncy standard poodles; did some consulting work; and hung out with my wife, Lisa, while staying clear of Monty, our pet python.

Communicating with my two stepsons over the racket could be challenging. It was sometimes hard to get them to go to bed or do their homework or come to the dinner table. Or even get their attention at all.

Being totally blind, it was hard to talk with my stepsons about the games they were playing because of all the visuals. But over time, I learned something about guns, military strategy, and zombie culture while discussing sports-related strategies. And my snarky comments about the music resulted in conversations about classical music and World War II-era American songs.

My most successful parental intervention took place one night while my older stepson and a friend were playing some sort of competitive shoot-’em-up game. They were both in eighth grade, and like me during that time, engaged in increasingly loud and vulgar trash talk. In the past, I had allowed this chatter to wash over me, but, for whatever reason, I’d had enough.

“Suck my cock!” my stepson bellowed.

“Can I watch?” I called from the bedroom.

His friend howled with laughter and told me I was cool.

And the trash talk ended within the walls of our house, not just for that night, but as far as I can remember, forever.

I’m sure my stepson, who now plays college football, trash-talks with the best of them, but while he sometimes curses around us when he’s frustrated or angry, he doesn’t trash talk in our presence.

I suspect that my three-word intervention was effective because, prior to that time, I kept my cursing to a minimum, had a great relationship with my stepson’s mom, and had a good-enough relationship with both boys.

A few months later, my stepson spent what seemed like several minutes attributing his loss in another video game skirmish to poor lighting.

“Get a dog!” I called from the bedroom.

“Did he just tell you to get a dog?” his friend asked, trying hard not to laugh.

“Yes,” my stepson said sheepishly.

And those lame excuses were extinguished.

Being a stepdad requires tricky navigation through and around emotional mine fields without those noisy video game weapons. But I do know that modeling effective behavior most of the time, having a quality relationship with their mother, a good-enough relationship with the stepkids, and humor can be effective weapons. Certainly more effective than the all-too-commonly used weapon of rat-a-tat preaching.


A Lesson in Empathy, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin

“I used to pride myself on my independence, now I am afraid to go on walks in the evening, to attend social events… where I should be comfortable. It is embarrassing how feeble I feel, how timidly I move through life, always guarded, ready to defend myself, ready to be angry.”

********************

I am blind-a blind social worker working with people who are blind. I read the above passage assuming a perspective of shared vulnerability, for I hear these words, or words like these, from people struggling with vision loss. I empathize, not only as a social worker, but as one who lost connection and forfeited the belief that I was entitled to a full life. Blindness is trauma and its expression of anxious apartness is as universal as sight is individual. But the above passage was spoken, not by a young blind woman, but by a college-aged victim of date rape.

I hear her and know I can draw parallels with blindness but I prefer to relate through our mutual loss of the inherent right to a future without fear of living through a lens that sees us as deficient. I am her when she says she’s afraid, angry, embarrassed, guarded. And knowing the source of her trauma, my initial response joins with her outrage. I am ashamed of my perpetrator gender. I condemn the judicial system which endorses a double standard that blames victims and compounds their trauma by insinuating that they were “asking for it.” I decry the moral judgment of retribution, wherein the victim becomes the accused, a concept that rivals the idiocy of the archaic belief that blindness is punishment for sin. I shudder for this fragile stranger as friends guess at how to behave and what to make of this “poor girl,” this brave victim of a sexual predator.

The truth is, trauma is a universal experience. It arrives with a gentle tug on your sleeve or between the lines of a diagnosis. Yet how often we lose our ability to speak of it, to deal with it openly. “I didn’t want to be known as the girl who was raped,” says Claire Underwood in “House of Cards”, reinforcing the tragic tendency toward secrecy, suppression and shame. There are days I wish blindness could be hidden, where I might get a breather from dealing with the glaring, visible vulnerability. I have to go on faith that, because physical injury, emotional trauma and social stigma are universally shared, experiencing these multiple effects of trauma brings unity, empathy and understanding to the common struggle. This thought gives me courage.

[The quotation leading this story was taken from an article in The Chicago Tribune, 6/9/2016, “What my sons will learn from Turner’s Stanford rape case” by Rex W. Huppke]

[Claire Underwood’s quote comes from “House of Cards”, season 2, episode 4 (Cumulative Episode 17)]


I Don’t Think of You as Blind, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin

When I define who I am, blindness is pretty far down the list. First come husband, son, brother, writer, reader, music lover and social worker. In these roles, I try to be loving and kind, thoughtful and thorough, patient and tolerant.

But among significant life events, losing my eyesight has had the most profound impact. I lost, then, after retraining, regained my career. I haven’t driven a car in twenty-five years. I live in a large city and depend on public transit. I am less adventuresome, preferring familiar environs. I feel the loss of visual things which used to give me pleasure, like taking photos and watching ball games.

At times, blindness becomes my most obvious and dramatic characteristic. If I try without success to find someone to read me a handwritten letter or I begin to cross Ashland Avenue against the light, blindness becomes vexing or downright dangerous. I can proceed no further nor reach safety until I find a workaround. But even as blindness inserts obstacles, I identify and internalize how blindness has enhanced my patience, ingenuity and problem-solving.

My wife has had two episodes with cancer. Yet I do not think of her primarily as a cancer victim or a cancer survivor as defined by a pink T-shirt manifesto. Cancer is part of her just as are curly hair and a soothing voice. Blindness is part of me just as are male-pattern baldness and a singing voice tending toward flats. Cancer and blindness are but two brush strokes in our portrait; they are not our portrait. They are one frame of reference through which we think, feel and make decisions. Where a stranger says, “Funny, you don’t look blind,” a friend says, “I don’t think of you as blind.” The closer we come, the more we see, in ourselves and in one another.


Part VI. A Breath of Spring and Summer

A Sommelier of Summer, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

I am a sommelier of summer–
not of summer wines, just of the season
about which I sometimes whine.

Summarizing, I wish I could somehow return
to the somersault summers of my childhood years
when I so awaited and relished
the hottest days of the sizzling season,
when swimming was the sparkle of life.
I could even summon up sweat-free and unmelted moments
in my young adult life
when I did not need to summon up courage
to face or frolic in the summer sun.

Like a shadow, this season of growth
is behind me:
now I summit
the autumn of life’s falling stages
and am uncomfortable in the sunshine season.

I have been too winterized
by decades of Wisconsin winters.
Should I admit?
On one of the recent high heat-indexed days,
I was dreaming of a blizzard!
(I do not mean a Blizzard of the DQ variety.)
I mentioned to a fellow Wisconsinite
the cool thought of a real blizzard.
Such thoughts were even more soothing
than my currently beloved air conditioning.
What a sumptuous treat
after a long walk with my Willow!

Sometime in January,
When only Willow warms my heart,
someone will remind me
of this summertime poem;
and in the midst of a real blizzard,
I will have to eat my snowflakes
and re-boot to appreciate
a sommelier of summer.


Summer, Mount Sinai Harbor, poetry
by Brad Corallo

Scent of hot asphalt
caressing Gentle breeze.

Happy shrieks of playing children,
joyous barks of bounding canines.

Basket balls beat pavement rhythms,
rim shots, backboard booms!

Fiery cratered rocky sand
treacherous to barefoot souls.

Dock tackle, Intermittent clanking
revving boat motors, spew foul exhaust.

Long gliding sound of fishing line
sliding through metallic eyes.

The plop as sinker hits water
ratcheting sounds, eager cranking.

Car engine noise
approaches and moves away.

Ten second peal of music
rises and fades.

Lilting strains of Summer Breeze by Seals and Crofts;
hang in air loosing cascades of emotion.

Poignant pang of memory
long forgotten face of smiling girl.

White foam strokes the shore.
Light reflects off undulating water.

Clear blue sky, white puffy clouds,
bright warm sun breath bathes all.

Perfumed skin, bronzed sun worshipers,
transient whiffs, pineapple coconut.

Ball games blare from radios,
parking lot Ice cream truck circles, piping familiar melodies.

Spreading my Op Art towel, I lie down.
Finally Warm all over, so totally here, gratitude ascending!


Slices of Summer, poetry
by Nancy Scott

June:

Every season sends perfect days
to remind us to love land and sky.

Be grateful to step out to insightful air.
Test fit in less clothes.
Sit in slanted morning sun
and late-afternoon creative shade.

Tomorrow, mind thunder.
Tomorrow, crave things not in the house.
Tomorrow, try not to forget today.

July:

Clap hands
and have the servant
or the genie
or the devil
appear.

August:

A month for pretending:
– that school will stay out forever,
– that potato salad is good for us,
– that our old journals matter,
– that we will chase the ice cream truck,
– that snow will be wonderful.

Bio: Nancy Scott’s over 700 essays and poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, newspapers, and as audio commentaries. She has a new chapbook, The Almost Abecedarian available on Amazon, and she won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Her recent work appears in Braille Forum, Disabilities Studies Quarterly, Philadelphia Stories, Pentimento and Wordgathering.


Butterfly, poetry
by Trish Hubschman

She spreads her wings, stretching, stretching
As her outer shell melts away
Bringing her into the second phase of life
First a pillar crawling on a leaf,
Hiding, Safe, but constricted
Now, she is free, or soon will be.
She has to be brave and fly away
She will, but first she must breathe it in
The air is warm, sun bright, the world there before her
Oh, how beautiful it all is!
She’s seeing it through different eyes
Or maybe not, same eyes, new appreciation
She takes a step forward, she’s ready,
Or maybe not, she hesitates.
She’s scared! Who wouldn’t be?
She needs time to absorb it
Her new form, new life, freedom.
She could do this, she wants to,
Not that there’s a choice
She can’t crawl back into her cocoon
Oh, that one makes her smile!
But no, this is Nature’s plan, she must fulfill it
One, two, three, wings spread wide, fluttering, fluttering
She’s sailing, she’s off the branch, she’s entered the world
And it feels good!

Bio: Trish is deaf-blind and has a walking/balance problem. She loves writing short stories of all kinds. She also has two books published with America Star Books, a short story collection Through Time, time travel/romances and The Fire, first in her own Tracy Gayle mystery series.


Water Balloons, memoir
by Andrea Kelton

All the kids were out playing. My little brother, Michael and me. Dottie Moore and her little brother. Tom and Greg Halleck from next door. The kids from the farm house down the street. And the boy from the house with the old weeping willow in front. This sunny summer day was the perfect play day on Lincoln Avenue.

Lincoln Avenue was part of a neighborhood developers had carved out of old farmland. Our ranch house was one of many built amidst the longstanding older two story wooden and stone houses wrapped in wide porches. Lincoln was paved. But the side street next to my ranch house was still a ditch-lined dirt road. Empty fields offered secret hiding places and swampy water teaming with tadpoles. Many adventures waited to unfold.

But today, we were all about games. First, statues where we tossed each other and froze in position. Next we chased each other in tag. “You’re it!” We calmed down a bit with hide and seek. “Ready or not, here I come!” Someone brought a red rubber ball. We formed kickball teams. Tom and I were the captains. We chose teams from all the younger kids. In September, I’d be in the fourth grade and he’d be in the third. We played hard until it was time for lunch.

The afternoon heated up, but not hot enough for the sprinkler or bathing suits. After lunch, Tom and Greg came out with a bag of balloons. Tom thought it’d be fun to fill the balloons with water and throw them at the other kids. But he and Greg were the only ones with balloons. Tom stood there like he was the king and picked who would be favored with a balloon to fill. He didn’t pick me or Michael.

I got hit by a couple of balloons. No fair. Then I remembered. My daddy had balloons in his underwear drawer. I’d seen them when I’d helped mommy put away the laundry. Way in the back. Wrapped in little silver packages. I snuck back into the house, quietly opened daddy’s drawer and took some for me and Michael.

I bit open the yucky tasting foil. Put the end of the balloon on the spigot. Water filled the banana shaped tube. I tied a knot in the end and handed it off to Michael. I’d just finished filling mine when my daddy burst out the front screen door. He didn’t say a word. Just snatched our balloons and ran back into the house.

The other kids got tired of playing water balloons. Everybody liked hitting somebody. Nobody liked getting hit. Pretty soon all the kids drifted home for a snack and some inside play. Maybe tomorrow we’d ride bikes.


Windsong, fiction
by Susan Muhlenbeck

Dawn drove cautiously up the Blue Ridge Mountains. She was headed to a Bed and Breakfast in a small town in Rural Virginia. She had received an e-mail from her boyfriend Max that morning telling her to meet him there this afternoon. She had been so excited about the prospect of spending some quality time with him that she threw caution to the wind. It was a clear, crisp day in early spring, and everything seemed to be calm except her racing thoughts.

“Don’t go!” her friend Tish had insisted earlier that day. “You’re just setting yourself up for heartache again.” Dawn knew on an intellectual level that Tish could very well be right. Her boyfriend Max had flown in and out of her life several times within the last couple years. He would hang around for a few weeks or months then disappear without a trace. Then he would reappear some time later with apologies and lame excuses about how he needed time to regroup. She had always taken him back, thinking that things would be different this time. This e-mail she had received was the first time she had heard from him in almost two months.

“I’ll tell you everything that happened to me when I see you,” he had written. “I’m here to stay this time, I promise. Don’t give up on me yet. We came too far to turn back. Can’t wait to see you.” She wouldn’t allow her misgivings to invade her mind. She concentrated on the clean, crisp mountain air, so different from the carbon monoxide fumes in the city. She could feel the pure air filling her lungs and cleansing her soul. There was hardly any traffic this afternoon. She should arrive within the hour.

She arrived at the big stone house, which had been converted into Cherry Stone Lodge, around 3:30. The Bed and Breakfast was owned by a retired couple who were expecting her. Max had made the reservations on line. “He’s not here yet,” Mrs. Clark said, ushering Dawn into the spacious living room, “but let me show you your room.”

Dawn followed Mrs. Clark up the long, winding staircase. She examined the landscape paintings on the walls with some interest. “This house was built around 1850,” Mrs. Clark explained as she unlocked the door to one of the rooms at the top of the steps. “There is an old Indian burial ground near here.”

“I like this antique furniture,” Dawn said, putting her hand on the carved headboard. “It reminds me of Colonial times.” She admired the matching dresser and rocking chair.

“The bathroom is just down the hall,” Mrs. Clark said casually. “Just get yourself settled. Do you have plans for dinner?”

“No, I don’t,” Dawn said, feeling her face flush. “I thought-“

“Everything closes around here at 5:00,” Mrs. Clark said, putting a hand on her arm. “You and your friend are more than welcome to have dinner with us if you don’t have any plans. The nearest restaurant open after 5:00 is about ten miles away.”

“Thank you,” Dawn said, suddenly feeling very awkward. Where was Max and when would he be here? “I think I’ll walk around for a little while, get a look at the town.”

“There’s really not much to see,” Mrs. Clark said as they walked downstairs. “We eat around 6:00 if you’re interested.”

Dawn walked around the little town, considerably less light-hearted than she had felt when she had arrived. As Mrs. Clark had said, there was not much to see. The main street had a grocery store, a post office, a little church, a laundromat, a souvenir shop, and a gas station. She stopped in the souvenir shop and spent a few minutes examining the trinkets. She finally chose a small wooden owl as a present for Max. “A wise choice,” the clerk said as she wrapped the gift in newspaper.

“Let’s hope so,” Dawn conceded as she left the shop. She wasn’t speaking so much of the gift as she was about her decision to come on this trip. Maybe her friend Tish was right. Maybe she shouldn’t have bothered. Max should have been here when she arrived, or at least called and let her know what was going on and when he would arrive. Maybe he would be at Cherry Stone Lodge with a good explanation when she got back.

But he wasn’t. Dawn tried to hide her disappointment and embarrassment as she walked into the empty parlor. “I hope the poor guy didn’t get lost,” Mr. Clark said anxiously. “This isn’t exactly an easy place to find.”

“You don’t suppose he got into an accident, do you?” Mrs. Clark asked, walking out of the kitchen. “Maybe there was a traffic jam,” she added quickly.

“I don’t know,” Dawn said uncertainly. “He’s not answering the phone.” That wasn’t exactly a lie. His phone number had been “unavailable” for some time. That was one of the things she had planned to discuss with him tonight.

“Dinner will be ready in a few minutes,” Mrs. Clark said cheerfully. “We’re having meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and corn, and apple pie for dessert. Hope you’ll join us.”

“Thank you,” Dawn said, trying to sound grateful. She wasn’t a big meatloaf fan, but she couldn’t refuse their kind invitation. She sat in the parlor and stared at the fireplace. Tish was right, she thought angrily. She should have never come. Max didn’t get lost or have an accident. She had been stood up. It was as simple and awful as that.

She noticed an unfinished patchwork quilt on the ornate couch. It was made of hundreds of scraps of material of all different colors. “I love your patchwork quilt,” she told the Clarks over dinner.

“Oh, that’s a visiting quilt,” Mrs. Clark laughed. “We invite all the guests to bring a piece of material from a discarded article of clothing to sew into it. It’s made up of a lot of garments from countless guests. We have a picture of it on our website.”

After dinner the Clarks invited Dawn to hang out in the parlor. “We’re just going to watch some old movies tonight. There’s usually something good on the classic movie channel.”

“Thank you, but I think I’ll sit outside on the porch for a while,” Dawn said, trying to suppress a yawn.

“All right. There are some books in the library if you would care to read.”

She chose a book of selected poems by some famous British poets from the 19th century. She listened to the sounds of nature as she tried reading some poetry. The wind blew gently as the crickets sang and frogs croaked. The leaves stirred softly in the breeze, which had a fresh, clean smell. She sat there for what seemed to be a long time before she felt herself starting to drift into unconsciousness. She closed the book and went upstairs.

Dawn’s head no sooner touched the pillow than she found herself climbing an endless flight of steep stairs. She climbed higher and higher, unaware of the place the steps led. Her legs ached, and her heart and lungs felt like they would burst, and she still climbed. After what seemed like hours, she reached the top. I must be on the 900 and 99th floor, she thought insanely. She found herself in a small, square room lit only by a candle. She walked forward cautiously and heard and felt the wooden floor boards creak under her feet. There was a table with several scrolls and small objects lying on it. At the table sat an old man, who was writing on one of the scrolls. His hair was snow white, and his face looked like it was made out of a piece of worn leather. He rose and stepped towards her as she took in the scene around her.

“I have been waiting for you, my dear,” he said in an incongruously strong voice. She shook his hand, which felt like rough tree bark.

“Who are you?” she asked, confused.

“You cannot say my name in your language,” he said firmly. “I am a keeper of the faith.”

“Are you God?” she asked suspiciously, peering at the objects on the table. One of the objects looked much like the wooden owl she bought at the souvenir shop earlier that day.

“I am not God nor one of his archangels,” the old man said mysteriously. “Do you know why you are here?”

“I came to meet my boyfriend, but he stood me up,” Dawn said, looking down at the floor. “I’m done with him.”

“You won’t be done with him until you learn to do one thing,” the old man said solemnly. As he spoke, they heard the wind outside blowing very hard. The building began to sway and rock. Dawn was sure they would go crashing to the ground ten thousand feet below.

The old man seemed unfazed by the motion. “You, my dear, have to learn how to hate suffering,” he said evenly.

“What do you mean?” Dawn demanded indignantly. “Everybody hates suffering.”

“You embrace it like an old friend,” the man said as if she hadn’t spoken. “You had so many chances to cast it aside, yet you can’t seem to give it up.”

Dawn considered his words. “It’s not just Max,” she said softly. “I feel like I have been suffering my whole life. I was abandoned on the doorstep of a monastery at birth. The monks who found me called me Dawn because that was the time of day they found me. I don’t know where I came from, only that I was deserted.”

“So you attract other people who will abandon you also,” the old man nodded, “and continue to suffer. Old habits die hard.”

“What should I do?” she asked, near tears.

“As soon as you learn to hate suffering, life will be more rewarding,” he said gravely. “Learn to hate suffering,” he said loudly, making her jump.

She opened her mouth to say, “I sure will,” but the building shook even harder than before, and she woke up with a start. She put a hand over her pounding heart. Outside the wind was still blowing. She concentrated on the sound. It was almost as if the wind were trying to tell her something, she thought as sleep claimed her again. This time she didn’t have any dreams, at least not that she could remember.

She woke up the next morning feeling surprisingly refreshed and revitalized. She smiled pleasantly at the Clarks over a hearty breakfast, complete with fresh squeezed orange juice. “May I stitch something into the patchwork quilt?” she asked after breakfast.

“Of course,” Mrs. Clark said, handing her a needle and thread. Dawn cut a large square from a beautiful embroider silk blouse Max had given her for her birthday the year before. She sewed it into place next to a colorful neck tie and under a piece of a pink cotton dress. “Hope you had a good time,” the Clarks said, not mentioning Max’s absence.

“I love this place,” Dawn said truthfully as she prepared to depart. “Maybe I’ll come back sometime.”

She took her time driving home, enjoying the mountain air and rural setting as long as possible. Her apartment was just as she had left it. She put the wooden owl in a prominent place on her dresser. “In case I forget to hate suffering,” she said out loud. She threw away the rest of the blouse Max had given her and then checked her e-mail messages.

There was a message from Max saying, “Sorry I couldn’t make it this weekend. I’ll be in touch.”

She sent a reply reading, “I had a fantastic time. Don’t ever contact me again, you worthless pig.” Then she took the steps necessary to block any further messages from him.

She met her friend Tish for a glass of wine that evening. They sat out on the porch of the neighborhood tavern. “How did it go?” Tish asked anxiously.

“He stood me up,” Dawn laughed, “but I met an interesting dude.”

“Really? Is he cute?” Tish asked excitedly.

She told Tish about the old man in her dream and what he said. “So Max is dead as far as I’m concerned,” she finished.

“Great!” Tish said as the wind started picking up speed. “Must be a storm brewing,” she said.

Dawn thought about the building in her dream as it shook from the strong wind. “Let’s finish our wine and go,” she suggested as the wind blew harder. “Wow! That wind is really whipping tonight.”
Bio: Susan Muhlenbeck was born in Seoul, Korea and spent her first 5 years there. She was raised in the Midwest and moved to Virginia as a teenager. She received a bachelors’ degree in psychology and masters’ degree in rehabilitation counseling from Virginia University. Her interests include reading, swimming, bargain shopping, and cats. Her books are available on Amazon.


Unwelcome Sunshine, flash fiction
by John Wesley Smith

Mark sat in the lawn chair, hoping the fresh air would clear his head. He’d lost track of time. It was cloudy when he came outdoors after lunch. Now he had to squint his eyes against the sun.

Jenny was all he could think about. She had been happiest on sunny days. But even on the cloudy days she had a way of making everything seem brighter.

But she was gone now.

He stood to go back indoors. His hand lay paralyzed on the screen door handle. Entering the empty house was too much to bear.

How could it be? Jenny was gone. She’d run off with a garbage collector.

A garbage collector! He shook his head at the thought.

Blake was filling in for the regular guy who was recovering from heart bypass surgery. He came around two weekends last month to pick up the contents from the dumpsters they’d rented. Cleaning out Mark’s dad’s house after he died was more of a project than he and Jenny had bargained for. Who knew Dad had become such a hoarder?

Mark didn’t expect to miss the old man as much as he did. But when he needed Jenny’s comfort and support most, she gave that comfort and support to someone else.

Blake. What a stupid name, Mark thought. It rhymes with flake. How did people pick out names for their kids anyway?

“Oh, but he had such a brain,” Jenny said. “He was studying to be a lawyer. The garbage collecting gig was only to help him earn money to get the college degree he didn’t finish two years ago.”

“For God’s sake, Babe,” he’d said. “The Guy’s a friggin’ con artist. I mean, think about it. Just how many garbage collector lawyers have you met in your 23 years anyway?”

That didn’t stop her. When Blake came back that second Saturday morning, she gladly took him up on his invitation to lunch. She told Mark she could do a little conning of her own and wheedle some legal advice to help them settle his dad’s affairs.

Then came the note Mark found on the kitchen table when he came home from work three nights ago.

Jenny could do a little conning all right, he thought.

As he was ready to spew a string of profanities, he heard his dad’s voice in his head, repeating a quote which supposedly came from the Sermon on the Mount. “The sun and the rain fall on the just and the unjust alike, Boy.”

Mark turned to glance down his street. “Good Lord, It’s true,” he said aloud. The sun shone on everything. It shone on the Pemberton home with its overflowing flower beds. It shone on the Jenkins’ house, rowdy kids and all. It shone on the brick house where greedy Old Man Springmeyer used to live.

The sun shone on the frugal shoppers at the Dollar General store two blocks away. It shone on the gamblers throwing their money away at the riverboat casino across town. It shone on the Motel 6 where Jenny would be letting Blake do things to her Mark cringed to think about. And the sun shone on the Methodist church where Blake claimed to be a member in good standing.

The sun had no discernment at all.

Mark couldn’t take it anymore. He yanked open the screendoor and hurried into the house. He escaped the unwelcome sunshine, only to be enveloped by foreboding darkness.

Bio: John Wesley Smith is a blind writer and podcaster from central Missouri. Most of his creative endeavors go into his blog site at: http://www.destinysurvival.com.


A Suit Jacket and a Flower, fiction
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

“Britney, what’s this I hear about you not going to the prom with Marty?” I asked, as I hurried into the kitchen with an armload of groceries. I set the bags on the counter and turned to glare at my daughter. She sat at the kitchen table with her best friend Samantha, a bag of potato chips between them. Raucous music blared from Bluetooth speakers. I reached over and switched them off. “Samantha, I need to have a talk with Britney now. Would you please go home?”

“Mom, we were going to look at magazines to find a hairstyle for me for Saturday,” said Britney.

“Saturday is just what we need to talk about,” I said.

Samantha, looking embarrassed, rose and hurried out the back door, calling, “See you later.”

“Mom, what’s going on?” asked Britney, turning to face me, a look of hatred in her eyes.

“I should ask you the same question. Imagine my surprise when Diane cornered me, as I was getting the groceries out of the car, and told me you’d just turned Marty down as a prom date after you’d already promised you’d go with him. How could you do such a thing? Marty’s deeply hurt.”

“So what,” said Britney, retrieving a potato chip from the bag and popping it into her mouth. After crunching for a few seconds, she said, “I changed my mind. I found another boy I like better. There are plenty of girls who don’t have dates yet. With three days until the prom, Marty will find someone else.”

“Who is this other boy? Is it some punk who wears a nose ring and greased hair and rides a motorcycle?”

“T.J. is not a punk. Yes, he wears a nose ring and rides a motorcycle, but he’s one of the coolest kids in school. It’s an honor to be asked out by him. I couldn’t pass it up.”

“Honey, you’ve been friends with Marty since you were in first grade. How long have you known T.J.?”

“Oh, about a couple of months,” Britney answered, grabbing another chip.

“You’ve known him for a couple of months. Why haven’t you invited him over?”

“You wouldn’t like him. He lives with his brother who owns Jake’s Burger Joint, and he doesn’t want to go to college. He can’t afford to go, anyway.”

“Jake’s Burger Joint, that sleazy diner on Fifteenth Street?”

“It’s not a sleazy diner. A lot of kids hang out there after school. Jake serves burgers, fries, and shakes. Oh, I meant to tell you. I’ve decided not to go to college.”

“What?”

“After graduation, T.J. is going to work with his brother at the restaurant. I thought I’d stay home and find a job. Maybe Samantha and I will get an apartment.”

“Wait a minute. You’ve only known Samantha a couple of months, and you’re talking about moving in together. I thought she had a good head on her shoulders.”

“She does. She lives with her sister who runs The Hair Factory. That’s where I’m getting my hair done. She gave us some magazines to look at so we could choose what styles we want.”

“The Hair Factory. What kind of a name is that for a beauty shop? What happened to Alicia and Claire? Why don’t they come around anymore? They’re nice girls.”

“Nice girls who plan to go to college and get good jobs.” My daughter’s mocking tone made me want to slap her. “Look, I don’t want to argue with you right now,” she said, getting to her feet and picking up a nearby pile of magazines. “I’m going upstairs to look through these myself and find a hairstyle for Saturday.” She hurried out of the room, and a minute later, I heard her bedroom door slam.

I collapsed into a nearby chair and buried my head in my hands. Since I’d been promoted to junior partner in my law firm, I’d been too busy to notice any changes in Britney except for the fact that she no longer hung out with Marty, Alicia, or Claire. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw her report card. Had her grades suffered, hampering her chances of winning a scholarship to the university for the following year? Had she already been denied?

I didn’t know how, but things were going to change. For starters, Britney would go to the prom with Marty. I formulated a plan in my mind, as I marched to the phone to call Diane. When she answered, I told her everything I’d heard from Britney, including her unwillingness to go to college.

“I’m not surprised, Carol. Marty says he’s seen her hanging out with a bunch of kids he doesn’t recognize down by the creek after school. Maybe I should have said something sooner.”

“No, it’s my fault. I’ve been working too many hours and not paying enough attention to Britney, but that’s going to change. I’m going to figure out a way to cut back my hours. If I have to, I’ll quit the firm and open my own practice. In the meantime, I think I can fix it so Britney will go to the prom with Marty. He hasn’t asked another girl, has he?”

“I doubt it. Britney just gave him the bad news today. He’s still pretty depressed.”

After I got off the phone and put the groceries away, I sat at the kitchen table with paper and pencil. My daughter’s handwriting was easy to imitate. “Dear Marty, I’ve changed my mind again. The guy who asked me to the prom isn’t really my type. I didn’t realize this until after he’d asked me and I said yes to him and no to you. I hope you’ll forgive me. I’d really like to go with you to the prom. If you’re still free, you don’t need to reply. Just pick me up at eight. I’ll be waiting. Yours truly, Britney.”

I put the letter in an envelope, sealed it, and addressed it to Marty. As I walked next door in the gathering dusk, I saw lights on in the living room. Hoping no one could see me, I crouched, inching towards the mailbox at the bottom of the front steps. After the deed was done, I slunk home.

The next evening when I arrived home after another long day at the office, Britney and Samantha were in the living room watching television. They sat on the couch, the bag of chips between them and magazines scattered everywhere. “Britney, what time is this boy picking you up Saturday?” I asked.

“Mom, his name is T.J.,” said Britney, as Samantha giggled. “He’s picking me up at seven.”

“I thought the prom didn’t start until eight,” I said.

“It doesn’t,” said Britney. “We’re going to a party at his friend’s house first.”

“Oh,” I said.

“I suppose you’re going to ask me if his parents are going to be there. Get real, Mom. I’m almost eighteen. I can take care of myself.”

“You’re right,” I said. “If you want to ruin your life, that’s up to you.” It was my turn to exit.

When I reached my room upstairs, I flopped onto the bed and breathed a sigh of relief. When Diane answered the phone, I said, “The other boy is planning to pick up Britney at seven. In the note, I told Marty to pick her up at eight. If I can keep her in her room until Marty arrives, this should work.”

“When Marty found your letter today, he was thrilled. I don’t think I’ve seen him this happy in weeks.”

Saturday dawned bright and clear. I was pleasantly surprised when Britney returned from the beauty shop. Her long blonde hair was arranged in simple curls. “It looks very nice, honey,” I said.

Britney was sulking. “I wanted purple hair. Samantha came to school yesterday with purple hair. She said Doreen did it. Purple is T.J.’s favorite color, but Doreen said it wouldn’t be fashionable for me.”

“Who’s Doreen?”

“She’s Samantha’s sister who runs The Hair Factory. What could I say?” I was relieved that Marty wouldn’t have to be embarrassed at the prospect of taking a girl with purple hair to the prom.

At a quarter of seven that evening, I knocked on Britney’s door. “Come in,” she said with a note of disgust in her voice.

She wore the long white dress with a high neck and long sleeves I bought her a couple of weeks earlier. She wanted something strapless, but since I was paying for it, what could she say? “Honey, you look beautiful,” I said, tears brimming in my eyes.

“Whatever,” said Britney, jamming her feet into the white sandals I also bought her.

“Here’s a flower to pin on your dress,” I said, producing it from my pocket. Realizing I’d forgotten to order her corsage, I’d called the florist and requested one purple violet. It wouldn’t match the pink carnation Marty would wear, but maybe it would cheer her up. She’d been gloomy ever since her return from The Hair Factory.

Britney’s eyes opened wide in astonishment, as she gazed at the violet. “It’s purple! You brought me a purple flower! Mom, I love you!” She flung her arms around my neck for the first time in weeks. I held her, as we laughed and cried. “I didn’t think you liked T.J.”

“I haven’t met him yet. Maybe he’s not as bad as I thought. I may have over-reacted the other day. If you stay in your room until I call you, I’ll have a chance to get to know him.”

Britney wrinkled her nose. “You won’t like him.”

“Maybe I will. It’s hard to formulate an opinion without meeting him. Besides, this will give you an opportunity to make an entrance.”

“Make an entrance?” she said, giving me a look of incredulity.

“Remember last year when you wanted to be Miss Teen-aged America after seeing the pageant on TV? Pretend you’re in the competition. Walk as gracefully as you can down the stairs and into the living room, as if you were walking on stage at the pageant, and T.J. were one of the judges. Boys like to see girls make entrances. He’ll be awestruck when he sees you in your white prom gown with your purple flower and your white sandals.”

“If he were the judge, he’d pick me, wouldn’t he?” said Britney with a dreamy look in her eye.

“Yes, he would,” I said, as I pinned the flower to her dress and hugged her.

At ten minutes after seven, the doorbell rang, and I was there to answer it. I wasn’t surprised to see the young man who wore a blue blazer over a white t-shirt and black slacks. What stunned me was the sight of Samantha standing next to him. She wore a purple sleeveless dress that showed too much cleavage, purple sandals, purple earrings, and yes, her hair was purple. She said, “Hi, T.J. and I came by to pick up Britney for the prom.”

“Samantha, where’s your date?” I asked, thinking this couldn’t be real.

“He’s right here, silly,” she answered with a giggle, as she put an arm around the boy’s waist. He did likewise.

“Mom, is that T.J.?” called Britney from the top of the stairs.

I turned and said, “Yes, I think you’d better come down.”

Not bothering with a graceful entrance, Britney bounded down the stairs and stopped short. Her eyes widened, and her face grew pale, as she gaped at the couple in the front hall. “What’s going on?” she asked in a quavering voice. “I thought T.J. was taking me to the prom.”

“Not anymore,” said Samantha with a grin. “He asked me yesterday.”

“That’s why Doreen wouldn’t give me purple hair,” said Britney. “She said it wasn’t fashionable.”

“No, it’s not for you,” said Samantha. “But it sure looks good on me, doesn’t it?”

“No dear,” I said. “It makes you look like trash.”

Samantha gasped, and Britney said, “Mom’s right. You’re a slut. I thought you were my best friend.”

“I am,” said Samantha, looking abashed. “T.J. was all for standing you up, but I told him the least we could do was offer you a ride.”

“Well, you can take your ride and shove it,” said Britney. “and you can take this, too.” She ripped the purple violet from her dress and flung it at T.J. It hit him in the nose before landing on the floor at his feet. “Get out of my house.” She gestured towards the open door.

As they turned to leave, Samantha said, “Who needs you, anyway? You’re nothing but a snob.”

I closed and locked the door behind them, turned, and took my weeping daughter into my arms. “You’re right,” she said through her tears. “T.J.’s a punk, and Samantha is trash. I’ll be the laughing stock of the whole school, and I’m not going to this stupid prom.”

“Oh yes you are. You’re going with Marty.”

“What?”

“Honey, let’s sit down.”

Forty-five minutes later, the doorbell rang. “Hello Marty,” I said to the young man standing on the threshold. “Don’t you look handsome, and you brought Britney a corsage.”

“Yes,” said Marty, sporting a grin from ear to ear. “Mom wasn’t sure if Britney had one, so I brought this over.”

“How sweet. Come on in. She’ll be down in a minute.” Marty followed me into the living room, as Britney made her entrance. Smiling, she approached Marty and extended her hand. Marty took it and said, “Hi Britney. I’m glad you changed your mind again. I’m really looking forward to tonight, aren’t you?”

Author’s Note: To hear the song that inspired this story, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zD8MnvyAi6I

Bio: Abbie Johnson Taylor is visually impaired and lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, where for six years she cared for her late husband, who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. She’s the author of a romance novel, two poetry collections, and a memoir. Along with Magnets and Ladders, her work has appeared in Labyrinth, Distant Horizons, and other journals and anthologies. Please visit her website at http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com


My Late Husband in Summer, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

He sits outside in the sun
at the picnic table in his wheelchair.
Sometimes he wears a hat-
often he does not.

With headphones, he listens
either to a recorded book or ball game.
His favorite books are westerns, mysteries.
The more blood and guts the better,
as far as he’s concerned.

His favorite baseball team, the Colorado Rockies,
don’t often play well.
Nevertheless, he’s ever faithful to the end.

He asks me to bring watermelon in a bowl,
already sliced, the seeds gone,
so all he has to do is enjoy their taste.
Like a little boy with a sweet tooth,
he asks for cookies, candy
with Pepsi, Mountain Dew, or Propel.

In the late afternoon or early evening,
with more shade at the picnic table, I join him,
check email on my lap top,
listen to an audiobook of my own.
With the two of us side by side,
I feel a sense of peace
despite the work involved
in getting us here.


Part VII. The Melting Pot

The Fence, fiction
by Ellen Fritz

Vera was still tucking her worn t-shirt into her too big jeans as she left the ablution block. That is, if you could indeed call a shower, a toilet and two sinks, in an unpainted building with a leaking roof an ablution block, but in a white squatter camp with more than three hundred inhabitants, that is what it was called.

In the deep twilight before sunrise, weaving through shacks and rusted old caravans, she took care where she placed her bare feet. The hard packed soil was littered with broken glass, empty cans and pieces of unidentifiable plastic. A cut by any of that would mean a medical emergency, something she most certainly couldn’t afford.

At the wooden shack she shared with her fifteen year old brother, Louis, she paused to hang the towel over the half open door and to hide the small piece of soap in a little niche behind her bed. Fortunately he was still sound asleep. She didn’t want him following her to the one and only bit of enjoyment she had in the day, going to the high security fence that separated the camp from the race horse farm next door.

There she would watch as the riders galloped their beautiful thoroughbreds on the exercise track. If she was very lucky, Rudolph, the trainer’s son would be there to oversee the gallops. Some mornings she just sat in an unobtrusive spot behind a low bush, but other mornings she climbed the huge tree next to the fence. Several of the branches were long and strong enough to stretch over the fence. She would shimmy along one of these to get a better view.

One morning, about two months before, Rudolph had seen her on the branch and had ridden up on his bay cob to talk to her. Since that morning, they had become friends of a sort. He never invited her to get down from the tree and she never asked whether she might.

“You’re late,” he called to her as she appeared on her branch.

“Sorry, there were people at the shower before me,” she replied with an embarrassed laugh. “One shower in a camp of three hundred people is kind of constantly occupied.”

The smile on Rudolph’s face froze for a moment. Then it was back as though he heard about showers being shared by three hundred people every day. Did he have any idea of the misery that reigned on the other side of the fence, she often wondered. Did he know what it was like having to fight for the use of a toilet, the shower, the outside faucet and often for scraps of food? He probably did not. She certainly did not while she, her brother and her mother still lived with her seemingly rich uncle. An uncle who also trained race horses, hence her love of horses and watching them every morning.

That was long ago. Three years before, her uncle had died in an accident. It soon became clear that he was in debt and left all his family with no inheritance and heaps of bills to be paid off.

Their mother, a qualified nurse, couldn’t find work. Their father had left when she was seven and Louis only a small baby. A year ago they had finally found a spot in this camp which was still better than living on the street.

Although Rudolph tried hard not to be moved by this pretty, no actually beautiful, girl from the squatter camp, he found his eyes drawn to the tree or the fence every morning. He knew about her uncle’s death and the consequent liquidation of his estate. Truly a girl fallen on hard times. He also knew about her mother’s death six months ago. Alfreda, the owner of the land on which the camp was, had told him their story.

He was deep in thought when he arrived back at the stables. His father was waiting for him.

“I would like you to come and look at the yearlings,” his father said.

Rudolph knew his father was waiting for him to make a decision about three colts that he could either keep to train for racing or send to the yearling sales that happened in the fall. The previous evening his dad had shown him several video clips of his colts’ dams and sires winning races. Today he would have to give his answer.

“Have you decided about the colts yet?” his father was asking now.

“I want to sell the chestnut,” he said.

“Why?” his father asked with his eyebrows lifted angrily. “It’s the best colt we’ve bred in years. Why not train it and then use it as stud stallion afterwards?”

“Because,” Rudolph started, “I want to use the money from the sale to build proper ablution facilities for those poor people in the camp.”

“You what?” his father snapped. “Are you thinking of marrying Alfreda then? She is an old spinster, much older than you, but she’s got all that land. That’s something at least, if you’re serious.”

“No dad, I want to build the facilities: an ablution block, proper kitchens and a medical facility on our farm, where it borders on Alfreda’s land. I am not at all interested in Alfreda, not at all.”

“But why?”

“Because there are some lovely people that have to live there, in those horrible conditions. People that deserve better,” he said calmly.

“Those people are there because they are lazy drunkards,” his father lashed out.

“Oh you know that is not true, father,” Rudolph said, also losing his temper. “You are just disappointed that I want to sell the chestnut. You know there is simply no work to be had in this country.”

Though no more was said about the sale of the chestnut, a strained silence reigned between Rudolph and his father.

Two days later, the early morning gallops were well under way, while Rudolph supervised from the back of a nervous grey horse and Vera kept her usual vigil in the tree. Suddenly she saw movement on the ground next to the exercise track. It was a snake, a nasty Cape Cobra. It had emerged from a hole and was gliding along right next to where the racers would pass, but even more worrying, right where Rudolph’s horse would be stepping in a few seconds. The racers were flashing by before she could make the alarm, but her shout of, “LOOK OUT!”, brought Rudolph up short.

His father, who had arrived in time to witness the whole episode, leapt forward to kill the snake with his walking stick.

“Leave it!” Vera yelled from her tree. The older horse farmer hesitated, giving the snake time to vanish into the long grass.

“So that’s the reason for your sudden passion for the camp,” he said quietly to Rudolph. “That girl just saved your life, or at least, that of your horse. Hmmmm, and she is pretty too.”

“Dad, it is not…”

“Son, don’t worry. Tonight I’ll tell you how I met your mom, not so different from this. In the meantime, that’s old Joseph McKenzie’s niece. I knew she lived in a camp of some kind, just didn’t know it was this one. He did me a good turn once. She knows her horses, most likely. I’ll give her a job, what do you say? I’ll even give her and her brother a cottage, and…”

“Dad, it’s not just her, they’re all suffering.”

“Yes, yes, I’m getting to that,” his father said, lighting his pipe. “Don’t sell that horse, I’ll build the facilities. And, young lady, you can come down from there. You have a job now.”

As the warm South African summer sun poked its head through the light covering of early morning clouds, Vera gripped the branch in both hands and jumped down. Shyly she approached, going straight to stroke Rudolph’s beautiful grey horse, the horse that so nearly got bitten by a lethally poisonous snake. To Rudolph and his father her smile was brighter than the morning sun.

Bio: Ellen Fritz, blind since birth, lives on a small holding near Benoni, South Africa with her husband, two house mates and three dogs. She is a book reviewer, house wife and is working on several writing projects.


What Are Old Friends For? fiction
by Bill Fullerton

She blew in like an aggravated F5 tornado, shouted, “Don’t you dare say a thing,” slammed the door, and slung her purse across the room. It ricocheted away from my butt-weary couch, cleared off the end table, then teetered at the edge before following the displaced debris onto the floor. Only the reading lamp survived, leaning drunkenly against the wall, shade tilted at a precarious angle, light flickering as if wondering what the hell just happened.

Jennifer Lee Cummings, my life-long friend and sometime lover, saw none of this. By then her t-shirt was half off, covering her head. When her face emerged, she glared at me with tear-swollen, bloodshot eyes, yelled, “If you say ‘I told you so,’ I swear to God I’ll kick you in the nuts,” and threw the shirt in my direction.

Words being unasked for and possibly even dangerous, I leaned away from the flying object and nodded. Besides, I already knew the story. We’d talked for hours the night before. In between crying jags, she told me all about how her marriage, which I’d warned her against, had fallen apart.

So I settled for enjoying the view. Now topless, her struggle to unbutton tight, recalcitrant jeans had set her gravity-defying breasts jiggling in an attention grabbing manner. I’d seen those marvelous melons many times in the past, but not since our “final and forever” last time together a year ago.

That had been a few days before her wedding. A night filled with epic sex tinged with mixed emotions. We were achingly horny for one another. Nothing new about that. The difference was, while Jenny was almost giddy with romantic love, I worried her future husband, a shy, low-energy brainy nerd just wasn’t the right man for her.

That time, she’d come in calmly, closed the front door, and as usual, hung her purse on the door knob so she wouldn’t forget it when leaving. By the time we met in the middle of the room, the silky blouse we both loved to feel was thrown open, revealing those delicious breasts and once again I found myself kissing the first lips I’d ever kissed.

That kiss marked the beginning and end of foreplay. Sometime later, we lay together amid my rumpled sheets, wordlessly savoring the afterglow from our love making.

When our breathing began calming down, she looked into my eyes. “Tell me the truth. Do you ever wish we’d been able to fall in love?”

“Yep. It’d be nice having your best friend and lover as your spouse. But maybe, I guess knowing each other so long and so very, very personally, that wasn’t in the cards. Besides, you always wanted a brainy, cuddly non-jock, and that just ain’t me babe.”

She nodded. “And you always lusted for the short, skinny cheerleader-types.”

“Guilty as charged. I’m just glad we’re still friends, even if the lovers part is ending.”

“Me too. But I really do love Ricky. He’s just so sweet. Besides, why get married if you’re already planning to cheat?”

“Beats me. I’m just glad Ricky wants to wait until after the wedding to consummate the deal. Though like I’ve said before, how any guy not dead or gay can pass on getting you into the sack is beyond me. And to be honest, it still worries me that the two of you might not have the same sex drives. Face it gal, when it comes to sex, you can be a bit overwhelming.”

A grunt of triumph snapped me back to the present. I watched as she shoved both jeans and panties to the floor, then angrily kicked them and her sandals aside. The tall, full-figured, toned, and very nude body now standing defiantly before me, hands on hips exuded an earthy, almost primal sexuality that alpha males found irresistible and Betas terrifying.

Jenny wasn’t beautiful, not really. Her face, framed by a crown of dark-blonde hair, was saved from being plain by large blue eyes and a mouth that could break into a warm, soul-stirring smile, but could also purse into a scowl no one ever forgot or wanted to face again.

Without warning, that proud, erect body sagged and her expression melted from belligerent anger to one of overwhelming sadness. In a resigned, indifferent voice she asked, “So how do I look?”

“Better than ever,” was my honest reply.

“Bullshit. I’ve gained weight.”.

“It all must have gone to your boobs. I swear they’re finer than ever.”

“No such luck. It all went to my butt,” she said, reaching around and slapping at the ample object of her displeasure.

She pointed toward the drink in my hand. “Is that for me?”

“As ordered. A double ‘Gorilla Killer. The cheapest 151 proof rum available along with a splash of Diet Coke and some ice.”

“Good.” She stepped closer, took the glass and drained half.

After shuddering and catching her breath, she gave me a quick kiss, finished off the glass and handed it back.

“Thanks. I’ll need a lot more of those, of course. But now let me check on the other thing I need from you. After that, all I want is to get drunk and screwed into forgetfulness.”

“Glad to help,” I said. “After all, what are old friends for?”

We were standing in the doorway to the kitchen. By the time I set the glass down and turned back, Jenny had begun tugging on the only thing I’d been wearing, my gym shorts, while talking to its stiff occupant.

“Oh, Rowdy, at least you’re happy to see me,” she crooned in a low, little girl voice. “Just please make Jenny happy like you used to and I’m all yours.”

Rowdy, the name she’d given a much smaller version of him way back when, made no objections so I leaned back against the counter and spread my legs. Before she and Rowdy could continue getting reacquainted, I pulled her closer for one more kiss.

“Just for the record, we’ve both missed you.”

She smiled and leaned against me. The moment our lips touched, the flickering lightbulb in the living room flared brightly and, with a sizzling pop, went out.

It distracted Jenny enough to make her pause, glance toward the now dark lamp, and then look at me with a quizzical expression, as if asking what the hell just happened.

Maybe it was our long separation, or having her back in my arms, or maybe I’d finally seen the real light, I’ll never know. But for whatever reason, I’d just realized how much I’d missed my best friend and that, with all the certainty I could muster, I never wanted her to leave me again.

Before she could continue the reunion with Rowdy, I pulled her back to me, wrapped her in my arms and kissed her for a long, long time.

When our lips parted, she gave her head a small shake, smiled at me and said, “Wow. I’d forgotten how good a kisser you can be when you put your mind to it.”

“The pleasure was all mine,” I said, but without returning her smile. “The last time you were here, when you walked out the door, I felt empty, alone and like, well, like I’d just lost my best friend. And do you know when I stopped feeling like that?”

She bit her lower lip. “No.”

“It was just now, when you charged in, destroying property and yelling threats.”

“Sorry about that.”

“No problem. The thing is, I don’t want you ever leaving again. At least, not without me. ‘Cause, you see, strange as this may sound, I’ve just fallen in love with my best friend.”

For what seemed like hours, she silently gazed into my eyes. Then she smiled, nodded, whispered, “Me, to,” and pulled my face down to hers for a kiss that, in many ways, has never stopped.

Bio: Once upon a time, Bill Fullerton was a more-or-less semi-reputable sports columnist and government paper-pusher in Louisiana. The retired, beat-up Vietnam vet now lives in Arizona, where he has sunk to being a short story writer and author of unpublished novels. His wife, kids, and perpetually shedding dogs try to ignore this fall from grace.


Thirteen Ways of Looking at Chocolate, poetry
by Susan Muhlenbeck

I.
Chocolate stimulates my taste buds
With its explosive sweetness.
Nothing compares to the mind and body rush I get from its decadence.

II.
Chocolate is bad for the figure.
I can’t even think about chocolate without gaining a pound or two.

III.
Dark chocolate in moderation
Promotes heart health.

IV.
Chocolate is bad for the complexion.
Whenever I indulge my face breaks out.

V.
Chocolate enhances so many other flavors such as
Mint, nuts, marshmallows, crispy rice, coffee beans, toffee, milk, fruit, and even chili.

VI.
Chocolate rots the teeth.

VII.
Chocolate temporarily cures depression.

VIII.
Gourmet chocolate is outrageously expensive.

IX.
Chocolate gives me much needed quick energy.

X.
Chocolate is highly addictive.
You can’t eat just one.

XI.
Chocolate makes a great gift.

XII.
Chocolate spoils the appetite.

XIII.
Chocolate is a universal treat!

Author’s Note: Add a few pieces of dark chocolate to a pot of 5-alarm chili. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the contrast in flavors.

Wild Wind, poetry
by Crystal L. Howe

Wind howls through my mind,
tearing a treacherous path,
driving, destroying, demolishing…
The calm, cultivated landscape
erodes before me.
What can this mean?
What’s next?
A breeze speaks whisperingly
of a land too close to see.
“Come…”
And through the howling wind,
I go.

Bio: Crystal is an ordained minister with a Doctorate in Metaphysical Science. Her poetry, songwriting, weaving, and other creative pursuits celebrate the many ways we share our lives and spirit. Crystal is totally blind. Find her music on CD Baby and other work on mysticalstrings.com.


Silver Cloud Dancers, Acrostic poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

Silver clouds swirl & spin in circles
Inflated silence above her golden head. She
Levitates above the floor, reaches for
Variable visions of mesmerizing cloud-pillows.
Eternally drifting in uncertain lifecycles
Round & square. Touch the floating orbs.

Cloud dancer stretches her slender hands
Longevity is unpredictable, uncertain
Out-of-the-box survival fluctuates
Undulates
Determined by chemistry & chaos.

Dance your memories in silver clouds
Air and pure helium lift in rhythm
No one can calculate your journeys
Choreography of individual flights
Every Friday morning new clouds arrive
Repeat the process of new expectations
Some silver clouds last for a week. Some less.

This poem will appear in 2 upcoming books by Lynda Lambert: Appalachian Alchemy, scheduled for late 2017 and Eclipse: Hands Folded in Prayer, scheduled for late 2018.


Part VIII. Roadblocks and Journeys

The Long Fading, poetry HonorableMention
by Leonard Tuchyner

Worry came as icy shards,
pricking their piercing ways
through her numbed denying mind
and cringing, fluttering heart.

Her husband was losing his edge —
little stealthy slippings away
of pieces of his razor brain.
Once master of minutiae,
frigid winds of self-doubt sliced.

The soul-stealing disease was suspected.
Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s,
A serpent, lurking in the silent weeds,
threatened to swallow his failing mind.
She vowed to be there till death did them part.

He saw his world sneak away —
grasping at shards left behind —
a thought, a memory, a face,
until there was so little left
he could not be left alone.

Even though seeking death,
at times before demise,
he fought frantically for life,
upon the brink of abyss —
striking out in frenzied fright,
’til restrained by drugs and cuffs.

She watched, with stomach in knots,
her grief screaming to explode —
having no such luxury
to lose her critical control.

At Peace Pastures Memory Care,
he started his transformation,
adjusting to his smaller self,
happy as a new-born puppy
residing in a caring home.

He smiled to see his wife and daughter,
as he did for mostly everyone
who were somehow diffusely familiar.
They were such friendly safe, sweet strangers.

She sees him every day,
until death do them part.


“To Take Out or Not to Take Out, That Is the Question”, memoir, nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Janet Di Nola Parmerter

When Tyler, our five-and-a-half-year-old grandson, arrived at our home, he shocked us with an extraordinary announcement, “My name is not Tyler, it’s REALLY Chris!” That day, his scheduled visit was to be a fun filled day at grandma and pop-pop’s house, which would also include visiting with his 89 year old great, great Auntie Rena, 82 year old great grandma Nonna Alice, his 84 year old great grandfather Papa John, his very patient grandfather Pop-pop Keith, and me, his “Let’s play hide and seek” grandma Janet.

For lunch, we planned to take out the whole gang to the Loganville I HOP. But could taking out three octogenarians and a feisty five year old really be a relaxing afternoon? Well, we hoped it could be, and thought we could actually make it happen. The first step was to get Tyler, now Also Known As Chris, and our three seniors: Auntie Rena with her dementia and epilepsy; my father with his back problems, heart disease, and neuropathy; and my mother with her lung ailments, diabetes, blood clots, and numerous other problems; into the restaurant.

As we entered I HOP, Keith and I tried to hold onto the tribe, while simultaneously opening the heavy glass double doors. Unfortunately, my Dad, who always wanted to be first, barreled past everyone, knocked Mom into Auntie Rena, and Auntie Rena knocked into my white cane and me. At different times the doors closed on each and every one of us, causing us to bounce into and off each other like rubber balls. Foolishly looking like some Charlie Chaplin comedy skit, we finally all made it through the double doors.

Feeding Auntie Rena has always been a chore, because she has a phobia about eating. Because of the combination of her tiny 110 pound body, and the fact that all her family members were overweight, she is incessantly obsessed about not becoming fat. Compounding the “fat issue”, she watches every single penny. Thus before being seated, I quietly informed the hostess not to give Auntie Rena a menu, because if she read it, she would not eat a crumb. The problem is, poor Auntie Rena with her dementia still thinks it is somewhere around 1940, and if food cost more than a dollar, she refuses to order anything except water. Auntie Rena is literally shocked when seeing menu prices, and ALWAYS complains, “Oh my, how can they charge that much for a hot dog?”

For a while she ordered off the children’s menu, but then one time she saw the comment about the menu being for those ten-years-old and under, and she refused to eat anything off that menu. Fortunately, after a clever waitress remarked, “Oh that also means ten years under 100-years-old,” once again, she began eating off the children’s menu. The fight to feed her became easier, especially since those prices didn’t give her a heart attack.

Immediately after the hostess seated us, dad called the waitress to the table and ordered his lunch. As mom read the menu, dad said, “Alice, the waitress wants your order.” Mom never took her eyes off the menu and with an irritable response said, “John, I just got the menu.” The server replied, “No problem, I’ll come back.”

However, always running the show, dad put his hand up and said, “No, wait,” as he complained, “Alice, it’s the same thing all the time. You know what’s on the menu, just order.”

Mom, who loves to read everything replied, “I like to read it anyway, I’m not ready.” Uncomfortably, the server looked down not knowing whether to leave or stay. Quickly I added, “Excuse me, we’re not ready either, so could you please come back in a few minutes.” Gratefully, she rushed off as Dad shook his head side to side and let out a huge outward sigh of dismay.

With everyone being so distracted, no one saw Auntie Rena grab the regular menu until we heard her muttering to herself, “Forget this, who would pay that for this stuff?” We all looked over, just in time to see her throw the menu on the table. Making the quick switch, I handed her the children’s menu and whispered, “Here, Auntie Rena, this one has cheaper prices,” and slid the other one off the table. In a second, she pushed away the paper placemat shaped menu with the games and coloring pictures then angrily said, “This says for one to twelve-years-old!” Remembering the line from the other waitress, I confidently added, “Oh, this menu is also good for someone one to twelve-years under 100-years-old.” With her dementia, once again that worked and she ordered French toast.

After the confusion of ordering our food, I played giant tic-tac-toe with Tyler as my mother called the server back numerous times. First it was, “Excuse me, may I have another napkin?” Then, “Excuse me, do you have another type of syrup?” Then, Excuse me, could I have this, and could you please change this spoon?” Finally, Dad said, “Alice, you are going to drive the lady nuts”, and unconcerned Mom replied with her standard comment, “WHATEVER!”

Oblivious to the strained conversations, Keith and Tyler colored pictures on the paper place mat, as I perused our disconnected group and asked, “Is everyone having fun yet?”

Consequently, with the fiasco of getting everyone into the restaurant, ordering, eating, and paying for the meal, Keith and I were a tad stressed. Nonetheless, since we all live together we now had to get the octogenarians and our little man back home. Much to my dismay, as soon as our feet stepped outside the doors of the restaurant, the floodgates of heaven burst open and it poured. I held on tight to rambunctious Tyler. We trailed behind 110 pound, five foot two inch, white haired Auntie Rena, who with her dementia, seemed entirely baffled by the raindrops. She stared at the sky and gasped as if bowling balls were falling from the clouds. Half under her breath she mumbled, “Oh my, oh my, look at this I’m getting wet!” In her state of misperception, she swayed back and forth as she tried to avoid the raindrops by vigorously swirling her arms around, trying to push them away. At this point, she was stumbling over her own feet and with a quick glance, she could easily have been mistaken for “a mid-afternoon drunk”.

Meanwhile, my bent over father with his sturdy, “hold me up cane” and heart problems, speedily raced past Auntie Rena so he could be first at the still locked car. Now quite annoyed that he had to wait, in his jogging suit, sneakers and baseball cap, he impatiently leaned against the car until we all caught up.

Still paying the check, my ever snail paced husband Keith, who constantly brags, “I only have two speeds, SLOW and STOP,” unsuccessfully tried to catch up to Dad. When Keith finally reached the vehicle, he could not get the door open fast enough for my impatient father who stared at Keith shaking his head from left to right.

As dad struggled to step off what seemed to be a Mount Everest size curb, he held onto the mirror which folded in toward the car and almost made him fall. Regaining his balance, he huffed and puffed while complaining about the still locked door.

Pulling up the rear was my 82 year old mother and her wheelie walker, oh no…I’m sorry, that day I forgot the walker and she only had the extra cane and my left arm. However, the hand of my shared arm also firmly held Tyler, who desperately tried to escape the infamous grandma grip. Unfortunately, I could not use the other hand to grasp Tyler since I use my right hand to hold my white, red-tipped cane for the blind. What a sight! Mom’s walking cane verses my extended white cane, seeming to battle for the “number one lead cane” spot. I slowly shuffled Tyler, mom, and our two canes toward the handicapped parking which seemed a million miles away. At last, we arrived at the van. After doing a quick Mom hand off to Keith, I ran around the van with Tyler, helped Dad climb into the middle row behind the driver, and never let go of Tyler’s slippery hand.

Oblivious to everything around her, Auntie Rena pulled herself onto the middle row of the van, stared out the window, and did this pretend whistling thing she does prior to having a seizure. After a second, she pushed the button to open the door, and jumped out and into the van three or four hundred times. At some point, Keith told her to stop that and stay inside the van. Never quite understanding the automatic door, as she tried to climb in she pulled the handle and of course, the door began to close onto her frail little body. Frantically, I sprang over dad, pushed the button, and reopened the door as senile Auntie Rena yelled at the door, “Hey, now you just stop that!”

Amidst all the commotion, as my double plus size mother partially climbed onto the front seat, she feverishly wheezed and gasped for breath as if she just ran a four-minute mile. Keith, with his feet solidly planted, gave a heave ho and hoisted my Mom into the front seat. With half her body still hanging out of the car, he lifted up her other leg, squished her bottom onto the seat and slammed the door.

Doing a quick, grandma to Grandpa Tyler handoff, Keith carried him to the back of the van. Since Tyler could not pass these three exhausted, immovable, elderly obstacles to get a seat, the only entry for our little man was through the back hatch. So, Keith lifted the hatch and prepared to slide Tyler and his car seat in from the rear.

In the meantime, as Keith plopped the car seat onto the back third row, and bent down to lift Tyler into the van, dazed and confused auntie Rena, who is always intimidated by dad, decided to move as far away from him as possible. In a flash, she crawled to the third back row alongside the car seat and proceeded to fasten her seat belt. At the same time, of course, she sat on the belt Keith needed to lock in Tyler’s car seat. With Tyler in his arms, from behind the van, Keith struggled as he stretched over the trunk space and back seat to unfasten Auntie Rena’s belt and free the other car seat belt. Finally, finding the other strap, he clicked in the car seat, placed Tyler in his chair, locked his belt, and slammed the hatch. He dropped into the driver’s seat, sat back without moving a muscle, and with a frustrated, unamused look, just stared ahead through the windshield as the wipers rapidly flapped back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

During this strange moment of silence, with only the constant slapping sound of the windshield wipers, not a word was spoken. Finally, everyone was settled and ready for takeoff, yet inside the car it remained unusually quiet and still. In silence, we all waited for Keith to drive away, but he remained motionless leaning against the headrest. Surprisingly, even Tyler did not utter a single word; he sat silent, looking from one to another inside the van, and scrutinized the past thirty minutes.

In conclusion, with our fatigued family securely strapped in, Keith drove onto the highway and chauffeured his tired family home from their big day out.

Still abnormally quiet, Tyler looked around at this elderly entourage, and with a smile finally announced his brilliant deduction. “Grandma, do you know why it’s REALLY good to be five or even six-years-old?” Curiously, I responded, “No little man, I don’t! Tell me why.” Looking down at his legs, he firmly patted his thighs with both hands and proudly answered, “Because my legs are good and I can walk!” Thus the moral of this story is, the next time we do take out, it will be the traditional way! Pick up the food, take the FOOD out, and bring it home to the family.

This story has been previously published in the NFB Writer’s Division magazine, Slate n Style and in Zoomed In, the Ai Squared Blog.

Bio: When Janet was young, Stargardt’s slowly diminished her sight. Undaunted, she has been a runway model, travel agent, international tour leader, and a Bible teacher. Leading the tour group may surprise some clients, but they soon laugh at bizarre situations which inevitably occur in her professional and personal life. Her passengers urged Janet to chronicle these hilarious happenings, so at her expense, please enjoy one of these experiences. Yes, life can be challenging, so to remain positive Janet strives to find a touch of humor in each situation, proving the accuracy of her motto, “Life is often funnier than fiction!”


Life is to be lived, creative nonfiction
by Ernie Jones

“Arthur,” the optometrist said after completing the eye exam, “how about trying contact lenses? If we can get you a more perfect lens, I think we may slow down your retina deterioration.”

“But,” Arthur replied, “you had me try a contact in my eye several years ago when dad brought me in. I don’t think I want to bother with them, they need fluid in them several times a day. They are so large and uncomfortable.”

“We have better contacts now. These you don’t need to fill with fluid to insert in the eye. They are smaller and just slip right over the blue of your eye. I think you will really like them.”

Thus it was right after his 21st birthday, that Arthur returned to start the process of learning how to wear contacts and his whole world was changed.

The contacts greatly improved his eyesight and they slowed down the retinal deterioration. They also raised his self-esteem by freeing him from those thick, ugly glasses he had worn since before he started 1st grade.

But first he had to get used to the contacts. Morning after morning, Arthur drove to the clinic with much optimism. Day after day he left with his hopes dashed because the contacts hurt so badly. Yet even though disheartened, he held on to a sliver of hope.

In the late 1950s, contacts were not like those people wear today. In Arthur’s case, the lenses were thick and made of a hard plastic material. Although smaller than his earliest set, these contacts were still larger than modern day lenses.

“Arthur,” the optometrist said, “I want you to walk around in town for an hour. This will give both you and me a good idea how the contacts are fitting, both for comfort and for how clearly you are seeing with them.”

This was the first day Arthur’s eyes had tolerated the contacts in for more than a few minutes. At last, Arthur faced the world without those heavy, ugly glasses. He strolled down the sidewalk, along Franklin Street, enjoying the clarity of what he saw, reveling in the freedom of not wearing glasses.

Pausing outside the Olympia State Bank, Arthur glanced down at his feet, and what he saw brought him to a complete standstill. With shock, he looked at what to him appeared to be two giant feet. How could he get back to the eye clinic without anyone he knew seeing him? What had happened to his feet? Then he heard common sense speak. “These are the same feet you had this morning, the same feet you had at work at the hospital yesterday, and the same feet that carried you into your church the other day. Your feet have not changed, but your eyesight has improved.” Arthur Straightened up his shoulders and walked on.

He had to leave his contacts in the clinicthat afternoon, so they could be polished a little more, but the next day he was allowed to wear them home. This was the first time he drove his car without glasses and he felt a thrill flow through him.

Arthur worked the evening shift at the hospital. For several weeks, he would wear his glasses at home, then slip in his contacts to go to work. Some evenings, he could only wear the contacts for a couple of hours before he needed to take them out and wear his glasses. As his eyes adjusted and with more polishing of the lenses, Arthur was able to wear them all day. He ignored his old glasses, which were buried in the bottom of a dresser drawer.

Over the next 20 years, most people never knew he had once wore thick, ugly glasses. Though his eye doctor had hinted that Arthur might go blind, he saw no reason to be concerned for he could see so clearly. Thus he blocked all thought of blindness out of his mind.

He entered college at age 37 and graduated with his Registered Nursing degree. After his graduation, he immediately started working at Mt. Carmel Hospital in Colville, WA. He was the first male nurse to be hired, breaking the way for more male nurses to follow as the years passed.

After moving to Colville, he had yearly eye exams at a major ophthalmologist clinic in Spokane. Each year, the doctor had him read the chart. He would shine the bright light into Arthur’s eyes and say, “everything is the same. Come back in another year.”

One day, when Arthur was in a hurry, he walked into another nurse as she came out of a patient’s room. Both apologized, each blaming him/herself for not paying attention.

“Arthur,” said his wife, Ellen, one day, “there is an eye doctor from Spokane coming to Colville two days a month. He is seeing patients in the optometrist’s office on Main street. Why don’t you visit him?”

Worried something was really wrong with his eyes, Arthur made an appointment to see Dr. Edgar.

The doctor ran a few simple tests. “My suggestion to you is to stop driving. If an accident happens, even if it is not your fault, once it is known that you have eye problems, the blame could still be placed on you. You are to come to my office in Spokane next Monday morning where I can do a thorough eye exam.”

It was a lovely mid-October day as they drove to Spokane. The trees were just coming into their glorious colors before the drab of winter. The tamarack were especially beautiful in their many shades of yellow and gold before winter stripped them naked. But Arthur gave little thought to the beauty as he brooded – he should be driving, not Ellen.

Dr. Edgar ran a barrage of tests on Arthur’s eyes. “Arthur, your days of working as a nurse are over. NO more driving. You can’t operate any equipment like your garden tiller or mower.”

“But Doctor”, Arthur asked, “How do I provide for my family? I enjoy working at the hospital. What am I to do?”

“You are to sign up for Social Security today. I am sorry, but you have no other choice. To be legally blind your peripheral vision has to be down to 15 percent; yours is at 5 percent.”

“But Doctor, I can see great. I know I am safe at work. I can see the lines on the syringe plainly; I can draw the exact dosage. I am the one often called to read doctor’s difficult hand writing. I know I am safe; nursing is my life.”

“Arthur, I know you enjoy nursing, and I know you are a great nurse. But why did you run into that nurse you told me about? It was because your straight ahead eyesight is sharp, but you don’t see to the right or left of what you are looking at.” Showing empathy, Dr. Edgar laid his hand on Arthur’s shoulder saying, “I wish I could offer you better news but I can’t.”

The next day, after telling Ellen he was going for a walk, Arthur headed up the lonely gravel road. Pushing himself, he strode up the hills, finally releasing his pent-up emotions. He cried to the heavens above, knowing he was alone; nobody would hear him. “God, why? I have tried so hard to be the best nurse and I felt I was. People respected me and I know my co-workers liked me and now You slap me hard. Why?” and the sobs rolled out.

Finally, when he was near exhaustion, he sat on a large rock beside the narrow gravel road. Resting his elbows on his knees, he leaned his forehead into his hands while his tears washed his face.

Slowly he relaxed; once again he could hear the stream as it gurgled down the gully below him. He heard the birds in the trees overhead, then he felt a brush across his head as a reviving breeze comforted him.

“Okay Lord, if You are still with me, I’ll go forward. But I need you. I can’t make it alone. I feel like giving up.”

Rising, he began the walk down the rough road and to his home. Though physically tired, his heart was at peace.

He repeated this walk often in the weeks following his appointment with Dr. Edgar. It was this or he feared he would explode.

Arthur ignored most of the doctor’s orders. He could not drive the car, but he continued to run the garden tiller and to mow the lawn for 12 more years. “I need to do all I can if I am to survive,” he would say to those who questioned him. He continued to do chores many thought impossible for a blind person. He shoveled snow, worked in the garden when it was warm out, and gathered in the wood for the winter. He determined that life would still be wonderful, blind or not.

He stopped mowing the lawn when his work looked more like a patchwork quilt, causing one friend to comment, “well I know who mowed the lawn this time.”

He used his rear-tine tiller for tilling up the garden soil for a few years longer. He would find a long white board and after laying this across the soil, he would make a couple tilling strips around it. Then he would move this board more, continuing this until the garden was ready for planting.

Today Arthur can not see at all. He still has a large garden which he plants, weeds, waters, and harvests. He even at times uses his skill saw and a chain saw, despite what others might think. “I’d rather keep busy, rather than have a pity party,” he tells those who question him. “Life is for living and I intend to live.”


Then I’ll Say Goodbye, nonfiction
by Amy L. Bovaird

Buddy had been with me since my days in the Middle East. A black Lab with short legs, he had a way of winning everyone’s heart from first time visitors to the staff at the vet clinic. Even with white eyebrows and whiskers, people treated him like a puppy. It was the short legs, no doubt, and his calm demeanor that earned him so many “Good-boy” comments.

Now at fifteen, he had congestive heart failure, a fatty tumor the size of a soccer ball on his chest and another smaller one growing on top of the first one. Besides that, he had severe arthritis, which made him run off kilter. But I loved to watch him run-gallop, more like it! I may have seen his odd gait but in my eyes, he was a Palomino, so free and happy. It turned my heart inside out. In the middle of the run, he’d always turn around and steal a look at me, his tongue lolling happily to one side, with a bright grin as if to say, “Look at me! Hey, look at me!”

I knew it wouldn’t be cut–and–dried but I felt I could say good-bye to my good boy. I could if I had to.

Maybe he would ease out of this life dreaming of running in the baseball field below my house. Maybe as he gently fell asleep, he would dream he was back on the sofa, burying his nose in the soft corner fabric. He always slept on the sofa, snoring late into the night as I pecked away at the computer. His snores sounded better than any musical score. He let out big doggy sighs as if he knew our time together was limited.
Each sigh tore into my heart.

I made the appointment. Then, hung up, real quick.

I called back the next day to get prices: so much if you leave your pet, more if you stay while they carry out the procedure, nothing extra if you leave, much more if you decide to cremate.

I was ready. It was best all around. I ticked the reasons why on my right hand. He’d be out of pain. No more struggling to stand up. No more coughing up water. No more waiting for someone to carry him down the stairs to go to the bathroom. No more tripping over him as he lay right in front of the refrigerator.

But it felt all wrong. Buddy still had a good appetite. The roads were too icy. The appointment was scheduled too late in the day. It was too dark out. Buddy was a morning dog and loved the daylight.

Every morning, he lay by my French door and announced in excited barks the instant any neighbor entered or left his house. He turned to see if I had noticed, and he waited for the snack he had trained me to give him for being so vigilant.

No, we would just have to wait for daylight. I could not take him at night. He hated the darkness.

Before Buddy became mine, the vet surmised his previous owner had shut him in a dark room to turn him into a tough watchdog. But that didn’t work. Labs cannot be tough. It isn’t in their genes.

For the first two months that he lived with me, he never barked but hid under the bushes as soon as darkness descended. The vet told me I had a deaf watchdog. We all had a good laugh, one of my typical misadventures; a girl going blind would have a deaf watchdog. Everyone teased me because I needed a watchdog. I quickly made up my mind. Well, I can’t see in the dark, and Buddy doesn’t want to see in the dark. I think we’ll get along just fine in the light.

It turned out Buddy wasn’t deaf. He had only been frightened. One day his bark loosened and his love tightened.

Buddy gradually settled in at the house where he was the only dog in the middle of nearly eighteen outdoor stray cats. I guess Buddy thought he was a cat, too, and jumped on my lap one day. Startled, I threw my arms around him so he wouldn’t fall off. He leaned back and laid his head on my chest, just like the cats. Then he opened an eye. Do dogs wink? I swear he did, and smiled his big wide-gapped toothy grin. I shifted his weight and let him sit until it nearly crushed me. He jumped down as if he knew the moment I couldn’t hold onto him anymore.

Buddy had only one fault, a penchant for picking up odd “memorabilia”. Once on a walk around our Emirati neighborhood, he found the carcass of a goat’s head. He refused to release it. In Pennsylvania, he discovered a rotting fish in a cold-water stream. I couldn’t wrestle the fish from between his clenched teeth. On the hill near our house, he found soiled pigs ears other dogs had discarded on their walks. Those too became a tug of war I usually lost. I didn’t really mind his stubborn streak because it revealed his personality.

After I lost the babies I carried, and later, after my divorce, I used to say God knew how I wanted to be a mother and answered my prayers. He sent me the cats, Buddy, and via my taxi driver, a litter of six puppies. Each year after that, I gained more “children,” and Buddy was no longer an only child. He was one of five dogs. That was a happy, exuberant time for him. He got into mischief, and he followed the bad examples of those in the new crowd. But his eyes danced and his tail spun around like a high-powered helicopter blade, constantly in motion. The dogs raided a couple dozen peanut butter cookies left to cool on the counter, and shared the spoils between them. They raced around the grass and dug up the sprinkler system in the front yard. They even made their escape onto the street and chased a stray cat under a car. And yes, Buddy, a cat lover at heart, joined in on the run!

Their escapades found an entrance into my writing. In those days, I wrote children’s adventure stories. Of course, Buddy served as the hero of the pack, which included dogs, cats and the neighborhood menagerie. But with so many characters, my readers couldn’t keep them straight. I laughed every day at Buddy’s antics and kept writing more stories, more chapters.

Life was so good for us. The gardener started taking Buddy and a few of his “brothers” on neighborhood walks. Nothing compared to the rides though. My dog certainly knew what “go for a ride” meant and his tail would go into a high-powered wag. Sunil, my self-appointed Indian driver, was fined for taking Buddy on rides through town in his taxi. A local resident reported him to the authorities because dogs were considered “unclean” by some and certainly not permitted to take joyrides on public transport. But Sunil had his own stubborn streak and continued to stop by the house and take Buddy out on quiet Friday mornings when he had no fares. Buddy had that effect on people.

In the United States, my brother took over the driving, and off Buddy went with a toss of his head, sometimes without me. His eyes gleamed as if he had been singled out for this privilege. Still the gentle brown eyes would ask, “Is it all right?” And I made a big fuss over his going to let him know it was. Buddy rode a bit differently than most dogs. He rarely sat up and looked out the window. Instead, he curled up in a ball and fell asleep, lulled by the sound of the motor and the motion of the vehicle.

Sometimes my brother let Buddy down, like when he drove Mom’s car instead. That meant no ride for Buddy. “Sorry Buddy,” I’d say, “No ride today.” His tail slowed down, then stopped. He lay down on the floor, his head stretched out between his paws. Then the doggy sighs started.

When his arthritis made it too difficult to get in and out of the car, he took the change in good grace. He simply lost interest. It was my throat that filled with tears.

People say Buddy lived a good long life. But all I can think is … When is the right time to say goodbye to your ailing pet?

When I told my sister-in-law my dilemma, she said, with a catch in her voice, “Even as sick as he is, Buddy seeks you out. When he sees you, his eyes light up. He tries harder to walk.”

Too choked up to respond, I thought, No, it’s not the right time. Maybe one more day. Or just get past the weekend. I can be brave next week. I’ll say goodbye then.

And now it’s next week, with the same choice ahead of me. I still don’t know the answer. Except deep down,
I just don’t like it.


Amber’s Alert, fiction
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

My stomach growled, and my mouth watered, as I looked in the café window. It had been a long time since I’d eaten anything but breakfast cereal, instant noodles, crackers with peanut butter, and canned soup. I wished I’d looked in Mom’s purse to see if there was any cash before I left the house.

On a nearby table was a newspaper. I couldn’t read the print because the paper lay upside down, but I recognized my school picture. I walked into the café and to the table and picked up the newspaper. The headline jumped out. “$50,000 Reward Offered for Return of Missing Girl” That was me.

I sat at the table and read the article. It was all about how I’d been kidnapped by my mother a month ago. Dad was out of town, and Mrs. Miller, the housekeeper, thought I was spending the night with my best friend and didn’t report me missing until the next day when I didn’t come home.

When Mom left last year, she didn’t even say goodbye to me or Dad. She just took off in the night, leaving a note on the refrigerator for Mrs. Miller to find the next morning. Mom was an artist, and she told me she was forced to marry Dad because he got her pregnant with me.

I spent a lot of time in her studio, watching her paint. For my twelfth birthday, Mom gave me an easel and paints and a few lessons. After that, we worked side by side at our own easels. The day I turned thirteen, Mom was gone.

I kept painting. It made me feel closer to Mom, being in her studio. She didn’t take much when she left, so I had a feeling that someday, she would come back, and everything would be okay.

Dad was away most of the time. He worked in a bank just like the father in Mary Poppins. A few weeks after Mom left, he said she was probably dead and gave all her clothes to charity and sold her jewelry. I begged him to leave the studio alone. He did, but when I asked if we could sell Mom’s paintings, he said, “That rubbish isn’t worth the canvas it’s painted on.”

I didn’t dare offer to show him my paintings, and he didn’t ask to see them. I signed up for an art class at school, and my paintings were displayed on the classroom walls during open house. Dad never went to open house.

A year later, Mom showed up at school in a maroon Cadillac. She wore a pink linen suit and a lot of make-up. Her hair was dyed a dark brown. “Amber darling, there you are,” she said, as if it were the end of another ordinary school day.

“Mom, is that really you?”

“Of course, it is, silly. Who else would it be? Come on. Get in the car. Let’s go.”

I thought this was weird but told my best friend Susan I couldn’t spend the night and got in the car. “Mom, I’m glad you’re back,” I said, as she drove away. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“I know, honey. I’ve missed you, too. You were the best thing that ever happened to me. Now, we’ll always be together.”

“Where are we going?” I asked a few minutes later when it didn’t look like we were driving home.

“We’re going to take a little trip,” said Mom, patting my knee. This was strange, but I would have gone anywhere with her, even to the moon.

She pulled into a McDonald’s outside of town, and my mouth watered at the thought of some fries or a shake, but instead of going to the drive-through window, she drove to the front door. A man in blue jeans, a white tee-shirt, and a black blazer came out. He didn’t look happy and climbed into the back passenger seat saying, “You sure took your sweet time, didn’t you?”

“Chuck, this is my daughter Amber,” said Mom. “Amber, this is Chuck. Are we ready?” Chuck grunted.

This wasn’t right, I thought, as we drove out of the McDonald’s parking lot, but what could I say? We drove for miles and miles and miles. Chuck said nothing while Mom and I talked. When I asked Mom why she left and where she went, she ruffled my hair and said, “Don’t worry your pretty head about that, sweetie. The important thing is we’re together, and I won’t leave you again.”

I told her about the art class I signed up for at school, about how the teacher put some of my paintings on the classroom wall for all the parents to see during open house. “Someday, you’ll have to show me those paintings,” she said. I wondered what she meant by “someday.” Weren’t we ever going home? It didn’t look like it.

When we finally stopped to eat at some sleazy diner, Chuck kept giving me weird looks across the table. He also kept putting his arm around Mom’s shoulders. I didn’t like this. If anybody should have been doing that, it was Dad. Mom didn’t seem to mind. In fact, I think she liked it.

When we got back in the car, Mom told me to sit in the back seat so Chuck could drive, and she could sit up front with him. I didn’t like the look of his back, either. He kept taking one hand off the wheel and putting an arm around Mom’s shoulders. It made me want to throw up. I finally fell asleep and woke up hours later in front of a run-down house in a strange town.

“This is our new home,” said Mom. I got out of the car and walked with her to the house. Chuck drove off before we even got in the door, which was fine with me.

The house had a small kitchen dining area combination, a large living room, and two small bedrooms: one for Mom and one for me. Mom’s easel was in the living room next to a window. There was no other furniture in the room.

Mom had several outfits of clothing for me. They weren’t as nice as the clothes I usually wore, but she said, “Someday when I have more money, I’ll buy you better clothes, and we can move to a bigger house in a better neighborhood where I can have a studio.”

When I asked about school, she said, “I didn’t get past the eighth grade, and look where it got me.” She pointed at one of her paintings on the living room wall. “Besides, it’s April. The term’s nearly over. Maybe by next fall, I’ll have enough money to send you to an art school.” I was relieved not to have to start school right away in a strange town where I didn’t know anyone.

Mom told me not to leave the house, even during the day. “There are creeps in this neighborhood. Don’t open the door to anyone. If someone comes to the door, go to your room and stay there until you’re sure they’re gone. You just never know what could happen to you, honey,” she said, hugging me.

We never went out to eat. There was no telephone, computer, television, not even a radio. Unlike Dad, Mom never read newspapers. She promised we could have this stuff when her ship came in, but when that would be, she didn’t say.

Chuck helped her put an old bookshelf containing used books in my room, and they were even able to squeeze in a beat-up old armchair and lamp. Mom painted in the living room. She said she didn’t want me to watch her anymore because it distracted her. In fact, she wouldn’t let me come out into the living room until after dark when the blinds were pulled.

I liked to read. Although the chair was uncomfortable, I didn’t mind sitting there for hours reading the Judy Bloom books Mom gave me. I missed Susan and my other friends and even Dad, although he was away a lot and didn’t talk to me very much when he was home. I also missed painting and wondered why Mom didn’t get my easel and paints before we left home.

The only person who came to the door was Chuck, and I was glad to stay in my room while he was there. I didn’t like the way he kept looking at me. Luckily, my bedroom door had a lock that worked. Mom and Chuck drank. He often spent the night, and I heard sounds that I never heard from my folks’ bedroom at home. I buried my face in the torn covers of the old bed and tried to tune them out.

One sunny day in May, I couldn’t stand being in the house any longer. While Mom was in her room with a hangover, I quietly closed the front door and started walking. Now here I was, sitting in a café downtown, reading a newspaper article about me.

I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see a waitress smiling and holding a menu. She looked old enough to be my grandmother. I smiled and pointed at my picture and said, “How would you like fifty thousand dollars?”

The waitress stared at the photo, then at me, and her mouth opened wide. The café door opened, and in walked, of all people, Chuck. I shrank in my seat, hoping he didn’t see me, but he rushed to the table. “Amber, what the hell are you doing here?”

The waitress turned to the old man behind the counter grilling burgers. “Mel, call 911. That gal who went missing with the fifty thousand dollar reward is here, and the guy who kidnapped her is about to grab her again. Hurry!”

Chuck took off, as others sitting at nearby tables and the counter turned and stared. I felt weak. The waitress put her arm around me and said, “Don’t worry, honey. We won’t let him get you again. You’re safe now.”

Mel hollered from the grill. “Sally, tell that gal to order anything she wants. It’s on the house, and if that jerk comes back, I’ll butcher him, fry him extra crispy, and serve him with coleslaw.” He held up a knife. Other people laughed, and I couldn’t help giggling.

I didn’t even look at the menu. I ordered a hamburger, fries, and a shake. It was the best meal I had in a long time. When it was all gone, Sally talked me into eating a piece of chocolate pie.

Other customers went to the counter and offered to pay for my meal, but Mel waved them away with his knife. I could tell they knew him, and he knew them, so it was okay.

When the cops showed up, I told them what Chuck’s car looked like and how to get to Mom’s house. They found Mom right away and soon caught up with Chuck who was heading out of town. Mom and Chuck were wanted for other crimes, so they ended up doing a lot of jail time.

I flew home and was surprised when Dad, instead of Mrs. Miller, picked me up at the airport. He hugged me hard and said, “Oh Amber, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I didn’t think I’d ever see you again, princess.” He hadn’t called me princess or anything else in a long time.

When we got home, I found out he’d taken everything out of Mom’s studio. Even my easel and paints were gone, but frankly, I didn’t care. “This is your studio now, honey,” he said.

I picked out new wallpaper and carpeting, and he hired professionals to put it in. He bought me a couch, an entertainment center with a television and stereo and big speakers, a corner desk, and a computer with everything I needed. He even got me my own phone with a private line plus a cell phone. My friends said I was lucky to have the best dad in the world, and they were right.

Dad was usually home by supper time, and I ate with him in the dining room instead of in the kitchen with Mrs. Miller. On weekends, he took me out to fancy restaurants. When the weather was warm, he often played golf at the club, and I went with him and swam in the pool and hung out with my friends. Before school started, he took me to an expensive clothing store and asked a sales lady to pick outfits she thought were appropriate.

Six months later, I was looking at this story I wrote for a creative writing class I elected to take instead of art, wondering how it could end. I thought of Mel and Sally at the cafe. Mel would have gotten the reward since he was the one who called the cops. Of course he would have split it with Sally. They were probably already married. They could have done a lot with fifty thousand dollars.


Music Man with Gray Eyes, poetry
by Monique Harris

On the bus for people
with limps and lopes,
with wheelchairs and walkers,
with canes and crutches,
I saw a young man
whose gray eyes glittered
to a beat on the radio.
He pumps his fist in the air.
Music Man with gray eyes.
I wanted to talk to the Music Man,
but he lacked a language I understood.
Music Man, I wonder how I can communicate with you.
So, I watch you
and you watch me,
Music Man.
One day we stared at each other.
Your black curtain eyelashes raised and lowered
on the gray stage of your eyes
as you blinked and blinked
a Morse code
that began our first communication.
Music Man,
for months and months we communicated
through music and eyes
until one day I shared my name with you
and every day we rode the bus together.
Music Man,
to my amazement, you called my name.
I felt like a mother whose child called her “Mama”
for the first time,
Music Man with gray eyes.

This poem has been accepted for publication in the disability anthology Seeing Beyond the Surface II. which will be published in June 2017.

Bio: Monique R. Harris is an African American woman born in Philadelphia with cerebral palsy. Her poetry, stories, and artwork have been published in Wordgathering, Dryland, Pentimento Magazine, and Seeing Beyond the Surface. She lives in Emeryville, California with a developmentally disabled adult child.


Beautiful Lady, poetry
by Monique Harris

You comb chocolate fingers
through salt and pepper curls,
and then stretch
your hand from your wheelchair
to catch my attention

Beautiful Lady,
your eyes twinkle
a galaxy of dreams
where Saturn’s rings
adorn every finger
and comets
sparkle each ear.

Beautiful Lady,
your group home
dresses you in sweat pants
and tennis shoes.
They slip plastic jewelry
around your fingers
and neck.

Beautiful Lady,
you rest your chin on your hand
and imagine
your sweat pants
exchanged for satin and silk
and your costume jewelry
transformed to diamonds and pearls.

Beautiful Lady.

This poem has been accepted for publication in the disability anthology Seeing Beyond the Surface II. which will be published in June 2017.


Senses, poetry
by Jessica Goody

“…the tender flesh stretched over
tendon and vein: a whole world
thrumming just below. Fingers
love motion the way the flesh
loves the deep electrical twitch
of the body involuntary…”
-Joseph Campagna, A Shirt Loves A Body

My hands are old before their time. They resemble
a sage’s fingers, gnarled and ancient. My sunken
joints and wrinkled knuckles possess an odd elegance.

Flickering tendons meet the green cobwebs of my veins,
my fingertips provoking the rhythmic chatter of the keys.
My hand flops flounder-like at the end of a narrow wrist,

hanging limply, curving in the spastic arc of the lame, its
bitten nails like broken seashells. The twitches and ticks
of sudden spasm demand fierce concentration in order

to cross treacherous parking lots, avoid cold puddles and
broken concrete, loose steps and stairs without railings,
to divine the clearest route across a room, and sense the

texture of grass underfoot, divots hidden among the green.
My thick, heavy foot and flailing synapses rely on my sense of
touch in order to make my way in the world, stumbling between

crowds and along rough terrain, seeking handholds for security,
testing the air the way a snake does, sightlessly, with a flicker of
its tongue, scenting shapes and hidden objects unseen in the dark.

This poem was published in Defense Mechanisms published by Phosphene Publishing and available through Amazon.

Bio: Jessica Goody was born and raised on Long Island. She currently lives in South Carolina, where she writes for SunSations Magazine. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Reader’s Digest, The Seventh Wave, Event Horizon, Really System, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and The Maine Review. Her poem “Stockings” was awarded second place in the 2015 Reader’s Digest Poetry Competition. Her poetry collection Defense Mechanisms* is available on Amazon.


Roosevelt’s Braces, poetry
by Jessica Goody

Trembling beneath woolen blankets,
you cannot get warm as you shiver from
the aftershock of ague among the sickroom

paraphernalia of basins and mustard
plasters, and the scent of warm wool.
The mercury stretches, rising in the feverish glass.

Released from the bathyscape of the iron lung,
your legs are foreign objects, heavy and strange, as
rigid as a cadavers’; dead weights, flaccid as flour sacks.

Nerves like a disconnected telephone switchboard
struggle to speak, with no response, no dial tone.
Aching limbs are encased in humid plaster,

pristinely white; twin casts are cracked like
lobster shells and pried from withered limbs.
Leather straps taut as tourniquets tighten on

fragile flesh as the iron exoskeleton of orthotics
are locked into place. The slow strain of trembling
muscles, weighted down by the clanking armor of

shackles and scaffolding, sweating with the effort
of dragging limbs like sandbags or paperweights
in the clumsy waltz of left-right, scrape and drag,

knuckles white from the struggle to remain upright.
Every painful step requires the concentration of a
fakir treading hot coals as easily as cobblestones.

This poem was published in Defense Mechanisms published by Phosphene Publishing and available through Amazon.


Mastectomy, poetry
by Jessica Goody

The scar was violently red, curving in the exact shape
of the breast that was no longer there. I could not stop
staring, could not decide what was more obscene, more
shocking: the nudity of an authority figure, or the vivid
cruelty of deformity and scar tissue. She did not hear

my knock. Her eyes were hard with pride. Did she trace
the trail of the scar at night, fingering a shadow of flesh?
Was it warm to the touch, redly inflamed and new? Does
she mourn? How long will it take for the memory to fade,
of a once-healthy, perfectly-proportioned body rendered

lopsided and blank? Did she miss the familiar image of
herself, smooth and whole? Or did she feel lighter with
the missing flesh carved away, the heavy bosom no longer
hefted and strapped into place with a brassiere sculpted
of metal and lace? She was far too modest to consider the

mercenary uses of breasts, the women who employ their
figures like weapons with which to seduce and manipulate.
Left infertile by the time-release process of menopause, her
skirts and sheets no longer stained red-black with clots of
blood, did she feel relief at the thought of her crone-hood,

her status transfigured from work-horse and pack-mule into
wise elder? Without the messiness of the monthly bloodletting,
the biological imperative of reproduction, did she feel a weight
lifted or did she feel lost, adrift, remembering the infant in her
arms, the nourishment of one body flowing into another.

This poem was published in Defense Mechanisms published by Phosphene Publishing and available through Amazon.


This literary magazine is produced by Behind Our Eyes, Inc, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization of writers with disabilities.