MAGNETS AND LADDERS
Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
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, and Marilyn Brandt Smith
- Poetry: Lisa Busch, Alice Massa, Valerie Moreno, Abbie Johnson Taylor, and Marilyn Brandt Smith
- Technical Assistants: Jayson Smith and John Weidlich
- Internet Specialist: Julie Posey
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 email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. All donations support Magnets and Ladders.
Please email all submissions to email@example.com. 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. 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. For the conference phone number and PIN, join our mailing list by contacting our secretary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Table of Contents
- Editorial and Technical Staff
- Submission Guidelines
- About Behind Our Eyes
- Table of Contents
- Editor’s Welcome:
- I. Across the Life Span
- Wisps of Silver Moonlight, nonfiction
by Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter
- Drainers, memoir
by Greg Pruitt
- A String of Beads, poetry
by Brad Corallo
- Sheridan College Graduation, 1980, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
- The Big Day, memoir
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
- Meeting Mom, memoir
by Jonathan Simeone
- A Lady in Waiting, poetry
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
- Ode to Age, poetry
by Valerie Moreno
- Jalopy, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner
- I Like This World, poetry
by Paul D. Ellner
- Wisps of Silver Moonlight, nonfiction
- II. Friends, Family and Fun Twists
- Weightless! fiction
by Susan Muhlenbeck
- Stalking Anna, fiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
- Come Next Sunday, fiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
- Blue Jeans, fiction
by Ann Chiappetta
- When my Daughter Cuts the Roses, poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
- Two Friends on a Bench, poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
- Friend, poetry
by Valerie Moreno
- A Touch Of Love, Pantoum
by Kate Chamberlin
- Our Cottage Plus, nonfiction
by Kate Chamberlin
- My Grandfather’s Legacy, memoir
by Andrea Kelton
- Watching the Waves with Wilma, fiction
by Frances Strong
- Hold That Note–Longer, Longer, fiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
- Where were You? nonfiction
by Bill Fullerton
- Weightless! fiction
- III. Points to Ponder
- Anger Management, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin
- A Nowhere Place, fiction
by Bill Fullerton
- Can You Wear Glass Slippers and Break Through the Glass Ceiling? poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
- Lone Trumpeter’s Farewell, poetry
by Deon Lyons
- “Happens to Have,” nonfiction
by Carla MacInnis Rockwell
- The Target Employee, memoir
by Robert Kingett
- The Legend of Sam, the Sighted, fiction
by Shawn Jacobson
- The Color of Love, nonfiction
by Terri Winaught
- Hearing is Believing, nonfiction
by Robert Feinstein
- In Praise of Equality, Nonfiction
by Peter Altschul
- People Lessons, nonfiction
by Ann Chiappetta
- Anger Management, nonfiction
- IV. The Writers’ Climb
- Remembrance of a Rainbow, nonfiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
- The Poet Writes About Pi, poetry
by Mary-Jo Lord
- Real Poets Don’t Eat Ice Cream From Cones, poetry
by Nancy Scott
- The Writing Lesson, nonfiction
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.
- Looking for Wonder, nonfiction
by Shawn Jacobson
- Contest Alert
- Beltane, novel excerpt
by Christine Malec
- Voice Dream Writer: product review
by Jonathan Simeone
- Challenge Me: poetry
by Myrna D. Badgerow
- The Behind Our Eyes Garden: poetry
by Bonnie Rennie
- Remembrance of a Rainbow, nonfiction
- V. Dip into the Melting Pot
- Veggies with Dip, poetry
by Valerie Moreno
- Power to Burn, Poetry
by Nancy Scott
- Finely, Connection, poetry
by Brad Corallo
- Shoes, memoir
by Andrea Kelton
- This Wonderful Computer, nonfiction
by Ernie Jones
- Apples, poetry
by Jayson and Marilyn Smith
- Until Now, poetry
- The Green Balloon, poetry
by laura minning
- Broken Cords, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner
- A Census of My Senses, poetry
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.
- Veggies with Dip, poetry
- VI. The Animal Kingdom
Hello. As the days grow longer, and the temperature slowly increases, we welcome spring. Rain replaces snow, and washes away the salt and grime that winter left behind. Flowers are preparing to bloom, and the air has a clean freshness that makes everything feel rejuvenated. You can read about how some of our contributors enjoy the warmer seasons throughout this edition of Magnets and Ladders.
In our first section, “Across the Life Span,” we feature stories and poems ranging from a new mother’s heart-wrenching experience with child birth, to wisdom and reflections from a retired professor. In our last section, “the Animal Kingdom,” we have stories and poems about and from the point of view of dogs, and some stories that may surprise you.
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 ninety-seven 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. Below are the names of our contest winners.
- First place: “Weightless!” by Susan Muhlenbeck
- Second place: “Stalking Anna” by Marilyn Brandt Smith
- Honorable mention: “A Nowhere Place” by Bill Fullerton
- Honorable mention: “Blue Jeans” by Ann Chiappetta
- First place: “Drainers” by Greg Pruitt
- Second place: “Anger Management” by Jeff Flodin
- Honorable mention: “The Writing Lesson” by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.
- Honorable mention: “Wisps of Silver Moonlight” by Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter
- First place: “Jalopy” by Leonard Tuchyner
- Second place: “When my Daughter Cuts the Roses” by Lynda McKinney Lambert
- Honorable mention: “Can You Wear Glass Slippers and Break Through the Glass” Ceiling? by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
- Honorable mention: “Real Poets Don’t Eat Ice Cream From Cones” by Nancy Scott
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.
Magnets and Ladders is now on NFB Newsline. The Wisconsin affiliate of NFB Newsline is making Magnets and Ladders available to Newsline subscribers.
Here is how you can read Magnets and Ladders using NFB Newsline:
- From the main menu of NFB NEWSLINE, select option five.
- Select the Wisconsin option.
- Select the ABLE option (number one).
- Select number fourteen–the option for MAGNETS AND LADDERS.
It will take a few weeks for the current issue of Magnets and Ladders to be posted to Newsline. If you are not a subscriber of NFB Newsline, you can learn about the program and how to subscribe at www.nfbnewsline.org or by calling 1-866-504-7300.
Thanks to Alice Massa for working with the Wisconsin affiliate to make this possible. The hard work of Cheryl Orgas, Richard Robbins and the ABLE staff on this project is greatly appreciated.
I hope that you have a great summer, and I look forward to reading your submissions for the next edition.
I. Across the Life Span
Wisps of Silver Moonlight, nonfiction
by Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter
“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there’s a land I dreamed of once in a lullaby.” I croon to you in dulcet tones, as the moon hangs low, caressing your sleeping form. You sigh and turn towards me, arms extended above your head. I smile and snuggle your wiry frame. Your downy mound of hair tickles my face. My heart is about to burst from my chest, overflowing with love, with joy.
The weight of your body has been felt in my embrace for years. I gasp, unsure if this moment is real. The stillness of the night creates my heaven. You cuddle against me as I hold you close.
A river slides along breaking me into consciousness. Sprinting into the bathroom, I yell for Ross. Warm liquid gushes around me as I feel the tell-tale tightenings travel down my stomach. I feel no pain, just continual tightenings.
His little body pushes up against my abdomen. But there’s no pain; I’m unsure of what is happening. Everyone told me there would be pain, intense pain. No pain, but the pool of water surounding me in the tub blares like a siren, and I shout, “Ross, I think I’m going into labor.”
The morning is fringed with a hazy glow. My breathing is steady as people whip around me. Ross holds my hand as nurses remark on the intensity of my contractions, yet I still feel no pain.
I speak to my baby, my son. In a little while I will feel his tangible weight in my arms.
But the world falls around us. Rhythmic beating pulses, emanating from me. It shakes the world. They tell me he is showing signs of fetal distress, and that I can’t handle a long labor. An emergency Caesarian is scheduled.
Numbness swallows me from the waist down. A nurse whispers in my ear how well I’m doing. Ross grips my hand. I’m lost, focused solely on my son as a slight pressure pulls at my abdomen.
They pull him from my body, bleeding and silent. Ross sniffles. The world freezes. My ears strain past the muffled commotion, seeking my son. Don’t they cry? Aren’t they supposed to cry? Nurses giggle about how adorable he is, yet no sound. Finally he gives one squawk before they take him. I’m left alone as the doctor stitches me up.
I feel disjointed. He’s not with me. My mind hones in on his, but this fracturing feels wrong. Just a little longer and we will be fused together again, my sweet boy.
Ross strokes my long hair as the doctor explains the unexplainable.
“We didn’t anticipate this. We’re not entirely sure what is happening.” The doctor clears his throat. Papers rustle between the heart beats. “We’re sure this will all resolve in twenty-four hours though.” The door clicks shut and he’s gone.
But it doesn’t resolve in twenty-four hours, not forty-eight hours, not a week. Ross forces me to come home, to eat, to sleep. These daily, fundamental tasks elude me.
I sit in your empty nursery gulping for air as my ragged cries fill the room. Tears drip in torrents down my pale face as I suffocate from the silence.
I’m terrified to name you, to claim you. I steel myself, not wanting to imprint you upon my heart, but it’s too late. Your soul has fused with mine. Long ago I felt you touch me, claim me. Yet I’m terrified, seeing only darkness in the distance.
I wait each day hoping for good change for you, my darling baby boy. My standard reserve of strength threatens to run dry. I lock myself away, trying to handle my emotions as I deal with doctors, nurses and your precarious situation.
Darkness seems near the horizon. Your silent cries, from being intubated, shred my heart. I am brittle, fragile to the touch.
I will not lose you; I will not lose my strength. I will shatter this moment and throw it into the winds.
“I pray the Lord, my soul to keep.” Softly, gently, the words shape. Buzzing and humming, they breathe into the ebony silence, chiseling against solid darkness. I pray, I dream, dreams I’ve had since before your inception.
And You are there, smiling, always smiling. Your dad drapes an arm around my trembling shoulders. You move closer, tip-toeing through moonbeams. We’re together- all together, safe, near, a family. Our hands graze, and my heart expands.
In my arms, stroking my cheeks, you reassure my existence, and I can’t contain my heart. It swells, pushing, arteries pumping liquid love. From behind, your dad wraps his arms around our bulk, cradling, protecting.
“Somewhere over the Rainbow” trickles from my mouth. Your dad strokes both our heads; experiencing his warmth inching through our veins. Droplets moisten my cheeks as you kiss me. Sweet, golden kisses sealing our bond.
And you are well, my baby, my Declan. We are leaving, going home. There’s no place like home. I embrace you as we leave the hospital. The weight of the NICU pushes against our backs. I feel the pull, the draining sensation of desolation. But we are gone, gone. We follow our road home.
I wished upon a star and have waked with the clouds far behind me. Our troubles have melted like lemon drops, and I have found you. Starlight grazes our rocking shadow. You sigh, arms around me, your head nestled into my neck. In this midnight tableau, we are cocooned with wisps ofsilver moonlight.
Bio: Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter is a graduate of the University of Nebraska Omaha, with a BFA in creative writing. She has been published in Breath and Shadow, Slate & Style, 13th Floor
and The Omaha World Herald. She blogged about diabetes and blindness for Live Well Nebraska.com. She is visually impaired and is an active member in The National Federation of the Blind. Kuenning-Pollpeter lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband and son. “Wisps of Silver Moonlight” was written after the birth of her son and his subsequent NICU hospitalization. It was the first piece she worked on after having her son.
by Greg Pruitt
The Flint River flows through the center of the formerly great industrial city, for which it is named, and continues westward through a narrow valley, once lined with the factories that put America on wheels, produced the machines to win a war, and provided work for tens of thousands.
Today, most of those factories and jobs are only memories. The city is now a relatively deserted and dangerous place, but in the late 1950s, my hometown was a model city with good schools and safe neighborhoods. It was in those days when my friends and I searched for summer adventures on the streets and along the banks of the river.
I was a reckless boy in a neighborhood of reckless boys. We bragged about riding bikes down steep hills on paths stitched with tree roots. The subsequent falls we had taken and the resulting cuts and scrapes didn’t curve our sense of adventure. We laughed about cigarettes and alcohol stolen from parents, and backyard campouts that allowed us to wander the city in the hours until just before dawn. Life was an endless number of games and challenges. Some of them were ridiculous and some of them bordered on criminality. We dared one another to do foolish things and called those who failed to take the dare chicken.
One of those dares involved a journey into a city storm sewer that emptied at the banks of the nearby river. For a summer or two, my friends and I were at just the right age to take that dare, and I would like to think that we were clever enough to have checked the weather forecast for rain, or at least watched the sky for clouds, before deciding to go, but I know we lacked the ability to anticipate all of the possible consequences of our actions. We were 11 or 12 years old. Little of what we did involved much advanced planning. We had an idea, grabbed what we needed, and moved out. For this mission, our supplies consisted of our bikes, a book of matches, and a couple of flashlights.
Our miniature mischief of sewer rats, clad in t-shirts and jeans, gathered and left on the short ride to the river, which was perhaps only a half a mile from my house. The tires on our Schwinns made a low pitched buzzing sound as they rumbled over the thousands of red brick pavers that comprised our neighborhood streets. My poor eyesight should have held me back, but at that time, I could see well enough to avoid most hazards, so I raced along with the others, slowing only when the traffic forced me to do so.
Once reaching our destination, we dismounted our bikes at street level and walked them down into the gully that had been carved out over time by the flow of discharged storm water. We felt nervous and a bit afraid, like teammates before a big game, standing at the mouth of the sewer peering into the thickening gloom, and straining our ears listening for sounds that might warn us of any potential dangers lurking within. Alone, none of us would have ventured much beyond the opening, but as a group of four or five, we gained courage from one another and moved forward.
The round, gray cement sewer was large, perhaps as much as ten feet in diameter. There were ledges, which could be used by workmen in times of higher water that bordered both sides. The bottom was sloped so that a small, constant stream flowed along the lowest point. The air was cool, and the damp, musty odor of mildew filled our noses. Our excited voices sounded unusually loud as our shouts echoed down the seemingly endless tunnel, and the ghostly glow of twilight faded to total blackness as we rode away from the sewer’s opening. At that moment, with a last look at the vanishing pinpoint of light, we turned on our flashlights, and continued on foot.
As we walked, the beams of light bounced from wall to wall, creating shadows that danced and changed shapes with every step. We expected to see scurrying rats and the skeletons of animals, but were disappointed when we found none. From time to time, graffiti such as the names of fellow explorers would mark the progress of those who had been there before. We would add our names to those walls once we reached our furthest point.
Our group carried with us only a mental map of the area and guessed at where we were by listening to the sounds of traffic on the streets above. The main body of the sewer ran in a northerly direction, but there were openings to the sides that we thought must lead to neighborhood streets or parking lots. It was along these side tunnels that we also ventured. These openings were smaller, so we were forced to move along in a crouch. We wanted to see where we were, and it seemed safer to try and do that under a less traveled street. There were occasionally ladders that led to the surface. Climbing one would take you to a manhole cover or sewer grate. The manholes were dangerous, as they were in the center of the street, so lifting one slightly and peeking out was risky. A passing car could crush fingers or even worse a skull.
I remember climbing the rusting rungs of a ladder that took me to the metal grate of a drain that was located next to the curb. Looking through the iron grid, I could see the roof of our elementary school. I was nowhere near where I thought I should be. I realized at that moment that it was possible for us to become lost below ground if we continued with our aimless wandering. I removed a piece of chalk from my pocket, marked the wall with my initials, and began the return route down the narrow opening.
Because the tunnels ran maze like for miles in all directions, we seldom had any real destination, only the goal of going further than we had before, so it was the lack of time, more than anything that required us to turn back. Our mothers had no idea where we were, but in those days, no one would have been concerned unless we failed to return home before dark. As a rule, we were often gone for extended periods of time, traveling for miles, whether above or below ground.
The return was always faster, since there were no additional side explorations to delay us. We stayed on the main course and moved rapidly, but I sometimes had that eerie feeling, like in the best horror movies that someone or something was close behind, or about to spring out at us as we made our exit. I worried if our bikes would be where they had been left, or had someone followed us in and taken them, but luckily they were undisturbed, and so once again on our wheels, we rolled towards the light. We arrived home without our parents ever knowing where we had spent the day.
Exploration of the city’s sewer system was a poorly kept secret. Hundreds of boys and perhaps girls had ventured into that forbidden land. There was an understandable safety concern, so several years later, the city authorities decided to prevent unauthorized access to the sewer by bolting a gate of steel bars to the opening. This proved to be a fatal decision, because boys could force apart the bars and still enter the sewer, but were unable to exit as easily if in an emergency. A tragedy occurred one afternoon when a sudden, severe thunderstorm created a torrent of water that washed through the sewer and trapped three boys against the gated entrance. All three drown.
Whenever my old friends and I gather, we laugh when talking about those exploits in our younger days. Surely it was a minor miracle we all survived. We rode bicycles without helmets, climbed and fell from trees, engaged in snowball fights, and even experimented with making our own explosives. Fortunately, our parents knew nothing of our exploits. For if they had, how could they have slept at 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.
A String of Beads, poetry
by Brad Corallo
On a time train,
my mind follows time lines of long gone days.
Life images, like beads on a string flash bye.
Bags of bottle caps collected from everywhere.
An assortment of keys,
their functions lost, though they all opened something, once.
Concrete sump pipe treks.
The scents of candle wax and Dampness,
and the bravado of dissembling little boys.
Crazy Tony Valente, The terrifying harmless scissor man
riding his red bicycle in the woods.
Motions, finger across the throat.
Manor Haven Petting zoo:
stroking small furry animals,
chinchillas, minks and hedge hogs.
Tender, musky and soft, genuine wonder.
Sixth grade Sports Night wrestling victory.
Cheering section of four girls, to close out the events.
Red, blond, brown and black,
their crowning glory, shimmering more precious than winning.
The moon, vast and staggering human achievement.
Now a place, not just a name.
Kissing Susan on the lips in the trusty woods.
The scent of her hair never forgotten.
Playing at Mark’s house,
Frank, Jeff and I and
Tina the dog, princess of the show.
Model rockets impale the sky.
Soundings, Dopplerized whoosh!
Billowing parachutes, fall to Earth.
Revelations through music:
Dylan, Donovan, The Moody Blues
Behavioral laboratories, tribal warfare.
“I don’t dig what’s in, so I guess I’m out!”
Lengthening hair Herbal essences.
“F & SF,” Sub created worlds.
New realities to explore, stunningly beautiful concept.
World unity, Humanity in its vast diversity.
All mankind working hand in hand, Possibility or pipe dream?
Seeing through the distortion, So many lies.
Finding tones of Focus.
Questions, answers, Answers, questions?
Night falls images fade.
stops, But where?
Note: quoted lines adapted from: “The Boat that I Row” by Neil Diamond
Bio: Brad Corallo is a 57 year old visually impaired Certified Rehab Counselor (CRC) who works and resides on Long Island where he was born. His specialty is providing psychotherapy for folks with a wide variety of issues and disabling conditions. Brad is separated from his second wife and has no children except for his large furry cat Jack Hinks. Brad’s hobbies and interests include: reading, writing, some sports, music, enjoyment of fine wine and food and his many fascinating friends.
Sheridan College Graduation, 1980, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
Amid the thump of running footsteps,
five figures clad only in sacks
dart across the platform between the podium
where the president stands in his finery
and chairs where regally clad trustees sit.
Someone must have alerted the campus police
because the streakers are apprehended
before they reach the exit.
I heard that students plotted this
to pay tribute to a retiring faculty member.
They may have trouble finding work later
unless they seek employment as strippers.
Bio: Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of a romance novel and two poetry collections. Besides Magnets and Ladders, her work has appeared in Behind Our Eyes, Serendipity Poets Journal, and Emerging Voices. She is visually impaired and lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, where for six years, she cared for her totally blind husband who was partially paralyzed by two strokes. Please visit her Website at http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com
The Big Day, memoir
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
This couldn’t be happening, I told myself, as in my underwear, I paced the upstairs hall in Grandma’s house between my aunt’s old bedroom and the bathroom. It was a warm September afternoon in 2005, and out in the yard, I heard strains of music from the string duo my father hired for the occasion mingled with the chatter of arriving guests. Any minute, the ceremony would start. Would I have to walk down the aisle on my father’s arm in my underwear? Where was my sister-in-law Kathleen who agreed to be matron of honor?
She was probably still at the motel with my brother Andy, their two sons Dylan and Tristan, ages eight and six, who were to be ushers, and their two-year-old daughter Isabella, who would serve as flower girl. Not only did we not have ushers or a flower girl but my dress was with Kathleen at the motel. Why wasn’t she here?
The front door banged, and to my relief, I heard the excited voices of my nephews and niece. “Go out back, and don’t mess up your nice clothes,” Kathleen called before rushing up the stairs to greet me.
“You have my dress?” I asked, noticing she wasn’t carrying a garment.
“No, it’s right there on the bed,” she said, pointing to somewhere I couldn’t see.
With my limited vision, I could only make out people and objects close to me, and in the heightened emotional state of any bride-to-be, I hadn’t thought to look closely for the dress. I’d been pacing the floor and wringing my hands for twenty minutes, wondering where it was, and all this time, it was right in front of me.
Later, fully dressed, I sat on the toilet seat while Kathleen applied my make-up. From the yard below, the string duo’s music and the din of voices drifted up and in through the open bathroom window. When I was ready, Kathleen said, “Okay, we need something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. Let’s see…”
While she wandered through the upstairs rooms, I made my way to the ground floor, feeling anxious. The living room was deserted. Everyone was outside, waiting. Just as I sat on the couch to compose myself, Dad appeared and said, “Honey, they’re starting Pachelbel’s Canon.”
I leapt to my feet and called up the stairs to Kathleen, “Forget something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. Let’s do this.” I took Dad’s arm, and we maneuvered through the living and dining room and kitchen and out the back door. In minutes, Kathleen was at my side.
Isabella strolled down the makeshift aisle. “Oh look,” said someone in the crowd. “She’s dropping rose petals and picking them up again. Isn’t that cute?”
I wanted to be annoyed, but she was only two. Still, I couldn’t help wondering what else could possibly go wrong. Finally, I heard the musical cue for my entrance. “Okay now,” I whispered to Dad, and we descended the back porch steps and moved down the aisle.
At first, I didn’t see Bill. Was he still at the Mint Bar? Then all of a sudden, I spotted him. With gray hair, sunglasses, and wearing a green suit to match my gown, he stood under an arch framed by multi-colored flowers and balloons. He took my hand and said, “Hello sweetie. Are you nervous?”
As usual, his touch and voice were reassuring, and I smiled and said, “No, now that you’re here.”
Nothing else mattered, not the lost and found wedding dress, the late arrival of the matron of honor, the absence of something old, new, borrowed, blue, or the errant flower girl. After a long day of preparation and celebration away from each other, we were finally together. We said our vows, not knowing that tragedy would change our lives in three short months.
Meeting Mom, memoir
by Jonathan Simeone
In the middle of a dream, I slowly became aware of my telephone ringing. Reaching for the phone, I was slightly annoyed. Why had my dream been interrupted?
As soon as I answered, a friend of mine said, “We found her!” I sat up like I had been shot out of a cannon. The two-year search was over; we had found my birthmother.
I spent much of the following twelve hours pacing and thinking. What was she like? How were we alike? How were we different? Did I have any other siblings? The answers to those questions and at least a hundred others that were running through my head, made me smile.
Knowing I was going to contact Mom, forced the two questions that had been worrying me throughout my search to dominate my thoughts. Would Mom talk to me? How would she feel about my blindness?
Whenever the possibility of Mom rejecting me crossed my mind, my heart would start pounding. My stomach would flip.
As the hours dragged on, I cleaned my bathroom for the second time in three days. I went food shopping, even though I had plenty of food. I made a beef stew I hadn’t planned on making. I did everything I could think of to try and keep that negative thought away. The two years of hard work and wild emotions my friends and I went through to find Mom, simply couldn’t result in rejection.
By the time I was watching reruns of baseball All-Star games, I realized my efforts to distract myself had gone way too far. It was time to face my fear.
Sitting on my couch, I thought about the messages I had received from birthmothers on message forums. I needed to give Mom the opportunity to say she wasn’t interested. This hadn’t been her search. I could be an intrusion into the life she had constructed during the previous twenty-eight years. The fairest thing to do was to have a female friend make the call. She would tell Mom a little about me. She would also let Mom know I would honor her wish, even if it was to be left alone.
Waiting for my friend to call me back, I jumped up and down and yelled, “This is so exciting!” The instant my feet hit the floor, fear reasserted itself. In a matter of minutes, my years-old dream of meeting my mom could be crushed.
With my heart pounding and a cold sweat forming on my back, I sat on the floor next to Ivor, my guide dog. Scratching his side, I had trouble catching my breath. Feeling his head on my shoulder and hearing his calm, steady breath in my ear, I hugged him and took a deep breath. By the time the phone rang, I was a little more relaxed.
The excitement in my friends’ voice told me the first scary question had been answered. Mom wanted to talk to me.
Hanging up the phone, my heart skipped a beat. I would get to talk to Mom. I still didn’t know how she would feel about my blindness. Maybe she would blame herself and feel guilty. My blindness may make her more uncomfortable than it should. Many people overreact when they encounter a blind person. Holding my phone, I petted Ivor and took several deep breaths. There was only one way to answer the remaining question.
Dialing Mom’s number, I paced around my living room and held my breath. When Mom nervously said “hello,” I exhaled. I had heard her voice.
After a few minutes of small talk, I knew Mom and I had a lot in common. We were sharing stories and laughing like old friends. Feeling more relaxed, I was ready to tell her about my blindness. The longer I waited, the closer to her I felt, the more painful the rejection or awkwardness would have been. Sitting on my couch, I petted Ivor and took another deep breath. It had all come down to this.
“I have something to tell you,” I said in a voice I heard crack. “I’m totally blind.”
As long as I live, I’ll never forget the joy I felt when Mom said, “It don’t matter. I love you.”
Nearly thirteen years later, Mom and I are best friends. I can’t imagine my life without her. There is nothing more incredible than the knowledge that someone loves you without reservation or condition.
Bio: Jonathan Simeone has been totally blind for as long as he can remember, as the result of the removal of his right eye, which destroyed his optic nerve. He grew up in Winchester, Massachusetts where he enjoyed playing sports In high school. He graduated with honors from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. After interning for Senator Ron Wyden in Washington, DC, he attended Suffolk University Law School in Boston. He earned his law license in 2005, and worked for the American Bar Association in DC, and Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley, California. Currently he lives with his guide dog, Ufi, in Oregon. He enjoyswriting, exercising, and loving life.
A Lady in Waiting, poetry
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
What to pack?
Sturdy walking shoes,
her favorite dress for pictures.
Raincoat just in case,
an open heart.
What to leave?
Regrets for what was,
sorrow for what has ended.
Longing for the past,
Who will fill the void?
She’s like a mail order bride,
she’s full of questions,
Her heart struggles to open,
to begin again,
a true gift of love.
No wonder she can’t decide,
what she needs for a–
new guide dog.
Bio: DeAnna Quietwater Noriega is half Apache and a quarter Chippewa. She lost her vision at age eight. She has been a writer/poet, advocate on disability
issues and story teller since childhood. She currently is teamed with her eighth guide dog, Reno, a chocolate Labrador retriever. Her writing has appeared in magazines such as: Dialogue, Angels on Earth, The Braille Forum, Generations-Native Literature, and in the anthologies Behind Our Eyes, 2+4=1, My Blindness Isn’t Black, and Where We Read the Wind. She lives in mid-Missouri with her husband, youngest daughter, three grandchildren and a host of critters.
Ode to Age, poetry
by Valerie Moreno
When I was young,
magic was a true friend,
living in flowers, spring showers
and the mysterious beat of my heart.
Trust was effortless.
Right and wrong were clear commands,
lacking pitfalls and fear.
When clouds moved in,
the ground cracked;
dreams turned ugly.
I was old, shaken,
Now, here I embrace the years,
pages in a book colored bright, dark,
cycling disillusion, hesitance-
so much between lifelines,
Survival of body and spirit
woven with tearful resolve,
there are joys abounding
Child, wife, mother,
dreamer, widow-the hardest word and witness.
I am older, brilliantly simple,
no need to rush and rant and ponder.
Right and wrong are choices,
memories are precious.
Time guides me gently now,
in the soft warmth of a cup of tea,
touch of a cat’s paw,
my daughter’s voice,
Levi’s five-year-old wisdom, Jack’s laughter.
I am grandma,
I am young-
imagination lights the dark.
Words become colorful pictures,
there are stories to tell,
a new song to learn.
Ode to age–
as time sooths,
life is simpler at best, quick at worst.
I am young again, spirit and soul,
body slower, meaning clearer.
Grey surrounding brilliant color.
Bio: Valerie Moreno, age 57, has been writing since she was twelve years old. Always inspired by music and fascinated by people around her, she’s written fiction, memoir, poetry and articles.
by Leonard Tuchyner
“Looks like you’re gonna want a pump valve.”
“Oh, no! It’s really that serious?”
“Yeah, sorry to say it’s getting there.”
“Can’t you see that it’s working just fine?
Your diagnosis is out of line.”
“I know my job, Sir. I have no doubt.
Put your ear here and hear it out.
You get all those squishy slurpy sounds?”
“Oh, my gosh! They sound scary and harsh.
What’s that ghastly squawky squirty noise?”
“That squawk is what I’m worried about.
Valve’s getting too narrow, old and stiff,
not letting the fluid freely flow.”
“How long has this contraption got, Doc?”
“Could be another two to five years.”
“Are we considering replacement?”
“Not the entire pump, just a valve.”
“How invasive is replacement?”
“We’ve got a new-fangled contraption.
We don’t have to do an open-pump,
cage-breaking, slicing operation.
We just snake a stent through the right pipes.
Alacazam, you’ve got a new valve.
An average day. Nothin’to it.”
Then why am I so scared to death?
Elderly parts wear out, I guess.
Kind of like this old jalopy.
So over time we’ll scrutinize,
and try to do what can be done
to keep this beat-up carcass running.
Bio: Leonard Tuchyner has had Stargardt’s disease, which was first noticed in his teenaged years. He is now seventy-four. 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-four 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. He recently published a poetry book through Cedar Creek Publishing. His hobbies include Tai chi and gardening.
I Like This World, poetry
by Paul D. Ellner
I like this world,
despite its cruelties of war, crime,
poverty and disease,
and the obvious lack of a Celestial Director
-a hard chair to fill indeed.
I’ve been to Europe, Asia, South America, even Australia,
but my favorite place is Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills.
I’ve had a good life, better than most.
My senses all were gratified:
I’ve watched the glorious entrances and exits of the sun,
seen pretty fish and flowers.
And when my vision left me,
the scent remains of petunias, carnations, gardenias, roses,
and fresh baked bread.
I thrill to music and birdsong,
enjoy good food and drink,
and a warm gentle touch.
I’ve skied down pristine slopes,
flown alone in the boundless sky,
and swam amid the coral in tropic seas.
I’ve known love,
for work well done and recognized,
at times for lovely girls.
Then one who shared the long, long years with me,
for our kids and grands,
for my students and a few good friends,
and for faithful dogs and intimate cats.
Now on the last lap I’m still crowing,
waiting for whatever ills may come
and the end that all men fear.
I really like this world.
Bio: Dr. Ellner is 89 years old and served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He received a Ph.D. at the University of Maryland College of Medicine. He taught microbiology and infectious disease to medical students at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons as Professor of Microbiology and Pathology. He has published many articles and several medical books. Dr. Ellner became deaf twenty years ago and blind ten years later. He wrote a play, poetry, short stories and self-published three novels and a biography. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and guide dog.
II. Friends, Family and Fun Twists
by Susan Muhlenbeck
Kelly poured two cups of coffee and sat down across from her friend Bridget as she eyed the array of baked goods on the kitchen counter. “Have a blueberry muffin,” she said, picking one up off the plate in the center of the table.
“I really shouldn’t,” Bridget hesitated, then picked one up and took a big bite. “Mmmm, your muffins are going to be a big hit at the church bake sale,” she said, licking crumbs off her lips.
“So are your brownies,” Kelly smiled. “I sure hope we raise enough money to repair the church roof.”
“Between your muffins and Carol’s lemon tarts, it shouldn’t be a problem,” Bridget laughed, taking another bite of muffin.
“Aunt June came by and dropped off some of her famous sugar cookies last night,” Kelly said, pouring herself another cup of coffee and adding a generous amount of hazelnut creamer.
“I have to get the recipe from her,” Bridget said. “Those cookies are my kids’ favorite treat.”
“June always sends them to Cindy at college,” Kelly mused. “Then Cindy suddenly becomes very popular in the dorms.”
“I’ll never lose twenty pounds before summer,” Bridget sighed, reaching for another muffin. “It is just not going to happen.”
“Speaking of which,” Kelly said, getting up and walking over to the basket of mail on the counter, “do you remember Erica Jewel from college?”
“Of course,” Bridget said, chewing contentedly. “How could anybody forget her? Haven’t heard from her in years though. Why do you ask?”
“Check this out,” Kelly said, pulling out a stack of papers from a manila envelope. She held up a picture of their old college friend. “This was taken just last week,” she said with a little laugh.
“Looking as young and slim as ever,” Bridget said enviously. “She hasn’t aged a day within the last twenty years. What is she up to these days anyway?”
“Read all about it,” Kelly invited, handing Bridget a hand written letter.
Bridget read the letter silently, then handed it back to Kelly with a smirk. “So she’s still gallivanting around Europe, and now working for some hot shot pharmaceutical company. Well isn’t she something else?”
“Can you believe she had the nerve to send me a couple of their new diet pills?” Kelly demanded, reaching into the envelope and pulling out a foil wrapped package.
“Guaranteed to lose weight instantly,” Bridget scoffed. “Whoever heard of such a thing?”
Kelly unwrapped the package and held up two white pills, hardly bigger than an ant. “I wonder what they’re made of.”
“Why would she just assume we need to lose weight?” Bridget asked with contempt. “Does she think she’s the only one who can maintain her youthful figure?”
“Unfortunately, that seems to be the case,” Kelly said regretfully. “I think I’ll take one of these pills to see if it works. It can’t hurt,” she added, raising one of the miniscule pills to her lips.
“Kelly, no!” Bridget cried. “You don’t know what’s in those things. Wait till it’s FDA approved at least.”
It was too late. Kelly swallowed the pill with the last of her coffee. “Okay,” she said slowly, “did I lose weight yet?”
“I can’t believe you did that,” Bridget scolded.
Kelly ignored her. “We got to get these goodies to the church,” she said standing up quickly. “The bake sale should be starting in a few minutes.”
Bridget didn’t answer. She stared at Kelly, awed. Bridget clapped her hand over her mouth to stifle a scream. Then she closed her eyes and gave her head a good shake. When she opened her eyes again, Kelly’s head was flush against the ceiling, and her feet were dangling several feet off the floor.
“Hey, it worked,” Kelly shouted, pulling her legs up and sitting cross legged in the air. “I lost weight, and instantly! I just didn’t lose mass,” she said dryly, pinching the flesh around her waist. “It’s cool being weightless,” she said when Bridget didn’t respond. “Take the other pill and come up here with me.”
“Kelly,” Bridget said in a raspy voice.
“What’s wrong with you, Bridget?” Kelly asked reproachfully. “Don’t you want to lose weight instantly?”
“Excuse me,” Bridget said softly, stumbling toward the front door. “I need some fresh air. I must be hallucinating. I think I’m going to have a heart attack,” she cried, putting a hand over her heart.
“Don’t be absurd,” Kelly snapped as Bridget flung the front door open. “I feel great, free as a bird.”
Bridget lurched outside and took long, deep breaths of the cool spring air. As she watched in horror, Kelly glided on thin air across the living room and out the front door. Once outside, she continued to rise slowly, with her arms spread wide and her toes pointed at the ground. “Kelly, stop!” Bridget shouted, reaching up and clasping her friend around the ankles. She pulled with all her might, but gravity was not on her side. To her ever increasing horror, she felt her own feet leave the ground as her friend continued her flight upward.
“That’s it, just hang on tight,” Kelly said soothingly as she flapped her arms about. “I haven’t had this much fun in years,” she said excitedly as they climbed above the trees.
“Get us down!” Bridget shouted, trying to pry her hands off Kelly’s ankles. Why wouldn’t her hands come loose?
“I can’t,” Kelly said without feeling. “It’s out of my hands.”
Bridget started to cry. “Help!” she sobbed as they continued their ascent. “Somebody help us!”
“Sorry, nobody can hear you except the birds,” Kelly said impatiently. “We’re too high up.”
Bridget looked down and immediately felt faint as the earth continued to fall away from them. “Kelly, what have you done?” she sobbed.
“It’s Erika’s fault,” Kelly said matter-of-factly. “She sent us the pills. When we get home, I’m going to track her down and shoot her, okay? Would that make you feel better?”
A raven squawked in Bridget’s ear, and then flew off. Startled, she opened her mouth to give Kelly more grief but found she couldn’t take a deep breath. “Kelly, I can’t breathe,” she whispered.
“Me too,” Kelly said softly. “Can’t, can’t breathe.” Kelly felt Bridget’s grip on her ankles grow slack. How many feet high were they for the air to be so thin? Bridget’s hands lost their grip on her ankles. Kelly watched helplessly as her friend went crashing towards the earth as she herself continued to rise.
This is it, was Kelly’s last thought as the air grew ever thinner. I’m sorry, Bridget. She became dimly aware of bells pealing and a loud pounding. Was that her heart pounding out its last beats?
Bridget opened Kelly’s front door with her spare key. “Kelly, are you home?” she called out. There was no reply. Bridget walked into her friend’s bedroom and found her still lying in bed. “What’s going on? Why aren’t you up yet?” she asked crisply, giving Kelly a little shake. “We have to get going soon. I’ll put some coffee on. Come have a cup of coffee with me, then we’ll head over to the church.”
“Bridget,” Kelly said thickly. “You’re here?” she asked uncertainly.
“Of course I’m here,” Bridget said, sounding worried. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Can’t breathe,” Kelly whispered. “I think this is it.”
“What?” Bridget asked, now sounding alarmed. “Are you okay? Do you need to go to the hospital?”
“No, no,” Kelly said, raising herself onto her elbows. “Just a nightmare.”
“You can tell me about it over coffee,” Bridget said, helping Kelly to her feet. “I brought my brownies for the bake sale. Let’s have a couple with our coffee.”
They sat across from each other at the kitchen table. “About this nightmare?” Bridget asked, pouring two cups of steaming coffee.
Kelly shuddered. “I’ll tell you later,” she said quickly. “I don’t want to talk about it right now.”
“Okay,” Bridget shrugged. “Have a brownie. I just made them this morning.”
Kelly looked around the kitchen as she remembered her nightmare. She and Bridget had sat right here, drinking coffee and eating muffins as they talked about the church bake sale. Everything had been fine until she swallowed that magic pill. She shivered as she remembered that sensation of not being able to breathe and watching her friend fall thousands of feet.
“You’re being awfully quiet,” Bridget noted. “What’s going on?”
“Oh, nothing,” Kelly laughed nervously. “I was just thinking about how I hope we raise enough money to repair the church roof.”
“We will,” Bridget said with conviction, “and just in time for the spring festival. Want another brownie?”
The doorbell rang. Kelly walked on shaky legs to the door and peered outside. “Come in, Amelia,” she said, letting her neighbor inside.
“I brought some cinnamon rolls for the bake sale,” Amelia said, setting them on the counter with the rest of the baked goods.
“Want some coffee and brownies?” Bridget asked, coffee pot in hand.
“No, I can’t stay. I have to go to my Weight Watchers meeting,” Amelia explained, moving towards the door.
“Weightwatchers!” Kelly cried in dismay, thinking of the nightmare again.
“Don’t knock it until you try it,” Amelia advised. “I lost fifteen pounds so far. It doesn’t happen instantly, but it does happen,” she said, opening the front door.
“Instantly! Kelly sat down heavily in her chair.
“Speaking of losing weight–” Bridget began.
“You can tell me later,” Amelia said over her shoulder as she rushed out. “See you soon.”
“Oh dear, look at the time,” Bridget cried, slamming her coffee cup down on the table. “We have to get ready. Help me carry all these to the van.”
They loaded Bridget’s minivan with cakes, pies, cookies, brownies, and breads. “I’m going on a diet right after the bake sale,” Kelly laughed as they drove down the road. She was starting to feel like her old self again.
“Well, as I was trying to tell Amelia,” Bridget started again, “speaking of losing weight, do you remember Erica Jewel from college?”
The name sent a jolt of electricity through Kelly. “Yes,” she said softly. “I remember her very well.”
“So do I,” Bridget said, not noticing Kelly’s tone. “I got a letter from her yesterday. You won’t believe what she’s doing these days.” She waited.
“What?” Kelly said obligingly, dreading the answer.
“Working for a pharmaceutical company,” Bridget said derisively. “She sent me a picture of her, looking as young and slim as she did twenty years ago. She said her company is manufacturing a new diet pill that is guaranteed to make you lose weight instantly. She even sent me a couple samples. Can you believe it?”
“Oh no,” Kelly groaned, feeling the blood pounding in her ears. “Bridget, what did you do with them?”
“What? The pills? They’re at home,” Bridget said, finally noticing Kelly’s strange demeanor. “I’ll show you the letter later. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, my stomach is a little upset,” Kelly said lamely. “Shouldn’t eat brownies first thing in the morning I guess.”
“You can if your name is Erica Jewel,” Bridget said testily. “She hasn’t gained an ounce all these years. Maybe her new diet pills work. Maybe I’ll try one later to see what happens. It can’t hurt, right?” she shrugged.
“No, Bridget,” Kelly cried, grabbing her friend’s hand.
Bridget parked the van in the church’s almost full parking lot. Then she turned her full attention to her friend. “Kelly, seriously, what is wrong? You look like you are going to be sick. Are you thinking about your nightmare again? Maybe you should talk about it.”
“I’m fine,” Kelly said quickly. “Let’s unload everything and set things up. We’ll talk later.”
Aunt June’s famous sugar cookies
1 cup margarine
1 cup white sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
- Cream margarine and sugar
- Add eggs and vanilla and beat well
- Add flour, baking soda and cream of tartar which have been mixed together
- Mix well
- Roll dough on floured board (not too much at a time) Cut into shapes
- Bake at 350 degrees for 7 or 8 minutes.
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 a 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.
Stalking Anna, fiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Chasing the Green Sun, published in 2012.
Coach King was at the bottom of one of the twin caves, as the locals in Burley county, Kentucky called them. They swore an Indian pottery stash lay hidden in a secret passage between the caves. Nobody really believed it, but adventurous young people loved a good excuse to go there. The boys from one of the recreation centers in the county talked Coach into this trip. School would be out next week and many had summer jobs, so this was the perfect time. Kevin’s dad was supposed to be there, but at the last minute he’d tossed the keys to his Winnebago to the coach. “I have to go to Louisville,” he explained, “my daughter’s about to have our first grandbaby. You can drive Winnie, she’s easy, just hike in that last half mile or so.”
There was a large flat area at the bottom of the explored portion of the cave. People left trash behind, although they weren’t supposed to. Coach encouraged the boys to pick it up and carry it out with them, and he was doing the same. He was trying to teach them safety precautions, and had them unwind a spindle of twine on their way down. That way, if they came down later without proper supervision, maybe they’d take the same precautions and not get lost. He told them to wind up the twine as they ascended, and assigned Kevin to be in charge of that project. He could hear them singing some radio rock song, already halfway back to fresh air.
With his trash bag full, the thirty-five-year-old homegrown former basketball star was ready to go home to dinner. “I know I left the maps right here in this corner,” he commented under his breath. He had a drawing of the interior of the cave on several pages showing which rooms had previously been explored, which ones were treacherous, and which ones had the best lessons for the kids.
The battery in his lantern was getting weak, but he had a flashlight in his pocket. “Damn!” he muttered. He’d let Charlie borrow it to look in a side room he thought they might have time to explore. They’d run out of time; Charlie’d forgotten to give it back; he’d forgotten to ask for it. He wanted to get them back on time; Ralph’s mother was such a worry wart. She’d made him dress for high adventure. He found the maps; they were in the first aid kit, but the cover page was missing. How did that happen? One of the kids must have been looking at them.
The caves were Anna and Bell. This was Anna, wasn’t it? He was pretty sure it was Anna; he’d start out that way anyway. If one of the turns looked wrong he could always come back and do it over…assuming he still had light. This was no text adventure game-this was for real!
He wondered why he hadn’t separated the two maps and left one of them out in the motor home. They were stapled together, printed out in his office from one big file. Big letters had been carved in the rock outside of the cave showing which one was Anna and which one was Bell. They were around the mountain from each other, and he could just picture that palindrome “Anna,” couldn’t spell it backwards, could you?
They’d come back down here after him if he didn’t show in a few minutes. But wait, there was only one set of maps, and he had them. There was no hope for his cell phone, but he took it out and tried it just to make sure.
Kevin, Charley, and the boys arrived at the mouth of the cave in good time. They stashed their trash bags full of litter in the back of the motor home. Beer and wine had been consumed at the bottom of that cave, not by them of course, and a lot of evidence left behind.
“I’ll count noses,” Donnie called, “I think I’m last.” Fifteen young men, fifteen explorer wannabes, had tackled Anna. “All accounted for,” Donnie told Kevin, who was the unofficial assistant group leader.
“Where’s Coach?” Charlie wanted to know.
“Ah, he’s probably making sure we didn’t miss any trash down at the bottom and on the way out,” Kevin offered.
When the chatter, the chip bags, and the cooler were empty, the boys became concerned about getting back in time for supper. Their parents, big sisters and brothers, or their own vehicles were patiently waiting in the center’s parking lot. 5:30 was when they were due, and it was 5:30 now. It would take another thirty minutes to get back to town.
“Damn,” Charlie said, “I’ve got the flashlight. Hope his lantern holds out.”
“I’ve got the twine,” Kevin remembered, pointing to a spindle on the floor, “but he’s got the maps.”
“What is that, about a thousand feet?” one of the guys in the back asked.
“I have no idea,” Kevin laughed. “I guess if he doesn’t get back pretty soon we should go back to town and get some help?”
“Yeah,” Charlie commiserated, “but what if he got up here and found us gone? How much trouble would we be in?”
“I think we should start back down there, and take this twine with us,” Donnie suggested. “Somebody could stay here on top and hold the reel, and some of us go down looking for him, hollering until he heard us. His light must have gone out, or he’s lost, or something.”
“Man, if we blow this, there won’t be any more field trips anytime soon,” Ralph, the youngest, sighed.
“You think maybe he’s playing with us? He could want to see what we’ll do in a crisis,” Donnie suggested.
“Where’s the instruction manual?” Ralph laughed.
“I don’t think there is one for a situation like this,” Kevin said. “I don’t think Coach would do that to us for this long.”
“How did he think we were ever going to have twine if we came back down here on our own?” Charlie wondered.
Ralph decided to lead a procession out of the motor home. He wanted some fresh air. He was tired of waiting around and doing nothing. The heavy clothes and boots his mom made him wear were making him miserable. These older guys with a bazillion medals and letters were supposed to know what to do. “We’re supposed to be like Hansel and Gretel and leave breadcrumbs, of course,” he offered.
“I’m beginning to think we need to go back to town,” Kevin said quietly to Charlie while the other guys were laughing. They’d already invented a scenario in which the breadcrumbs they dropped led them to the witch at the bottom of the cave.
“Yeah,” Charlie said after a minute of concentration, “We have licenses, but not for this big baby.”
“I’ve driven her on country roads at my granddad’s place, so maybe we could take the back roads and nobody would spot us,” Kevin suggested. “But even if they did, they ought to understand the mess we’re in.”
“I’m not willing to drive this thing,” Charlie said honestly, “but if you are, we could split the group. You and half the guys go back to town and get help; I’ll take the other half and we’ll start back down the cave looking for Coach.”
“Once I get on a road where there’s traffic,” Kevin thought aloud, “if I can get a car to stop, I’ll explain the situation and let them go to town so I don’t have to get in trouble for driving her,” he patted the side of the Winnebago.
“Hey guys!” came a call from half a mile up the mountain.
“Coach!” came the unified cry. There were a million questions. “What happened? Did you get lost? Were you playing a trick on us? We’d better get the bleep out of Dodge, we’re late!”
“Get in the Winnebago and I’ll explain,” Coach promised. “To tell you the truth, I got out on blind luck. I barely had enough light. Got to get new ink for that printer. I couldn’t make out the maps at all, but do you know how I got out?”
“You know how Ralph’s mom,” he pointed to the young boy who’d been so concerned about their predicament, “you know how she made him wear those boots with cleats as if he were going to walk on ice? Well, bless her heart, those things dug a pattern of holes as he went down and came out, and I followed those suckers all the way to the entrance. I was mighty glad to see Anna’s name on the front of that cave.”
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 is the primary editor for the Behind Our Eyes anthology, and she was the Coordinating editor of this magazine from the spring of 2011 through the winter of 2014. Another of her interests is music–barbershop harmony, folk and Americana, and current hits. Visit her website and read her minimag/blog at www.marilynspages.com.
Come Next Sunday, fiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Chasing the Green Sun published in 2012.
Kenny found his grandmother on the front porch on a sunny Sunday afternoon in June. “It’s my job,” he told her, drawing her attention away from the hanging basket she was watering, “to find out if there’s anything special you want to do on your birthday next Sunday.”
She could tell the speech had been rehearsed. The brown-eyed, freckle-faced seven-year-old was a carbon copy of his dad, her son. She’d always been able to tell when his questions and answers were rehearsed. They probably already had plans, but she was about to throw a fly into the ointment, and this was the perfect opportunity to do it.
She put down her watering can and motioned him to sit beside her in the swing. “I was glad when your daddy was transferred down here,” she began, “We’ve all been up north most of our lives but I grew up around here,” she explained. “Well, two hundred miles away isn’t exactly right here, but it’s close, and the thing I remember most about summers in the south was going to the beach. That’s what I’d like to do for my birthday.”
“We went to the beach last year,” he said hesitantly, “but it was my first time, and I was kinda scared. It was windy and noisy and sandy.”
“I used to like to shop on the boardwalk,” Grandma mused, “At the water’s edge you could feel the sand move under your feet when the waves rolled out. Have you ever built a sandcastle? I used to build them taller and stronger than anyone else did.”
“I never saw a sandcastle!” Kenny squealed enthusiastically, “Is it tall, like up to the sky?” He reached toward the clouds.
Grandma laughed, “No, they’re not quite that strong. The wind carries them off before you can get them that tall. But they’re lots of fun to build. Your daddy knows how. If we get to go, we’ll get him to build one for us, and you can help. I used to like to go out deeper than I should,” she continued, “I’d catch the big waves and ride them back into shore on an inner tube. You probably don’t know what an inner tube is, but they’re fun. I dug for shells and decorated all my purses and picture frames and jewelry with them.”
“Can you use your walker and your cane in that sand?” Kenny asked.
“I don’t know, but I’ll get my toes in that water one way or the other,” she answered. “I want to feel that sand between my toes; I can wash it off later. I want to smell the salty air and hear those gulls and pelicans; watch them dive for food; …”
“Oo! That seaweed is yucky when it wraps around your legs.”
“I know,” Grandma nodded in agreement, “I can’t go out very far if the tide is strong, but I want to feel those whitecaps break over my legs. Your daddy will probably have to hold me up; I can’t afford to fall out there.”
“Can I go ask Mom? You make it sound so good. Do you think we can go?”
“I think so, I hope so. It will help if you’re interested too. We left the south when your daddy was about your age,” she explained. “There’s something special about going to the beach. You’re a visitor, borrowing the moment, making a memory. I love the laughter and the whoops and hollers when people get swept up by a wave. People try every kind of trick, knowing that they’ll get a chance to come back soon and play some games with nature again. I can’t tell you how many air mattresses and balloons I’ve lost to the wind. Just for an afternoon I can imagine that it’s me in your shoes.”
“But Grandma, you don’t wear shoes at the beach, at least we didn’t last year,” Kenny interrupted.
Grandma laughed. “Okay,” she corrected herself, “not in your shoes, but in my mind I can pretend I’m you out there, going just as far out as your daddy will let you go.”
“When my girl cousins were down here last year, all they wanted to do was get a suntan and meet some boys,” he grumbled. “We had a weenie roast after we got showered.”
“I used to do that too,” Grandma remembered with a smile. “Kenny, when you’re at the beach, there’s a certain feeling that lets you know somebody else is in control. You don’t know how high the next wave will be, what the wind will do, well, you know, it’s sort of like the weather. Whether there’s going to be rain or sunshine is something we just don’t decide.”
Kenny’s attention was wandering. “Yeah,” he agreed. “There’s a little girl in our Sunday school class who’s afraid of thunder. The teacher said that’s just God’s way of reminding us it’s raining so we won’t go outside without our raincoats. It’s sunny today, and I think when I’m in there asking Mom about your birthday, I might ask her if I can walk my Taffy-girl around the block. She usually lets me because there are no streets to cross.”
Grandma sneaked her arm around his shoulders, not exactly a hug, just a little snuggle. He squirmed for a minute, but then leaned in and squeezed her hand. “I hope we get to go,” he said conspiratorially, “I’ll be back in just a minute.”
Blue Jeans, fiction
by Ann Chiappetta
Deb patted Rebel affectionately on the neck before removing his saddle. She slid it off his back and onto her shoulder. She grabbed the saddle blanket with her free hand and set off for the tack room, heaving the heavy saddle onto its rack and draping the blanket next to it.
On her way back to the stall, she noticed that her legs and buttocks ached a little, a sign that a good ride was better than a workout at the U.C. Berkley gym. She shared a closet-sized apartment a few blocks away. Both the apartment and the gym were only minutes from the main campus but the gym was always crowded and she wished the stable was closer. It was a better work-out by far.
Rebel, her horse, a Palomino gelding, was a gentle soul demanding only some TLC whenever she visited. She took extra care grooming his velveteen, golden flanks and went over his hooves and combed out his mane and tail twice to make sure both were free of tangles and dirt. Then she stood with him, caressing his warm nose, letting his lips tickle her palm as she fed him a few carrots.
After leaving Rebel, she logged in her stable time and signed out at the office, waving good-bye to her brother. He covered the mouthpiece of his phone, and mouthed, “Good ride?” Deb nodded back, “Yes.” It was an added bonus Jason was the assistant stable manager here, freeing her worries about Rebel’s care while studying for her graphic design degree miles and hours away.
As she left the Seahorse Equestrian Ranch behind, Deb gratefully breathed in the warm, dry air streaming in through her car window. It felt great to be back in good old Gilroy, California, garlic capitol of the world. She loved San Francisco but the weather was cool during more than half of the year. It was always damp, unlike the dry climate in the south end of the valley. The sandy soil was perfect for growing garlic and the open land was also dotted with horse breeding ranches. Horse breeding was a lucrative business developing after the garlic boon, and one which the locals tolerated more readily than the infringement of outlet malls and fast food establishments.
As she passed the next ranch, her cell rang. She closed her window and picked up the call on her headset.
“Are you on your way?” It was Chelsea. No mistaking that rasp.
“Just passing the Barrister place. I’ll be over after I drop off my stuff at home, I mean, Mom’s.”
Deb had moved out over a year ago but still couldn’t make the shift in her mind. Home was Gilroy, not San Francisco.
“Tell them I said hi and don’t make us wait too long or Ashley will be too drunk to go out.”
Deb rolled her eyes. Her best friends were so lame sometimes. “I guess she broke up with that older guy? Is that why she’s getting buzzed so early?”
“Hey, it’s not my fault.”
“Oh, like I’d let either of you guys drive anyway. I value my life, thank you.”
“Whatever.” Chelsea snapped in a dismissive, Valley girl voice, “See you soon.”
Deb shook her head and tried to think of a good reason as to why she went out with these two. It was always the same scene: go to the local hang-out and pick up guys, get them to buy all the drinks, make out and get a ride home. Deb usually ended up playing pool with the local degenerates or playing cards with Cranston, an ancient, white-bearded, cow hand she’d known since she was a little girl. She always left alone, often going home early once Ashley and Chelsea latched on to an unsuspecting member of the opposite sex. But it was better than the alternative.
It was her first visit back since September and she didn’t want to stay home fending off her mother’s attempts to find out if she was a)having sex, b)doing drugs, or c)binge drinking, while living on-campus. Deb thought going out with the dizzy, blond sisters was the best way to, avoid mom’s interrogation. How lame was that? Deb was the good girl, the honor student, the brunette, the one who always went home alone. She wanted tonight to be different and sent up her petition to God,
“Please let me meet someone.” She whispered.
Deb’s truck tires spit out loose gravel as she turned into the parking lot of the Gilroy Recreation Center, a converted strip-mall consisting of a twelve lane bowling alley, an indoor, miniature golf course, a pizza restaurant and a bar/lounge. She found a spot near the back door. The lot was packed but would soon empty when the bowling leagues finished up for the night.
Ashley checked herself in the rear view mirror. Chelsea got out and straightened her electric blue leather miniskirt, her small, firm breasts barely visible under the tight, white cropped top. She had left her strawberry blond hair up in a loose ponytail and wore less than her usual amount of make-up, which in Deb’s opinion, was for the better. Her matching electric blue stilettos finished the outfit. In contrast, her twin wore a tight black cat suit and slouch boots, her hair loose and stylishly messy.
“Who bought you the outfit?” asked Deb, knowing Chelsea’s mercenary dating style.
Ashley snorted, “Go ahead, tell her.”
“My sociology professor gave them to me as a going away present.”
“But you didn’t go anywhere. “Deb pointed out.
Chelsea made an exasperated sound and smacked her forehead, “D’uh, he went away and gave this outfit to me to remember him.”
Chagrined, Deb figured it out then, remembering her mother saying something about one of the local college professors leaving due to suspension for fraternizing with one of his students.
“Chelsea, the student mentioned in the paper was you?” Deb asked.
“Yes. He was the best lover, too. I miss him.” She sniffed.
“Oh brother,” snorted Ashley, “If she doesn’t leave the teachers at Cordova alone, we won’t have a college anymore.”
Now it was Deb’s turn to snort and smirk. She was extra glad to be going to another college after her friend’s latest conquest.
“How do I look?” asked Deb, changing the subject, turning around for her friends.
They both nodded, “You have the best ass in those jeans, and I hate you.” Said Ashley appreciatively, “And your shirt is perfect. That color red is you. You’re so curvy, like Jennifer Lopez.”
“Yeah,” said Chelsea, “I look weird in red.”
They each applied a cologne sprits and a breath strip, then went into the bar.
Deb finished her beer and left a tip to cover both her and Cranston.
“Now don’t you use this for another round, you hear?” she said, pointing to the five dollar bill on the bar. Cranston winked,
“No way, young lady, you’ve been more than generous with me tonight.”
Deb smiled back and went to where Chelsea was slow dancing with her newfound partner.
“I’m leaving; do you have a ride home?”
Chelsea pulled her lips off her partner’s long enough to mumble, “Yeah, thanks. Call me tomorrow.”
Deb went to the booth where Ashley was making out with her new conquest. “I’m leaving, Ashley, do you have a ride home?” she asked, wishing that just once she were in the booth instead of Ashley. She loved her, but at times she envied the way men flocked to her platinum hair and willowy figure. Why didn’t anyone notice her own Lopez-like curves?
She took a look at the pool table; the cowboy she’d been admiring still had his back to the booth. So much for that, earlier that night she thought about asking him to play a game of pool, but chickened out. She was embarrassed enough for one night. Why had she even agreed to come out? Leaving alone wasn’t unusual, though. She let herself think that Ashley and Chelsea would, just once, leave with her but it didn’t happen. Tonight she felt used and embarrassed for even asking them if they were okay before she cut out. Frustrated, she flung her weight against the back door of the bar a little too hard and it swung out, clanging against the outside wall as she left. The gravel crunched under her Dexter’s and the music and laughter faded as she walked to her truck,
“Hey! Blue jeans!” She turned, lifting a hand to block the glare from the parking lot flood lights. It was the cowboy. He was waiving his white Stetson.
His hair was a light brown, similar to Rebel’s buttery-golden flanks. She really was pathetic, comparing this guy with her horse. He came up to where she stood, and then put his hat back on, positioning it just so. His teeth were even and white, his smile was relaxed and friendly. Although the brim of his hat shaded his eyes, they willingly met hers.
“Do your friends always make you do the driving?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah, since I don’t really drink, it’s safer that way.”
“I know what you mean. I’m the designated driver tonight. I don’t mind too much, though.” He flashed a quick smile.
“My name’s Deb Fletcher.” She offered, remembering her manners.
“Oh, I’m sorry, my name’s Kyle Buchanan.” They shook hands. Before they dropped their grip, he turned her palm up. “Wait just a minute.”
As he fished in his pocket, his eyes crinkled and a playful, shy grin appeared on his handsome face. Then he held her hand steady and placed a stack of quarters in her palm, folding her fingers over the stack. His hands were large, calloused and warm. He was close enough so that she smelled his clothesline scented shirt. It was ten times more enticing than any cologne.
“What’s this for?” she asked, opening her palm, exposing the short stack of quarters.
“Why, it’s for the pool game you didn’t get to play with me.”
She realized then that if he was observant enough to notice her being ignored by her friends, then perhaps the same thing had happened to him. The two guys Ashley and Chelsea were with were the buddies he’d come in with, meaning that he was in a very similar situation.
“It’s Cranston you should be asking, he’s way better than me,” she said.
Kyle laughed, “Darlin it’s not that I don’t respect that old cowboy, but I’m not trying to impress him,” he said a wide grin spreading across his tanned face.
Deb blushed a little and he smiled even more.
“Maybe you want to dance instead?” he asked.
Deb smiled back and nodded. She slipped her keys back into her purse as they walked back to the door. Kyle held it open for her and she stepped back inside.
Bio: ANN CHIAPPETTA M.S. lives in NewRochelle, New York. At one time, before blindness, Ann fed her muse with the visual arts. Now, she fulfills her muse with creating words. Ann’s poetry has appeared in small press publications like Lucidity and Midwest Poetry Review, and her nonfiction pieces have been featured in The Matilda Ziegler online Magazine and Dialogue magazine. Legally blind since 1993, Ann lost most of her sight from retinal degeneration. After the diagnosis, she went on to obtain both an undergraduate and graduate degree. Currently Ann works as a readjustment therapist for the Veteran’s Administration To read more writing, Visit her blog: http://www.thought-wheel.com.
When my Daughter Cuts the Roses, poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
My daughter looked
at the bouquet of fresh roses
noticed two of them were drooping.
“Let me show you how to trim the roses
so they stay fresh and strong.” she said.
Her hands held the roses tenderly
one-by-one, trimmed off extra leaves
“These will make the water stink,” she said.
She found scissors in the drawer
put the roses in a bowl of tepid water
held each stem under water
sliced them all, diagonally -
“As I cut the rose under the water,
little bubbles of air come to the surface.
Now, when the rose inhales
it will only breathe water into it,
it won’t fill up with air.
The living water inside the stems
gives longer life to each rose.”
She carried the freshened flowers
in the tall glass vase
back to the center of the dining room table
darkest crimson buds, sunny yellow petals,
deep green fern leaves
and a frilly white carnation.
Bio: The artistic worldview of Lynda McKinney Lambert requires that she envision writing as a pilgrimage. She steps out to begin the journey to… where? She is never certain at all as she reaches out, to grasp a fragment. When she embarks on this journey, she asks, “Could there be something bigger? Better? Smaller? Less?” The Pennsylvania fiber artist and author of the book, Concerti: Psalms for the Pilgrimage, and many poems and essays, looks around and envisions what she needs for the journey. She discovers she already possesses keen intuitions and a boundless imagination!
Two Friends on a Bench, poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
Two friends on a bench
comfort each other
a scratch of the head, a nod,
touch of the arm
a gesture of the hand, a look
the afternoon passes
two pigeons fly under the bench
old friends never notice
people walking by
they only see each other
from a hidden tree branch
a bird begins to sing
a love song to them.
by Valerie Moreno
Can I hope, can I trust
you will be a friend to me?
Will you read the pages of my pain,
as a way to know who I am?
I will do the same for you,
as we clasp hands on this journey of love.
You can hope and trust
my respect and understanding of you
will grow and flourish in light and ease.
Warmed by laughter, nurtured in healing tears,
we walk this road of life-
soul to heart, heart to spirit-
helping each other through dusk and dawn,
finding steady comfort when rocks and rivers challenge our persistence.
You are my friend:
I celebrate who you are.
A Touch Of Love, Pantoum
by Kate Chamberlin
I love how you love me,
how you softly touch me.
Your words gently caress me.
Our eyes meet and lock.
How you softly touch me.
Warm hands cup my breasts.
Our eyes meet and lock.
Our lips tenderly touch.
Warm hands cup my breasts.
Your palms are a perfect fit.
Our lips tenderly touch.
Our love is deeper than deep.
Your palms are a perfect fit.
Your words gently caress me.
Our love is deeper than deep.
I love how you love me.
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 grandmother. You can visit her website at www.katechamberlin.com.
Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look (anthology) book trailer:
Our Cottage Plus, nonfiction
by Kate Chamberlin
During breakfast, we could hear the thunder off in the distance. After my husband had left for work, I sat with a cup of hot, instant orange cappuccino listening to the rain approach.
It rustled the trees, pitted the lake, washed the dust from the Hosta Lilies, and settled into a comforting drippetty-drip-drip on our cottage roof. Off in the distance, the Doppler Effect turned a train’s whistle into a mournful wail. The peepers synchronized their tempo with the rain and all was copasetic.
I like to sit in the old spring rocker at our cottage and smell the damp earth and fragrance of the lilies as the birds begin to twitter. I was feeling thankful that I didn’t have to commute 40 minutes into work, a drive my husband doesn’t seem to mind.
I welcomed the gentle rain because the flora needed the sustenance and usually if it rains before seven, it shines by eleven. It was going to be a hot, sultry summer day.
We built our cottage in 1977 and enjoy it three out of the four seasons of the year. If we keep the windows closed, we can bask in the early spring and late fall sun, but during the summer, we open all the windows to let the breeze keep us cool. I’m a relaxed cottage keeper. As long as I stay ahead of the cobwebs with an occasional vacuuming of the rug and mopping of the cement slab, I don’t worry about dust bunnies.
Through the French doors on the north side of the cottage, we have a small patio with a wooden-slat bench. After an afternoon of weeding the small salad garden, I like to sweep this patio and then sit on the bench to wait for my husband to return. Sipping an iced chamomile tea, with a sprig of fresh mint from our garden in it, makes the wait seem short.
On really hot days, we’ll change into our swim suits as soon as he gets home and follow the brick path to the lake. It is quite refreshing to stand in cool water up to our necks and chat about the day. Sometimes we’ll float around in inner-tubes until the charcoal fire is perfect for grilling barbecue chicken and roasting the corn on the cob. Can s’mores be far behind?
After dinner there are the usual maintenance chores and we’re apt to go for another swim before bed.
Sometimes the tree toads’ shrill trills of mating, keep me awake at night. I’ll get up and sit in my favorite spring chair and soak up the marvelous difference of night and day at our cottage. Eventually, my husband will come down and we’ll stroll hand-in-hand back to bed.
Oh, did I forget to tell you where our paradise cottage and lake are? The neighbors might tell you that we never leave home; that we’re always at home on our porch or in our swimming pool.
UPDATE: In October, 2011, we began to renovate our porch into a truly fabulous cottage. We added on a 14′x16′ cement pad for a hot tub, small gas fireplace, bathroom, and insulated it to become a four-season room. There is nothing like our home, sweet home.
My Grandfather’s Legacy, memoir
by Andrea Kelton
The ophthalmologist examined my eyes. “Do you have rheumatoid arthritis?” he asked. “I don’t think so.” I answered as my heart beat wildly. He continued the exam. I flashed back to my Grandfather’s funeral, the one and only time I saw my dad’s dad.
We didn’t visit relatives when I was growing up. My parents never told us why. And as a kid, I never thought to ask. While other kids spent weekends with cousins, my brother and I spent them with the sailors on my dad’s Coast Guard cutter. Then one day, when I was nine, my parents drove us from Detroit to Toledo. We were going to my grandfather’s funeral.
We entered a noisy, crowded room. Everyone talked in Polish, at the same time. Women came up to me-crying. Then came smothering hugs and unwanted kisses. Cha Cha Rose. Aunt Stella. Uncle Stash. These strangers were my “family.”
My mother led me to a long, golden box at the front of the room surrounded by flowers, with a church kneeler in front. I peeked into the box and saw a monster, an old, old man, with a sunken face And enormous hands. Gnarled, twisted hands topped by gigantic swollen knuckles. We knelt down. “Say a prayer,” my mother whispered, “For your Grandfather, Frank Pietrykowski.”
Dr. Henri Bernard finished the exam and sat back. “You have an inflammatory condition of the eye called uveitis. I’m going to order tests to see if we can determine the cause.”
A dazed, frightened 24-year-old left the office, weighted down with a prescription for Prednisone, an order for blood work and a numbing fear. I’d wait many, many agony-filled days to find out if rheumatoid arthritis was what my grandfather left as his legacy.
Bio: Andrea Kelton was diagnosed with uveitis in 1974. She was legally blind by the age of 30. Today she teaches Adult Basic Education at Literacy Chicago. She’s attended a memoir writing class since 2005.
Watching the Waves with Wilma, fiction
by Frances Strong
My name is Willie Welleby.
One of the best things I like to do is watch the waves with Wilma.
Wilma and I went to the beach one Wednesday in June.
The weather was warm a rather mild windy week.
The white whispery clouds were way up in the sky.
We wore our bathing suits and were ready for fun.
No work, no school, no woes to worry about.
When we arrived, Wilma waded in first to wet her feet.
We watched the waves pour out a wagon full of water.
It spilled and wandered right over to us.
Wilma giggled and we wiggled our toes.
As we walked in the waves, it washed to my knees.
But the water came to Wilma’s waist.
Wee! We jumped the waves holding wet hands.
“Here it comes! Watch out! Jump!” I said.
From nowhere a huge white wave was building.
Crash, whack! I grabbed Wilma’s hand.
That wave lifted my feet away from the ocean floor.
Wilma wrapped her arms around me as I swam with all my might.
I glided towards the shore while Wilma was held up high.
Wonderfully, I felt the wet sand again.
With Wilma in my arms, we waded into shore.
We fell on the wet sand and welcomed the warm sun on our face.
Whew, what a weird ride that wave gave Wilma and me!
The ocean waged war but we warriors won. Whoopee!
I was whispering a prayer when Wilma said,
“Look, Daddy, at that wild bird over there.
Is it eating snails, worms or what?”
I laughed; we watched as it flew away.
Wilma said, “he’s waving good-by with his wings.”
“Listen,” I said. “You’ll hear his whistling song in the wind.”
Wondering Wilma asked, “Where are the whales and walruses?”
“Oh, they’re way out there in another ocean world,” I answered.
A shrimp boat wobbled by beyond the ocean waves
With a dolphin swimming after waiting for wondrous treats.
“What makes the waves so wishy-washy?” Wilma asked.
“It is the waxing and waning of the moon they say.
“Let’s take a walk and watch out for seashells and whatever.
Wait. Don’t step on the perfect white sand dollar.
Use your wise eyes to find an angel-wing or scallop shell.”
Wilma waited to watch a wee little sand flea digging in the sand.
“Where is that wiggly thing going, I wonder, where?”
“The sun is setting. My watch said it’s time to go.”
“Why don’t we stay a little longer?” Wilma wished so.
We walked on and looked up at the clouds in the sky.
High wide walls of wonderful colors were there:
Red, Orange, pink lavender, and blue.
No work of art would be able to compare.
“Who made the sky so pretty?” Wilma wanted to know.
“Our wonderful God is the answer,” I said.
Wilma’s wide eyes were full of wondrous joy.
“Wow,” she said, “what a wonderful world we have!”
Bio: Frances Strong, due to RP, had stop teaching about 20 years ago. However, the JAWS program has allowed her to write and publish several children’s books. Frances enjoys singing in her church choir and helping her retired husband with cooking and gardening.
Hold That Note–Longer, Longer, fiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
Other students at Keyfauver High School were running laps around the track or swimming laps in the Olympic-sized pool, but Scottie was running through arpeggios. Perhaps, the early morning hour caused her mind to drift while she was warming up her voice. The KHS senior was thinking about the origin of her nickname. In the second grade, she had grown weary of being called “Sam,” short for “Samantha.” So, on a piece of paper, she doodled her initials and her last name: S-C-Ott. Foregoing her middle name “Crescent,” she saw before her the name “Scott”; immediately, she decided to establish her nickname as “Scottie.” Eleven years later, the nickname persisted: she liked the name. As Scottie warmed up her vocal cords, she suddenly thought of the connection between her nickname and the writer of the lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the anthem which she had been practicing for months to sing at the opening of the baseball game, not the high school game, but a major league, broadcasted game.
From the adjacent office, Miss Francis entered the music room and commented enthusiastically: “Beautiful, beautiful. Your voice, as usual, is in great form this morning. The forecast is in our favor, and I am so looking forward to your performance this afternoon. What a historical day, in more than one way!”
“Yes, yes, Ms. Francis, I know: September 13, the 200th anniversary of the writing of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’” Scottie responded with her broad smile.
“Save your voice, dear. Do not speak too much this morning. Remember: no milk products, no soda–just bottled water. Did you bring a healthy snack for around eleven?”
Scottie assured her music teacher and vocal coach that all was in perfect motion for the big event. Then, Miss Francis proclaimed that the time had come for one final rehearsal before first-period students entered. With the music room doors still closed, Scottie was singing the national anthem flawlessly when on the final note of the final measure, she heard her vocal coach’s typical mantra: “Hold that note, longer, longer.” Strongly and purely, Samantha Crescent Ott did.
After a moment or two of silence, Miss Francis wiped a couple of tears from her eyes–happy, thankful tears. “Marvelous. Are your parents meeting us here or at the stadium?”
“They have a big gig with their Baby-Boomer band tonight, so they are not coming. Just you and I, Ms. Francis. I will meet you at 11:30, at the back music door. My car, The Candy Apple Red Zoomer and I will be waiting for you. Don’t be late!”
Having given Scottie private lessons for over three years, Miss Francis had met her prize student’s parents on many occasions; the teacher of forty-one years was taken aback by the news that Mr. and Mrs. Ott would not attend their daughter’s performance. Miss Francis was surprised that Scottie was not at all upset by her parents’ lack of support on this one special occasion, but the veteran teacher knew a “together” student when she worked with one.
With his usual dreamy, but future politician voice, the day’s public address announcer began: “This is John Stafford Smith, senior class president, with the morning announcements for September 13, 2014. At 1:20 this afternoon, over this very same PA system, you will hear a very special rendition of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ on the 200th anniversary of the writing of the US national anthem. Yes, Keyfauver students, you will be listening to the opening of this afternoon’s baseball game via WFSK.”
A few hours later, Scottie and Miss Francis were waiting for the cue to take the place behind the microphone at Vermillion Field. When someone gave them the five-minute warning, Scottie suddenly changed her demeanor. “Ms. Francis, I just can’t do it. I am too nervous, too upset. I can’t. You will have to take my place. You are such a musical historian: you should be the one to sing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ on the 200th anniversary. You should do it. You have to do it.”
“Scottie, this is your one chance in a lifetime. You can do it. Make the butterflies work for you, not against you. I know you: I know you can sing the anthem with flair.”
“No, this is your one chance in a lifetime. I already told Mac Henry to introduce your name, not mine. I will walk up to the microphone with you and Star. Ms. Francis, for once, the spotlight will be on you and your voice.”
Having begun his radio career at age 16–forty-seven years earlier, Mac Henry rigorously and brightly announced, “On this 200th anniversary of our national anthem, we are proud to have at the microphone Ms. Willa Francis and her Leader Dog Star; Ms. Francis, who has been teaching music for forty-one years, will now sing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’”
Scottie lightly patted her teacher’s right arm and then stepped away. Keeping in mind all the advice Miss Francis had ever given to all her student performers through the many semesters, she sang. As the music teacher reached the final note of the final measure of the anthem, Scottie was ever so slightly whispering to her mentor, “Hold that note, longer, longer.” Willa Francis did. From Keyfauver High School to Vermillion Field, she heard the applause, the applause, and loved the moment. She had waited a very long time to hold that “brave” note as long as she could.
Bio: After earning two master’s degrees and teaching for 25 years, Alice Jane-Marie Massa retired from teaching writing and public speaking at a technical college. Alice invites you to visit her blog: http://alice13wordwalk.wordpress.com, where she posts her poetry, essays, short stories, recipes, or memoirs each Wednesday. Her writings on Wordwalk frequently focus on her guide dogs, her rural hometown, her Italian family heritage, and holidays. Being the current president of Behind Our Eyes also fills hours of her retirement. Away from her desk, Alice most enjoys long walks with her third Leader Dog (Zoe), container gardening, and the television program Jeopardy.
Where were You? nonfiction
by Bill Fullerton
It’s no secret that politics ranks second only to football as Louisiana’s favorite sport. This was especially true in the years after World War II when populist Democrat “Uncle” Earl Long seemed to move in and out of the Governor’s Mansion on a four-year rotation. With each parish (county) having at least one member of the House of Representative (Senate districts were, theoretically, based on population) a nice farm system existed for those who wanted into the game.
in the fall of 1951, two such men faced off in the second primary of the race for the house seat from bucolic Grant Parish. W. T. “Brandy” McCain, who’d served in the house from 1940-48, wanted the job back. His opponent, W. L. “Willard” Rambo, was related to the Long family by marriage which seemed reason enough to run.
Back in those days, campaigning consisted of going door-to-door, showing up at any event where three or more voters might gather, plus the usual deal making, and a lot of “stump speaking.” The only available “mass media” in that rural area of north Louisiana was the local weekly paper, The Colfax Chronicle, which came out each Thursday. About a month before the election, at the bottom of the standard full-page ad extolling Willard Rambo’s candidacy, was a simple question: “Brandy McCain, where were you the night of…” followed by an otherwise insignificant date during McCain’s tenure in the House.
The exact date used in the ad is lost to the ages, or the Chronicles’ archives. That’s okay because the exact date wasn’t important. The important thing was McCain having no idea what he’d been doing back then.
Next week, the Rambo ad concluded with a note asking McCain who he’d been with that night. By now, just about everyone in the parish was considering possible answers. After all, McCain had been in the state legislature back then. No telling what he’d been doing.
This put McCain in a bind. Any response would be a week late and might focus even more attention on the issue. For the rest of the campaign he tried, with uneven results, to deal with his inability to answer the weekly questions.
The next question, “Brandy McCain, just what were you doing on the night of…?” kept folks talking, not about the McCain campaign, but about what he might have done years earlier.
By election day, voters went to the polls still unsure where McCain had been that night, or what he’d been doing, or who he’d been doing it with, or why he wouldn’t say.
A few months later, the two men, who while not close friends, were long-time acquaintances, ran into one another at a watering hole on the highway to Baton Rouge. After the usual exchange of family news, local gossip and talk about politics, McCain asked Rambo the obvious question, “Willard, what the hell was I doing that night? My wife’s still giving me funny looks.”
It’s reported, though not verified, that Rambo grinned, picked up the check, and said, “Brandy, if you don’t know, how do you expect me to? I’ve no earthly idea. My wife just thought those questions might stir things up a bit and, as usual, Mary Alice was right.”
Bio: Bill Fullerton has been a country grocery store clerk, an oil field roustabout, an infantry soldier, a government paper-pusher, a struggling writer, and out of work, among other things. In between, he’s cranked out two unpublished novels along with a host of short stories, sports and general interest columns, online and print, picked up a bachelor’s from LSU, a master’s from Louisiana Tech, both in history, and had academic work published.
At last check, his personal inventory included: one Purple Heart, two non-functioning eyes, three kids, two dogs, one wife, and a not-yet-paid-for house in Austin, Texas.
III. Points to Ponder
Anger Management, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin
Springtime means gardening. My wife prunes her peony bush. I plant pansies. “Oh, dear,” says my wife, “you’re planting the pansies upside-down.”
I throw down my little trowel. “That’s it! I can’t take this blindness anymore! I’m outta here.”
“Where are you going?” asks my wife.
“To the garage. To find that wood handle I broke off the broom. To carry it into the alley and smash it to smithereens.”
“Go get ‘em, Tiger,” says my wife.
It takes me a while but I find the broom handle. I tap my way to the alley. I’m just about to bash it against the asphalt when I think, what if a splinter flies up and sticks in my eye?
I storm through the back yard. My wife asks me where I’m headed this time. “To get my sunglasses,” I say. She tells me it’s overcast. I tell her it’s not the sun I need to protect my eyes from.
Upstairs, I rummage through my dresser drawer. I run across an autographed baseball, my Cubs cap and all sorts of stuff. Finally, I find my sunglasses.
I storm across the back yard again. “Go get ‘em, Mr. Cub!” calls my wife.
Back in the alley, I can’t find where I left that broom handle. “All right,” I’m ready to yell, “who stole my stick?” I grope here and there but come up empty-handed. Then I think maybe I’ll go ask my wife to help me find the stick so I can smash it, and then I ask myself how ridiculous am I willing to appear here? Besides, with all this running around, I’ve pretty much simmered down. At least, the urge to kill has been removed.
I mosey into the back yard. My wife says, “I didn’t hear the crack of the bat out there, Slugger.”
“The storm has passed,” says I. “I’m ready to plant more pansies. Let’s start with the ones that say, ‘This End Up.’ Got any?”
Bio: Jeff Flodin is the author of “Jalapenos in the Oatmeal: Digesting Vision Loss,” found at http://www.jalapenosintheoatmeal.wordpress.com/. He is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Access Fellowship. His work has appeared in Magnets and Ladders, Kaleidoscope, Chicago Arts Journal, The Rockford Review, Social Perception and several blog sites and has been performed at the Rhinoceros Theatre Festival in Chicago. He is a licensed social worker by the state of Illinois. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Seeing Eye dog and two cats.
A Nowhere Place, fiction
by Bill Fullerton
Headlights off, three large cars glide through the muggy Louisiana night like nocturnal birds of prey. Front doors brandish angry, ornate stars and the words Kisatche Parish Sheriff’s Department.
Two men watch from the dark cab of a pick-up, as the cars turn right onto a dead-end street, with no lights and no name, in a nowhere place called Sandtown.
Small frame houses perch close together by the side of the road, as if ready to flee at the slightest noise. The procession halts in front of the last one. All are tidy but patched and weatherworn. Short fences outline bare-dirt front yards. Across the street, a derelict chicken coop, several rusting cars, and a weed-choked baseball field occupy an otherwise vacant lot.
No dogs bark as uniformed white men get out. One circles behind the dark house. The others set up a cordon around the front and sides.
A tall, nervous man wearing western boots and a straw cowboy hat steps up on the porch. After a last glance around, he hitches up his pants, wipes sweat off his face, and then pulls a pearl-handled .44-caliber revolver from its hand-tooled holster. He yanks the screen door open and bangs on the wooden, hollow-core front door. With his first blow, red lights start flashing on top of the cars.
“Open up! This is the Sheriff. Come on out, Amos. We know you’re in there.”
From inside comes the sound of scurrying feet and frightened whispers. The tall man hits the door even harder. The noise echoes in the night. “This is Sheriff Tobias. Get out here, now!”
“I’m a’comin’. Jes let me gets my pants on.” There are more loud whispers. Someone peers out from behind the curtains of a front window. The door opens a few inches.
A black face with wary eyes looks out. “What’s ya want, Sheriff? I ain’t done nothin.”
“Don’t give me that shit, boy. Get out here or I’m gonna bust in and drag your sorry ass out.”
“You don’t hafta do that. My Momma’s in here. You already done scared her ’bout half to death.” The door swings inward. A wiry, barefooted man wearing khaki work pants and a bib undershirt steps out. “What y’all doing here dis time of night, Sheriff?”
“Shut up, nigger!” The big white man holsters his pistol, reaches behind his bulky frame, and produces a set of handcuffs. “You’re going to Pinefield, to jail.”
The black man steps back. His face shows surprise and fear. “How come? I ain’t done nothin.”
“I told you to shut up. Now turn around and put your hands behind your back.” After a momentary hesitation, the voice of white authority overwhelms any outrage or bewilderment. The man named Amos does as ordered, and the cuffs snap into place.
The Sheriff spins him back around, steps away, pulls out his revolver and uses it to motion for another white man to join them. Then he glares at his prisoner. “You’re a goddamn pervert. You know that, boy? We got an eyewitness who saw you looking into the bathroom window of a white, widow-lady named Myrtis Oglesby. Amos Little, you’re under arrest as a Peeping Tom.”
“A what? Sheriff, I ain’t been looking in no white woman’s window.” The prisoner turns from the Sheriff to the deputy, looking for support. “Least of all no dried-up, crazy old white woman like Mrs. Myrtis.”
Bathed in the rhythmic, flashing glare of red lights, the sweeping motion of the Sheriff’s right hand resembles something from a flickering silent movie as his fist, and the revolver it holds, smash into the side of the prisoner’s head. A scream comes from inside the house; he staggers in a macabre, jake-legged dance of insensibility, then drops to his knees.
Sheriff Odell Tobias leans close and hisses, “Nigger, you’re talking about my wife’s aunt. Now it looks like we’re gonna have to add a charge of resisting arrest.”
Another deputy joins the first. They pull the prisoner to his feet, drag him off the porch, and shove him into the back of the lead car. A ragged volley of closing doors follows. Sirens on and lights still flashing, the three large cars with the words Kisatche Parish Sheriff’s Department and an angry, ornate star on each front door swing around and leave. As they drive past the dark pick-up truck, everyone but the prisoner waves at the men inside.
Two thin red streaks emerge from the cab, arc through the still night air, then land with small bursts of glowing embers. Headlights come on and the truck moves down the now deserted street. It stops across from the last house, the one with the front door still open. Inside, a black widow-lady named Bernice Little is alone and crying for her son. The men get out, lift something from the bed of the truck, and lug it into the vacant lot.
Small flames soon spread up from the base of a wooden cross. The men stop at the intersection to make sure the cross is burning properly. Assured it’s a job well done, they head out of Sandtown.
It was another turbulent evening in the spring of ’68. Student protests raged from the Sorbonne to Berkeley. Civil rights demonstrations and anti-war rallies were turning violent. Martin Luther King was dead; Bobby Kennedy would be soon. Hundreds of other Americans were dying each week in South Vietnam. Soldiers patrolled the streets of Saigon, Paris, and Washington. Soviet troops prepared to invade Prague. And in a nowhere place called Sandtown, an innocent black man was beaten and arrested.
Can You Wear Glass Slippers and Break Through the Glass Ceiling? poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
You, there, wearing the glass slippers–
can you reach the glass ceiling?
With your tiara or scepter or wand,
can you break through the glass ceiling?
Do you want to exchange your tiara for a mortar board?
Do you want to trade your scepter for a tablet or pen?
Can you kick a crack in that glass ceiling
with your tightly fitting glass slippers?
Would you try a pair of jogging shoes,
a pair of business casual black pumps;
or do you need a pair of stilts?
Is there a glass ceiling in your castle?
Let down your drawbridge:
I want to see a life with no hassle.
I find myself surrounded by princesses
or pretend princesses.
In my sweet and younger days,
I never imagined being a princess.
Since I was an imaginative,
yet practical child,
I chose ruby slippers–
not the glass ones.
Now, far down that path
on the Yellow Brick Road,
I will definitely wear the joggers with orthotics.
I wonder if there is a glass ceiling
to be broken at the Emerald City.
Could I break it with a broomstick?
Could I crack it with an acrostic?
Then, would I fly away in a balloon;
or would I be elected the next Wizard–
the first woman to be Wizard?
My first decree would be:
Toss away the tiaras and five-inch heels–
practical footwear and practical thought
will have mass appeal!
Lone Trumpeter’s Farewell, poetry
by Deon Lyons
Memories flow through the line of heavy pounding hearts.
Wondering, wishing, wading for the sun to move through the day.
Pictures of yesterday’s voices lie cluttered along the shelves.
Faces of a May morning raise their heads, searching through the past.
Lonely, sweet tones recollect the colors of the departed.
Reflections of loving smiles cling tightly to yesterday’s song.
Rows of medals, pinned with pride, dance about in the morning light.
With gathered steps of spring, the parades march on.
Waving flags beside the children’s smiles help to carry the message home.
Brilliant gaze from olden eyes reminds us how things have come to be.
Sharp, precision steps, march side by side with a country’s pride.
A single, lone trumpeter’s call bids the past a proud farewell.
Beckoning words caress the crowd with chapters, bound and true.
Petals of red and lilies white paint the fields of carved stone.
Faint, distant, slivers of love ease down upon the morn.
It’s Memorial Day, we shall always remember the lives sacrifice for our country.
Bio: Deon Lyons lives with his lovely wife of thirty-two years, in Central Maine. Upon losing vision in 2010, Deon learned touch typing, and with the help of assistive technology, embarked on a lifetime passion for writing. His works revolve mostly around fiction, personal essays and poetry. With inspiration from family, friends and the blind community, he hopes to continue writing for many years to come. His books, Sully Street and Ready, Set, Poetry are available at Amazon.com.
“Happens to Have,” nonfiction
by Carla MacInnis Rockwell
In recent weeks, I’ve come across several articles, life lesson essays about persons with disabilities, (not disabled persons, but that’s another rant n rave entirely). Of note was the use of the term “happens to have.” What the heck! There is a language of disability; there is a culture in a sense. That is not to say that we with disabilities associate only with those living with like or similar disabling conditions. We “happen” to share a particular commonality that creates a bond of awareness, friendship, compassion, nurturing, and so on. Not unlike the youngster who is gifted in swimming or swinging a baseball bat. She/he doesn’t necessarily “happen to have” that gift. It’s a part of who she/he is, and possibly who she/he will grow up and into being as an adult, perhaps a professional ball player or swimmer.
“Happens to have!” I don’t “happen to have” cerebral palsy; I DO have cerebral palsy, though I prefer to say that I “live with” cerebral palsy. To say I “have” it is rather like saying I have a toothache, which suggests that with proper intervention the toothache will go away.
Cerebral palsy will not go away, and there’s no point in minimizing it by attaching essentially the preface “happens to have”, inferring that CP is a sidebar to my life and living and of no real consequence. It’s NOT! It does, in large measure, dictate how I live each day and go about the business of accomplishing certain tasks of independent living. These are tasks that are so readily and easily done by others who aren’t coping with impediments to mobility, like a sloppy gait, that requires hands to touch furniture and walls while moving about. I’ll never have two hands free to carry an object from Point A to B, something so taken for granted in our world of “pretty people”. That “pretty people” mentality stifles one on so many levels.
What must be made clear is that people who live with a since-birth disabling condition tend to establish a solid list of CAN DO tasks, and one of the things we tend NOT to do is whine about our lot in life. That is not to say that some who are living with the inconveniences of disability don’t moan and groan; we’re not super human, we’re not brave, we’re not special. We’re people! Thinking, feeling, flesh and blood human beings!
Make no mistake, cerebral palsy, though an immediately visible identifier of my physical characteristics, just like long auburn hair and blue eyes are part of my physical make-up, doesn’t define the “stuff” of me that makes me well, ME!
It’s important for parents, guiding the child from inside the safe zone of home and hearth, to instill in their child with limitations the belief that a condition with which they were born IS a part of who they are and who they will be, for the rest of their days. What they choose to do with that is essentially up to them, unless the nature of the limitation is such that the child will never grow up to ever live independently and will always rely on others.
We with a disabling condition are not just what we aren’t able to do in the physical sense. Society places so much importance/value on mobility; we only need to look to the sports pages, or sporting events like the Olympics to see that long-standing trend.
As children with a disabling condition venture beyond the cocoon of family, those significant others in their lives: teachers, coaches, faith/religious/church related influences, and peers need to expand their language of “inclusion” beyond “happens to have”.
A physical, intellectual, or mental disability immediately puts a bump in the playing field. To coin an oft-used phrase, “it’s not rocket science” to realize that I will never be able to carry soup in a bowl with any degree of grace, but the key point to be acknowledged is that the disability with which I live will never compromise my ability to make great soup! And then, there’s the CAKES!
Bio: Carla MacInnis Rockwell has been writing for the past 30 years, with contributions to local and provincial newspapers in her home province of New Brunswick, in addition to appearing in health and wellness themed magazines in Canada and the US. She writes about what she knows and lives, continuing to pen “life lessons” which have been compiled into a yet to be published book, tentatively titled Growing Up With and Growing Old With Cerebral Palsy: One Small Step At A Time. Along with her passion for baking and cooking, writing children’s stories and tales featuring dogs also occupies her creative palette.
The Target Employee, memoir
by Robert Kingett
The Target store is a strange place. It does its very best to pretend it isn’t a corporation. There are no clerks perched at desks, saying “please hold” every few minutes, as if they are auditioning to be an extra in a movie, or sour-faced showgirls stacking shelves with garish products, hurrying along pretending they’re too busy to help you. There are no groaning rails or stacks of boxes that clutter the aisles like an unkempt warehouse. Instead, it’s a store for the confused. Shoppers, usually pushing a stroller, pass by wondering idly if they should get this kind of shampoo, because their love interest saw the checkbook last month.
It is a Monday, when I arrive at the Target store. I have a goal in mind, as every shopper has, before they get sidetracked by the deals Target displays, like a new kind of cure for cancer. I am here to get some clothes and some electronics, and I will not be distracted by anyone or anything in this store. I want to get back in my warm apartment and continue bonding with my email client, before I bond with my Microsoft Word document and then my Netflix account. I make my way to a place that I have to go to before anywhere else, the customer service desk, so I can have an employee guide me around the store.
Arriving at the customer service department takes a while, because very helpful people point and tell me that its back “that way.” I assume it’s further than over there. Eventually, I walk along until I see the glaringly white sign overhead. I stand behind some teenagers, who are not much younger than I am. The two teens look as if they have taken a recent ecstasy pill, as they tell the clerk that their DVD player they bought here really did break and they need to, “like, kind of return it brotha!”
After 20 more minutes of standing there, they finally realize I won’t take as long as them and let me go ahead of them. In a few minutes, a Target employee falls out of heaven and steps up to me. This hunk is definitely eye candy. Standing at a whopping six feet, he wears good body physique like a new kind of skin. He’s thin, yet a bit muscular. He’s wearing a short sleeved shirt that gives me a clear view of his lean arms. His skin looks like it has been dipped in a vat of dark chocolate and his voice is a soothing trance, that has me from the sentence, “I’m josh. It’s so wonderful to meet you. I’ll be helping you shop today.”
I can’t grab his sturdy elbow fast enough when he offers it. His skin is very smooth, the effects of frequent lotion and showers. At least I know that hygiene is one of his priorities. This deduction is emphasized the longer he smiles at me, a hypnotist’s secret weapon. His demeanor is so friendly, Chucky Cheese would give him a standing ovation.
It’s a chore to remember my shopping list, as we stroll on a private yellow brick road together. I grill him with all sorts of questions, just so his gentle syllables can give me an auditory massage for the rest of the day. The shampoo, deodorant, and items I’m supposed to be getting all seem very unimportant, as I learn that his favorite hobby is watching Sherlock on Netflix. He cooks because he likes to test his creativity and he reads books because he’s a book whore. Since we’re both bibliophiles, I ask him who his favorite authors are.
Josh rattles off J. R. R. Tolkien, George Orwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Leo Tolstoy, John Steinbeck, Christopher A. Hubert, and Philip Pullman along with many others… As I clutch his firm elbow with a death grip, I try to see if he has a ring on his finger. I don’t see one on either hand, so my hope springs even higher. I’m not sure how to ask him if he’s gay though. This isn’t a gay hub, so I can’t waggle my flirtation around as if it’s a salacious bootie. When we are choosing underwear for me, I ask if he has a girlfriend. He tells me no, but I don’t want to ask if he has a boyfriend. Josh doesn’t have a lisp and I don’t have good enough sight to pick up any stereotypical visual cues. I ask, instead, if he lives alone. He does. Out of sheer desperation, I ask him which pair I should get, the name brand or a cheaper brand. He gives me a professional opinion.
After I check out my various items, I learn that he loves video games as well, and he has two cats at home. I still have no idea if he is gay or not, and the wonderment is chewing my sanity to bits. He’s such a catch. I don’t know how to ask if he’s gay in a public place, for fear of the other employees will overhear the answer. What if he is gay but isn’t out at the workplace, because his boss is a homophobic twat?
My cab is late and this gives us even more time to bond. I even pose a few sarcastic quips that make him laugh heartedly. I learn that he works very hard. He learns that I’m a journalist that writes for various media, including The Windy City Times. When I say The Windy City Times, the largest gay paper in Chicago, there’s hesitation. I immediately want to know if he is, in fact, gay. Just as I begin to ask if he is gay, the cab pulls up, and the driver barks at us from the driver’s seat, adding insult to my wishful thinking. When we walk to the cab, I imagine that we’re walking slower. When I get in, he makes sure I’m buckled in, and then leans in the window.
“It was very nice to meet you Robert,” he says with a smile that would give any model competition. I smile back, wondering if he does this to all his customers. There’s no way for me to tell. I hope I develop a reason to come back in a few days. I hope he’s still here. The cab driver barks at me in such broken English, it’s a wonder his syllables come together, asking me where I’m going. All of a sudden josh goes to the driver’s side of the cab. All I hear is the driver saying yes. The two converse in Spanish. This makes me want to marry josh even more. He comes back around to say goodbye to me and then we race back home, the cab slightly swerving the entire way.
When we reach the apartment complex, I fish out bills for the cab fare.
“no,” the driver barks at me.
“Huh? What do you mean no?”
“No. No money. You no money.”
I’m confused so I continue to press him. “I don’t understand what you’re telling me at all.”
“You no pay.”
“Why? I don’t understand.” The driver speaks in a mix of English and Spanish, so I ask again.
“Target guy pay for you.” To my shock he places a wad of bills in my hand to demonstrate his meaning. I don’t know what to say, so I smile, and thank the driver. Josh paid for my ride home, including a little extra. Feeling as if I’ve been granted a mansion, I step out of the cab in a bath of bliss. The smile doesn’t leave my face, even as I lay in bed that night.
Bio: Robert Kingett is a blind journalist in Chicago who writes for numerous Chicago publications and small papers. His investigative reporting has been nominated for a few awards. His work has appeared in several magazines,, anthologies, and on radio stations. He’s the creator of the Accessible Netflix Project. He is currently working on a young adult fantasy novel. You can read his blog at: http://blindchicagodream.wordpress.com/
The Legend of Sam, the Sighted, fiction
by Shawn Jacobson
Once back in the day, lived a people without sight. To say that they were “blind” would be misleading, since blindness implies the lack of something. These people were merely without sight. To them, sight was as alien a concept as telepathy, or some other psychic power.
These people had developed a system of dots for reading and writing. They had developed canes for walking, and in time, had developed a technology of sonar and echolocation, to warn them of objects further away. They had not developed painting, as had other societies, but their rugs and other tapestries made with threads of different textures and thicknesses were prized as precious in many lands. Their music was also a unique and beautiful thing to hear. They also created great feats of engineering, but the story of these achievements, how they were done, is not the story I’m telling today.
If the people were not always happy, and who really is, they lived pleasant and fulfilling lives, where their hopes and dreams could be made real. Into this world, Sam, the sighted was born.
Sam was different. He sensed things that others in his world could not. “Why is the sky different today?” he would ask, or “why does looking at the sun hurt my eyes?” He could also locate things he didn’t touch or hear, and wondered why his parents were not able to do likewise.
His father, a librarian at the great library and a truly smart man, would try to explain, but was unable to answer. Sam’s experience was so far outside the ken of his world, that his parents had no words to answer his questions, And his friends were even less helpful. He would play caneball with the neighbor boys, and suddenly he would make a play that was inexplicable. He would lift his cane from the ground, and reach, as if by magic, for the ball several feet away. The ball was so still that the rattle was silent. When the ball would bounce into the goal, there was consternation on the faces of the other team members.
“How did you know the ball was there?” Billy would ask.
“Yeah!” said Benjamin, “you couldn’t hear it; there was no sound.”
They never figured out how he did it, but they figured it was some sort of cheating, or magic. Soon nobody would play with him, for who wants to play with a cheater, or a witch?
So Sam wandered friendless through his world, seeking any solace he could find; he finally found some in books. Sam spent more and more time in the great library. Even in these days, the library had become a great sprawling place, towering to the sky and reaching deep underground, with seemingly endless shelves full of books. There were books of every genre. There were novels, both serious and light, and books of poetry. There were cookbooks and travel books. There were science books and books of mechanics. There were even books on how best to use echolocation, to drive the cars and vans that went up and down the streets of the city. Eventually, Sam wandered deep into the dark and forgotten parts of the library, where arcane volumes were stored, and he found books from outside of the land in which he lived. In these books, he learned the meaning of color. He learned that the brightness in the sky that hurt his eyes was yellow, and the sunny sky was blue. He learned that the nighttime sky was black, and was full of points of light called stars. But Sam had not seen, for that was the word for it, them. His sight was not as good as the authors of the old books he studied.
He went about his life with this new knowledge. He knew the whiteness of his skin, and the dark brown of the earth around him. The building where the library resided was gray. He now had the colors of Aunt Emma’s flowers, in all their variety, from red to violet. When he could, he helped people in the neighborhood find things lost, in the tumult of everyday life.
One day, he saw his friends playing caneball and stopped to watch. His friend Bill knocked the ball wildly, and it sailed off the field, into the street. The boys went searching, as one of the echolocation buses approached. The driver, lost in an argument with a rider about something later forgotten, was not paying attention to the road and the milling boys ahead.
Sam threw the ball back into the field, and yelled for the boys to leave the street. Then he pushed Billy, trying to get him to move. Just as Billy was relenting, Sam felt the world smash into him. He had not managed to save himself or Billy from the bus.
Later, people, Billy from his hospital bed, his parents, the police, asked what he was doing, and how he knew the bus was coming. But they didn’t understand him, when he replied. “What is seeing?” Billy asked, but Sam couldn’t explain; his friend wouldn’t understand. Neither, Sam was convinced, would anyone else. Sam had no idea that other, older ears had heard of the accident, and understood exactly what Sam was saying. These older, wiser ears knew what seeing was. These ears had heard of sight, and disapproved of what they heard.
Some days later, when Sam had recovered enough to be on his feet again, he heard a knock at the door. Dad let in some older gentlemen. Dad looked different, with a pallor Sam had never seen on his face, he told his son to go upstairs. “This is adult business,” dad said.
So Sam went up to his room, but left the door ajar. He heard what the grown-ups in the living room said, for despite some superstitions, sightedness has no negative effect on one’s ability to hear.
Sam heard about “sight lords,” and about all sorts of grave threats they posed to the people’s way of life. He also heard dire talk of drastic action. Sam didn’t understand all of what was said, but he knew to be afraid. He spent the night vainly trying to sleep.
“Dad,” Sam asked the next morning at breakfast, “what are sight lords?”
“You heard us talking last night,” dad said with deep unhappiness. “Well, I guess you deserve to know.”
“But why did the old men hate them so much?” Sam asked.
“Not hate,” dad replied, “more like fear. Many long years ago, the sight lords ruled over us. They told us what to do and where to go. They told us what was safe for us to do, and that was almost nothing. They put limits on our lives, for our own good. The sight lords meant our people well, they started as our helpers, the way you help find things in the neighborhood. And sometimes this help failed, like when you tried to save your friend from the bus. Maybe that is why they stopped helping us, and started managing us.”
“But what happened to the sight lords?” Sam asked a little frightened by what his father told him. “Why did the sight lords leave?”
“The sight lords could see,” Sam’s father explained,”but seeing does not help you in the dark. It does not help you when you are so used to seeing that it is the only sense you follow, making you helpless in the dark. Some of our elders got together and came for the sight lords at night. They knew how to tie ropes and to bind. They knew how to start fires, and how to make things burn. They vowed the destruction of the sight lords, and that they would never rise up again to oppress our people.”
Now you should know, that the people’s response to the sight lords was not a sign that blind people are evil or ungrateful. It is a saying old and wise, that sighted people are blind people, who can see. Thus if sighted people would react to powers they do not understand with hatred and suspicion, if they should burn such people as witches, and treat arcane skills with skepticism and loathing, then why should not blind people react in a like way to abilities they do not understand? Who are we to judge? Man has always seen such suspicion as wise. And given the nature of man, it is hard to say that they are wrong.
So Sam should not have been surprised, when the mob moved in on his house one particularly dark night. The mob grabbed Sam, and hauled him out of the house to face their wrath and fear. The people without sight still knew the ways of binding with rope and the ways of kindling fire. Sam experienced these skills of his people, on that dark night.
Bio: Shawn Jacobson was born totally blind in Ames Iowa. Since then, he regained some eyesight through a series of eye operations. He now lives with his wife, younger son, and an ever increasing pack of dogs, in Olney, MD. He has a daughter in college.
The Color of Love, nonfiction
by Terri Winaught
“Mom, why does Charles speak with a southern accent?” I asked with a nine-year-old’s curiosity.
“He’s Negro, honey.”
Although I was beginning to learn about racial differences, I still had no idea of the extent to which they had torn the fabric of American society. It wasn’t long, however, before I heard family members speak disparagingly about persons of color, and watched marches in the South on TV that broke my heart. Why did Montgomery, Alabama Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor have to spray fire hoses on, and send attack dogs after, marchers who were assembled peacefully? Wasn’t this right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution? Why were Black southerners and supporters beaten so badly, on the Pettus Bridge, while marching from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, the capital? March 7th, 1965 is sometimes called, “Bloody Sunday.” And isn’t Judy Collins’ “lullaby to Medgar Evers’ son,” after his father’s murder, a sad commentary on hatred:
“Bye, bye, my baby, I’ll rock you to sleep; sing you a sad song, it might make you weep. Your Daddy is dead, and he’ll never come back; and the reason they killed him: because he was black.”
Though this assassination occurred in 1964, it took 40 years for Byron de la Beckwith to be convicted and imprisoned for life.
To say more about peaceful protests, when a white woman from Michigan, Viola Lieuzzo, dared to walk in solidarity with the Selma marchers, she was killed by the Ku Klux Klan on March 27th, 1965. On the album “Treat me Right,” Blues singer Robin Rogers sings a tribute to Lieuzzo entitled, “Color Blind Angel.”
On a more personal note, my mother, who usually couldn’t have been more loving and nurturing, threatened to have juvenile court declare me incorrigible for dating a black man. I was also the target of comments like, “If you could see, you would feel differently,” and, “You always stick up for ‘the colored,’ so why don’t you just go live with them?”
Despite such insults, I believe in color blind angels. I believe that color blind angels can heal the wounds that conflict creates, and reconcile willing spirits. I also believe in Gandhi’s philosophy that, “while violence may be a temporary solution, the evil it does is permanent.” I believe in a similar statement by Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. that, “what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men will build up.”
I’ll conclude by comparing my beliefs to a tightly knitted afghan. I casted on stitches of curiosity. I knitted rows of tightly held beliefs. I pearled panels of opposite values, and I’m binding off with my belief that love comes in all colors.
Bio: Terri Winaught lives in Pittsburgh, PA. She is serving her second year in AmeriCorps KEYS and her final year in AmeriCorps, having previously served in Health Corps. Terri’s interests include: spending as much time as possible with her husband, Jim, attending Pirates baseball games with him, helping others through community service, being a supportive friend, listening to oldies, and singing different types of music. To contact Terri, E-mail: tddwinaught %verizonddnet.
Hearing is Believing, nonfiction
by Robert Feinstein
Sometimes my sleep patterns are irregular. Not long ago I woke up at 1a.m. Harley, my guide dog, stood and shook himself in response. “Okay, Harl, I’ll take you out,” I said softly. I got dressed, and put on his harness and leash. We wended our way to the elevator, out the front door, and about a half block away, to Harley’s favorite place to “park,” (jargon for when a guide dog relieves himself).
Back at our apartment building, I decided to stand outside, my back to the door, just to breathe the crisp winter air. Suddenly, I turned my head to the left. I had a feeling there was something there. I stamped my foot, and yes, there was something to my left, but what was it? I clicked softly, turned my head toward the left again and clicked once more. A person. Standing there. I was sure of it, but there was absolutely no sound. I listened intently, but heard nothing, not even breathing. I clicked again, again heard the slight change of sound, cleared my throat and said, “It’s a nice night.”
“Yes it is,” said a man I figured was standing about four feet to my left. “I saw you in the elevator two weeks ago,” he continued.
“I had my Labrador with me. My name’s Bruce. My mother spoke highly of you. Do you remember her? Mrs. Schreiber?”
“Yes, I do,” I said, “she was a very nice person; she’s been dead for some time.”
“Yes,” he said, “and now I think my father’s died. I drove down from Connecticut, but there’s no answer in his apartment. I’m waiting for the police so I won’t have to go in there alone.”
We continued to talk and I kept him company for fifteen minutes before going upstairs. When I called the next day, I learned that he’d been right, his father had died that night. During the conversation, he said, “I make clicking sounds to my dog, too. They love that.”
Time after time it astonishes me that sighted people expect blind people to speak first; more often than not they won’t acknowledge us, and yet when we know they’re there they can be friendly. Had I not been extremely skilled at echolocation, I would not have known Bruce was there. I would have missed out on a small but significant exchange with a fellow human.
Those of us who are born blind discover, as we grow up that we can tell a great deal about our environment. Usually at about seven or eight years old, we begin to put this knowledge into practice. When we tell sighted people about this skill, they usually misunderstand and often think we possess some remnant of sight. When I was a small child I was guided by my mother, my aunts, and occasionally my dad, who was less comfortable with the task. Before long I began to notice that I could tell certain things. I could tell when I was passing a car, when there was an open space near me, when I was heading straight for a wall, or when there was a big obstacle like a truck in my path, and I could tell all these things without knowing how.
Soon I discovered that I could feel differences in air pressure. I could feel things closing in on me, especially walls. If I turned my head, I could often detect when I was passing trees, and I noticed that my awareness was heightened when I stamped my feet to walk (which I was discouraged from doing). All of these things I did intuitively. In third grade I became friendly with a boy who was born blind, like me. He got around our school with ease, almost like a sighted kid. He guided me so well that my mother was convinced he could see a little. Since we who are blind from birth don’t know what seeing is, Paul told me he could see, but what he meant was that he could locate things, just like I could.
I began to notice that as Paul approached walls, he would make a clicking sound, which gave him more information. I began imitating him. I discovered that I could even detect a break in the wall for a water fountain, or a wardrobe. I couldn’t believe how much more I was able to perceive! We both knew the school better than the other blind kids, and since we had become friends we were often sent on errands together, roaming the school building, clicking and commenting on what we could “see.”
Once, while walking at breakneck speed, hand-in-hand, Paul ahead of me, we ran up to a door, which we both heard, opened it, and started walking straight down the hall. “The next door isn’t completely open!” I warned Paul. “We better slow down.” “It is, too!” he said. “No it isn’t!” I insisted, and stopped. Paul raced ahead and smashed into the edge of the door, earning a nasty cut on his head. We ran back to the Braille room, where our teacher, Mrs. Klotz, yelled at us for not being more careful. She wanted us to walk with our hands near our faces, which we didn’t need to do, and didn’t want to do.
Although my echolocation (also known as facial vision) was good before I met Paul, it was by observing him that I learned to click.
With that added sound source, I learned to pinpoint things in my environment, to analyze things like the size of a room, whether it was wide or narrow, even whether it was sparsely furnished. The ability to analyze surroundings from sounds and air pressure is something most people blind from birth can do to a greater or lesser degree. The most adept derive substantial information from these clues. Without wanting to brag, I would put myself at the top of the list, along with people like Paul and a few other classmates.
Most did not click, but enhanced what they heard by walking with loud footsteps; those who used canes tapped them vigorously. A woman I knew named Marsha walked by picking up her feet and smashing them down, without the heel-toe movement I assume sighted people use. She made what to me was a wonderful sound. We could all tell exactly what she was passing by listening to her footsteps. My mother told me that her walk was “ungainly,” that she clopped like a horse. “Her mother should have taken her for walking lessons: it’s undignified the way she walks, and she’s a piano teacher and in the public eye!” But we thought it was marvelous. We loved the sound she made and knew exactly why she was doing it. We knew, for example, that she would stamp harder when approaching narrow passages in order to negotiate them better.
Sadly, echolocation is not talked about, nor is it taught. It’s only learned intuitively or by example. I read about it only once, in a book called Follow My Leader, which claimed that an eleven-year-old boy, blinded by a firecracker explosion, had developed the skill. From all that I can tell, however, those blinded later in life almost never learn how to do it. I know a girl, blind at fourteen, who will walk smack into a wall, even though she has been blind for twenty-eight years. Once she walked straight into the closed door of my lobby. “Didn’t you hear that door?” I asked incredulously. “Don’t be a retard!” she countered, “you don’t hear doors!” “I do!” I said, in my most condescending voice. “Yeah, right!” she said, and I supposed you hear traffic lights!” “I hate you damn sighted blind people!” I remonstrated, and changed the subject before we got into a fight.
As we grow older, and learn to use canes or dogs, we grow to rely less on the information gained from echolocation. The skill is there, but it can go dormant. Mobility instructors discourage echolocation, especially clicking. While training with my first dog, I forgot myself and clicked to determine if I was near a pole.
The instructor told me that my dog would be taken from me if I continued to make “those sounds,” that they served no purpose, that they made blind people objects of ridicule. And furthermore, I’d confuse the dog. I stopped clicking-until I returned home!
My ability to echolocate enhances my mobility greatly, though I still need lots of help in strange environments, since clicking can’t pick up everything. I’ll be the first to admit that you can detect only big things. Recently, I walked into a neighbor’s shopping basket in my apartment lobby. Certainly subtle changes in terrain, such as steps, cracks in the sidewalk, or those dangerous-to-the-blind chains that often border grassy areas go undetected. But a friend tells me that she knows when someone has approached her desk, and is standing by and watching without speaking.
I’ll continue to click and use my cane as well. (I no longer have a guide dog.) Why should I have to give up one for the other? The blind, like any other group, can act in a stupidly doctrinaire manner. I think as I get older I’m beginning to care less if people think I’m weird for clicking.
I wish that clicking could help me find and meet a special friend, but I haven’t perfected it to that degree. At least not yet.
Bio: Robert Feinstein grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. He earned his Bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College, and his Master’s from Middlebury College in Vermont. Robert studied and worked in France, then returned to New York for a twenty-year career as a language teacher for children with English as a second language. He speaks French fluently, and has conversational background in Hebrew and Yiddish. Robert was a volunteer telephone communicator for the deaf community. He learned rudimentary sign language and became friends with several deaf-blind individuals. He researched the life and writings of Helen Keller.
In Praise of Equality, Nonfiction
by Peter Altschul
A couple of years ago, my family and I spent the fourth of July weekend at a time-share near Branson, Missouri. On the way there, we stopped at Lamberts, a restaurant that features “thrown rolls” (which servers hurl at customers) and large amounts of greasy Southern food. While waiting for our order, Louis, my then fourteen-year-old stepson, announced that he was all for women being treated the same as men but…
Annoyed, I tuned out. I’ve heard variants of this phrase coming out of the mouths of Rush Limbaugh, Dr. James Dobson, and other men who seem to believe in women’s rights – for those women who agree with them.
“Rolls, anyone?” called a waiter, followed by excited “over heres” and the sound of rolls thudding into hands.
“Schools treat girls better than boys,” Louis continued, and he’s probably right. Girls do outperform boys there in part because they tend to be more compliant and organized than boys.
“But why aren’t there more girls taking science classes?” asked my wife, Lisa, a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering. She has a point; girls drop out of math and science courses as they get older.
“And if a girl hits me, is it OK for me to hit her back?” Louis demanded.
“Yes,” Lisa declared. “You have a right to defend yourself.”
“True, but boys tend to be stronger and heavier than girls.”
“There is a difference,” I proclaimed in an effort to move the discussion to a new place, “between treating people the same and treating people equally.”
“What?” Louis asked.
I repeated my statement.
“I don’t understand,” he said.
Our food arrived, and the conversation drifted elsewhere as we began devouring meat loaf, pork steaks, fried shrimp, and burgers.
“Hey, what about this equality-same thing?” Lisa asked.
“Explain,” ordered Joseph, my then fifteen-year-old stepson.
“You know about the discrimination blind people face while trying to find a job?” I asked.
I spoke about how many employers screen out applicants with visual impairments when they require that candidates have a valid driver’s license.
“That’s discrimination,” Joseph half-shouted with a smile in his voice.
I smiled. “This would make sense for candidates to be treated the same if the jobs required someone to drive regularly from place to place,” I explained, “but more and more employers seem to be requiring this of all jobs.”
“But maybe they want to be sure that employees have a way to get to work,” suggested Ana, my then 22-year-old stepdaughter.
“Or maybe they’re trying to screen out people with substance abuse problems,” Lisa added.
“I don’t know what an employer’s intent is,” I responded. “But many otherwise qualified visually-impaired people see the driver’s license requirement and don’t bother to apply. And I think that hiring managers subconsciously connect ‘no driver’s license’ with ‘cannot do the job.’”
“So there’s more flexibility involved in treating people equally than treating people the same,” Lisa suggested.
“And equality is sort of an ideal that we should work towards,” Louis mused.
While driving home after a weekend of swimming, barbecuing, and boating, a statement that Josh McDowell, an evangelist and regular guest on Dr. Dobson’s “Focus on the Family,” flashed across my mind.
“Rules without relationship result in rebellion,” he declared.
Rules maintain order and promote a “treating-everyone-the-same” ethos; we all must follow them or suffer the consequences. Respectful relationships change subtly over time based on the values and needs of the participants. They acknowledge the differences among us and work towards managing them in an equitable way. Quality relationships support rules, and dysfunctional relationships result in… Well, the Brits sure know what happened on July 4, 1776.
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, with his wife, her three children, two standard poodles, and a python named Monty. Please visit his website at www.peteraltschul.com to learn more about his work.
People Lessons, nonfiction
by Ann Chiappetta
Occasionally, while traveling on the paratransit bus, I’m provided with a tidbit of inspiration disguised as an ordinary comment. In fact, just the other day I was on the bus with an older gentleman named Sol. It was the first night of Passover and he was being driven to his daughter’s home for Seder. We chatted, flitted from topic to topic. After a few minutes, I could tell he was an intelligent sensitive man and got the feeling he’d seen more than his share of tragedy and disappointment.
At one point he asked me about my family. I described my marriage and vision loss. He was quiet then, so I let our talk drop.
We didn’t pick up the conversation again until we were closer to his destination.
As the bus backed up to the driveway, Sol turned to me and said, “You’re very lucky that your husband stayed with you when you became handicapped. My ex-wife couldn’t handle it. Now I only see her on holidays. Being handicapped is lonely”
Before I could even attempt some kind of futile sympathetic reply, he rolled his chair into the lift and was gone. I raised my voice, hoping he heard me say goodbye.
As we bumped and swayed toward home, Sol’s last words stayed with me, sticking like cold oatmeal on my heart’s cereal bowl. No matter how much I scrubbed, his words wouldn’t come off.
Now, much later, I’m writing about our interaction because I can’t forget what he said and why I am bothered by it. So, in the interest of writing, I’m counting on the creative process to discover the message within, to reveal the meat of things.
Sol’s remark hit me in the gut, reminding me that disability can be isolating, an element I’d like to ignore. Was I going to end up like Sol? Would my husband one day decide my blindness was too much to handle and leave? Would my children and family members only come to see me because they pity me? Worst of all, he used the word “handicapped” to describe his disability. The word should be scrubbed from our vocabulary because it implies a person with a disability is unable to care for or make decisions for him/herself. It is a crippling word that perpetuates dependence, not independence.
Moreover, Sol’s disparagement affected me on many levels, but the result was that through him, I felt my fragility. If I wasn’t careful, I, too, could, one day, turn into a female version of Sol. The thought scared me.
I want to avoid the congealed feeling of isolation As much as possible. I do, however, have a propensity to crave it and often find myself questioning how much time being alone is enough, or vice-versa. To be limited as to how much love I can give and receive by others due to being disabled provokes a very dark feeling inside my soul. There are times when I want the door bell to ring and times when I want to retreat from friends and family.
Meeting Sol that day gave me pause and made me think about my role in relationships. I’ve come to the conclusion that my desires are arbitrary. For instance, one day I can crave writing time more than a chocolate bar. Other days, I just don’t want to be alone. I also recognized that my moods haven’t anything to do with being blind. It’s who I am as a whole that matters, not just one aspect which identifies me. I wanted to tell Sol that his words changed something for me. I hope to one day tell him. Maybe it’s in our cards to meet again on the short bus. I’m thinking of going on a campaign to re-name it the ride into the human condition.
IV. The Writers’ Climb
Remembrance of a Rainbow, nonfiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
How to Write a Pi Poem
One of the wonderful parts of growing up in the small, rural, Hoosier town of Blanford was having a big front porch. Not only did my family love this big front porch, but also visitors loved our porch which had beautiful vistas of fields to the west, north, and east during all seasons of the year. In my mind, I pleasantly keep a water color painting of a majestic scene I was blessed to view many years ago, decades ago. However, this pastel remembrance does not fade from my memory album. The scene was a gift from Mother Nature, a gift to behold. Standing before the wooden swing on the front porch, I (then, an adolescent) saw a rainbow form and grace the eastern sky, over the land of our neighbors Bill and Clotene Toppas, at the crest of our little hill of the cut-off road. While I do not have a clear recollection of stars in a night sky, I feel fortunate to have a distinct remembrance of this lovely rainbow on a misty and humid Hoosier day when sun met the rain just to the east of our front porch.
Inspired by this rainbow, I decided to write my second pi poem. With my second pi poem (or “piem”), I did meet my goal of 32 poetic lines. The number of syllables for each line follows these 32 numerals of pi, up to the zero: 3.14159265358979323846264338327950. Although a pi poem is most associated with Pi Day–March 14 (3/14), you may read or write a pi poem on any day of the year. Additionally, the piem which you write need not be 32 lines: your pi creation may be less lines or more–as long as the number of syllables per poetic line follow the infinite numerals of the mathematical pi. My example of a 32-line pi poem follows.
Meteorological versus Metaphorical Rainbows
(A Pi Poem of Springtime Colors)
holders to close their perk parasols
at a rare gift from Mother Nature;
yet the scientists
as sunlight hitting rain droplets
at varying, different angles
to spray a spectacular
spectrum of colors, viewed uniquely
by each child,
Tiny raindrops break the sunlight
mother Nature’s palette
What does crafty Mother Nature
rainy sky touched by sunbeams.
Impressionistic painter, please brush
rainbows on your world.
The Poet Writes About Pi, poetry
by Mary-Jo Lord
she’s no baker.
can burn toast without
trying. She would never bake bread, much
to bake an apple pie.
A chocolate pie with
crust with Chocolate Mousse
filling, topped with whipped cream and fine
shavings of chocolate, no heat involved.
Sounds easy enough, but she
didn’t do well in home ec, so she
to bring chocolate pie to potlucks.
Calls the baker,
places an order for
Makes no pretense. If pies
were poems, if
were forms, The
poet Could bake: a Sestina,
Acrostic, or a Piem. At
potlucks and dinner tables, words could
slowly melt on tongues.
Bio: Mary-Jo Lord has a masters’ degree in counseling from Oakland University, and has worked at Oakland Community College for Twenty-three years. She 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. Mary-Jo is the current Coordinating Editor of this magazine. She lives with her husband and son in Rochester, Michigan. She has been blind since birth.
Real Poets Don’t Eat Ice Cream From Cones, poetry
by Nancy Scott
Cones force haste.
There are no third stanzas or fifth drafts.
There is no shape that stays.
There is no digging for secrets.
It’s one chance to catch every drop.
It’s swallowing the bits and glitter.
And then the mouth and brain go numb.
Bio: Nancy Scott’s over 650 essays and poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies and newspapers, and as audio commentaries. She has published three chapbooks, and won First Prize in the
2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Recent work appears in Breath and Shadow, Contemporary Haibun Online, and Stone Voices.
The Writing Lesson, nonfiction
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.
“What remarkable thing have you done in your life?” our writing instructor asked.
Michelle, as usual, answered first. “When I was an Army nurse, I had to parachute out of an air plane. I know I could write about that.”
Michelle’s story reminded me of a childhood experience. When I was about nine years old, I jumped off the railing of our front porch, holding my father’s black umbrella open. My knees were bruised, but the umbrella suffered broken ribs. This was not the stuff of a remarkable event.
“Well, I don’t think I ever told you this,” Marjorie started slowly. “But Ernie and I eloped. You know, I was only sixteen and my parents weren’t crazy about me dating him. He was four years older than I was, and he was just back from Viet Nam, no job. He was a good-looking, sweet-talking guy, and I fell for him like a ton of bricks. Eloped makes it sound sort of romantic. What we really did was run away to the next county and got married by the justice of the peace. My parents were hoppin’ mad and came looking for us, but we kept moving. I got so lonesome for them after a while. We came back just before Bonnie Jo was to be born. Oh, I could write a story about that, alright.”
Now Marjorie’s story brought back memories. In the fourth grade, when I told the class I was going to be a nun, Joey Mulroney pointed at me and laughed out loud. I don’t remember thinking too much more about it until I was in high school. The subject was not warmly received at home, and I promised my parents I would go to college for at least a year before I made my final decision. And the college had to be co-ed, not the one for women which was staffed by the same group of Sisters I had in high school. I was nineteen when I entered the convent, but I was forty-five before my parents stopped asking me to come home. They eventually came to understand my decision, realizing that I was happy, going to school, teaching, being a principal, and living in community with some wise and holy women. I was serving God’s people. Though I vocalized my questions and disagreements at times, I loved my Church and I loved my life.
Now it was Mary Ellen who was sharing her story. “I lived in Japan for three years when my husband was in the service. My two older children learned to speak Japanese fluently.” Mary Ellen had relished telling this many times before.
I drifted back to my memories. The farthest I had ever been from home was Mobile, Alabama. I was teaching sixth grade in an inner city Catholic school. It was the late sixties. I participated in a peaceful civil rights demonstration, and over one hundred of us, Sisters and priests, mothers, fathers, teachers, ordinary working people, were arrested. We spent the night in jail, singing “We Shall Overcome” until the guards told us to shut up.
Louise sighed as she began her story. “Everybody said it was a miracle. I was born crippled. Mama told me my legs hung down like a ragdoll’s. The doctor told Mama and Daddy that I would probably never walk. Mama said she never believed that and she started praying to Blessed Mother and rubbing my legs with Lourdes water.” Her voice lifted as she continued. “Well, my legs turned out fine, kind of shapely, too, if I say so myself. I was quite a dancer in my day.”
I started to think about my hospital experience. After ten days in the hospital, the virus I mysteriously contracted had been tamed, but not before it scarred my optic nerve. I celebrated my fifty-seventh birthday in the hospital, now legally blind. Had I known then that the virus could have caused brain damage, or possibly death, I might have mustered a little more joy. The prognosis was that the condition would worsen over time, resulting in total blindness. Was my miracle that the virus stopped when it did?
“One time Roger and I were at a wedding reception.” Now it was Estelle’s turn. “The lady sitting across from us started choking on something. I must have been the only one who noticed. I poked Roger. He’s good in emergencies and he got around the other side of the table real fast and started to administer the Heimlich maneuver. I could see this lady was turning blue, so I told Roger to hold her arms up. I reached down her throat and pulled out a piece of meat. I think we saved her life. I don’t even remember that lady’s name. I could write about that.”
My mother was kept alive for the last seven months of her life with a feeding tube. It was impossible for her to swallow, so she could not eat. Alzheimer’s left her physically and mentally bankrupt. She was not aware in her last years that her only son and only husband had died. Neither did she know that I, her only daughter, had lost my eyesight. She did not know that I paid the Polish lady cash to live with us, or that it was probably illegal to do this. If my mother could not say my name, I think she knew that she was safe. And safe, maybe, is better than love, at the end.
“Elizabeth,” the instructor now turned to me. “Have you done anything remarkable?”
I hesitated, sensing that my class mates were looking at me, waiting for me to say something startling, maybe revelatory or prophetic. I was the oldest one in the group. Surely, there was something remarkable I had done?
“I entered the convent over fifty years ago,” I murmured. “I really enjoyed teaching, first kids, then adults, and working in parish programs. Now I work with people who are losing their eyesight, and I enjoy that too.”
“Go on,” she insisted.
“Umm, well, I suppose the most remarkable thing about me is how unremarkable my life has been.”
There was a moment of silence. Finally, our instructor spoke. “Thanks for sharing that, Elizabeth. It is certainly a different path.” She cleared her throat. “Now, for next week, let’s bring our revised stories back for critiquing and start thinking about our next topic, “My Most Memorable Vacation.”
Bio: Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P. is a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. She has a Master’s Degree in Education and has been a teacher and principal in Catholic elementary schools. She recently retired, after 20years, as a social services counselor for the blind. She facilitates a Support Group for the Blind and a Talking Book Club, as well as the Women of Vision project for women who are vision impaired who write and “do” art.
Looking for Wonder, nonfiction
by Shawn Jacobson
I’m sitting here in the hotel lobby waiting for Stephen, my son, to arrive. Once he gets here, we can go ahead and register for the science fiction convention.
We had been planning this for months. First, my son announced his interest in attending this year’s Capclave convention; we had attended two years earlier, and he’d enjoyed himself. Then I explored the internet, to find the dates. Next I asked the Mrs. to sign Stephen and me up for convention, (she does the online PayPal thing better than I do.)
Now I could get online and scout out what I wanted to see. I looked at the list of author’s who would be reading; this is a first class chance to hear authors, who’s work doesn’t make it into the Talking Book system. I saw one author, Sarah Pinsker, with whom I had an Email conversation. I would try to be at this reading. Then there were the panel discussions. Some were serious. “Is there a war on Science?” “What does global warming mean for our future?” Some fun, “Can a small town elf make it in the big city?” There was one session, “Let Holly Fix it,” in which Holly Black, the guest of honor, would help struggling authors fix their struggling stories. I had just the struggling story in mind. I would definitely be there.
Then there were the panels I was looking for to help my son with his interest in doing film. There was a session on pod casting. Another session featured a discussion of which classic Science Fiction stories would be great movie material. We had several conversations plotting out our course through the weekend.
There was also a good chance for some family banter. My wife teased me about my taste for “weird science fiction.” I replied that this would allow her to watch her “junk show.” She has become fond of “American Pickers.” This show features a couple of good old boys from Iowa, who travel the country, buying stuff from eccentric folk who are borderline hoarders. There’s nothing wrong with the show; it’s just not my favorite.
So when Stephen made it to the hotel well before the sessions started, I was relieved. We could get registered and start hunting the spirit of wonder. I started with a session called “So You Want to be a Writer.” Here I learned that writing was hard, full of rejection, and there was no money in it; so what else is new.
Stephen went to a session, then let me know that he would go to the dealer’s room. I told him that he could have what he wanted within reason, but don’t buy anything too expensive. We had just sunk a scary amount of money into fixing up the house, and we were definitely on a budget.
The last session I went to was on the “War on Science.” We talked about climate change deniers and the anti-vaccination movement, and of course, we talked about intelligent design and creation “science.” After this report from the front line of the science wars, Stephen and I headed home for the night.
On Saturday, the first session I went to was the one where I could get advice on my story. We all sat there, wondering which one of us would muster up the courage to admit the imperfection of our work. Then Holly Black said that it didn’t have to be a novel. I said “OK,” I think I was the second person to speak up, and the session was on. I had a story involving faeries and weird science;. I had some good scenery, some fun and interesting characters and some colorful language. The problem was that I couldn’t come up with a good ending. It turned out, that what I needed was development for my protagonist. Once I knew what he wanted, I could figure out where to take the story.
After listening to other authors and their problems, I met Stephen in the fan suite and we got some snacks. We were budgeting our money pretty closely, and I would rather contribute a couple of bucks for snacks than go through the hotel restaurant. It was also a chance to talk to other people, and see how they were enjoying the sessions. But in thirty minutes, I was ready to move on; a new reading was scheduled.
The author was reading part of a story, where a woman was falling from a spaceship, and was about to die. It was a bit grim for my taste, but the reading was well and dramatically done. I also got to hear a reading from another writer I was curious about, but whose work I hadn’t had a chance to read. He started a story, about Native Americans working construction, in New York. He read with a twang you could cut with a knife. Think of Dwight Yoakam reading science fiction, and you have a good idea of the ambiance. I do not remember why the Indian stepped from the high steel to his death, or how he was able to come back as a ghost, but the twang remains in memory.
Along the way, I saw a very good multimedia presentation on climate change. This was meant as an introduction to a session on Sunday, telling us how to use global warming, in our stories. It focused on how to write what is now called “CliFi,” but I didn’t attend the follow-up session.
Then it was five in the evening, and the panel on Zenna Henderson began. When I had seen this panel listed on the program, I knew it would be the highlight of the convention. Any true lover of books seeks that reading experience that fires the soul to the point that reading is a spiritual experience. When that happens, the work read seems sacred, as if it were a holy book. Zenna Henderson’s “People stories” had provided such an experience. It was this experience that had much to do with my decision to start writing in the first place so I was eager to see what this session was about.
The panelists were ready to talk, as the audience flowed into the room. Two of the panelists had worked on the anthology of the “People stories.” The author, who read with a twang, was also on the panel. I was surprised at the crowd this session had drawn. Perhaps, I was not alone in my spiritual connection to the author’s work. As the room filled, I was glad to have snagged my seat at the end of the first row.
Then the panel began. It was quite good, though I guess it was bound to disappoint, given how much I had looked forward to being here. The panelists talked about how the author had been a teacher, in one-room school houses while she had written; this reminded me of my grandmother, talking about her experiences teaching, in one-room school houses, in Iowa. They also talked about the religious background of her work. The aliens in Zinnia’s “people stories” were very religious in their way, a way very close to Christian belief.
The panel also discussed some of her stories that I had not had a chance to read. One of these other books, Holding Wonder, was on sale at one of the book sellers in the dealer’s room, but I didn’t catch who was selling it, or how much it cost. Towards the end of the session, I mentioned some of the author’s characters, who were disabled, but also had powers that we would consider magic. This might have led to more discussion, but it was time for the session to give way to another group. I bid my farewell to the room, and met Stephen in the hall. We headed home, as the convention continued.
For us, the Sunday part of the convention began in the fan suite, as we grabbed a snack. A lady recognized me from the previous day. “I hope you can write your story,” she said by way of welcome. This made me feel good, as an amateur author; it is good to think that your work could have an audience.
Sessions began, and Stephen and I watched a presentation on the history of astronomy, another good multimedia production. Then it was time for a session on urban fantasy. I was familiar with the “Iron Druid” books, and also with the “Harry Dresden” detective novels, but this gave me a chance to learn about other works in the field. It was gratifying to hear that the lady who had given me the encouraging words that morning, was an actual panelist.
While I listened to the speakers, I decided that I would look for the Holding Wonder book in the dealer’s room before we left for the day. So after the last session that we were interested in hearing, Stephen and I went on my great book quest.
The dealer’s room was a hubbub of activity, a busy little space, full of fans looking for things to buy. Tables laden with books filled the room. All of them were, without my reading aids, as inscrutable as if they had been written in elfin runes. Finding one book in all of this, would be like finding a particular needle in a haystack, especially hard, since the haystack in question, was full of similar looking needles.
Yet, Stephen and I persisted. He took one side of the room while I took another. I picked up books and looked at titles as well as I could. Finally, just as frustration was mounting beyond my limit of patience, I had a hunch to look at one table, in the furthest corner of the room. Yes, they had it.
“How much is it?” I ask.
“One Hundred,” the dealer, I never got his name, replied.
“How much did you say?” I asked, not believing what I had first heard.
“One hundred,” he replied, and yes, I had heard correctly.
“No thanks,” I said, as great oaths from classic science fiction rang through my head. At that price, was I supposed to read the book, or merely mount it? The end of my quest, the end of this inspiration, was to read the words, not merely to have the actual volume. I’d hold off for a better opportunity.
“I have a whole lot of more reasonably priced books if you would like,” another dealer said, as I left. She had heard me, and Stephen talking. But I politely declined explaining that most of my reading was through the talking book system anyway. She was very nice; she understood. She worked with a writer who was visually impaired.
As Stephen and I left, I realized that this convention had taught me one thing that the future had in store for us all. “Intergalactic Pickers,” in which two good old boys, from Earth went in a rusty spaceship, around the galaxy, buying exotic space junk from exotic beings; perhaps the denizens of other stars were as big a bunch of pack rats as we were. There would be no respite from the picking phenomenon, even should we travel to the stars.
Now I look back on that crazy, wonderful weekend. I still haven’t fixed my story; this is a job for a future day. And I still haven’t found a copy of the book. Perhaps, if I did, I would be disappointed, in the lack of a spiritual experience; this will only be revealed, by the future. Yet, the quest was worthwhile, truly instructive in the realities that lay behind the search for wonder.
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.
Beltane, novel excerpt
by Christine Malec
A Note about the Context for the Following Excerpt:
In 1559, a young French woman sets out for Scotland, to fulfil a bargain made by others, to wed a stranger. Accompanied by her servant/companion, she embarks on her first sea voyage. She is awed by the beauty of her surroundings, and captivated by the sense of adventure, engendered by new acquaintance and novel experience.
Their first night at sea was not comfortable. From courtesy, they had been given the cabin in the sterncastle. By ship’s standards, Margarete and Lise supposed it must be luxurious; it was usually the captain’s, but McNab had insisted they take it. To them however, used to spacious and airy rooms, it was small, cramped, stuffy and disturbingly unstill. Somehow they felt the motion of the ship far more inside it than out. Stimulated and anxious, they each slept restlessly. The creaking and groaning noises of a ship under sail were new to them, and vaguely alarming, no matter what they told themselves. They clung to one another gratefully in the darkness behind the closed door, wordless, but conscious of their own and each other’s tension.
Dawn found them awake and on deck. McNab approached to find them gazing eastward. He would have bade them a good morning, but he saw their faces, and forbore. Each woman wore an expression of awe. He understood at once. They were seeing, probably for the first time, a sunrise at sea. There were a few clouds, but the sky was mostly a clear, fragile blue. The dazzling colours were reflected in the water, and made a shifting and rippling panoply of wonder that took the breath away.
Being used to it, McNab was less affected. He stood quietly, taking in not only the beautiful dawn display, but also the reactions of his passengers. He felt a possessive pride, as though he were somehow responsible for the incredible vista. He enjoyed witnessing anyone of sensitivity perceiving this view for the first time.
He saw that Margarete’s lips moved, uttering silent words. She crossed herself with what seemed to McNab great reverence. He was not given to religious expression himself, nor were most of his customary associates. He had seen many displays of devotion in his life of course, but he thought that he had never seen one so genuine.
When at last the two women noticed him there, it was as though they had all three shared an unspoken intimacy. After a moment in which the breeze picked up and began to gently flap the sails, McNab bade them good morning. Lise replied graciously, but Margarete was silent.
Lise kept up light talk with the Captain, knowing from experience that her mistress would be reticent for some time yet. It was always so when Margarete experienced strong emotion, or something new which moved her. She would be almost mute, sometimes for hours, while her spirit absorbed the new or powerful feeling. She might or might not speak of it afterwards, but to converse with her before this inner process was complete, was to seek discourse with a tree or a wall. Indulgently, Lise guided Margarete toward breakfast.
Margarete found the first few days at sea delightful. The motion of the ship did not trouble her after the first night, and she found the sight of the water stretching out around them oddly comforting. McNab smiled indulgently at this, and kept his own counsel about possible rough weather ahead.
With Lise by her side, Margarete enjoyed the suspended feeling of being between her old home and her new. All of her possessions were contained on this ship, which carried them smoothly atop the water. With a careful mental balance, she could dismiss thoughts of past and future as though each was washed away by the lapping waves.
McNab gradually became less intimidating to Margarete, and she greatly enjoyed sitting on deck during sunny afternoons listening to his traveller’s tales. There was a chess board to hand, and McNab and Lise would play. Margarete disliked the game, but played when asked, and watched dutifully, trying to learn. She had little skill, but Lise continued to aver that a good grasp of chess served one well in other endeavours. McNab smiled at this, but forbore to comment.
Sometimes, she and Lise would sing duets together as they were wont to do at home. Entranced, the crew made little pretence, and would hover as near as their duties permitted, enjoying both the pleasing harmony of their voices, and the unconscious intimacy of their expressions. Sometimes Lise would read aloud. It was rare to have women aboard, and the genteel passengers were the subject of much curiosity and secret scrutiny.
The fly in the ointment of these gentle days was Etienne. As the clerk of Margarete’s eldest brother Guy, he was along as Guy’s representative. Disliking Etienne though they did, both Margarete and Lise could not help but be relieved to be spared the presence of either Guy or her brother Louis on this voyage. Privately, Lise thought it disgraceful that neither young man could tear himself away from his unwholesome pursuits to accompany their sister. Their disregard for Margarete, though often convenient to both women, rankled with Lise.
Both women found Etienne’s manner irritating, and his person displeasing. He was a fussy, unadventurous man, pale of complexion, small of eye, and overly fond of rules and decorum.
During their first pleasant days at sea, as they navigated through the Bay of Biscay, he subjected Margarete to several didactic discourses on the topics of wifely virtue, and a woman’s role in a household. Unfortunately, his advice was all theoretical and highly elevated. That is to say it was replete with axioms, but utterly lacking in such useful topics as managing a larder, or handling an intractable husband.
Alone in their cabin at night, Margarete would entertain Lise with spirited recreations of these lectures, producing highly amusing imitations of Etienne’s precise manner of speaking, and the way his small mouth puckered when he was trying to choose just the right rounded phrase to describe the nature of wifely duty.
Though she did not speak of it, Margarete rose at dawn each morning, to stand quietly at the rail and greet the day. Sometimes Lise joined her there, sometimes not. McNab saw her often, but kept a discrete distance. He liked to watch her though. Her carriage was flawless, her young profile clean edged in the morning light. Sometimes, he would try to position himself to glimpse her face. He experienced the profound intensity of her expression as very moving. It recalled something of his own youth to him, and caused him to develop a quiet affection for her.
Though present at the rail at each dawn, Margarete would often return to the cabin afterwards. In the way common to the young, she preferred long sleep, and, on this rare voyage, free from almost all supervision or regular routine, (such as it had been at home) she indulged her desire to stay abed well into the morning. As he had hoped, this allowed McNab ample opportunity for conversation with her attendant.
Though he found Lise reticent about her own past, she was engageable on many subjects. They spoke of music, of popular entertainers, of different French and Italian cities and their attractions. He found her knowledgeable, though not boastful. He would recall some vivid experience in a notable venue in Paris or Marseilles or Milan, and she would reply with an easy remark that showed her familiarity with it. When he gently probed for more information, she would say only that she had travelled rather widely in her situation before becoming attendant to Margarete. He was intrigued, but stymied.
They spoke of politics and religion. They compared their experiences both of hypocritical and venial clergy, and of fiery speeches made by avid Reformers.
Beltane is available at http://www.beltanethebook.com
Bio: Christine Malec is a writer and massage therapist living and working in Toronto, Canada. Her first historical fiction novel has received positive reviews, and she is currently working on a second novel, as well as a fan fiction novella set in the Harry Potter universe. She is also a musician, and can be spotted singing in the subway from time to time. Her blindness occasionally informs her work, but by no means defines it.
Voice Dream Writer: product review
by Jonathan Simeone
If you want an app that will make basic word processing in iOS easy, you need to try Voice Dream Writer. In order to keep this review short, I’m going to briefly describe some of the app’s great features.
Voice Dream Writer comes with two help files. Which one loads, depends on whether you’re running Voiceover. If you’re a Voiceover user, the help file that loads is incredibly descriptive. I loved reading a help file that didn’t tell me to look for something to change color, or find an icon that looks like this.
If you’re like me, you aren’t going to type hundreds or thousands of words on your iPhone’s keyboard. Thankfully, Voice Dream Writer works extremely well with Bluetooth keyboards. If you’re a Mac user, the keyboard commands in Voice Dream Writer will be familiar to you.
As you type, Voice Dream Writer automatically creates an outline. The most common use for the outline is probably to help people navigate their documents. The most interesting use for the outline is that you can use it to reorganize your work. If you don’t like the location of a sentence, paragraph, or heading, simply drag-and-drop the material to a new location. If you move a heading, all the text that falls under that heading is moved too.
You can format text without taking your hands off the keyboard. To italicize a word or phrase, enclose it in asterisks. To bold something, use two asterisks at the beginning and two more at the end. Using symbols, you can also create headings, bulleted lists, and numbered lists. As you know, Voiceover in OS cannot describe formatting. By using symbols, Voiceover users can be reminded how they have chosen to format their text. When you export your work to a file type that supports formatting (Word, Rich Text, or HTML), the symbols disappear and the text is stylized as you wanted.
Spell checking can be as simple as editing the misspelled word in an edit box and hitting return. If you’re not sure how to spell a misspelled word, you can use the Word Finder. The Word Finder can search phonetically, by meaning, or by dictionary definition. By default, it uses the phonetic search. When you find the word you’re looking for, select insert from the menu.
Proof reading your work is as easy as listening to the app read it back to you. There are two ways the app can read your work: natural; and detailed. Natural attempts to mimic regular speech. That way, you can hear how your work sounds. Detailed allows you to hear punctuation, misspelled words, spacing, and more. How much detail you hear in both natural and detailed modes, can be customized in the Audio Settings. If you have purchased voices in Voice Dream Reader, you can use them in Voice Dream Writer without having to purchase them again. In order to use the voices you’ve already purchased, Voice Dream Reader must be updated to at least version 3.4.0 and run once.
This concludes my brief look at Voice Dream Writer. Currently, it’s available from the App Store for nine dollars and ninety-five cents.
Challenge Me: poetry
by Myrna D. Badgerow
Cast your spell upon my thoughts
hasten not their time to simmer
and shade them not with your colors
let me spill my own and tell my story
lessening not their worthiness for doing so
embrace my imagination
noting always my homage to you
grant me your gift, Words
enlighten me with your creativity
mesmerize me, captivate me
entangle me within your magic
Bio: Born, raised, and living along the bayous of Louisiana, Myrna D. Badgerow, has three grown children and seven grandchildren. A legally blind writer, her work can be found in several small press and online venues. She has published several collections of poetry and a collection of short stories.. She now serves on the NFB Writers’ Division Board of Directors and is very honored to do so.
The Behind Our Eyes Garden: poetry
by Bonnie Rennie
Author’s note: The fulfillment of a long-anticipated dream is something to be cherished, and celebrated. After recently joining the Behind Our Eyes Writers Group, I sought a way to express to my fellow members what this exhilarating experience means to me.
Oh Garden of Wonders!
Garden of eager longings,
I first visited,
But now I grasp the glittering gate.
Tumbling in headlong,
intending to wander,
sample its delights,
see what I could identify.
Exploring at one’s own pace,
being ultimately best.
I began to follow behind the other admirers,
ones who clearly knew this garden better than I.
In hopes of being warmed by their light.
From a distance at first,
then, taking courage to come closer,
still strolling behind,
so as to hear them brightly commenting
pointing out highlights.
I wanted their knowledge.
of all of the lustrous plants.
And oh, the variety!
Some, small and intricate,
some, tall and ungainly,
others, seeming to hide valuable secrets.
yes, a mistake to compare,
my own little plot out back,
lived such a limiting life.
I can breathe deep
the multi-layered scents
of green things,
Even risking to touch,
no longer a spectator!
Bio: Bonnie remembers her first writing attempt. At age twelve, she wrote A song parody, expressing her eagerness/angst about heading to junior high. During her clinical social work career in medical and mental health settings she created client/consumer, family education materials. Retirement finally allowed her to pursue the writing of poems, articles, essays.. She writes on a variety of topics: Christian/spiritual, music, thriving while blind, blossoming in retirement, life’s charms, challenges, choices, and quirks. Bonnie and her husband Bob live in Southern California. She is totally blind, from Retinopathy of Prematurity.
V. Dip into the Melting Pot
Veggies with Dip, poetry
by Valerie Moreno
I take my choice
of life’s delicacies
by dipping them in
savory promises of love.
Power to Burn, Poetry
by Nancy Scott
She has known clocks and keys and teeth in her dreams
and his practiced voice assuring
“My dear one.”
She must have checks and love letters,
patent-leather pumps and salt-water pearls
like the old movies that lull her to sleep.
She must be swept off
her wider-waking feet
one more time.
She will starve ten pounds, conceal five,
commit her love or her crime
with the cocktail black dress, the choker clasped
and the clip-stab sexy assurance that cannot run away.
Finely, Connection, poetry
by Brad Corallo
Painstakingly, slowly we search
sector by sector.
Like a lost cat, whiskers extend.
Strength of our ancient instruments dwindles.
Are they out there?
Black Towering walls,
steely twilight skies, lightning flashes.
Far distant drums,
after all the ages
is it them?
Are you sure?
Spiral dust motes dance
amidst shrieking whirlwinds.
Only occasional fireworks and radio pulses,
reveal the presence of possible survivors.
The drums again.
Yes, I am almost sure.
One of us is out there!
Recognition, a soothing bath.
How to touch?
Reaching whiskers, minds whisper.
“My friend, it has almost been too long.”
“I know, I had almost despaired
But it is not yet too late.”
Embracing, incandescent illumination
After so long!
The glacier recedes.
Unimagined tears of joy.
A profound silence reins,
At last, we can breathe again!
by Andrea Kelton
I was waiting for the Belmont bus the other day, when I noticed platform shoes displayed in an upscale boutique window. I guess it’s true, I thought. Fashion repeats itself. I’d worn platforms thirty years ago And here they were, fashionable once more.
I adored platform shoes when they were all the rage during the 1970′s. I’d never worn high heels. High heels pinched my feet and walking in them felt like walking a tightrope. I was sure to fall and break my body. No safety net awaited me if I toppled from the heights.
But, platforms were different. I wore them easily. The sole might be four inches tall, but my foot was level from toe to heel. I’d buy a new pair at least once a month. Canvas sandals with cork soles, black patent leather or suede rust colored “high heel” styled platforms, woven tops, mesh tops, open toe, braided and buckled, all meant to compliment my many looks. A padded-shoulder “Bette Midler” style polka dot dress wasn’t complete without black and white platforms, nor were the mini-skirts or wide bell-bottom jeans I lived in back then.
One day in 1972, the flu kept me from teaching my first grade class. The substitute instructed the children to “draw a picture of your teacher.” A stack of 30+ manila sheets welcomed me back when I returned. On each crayon masterpiece stood a smiling young woman with long blond hair, wearing oversized glasses and enormous “Elton John” platforms. Those six-year-olds had captured my essence-all hair and shoes.
I could walk, run or dance in those shoes. But I couldn’t feel the ground under my feet, which a few years later, became vitally important.
As my vision slowly deteriorated, I needed to feel the ground below me. I had to give up fashion for safety. I thought that I was just buying flats. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional onslaught that followed.
My appearance intricately wove the fabric of my identity. If I wasn’t a super hip fashion devotee, who was I?
The term “vision loss” is deceptive. Sure, there’s the actual physical change. But there are also those sneaky little losses and “deaths” that paralyze your attempts to adjust and adapt. Turning a seemingly ordinary situation into emotional devastation.
Like giving up platform shoes.
This Wonderful Computer, nonfiction
by Ernie Jones
Has your computer ever acted up, then after you have exhausted all your knowledge as to how to fix this problem, you called in the repair technician? When the technician arrives, does the computer decide to work great? Have you ever thought your computer was playing games with you, treating you like a fool?
When talking about computers, what picture does your mind conjure up? While you look at your computer, whether one of these tiny modern ones or a desk top model that claims a room in your house, consider what it might be like to need a room one hundred feet long by fifty feet wide, just to house one complete computer.
When you enter the building and climb the stairs to the second floor, there is no elevator. The first thing you hear are the clicks from two dozen keypunch machines, punching holes in IBM cards that provide information. Each hole punched in the card holds specific information that another machine will ferret out later. It puts into print, what this rectangular hole has hidden, within it’s empty slot. Two dozen or so ladies keep the keypunch machines clicking away as they type; the keyboard is much like using a typewriter.
These IBM cards are placed standing on edge, in long trays and sent to the sorter, another large machine, about three feet wide, six feet long and five feet high. Here the operator uses levers or buttons to sort these IBM cards, into any format this machine has been told to do. Cards are slid into pockets, according to where the operator has set up. Maybe the cards are sorted alphabetically for city and state, or they may be sorted according to people’s last names, or both.
Later, using these same IBM cards, now in correct order, they can be fed into a monstrous printer to print out address labels, billing statements or licenses. This printer can print out continuous forms, from the small four inch address labels, to sheets of twenty-four inch wide paper. Each letter, number or punctuation mark is at the end of a long arm that on command, swings up to smack hard against an ink ribbon, which then leaves that mark on the paper. Each key on this large printer made a little different sound, when it hit the ink ribbon. One afternoon, when I entered the computer room, I heard music, “Home on the Range,” and “She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain,” playing merrily out of that huge printer, sounding much like a large band.
The only time the operators worry about the CPU, is when there is some kind of breakdown. Then the operator does nothing more than call in the technical support person, because as today’s computer users know, the CPU is a box of strange magical wiring and controls best left alone, but for those well trained in computer repairing. Thus in those early days, when the computer would not function correctly, the shift supervisor would call in the technician to fix the problem. But there were the times, and these times weren’t that uncommon, when the technician wasn’t able to find the problem. The computer chose to make the operator look like a fool, and would work perfectly without any errors, while the repair technician was there. Then for several days, at the least convenient time, the same problem would poke up its evil head. But at last, maybe after the third or fourth call, we would hear the wonderful words, “I found it,” and at last, the computer would buckle down and for a time, work without any trouble.
The CPU in this early computer formed a twelve foot metal wall, consisting of three units, each six feet tall, three feet wide and four feet long.
Would you like to watch this brilliant computer do its work? Okay, you are welcome to watch me, but don’t touch anything, especially not that red button over on the wall, of the first CPU section. Follow me.
There is a series of four foot wide cement steps, leading down from the first floor, into the cella;- well I guess it will sound better if we call it the basement, of the large General Administration Building. Stopping at a long coat rack, we remove our coats and hang them on hangers. I slip my arms into my light blue lab coat that covers me from shoulder to knees. I never learned why we need this lab coat, but I guess it is to show that we are the elite state workers. The lab coat was given to me and it is up to me to keep it clean and looking respectable. Because you are only visitors you can enter without a lab coat today, but were you to start work, you would be granted a new lab coat.
Opening another door, we walk up a ramp that ushers us into the nice, cool computer room. The floor of the computer room is built two feet above the cement basement floor. This allows space for all of the electrical cables, some the diameter of a quarter. They crisscross and coil like many serpents on the cement floor. Eventually, they find an exit through the false floor above them, giving power to the computer and each of its components. The large State office building has no air conditioning system, and the upper floors get quite warm on summer afternoons. But because this large computer puts out a lot of heat, when the room gets warm, the computer won’t function properly; thus, we are blessed with cooling AC. What a relief, after coming in from the 90F outside to enter the cool computer room.
After exchanging greetings with each other, and bidding the workers whose shift is ending a good day, we each find our positions and set to work. This day, after being given my work schedule for the morning, I sit down in front of the keyboard. I type in the instructions for the job I am to get done. Satisfied with the commands I have entered, I place a tray of IBM cards in the appropriate place, and they begin their slow descent into this beast’s belly. Across the room are the tape to tape reels. I had already placed a twelve inch reel of tape with the correct label and threaded it over to a corresponding empty spool. Next, I step over to the huge printer and align the continuous sixteen inch wide forms that would be future statements for the year’s licenses in that department. Giving each component a sharp perusal, I am assured that all systems are ready. I return to the keyboard and type in the “start” commands. Immediately, the IBM cards start moving, the tape to tape reel slowly begins to turn, stopping itself at the beginning mark and then for a few seconds, everything is still. Then a soft audible click on the printer is heard, and with each system in tune with the others, the hum of the computer system falls gently on me, and the job begins to process. The tape reels slowly turn, the IBM cards feed down into the machine and the keys clang out their noise. The paper begins to climb up and out of the printer, to lay in a neat stack, waiting for the job to complete. This will be a short job, lasting only one hour, and not the six hours that some take. Today everything goes fine. One hour later, there is a six inch thick stack of continuous forms with the correct printing on them. The IBM cards are nicely stacked in a pocket of the machine, waiting their return to their tray. The reel to reel is spinning to complete its backward flow, to its original reel. The tape has been updated, the paper printed out, task completed.
Looking back in time, it is hard to realize that this monster IBM computer could not do what our small PC’s can do today. But at that time, they were a giant step forward.
Oh yes, I found a great use for those lab coats. My coat worked great at hiding a large wet spot, after I poured a cup of chocolate onto my lap at lunch time. Praise the state for the lab coat, allowing me to dry without many eyebrows being lifted up in wonder at such a wet area.
Bio: After working thirteen years for Washington State, in Olympia, Washington, Ernie returned to college, earning his Registered Nursing degree. Unfortunately this career was cut short by fading eyesight. For the past 11 years, he has had a monthly newspaper column in whichhe he encourages those losing their eyesight to not give up, while teaching the sighted that blindness is not the end to a good life. He has been a contributing author for Christian Record Services with his articles coming out in the large print magazine, Lifeglow now Light. He has authored one book, Onesimus the Run Away Slave, available through Authorhouse publishers and as an E book through Amazon.
by Jayson and Marilyn Smith
As a kid I was pretty good at math,
so at eight, when Apple crossed my path,
Juicy bytes came with games; then PC
and Macintosh competition confused me.
I learned programming, the Internet, and more;
my old Apples gathered dust there on the floor.
Three years ago I was under stress!
My dad had the Apple iPhone 4S.
At the phone store I came alive;
spent hours playing with iOS 5.
More help from Siri in iOS 6,
missed the game, did the Bulls beat the Knicks?
On the screen with a six-dot cell
a new app let me write Braille.
Downloading books was a new take on Heaven
with the BARD app on iOS 7.
Need faster processor, fingerprint ID?
Yes! The 5S phone was ready for me!
Pick up apples, tally expenses;
the family plan offered defenses.
And of course you’re not up to date
if you haven’t brought down iOS 8.
Glad I upgraded, we have a new voice–
Alex replaces Samantha for first choice.
KNFB’s Reader catches every letter,
makes mail identification so much better.
What’s that song playing? Siri can tell you;
link to the album that iTunes can sell you.
Get a copy sent right to your phone,
transfer it to your desktop at home.
Right now I don’t need a big screen,
so iPhone 6 is not on the scene.
Apple Pay will some day draw me in,
then what’s next? I’m ready, just say when!
Until Now, poetry
by James R. Campbell
You lived out of the spotlight,
never knowing your place of honor.
Your many accomplishments remain unrecognized,
As a part of the greatest generation,
you served in the Pacific theater.
The three books you wrote about that time,
Your many degrees should have been framed,
and proudly displayed.
As a civic-minded man, you served the flag,
long after the war was over.
Your hand was extended to the veterans,
whenever they needed you.
But when you needed them,
they turned their backs and walked away.
You died in obscurity,
just as you lived.
Your many accomplishments remain unrecognized,
Bio: James R. Campbell is blind and lives in Texas. His hobbies are: writing poetry and essays, studying reptiles, reading health and science books, and
playing the harmonica.
The Green Balloon, poetry
by laura minning
I watch the wind
with earnest intent,
and ask it
for a dance.
It takes me
by the hand
and sets me free.
excerpt from A Verbal Collage
c. November 2006
Bio: Laura Minning has traveled extensively throughout North America, Europe and Asia. She’s additionally had the opportunity to visit the Caribbean. Laura’s
also a published poet and author. She’s had 102 individual poems, six articles, two books and one short one-act play published both in hardcopy and online.
She strongly endorses the National Federation of the Blind. To learn more about Laura and her work, please feel free to log onto her web-site at http://www.warfieldweb.com/verbalcollage.
Broken Cords, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner
An old crafted kite hangs on my wall.
Strong, supple, hand-cut bamboo strips
form its framing avian bones,
with skin of colored comic print,
a golden gift of heart and hands
from my best bud of latter years.
Many gabs of young days in flight
on paper wings and sailing ships.
He formed his kites from stuff he found.
I purchased mine from a five-and-dime.
His were, by far, more wonderful.
No art do I treasure more dearly.
I cherish it for his memory.
We both kenned that kites and sails are wings
that break the bonds of gravity
causing our souls and ships to fly.
My kite hangs listless from a wall.
I cannot dare to let it loose,
for if I lose it, or break its bones,
then ever deeper I must grieve.
My aged friend has flown away
to some far-away unknown shore.
I fear to risk a broken cord.
I know someday I too must soar.
So while there is still time and will,
I shall go to the open sea
and carry his paper kite with me,
then free our flight to eternity.
A Census of My Senses, poetry
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.
Here are some things that delight my nose:
a talcumed baby, a fresh cut rose,
the smells from the kitchen that please the olfactory
with savory scents that are most satisfactory.
Then there are things my nose disdains:
standing garbage, after it rains.
the smells from the barnyard which some find refreshing,
to my citified nose, are not nature’s blessing.
I love the sound of the wind in the trees,
the cry of the gulls in the summer breeze.
I relish the sound of the train in the night
that haunting whistle, that unseen light.
I don’t like the sound of that dog approaching
with angry barks, my space encroaching.
I don’t like the sound of the high pitched screech
of that microphone, just out of reach.
I like to feel stuff that is soft to the touch,
baby’s bald head, downy chicks and such.
Warm clothes in the winter, the heat of the fire,
a dip in the pool, when the temperature’s higher.
I don’t like the feel of things that are bad for us:
sticky or prickly or gelatinous.
I’d not make petting snakes a habit,
though they’re not slimy, I’d prefer a rabbit.
When it comes to tasting, there’s little I shun:
rutabagas and chitlins, or tripe on a bun.
Those who like raw fish I’ll allow to be selfish.
Battered and cooked is how I like shellfish.
But I love my pasta and tiramisu,
and garlic and onions belong in my stew.
There’s nothing better for a gastronomical treat
than to end my meal with a chocolate sweet.
My sight, however, has grown dim o’er the years,
and, yet, this story’s not fraught with tears.
I remember colors, bright and clear,
and the faces of all whom I hold dear.
Though I cannot see with my bodily eyes,
I see more with my heart, to my surprise!
I thank God for my undeserved gifts,
and await the joy, the day the veil lifts!
VI. The Animal Kingdom
Scarred Journeys: fiction
by Traci McDonald
Misty morning dew clung to the first lemon rays of light shimmering on the edge of the canyon. Deep shadows retracted their fingers from the crimson stone, where the day lifted its head. A green flash caught the distant rays that bounced from the scales of a lizard and the shell of a tortoise. Both stretched their cold necks, for the far off heat of the desert dawn.
“We must cross the rushing river today,” The tortoise said, placing his stubby legs on the lip of the rock. “The sun will leave us to freeze on this side of the canyon. We must follow it as it races across the sky.”
The lizard bobbed his narrow head, his eyes scanning the rocky incline, which dropped to the stream of water trickling far below. His long toes clung to the face of the cliff, before he scampered lower, to perch on top of a boulder where the sun barely painted his shadow.
When he glided out of the tortoise’s sight, to slip into the jumble of giant rocks, the tortoise pursed his thin lips. Inching toward the spot from which the lizard disappeared, he watched the silver gray scales bobbing in and out of the light, as the lizard darted over the rocks covering the canyon walls. The tortoise scooted back from the crumbling lip of the canyon, knowing his short legs and heavy shell could never squeeze onto the path the lizard traveled. Instead, he cast his keen eyes to the shale covered slope below the crowding of larger boulders. The drop was sheer, the slope a distant image, as he studied the canyon for solutions.
The tortoise inched its cumbersome body along the rock, until he tripped over a crack in the warming stone. A glance over his shoulder at the lizard knotted his stomach. He squinted at his friend, jumping from rock to rock. A shiver ran down his spine. Balancing his shell on the sandstone ledge where he’d stumbled, he turned his face toward the opposite canyon wall.
The sun glared its white, hot fury down on the tired little tortoise. The lizard’s voice drifted through the ravine.
“The sun has made the rock too hot for my feet. I will rest in the shade and wait for the fiery stone to cool. You must brave the rocks, or you will never reach the river.”
Hot sand stone met every step on his trek across the ledge. The tortoise cautiously made his way along the jutting shelf over the canyon wall. Visions of the lizard’s flight from one rock, to the next, caused the tortoise’s shuffle toward the tip of the ledge appear to be without progress. Darkness reached for the quavering tortoise, as he crept onto the thin sliver of ledge. In the hot sun, he could feel the rock under his weight crack, before he pulled his head and legs deep within the recesses of his shell. Bracing himself and closing his eyes, he waited.
As the sun wriggled toward the outer edge of the canyon, shadows covered the eastern slope. The lizard emerged to perch on the boulders, before scuttling toward the river.
The sandstone beneath the tortoises shell groaned, as the light and heat abandoned the outcropping. The faint echo of the lizard’s voice drifted to the tortoise’s ears. Alarm mingled with confusion. The lizard’s words were not clear. The tortoise ducked his chin, when the rock snapped and broke away. He sucked in a rush of wind, his heart soaring, while his shell plummeted into the canyon.
The lizard reached the shale slope above the river bank, in time to see his friend land in a flurry of dust, onto the slippery slope. The battered shell slid to the bank of the cool blue water; bits of sandstone showering the river bank, like drops of blood against the velvet moss.
Racing toward the dirty tortoise, the lizard winced at a crack along the little animal’s shell. A broken edge fell to the ground beside his friend.
Slowly, one leg, and then another, stretched from the shell, until the tortoise stood and looked the lizard in the eye.
“Have we escaped the sun in time?”
“We are in time,” the lizard assured. “But your shell is cracked and broken.”
The tortoise glanced over his shoulder to survey the damage. “My shell is only scarred. The journey was worth it.”
Bio: Traci McDonald resides, writes and thrives on the northern edge of the Mojave Desert. Despite nearly twenty years of blindness due to diabetic retinopathy, she is an avid reader, lover of music, bicyclist and proud mother of three boys. She has published two novels: Killing Casanova, with Crimson Romance and Burning Bridger with Muse It Up Publishing. Her blogs, Writing Blind and A Few Steps Into The Darkness can be found at http://www.tracimcdonald.blogspot.com and thmcdonald.blogspot.com.
Big Fish Story: creative nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin
[from the "'Round the Lake" column in The Wisconsin Weekly Bugle]
As a sports fisherman, I pay attention to what comes out of the lake. So when this big black Lab swims ashore and crashes our backyard barbeque, I get curious.
The dog’s wearing one tag that says “The Seeing eye,” but I figure it’s his smelling nose that led him to the cookout. A second tag’s got a Chicago phone number, so we call it.
That’s when I spy this fella standing all alone on the dock and he fishes something out of his pocket right when my wife dials the number. And she asks whoever answers if he has a big black dog and he says he had a big black dog and do you have him now? And my wife says “yes, we sure do,” and is she talking to the fella standing all alone on the doc? And he says “yes you are,” and asks if we would be so kind as to walk towards him with the dog while he walks towards us? And my wife asks if she shouldn’t tie a string to his collar for a leash, but he tells her “no, just carry a bratwurst and the dog will follow you anywhere.”
So, when we meet up with the fella, he acts like we’ve brought back his long lost child. He doesn’t know whether to laugh, or cry, or hug the dog, or wallop him, for running off. And it turns out, that the fella is blind, and his name is Jeff, and it’s his guide dog, and his name is Randy. And Jeff says that Randy loves to swim and that he hasn’t got the heart to say no, but that now he’s going to suspend the dog’s swimming privileges. And that’s when we know that dog sure belongs to that Chicago fella, because only a city fella would say “suspend his swimming privileges.” Anybody from these parts would just say he’d “keep the damn dog out of the lake.”
And that’s the big news from this year’s Memorial Day cookout ’round the lake.”
by Susan Muhlenbeck
“Cindy, why are you late?” my boss demanded when I walked into the office that awful spring morning. I was hoping to sneak in quietly, but my boss was sitting at my desk when I arrived.
“Well, something weird happened this morning,” I said shakily. Several of my coworkers stopped what they were doing and turned to look at me.
“I’m waiting,” my boss said impatiently after a brief silence. I felt like running out of the office and finding a place to hide, but I took a deep breath and tried to explain.
I had left my third floor apartment as usual that morning. When I reached the first floor, I heard somebody shout, “Help!” from behind one of the first floor apartment doors. I had just moved into my apartment the week before and didn’t know my neighbors yet. I hesitated just a second, and then walked over to where I heard the shout. I tried the doorknob, but of course the door was locked. Then I noticed that the door was not completely shut, so I pushed the door open without even thinking.
“Hello!” I shouted. “Where are you?” There was no reply. I looked around the living room, which was empty, then ran to the bedroom. There was nobody there. I quickly checked the bathroom and kitchen. The apartment was deserted. Had I just imagined it? I wondered as I searched the apartment again, looking under the bed and in all the closets. I must be hearing things, I thought as I walked back towards the front door.
The phone in the kitchen rang. “Hello!” I heard a voice say loudly. It seemed to be coming from the kitchen. I rushed back into the kitchen and still didn’t see anybody. The phone rang again. “Hello!” the voice said again. This time it seemed to be coming from under the kitchen table.
I looked under the table and spotted a cage with a gray parakeet inside.
“Oh,” I said, jumping back. “Dumb bird!” I said in disgust.
“Shut up!” the parakeet squawked.
“I can’t believe it,” I groaned, smacking my forehead. “I was fooled by a bird!”
“You’re stupid!” the bird yelled.
“Tell me about it,” I muttered. I walked out of the apartment and left the door slightly ajar, just as I had found it.
“Help!” the parakeet cried again as I shut the door.
“Help yourself,” I said under my breath, feeling like the biggest idiot in the world.
I started driving to work when I suddenly noticed the time. I was already 15 minutes late. I fumbled for my cell phone to call the office. Then I remembered my phone was at home. I forgot to take it off the charger that morning.
“And that’s why I’m late.” I finished breathlessly. There was a shocked silence, then two of my coworkers started laughing.
“Unbelievable!” Jane shouted, slapping her leg.
“You should write books,” Mary said, shaking her head in wonder.
My boss sat there, still as a statue. When she finally spoke, I felt chills running down my spine. “I’m going to have to write you up for this,” she said firmly.
“It’s true!” I snapped angrily. They all stared at me. I must have spoken louder than I had intended. “I’m not making it up,” I said more calmly. “You can call my landlord and ask if the tenants in apartment 3 have a parakeet.”
“That’s not the point,” my boss said caustically. “The point is, you’re late, and you didn’t call.”
What could I say? I had already explained that I had forgotten my cell phone. “I’m sorry,” I said lamely.
“I never heard of keeping a bird cage under the table,” Sara said doubtfully.
“Maybe that’s why the poor little guy was yelling for help,” Carol suggested, causing another round of laughter.
My boss got up from my chair and started walking to her office. “One more thing,” she said over her shoulder. “Next time you think somebody is in crisis, call 911. If those tenants came home while you were in their apartment, you could have been shot or something. Leave emergencies to the professionals.”
He Remembers, fiction
by Deon Lyons
The back door opens slowly. There’s no sound. There’s no movement. A blue jay sends a shrill cry across the rolling lawn, as a downy fluff woodpecker pangs away at a suet cake hanging from the limb of an old apple tree. A long haired, grey, black and white dog slowly steps out through the doorway and into the back yard. He is a sixteen-year-old border collie, and he is home. Taking three or four steps, he stops. Looking left, then right, he staggers slightly as he shakes his head, propelling his ears straight out, as only dogs can do.
He licks his chops as the door shuts behind him, then looks straight ahead towards the distant eastern horizon, where a full orange moon is methodically climbing up out of the line of trees, at the far end of the field.
Turning his head, he takes a look at the closed, quiet door, then glances back at the moon. With a slow, purposeful pace, he lowers his muzzle to the ground and starts towards the back right corner of the lawn. A narrow path is worn through the plush green grass, resulting from so many similar trips that have been made across the back yard.
As he reaches the far right corner, he stops and turns back to his right. A section of the lawn, uneven to the eye, marks where a garden used to thrive with aromatic summer scents and bountiful autumn harvests, not so long ago. He remembers playfully running through the rows with an ear of corn, or a stray cucumber in his mouth.
He shakes his head again and turns back towards the far corner of the yard.
Stepping off the edge of the lawn, he walks across a short distance of fresh cut field. The sweet smell is unmistakable in the early evening air. It’s the same scent that he has come to call home, over the last sixteen summers. It’s the smell that takes him back in time.
Walking through the section of hayed field, he makes his way to a set of parallel dirt tracks, that wind out through the open land ahead of him. As he reaches the rutted road, he stops and takes a rest. Sitting so tall, so calm and so proud, he closes his eyes and quietly breathes in the surroundings. He remembers back to so many walks out through the field, as a pup, as an adolescent ball of energy, as a best friend. He gazes at the early rising moon once more, and then, he walks on.
the dirt paths take him out to the cut across, from one section of field, to the other. Walking and looking to his right, he throws his gaze towards the large boulder marking the start of the lengthy field wall. He remembers sitting by the huge stone to rest. He remembers chasing grass hoppers as a pup. He remembers the buzzing of the bees as they bumbled off the first dandelions of spring. He remembers a gentle hand on his head.
He remembers, and then he walks on.
Following alongside the rock wall, he pads along the dirt ruts towards the far, lower end of the field. So many times he has made the trip. So many times he has stopped to watch the deer feeding on the clover. So many times in his past he has walked with his favorite stick in his mouth, and his best friend at his side. Looking towards the rock wall on his right, he remembers another old friend, the woodchuck. He stops and looks along the wall, hoping he might get the chance to pay him a visit once again. A white moth flutters up and out of the rock wall and flitters its way towards him. It lands on the dirt path right in front of him. Looking down at the little flyer, he shakes his head again, scaring the moth up and back along its way.
He turns again towards the road, and walks on.
The half mile stroll towards the rear of the field takes him back through the warm summers, through the colorful falls, through the frozen winter months and through the muddied rows of spring. The trip he has made a thousand times comes rushing towards him one more time.
He reaches the end of the field and walks over to a large rock near the end of the wall. A tall, thin figure from his past sits on the rock and motions to him. He obeys the past and takes his place beside the flat surfaced stone. A whistle from days before echoes through the woods. He looks at the empty surface of the rock beside him, and he remembers. A chipmunk scampers out of the rock wall and right in front of him, stopping a moment to say hello. With a nervous flick of its tail and a high pitched call, it scurries along its way across a section of the field, and disappears, into an adjacent rock wall along the lower border of trees. He remembers chasing some of the little fellow’s relatives up the maples, spruce and apple trees of the back yard.
He looks again at the silent flat surfaced rock.
Slowly he stands. He licks his chops again and turns back in the direction he has come. With another shake of his head, he again lowers his muzzle to the ground and starts his journey back towards home. He remembers running ahead playfully as a pup. He looks to the right as a deer quietly steps out of the woods and stares at him. He stops again and remembers. Turning back towards the flat rock, he hopes to see his tall, thin friend. The rock still remains empty. The moon stares and smiles at him. He turns and looks back to where the deer was, but the field is empty.
Again he shakes his head, and again, he walks on.
Reaching the cut across, he stops and looks back. He waits to see if his friend might be walking far behind him. The dirt road to the back of the field lies empty as his mind fills once again with memories of his past
From the back of the house, he hears a familiar call. His heart races. His pace quickens. His stride finds it’s youthful gait. His tongue wags with anticipation as he turns the corner and steps back onto the coolness of the lawn.
Heading towards the back door, he looks to his left where the garden once stood and journeys back to those fruitful rows of the past. As his pace takes him back across the yard, a smile waits for him by the opened door.
He stops just before reaching the door and slowly turns. He waits to see if his tall, thin friend is coming along. He waits to try and hear that familiar whistle across the field. He waits, and he remembers.
With a wagging tongue and a pet on the head, he skips in through the door and into the garage. Another pet on the head, a scratch behind the ear and one more opened door, he finds himself back inside the house.
Walking over to his kitchen water bowl, he stares down at it. His mind swims with recollections of his past as he laps up the refreshing drink.
Stepping back from his bowl, he stares at the empty table and chairs. Licking his chops, he looks back to the garage door and listens.
Again, he shakes his head.
Slowly, he makes his way through the dining room and towards the living room. He stands in the doorway and stares across the room at an empty easy chair. From another chair to the right, a friendly set of familiar eyes smiles at him as a pair of hands gathers in and starts in on a lap full of yarn.
He stares again at the empty easy chair and then slowly starts towards it.
Lying down against the front of the chair, he rests his head on the seat cushion.
Taking a deep breath, he inhales the comforting scent, he closes his eyes, and he remembers.
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
He’s cuddly and affectionate,
hot chocolate in a mug topped with whipped cream!
When he wags, it’s a dance,
semi-sweet chips in a golden brown cookie.
He’s as sweet as truffles, brownies and walnut fudge.
He makes me smile like chocolate cake with chocolate icing,
and creamy chocolate mousse.
He sincerely believes that
everyone needs a little dark chocolate in their day.
He bounds in to the room wagging and smiling.
His amber bright eyes sparkle with love and delight.
His four lively paws carry him hither and yon.
Losing this lovely, joyful soul will be hard.
He doesn’t understand that there is more to being a guide dog
than being a cuddly labradorable.
As I prepare to let him go his way,
he leaves a dark chocolate paw print on my heart.
Jade’s Conquest, poetry
by Mary-Jo Lord
Ears pinned back.
Fir bristling, as she
dives from counter to floor with a
low growl, and a thud.
She bats at a
red blur as it skids smoothly across
white linoleum, in semidarkness.
She leaps, slides,
finally catches it with
paws and teeth.
Loud, meows follow her
purposeful path to
a Perch high on a shelf.
Her prize secure,
her siren of pride announces:
she has captured and conquered
a red rubber band.