Magnets and Ladders
Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
Editorial and Technical Staff
- Coordinating Editor: Mary-Jo Lord
- Fiction: Lisa Busch, Valerie Moreno, Marilyn Brandt Smith, Kate Chamberlin, and Abbie Johnson Taylor
- Nonfiction: Valerie Moreno, John W. Smith, Kate Chamberlin, Leonard Tuchyner, and Marilyn Brandt Smith
- Poetry: Lisa Busch, Valerie Moreno, Abbie Johnson Taylor, and Lynda McKinney Lambert
- Anniversary: Terri Winaught, Ann Chiappetta, Bonnie Blose, and Alice Massa
- Technical Assistants: Jayson Smith and John Weidlich
- Internet Specialist: Julie Posey
Writers with disabilities may submit up to three selections per issue. Deadlines are February 15 for the Spring/Summer issue, and August 15 for the Fall/winter issue. Writers must disclose their disability in their biography or in their work. Biographies may be up to 100 words in length, and should be written in third-person.
Do not submit until your piece is ready to be considered for publication. Rewrites, additions, deletions, or corrections are part of the editorial process, and will be suggested or initiated by the editor.
Poetry maximum length is 50 lines. Memoir, fiction, and nonfiction maximum length is 2500 words. In all instances, our preference is for shorter lengths than the maximum allowed. Please single-space all submissions, and use a blank line to separate paragraphs and stanzas. It is important to spell check and proofread all entries. Previously published material and simultaneous submissions are permitted provided you own the copyright to the work. Please cite previous publisher and/or notify if work is accepted elsewhere.
We do not feature advocacy, activist, “how-to,” or “what’s new” articles regarding disabilities. Innovative techniques for better writing as well as publication success stories are welcome. Content will include many genres, with limited attention to the disability theme. Announcements of writing contests with deadlines beyond April 1 and October 1 respectively are welcome.
Have You Published a book? If you would like to have an excerpt of your book published in an issue of Magnets and Ladders, please submit a chapter or section of your book to firstname.lastname@example.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 email@example.com. All donations support Magnets and Ladders.
Please email all submissions to firstname.lastname@example.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
Final author approval and review is necessary if changes are needed beyond punctuation, grammar, and sentence or paragraph structure. We will not change titles, beginnings, endings, dialog, poetic lines, the writer’s voice, or the general tone without writer collaboration. If your work is selected for inclusion in a future “Behind Our Eyes” project, you will be notified; your approval and final review will be required. To insure we can contact you regarding future projects, please keep us updated if your Email address changes.
About Behind Our Eyes
Behind Our Eyes, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization enhancing the opportunities for writers with disabilities. Our anthology published in 2007, Behind Our Eyes: Stories, Poems, and Essays by Writers with Disabilities, is available at Amazon and from other booksellers. It is available in recorded and Braille format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
Behind Our Eyes, a Second Look is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers, and in E-book format on Amazon Kindle. It is also available in recorded format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. See our book trailer on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk0uIaQTr24&feature=youtu.be.
Several members of our group meet by moderated teleconference twice monthly to hear speakers; share work for critique; or receive tips on accessibility, publication, and suggested areas of interest.
Our mailing list is a low-traffic congenial place to share work in progress; learn about submission requests; and to ask and answer writing questions. If you would like to join our group and receive access to our phone conferences and mailing list, please complete our quick and easy membership form at http://www.behindoureyes.org/mform/form.php.
If you would like to learn more about Behind Our Eyes, or if you would like to make a donation, please visit our website at http://www.behindoureyes.org.
- Editorial and Technical Staff
- Submission Guidelines
- About Behind Our Eyes
- Editors’ Welcome
- Special Announcement!
- Part I. Their Lives Made a Difference
- Part II. Facing challenges and Words of Wisdom
- For Karen, poetry
by Jessica Goody
- Kelsey’s Kids, fiction
by Trish Hubschman
- Oh, That Teacher! memoir
by S. AVIS GRAY
- September 3, 1983, nonfiction
by Marcia J. Wick, The Write Sisters
- The Age of Contrarius, nonfiction
by John Wesley Smith
- Epaulets of Grudge, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
- Instrument of Peace, poetry
by Crystal L. Howe
- The Choice, fiction
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.
- Life’s Little Wrinkles, memoir
by Kate Chamberlin
- For Karen, poetry
- Part III. Celebrating the Seasons
- One Fall Day, poetry
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.
- First Fruit, poetry
by Ann Chiappetta
- Bumpykin The Jack-O’-Lantern, fiction
by Rhonda T. Spear
- Grandpa’s Halloween Ghost, fiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
- A Sign of Peace at Cocoa with the Clauses: A Wreatha Natale Holiday Story, fiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
- A Christmas I’ll Never Forget, memoir
by John Justice
- Dear Santa, poetry
by D. P. Lyons
- Christmas Scentiments, ABECEDARIAN
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
- In Which I Find Color in Late Winter, nonfiction
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
- One Fall Day, poetry
- Part IV. The Writers’ Climb
- My Favorite Mentor, nonfiction
Workshop Wisdom from Margo LaGattuta
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
- Moving Around, nonfiction
by Nancy Scott
- Peddle Your Books for Free or almost free! nonfiction
by Bruce Atchison
- Contest Alert
- Anatomy of an Anthology, nonfiction
by Kate Chamberlin
- Trespasser: Book excerpt, fiction
by Shelley Alongi
- Thirteen Ways of Looking: Exercise and Poem
by Mary-Jo Lord
- My Favorite Mentor, nonfiction
- Part V. From a Different Perspective
- Perspective, nonfiction
by Andrea Kelton
- My Morning Commute, nonfiction
by Andrea Kelton
- On Judgment, nonfiction
by Bonnie Blose
- Two Controversy Tales, nonfiction
by Peter Altschul, MS
- Locket, fiction
by Susan Muhlenbeck
- Hammer, fiction
by Susan Muhlenbeck
- Schrodinger’s Shaggy Dog, fiction
by Shawn Jacobson
- Slices of Pittsburgh Sounds, prose poem
by Terri Winaught
- Perspective, nonfiction
- Part VI. The Animal Kingdom
- Part VII. The Melting Pot
- A Million Dollars, fiction
by Linn Martinussen
- Flakes, fiction
by Nicole Massey
- Baseball Back When, flash fiction
by Bill Fullerton
- Play Ball, poetry
by DP Lyons
- Blessings, poetry
by Laura minning
- Anniversaries, acrostic poem
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.
- They bring songs to the house, poetry
by Ernie Jones
- of Light, poetry
by Brad Corallo
- The trials of St. Brendan, poetry
by Brad Corallo
- Digger, memoir
by Robert Kingett
- A Million Dollars, fiction
- Part VIII. I Remember
- Forty Five Years Later, poetry
by Nancy Scott
- Just as the Ocean Does, poetry
by Sharon Tewksbury
- Dad, Fats, and Me, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
- The Bomb Drops, memoir
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
- The Italian Bus Ride, memoir
by Michael M. Tickenoff
- Anniversary Notes, creative nonfiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
- Memories with Dad, nonfiction
by Marcia J. Wick, The Write Sisters
- Forty Five Years Later, poetry
Hello. I hope you had a fun filled summer and are enjoying the cooler days of fall. We have another packed edition loaded with great stories, articles, and poems.
See how some of our contributors appreciate the cooler seasons or celebrate the holidays in our “Celebrating the Seasons” section. Read about some amazing people who have impacted contributor’s lives in “Their Lives Made a Difference,” and see how some real people and fictional characters overcame obstacles in “Facing Challenges and Words of Wisdom.” “I Remember” and “The Melting Pot” are filled with great stories and poems. “The Animal Kingdom” is back and articles in “The Writers’ Climb” will make you think about marketing and who and what influences your writing. Pieces featured in “From a Different Prospective” may cause you to pause and think differently for a moment or forever. We had a special anniversary theme contest for this edition, and although we don’t have a specific anniversary section, stories and poems about anniversaries are featured throughout the magazine. See how many you can find.
This has been a busy and exciting year for the Behind Our Eyes group, as we celebrate our 10 year anniversary. In the Spring/Summer edition of Magnets and Ladders we featured “A Brief History of Behind Our Eyes, Inc.” A version of that article was published in the Summer 2016 edition of Dialogue Magazine. In this edition of Magnets and Ladders, we are featuring an article about our audio project commemorating our 10 year anniversary. We have enjoyed sharing our readings and revisiting the audio clips that have shaped our history and helped make our group what it is today. Be sure to read the article immediately following the “Editors’ Welcome” for all of the exciting news about the audio project.
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, along with our anniversary Grand Prize. We had 91 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 and authors of the Magnets and Ladders Fall/Winter contest winners.
Anniversary Contest Grand Prize:
“Goodbye, Brother Sunshine” by Valerie Moreno
- First Place: “Kelsey’s Kids” by Trish Hubschman
- Second Place: “Bumpykin the Jack O’ Lantern” by Rhonda T. Spear
- Honorable Mention: “Baseball Back When” by Bill Fullerton
- Honorable Mention: “Baby Sitting Fish” by Sly Duck
- First Place: “Mr. Miller” by Greg Pruitt
- Second Place: “My Favorite Mentor: Workshop Wisdom from Margo LaGattuta” by Marilyn Brandt Smith
- Honorable Mention: “In Which I Find Color in Late Winter” by Lynda McKinney Lambert
- Honorable Mention: “Perspective” by Andrea Kelton
- First Place: “For Karen” by Jessica Goody
- Second Place: “Christmas Scentiments” by Lynda McKinney Lambert
- Honorable Mention: “First Fruit” by Ann Chiappetta
- Honorable Mention: “Epaulets of Grudge” by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
Congratulations to the winning authors. All of our prize winning stories and poems can be found throughout this issue. See “The Writers’ Climb” for details about our next contest, again with cash prizes.
Our editorial staff hopes that you have a great fall and a happy and safe holiday season.
Who wants a piece of birthday cake? Behind Our Eyes, Inc. is ten years old. We’ve been working hard all year to prepare an audio experience for our Magnets and Ladders and anthology readers and for our members and friends. You can visit our website at behindoureyes.org and download the finished product at no cost.
First, twenty-seven of us read our choices from stories, memoir, articles, and poems we’ve written. Next, we present a narrated history with sound bites from important meetings and a radio interview. You’ll meet the leaders who’ve moved us forward since 2006.
Take a peek at Australia. Hear what can happen on a Greyhound. What’s a dream circle? A Mississippi flood isn’t the hardest thing facing a Minnesota teen. How did a fledgling writers’ group turn a dream into two anthologies worthy of inclusion in the Library of Congress NLS program?
We offer a CD version of our anniversary audio project for a donation of $7.00. Information is available on the website. You will not be charged for shipping unless there are special circumstances.
Stop and say hi to our kitty while you’re visiting our website. She gets her own special piece of cake because she mans the “Feed the Kitty” fundraising campaign. If our options for contributing don’t work for you, you may call 773-572-7744 for special arrangements.
Thank you for joining our audio journey and helping guarantee our continued success as an organization. Now, where did we put those napkins?
Audio Anniversary Committee:
- Mary-Jo Lord
- Alice Massa
- Valerie Moreno
- DeAnna (Quietwater) Noriega
- John W. Smith
- Marilyn Brandt Smith, Chairman
Part I. Their Lives Made a Difference
Goodbye, Brother Sunshine, memoir
by Valerie Moreno
It was October when Arnie told me he loved me. How could I have known it would be October when he died.
We met by chance in 1978 by Cassette letter when I was taking instruction in the Secular Franciscan Order in the Catholic Church. The SFO was one of three Orders founded by St. Francis of Assisi. We ran into difficulty when the local Fraternity wasn’t sure if the required books were in an accessible format for visually impaired students.
I was told about Arnie Moreno, a totally blind man in Tucson, Arizona, who was a Professed member of the SFO. Off went a letter on tape from me in New Jersey, asking for assistance.
He’s so nice, I kept thinking as I listened to his soft-spoken reply. Something about his voice reached deep inside me. Finding we had much in common, we began corresponding regularly. By September, six 90-minute tapes were crossing the country, our daily lives recorded in detail along with prayers. He was on my mind and in my heart continually. Deep down I was hoping against hope he felt the same way.
My mom was having surgery the day his tape letter came that would change everything. “I love you, Valerie,” I heard as I sat on my bed late that night, listening to Arnie’s voice confirming what I felt too. “Somehow, God seems to be bringing us together.”
“What are ya, crazy?” My mom chided me in her Brooklyn-Italian sarcasm. “He’s probably a gigolo! How can ya love a person you’ve never met?”
I didn’t know, but it was as real as her outrage. Arnie’s family felt the same. We knew we’d have to meet to find out if what we felt would jell. I was working full-time as a Dictaphone Secretary at a Church in Newark. Arnie had a vending stand in Tucson. In 1979, I decided to use ten days of my vacation to fly to Arizona. Mom came too, convinced we were both out of our minds.
We left on May 21. Strangely, on May 2nd, we learned the Archbishop had decided to close the Church I worked for due to failing attendance. My last day was May 4th.
Meeting Arnie was wonderful! Any doubts we’d had vanished when we hugged each other at the airport. “Hello, Brother Sunshine,” I said. I called him that after St. Francis’s example when he referred to all living things as “brother” and “sister.”
“Hello, Sister Comfort,” he replied.
I didn’t return to Jersey. Relatives in Tucson offered me a place to stay and my mom, who adored Arnie, gave us her blessing. I was able to work with Arnie at his stand. We spent every day together, talking, working and laughing. The road ahead held many challenges. Our backgrounds were similar, but there were difficulties blending my Italian-American family with Arnie’s Mexican-American culture. After marrying in November of 1979, we tackled our new life together with excitement and determination.
Our daughter, Mary was born in November, 1980. We loved being parents and having a sweet, precocious child brought new joys and experiences.
Years passed with ups and downs, changes and sorrows. In 1987, we moved to New Jersey to care for my mom whose health was slowly declining. Arnie was by my side through my mom’s illness and my deep battle with ongoing depression.
He landed a job with an organization for the blind in 1989 and commuted to work by train in all weather. Mary was soon in Middle school and the teen rebellion began. Through it all, we held on, praying, discussing, arguing and loving.
On my birthday in 2006, we took Arnie to the emergency room due to flu-like symptoms that had worsened. It was found that he was bleeding internally and he was rushed to the intensive care unit. Test after test was done. It was discovered that Arnie had liver disease caused by hepatitis C, which he’d gotten after a blood transfusion in the early ’80′s, before there was mandatory testing. A flare up, combined with Diabetes had done significant damage to his liver. Over the next two years, Arnie made monthly trips to Mt. Sinai Liver Center in New York. More testing was done and he held his own, doing everything he was advised.
When Mary and her fiancé Jack had a baby boy in October, 2009, Arnie and I were beaming grandparents.
In 2010, the bottom fell out; on his 57th birthday, Arnie was again in the intensive care unit. Through the winter, new procedures were tried to place a shunt near the liver with no success. As time went on, the liver disease advanced, with complications popping up out of nowhere.
My heart and spirit felt ripped apart by cycling waves of grief, pain and sorrow. One day in August, we were sitting quietly when Arnie spoke.
“I’m tired,” he said slowly. “I can’t do this anymore.”
His words sent terror rushing through me like bright fire. “I know,” I said. I’d known for a long time. I laid my cheek on his thin hand and prayed for strength for us both.
Hospice was our best alternative. There was a beautiful place near Mary’s house where Arnie could have quiet. By October, he was bedridden. The hardest part was his being unable to talk.
We were all with him on October 9th, 2010 as Arnie slept, opening his eyes for a few seconds. We all said “Hi” and his eyes closed again.
His breathing changed later that night and the nurse came at our request.
“He’s in the dying process,” she said.
The silence in the room seemed alive. Here it was, the event of death that would take away the person I loved most.
Jack left to take the baby home and Mary and I stood on either side of the bed, holding his chilled, thin hands. He was in a coma, but we were encouraged to talk to him.
“He can hear you,” the nurse reassured.
“Mom, please pray with me,” Mary said.
We said the Chaplet Of Divine Mercy, Our Father, Hail Mary. Memories of our life together flowed in my mind like a tape going backwards. All we’d shared was rewinding in my spirit, taking away the dark places until there was light all around, even in the room.
“Sing, mom,” Mary said.
It took all the strength I had to sing “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” the title song from our best loved movie about St. Francis.
“Mom, he’s gone.”
We fell on Arnie, crying. Gently, I smoothed his hair. “Goodbye, Brother Sunshine,” I whispered.
Later, Mary told me she’d heard many voices singing with me and that a tiny cat had perched on the windowsill outside, a half dozen others stood on the picnic table. A thin mist hovered over the bed and the corners of the ceiling.
“Peace is ablaze in here!” The nurse turned to Mary and me, where we stood with our arms around each other.
“He’s home now,” I said, knowing all it meant.
Author’s note: October 9th of this year will mark the sixth anniversary of Arnie’s return home.
Bio: Valerie Moreno, age 62, lives in New Jersey. Since age 12 she has been writing fiction, poetry, Memoir and articles. Her interests include books, music, movies and helping others.
Mr. Miller, nonfiction
by Greg Pruitt
As a boy growing up in the years following the Second World War, I failed to realize that heroes were everywhere around me. They were uncles and teachers, neighbors and the fathers of friends. They were everyday people with ordinary lives, but for a brief time, they had been exceptional. They had flown planes, driven tanks, served on submarine killers, or survived the greatest battles of Europe and the Pacific. These men never spoke of their exploits in front of us children. Their stories and memories were shared only with the closest of loved ones or with their former comrades in arms. Only later in obituaries or browsing salvaged newspaper clippings I learned of their valor, but by then, it would be too late to ask questions or express my appreciation. They would not have considered themselves heroes. There was a job to do, and they did what their families, friends, and nation expected of them.
We were the Baby Boomers. Few of us could understand the true sacrifice of war. None of my friends or classmates could have had a father killed in action, but there were those who had lost family members. The war for most of us had only been experienced through movies and television. The personal horrors and consequences of war awaited my generation in the jungles of Vietnam.
Other than a neighbor who had been wounded and walked with a slight limp, I knew no one who had been injured in combat. That would change when I began seventh grade.
As part of current events in my social studies class, we would discuss the capture of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann and the Castro takeover of Cuba, along with the study of Latin America. Certainly, few of my classmates recall much of the subject matter taught that year, but we all should remember our teacher.
His name was Mr. Miller, a 27 or 28-year old man, who had been given the task of educating what was then the city’s middle class in the years before the move to the suburbs. He was handsome with his dark hair slicked back, always wearing a white shirt and tie, black or navy blue slacks, and spit shined shoes. However, he had one distinguishing physical feature. He was missing his right arm. Where is hand should have been there was a hook with a lever that could be used as a pincer.
The loss of an arm should not have been an overwhelming disability to a teacher, but Mr. Miller always appeared to be very defensive and sensitive to criticism. Although I never heard anyone mock or ridicule him, he seemed to have a need to prove himself physically.
We knew he had been a successful Golden Gloves boxer in his days following high school, and as boys will sometimes do, we foolishly wondered how tough he was and how good a boxer he might have been. One day, a student challenged Mr. Miller to a sort of boxing contest. He said he would hit the teacher on the shoulder as hard as he could, and the teacher could then return the blow. Mr. Miller agreed and took the kid’s best punch, showing only a tight smile in reaction. Mr. Miller then offered up a sharp left jab that caused his young opponent to stagger back a step or two. The boy obviously felt the pain, but to his credit didn’t cry. He then took his seat, and we had any questions concerning the instructor’s fortitude answered.
I have a clear memory of him playing in a student-faculty basketball game. The limitations of someone with his condition was obvious, but that did not deter him. He may have played harder than anyone to prove he was still a man. He was a competitor and always would be.
One day Mr. Miller came to class dressed much the same as always, but that day there was something different. In place of his hook was a flesh colored prosthetic hand. The hand was less practical than the hook, but it must have been more important to the man to appear normal, rather than maintain any advantage the hook provided.
The addition of the new hand may have been unremarkable to adults, but it was fascinating to a class of twelve-year-olds.
A girl in the back of the class just had to ask, “Mr. Miller, where did you get that hand?”
The classroom became instantly quiet. Mr. Miller looked at the student and explained that he had received his new hand in the veterans’ hospital.
That should have been the end of the discussion, but the girl had another question.
She asked, “What happened to your hand anyways?”
Mr. Miller Responded, “I was wounded in the Korean War.
The student then asked, “The Korean War? What was that?”
The teacher’s face turned bright red as he glared at the insensitive child. Then, his anger exploded. He began raging about shedding his blood and the friends he had lost for nothing if stupid kids like us had no understanding of their sacrifice. He first threw chalk, then the erasers, and finally one book after another was hurled toward the offending corner of the classroom, where the girl, along with nearby students cowered in fear or took shelter beneath their desks.
Mr. Miller shouted and stared menacingly at the class prepared for another attack, but suddenly ended his assault. As he regained his composure, we became uncomfortably silent. I glanced back and forth from Mr. Miller to the girl, waiting for what would come next, but the drama had ended. He brushed back his hair, straightened his tie, as she, with tears in her eyes, laid her head on her desk. Other students moved uneasily about, as they picked up debris and returned things to their proper place, and we all pretended as though nothing had happened.
When class was dismissed, the story of the teacher’s outburst spread quickly throughout the school. We had something exciting to discuss, and I wondered what to expect the next day. Apparently the administration had taken no disciplinary action, because there was Mr. Miller in his class, and all was as it had been. The incident was never mentioned or repeated.
What should Mr. Miller have expected from boys whose idea of war had been shaped by Davy Crockett and girls who cried over Elvis being drafted? We were ignorant children. We knew nothing of the far away battles and land that had changed his life. The memory of the events that cost him his arm must have been as fresh in his mind as incidents that had occurred yesterday, but to us, it was part of the ancient past.
Following that year, Mr. Miller remained in his classroom, but I spoke to him infrequently, only when passing classes. After that he may have continued to teach elsewhere, but he was no longer in that building when I began ninth grade.
While his message was unintended, Mr. Miller taught me an unforgettable lesson that day, and although I have only vague memories of the remainder of the year, that episode left upon me an understanding of how the wounds of war last long after the battles have ended. He was among thousands who had been scarred both physically and emotionally in our nation’s service, and only someone who had suffered a similar trauma could begin to appreciate what combat was like, but even then each individual’s experience must be unique. I hope Mr. Miller’s anger and frustration diminished over time, and he eventually found peace in his life, but it is difficult to understand how anyone who has suffered and lost so much comes to accept his fate. Sadly, he probably never realized that he was a hero and an inspiration to many of us, whether or not we fully understood that at our young age.
Bio: Greg Pruitt is a retired teacher living in Fenton, Michigan. He is a graduate of the Michigan School For The Blind and Central Michigan University. He has been legally blind since the age of nine as the result of an undetermined retinal disease.
Willowbrook: For Gary Schwartz, poetry
by Jessica Goody
You were my great-uncle, or would have been,
if such familial labels applied to one long-dead
and never met. After you were born, you were
placed in an asylum for crippled rag dolls.
In this snake-pit penal colony, the inmates lie
ignored on unwashed sheets, naked and shivering.
They line the halls, their diapers damp and sagging,
hugging their knees, staring at nothing, smudged
with their own waste What could you have become
had you been born in another generation? You could
have had a family, freedom, a life, gained knowledge,
developed your mind. Instead, you lay unused
amidst the chaos of Bedlam, carelessly tended
by overworked nurses in state institutions,
with no stimulation or thoughts of your own,
a wordless vegetable, knowing nothing but
your own name. I have walked where you walked.
It could so easily have been me: mute and drooling,
incontinent, an eternally helpless child, my body
twisted, and my mind untouched.
bio: Jessica Goody writes for SunSations Magazine, The Bluffton Sun, and The Bluffton Today. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including: Reader’s Digest, The Seventh Wave, Really System, Event Horizon, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and The Maine Review. Her poem “Stockings” was awarded second place in the 2015 Reader’s Digest Poetry Competition. She has cerebral palsy.
If only, poetry
by Bianca Johnson
If only I could’ve met you
Would my life have been different?
If only you had raised me
Would I have experienced a mother’s love?
Grandmother if only
If only I could’ve heard your joyous laughter
Would it have brought joy to my heart?
If only you could’ve taught me about womanhood
Would it have made me a stronger woman?
Grandmother if only
If only you were there when I cried
Would it have prepared me for future tears?
If only I could’ve seen your beautiful smile
Would it have been like mine?
Grandmother if only
If only you didn’t leave this earth so soon
Would you have been proud of me?
If only you were there when I entered the world
Would you have seen what I could grow up to be?
Grandmother if only
If only I could’ve heard your words of wisdom
Would it have made me an even wiser woman?
If only I could’ve felt your gentle kiss or hug
Would it have made me love you endlessly?
Grandmother if only
If only you had taught me the meaning of life
Would my life experiences have been different?
If only I could talk to you
What would I say?
Grandmother if only
Bio: Bianca Johnson is a26 year old full time warehouse worker from Greensboro, North Carolina. She loves to write in her spare time. She became totally blind when she was 15 due to a fight with her brother which resulted in a detached retina. Life experiences influence her writing. She also enjoys reading, music, shopping and spending time with friends and loved ones. Her dream is to become the first blind licensed cosmetologist and to own her own salon and spa. She manages a Facebook page where she posts her poetry for other’s enjoyment or inspiration. It can be found at http://www.facebook.com/HeartOfMyWords
Uncle Sam, memoir
by Leonard Tuchyner
The green plastic radio sat on its narrow shelf overlooking my cousins’ breakfast table. As was usual, the Archie show was playing. The over-characterized voices of Archie, Jughead, Veronica and Betty graced our young ears while we ate our way through the early morning meal.
For many years, I had spent so much time at my Aunt Tilly’s apartment, where my two cousins lived, that it was as much home to me as my parents’ abode. I don’t know what my mother did during many of those times. She might have simply dropped me off at her sister’s place, where I spent a day or two. The two sisters were extremely close. Like many siblings all over the world, they were in constant debate, or I might say constantly fussing at each other. They had the kind of loving annoyance typical of siblings in close- knit families. Hardly a week went by that our clan was not doing something together. Vacations, visits to Grandpa in Coney Island, birthdays, Jewish holidays and trips to Rockaway, zoos, and other places of interest were all family affairs.
I recall one debate my mother and I had with Barry and his mother, Aunt Tilley. My Mom and I sat on one side of the living room, while Aunt Tilley and Barry sat on the other. We were two teams facing off.
“Barry thinks fish have to breathe air, that’s stupid,” I derided.
“Of course they have to breathe air,” My aunt said, holding her six-year-old son protectively close to her.
“Toby. You can’t be serious. Everybody knows fish breathe water. They get their air out of the water.” My mother’s voice was incredulous and condescending. I was feeling the same way. It was like these strange people thought the world was flat.
“Rose, they would drown if they tried to breathe water. How could you even think that?”
Somehow the argument lapsed into whose kid was the brightest. We reached a compromise in agreeing that Barry was better at math and I was better at language skills, or something like that. And so it has been ever since. He became an accountant and I went into counseling and writing.
My images of that lower-middle-class neighborhood in East Orange, New Jersey, have a crystal-clear sharpness that seems to be my anchor to a very real and important part of my formative upbringing.
Barry was six months younger than me. Myrna was four years older. They are indelibly etched in my mind, perhaps Barry more so than Myrna, owing to our age differences. I have no sharp memories of having direct conversations with my Aunt, but there was always so much byplay between her and my mother, that it was almost like I was involved in those constant back and forths. Of course, a lot of the talk had to do with their children, so I was really a part of those conversations, in a way. It is interesting how some parents talk about their kids as though they were not blessed, or perhaps cursed, with ears.
But where was my Uncle Sam? That’s right; I had my own Uncle Sam who was not a symbol of the United States government. Why don’t I have a clarity of image concerning him, comparable to the other figures in our families? I’ve thought about it long and hard, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that I had very few eye-to-eye conversations with him.
Why was this the case? Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that, like most men of that period, around the forties and fifties, he was never home in the daytime. Even so, he would have been there most evenings; wouldn’t he? Maybe not. He ran his own small grocery store, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he always had to work late. Whatever the reason, I don’t remember interacting with him.
On the other hand, I have distinct memories of my Uncle Moe, who lived with us for a while during his college years. He had breakfast with us and he often engaged me in conversation. So it must have been the lack of direct engagement with Sam that accounts for the sense of vagueness in my brain.
I was surprised, almost shocked, to realize that signs of Sam’s presence in their apartment and other places in my life were ubiquitous. His existence was like a smell that is omnipresent to the point that you do not notice it.
For example, there was a penny arcade horse racing machine that sat atop Barry’s dresser. It consisted of a carousel of tiny wooden horses that would race around a miniature track until its spinning ran down, as in a roulette wheel. Three horses would finish as a winner, second or third place. I recently discovered that Sam and his brother, both immigrants from Hungary, used to work with race horses. I only became aware of that when I had a discussion just the other day with my cousin Myrna, who is now seventy-nine.
Another example of Sam’s presence was a huge set of Lionel electric trains. They were much larger than the common garden variety. The tracks were laid out from one room to another, so that most of the house was the site of a miniature train landscape.
“You’re not allowed to run these trains unless I’m watching,” Barry told me.
I didn’t have much to say in rebuttal. After all, they were his trains, and I was a little intimidated by them anyway. But Barry couldn’t be hovering over me all the time. So when he wasn’t there, I became an engineer.
Trains of that caliber were not very common in a lower middle class family such as was the case with our families.
It was Uncle Sam and his brother Herbie who took us out on float fishing boats at Sheep’s Head Bay. Those two who could be seen frolicking in the water at White Meadow Lake, while the rest of the combined families just sat in the sun. But I never had a conversation with either of them. At least I don’t remember having one.
It may be that the fault lies only with me. I did tend toward shyness back then. Maybe it was I who failed to engage.
On the Jewish festival of Passover, it was at my cousins’ house that we had the Seder, which is the Passover traditional meal. It was Sam’s father who dressed up in religious vestments and led the proceedings. Ten of us would sit around a grand table in their spacious hallway. I heard the grownups talking, bickering, and having a good conversational time, but none of it involved us kids. We had better things to do. Again, opportunities to know Uncle Sam in the way of eye-to-eye speech were missed.
Sam was a tall, impressive-looking man. His brother was built like a wrestler, and I can certainly picture them wrangling horses. The only tall person in the Kressel family (my mother’s family) was Aunt Tilley. So she was tall enough to fit Sam. Myrna, Barry and the rest of their family (the Schreibers) were tall. My side of the kinfolk are not tall. Well, maybe a little on the short side.
As I mentioned, Sam went into the grocery business. He was successful, owning his own small mom-and-pop grocery store until the chain supermarkets put his kind of operation out of business. He bought another one in a poorer area of Newark, New Jersey, where the chain stores did not go. But after being accosted several times in that dangerous neck of the woods, he had to leave. I found out later that he took a job with a butcher whom he had known for a long time. When the butcher relocated to Florida, Sam and his wife followed. They retired there in the Tampa Bay area.
I do recall one lengthy conversation I had with Sam and Herbie when I was fourteen years old. At that time, so close to my bar mitzva, I had become Orthodox in my thinking and behavior. I remember walking to Barry’s house on the Sabbath of his bar mitzvah rather than taking the bus, which was prohibited from an orthodox point of view. Of course, the distance one was allowed to walk was also defined, and the several hours it took for me to complete that pedestrian journey was well over the top for distance violation.
Somehow, I found myself in a debate with Uncle Sam and Herbie.
“If you are going to follow the rules, you follow the rules. You don’t get to pick and choose which ones you’re going to follow,” Sam said while Herbie did all the body signs to show that he totally agreed with Sam.
“The only way I was going to get here was to walk or take the bus,” I argued. “I think it is more in keeping with the intention of Shabbat to honor it by walking,” I argued.
“You don’t think it was more labor to walk than to take a bus? The Sabbath is about not working,” Herbie said.
“But if I took the bus, I would be paying to have an entire bus line engaging in labor.”
“That doesn’t matter. They would be working anyway. If you just drove here with your father, there would have been a minimum of labor,” Sam said.
At the time, I simply thought that these two old men, by a fourteen-year-old’s standards, were born in the old country and set in their ways. But being an old man myself now, I realize they were right. I was full of myself and my piety, and they saw right through me. Of course, it is true that they were kind of rigid in their approach to observance.
Most of the few conversations I had with Uncle Sam were confrontational in nature, and they all happened when I was a rebellious, surly teenager. I’ll take whatever communication was offered. Just in the exercise of writing this piece, I’ve discovered some things about myself and Uncle Sam that are enlightening and enriching.
I’ve sometimes felt self-absorbed and self-centered in all the writing I’ve done that revolves around me and my interests. But as I look at what was lost by Sam and others in my family who did not talk about themselves, I’m confident that in the telling of my stories, I’m giving a potentially wonderful legacy to my progeny. It is true that they may never have any interest in them, but then again, there most likely will be those who will be very grateful for them. In fact, I know that will be true.
When we tell our stories, we are also teaching about our children’s heritage. How can that not be a treasure.? I’m grateful that Myrna and Barry are still around to help me fill in the blank spots.
Bio: Leonard has had Stargardt’s disease which was first noticed during 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, where he attends a poetry critique group and facilitates a Writing for Healing and Growth group at the Charlottesville Senior Center. He has recently joined Behind Our Eyes. His hobbies include Tai Chi and gardening. Leonard is semi-retired and still has a small counseling practice.
Part II. Facing challenges and Words of Wisdom
For Karen, poetry
by Jessica Goody
I was born asleep at six months old, like you.
They said you would not survive. They said
the same to me. Had I been born a mere three
years before, the advances which kept me alive
would not have existed. I have no memory of
the white box in which I existed, to ensure the
steadiness of pulsing organs and could have
just as easily been the box they put me in to die,
my shoebox-coffin buried in the backyard.
You knew the unwilling, unrepentant clench
of muscles, the tenseness of tendons, the agony
of being forced to sleep in unnatural positions,
splinted and exhausted from the strain of rigidity
and the lack of rest, and the years when physical
therapy was your only extracurricular. You are
more familiar with hospitals, their rhythms and
protocol than anyone without a medical degree
should be. How many meals have you eaten off
metal trays in rooms of bilge green, bruised and
infected mauve, and industrial beige? How many
years have you spent isolated, infirm, invalid
amidst glass thermometers and sterilizing ovens,
rubber tubes and white nurses’ caps? The thick,
vicious needles, bitter medicines, the trespass of
strange hands giving you sponge baths, your body
left clammy and violated? You waited every year
for your life to begin, believing that every surgery,
every expanse of time spent bed-ridden and immobile
would bring a miracle: that you would stand straight,
you would Walk, you would be able to keep time with
the rest of the world, instead of sweating, straining to
pull on a sleeve, turn a key in a lock, dial a telephone.
Kelsey’s Kids, fiction
by Trish Hubschman
“The kids and I are hanging out here awhile.”
Surprised, Kelsey turned from the porch rail to peer at Marco. “But we’ve been here six weeks already,” she pointed out. She was homesick. They had come to Tabu, a small town in Argentina, Marco’s native land. It was the summer school break and they were visiting his family.
“I have to get back for teachers’ conferences. School starts in two weeks,” she added, trying to be understanding. “I know you miss your family, Marco, but we can come back again next summer.”
He shook his head. “We don’t have to rush to get back. It’s nicer here.”
Tabu was exotic and a great place to vacation, but their trip was over. She was a Social Studies teacher at the junior high school; Marco was a carpenter. He had come to America ten years before and started a business. Work was slow and it bothered him, so did her being the family’s primary financial support.
“I wouldn’t call a month and a half in Tabu a rushed vacation,” she did her best to smile. “The kids want to get home and spend time with their friends, and I’ve been nervous leaving the house for so long.”
His expression soured, his tone was stern. “I said we’ll be staying for another week or so. You can stay with us if you’d like or go home.”
Ice flooded her veins. She stared at him dumbfounded. She was annoyed that he’d gone ahead and made plans without discussing it with her first. Just as quickly, she chided herself. This was ridiculous! This was his homeland, his family was here, his friends, and he felt more at ease here. She sighed. “Okay, I’ll go home, open the house, settle in, you and the kids can come back next week.”
He smiled. Slowly, he rose and moved toward her, resting his hand on her elbow. “Good, that’s settled. Now, let’s get you packed and off.”
She called Marco as soon as she stepped off the plane in Indiana, no answer. She tried again when she got to the house, but still nothing. She left a voicemail. He was probably out with the kids and didn’t want to be interrupted.
The house looked the same as when they left. Her parents had kept an eye on it. Kelsey went to the post office and retrieved a month and a half’s worth of mail. She stopped at her parents’ house afterwards to pick up their dog. Ginger was thrilled to see her.
“I missed you too, girl,” Kelsey knelt on the floor, Ginger licking her face. “Timmy and Denise will be home soon,” She assured Ginger.
The week went by and Marco didn’t bring the children home, nor did he call. Three days into the second week, she was certain something was wrong. By the end of that week, when she was about ready to hop on a plane back to Tabu, Marco called.
“Where have you been?” she shouted into the phone. She was putting away groceries. “I’ve been worried sick that something happened to you.”
His voice was frigid. “We’re not coming back,” he said bluntly.
Kelsey was dumbfounded. “What? Why?” she stammered. Bile was rising in her throat.
“It’s much nicer here, safer, better. I’m happier and the children will be too.”
She shook her head frantically. Timmy and Denise were American children. They belonged here. “This is their home,” she fought back desperately.
“Not anymore,” he replied easily. “You can come back and join us if you want,” his tone was anything but warm. “But if you don’t, you don’t. I can forget you; they can too.”
Tears dripped down her face. This couldn’t be happening. He was taking her children away from her, he already had. That’s why he sent her home so brusquely. “I don’t speak a word of Spanish,” she spat.
“You can learn. Timmy and Denise are,” he said.
She didn’t want to. She wanted her children home with her. This was kidnapping! Her marriage had fallen apart and she hadn’t seen it. She felt defeated. “You can’t do this, Marco,” she said through gritted teeth. “Come back and we’ll discuss it.”
He laughed. “You come here and we’ll discuss it, but you’re not taking the children back.” The phone went dead.
Kelsey sank to the floor, clutching the phone and weeping.
“Do you think we should call the police?” Kelsey’s mother, Mandy, asked. They were in Kelsey’s living room. Ginger was curled up at Kelsey’s feet.
Her father, Dan, shook his head. “They wouldn’t be of much help in this,” He reasoned. “Marco didn’t take the children to a different state. He took them out of the country.”
“So what do we do, Dad?” Kelsey practically shrieked. “Call in the FBI?”
They were all silent, thinking. Finally, Dan made a suggestion. “Maybe we should just go in there and take the kids back.”
Kelsey stared at him, her eyes wide. “It can’t be that easy,” she shot back.
Dan shrugged. “Maybe it is. I’d say it’s worth a try,” he raised an eyebrow. “Besides, what other choice do we have?”
Nobody could debate that. “Marco has their passports,” Kelsey sighed.
Again, the three were silent. Mandy was the one who spoke, slowly and carefully. “I remember going to Canada when you were a little girl, Kelsey. It seemed too much trouble to get you a passport, but they accepted your birth certificate instead.”
“Brilliant idea!” he told his wife, then turned to his daughter. “Do you have Timmy and Denise’s birth certificates?”
It took a few seconds to sink in. “Of course, I do,” Kelsey replied.
Dan slapped his knees triumphantly. “Okay, then, that’s step one. Now, let’s put our heads together and figure out step two.”
The next day, Kelsey called Marco. She had to force herself to sound friendly. “I took some extra time off from school,” she volunteered. “I’d like to come down and see the children.”
His reply was hesitant and suspicious. “How did you manage that so early in the term? Did you blow up the school?”
She chuckled. “Nothing that radical,” she replied. “I called the Principal and explained that I wouldn’t be able to start on schedule because of personal reasons.”
“Mmm, should I wonder if that has anything to do with me?”” he teased. She gritted her teeth and was glad he couldn’t see it. “You said you wanted to see the kids, sure, over here, not there,” he didn’t wait for her to answer. “I’m going away for a few days, with a friend. You can stay at my mother’s, but no funny business, Kel. My mom might look meek and old, but I assure you, she’s got a quick mind and black-belt in karate,” he cackled wickedly.
What could she say to that? If she read this right, he had a girlfriend. “That’s fine, Marco,” she said coldly. “I just want to make sure Timmy and Denise are well and happy. I want them to start school on schedule,” she closed her eyes as she listened to him cackle.
“School hasn’t started yet, but don’t worry, Kel, my friend, Louise will take care of everything. Denise will start kindergarten, as she’s been looking forward to, and Timmy, second grade. I promise. Everything will go according to plan.”
Kelsey sincerely hoped so, but her father’s plan, not Marco’s.
Kelsey and her father flew to Buenos Aires. At the airport, they rented separate cars. Dan went to the hotel, to wait for Kelsey to call with the coast clear signal. Kelsey headed to Marco’s mother’s house. It took an hour to get there, driving over bumpy dirt roads.
Denise and Timmy were on the front porch playing. Kelsey smiled.
“Mommy,” Denise squealed when Kelsey stepped out of the Ford Focus. The little girl raced off the porch and into her mother’s arms. Timmy followed close behind.
The front door squeaked open and Marco’s sour-faced mother, Marissa, stepped out. “You’re here,” the older woman snapped. “Marco said you’d be coming. What do you want?”
Kelsey didn’t ease her hold on the children. She forced a warm smile. “Marco told me I was welcome to come to see the children. I missed my babies.”
Marissa glanced at the closed door behind her, then back at Kelsey. “Marco and Louise went on a trip. He told me to keep an eye on you.” She glanced over Kelsey’s shoulder at the rental car, then to Kelsey. She held out her hand. “Give me your car keys. You’re under house arrest.”
Kelsey didn’t flinch. She had figured as much, which was why she and Dan rented separate cars. Reaching into her pants pocket, she pulled out the keys and dropped them into her mother-in-law’s hand. “I hope Marco’s not away too long,” she said genially. “I’m paying twenty-five American dollars a day for the Focus.”
Marissa ignored that. “Do you have a cell phone?”
Kelsey shook her head. “It doesn’t work over here,” she lied. “Marco knows how much that frustrates me, but I don’t have International calling.” She shrugged. “So, I left my phone home, easier than trying to pass it through Customs.” She waited to see if Marissa pushed the issue or gave her a pat-down.
Marissa stared at her for a long time, then nodded. “Do you want to come inside? I can put fresh coffee on.”
Kelsey was relieved that Marissa decided she was harmless and was being amiable. It made things easier. Kelsey accepted Marissa’s offer of coffee and followed her into the house. Marissa handed her a mug of thick, black brew. Kelsey sat down at the kitchen table and wrapped her hands around it.
“Are the children happy here?” she asked.
“We don’t have to start school yet, Mom,” Timmy announced brightly. She smiled to her sandy-haired son.
“How long are you staying?” Marissa asked. “Beyond the time Marco returns?”
Kelsey shrugged. “If it works out, a while, I guess. I’ve taken a leave of absence from my job.”
Marco’s mother looked stricken. “But what about Louise?”
The knife sliced Kelsey’s heart. Louise, her husband’s mistress was obviously well-liked in this house. “I’m sure I won’t get in the way,” she replied. They chatted for another twenty minutes, then she excused herself and took the children outside for a walk. Marissa didn’t interrupt. Taking both their hands, Kelsey led them along a path and down to the stream.
“Are we waiting for someone, mommy?” Denise asked.
Kelsey came up with a start. She shook her head. “No, I’m just happy to be with you and enjoying the peace and quiet.” Ten minutes later, they walked back to the house. “Go wash up for dinner. I’ll help Nana in the kitchen.”
Later, after putting Timmy and Denise to bed, Kelsey went outside to get one last breath of fresh air. She turned the corner of the house and walked a safe distance away from it and into the trees. Kelsey reached into her pocket and took out a small cell phone. “This place is like a prison,” She told her father.
Dan understood. “Is that the coast-clear signal?” he teased. “Is Marissa asleep?”
“Yes, Marissa went up to bed after dinner, said she wasn’t feeling well. I’ve seemed to have earned her trust.”
Dan smiled. “Then our timing is perfect,” he said. “I’m about ten minutes from there. If everything keeps going as clockwork, your mother will see us home tomorrow.” Kelsey hoped so. She waited for more instructions. “Now, go upstairs and take Timmy and Denise and meet me out front, then we’ll be on our way.”
Her mouth dropped open. She still couldn’t believe it was that simple. They weren’t taking the children’s belongings or her overnight bag. Dan had the birth certificates and passports, and had made reservations at a different airport than the one where they’d arrived. Marco wouldn’t be able to track them, if he learned of their disappearance. Her father had been a wonderful help in this and it still wasn’t over.
Now, it was time to do her part. Snapping the phone shut, she made her way back to the house. She snuck in, tiptoed up the stairs and slipped into the bedroom her two children shared. She held her finger to her lips to hush them, helped them out of bed, put on their bathrobes and slippers and led them to the closed bedroom door. Holding her breath, she pressed her ear against it and listened. There was no sound in the hall.
“Let’s go and be very quiet,” she whispered.
Denise opened her mouth. Timmy put his finger to his sister’s lips. A warm glow passed over her. She could count on her son, he understood. With heart pounding, Kelsey gingerly opened the door. The hall was dark. Pushing the children ahead of her, the three tiptoed down the stairs. As promised, Dan was waiting at the front door. He swung Denise up in his arms, Kelsey took Timmy’s hand, and they went to the car. Dan slid into the front seat behind the wheel. Kelsey sat in back with the children, Denise on her lap, Timmy beside her. “Let’s hit the airport,” Dan said confidently. To Kelsey’s surprise, the escape went smoothly.
When they were on the plane, the children fast asleep, she put her head on his shoulder. “Thanks, Daddy. I don’t know how I could have done this without you,” she said. “I’m sure we still have a lot ahead, but this was the first and most important step, to get the kids back, next is to make sure we keep them.”
He smiled. “Here, here, sweetheart. We did it as a family, all of us,” he waved his hand. “Your mother too.”
“And Ginger too, Grandpa. Don’t forget her,” Denise suddenly piped up.
Dan feigned astonishment. “I would never do such a thing, Princess,” he assured his granddaughter, reaching across the seat and pulling her onto his lap. Denise giggled.
Timmy opened one eye and glared at his sister. “Can’t you see that some people are trying to sleep? It’s been a long, hard summer, you know?” Yes, they all knew that and agreed. The adults burst into laughter.
Bio: Trish is deaf-blind and has a walking/balance problem. She loves writing short stories of all kinds. She also has two books published with America Star Books, a short story collection THROUGH TIME, time travel/romances and THE FIRE, first in her own Tracy Gayle mystery series.
Oh, That Teacher! memoir
by S. AVIS GRAY
“Oh, no Avis, not Miss Anderson’s class. You’ll be sorry.” This is the response I’d received from fellow students or professors when I told them I was taking English with Miss Helen Anderson. There are three ways of doing English: the right way, the wrong way, and Miss Anderson’s way. Once I discovered the way Miss Anderson wanted things done, I would be okay.
In 1962, Vallejo Junior College was small. The main building housed the offices and most of the classrooms. There was a gym and a bookstore. Other classes were housed in two portable buildings.
On Monday, February 5, the first day of the spring semester the hall was crowded with students and professors scurrying to their classes. Some students were thinking of ways to improve their grades. Others were looking forward to their graduation in June. Professors were concerned with ways to improve their lectures.
I was wheeling myself in my wheelchair down the hall on my way to English 1A. I was dressed in a light gray plaid dress with gray socks and shoes. My reddish-blonde hair was cut in a pixie style. Mr. MacDonald, the president of the college approached me and said, “Hello Avis, would you like me to push you to your English class?”
As we traveled down the hall, he asked, “Would you like to change your English class?”
“No, I need it for graduation.” I was determined not to have any special treatment because of my disability.
“I know you need it for graduation, but give me a few days and let me see if I can work something out with Miss Anderson.”
“I’ll be okay. May I continue to do my written work and take my exams at home under supervision?”
“Of course you may. I’ll talk to Miss Anderson myself.”
Miss Anderson stood about five feet, six inches tall. She wore her snow-white hair in an upsweep. Sharp blue eyes peered out from her glasses. She gave a wicked little grin to any student who gave an incorrect answer. She had an odd shape and walked like a duck! Her uniform, as I recall, consisted of a khaki skirt, black shoes, and a white, three-quarter length sleeve blouse slightly opened at the neck. When visitors came to the college, she wore a navy blue, short sleeved dress but she always wore black shoes.
Miss Anderson had been with the Vallejo Unified School District since year one, and she thought she was the Vallejo Unified School District. If there was a rule she disagreed with, and there were many, she ignored it and made up a rule to suit herself, making everyone MAD! The college needed someone to teach freshman English and she had the necessary requirements. Although a word or phrase had been considered Standard English, Miss Anderson wanted people to use the English that she used. For example, she didn’t like the phrase, “I don’t think so.” She wanted us to say, “I think not.” I thought, If the President of the United States and everyone in the news says “I don’t think so,” why can’t I?
Miss Anderson would not correct any of my work or allow me to participate in class, even though I did the assignments. If I made certain that the outline, bibliography, and the footnotes of my term paper were correct, she would not look at it.
One morning, we were reading an article about Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Miss Anderson asked her class, “How do you spell Khrushchev?”
Four students raised their hands, including me. She pointed at a male student. He stood from his seat and spelled, “C-r-u-s-h- . . .”
“That is incorrect.”
The student sat down. Three hands rose up, including mine. Miss Anderson grinned and pointed to the female student behind me. The young woman stood and spelled, “K-r-u-s-h- . . .”
“You are wrong,”
The young woman sat down. Two hands rose up, including mine. Miss Anderson grinned and pointed to the remaining male student who sat about three rows in back of me. He stood and spelled, “K-h-r-u-s-h-c-h-e-f.”
“You are incorrect.”
The student sat down. My hand rose up. Miss Anderson looked at me as though she did not believe I could spell it. She asked, “Do you know?”
Unable to stand from my wheelchair, I spelled, “K-h-r-u-s-h-c-h-e-v.”
Miss Anderson was flabbergasted. When she recovered, she exclaimed, “THAT’S RIGHT!”
I was positive the ice had been broken, but the next time we had class it was still the same situation of her ignoring my hand. I found this extremely discouraging.
One time, Miss Anderson asked a young man with a bad speech problem to read an article in class. She kept correcting him, causing him to become nervous. Had she waited until he finished, he would have been okay. I wanted to say, “Please let him finish before you correct him.”
It wasn’t just her disabled students she picked on. It was everyone she worked with. Countless times professors said, “I’m married with children and teenage grandchildren, but Miss Anderson talks to me as though I were a five-year-old child.” There was undoubtedly a good reason for her behavior, but no one knew what caused her to behave that way.
Toward the end of the semester, I asked Miss. Anderson, “How do you want me to take my final exam?”
She smiled her wicked little grin and informed me, “You shall not be taking a final exam, because you are just observing my class. Next semester you may do the same thing.”
I said, “Okay,” but I thought, Next semester, I’m taking a class where my work will be corrected and I’ll receive a grade.
Instead, I dropped out. In 1962, there wasn’t anyone at the colleges to help disabled students take notes in class or push their wheelchairs around campus. Going to college taught me to focus on the professor’s lectures, because I was unable to write anything down. I had to keep everything in my head until I got home and typed my notes. I had to prove to everyone, including myself, I could compete with able-bodied people. If I had been able to continue, a few years later, they started making colleges accessible for the disabled.
Mother and I moved to Berkeley where I continued my education by taking correspondence courses. Three years later, I had to stop because of my health. It was heartbreaking to give up college. In a few years, I decided to take a correspondence writing course. I enjoy writing short stories about experiences I have had and what they have taught me.
Bio: S. Avis Gray was born in Yuma, Arizona in 1938. Diagnosed with athetoid cerebral palsy, Gray attends Ability Now Bay Area in Oakland, California, where she runs an Amazon business. She self-published three books: About Avis in 2006, Tales of Uncle Burt in 2006, and The First Woman President in 2007, which she is compiling in a collection. Her first short story “El Dorado Days” was published in The December 2013 issue of Wordgathering where she was also interviewed. Gray also wrote an educational pamphlet titled “Talk to Me!” for people who work with the disabled. This pamphlet is used in training, seminars, and workshops.
September 3, 1983, nonfiction
by Marcia J. Wick, The Write Sisters
After more than 30 years, in a good year, the date slithers past without notice. Just as well, as the anniversary is not one this old lady is eager to recall.
September 3 was a Saturday in 1983 when an attacker tried to take her life. The significance of the Labor Day weekend was skewed ever after. Every year, calendars, newspapers, radios and talking devices proclaim the holiday reminding her not to forget.
She hates the memory. When the anniversary sneaks by without notice, the woman is grateful. Still, traces find her at other unlikely times. Flashbacks happen randomly. She might be enjoying a lovely bicycle ride in June then find herself transported abruptly back to that fateful fall morning, fighting for her life at the top of a stairwell. Or, she could be standing in line at the bank when the approach of a security officer causes her to stiffen reflexively and blink back images of a knife flitting in front of her face.
It had taken her eight years to shake the worst of it. PTSD, they called it, when the woman sought treatment after almost a decade of struggling to stop the episode’s persistent echo. The disturbing memories were relentless, haunting her during quiet times. Most evenings, standing at the kitchen sink mechanically scrubbing the dishes, the survivor’s idle mind would allow the episode to rerun. With a strange kind of fascination and amazement, she would watch the events unfold from beginning to end, never changing. Every movement and word echoed as scripted.
The opening scene reveals a mousy security guard admitting a diligent female employee into a cavernous facility, deserted on a holiday weekend. Hours later, the heroine escapes bursting naked but alive back into the sunshine. From beginning to end, every move in between seems choreographed as if for the movies.
The suspense builds slowly. Once the hapless employee reaches her office on the third floor, she settles down to work. Endeavoring to quickly accomplish her goals for the day, she tolerates occasional interruptions from the guard as he repeats his rounds. He attempts to engage her in conversation so she concentrates more intently on her tasks in an attempt to discourage his distractions.
When the young woman eventually decides to call it quits for the morning, she politely informs the guard so he may secure the office after her exit. He walks a step behind, presumably escorting her out. Just as she reaches the third-floor exit to the stairway, the guard flashes a knife in front of her face with his right hand while pulling her back from the door with his left arm.
Too real for comfort, the woman’s mind manages to separate from her body so she can observe the scene unfold out of harm’s way, as if safely watching a television drama. She witnesses as the guard leads the trapped woman back into the office with a drawn pocket knife at her throat. He talks with delight about “doing it” there while planning another future rendezvous with her, in his delusional mind. Once he divests his prey of her clothes, he attempts to satisfy himself to no avail. His prisoner instinctively senses that the preoccupation of her assailant’s mind with other matters might allow her to launch a desperate escape.
Convinced that if she does not get away at that moment that she will not get away at all, the young doe bolts from the hunter. Sprinting back down the hallway, she charges for the exit she had entered earlier and explodes through the door at the top of the stairwell. Although she had a head start, he still proves stronger and faster, catching her at the threshold, slamming her military-style to the landing.
The alarmed woman’s mind snapped back into her body upon the impact. Her anger and desire to survive shifted into hyper drive. They were both sprawled and struggling from the floor. He kicked his booted foot at her head and tried to close his hand around her throat, but she was also kicking and pushing back with a strength she had never tested before.
Terrorized by the hand-to-hand combat, she felt so alone. No one in the world knew that she had decided to go to work that morning. A friend might wonder about her not showing up for the afternoon bike ride but would probably shrug off her absence. If the guard killed her at her workplace that Saturday morning, she lamented, no one would miss her for three days. Her colleagues wouldn’t discover the body until they returned to work that following Tuesday.
Alone. She was single. She lived alone. Her family lived 2,000 miles away. How would her parents react when they learned how she was found? In a timeless manner, all of these thoughts convulsed in her brain as she processed her life’s abrupt end. Had her 28 years of mindless living come to this violent close?
With desperation and fear cresting, she felt the slow uncontrollable release of her bowels. At the same time, her captor smelled her fear, and it offended him. Out of disgust, he released her. He quit the fight but continued yelling at her back as she ran, “I will kill you, I will kill you!”
Three flights up. The terrified woman knew she had been three flights up, but magically she flew without touching one step to the bottom landing where she pounced on the door’s push bar, sending her spiraling into the parking lot. The lot was deserted except for the sanctuary of her silver hatchback left there innocently hours before. Incredibly, her car keys had remained gripped tightly in her fist throughout the ordeal. She had been clutching the keys when she first prepared to leave the office before her departure was violently interrupted. Unaware that she still held onto this lifeline, the liberated driver rediscovered the keys as she sprinted for the car.
Unwittingly, she held the key to her escape the whole time. Years later, she would reflect that it had never occurred to her to use the keys as a weapon against her assailant. Afterwards, she also mused that a hysterical woman driving naked through the tiny town must have been alarming to other drivers venturing out on that otherwise quiet morning. Lady Godiva, she liked to think looking back from the future.
But that day, she sped away gripping the steering wheel attempting to cover herself. Her mouth formed a silent scream as she drove to the police barracks at the outskirts of town. Pounding on the door, she discovered the office locked as all the officers were out on patrol. Her cries and hammering ultimately alerted a neighbor who ran out with a bathrobe, leading her gently into the home next door.
While the neighbor called 9-1-1, uncontrollable shivering overcame the rescued woman’s body, as her adrenaline adjusted to her flight’s end. She was alive. More alive than she had been when she first woke up that morning, planning to go to work for a short while before enjoying a bicycle ride with friends later that day. That day, September 3, is the anniversary of when she discovered her true inner strength, ultimately changing her outlook on life forever.
The memory still finds her 30 years later, but less frequently now that her life is full with a loving husband, children and her first grandson. With help, she has learned to push the “stop” button when the playback begins. She also has discovered the power to edit the story, to envision a toy knife made out of pliable pink rubber or to morph herself into a butterfly and float away.
Living through a life and death drama helps her find the strength to tackle life’s challenges. Although her reclaimed future came with divorce, job loss, single motherhood and early blindness, nothing phases her. She lives. Life or death? She knows the difference. She accepts that some tough challenges are guaranteed to come along with living.
Bio: Marcia Wick is enjoying retirement with her first guide dog, Viviane, a 60-pound yellow lab from Guide Dogs for the Blind. Marcia is legally blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa. Her career included newspaper reporting, public relations, communications and publishing. With two daughters now grown and a grandson, Marcia is returning to her writing roots in partnership with her sister, Jennifer Walford, as The Write Sisters. She currently serves on the GDB Alumni Association Board of Directors, and advocates for public transit and visually impaired skiers. Marcia lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and Viviane, her guide dog.
The Age of Contrarius, nonfiction
by John Wesley Smith
In 1969 the Fifth Dimension sang, “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” That brings astrological symbols to mind. If I could, I’d
change the song’s words to, “This is the dawning of the Age of Contrarius.” My symbol would be a bull. More on why later.
I’ve been called a contrarian and a rebel. I’ve also been told I’m too negative. But I prefer to think I wisely anticipate problems before others do. And that leads to finding solutions sooner, doesn’t it?
My contrarian ways quickly come to the surface when someone tells me what I should or shouldn’t do. My first reflex is to dig in my heels and stall for time.
I don’t know if my first spoken word as a child was “No,” but I hear the word in my mind often. I want to say No to a lot more things than I actually do. Is this a weakness? Is it a strength? Does it have anything to do with being blind? Is there a scientific explanation for it? Or is it just me being me?
I have my thoughts on the answers to each of those questions, but now’s not the time to delve into that.
There are times when being a contrarian has its rewards. Perhaps you can relate to a few examples.
Years ago I wanted to get back into being a radio announcer after trying my hand at another profession. One of the announcers at a local Christian station came to our church to play a musical special on his trumpet. I caught up with him later and asked him about opportunities where he worked.
He mounted his high horse and said I’d be better off working within my limitations. He suggested I audition records in Bonaire for Trans World Radio, a Christian missions organization.
Well, who was he to tell me what my limitations were, especially after I’d already been in radio? Besides, raising money to go to the mission field would have been a real headache. And as I discovered later, Trans World Radio was one of the least blind friendly missions. No, that wasn’t meant to be.
Within a few months I found my way back into radio at a Christian station, thanks in part to a Bible college classmate who ironically had served at Trans World Radio in Bonaire.
Then there was the time I met Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe at a banquet in the mid 1980′s. Part of his presentation was about Christian shortwave station HCJB in Ecuador. When I spoke with him that evening about my interest in shortwave radio, he discouraged me from getting a shortwave receiver, saying I’d be disappointed at how little there was to listen to in English.
Guess who got a shortwave radio within a few months? And I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The shortwave scene is much different today though.
Or how about the time in the mid ’90′s when an oncologist told me my low blood cell counts might indicate I had myelodysplastic syndrome. If I did indeed have it, it could lead to full blown leukemia, and I might die within five years. But he told me not to worry. After all, the information about it was too technical for me.
Could there have been a brighter green light to prod me forward? Immediately I started making phone calls and sending postcards to do research in that pre-Internet era. You’ve no doubt noticed I’m still alive to tell about it.
I could share more examples, but you get my point.
Oh, yes, about that symbol of the bull. I’ve been compared to a bull in a China shop more than once. But, you know, that bull has to go on the rampage now and then and break a few plates if he’s to be a stellar representative of the Age of Contrarius.
Bio: John Wesley Smith is a blind writer and podcaster from central Missouri. Most of his creative endeavors go into his blog site at
Epaulets of Grudge, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
Your epaulets are grudges:
I do not understand why.
They are so unbecoming.
Why do you wear them every day?
The epaulets of grudges
pull on your vocal cords
and make you sound different–
strained, unnecessarily strained, and strange–
a stranger to me.
Yes, my shoulders are unattractively rounded;
but the grudges slip right off.
I am glad, ever so glad
because I could not move on with such weights
upon my shoulders.
When my younger nephew ran in the Bataan March Marathon,
he ran with a backpack on his shoulders,
a backpack of more than forty pounds
plus two of the weights
his grandpa (my father)
used in his golden years.
My nephew ran with the beloved memory
of his grampy
and honored his World War II service
at the Battle of the Bulge.
At the finish line of the marathon,
as my nephew shook the hands
of five survivors of the Bataan March,
none wore epaulets of grudge.
Of some men,
monuments are made of the world’s finest marble,
cut from the caves of Marini di Massa,
in Northern Italy.
Some women are memorialized in Wisconsin rose granite.
Other statues are
carved from Indiana limestone.
are molded into life-size
statues of wax.
Are you molded from a block of butter?
Are you carved into a block of ice?
Are you melting, melting–
like the Wicked Witch of the West?
Some famous people are cast in bronze.
You, my dear friend,
will be cast in grudge–
unless you choose to change
your monocular ways.
I offer you a gift:
epaulets of feathers.
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. Dialogue, Indiana Voice Journal, and Newsreel have also published some of Alice’s creative work. Away from her desk, Alice most enjoys long walks with her fourth Leader Dog (Willow), container gardening, and the television program Jeopardy.
Instrument of Peace, poetry
by Crystal L. Howe
Even in the silence,
Your instrument is sounding,
Sending out a message
To everyone around you.
What is it you’re saying?
Is harmony the essence,
Or dissonance unsettled
Within your very presence?
The peace and joy within you
Is what you truly are.
So let it be the message
You spread both near and far.
Your instrument is sounding;
You vibrate all the time.
So practice peace and vibrate love
For centered heart and mind.
This poem was originally published on Crystal ‘s website at https://mysticalstrings.com
Bio: Crystal is an ordained minister with a Doctorate in Metaphysical Science. Her poetry, songwriting, weaving, and other creative pursuits celebrate the many ways we share our lives and spirit. Crystal is totally blind. Find her music on CD Baby and other work on mysticalstrings.com
The Choice, fiction
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.
Levi hurried on his way home, his sandals providing scant protection from the sand and stones of the road, his robes too confining. Soon the desert air would turn cool, a welcome relief from the stifling heat of the day.
Esther would be waiting for him, with a basin of cool water for his feet and his meal prepared. Most of all, however, Levi looked forward to sharing today’s story with her. He depended on her opinions. He knew that she was wiser than most of the women who gathered at the well and gossiped. He knew that she was proud of his position in the community, a prosperous merchant who fulfilled his priestly duties in his turn.
Esther greeted him at the gate. Once the gate had been barred, and they were inside, she kissed him gently.
“I have much to tell you, Esther,” Levi began, as he toweled his feet dry.
“Eat first, and drink some wine. Then you can tell me about your day.”
Esther knew that it was uncommon that the head of the house would ask his wife’s opinion on any matter other than her duties as housekeeper, but over the years she had proved to be a source of understanding and solace to him.
After Levi had said the blessing, but before he had taken his first bite of bread, he began.
“On my way to the temple this morning, I noticed something unusual in the road, near the turn just before the temple. When I drew closer, I could see that it was a man who had been beaten and probably robbed. He was bloody and unconscious.”
Esther’s eyes widened.
“I knew I could not contaminate myself with his blood. I could not perform my duties at the temple in an impure state,” He paused, waiting for Esther’s response.
“You left him there?” Her voice was almost a whisper.
“Yes, what could I do? I could not enter the temple and perform my duties contaminated with blood. The Law is very specific on this. There was no trace of him when I came home. Someone must have taken care of him.”
Esther waited a moment before answering. “Levi,” she said, “you have always lived by the Law. We have strictly observed the Law, and we have raised our children to do likewise.” She was looking directly into his eyes now, and her voice grew stronger. “If you believe that you made the right choice in following the precepts of the Law then you have done the right thing.”
Levi, having received the hoped for approval, breathed more easily.
As he lay sleepless that night, and for many nights thereafter, he mulled over Esther’s words. If I believe I did the right thing, it had to be the right thing. Why, then, does the memory of that man lying in his blood still haunt me?
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.
Life’s Little Wrinkles, memoir
by Kate Chamberlin
From time to time, wrinkles will occur in your life. We are no exception.
In 1985, I swiped the fog from the bathroom mirror and touched the place where my face should have been. The little hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I could not see my own face.
A silent scream slammed through me. Oh, my God. My God, Why have you led me into this dark wilderness?
Would I never see my 4-year-old daughter as a grown woman, nor my 11 and 9-year-old sons star on their high school volleyball teams, nor if there were new wrinkles on my husband’s face? We’ve only been married 15 years, would the passion die and he leave me, because I am now blind?
We’ve had many wrinkles in our life since our wedding in 1970, but going blind was the biggest of all.
In learning to fit into different roles, my husband has emerged as quite the chef. A Christmas dinner he prepared was scrumptious: turkey with all the trimmings, pumpkin and pecan pies. He’d washed the dishes (even the pots and pans) and carved the left-over turkey into family freezer packs.
He became the “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer,” “Head of Transportation,” not to mention so many other jobs around the house. I remained the “Director of Child-care” and “Laundress.” He led me to understand that I didn’t have to be a super mom or Mrs. House-wife. I need only be his super wife. A role I enthusiastically accepted.
Life is very different now, but not impossible. Each time I hug my grown children I know how beautiful and loving my daughter is and that my sons are men of confidence, compassion and intelligence. When I hear “Hey, Mimi!” and feel my guide dog wiggle and waggle all over, I brace myself as I know one of my nine grandchildren is about to jump into my arms for hugs and kisses or my first great-grandchild will be put in my arms with his baby skin so supple and wrinkle-free.
While I was pondering about the wrinkles in my life, my husband walked in. I wondered if he had any new wrinkles. I reached up to feel the top of his head. I knew he’d been balding for decades, and now I felt the distinguished silver fringe go from ear to ear on the back of his head. His loving eyes have faint laugh wrinkles, as do the corners of his expressive mouth. I felt his cheeks suddenly pop up, deepening his wrinkles, as he began to chuckle. Then, he started to trace my wrinkles, too. Well, one thing led to another, and we, er, ah (blush) wrinkled my freshly ironed sheets!
Happy 46th Anniversary to my best friend and lover. Our passion grows stronger with each year of marriage, in spite of the wrinkles.
“…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me…”
Bio: Kate Chamberlin, B.S., M.A, and her husband have raised 3 children plus 2 grandchildren. Her teaching career continues through her Study Buddy Tutoring Service, Feely Cans and Sniffy Jars Program, and as a popular lecturer. She is a published children’s author, Anglican educator, free-lance writer/editor, and proud great-grandmother.
Part III. Celebrating the Seasons
One Fall Day, poetry
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.
The air seemed more brisk,
Some maple leaves previewed a hint of changing color.
The market beckoned.
Row upon row
Of gold-orange pumpkins, yellow butternut squash,
sea green zucchini, purple eggplants
lay basking in the warm sunlight.
The gourds, resplendent in their superior beauty,
their slender curved necks and full bodies,
Like swan among common geese,
look with slight disdain
On their fat pumpkin cousins, the dusty zucchini, the haughty eggplant.
They accept, exult in the beauty of their diversity,
Their smooth variegated colored skin, The waxy, warty shells.
The sun enveloped me, too, with her gentle warmth
I smelled the damp and musky earth in which this fruit had nestled.
I will never again see this display of sunlight,
This array of harvest bounty.
I have seen it once
And it is enough.
First Fruit, poetry
by Ann Chiappetta
The self-medicating stroll
Through the loamy groves and orchards
Pacing among gnarled limbs
Fruit dangling, unharvested thoughts
Pass over the mealy, McIntosh
Consider and reject the romes and grannys
Find the row of fujis, sweet-tart and crunchy
It satisfies the tongue like a vivid recollection
The organic globe
invites the evil within.
Bio: Ann Chiappetta M.S. is a writer, blindness advocate and family therapist. Ann is a member of the American Council of the Blind and the Lions Club. Her new book, UPWELLING: POEMS, is available in both e book and print formats. To purchase her book or read an excerpt, go to www.dvorkin.com/annchiappetta/ .To read Ann’s blog, go to www.thought-wheel.com
Ann lives in New Rochelle, NewYork, with her husband and pets.
Bumpykin The Jack-O’-Lantern, fiction
by Rhonda T. Spear
It was a damp Saturday in mid-October. Dark clouds covered the sky and a light rain fell from time to time. It was not the best day for visiting a pumpkin patch. It had rained all morning. The ground would be muddy and the pumpkins wet and dirty. Though it was damp, the air was warm, rather unusual for mid-October when it should have been cooler. The family was excited to go to the pumpkin patch and they weren’t going to let a few rain drops spoil their afternoon. They had planned this trip for a while, and they set off for a day of fun.
They arrived at the farm and though it was crowded, they didn’t wait long to board the tractor that would take them into a field full of pumpkins just waiting to be picked. They quickly climbed aboard the hay filled wagon and away they went. No rain fell as they rode along, passing scraggly pine trees and empty fields with scattered cornstalks. A few forgotten ears of corn remained as if someone had neglected to pick them. Despite the rain, the hay was not wet and it was soft as they sat on it.
The tractor stopped and everyone got off. As far as the eye could see, there were rows of pumpkins. Some still clung to the vine, while others lay scattered about where they had been left after being picked and abandoned. The laughter and excitement of children could be heard as they ran through the pumpkin patch with their parents following them. There were different varieties of pumpkins, some of various colors, shapes and sizes. People wandered up and down the rows heedless of the muddy uneven ground. The pumpkins were covered with dirt and water which made it hard to pick them up.
As the family walked deeper into the patch, they saw an odd kind of pumpkin. It was a reddish orange color with a rough bumpy texture. The pumpkin was definitely different than all the other pumpkins. Surely nobody would want such a strange looking pumpkin. It would be difficult to carve or paint a face on it because of the bumps that covered the surface.
For about an hour the family leisurely walked through the pumpkin patch examining the different pumpkins. Each person knew what they wanted and kept looking until they found just the right one. They had chosen several to take home, but they continued to search as they explored the pumpkin patch.
It was time to leave. As they gathered the pumpkins they selected, they spotted the odd reddish pumpkin again. It looked so unique they decided to bring it home with them too.
Halloween week arrived and the family gathered to carve their pumpkins. They wanted their porch and yard to look the most festive in the neighborhood. One by one, each pumpkin was transformed into a Halloween creation, some sinister and some silly. They placed the bumpy pumpkin on the table. They couldn’t draw a face on it because of the texture, but they began the process of carving the top off and cleaning out the inside.
The pumpkin felt a sharp jab when the knife blade stabbed him as his top was cut off, but then he felt a tickling sensation as they scooped out the insides. It tickled so much he began to wiggle and wobble making them laugh as they worked. Now it was time to make the jack-o’-lantern. First came the eyes, triangular in shape, then his nose and mouth. They gave him a couple of teeth that were kind of jagged, a gap at the top and bottom. He had the usual jack-o’-lantern grin.
The freshly carved bumpy jack-o’-lantern was put in a special place on the porch. The air was beginning to get chilly and he shivered in the late autumn nights. Several nights, a dusting of frost fell on the other pumpkins in the yard, covering them in a soft blanket of white. Since the porch was slightly protected, the bumpy jack-o’-lantern didn’t get frosted, but he still got cold.
On Halloween morning, a curious black kitten with bright green eyes came up to the unusual jack-o’-lantern. She walked all around him, rubbing up against him. The kitten’s fur and whiskers tickled the pumpkin, and the jack-o’-lantern’s rough bumpy texture caused her to purr, which puzzled the inquisitive kitten.
“You’re a strange looking pumpkin,” said the kitten. “Why don’t you look like the other pumpkins?” she asked twitching her nose and swishing her tail.
“I am a pumpkin just like the others. I’m round and I’ve got a scary face like they do. I’m not the different pumpkin, you are. You aren’t even round. You have a pretty face though, and you tickled me when you rubbed against me,” said the jack-o’-lantern.
The kitten meowed in amusement. “I’m not a pumpkin silly, I’m a black kitten.”
“Well, I’m a special kind of pumpkin, a Red Eye pumpkin,” said the jack-o’-lantern, a bit proud of himself.
“Ok,” said the kitten, “my name is Spook. I’ll call you Bumpykin. That’s a mix of bumpy and pumpkin.” The jack-o’-lantern liked that and they settled down together.
Spook told Bumpykin all about Halloween which was a special day for pumpkins and black cats. Lots of kids would come to the house dressed up in costumes to trick or treat for candy.
Just before dark, the parents came out and lit candles inside the jack-o’-lanterns. The yard glowed strangely and the faces of the jack-o’-lanterns could be seen from the road. Bumpykin felt warm inside from the glow of his candle. Children came by in a parade of costumes and rang the doorbell. They cried in excited voices, “trick or treat!” The yard and porch full of smiling jack-o’-lanterns welcomed the visitors. Spook stayed next to Bumpykin, licking her paws and curiously watched the children come and go. They saw princesses, fairies, witches, ghosts and even someone that was supposed to look like a black cat.
As it grew late, the younger children were coming less often but a few older children still came to the door. When there was no more candy, the porch light was turned off to let visitors know the candy was gone. Some big boys headed up the walkway and saw the light go off just before they got to the porch.
“Hey,” one of them said, “let’s take that ugly bumpy looking pumpkin and toss it in the street since they turned the light off and wouldn’t give us any candy.” They walked up on the porch and, as they reached for Bumpykin, they heard a strange noise behind them that stopped them in their tracks. A scratching, hissing and yowling sound shattered the still night and it seemed to be close to them.
“I’m watching you,” a deep voice intoned. “Don’t touch me!” The boys looked at one another.
“Who said that?” one of them nervously asked.
“I don’t know,” one of the others answered. They reached for Bumpykin again.
“Ow!” one of the boys exclaimed. “That ugly thing bit me!”
“Don’t be stupid. A pumpkin can’t bite you. Just grab it and come on before someone sees us here!” one of the others said more than a bit uneasy. Another boy tried to grab Bumpykin and he felt a sharp scratch as something wrapped around his hands.
“I’m watching you. Don’t touch me!” the deep voice said once more. Behind them they heard a loud, rhythmic thud that echoed in the quiet night. The light from the jack-o’-lantern mysteriously flickered off and on as it began to roll, making sure to stay just out of reach. Just then one of the boys felt something clutch at his leg.
“Let’s get out of here!” they all shouted as they fled the porch and ran down the street.
Spook meowed merrily as she watched the boys running off in the distance, the sounds of their footsteps fading into the silent night.
“That was a great idea you had Spook. Your growls and tale thumping scared them. Your paw rolling me around made my light flicker,” said a grateful Bumpykin.
“Meow,” purred Spook, “you telling them not to touch you was purr-fect. They couldn’t see me because it was so dark. It was fun darting in and out of their legs, scratching them with my claws and biting them when they tried to get you. What fun it was to scare them! Happy Halloween, Bumpykin!” said Spook.
“You too,” said Bumpykin, his light glowing warmly as he smiled at his new friend.
Bio: Rhonda T. Spear is a native of Richmond, Virginia where she currently resides with her eleven-year-old faithful furry 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.
Grandpa’s Halloween Ghost, fiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
The Milwaukee airport was fogged in, so Gwendolyn’s flight was diverted to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, on Halloween of all days. Not just any Halloween, this Halloween was to be a command appearance by all children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, younger siblings, cousins, and other living relatives of 94-year-old inventor, entrepreneur, and architect G. W. LaPorte. How could Gwendolyn miss her grandfather’s annual Halloween extravaganza? Her grandfather was her boss and mentor; she was his chief spokesperson. For the evening’s special occasion, Gwendolyn had a bright orange ball gown with matching slippers awaiting her at her Easttown apartment; she wanted to be the favored granddaughter and have the first dance with her grandfather, who was still winning dance contests, senior swimming competitions, and his granddaughter’s heart. Having ridden many buses throughout her young life, she jumped at the chance to take a 90-minute bus ride from Chicago to Milwaukee.
With only a few minutes to spare, Gwendolyn, with Heather in the lead, entered the Gold Room on the top story of Juneau Hotel.
“Oh! Gwen, thank goodness, you and Heather arrived before the doors were closed. You know how your grandfather is about any late arrivals. Not even you, his favorite granddaughter, would have been allowed entrance after seven o’clock,” Gwendolyn’s mother whispered to her daughter who took her seat at the U-shaped table.
At the opening of the U-shaped table was a small table with a podium and microphone, as well as place settings for two. To the left of this smaller table was a five-piece band, including Gwendolyn’s father, his two brothers and two sisters, who were playing “Autumn Leaves,” one of their dad’s favorite tunes. In the opening midst the tables was the empty dance floor.
“What do you think Grampy has up his sleeve on this Halloween?” Grant, Gwen’s brother, asked.
“Since Heather and I have been in Boston all week, I have not a clue.”
The lights blinked on and off, the cymbals clashed, and all watched for Grandpa’s grand appearance. He danced into the ballroom and sang “Be Our Guest” (from Beauty and the Beast) until he tapped Gwendolyn on her shoulder. As the music continued, Grandpa, in a white tuxedo with a bright orange bowtie and vest, asked his granddaughter, “May I have this dance?”
Gwendolyn stood, kissed him on the cheek, and whispered, “Yes, Happy Halloween!” Both dancers smiled broadly and put on a fine show for the family gathering.
After a fanciful twirl at the end of the musical number, G. W. escorted his granddaughter back to her seat and patted Heather. As he made his way to the head table and podium, he thanked his band, his five children, all of whom were still wondering what surprise awaited the guests.
“to my beloved children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, my sisters, my brother, and all of my family and special guests, good evening and Happy Halloween!”
“Happy Halloween, Grandpa!” was the snappy reply.
“Thank you, and thank you all for being here on time for this special gathering. Would my assistants of the evening please pass out the gift-wrapped favors? When each of you has this special favor, I will ask you to open the gifts at the same time.”
One of the teen-aged cousins placed in front of Gwendolyn a gift wrapped in pumpkin-colored paper and a black, gold, and white bow. Of course, the surprise had to be a book. After a drumroll, Grandfather announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, please open your gifts!”
The guests untied the fancy ribbons and ripped the paper to reveal the book. Gwendolyn’s gift was the only larger one because hers was two braille volumes. As usual, Grandpa had thought of everything. Within a few seconds, the entire crowd gave Grandpa a standing ovation and joyous applause. Stepping a foot away from the podium, G. W. bowed to his audience. “Thank you, thank you. Yes, I finally completed my book, my autobiography, except for the chapters I have yet to live.” When the laughter ceased, Grandpa continued, “Inside the front cover, you will find that I have already personally autographed the book to you. Chapter 25 will be a surprise to all of you, but you can read that later. Now, I would like you all to turn to the dedication page. ‘This book of my very blessed life of 94 years is dedicated to my entire family who have helped me to happily fill all the pages of this autobiography, and this book is also dedicated to my favorite ghost, ghost writer, that is, who helped me write all of these pages with the proper grammar and punctuation and who has agreed to be my bride on this Halloween of 2015.’”
The startled audience dropped to their chairs in disbelief. When the band did not immediately begin their next number at their father’s cue, G. W. commanded, “Music, please!” The five adult children somehow played “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.” G. W. continued by donning his white top hat, “Dear family members, I present to you my precious ghost . . . ghost writer, that is my dance partner and soon-to-be bride Geraldine will now appear.”
In a long-sleeved, white formal gown with gold and light orange accents, the ghost writer Geraldine did appear. She glided into the room as only a former professional dancer and dance instructor could. The couple grasped hands; then, G. W. kissed her hand and embraced his bride-to-be. With one arm around her, G. W. lowered the microphone for Geraldine. “Welcome to our wedding! I do not know if your father will ever top this Halloween party! Your father, grandfather, brother, friend tells me he has the seven-year itch. He likes to say that I am 21 plus six decades and that he is promising me at least seven wonderful years of marriage. We will have several more chapters to write together, and we are delighted that all of you have appeared to share in our Halloween wedding. In just a few minutes, my son, Judge Everett Karavellas, will be officiating. My grandson Evan will please come forward to be best man. G. W.’s granddaughter Gwendolyn will please step up to be my maid of honor, along with her yellow lab Heather who will be Leader Dog of honor. With the judge, a harpist entered the room to provide the wedding and reception dinner music.
After the exchanging of vows and rings, applause echoed in the large room while the attractive married couple moved gracefully to the dance floor. To the tune of “Autumn in New York,” G. W. and former New Yorker Geraldine danced the most memorable waltz of their lives. With a nod to Evan, Grandpa beckoned the best man and maid of honor to take the dance floor together. A couple of minutes later, Geraldine’s husband bellowed, “You have to dance for your supper! Everyone, please come join us on the dance floor or my ghost will grab you!”
A Sign of Peace at Cocoa with the Clauses: A Wreatha Natale Holiday Story, fiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
In one red-gloved and moderately arthritic hand, Wreatha held her guide dog’s harness handle and leash. Her right arm wrapped around a doubled grocery bag in which she had carefully placed several items in doubled plastic bags. No snow, no ice to navigate, just a heavy mist off the lake to help designate this December 12 the warmest on record for Milwaukee. As Wreatha and her guide dog Wiggles walked closer to Cathedral Square Park, she could hear the usual Christmas music, but also the sound of many voices, mostly those of excited children. Cocoa with the Clauses, she thought. She wondered if Santa were going to ruin her plans: she certainly hoped not.
When an event was in progress at the park, the homeless people usually left or were politely encouraged to leave the park. Wreatha said a quick prayer that Coco would be somewhere around the park so that she could give him the bag of goodies and her advice. Then, she and Wiggles could return home to their dry and warm abode. Mentally checking off this task from her “to do” list was her big goal of the gray day.
As Wiggles guided her handler across the boulevard, Wreatha heard the clippity-clop and soft whinny of a police horse; undoubtedly, the mounted police officer was riding the perimeter of the park. Starting around the west side, the sparsely populated side of the park, Wreatha realized that the horse was still a distance away; so, her concentration turned to listening for a distinctive and terrible cough, one that had been worrying her for too long. “Wiggles, do you see him? Do you see Coco?” Wiggles kept on her path straight ahead for a few yards and then stopped. Hearing a muted cough, Wreatha told her black lab-golden retriever, “Good dog!” The coughing continued and drew nearer. “Coco, is that you? I have something for you today.”
“Have you come for Cocoa with the Clauses?” his deep, raspy voice uttered.
“No, I was concerned that you wouldn’t be here today because of Cocoa with the Clauses.”
“I’m on my way to 12:15 mass. The park is for the kids today, not people, like me.”
“I . . . I want to give you this.” Wreatha handed the bag to the homeless veteran. “Christmas gifts for you, a little early. Wool scarf and hat, gloves, socks, some food, cough drops, Kleenexes, and bus tickets. I want you to use the bus tickets to go to the Free Clinic or to . . . well, you know where . . . the V . . .”
Coco interrupted, “Thank you. I know you would not like to be hugged, but I thank you.”
Wreatha Natale could hear his smile; she was relieved because she was uncertain that he would accept any of the gifts. “At church, I will shake your hand for the sign of peace.”
“Yes, I know you will, not everybody does. Thanks, Ms. Wreatha. You are a kind and generous person. God bless you. I would like to give you something.”
“Just a promise, a promise that you will go to the Free Clinic or somewhere and get some medicine for your cough.” Suddenly, she realized that the police horse was directly to her right, alongside the curb.
“Happy Holidays, Ms. Natale,” the officer said.
Walking past Wreatha and her guide dog, Coco remarked, “Thanks, again. I am going to mass now. Take care. Merry Christmas to you and your dog, you, too, Officer Rudy.”
“Have a peaceful Christmas, Coco. Maybe, I’ll see you tomorrow morning at mass.” The coughing diminished in the distance.
Officer Rudy Bonariva commented: “I never saw him smile before, and I have known him for years. Thank you, Ms. Natale, your gift made him smile for once.”
“I told him that I wanted him to use the bus tickets to go to the Free Clinic or VA Hospital to get his cough checked out. I hope he will.”
“I know exactly what he will do with those bus tickets; he will ride the Jingle Bell Bus to see the Christmas lights each night, as long as he can. You are retired now, aren’t you?” Wreatha nodded affirmatively. “I suggest that you try another type of volunteer work.”
Paying no attention to the officer’s suggestion, Wreatha mentioned, “Maybe, you can try to talk Coco into using one of the bus tickets for . . .”
“You know they try to get him to go somewhere. He will only go to a shelter when the temperature is below freezing. I’ll try to encourage him to go to a shelter. The people there will take him to the Free Clinic. Don’t worry.”
“Officer, worrying is my avocation: I am very good at it. Coco’s cough did sound a little better today.”
“Someone had just given him a cup of cocoa before you arrived at the park. You know that most of the homeless people who favor this park go to both the Cathedral and Old Saint Mary’s for masses. They attend mass and are in a warm place for an hour or so.”
Yes, I know. They need a peaceful place sometimes, too.”
“A universal need. Are you staying for cocoa with the Clauses?”
Twelve Days Later
Late, as usual, with completing her decorating efforts, Wreatha was placing a few more Christmas ornaments on her small artificial tree when the phone rang. She answered the call with a mildly enthusiastic “Merry Christmas.”
The businesslike voice replied: “Thank you, Ms. Natale. This is Rudy Bonariva. I am parked outside your townhouse. May I come in? I have some news for you: I would prefer to tell you in person. Do you have company for this Christmas Eve?”
“No, just Wiggles and I are here. Please come to the door.”
Within a few minutes, she was sitting beside the Christmas tree with Wiggles lying at her feet; Officer Bonariva sat across from her. Apologetically, he began: “I know it is Christmas Eve, but I thought you would want to know. I just came from the VA Hospital. Coco has been there, but the news is not good. Coco passed away several hours ago. All we know is that his real name is Colebert. His younger siblings could not pronounce his name, so they called him Coco. The name stuck, even through his military service, even through his deployment to Viet Nam. His mother’s maiden name was Colebert.”
As Wreatha’s eyes filled with tears, she managed to ask, “What was his last name?”
“Donner, like the reindeer. We are not aware of his having any relatives in Wisconsin. I was with him at . . . at the end. He told me that he had only one thing of value, a family heirloom; he wanted me to give it to you as a Christmas and thank-you gift. He did appreciate your kindness to him. I appreciated your kindness to him.”
Officer Bonariva moved to sit beside Wreatha on the sofa and pulled something from his jacket’s pocket. Handing her a little gold box tied with a red velvet bow, he explained: “Sam, at Rohr’s Jewelers, cleaned the brooch a bit and put it in this box for you. Coco wanted you to have this brooch. It is shaped like a wreath and is made of emeralds and rubies. Sam estimated the brooch’s value at . . .”
Wreatha interrupted: “No, I do not want to hear its monetary value. No, please do not tell me. I could not possibly accept such an expensive piece of jewelry.”
“Yes, you can and should. A nurse at the VA witnessed what Coco told me and gave me. Coco was always so hurt when people at church would not shake his hand during the sign of peace. You always did share the sign of peace with him. That meant a lot to him. You must grant him his final wish.”
Slowly and carefully, Wreatha untied the soft bow and removed the lid of the gold box. Hesitatingly, she touched the beautiful brooch and whispered, “I will keep it just until you find a relative of Coco’s. I will keep it for just a little while out of respect for Coco’s last wish.”
“Good, thank you; I doubt we will ever find a relative who is as deserving of this brooch as you are. I am usher at midnight mass,the mass that is at ten o’clock at Old Saint Mary’s. I am going to light a candle for Coco and say a prayer for him. I think that will be his only kind of service because he wanted his body to be donated to the Medical College. Would you like to come with me to midnight mass? Would you like to join me in a prayer for Colebert Donner?
A Christmas I’ll Never Forget, memoir
by John Justice
Many years ago, I traveled with a show band. Unlike most groups, our manager kept us working for most of the year. We had a booking on Christmas Eve. I tried everything I could think of to get out of it but nothing worked.
So there we were, traveling on Route Seventeen, near Sutfin New York. The weather had turned bad suddenly, as it often does in the Hudson valley and we were riding through a curtain of driving snow. There were about twenty-three of us on the bus counting the musicians, girls and performers. Our equipment was already far ahead in a large truck. All we had with us was personal luggage, but there was a lot of it. The girls had at least three pieces each and that didn’t count the dressing cabinets, large wooden cases on rollers that held their performing outfits. Those cases were strapped in the back of the bus. The driver was good. We never expected what happened next.
Suddenly, we felt the bus turning and changing speed. It didn’t just slow down, it started to slide. We learned later that a truck had spun out in front of us and Kyle was trying to avoid hitting the trailer. The bus turned into a giant bobsled and skated right off of the road. We ended up with two wheels and most of the vehicle in a ditch. Oh don’t worry! No one was hurt at all. In fact, it was a riot. Rita, who had been sitting next to me, ended up in my lap. One of the dressing cabinets popped its restraints and came waltzing down the center aisle, as if it were going to get off at this stop. Two of us grabbed it and we re-attached the big Bungie cords.
Kyle turned off the engine and just sat there for a minute. Then he said, “Is everyone all right?” We all assured him that no one was hurt. He stood up and looked around. That truck was out of sight. We were alone on Route Seventeen North in the middle of nowhere. Outside, the storm was growing in intensity, and it felt like a blizzard. The bus shook with every blast of snow and incredibly cold wind. “Well, if we don’t get this thing out of here soon, we never will,” said Kyle, our driver.
“Shouldn’t we wait for help?” asked Milo the bandleader.
“Oh, we can wait all right but who’s to say when that will be,” responded Kyle.
“I have an idea,” said Mike our drummer. “Why don’t we get some of this weight off of the bus and then try to get it back on the road? At the same time, someone should go for help.”
“We can try,” said Kyle.
At that moment, we heard a sound. It was very low at first but grew much louder. Then one of the girls spotted the source of the noise. It was the biggest snowplow anyone had ever seen. Kyle was out of that door and up on the road faster than a jackrabbit on a date. The huge machine ground to a halt and the two men were talking for a moment. Then Kyle returned.
“This guy will take one of us to the inn about five miles back,” he said.
“I’ll go,” I suggested. As a blind man, I wasn’t going to do much good unloading luggage in a strange ditch.
“Okay Jack,” said Milo. “You have all of the numbers don’t you?” he asked.
“Yep, I’ve got them on my little recorder,” I said. I kept a little Norelco reel to reel with me all of the time. I used it to record things like my room number or the times of our shows. Everyone laughed at it and called it a toy. I suppose it was actually meant as a toy but for me, it was a big help.
I grabbed the carrying case and slung it over my shoulder. “Bring us some pictures,” said Rita, laughing. I did look like a cameraman with that leather case strapped across my body. I went out into the storm and Kyle guided me to the big Caterpillar.
“There’s a ladder up to the cab,” said Kyle.
I climbed up and the driver helped me inside. “Why did you send a blind guy?” he called to Kyle down below.
“He was the only one who volunteered,” responded Kyle.
We chugged off along the highway. It was nice in that cab. The driver had music playing and it was warm in the roomy interior. He kept on plowing as we went so it took about an hour to reach the inn. The operator raised his plow and drove into the front area. He had to stop about thirty feet away because that big blade would have torn up the fancy front entrance. He and I climbed down. He grabbed my shoulder and steered me like a forklift but I didn’t mind.
As soon as we came through the big glass doors, I could feel the heat from a roaring fire. The lobby smelled like cedar smoke and there were people everywhere. I felt like I’d walked into a set from a Christmas movie. The manager came rushing up to us. Later, the driver told me he kept looking at my closed eyes as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. A line from a Christmas story kept running through my head. Sam the snowman asks his audience, “What’s the matter? Haven’t you ever seen a talking snowman before?”
The manager took me to his office and I made the calls. First, I called the concert hall to tell them we’d be late. The man proceeded to inform me that the concert had been canceled due to the snow. I didn’t say anything but I was really hot. To think we could have all been home in our beds for Christmas Eve. Next I called the band manager and he confirmed what the concert agent had said. I told him what happened and for once, he was nice. He asked to speak to the manager of the hotel.
“Hello,” said the manager. “Yes, I understand that the bus is off of the road. Yes, I think we still have enough room but we’re filling up fast. Yes sir, of course I know your agency. Naturally we’ll give you the commercial rate. Yes, our dining facilities are open and operating. How many did you say there are? Certainly, we can put two in each room or more if you’d like. Well, as for the driver, he can stay at no charge.” Arrangements were made and the manager hung up.
He turned to me and said, “You have more guts than I do Jack. I’m not sure I would ride in one of those plows for any reason.”
The driver of the big Caterpillar hit his marks about a mile further down the highway. I’d better explain what that means. The plow drivers are assigned certain areas to work. They patrol back and forth and try to keep that section clean of snow. He turned the big machine and we started back along the other side of Route Seventeen. Now, we were moving north toward the location of the bus. Some idiots insisted on passing us, even though the visibility was practically zero feet. Soon, we came to the site of the accident. The boys and Kyle had managed to get the bus back upright. That must have been quite a struggle. As we pulled up, everyone, even the girls were re-loading the luggage. The snowplow driver put on his hazard lights and put flares out across the highway. Kyle got the bus turned around and we went back toward the inn. I started to tell Milo what had happened but he stopped me.
“Jack, why don’t you just announce it to everyone at the same time.” Milo and I went to the front of the bus and Kyle handed me a microphone. “Just push to talk,” he said. I grinned. He had no idea that any one of us could have taken that thing apart and put it back together blind folded, especially me.
I announced that the concert had been canceled. I waited for the growls and complaints to stop and then I told everyone that we were going to be guests at the inn. That brought cheers and exclamations of relief. We all made it back to the beautiful old place and soon, we were settled into our rooms. I shared a double with Mike the drummer which was fine with me. The two of us were always working together anyway, fixing broken equipment or wrapping cords before the roadies put things away. We had a nice dinner and Rita sat with me again. She seemed very quiet. This wasn’t the Rita I knew. Usually, she was the happy cheerful one who made everybody laugh, stealing and wearing my Stetson hat, sneaking up and tickling Mike when he was bent over trying to adjust his drums. She slid very close to me on the bench and stayed that way. As we were finishing dinner, the boys from our equipment truck arrived. They had made it all the way to the concert hall before being turned around. The inn manager just shook his head and grinned.
Milo had an idea. “Jack, we’ve got everything here. Why don’t we put on a little show for these people?”
By this time, the inn was filled to capacity. We went to the manager and he was very pleased with the idea. In a flash, he had opened a banquet room and turned on the lights. In no time, his people had set up chairs and our crew had done wonders with the sound and lights. That night, we put on the same show we were going to do at the concert hall. The volume was much lower of course but everything else went off perfectly.
When it was Rita’s turn to sing, she brought her microphone over to where I was sitting at the keyboards. “This man took a chance today and probably saved all of our lives,” she said. “As you can tell, he’s blind. But in spite of all that, he climbed into a snowplow and went for help. No one else volunteered. He made the calls that put us here tonight. Who knows what might have happened to us if he hadn’t done that.” I started to protest but she quieted me with a finger across my lips. “We all feel that way Jack,” she said. Then, in front of several hundred people, she kissed my cheek. Naturally, I turned fifty shades of red and everyone on and off the stage laughed. Then someone started the applause. I really wanted to hide then!
When we finished the show, I went back to the room but Mike wasn’t there. In a moment, I heard a knock on the door. I opened it to find Rita in the corridor. She slipped inside, then closed and locked the door behind her.
“Jack, I need you to hold me,” she said. “I was so scared out there! We all could have been killed!”
I had always felt something special for Rita. At the age of twenty, I am ashamed to say I hadn’t had much experience with girls. I was so afraid of saying the wrong thing and being rejected. I have a rowdy exterior but inside, I’m very emotional. That night, Rita gave me the greatest Christmas gift I have ever received. She needed me. I thought I was in love. That usually happens when it’s your first time. Rita was so patient and understanding with me.
The next day, we all piled into the bus. When it came time for Milo to sign the check, the inn manager made a ceremony of tearing the bill into tiny little pieces.
“Your people gave us the best entertainment we have ever had,” he said. “You didn’t break anything or make a mess. Not only were you perfect guests, but you made everyone’s stay a really great experience.” Milo shook hands and the inn man turned to me. “Jack, I’m glad to have met you,” he said. “I felt a little funny meeting someone blind for the first time but last night I watched you on the stage. I noticed how well you fit into the show and that impressed me. I have to confess, I’ve always been a little apprehensive of guests who are blind.”
“We’re not all alike Sir,” I said. “But thank you for helping us out.”
That was the last stop on our tour that year. Rita and I stayed together for a while but then she went back to Iowa. I never heard from her again.
That was many years ago. But when Christmas time comes, I remember Rita and her special gift. There’s one thing I still don’t understand though. Why did everyone think what I did was such a big deal? I had fun riding that big plow. My dad was a truck driver so climbing up the side of big rigs was nothing new to me. The only thing I can think of is that the entire time, I wasn’t afraid. Even when the bus slid off of the road, I didn’t panic. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t see what was coming. Now that I’m older I think about what could have happened. Suppose we didn’t miss that truck? Suppose the ditch was deeper? I guess that old saying is true. “Fear not what might be. Care only for the things that must be!”
Bio: John Justice was born in 1945 with Congenital Glaucoma. He was blind by age three but that condition has never slowed him down or curtailed his curiosity. He is a published author with two books in print and has submitted hundreds of articles, stories and comedy pieces. His latest book, The Paddy Stories: Book One is available at Amazon.com.
Dear Santa, poetry
by D. P. Lyons
Can you hear me?
Am I talking loud enough?
Can you hear me from your home up north?
Through all the trees and stuff?
I’d really like for you to know
How good I’ve been this year.
If you could see how good I’ve been,
I’m sure that you would cheer.
When Mom asks me to clean my room,
I sweep and clean all day.
I usually pick up all my toys
And put my clothes away.
When I watch my little brother
And play outside with him
We smile and laugh and hug a lot
Until Mom says, “Come in”.
I always try to tell the truth
But some times it’s really rough.
Mom and Dad, they always know
And that makes it really tough.
I’ve always tried to brush my teeth,
Each day for all these years.
I scrub my face, and wash my hands
And clean behind my ears.
I seem to do pretty well at school.
I read and write ok.
I get along with all the kids
At recess when we play.
And then, of course there’s supper time,
I always clean my plate,
Except when we have squash and stuff
That I really, really hate.
I hug and kiss my mom and dad
At the end of every day.
I bless the kids, and thank the Lord
When mamma helps me pray.
There’s one more thing that you should know.
I’m sorry, but it’s true.
I love my family most of all,
Even more than I love you.
I really truly love you though
And hope you understand,
As you steer your reindeer through the night
And fly throughout the land.
So Santa, if you should make it
To my house, I hope you’ll see
The cookies and the glass of milk
On the table, by the tree.
I love you Santa
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
Christmas Scentiments, ABECEDARIAN
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
All I want for Christmas is aroma therapy
beneath my fragrant Christmas tree.
“Chanel #5″ casts a festive spell. I want it!
Did I mention I’d like some kick-ass shoes, too?
expensive Italian shoes suit me best. I want them!
forget about those Elvin gifts and
get me Ferragamo, size 8 in soft brown leather.
handbags from Italy? Yes, I want Sharif.
I admit I am a handbag snob – I WANT gifts from Paris, too.
just give me what I want and nothing less.
keep shopping till you drop, Dear Santa!
let me give you additional tips for what I want
Marilyn Miglin’s “M” perfume, Versace “Crystal
Noir” (with never ending desires)
or perhaps “Opium” to send me into a “Euphoria.”
“Pheromone” is an exotic fragrance – I want.
QVC is the best place to shop for scentiments – I can’t
resist ordering an extra bottle or two!
“send me the most expensive bottles” I say!
these days, even Santa’s reindeer shop on-line
up on the housetop the team takes a break
Vixen and Prancer order bottles of toilette
water for sweet-smelling girls like me!
“X – O – X – O -X” Kisses and hugs for you! Oh, remember
Yves Saint Laurant makes delightful scents but, I almost forgot- I want
“Zen White Heat” and “Zibeline De Weil,” the best Christmas Scentiments of all!
Signed: With never ending desires, I’m your girl. Lynda
Bio: Lynda McKinney Lambert is a freelance writer with over forty years of publishing accomplishments to her record since the early 1970s. She is now a retired fine arts and humanities professor from Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA. She resides in The Village of Wurtemburg, in western Pennsylvania with her husband, Bob, 4 cats and 2 dogs. Lynda is the author of Concerti: Psalms for the Pilgrimage, published by Kota Press. She writes articles on topics in the humanities, contemporary poetry and inspirational human interest stories. Her teaching career took her to Europe each summer where she taught drawingand writing to college students. She also taught a course and took students to Puerto Rico every spring semester for the college. Lynda loves to write, create fiber art, knit and travel.
In Which I Find Color in Late Winter, nonfiction
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
My husband, Bob, was still in bed this morning when I walked over to the window and opened the blinds. I told him, “Get up! Come over to have a look at the glorious new day.”
We saw that the expansive winter landscape and the sky appeared to have a bright blue hue washed all over it. The scene appeared as though a watercolor painter mixed up a very thin wash of transparent blue hues and brushed the thin liquid paints all over a blank canvas. This surprising brilliant landscape consisted of shades of turquoise, cerulean, azure, sapphire and cobalt- Every imaginable shade of blue was overlaid on the picture we viewed from our window. We felt delighted with the delicate colors this particular morning gave us; it was an unexpected surprise of brilliant morning light.
I know, in late February people begin to complain and lament the weather and dread the daily forecasts of storms and low temperatures. Some days, we seem to be in a deep freeze with winter snow storms and squalls moving over the land like waves on an angry, stormy ocean. The official designation of February is labeled, “Late Winter.” That’s because it will be awhile before spring is actually here.
We know spring will arrive on March 21st – but during the first months of the New Year we often feel like the Spring Equinox is a long way off. But, when we really take the time to look closely into what the days are like in February, we will discover that winter days are colorful and each new day holds a special beauty we cannot find in any other month.
Because we think about “black ice,” “black branches,” “white snow,” “dark clouds” and “whiteouts” we choose to think that February is a month that has only black and white shades. February is not a black and white month at all. No, look closer and find the subtle tints and effects in what appeared to be a stark landscape. Every imaginable shape, form and tinge of color in the spectrum is still present during winter but you have to be looking for them.
Let’s do an experiment together this year. All we need is a camera and a little bit of time to take some pictures of just one spot of landscape near where you live. This is the perfect month to begin your own “PHOTO ESSAY” of the COLORS in your particular part of the world.
Select one piece of landscape you like. Take a few photos of this place. Now, in the seasons that will be coming along during the year, return to this exact spot, and capture additional photos. Use the first snapshots you acquired to determine your exact location. Maybe a tree or bush, or some sort of landmark will be your focus. This will help you create a cohesive view in all of the photos you will be taking during the year. I chose to photograph our unique Zen Meditation Garden for this experiment. Bob created this extraordinary Japanese garden a few years ago and I love gazing at this peaceful garden in any season.
After you select your location – be sure to note where you stood to take the shots. You want your photos to be as similar as possible for this experiment.
From now, through the end of December – pay attention to the changing landscape in your photos. I think you will be so amazed at what you will see in the progression of seasons in the lighting, shadows, shifts and changes. If you are visually impaired, you may want to ask a friend or family member help you take the photos. Later, the two of you can sit together and talk about what your friend sees in the photos. Ask for lots of details. Ask about colors, shapes, textures, shadows, or anything else you want to know about your photos.
Look for the relationship between the color changes in your landscape photos. Be aware that we all have some preferences in colors we are particularly fond of as you look at your pictures. We think of specific colors for each season and we even call the colors “spring colors” a “fall palette” and “sunny summer colors.” Our minds are pre-set to expect particular colors for each different season. Let’s change our thoughts about the seasons and keep an open mind – have a willingness to find some surprises. Also, keep in mind that what we see will affect how we feel because humans are greatly influenced by our surroundings and light changes.
We associate colors when we say many words. For example, if I say “drab” you most likely think of a dirty gray or an olive green. If I mention, “the Caribbean” you may think – bright, blue, orange, hot pink, etc.
The same is true for each season – Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall evoke a particular palette in our minds. Adjectives can evoke emotions, bring to mind sensations and suggest powerful color preferences in our thoughts. There have been numerous scientific studies in which preferences and emotions are determined by the colors we see around us as well as the spoken words. Because the colors of winter remind us of the cold season, we might feel a shiver run through our body as we look at those photos, or if our friend describes the scene to us.
But, I say, “Give winter a chance! Look for the myriad of hues that are there in the landscape and you will find them. At first glance the winter landscape seems to be barren, cold, and stark. But those are the emotions we are feeling and not the facts. Lay any negative or preconceived emotions aside for a moment, if you will, and look deeper into nature to find beauty in the rich colors of winter.” If you are a writer, you might want to add a written comment to go with each of your photos. Later, you can develop the information you captured in the photos, with the writing you did, and create a poem or story from your photo shoot. Try it!
Part IV. The Writers’ Climb
My Favorite Mentor, nonfiction
Workshop Wisdom from Margo LaGattuta
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
She’s just home from teaching her college class. Chinese young people are learning to make creative writing part of their linguistic switch to self-expression in English. Margo’s dreaming of her upcoming weekend “up north,” as Michiganders say, hours up the road from Detroit, up close and personal with the woods and the water.
She kicks back, feet up, two cat companions scramble for space—her lap, her shoulder, her keyboard, papers on the desk, and of course, on the phone she’s using to call the conference line. Every other week she met with nine disabled people from the Behind Our Eyes writers with disabilities group in 2008.
We first met Margo through Mary-Jo Lord, who’d attended her workshops and been published in one of her anthologies. Mary-Jo knew we needed a speaker and evaluator for poetry, essays, and memoirs submitted to be part of our group’s first literary anthology published in 2007.
In our Summer workshop, Margo’s prompts and critiques led us away from humdrum patterns and presentations toward imaginative, “outside the box” possibilities:
- The Fine Art of…your choice.
- Personification of a clothing tag; cooking instructions on a box or bag; an unrelated list of nouns I.E., city, continent, song, food, clothing, pet, etc.
We quizzed her on some of the puzzles we as writers face:
“How can I turn a plot in a book I love into a narrative poem without getting sued for plagiarism?”
“How many flashbacks can I use in a memoir without confusing the reader?”
“For quotes within quotes, should I use apostrophes? Can I put quotes around talking/thinking to myself?”
“In memoir, how can I protect the good guys associated with the bad guys in my story?”
Most of her answers began with, “It depends,” followed by scenarios from her experience or imagination. She was helpful without being dictatorial.
Some of us took notes with Braille devices, some in large print writing, but many replayed the recorded call, soaking up more information from the second hearing. Most of us had at least two pieces published which originated from that conference workshop by phone.
I listened to those calls again recently to choose a few nuggets for presentation in our group’s tenth anniversary celebration of writing together. I laughed and teared-up time and time again. The cats disconnected her phone and she had to call back. Her basement flooded, she was waiting for the plumbers, and had to reschedule for the next week.
Margo told us she always introduced herself as a writer, although her awards—and often her major focus—came from poetry. She said claiming to be a poet sometimes put people off. She couldn’t interact as easily, but as a writer, somehow she was seen as quite normal. We kept in touch from time to time after the workshop. She visited our Sunday night group conference when we were planning our online magazine, Magnets and Ladders. We tried not to miss her regular column in a local newspaper, “A Word in Edgewise.”
In august of 2011, Mary-Jo brought me the terrible news. “We’ve lost Margo. I didn’t get to see her before she died.” Most of us didn’t know there was anything wrong. Two months before, I’d invited her to speak to another group of writers who are blind. How much of her time would I have tried to steal had I known?
The book will never be closed on her influence on my writing. I listen to the recordings of those six workshop sessions and want to say, “But Margo, now I have a new issue! Come back and walk me through your take on it.” I think sometimes she does.
She can’t know I published a book in 2012, and that Mary-Jo now edits the online magazine I was editing when I knew Margo. I know she’s smiling. Here’s the take-home message. If you have a mentor whose ideas work for you—she gets what you’re trying to do, you share easily together—don’t take that for granted. Be a sponge. Put yourself in her audience every chance you get. Margo was only sixty-nine. I was older, but she’d done so much more with her talent. I wanted to be her shadow. I still try to echo her ideas when I write and when I help others write.
Margo introduced us to the dream circle. Here’s how it works. Tell your writing or critique group to have a dream, or bring a dream, old or new, to the next meeting. She says it’s a self-fulfilling wish if you’re looking for new material. Next, have the participants tell their dreams one at a time. Go around the room, not analyzing. Use the key phrase, “If this were my dream, here’s what it would mean for me.” When you finish, you’ll come up with lots of new ideas for yourself, and you’ll grab new trails to follow from the dreams of others. We let her guide us through that process that Summer, and had lots of fun.
Margo had some helpful suggestions for critique groups. When you hear your work critiqued and you don’t believe the reviewer was on target, instead of being defensive, let it lie for a while. When you’ve almost forgotten your anger or disagreement, look at the review again with a new perspective. You may still feel like throwing it in the trash, but every now and then with more open eyes you’ll think, “Oh dear! She was right. It would be stronger if I would…. Yes, that last paragraph is not necessary. It’s really too long. The reader can’t stay focused. Take it out.” You don’t have to accept everything that’s offered at a workshop, you only have to hear it then. You may do well to process it later. Some ideas seem outside your understanding or acceptance because of the way they’re presented. If your reviewers don’t get what you’re about, what you’re trying to do; if they’re not on the same page with you, they can’t help you with their suggestions. Look for someone who wants your way to work, and is not just there to prove how many negatives can be lined up.
Margo believed in the power of creativity, and in its gradual disappearance because of the way media and classroom strategies fly through the highlights without looking between the lines for subtle nuances and veiled nuggets.
When I was putting my book, Chasing the Green Sun, together in 2012, I faced lots of choices about how to intermingle my fiction, poetry, and memoir pieces, “What would Margo do?” I dreamed some solutions one night, and guess who was helping me? I’d like to take that dream to one of her dream circles. Better yet, I wish it could come true.
Margo was a faculty member at the University of Michigan, Oakland Community College, and other schools. During her career she won the Midwest Poetry award and in 2005, the Mark Twain award. She wrote various newspaper columns, hosted a radio show on writing, and conducted countless workshops and seminars. I never had access to her four books and the many anthologies she edited featuring the work of her students and other fellow writers. The Behind Our Eyes group of writers with disabilities continues to honor her contributions as an important part of our successful journey.
Bio: Marilyn Brandt Smith worked as a teacher, licensed psychologist, and rehabilitation professional. She has edited magazines and newsletters since 1976, and was the first blind Peace Corps volunteer. She lives with her family and many animals in a hundred-year-old home in Kentucky. Her first book, Chasing the Green Sun, published in 2012, is available from Amazon and other bookstores and in audio form. She loves writing flash fiction stories, and was the primary editor for the first Behind Our Eyes anthology, as well as Magnets and Ladders from 2011 through 2014. Another of her interests
is music–barbershop harmony, folk and Americana, and current hits. Visit her website at
Moving Around, nonfiction
by Nancy Scott
As I write this, I have just reached 700 career bylines. Eight hundred is unknowable years away (five or six if things go really well). Seven hundred published pieces over 33 years could be my last hundred multiple.
I have weathered many big changes and have kept writing. In September 2002, I had 287 bylines. A new neighbor, a good friend, and an outside bench helped me get past one big life change to remind me of who I was and could be. And as you read this, I will have begun my fifteenth year living in this apartment.
I have just moved into this apartment complex. I needed a quieter place. Maybe, after 26 years, I needed to know that plush carpeting and change were possible.
Since I can’t see, I’ve spent the first five days of my new life walking into my old furniture in new places. But I began to have an even bigger concern. I spent almost twenty years writing in that former apartment. I began to wonder, on about day three, if my new apartment would be too quiet. No energy of the audible world to write against. Even my third-floor balcony seemed too high for serious listening.
But the writing gods provide. A friend described several benches outside the building. She mentioned grass and a few trees, too. Grass and trees are sometimes necessary for writing. I knew that because my former apartment had a yard.
After fortification of Tastykakes and diet Pepsi, I decide to try adventuring. Taking my cane and my talking word processor, I head outside. I remember the directions and find a bench, first try: past the three bushes, follow the weird metal fence, and after the turn, go about ten steps and hang a right. Sounds like a treasure map.
I, of course, don’t yet know if there are rules about “my bench.” I sit and turn on my Braille device. Will it annoy or interest anyone?
So far, there’s only traffic on the street below me down a grassy bank. The only birds I hear are crows. Birds are another aid to writing, but robins are better than crows. I won’t know if there are robins until next spring.
I start with a letter to a friend to prime the writing pump. Then, I edit an article draft and think about writing something new which might turn out to be this piece. The robotic computer voice still hasn’t attracted attention. I hate headphones. They are not an aid to curiosity let alone creativity.
Late afternoon sun hits “my bench.” No one has yelled. If I’m writing, I will look industrious rather than nosy. It’s perfect.
The only person that I’ve met here so far that might guess my motives is my neighbor across the hall. When she first saw me, she said, “I know you. I’ve read all your newspaper columns so I know all your bad habits.” She recognized me from the headshot published with each of my articles in the local paper. I was impressed and delighted that she thought of me as “blind writer” rather than something like “dangerous blind woman.”
Someone is leaving the upper parking lot in a car. No footsteps, so the person must be wearing sneakers. It’s just a single slamming door and a pause, and an engine’s decisive revving.
No one claims “my bench.” Of course, they don’t know yet that it’s mine. There is machinery off to my right making weird sounds. Sometimes, it sounds like a large fan with a bad squeak. Sometimes, it sounds like a waterfall. It must be the building’s air conditioner. It’s not a continuous sound like the F-sharp I hear in the apartment. There are wind chimes, too, although none are tuned to a musical scale.
“My bench” has no spider webs. My swing at the old apartment always had spider webs. Maybe someone is tending or using “my bench.” I wonder who. I would write nice things about whoever it is, if they don’t mind sharing the space.
“My bench” is getting uncomfortable after an hour and a half, just like my swing used to. It keeps me awake.
I will like it here. I can write here. I have “my waterfall,” “my traffic,” “my occasional bells on the breeze,” and “my bench.” There may be people watching me and not making noise so I might have “my audience.” Perhaps, “my future fans?”
I have written about many of my neighbors and this never-boring building often appears in my work. My across-the-hall-neighbor is still here, though she uses a wheelchair now. The lower benches are gone, but I can hear a lot from my balcony. The bushes have been replaced by tall, weedy things. The robins did appear the following spring and thereafter. The F-sharp, which turned out to be the water pump, disappeared a year or so ago but after a lengthy repair, it’s back. And, most summers, there are wind chimes, sometimes tuned to a musical scale.
Bio: Nancy Scott’s over 700 essays and poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, newspapers, and as audio commentaries. She has a new chapbook, The Almost Abecedarian available on Amazon and won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Her recent work appears in The Braille Forum, Disabilities Studies Quarterly, Philadelphia Stories, Pentimento and Wordgathering*.
Peddle Your Books for Free or almost free! nonfiction
by Bruce Atchison
Since none of us have the wealth and fame of a Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, here are some ways we can get publicity for free regarding our books. These aren’t guaranteed to be successful but they won’t cost anything except your time and effort.
The most obvious method is via social media. It costs nothing to join Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, and other networks. Log onto the mobile link versions to make navigating the sites easier. For example, http://m.facebook.com gets you on the blind-friendly mobile page. Twitter, and I assume other networks, have similar addresses.
But here’s a word of warning: don’t be blatant about promoting your book or people won’t want to hear from you. Just mention it like you would to a friend. People are easily turned off by hard sell pitches. And don’t post too often about it either. There’s a fine line between mentioning and nagging.
Blogging, though not as popular as it once was, is an excellent avenue for book promotion. In my case, I write about topics which my books cover. Then I put a link at the bottom leading to where my paperbacks are on sale. People can click on that if they’re at all interested.
Another possibility is to be a guest blogger on somebody’s site. Often times, that person will want to post a guest article on your blog in exchange. This opens up the way for their blog readers to find out about your work and vice versa. In my case, I donate a post once a month to the InScribe Christian Writers Group.
Additionally, make a book trailer and put it on YouTube for free. In a minute and a half, tell just enough about your book to whet the appetites of potential readers. Make sure to look your best as well.
Social network groups are another free outlet for your work. These groups are free and cover all sorts of topics. So if your book is about canning fresh food for the winter, you can do a Google search for groups covering that subject.
In the same way, e-mail lists can be your ticket to book sales. IO Groups, Yahoo, and Google Groups are just three examples of sites where you can find folks who might be likely to buy your book.
One tip I’ve found effective is to put a link in the signature file of my e-mail program to my book’s site. For example, you can copy the link from the Amazon page where your book is sold and paste it into the e-mail program’s signature file. Or you could put the link to your blog there. Whenever you write somebody, that link will always appear at the bottom of your message.
Then there’s the local news outlets which might be interested in interviewing you. Community newspapers and small town publications are always looking for local success stories. Write a short letter to the editor, after you find out who she or he is, and describe why your paperback would be of interest to the readers.
If you have access to a fax machine or a friend with one, prepare a single-page press release telling about your book, why it’s important, and give a very short bio at the end. Make it like a news story with a catchy title such as “LOCAL MUSHROOM AFICIONADO CAPS OFF SUMMER WITH RECIPE BOOK.”
The same is true of club bulletins. If you’re a member, you might even be able to give a talk or a reading of your book. People also admire authors and will want to speak with you afterwards.
If your book is religious in nature, you can go to pastors, priests, rabbis, etcetera and ask if you can speak about your book’s topic and sell a few copies at their place of worship. The worst that can happen is they’ll refuse.
Believe it or not, craft sales are a nice venue to sell your wares. After paying for your table, which is usually a measly ten or fifteen dollars, all the profits are yours. Once a couple of copies have sold, you’re in the black, financially speaking. And if the table rental cost is a bit too expensive for you, or you only have one book to sell, share a table with another writer. Splitting the cost makes it cheaper for you and your partner as well as making the table look less barren.
Book signings are a good way to sell copies but doing them at book shops isn’t wise. They take from forty to sixty percent of the book price. Libraries, on the other hand, will let you keep your profits. People don’t often come to those places to buy books but they might if you get the word out in advance about when your signing will take place. I’ve found that people like it when an author autographs their copy, hence the term “book signing.”
You can also post a notice of your new book on post office bulletin boards. Make sure to ask permission first. Having a picture of your book cover on the notice is also a good plan since it gives people an idea of what it looks like. We’re told not to judge a book by its cover but people do so anyway.
Furthermore, QR (Quick Response) codes aid folks with smart phones to go directly to your book page and read about it. A free QR code generator is at www.qr-code-generator.com. Download and print out the image on your advertisements as an added inducement for customers to visit your book page.
I’ve found that having copies of my paperbacks with me to show my friends often generates sales. People tend to buy something if they can hold it in their hands. They’ll look at the cover, read the blurb on the back, and then open it to see what’s inside.
If you can find an obliging store owner who will stock your books on consignment, do so. It’ll help generate local sales. Shoppers will see the book and might decide to purchase it. Many folks are impulse buyers who go to a store for milk and come back with a cart loaded with things.
Note: never assume that the person at the counter is the owner of the shop. When I worked in the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s smoke stands, zealous sales people often assumed that I ran the kiosk. Always ask the teller what the name of the owner is before making your pitch.
This should give you enough incentive to try all these avenues of free advertising. Remember to ask a sighted friend for help if you get into difficulties. That person might become a customer if she or he likes your book and is impressed that you wrote one.
This article was published in the September edition of Consumer vision Magazine.
Bio: Bruce Atchison is a legally-blind freelance writer and the author of three memoirs. During the past twenty years, his articles have been published in everything from glossy magazines to underground newsletters. He lives in a tiny Canadian prairie hamlet with his rabbit, Deborah.
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.
Anatomy of an Anthology, nonfiction
by Kate Chamberlin
As readers of Magnets and Ladders, you know we are Behind Our Eyes, Inc., a 501C-3 nonprofit organization that offers accessible opportunities for writers with disabilities to share and discuss our work with fellow members, guest authors, and professionals in the publishing field via our e-mail list and teleconferences.
I’m sure you are aware that Magnets and Ladders is our online literary magazine and that we have, to date, published two anthologies: Behind Our Eyes and Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look.
All of the members working on organizing teleconferences, finding and inviting guest speakers, facilitators of our large and small critique groups, Board Members and editors are all volunteers. Behind Our Eyes provides writers with disabilities the chance to try new ideas and gain practical experience within a compassionate paradigm.
Even though I’ve retired from teaching, I’m always looking for those “shining moments”: the opportunities to learn from others, as well as, to impart my knowledge and expertise. I’d had several trade books and numerous magazine articles published, and had 15 years experience as a weekly newspaper columnist, but I’d never edited more than my church’s cookbook. Behind Our Eyes provided the opportunity for me to edit a major book containing the pieces from 65 contributors.
As the coordinating editor, it was my job to: be the contact person for the publisher, organize the submissions sent by the Submissions Chairman, and keep the committee up-to-date on each step. It was also my responsibility to write and distribute rough drafts of the Introduction, Table of Contents (TOC), advertising blurbs, media releases, etc. We found that documents created in either a Rich Text Format (rtf) or Microsoft Word (docx) worked best with our screen readers. I also: initiated dialogue with the publisher to add or delete pieces to stay within the number of pages she/he recommended to enable the anthology to be all in the font size of 14pt, which enabled free matter for the blind mailing to be used; Sent edited pieces to contributors for their approval or to make their own revisions or withdraw the piece; submitted the complete manuscript to the publisher in the agreed upon format, font, size, and page dimensions.
The Committee’s members Duties were to assign a Submissions Secretary to receive the e-mail submissions, and request missing information such as an author’s full contact information or bio. They were also responsible for being sure that pieces submitted were within the word count and in the correct format.
The pieces would then be sent out to the critique staff, who would respond via e-mail with constructive suggestions as to copy edit, size/length and appropriateness for this anthology.
The committee needed to decide if submissions would be garnered from an existing source, e.g. already printed in Magnets and Ladders, or open submissions to other organizations; Decide which genres if not all stories, poems, memoirs, and essays; assign two or three members to monitor the e-book and print book sales and royalty deposits.
The committee also discussed set-up specs for the product: font Type, Font size, paper color and ink, number of pages double sided, page size, binding (soft cover spine, spiral, plastic comb), paper stock for pages/cover/section dividers, Page set-up (Margins, Footer, Front cover information; Title, Editor, attractive design; Back cover Review. They asked notable people to read a pre-release copy and recommend the book.
The publisher kept the editor’s contact information handy; she let the editor know exactly how much or how little she would be doing copy editing, internal layout, cover design, and distribution venues. She needed to be very clear how many pages she would allow for the entire book including front matter, TOC, contents, and bios. She made sure that the editor and committee members could access the format used to send proofs, e.g. We found .rtf is best; sent a word description with any image attachments; detailed her ordering protocol and time-line for book release; allowed the organization/editor time to pre-release information to build buzz for ordering.
We’re all aware of the Contributor’s Duties, but, here is a review of what we used: submission guidelines for a literary anthology should be Indent paragraphs, no blank lines, enclose dialogue in quotes; spell check piece before submitting; stay within the recommended word count; include full name, land address, land and/or cell phone, e-mail address, short bio within recommended word count; spell check every thing again before submitting. It is really important to let the editor know if you change anything in your contact information or you may not get the opportunity to preview your edited piece before publishing.
To preview our book, here is the link to our book trailer:
If you’d like to see how our anthology turned out, copies of Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look, edited by Kate Chamberlin, ISBN 978-1490304472 are available through Amazon.com for $16.96 per soft cover book, Kindle, Nook, and from BOE members.
Now that you know that although publishing an anthology requires Team work, attention to detail, and a lot of decision making, it can be done. When you have successfully published your anthology, I hope you’ll share it with all of us at Behind Our Eyes, Inc.
Trespasser: Book excerpt, fiction
by Shelley Alongi
It was already a hot day as we pulled out of our second to last stop for the morning on the first Tuesday in July. I sat back, concentrating on my work, relishing the comfortable, controlled climate provided by the air conditioner. I sighed inwardly, knowing the trip home would be unbearable if I didn’t have working air conditioning. As real a possibility as that could be, in today’s stifling heat I hoped that would not be the case.
As we picked up speed out of the station I saw something on the tracks. Instinctively, I pushed forward on the brake handle, hearing the familiar whooshing as the brakes began to apply. As we got closer, my mind comprehended what I was seeing.
“Damn!” I spat the word out with feeling.
I jammed the brake handle all the way forward and pulled the horn valve as hard as I could. The sound of the emergency brake valves going off is terrifying, imitating a gunshot as they almost instantly depressurize the air braking system. I knew John would already be aware that something was wrong.
As the train lurched to a hard stop, under me the object on the tracks quickly disappeared beneath the nose of the engine, followed by the worse sound of all: 800 tons of steel striking 200 pounds of human.
“emergency! Emergency! Emergency!” the dreaded call everyone hopes to never hear or say on their shift escaped my lips and was immediately answered by the dispatcher. I gritted my teeth as I gave our train number, and mile post location, and informed him that we had just struck a person. As I made my report, I steeled myself against the first nausea and horrible awareness of what had just happened. Twenty years of running freight and passenger trains never quite disbanded that initial realization that we had just killed someone. The anger and the annoyance came almost immediately, but there was nothing I could do now. The calm acceptance one had to manifest with this job would come later. John was busy walking our train to be sure no one had been injured inside or outside the cars.
An hour and a half passed before he was able to come up to the cab. He flopped down across from me, sighing heavily.
“Are you okay, Jeff? You’re not hurt.”
I grunted. “You okay?”
He shrugged. “I should already be asleep in the hotel by now,” he said after a short, thoughtful silence.
“I know.” We both looked at each other with resignation. If we were going to express anything other than professionalism this would be the time. There was no one here to see our reaction to some person deciding to end their life on railroad tracks.
“I don’t see anyone,” I told John, as I looked out the engineer side of the cab. We should be expecting the relief crew or police to take our statements.”
“The relief crew is almost here. The bus is on its way for the rest of the passengers. Go ahead and go down if you’d like. I’ll hold down the fort. The police are at the end of the train. They want your statement anyway.”
I climbed down the ladder and stepped over the gap between the tracks and the street. The heat struck me like a wave and I breathed in, letting my breath out in agitation. I walked toward the cab car, spotting an official holding a clipboard. I approached him, ready to perform my all-too-familiar duty.
“I’m the engineer,” I said, probably unnecessarily.
“Hello, sir. Well, tell me what happened.” It was comforting now engaging in routine, though the incident was unwelcome for both of us.
“I saw the man sitting on the tracks,” I told him. “He was cross-legged and he sat straight up with his back to me and his head high. He was deliberately there.”
“I’m sorry,” the investigator said. “We’ll list official cause as suicide. If we have any other questions we’ll look you up.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said, turning away from him.
As I walked away from the train, I felt slightly sick and tried not to look at the mess. I had seen things like this three other times in my railroad career and I knew it was best for my own sake not to do that. I don’t know how long it was but eventually a van showed up to drop off the new crew and take us forward to the station. I saw someone from management waiting for us. I went to him and repeated the story, John standing with me.
“We’re waiting for another van to take us home,” John told me. “I’ll go take care of paperwork if you want to be by yourself. I’ll come get you when they’re here.”
I walked alone through the tunnels and concrete pathways to the planter by the tracks where I usually arrived on a routine day. I sat down on the low brick wall, and placed my black railroad bag at my feet. I put my hand over my eyes, rubbed them and sighed. A breeze comforted my tired eyes; the sun mercifully hadn’t reached this side of the station and I was glad for the temporary respite from the heat that had already marked the beginning of the day. A few moments passed as my mind settled and I calmed.
I felt, rather than saw, someone sit down next to me.
“Jeff,” Judy’s voice soft, and low, immediately eased my weariness.
I turned to her, relieved that it wasn’t some official wanting to ask another question.
“Judy! You’re still here.” It was the only thing I could think of to say.
“Yes. I got on the bus that picked us up from the accident.”
I looked at my watch, noticing it was almost noon.
“You’re going to be really late.”
“I told the boss I’d stay later. I can do that with my job. Besides, I wanted to see you. And, I wanted to say I was sorry. I didn’t know when I’d get that chance so I thought I’d just come and find you if I could.”
“Thanks, Judy,” I said, genuinely touched. “That’s nice. I appreciate that.”
Her kind words made me feel better.
“It happens sometimes. They’re not easy.”
“This isn’t your first one?”
I shook my head.
“Four fatalities,” I told her in a matter-of-fact tone. “They’re all different.”
“How long have you been working for the railroad?”
She looked at me and then away, remaining silent. She turned sympathetic eyes to me, holding my gaze for a moment. I didn’t look away.
“Jeff, can I hug you?”
I nodded. She turned and put her arms about me. I pulled her toward me and momentarily heavy-hearted, I dropped my head on her shoulder and just sat there, breathing. This woman I had gotten to know as a casual acquaintance over coffee in a railroad cafe during the last six months offered comfort. I sat here taking strength from another life, happy for more positive contact. And, yet, I shied away. I separated myself and sat looking across the tracks.
“You are done for the day?” she asked softly.
“The next three. Time off.”
“Oh. That’s good, I suppose.”
I breathed in deeply and sighed, my shoulders relaxing.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?” she asked kindly. “Did you see him?”
“I saw him.” My face collapsed as if I were a child about to cry. I turned pale and tensed as if I would be sick.
“Are you okay?” Judy asked me.
“I’m all right,” I finally spoke, once again gaining my composure. “Forgive me.”
She looked at me sympathetically. “I understand. I shouldn’t ask you these things.”
“You just care,” I said. “The man wanted to die, Judy. But it’s still a bit of a shock when someone gets in front of the train. It always just kind of hurts no matter what we say. Thank you for asking.”
“Sure. I’m just a mom, I guess, sometimes.”
“Do you have any kids?”
“No,” she answered. “No. I have pets.”
“I have two dogs,” I volunteered. “Collies. Do you have dogs?”
“Cats. I had dogs as a child. But I like cats.”
Somehow, exchanging information about our animals helped focus my mind somewhere else rather than the events of the morning.
“Glitter and Sparkles are their names,” she continued. “And your dogs’ names?”
“Vincent and Magnet. We’re going to get a third dog here, soon.” Judy turned a questioning gaze to me. “I have a friend who raises puppies,” I explained. “I’m on a waiting list to get one. She breeds them and it’s where I got the dogs I have now.”
This time, Judy smiled.
“I saw you pass me this morning at the first station. You always look like you’re in a hurry.”
“I am usually in a hurry,” she admitted. “Sometimes I think that bus just makes it and you guys don’t wait very long.”
“No, we don’t. You always make it, though.”
“Can’t miss this one, Mr. Train Engineer.”
I smiled, she had never addressed me like that. It made me feel good knowing she admired what I did for a living. I was used to some degree of admiration; it was common with kids and people who watched trains. But, today, her acknowledgement lifted my spirits.
“Cool,” I said, feeling a little better. “Tell me something about you, Judy.”
“What do you want to know?” she asked, maybe a little bit confused by my question.
“Anything,” I encouraged. “Anything at all.”
She twisted the strap of her red shoulder bag, her mouth grew thoughtful. “I like spaghetti with Italian hot sausage.”
That made me genuinely laugh, it was so far from the morning accident that it just seemed to lighten the mood.
“Ok. That makes me hungry,” I smiled.
“Come to my house some time,” she invited. “I’ll make some.”
My face darkened with hesitation.
“I have parties on New Year’s Day; not New Year’s Eve,” she explained. “I’ll invite you to my next one. Bring your family.”
“Don’t have one,” I answered reluctantly.
“Come on your own,” she invited. “I’ll let you know more details when the time gets closer.”
We both looked up as a figure approached from our right. It was John. He waved to me. I knew what that meant.
“It’s here,” I told Judy, “the van to take us home.”
She got up and stood beside me. She caught my eye for a moment.
“Have a good weekend,” she said gently. “See you Monday.”
I returned her friendly look.
“Thanks for coming out of your way to see me, Judy. Have a good weekend, yourself.”
I hoisted my bag to my shoulder as she walked away. John gave me a knowing glance as I came closer.
“She didn’t come see me,” he said, inserting his own brand of humor into the moment.
I tried not to smile.
Bio: Shelley Alongi has been blind since the age of two. She served as editor of Slate and Style, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind Writer’s Division from 2007 through 2009. She has served as editors for several newsletters with subjects as varied as Jewish culture, and aviation. You can read her short stories and essays for free under the author’s page on storymania.com. Trespasser, published in 2015 is Shelly’s first full length novel. It is a light romance with the railroad as a backdrop. It can be purchased at http://www.lulu.com or downloaded and read at http://www.bookshare.org.
Thirteen Ways of Looking: Exercise and Poem
by Mary-Jo Lord
I had the privilege of attending several summer writing workshops at our public library presented by Margo LaGattuta. Margo’s prompts and exercises always included samples of writing to help spark our creativity.
One of these exercises was to write a poem that began with the title, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at.” She, of course gave us several examples including the famous poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens. This was accompanied by poems from other workshops including:
“Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Moon,”
“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Ship” and
“Thirteen Ways of Looking at My Dog.”
We were then invited, as you are now invited to write a poem titled “Thirteen Ways of Looking at,” anything that you choose.
I chose to write “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Glass.” Here is my revised poem.
Thirteen Ways Of Looking At Glass
Most people don’t look at glass.
They look through it.
Large plate-glass doors separate frigid, blustery sidewalks from
warm, welcoming interiors.
Glass enclosed displays show a world of goods
to the wandering eye, and
shut me out.
When you see your image in glass,
you see what is really there,
or not there.
Glass enclosed metal frames
preserve photos of loved ones for years.
Products packaged in glass
If I enter a store that displays glass on decorative shelves,
I feel like a spinning top, out of control.
The child in me wants to put my
fingerprints all over clean shiny glass.
It’s my way of saying “I was here.”
A glass sculpture or dish can feel shiny, textured
polished so smooth it feels glossy or
so clean I can hear it squeak
as I run my nails over its surface.
Some plastic looks like glass,
But only glass
feels like glass.
Some things taste best out of glass.
Like ice, cold water;
Root beer in a frosty mug; or
tea in a china cup.
Glass is scary.
It can shatter without notice,
When you look at a dirty window you can see
caked on mud, bird droppings,
a dog’s nose prints, or
a child’s breath.
Here is a link to “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens
bio: Mary-Jo Lord writes poetry, fiction, and memoirs. A section of her work is published in a Plain View Press anthology called Almost Touching. Her work can also be found in Behind Our Eyes, Behind Our Eyes: a Second Look and in past Issues of Magnets and Ladders. She was recently published on the blog, Walking by Inner Vision and Dialogue Magazine*. Mary-Jo is the current Coordinating Editor of this magazine. She has a masters’ degree in counseling from Oakland University, and has worked at Oakland Community College for Twenty-four years. Mary-Jo lives with her family in Rochester, Michigan. She has been blind since birth.
Part V. From a Different Perspective
by Andrea Kelton
Friday, November 22, 1963 dragged on. I couldn’t wait for the school day to end. So I could hurry home to get all prettied up for my first high school dance.
Around 2:45 that afternoon, the loudspeaker crackled and squawked. Sister Lenore’s tearful voice gently announced that classes were over for the day. We were to go immediately to church. President Kennedy was dead and we had to pray.
My 14 year old brain strained to make sense of the situation. Assassination was the stuff of history books, not my life. My 14 year old desires collided with sorrow. The world was falling apart and all I wanted to do was go to the dance.
Our student population had never been as solemn and silent as we were filing into the church pews. Father Crowley led us in prayer for the president and his family. We prayed for the country. We prayed for peace. We were dismissed into a world populated by zombies drifting through life in shock.
While I waited to hear the dance’s fate, Jacquelyn Kennedy flew back to Washington, D.C., accompanying her dead husband’s coffin. As I primped my hair and chose an outfit, Mrs. Kennedy planned a state funeral. Later, as I danced and hung out with friends, Jackie wrote dozens of personal notes and organized her family’s move out of the White House.
On Friday, November 22, 1963, a collective American dream died. That night, I attended my first high school dance. I have vivid memories of each excited anticipatory moment. The burning need to attend that dance. Today, fifty plus years later, I can’t remember one single moment of that dance. However, I still feel the loss of a dream.
Bio: Andrea Kelton was diagnosed with uveitis at 24. She has lived in Chicago since 1985 enjoying the independence public transportation provides. Andrea retired in January, 2016, after teaching for 37 years. She attends a weekly memoir writing class led by author Beth Finke.
My Morning Commute, nonfiction
by Andrea Kelton
Tote bags slung over my shoulder and white cane in hand, I was the first person on the southbound Red Line platform at Belmont. By the time the train pulled in, young, well dressed professionals packed the platform. Every one of them pushed by me, leaving me to squeeze in at the end.
Most days I laugh off these rude, self-absorbed young ones, but not this morning. I held on tightly to the train railing as the train lurched and jerked towards Fullerton, and my mind composed a book on manners for the new millennium.
At the Fullerton stop, a young woman offered me her seat. My book shrank to an article focused on the rude behavior of men. Women’s liberation did not free young men to act in a rude, crude, indifferent manner. How about just being polite and considerate to people?
As the train pulled into the Grand Avenue stop, I’d refined my article to a letter to the Tribune’s editor. I’d blast these guys into consciousness!
By the time I rode the “Up” escalator at the State and Lake stop, I had changed the world. I stepped off the moving stairs and was approached from the right. “Do you need any assistance, ma’am?” a middle-aged male fellow commuter inquired.
“Oh! No. I’m fine. Thank you for asking. I appreciate it.” My mouth responded as my mind whirled. Was he on the train with me? Had he read my mind? Did my facial expressions give me away? Or was he an angel?
I chose angel. This early morning traveler had startled me back to today’s meditation topic . . . forgiveness. I start each day reading inspirational passages. Most mornings I use my commuter time to review my morning lesson. However, this morning I allowed myself to sink into anger and judgment. But the Universe only allowed me a brief fall from grace. Then She sent a reminder. Dressed in a gray trench coat, this earth-angel offered a bit of kindness and redeemed his fellow man.
On Judgment, nonfiction
by Bonnie Blose
Philando Castille. Diamond Reynolds. They were not famous and were not looking for their 15 minutes of fame when life for Philando ended with gunshots on what should have been an ordinary day. They were out doing the kinds of errands millions do every day. Castile was shot by a policeman. His fiancé, Diamond Reynolds, recorded the audio and video of the tragedy and in doing so made us all think and feel more about the fragility of life and how quickly it can come to an end.
Since that day, many have criticized Reynolds for the choice she made. When the shots that ended the life of her boyfriend seated beside her were fired, Diamond was ordered not to move. If she had, she might have been injured or killed. She had a four year old daughter to think of and consider. She had the phone in her hand and didn’t have to move to use it to make a video of what was taking place.
If we are guilty of anything that breaks my heart, it is the amount of judging we rush to do without all the facts. Even if we had them all, and they were totally accurate, we wouldn’t have access to her mind or what she was thinking or feeling. There are times when terrible things happen and people respond and seem uncaring or removed. In a sense, because of the heartbreak of the situation, they may be, but it may be a separation that protects them and a means of surviving a terror the mind cannot fully comprehend. Just because she couldn’t touch him and was ordered not to move doesn’t mean she didn’t care. She knew she was losing the man she had been planning to spend her life with. Love for him was never in doubt. She was making the only record she could of his last moments on earth and making sure he mattered. It was all she could do as her love and her future died.
I think of what it might have been like for her to wake up the next morning knowing her life, hopes, dreams, and security were forever shattered. Each day she will wake up experiencing the necessity of beginning again with very little heart for it. From somewhere, she will have to find purpose and strength while reliving the nightmare of those terrible moments and the tragedy of her loss. Over and over, the shots will reverberate in her head. As a mother, she will hear her four-year-old daughter say, “I am with you.” She will wonder what her child remembers and worry about the repercussions of those memories for her daughter as she grows older. She may worry about what will happen to her as she goes off to school and wonder what else she will lose. She will experience bitterness of life so cruelly taken and never have an answer that satisfies or justifies, for there is no way an act of this magnitude can ever b explained or understood.
Diamond will never have the illusion of safety again, in a relationship, at a job, walking or driving down the street, in a store, playing with her child, or when she may be stopped herself by the police.
I hurt for her. I have not suffered as she has, but I have lived in a frozen moment for different reasons. Many of us have. We have no right to judge her. She did the best she could and could not do what she was ordered not to. I would think the burden of her desperation would weigh heavily enough for those who, without living in her situation, feel they can judge her. That is part of the problem. Will we ever heal if we make judgments without knowing the facts? Her experience is hers alone as is our own. I say Not in a million lifetimes.
When I think of her, I want to hug her and tell her how sorry I was about what she is losing and that I will be with her in spirit on nights when that tragic day starts repeating itself again in her mind. It will, without choice on her part. Tragedy knows nothing about boundaries. There will be no lock or barrier to keep them away ensuring her security and safety. Dark memories don’t play fair. They have no time limit. During the day, in a conversation with a friend, while she is watching TV, making dinner, playing with her child, they will steal upon her and will own her mind. She will be willing to do almost anything to end the pain, but she has responsibilities. If Diamond is lucky, a strange word to use, she will laugh again, love life again, but not quite the same as before. Emptiness, loss, bitter loneliness, and loss of innocence will walk with her as unwanted companions do. No, I will never judge. In those first moments, she may seem hard to some, removed or unloving to others, but in the recording of that day which will haunt her forever, she showed her love in the only way she could.
I hope when she starts weaving the new tapestry of her life she will speak for her race and for all those who have been hurt in the way she has. If she says she doesn’t want to do that, I will understand. We need her strength. Diamond Reynolds knows and understands the need for change more than most of us ever will. Experience is a harsh teacher. I don’t know her, but I love her strength, tenacity, and most of all for finding her voice at a time when most would not. Pictures in life or in death speak louder than any words. They were the last and only things she could make so the world in chaos would remember the man she loved and that his life mattered.
Bio: Bonnie grew up in Slatedale, Pennsylvania with two fabulous storytellers. She cohosted Jordan Rich’s book show nights on WBz For 15 years. From 2006 to 2013, Bonnie was the host of the show Books and Beyond on Acbradio.org. Her memoir, “The Art of Dying,” was a winner in the nonfiction category of the NFB Writers’ Division eventually appearing in Magnets and Ladders. She enjoys reading, listening to music, podcasts, and has lived in Ohio since 1982. She is proud of being owned by two cats, Honey and Almost. Her son Kevin lives in a nearby town.
Two Controversy Tales, nonfiction
by Peter Altschul, MS
Those of us who live alone while totally blind must find and encourage people to assist us with tasks that involve reading print or driving.
Since January, my guide dog and I have been living together in an apartment, and Carol has been buying me groceries, writing the occasional check, sifting through my mostly junk mail, and performing other quirky tasks. We got to know each other as she drove me to and from choir rehearsals during the past couple of years, so it seemed natural for her to assist me in other ways.
Over the years, we have learned quite a bit about each other. While she was raised on a farm with eight brothers and sisters in rural Missouri, I was raised with a younger sister in a village an hour north of New York City. She was once a land-lord; I spent much of my adult life paying rent. She liked Judge Judy; I liked sports. She liked to cook; I liked to eat. She was still trying to make sense of the death of her only son, and we were both trying to recover from messy relationships. And we both liked to sing.
One Thursday evening in mid-February, while driving to a choir rehearsal, Carol stated that she couldn’t understand why University of Missouri administrators had bowed to the demands of unruly African American students.
“And why didn’t they remove the scholarships from the football players who refused to practice?” she demanded.
I gulped. “For one thing,” I pointed out, “removing the scholarships from football players would make it more difficult to recruit future African American football players.”
“I suppose,” she growled.
“And I think the Mizzou students are getting too much credit,” I continued, “as most faculty members seem to have contempt for both people who were shown the door. The students gave those in power the backbone to do what they should have done a while ago.”
A semi-frosty silence lay between us as we walked together from the parking lot to the rehearsal.
On a Tuesday morning about two months later, Carol drove me to an interview for a job involving conducting workshops to strengthen relationship-building skills of people living in poverty. As she was driving me home, she began telling me about one of her former tenants who lived below the poverty line. This tenant received a monthly government check due to its determination that she had a disability.
“But she didn’t seem disabled to me,” Carol told me.
The government also paid part of the tenant’s rent. She either couldn’t or wouldn’t force her abusive ex-husband to pay child support or look for a job. All she did, Carol told me, was to sit around and smoke cigarettes.
I told her that I had heard similar stories while in social work school and working on a project addressing teenage pregnancy, and that it was hard to know who should take responsibility for what. I told her about a friend who had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury who was still jumping through hoops four months after applying for benefits.
“But they won’t work,” Carol insisted.
I pointed out that most people living in poverty had jobs whose salaries kept them dependent on government benefits, and that I couldn’t understand why the government allowed corporations like Walmart to get away with this.
“And you know how hard it is for people with disabilities to get jobs,” I said.
“But they don’t pay taxes.”
“I’m one of those people,” I told her, “because my family’s extraordinarily high medical expenses brings our taxable income to zero.”
As I dispensed with my dark suit in my apartment with my guide dog sniffing about, I thought about how shared stories, attentive listening, and a more relaxed vibe had allowed us to unwind the poverty controversy much more effectively than our discussion of the University of Missouri controversy. While I’m certain our basic take on poverty hadn’t changed, I believe that our relationship became more solid because we had created a better understanding of the basis for our beliefs.
A week later, Carol died suddenly. I’ll miss her compassionate efficiency, her dry sense of humor, and her willingness to learn from the experiences of others. Farewell, Carol; rest in peace.
Bio: Peter Altschul assists groups and organizations to become better at motivating people, resolving conflicts, managing diversity, and planning for the future. A published author and composer, he lives with his guide dog, Heath in Columbia, Missouri. Please visit http://www.peteraltschul.com for additional information about his work.
by Susan Muhlenbeck
Sherry Hill slowly closed the front door behind her estranged husband Charlie and their son Richard. It was Halloween, and Charlie had come by to take Richard out to do some trick or treating. Sherry didn’t have to worry about any trick or treaters coming to her house. She and Richard had moved into a high rise building after her and Charlie’s separation.
Today was their ten year anniversary as well as Halloween, Sherry thought ironically as she walked into the bedroom. She was planning to file for divorce the next day. What a shame, she mused as she sadly slipped her wedding ring off her finger and laid it carefully in her jewelry box. What a shame she was filing for divorce the day after their anniversary. What a shame she had to file for divorce at all.
It was his fault, she told herself for the thousandth time since she had walked out six months ago. He had betrayed her. She could never trust him again.
She poked around in her jewelry box, admiring some of the pieces she hadn’t seen in a while. She hadn’t had any reason to wear much jewelry lately. There was the strand of cultured pearls her parents had given her for her graduation present, the ruby ring Charlie had given her on their first anniversary just because it was her birth stone, a silver bracelet her best friend from high school had given her when Sherry had moved out of state.
And there was something else. Sherry lifted the blue velvet case and slowly raised the lid. A gold locket lay within, gleaming brightly as Sherry plucked it from its nest. The locket had belonged to Charlie’s mother. He had given it to Sherry when his mother died five years ago. She opened the locket and saw Charlie’s infant face staring up at her. He looked so much like Richard as a baby that Sherry had to laugh out loud. They could have been twins with their big green eyes and frizzy brown hair. She should probably give the locket back, she thought ruefully. Charlie would want to give it to his next wife or girlfriend.
She held the locket by its chain, watching it swing back and forth like a pendulum. She became dimly aware that she was no longer alone. She looked around in alarm, half expecting to see a burglar. Instead she saw a little boy, and she was no longer standing in her bedroom, but in an unfamiliar park.
Sherry shook her head to clear it. She was suddenly feeling dizzy, and she felt a headache coming on. She must be daydreaming, she thought absently. Maybe that wasn’t the right word. But something weird was going on, she told herself. She rubbed her forehead, taking in the strange scene. She was standing near a sand box. There were swings and a slide and a merry-go-round. There were a few children using the equipment, none of which she recognized. A little boy of about ten was walking towards her.
“Are you okay?” he asked by way of greeting. “You look sick or something.”
Sherry was taken aback. She never had a child inquire after her welfare. “Oh, I’m all right,” she said, trying to stay calm. “Just kind of hot.” It was kind of warm for the end of October, she thought. It felt more like the middle of May. Or maybe this was normal October weather in this part of the country, wherever this part of the country was.
The little boy unzipped his red backpack he had strapped to his back. He pulled out a thermos with the name Charlie written on it with black labeling tape. “Have some cold water,” he offered.
“Thank you,” Sherry said, opening the thermos and pouring the refreshing water down her grateful throat.
“Are you new in town?” the boy asked. “I don’t think I ever saw you before.”
“Well,” Sherry hedged, “I’m just visiting. Needed to get away to think about my problems.” She bit her tongue. Why had she said that?
“Want to talk about it?” the boy called Charlie asked, looking as concerned as a child that age could.
“It’s nothing,” Sherry said quickly, wondering why this strange child had taken such an interest in her. “I’m filing for divorce tomorrow is all.”
“Why?” the boy asked, suddenly looking worried.
“Well,” Sherry began, determined not to laugh at the absurdity of the situation she had gotten herself into, “my husband lost a hundred dollars at the race tracks and didn’t tell me. I found out by accident when one of his pals let it slip at a party. I don’t know which is worse,” she continued, her voice rising, “his losing the money or his not telling me. Anyway, he said that it was just a one time thing. He swore he would never make another bet in his life, but I don’t believe it. He should have told me about it too, but he said he didn’t want to upset me. Oh, his name is Charlie, by the way,” she laughed.
The boy seemed to consider. “Then he can’t be all bad,” he said seriously. “Haven’t you ever done something once that you would never do again?”
It was Sherry’s turn to consider. “Smoking,” she said grudgingly, “but that was a little different.”
“Why? Because it was you and not somebody else?” Charlie asked. Sherry searched for something to say. “Well, I better get home,” Charlie said, looking at his watch. “I had to stop by the jewelry store and pick up a locket my mom had to get the clasp fixed on, but I should have been home by now.”
Sherry looked down at her empty hands. “I have a locket with my husband’s baby picture in it,” she said conversationally. “I should probably give it back to him. It had belonged to his mother, and she’s dead. Can I see your mom’s locket?”
The boy hesitated. “Okay,” he agreed, reaching into the backpack. “I really shouldn’t be talking to you. My parents said not to talk to strangers. You seem okay though. You kind of remind me of my mother, except maybe not quite as forgiving. My dad sold her wedding ring without telling her so we wouldn’t lose our house. You should have heard her yell,” he laughed, “but she got over it. I guess that’s why the locket is so important to her. My dad got her the locket later on, when times weren’t so tight.” He handed her a blue velvet box.
Sherry lifted the lid and looked down at a locket that was too similar to hers for comfort. She opened it with trembling fingers and found herself gazing at the portrait of her husband she had so recently seen. “Charlie!” she whispered, putting a hand over her heart to try to control its pounding. But the boy was gone. She held only the locket, still swinging back and forth on its thin gold chain. She looked around and was not surprised to find herself back in her familiar bedroom.
Sherry fastened the locket around her neck as she thought about what she had to do. She hoped it wasn’t too late to make amends. Charlie had pleaded with her several times to give their marriage another shot, even offered to go to counseling, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She hoped he hadn’t had a change of heart. She picked up the phone and called her parents.
“Can Richard spend the night at your house tonight?” she asked her mother anxiously.
“Of course, but why?” her mother asked in surprise.
“It’s my anniversary,” Sherry almost shouted.
“Oh!” her mother exclaimed. “Oh, I see,” she said knowingly.
She called Charlie next.
“What’s up, Sherry?” he asked curiously.
“Richard is spending the night with my parents,” she said without preamble. “Can you come over after trick or treating?”
There was a pause, and then, “What’s this about?” Charlie asked cautiously.
“I can’t tell you over the phone,” Sherry said quickly, “but I have to see you tonight, unless you have plans,” she added nervously.
“Actually, I did have plans,” Charlie said without feeling, “but I can change that. I’ll see you in a couple hours.”
Sherry raced to the supermarket and scooped up lamb chops, rice, asparagus, and a red velvet cake. Might as well try something different, she thought, forgoing the steak, potatoes, green beans and chocolate cake she would have bought under normal circumstances. Things had to be different from now on. Should she grab a bottle of wine and break out the candles and play some romantic music? No. Best not to get too carried away yet. They would have to move slowly for things to work out. She grabbed the most unromantic card she could find. It had a picture of a cat on the front. “It’s Your Anniversary,” the card proclaimed. On the inside it said, “Have a few cold ones” and had a picture of a few bottles of cold milk.
She made it home in record time and started cooking. While the lamb chops were in the oven, she turned the radio on to the classical station. They never listened to classical music. She changed into a casual blue dress and put her wedding ring back on. She contemplated dabbing on some strong perfume and red lipstick but determined that would be going overboard. She only wanted to have a talk this evening and see where that led.
The doorbell rang a few minutes later. “So what’s up?” Charlie asked as he walked into the kitchen. “Something smells good.”
“I hope I didn’t mess up your plans too bad,” Sherry said, playing with the locket around her neck.
“It’s all right,” Charlie said reassuringly. “Julie understands.”
“Julie?” Sherry demanded. “Is that your new girlfriend?” she asked, suddenly wishing she had gone ahead and got the wine and candles, was playing romantic music, got a romantic card, and dabbed on the sweet perfume and bright lipstick.
“Has Richard met her?”
Charlie stared at his wife in astonishment, trying to determine what had come over her within the last few hours. His gaze came to rest in the middle of her chest. “You’re wearing my mom’s locket,” he cried in surprise.
Sherry clapped her hand over her chest. “Oh, I was just trying it on,” she said quickly, feeling her face flush. “Tell me about this Julie!”
“It’s nothing serious,” Charlie shrugged, “at least not yet. Richard is not going to meet her unless we get serious. Richard is worn out by the way.”
“I’ll call and check on him in a little while. He looked so cute in his pirate costume,” she laughed.
“Yeah, I got pictures,” Charlie said, indicating his cell phone. “So why did you invite me over here? I was not expecting this.”
Things will never be serious between you and Julie if I have anything to say about it, Sherry thought furiously. “Hope you like lamb chops,” she laughed.
“Lamb chops?” Charlie repeated uncertainly. “I had them once when I was a kid. They were good. When did you get into classical music?”
Sherry handed him the card. “Happy Anniversary!” she said with a flourish, ignoring his question.
He looked at the card, then burst out laughing. “That is priceless,” he said, waving the card in front of her. “But what brought all this on? I thought we were through. You only told me that about 99 times.”
“I’ll try not to make it a hundred,” she said under her breath. Before he could respond, she grabbed his arm. “I think the lamb chops are done,” she said, steering him into the dining room. “Let me get everything together, and then I’ll tell you what happened to me!”
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 earned a bachelors’ degree in psychology and masters’ degree in rehabilitation counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her interests include swimming, reading, bargain shopping, and cats. Her books are available on Amazon.
by Susan Muhlenbeck
“Does anybody know what today is?” Pastor Schmidt asked the children during church on October 31.
“Halloween!” about 20 little voices shouted.
“That’s right, it’s All Hallows Eve,” the minister agreed laughing. “Does anybody know what else today is?”
“Reformation Day,” a few of the older children said.
“Exactly!” the pastor smiled. “You’ve been learning about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in your confirmation classes. Today after church, we are having a special lunch to celebrate the reformation. We’re going to have authentic German cuisine like Sauer kraut and hasenpfeffer and Black Forest cake. And the adults can sample some German beer.” The congregation laughed. “Before lunch,” the pastor continued, “the children are going to play a special game.”
The children stood around outside while the game was being set up. Some of the elders were putting the food out. The tantalizing smells made everybody’s mouth water.
“This is how the game works,” Elder James told the anxious children. “We have a special door,” he said, pointing to a wooden board propped against a tree. “Each child is going to take this hammer and run to the door as fast as he or she can. Then they’re going to take this hammer and nail this plaque to the door. A prize goes to the child who can run to the door and nail the plaque the fastest. Got it?”
Paul stood in line, impatiently waiting his turn to play the game. He watched his pals run lickity split to the door, then heard the hammer blows as they pounded the plaque into the door. The adults shouted encouragement as each child took his turn.
At last his turn came. He clutched the hammer in his hand and waited for the signal. “Ready, set, go!” Elder James shouted. Paul flew across the grass towards the makeshift door. He was still a few feet from it when he sensed something was amiss.
He heard pounding before he reached the door. He stared in astonishment as a man nailed something to the door, but it wasn’t the door from the game. Paul looked around curiously. Then he clapped a hand over his mouth to stifle a scream. He saw a church all right, but it wasn’t Trinity Lutheran church which he attended. Instead he saw a huge gothic church with a very tall steeple. He didn’t see anybody he knew. There was nobody around except the man hammering the board to the door of the church.
The board had some strange writing on it that he didn’t recognize.
Paul waited until the man finished, then asked, “What are you doing?”
The man almost dropped his hammer. He stared at Paul, sizing him up. Then he shouted several words in a strange language.
“I don’t understand,” Paul said nervously. “Do you speak English?”
“Nein!” the man said, shaking his head. The man scratched his blond head, contemplating what to do next. Sighing, he drew a crude house in the air, then gave Paul a questioning look.
“I don’t know,” Paul said truthfully. “Where are we?”
The man said something in the strange language again. Paul recognized the word Wittenberg.
“Wittenberg!” Paul cried, smacking his forehead. “Martin Luther!”
The man appeared startled on hearing his name. “Ja, Ja!” he exclaimed, thumping his chest.
“I’m Paul Kramer,” Paul said lamely. He thought absurdly of the book Time Machine that he was reading for a book report. He had read several books and seen several movies about time travel, but he knew they were just science fiction. He wondered if he was losing his mind.
Sensing the child’s discomfort, the man spoke more gently. “Kommen sie hier,” he said quietly, taking Paul by the hand. Paul hesitated, then allowed himself to be led away. They started walking down a paved road. Paul saw several people walking, but they ignored them. “Can I see your hammer?” Paul asked suddenly, holding out his free hand.
The man handed over his hammer. Paul examined it carefully. It wasn’t too much different from the modern hammers, he thought.
“Paul, stop!” came a shout behind him. He stopped in his tracks. It was his dad’s voice. “Why did you run away like that?” his dad asked as he caught up to him. “We saw you approach the door. Then you dropped the hammer and kept running.”
Paul gaped at his dad. He looked around at the familiar surroundings. The church was a ways in the distance. “I guess I wasn’t thinking,” he mumbled. “Sorry if I worried you.”
“Well, come on,” his dad said, taking his hand. “Where did you get the hammer?” he asked as they neared the church.
Paul gasped in surprise. He looked down at the hammer, awed. “A man gave it to me,” he said cautiously.
“Who? Why would a man give you his hammer?” his dad asked, puzzled.
“I asked if I could see it, then he disappeared,” Paul said, trying to stay calm.
“Are you okay?” his dad asked, concern etching his brow. “Maybe you need to get some rest.”
“I think I just zoned out for a minute,” Paul said quickly. “I’m fine now.”
“And the winner of the contest is “John Keller,” Pastor Schmidt shouted.
“Congratulations, John,” one of the elders said, handing the grinning child a new Bible as the congregation applauded.
Paul clutched his new hammer to his chest. Meeting Martin Luther and getting his hammer on Reformation Day was the real prize, he thought gleefully as he joined the line to get some authentic German cuisine.
Schrodinger’s Shaggy Dog, fiction
by Shawn Jacobson
You meet the most interesting people at conventionss. But sometimes you have to define the term loosely. “Loosely?” I’m sure you’re asking. Well, if the bartender will bring over another beer, I’ll explain by telling you about what happened to me and my dog the first time I went to one of these conventions.
I had just been at this session on quantum mechanics and I was waiting for the Mrs. to take my son and me home. We lived close by and we didn’t have the money to spare for a hotel room. There’s a joke one of the panelists tells about how the difference between a science fiction writer and a pizza is that a pizza can feed a family of four. Anyway, one of the quantum mechanics panelists came up to me and asked me to say hi to the dog for him. This struck me as odd, given that I had said nothing about owning a dog.
I continued to ponder this strangeness. Just as I concluded that this was the sort of high weirdness you would expect with cons, my wife drove up in the family minivan. As I climbed in, I heard the familiar yipping sound that I had grown to love; the Mrs. Had brought Powerball to get him out of the house.
I never figured out what breed of dog Powerball was. The lady at the shelter had claimed he was a “sid.” When asked to explain, she told us that “sid” stood for “small interesting dog.” That’s all we know. His one distinctive feature was fur that bushed out all around, making him look twice the size he really was. The fur ball appearance was the origin of his name, and our mutual wish for luck with the lottery. The pot was big when we took Powerball home.
We headed for the highway.
“Are you hungry?” my wife asked. “Should we hit the drive through and get grease in a bag?”
“Sure,” we replied in unison. We had eaten snacks provided in the fan suite, but had avoided the hotel restaurant and its ruinous prices. Remember what I said about science fiction writers and pizzas.
This turned out to be a mistake. Once we got our meals, Powerball jumped on my lap insisting on sharing my burger and fries. The nondescript chicken thingies my son had ordered didn’t interest the crazy mutt at all. So I ended up holding my sandwich two inches from the roof, blocking the furry bundle of joy in my lap whenever I brought my burger down for a bite.
“Try to get him to calm down,” my wife advised as I wrestled the beast for my food. “Maybe if you try petting him he’ll settle down for you.”
I continued my meal as before lacking the third hand required for the suggested calming exercise; maybe the Mrs. Could be on a panel discussing the proper use of extra appendages I thought to myself. Eventually, my meal done, I tried to calm the mutt down. But Powerball seemed more excited than ever. He scrabbled around on my lap yipping to beat all. It was a relief when the dog settled down. Beyond that, I just didn’t think anything about it.
“Is something wrong with Powerball?” my wife asked as we pulled into the drive. “It is just not like him to be this quiet.”
I felt the dog, just nothing, still, no heartbeat. No heartbeat!
“Oh my God,” I said, “I think he’s dead!”
“Let me see him,” the Mrs. Said as I handed the ball of fur to her. “Did you give him his heart medicine?” she asked. “You know,” she continued like I was permanently dumb, “the medicine for his heart!”
Well, I said thinking to myself there was the flooding from the coffee pot, the smoke alarm that had gone off because of the toaster, almost forgetting my billfold and remembering as I went out the door, a frantic search for car keys, “No,” I replied meekly.
I got no sleep that night. I don’t know whether it was my wife blaming me for the death or me thinking she should blame me for it, but I just felt uncomfortable in bed. I remembered Powerball, chasing him around the yard to protect the local rabbits. I remembered walking him as he tried to get away to hunt, to be a dog, and I remembered the bouts of yipping which made me secretly wish for anything, anything at all, to make him shut up. That now came back with a rolling tide of shame. How bad of a dog owner I’d been all along.
The next day, I stood there with a spade waiting to dig out Powerball’s final resting place. My daughter was in hysterics. “Daddy, you let him die!” she sobbed with wails of torment.
“These things happen,” the Mrs. Replied giving me what I suspected was a stony look.
“Remember when he ran off and we had to bribe him with steak to get him back?” I asked. It seemed good to give the mutt a proper sendoff before shoveling.
“Yah,” my wife said “I remember eating cold meat sandwiches that night. But it was worth it to get him back.”
“And do you remember how he used to yip every time door-to-door salesmen came by?” my son asked. “We didn’t hear from the Mormons for two years.”
I was about to break the ground when my wife asked, “do you see the dog?”
I looked down and saw nothing. “He was right here,” I said, “but I don’t see him.”
“How do you lose a dead dog?” She snapped.
I wished I was at the panel on intergalactic empires that was just starting. Then suddenly . . .
“Powerball,” my daughter screamed, “he’s alive!”
We all looked up at this report of doggy resurrection.
“He’s a little worse for wear,” my son said. He looked like he had the mange and he was definitely limping.
“Be careful,” I heard a voice say, “he’s not going to be as friendly as you expect.”
I looked toward the voice. The thing coming around the corner looked like a supersized version of the something that would send my daughter into hysterics with a couple of tentacle thingies thrown in just for fun. I expected my daughter to pitch a screaming fit, but she was so into the new, freshly alive Powerball, that she didn’t care.
“But how?” my son asked. Like a true starship trooper he was more interested in the alien than in the dog. My wife looked on in shock as I tried to comprehend the scene.
“Have you heard of Schroedinger’s cat?” the thing asked.
“Isn’t that the cat that has a one-half chance of dying, but you don’t know until you open the cage?” I asked. I thought I remembered the experiment, but my physics class was a long time ago, buried in the mists of time.
“Kind of,” the creature responded, “before you open the cage, there are two possible realities, in the one the cat dies and in the other he lives. The dog you call Powerball, the one your daughter is getting to know is from a different reality, one in which you did not adopt him out of the shelter. In this other, alternate universe Powerball never had a home and ran wild. What I did was switch the dogs between alternate worlds. I guess you would say I opened a doggy door between universes.”
“Whatever you did I’m grateful,” I said. I may not have always loved the dog, but I know I would have missed him.
“If you take him to the vet, tell her that he got into a fight chasing a deer. She won’t question the shape he’s in. Now, since you don’t have to bury a living dog, you can come to the convention. I would hate for you to have to miss my talk on the history of alternate universe fiction.”
And it was then that I recognized the voice. He had been the panelist I had not recognized from the night before, the one who had asked about my dog. “Great!” I said.
“In fact,” he said, “if you give me a chance to change, I’ll give you a ride over. I’m sorry for freaking you out but there are some things that I just can’t do in my human suit. If you had caught my talk on the proper use of extra appendages last year you would understand.”
“Great!” my son said with overflowing excitement, “a ride in a flying saucer!”
“Sorry,” the secret panelist said, “just a regular automobile. There are a lot of problems with flying cars that the greats of science fiction never really thought about.”
“So much we can learn from him,” my son said, a dreamy expression on his face; my wife just rolled her eyes.
“Hey,” I said, “Thanks for the ride.”
And the weekend was saved.
Now, my kids are grown and my wife has me on a longer leash then when I first started coming to these cons. I have time to sit, have a beer or two, and tell these old war stories. My son is keeping the spirit alive; he’s going to be a speaker in the panel on the place of dogs in science fiction. I would say that if that interests you, then you should come early to get a good seat. I’m told this talk will be popular. And besides, some people in the audience won’t be who you think they are.
Bio: Shawn Jacobson was born totally blind. He attended the Iowa school for the blind until his senior year of high school. He graduated from Marshalltown Senior high. He then received two degrees from Iowa State University, a BA in Political Science and an MS in Statistics. He has worked for the U.S. Government for 32 years. Shawn currently lives in Olney MD with his wife Cheryl. They have two children, Zebe and Stephen; Stephen still lives with them while attending college. They also have a pack of three dogs, Penny, Bruce and Apollo.
Slices of Pittsburgh Sounds, prose poem
by Terri Winaught
As I stand outside on an April morning abounding in spring warmth, I hear a bus engine grumbling like an impatient parent.
Another bus farther down the street releases its airbrakes which sigh disgustedly at the mounting, slowing traffic.
Still waiting for my ride, I enjoy the friendly chatter of people standing in front of the 7-Eleven, a welcome reprieve from
the blaring and swearing of “gangster” rap.
Birds compete for the right to sing “hello” to the morning as they clamor to be called the best choir.
Finally, my ride arrives, and whisks me off to work. Work starts out as a quiet place; a place to relax in the moment with a serenity prayer; a place where mindfulness makes its home, and a place that’s a harbor of hope and healing.
Soon and very soon, my quiet place disappears into a river reeling with activity. Waters warmed by trust start flowing; streams of self-esteem spring up, and another day of work begins.
Bio: Blind since birth, Terri Winaught grew up in Philadelphia, PA and moved to Pittsburgh, where she still lives. Terri loves going out with friends for meals and snacks; enjoys sporting events with her husband, Jim; loves using her sense of humor to make people laugh, and can’t get enough of 1960s soul.
Part VI. The Animal Kingdom
Baby Sitting Fish, fiction
by Sly Duck
Justin dumped the pail of minnows into the tank. They swirled and scattered as the bigger fish snapped them up. Stupid fish, he thought.
Then he felt a light touch on his shoulder and turned his head to see a black, wooly spider. “Iaah!” he yelled.
He brushed his shoulder, and as he jumped about, he slipped and fell into the pool. He felt the slimy bodies of the fish as they flipped and scurried to get out of his way.
“Fraidy cat, fraidy cat,” Audrey taunted.
Justin stood up. Fishy water and minnows poured from his clothes. The rubber spider lay lifeless on the floor.
“You, you . . . I’ll get you for that,” he yelled, as he struggled to get out of the pool.
Wayne, Justin’s step-father came running in at that moment. “What happened?” Then he saw Justin and a smile lit up his face. “What are you doing in there?” he asked, grabbing Justin by the arm and pulling him out. “I said I wanted you and Audrey to learn about the business, but I didn’t mean for you to throw yourself into it.”
“I don’t want to know about any stupid old fish. You can keep them,” wailed Justin angrily, as he picked a minnow out of his sleeve cuff and threw it back into the pool. “I hate fish.”
Justin instantly regretted his words. He knew that Wayne was proud of his fish hatchery and hoped that Justin, his step-son and Audrey, his daughter, would one day take over the business. Justin had promised he would at least try, but he couldn’t help it. He didn’t even like to eat fish.
“You better change out of those wet clothes, then wait for me in the office. You too, Audrey,” Wayne added as he put the rubber spider in his pocket.
Audrey was sitting on a stool next to a tank labeled Betta with Bubblenest when Justin walked into the office. He gave her a dirty look and sat down behind the desk where he could keep an eye on her.
After a while, Justin began to watch the brightly colored fish in the tank. It seemed to be playing with a curious pile of bubbles floating on the surface near a clump of vegetation.
Suddenly there was a quick flurry of the brightly colored fins as the fish made a dash for the surface of the water and created a sharp popping sound.
“Whoa!” said Justin in surprise. He moved closer to the tank and continued to watch. From time to time, little wiggly things like worms with big heads would fall out of the pile of bubbles. Each time, the fish caught them in his mouth, chewed on them for a while, and then went up and nuzzled the pile of bubbles.
As Justin watched, he noticed that some of the wiggly things seemed to have fins. Then he saw that the big fish was not eating them, but making little bubbles around them and blowing them into the pile of bubbles. Suddenly Justin understood.
“It’s been doing that for about a week,” said Audrey. “I wonder what it’s doing.”
“I think it’s a mama,” said Justin.
Wayne walked in. “I see you found my papa Betta,” he said.
“You mean Mama Betta, don’t you?” said Justin.
“No, the male Betta cares for the young by keeping them in the Bubblenest. If they fall to the bottom, they will die. He will watch over them day and night until they are big enough to swim on their own and take care of themselves.”
“Wow,” said Justin. “Doesn’t he get tired?”
“I suppose, but he just keeps on doing it just the same.”
“We better get going. Mama probably has dinner ready by now.”
Justin and Audrey visited the tank each day when they came to feed the fish. In a few days, the little wiggly worms had become little fish and were swimming around on their own. The papa Betta was trying to catch them and put them back in the nest.
“The babies are swimming on their own,” said Audrey.
Wayne took a cup and scooped the papa Betta out of the tank. “The babies can take care of themselves now,” he said.
“He was a good father,” said Justin.
“Yes,” said Wayne. “Especially since the babies weren’t even his. The real father died, so I put this Betta in to take care of the nest.”
“I thought fish always left their babies to grow up on their own,” said Justin.
“No, some fish are very good parents,” said Wayne.
“There’s more to fish than I thought,” said Justin. “Maybe they’re not so stupid after all.”
Wayne ruffledJustin’s hair a little. “Think so?” he asked.
“I’m just saying maybe,” said Justin, grinning as he looked up fondly at his step-father. “I’m not making any promises.”
Bio: Cleora Boyd sometimes uses the pen name, Sly Duck. She has Retinitis Pigmentosa. She first pursued a career in Accounting. After receiving a B.S. degree in Math from Texas Tech University, she obtained employment with a major pharmaceutical corporation in Fort Worth, Texas where she still lives. At that time her writing appeared in a company journal. This gave her the incentive to continue writing seriously. Cleora moved on to write a number of stories and enrolled in several writing courses to improve and build her writing skills. In her retirement, she has joined a writing group, and enjoys reading and taking adult education courses.
Cat Chronicles: No More Cats! Memoir
by Kate Chamberlin
During our 45 years of marriage, we’ve survived living with cats of various ilk and personalities, but they’ve all been neutered males and named Gato with an alphabet letter.
As I nestled with my little eight-toed, mitten kitten, Gato-A on my mattress, which rested on the floor of my first studio apartment, his purring lulled me to sleep, as well as woke me the next morning, or maybe it was the troop of fleas he shared with me from the shelter and the itching that ensued. Gato-A did not like the men I dated, but one of them became my husband. They faced each other like two alley cats about to brawl. However, throughout the years, they came to an understanding; they were both here with me for the long haul. Gato-A ruled our household for about 15 years before he died. Fortunately, my husband isn’t dead yet.
Shortly after Gato-A’s demise, my friend phoned to say someone had dropped off a cuddly, tuxedo kitten in her front yard. Did I want him? My children and I went over to check him out and thought he was the spitting image of Gato-A, even though we knew Gato-A couldn’t have sired any progeny. Gato-B accepted my husband and children as litter-mates. The children loved the cat and even my husband got caught giving him a little pat on the head from time to time. He still professed to not really like cats and grumbled that we’d not get another one when Gato-B died.
At the loss of our sweet, Gato-B, of course, we wanted another cat, but my husband stuck to his refusal to get another one. One day after he’d gone to work and the children had hopped on the school bus, I was working in my “command center”, when I heard a little mew. Was I hearing things? I followed the sound to our 12 year-old daughter’s room.
Apparently, while waiting for the bus, her girlfriend had brought up a kitten, complete with litterbox and food. They’d smuggled it into her room, fed it, and assumed it would sleep all day until they returned from school. Our daughter intended to tell us a tale we couldn’t refuse! She was right.
Gato-C had a leg that had been damaged during birth or gestation, so no one else wanted him. How could we turn out a gimpy gato? Officially, his name was Milo, but we all called him Gimpy Gato.
Unfortunately, he met his demise as the dinner for one of the roving coyotes. My husband was adamant about no more cats. I quietly started to kid around about getting three little kittens. As an elementary teacher, I wanted to name them Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod. It was Christmas time, so our son and his friend said we should name them Egg, Nog, and Rum. My husband said they’d be named, No, No, and No!
Gato-D came to us via our college age son. He and his intended bride were moving to an apartment that wouldn’t take pets. The previous year, they’d found an abandoned little kitten, nursed its infected eye back to health, cleaned his coat until it was shiny and thick, and fed him. They fed him so well that his girth made his head look very tiny.
Being used to an apartment, he moseyed right into his new surroundings of our game room. He soon adopted the entire house, the yard, and eventually, commanded the neighborhood. As his territory enlarged, his girth decreased.
Gato-D became a mighty hunter, leaving his trophies on the patio and our front door step. One day I opened the door to let him in and he went directly under the dining room table, instead of rubbing my ankles. Although I’m totally blind, I could tell that he had a mouthful by the sound of his hello meow. Then, I heard him scramble as his prey fluttered up to the underside of the table. His sparrow wasn’t dead! The cat caught the bird, I caught the cat, and they both went right back outside. My husband just shook his head and snickered something about, dumb cat.
Gato-D’s demise was untimely, even though he’d reached a ripe old age. One day, when I let him in, he went directly down stairs and didn’t come back up all day. Usually, he’d come sit with me as I read or wrote my newspaper column. Mid-afternoon, I went to look for him.
As I reached to pet him, my hand felt the wet and sticky feel of his head. He didn’t move, but cried out in distress, as if he wanted to be left alone. Without a word, we rushed him to the vet’s, thinking he’d been attacked by a coyote.
The vet cleansed the three puncture wounds on his head and said that a coyote would never let dinner go. Gato-D had been chased, captured, and shaken by a large dog!
Our neighbor had a big Shepherd, so he was suspected of the dastardly deed, but we never confronted the neighbors. We tried to spare our two young children by letting them think that the coyote did it.
It was quite a traumatic end and, as predicted, my husband said: Never again. No More cats!
Now, we are empty nesters. My husband is retired. Our three children of our A-Team are all grown-up and married with children of their own. Even the two grandsons we raised, our B-Team, have flown the coop. Our daughter has carried our tradition of having a family pet to new heights. She has one husband, two dogs, three sons, four cats, a Leopard Gecko, tanks of fish and she thinks we need at least one cat to go along with my retired guide dog and my working guide dog. My husband says, No way; however the other evening, I caught him googling our local Humane Society. That night I dreamt of Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod.
Our daughter insisted her 8-year old cat could train my young guide dog that cats are family, not dinner. She swore the cat actually thought he was a dog anyway, because he’d been raised by a Great Dane and a Pit Bull Terrier.
The dog training center had signed off re-training Tulip Grace, saying that dogs are descended from wolves and it is second nature for them to hunt small prey for their dinner.
I thought that living with a cat might help Tulip realize cats are our friends, not dinner. My husband smirked, “A cat training a dog? I don’t think so.” However, we accepted Gato-E into our family.
He was a bit over-weight, very loveable with a loud, rattling purr and wrinkled whiskers. His almost curly, marmalade and white fur rejected any of my attempts for sleekness, yet, he loved to be brushed and groomed.
On their first meeting, Gato-E raced backwards in panic as Tulip lunged forward to snarl and growl her greetings. From then on, Gato-E avoided going into any room where he detected Tulip. Apparently, the dog had trained the cat, instead of the dog learning cats are our friends. My husband quipped, “So much for cats rule and Dogs drool.”
Sternly saying “Leave it”, became my mantra whenever the dog and cat came near each other. Eventually, my guide dog associated the reprimand with leaving the cat alone. She doesn’t re-act when Gato-E darts between her legs or butts his head in greeting or jumps onto my lap. Next week, I’ll start taking her for a walk around our neighborhood to see if she recognizes other cats as family or dinner.
For now, we have harmony within our family. As a matter of fact, yesterday, I found my husband snoring in his heated lounge chair with an orange marmalade ball of fur snoring on his stomach. No more cats? Indeed!
A Break-out, memoir
by Frances D. Strong
I can still remember that day even though it happened thirty years ago.
Someone called to tell me that the pasture fence was down and the horses were gone. I immediately stopped to check out this situation. Seeing the broken down wire, I looked around for the horses, but saw nothing. At age 45, my Retinitis Pigmentosa was not a problem except for my limited peripheral vision.
My senior horse, Fella, and Sir and Prince, my daughter’s horses, had fled the scene. Since the children were in school and no men were at the farm, I quickly found a bridle and halter with a lead rope at the tack house. Even though there were dirt roads around the farm, hoof tracks were not easily followed because the girls and I had just ridden our mounts the day before.
Knowing I was responsible for my horses, I set out on the best hunch I could come up with for the moment. Wearing jeans, tennis shoes and a short-sleeved shirt, I started walking down the road from the pasture with Duchess, our German Shepherd. Seeing the pear trees along the way, I picked up two pears to fill my pockets.
There were several places that the horses could have fled, but I decided to follow my instincts of where the horses would find tempting greens unavailable to them by our farm. Also, recently my brother had purchased a second horse. He lived about two miles away and we had just ridden there yesterday. Fella and the girl’s horses seemed to have enjoyed meeting the new bay mare. So my best bet was to go there and hopefully find my rebels.
It was a hot autumn day, with the grasses turning brown and corn fields already harvested. I was pretty healthy and fit, but this late morning I had not taken time to get a drink of water before starting out. The hot sun’s rays beat down on me relentlessly. After half an hour or so, the sweat was trickling down my face and back. I switched the now heavy gear to my left shoulder with its leather straps and clanging metal bit and rings from the halter and bridle. Bending down, I pulled up the hem of my shirt to wipe my brow. My heart began a rapid beat. I sat on the dry grass alongside the sandy road to rest. Duchess licked my face and faithfully waited for me to revive.
When my heartbeat slowed down and seemed normal again, I took a deep breath and continued on in the open road. I crossed a paved road which did not have many travelers at that time. I walked onward through a wooded area, glad to have shade and a light breeze. I passed a small fish pond and detoured around my brother’s house and spied his horses grazing in their pasture. Lady and Mary merely raised their heads in momentary interest of my dog and me.
Sure enough, in a field nearby, there were the escapees, calmly munching away on the recently planted lush green wheat. It was a pretty sight, but I was thinking only of how to round up these mavericks on foot and head for home. Thankfully, I had brought the pears which I hoped would trick at least one of the horses to come to me.
Sir, the palomino, lifted his head and stared at me. As I walked towards him, I held out the pear and called his name. The glutton that he was for treats, he walked to me and grabbed for the pear. I let him have a big bite and at the same time threw the reins over his neck. He did not know what happened, but he was caught. I slipped the bit into his mouth and the bridle over his ears. He finished his pear, slobbering and drooling for more. Prince, no doubt heard and smelled the fruit, and curiously came over. That was it, a held out pear was too tempting. He too only had his eyes on the treat and I was able to throw the lead rope around his neck. Holding both ends of the rope, I pulled him closer. Then I fastened the halter onto his head. He was caught too.
Fella, my old horse of thirty years was still the skeptical one who would not let me catch him. I knew this and decided to let him just follow. Horses are herd animals and want to stay in the pack.
Now the next hurdle was to try to jump on Sir. Prince was too skittish for me and Sir was my only hope. Holding Sir’s reins tight and the lead rope of Prince, I managed to jump with all my strength and throw my leg over his back. I was upright and ready to go. Tired, hot and a little nervous about the ordeal, I was determined to make it home in one piece and with all three horses. Lady and Mary neighed to us as we passed by.
As we walked on, Prince wanted to go faster than Sir, so I had to keep pulling him back and shouting, “Whoa, Prince!”
As we drew near the paved road, I said a prayer that no cars would be in the way as we approached it. A car passed and kept going. Thankfully, Fella did not run ahead as he would have done in his younger days. My sister and I used to race home and Fella usually won. Today, he was being a good old boy and slowly followed the others.
I sighed a deep sound of relief as we clip-clopped over the pavement. Then it was straight for home. Prince’s tugging at my arm made my shoulder and knuckles ache.
Faithful Duchess was right there as we turned into the lot next to the barn. I jumped off Sir and first took off Prince’s halter and then Sir’s bridle. Fella obediently walked in too. We all went to the watering trough for a drink. I let the cool water run into my hands and splashed some on my face.
Fella let me touch him on his shoulder and I said, “Tomorrow, you’ll get the first pear.”
Poppa had the fence repaired and all was well.
Bio: Frances Strong, due to Retinitis Pigmentosa, stop teaching about 20 years ago. However, the JAWS program has allowed her to write and publish several children’s books. Frances enjoys singing in her church choir and helping her retired husband with cooking and gardening.
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
“You’ll know when it’s time.”
That’s what they always tell us.
“She’ll need extra corrections;
“The vet will see signs;
“Her diet may have to change.”
But she still wags her tail
When I pick up the harness.
I don’t think she’d know how
To say, “No, I hurt too much.”
She’d still give it her best.
I pick up the phone;
They can take her today.
Regret, release, recovery;
Mercy, memories, misery,
These pieces find places in many hearts.
You’ve given so much,
Sweet lady at my side,
You deserve peace,
Comfort and dignity.
Home is Where the Slobber is, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner
There is something about dogs
that brings my heart to hearth.
These warm-bodied, hot-breath’d,
champion shedders of hair
have two smells my puny nose
can discern extremely well.
Essence of canine shelter is one,
which is friendly as a hearty fart,
or a satisfied gurgly burp.
The other is a nutty aroma
that urges me to burry my snout
deeply into a furry soft ruff.
In human terms, of early morning,
I slip downstairs for morning fare,
exchange cordial greetings with Chloe,
who lies on high “her” alleged divan,
resting from early day ablutions
performed outdoors in dewy dawn.
We touch noses.
Mine short, light and dry.
Hers, long, black and damp.
We gaze eye to eye,
as she checks me out
for ill winded odors.
Nothing amiss, I’m dismissed.
I find a chair still warm from Barney,
who’s making a final sentry snoop
in his backyard, duty dog domain.
I hear the swish of his special door,
his stampeding paws speeding up stairs.
He presses his head beside my thigh,
his brown eyes hidden like a shy child’s
seeking comfort in his father’s lap.
I scratch his thick scruffy tawny mane.
He looks up with puppy soft liquid orbs.
I buss his muzzle affectionately.
He answers with a lightening quick slurp,
deftly catching my formerly dry nose.
I won’t wipe that wet softness of his kiss.
by Susan Muhlenbeck
Blacker than a raven’s wing,
Sweeter than the gentle breeze,
Feet of soft crushed velvet,
On which she struts about with ease.
Sweeter than a drop of nectar,
Faster than the speed of sound,
Tail as long as a country mile,
For which she is renowned.
Prettier than the reddest rose,
Smarter than an ape for sure,
Noisier than a freight train engine,
When she begins to purr.
A creature of both day and night,
As stealthy as she is wise,
My affection for this wild critter,
Is one thing that never dies.
Part VII. The Melting Pot
A Million Dollars, fiction
by Linn Martinussen
Everybody has a price. If someone tells you otherwise, they’re lying. Ok, maybe not intentionally, because not many people know their price, let alone that they have one, until they’re in the right or wrong situation.
The day I learned that my price was a million dollars, I was sitting in a bar drinking a chocolate martini. It was Friday, early evening in the middle of October and I had just been turned down for a features writer job I really wanted. I had been turned down for numerous jobs since I graduated from college with a major in journalism 16 months previously. It seems that journalists today have to be photographers and video editors too. And being as blind as a bat, those are not tasks any publication will hand over to me. I had reached the point where I was willing to do almost anything just so that I could say, “I made that money.” As it was, I was staying with my parents because I couldn’t afford rent. I was receiving a minor welfare payment that lately, had been spent on going to expensive bars.
I had started this practice of dressing up and going to expensive bars when I was turned down for a job a little bit by coincidence. I had been at a job interview for a newspaper. The office building was located across from a posh hotel. I decided to take a break there after an interview I felt had gone badly. I’d been treated like a star by the staff and it had temporarily made me feel better. So I did that after the next job I was turned down for, reporter for a TV station. Ok, I did think they had camera people, otherwise I’d never have applied. And I’d just continued. The more I wanted the job, the nicer the bar. Now I was sitting in Roxie’s, which despite the name was very classy. I was wearing my red killer dress with short sleeves and a split starting from my left thigh and matching kitten heels, drinking a chocolate martini. It tasted kind of sickly and sweet, but one of the rules I’d made for my outings was that I had to try a new drink each time.
The bar was starting to fill up, but this wasn’t a place that got very noisy. Sipping my martini, I took in the voices around me and the sound of the piano; somebody was playing live.
“Excuse me, may I sit here?” a woman asked. I assumed she meant the bar stool next to me, so I nodded and said “Sure,” so that I was certain she’d gotten the message. She climbed up on the bar stool and I noticed how close she was. I could smell her perfume, heavy and a little musky mixed with a faded smell of cigarette smoke.
“May I buy you a drink?” she asked. Her voice was ordinary. The kind I would take ages to recognize were we to become friends. Was this woman hitting on me, or did my face display my unglamorous state of mind?
“As long as it’s not a chocolate martini,” I replied and gave her a smile. I didn’t care about her intentions. Alcohol was alcohol and I had after all just been turned down for a job I’d wanted so badly.
“Gin and tonic ok?” she asked.
“Yes, that’s fine.”
“So what do you do?” Ah, the dreaded question I hated being asked by strangers, family and friends alike.
“I’m a journalist,” I said, the hesitation in my own voice evident even to me.
“Working for someone, or a freelancer?” she asked.
Oh couldn’t this annoying woman just shut up? “I suppose freelance would be a more favourable thing to call it,” I said.
“Excuse me, but why do you care?” I asked hoping I hadn’t sounded too snappy. The bartender came over and put my drink in front of me.
“I was just wondering if you’d be interested in making some extra money,” she replied.
“That depends,” I said, although to tell the truth, I was already feeling pretty up for it whatever it was.
She leaned closer and whispered in my ear. “My husband. He is sitting in a booth at the other side of this bar. He spotted you and finds you very, very attractive. So he asked me what I’d do if he had a little one night stand with you. I said I’d go and ask. I said it was ok as long as I could be present to watch. But here’s the thing. I will give you a million dollars if you kill him.”
“What?” I turned to her in astonishment. I don’t know what I’d expected, but this was not it.
“It’s very complicated. And the less you know, the safer you will be after you’ve done this. But let’s just say my husband got in the way of my father in a business matter. And my loyalty ultimately lies within my own family. It’s a matter of my husband or my father dying and the world needs a man like my father more than a man like my husband.”
“But why use me?” I asked. I had the distinct feeling that I’d been flung right in the middle of some kind of mob disagreement.
“My husband helped me make the choice by falling in lust with you . . . But I also know a desperate person when I see one. You’re blind, but there’s nothing else wrong with you, so you don’t qualify for a lot of support and you’re not getting jobs because everybody thinks you can do nothing.”
“How did you?” I started.
“Oh, my brother,” she replied. “Although being from the kind of family we are he needn’t have had those problems. But he turned his back on us. And chose his own path with all the sorrows that brought him. Now, are you in or not?”
Jen, that’s what the woman called herself, and I got up and walked over to her husband Phil. Those were probably not their real names, but it was probably for the best that I didn’t know them. Phil was tall and smelled of citrusy cologne. Without saying much, we walked out into the crisp October air for about five minutes till we reached a hotel. I could tell it was a classy place.
“Why don’t you and I go and sit down over here while Jen checks us in?” Phil asked in a suggestive, not unattractive voice.
“No Phil, you have to deal with this,” Jen said. “I left my credit card at home.”
Phil sighed and turned to the reception desk while Jen took my arm and started leading me towards what I guessed must be the ladies room.
“Here,” she said and handed me a cylinder shaped object. “Hide this under the pillow and when you are on the bed, make sure he’s lying down and you lie on top of him. Pry the lid off under the pillow, but take great care not to sting yourself on the needle. This cyanide poison kills within seconds. Try sticking this on the side of his neck, though it doesn’t really matter where you sting . . . Just make sure he doesn’t see this, or you’ll be dead, quite literally.”
I had been feeling crazy for even going along with this plan from the beginning, but now, for the first time, I was wondering whether this was a trap to get me framed in place of Jen, or her father perhaps. But it was too late to pull out now. I didn’t know who Phil and Jen were, but they must be some kind of criminals and though I couldn’t describe them to the police, letting me go was probably not a risk they would take. Besides, what had I really to lose? Yes, my parents and two best friends loved me. Even my little brother did if it came down to it. But they would get over it if I died. I had nobody who cared apart from them and at this point, it wasn’t enough. And what if Jen was going to get me to end up in prison? I really hoped I wouldn’t end up there, but at least I wouldn’t have to worry about getting a job. Perhaps I’d have a fairer chance of a job in prison. I pocketed the poison and we went back into the reception area where Phil stood waiting.
We had been sitting in the hotel suite for about half an hour, just talking and drinking wine. Phil asked me what I did and I said I was a journalist. He told me all about his computer hardware business. Jen didn’t say much, leaving her husband and me to get to know each other. I was almost feeling at ease and I thought Phil seemed like a nice enough guy, not like someone who deserved to die. But how was I gonna get us started? I wanted to be out of here.
It was as if he had read my mind, because just as I was starting to wonder how to make the first move, Phil came over and perched on the arm rest on my chair. “You are looking exquisite,” he said and put an arm around my shoulder.
“I’m glad to hear I’m to the taste of a handsome man like you,” I said in my most alluring voice and leaned my head on his arm to appear eager.
He started kissing the top of my head before the kisses moved slowly down my face. Had I not been about to kill this man and therefore had nerves, I might have enjoyed it. When his lips finally met mine, I stood up to better match his height.
“Forgive me,” he said huskily, when we broke apart. “But do you mind if we move over to the bed?” I nodded. “If you will just excuse me one moment,” he said and walked into the bathroom.
Quick as lightning, Jen and I got up and ran into the bedroom where I slid the cylinder underneath the pillows.
Killing him was quick and much easier than I could have imagined. But isn’t that what killers in crime fiction say? I had done as Jen advised me. Stung him in the neck while I was lying on top of him and he was busy exploring me. At the sting he startled and interrupted trying to kiss his way into my bra. He looked up and although I can’t see, I felt his surprise before understanding kicked in. “No,” was the last thing he’d managed to croak before falling back against the pillows.
“Well done,” Jen said as I got up on trembling legs. She handed me a glass of wine and made me sit down in the sitting room. “My father, the rest of our family and I are now in deep gratitude to you. But you’ve got to be careful. Lay low and you will be fine. Start talking and you will suffer a similar fate to my husband.”
Two weeks later, I was enjoying the sea breeze and the sound of a live Soca band in an open air hotel bar in Aruba. I was drinking a virgin pinacolada. I wanted to be fully sober and alert on my second job, which had come my way a few days ago. In fact, I received the assignment on the very same day my bank account had been deposited with a million dollars. And on the day after the evening news announcement that the business man, Filippo Di Giovanni had been found dead in a hotel suite. Cause of death was currently being investigated, but there was some speculation as to whether this could be as a result of his mob connection through his marriage to one of the daughters of Francesco Giudice, the head of the most feared crime family in the area.
A man called me, to say that Jen sends her regards and asked if I needed another freelance job. I was told to get to the airport, where I would be met by someone who was going to give me a fake passport and ticket to Aruba. He quickly informed me of my temporary name and career and airport assistance got me to where I needed to be. Nobody batted an eyelid over the passport and the trip had been smooth. I was met by a driver, who handed me an envelope containing among other things, what I knew to be a cyanide syringe. He drove me to a hotel called The blue Mermaid. When I checked into my room, I also found a small voice recorder in the envelope. When I pressed it, I heard a deep man’s voice talk about soccer, probably on the phone, judging from how he spoke. I guessed before Jen’s voice took over to explain, that this was the voice profile of my target. She gave me his name, Jeff and described him in general terms, tall and blond with a tan and in the US army. He Stayed at the Blue Mermaid on his own for a couple of days and loved Soca band music. Young pretty women were his weakness and all I had to do was sit alone and look bored. The Blue Mermaid was a small hotel and I was likely to be his only object of interest. Nothing was left entirely to coincidence of course and the guest list had been checked out by whoever had ordered the hit. If he failed to come over, I was just to ask a member of the hotel staff to find “My friend Jeff”.
“May I sit here?”
Luck, I thought. I was wearing a turquoise number, not unlike the red dress, although this one was silk and strapless. My curls were tumbling down my back and I was tanned from having spent the day by the pool. I knew I looked amazing. “Sure,” I smiled.
“Jeff,” he held out his hand as he noisily pulled his chair back. My smile broadened. I had been pretty sure he might be my man from his voice, but the extra assurance was always good. “Do you know you look a million dollars in that dress?” He asked.
I laughed and tossed my head in what I hoped was a flirty fashion. I replied quietly in my head, and thanks to you, I’ll soon look a million dollars more.
Bio: Linn Martinussen is a former BBC journalist, an award winning professional singer and a freelance journalist. She divides her time between Norway, Nigeria, England and the USA. Her stage name is Lioness Oyinbo and her music can be bought in all digital stores. She has been nominated multiple times for her music and is hoping to win her category at this years Nigerian Entertainment awards taking place in NYC in September. She’s currently working on her first novel. Linn is blind due to a detached optic nerve.
by Nicole Massey
Rose noticed two things as she entered the party: one she liked and another she didn’t. The good thing was the handsome dark-haired man standing near the bar. She did a quick check, and smiled at the absence of a ring or even a mark where one should be. But her sister, the oh-so-perfect Lorilee, was as always her stunning, well put together self. Rose tried to push away any thoughts of the handsome man, because Lora was here and she’d get to him first. After all, she always did, even if she never kept them for long. She was perfect enough she didn’t have to. Oh well, best to get the unpleasantness over with.
Rose walked toward her sister, who smiled at her. “Rosalee, I can see you decided to be fashionably late.”
Bitch. “Not my choice this time, Sis. My boss decided we needed to get that report to management tonight so they’d have time to go over it before the big meeting tomorrow evening.”
Lora nodded. “Yeah, that sounds like Stan.” Another of her sister’s ex-lovers – Lora had so many.
Rose sat down and looked around. Lora put a hand on her arm, then whispered, “See any you like?”
Rose couldn’t keep her eyes from settling on the handsome guy at the bar. Lora nodded. “Yeah, I saw him too. Well, no time like the present.”
As Lora got up and sauntered over to the guy, Rose seethed. She knew Lora did this as a game, finding out who her sister liked, then snatching the guy away. Rose couldn’t bring herself to test this theory by picking a woman sometime, just to see what Lora would do.
Lora chatted with the man for a moment, then excused herself and came back to the table.
Rose sipped her martini for as long as she could, then she had to ask, “Well?”
Lora brushed her hands together in a motion designed to show off her perfect manicure. “Not worth it.” Then she brushed her own shoulder with a sweeping motion. “Dandruff.”
Rose fought back a sigh, but then she thought about it. Of course Lora wouldn’t go out with a man who showed any imperfection, but she didn’t have to set the bar so high. He looked like he was having a good time, and the guy next to him was laughing at something the handsome guy said.
Rose slammed the rest of her drink, got up, and said, “Be right back. Or maybe not.”
She walked over to the man, making a specific effort to move without that slink Lora always affected, and smiled at the guy. He smiled back.
“Hi, I’m Rose.”
“Enchanted. I’m George.”
The old routine popped into her head. “The name that never ends.”
He chuckled. “Ah, a comedy fan. Well, then, did you hear the one about the polar bear, the alligator, and the mouse?”
Okay, the joke was funny, and not too racy for a first meeting. And yes, he had a few flakes on his jacket. But you know, this guy didn’t need to be a paragon of personal grooming. Rose liked him.
“So, George, do you dance?”
“I’m told I do it quite well, in fact. And yes, I’d love to dance with you.”
On the dance floor Rose followed his lead and had a great time. At one point she brushed her hand against his jacket.
George stopped dancing. “Something wrong, Rose?”
“No, not at all. You had a bit of something on your jacket, and I figured I’d brush it off for you.”
George looked into her eyes, serious. “Do a few flakes bother you, Rose?”
“No, of course not, but I figured you wouldn’t want them there.”
His face turned sly. “Why not? I put them there.”
Rose couldn’t help being confused. “You did?”
“Do you know how hard it is to find laundry soap in flake form these days? Everyone wants to use those little pods, but they wouldn’t work for my purpose.”
“To weed out the kind of woman who lets such minor things get in the way.”
And then Rose saw him look in Lora’s direction. Rose glanced too, and saw Lora still checking out the men at the party.
“George, you’re a crafty fellow. I’m going to have to keep an eye on you.”
“Keep both of them on me, if you don’t mind.”
“Good idea. She’s my sister, you know.”
“Her?” His chin indicated Lorilee.
“Not my type. Too caught up in appearances.”
Rose smiled. “Right you are, George. And it’s a relief to find a man who can see that in her. Now dance with me. I’m very glad I met you.”
Rose kept smiling as he smiled and said, “Ditto, Rose. I predict a good evening ahead.” And she couldn’t disagree with him on that point.
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.
Baseball Back When, flash fiction
by Bill Fullerton
The following meditation on the deterioration of modern baseball was sparked by a recent trip to one of those swanky, new, air-conditioned major league ballparks.
Now don’t get me wrong, those ritzy new state-of-the-art stadiums are nice, I suppose but playing baseball in the boondocks has a special ambiance all its own. Back during one of my inglorious days at old Knotty Pine High School, the baseball team, everybody called us “The Knot Head Nine,” traveled even further than usual to another isolated, rural outpost on the educational high-road. This one was remarkable only for being even smaller and more run down than ours. There were for instance, no lights, no bleachers or dugouts. Dust devils made frequent appearances across the pitted, grassless in field. Center field sloped down so steeply the fielder had to position himself carefully to avoid the pitcher’s mound blocking his view of the batter.
Over in the comparatively high ground of right field, my late-inning meditation on the unattainable charms of Francis Lynn Henderson was interrupted by the terrifying sound of a bat making sharp contact with a baseball. My initial fear that the ball might actually be coming my way was quickly eased however by the comforting sight of it twisting away toward a weed-choked field behind our first baseman.
That swift-footed, strong-armed worthy who was dating Francis Lynn, turned and went chasing after baseball glory and the game ending out. With his eyes on the prize, and his brain, no doubt focused on getting home early for his date with you-know-who, he appeared to snag the ball just as his foot hit the grass shrouded concrete border to an abandoned cattle dipping vat. Moments later, the only sign of life in that vicinity were moans and groans coming from somewhere below ground level.
The good news is the vat was half-full of weeds and junk. The bad news, according to the player’s vehement testimony on the long ride home was that none of it cushioned his landing one little bit. Our coach trotted over to check out his best hitter’s condition, studied the mess in the vat, and yelled, “Damn it boy, you dropped the ball!”
Given a second-chance, the batter singled in the game tying run. We played extra innings until the game was called on account of darkness.
By the time we finally got home it was after nine. Francis Lynn, fed up with baseball-induced date cancellations, not only called off that night’s date but any future ones with our bruised and abused first baseman.
Now that my friends, was a baseball game.
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.
Play Ball, poetry
by DP Lyons
A nip in the early spring evening air bites down hard
Steel cleats line the top steps of both dugouts
The pitcher wipes his brow onto his uniform sleeve and stares in at his catcher
The radio announcer clutches his microphone and slowly rises to his feet
The popcorn vendor stands still on the stairs of lower section G
A low rumble of a jet plane echoes through the ballpark
Standing in his seat, a young boy clutches tightly to his father’s arm
A breeze blowing in from right field slowly subsides
The batter taps the dirt from his cleats and slowly steps up to the plate
The umpire lowers his raised fist and points out towards the pitcher
The first base coach methodically runs through the signs
Runners on second and third look left, then right, then slowly take their lead
The pitcher takes a deep breath and shakes off a sign
The catcher adjusts his mask as he peers towards the dugout
Tapping his left inside thigh twice, he flutters four fingers down towards the dirt
The pitcher nods his head and slowly comes to a set
The capacity crowd collectively comes to a hush
The young boy nervously leans in towards his father
The radio announcer swallows hard as he hugs the microphone
The pitcher sets in motion and delivers the pitch
The ball speeds straight at the batter, then quickly drops down over the plate
The batter steps back and looks at the umpire
The catcher holds his breath as he waits for the call
The umpire’s booming voice hollers out, “Strike Three!”
The boy screams out as his father hugs and raises him high into the evening air
The announcer rises up onto his toes as he yells into the microphone
The popcorn vendor raises both arms and screams out at the top of his lungs
The catcher runs out and pounds the game winning baseball into his pitcher’s glove
The first game of the 2016 Major League Baseball Season is in the books
by Laura minning
May your love blossom
with the ever present
passing of time.
May you always
May you never
And may your hearts
from hardship and pain.
May God smile
upon you both
and bless you
on this special day…
Bio: Laura Minning is an award winning published poet and author. She’s had one hundred and seven poems, six articles, two books and a one-act play published in hard copy and on-line. Her work has been featured in publications like: Literature Today, Amulet Magazine and Slate & Style. Laura’s artistic accomplishments are equally impressive. She’s had eighty-five original pieces exhibited and eleven published. In February 2016, an exhibit at Barcode featured thirty-six pieces of Laura’s artwork. She donates proceeds from her sales to the National Federation of the Blind and the VCU Massey Cancer Center. Additional information about Her work can be found at http://bluerosecreations.wix.com/bluerose.
Anniversaries, acrostic poem
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.
A New Year’s calendar holds dear memories,
Nuanced by time, but precious still.
Never will these dusty reveries
In musty brain cells be confined.
Varied are the people, the places that cause
Each feeling of joy, or sometimes sorrow,
Reminders again, that our” now” is fleeting,
Since we know our past, but not our tomorrows.
Accepting the present as a precious gift,
Rendering thanks for every occasion,
Is not now the time for celebration,
Embracing loved ones, and “Congratulations”?
Surely, anniversaries must be a blessing on our reverie!
They bring songs to the house, poetry
by Ernie Jones
They bring songs to the house.
They bring laughter to the home.
They spread joy and confusion
But don’t leave them alone.
They fill the quiet house
With activity and sound.
They leave toys and objects
Scattered all around.
They increase the excitement level
To an extreme high.
With their screams and bellows
To get their way, they cry.
As bedtime comes,
Peace in the house returns.
Why children come to young people
This for sure, I’ve learned.
The house is again quiet,
As at last I lie in bed.
My body aches from exhaustion.
“I’m so very tired,” I said.
It wasn’t this way when I was young.
Then it was from hard work
But today this activity
Makes me tired, this is no lark.
But when those little arms
Wrap around my legs,
And those large bright eyes
Look up at me and beg,
Will you agree This life is the best
That grandparents have it all
Bio: Ernie worked as a hospital orderly before working for Washington State in the computer field. After earning his Registered Nursing degree, he worked in a rural hospital until he retired due to eyesight loss. For the past twelve years, He has had a monthly newspaper column in which he encourages those losing their eyesight, while teaching the sighted that blindness is not the end of a good life. His articles have appeared in Dialogue Magazine, Consumer Vision, Christian Record Services and other publications. He has authored one book, Onesimus the Run Away Slave, available
through Authorhouse publishers and as an E book through Amazon.
of Light, poetry
by Brad Corallo
Moving through stages
seeking the pure light
at the center of all things.
We play the hands we’re dealt.
Counting sorrows and gifts
as if life was no more than an accountant’s ledger.
I have alighted;
and been welcomed.
My new home.
Even with the battles to find,
woo and win her
she bathes me in her gentle light.
I walk among her unique spaces
comfortable and safe.
As I stand down
from the frenetically finely orchestrated move.
Performing unpacking adjustments without haste or uncertainty.
Time is suspended as we build our symbiosis.
She showers me with her fountains of light
natural and engineered
with beautifully crafted
carefully selected control systems.
I feel her textures,
buffed Wood, new glass and granite
and am soothed.
her sloping folded terrain.
Together, we will fine tune
with judicious use of paving stones
all her dips and swells will be explored,
shared and joyfully yielded up.
As I sit in the calm
shaping words, I thankfully realize.
This weary pilgrim has arrived at last!
Bio: Brad Corallo is a 59 year-old visually impaired writer in multiple genres. He is a Long Island native born and raised. His work has been published in four previous issues of Magnets and Ladders, in the William B. Joslin Outstanding Performance Awards Program Journal “NYSID Preferred Source Solutions” and on the Facebook page of The Red Wolf Coalition. Brad has been a life long student of fine wine, food, music, books, several professional sports and relationships of all kinds. He makes his living as a certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC) and mental health therapist.
The trials of St. Brendan, poetry
by Brad Corallo
ancient amorphous vessel
Creeps through mist unseen
Slips from harbor’s snug embrace.
In the prow stands the saint
Resolute in his faith
Bound and determined
To sail to that fabled light
Forever burning in the Iles of the West.
His loyal companions
four trusty Kerry men and the feathered sky being, Weather Watcher.
If Jesus silent bore his cross
St. Brendan had his albatross.
Loadstone of his destiny
The heart of the spirit compass that bound him.
A fair wind blew
And many wondrous Landfalls made
By some tales, the first upon
the shores of beautiful Paumanok where
they replenished their supplies
And gave formal thanks for their bounty and good fortune.
After revittling and rest
They proceeded on their appointed way
Coming soon upon uncalm restless seas
Winds and waves raging
Tossing their bark about,
God’s last afterthought flung on troubled waters.
In the midst of the conflagration
It arose from the waves
A thing from before the first days
Rearing an enormous serpent’s head
With fire flashing
Between its spike-like fangs
It screamed and the hearts of all
But St. Brendan and Weather Watcher stood fast!
Weather Watcher shrieked and the Saint put forth a callused hand
Be gone foul spawn of Hell
You will not come between us
And the light!
in an instant world- scape changes
morning’s flame ignites!
The beast is gone.
sea is calm again.
As the Saint gazes intently into the West
Before him spreads
A vista of golden radiance
Spanning all tomorrow’s possible horizons.
Sail on he thunders, forward!
The true lost home we sought
Opens her arms to us!
I have always been fascinated by Celtic mythology and particularly with the legends surrounding St. Brendan. There is an excellent book about his exploits called Brendan by Frederick Buechner. There is also Christy Moore’s wonderful song “St. Brendan’s voyage” which can be Googled and played as a youtube link. I highly recommend it. For me this is not a “religious” piece. But relevant to the ideas of Joseph Campbell particularly as discussed in his brilliant work The hero with a thousand faces. It is an archetypal story of the hero and the quest partially cloaked in magic or the mysteries of Divine power. The reference to “Paumanok” (Long Island) my beloved home was suggested by the above mentioned song.
by Robert Kingett
Jackson has my full attention for two reasons. The first reason is his declarations about comics from The New Yorker. Since he reads comics from The New Yorker, something he didn’t tell me when we were emailing each other on the dating site, I am transfixed. He’s cultured, and he has a sense of humor about him. The other reason I am staring at him has to deal with his left index finger and where it’s currently digging. As I talk about a great essay I’ve read in the magazine a week before, I become aware of the floating finger. It drifts towards his face and rockets up his left nostril.
The restaurant we are in has enough light to illuminate multiple caves. I wish I didn’t have any sight. Our food has arrived some time ago and he seemed to be doing fine. Where did this new talent spring from? Most importantly, why couldn’t he have picked a place with less light? His finger looks like it’s exploring the inside of a straw.
Jackson has eaten a little bit of his food. I wish he would pay more attention to what’s in front of him as opposed to where his finger is currently digging. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he were an expert at scavenger hunting. His mouth contorts as his finger wedges deeper into the crevices of his nostril. At least his determined identifier on his profile was accurate.
Jackson messaged me with words that immediately piqued my interest. He likes to go to museums and he loves a hearty game of poker on a Friday night. His profile doesn’t say anything unique, however. It states all about his willingness to try new things and his willingness to have an open mind. He’s a very determined person though. He’s a person who loves a challenge. This is why he likes to play poker and an assortment of other games. He didn’t say that his worst adversary, amidst all of the financial and cultural adversities he has overcome, was a human body part. I am amazed that someone who earned a master’s degree in engineering can’t outsmart a booger.
Perhaps I am way too nice for my own good. Perhaps I am willing to put up with obscure happenings because the guy is just so great underneath. Perhaps I am really desperate. I am sure all of these play a hand in my attempting to ignore his wiggling finger. The plate of pasta before him has been forgotten in favor of a new life altering quest.
“So,” I say to his contorting face. “Where do you plan to vacation? I am huge into travel so I am always interested in where people are going and what they will see.”
“Huh?” he asks, completely fixated on whatever he’s searching for in the dark recesses of his nostril. “What you say? I was distracted.”
At this moment I have a surge of sympathy for the Booger. It has a stubborn graduate student after it. I try to draw his attention back to the food and the conversation we were having.
“This soup is fantastic! Did you ever figure out what spice was in yours? What’s your favorite New Yorker comic?” I pick up my spoon and pretend to lick something off of it, hoping he’d see the reflection and realize what he’s doing. At that precise moment, the waiter approaches us to see if there’s anything he can do to make our dinner more enjoyable. I try to mentally will him to bring some tweezers but that doesn’t work. Jackson still digs. I feel like I should do something but I have no idea what to do. The waiter is perplexed that mucus could be more interesting than flavorful food.
“Excuse me, sir, would you like to try another dish? Is this one not to your liking?” Jackson faces him and the finger almost pops out. At least it stops twitching and twirling so he can quickly say he doesn’t need anything else. The waiter asks me if I am taken care of. When I say that I am, he says he will dig up the checks. When he leaves, Jackson’s finger starts wiggling again.
I am at a loss as to what to do so I pick up a clean spoon and ask Jackson if he wants to see a trick. When I finally get him to say yes, I balance the spoon on my nose. I pray he is looking at the back of it to see his reflection. When he continues his relentless hunt, I decide that it’s time to come right out and ask him about it before he turns himself inside out.
“Jackson? Would you like to come with me to the bathroom? Maybe you’d do better with a mirror. I have a spare napkin here if you need it too.”
“I almost got it!” he says, and the crowd goes wild. I should have placed my bet early on if I’d known that this Olympic sport was going to take place right in front of me. I try again.
“Your food is going to get cold. Are you sure you don’t need a napkin?”
“I’m almost there! I almost got it! I don’t need any help.”
Just as I begin to reply he lets out this gigantic sneeze. Snot flies all over the napkin on his side of the table. He looks at it with a sense of wonderment.
“Well, what do you know? Nothing was in there!”
As I am waiting outside for the bus to take me back home, I brandish some napkins and admire their clean surfaces. Jackson asks me if I feel like meeting again, the next day. I can’t be mean to him. I really did enjoy his company before his finger ruined everything. Taking a deep breath, I turn to him and say, “Not tomorrow. I’m going to go to the store. I’m running out of Kleenex!”
Bio: Robert Kingett is a blind journalist in Chicago who writes for numerous Chicago publications, The Huffington Post and small papers. His investigative reporting has been nominated for awards. His work has appeared in several magazines, anthologies, and on radio stations. He’s the creator of the Accessible Netflix Project. He is the author of Off the Grid which is available as an ebook at: http://synergebooks.com/ebook_offthegrid.html. It is also available from Audible.com, itunes, and is available on Bookshare and from The National Library Service for the Blind.
Part VIII. I Remember
Forty Five Years Later, poetry
by Nancy Scott
The first man to walk on you oh mantra moon
has left this earthly plain
and the second man with footprints
among your rocks and craters
I was three days shy of 16
when “one small step”
went from science to magic.
I’m now hurtling toward 61.
I thought I would write myself safe.
I thought I would change the world.
I thought I would always have passion.
What is too much to pray for?
One more poem wants my pen.
Ah moon. Amen.
Just as the Ocean Does, poetry
by Sharon Tewksbury
The ocean rolled,
The boat swaying with its perpetual rhythm.
We stood on the deck,
The night was unsullied.
you looking out to sea,
And I, listening to the sounds of the ferry’s motor
And the ocean,
Slapping against the sides of the boat.
Did the moon dance on the water?
I don’t remember,
But I felt you beside me,
And you described,
lights coming from all directions.
And you loved the dolphins, Playing by the ship.
We listened to the gulls,
Hoping we had one last crumb of food they could eat.
I still remember the ferry’s horn, deep and loud,
The salty air hitting my nostrils,
We laughing at the spray hitting our faces,
I remember my sighs of gratitude,
because the pleasure of that trip,
Was so simple.
And we didn’t care,
That the Galveston water was dirty.
And now it seems like a lifetime ago,
And things have changed,
Babies will soon be born,
Loved ones have been taken away,
But your memory will always live on,
Just as the ocean does.
This poem first appeared in Vision Through Words.
Bio: Sharon Tewksbury lives in the Houston, Texas area. She has been blind since birth, and believes if she can’t do something, she will eventually find a way. She is a lyricist and loves to write poetry. She also writes music for her songs, plays several musical instruments, and has made two CDS. She co-produced the last one where she played keyboard. Some of her music is on YouTube. She is presently trying to get a novel published, and has started working on its sequel.
Dad, Fats, and Me, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
As the piano’s bass notes
imitate baby elephant patter,
I stomp my six-year-old feet in time,
while sitting on the couch across from Dad,
sprawled in his easy chair, his nose in a book.
He looks up, chuckles.
As Fats Waller sings no praises
to a woman’s over-sized feet,
I stand, stomp around the den.
Dad sings along–I giggle.
As the song crescendos
with blaring saxophone and trumpet,
I lift my feet,
bring them to the floor with purpose
while Dad sings along with Fats.
The record has other songs:
“The Joint is Jumpin’,” “Seafood, Mama,”
but my little feet always stomp in time
whenever I hear Fats say, “Your Feet’s Too Big.”
Bio: Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of a romance novel, two poetry collections, and a memoir. Along with Magnets and Ladders, her work has appeared in Labyrinth, Serendipity Poets Journal, and other periodicals and anthologies. She is visually impaired and lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, where for six years, she cared for her late husband, who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. Please visit her Website at http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com
The Bomb Drops, memoir
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
“Dear Abbie, I’m writing to ask for your hand in marriage,” the letter stated.
“Oh, no,” I said, as the index finger of my right hand scanned the Braille words on the page.
It was a Saturday evening in January 2005. This was all a bad dream, I thought, as I sat in the living room of my apartment. Any minute, my alarm clock would ring. I would wake up, and everything would be as it was before. Instead, the talking clock in the bedroom announced that it was 8:30.
I read the rest of the letter that explained how we could live together and tossed it into the wastebasket in shock. With the help of my closed-circuit television magnification system, I finished reading the mail and perused the evening paper, all the while thinking about the letter.
How could I marry Bill? I had only met him twice after corresponding with him for two years by email and phone. We had met through Newsreel, a cassette magazine that encouraged its blind and visually impaired subscribers to share ideas and contact information. I was forty-four, and he was nineteen years my senior.
Born and raised in Fowler, Colorado, Bill lost some of his vision at an early age due to rheumatoid arthritis, which also affected his legs. Through surgery as a child, he was able to walk, but he lost the rest of his vision twenty years later. After graduating from the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, he was educated at Adams State College and Colorado State University, where he received a degree in business administration. He lived in California for twenty years, where he worked for Swimquip and JBL, before returning to his hometown. I was inspired by the fact that, despite being totally blind, he could own his own house, as well as several others he rented out, and that he could maintain these properties and make repairs.
I knew he was an expert at computers, since he owned a computer store in Fowler for another twenty years after returning from California. He and I shared some of the same music preferences. He downloaded more than two thousand songs onto his computer from various sources on the Internet and sent me tapes of these songs. His mother lived in a nursing home, and he was drawn to me because I was a registered music therapist, working at a nursing home in Sheridan, Wyoming, which I’d been doing for fifteen years.
I received degrees in music from Sheridan College and Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, before going into music therapy. After two more years of study at Montana State University, which included nine hours of practicum, I completed a six-month internship at a nursing home in Fargo, North Dakota before returning to my hometown of Sheridan, Wyoming.
I wrote my first novel, We Shall Overcome, with Bill’s support. He encouraged me in my other writing endeavors and listened when I told him about problems at work. He was a good friend, but how could I leave Sheridan and live with him in Fowler, Colorado, more than 500 miles away?
According to Bill, the little farming community had none of the amenities I enjoyed in Sheridan: no public transportation, YMCA, Walmart, or theater. In Sheridan, I sang in a women’s barbershop group and attended monthly writers’ group meetings, but there was none of that in Fowler. Pueblo, Colorado, a town thirty-six miles away, had all this, but how was I to get there?
I thought back to the time we first met in person. Dad and I were driving to visit my brother, Andy, and his family in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Since Fowler wasn’t too far out of our way, we arranged to visit Bill at his home.
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in April 2004. I didn’t know what to expect as Dad and I climbed the two narrow steps that led to the front porch of Bill’s white house. I wasn’t sure we had the right address, since there were no signs of life, but when the door opened and a tall figure sporting a cane and sunglasses appeared, said hello, and extended his hand, I was put at ease. “Hi, are you Bill Taylor?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered, “and you must be Abbie Johnson.”
We shook hands.
After a tour of his house, we sat at the dining room table. Dad left to get gas and look around the town. Bill asked, “Do you like Dr. Pepper?”
“I love Dr. Pepper!” I said, amazed that he had my favorite beverage in the house.
I also discovered we both liked country music and oldies. He’d never heard of National Public Radio and didn’t care for classical music, jazz, or opera. He liked to read Western novels and mysteries, which I could have done without, but that didn’t matter. I thought we could still be friends.
During the drive to New Mexico, Dad said, “I think he wants to marry you.”
“Oh, come on,” I said, and didn’t give it another thought.
The following December, Dad and I again visited Bill on our way to New Mexico. His home was decorated for the holidays, and while Dad was in the bathroom, Bill said, “Let’s kiss under the mistletoe.” I thought he was joking, so I laughed.
Now I decided to try not to think about Bill or the marriage proposal and go to bed. Needless to say, although I was tired after a long day of work, I didn’t sleep well that night. I lay awake at four o’clock in the morning while newly fallen snow was being cleared from the sidewalk outside.
I composed a Braille letter in my head. “Dear Bill, although I like you and have valued our friendship over the past couple of years, I don’t see myself marrying you at this time. I hope we can still be friends.” I was tempted to get up, write the letter, and mail it, but decided to try to sleep some more, since I had another long day ahead of me.
I dozed fitfully for the next couple of hours until my talking clock played a joyful tune and the synthetic male voice announced it was seven o’clock. My mind was in a fog as I showered, dressed, and heated instant oatmeal in the microwave. I listened to National Public Radio, but not even the news of the day and other human interest stories took my mind completely off Bill’s proposal.
I finally took the elevator to the ground floor of my apartment building and waited in the entry for the Minibus, the local Paratransit service I used to get to and from work and other places not within walking distance. Since it was Sunday, the Minibus would quit running at one o’clock. I worked until five-thirty, so Dad would pick me up. I somehow managed to get through the day, despite the life-changing decision weighing me down.
After work, we drove to Grandma’s house for Sunday dinner. It wasn’t much of a family meal, just Dad, Grandma and me, but it was something we tried to do every Sunday. Dad and I picked up sandwiches and chips at a Subway shop and took them to Grandma’s house.
As we sat down to the meal, I could hold back no longer. “Dad, Grandma, Bill Taylor wants to marry me.”
To my astonishment, Dad said, “Well, I’ll be damned. You should think about this, honey. He’s a fine fellow.”
“I’ve only met him twice,” I said.
“Grandma and I aren’t going to be around much longer. Who’s going to take care of you?”
“I can take care of myself. I’ve been living on my own and holding down a job for years. I can always take a taxi home from work when the Minibus isn’t running.”
“She shouldn’t marry him if she’s not sure,” said Grandma.
“Why don’t you at least go down to Fowler and spend some time with him before you make a decision?” Dad said.
Maybe he was right. I composed another Braille letter in my head, suggesting I visit Bill’s hometown to see if I would like living there with him.
After I returned home, before I had a chance to write the letter, Bill called me. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“Oh, just working on the computer and thinking about a marriage proposal I got in the mail.”
He laughed. I laughed. He said, “What do you think?”
“I was planning to write you a letter. I’d like to come down to Fowler this summer to see if I’d like living with you there.”
After a long pause, he said, “Actually, I’m thinking of moving to Sheridan.”
“Oh, but your letter said . . .”
“I’m tired of living in a little town where there isn’t much to do.”
“You want to live here?”
“Yes. We’ll have to get a bigger place. My stuff along with your stuff wouldn’t all fit in your one-bedroom apartment, would it?”
“No, of course not,” I said, my mind reeling. Marrying him wouldn’t be so bad if I could stay in my hometown, I thought.
“Maybe I could come to Sheridan for a week or so in a couple of months.”
I panicked. I needed more time to get used to the idea. “Wouldn’t you rather wait until June? You wouldn’t have to worry about bad roads.”
“I think the roads should be okay by the middle of March.”
It was obvious he didn’t want to wait. Maybe in two months I could get myself in a better frame of mind about this. My thoughts were in a whirlwind. One minute, I liked the idea of being married to Bill. The next, I wondered if I was getting in over my head.
As a result of the shock and stress, I came down with a bad cold that lasted three weeks. When I told Bill, he said he wished he were there to take care of me, but this didn’t make me feel any better. I wanted my mother to take care of me and advise me, but she had died several years earlier. I had never felt so alone or confused.
Author’s Note: The above is an excerpt from my new memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds, now available from Smashwords, Amazon, Createspace, and other sources. For more information and to purchase a copy, visit http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com/memoir.htm
The Italian Bus Ride, memoir
by Michael M. Tickenoff
A bus ride, sounds simple, hah! Well, I’ve been on a few of them and I would guess that there are only three, maybe four that were memorable enough for me to actually write about. Out of those three or four, this was or shall be considered the third down the list from the greatest; it’s the one with the most feeling attached to it.
It was in Molano, Italy. To tell you the truth, I myself being an American from a suburban town in California was never found to be in need of regular bus transportation; so I found myself like a lamb to the slaughter in this experience.
Having already traveled in Europe for a month, i always chose trains. But here in this city, it became necessary for me and my traveling buddy, Theo to get around by bus and so this story begins.
Tired and hungry, returning back from a long day’s tour at some forsaken mountain fortress in the distant hills, we found ourselves waiting at a common ordinary citizen’s bus stop. We patiently waited for the next ride to come on by and pick us up. As far as I knew, it was normal for the bus to come to a gradual stop, open its doors, calmly dispersing some passengers at the front and patiently loading others in at the back.
Sure enough, the bus came into view down the traffic jammed road and right then the masses on the sidewalk began to congeal and merge into some organized form of what seemed to be a football play. We were roughly shoved off and out of our places and by the time I turned to see what the heck was going on, Bus #77 was pulling up alongside the curb. The crowd seemed to make some kind of mental calculation and like a team on the go, they began to run alongside the bus and left us standing in the diesel fumes and swirling dust.
Yikes! The bus didn’t even completely stop. When the doors were flung open, I saw a small group of men, women and children pop out of the front door like popcorn overflowing its popper. This was strange but what was really odd was the on rushing throng trying to claw, push and climb over one another to get into the ever moving back door. It reminded me of that scene in the Super Bowl game where 22 men are piled like a pyramid, all reaching for the game winning fumble. The bus never stopped, but the entire crowd seemed to be pulled and sucked into the bus by an invisible force. In nothing less than 5 seconds, they were gone, completely swallowed up and we were left sucking exhaust fumes.
“Hey, that was rather a dirty play wouldn’t you say,” sputtered Theo.
“Yeah, guess they ain’t interested in perpetuating their tourist image to well,” I retorted.
“Ok, let’s get ready for the next one, since we know the game plan,” Theo clapped as he got into a quarterback stance while staring up the street in wait of the next approaching bus.
Sure enough, within a short time another crowd formed and as soon as the bus showed, the multitude began to attempt to shove us off, but no way, not this time. We were ready. We dug in, blocked, threw elbows and made great yardage and barely made it up to the scrimmage line but we held our places. Just as Bus 99 came close enough, we along with everyone else began our trot alongside the rolling bus. When the doors were flung open, squeeze, slam, squash and puusshh! We disappeared into the back doors and found ourselves being packed in from behind by the still pushing crowd. At least 30 more people piled in and made it onto the bus. The bus was already packed to over flowing, and I mean packed, standing room only.
You think it’s tough, being sort of cozy on an elevator with a few strangers? Try having a 300 pound Italian woman’s wrestler breasts hanging over your shoulders, while the local garlic and onion champion tester is breathing into your face from 3 inches away. At the same time, you can feel at least five pairs of hands going through your pockets and you can’t even reach down to stop them watso-thatso.
Theo disappeared in and among the sardines. Weren’t sardines invented in Italy? I could hear him gasping for air. I remembered that he was sort of claustrophobic, well perhaps more than a little. I heard him desperately screaming out for my help. I climbed up on someone’s bag and stuck my head out of the mass throng. I looked over the sea of faces and I spotted Theo a few bodies back. I thought it better to reach for him rather than go backwards against the tides. I got hold of one of his ears and began to pull. He screamed, and must have begun to kick because the sea of flesh that had him held tight began surging in a circle around him and he was slowly moved and nudged towards me.
It was the end of the day party. Everyone was jabbering in Italian, breathing out their days rations of potent fumes of garlic, fish and onions. As we surged with the turns and sways of the bus, everyone simultaneously lifted their arms up grabbing for the overhead rail, thereby smothering our faces into a sea of hairy and very stinky armpits. Without any discretion, this throng openly expelled with what seemed to be serious pleasure great quantities of gas. They gaily laughed at us, as we were engulfed into the higher knowledge of the bus riders code of ethics in Italy.
Then struck dumb with horror, I realized that Bus #99 wasn’t even the bus we wanted. Too late!
“Hey, a guy could have a lot of fun under these conditions on these bus rides,” Theo gasped out.
“Sure thing, if you love sweat and garlic and only if you got the right person close to you,” I murmured. Just then a hand grabbed a pinch full of my rear-end. I turned to see an old toothless woman smiling her gums at me and I turned my face away in revulsion. But I soon reconsidered this judgment call; better her than that giant lumbering hulk of a man smiling at me just out of reach.
We were about half way back in the aisle when I realized that I had no idea where the heck we were and on what street we were going to stop. I couldn’t see a thing through this throng. Then I pondered the fix we were in; even if we did know where we were, we couldn’t get to the front door. I began to panic a little and wonder how the heck this bus driver brought his passengers to the door. Then, this question was answered when the driver Alfonzo, slammed on the brakes and guttso-crunch!
In an instant, the 200 passengers were jammed even tighter into the front quarter of the bus and if we thought it was packed a second ago, we were very, very wrong. The passengers sort of merged into one happy family, and I knew for sure that this is where women became mothers and young men like myself became unexpected fathers. Yes it was tight and extremely close.
I then realized that the bus was once again cruising along another bus stop, scooping up another football team, while disgorging a crushed throng through the front door. Wow, what a job I thought. This guy is slick. Passengers get on with a day’s shopping and leave with five minutes of purchase, the rest is probably stuffed tight into the seats and walls. After work the bus driver goes around prying loose all the left-overs and sells it back to the stores for a handsome price. No wonder most rich Italians are all bus drivers.
By the third slam, Theo and I were forced near the front, and all without our own efforts. By the fourth forward packing, I thought I knew what it felt like to bee digested food in an intestine. It was sort of a natural progression, maybe like evolution. Hey, maybe this is where that guy (Darnet) really got the idea, brain storm on an Italian bus ride.
Ok, ok enough I thought, can’t take the pressure, and I mean pressure. Let me tell you one thing, never, and I mean never get onto an Italian bus without first having gone potty. I mean this, and I mean a complete and full emptying, or this football brigade of anxious “want to get home” Italians are gonna do it for you.
At the next slam brake crush, we found ourselves directly behind the happy singing bus driver, Alfonzo, for he knew he had a fortune hanging around the floor today. I thought this would be a great racket. Just carry along your own company of pick pockets and split the take at the end of the day.
I was wondering why we were smashed up against a steel screen, sort of like a jail cage. Then I realized that is exactly what it was, Alfonzo was encased in steel mesh. That is why he was able to escape the crushing hoards being piled up at the front each time he slammed them forward in an expert packing job. My face actually had grooves impressed onto it for at least three days after this ride.
I seemed to have joined some special unnamed club for I also saw others with the same marks and they would give me a special smile and sort of want to nudge up to me a little. I realized that they too had been touched by Bus 99 and the cage experience.
Finally, there was one last desperate push, with a tremendous slam on the brakes. I am sure Alfonzo did this for our benefit. For he saw that Theo was near death and no longer able to stand on his own. He was being supported by at least twenty happy Italian grandmothers, five pick pockets and a few far reaching grabbers. Bus #99 screeched to a jamming halt for an instant. Then Alfonzo immediately punched it, throwing everyone backwards. He hollered out something to a few Italian garlic wrestlers. With 40 pairs of hands on us, we were expelled in a gut wrenching shove, catapulted out onto the sidewalk where we both fell in a sprawl.
Theo lay gasping for air. I crawled around looking for our stuff. Just as I figured, most of it was gone. I looked up in time to see the bus being chased by another team of experienced Italians, jostling and pushing for position to catch that door when it would fling open for only a second and admit them into the Italian chamber of “squeesh thepish and fleece the fools.”
No matter, we were alive. We got up, dusted ourselves off and tried to figure out where the heck we were.
“Oh sheee-etskees, we are on the other side of the river,” I blurted out.
“Should we try and catch the next bus?” Theo asked as he clamored to his feet.
I smiled and said, “Sure, let’s go, maybe we can get back some of our stuff this time; you get to be the pick pocket and I’ll be the guy that reaches out and touches things.”
However after serious contemplation, we decided to walk the three miles back INSTEAD.
Bio: Michael M. Tickenoff, is a partially sighted man with many experiences. Michael is a story teller, a researcher, a self-published author, an artist, a public speaker and an adventurer. He has Traveled to over 40 countries; he has acquired more than enough exciting experiences and has much to say. He enjoys writing Poems, Proverbs and Short Stories. Michael has published his extraordinary, Luke Mitchner Series, a six book collection of Adventure, Mystery, Romance and insights to life itself. He is an old time on the road investigator, with a thousand strange tales to be told.
Anniversary Notes, creative nonfiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
Terry and Estelle Brandt, my grandparents, were humble, church going, cotton and peanut raising country people living simple lives. When a little pressure was exerted, they agreed it would be nice to have family and a few friends in to help celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary on January 4, 1954. The small gathering grew beyond all expectations since each of the four boys had their own ideas about who should come. Comanche county, Texas, was a rural area, and the Brandts knew church, business, and farming people from all over.
Aunt Jo had the lace tablecloth made. Ribbons and bells hung to the floor from each corner, and satin ruffles in a heart-shaped pattern were placed in the center of the table to complement the tiered wedding cake a local bakery was hired to make for the celebration. My mom found the recipe for hot tea with spices and juices, and much to my amazement, she volunteered me to sing before the cake was cut.
I suggested a peppy little popular song from two years before which I knew I could sing with confidence, “I Love You, a Bushel and a Peck.” Aunt Eloise was having none of that. It had to be the traditional anniversary Waltz.
I was taking voice at the school for the blind, so I asked about the song.
“There are actually two,” Mrs. Campion told me. “Bing Crosby sang one in a movie, and that’s actually called the Anniversary Waltz. But the one most people think of is based on an old Romanian melody called Waves of the Danube. It starts out in a minor key, and is much faster than the other love song.”
She played and sang both, and I eventually agreed to learn them both. I didn’t think either fit my grandparents. They heard Bill Monroe bluegrass on the radio at breakfast, and the Light Crust Doughboys with the livestock report, weather, and news when the hired hands came in for “dinner,” that’s what they called lunch in the country.
Carl, the brothers’ cousin, was supposed to play for me. Aunt Eloise said she’d get the sheet music. He was the son of my granddad’s brother, and there was bad blood between the brothers over property inheritance. The families never visited, but Carl and his sister were good school friends with my dad and his brothers. Everyone knew Carl’s attendance was iffy, and I didn’t know what I’d do if he didn’t show up. Part of me hoped he wouldn’t, because I didn’t like those songs. I had sung and played with Carl and his sister over the years with the piano and pump organ. Carl would need to bring his pump organ up to the house for the celebration. We knew his dad wouldn’t like it.
I was fourteen years old, so when the big day finally arrived, I was dressed up in a green taffeta dress I loved. I had a new perm and make-up, and was seated at the reception book and gift table. My cousins gathered cups and napkins while we waited. The tea seemed to be sending a long line to the bathroom somehow, but everything was going according to schedule. As the gifts were opened, we marveled at each one: Salt and pepper shakers shaped like bells; ice tea pitcher and goblets with gold squiggles on the sides; a decorative pillow with the number fifty in gold lamé lettering on it.
“Where’s Carl?” my aunts began whispering. “It’s time to cut the cake.”
One of my uncles, dressed fit to kill of course, drove across the connecting road and convinced Carl they really could hoist that pump organ into the back of the pickup.
I slipped into those three-inch heels I’d been dreading, and clipped on those painful gold ear rings I was supposed to wear and made my way to the front porch. The cake had been moved to a special serving table there. All the guests and family were in the yard because there wasn’t room for us all in one room in the small farm house. Thank goodness it was a warm January.
“What are you going to sing?” Carl asked as he showed me where to stand so the film they were running would catch me in full view. He didn’t want to be in the picture because he’d slipped away to do this deed against his dad’s wishes.
“They had me learn the Anniversary Waltz, and I learned both versions. Which one do you think I should sing?”
“I don’t know that song,” he said, “What else could you sing instead?”
There wasn’t time to worry about why he didn’t get the sheet music, so I just had to wing it. “A bushel and a peck?” I suggested.
“I don’t know that either,” he laughed. “You know I like classical and Latin music, and I play hymns at church.”
That was true. When I’d sung with them before, it was Christmas carols, kids’ songs, or special music for church.
“Do you know Cielito Lindo?” he asked.
I was stunned. I’d taken Spanish and lived in south Texas. Mexican music was popular, and so of course I did know the song. It was a happy song, but I wasn’t sure how a foreign language song would go over. Carl didn’t give me much time to think about it, he started playing.
“Just tell them I said I was picking the music today,” he offered.
I decided to have fun with it. We did one verse, he played a bridge and told me to start clapping. Everyone else followed suit. I was on a roll by then, “Everyone sing along on this one!” I hollered as I launched into “Happy anniversary to you!” Carl, of course, played along on the organ.
Later, when the crowd finally went home and the dishes were being put away, my granddad cornered me. “What was that song about? Was that Mexican?” I told him about the trick Carl and I played. He called my grandmother over. “Essie,” he said, “That was a song about beautiful skies, and it’s a happy kind of a sweetheart song. It says we should all sing and not cry to make our hearts glad. At least that’s what our granddaughter tells me.”
Grandmother smiled. “Good,” she whispered, “I knew you didn’t like that other song, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t either.”
Aunt Jo and Aunt Eloise gave my parents a little grief, but everyone said the smile on Carl’s face when he livened up a party he wasn’t supposed to attend was a very special gift of love for my grandparents on their golden wedding anniversary.
Memories with Dad, nonfiction
by Marcia J. Wick, The Write Sisters
Honoring my Dear Old Dad, Edward T. Walford, Lt. Col. Ret., who will turn 92 Oct. 17, 2016
My earnest dad asks, “Please remind me, what are the names of your children?” I glance up to look into the worried face of my 91-year-old father. I realize he is addressing me quietly so as not to call the attention of others to his troubling memory loss.
“I have two daughters, Julie and Maddy,” I prompt him gently. “Julie teaches kindergarten and Maddy still works up in Cripple Creek, remember?” He hangs his head, struggling to make a connection. I ramble on. “You are always confusing Maddy with Jenny for some reason,” There is some special kind of genetic connection between my sister and daughter, I muse, knowing my dad is no longer following the thought chain.
The mention of Jenny’s name, however, prompts him to look up. “Where is Jenny? I need Jenny,” he says anxiously jerking his bald head around.
Jenny, the youngest of six children in our family, has assumed the role of full-time caregiver for our parents, fortunately for the rest of us. Although resistant to accepting help from their other children, Mom and Dad demand constant attention from Jenny.
“What is it you need, Dad?” I ask. “Jenny is helping with the food right now but I am here to help.” He requests tea, then becomes distracted by another of my sisters, asking Vicky to remind him of the names of her children.
Those of us listening nearby go silent. We wait not knowing how Dad will react when Vicky recalls that one of her two sons has passed. We all grieve again and want to spare dad from this particular memory.
At the mention of John’s name, my father’s face suddenly lights up. “I want to be buried with John, but they won’t let me,” he exclaims. Our gentle laughter releases the tension. This is a story we have heard many times before.
Our nephew, John, rests in a columbarium at a lovely pastoral setting often visited by deer on the grounds of my parents’ Catholic Church. But full burial there is only available to the shrinking population of aging nuns. “You could join John if you want to be cremated,” we all offer, knowing that Dad’s preference is for a traditional burial because he believes he will need his body to find his parents in heaven.
The ghostly look of a frightened child flickers across my father’s face as he worries aloud, “Do you think I will be able to find my parents in heaven?” We instantly assure that he will. Recollecting his own father, Dad suddenly returns to remembering that it is Father’s Day. He summons all the fathers, commanding they stop tending the grills and line up for a group photo. He boasts about his sons and sons-in-law while handing them each a cash card. His sons may now be handling his finances, but dad stubbornly holds onto his own wallet.
As we chat about our road trip to visit my sister, Jill, in Laramie the weekend before, Dad doesn’t remember the recent visit. At the mention of Jill’s name, however, he does recall taking his last downhill ski run with her six months earlier. Dad willingly retired his skis when he was too exhausted to take a second run at age 91, but he laments being forced by his doctor to give up driving at that age. His children had conspired with the doctor to force Dad to stop driving, but no one in the family dared demand that he give up skiing. Fortunately, Dad willingly retired his skis, but he is still looking for the keys to the car.
Dad grew up in a blue collar family with low income in a Midwestern city. Now, when he grumbles loudly about the price of a beer or being pressed to leave a $10 tip, we recognize it as a throwback to his family’s tough depression era days.
Our family honors the stories of how Dad outgrew the confines of poverty. He set out as a young soldier to help support his loving family back home, and to learn how to build a better future for his own.
Dad pursued higher education. He showed us the value of books, travel and the great outdoors. Despite his military background, he taught us to deplore war as the last possible path to peace.
At times now, Dad may seem stingy but his checkbook still opens at the first hint of one of his children or grandchildren needing help. He reminds us proudly, and repeatedly, that he covers the cost of college textbooks for his grandchildren, and for decades he has quietly slipped child support checks to my sister and me to make up for any budget shortfalls.
When Dad finally leaves us to look for his parents, he will be buried on the beautiful grounds of the United States Air Force Academy. He taught chemistry to cadets there for many years when the state-of-art campus was newly built. More recently, he returned to the military college as a distinguished visiting professor following his retirement from a second civilian teaching career.
He no longer quotes the periodic table, and he can’t remember what my brothers are cooking on the grill this Father’s Day, but he abruptly calls us to attention proclaiming, “Does everyone know my 380th bomb group reunion will be in Albuquerque this October?”
“Why, yes!” we exclaim with mock surprise, as if we are being reminded of this for the first time that day.
This Father’s Day, we time travel with Dad, coaxing to help him recall the names of our grown children in the present, fighting the war with our father as an 18-year-old navigator, stretching back further to comfort him as a six-year-old grieving the death of his father, jumping to this Father’s Day to help Dad find Jenny and his tea, next taking a quick trip to heaven where memories of Dad’s mom transport Dad back to the war.
As Dad slips back into old memories, we know our Dear Old Dad may soon embark on life’s next great adventure. Although memories with Dad become hazy, the legacy of Dad’s lifetime of service to country, community and family appears crystal clear.