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Fall/Winter 2015/2016 edition of Magnets and Ladders

Magnets and Ladders
Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
Fall/Winter 2015/2016

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


Submission Guidelines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About Behind Our Eyes

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

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

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

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

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


Editors’ Welcome

Hello. I hope you had a great summer and are ready to welcome the cool, blustery days of Autumn. You can read about how some of our contributors appreciate and experience the cooler seasons along with some great holiday stories and poems in our “Seasonal Wonders” and “Holiday Happenings” sections. Visit some interesting places and times in the United States and beyond, and read tributes to some amazing people in our “People and Places” and “Slices of History” sections. It’s all about the element of surprise and surreal experiences in “From Another Realm” and “Not What I Expected.” “The Melting Pot” has some thought provoking articles, and “The Writers’ Climb” is packed with articles and exercises to spark your creativity.

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-eight 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.

Fiction:

  • First Place: The Penny Sheet Man by Brad Corallo
  • Second Place: Connection by Paul D. Ellner
  • Honorable Mention: Waiting for MELINDA by Bill Fullerton
  • Honorable Mention: Different by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega

Nonfiction:

  • First Place: Innocents in the Sand by Leonard Tuchyner
  • Second Place: A Tale of Two Funerals by Rhonda T. Spear
  • Honorable Mention: Freeze! by Susan Muhlenbeck
  • Honorable Mention: There’s a Song in the Air by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Poetry:

  • First Place: Bridgemaker: A Tribute to Maya Angelou by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
  • Second Place: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: A Spirited Acrostic by Donna Grahmann
  • Honorable Mention: Leaves by Paul D. Ellner
  • Honorable Mention: Poeming by Nancy Scott

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

Our editorial staff hopes that you have a great fall and a happy and safe holiday season.


Part I. People and Places

Bridgemaker: A Tribute to Maya Angelou, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

(April 4, 1928-May 28, 2014)

Thank you for all the bridges you built
in your storied 86 years.
Oh, treasured Bridgemaker,
how you crafted
each bridge to which
not dust, but a dream adheres!

Renaissance woman of the real world:
bridges riveted with rainbows,
bridges made of mortar boards,
bridges designed with pages of poetry and pillars of prose
were all your forte.

Memoirist extraordinaire:
with high honors,
you can dance and sing your way
across all the bridges
whose lands, hands, minds, and memoirs
you judiciously joined together
in one magnificent, glowing,
phenomenal life.

Statuesque Queen of Poetry:
one of the highlights of my little life
was watching you, hearing you
on the stage of Milwaukee’s
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
How you womanufactured
so creatively, gently, and expertly
a bridge between that strong stage
and the sell-out audience!
The atmosphere was on the pulse of a Milwaukee morning
and swelled with your grace and grandeur.
Surely, you realized how awestruck we were
as you held us in the palm of your poetic hand.
Certainly, you sensed how we bowed to your majesty
and applauded your panoramic brilliance.
Your wondrous way
of reciting your poems with the poems of others,
your melodious manner of telling stories,
your combining your memorable and superb
speaking voice with your singing voice
are recorded on my creative soul forever.
Being in the audience of one of your phenomenal performances
was one of the greatest privileges of my life.

Thank you
for being the Bridgemaker
who brought together
and embraced with gallant words
so many people
in this poetic world.

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.

Innocents in the Sand, memoir
by Leonard Tuchyner

There is a moment in life which hangs like a leaf in the air, neither falling or rising, suspended in time, an age in which a boy is held perfectly balanced between innocence and knowing. It is a time of sublime, unintended magic, like a flower that reveals itself in the full glory of its bloom for only one day in a year. One day in its life, and then is gone.

Six of us were packed into my father’s car, sometime around 1947. It was our annual summer sojourn from Irvington, New Jersey, to Atlantic City. My skinny
seven-year-old body fit comfortably between my parents in the front seat, while my ample-bodied aunt Tilley sat between my two cousins, Barry and Myrna. My father was very careful in placing my mother’s sister in the middle, to make sure the car was properly balanced. The large, gnarled steering wheel, which my father gripped with considerable practice, gave me a sense of comfort. I felt safety and satisfaction at the way he slipped the car from gear to gear with the steering column shifter. I could almost feel it moving into its slots, as though it had a knowing of how the parts of life fit together in its well-worn and completely reliable way.

Eventually, we arrived at the same two-storey, humble, brick apartment house to which we had carried our suitcases for the last two vacation seasons. The buildings on that street, three blocks from the boardwalk, were the kinds one might expect to find on Baltic Avenue in the game of Monopoly. It was the sort of place that respectable lower-middle-class vacationers would be expected to rent. We leased two rooms on the upper floor. I know it was the upper floor, because I remember a device that was supposed to get you out of the window and on to the ground safely, in the event of a fire. It was a spool of thin rope that attached, somehow, to the escapee, and then played out to lower him or her at a reasonable speed to the pavement below. It fascinated me, and I was sorely tempted to test it out. I didn’t.

I remember creaky, wooden stairs; old, slightly moldy, wood smells; noisy floors, end-of-the-hall bathrooms; backyard showers for washing off salt and sand; a plain, flat, building façade; concrete sidewalk front yard which blistered bare feet. They all made up a kind of charm that only fond memories can appreciate.

The next day was a day on the Steel Pier. My cousin Barry and I took a plunge in an old-fashioned diving bell. I was slightly intimidated as I watched
the metal creature breach the surface of the briny sea like a monster from the deeps. But it was a disappointing ride, since we couldn’t see anything through its porthole into the dirty pea-soup water.

We saw a horse ridden by a woman dive off a tower into a huge tub of water. A man tried to sell people a peculiar toaster. But all of those wondrous and not so wonderful events are pale in my memory compared to my meeting and spending time with Chelsea.

It started when I was hanging around with my cousins, just watching people go by. In days before television, that sufficed as entertainment. A car parked nearby, and a family of vacationers made their way to our boarding house. They were apparently going to be renting another space in the building. I can’t remember any single person in that entourage, except one.

Who knows what can pass between a boy and a girl years before puberty? It cannot be said to be a sexual attraction, yet it is not devoid of gender. Whatever the connection, it was real. It was not a desperate or even overwhelming attraction, but it was rife with inevitability. There was no question but that it was mutual. Yet we had not spoken, and would not have had words to use. Nor had we an intellect with which to rationalize, thank God.

She wore below-the-knee dark shorts and a white shirt. Her hair was jet black and in long pigtails. She was thin, long-limbed and tomboyish. And she smiled even when she was not smiling.

Later that day, after her family had settled in, we met outside, partly by chance, partly by design and completely by divine providence. I was not in the habit of talking to strange girls. They were not cool, at my age. But talking to her was the most natural thing this side of Heaven. It was a comfort level I had heretofore only known with animals. I remember absolutely nothing of what we talked about. It wasn’t important.

The next week was filled with long walks along the beach and digging in the sand for sand crabs. It was our passion. Those walks included the holding of hands. Holding her hand was not electrifying, but it was fulfilling. Oh, there was excitement, to be sure, and she knew that I was a boy, and I knew that she was a girl. But it was the excitement of children waiting for a birthday.

I was teased by my cousins, who might have missed my company. I didn’t like being teased about having a girlfriend. It wasn’t cool. But their teasing in no way affected my liaison.

Her family left before we did. I went back to spending time with my cousins, and was too young to feel the grief of something lost. Still, the world was less colorful for a while. I’m not certain even about her name. I remember her hanging off a metal banister upside- down.

Why do I suffer the grief of loss now, as I remember? Do I miss her, or do I miss the innocence in the sand? Is there a difference?

Bio: Leonard has had Stargardt’s disease which was first noticed in his teenaged years. He is now seventy-five. 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-five years and their two dogs. He is active in the local writing community, which includes attending a poetry critique group and facilitating a Writing for Healing and Growth group at the Charlottesville Senior Center. He has recently joined Behind Our Eyes. His hobbies include T’ai Chi and gardening. Leonard is semi-retired and still has a small counseling practice.

Mt. St. Helens, before and after, nonfiction
by Ernie Jones

Mount St. Helens blew her top on May 19, 1980, a beautiful, warm Sunday morning. The day started off bright and clear and I listened to the birds singing in the trees while I worked in my garden. Living up in the rugged hills of North East Washington, we enjoyed smog free, clean air. This morning, the sky was nearly clear, its deep blue broken only by a few fluffy clouds silently floating above me. The breeze was gentle, as it rustled the leaves in the trees overhead.

Around noon, the sky grew dark with what appeared to be storm clouds boiling in from the west, but they didn’t look like any storm clouds that I had ever seen. There was an ominous feeling in the air. The darkness quickly blocked out the sun’s warm rays, like a heavy, huge roll of dirty wool being dragged overhead, blotting out the blue sky. These gray/brown clouds appeared to be boiling and growing more dense as the time passed. I told Dorothy we must be in for a nasty storm. These clouds looked like they were full of dirt from some giant dust storm. The air seemed to stand still in the trees, yet these clouds boiled forth and on as far as our eyes could see to the east. It was shortly before 2:00 that afternoon when the phone call came, telling us the news. As time passed, we heard more of the violent eruption and deaths.

For weeks, the people living West of the beautiful mountain peak had lived in fear that it might blow. Many living closer, some right at its foot, had refused to leave. Now it was too late. Several feet of snow had melted and mud, lava and other debris filled the once serene Spirit Lake. Water gushed down the rivers from the mountain. The river beds filled with ash, silt and boiling water, wiping out highways and other back roads, leaving no trace that man had ever lived there. The ash and lava made a new dam across the now much higher Spirit Lake. As the water rose behind this fragile dam, Fear increased that a great catastrophe was imminent. If this dam burst, many towns like Kelso, Longview and more would likely be flooded, if not washed away.

The danger was great, but as time passed and the dam settled down and held firm, the fear lessened. Still it was a long time before the town’s residents could rest with more ease.

I had been on or near the mountain many times in the past. I hiked trails in its shadow, as they twisted around lakes and smaller mountains. I even climbed high up on the sleeping giant several times. I had reveled in its beauty: crystal, clear lakes; giant evergreen trees, which gave way to scrub brush higher up; the solitude one could find along the trails and the joy at seeing the wildlife. Now it was all gone, “Like the end of the world,” I mused. The pictures I saw in the newsprint and on TV looked nothing like the beautiful land I loved. All of the trees were gone; in their place were dead snags and a ground littered with fallen tree trunks, all stripped of any green thing. There wasn’t a sign of life for miles around the once majestic peak, whose top was now nearly 2,000 feet lower than before the eruption.

I thought of the ones who died in their unwillingness to leave their beloved mountain. Refusing to believe that danger was near, these folk scoffed at the officials who had tried to make them leave the dangerous mountain. “Why it has been here for years and has not blown for a hundred years. Look at all this beauty; there is no danger to me up here.” They had lost their lives, buried in up to 100feet of mud, ash and lava. The once beautiful Spirit Lake, with one of the most beautiful camp grounds in the state was also lost.

Thirty years after this destruction, my brother took Dorothy and me to visit this area. A new highway traversed high up on the hillside, far above the now more gentle river below. Ten to 15 foot high pine trees were spotted, struggling to transform the land into a beautiful woodland. But the scar remained; rotting stumps and logs could be seen, as they slowly decayed. Animal life was also returning and a new highway ran to the lake. But the park was gone; only a much deeper lake exists. Other beauty was wiped out. But earth was struggling to rebirth and at least there was hope in regeneration.

Bio: Ernie, a registered nurse, was forced to take early retirement due to eyesight loss shortly after Mt. St. Helens blew. In the past years, he has published one book and has many articles in several magazines. He has had a monthly column in his local newspaper for the past 12 years, where he strives to encourage the blind community and show the sighted world that blind people are valued members of society.

Scenic Iowa, poetry
by Shawn Jacobson

Scenic Iowa does not awe with mighty mountains
or roar with crashing ocean waves.
She does not amaze with stark desert vistas
awesome with wondrous red rocks,
nor does she dazzle with towering cityscapes
crowned with a myriad twinkling lights.

I am in my aunt’s garden. The daylilies
red, gold and white; were inspired by Father.
This blue tree painted for reasons forgotten
stands out among green leaves and yellow fruit.
Scenic Iowa appears as beauty from mad color’s welter.
I walk central campus, as great trees
dark green reach for evening’s jewel blue sky.
Scenic Iowa peaks out at me
from the distant, building studded horizon.
As I walk this ground
that time and adventure taught me to love.
My mother awaits me at journey’s end,
with hugs, food and coffee.
I have come far to see my childhood home
traveling dark highways, over mountains, through storms.
Scenic Iowa appears in loving eyes,
bidding me savor this precious time.

Scenic Iowa is modest, in her rolling green hills.
She shyly looks out from wooded streambeds.
Chaste she appears in wintry white
when snow covers the ground.
Even in November’s brown she calls through iron cold,
beckoning with scenic love.

Bio: Shawn Jacobson has been writing for several years. His newest article, “Making it Count,” about being a statistician for Iowa State’s hockey club, is published in the Fall 2015 edition of Future Reflections, the magazine of NFB’s Parents and Teachers of Blind Children’s affiliate. Shawn lives in Olney, MD with his wife Cheryl, his daughter Zebe and his son Stephen, as well as with a collection of muts.

Dedicated To My Daughter, haiku
by Terri Winaught

With skill, grace, and ease,
They weave patterns of beauty:
Her trained dancing feet.

Bio: Blind since birth, Terri grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she attended the overbrook School for the Blind. At Overbrook, Terri discovered and began cultivating her love of writing. For the past 43 years, Terri has lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has been married to Jim Winaught for ten years and is the proud mother of two gifted adult children. Terri’s interests include: attending Pirates baseball games; dining with friends at IHOP, since she just loves pancakes; and enjoying soul music from the 1960′s.

TRIBUTE TO TANEA, poetry
by Terri Winaught

I wish I could have known you, baby girl:
Born in a decade of challenge, change, pain and promise.

I wish I would have known you, when your voice became a harp that enchanted listeners, soared to the sky like a robin,
and sang the sun to sleep.

If I would have known you, when cancer began stealing so much like the cowardly, cruel thief that it is,
I would have shaved my head if that would have
helped you feel less alone and different.

When I get to meet you, I’ll have so much to tell you.

I’ll tell you how happy I was to meet your father
after 50 years of waiting and wanting.

I’ll tell you what a warm,
welcoming and gentle woman your mother is.

I’ll tell you that your daughter is
such a precious, priceless gift,
that your soul must have sung lullabies of love
when you first saw her.

I know I’ll get to meet you when
the fevered pitch of my Earthly life is done,
and I’m called to my eternal home.

With eyes that will see for the first time,
I’ll survey the features that make you special,
embrace you, Tanea,
as if I’ve always known you,
and our dancing feet will create works of beauty.

When trumpets blare along gold-paved streets,
we’ll know that our tears
have turned into REJOICING,
and life is now complete!

A Chance Meeting with Frank Sinatra, memoir
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.

When I was growing up in the ’40s, our family lived in a suburb of Chicago. Sometimes my parents and brother and I would ride the “El”, or elevated train, downtown to go to a movie and eat at a restaurant, often Toffenetti’s or Pixley and Ehlers. The big theaters at that time were the United Artists, the State-Lake, the Chicago Theater, and the Oriental. Most of them featured a movie as well as a stage show with acrobats and jugglers, smart dog tricks and comedians, and, later, the big name singers, soon to become popular on television screens across the country.

On one brisk autumn evening, when I was maybe 10 or 11, and my brother was 8 or 9, our mother shepherded us onto the El, which at that time amounted to a noisy and jerky ride on coarse seats made of woven, shellacked straw. On the older cars, the straw broke and made for prickly punctures on bare legs. We were to meet our father downtown and go to a movie and eat in one of the big restaurants. As the El gradually started its rackety ascent, we rose above the rooftops of the houses below, and it seemed like we were close enough to touch the windows of the second storey buildings as we rattled past. On arriving at our destination in the “Loop” the El made around the downtown area, we walked down many steps to reach street level.

I don’t remember which movie we saw or what stage show was featured on this one particular evening. What I do remember is hurrying along the street to a restaurant a few blocks from the theater. A short distance from the restaurant, my Dad suddenly stopped and exclaimed, “That’s Frank Sinatra!” Sure enough, two men were coming toward us, and one of them was indeed “Ol’ Blue Eyes” himself. My Dad, ever the eternal extrovert, approached the
startled singer, and started shaking his hand.

“Frank!” he said, “My name is Frank, too,” and pointing to my brother, “This here’s my boy, and his name is Frank, too.”

Sinatra may have mumbled something in reply as his companion ushered him to a waiting cab. My Dad and brother, and the two other non-Frank named members of the family watched in awe for a moment before entering the restaurant. When we were seated, Dad explained to us that the other man was Irv Kupcinet, popular author of “Kup’s Column” a feature which appeared in the Chicago Sun Times.

Many years later, when my brother was an assistant state’s attorney, Kup mentioned his name as one of the attendees at a political or social event. I doubt that he remembered his first encounter with him as a little boy with the excited father that chilly night on a downtown Chicago sidewalk. For me, however, it has remained a warm memory of a happy childhood.

bio: Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P. is a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. She has been a principal and taught in Catholic elementary schools. She was a social services counselor for a Vision Rehab Center in Jacksonville, Florida for twenty years. She enjoys facilitating a Peer Support Group, a Talking Book Club, and participating in “Women of Vision”, who meet monthly to write and “do” art together. She has been legally blind due to retinitis pigmentosa and other complications since 1990. Her poems and articles have appeared in the Behind Our Eyes anthologies, The Braille Forum, Dialogue Magazine, and Magnets and Ladders.

Argentine Tango Dancer, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin

The last leg of my trip is on the #92 CTA bus. Across the aisle sits a young lady who converses in a clear, friendly, sober voice. She flew in from Brooklyn to spend the holiday with her family. We talk about my Seeing Eye dog and her cats and my cats. We talk of the vibrancy of city life, about what is similar and different between New York and Chicago.

We talk about places we have been. I tell her I’ve been away for a week and that I’m eager to be home with my wife to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. She tells me that last winter, she took a vacation to Buenos Aires and met an itinerant Argentine tango dancer.

I’m about to say, “How romantic!” But I’m unsure what she means by the word, “met.” So I say, “When I was young, I met a Milanese girl on the Italian Riviera and I remember her to this day.” And she says she knows exactly what I mean, and from the lilt of her voice, I know she loved her Argentine tango dancer. But she lives in Brooklyn and he lives like a gypsy in Argentina. And I live in Chicago and the Milanese girl lives God knows where, it’s been thirty years.

“You meet the most interesting people when you travel,” she says.

And I say, I’ve never been to Buenos Aires but I’ll bet it’s beautiful,”

She sighs but doesn’t say a word. And the bus rolls on and people whom I see as shadows get on and off the bus and pretty soon will be my stop. And I just know the young lady would not have got off the bus without saying good-bye to me and my dog. And then I hear a little sniffle and I know she’s still here and she’s far away, sitting quietly, remembering her Argentine tango dancer.

bio: Jeff Flodin lives in Chicago with his wife and Seeing Eye dog. He is the author of the blog, Jalapenos in the Oatmeal: Digesting Vision Loss http://jalapenosintheoatmeal.wordpress.com/. He is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Art’s Creative Access Fellowship. His work has appeared in numerous publications. He is a licensed social worker in the state of Illinois. He has lived with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) for three decades. He credits his wife and his sense of humor for maintaining his sanity.

I Walk Among Them, poetry
by Mary-Jo Lord

At the Maru Koala and Animal Park,
kangaroos and wallabies
roam through trees and scrub,
rest along foot paths.

Paper bag of feed in hand,
I’m surrounded by kangaroos!
Some brush up against me.
Some stand back, more timid.

I listen to their open mouthed, hollow crunching,
as they are hand fed.
Soft, gentle mouths delicately extract
every crumb, as the hands of
wallabies and joeys shovel food from my
hand, to their mouths.

They eat.
I investigate.

I stroke long, rounded ears that
stand straight up on small heads.
My fingers come alive as they pet soft, fine fur
warmed by body heat and afternoon sun.

I don’t smell them as they approach.
Their coats are flawless, as if they’ve been groomed.
My hands smell surprisingly clean,
no trace of animal scent.

I touch a long tail and a back paw.
He moves away.
Kangaroo code for “no.”

I’m captivated by the flexibility of a large hand with
five long, slender fingers with
curved claws that stretch on forever. If he stood,
we would be face to face. If he chose to box,
I wouldn’t stand a chance. He is patient,
as he allows me to flex his fingers back and forth.

I pet little wallabies and bigger kangaroos.
An intense, powerful sudden movement startles me as
the hind quarters of a boomer move effortlessly as he hops.

A wallaby licks my hand;
her tongue warm and soft as a puppy’s.

It’s time to leave.
Reluctantly, I give her ears a final scratch, bury my fingers in her
silky coat and hold out my hand for
one last kiss.

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 both Behind Our Eyes anthologies 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.

Spectacled Flying Foxes, Pantoum
by Mary-Jo Lord

Their screeches and wings fill the sky.
Flying up to 40 kilometers per hour,
they are vital for seed dispersal in Australian forests.
Pollinating the rainforests, they travel 50 kilometers a night.

Flying up to 40 kilometers per hour,
with wingspans up to 1.6 meters,
pollinating the rainforests, they travel 50 kilometers a night.
They don’t use echolocation, and can see up to a kilometer at night.

With wingspans up to 1.6 meters,
beating 150 beats per minute, cross pollination always their task.
They don’t use echolocation, and can see up to a kilometer at night.
They always live close to rainforests.

Wings beating 150 beats per minute, cross pollination always their task.
Fruit and nectar are their nourishment of choice.
Always living close to rainforests,
their days are spent in treetop communal camps.
Fruit and nectar are their nourishment of choice.
They are classified as “Vulnerable” by the Australian Government.
Their days are spent in treetop communal camps.
Visitors to Cairns are astonished by their nightly fly outs.

Classified as “Vulnerable” by the Australian Government,
they are vital for seed dispersal in forests.
Visitors to Cairns are astonished by their nightly fly outs.
Their screeches and wings fill the sky.

Segway to Enhanced Vision, nonfiction
by Barbara Wysocki

With only an afternoon, how do I explore Edmonton’s wooded and open acres of city center parks? There are more than 90 miles of trails. How will I get to the gardens, award-winning landscape art, gazebos and open-air stages? I’m not interested in renting a mountain bike or rollerblades. Do I dare try a Segway Personal Transporter? Riders of these stand up, two-wheelers need only keep their balance and focus their eyes forward. Sounds easy. Just one problem. I can’t see straight ahead. Two decades ago the last fragments of my central vision permanently eroded. I’ll skip the medical data on my eye condition — macular degeneration. Please don’t mention glasses, they’re not an option. Suffice it to say, I don’t drive a car and piloting any vehicle is questionable. Can I safely maneuver a Segway?

I’ve overcome fear of the unknown numerous times in the last twenty years. Take that time off the coast of Antarctica sitting in a crowded zodiac. I was the only one willing to slide over to another open rubber boat so we all got better views of a nearby Fin whale. After the earthquake in Haiti, I joined art therapists working in the camps for homeless survivors. Our only protection were the words on the back of our shirts printed in Creole explaining, “We are here to help the children.” It took courage to ask for directions when Tokyo’s maps and street signs were an enigma. I don’t speak Japanese so there was a lot of bowing and pointing but eventually I found the Imperial Garden. Menus in dark restaurants are minor tripwires, but avoiding all the tiny bones in misordered chicken feet added adventure to my dining excursion in Singapore.

So why am I hesitating to hop on board a mechanized scooter considered helpful for the mobility disabled? Maybe I’m remembering a friend whose 20/20 vision didn’t protect him from toppling over when he clipped a curb in Italy. Though I can’t see well enough to thread a needle, the view overhead is clear. A carpe diem sky encourages me. I head down to River Valley Adventure — headquarters for Segway Edmonton’s one-hour rolling tour.

First impression — success is possible. I quietly explain my visual situation to Veronica, the instructor. She inspires confidence. “You can do it. We’ll take it one step at a time.”

Strapping on a helmet, I join five people waiting beside a lineup of bright platforms with tall handlebars that remind me of left-behind children’s toys. After she sets up the balancing function, Veronica begins with simple tasks. We’re a mix of veteran and first timers stepping on, stepping off and gently leaning to move our Segways forward and back. Turning is all in our hands as we head right or left by pressing to either side. Relaxing with a few yoga breaths eases the process as I halt simply by standing up straight. I’m careful, not cocky, but ready to start as we get the go-ahead.

We glide along paved pathways down to the North Saskatchewan River. Often my eyes see the world as an Impressionist painting, an adjustment I now appreciate. The Riverfront Promenade is a perfect photo op stop with Edmonton’s business towers a vaguely ethereal backdrop. The river is nourished by the glaciers draining from the Columbia Icefield many miles away in the Canadian Rockies. Freshness and a sense of freedom emanate from the blue waters weaving amid the city-center’s 22 intersecting parks. Many of Alberta’s music, art and theatre festivals are staged in this patchwork of parkland. Last night the annual Folk Festival closed with a rain storm. Maybe that’s why today the river’s lively, almost musical.

By settling into the fourth or fifth slot in our phalanx, I follow the leader as we roll smoothly through the Louise McKinney Riverfront, a gateway to this valley’s 18,000-acre greenway. Veronica proclaims it as “North America’s largest urban park.” No backpackers pass us, but this is a portion of the Trans Canada Trail. There are plans for the Trail to reach from the Atlantic to the Pacific and north to the Arctic Ocean by June of 2017; this walkway also hosts serious hikers. We pull up to one of the Trail’s pavilions. The Trail is funded by donations, and its walls are lined with plaques honoring donors. One of my new friends, Judy, is looking for her dad’s memorial. Though I’d like to help her, my eyes aren’t up to reading the names. This small Trail enclosure is also designed as a rest shelter, so I step off my Segway. But even with minimal vision, I notice that Judy’s grown somber as she finds her dad’s plaque. My quick hug doesn’t require much sight, but I can see her smile come back.

Moods rise, and so do we, riding along the World Walk. Veronica points to the path’s lampposts sporting Poetry Rings. These steel bands are etched with verse by Ted Blodgett, the city’s former poet laureate. His 40 lyrical passages reflect nature and local cultural diversity. These bands blend so perfectly into the landscape, I need our guide to point them out. No way to jot them down now, we’re surging amid the hillside gardens. The flower montage includes shell pink, scarlet and saffron yellow blossoms. We don’t stop, but we definitely smell the roses. At the hilltop Chinese Garden, there’s a panoramic pause to take in the threading river and the skyline framed in sun-enriched blue. The view is only figuratively breathtaking since the Segway makes the climb easy.

Yes, I say easy. Somehow in a mere 60 minutes, I exchanged anxiety for assurance. My victory lap is a gently graded downhill slope. I’m no Segway superstar but I remain upright without mishap as we head to our final stop at the Urban Green Cafe. Roving on wheels, I’ve compiled a personal vision of this cityscape sculpted in green. More than a collection of pictures, I’ve got a sensory mix — rippling water, pungent blooms, a friend’s embrace. Without a scratch, I glow with self discovery. New experiences are in the eye of the beholder. I’m not sure I’m ready to hang glide or ice climb, but anytime I overcome fear, I open a door to my own vision of a new place. As long as I don’t let my vision issues define my travel choices, there’s no limit to what I see.

Bio: Barbara Wysocki cooks octopus curry in Zanzibar, assists art therapists in Haiti and lets penguins peck her boots in Antarctica. Legally blind with juvenile macular degeneration for over twenty years, she’s traveled to every continent during those years. Barbara writes about travel, art and children’s literature. Her articles have appeared in Saturday Evening Post, National Geographic Traveler, Yankee, Art & Antiques and Christian Science Monitor. She’s worked as a children’s audiobook reviewer for School Library Journal. Barbara won the 2004 Travel Classics Writer’s Contest on New York. She’s volunteered in Haiti, Mexico and Kenya. Visit her website at http://www.barbarawysocki.com

Rolling And Raining on a River, nonfiction
by Barbara Wysocki

“It never rains in the desert!” chortles Travis. Despite the downpour, our Colorado River guide fries eggs on the open grill he set up last night. He’s drenched, but he’s grinning.

It’s day two of rafting through the Grand Canyon. I stand gulping breakfast with two Swedes, a family of five from the U.K. and a cohort of ten adventurers drawn from California to Connecticut. The rocky canyon rim above us is gulping the rain. Soon a tiny trickle creeps through the sandy beach — last night’s campsite. Suddenly, Joe, a well-muscled young Brit, shovels a thin canal so the pop-up waterway bypasses our ad hoc kitchen/dining room. Arrayed in a rainbow of raincoats, we laugh while two guys wager if the narrow rivulet will disappear or seep into the swollen, silt-stained river.

I’m not a fan of rustic recreation, but I chuckle like a toddler. Usually my version of roughing it is a hotel without a swimming pool. Nevertheless, when my friend Pat told me her dream was to raft the Grand Canyon, I jumped to join her. When John Wesley Powell headed through this natural wonder in 1869, he called it “the Great Unknown.” It’s the same for me, since I was confident in Pat’s camping experience. Then an injury kept her home. This is not exactly how I pictured my four-day rafting trip, but intermittent cloudbursts make us all giddy. Turns out, even soggy bacon and eggs taste quite good when the setting is stunning. We’re almost the last trip for Western River Expeditions this season, which makes me one of only 4,000 visitors they are permitted to help ride the rapids in one of the earth’s deepest canyons. Its access is monitored to preserve what took six million years to create.

Whoa, the cart is before the horse here. Let’s rewind 48 hours to the beginning of the voyage. I tote no more than 20 lbs of gear as I depart Las Vegas on a chartered plane headed for the Bar 10 Ranch on the canyon’s north rim. From 10,000 feet the landscape reminds me of my grandson’s sandbox — rocks piled along a narrow, serpentine pathway. After a dinner of grass-fed beef and a cowboy/cowgirl musical revue, I choose to overnight in a converted Conestoga wagon. A bit cool in mid-September, it gives me glimpses of a waxing moon ducking the clouds. In the morning, a helicopter ferries us down to the river near the Whitimore Wash. This curve is often a transit point, and we trade places with the passengers who arrived with Travis, his mom Judy and Shad who pilots our raft. Those three have shepherded everyone who climbed aboard at Lee’s Ferry more than 180 miles upriver. Now those smiling folks head for the helicopter as we stuff our duffels, cameras and toiletries into special “dry bags.” We hear a safety tutorial before we don our life jackets. Set to ride along to Lake Mead, we push off by mid-morning.

Our 18′ by 37′ J-rig vessel has three seating options. Big splash lovers hang onto ropes attached across the five wide pontoon-like tubes that keep us afloat. Higher, and hopefully drier, there’s a bench. Just behind that bench, the cautious sit atop waterproof-wrapped supplies. Shad dubs it the “chicken coop” and it’s where I settle next to my new friend, Chris. We paraphrase Shakespeare, agreeing, “Discretion is the better part of valor.”

Treated to our first set of rapids in a few minutes, several of us squeal. A thrill, even though the bumpy water called Whitimore Rapids is only rated 2 to 3 on the Grand Canyon white water scale which goes up to10. With a waterproof notebook in hand, I direct my attention to the canyon walls rising up to a mile above us. I set my imagination on overdrive as I conjure castles, monorails, cathedrals, sports arenas, glaciers and icicles. I even see giant asparagus spears in the rock formations. The boulders and sky keep filling my mental crayon box with burnt sienna, brick red and turquoise blue.

We share the river with kayakers and smaller oar powered boats, but moving up to the bench is wild enough for me as we ride through higher rated Little Bastard Rapids, past Kolb Falls. Late in the afternoon, we pull up to the bubbling sulfur pool called Pumpkin Springs. Looks like a massive Halloween decoration, but it doesn’t smell like rotten eggs. The water has a slippery feel that reminds me of the Dead Sea. On a beach surrounded by immense slabs of stone smooth as a giant set of blocks, we put up our cots and tents. My tent mate is 87-year-old Ruth, she’s an artist, quickly pulling out her sketchbook. After a spaghetti dinner, Ruth tucks into the tent and I bed down under the clouds. There are no stars. In the middle of the night, pin prick drops of rain wake me. With the river passing in a murmur, I sit up to decide if I can wrestle my cot into the tent. Steadily the raindrops graduate to freckle-size, so I gather up my sleeping bag to snuggle on the tent floor. As the pattering increases outside, I sleep soundly.

Dramatic canyon walls wrap around our portable toilet niche when I walk over under partly cloudy skies. Back in camp, I ladle the cowboy coffee carefully because it’s ground beans are loose in the boiling water. As we gather at the grill, the skies open on the soon-chortling Travis. Fortunately the trip’s last cloud departs shortly before we pull out for a full day. I rub on sunscreen as we float on a peaceful patch of water until we tie up at Three Springs. Climbing up the path we hike past barrel, fish hook, ocotillo, yucca and prickly pear cactus. We ford shallow water, entering a barren formation once home to an Anasazi clan — likely equal to us in number. In addition to seeing the ancient grindstone, we peek at a fading petroglyph. Water runs free this morning, but Shad explains premature death was common for these people. Returning to the raft, we descend a twisting path as a yellow butterfly flutters around us. Perhaps it’s a spirit of the ancients wishing us farewell.

Concerns about flash flooding cancels our stop at the Travertine Grotto today, but our companions urge Ruth and me to straddle the tubes upfront. Laughing, we agree. As we fly over the Big Daddy Rapids, we catch the biggest romp on this trip. Each whitewater interlude we navigate rolls and tosses us differently. This time we are literally airborne, so we hang on as waves wash over us. Later, feeling at home, several people lounge and sunbathe between rapids. Arriving at our last night’s camp ground, Shad reflects on how it’s changed since he was last here, “It’s eroded a lot in two weeks.”
Less space means closer tents tonight, but riding the rapids builds friendships quickly. Camp chairs in a line, Chris and her husband Frank offer me one of their beers. We watch large branches churn down the river. A grill-baked chocolate cake tops off steak and potatoes. Then Shad shares poetry and Travis brings out his guitar. We spontaneously duet, Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice it’s Alright.” Nightfall means bedtime.

The stars make a strong comeback tonight. Occasionally, a commercial flight adds a moving star. I also scan the ground concerned that the kangaroo mouse who got into the trash earlier might return. Rattlesnakes and skunks also dwell here, but thank goodness none tonight. Most of all, I wait for the moon to rise. It rewards with a full circle tonight — bright enough to read a book. Instead, bathed in nature’s light and listening to a canyon wren’s chorus, I slip off to sleep.

I wake wishing this wasn’t our last day. Pancakes and pack up, soon we shove off under cerulean skies. Our highlight today is a ride over Separation Rapids. No squeals, just smiles and an exchange of quips. Our bond, though temporary, is very comfortable. Separation marks the place where three of Powell’s men hiked out and were never seen again. Compared to that expedition, my journey is a cakewalk, yet I find my reaction matches Powell’s, “The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.” Dripping or dry, I’m humbled by the grandeur wrought by wind, water and time. What I can express is my gratitude for new friends, caring guides and memories that leave me speechless.


Part II. Slices Of History

The Penny Sheet Man, fiction
by Brad Corallo

I am an old man now with swollen joints and a liver pretty much shot to hell, but I still set up my chair and writing table when “Old Sparky” comes to town. Those self righteous guardians of justice set up their show on the empty stretch of waist ground down by the river. My work has taken me all over the south from Florida to Texas. It all began with hangings.

When I was an unworldly young lad, my daddy would take me to see “the ultimate entertainment.” The first was in New Orleans, the Big Easy, that great city which is like no other. A place steeped in sin, The Big Easy is also magic, music, food, spirits of every kind and an unabashed love of spectacle.

I remember my introduction to New Orleans as if it were yesterday and not 70 years ago. Bands played; hawkers and barkers sold and promoted home remedies for everything. Enticing, freshly prepared delicacies with beguiling fragrances could arouse hunger in a dead man. Gypsies and fortune tellers offered their dubious wisdom about one’s future and everything else. There was an air of carnival about it all.

As soon as the clocks in the church steeples chimed 6:00 p.m., everything quieted down accept for the drum beating its mournful rhythm while the prisoners were slowly marched up to the gallows. That first time they only executed 5, 4 men and a woman. Their faces and voices are etched into my soul forever.
Horrible and fascinating as these hangings were to a young boy, the event which was to provide the shape for my life was meeting the “penny sheet man.”

He was positioned to the left of the gallows. He had a table with stacks of his handwritten wares. Two urchins circulated among the crowd and hawked them shouting, “Yours for a penny: sins, stories and confessions of God’s wayward children, soon to be angels. Yours for a penny! Get ‘em while you can.” The penny sheet man had an old guitar and sang of the hapless souls, lined up waiting for death: “Poor old hanging Jane, Her life has been pain! But one night she got bolder with the tyrant who sold her and cut out his black, greedy heart.”

Drawn by the music, Daddy and I edged closer to the table. When the penny sheet Man’s song was over, he beckoned to my daddy: “Good hangin’ day! Greetins and felicitations! Five souls, five sheets, bet your boy would treasure such a memento. What do you say, my good man? Memories and tributes, a sad day which lives forever in my work. How ’bout it, fine sir?” My daddy brought me up to the table, gave the penny sheet man a nickel, and got a sheet about each of “them wayward children.” During this transaction, the dealer of death ditties (or so he called himself) looked straight into my eyes and said, “I can see that you will study the sheets and that you will work for me one day sooner than you think.” After that, my daddy got us away from the table pretty damn quick; but as the cries of the executed reverberated through the square, I had the strangest feeling amidst my sense of cold dread for the spectacle before me. I somehow knew that the penny sheet man had spoken true.

Looking back now, it is strange how fast it all happened. I musta been about 7 when I first met the penny sheet man. We had a small farm in those days. Farm may be too grand a word for it. We had a little unpromising patch of dirt with some vegetables, beans, melons and a few chickens and ducks in St. Mary Parish Louisiana. Not long after I met the penny sheet man, my daddy succumbed to the “coughin sickness” and had gone home to the Lord before we could say “bless his soul.” My mother, my older sister and I tried to hold out with the farm but it was no good. My sister purposed to go north to find work and we never saw her again. My Mama took to the bottle and ended sellin’ her body on Gin Lane in Baton Rouge. By my 11th birthday, I found myself alone on the road headed back to The Big Easy. I got by mostly pimping girls for an evil old drunken scoundrel, stealing and a bit of tap dancing which I was right good at. But as fate and providence would have it, I once again crossed paths with the penny sheet man.

As I had some learnin and could read and write quite tolerable, I began to pick up his writing craft. I traveled with him all over on freight trains, wagons, broken down farm carts and on foot all over the “killin circuit,” as it was called then. My life turned into travel, writing, executions and lengthier and lengthier bouts of worshipping the Gin bottle. It was a hard life though an interesting one. I met a lot of people and beguiled many women with my ditties and songs as I learned music and could sing pretty good. My reputation as a poet, singer, rapscallion and in later years as a drunkard grew and spread.

Times changed and Old Sparky (the modern and humane portable electric chair) slowly replaced the hooded hangman and his tools. From Mobile to Birmingham, Birmingham to Memphis, from Memphis to Sant AnTone and even places like Angola Prison and Parchman Farm, we went and sold our sheets.

The days turned into years and the years turned into decades. On some date lost to history, my mentor was killed by an outraged whore with a broken whisky bottle. Now that I am old, it all seems to have gone by faster than a stolen kiss from a fine society lady but when it was happenin, it felt natural and right.

Today there gonna burn 3 lost souls, 2 cruel and violent men and one poor slow lad from Texas, who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. His sheets will make me some coin this day. I can hear the band setting up and tuning their instruments, the hawkers are putting up their booths and a carney with a Ferris Wheel and Calliope are taking their stand on the western side of the pitch. I reach my hand into my pocket, remove my sterling silver flask and take a restorative slug of Gin. Coming up the road are 3 prison vehicles and the big old flat bed truck with a black tarp covering Old Sparky. As I tune my vintage 12 string guitar, I ponder the never ending nature of such spectacles and how they have been a part of folks’ entertainment for thousands of years in one form or another. So many lives destroyed, wasted and lost and only me a drunken old penny sheet man to remember and offer my tattered tributes. They tell me that in the end the Good Lord will save us all. But sad to say, this drunken old fool fears that they might be wrong!

NOTE: The inspiration for this piece is Mark Knopfler’s haunting song “Madam Geneva’s.” However it was Actually Chris Smither’s cover version which hit me so hard. I became fascinated with the idea of being this most unusual kind of writer. I did a bit of research about public executions and endeavored to be as accurate as I could. Both Mississippi and Louisiana were states that utilized portable electric chairs. Old Sparky however was actually the name for the electric chair at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining NY. It was used as I felt it better fit the story. The portable electric chair in Mississippi was actually known as “Gruesome Girt. They would execute condemned individuals in the county or parish in which their crime or crimes were committed. Any errors or incorrect information are solely the author’s responsibility.

Bio: Brad Corallo is a58 year old visually impaired writer of multiple genres. He is a Long Island native born and raised. His work has been published in Magnets & Ladders and in the William B. Joslin Outstanding Performance Awards Program Journal – “NYSID Preferred Source Solutions.” Brad has been a life long student of fine wine, food, music, books, several professional sports and relationships of all kinds. He makes his living as a certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC) and mental health therapist.

The Telegraph, fiction
by Nicole Massey

Michael led me into the telegraph room, the constant click of the machines making it hard for me to get a read of its size. He placed my hand on the back of a chair, and I felt around to make sure it wasn’t occupied. As I sat, he touched my shoulder and stood behind me. That touch comforted me a bit, but I was still apprehensive. After all, this was my only real chance to be something besides a burden on my family.

“Okay, big brother, let’s see if you can do this.”

I nodded. “Okay, let’s start.” So much was riding on this.

He did something and the telegraph sounder in front of me made a few slow clicks. I listened.

“Sounds like a start of signal. Ready?”

Michael cleared his throat and I heard the sound of something hitting a pad of paper. “I’m ready, start dictating.”

I swept my hand across the table and found the sending key. I tapped a ready signal and listened. The operator at the other end started slow, and I suspected it was just a way to warm up the newcomer. I listened and called out letters first, then I got into the stride and started calling out words. The operator had a strong hand, with clean code clarity. At the stop point I sent a confirmation and Michael read over the message.

“Ted, you’re amazing. I’ve never seen anyone with your ability to put all of this together before.”

I nodded. “It’s something about losing my sight, I guess.”

“Ready for the next one?”

“Go ahead.”

I sent a ready message, telling the operator on the other end I could handle faster speeds. The next one came through a lot quicker, but I kept up. It went like this, faster and faster, until I reached the normal maximum for telegraph messages – around forty words a minute from what Michael said. After the fastest message I sent a confirmation and thanks.

Bud, the office manager, cleared his throat to let me know he was there. “Excellent job, Ted. You’re hired. I’ll have to have someone write things down for you.”

Relief washed over me. This was my first job since the war, and for a long time I thought I’d never do anything worthwhile again. That spark in the powder bucket left me feeling useless and a waste of the resources it’d take to feed and house me, and to make it worse, we weren’t even at a battle when it happened.

“Thanks, Bud. Who you going to get to write for me?”

“Jonah Simmons’ boy Caleb. He’s good with his letters, but he can’t make out the messages from the sounder. It’s a perfect match. You start tomorrow.”

I had to ask, “Bud, I’ve heard stories about how the old hands play tricks on the new operators. I think it’s called Salting?”

“Yeah, they do that sometimes. I’ve told them not to do that with you, and you won’t get it from down the line either. You were on with Greenville, and EC is all business.”

That was good to know, as I’d heard about some of the problems with Salting. I felt Michael’s hand on my shoulder. “Ted, you ready to go?”

“Yeah. Thanks for transcribing for me.”

My brother knew how hard it was for me to do this. As the family member most often found reading a book or newspaper before my accident, not being able to read was soul crushing for me. I put my hand on his shoulder and he led me out. Michael said goodbye to other operators in the room, and I listened, trying to learn their voices.

The next day I was there with Michael, and he brought me to my chair. Caleb was there too. Michael gave him a quick overview about how to lead me around, and then he was off to his own table. I got my bearings again. I tapped out a hello, sending the ready code along with my initials, TH. I got a response back from EC, and we were off.

During a lull, EC sent, YOURE NEW TH

YES MY FIRST REAL DAY YESTERDAY WAS MY TEST

GUESS YOU DID WELL

WELL ENOUGH

IT GETS SLOWER FOR THE NEXT COUPLE OF HOURS DID YOU BRING A BOOK

CANT IM BLIND

OH SORRY I DIDNT KNOW

NO WAY YOU COULD KNOW

OKAY WELL FIND SOME OTHER WAY TO PASS THE TIME KNOW ANY GOOD JOKES

I was going to tell the one about the rooster and the cow, but a message came through, so we had to go back to work. In the spaces between messages we traded jokes and stories, and at the end of the day I was unhappy about having to sign off.

Michael came by and said, “How’d you do today, big brother?”

“Great, I think. Spent all day signaling to EC.”

“Yeah, EC is a great operator. Strong hand too. You can’t tell from the signal.”

“Tell what?”

“EC is Elizabeth Chesterfield.”

“Really? EC is a woman?”

“Yes, we’ve got a lot of them, about one woman for every two men. She didn’t tell you?”

“No. We traded jokes and stories.”

“EC doesn’t do that with just anyone, Ted. She’s all business most of the time.”

But she wasn’t that way with me. Between messages she sent me jokes and riddles. I told her some too, and I told her about being in the war. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t stop thinking about her.

GOT A QUESTION EC

GO AHEAD

ARE YOU MARRIED

NO

IM SURPRISED

WHY

BECAUSE YOURE SO NICE

There was a long pause. THANKS YOURE NICE TOO

That’s how it started. I could send just about anything I wanted, as Caleb couldn’t make out the signal, so he couldn’t figure out what we were talking about.

Michael could though. About four months in, on the walk home, he said, “You and EC are getting close.”

“She’s nice.”

“Uh huh, nice. Only to you, Ted. She’s standoffish to anyone else.”

“I don’t know why. She’s friendly to me.”

“Yeah, the other guys have noticed that too.”

“I don’t know why she’s nice to me and all business to others. Maybe she’s feeling sorry for me because I’m blind.” That didn’t feel good to me as I thought about it more. But how do you ask someone if they’re just being friendly because you can’t see anything?

TH HERE

EC HERE HOW ARE YOU TODAY

OKAY I GUESS

JUST OKAY SOMETHING WRONG

I had to ask; it was bothering me too much. WHY ARE YOU SO NICE TO ME AND ALL BUSINESS WITH EVERYONE ELSE HERE

It was a long pause. BECAUSE THEYRE NOT LIKE YOU

NOT BLIND

Another long pause. NOT NICE NOT SWEET NOT YOU

That made me feel better. THANKS I THINK YOURE SWEET TOO I WANT TO MEET YOU

For some reason, the desire to meet her in person was overwhelming at that point.

YOU’VE ALREADY MET ME WE MEET SIX DAYS A WEEK

IN PERSON

She was great with the long pauses today. YOU SURE

I was never as sure about anything else in my life. YES

ALL RIGHT IF YOURE SURE WHEN

THAT’S GOING TO BE DIFFICULT I CANT RIDE BY MYSELF BECAUSE I CANT SEE

I CANT RIDE

OKAY THEN ILL TAKE THE STAGE OR THE TRAIN

YOU SURE ABOUT THIS

YES

WHY

I listened to make sure no one else was within earshot. I figured it was safe to send it. BECAUSE I THINK IM IN LOVE WITH YOU EC

OH MY

I could tell by her hand she was surprised.

DO YOU STILL WANT ME TO COME MEET YOU

The wait felt like forever.

YES

We had to stop talking to relay a message about buying cotton, and I was floating over the moon.

I told Michael about it. He wasn’t pleased. “You want to what?”

“I want to go to Greenville to meet Elizabeth.”

“Ted, do you think this is a good idea?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Mother and Father won’t let you go alone.”

“So?”

“So I’m going to have to go with you.” He wouldn’t get to spend his only day off with Abigail Hammil, his intended.

“I’m sorry, Michael. Maybe I should just call it off.”

Michael was quiet for a long moment as we walked down the road toward the house. “Maybe there’s a better way. Saturdays are quiet at the office. If we could both get the day off, we could go then. I’ll ask Bud.”

I was on pins and needles as we rode the train. When the conductor called out, “Next stop Greenville,” I felt faint. My heart was in my throat the entire walk to the telegraph office.

In the office, Michael stopped. I waited until I got impatient and tugged at his shoulder. “Michael, what’s going on?”

“Oh, my.”

“What? Is she not here?”

“She’s here.”

“I want to meet her.”

He sighed. “Okay.”

He walked across the room, a few patterns from a lone sounder to our right. Michael stopped. “Are you Elizabeth Chesterfield?”

The sweetest voice I’d ever heard said, “Yes.”

“I’m Michael Hampton. This is my brother Ted. He wanted to meet you.”

Her voice didn’t move. “Ted? TH, is that you?”

“Yes. EC?”

“Yes.”

Michael touched my elbow. “Here’s a chair, big brother. Sit down.”

I took the seat he led me to and leaned forward. “So you’re Elizabeth? Do you go by Lizzie, Betty, or anything like that?”

“I went by Liza when I was little, but I use my full name now.”

She took my hand and I felt a thrill from her touch. She had warm soft hands. “Ted? Is that short for Theodore?”

“Yes. But everyone calls my father that, so I go by Ted.”

“Ted, how much can you see?”

“Nothing. I’m completely blind.”

She caressed my hand. “Okay, I need to show you something, okay?”

“Okay.”

She took my hand and lowered it to a wheel. “Do you know what that is?”

“No.”

“Ted, I’m in a wheelchair. I can’t walk.”

I was surprised. “What happened?”

“An illness. When I was a little girl.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. It must be awful.”

“It must be awful to lose your sight, too.”

I raised my hand from the wheel and grasped hers again. I bent down and kissed it. She giggled. “Oh, Ted.”

On the way back to the train Michael said, “She’s pretty.”

I nodded. “I thought she would be. She’s as nice in person as she is across the wire.”

Elizabeth and I were married a year later. Greenville was annoyed at losing one of their best operators, but Bud was happy about gaining one.
Together we make enough to afford a servant, and I push her chair while she directs me where to go. She loves to read to me, and I love taking her for walks so she can see the flowers and birds. She’s my eyes, and I’m her feet. And we couldn’t be happier, even with two more eyes and legs.

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

Kennesaw Mountain: June 27, 1864, fiction
by Connie Torrisi

The sun finally broke through the clouds over Northern Georgia, baking the bodies spewed along the base of Kennesaw Mountain. The smell of blood mixed with fresh mountain air while birds chirped cheerfully in the trees.

David Cole lay dying in the muddy road at the base of Kennesaw Mountain, without benefit of a doctor or preacher. He gazed up at the clearing sky and spotted a hawk gliding overhead. He envied that hawk, free to fly away in search of something better. More than anything, David wanted to fly away from this awful place.

He knew his wounds were serious and that he had lost a lot of blood. At only nineteen, he could feel his life slipping away. Blue and gray soldiers were sprawled all around him, all silent in death. He dared not turn his head to the right again, for he did not want to see the sight of a Soldier lying there with a saber protruding from his bowels. From time to time he would call out weakly, hoping against hope that someone would hear his dying plea.

“Somebody,” he whispered. “Somebody, help.”

The only answer was the eerie screech of the hawk overhead.

David closed his eyes and saw visions of his wife and baby daughter on their small farm in Kentucky. His battered body ached more for them than it did from his wounds. Tears rolled down his blood stained cheek as he heard his wife’s voice calling to him. He knew he would never kiss her soft, sweet lips again. He had left her to fight in this war he wasn’t sure was right, but his favorite uncle, who had given him the farm as a wedding gift, had begged David to join the fight.

Suddenly, he heard voices in the distance. A sliver of hope rose in his heart. He opened his tear filled eyes and looked toward the left, but saw nothing but fallen soldiers.

“Here,” he whispered as loud as he could, but the breeze blew louder than his words. He tried to sit up, but he had no strength and his head fell backwards with a profound heaviness.

“Here,” he said again, as the voices came closer. “Help, please,” he begged, not considering the possibility that the voices could be those of the enemy.

David heard the sounds of footsteps grow louder, then stop momentarily nearby.

“Ain’t no sense to this war,” muttered a male voice.

The sound of footsteps resumed then faded in the distance.

David tried to call out but the screech of the hawk pierced the air. He lay there, his life oozing out of him. The approaching rumble of horses and wagon wheels offered him a surge of hope before his final breath.

The wagon rolled past David’s body, its occupants scanning for signs of life.

Bio: Connie Torrisi, born legally blind, is retired after working 27 years in state government. She is a graduate of Suffolk University, Boston. She now spends her free time writing and pursuing self-directed studies in women’s history and the philosophy of religion. She enjoys playing online chess with people from all over the world. She also enjoys line dancing.

Supplicant, Villanelle
Missouri, 1847
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Editor’s note: This poem first appeared in Chasing the Green Sun, published in 2012.

“Oh Father, give me strength to face this day,
My family at dawn is heading west;
Increase my faith and dry my tears, I pray.

The call they answer I cannot obey;
Were I able, I would join the rest.
Oh Father, give me strength to face this day.

Can I follow soon as prophets say?
Should unseasoned travelers dare this test?
Increase my faith and dry my tears, I pray;

I bid thee keep disease and death at bay
And banish any wild unwanted guest.
Oh Father, give me strength to face this day

And through the months to come, my fears allay.
Will they know this baby at my breast?
Increase my faith and dry my tears, I pray;

Let me, through my trials ahead, be blessed;
Some left behind, near madness, lose their way.
Oh Father, give me strength to face this day,
Increase my faith and dry my tears, I pray.”

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 http://www.marilynspages.com.


Part III. Seasonal Wonders

Leaves, poetry
by Paul D. Ellner

I remember when they came in early Spring,
pale swelling buds along bare boughs.
I watched them grow in verdant green
like fans unfolding.
Each with shape according to its kind,
oak and maple, beech and birch
cleansing the air, providing shade and haven
for feathered flyers and bushy tails
to mate and raise their young.
By Summer’s end, their task fulfilled,
most leaves will don their gowns of red and yellow,
release their hold and flutter down in graceful pas de deux.
Though some still cling a few more days
despite keen winds and pelting rains
then take their final curtain call upon the ground.
The nestlings all have flown.
I hear dry leaves of all denominations, whispering their goodbyes
before they scurry to their graveyard in the woods.

bio: Dr. Ellner is 90 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.

Autumn Rain, haiku
by Barbara Hammel

Autumn rain is red,
orange, yellow, gold and brown.
How gently it falls.

Bio: Barbara Hammel lives in Urbandale, Iowa with her husband, twin sons and two cats. Barbara has been writing poetry since she was sixteen. She contributed poems to a high school book and to her college dorm newspaper. She also recently published a chapbook called Good-Bye Iowa Braille. Barbara has also had some articles published in Future Reflections. She enjoys reading, writing, playing games and doing crossword puzzles. Barbara was born blind.

Winter Solstice, poetry
by Brad Corallo

Author’s note: This piece was envisioned as taking place in one of the many stone circles of the British isles. A trilithon is two vertical standing stones with a horizontal lintel stone atop them. Such circles were places of ancient seasonal ceremonies and rituals relating to agricultural planting and harvesting, or Nature’s rebirth and the receiving of her bountiful gifts. Many of these circles were configured to indicate the occurrence of solstices and equinoxes.

They wait,
shivering in their robes.
Expectant anticipation.
Heart beats accelerate.
It begins,
first faint glow.
The returning sun,
slender finger of light
piercing the ancient trilithon,
illumines the King Stone.
The Day has come!
The light of future days
now waxes.
Gratitude and joy
ascend from the hearts
of simple beings,
bound in the covenant,
for another cycle, safe!
The Mother will bear again,
wonder and hope, Renewed.
The Promise once again, Fulfilled!

Winter, poetry
by Deon Lyons

The wind blows cold,
the snow drifts high,
the dusk is painted gray.
The power’s out,
the phone is dead,
the world is miles away.

The boots line up,
the coats hang down,
the candles all burn bright.
The fire warms,
the embers glow,
the chill clings to the night.

Eyes gaze out
through frosted panes,
nor-easter grips the soul.
A bitter cold
comes tumbling down,
winter takes its toll.

A chaptered verse
is read aloud,
young ones listen in.
Tales of days,
with warmer winds,
caress the souls within.

Hands rise high,
and sweep on through,
the old man blows on past.
Moon beams dance,
starlight shines,
a winter’s eve is cast.

Covers pull close,
As dreams take shape,
restful hearts sleep tight.
Smiles and laughter
with spirit freed,
dance towards morning light.

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.

Socks N Sensibilities, nonfiction
by Carla MacInnis Rockwell

On a cold November day in 2004, my old Cairn terrier, Mr. Jake, and I traveled to the town of my birth to spend two weeks with my elderly father, while my home was undergoing some very necessary repairs. My husband stayed in a hotel in the city an hour from our home. Given that I am aging with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, I felt more secure/safe in familiar surroundings when it came to moving about, so it made sense for me to hang out with Dad, rather than in a hotel room with a dog and my husband.

I had concerns about Mr. Jake spending so much time in close quarters with an elderly gentleman who was cycling with confusion. Dad had been experiencing bouts of hydrocephalic-induced dementia, fluid on the brain which was interfering with proper neuron firing, compromising his full awareness/cognition. He seemed to do better in the morning and during or shortly after a meal. After a nap, he seemed to be a bit more confused. The old Cairn was experiencing bouts of canine cognitive disorder, so both old boys were in the same boat; it was going to be interesting. My only hope was that it wasn’t going to be dangerous. For my father, Mr. Jake posed a risk if Dad reached down to pet him and caught the wee beast unawares, and a full set of canine teeth came down on my father’s straying hand. For the dog, as Dad shuffled about, I feared he might stumble into the tenacious one and fall.

Crossing the threshold at my childhood home, suitcases were deposited in my old room while the dog’s gear was left in the kitchen. My younger brother soon arrived and we were discussing where to park the dog’s wicker basket; though he would sleep on my bed with his blanket, the basket would be where I’d instruct him to go when I was spending time with Dad. My brother suggested it be put in the living room, tucked out of the way under the piano bench.

Off the living room was the TV room. It would be in this space in the huge home of my growing up, that I would spend the majority of my time with the man whose quiet demeanor was far more telling than he ever realized. I felt it was important for me to have an extended period on my own with Dad, as I may not get another opportunity before his situation reached the stage where he would not know or remember me at all.

Our first evening was about to begin. As is my habit, I had taken my shoes off shortly upon arriving; I hate shoes. My situation limits my choice of styles when it comes to footwear. My closet will never be home to dozens and dozens of pairs of shoes. Instead, I morphed into a socks freak, having many pairs in a range of colors and textures. I like the fuzzy solid colored ones best: hunter green, purple, bright red, burgundy, the ever-popular white, black and navy blue.

Dad’s caregiver came by three times a day to leave him with meals. On those occasions when she wasn’t needed, my brothers and their wives, would visit providing meals. Now it was my turn. I had brought ingredients for several of my “signature” dishes, though my brother was concerned that Dad wouldn’t be able to eat them, or perhaps wouldn’t eat them. In his dementia, he got a bit “bratty” oppositional, but not too much.

Dad had decided he wanted a coffee. Perfect! I brought my coffee maker, as I hated the instant chemical tasting variety he enjoyed. I offered Dad a choice and he chose to have what I was having. Nice guy! He picked up his cup and turned to make his way to the TV room. I picked up my own to do the same, pausing to think about the path my socked feet would travel to get from kitchen, through the dining room, then part of the living room, into the TV room. Even at his advanced age, Dad’s walking still had an easy fluidity about it, while mine was still that of an awkward child, though my legs continued to take me where I needed to go. Dad turned to ask if he might carry my cup. He remembered! I had braced myself for him possibly asking, as he did so many times before. He would sometimes catch me unawares, coming up behind me in his soft-soled shoes, just as I had picked up the full cup with a, “let me carry that for you,” contents of the cup flying everywhere. I jokingly told him to announce himself if he was going to assist with carrying this or that, because one of us was going to get seriously hurt otherwise. The point here is that on so many levels, Dad didn’t notice my “differentness.” I was just me.

My father did, from a doctor’s perspective, appreciate that I had needs and issues that would never be experienced by my siblings. There were times when he wore the Doctor hat more frequently than the Dad hat, though they were interchangeable. But for the two weeks I would be with him, he was Dad and I was Carla. Sitting in that well-worn chair of my youth, I sipped my coffee and had a cigarette.

Dad was doing a bit of a walk-about and noticed the dog’s basket under the piano bench. He walked over to it, stuck the tip of his walking cane inside the basket and proceeded to drag it towards the TV room. He said the dog would be lonely left in the living room while we were out of his sight, so I picked up the basket, brought it through to the TV room, asking Dad which would be the best location so that it was out of his way. We decided to put it beside my chair, since the dog and I were to forever be caught in a game of Me and My Shadow.

Dinner over, we were on our own. I made more coffee, carrying my own cup, uninterrupted from kitchen to TV room, with the dog falling into step behind me. Dad had already gone ahead so I had no worries about having to pay attention to an extra pair of feet moving about.

Once seated in my familiar chair, I felt a stabbing pain in my foot, so I took off my sock to inspect the flat, pancake like appendage attached to my ankle. My foot was blue in spots. Dad noticed right away. Removing the sock from my other foot, I noted the color, also blue. Dad immediately announced that my feet must be cold, and that I needed warmer socks and he had just the ones that would do; he also asked if my heart hurt. Often, if I was having a hiccup with my heart, there would be numbness in my fingers or toes and my feet would get a bit blue. I told him I had warm socks in my bag and I’d get them, and that my heart was just fine. He was quite insistent that I wear the socks he was offering, so being a dutiful daughter while a guest in his home, I relented and waited for him to go through to his bedroom. I could hear him bumping along. The dog followed him, abandoning me for the guy who, just moments before shared bits of his dinner. Follow that tall guy, and there might be more snacks!

The issue with the foot was muscle stress, caused by posturing myself in a way that allowed me to move about in a place, though familiar to me, some reprogramming was needed with regard to my memories being jump-started. I was at the age where I preferred the security of my own home; people, family and friends usually came to me. An away visit under three or four days was very stressful on my spine and legs. This extended visit with my father was going to be just fine, though it would take a bit of getting reacquainted with the way of things, as they once were. Falling down and going boom was not an option!

Dad returned to the TV room with creamy white wool socks, so soft, and soooooooo big!! He felt they’d be just the ticket to keep my feet warm while I sat around shoeless during my time with him. How right he was! I put them on, and my feet warmed up almost immediately, even though the socks were loose.

The evening went on and we had a lovely time, recalling this person or that person from years ago. We talked about the latest in treatment of neurological insults: Parkinson, stroke, cerebral palsy. He asked about my heart, and my legs, my spine; he had solid recollections of events of the 50s, 60s and various medical things, as they related to me specifically. Clearly he was wearing his doctor hat. He was comfortable in that part of his life and remembering.

At one point, I got Dad a cocktail, his usual rum and coke. I had a scotch. Dad still smoked and I was watchful of the ash, as it grew from the tip of his cigarette. He let more cigarettes burn than he actually smoked. Intermittent naps peppered the evening, and a few times he woke, convinced he was still in medical school in Halifax, Nova Scotia, when something I said pulled him into the 60s, into the 70s, and so on, until he seemed fully present.

At around midnight, I suggested we turn in. Dad didn’t want to go to bed but I was tired so I went upstairs. Once in my room, I thought I heard a door opening downstairs. Not thinking much about it, I headed towards the bathroom when I heard a door closing. That worried me. Thankfully I was still dressed so I went downstairs to investigate, having shut the dog in the bedroom, just in case.

Once downstairs, I saw that all the lights were still on, but Dad was not in his bedroom, nor was he in the TV room. I went through to the kitchen and opened the door to the outside porch and down the steps, still wearing the heavy white socks Dad had given me hours earlier. No time for boots. Minutes lost could be a disaster. Just in time, I saw Dad turning the corner by the side of the house, heading towards the street. Was he lost in the 50s and heading to work at the ‘old hospital’? I had to stop him. It was snowing.

My brothers were minutes away, too long to wait. Anything could happen. I got down to the ground, snow chilling my feet through the white woolen socks. I called to my father, “Dad, I’ve fallen and can’t reach the step.” He immediately turned around and came back to me; my plan worked. I was able to throw him back to that period in his memory when I was that clumsy 10 year old needing his help. He walked to the steps and put his hand on the railing and I reached for him to help him up the steps. What a turn-about – me helping him.

Once in the kitchen, he noticed the socks, now soaking wet, and suggested I take them off and put on a dry pair. He was fully present with time and place once again, a good sign. He went through to the TV room and sat in his chair, drink as he left it, as though nothing happened. In his mind, nothing potentially dangerous had just taken place. I knew he’d be fine while I went to my room to get dry socks.

When I reported the event to my brother, who was charged with Dad’s daily affairs, I learned that this sort of thing was frequent, and he was in the process of executing another plan to ensure our father’s safety. A full time, live-in person, and locks on the doors out of his reach. It had to be done.

I returned to the TV room, but not before pouring myself another scotch; damn, I needed it! I was a wreck. Thankfully, a calm wreck. Dad again commented about my feet and asked if they were warm enough; he was still fully present and with it, even noticing the changed socks. He didn’t, however, seem to remember that he’d been outside, though he recalled the white socks. Clearly, they had some significance for him. He told me the story of the socks; they were part of his cross country skiing attire from years earlier when he and Mom used to partake of that sport with family friends.

The feminine version of the socks, once belonging to my mother, I now have and still do wear to this day, love them! But Dad’s creamy white woolen socks remained tucked in a drawer, not used for years, that is until they were slipped on my scrawny Triple-A size 9 feet! I was, and still am a little bit of a thing, long limbs and long hands and feet. Man-sized socks on tiny, feminine feet formed quite a visual. A memory was created during that evening with my father. The theme of that particular memory would be recreated a few more times during my visit with Dad, as he ventured outside, lost in a fog and I had to rescue him. A couple of those occasions featured the white socks on my similarly white feet, but the socks were smaller. After that first evening’s outing in the snow, the socks got a much-needed washing. The man-sized footwear that went into the washer, then into the dryer, came out sized to fit a considerably smaller foot. Oops!! They were WOOL. Wool shrinks. Did I not think? Did I not remember? Or did I deliberately reduce their size with the view to spiriting them away, as a reminder of that visit to my childhood home and time spent with Dad. I’m not telling, but I will say this, long after those two weeks spent with my father, with the first snowy evening’s misadventure, I still have the socks! They’ve been well worn. In fact, one of them is starting to show signs of age, two holes. Should I find some wool to match and set a pair of small knitting needles into the body of the sock and repair the holes, or should I do what my father did all those years ago and tuck them away, as is? Perhaps with a written story of the socks slipped into one, a reminder of the life of socks and the people who lived with them and in them.

Bio: Carla MacInnis Rockwell has been writing for the past 30 years. She has contributed 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.

Freeze! memoir
by Susan Muhlenbeck

It was New Year’s Eve again. Most of them come and go without any fanfare, but the one I spent with friends in Virginia Beach was unforgettable.

At 6:00 in the evening, my friends Sally and Steve and I took a ride to the Ocean Front Beach. It was freezing outside and getting colder. Under my sweat suit and winter coat, I was wearing my swimsuit. As we drove to the beach, I was having second thoughts about the whole excursion.

“It’s not too late to back out,” Sally said more than once. “Trust me, we would understand.”

“Got to do it,” I insisted. “It’s now or never.”

“As long as you know you’re crazy,” Steve chimed in. “I wouldn’t do it for a million dollars.”

“You probably would for a million dollars,” I laughed. “People would do a lot of things for a million dollars.” Before we got out of the car, I exchanged my boots for a pair of flip flops and grabbed a couple towels and a blanket. The beach was deserted. There were no locals or tourists walking along and certainly nobody in the water. The wind blew mercilessly, and I almost opened my mouth to say I had changed my mind.

We approached the water’s edge, and I took off my flip flops. The sand chilled my bare feet, and I was glad there was no snow on the ground. Thank God for small favors, I thought as I peeled off my coat and sweat suit.

“I really don’t have a good feeling about this,” Sally said as I stood shivering, naked except for my swimsuit. “I really think you should reconsider.”

“You mean I should chicken out?” I asked stepping forward into the frigid water, which turned my feet instantly numb. “It’s too late for that.” My teeth were chattering, and my face felt frozen as I continued to walk forward into the water. I was moving faster now, anxious for it to be all over. When the icy water reached the tops of my thighs, I took a deep breath and took the plunge. I concentrated on counting to ten as my head was submerged, then I got to my feet, turned around and moved as quickly as my leaden legs would allow back to shore.

My ears felt the cold the worst. I covered them with my frozen hands, trying to keep the wind from blowing on them. The rest of my body was without feeling, which scared me. I couldn’t have hypothermia, I thought wildly. I hadn’t been in the water long enough, had I?

“Are you okay?” my friends asked as my numb feet finally touched dry sand. Sally put her warm hands on my frozen shoulders, and I jumped. Her hands probably weren’t very warm, I reasoned as I dried myself off with the towel she handed me. Her hands just felt like fire on my cold skin. I wrung out my hair, which felt as cold and stiff as wet moss. I threw on my clothes as fast as I could, which was pretty slow since my hands would not move at their normal speed. My limbs felt ten times as heavy as usual, and I was having doubts about being able to walk any distance.

“Ready to go?” Steve asked as I slipped into my coat. I nodded mutely, licking my cold, salty lips with my hot tongue and making my lips burn. “Sure you don’t want to go in one more time?” Steve asked as we started walking slowly back to the car. “Maybe it won’t be so bad the second time around.”

I knew he was trying to be funny, but I was in no mood to joke. “Once was enough,” I said thickly. My ears still ached inside.

“Well, at least the water was calm,” Steve consoled as I got in the car. “It could have been a lot worse if the water was choppy, trust me.”

“You’ll feel better after a nice hot shower,” Sally reassured as we drove away from the beach. I suddenly started feeling very hot and dizzy. I ripped my coat off as fast as I could. Then I yanked off my boots and tried to rub the “pins and needles” sensation out of my feet. I hoped my feet weren’t frostbitten. “Can you turn the heat off and open a window please?” I asked desperately.

“But it’s freezing!” Steve said in shock. “I’m cold even with my coat on.”

“The extreme temperature change is bothering her,” Sally explained quietly.

“Got you,” Steve said, cracking the windows open and turning off the heat. I breathed in the cool air and started feeling better. “As long as we don’t catch pneumonia,” Steve said as we neared the house.

I hadn’t even thought of that. We went into the house, and I took a lukewarm shower, which was almost too hot. The house was heated, and I felt too hot to stay inside. I sat outside with no coat on for a long time, and the cool air was ecstasy. I didn’t have a fever, but I felt pretty drained.

I stayed up just long enough to watch the ball drop in Times Square and toast the New Year with a glass of champagne, then I slept the sleep of the dead for the next eight hours. The last thing I remember thinking before I passed out was that I hoped I didn’t catch the flu or pneumonia or a cold. I also made a New Year’s Resolution not to be so reckless. That night I remember dreaming about coughing up tons of saltwater.

I know the people in The Polar Bear Club would say my plunge into the ocean on New Year’s Eve was not reckless but courageous and brave. Some die- hards do it every year without any problem. Now that I know what all the fuss is about, I can safely say that taking the cold plunge is something I would only try once in my life so as not to tempt fate. I think about that night every time I go to the beach and get into the refreshing cool water during the dog days of summer and never forget how grateful I am that seasons change.

Bio: Susan Muhlenbeck was born in Seoul, Korea and spent her first five years there. She lost her sight at the age of two. She was raised in the Midwest and moved to Virginia as a teenager. She received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her interests include reading, swimming, bargain shopping, and cats. Her books are available on Amazon.


Part IV. From Another Realm

Connnection, fiction
by Paul D. Ellner

On a bright morning, a man could be seen driving west along I-287. He crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge that spanned the broad Hudson and continued to Route 303 where he turned south. After the small village of Blauvelt, he left the highway, drove a few blocks and pulled up in front of his destination. It was April 7th and spring was evidenced by the profusion of yellow forsythia and daffodils.

Alex Schaefer made this trip on this date for many years. He parked in front of the cemetery. The burial ground was a small one, not much larger than a square city block, backed up by a patch of woods. Alex recalled reading somewhere that the ancient Saxons called them God’s Acre. It was well maintained, set unobtrusively in a quiet neighborhood near a high school. An iron fence supported at intervals by tall stone pillars enclosed the cemetery. The burial ground was bisected by a low railing that separated the occupants by faith, Christians on their acre, Jews on theirs.

Alex entered the open gate carrying a small bunch of daffodils and walked toward the rear of the cemetery where his father’s grave lay. There were no other visitors, and only the chirping of birds disturbed the quiet. His practice was to place the flowers on the grave and then address his father. As he approached his father’s resting place, rehearsing the brief family summary he always delivered, he saw something black on his father’s grave. A blackbird or a crow he guessed, but whatever it was remained stationary as he drew nearer. The object rested on the small footstone that read “George Schaefer, 1899-1975, A Man for All Seasons”. It was a telephone! The telephone was an old-fashioned one with a shiny black handset resting on a low base with a rotary dial. He was astonished to see that a cord ran from the phone and plunged into the grave. Some prankster Alex presumed, a macabre joke. He looked around, half expecting to see a few high school kids in the woods or hear derisive laughter. He lifted the handset to his ear and was stunned to hear a dial tone. He dropped the handset into the cradle and stood staring at the instrument. Alex felt stupid.

Many years earlier, while hunting geese on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Alex had come upon what appeared to be a flock of geese feeding in a field. He crawled on his belly for twenty minutes hoping to get within range before they flew off, but when he stood up to shoot, there was no movement. He had been stalking a bunch of decoys. Chagrined by his faux pas, Alex was certain that unseen eyes were laughing at him. He felt ridiculous then as now.

Alex tried to pull the cord out of the grave, expecting to find a cable to the woods, but the cord resisted. He picked up the handset again. The dial tone was still there. He remembered an old phone number the family had when he was young, DEfender 3-7367. On an impulse, he dialed the number. It was ringing.

“Hello?” It was his father’s voice. Alex’s heart leaped in his chest. He could never forget that almost musical, professorial quality with its clear enunciation and friendly timbre. His father had been his best friend, supporting him during the difficult days of his childhood. He died taking Alex’s two sons to the circus. More than anything else, Alex wanted to speak to him. He could hear a radio in the background, Ethel Merman singing, “You’re the Top”.

“Who’s calling?” his father asked.

“Dad, it’s Alex. Your son, Alex. I wanted to wish you a Happy Birthday.”

“You must have the wrong number. My son is here in his room. Sorry, I can’t help you.”

“Wait. Don’t hang up.” There was a click. Alex was talking to a dial tone.

He dialed the number again. A busy signal. After a minute, he tried again. Still busy. Alex kept dialing over and over to no avail.

Finally, he dialed “O” and a voice said “Operator”.

“Operator, I’m trying to reach a number, and it’s always busy.”

“What is the number? I’ll try it for you,” she said. He gave her the number.
“I’m sorry, Sir. That number is no longer in service.”

“But I just-.” Dial tone.

Alex felt frustrated. He dialed “O” again and when the Operator came on, he said, “I’d like to speak with your supervisor.”
“One moment, Sir.” After a minute, another voice came on.

“A short time ago I was connected to a number. Then I got busy signals, and now the Operator tells me that the number is no longer in service.”

“What was the number?”

“DEfender 3-7367,” Alex told her.

After a pause, she said, “Sir, the DEfender exchange hasn’t been used for almost 40 years.”

“But I just spoke…,” Alex expostulated.

“I’m sorry, Sir. There’s nothing I can do.” Dial tone.

Incredible as it seemed, he had actually spoken a few words to his long dead father. Now, he wanted to continue. Here was a chance for him to talk to his father again, and it was being taken away from him. Alex was becoming irritated. Then he remembered another phone number his father had used, perhaps ten or more years after the first number. HAvemeyer 3-6624. His hand was trembling as he dialed it. It was ringing. Once again he heard his father’s voice. This time his father spoke a little slower. He sounded older.

“Hi, Dad,” he said. “It’s Alex. Happy Birthday.”

“Thanks, Alex. Where are you?”

Alex didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t tell his father that he was at his grave. He ignored the question.

“I’m fine, Dad. How are you?”

Someone in the room spoke to his father. “Just a minute, Alex,” he said, but after a moment the connection was broken by the dial tone. Alex frantically redialed, but got a busy signal. He dialed the Operator again and was advised, “I’m sorry, Sir. That number is no longer in service.”

That was it. He couldn’t think of any other old phone numbers. Reluctantly he drove home in a state of depression. Alex spent the evening searching old documents trying vainly to find other phone numbers. He called his brother who was able to provide one.

“What do you need those for?” his brother asked.

“Just doing some research,” Alex said.

Alex tried calling the number his brother had given him as well as the other two old numbers, but nothing worked. Somehow he felt it had to be the phone in the cemetery.

Alex spent a troubled night filled with dreams like old family photographs. After a quick breakfast, he drove back across the river, clutching the number his brother had given him. This time he knew he would succeed. He really wanted to speak with his father again, if only to tell him all was well. He pushed the speed limit.

The day was overcast when he reached the cemetery. He walked quickly to the grave, but something was different. The phone was gone. He couldn’t believe it. He knew the phone had been there yesterday. Or had it? Was yesterday’s experience a figment of his imagination? Was the telephone episode a fantasy?

Alex got down on his hands and knees to examine the turf over the grave. There it was. Just behind the footstone, he saw it, a hole, about an inch in diameter, where the cord from the phone had entered the soil. It was unmistakable. He hadn’t imagined it.

Alex grew angry. It wasn’t fair. He was certain that the number his brother had given him would have connected. He got up and stood by the grave, considering what to do. A light rain began to fall.

“I’m sorry, Dad,” he said aloud. “I tried.” He turned and walked slowly back to the car.

Driving home, Alex’s thoughts vacillated like the windshield wipers. Who or what had put the phone there? And why? Was it some kind of a test? Maybe a reward, but for what? Why me? These questions tortured Alex to the extent that he left the highway, pulled off to a quiet adjoining street and parked. The only thing he knew for certain was that after all these years he had been permitted to hear his father’s voice again. His mind vainly sought answers. He had to go back.

At the cemetery he walked to the gravesite and stood staring at the footstone. The daffodils still lay there, but the rain was turning the topsoil of the turf into mud, and the hole where the cord had been was becoming obscured. Yet Alex was sure that the experience had been real. He even recalled the smell of the handset when he had clutched it to his face.

Alex imagined that in the infinite number of human experiences, there must be some that are beyond reason or understanding which defy explanation. But then a thought occurred to him. If this had happened once, it could happen again. He wouldn’t tell anyone about it, but when he returned each year on his father’s birthday, there was always the possibility the phone would be there. Although it was only a taste, it was enough. “Thanks,” he murmured to no one in particular.

Crossing the bridge, the rain stopped, and the sky was beginning to brighten. He turned off the windshield wipers with a sigh of relief.

Alex walked in his front door to be greeted by his wife.

“What happened? You’re soaking wet,” she exclaimed.

Alex kissed her. He smiled. “Something quite wonderful,” he said.

Waiting for Melinda, fiction
by Bill Fullerton

The cold winter rain told a sad story, and I was listening.

I’m a good listener, always have been. Especially here inside the cemetery—just sitting and listening to the rain, hearing the story, and waiting for Melinda.

We don’t have nice winter weather around here, just rain. About all it’s good for is hunting, mostly for deer. But I don’t hunt—not anymore.

Winter became my favorite season because of Melinda. I was driving home, after wasting an entire Saturday morning down in the bottoms, trying to get that big buck just about everybody, including me, had seen at one time or another.

A raggedy-ass old Plymouth Fury had pulled off the road, across from the old Barnhill cemetery, just about in the middle of nowhere. A woman was out in the rain, trying to change a flat. I stopped to help.

That’s when I met Melinda. She was going somewhere, to see somebody, who was some sort of kin. For the life of me I don’t remember where or who. What I do remember is that even in a tan raincoat, Melinda, she said her name was Melinda Carter, was about the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. She had these big brown eyes, long, wet eyelashes and a cute little nose. I noticed it because there was a raindrop right on the tip. And even though her lips were a little blue with the cold, her smile could start a forest fire.

I told her to wait in my truck but she stayed out in the rain, holding an umbrella over me, while I changed the flat. That’s when we got to talking. She lived a couple of hours away and was a senior in college. I told her I’d just graduated and was teaching science and math at the local high school.

With all the rain and mud, it took a while to change that tire. And I’ll admit, I wasn’t in a big hurry. I didn’t want her to just drive out of my life. But I’m no ladies’ man and couldn’t figure out what to do. After I’d put everything away and slammed the trunk shut, she insisted I get in the car with her and share some hot coffee she’d brought along.

The rain had stopped by then. She’d taken off her raincoat and pitched it into the back seat. Even in a bulky sweater and jeans, you could tell she hada nice, cuddly figure. So being a gentleman and all, I tossed my gear into my pickup and crawled into the passenger seat of her old Plymouth.

God, but that coffee tasted good. Black with a little sugar and still nice and hot. We talked and finished off the coffee. Later, as she put things away, it started to rain again. We both stared at the rain through the car’s fogged-up windows. Then we looked at one another and the rest of the world vanished. As I reached out for her, she slid over beside me.

We made love to the sound of the rain drumming against the car. It all seemed so natural, so right.

A few weeks later, when I asked her to marry me, she said yes. After that, rainy winter days were always special for us.

Now, well, now they’re just a reminder of the day I killed her.

It had been overcast and rainy, just like today. I’d been hunting since she dropped me off early that morning. After shopping and running errands all day, she’d come to pick me up. But I was late. So she put on her old tan raincoat and walked into the bottoms, heading for my deer stand where, just for a second,
in the gloom, I thought I saw that big buck and then, and then, and then that’s when I killed her.

Now I come out here to that old cemetery and listen to the rain tell the story and wait for Melinda. I keep the motor running, busted muffler and all, so the cab will be warm when she comes. And she always comes. We sit together here inside my old truck and talk and listen. Then she wraps me in her arms and whispers in my ear and we make love. That’s when it’s almost like it used to be. But later, when it starts getting dark and she has to go, we both
begin to cry.

Only she’s late today, or maybe I got here early. I’m not sure. Time doesn’t mean much anymore. The thing is, I’m getting a little sleepy. So I’ll keep the motor running, but maybe close my eyes—just for a minute, though. Cause Melinda and I will be together soon, like we always should be. Only it’ll be
here in the cemetery, inside my truck, in the cold winter rain.

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

Dream Life, fiction
by Valerie Moreno

inspired by the song “These Dreams”, B. Taupin, performed by Heart

“She’s sleeping more.” Though his voice was a whisper, it cut the quiet like a razor.

“That’s common for someone nearing the end of life. There is a pulling away from the finite. You’ll find this more and more as she prepares to transition.”

Doug stared helplessly in to the nurse’s compassionate face. “She cries in her sleep now. Sylvia has never done that. I don’t understand. I’m here, but it’s not me she’s calling. Who can it be?”

They gazed at the pale girl lying asleep, her thick hair a dark mass about her bony shoulders. Doug’s heart seemed to contract with grief. “I feel I’ve already lost you,” he whispered.

In the dream, she was dressed in white linen, the cool gown fluttering about her feet, the candle almost extinguished in her grip. She floated above the ground. Passing through a gate, her raven hair fell to her waist in billowing ripples. Her eyes, huge and green, were transfixed. Ahead in the misty trees, horses moved and voices of young men carried back to her.

“Come forward, Amelia! He is here, wanting to see you.”

“Please!” She cried out, hot tears on her cheeks caressed by the gentle, cool wind. “Let me! I want to see you. Don’t hide your face anymore.”

She’d said these words a thousand times amid the shadows of this clearing. As she moved slowly forward, her sobs filling the night, the rustling began. She could see a shape coming toward her, clothed in mist and shadow as she trembled, her eyes straining.

“Now, please, now!” She begged unashamedly. “I cannot see you. Can you hear me? Why do they say you want me when it is I who wants you? If you are a prince, show me your eyes. I love you.”

Unlike all the other dreams, he was moving toward her, the glowing moon indicating he was thin and tall as his form glided silently toward her.

She caught her breath as this dream continued further than any before. The wind picked up enough to scatter leaves at her bare feet. As he came full in the moonlight, time ceased. His golden hair fell to the rounded collar of his crimson shirt. At his side, a ruby encrusted sword shimmered. The contours of his delicate face came clear to her, his light eyes locking with hers as they stood a few feet apart.

As she reached out a hand, the candle brightened. One more glimpse of his face, smiling as he said her name, “Amelia, Amelia!” and the forest rumbled as he took her hand and the candle dimmed.

In the hospital room, she flat lined and Doug stood, the DNR order issuing this final goodbye.

Bio: Valerie Moreno has been writing since age 12. She is inspired by music, books and people. She and her blind cat, JJ live in New Jersey. Poetry, fiction and memoir are her passion. Her work has appeared in The Jam Cafe, The Matilda Ziegler Magazine and Magnets And Ladders. Her poem,”Colors” was featured in a film of USC Eye Institute. She is totally blind.

Visitation, fiction
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

Carrie was fourteen years old and lived in an apartment with her mother in New York City. A year earlier, her father wandered into traffic one night while drunk and was killed by an oncoming bus.

He wasn’t always drunk. Carrie remembered many times as a child when he picked her up after school while between jobs and took her to the park where they flew homemade kites, and he pushed her on the swings and waited for her at the bottom of the slide. When she joined a softball league at school, he bought her a used glove, ball, and bat and showed her how to pitch, catch and throw. He occasionally took her for ice cream.

As she grew older, his drinking bouts increased in frequency. He rarely took her places after school and was hardly ever home when she went to bed. She often found him sleeping on the couch in the morning.

Her mother, Dianna, constantly berated him. He kept saying he was sorry, that he would stop drinking and get a job and keep it. He never quit drinking, and he never kept a job for long.

Dianna worked as a secretary at a Baptist church. Carrie was used to getting by on the meager salary her mother received. Most of the time, it was their only source of income, barely enough to pay the rent on their small, shabby apartment, let alone buy food.

On the night Carrie’s father died, when he didn’t come home for supper, her mother packed his clothes and other items in a box that she left outside the apartment door with a note. He never claimed his belongings.

During the following year, Carrie and her mother were forced to move to an even smaller, shabbier one-room apartment, and Carrie had to switch schools. Dianna threw herself into the myriad of projects at the church to help those in need. These took up a lot of her time, and Carrie was left to fend for herself most of the time when she wasn’t in school. She didn’t attempt to make friends because the squalor where she lived embarrassed her, and she never kept in touch with former classmates.

One day after school, she boarded the bus, resigned to yet another evening alone with the cockroaches and leaking roof. She hated riding buses since her father was killed by one, but on this cold Halloween evening, it was getting dark, and she didn’t want to walk alone at night. As she did many times, she stayed after classes to study in the library where it was warm. Now, as the sky gradually darkened, she found a seat in the back of the crowded bus and stared out the window at people and buildings, as it bumped along, stopping every so often to pick up and drop off passengers.

Someone sat next to her. A hand fell on her knee, and a familiar voice said, “Hey sweet pea.”

She jumped and turned to see a man who looked just like her father, wearing baggy blue jeans and his favorite plaid shirt, the clothes he wore the day he died. She detected no acrid stench of booze but a whiff of the cologne he wore when he was sober. Thinking he was just another pervert who happened to look, smell, and sound like her father, she turned back toward the window. “I know you don’t believe it’s me, princess, but it is,” he said, taking her hand.

Princess, that was one of the many names he called her. “Leave me alone,” she said, jerking her hand away and moving closer to the window. People turned and stared, and she wondered why.

“Honey, nobody can see me. I’m a ghost.”

Turning back to him, she said, “You’re nuts.”

“So are you,” said a man across the aisle.

This couldn’t be real, she thought, as her face grew hot, and she stared at the man sitting next to her. She shook her head and blinked several times. “Carrie, you’re not going to get rid of me that easily.”

She turned back toward the window. She was nowhere near her stop, but she had to get off this bus now. Without a word, she reached for the bell to signal the driver to stop. The man’s hand shot up and grabbed hers. “You’ll have a long walk home if you get off now, bug-a-boo.”

How did he know where her new home was? This was ridiculous. “Besides, sweet pea, you really don’t want to go back to that fucking apartment with those god damned roaches, do you?”

Carrie smiled in spite of herself. She always thought it funny when her father used such colorful language when talking about things she didn’t like. “Now that’s what I like,” he said. “A smile from my little girl.”

She looked around, wondering if she could move to another seat, but they were all taken. “Honey, I know I haven’t been the best of fathers lately, but I’m clean now. I haven’t touched a drop of liquor since last year, and I won’t ever again. I’m going to make it up to you. From now on, we’re going to have the best of times, just you and me.”

What did he mean? Was she going to die right here and now? She remembered something her mother said. The preacher at the Baptist church believed that people like her father went to Hell, a place which was always on fire, where there was wailing and gnashing of teeth. Was that where her father was taking her? She pictured herself being consumed by ugly, yellow flames.

“No, I don’t want to go to Hell,” she screamed, trying to stand and pull herself away from him.

He gripped her hand. “It’s gonna be okay, honey. Daddy’s right here.”

He said those exact words the night her appendix nearly ruptured when she was seven, as she lay in the emergency room, tears streaming down her face, gripped by pain. He told her everything would be all right, and it eventually was. It was one of few kept promises.

A squeal of breaks brought her back to the present. She felt a jarring crash, then nothing.

Bio: Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of a novel and two poetry collections. Besides Magnets and Ladders, her work has appeared in Serendipity Poets Journal and Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look. She lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, where for six years, she cared for her late husband, totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. Please visit her Website at http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

Farewell, fiction
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega

“Norah!” The young girl jerked bolt upright in bed, the sound of her name echoing in her head. Who had called her? She wrapped her thin arms tightly across her narrow chest. She listened intently for any sounds in the silence of the house. A branch of the old oak scraped against the shingles over her head. The wind moaned under the eaves. Dimly, she could make out the form of her younger sister Emily curled in sleep with Liam, their two year old brother nestled against her. All appeared quiet in the room across the hall where John, Simon and Patrick slept. What had awakened her? She must have been dreaming. Now that she was awake, she decided she was thirsty. She slipped from under the worn quilts and padded out of the room on wool stocking clad feet.

The doorway at the far end of the hall leading to the kitchen seemed bright with ambient light. A tall figure stepped in to that light.
“Pa! When did you get home?” she called softly as she moved toward him. He raised a hand motioning her to stop, smiled placing a finger to his lips. For a moment they stood at opposite ends of the long hall. Then, Elijah turned away giving his eldest child one last glance and disappeared from the doorway.

Norah ran down the hall. Reaching the kitchen, she paused in confusion. The room was empty. Slowly she crossed to the back door. The bolt was still pulled across and turned to the locked position. It wasn’t the kind that could be locked with a key. Tears filled her green eyes, as she scanned the dim kitchen. She realized that even if her father were there, the light wasn’t bright enough to have seen his face. Sorrow filled her as she squinted to make out the time on the old mantel clock. Norah didn’t need to wait for the telegram telling his family not to expect their father home again. She knew that somewhere on a battlefield half a world away Pa had started on his last journey. His spirit had only made a momentary stop to say good-bye to the family he was leaving behind.

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.

The Coiffured Ghoul, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner

Uncommon ghoul in pressed clean pants,
polished black leather office shoes,
grave digger’s pointed spade in hand–
no calluses or roughness there–
nor naughty strands on coiffured hair.
What strange evil toil brings him here
on this unnatural, hapless night?

Cold fog congeals to lonely clouds
that float their haunted wispy ways,
without bodies to call their homes–
searching graveyard for newly dead–
enfolds grave digger’s pale white flesh
with cloying wet smothering breath,
hoping he walks without a soul,
that they may seize his empty shell.

Dead dry leaves whisper unholy secrets
on the tongue of a misbegotten breeze.
And creaking wood answers from ancient trees.
He wonders, “Is the secret about me?”

Chuckles rasp from evil, blood-dry lips.
A finger moon points to show the way.
“I’ll find you, Love. I know where you stay.
Your treasures will not be kept from me.
I will have them this eve, come what may.”

Watching owl asks, “who- who-who?”


Part V. The Writers’ Climb

Try to Capture September, nonfiction
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

In mid-September, the shortening days gave me an uneasy feeling. I began to contemplate how I might write what September feels like. The annual transformations are occurring all around me. This kind of adjustment makes me dizzy; I’m giddy with bursts of nervous energy. This emotional sensation was unexpected, hidden in the mists of the crisp early morning. I floated; it seemed, at the crest of September with my feet stretched downwards to dig into the sands of its shoreline. I have been unsuccessful!

Since the beginning of this fast moving month, I tried to pay attention to the small nuances and living details I experienced. I moved carefully, even cautiously, from day to day through the month of ever-changing September. Yes! I am still standing at the mid-point of the month and I still feel like I am lost at sea.
I took a deep breath, held it in for a couple of seconds. I remembered my fingers and glanced at the computer screen. I exhaled. Outside, I could hear someone pounding nails with a hammer. I shut out the sounds and turn my attention inward. At my feet, the little dog breathed softly as he shifted in his fur-lined bed. In his sleep he snorts, and my leather chair squeaks as my fingers pound out some letters on the stiff keyboard. I moved my body forward again, and brought my mind back to September. The autumnal light streams through the dusty window. My back seeks the stability of my solid chair. I lean into it, put my hands to my face, close my eyes.
Once again, I bring my thoughts to breathing. In and out. Inhale, exhale, pause, and inhale again. My chest rises, expands, as I become aware of the sharp, piercing call of the eagle flying above the trees outside this window. I wonder, Did I remember to bring the cat inside so he is safe? Once again, my thoughts go racing in several directions, all at the same time. I tried to find the right words for a poem to September; How illusive they are!

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

At the beginning of the month, I remembered the gentle surprises I experienced. Everything changed so rapidly. I took short walks in the woods and I looked over all of the variations found there. My two dogs stopped and sniffed the breeze. They tried to catch the news of the day, to bring it home and share it with me. We stopped on the path under the oak trees, stared into the thickets, and listened to the sounds of the rushing water in the stream below the ridge. The dogs paid close attention to all the wild flowers as I reached out to touch the yellow petals. I concentrated on the details – to memorize each little fine distinction of a Yellow Crownbeard or a single leaf of the White Snakeroot plants. How does it look in the shade? How does it feel to the touch? I tried to remember it all! I reached out, touched the trunks of trees as we traveled together in the warm afternoon. I recalled the feeling of crisp textures and the girth of a tree in my arms as I tried to encircle it. I needed to get a good feel for the overlapping grain of Locust trees, put the memory of its strength in my imagination where I can retrieve this feeling when winter days become anxious and lonely.

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

My bare feet warmed as the heater in my office turned on again. I glanced down at my manicured toes and wiggled them in the crimson red leather sandals. I thought, I will have to put my summer shoes away soon because the days are growing colder and the clouds floating through this afternoon sky are ominous. Eventually, I realized what I searched for in September. Every new day in this quest twisted and turned in on me as I searched for the form that would be perfect for my September poem. I began to feel like a whirling dervish as I mentally marked the days and nights. I swirled in ever-widening circles, round and round. My feet moved quickly on sifting, shifting sand. My thoughts raced faster than I could ever write down. My entire body quivered inside because of all the sensations.

In time, I realized September is the one month of the year that is a charade. She is undependable, captivating, and quixotic. She cannot be captured in the Pantoum I had intended to put her into. I thought of catching her by a sliver of one of her yellow petals, flattening her between the pages of a Villanelle. But it turned out to be a book of sand, and I simply could not get a grasp on her! This morning I tried to put some words to my paper. I had to step over obstacles of images and feelings. I thought, I have to just go after a little piece of September. I need to catch her unawares, and grab what I can. It might be just a fragment, or an adjective. Do it quickly, and run fast, bring that piece to my paper and slap it down with glue. I’ll have to use my strongest glue, E-600, for this job!

What will be large enough to hold uncooperative September? Yes! I have got it now. It is an ODE that will celebrate precocious September. My “Ode for September” will be hefty and as unsettled as she. My 10-line stanzas will be a passionate song, “September, the Whirling Dervish!”

This article was Originally published on the blog: Walking by Inner Vision, Sept. 15, 2014

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!

The Acrostic Poem and More! nonfiction
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

An Acrostic poem is an old poetry form often used by poets to send secret messages to a loved one. Wouldn’t you love to get one from your favorite sweetie too? I sure would! Better yet, why not write one yourself and send it to your special loved one?

Follow my steps as outlined below to learn how to write an Acrostic poem. When you are satisfied with it, then, I am going to urge you to kick it up and make it stunning! I am going to teach you how to go the extra mile and make it sing!

Step ONE:
Think of a word and write the letters of that word down the left side of the page –

Example: My name is Lynda. It is spelled, L Y N D A.
Here is how I would write it VERTICALLY on the page, to begin the acrostic poem:

L
Y
N
D
A

STEP TWO:
Begin each line of your poem using the letter of your WORD. You will use one word to begin each line in this way. Yes! It is that easy! No need to be nervous, you are doing just fine! The Lines can be any length and they do not need to rhyme. After you complete yours, read it over a few times and fix anything that does not sound right to you when you read it aloud. This step is very important because our ears will find words that are not sounding just right and we can fix them now.

My Example of an Acrostic Poem:

Dangerous Cats

Lavender mists covered the pathway in the woods
Yesterday the sky was gloomy and dark
Nevertheless large black crows visited me
Dangerous cats were near the nest
All the birds are on high alert this morning

You can quit right here and you will have an ACROSTIC POEM. But, if you like to live dangerously in your writing life, let’s go on and do some more work on what we have done. You wrote the BASIC Acrostic poem. Give yourself a pat on the back. You did it!

Here is how to take your Acrostic poem, and make it something MORE! Mix up the lines- scramble the lines and words into a new order. You no longer have to keep the original first letters/first words of each line. You can delete words, move lines, or add words to get your new poem. You should have a nice surprise when you take this next step! This is when the MAGIC enters your poetry! As you can see in my example below, I have eliminated capital letters, punctuation, and moved the lines and words around to find completely new ideas in my poem.

the sky visited me
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

near the nest
this morning
all birds were covered
by lavender mists
gloomy and dark
large black crows
the pathway
was dangerous
the sky visited me
yesterday
on high alert
all cats are in the woods
nevertheless

Editor’s note: We had two contributors that submitted traditional Acrostics for this issue, so here they are for you to enjoy.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: A Spirited Acrostic, poetry
by Donna Grahmann

Silence greeted the shadow, as he crept closer to her bed.
Undetected, he watched the young girl as she slept,
Pausing his reach, only when the puppy woke to his presence.
Energy shimmered from his silhouetted hand,
Returning the jet black Poodle into a deep sleep at the foot of her bed.
Conscious recognition glimmered in the young girl’s sky blue eyes,
As the hat wearing shadow spoke to her.
Like a grandfather meeting his grandchild for the first time,
Intense emotions swelled throughout their hearts,
Filling the room with their previously unshared love and laughter,
Relinquished through his accidental death, seven years prior to her birth.
Angelic protection hovered over her family and their dwelling.
Granddad’s spiritual force field kept evil at bay,
Inviting her to explore her personal limits,
Leaving her fearless in her accomplishments and adventures.
Indulgence and mischief became his routine,
Snatching up cookies, without any thoughts of remorse,
Terse at the thief, Mom arched her brow.
Innocence proclaimed, the girl went outside;
Caught wearing the crumbs, he grinned at his granddaughter with a wry cookie smile.
Exalted with laughter, he soon disappeared.
Xylem like threads traced his departure,
Planted with hopes that he soon would return.
Interactions at Christmas filled him with delight,
As he peeked into bags of unwrapped packages,
Left hidden, but open, to be sorted that night.
Impressed by the sight, he lit up the tree,
Dancing with glee among the twinkling lights,
Occasional bursts of laughter escaped him,
Creating the need for mom to investigate the cause.
Infectious joy at the sight of his third child standing before him,
Obscured his thoughts and revealed his presence to her.
Ultimately, the family ties reunited three generations, and then,
Secured their fate with everlasting love.

Bio: Texas author, Donna Grahmann, can be found in Magnolia, enjoying life with her husband, her guide dog, and their barn yard of assorted critters. She was a finalist in the Pen To Paper writing contest with her short story, “Dependable Pal.” Visit Donna’s other published works found in previous issues of Magnets and Ladders, as well as in the 2013 anthology, Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look, available at Amazon.com.

Loneliness, acrostic
by Valerie Moreno

Let me explain
Only this–
Nothing hurts as swift and sharp
Except feeling
Left out,
Insignificant,
Never quite in step
Even if you bleed trying.
Still, I hope for light, steady
Streams to find acceptance.

Contest Alert

We will be holding contests in the areas of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for the Spring/Summer 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 February 15, so be sure to get your entries in on time.

TheReImage Seeks Content & Contest Submissions

TheReImage is a new online campaign to re-create the image of people with vision loss while establishing new possibilities. With the sighted world as the audience for this project, TheReImage will use written stories and audio pieces about and by people with vision loss to demonstrate that regardless of our vision level, as people, we are more alike than different. Therefore, our human and life experiences should be the focus of these stories rather than our vision loss. In other words, the stories will not be about how we lost our vision or what great resources are available to us, but about our experiences
with raising children, owning a home, taking a trip, enjoying the outdoors, working at a job, spending time with friends, dealing with family issues, managing a household, relaxing with a favorite hobby, getting an education, planning a wedding, hiking a mountain, sailing into the sunset, and more. While previously published stories may be considered for TheReImage, original material will be given greater consideration. All story submissions that follow the guidelines will be considered for publication. In addition, monetary prizes of $100, $50 and $25 will be awarded to first, second and third place winners respectively for stories submitted by November 1, 2015. Criteria considered for the prizes will be Writing skill, writing style, appropriate tone of the article, and originality. All stories selected for publication will appear as we launch our new website, TheReImage.net. Submission guidelines and sample stories may be found on the current temporary site at the same web address. While November 1 is the deadline for contest entries, TheReImage seeks content on an on-going basis to keep the website fresh. Stories and story ideas can be emailed to content@TheReImage.net or sent in your preferred format to TheReImage, P.O. Box 13019, Harrisburg, PA 17110. We look forward to reading your entries.

Occupying Aging: Delights, Disabilities and Daily Life, book excerpt
by Katherine Schneider

Introduction: Why Read this Book

Perhaps you’re one of the forty million Americans over sixty-five or the 76 million Americans called baby boomers who are joining the over sixty-five set at a rate of 8,000 per day. I’m one of you and would love to take you on a ride with me through a full year of occupying aging. I’ve been blind since birth and have had fibromyalgia for over twenty years, so I’ve struggled with disabilities and society’s disabling attitudes long enough to have learned a few tricks of the trade. As you’ll see if you tag along, sometimes they work and sometimes…I’m not sure who first said “if it doesn’t kill you, it’ll make you stronger” but I could have that as my motto.

The year is full of delightful people and events, as well as tears and laughter. The other major characters in this journal are my Seeing Eye dogs past and present. They’d encourage you to read the book because then at least some good will come of my spending so much time tapping on the keyboard of my talking computer. Welcome to my year of occupying aging. I hope it encourages you in occupying your life at whatever stage in the journey of life you are.

January 1: Beginning Occupying and Resolutions
What’s it like being old? A few intrepid children actually ask me that when I’m giving talks on blindness/disability in elementary schools. Then there are the 50-somethings who want to know “what’s retirement like?” Their voices hold some balance between the suppressed excitement of waiting for Christmas when you’re little and the anxiety of “Can I afford this house?” of the first-time home buyer.

Since I’m writing this during a leap year, this book will offer 366 answers to these wonderings. But it’s also a pick your own adventure book, so if July 3rd’s entry fits for you better on February 15, go for it! Occupying aging is done one person at a time as well as one day at a time.

I don’t often make New Year’s resolutions, but this year some gentle resolves came to mind. I want more prayer, more poetry, and more success with puzzles in my life. Being a book-a-holic, I’ve already gathered several books on each topic. That’s the easy part! Will I actually choose to read and reflect on them? There are three hundred sixty-five days left this year for that question to be answered.

January 2: Occupying an Aging Body. Ads
Today’s e-mail brought a nice story about Target using a picture of a child with Down’s syndrome in their clothing add For those of us with visible disabilities, this represents a victory that doesn’t happen often enough-a victory of being seen as normal. Not courageous, not special, just normal. The same issue comes up for the aged. Sleek, non-disabled aging may appear occasionally in ads, but not the real thing with lumps, bumps, and scars carrying their oxygen tank on their walker.

Before starting a petition drive to our favorite television network or magazine to use real photos instead of digitally enhanced images, we may have to do some internal work. Nora Ephron’s humorous reflections in I Feel Bad about My Neck represent many of our internal dialogues about our bodies. Since I’ve been blind from birth, I’ve had time to adjust to that physical imperfection, but the sags and creaks of aging are new. If it still works, I can celebrate that. Then there’s the “it’s been part of me for this long so it deserves some respect” line. Occupying an aging body takes more than a day-maybe a lifetime.

January 3: Special Diets and Special Needs
Cooking supper for some friends, one of whom is a brittle diabetic, makes me think about all the little adjustments we make or don’t for each other’s differences. I’m a vegetarian, so no meat on the menu, other than fish or shrimp, which I’ll eat on special occasions-where two or three are gathered together, it’s special. Protein is good and fish is brain food which is important for the game of bridge that will follow the meal.

My friend has already pointed out the basics of cooking for any special diet: if it tastes good, you can’t have it! There will be a shrimp cocktail for protein, ravioli in V8 juice for the starch, slaw (a vegetable chewable by a guest with false teeth) and stewed apples for dessert. With a little apple pie spice on them, you can imagine the pie without the carbs. For me, it’s an occasional exercise in considering others’ dietary needs, for the diabetic’s spouse it’s a daily concern. Should she have high-carb stuff she enjoys around the house or not? Yes, he’s in charge of his diabetic control, but out of sight might help with out of mind. But if she goes without too many times, and she’s built anything like I am, resentment may ensue.

I’ve experienced this dilemma from the other side when sighted people talk about experiences like going to an art show of paintings that I can’t enjoy. After about ninety seconds of being interested in knowing about it enough to be able to mention it to other friends who might enjoy it, I’m ready for the conversation to move to a different topic. If I can’t have it, I don’t want to dwell on it.

Balancing my desire to have chocolate for dessert after the apples, I briefly brought out the Christmas box of chocolates to pass. The diabetic passed on them and I put the box away after passing it around once. Hopefully, all at the dinner knew it was cooked and served with love, which has no carbs.

January 4: Celebrating Louis Braille’s Birthday
What did you do to celebrate Louis Braille’s birthday? I wrote a summary of the activities of a National Library Service for the Blind committee that I serve on. Then I started work on an article for a local aging agency’s newsletter on our library’s services of particular interest to people with low vision.

Louis Braille’s birthday certainly deserves celebrating. In the early 1800s he developed a system that enabled people who are blind to be independent readers.
Many seniors whose vision deteriorates to the point where they can’t read even large print do not learn Braille. It’s hard to learn especially if you have neuropathy, but it is useful for making notes, jotting down phone numbers, and playing cards. Tape recorders and talking computers can do a lot, but Mr. Braille’s invention will always be useful to those of us who have learned the code. It’s amazing that six dots can represent mathematical symbols, musical notes, Chinese characters, and English letters. There are not Braille equivalents of emoticons that I know of, but that may come someday.

If you’re not a Braille reader and don’t happen to know anyone who is, you can still celebrate the day. Run your fingers over the Braille numbers in the next elevator you’re on and think about how you’d know what button to push if you couldn’t see. Next time you’re in a big hotel, imagine jumping off the elevator on a random floor and trying your key card in the third door down a number of times until you get the right floor.

Next week when I get to read Scripture at church I will thank God for Louis Braille’s birth and for his blindness which prompted his invention. If that hadn’t happened, I’d have to memorize the readings in order to declaim them and with this aging brain that would be a lot of work.

Occupying Aging: Delights, Disabilities and Daily Life is available as a Kindle book through Amazon.com, and on Bookshare.

Bio: Katherine Schneider, PhD is a retired clinical psychologist and author of three books: Occupying Aging: Delights, Disabilities and Daily Life, To the Left of Inspiration: Adventures in Living with Disabilities and a children’s book Your Treasure Hunt: Disabilities and Finding Your Gold. All are available in alternate format. She blogs at http://kathiecomments.wordpress.com/.

A Cool-Down Exercise, nonfiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

A few years ago, several members participated in a workshop conducted by Margo LaGattuta. Here’s one of her great ideas, and the piece I generated in response to her prompt.

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

This idea is from poet Rick Jackson, Vermont College MFA Program. It is based on the idea that this series of opposites, a study in contrasts (things both near and far, now and then, natural and mechanical, etc.) forces one to draw on the subconscious mind in order to resolve the dichotomies, thereby generating unusual, startling metaphors one would not otherwise have considered. Write a work of your choice which incorporates:

  1. something from your refrigerator
  2. a historical, exotic location (foreign, not U.S.)
  3. an animal not of this continent
  4. some kind of downtown shop or store (in an older part of town)
  5. a foreign place not associated with the above foreign place
  6. a reference to biology or chemistry
  7. a mythological character
  8. a toy you used to play with
  9. something mechanical—an engine, electric motor, etc.
  10. a body part

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

Cold and Far Away

Tomatoes, celery, onions,
Retrieved to relieve my Amana
Of last week’s leftovers;
Pulse-blending they send Me scampering,
My hand in the cabinet,
For those seasonings and herbs
I found in the Falklands
On my cruise to Antarctica.

Not the Antarctica of 1912
And the race to the South Pole.
Scott’s poor ponies were sacrificed for food;
Amundsen’s Lapland sled dogs
Helped him find the pole first.

I never knew much about that continent
Until my mother gave me
A family of toy penguins
She found on sale at Sears.
I was curious, started reading.

I should look for unusual animals
To tease my granddaughters curiosity;
A sea lion, a chimpanzee, maybe even a unicorn?
Kandace already loves “The Lion King.”

Ah! My Gazpacho is ready;
Now where did I put those croutons with garlic?

Poeming, poetry
by Nancy Scott

I will pen you to life,
contrive my sunset script
of roses’ smoke and haze of hug.
Spell of twilight; antonym of alone.

I will poem you past my neighbors.
You will fit between robins and crickets;
the carillon’s “Amazing Grace” and the jungle
passion high school football band.

Tomorrow, I will bundle the sheets,
send them for inspection
and laundering by other hands.
But tonight, you are mine.

Bio: Nancy Scott’s over 650 essays and poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, 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, Braille Forum, Disabilities Studies Quarterly, Philadelphia Stories, and Wordgathering.

Legally Blind, poetry
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.

Note: This poem is written using only the letters found in the title of the poem.

Eye dying…
daily denial,
alien land,
dead end?

Being in need,
being needed
beginning again…

Glad day, indeed!

At a High Altitude in the Poetries, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Atop the Peak of Mount Poetry,
above the tree line,
midst the poetry lines,
I gaze down
and see a valley of verses.
Meadows of metaphors,
fields of figurative language
lie before me.
Across the Great Plains are
acrostics and tumbleweeds of tankas.
Rolling hills of haikus
head toward the horizon.

A stream of sonnets is to the south
while to the west, I watch
a waterfall of words.

So very close to me is
a scent of similes,
a fragrance of fiction,
an incense of inspiration.

As I admire the azure sky,
I am reminded of the vastness
of this poetic world.

How creatively content I am
at this altitude of gratitude
for poetry!


Part VI. Holiday Happenings

Different, fiction
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega

Once there was a little witch named Wanda. You might not have guessed that she was a witch, if you saw her walking down the street or riding on the school bus. She had big green eyes and long silky dark hair. When she smiled, she showed a dimple and a missing front tooth. In fact, she looked just like any other six year old in Miss Jones’ first grade class.

One morning, as she was getting ready for school, Wanda’s mother scolded her.

“Just look at you! Tangle your hair a bit and must you brush your teeth like that?” Why can’t you be a mess like a bad little witch should?”

“The other kids might laugh at me,” Wanda answered.

“Well, turn them into frogs,” grumbled her mother. “It would be good practice for you.”

“The teacher wouldn’t like that,” said Wanda.

“Then, turn her into a toad,” replied her mother, as she briskly rubbed some spider webs into Wanda’s hair.

No sooner was Wanda out the door, than the wind frisked along and blew the spider webs away. Wanda smiled and slipped in the pretty pink barrettes her best friend Brandi had given her.

She liked her hair smooth and soft. She liked her teeth shiny and white. Sometimes, she even wished she owned a new two wheeled bike like Brandi’s to ride, instead of a silly old broom. It wasn’t always easy to be so different from everyone else at school.

Wanda always tried to buy her lunch. She worried that the things her mother might pack for her would seem strange to the other kids. Witch food did not include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips or Twinkies. Snake egg salad sandwiches or deviled toad spread didn’t appeal to everyone and jellied earthworms were high in protein, but somehow didn’t seem appetizing to ordinary people.

She never wore her pointed hat or black dress to school. She told her mom that they were too nice to wear every day. She said that jeans and a tee shirt were good enough for school.

The thing that worried her most, was the thought of having her mother come to school. When Miss Jones asked the class, “can any of your mothers volunteer to bake cakes for the cake walk, or work in a Halloween carnival booth?” Wanda slid far down in her seat. She knew that any cake her mother might bake would be just a little too weird to give as a cake walk prize. Decorating a cake with candy corn and gummy worms might be alright for Halloween, but not real toasted spiders.

It wasn’t that Wanda minded being a witch. She liked learning new spells. They reminded her of the jump rope rhymes she sang with Brandi at recess. It was especially fun, when she said them just right and something magic happened. Cleaning your room went a lot faster when your toys and clothes could all get themselves back into place with a wave of the hand and a few well-chosen words.

It wasn’t that Wanda was ashamed of her mom. There wasn’t a smarter witch around when it came to knowing the names of flowers and weeds and what they were good for. It was just that Wanda was afraid that people wouldn’t understand and might make fun of her mom because she was so different from their own mothers.

Wanda decided to share her problem with Brandi on the long bus ride home. Brandi was a special friend. She never laughed when you fell off the swing and scraped a knee or spilled something all over yourself in art class.

Brandi was quiet for a long time after Wanda finished talking. She kept looking out of the bus window. Wanda was afraid that even Brandi didn’t understand. Finally, Brandi turned to look at her and smiled.

“Do you know why I always buy my lunch? My mom puts wheat germ and alfalfa sprouts on everything! She makes her own yoghurt and is always trying new recipes using tofu. I think she would love to learn about the things that grow wild in the woods! I bet your mom and mine could be friends,” she giggled.

“Do you really think so?” whispered Wanda.

“Sure, we’re friends aren’t we? I think they could be friends too,” answered Brandi. I’ll ask my mom to phone your mom about the Halloween carnival.”

When Halloween finally came, Wanda was very nervous. Her mother had gone to school early with Brandi’s mom to help set things up for the carnival. Brandi’s dad brought the two little girls. Wanda carefully straightened her hat and took a deep breath before opening the door into the gym. It looked so different all decorated with carved pumpkins and crepe paper streamers.

“Goodness!” cried Miss Jones, “Is that you Wanda? Aren’t you just the perfect little witch? You even have the right kind of shoes that lace up and have pointy toes! You’re sure to win a prize in that cute outfit!”

Wanda smiled as Brandi squeezed her hand.

“You look neat,” she said. “I wish my costume was as nice as yours. Mom bought it at a store and there must be a hundred just like it here.”

Wanda began to feel better. She looked around but couldn’t spot her mother anywhere. There were a lot of people crowded near the stage. She wondered if her mom could be over there.

Imagine her surprise, when she found her mother in the middle of the crowd, changing balloons into scary shapes like bats, black cats and spiders! Her hands moved so fast, that no one noticed how she whispered to herself as she worked.

“Your mom is great!” kids exclaimed. “It’s almost like magic how fast she can make things!” Wanda and Brandi looked at each other and grinned. Only they knew that it was, real magic!

That night, after Wanda’s mother had tucked her into bed, she lay awake for a long time. She rubbed the fluffy toy bat she had won as first prize in the costume parade, against her cheek. This had been the best Halloween ever! Wanda was proud of her mom and very glad to be a little witch. Being different was okay. It could even be fun!

Pumpkins, Pumpkins and More Pumpkins, Memoir
by Kate Chamberlin

Was it the Peanuts character Charlie Brown who would sit all night in the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin? Well, good grief, he’d have quite a choice if he went to the Bel’s Pumpkin Patch on Canandaigua Road (3/4-miles north of Route 441 on the west) in Walworth.

We took the “B” Team to pick their own pumpkin for Halloween last week, when the weather was perfect for browsing the acres of pumpkins of all sizes. Our rule of thumb is that if you can carry it, Granddad will buy it. It is amazing how strong these little guys are!

We spent the rest of the afternoon scooping out the seeds for roasting, creating jack O’Lanterns and embellishing whole pumpkins with markers. Our three-year-old, Tyler, wanted a scary face carved onto his pumpkin and was pleased with the results.

We carved a surprise face on the pumpkin one-year-old John chose. We took several photos of them as they scooped out the seeds, looking as if they’ll be swallowed by the pumpkin at any moment. Their facial expressions are priceless.

Later that evening, both boys’ faces lit up when we placed a candle-in-a-glass inside their pumpkins. Dave did a nice job of turning my pumpkin into a happy jack O’Lantern.

The roasted seeds were a successful treat, but they must be eaten the same day as roasted, so they’re crispy and crunchy. We shredded a portion of the
scooped out insides of my pumpkin for baking into pumpkin bread.

Now, don’t turn your nose up at the thought of pumpkin bread. It really tastes great.

Okay, okay, you can substitute zucchini for pumpkin if you insist. (Ingredients for zucchini bread are in Parenthesis.)
Pumpkin Bread
4 eggs (or egg beaters)
2 Cups sugar
1 Cup Oil
3-1/2 Cup flour (unbleached)
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 tsp salt (optional)
1 t pumpkin pie spices (cinnamon)
3/4 t baking powder
2 Cups grated pumpkin (zucchini)
1 cup raisins or chopped dates
1 Cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup granola, cereal or oatmeal
1 tsp vanilla
Combine eggs, sugar and oil.
Add to mixed dry ingredients and spices.
Fold in pumpkin (Zucchini), raisins, and granola.
Add vanilla.
Pour into 2 greased or sprayed loaf pans.
Bake in preheated oven 350 degrees for 55 minutes.

This is tasty fresh out of the oven or cold; spread with cream cheese or leave it plain. Try baking several loaves during the pumpkin (zucchini) season and freezing them for the winter. Kids love this when it is baked as little muffins – call them pumpkin gems. You can also use round tin cans to get interesting loaves to give as gifts.

We’ve placed our unique pumpkin family on our patio, so we can admire them as we nibble on freshly baked pumpkin bread.

Oh Dear Gussie, now THAT’S the part of Halloween that I do like!

Note: This story was first published October 25, 2001, “Cornucopia”, Wayne County STAR Newspaper.

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. Visit her website at http://www.katechamberlin.com.

Hallowed Eve Is Here, poetry
by Deon Lyons

Arched backs of blackened cats
Cornstalks conducting the moon
Broom stick heavied with rider and cape
Graveyards sing out in tune

Shadows waltz through a pumpkin patch
Spirits with life gone cold
Howling cries from the hinges of Hell
Tales of fright to be told

Midnight chimes as the moonbeams cast
Frozen stares from the night
Widowed ones weaving a wickedly web
Innocence flees from the sight

Piercing shrills echo deep within
Unrecognizable fear
Reflections from a darkened world
Hallowed Eve is here.

There’s a Song in the Air, nonfiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Music has always been my strongest means for expressing and celebrating the spiritual beauty of Christmas. As a good harmony singer at the Texas School for the Blind where music played a leading role, I rose early on our day for going home. In the older girls’ cottage we donned warm clothing and took to the roads on campus to sing beneath windows and on patios at other dormitories. This rite of passage had been our dream ever since we were those little girls, cold from crisp air through open windows, but captured by the magic of Christmas harmony. Anticipating hot cocoa and breakfast served early, we serenaded the superintendent and the men in the boiler room providing our steam heat. The night before, in our annual Christmas pageant, we tried our wings onstage or sang from the balcony, open to the back of the auditorium from the second floor. We got goosebumps as three high school boys with grown-up, handsome voices walked up the center aisle singing “We Three Kings,” and joined the manger scene onstage.

Each line in this collection of haiku is taken from a song celebrating the nativity. Some songs and verses may be obscure, but most are familiar. Some mystery writers in the 1930′s used footnotes to prove they’d dropped clues here and there. I offer a list, ordered by line, of the songs from which I borrowed lyrics.

No crying he makes,
The babe, the son of Mary,
Born in Bethlehem.

Angels bending near,
What your gladsome tidings be?
So, to honor him.

Sing, choirs of angels;
Rise up, shepherd, and follow
The stars in the sky.

Peace to men on Earth!
Go tell it on the mountain;
Come little children.

Come and behold him;
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,
Born on Christmas day.

He shall feed his flock;
The weary world rejoices;
Sheep may safely graze.

Yay, Lord, we greet Thee,
Born to raise the sons of Earth,
His gospel is peace.

Star of Bethlehem,
Guide us to thy perfect light;
Christ was born for this.

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

Sources:

  • There’s a Song in the Air
  • Away in a Manger
  • What Child is This?
  • Children, Go Where I Send Thee
  • It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
  • Angels We have Heard on High
  • Little Drummer Boy
  • Oh, Come, All Yee Faithful
  • Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow
  • Oh Little Town of Bethlehem
  • Go Tell it on the Mountain
  • Oh Come, Little Children
  • Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
  • Mary’s Boy Child
  • He Shall Feed His Flock, from Handel’s Messiah
  • Oh Holy Night
  • Sheep May Safely Graze, from a cantata by Bach
  • Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
  • Beautiful Star of Bethlehem
  • We Three Kings of Orient Are
  • Good Christian Men, Rejoice

Cranberry Sauce Haiku, poetry
by John Wesley Smith

Good cranberry sauce
Always has some whole berries
That pop in your mouth.

Bio: John Wesley Smith is a blind writer and podcaster from central Missouri. Most of his creative endeavors go into his blog site at http://www.destinysurvival.com

The Ornament Party, fiction
by Donna W. Hill

Christmas was fast approaching, and Applebutter Hill was rising to the challenge. Each night at sundown, more houses joined the ranks of the decorated. Candles glowed from inside two-stories, twins, bungalows, center hall colonials and the stately old Victorians which had presided over the town’s development since the horse and buggy days.

Wreaths and garlands sparkled in the glow of strings of holiday lights framing porches and climbing lamp posts. Antiquated incandescent blue bulbs, white LEDs and multi-colored strands outlined gables, Dormers and doorways, draped over wrought-iron fences, wrapped around front-yard evergreens and arched over arbors.

Secret Santas sneaked up driveways to slip wrapped presents into unlocked cars. Carols from the carillons and choir rehearsals of the neighborhoods many churches drifted across the town.

It was Abigail’s first Christmas away from home, her first Christmas in Applebutter Hill. At thirteen, she had received the letter that all Adiaphorans dread, the letter announcing the person’s eviction from the island nation. No cause was ever given, no appeal possible. Abigail was convinced, though she never mentioned it, that it was her eyes that had made her unacceptable. She had never been able to see at night, read normally, walk around without running into something or a host of other things that apparently defined acceptability. She wasn’t blind; she could still read print, albeit at a great cost. It was, as her parents said, “just bad eyes.” But they had been wrong, at least according to the Mission.

After Abigail picked her way across the craggy strip of rocks that joined Adiaphora to the Free Commonwealth of Lodahg, she and several other refugees were rounded up by the Adiaphoran Refugee Mission.

The Mission placed underage refugees with guardians, giving them full scholarships to the Paul Plumkettle Learning Center. Abigail had lived on campus in Transition House for longer than most, as there was some difficulty in placing her. Shortly after she arrived, she was subjected to a battery of medical exams and pronounced “legally blind.”

Someone had pulled some strings and within weeks she was waiting alone in a room outside the capital of Mythragopolis for a Guiding Angels for the Blind trainer to introduce her to her new guide dog. Curly Connor, AKA the Fluffer-Noodle, was the embodiment of sweetness. Half Labrador, half Golden Retriever, he had a thick, glossy coat of long wavy fur and a twinkle that could melt most any heart. He was enthusiastically obedient and a motivated worker, who showered her with kisses and attention. To her surprise, Abigail enjoyed not having to strain every fiber of her being to attempt to see her way around.

Several weeks later, she and the Fluffer-Noodle were back at Transition House, still with no prospects for guardians. Then, just before Thanksgiving, Nell Plumkettle, the ninety-year-old widow of the man for whom the school was named, asked her if she would like to come and live in the carriage house behind her Victorian on Old Applebutter Hill Road.

The asking was no doubt a formality, but one that endeared her to Abigail. The Plumkettle house, once brimming with children and grandchildren, now was home only to Nell Plumkettle, who kept the first and second floors just as they had been when her beloved husband had passed away. Damari Lorca, an eighteen-year-old art student who managed Mrs. P’s bookstore had the third floor apartment. Damari’s elderly calico Lena was the only other living soul in the enormous house.

It had all been so strange and scary. At Transition House, Mrs. Shafer and Mrs. Ervy were always cleaning and cooking and checking in to see if any of the kids needed help with homework, a shoulder to cry on or a stern lecture. Now, Abigail was essentially living alone. She ate supper with Mrs. Plumkettle in the Victorian’s cavernous kitchen with Damari tending the crackling fire. On weekends Mrs. P would come to the carriage house for lunch, usually bringing cheese sandwiches from Village Square. For breakfast, however, she was on her own. After tending to Curly Connor, she’d grab some cereal, yogurt or cottage cheese from the tiny kitchen and then walk the five blocks to school.

Mrs. P, who seemed determined to expose Abigail to as many new experiences as possible, was on her church council and had received an invitation to the pastor’s house for the annual Christmas ornament party. She informed Abigail that she and “Mr. Connor,” as she called him, had been invited and would also be going. Damari had classes that night, but brought Abigail a Christmas sweatshirt to dinner the night before. Mrs. P surprised her with a lighted holiday dog collar. When they put it on the Fluffer-Noodle, he wagged and wiggled his approval.

Friday evening, Mrs. Plumkettle placed a wrapped Christmas ornament in her bag. It was brisk, but she insisted upon walking. As they headed down the maple-lined sidewalks of Applebutter Hill, Abigail’s eyes were free to stare at the lights – the only part of the holiday decorations she could see. Christmas carols drifted into the street from home entertainment systems. Someone was practicing the piano and further along, Bach was being played on a home organ.

As they approached Pastor McMillan’s, Abigail noticed a succession of warm brown lights at knee-level on either side of the sidewalk.

“What’s that?” she said stopping to gaze at the closest one.

“They’re candle bags,” Mrs. Plumkettle explained. “They put sand in paper shopping bags to hold them down and set candles inside.”

Abigail had never seen anything like them and was delighted when they led straight to the front porch steps. Pastor Skip McMillan, his wife Pam and their small daughter Audrey lived in a center hall colonial. They greeted their guests as they stepped into the spacious entrance hall between the living room and dining room.

“Put this under the tree,” said Mrs. Plumkettle pressing the small package into Abigail’s hand. “I’ll be visiting with Pastor Skip’s mother.”

Though Abigail had been attending church since her early days in Applebutter Hill and knew many of the party guests, she was a bit unnerved at the thought that she would be alone. But the house was warm, the chatter friendly and after all, she did have Curly Connor. He was her best foot forward, and the conversations which didn’t involve someone asking if they could get her something to eat or drink centered around him.

Curly Connor’s presence was an ice-breaker, and Abigail was soon exchanging pleasantries with a stream of guests who wanted information about him. Most of them already knew that they weren’t supposed to pet him, and when a few venturous hands reached out to the silky head, someone other than Abigail usually set them straight.

A woman, who didn’t introduce herself, showed her to a seat in the living room and when everyone was seated, Pastor Skip offered a prayer. Tiny hostess helpers in elf costumes came by with cheese and crackers, sandwich squares, hot chocolate and a variety of cookies.

“No, honey, the puppy can’t have chocolate chip cookies.”

After the initial flurry, however, Abigail just listened as the council members and their families caught up on the latest news, joked good-naturedly and sipped wine. At nine o’clock, the council president Ben Schumer stood up.

“OK, it’s time for some singing,” he called over the din. “George, feel free to keep eating; you know how dreadfully off-key you can get.”

A girl near Abigail, seeing the horrified look on her face, leaned over and whispered, “He’s kidding. George is our finest tenor.”

Pastor McMillan had already taken his seat at the grand piano and was warming up with a medley of Christmas music. His wife stood at his right hand, as the guests gathered around.

“Join with us,” she said, and for the next twenty minutes, the house rang with carols in four-part harmony.

“OK,” Mrs. McMillan said. “Everyone who brought an ornament, come sit around the tree. Could someone please grab those throw pillows from the sofa?”

“It’s time for the ornament game,” said Pastor Skip standing up and picking his way through the crowd of legs. “Now, the way this works is-”

“Does anyone really not know this?” said the council president interrupting him with a wave of his hand.

“Ben, I’m trying to explain this for the new folks,” he replied in mock exasperation.

“Well then, don’t let me interrupt you; you’re so good at interrupting yourself!”

“As I was saying,” he continued when the laughter subsided. “Each person has the choice of either taking an ornament that has already been unwrapped or picking an unopened one from under the tree.”

“And,” said his wife, “This year, I hope we won’t have a repeat of last year’s shenanigans, when several of our more prominent council members took it upon themselves to engage in behavior more suited to my kindergarten students.”

“If I recall correctly, Pam,” said a woman Abigail recognized as the choir director, “You were whining and belly-aching with the best of them when Catherine took that fancy lighted gingerbread house off your hands.”

“Oh, that was beautiful,” another woman moaned, “who ended up with that one anyway?”

“I did,” another said, “It’s a music box, you know … and no, I didn’t bring it.”

The council president’s wife opened the first ornament to claps and coos. It was a ceramic angel. The next person opened another package with much fanfare and held up Santa in his sleigh.

“Well,” said the third person, “I guess I have to get this thing going. I will take that from you, Jim.”

Jim handed over the sleigh with a groan and picked another ornament from under the tree.

“Well, isn’t this nice!” he said revealing a hand-painted ball.

Curly Connor was maintaining a regal down-stay at Abigail’s side with his paws crossed, turning his attention from one party-goer to the next. Little by little the game made its way toward Abigail, each person either taking an opened ornament from a theatrically displeased partier or unwrapping something new.

As each new person’s turn arrived, the crowd was entreated by Pam McMillan to “Hold ‘em up, everybody.” Most of the ornaments were rather ordinary, but a few like the sleigh and angel developed quite a following, having changed hands repeatedly by the time it was Abigail’s turn.

Abigail decided to pick a package and reached out to find several in front of her. She recognized the one she had brought and searched the others before choosing.

“OK,” she said, trying to imitate the jovial tones around her, “Let’s just see what this is.”

Setting the torn wrapping aside, she opened a small box. Unearthing the ornament from its protective tissue paper, she found what seemed to be a small glass bell. It felt uncommonly smooth. Grasping the hanger on top, she lifted it up to show the crowd, who gasped as one. Seven progressively smaller bells swayed back and forth from Abigail’s hand, sending tiny tinkling sounds through the room. Abigail immediately liked it. From the “oo’s and ah’s” of the crowd, however, she assumed that it would soon be taken.

The person next to Abigail took the sleigh and another “ordinary” ornament was unwrapped. The next person decided to take an unwrapped present as did the one after her. Abigail had dutifully held up her bells for each new person to see and was perplexed when no one took it.

“Come on,” Pam said, as she introduced a girl Abigail’s age. “Let’s see those ornaments. Jenny, you have quite a choice.”

Abigail smiled at Jenny and gave her bells a shake. It sounded like the girl was about to speak, when her mother hissed something at her. Jenny whined something in return, generating grumbles of assent from several other teens. She ultimately settled on the ceramic angel.

Then, another brouhaha broke out about the sleigh until someone unwrapped a lighted snowman.

“I’ll trade you this sleigh for that snowman.”

“What makes you think I want that ratty old sleigh?”

“Maybe just that you’ve been drooling over it all night.”

“Who says you can make deals? You already had your turn.”

“Come on, Pat, you know there’s no rules once we get started.”

The light-hearted banter went on and on. One by one, the guests ignored the nesting bells.

When the ornament unwrapping was over, Abigail returned the bells to their box. As she stood up, she felt dizzy. Too much sugar?

No one seemed near enough to talk to. They were all engaged in slow goodbyes. Picking up Curly Connor’s harness, she steadied herself.

“Find Mrs. Plumkettle,” she said, as the wagging dog began to pick his way through the crowd.

With each step, however, Abigail felt worse. It was as though the hose of a vacuum cleaner was attached to the underside of her diaphragm, sucking her downward, collapsing her into herself.

When she heard her guardian’s calm, delighted voice calling her from the entrance hall, Abigail tried to mask the expression on her face with a forced smile. After donning their coats and thanking the McMillans, they stepped into the night. A light snow had coated the sidewalks.

“Oh,” said Mrs. Plumkettle, raising her hood, “this is perfect! I love walking in the snow … So, which ornament did you leave with? Not ours, I hope.”

“No,” said Abigail, “it’s little hanging bells. They’re glass or crystal or something.”

“Show me.”

They stopped, and Abigail handed her the box. Mrs. Plumkettle opened it and pulled out the string of nesting bells, admiring them as the snow coated their hoods.

“I can’t believe they let you leave with this,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

Abigail stared into the darkness as a light breeze sent the bells into their high-pitched jingling. Her pulse raced and the sinking feeling intensified. She knew what it was now. If they had been comfortable with her, someone would have taken the bells.

bio: Donna W. Hill is a writer, speaker and avid knitter from Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains. A songwriter with three albums, Hill, born legally blind from Retinitis Pigmentosa, is the author of The Heart of Applebutter Hill, an adventure-mystery with excursions into fantasy. It follows two 14-year-old friends as they make their way in a new country and struggle with the consequences of learning a dangerous secret. Recommended by professionals in education and the arts as a diversity/anti-bullying classroom resource, it is available in print through Amazon, on all major e-book outlets and on Bookshare. Contact Donna at: http://DonnaWHill.com

The Christmas Bazaar Monologue, fiction
by Donna W. Hill

I saw Diane this morning – Snyder, I think her name is now. We had coffee at Molly’s. It still bothers her, even after all these years. Of course I’ve never told her that I saw the whole thing; she feels bad enough as it is.

No, sweetie, not Grandma’s china. Goodness, that set’s seventy-five years old! Come over here and sit on the sofa.

This won’t last. She has so much energy, but we can hope. Where was I? Yes, well, it happened years ago, when I was the director of the interfaith ministries and thrift shop. It was a good job – not much money but lots of nice people, and Jim’s practice was thriving, so it’s not like I really had to work.

Anyway, every December, we would have our Christmas Bazaar for families in need. People donated toys, mostly store-bought, but we received some hand-made things too. The Tyler’s gave us adorable doll cradles – he made them in his shop and then she’d paint them.

I had another lady who made rag dolls with beautiful peasant dresses. That’s one of hers over there on the window seat. She gave it to me when I retired, said we’d probably be having a granddaughter one of these days.

One old guy – I can’t believe I don’t remember his name – But, he made wagons and other toys, yoyos and puzzles, that sort of thing. And of course, we had Susan. She liked to knit and she brought in beautiful afghans all year round – lap warmers, she called them – for our ladies in assisted care.

To tell you the truth, I was a bit skeptical when I first took over. I didn’t know, but Susan had been doing it for years. I was confused about what to do with them. What price could I put on them that wouldn’t be an insult to her or too high for our patrons?

So, I mentioned something, and Susan set me straight, said they were to be given away, either to old people or new mothers. She told me that would be worth more than any money we could get, and she was right.

The first one that fall – I’ll never forget it – it was pale blue and so soft. There was a ruffle on top, and the sides and bottom were scalloped. It looked like a picture frame, borders of different patterns one inside the next with a leafy vine in the middle.

Joan had the elder ministry in those days, and I went along with her to Jenny’s place. She really makes it nice for them, so homey, you know? I remember that day; she had Indian corn on the mantle…Isn’t it strange how some things stick with you?

My goodness, was I nervous going there the first time! But, I suppose we’re all a bit uncomfortable with that sort of thing, seeing how frail they are and the oxygen tubes and such. I shouldn’t talk; I’ll be there soon enough myself.

Sweetie, hold still…you’re going to trip over your laces. Someday, you’ll be able to do this all by yourself…There you go.

She’s such a blessing … anyway, the lap warmer. I didn’t know who to give it to. I looked around for quite a while. There was this one little old lady in a rocking chair by the fireplace; she didn’t have anyone, and she was so sweet. Still had a twinkle in her eye, you know? She was thrilled to have something hand-made, said that shade of blue was her favorite color. I felt great about it. I still can’t help smiling to myself whenever I think of it.

That Christmas Susan made the cutest little pillow and afghan sets for dolls and brought them in for the bazaar. The pillows had a multi-colored design on the front. I don’t know a thing about knitting myself, but they were like miniature decorator pillows, fringed and – I can still remember touching them – the backs felt like wide wale corduroy.

Diane was one of the young mothers that year. She had it rough; the father of those children never lifted a finger to help. Anyway, she came in and picked out some things for the kids. I had seen her before. She had been in a few times with the little girl while the other two were in school. I always tried to talk to the customers…remember their names…make them feel like there was some connection. Anyhow, I noticed Diane looking at the sets and went over to talk to her a bit. She seemed so down, wouldn’t even look at me. She rummaged through them for quite a while and then asked if she could take a lilac one. She said the little girl was crazy about anything purple… Naturally, I told her she could…that’s what they were there for. She actually smiled at me. It’s the little things like that, that make you think you’re really helping.

I didn’t think any more of it. Then, one evening – it was just after Christmas – I stopped at the market after work for a few things.

I saw Diane up ahead. She looked exhausted. I don’t think she noticed me. The older two were fussing with each other and the little girl was prancing around. She was such a beautiful child … about three-years-old at the time, I’d imagine. I could see her looking across the store…you know how they do at that age with their eyes wide and their mouths hanging open? I heard Diane tell her to go pet the puppy. When I looked up, I saw the Wilsons. She was with the shopping cart. I guess she was waiting for her husband to get something down the aisle. Her guide dog was just standing there as proud as you please. Oh, he was a beauty … shiny black coat and huge brown eyes. Murphy, that was his name.

I guess Diane didn’t know that you’re not supposed to pet them. I started toward them, but I was too far away to say anything. It all happened so fast.

So, the little girl went running over to them as happy as all get out. I guess she had heard Diane and then the little one running toward them, because she bent down and touched her dog’s head and said something like, “No, no, sweetie, this is a working dog, we don’t pet dogs when they’re working.”

The child was disappointed, of course and ran back to her mother. Diane was just about there anyway. I guess she had heard Diane coming because she turned right to her and explained it to her, about how you can’t pet them when the harness is on and to teach her children to always ask.

She wasn’t unkind about it, I didn’t think, but Diane … Well, I can’t repeat it all, but she went away grumbling, “What? You can’t even pet the bleeping dog? Who the bleep does she think she is anyway?”

I couldn’t believe my ears! I didn’t want Diane to see me, to know that I’d heard her, so I ducked down an aisle. It bothered me, you know? I didn’t know how to deal with it. I thought I should say something. I mean, I wanted to slap her mouth for one thing, and what kind of attitude is that anyway? We’re all human, aren’t we?

I said to myself, “Just let it go, it’s none of your business.” When I got up front with my cart though, there was Diane. It was pretty crowded and we were in different lines but next to each other.

She said hello, and we chatted about the holidays. She thanked me for the bazaar and went on about the kids all liking their presents. The little one was skipping up and down the aisle. Diane said she particularly liked the doll pillow and blanket, couldn’t be separated from them.

So I say, “I’ll have to tell Susan – she’ll be tickled.” Then, I mentioned that I had just seen her earlier.

I should have stopped right there, but for some reason I looked around just then, and there they were, the Wilsons, headed out – her husband pushing the cart, with her and the dog following.

“There’s Susan,” I said – it just came out so naturally, “Just going out the door with the black guide dog.”

Well, Diane lost all of her color. I still couldn’t stop myself, but I thought she should know, and I think it was as tactful as it could have been. I said, “I want to pet him so badly, but you aren’t supposed to, not when they’re wearing that harness.”

Oh, goodness, there’s the tea kettle. Sugar and cream … isn’t it?

The Puppies of New Year’s Eve, fiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, Clare Ann had the heater of her red Ford Taurus turned to high as she was in the midst of her 70-mile journey to the farmhouse where she would pick up her new puppies. Earlier in December, Clare Ann had decided that she did not want one puppy to be lonely, so she chose two puppies. Fortunately, Glenn, the breeder of the Cavalier King Charles spaniels, agreed to keep the puppies until December 31. Finally, on the last day of the year, Clare’s adult children and all had flown back to their homes a thousand or more miles away. Their visits in July and December were bookends that left too much space and time to fill, especially since the passing of their father so suddenly two and a half years ago.

As Clare Ann drove safely at the speed limit on the road which had once been one lane of bricks and one lane of gravel, she reminisced about her late husband. Then, through tear-filled eyes, she tried to re-focus on her driving, on the gray landscape and barren fields. Ever since Mac’s death, she had tried to fill the days, but she felt as if her life were a sieve. Since all her volunteer work had not been sufficiently effective to fill seven days of each week, her new plan was to fill more hours of each day with the new puppies.

On Route 1, a mist from Mother Nature further challenged Clare’s teary eyes. Then, by the time she neared the pet cemetery of the veterinary clinic, a steady rain washed the salt off her red car. She pulled into the parking lot of the veterinary clinic, made a U-turn, and stopped for a few minutes across from the grave sites of her former pet dogs who were lying at rest there. The cemetery was always kept up so nicely, frequently better than the cemetery where some of her relatives were buried. For a few minutes, Clare allowed herself to think of the happy times that those dogs had brought to her family and to herself. Surely, the new puppies would bring her some happier times.

When Clare pulled away from the clinic, she noticed that the outdoor temperature was 37 degrees. She was grateful that snow and freezing rain were not worries. As she continued through the county seat of Edgar County, through Paris, Illinois, Clare dwelled on the thought of how de-peopled her life had become. Of the couples with whom she and Mac had socialized for decades, she was the first to lose a spouse. Clare Ann hated the word “lose”; she had not lost Mac. In one way or another, she knew that he would always be with her, but she had lost close connections with all those couples and her teacher friends. What concerned her even more was that she was losing close ties with her children, due she thought, to all those miles between their homes and their Hoosier home. Did those miles between allow them to grieve so differently, so separately? Of course, she could have visited her children more often, but Clare Ann hated to fly. She hated airports and all the bother and anxiousness of airline travel. Alternatively, driving alone all those miles to their homes was just too much for her at age 64. Basically, she knew and readily admitted that she was not a good traveler. Seventy miles to the farmhouse to pick up the puppies was doable; she was glad to be on her way to the breeder’s house, where she had visited the puppies twice previously. The puppies would be another good excuse to avoid long trips, and she had always loved and bonded so quickly with dogs.

After traveling a little more than fifty miles, Clare Ann noticed the sound of sleet hitting the windshield. Her calmness disappeared, and her foot let up on the accelerator. Her increasing nervousness about the changing weather and road conditions made her feel a bit too warm, so she turned down the heater. She tried to concentrate more on her driving. As Clare went around the next bend in the road, the sleet subsided in intensity. Since there was no radio report to be of help for this area, Clare turned off the radio and turned on the low beams. The next ten miles passed by too slowly. Although a couple of semis sped by, few other vehicles were on this highway. The houses were few and far between; the landscape seemed as de-peopled as her life. In the middle of the day, without any holiday lights to add a peaceful glow, everything was gray, too gray.

When Clare Ann spotted the iron bridge, she knew that she had less than ten miles to her destination. Suddenly, she realized that this area was coated with ice; she took her foot off the accelerator. The freezing rain was adding to the thickness of the ice on the road and on her car. She said a prayer and wished for snow, not ice. With no other vehicle in sight, Clare was not concerned about going too slowly. To pass the painstakingly slow miles of her icy route, she whispered the rosary.

When Clare Ann glanced at the odometer, she realized that she had to watch for the turn-off on the county road. She sang, “Oh, the weather outside is frightful ….” Then, the sign for the county road welcomed her to a moment of relief; one right turn and then the farmhouse should be within sight. To make the right turn, Clare decreased her speed, but her turning glided all too swiftly into a spin which landed her Ford in a ditch along the county road. Realizing that she was fine and her car could not be too damaged, Clare gave a brief prayer of thanks. Then, she tried to drive the car out of the ditch. No luck. Making a second attempt would have been ridiculous, so she left the car and stepped alongside the road to avoid the more slippery surface. Facing the wind, Clare pulled her hood over her knitted beret and very cautiously walked toward the lights of the farmhouse.

By the time Clare Ann reached the wrap-around porch of the farmhouse, she was wet and shivering.

“Come in, come in,” Glenn insisted. “You look frozen. I thought you would not come today because of the icy weather.”

As Glenn took his visitor’s coat, hat, scarf, and gloves, Clare began to explain her journey and incident. Besides Glenn, she was warmly welcomed by her two puppies and two other Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. After Glenn encouraged Clare to sit on the sofa, near the fireplace, he handed her a heavy granny-square afghan to cover herself. The four dogs gathered at her feet; she petted two at a time. In the warm house, stroking the puppies and dogs, Clare spoke softly to her new canine friends and felt calm again. Glenn folded a fleece blanket into fourths and handed it to Clare. “Place this on your lap over the afghan, and I will hand you your puppies.” With the darling puppies on her lap, Clare Ann smiled broadly; the face that had felt frozen just a few minutes earlier suddenly glowed with delight. “Stay right there. I’ll grab my phone and take a picture for you. I can e-mail the photo to you so that you can share it with your children.” Although Clare would have normally been embarrassed to have her photo taken, she just continued to smile and talk to her puppies. After taking a few photos, Glenn sighed with relief; he was so pleased that these two special pups would have a good home. After noticing that Clare Ann had stopped shivering, Glenn smiled at the New Year’s Eve puppies and visitor.

“Would you like hot cocoa, hot apple cider, or a hot toddy?”

While the puppies napped on their new owner’s lap, the cider-spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg-soothed Clare’s senses even more. From Clare’s previous visits, she remembered that the older dog’s name was Freckles and that Patches was the mother of the puppies. One Cavalier was white with red spots while the younger dog was white with cinnamon-colored spots. Clare knew that her puppies would not show the colors of their spots until they were about 14 weeks old. As soon as Glenn sat in the recliner across from Clare, the older dogs gathered at his feet. With one hand on Patches, Glenn lifted his mug of cider in the air and toasted, “Happy New Year!” Clare repeated his toast with a gentle smile.

“When I completed all the paperwork to adopt the puppies, you learned so much about me. Now, I think you need to tell me a little about yourself.”

“yes, I do like to know a lot about the people who adopt my pups. I want these little guys to have a good and forever home. I had grown up with larger-breed dogs, but my wife, my former wife introduced me to this breed. I fell in love with these Cavaliers and fell out of love with my wife. Actually, I guess we just grew apart in our sixties. When I retired from the newspaper, I was ready to stay here and enjoy the farm; Kate wanted to travel and especially cruise. In my younger days, I had traveled a fair amount. The military took me to Viet Nam, but I also traveled in a few European countries, Mexico, Canada, and 48 states. Kate talked me into one cruise to Alaska. Well, that was fine. Once was enough for me, but not for Kate. Finally, I told her to go on a cruise without me. She did. She met Giorgio. Kate and I divorced; they married. Now, instead of book-of-the-month club or wine-of-the-month club, Kate and Giorgio belong to cruise-of-the-month club. To remind me of her vow of cruise-ship living, Kate sends me a postcard from every port. I have quite a collection. I suppose I am saying too much. Last December, they went on a Christmas cruise; this year, they are on a Santa cruise. So, I had all the children and grandchildren here for Christmas. With all the company, the puppies had an exciting holiday season. Have you ever been on a Santa cruise?”

“I have never been on a cruise. I try to avoid cruise ships and airplanes. If I were away from home too much, I would not have passed your test to receive the puppies.”

“You are right. I was supposed to go to a friend’s house for New Year’s Eve, but I need to call and cancel, too much ice. Then, I’ll call the sheriff’s office to let Sheriff Bodner and his deputies know about your car. They will be pleased to know that you are here and safe. Did you have lunch?”

“Yes, an early lunch, thank you. Thanks for calling the sheriff.”

While Glenn made the calls, Clare Ann freshened up in the bathroom. When they met in the spacious kitchen, Glenn asked if she would like chili and cornbread for supper. He added that the sheriff said that she and everyone else in the county would make his life easier if everyone would stay put for the night due to the ice storm. Glenn explained that when a county salt truck slides off the icy road, the sheriff thinks we all just need to wait for Mother Nature to melt the ice. Although Clare Ann was a bit uncomfortable, she knew that she did not have a choice. The farmhouse had to be her refuge for the night.

The totally remodeled kitchen intrigued Clare Ann and took her mind off the circumstances. In front of one bay window was a large round table; in front of the second bay window were two bentwood rocking chairs. Glenn’s rolltop desk bridged the gap between the two windows. Realizing that Clare Ann was taken with the view of the farmland and woods, Glenn encouraged her to sit on one of the bentwood rockers. The freezing rain was changing to snow; the branches, fence rows, and a gazebo glistened with Mother Nature’s dangerously fine touch.

Talking and laughing, playing with the puppies, taking all four dogs outside a few times, working together in the kitchen to make the chili and cornbread, having supper beside the bay window, playing a game of Scrabble, becoming more and more acquainted and comfortable with each other, Clare Ann and Glenn passed the next several hours until minutes before midnight. Right after turning on the television so that they could watch the festivities in New York City, Glenn popped open the bottle of champagne which he had planned to take to his friends’ party. Observing that the four dogs who were curled up together paid no attention to the popping of the champagne bottle, Glenn and Clare Ann shared a smile with one another. “Shall we toast your new puppies? Why haven’t I asked you this before? What are you naming the pups? Icy and Frosty?”

“No, Glenn, I decided that these puppies of New Year’s Eve should be called Champagne and Bubbles.”


Part VII. Not What I Expected

A tale of Two Funerals, nonfiction
by Rhonda T. Spear

There are three words that don’t normally belong in the same sentence: funny funeral story. It is rare that one of the most somber occasions could have a humorous side. I am here as a witness to the fact my father’s funeral had some unusual circumstances that make for an amusing tale to tell.

There is never an ideal time for a funeral. Pops had been ill for several weeks and we lost him during some of the coldest weather of the winter in 2015. When we were making the final arrangements, the funeral director was concerned about opening the grave as the ground was frozen solid. He told us if the grave couldn’t be opened, Pops would be returned to the funeral home until the cemetery was ready to receive him. That was all we needed, a two part service to be continued. That would have been Pop’s unfortunate luck to have that happen and it didn’t help that snow was forecast so we were trying to work around the inclement weather.

The day of the funeral arrived. Snow had fallen earlier in the week and because the temperature hadn’t risen above freezing, ice and snow were everywhere. Everyone knew to come to Westover Hills United Methodist church for Pop’s funeral service. Well, at least I thought everyone knew. A friend of mine ended up with quite a dilemma to resolve.

Westover Hills Baptist church is close to my parents’ home so Linda thought that was the church we attended and where the service was being held. Linda arrived at the church in plenty of time for the service, which was to begin at eleven a.m. She carried two homemade pies inside, found the kitchen and handed them over to the committee in charge of setting up the food for the reception following the service. Linda loves to bake and many times she would bring Pops and me some of the homemade cakes, cookies and brownies she made.

She entered the sanctuary and found a seat on the center aisle. Linda immediately noticed that something was different. She had been to Pop’s visitation at Bliley’s Funeral Home and knew his casket was closed at his request. The casket at the front of the church was open. Linda was puzzled. Why would the casket be open for the service when it was closed during the visitation,? She didn’t think the deceased gentleman looked like Pops and thought perhaps his illness might have resulted in him losing weight. Pops had been a WWII veteran and a flag draped the casket. There were large arrangements of flowers adorning each end and others were placed nearby.

Other guests began arriving and as each introduced themselves to Linda in turn, she kept telling them she was a very good friend of mine. Each time Linda said she received quizzical looks but no one questioned her further. As the service was beginning and the family entered the sanctuary, she found none of them looked familiar to her, so she thought it might be extended family she had not met before.

When no more family filed in and the minister rose to begin the prayer, Linda finally realized something was terribly wrong. The minister included the name of the deceased gentleman in his prayer and to her horror, it wasn’t Pop’s name. Linda experienced several emotions at once: shock, embarrassment and to a certain degree, panic. She was in a quandary. How could she leave the service without parading right in front of the family and casket? She looked around for the closest door and finally spotted one at the left of the sanctuary. Just then, the congregation stood to sing a hymn and Linda, who is not a small woman, managed to quickly squeeze between two pillars at the far end of the pew and flee the sanctuary. She later said she even considered sobbing as if overcome with emotion so her exit wouldn’t appear so rude to the family.

Now to retrieve those pies! Linda hurried back to the kitchen and discovered her pies had been grouped with other desserts. Looking around to ensure she was not being observed, she grabbed them and rushed towards the door as quickly as possible, hoping she wouldn’t encounter anyone. It would be rather awkward to explain why she was taking pies she’d brought for the reception. Linda felt awful knowing the committee would notice the empty space and wonder why someone would have stolen the pies, but what else could she do? As Linda was leaving, she saw a small table with the programs for the funeral service she hadn’t noticed when she arrived. If she had taken one then, she’d have realized the name on the program wasn’t my father’s.

When Linda got back to her car she checked the program she’d picked up from Pop’s visitation and found the name of the Methodist church. It was only a couple blocks from where she was. When Linda got to the correct place, she circled the church several times and discovered there was no parking because of the snow. She knew the service had started and was well underway and she could not bring herself to enter in the middle of the eulogy. She finally found space to park behind the florist’s van and decided she’d just go to the graveside service instead.

The service ran longer than anticipated and Linda had to keep starting her car to stay warm. We filed out and a long procession line of cars made its way to the cemetery. The family was huddled under a blanket provided by the funeral home to ward off the chill under the tent, but several inches of snow still lingered and the temperature wasn’t even 20 degrees. The bite of the cold winter air and the numbness of knowing this was Pop’s final resting place enveloped me. Everyone gathered close to preserve body heat and hoped the pastor would make the graveside service as short as possible.

When we returned to the church for the reception, Linda approached me and whispered in my ear, “I have a story Pops would have loved” and then she told me what had happened. We all had a good laugh, especially at the part where she’d stolen her own pies back. My brother said “Well, I’ll enjoy these pies even more now that I know they have been to two funerals!”

A few days later, another friend of mine told me she’d gone to the same funeral Linda did, but she realized in time it wasn’t Pop’s funeral and was able to leave before the service started. If Linda had seen her, it may have added to the confusion.

Who could have predicted that two friends of mine would wind up at the same funeral service, find out it was the wrong one, and not even see each other. The two churches are only blocks apart and the funeral home handling my father’s service was also directing the one at the Baptist church on the same day and at the same time. Both gentlemen were veterans who passed away in their 80s. What are the chances of that happening? The entire situation brought a smile on an otherwise sad and solemn day for us. Pops, being of a humorous nature, would have loved this story. Even now I can hear him roar with laughter saying, “If it involves a Turner, there’s gonna be problems.”

bio: Rhonda T. Spear is a native of Richmond, Virginia where she currently resides with her cat, Downey. Her education came from being mainstreamed in both public and small Catholic schools. She works as a receptionist, and in her free time she enjoys listening to country music, singing, playing guitar, watching sports on TV and collecting trivia. Rhonda has been completely blind her entire life, but that has not stopped her from living independently and pursuing her true passion, writing. She writes with hopes of sharing her work with a broader audience.

Side Effects, memoir
by Andrea Kelton

I didn’t want to leave the house. I knew what would happen. Ever since Dave and I moved to Chicago, it only got worse. It could come anytime: in the car, on the el, at the Jazz Showcase. My palms sweat. My heart raced. Short shallow breaths. Electricity zapped my nerves. Inside, I was falling…falling…falling. No net below. An endless roller coaster of panic.

The literature they passed around at weekly Recovery meetings described my experiences. Other people suffering from anxiety described my episodes. “I have the will to bear the discomfort” became my mantra.

“Feelings are not facts.” I repeated. “Feelings rise and fall like the waves on the sea.” Use objectivity, I reminded myself. Change my focus and my feelings will change.

I kept bearing. But the feelings kept rising…and rising…and RISING! Then I remembered that Dr. Low, a psychiatrist and the founder of Recovery, had written to check out the physical first. Make sure that there was no physical cause for the nervous symptoms.

With that thought, I put on my shoes and practically ran to the walk-in Humana Med First Clinic on Halsted. A Dr. Chin examined me. “Are you taking any medication?” He asked. At first I said, “No.” Then, almost as an afterthought, “Oh, I do take these eye drops.”

“Eye drops? For what?”

Uuhhh.. I dreaded telling my uveitis saga. Uveitis caused cataracts. Uveitis caused adhesions. My irises were stuck due to adhesions.

“So before we moved to Chicago,” I explained, “the ophthalmologist in Michigan prescribed a new eye drop. It’s supposed to dilate the pupil. The doctor said that just that movement, the pupil dilating, might slow down the formation of the adhesions.” I told the doctor that I’d been taking those drops three times a day, and fished for the bottle in my purse.

The doctor read the label and said in horror, “This is Neo-Synephrine. Know what that is?” he asked.

I shrugged my shoulders. I knew the drops were called Neo-Synephrine. So what?

“It’s adrenalin. No wonder you’re having panic attacks.” He explained that every time I put these drops in my eye, adrenalin was going straight into my blood stream. “If I were you, I’d go see my eye doctor and get a different drop.”

We went back to my Michigan eye doctor. I told him my story.

“Well,” he said rather nonchalantly, “I suppose these drops might make some people a little jittery.”

A little jittery? A LITTLE JITTERY!!! I fumed. But said nothing.

I left, new prescription in hand. Back to Chicago. To find a new eye doctor. And a new life.

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.

Baker Street Station, fiction
by Deon Lyons

“Baker Street Station, next stop, Baker Street Station.” The train conductor’s voice bellowed over the speaker inside the commuter car, snapping Paul to attention. The smell of burnt axle grease and stale city, along with the pungent aroma of day old perfume and deodorant sifted through the creaking passenger car, as it rocked its way down the tracks. He squirmed and shifted his position on his seat inside the car. Clutching his briefcase at his feet with one hand, Paul leaned forward and grabbed the shiny steel pole in front of him with the other. He sat on the edge of the cracked and torn vinyl seat in heavy anticipation.

Would she be there again? He thought to himself. Would her hair be pulled back, like it was yesterday? I wonder what she is wearing today. He nervously shifted again in his seat as he looked out through the opposite window of the commuter car. The stop was just ahead, and he didn’t want to miss the chance to see her again.

Every night for the past two weeks, she had appeared across the tracks, standing on the platform, all alone, waiting for the southbound train. Paul was on the northbound. He had seen this vision from heaven every night on his ride home for nine nights. This glorious creature was an angel in disguise. A gift to mankind straight from the Gods. She was everything he had ever craved in a woman. Long dark hair that was full and flowing around the most beautiful face he had ever seen. She didn’t appear to wear any make up. She didn’t need to. Her natural beauty pulled him towards her, like a June bug drawn to a sixty watt light bulb on a cool summer’s night.

Her figure was another slice of heaven that curved gracefully around and down, leading into a long pair of legs that could have easily been deemed illegal. She was the definition of perfection that he had always imagined for himself, and she had been only 30 feet or so away from him.

He took a deep breath as the platform neared. There was the usual small crowd gathered there at the station, waiting for the next south bound train to pick them up and carry them towards the rest of their lives.

Some obviously unknowing pathetic fool in Paul’s car got up and stood in front of his seat, blocking his view of the approaching Baker Street platform. He nervously shifted in his seat and swore under his breath at the incompetence of the moron in front of him.
Unable to adjust his position to get a clear view, Paul quickly got up and found a vacant seat to his left, and was once again lined up with a perfect view of the upcoming platform. Paul had sat towards the end of the car, so as to only have minimal passenger traffic inside the car impeding his chance to gaze at this beauty across the way.

He had a burned image of her running through his head since he first noticed her the week before last. He had run through a thousand different scenarios in his mind with her image in front of him, beside him and around him. There wasn’t a thought of her that remained untouched in his deep seeded desires. He could hear the laugh of her voice. He could smell the sweet aroma of her smooth skin as he caressed her face. He could feel her gaze into his eyes, followed by a smile that could easily light up a thousand rooms. It seemed so perfect to him. In so many ways she had managed to grab hold of his desires, and pull them into her possibilities.

Surely she would, if given the chance, find him as irresistible as he imagined her to be.

It had been warm those past two weeks, and he was thankful for it. She had usually been dressed in skirts with blouses. Her lovely shape was mind bending, even from 30 feet away. Her dark, deep set eyes and strong cheek bones had been circling around his brain. She looked Italian, and he had always been intrigued by the natural beauty of Italian women. Again, he pictured her smile, her laugh, the way she brushed the hair away from her face as she shyly looked down at the ground.

“Baker street station. Now arriving at Baker Street station.” The train conductor’s voice barged in on Paul’s imagination once again.

This is it! He thought to himself. As he sat and stared out the opposite window, he pictured the layout of the Baker Street Station in his mind. He had been to both sides of the tracks in the past, as it was the area hub for the local semi pro baseball team, of which he was an avid fan.

I can jump off, run underneath and make it to the other platform in less than a minute. His mind rotated and glided from one movement to the next as his mental image presented him with a vision of amazing grace being slowly wrapped up inside every nook and cranny of his deepest desires. That’s it! It’s now or never! Again he wrestled with his anxieties, his passions, submitting to his addictive nature.

Paul’s train started slowing down as it approached the station. The loosening of his tie, the screeching brakes and the methodic tug of the stopping motion, and there she was. The world stopped for an instant as he zoomed in on her every feature. There seemed to be a glowing orb that was surrounding her and illuminating the platform where she stood. Paul’s heart suddenly stopped for a few seconds, and then restarted with a thump in his chest. His eyes opened wide, as he was being completely engulfed by the approaching image of this breathtaking beauty across the tracks. Her hair was pulled back again, showing off her long slender neck, and glowing features. He swallowed hard and stretched his neck to take in every ounce of her beauty. He didn’t think it was possible, but she looked better than she did the day before.

Looking around the inside of his car quickly, he wondered how everyone could be so unaware of this magnificent creature that was glowing, just across the tracks.

She was dressed in a peach colored blouse with a flowing flower print skirt. Pure heavenly bliss was all he could think of.

As the train continued to approach the station, she appeared to be looking right at him. He knew it, he just knew it. He could feel her gaze as beads of nervous sweat broke out on his brow.

Paul swallowed and smiled as he nervously got up from his seat and walked over towards the sliding doors. The train rocked back and forth as it came to a slow stop at Baker Street Station.

As the doors opened, he took one more look at her as he started to exit, then stopped dead in his tracks just two steps from the doors.

A shock wave pummeled down through him as he watched her turn to her right and smile as a tall, well-dressed man suddenly walked up to her, wrapped his arm around her, and pulled her into a long, deep kiss.

Paul’s heart rapidly fell thirty-two stories straight down into the pit of his stomach, smashing hard at the bottom like a fifty pound sack of flour on a dusty basement floor. He couldn’t breathe, nor could he swallow. His vision was instantly shattered into a million pieces as he staggered backwards and sank back down onto the vinyl bench seats.

He looked again, and saw that they were still hugging, still kissing, and still ripping and tearing the visions out of his downward spiraling mind. Paul’s gaze fell down to the scarred, dirty floor of his subway car, as the doors closed and the train slowly started leaving the station.

He looked up once more at the opposite platform where she once stood alone. The platform slowly drifted away from sight.

“Commonwealth Avenue. Next stop Commonwealth Avenue.” the conductor’s voice rang through the car as Paul’s dreams of the angel slowly dissolved from view.

Looking down at his briefcase, he noticed something shimmering in the late evening sunlight running through his car. It was his wedding ring. Paul leaned back in his seat, and chuckled under his breath as he spun the ring on his finger with his other hand. Shaking his head, he took another deep breath, smiled and closed his eyes as the train rocked and clicked its way down the tracks. He was seven stops from home.

Willie and the Brain, fiction
by Bill Fullerton

(With apologies to the great, P.G. Wodehouse.)

“If only the good die young, that crew will live to a hundred.” This unflattering rumination came from one, William J. “Willie” Sinclair IV. The target of his jaundiced assessment was the Iota Fraternity test procurement committee. Its entire membership currently lay passed out in a back room of the Iota house amid a sea of cards, chips, and empty beer cans.

What prompted Willie’s unkind assessment was their failure to obtain any copies of his upcoming tests. This dereliction of duty meant he faced some serious book time.

Casual observers, unaware of the fortitude possessed by the scion of the Sinclair clan might have expected him to quail at the prospect of real study. For it is true that not unlike the lily of the field, young Willie spun not, neither did he weave in the groves of academe. It is therefore to his credit that young Willie’s resolve remained unshaken. This stouthearted attitude was due, in no small measure, to the proximity of a certain Ms Edwina Toupes.

Known to her small but loyal band of friends and admirers as “Etta,” she was an acknowledged campus brain. Willie’s surprising inclusion in her circle of acquaintances was due to his sincere appreciation for Ms Toupes’ remarkable mental capabilities and her unfailing willingness to share that gift with him.

It is true, that he sometimes overheard certain Iota brothers making gross references to her grade point average far exceeding her bosom’s measurement. But like most other thoughts, ones about her figure seldom troubled his mind. To him, the important point was not the modest number assigned to Etta’s bosom, but the even more modest figure that now represented his own grade point average.

For Willie, Ms Toupes’ attraction lay in the realm of the spiritual and intellectual, not physical, an appeal not of the flesh but of the mind. In short, he knew no one was more capable than Etta of helping him overcome his very real academic shortcomings.

This profound appreciation of Ms Toupes’ scholarly qualifications might be commendable, but when it came to noticing the young lady’s physical attributes, he was a total failure. For a worldly-wise Iota Assistant Rush Chairman, the oversight was surprising. It is true that even charitable observers described Etta as petite, even slender. However, those same individuals also noted with approval her large brown eyes, pert button of a nose, brilliant smile and long, rather shapely legs.

The condition of Etta’s legs was a combination of favorable genetics and her participation on the school’s new women’s track team. She mentioned this membership during their most recent extended social intercourse near the end of last semester.

Etta’s involvement with varsity athletics troubled Willie. As a key member of the football team, he held on point-after and field goal attempts, he knew how physically demanding sports could be.

He was also bothered by her recent adoption of “Ms” as her preferred title. This might be the 70s, but Willie’s views on social norms were of an old-world, antiquarian bent. However, he credited himself with being tolerant enough to overlook Etta’s recent faddish excesses. This forbearance reflected both his
cosmopolitan appreciation for the capriciousness of the female of the species and his current academic imperatives. As a result, he had no problem curbing his natural instinct towards brotherly remonstration.

Willie felt justified in this decision. After all, Etta had always been an intelligent girl in a bookish sort of way. Sooner or later, her basic good sense would overcome these impulsive gestures toward modernity. So with a clear conscience he now hopped into his car and exited the Iota house parking lot in search of Ms Etta.

The automobile in question was a dilapidated model rich in years. To the uninitiated this might seem surprising. Willie was sole heir to the Sinclair family fortune, the limits of which had been perceived by few and then but dimly and at a great distance. But Willie considered “The Heap,” his fond name
for the car, a thing of joy and satisfaction.

The Sinclair’s did not amass a rather large pile of liquid assets by being spendthrifts. The cautious use of money was preached to young Willie from his earliest days. The Sinclair’s were as a rule extremely frugal. Willie proved to be a glaring exception that made the rule.

The Heap was the chief, some would say only, evidence the sermons of his elders had not been totally in vain. Willie had it from a good authority, his mother, that its presence was all that kept his allowance checks rolling in. Now he guided The Heap in an unusual direction, toward that natural habitat of Ms Edwina Toupes, the school library.

Etta had just reached the library steps when Willie once again staged an entrance into her life. Since it was test week, this meeting came as no surprise. Willie had been staging these raids on her with tidal regularity since their freshman year in high school.

One unwanted by-product of her periodic attempts at academic resuscitation was the solitary “B” that kept her from having a perfect 4.00 average. But Etta had a remarkably sanguine attitude toward Willie’s reappearances.

Since their first meeting in ninth grade, she’d been fascinated by Willie Sinclair. In her opinion, he was a force of nature but with a quiet charm most people overlooked. He was also very good looking, which was nice and possessed many things she lacked, such as money and self-confidence.

Over the years, Etta had come to realize there were things missing from Willie’s make-up. High on that list were common sense and self-discipline. However, time and self-awareness had not lessened her fascination with Willie. Therefore, she greeted him warmly. “Willie, what’s a guy like you doing in a nice
place like this?”

“Just trying to improve the image of this den of learning, Ms Toupes. What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be off burning a bra or some such?” Willie couldn’t believe what he just said. It wasn’t a very smart thing to say when he was about to ask for a favor. But most of all, in light of her endowment or lack of the same, it was downright rude.

“Sorry about that, Etta. I didn’t mean to get personal like, you know. I mean, politics is one thing but friendship is another, uh, don’t you know.” Willie squirmed. Apologies weren’t his strong suit, few things were and he’d hashed that one to the max.

As usual, Etta was a good scout. “It wouldn’t do me any good to go to one of those demonstrations. Training bras are flame proof.” Just like Etta to let a fellow off the hook, he thought experiencing an intense feeling of gratitude.

Much to his relief, Etta picked up the conversational ball. “Willie, according to my sundial, it’s test week. Now if I hadn’t known you since the ninth grade, I might think you’re just here for some mindless social reason, like asking me to the big Iota Valentine’s Day dance. But I bet you’re here on a more serious, a more scholarly mission. Why, I bet going to the dance hasn’t even crossed your mind, especially with me. The only thing you’re concerned about is how you’re going to do on your tests. Am I right, Willie? When you think of me, you think of tests, not Valentine’s Day and dances, right?”

Willie was not the world’s strongest debater. To him logic was illogical. When it came to diplomacy and negotiation, he was strictly of the “Take it or leave it,” school. However, even he could see his present position was precarious. Never strong at thinking on his feet or seated for that matter, he now had to take quick stock of the situation and make a command decision.

He’d already given Etta a good reason to be huffy with that dumb bra burning joke. And while she’d been remarkably decent about that screw-up, he sensed it would be a mistake to presume too much on her sense of humor, especially about that subject.

What’s more, there were signs she might be coming around to the belief his visits were due solely to his sagging grade point average. Of course that wasn’t true, well at least not entirely. The timing had been purely coincidental all these years. Still it had been a lot of years. Some of the egghead types he noticed hanging around her might have started questioning his motives.

Then there was the dance. Until Etta brought it up, he’d been able to put thoughts of the Iota Valentine’s Day dance out of his mind. Not that the dance by itself was unpleasant, in fact it was something he rather liked. It was just that thinking about it reminded him of, The Sin.

Cynthia “The Sin” Bliss possessed the type of beauty, both God-given and enhanced, that tends to stop traffic. She was a tall, tanned, long-legged, blue-eyed blonde. The generous proportions of her eye-catching figure brought to mind the extreme curvature of an hourglass.

The Sin and Willie had been a number for the longest, maybe over a month. While not actually pinned, the word was out. Then suddenly, Willie was out with The Sin.

The woman had of course been totally unreasonable. The beginning of the end occurred when she took exception to riding in The Heap. Willie tried to explain the reasons behind his affection for the car, such as low maintenance and steady allowance. However, she was firm as only a homecoming queen can
be. It was either her or The Heap.

The Sin was a bit surprised when he took The Heap. She was not dismayed, just surprised. Willie had begun to grow on her. Unlike most of her dates, he was a gentleman. And she liked the stories of his family’s financial resources. But his decision convinced her the stories of his monetary estate were either exaggerated or he was one really weird car nut.

The truth was, in the end Willie picked the full figure on his allowance check over that possessed by The Sin. It had been two weeks since the great divide, and Willie was just beginning to recover from its effects. Now Etta had brought all those painful memories rushing back.

Questions of the heart aside, he also had to face an immediate crises regarding questions on tests. Etta’s remarks indicated to even his slow wit that the strategies of the past might prove less fruitful than usual in conjuring up her cooperation. A simple question like, “How’s about a Coke?” somehow didn’t seem to be an adequate opening gambit.

Light rarely illuminated the intellect of Willie Sinclair with any measurable brilliance. In this case, however his bulb was approaching searchlight candlepower. “The Valentine’s Day dance!” he exclaimed, breaking a somewhat protracted silence.

Etta continued to gaze up at Willie as he was once again lost to thought. He’d invite good old Etta to the dance. It had never occurred to him to ask her to any social event. Not that he didn’t respect, admire and even like her. He just never thought about her as a date.

But taking Etta to the dance would kill several birds with one, somewhat tiny, stone. She wasn’t, The Sin, but then who was? Still, she wasn’t a bad looking girl, if you thought about it. In fact, you might even call her cute in a healthy, perky sort of way. And having a date for the Valentine’s Day dance would show The Sin that William Jackson Sinclair’s social life didn’t end with the great divide.

Going to the dance with Etta would also spare him the agony of taking Priscilla Rogers, the family favorite for his hand in matrimony. Unfortunately, Priscilla was neither perky and smart like Etta nor beautiful and interesting like The Sin. Priscilla was to Willie as Oakland was to the poet who proclaimed, “There’s no there, there”.

And his asking Etta to the dance would prove he wasn’t just interested in her academically. That should relieve any suspicions she might be harboring concerning his intentions at this pivotal point on the academic calendar.

“Willie,” it was Etta breaking the second extended period of silence. “You said something about the Iota Valentine’s Day dance?”

“Yes, of course I did, I mean, you reminded me, you know?” As usual, Willie was having some trouble getting into verbal gear. “What I’m trying to say is, Etta, we’ve been friends for ages and I guess you heard about me and The Sin. Well, I don’t want you to think that I’m just trying to pick you up on the rebound but like I said, we’ve been good friends for ages and I don’t have a date for the dance. So I wondered if you’d like to go, you know, with me, to the Iota Valentine’s Day dance?” With a sigh, Willie completed one of the longest orations in his intercollegiate career.

Although her heart performed an impressive high-jump into her throat, Etta didn’t blink an eye, “That might be fun. But it depends on how well you do on your tests. After all, you’ve got to keep your grades up to stay on the football team. In case you’ve forgotten, I’m not just a brain anymore. I’m a jock, kind of like you, in a way.”

She grinned and gestured toward the library. “So shake a leg, big fella. Let’s get a move on. If I know you, we’ll have to hustle up to catch up. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Ya know what I mean?”

Mystery of the Dead, memoir
by Peter Altschul, MS

My wife, Lisa, is a devout Deadhead, having attended 30 Grateful Dead concerts during a ten-year period. My contact with the Dead, however, was primarily based on the songs that album-oriented radio stations played. While I found these songs sort of interesting, the whiny, nasal, slightly out-of-tune vocals that almost never blended well was a definite turn-off.

About three months ago, Lisa heard about the Dead’s final three concerts in Chicago. She felt a calling to go; I did not.

In late June, Lisa noticed that ticket prices on StubHub were decreasing rapidly, and two days before the first concert, she finagled two free nights lodging at the Chicago Hilton, .7 of a mile from Soldier Field.

“I need a miracle every day,” Lisa chortled, quoting the title of one of the Dead’s more famous songs.

I grumbled incoherently.

So we headed to Chicago, our trunk loaded with everything we would need to enjoy the weekend on a limited budget and with Grateful Dead music playing on our SiriusXM car radio. During the eight-hour trip, I continued grousing about the band’s inability to sing in tune.

“It all depended on what extracurricular activities the band took part in prior to performing,” Lisa suggested.

“At best,” I continued, “they’re a diluted version of the Allman Brothers, and, at worst, they sound like that dreadful Lynyrd Skynyrd Band’s song ‘FreeBird’ “

But there were unpredictable times when Dead vocals sounded good, and even rarer moments when their voices sounded good together. I also began to appreciate the quality of their songs, which often told stories and featured quirky rhythms. They incorporated aspects of bluegrass, country, southern gospel, blues, reggae, disco, and jazz into their music. Their improvisations, especially those connected with their “drums and space” concert segments, reminded me of my improvisations on pipe organs in high school and in contemporary ensembles in graduate school.

“But they still can’t sing,” I grumbled while stuck in a traffic jam two blocks from the Hilton Hotel.

As Lisa and I entered the elevator, I thought I smelled something out of place.

“Is that scent what I think it is?” I said.

“What. Pot?” she asked, laughing.

“That’s what I thought.”

“These are Deadheads, Dear,” she reminded me.

Over the weekend, I became acquainted with aspects of Deadhead culture. They loved ingesting interesting plants, and were supportive of those experiencing the unwelcomed side effects. Almost all conversations featured some version of “yeah, man” or “thanks, man.” They were enthusiastically inept at giving good directions; Lisa and I spent an hour wandering aimlessly on a warm, windy afternoon looking for a Starbucks based on Deadhead directions, even though three were located within four blocks of the hotel. It didn’t help that I am totally blind, while she is legally blind, and that we were both hung over.

And the Deadheads were totally in sync with the band. They roared when familiar riffs sounded forth. They joyously sang along to songs familiar to them but not to me, remembering the complex lyrics and being unfazed by the quirky rhythms. They raved about the quality of the improvisations.

The improvisations were indeed awe-inspiring, often more interesting than the songs themselves. The instrumental transitions between songs were especially fascinating, keeping Deadheads guessing as to what they would play next. The “drums and space” segments were terrific, incorporating live and prerecorded music. In short, the Dead had morphed into a fusion jazz ensemble with electrifying results. And the vocals? Better than usual.

“Wow!” I kept saying, smiling from ear to ear. “Totally awesome!”

“I told you so,” Lisa said, with a smile in her voice.

After the last concert’s two encores, I remember one of the Grateful Dead members approaching the microphone to thunderous applause.

“Be kind,” he said, and walked off to renewed applause.

I learned later that Mickey Hart was the one who spoke. As summarized in the New York Times:

“The feeling we have here – remember it, take it home and do some good with it,” Mr. Hart said in closing. “I’ll leave you with this. Please, be kind.”

And the Deadheads were indeed kind to each other and to strangers. Several hotel staff commented that they were the nicest customers they had served.

As for the band itself, I still find much of their music uneven, and their vocals cringe-inducing. At their best, though, they shine a great light. They have built a community consisting of all ages and ethnic backgrounds and taken them on a wild, wonderful, kind, and joyful journey through a wide range of musical styles. I’m blessed to be part of the last three shows of that journey.
Bio: Peter Altschul assists groups and organizations to become better at motivating people, resolving conflicts, managing diversity, and planning for the future. A published 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.

I Write What I See, creative nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin

From my vantage point, the problem is obvious. The blind man wants to go up the stairway and his guide dog wants to go down. The solution is being negotiated. The man’s wagging his finger at the dog and the dog’s wagging his tail. The man’s lips are moving, but I can’t hear a word, me being inside looking out.

I’m sitting in my easy chair, red pencil in hand, manuscript in my lap. The blind man and his big, black dog are standing out on that skeletal staircase, more a fire escape, really, cast iron exposed to the elements. And tonight, the elements are blowing a gale off that great lake.

Looking out as I do, curious who’d be out on a night like this, I see the blind man trudge up the stairs, grabbing the railing with his right hand while his left holds onto his dog by its handle, its harness I guess they call it. The dog’s leading the man, pulling him, really, when all of a sudden the dog does a 180 and starts down the stairs.

I don’t know why the dog decides to head down the stairs, but he’s a Lab, so it’s food, probably. Or another dog, maybe. Anyway, when the dog swings around, I don’t know how the man’s shoulder doesn’t pop out of its socket. But it must not, because the man’s not howling in pain, which I wouldn’t hear anyway, but I’d sure see the look on his face. As it is, the dog nearly drags the man backwards, ass over teacup down the stairway. But he stays upright, hanging there, all splayed out like Christ on the cross.

When the blind man finally gets his footing, he lifts that dog’s front half clear off the ground by its harness and puts him back so the dog’s facing up the stairs. Then the man points up the stairs with his right hand. But no sooner does he put his foot on the next step up when, don’t you know, that dog does an about-face and starts down the stairs again.

Now I’m wondering if the blind man and his dog can agree on anything. And I’m curious what the man’s going to do next. Well, instead of giving the dog what for, with the finger-wagging and the harness-lifting, he sits down on the step and puts his head in his hands. And it looks to me like he’s either going to crack up or break down, so I’m thinking it might be time to call the cops or the SPCA.

Then the blind man reaches into his overcoat and pulls out this strap and fits it around the dog’s nose and fastens it behind his head. And the man does this real gently, all the while talking to the dog, which I can’t hear, but I see the frost coming out of his mouth. And the dog licks the man’s face and I see the frost coming from him, too. Then, they stand up and the man takes hold of the harness and the dog leads the blind man up the stairs and they get to Upper Michigan Avenue just as the #147 pulls up and they get on the bus and now they’re gone.

Well, I watch all sorts of folks from my vantage point, drunks and cops, lovers and thieves. I’m putting them all in my novel. I write what I see, struggles for dominance. Handcuffs and nightsticks, headlocks and knives are currency in those transactions. I’ve even seen how a Taser quells the headstrong. But the blind man didn’t use that kind of paraphernalia and I for sure didn’t see any electricity or the dog’s hair stand on end.

No, the blind man only had that strap gizmo to calm his dog. Tomorrow, I’ll call around to zoos and animal places so they can clue me in on how that thing works. I reckon it’s just a muzzle-type what not, but it sure had a peaceable effect on that dog.

All of which leaves me pondering. What I’ve just seen-how once the blind man stopped the rough stuff and used his magical strap to get through to his dog, maybe is a metaphor for something bigger, something we can all learn from. Like how we humans can live together better, and animals too. I have deep realms to delve into. I’ll heat up some cocoa because a nice hot beverage helps me think things through.

I bear witness and testify about the world from my window. I’ll keep watching, watching for people and things I can put in my novel. I see them all from my vantage point, calm and furious, cowed and untamed, all who rise and all who fall on that steel staircase.

A version of this story appeared in the Winter/Spring 2014 edition of The Rockford Review.

What Do I Look Like? memoir
by Jeff Flodin

“May I ask you a question?”

“Anything, Dear,” says my wife.

“What do I look like?”

Silence.

“That bad?” I ask.

“It’s not that,” says my wife. “It’s just, I’ve never been asked. I’ve never been asked anything like that.”

“Nor have I ever asked anything like that.”

“Why now?”

“Someone at work told me I have kind eyes. Do you think so?”

“You have very expressive eyes,” says my wife. “Wisdom is there. So is merriment. So is pain.”

“Thank you. Do you see kindness?”

“You are a very kind man. Do you not know that?”

“I feel it, yes. But that’s not the same as seeing it.”

“That’s odd coming from you,” says my wife. “You mean you need to see something to believe it?”

“It is strange, come to think of it. Like, I haven’t seen my face in twelve years, but I sure know it’s still there. And I can’t see your face, but I can tell your expression from how you sound, from your tone of voice.”

“You can’t see how people look,” says my wife. “Now I have a question for you. Does not being able to see people make you less judgmental of them? Less likely to judge them by appearance?”

“Yes and no. Judge by appearance, no. I just wait for them to say something stupid, then I’m all over them.”

“That’s my guy. And the uninitiated say blind people operate on a higher plane.”

“Another myth,” I say. “Perhaps we judge by content rather than style, but judge we do.”

“What else do you want to know about how you look?” asks my wife.

“Not much. I know I’m going gray. Other than that, I’m not all that curious. I guess not seeing myself kind of keeps me ageless.”

“In your mind, at least,” says my wife.

“That’s where I see you, Dear. In my mind, And you’re sixteen years old. That’s when I last saw you and that’s how I remember you.”

“I can live with that,” says my wife.

“That which is loved is forever beautiful,” says I.

“Now I see kindness in your eyes,” says my wife.

“Thank you, Dear,” says I. “That’s all I needed to know.”

“Glad to help, Dear,” says my wife. “Now, may I go back to sleep?”

To Laura, in the Women’s Department At David Jones, poetry
by Mary-Jo Lord

You must see me as a bogan,
with my blue jean capris and bargain t-shirt.
My hair, aided by
hotel shampoo, humidity, and lack of a curling iron’s touch
finish my look.

You, recently returned from a conference in Milan, are
I’m sure dressed to kill,
with manicured nails, styled hair, and
an outfit from the front cover of Vogue.

I take a deep breath and know,
face cream, foundation and a painted on smile
don’t hide dark circles and other evidence of
sleepless nights and worry over lost luggage.

Nightmares of shopping in another country where
I don’t know the stores or size conversions with a color blind husband, or
traveling throughout Australia, every day, for ten days, in the same clothes,
disappear as you say, “I’ll help you with the labels.”
I think you mean sizes.
You say you can help with that too, but you mean “labels.”

I am Alice, falling fast, down the rabbit hole.
Down, down, down past the equator line,
down to the other side of the world where it’s tomorrow,
and I’m standing in the most exclusive department store in Australia.

We find that the English language has enough words for clothing to cause confusion.
I say I’m looking for “capris.”
Eventually, you find “three quarter pants.”
You ask if I need a “bather.”
I wonder if I smell.
Then I realize you mean “bathing suit.”

You find shorts, blouses and t-shirts,
describe colors, show me fabrics I’ve never owned,
tell me I look good in yellow shorts.

You suggest clothing I could wear, touring Melbourne, on the plain,
In cairns, and a bather for visiting the Barrier Reef.

You don’t make references to clothing that you or others own, or
to clothing that I own or to my life in the US.
You don’t make assumptions about what I do or don’t, should or shouldn’t like.
You make choices without hidden or multilayered agendas.

When I return home, where I’ll shop with female family and friends,
when they make selections, will they say,
“It’s the same color as that blouse,” or
“it’s the style like those pants that you got in Australia?”

I suddenly realize that
lost luggage has allowed me to find two treasures:
the chance to buy clothing that makes me feel amazing,
with the help of someone who is knowledgeable and unbiased,
and the chance to experience a slice of Australian life.

As you ring up my items,
I receive a text.
My luggage has been found.


Part VIII. The Melting Pot

What We Don’t Know, nonfiction
by Christine Malec

Ever heard of the Antikythera Mechanism? Neither had I till last week. It was discovered in a 2000 year old shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera, and it’s a 2000 year old computer. Raising your eyebrows suspiciously? I don’t blame you! There’s lots of reasons why this is the coolest thing I’ve heard of in a long time, but one of the biggest reasons is that it reminds me to think about how much we don’t know. We know a lot as a culture, we use science to tell us a remarkable amount about the past, and we’re pretty confident. I love how much we know, but I also like to wonder about what we don’t.

About the size of a laptop, the Antikythera mechanism is a wooden frame, housing several layers of variously sized gears in complex relationships. There was a handle to turn which would set the mechanism in motion, but the objects propelled by the gears have been lost. In a tale full of intuitive leaps and “Eureka” moments, the documentary leads us through the process by which the mechanism and its purpose became understood by modern scientists.

Here’s the deal. The objects controlled by the gears were representations of astronomical bodies, the moon and the known planets. The gears were finely crafted, and based on astronomical observations accurate to nine decimal places. The purpose? To predict eclipses. In the ancient world, astrology was the height of science, and pervasively relevant to everybody in a way we might find difficult to relate to. While undoubtedly possessing symbolic meaning, eclipses would also affect tides, and other aspects of life. Being able to predict them was an astounding feat for inhabitants of the ancient world.

The Antikythera Mechanism is clearly a machine, a computer, programmed by the size and relationship of the gears, to produce important information. This goes against most of our ideas about the history of technology, and I love to wonder about what else is lying on the ocean floor, or buried under the ground which would shake our beliefs about the past.

The gears were crafted from bronze. The artifacts from which archeologists and anthropologists make deductions about the past are usually metal, stone or fired clay, all materials that last. But what about the things that don’t get preserved? What materials wouldn’t last? What technologies could be made from these? The earliest evidence of writing comes from inscribed shapes on clay tablets. Was this the first incarnation of the idea, or was it practiced in other less durable forms?

And what about the intangible? Just as an example, the ancient Greeks knew the world was round based solely on naked eye observation and analysis, knowledge subsequently lost to Europeans for over 1000 years. What else did they know that’s been lost to history? What did people before the Greeks know?

I’ve been rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune with great enjoyment. In a far future human society which has largely abandoned any technology with the potential to do its own thinking, human capabilities in areas like meditation and intensive body conditioning have become extremely well-honed. Such progress need not be unidirectional. If great knowledge existed and was lost, we’d never know.

Most politically aware people today recognize the myth of progress. We understand that stability and well-being in our society do not exist on a one-way trajectory that’s always making us better. Likewise, civilizations rise and fall, and only fragments of them remain to be discovered and interpreted. Was beer discovered or invented? How about cheese? What were the first incarnations of the wheel? What other machines got destroyed or sank to the ocean floor? We’ll never have answers to these questions. Isn’t that wonderful?

These information vacuums are the niches where historical fiction writers love to squeeze in and wiggle around. Every now and then we get incredible glimpses like that offered by the Antikythera mechanism to keep us awed, but mostly, we just wonder what we don’t know.

Note: A form of this article first appeared as a blog on Christine’s website.

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 hf novel, as well as a fan fiction novella set in the Harry Potter universe. She is 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.

Porn Shades, nonfiction
by Peter Altschul, MS

I am totally blind, and look forward to reading my Braille copy of Playboy every month. Ever since I started dating my wife, Lisa, in 2005, I’ve read the Playboy Advisor to her while we’re lying together in bed.

When people who are light-dependent hear about this, most first think I’m kidding. When I show them the image of the Playboy Bunny on the cover, reactions range from amazement to nervous laughter to edgy silence. While living in Washington, DC, my boss, with a smile in her voice, told me that a picture of me reading a copy of Playboy with my guide dog lying under the seat on DC’s subway system had made the style section of the Washington Post. The picture remained on the office bulletin board for days.

Last Valentine’s Day, Lisa and I went to see 50 Shades of Grey. Because we had read much of the book together, I could follow the movie through the dialogue, the audience’s verbal reactions, and Lisa’s whispered descriptions.

“The actor playing Christian Grey isn’t as hot as I expected,” she complained quietly towards the beginning.

“I changed my mind,” she said later.

“The sex scenes are hot,” she murmured in my ear while describing in short bursts how ice cubes, hand-cuffs, feathers, whips, and other contraptions were being used.

Over-all, we liked the film, which closely follows the book’s trajectory. We were especially drawn to the sound track which used a diversity of styles to highlight the joyous, sad, sultry, and ominous shadings of the film.

Conservative critics predictably trashed the movie as another example of the descent of our culture to mindless depravity. They agreed with many progressives when they argued that it glorifies stalking and other abusive behavior, especially when done by someone who’s obscenely rich. Mark Davis stated in a February 13, 2015 column on Townhall.com entitled “50 Shades of Cultural Poison” that the film encourages women to “tolerate such sexual violence, even find a way to develop a taste for it. After all, maybe you can change him.” He closes his column by stating that he looks forward “to hearing the attempts to praise” the “Fifty Shades” phenomenon.

I have no interest in praising “Fifty Shades” as something towards which we should all aspire, but as the title suggests, relationships contain, well, at least 50 shades of grey. Yes, Tycoon Christian Grey engages in predatory behavior, but unlike most abusive people I have known, he is honest enough to say that he is “fifty shades of fucked up.” Virginal Anastasia Steele has enough self-confidence not to sign Christian’s bondage contract, to confront some of his hurtful behavior, and to leave when she can no longer tolerate the abuse. Let’s also remember that rough sex doesn’t always equate with an abusive relationship. And I would take conservatives’ critique of porn more seriously if they didn’t reflexively praise films like American Sniper where all Muslims in Iran and Afghanistan are terrorists to be mocked and killed.

I also found it interesting that, according to a February 9 article in The Washington Post, the top ten states for pre-release sales for the “50 Shades” film were Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Louisiana, North Dakota, South Carolina, Iowa, and Tennessee. I can’t help but wonder why pre-release sales of this “50 Shades of Cultural Poison” were much higher in states where conservative Christians rule.

As for me, I plan to continue to be available to my step-kids to talk about relationships of all sorts while trying to strengthen my relationship with Lisa. And my most recent issue of Playboy has just arrived.

Shred! fiction
by Susan Muhlenbeck

The amateur art contest took place the first Saturday in December. It was a cold, windy night, and snow had just started to fall.

Dedy walked into the gallery, anxious to look at the other entries, mentally comparing them to her own. The ad in the art magazine had said:

“Bring your paintings, drawings, sculptures, and crafts to the first annual amateur art contest. Only amateurs need to participate. The theme of the contest is Positive Spin. With all the negativity in the world these days, let’s put a positive spin on life. Take a minute and write a few lines explaining your entry.”

For the last twenty years, Dedy had saved every rejection letter she received from college and job applications and book publishers. She had a pile of rejection letters an inch thick. When she found out about the amateur art contest, she came up with an interesting idea. She had put every letter into the shredder, and then made a paper shredder out of paper machet. Following the ad’s instructions to write a few lines about the entry, she had written, “Put every negative experience in the shredder and only save the positive experiences.”

She pushed open the gallery door and was surprised to find that the place was packed, despite the bad weather. She looked around but didn’t see anyone she knew.

“Hey, check this out,” a woman to her left cried shrilly. Dedy turned and saw what looked like a desiccated ear of corn with each individual kernel varnished. The note attached said, “Polish each positive kernel of life and treasure it forever.”

“That’s pretty cool,” Dedy said sincerely, “very creative.”

“This is my entry,” another lady with very long hair said, pointing to a quilt made of a bunch of neck ties woven together. “What do you think?”

“Very colorful,” Dedy said truthfully. “Life is a series of colorful experiences,” the note read. “Each individual one may seem meaningless, but when woven together, it creates a meaningful pattern.”

For the next hour and a half, Dedy walked around carefully examining each entry. There were about sixty pieces, most of them unique but not breathtaking. But she had to vote for one of them. She waited till the last possible moment before approaching the ballot box and selecting an entry. She finally chose the varnished ear of corn. She knew that took a lot of painstaking work. But so did mine, she thought, laughing inwardly, so did all the other entries.

“The voting is now over,” came a deep voice over the microphone. “The winners will be announced in about a half hour.”

“What’s up, Dedy?” asked a familiar voice behind her. She whirled around to find her friend Jane grinning at her.

“Jane! When did you sneak in?”

“About an hour ago, just came by out of curiosity. I voted for you,” Jane said, patting Dedy on the arm.

“Thanks, you should have submitted something.”

Jane shrugged. “Maybe next time. I like your idea though, about shredding all things negative. What made you think of that?”

Dedy laughed. “That’s exactly what I did. The paper machet shredder is made up of millions of rejection slips I saved over the last twenty years. I ran them all through the paper shredder and made a paper shredder out of them.”

“That is too cute,” Jane laughed. “Hope you win.”

“I think they’re getting ready to announce the winners,” somebody’s voice carried from across the room. There was a sudden hush as the tall willowy director, whose name was Allison Lam, stepped up to the podium and grabbed the microphone.

“Welcome to our first annual amateur art show,” she said with a smile. “I am pleased to see such a good turn out.” She spoke for the next several minutes as the crowd waited impatiently. “And now,” she finally said “we would like to congratulate the winners of the contest.” There was a collective sigh as the crowd braced themselves.

“Our third place winner is Molly Webster for her blown glass ice cream cone,” the director said excitedly as she held up a beautiful sculpture. “Life can be delicious,” she read from the note attached, “but if you let it pass you by, it will be ruined like a melting ice cream cone.” The crowd erupted with applause as Molly Webster stepped forward to accept her yellow ribbon.

“Second place goes to Samantha Rogers for her cornucopia,” the director said smiling. She held up an ornate, ceramic cornucopia that made the audience gasp. “The Horn of Plenty can hold a lot, but there is only enough room for good things,” she shouted. Samantha Rogers received her red ribbon with alacrity.

“And now,” Mrs. Lam said slowly, drawing out each word longer than necessary, “our first place winner is Joan Wilson for her Worry Chair.” She waited several minutes for the applause to die down as she held up a sculpture of a wooden rocking chair with a rag doll sitting in it. “Worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair,” she shouted. “You can rock back and forth all day long and not get anywhere, so stop worrying.”

“That’s right,” several voices agreed.

“We invite you to stay for coffee,” Mrs. Lam said cordially, “and we encourage all the artists to exchange their work with a fellow artist.”

Dedy and Jane milled around the gallery for the better part of an hour. They watched as several projects exchanged hands. Dedy watched with longing as the varnished ear of corn she had voted for was exchanged for the Worry Chair. Nobody offered to trade with her. Her heart sank as people trickled out of the gallery until there were only a handful left.

“Nobody likes my project,” she told Jane glumly. “Guess I’m not much of an artist either.”

“I would trade with you if I had a project,” Jane consoled. “I love the idea about shredding all your negative experiences, but-”she trailed off.

“But what?” Dedy demanded.

“Well, it’s not the most attractive piece of art in the world,” Dedy said cautiously.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” an older lady said before Dedy could reply. “I’ll exchange with you,” she offered. She held out a stick of polished wood with tissue paper leaves and several plastic olives which probably came from a child’s toy food set.

“Wow, that’s neat,” Dedy said, trying not to laugh at the fake olives. “Did you make that?”

“No, I exchanged my magic mirror for it,” the lady said carelessly, “and now I’m extending you the olive branch.”

“Thank you,” Dedy said gratefully, handing over her unattractive paper machet shredder. “Sometimes it just takes one kind gesture to make somebody’s day,” she read from the note attached to the branch. “Extend an olive branch as often as you can.”

“Thank you,” the lady, who introduced herself as Marsha Wade, said. “I love your idea about shredding all things negative.”

“That’s what I told her,” Jane said laughing. “I’m going to the restroom, Dedy. I’ll meet you back here in a few minutes.”

“Okay, I’m going to step outside for a minute to catch some fresh air,” Dedy said, walking towards the door. “How does your magic mirror work?” she asked when she and Mrs. Wade were outside.

“It only reflects a person’s good qualities,” she explained.

“That is blessed,” Dedy said, sipping her coffee.

“Your shredder is going on my husband’s desk at home,” Mrs. Wade said seriously. “He’ll get a big kick out of it. He is always shredding things, mostly junk mail, to recycle. It was good meeting you. Good night.”

“Thank you for making my day,” Dedy replied, sipping hot coffee as the cold wind buffeted her.

“Pay it forward,” Mrs. Wade said over her shoulder.

The snow started falling harder. Dedy finished her coffee and walked over to the trash can to throw the cup away. She got there just in time to see a young lady unceremoniously throw away a charcoal drawing into the bin with an air of disgust.

“Hey,” Dedy cried, pulling the picture out from atop the empty coffee cups and food containers. “What are you doing?”

“Nobody liked my stupid picture,” the girl said near tears. “Nobody would even trade me for it.”

Dedy glanced at the picture of children playing in the park. Some were digging in the sandbox, some playing on the swings, some walking their dogs. The note attached read, “How can you not feel happy when you see something like this?”

“I didn’t want to be in the stupid contest, but my caseworker said she thought it was a good idea,” the girl said.

“Your caseworker?” Dedy asked.

“My caseworker at The Good Will Industries where I work,” the girl said sadly.

“Oh, oh I see,” Dedy said slowly. “Well, I think it’s a very nice picture, and I’ll trade you this for it.” She held out the olive branch. “I’m Dedy by the way.”

“I’m B. J.,” the girl said, taking the olive branch and examining it carefully. “What’s this?” She read the note attached frowning.

“Nobody wanted to trade with me either,” Dedy laughed. “I made an ugly paper machet shredder. Then this lady saw how unhappy I was and traded the olive branch for the shredder. When somebody performs a kind gesture, we call it extending an olive branch.”

“Oh, okay,” B. J. said slowly. “You saw that I was upset and you extended an olive branch, right?”

“Exactly, and you should keep it until you see somebody who needs cheering up.”

“Okay, well, thank you. That sounds good,” B. J. said, smiling for the first time. She glanced at her watch. “I got to go catch this last bus,” she said quickly and ran off before Dedy could offer her a ride home.

Dedy walked back into the warmth of the gallery to find Jane waiting for her. “There you are,” Jane called. “What’s that in your hand?”

“I traded it for the olive branch,” Dedy explained. She told Jane about her encounter with B. J. “I can’t believe she would just throw away her work like that.”

“It is a cute picture,” Jane affirmed. “It would have been a shame to waste it. What an interesting evening this turned out to be.”

“It’s not over yet,” Dedy said, holding out the charcoal sketch. “I want you to give this to Hannah,” she said, referring to Jane’s 4-year-old daughter. “Do you think she would like to hang this up in her room with all her Disney posters and stuff?”

“I think she would like it a lot,” Jane said brightly. “She always likes getting presents,” she laughed. “Speaking of Hannah, she is spending the weekend with Paul, so I have the house to myself. Want to come over and continue our night out?”

Dedy considered. “Well, I have to go home and feed the cats, so why don’t you come over to my house instead? We can watch a movie, eat popcorn and cupcakes, and have a glass of wine.”

“Okay, deal,” Jane said, starting for the door. “I’ll see you there.”

In the Moment, fiction
by Abbie Johnson-Taylor

I sat in the classroom, not knowing what to write. The only sounds were heavy breathing from the guy next to me and the scratch of pencil against paper. The blank sheet stared me in the face.

I stared back, as time dragged on. Another student walked in late, whispering an apology. Footsteps sounded in the hall, as others walked by the open door.

I stared out the open window that overlooked the courtyard. Birds sang in nearby trees. Students laughed, as they passed the building, no inspiration there.

I looked around at other students sitting at tables set up in a u-shape format, the blackboard, the professor’s laptop on the lectern at the front of the room. I turned and stared at the computers lining the wall behind me. At the beginning of class, the instructor said we could use them if we didn’t want to write the old-fashioned way. I stood up and made my way to one of the terminals.

Sitting down, I pushed a button, and the screen came to life with Facebook in all its glory. Without thinking, I typed my log-in information and went straight to my home newsfeed page. There, on my timeline, were his words. “Emma Sawyer, you’re nothing but a goody two-shoes. Go to Hell!”

Others gasped, and a few tittered. I turned to see projected on the screen above the blackboard my Facebook timeline with Jeremy’s ugly words. Other screens were lit up, perhaps displaying the same information. I opened my mouth but couldn’t say anything.

Someone was shaking me. “Emma, wake up.” It was my roommate Shelley. The bland classroom walls dissolved into the walls of my dorm room, decorated with my photos and Shelley’s rock star posters.

“Oh, what is it?” I asked, rubbing my eyes.

“It’s after nine. Didn’t you hear your alarm? Your creative writing class starts at ten. Oh, and Jeremy called.”

“Shit,” I said, sitting up and reaching for my cell. “You didn’t talk to him, did you?”

“Of course not, silly, I just saw who it was on your caller ID. I’m glad you finally got rid of that bozo.”

“Yeah, he’s a real jerk. He’s here on a football scholarship so all he can think about is football, football, and football. He just wants to have fun, and he can’t understand that there are times when I need to study. Oh well….”

I picked up my phone and, with the push of a few buttons, blocked his calls and deleted him from my contacts. I then reached for my lap top.

“Emma, it’s after nine. You’re going to be late,” said Shelley, putting on her coat.

“I know, but if I don’t do this now, he’ll ruin my day.”

“And if you don’t eat breakfast, you’ll ruin your health, but that’s not my problem, is it?” said Shelley, sounding disgusted, as she slung her back pack over her shoulders. “I’m off to the cafeteria and then to my music therapy class. See you later.”

I waited for the computer to boot up, then went straight to Facebook where I un-friended Jeremy and blocked him from contacting me. For good measure, I deleted my Facebook account, figuring I could create another one later. I also blocked him from e-mailing me and removed his address.

I showered, dressed, and dashed to my class, grabbing a Hostess Twinkie and a can of Dr. Pepper on the way. I made it just in time. After roll call, the instructor, a woman who looked to be in her twenties said, “Okay, for the next fifteen minutes, I want you to write about being in the moment.”

Lonesome, poetry
by Penny Fleckenstein

Lonesome:
It’s when you awake from a nightmare,
and there is nobody there to wipe your tears.
No one to run to you,
to tell you things are going to be all right.
No one to reach out and touch your hand,
and say, “I love you”

Lonesome:
It’s getting lost in the middle of downtown
In a crowd,
but with no one you feel you can trust
to ask for directions, or,
in a desert, with no human soul
around who says, “Hello”
when you call out for help.
When you reach out your hand
and there isn’t even a cat or dog,
who wants to be under it, receiving the
caresses you have to offer.

Lonesome:
Is when you’re married,
in a “happy” relationship,
and everyone admires what a beautiful couple you make,
but they don’t know,
your spouse is too busy
for you and you wait like a faithful puppy
hoping tonight,
you’ll be held and cuddled and loved.
Tonight,
you’ll get an acknowledgement,
thrown a treat or two
and then tomorrow,
to be forgotten and neglected all over again.

Yes, Lonesome:
It’s me,
by myself, continuing to be strong,
helping others, smiling, laughing,
reaching out touching others’ lives,
giving, caressing, loving because,
well, maybe, I can help just one person feel
they’re not all alone.

bio: Penny Fleckenstein lives in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s the totally blind single mom of six: 4 adults, one teenager, and one six-year-old. She also helped to raise four step-children who are all adults. Penny loves to read, write, play board games, listen to music, cook, knit, go to plays and musicals, attend baseball games, and most of all develop relationships with good people. Penny leads a fun-filled, active life, participating in many organizations. She posts on her blog at http://notyouraveragesinglemom.com

Inertia, poetry
by yuan changming

With bad knee osteoarthritis
I have already stopped moving

But my shadow is still walking ahead
As if it has a farther destination to reach

So, don’t even try to
Hold it back within
Your shape, but just
Let it keep going, going

Until the sun sets further
Down, or until it joins
The sun on the other
Side of this turning world

Bio: Yuan Changming, 8-time Pushcart nominee is the author of 5 chapbooks including Kinship [2015] and The Origin of Letters [2015]. He began to learn English at the age of 19 and published monographs on translation before moving to Canada. He is currently editing Poetry Pacific with Allen Qing Yuan in Vancouver. Since mid-2005, Changming’s poetry has appeared in 1059 literary publications across 36 countries including Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, Cincinnati Review and Threepenny Review.

The Wind in Your back Yard, poetry
by Lorie McCloud

The wind in your backyard
isn’t like the wind in mine.
Cause you have trees to block the breeze,
Maple elm and pine.
The rain in your backyard
isn’t like the rain in ours,
Cause all the eaves and fresh green leaves
protect you from the showers.

The rain in my backyard comes down,
And patters on the dusty ground,
And then the wind blows all about,
And dries the dewy grasses out.

So when the sun is shining
and the day is calm and clear,
Then you can stay
and we will play
together over here.
But when the rain is falling
or the wind is blowing hard,
Then we can meet across the street
and play in your backyard.

Bio: Lorie McCloud has been totally blind from birth. She resides in Fort Worth Texas. Her interests include hiking or walking, swimming and reading and conversing about psychology and metaphysics. She is a singer/song writer as well as an author. Her youtube channel is http://www.youtube.com/user/LorieMccloud?feature=mhsn

Dream Limits, nonfiction
by Robert Feinstein

When I was in Hebrew school, one of the rabbis told the class that the “modeh ani” must be said upon waking up, to thank God for returning our souls to us. He said that, while we slept, our souls were taken out of our bodies, and this is why we often dreamed. If God did not return our souls to our bodies, we would not wake up.

I have always dreamed a great deal during the night, and I am in a position to report that the Rabbi’s belief that our souls wander thither and yon to augment our dreams is incorrect. I know this because my dreams reflect my limited knowledge and experiences. I never dream of things I could not know, i.e. colors, visual ambiance, etc., and my dreams are incredibly limited and seem to be totally dependent on hearing. When I dream, I feel nothing; I never feel the touch of a friend, or even the beautiful fur of my guide dog, Harley. My dreams are like radio broadcasts, but they consist only of voices and a kind of knowledge about my environment that I am privy to without knowing how I got this information.

For example, if I dream of a friend, I will hear his voice, but I will never feel his hand, smell his cologne, or even walk with him guiding me. If the context of my dream needs for me to be in Canada in a restaurant, I will be there, but I will never dream of the mechanics of walking there, or even being guided by my guide dog. I am at a loss to know why this should be the case. I do have a possible explanation. Perhaps, getting from place to place as a blind person is so difficult, that I need a rest from this while I am sleeping. As wonderful as it is to have a guide dog, walking with my dog requires incredible concentration, and this might destroy the beauty of my dream. So my mind, by omitting the mechanics of blindness, makes it possible for me to rest while still having quite intricate dreams. If for example, I need to read a book in my dreams, the contents of the book is known to me, but I never hear the book being read, nor do I ever feel the braille moving across my fingers.

Often when I am between sleep and consciousness, I will invent very complicated plots in my mind. In these scenarios, I am usually in a powerful role, like the person chosen to take care of others, or I will suddenly know that, instead of being blind, I have become deaf, or unable to walk. When however, I have these transitions in disability status, my power as an authority figure is increased, and I am usually sought after for my knowledge. But I never dream of people signing to me, or of actually walking with crutches, or being in a wheelchair. I just know by virtue of the dialog, that I can’t walk. What is very curious is that in my dreams, when I am myself, I do not know I am blind and the word is never mentioned, nor am I treated like a blind person.

Because of my unique life experiences, I am in a good position to be reasonably sure that we only dream about what we know, or can know. Dreams do not enable us to experience what we have never known and as beautiful as they can be, they are limited by our waking reality. For this reason, I would be skeptical if I met someone who claimed to have abilities while dreaming that he did not possess in real life, such as the ability to speak a foreign language. A dream is just a way for us to fantasize, and the dream has no more power than our waking brain can give it.

Modeh Ani:
I offer thanks before you, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.

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.

Fire Prevention, Memoir
by Kate Chamberlin

Not long after the children return to public school in the fall, teachers begin to review Fire Prevention and Fire Safety Rules, locate fire exit doors and windows, conduct fire drills and bring in local fire fighters to put on demonstrations of their equipment and uniforms.

Even Nursery Schools are fire Conscious and often take the tykes to visit their local Fire Hall. The folks at Wee People Nursery School even installed a new Fire Exit door to better insure the little ones will be safe in case of fire or emergency evacuation.

Teachers often wonder if their admonitions to practice fire drills in the home are heeded and if the safety tips the students discuss in school are discussed at home.

Well, Mrs. Sanford, yes, your efforts have not gone up in smoke.

We borrowed your video tape about “Stop-Drop-Roll” with Fireman Dan showing the children all his fire-fighting garb and discussing fire safety in a non-threatening manner. He was great.

We stopped the tape to practice the low-crawl with your head up if the room is full of smoke. We added a little information about feeling the door and if it is hot, go to the next pre-arranged exit. Then, we practiced how to stop-drop-roll – with your hands covering your face in case your clothes accidently catch on fire.

The week we turned the clocks back an hour, we watched Dave put new batteries in our two smoke alarms. When we heard the alarm, we marched, walked fast, mind you, but didn’t run, to the front door. We walked through several exit routes several times. We discussed where to go outside to meet up with each other and yet stay out of the way of the Walworth Volunteer Firemen, who would come to our rescue.

Whenever Dave lights a fire in our big Black Bart wood burning stove, we talk about flames, the heat and how only grown-ups play with matches.

Just the other evening, as I was doing the dishes and Dave was at his part-time job, I heard Tyler discussing fires with his little brother. The dialogue went something like this:

Tyler, a very verbal 3-year-old: “John, this is very hot. No, no, don’t touch. Sit here.”

John: a very quiet one-year-old who rarely says more than “uh-uh” and will point to things.

Tyler: “Now, John, you stay here. There are the logs for wood.” I hear a thump. “Here is kindling.” I hear paper being crinkled up. “I’ll clear a fire wall here.” I hear the muffled bam-bam of a winter boot hitting the floor.

John: “uh-uh.”

Tyler: “No, no John, Stay there. Uh-oh. The mud is coming off my boot.”

Up to this point, I had a picture in my mind of Tyler building a small, pretend campfire with the logs in the center and the fire barrier around it where the boys would then sit and roast pretend marshmallows.

Kate: turning from the sink with wet hands, “Don’t worry about the dried mud. You can vacuum it up at clean-up time. Where is John? Is he helping you?”

Tyler: “Yes, he’s in the fire.”

Kate: trying not to panic or stifle creativity, “Excuse me? Is that a safe place to be?”

Tyler had put a ring of boots and sneakers around a pile of all the plastic containers and lids from the children’s cupboard, on top of his prone little brother! For kindling, He had pulled his art work off the back-door and scrunched it up – magnets and all and carefully placed them with the plastics. Here and there were children’s hats, mittens and coats.

Vacuuming up the mud was the least of the clean-up problems. It took us forever to separate plastics, shoes, boots, trash and mud and get them back in their assigned spot.

After we’d dismantled the campfire, we made sure the fire was out by soaking the floor. We then proceeded to laugh and sing as we mopped the kitchen floor, clean enough to eat off of it.

Oh Dear Gussie, I’m glad I remembered Smokey Bear’s advice to douse the ashes or I’d never have gotten those two boys to help me wash the kitchen floor!

Her Familiar, poetry
by Nancy Scott

When her husband died, she decided
the mess on the kitchen table must
go. She kept the vinyl
cloth and the radio, allowed
the ashtray for friends’ smoke
but pitched prescriptions and insulin syringes
’til the two-shelved Lazy Susan
held only a salt shaker.
Even his matching pepper
she sometimes sprinkled by accident
was banished from the plastic circle.

But she tired of cleaning,
thought one bottle of vitamins
wouldn’t hurt, chewable C to ward
off cold, then the announcer’s
Ginsana and St. John’s Wort
she swallowed three times a day.
The nutritionist clipped locks
of her hair to test what she lacked,
chanted “manganese, bio-cleanse,
oil of fish and liquid silver”
’til her two shelves filled.

The Hurricane, poetry
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.

It began shortly after noon,
with the rumble of distant thunder,
and the patter of raindrops on the roof.
The sky darkened ominously,
and the crows quieted.
Do they huddle together, like women sharing an umbrella,
waiting for the bus?

The wind gusted and stirred the dust into gritty billows.
The lid of a garbage can rolled down the street,
followed by a cart wheeling sheet of newspaper,
and cavorting leaves and twigs.

Then the rain fell in heavy plops and splatters.
Testing its new found power, it pelted the kitchen windows,
soaking the already weather stained windowsills.

Lightning zigzagged with blinding brightness
across the ever darkening sky.
Could an intellect, in such split second brevity
ever achieve such clarity?

Trees swayed and bent in homage to the angry, mighty wind.
Deafening thunder shook the house.
The floor, newly palsied, trembled underfoot,
like the floor of the parking garage downtown
reverberating as cars spiraled to the exit.

Branches of the live oak slapped the side of the house.
Throughout the night the house groaned,
maintaining its “I was here first!” right
and stood firm against this onslaught of wind and rain.

Towards dawn the rain slackened,
and the wind, relieved of its fury, relented.

By gray daybreak, the storm whimpered away
like a wounded animal,
victorious and unrepentant,
its force spent.

Senior moments, poetry
by Valerie Moreno

In white gown and cap,
we filed through the cafeteria aisles
marking our time here
nearly over.

Some of us joked,
others sniffled and cried.
The jukebox was silent–
it was time for new music
again.

Rain soaked us in our outdoor ceremony,
awards given quickly as we shivered
applause competing with the downpour.

Diploma in hand,
Congratulations!
We toss our hats in the air,
acknowledging the unknown.

Hugs and parties followed,
years took us away from structured time and telling–

College for some, nursing or working,
our paths wove away from one another
bathed in sweet memories.

Now, I am a senior too,
but this classroom has no tests,
no multiple choice on blurry mimeo paper.

Tenacity, resilience and tears
have been my report, grading each decade- wife, mom, grandma, widow, writer, dreams and darkness vying for completion.

Not yet,
I am very much alive, vibrant.
Music plays continually on my
soul jukebox, stronger than the one at school.

I choose the songs,
the words, mantras I live by,
understanding I know so little of
the Voice that wakes my heart

so I can dream.


This literary magazine is produced by Behind Our Eyes, Inc, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization of writers with disabilities.