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, Bonnie Blose, and Marilyn Brandt Smith
- Poetry: Lisa Busch, Valerie Moreno, Abbie Johnson Taylor, Alice Massa, and Lynda McKinney Lambert
- Technical Assistants: Jayson Smith and John Weidlich
- Internet Specialist: Julie Posey
Writers with disabilities may submit up to three selections per issue. Deadlines are February 15 for the Spring/Summer issue, and August 15 for the Fall/winter issue. Writers must disclose their disability in their biography or in their work. Biographies may be up to 100 words in length, and should be written in third-person.
Do not submit until your piece is ready to be considered for publication. Rewrites, additions, deletions, or corrections are part of the editorial process, and will be suggested or initiated by the editor.
Poetry maximum length is 50 lines. Memoir, fiction, and nonfiction maximum length is 2500 words. In all instances, our preference is for shorter lengths than the maximum allowed. Please single-space all submissions, and use a blank line to separate paragraphs and stanzas. It is important to spell check and proofread all entries. Previously published material and simultaneous submissions are permitted provided you own the copyright to the work. Please cite previous publisher and/or notify if work is accepted elsewhere.
We do not feature advocacy, activist, “how-to,” or “what’s new” articles regarding disabilities. Innovative techniques for better writing as well as publication success stories are welcome. Content will include many genres, with limited attention to the disability theme. Announcements of writing contests with deadlines beyond April 1 and October 1 respectively are welcome.
Have You Published a book? If you would like to have an excerpt of your book published in an issue of Magnets and Ladders, please submit a chapter or section of your book to email@example.com. The word count for book excerpt submissions should not exceed twenty-five hundred words. Please include information about where your book is available in an accessible format. We will publish up to one book excerpt per issue.
Do you have a skill, service, or product valued by writers? For a minimum contribution of $25.00 we will announce it in the next two issues of Magnets and Ladders. All verifications of products or services provided are the responsibility of our readers. Book cover design? Copyediting? Critiques? Formatting for publication? Internet access or web design? Marketing assistance? Special equipment? Make your donation through PayPal (see magnetsandladders.org) or by check by March/September 1. 100-word promotional information is due by February/August 15. Not sure about something? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. All donations support Magnets and Ladders.
Please email all submissions to email@example.com. Paste your submission and bio into the body of your email or attach in Microsoft Word format. If submitting Word documents, please put your name and the name of your piece at or near the top of the document. Submissions will be acknowledged within two weeks. You will be notified if your piece is selected
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
- Editor’s Welcome
- In Memory of Bobbi LaChance Bubier
- Beyond the Call of Duty
by Bobbi LaChance
- Part I. Not What I Expected
- The Bus Is Coming! The Bus Is Coming! memoir, nonfiction First Place
by Jeff Flodin
- Where There’s Smoke, nonfiction Second Place
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
- Sarah: Siren of the Shopping Cart, nonfiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
- An Old Man Sneezed on Me, fiction First Place
by Leonard Tuchyner
- Carrot Juice, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner
- Jump! flash fiction
by Valerie Moreno
- The Bus Is Coming! The Bus Is Coming! memoir, nonfiction First Place
- Part II. Looking Back
- Summer’s Last Ride, poetry First Place
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
- What a Feeling! poetry Second Place
by Andrea Kelton
- The Lagoon’s Secret, poetry Honorable Mention
by Elizabeth Fiorite
- Tonka, memoir, nonfiction Honorable Mention
by John Justice
- Requiem Remembrances, nonfiction
by Peter Altschul, MS
- No Longer Eleven, Memoir
by Mary-Jo Lord
- Friendship and Fantasy, poetry
by Terri Winaught
- Remembering Tai and Randy, poetry
by Brad Corallo
- A Mother’s Mirror, poetry
by MarciaJ. Wick, The Write Sisters
- As Time Passes, poetry
by Valerie Moreno
- Summer’s Last Ride, poetry First Place
- Part III. A Special Place and Time
- A Moment out of Time, fiction Second Place
by John Justice
- I Think I Belong Here…Kentucky, nonfiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
- Visit Beautiful Washington State, nonfiction
by Ernie Jones
- “Head of a Catalan Peasant”, poetry
Homage to Joan Miro
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
- Wet and Black, alternative Sestina form poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
- Peak View, Pantoum, poetry
by Shawn Jacobson
- Wendover Interlude, poetry
by Shawn Jacobson
- Moonlight in Luxor, poetry
by Amy L. Bovaird
- A Moment out of Time, fiction Second Place
- Part IV. The Writers’ Climb
- Keepsake Poetry, nonfiction
by Ann Chiappetta
- Wordwalk with Leader Dog Willow on a Velvet Night
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
- What Makes You Think You’re a Poet? poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
- CONTEST ALERT
- 26/MT. Fuji: Move High the Stones, book excerpt, nonfiction Second Place
by Amy L. Bovaird
- The Disappearance of a Poem
by Mary-Jo Lord
- Keepsake Poetry, nonfiction
- Part V. A Different Perspective
- Quantum Reset, fiction Honorable Mention
by Brad Corallo
- A Very Special Dinner, fiction Honorable Mention
by Elizabeth Fiorite
- The Ambassador, fiction
by Greg Pruitt
- Tomorrow’s Blossoms, fiction
by Shawn Jacobson
- Video Game Parenting, nonfiction
by Peter Altschul, MS
- A Lesson in Empathy, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin
- I Don’t Think of You as Blind, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin
- Quantum Reset, fiction Honorable Mention
- Part VI. A Breath of Spring and Summer
- A Sommelier of Summer, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
- Summer, Mount Sinai Harbor, poetry
by Brad Corallo
- Slices of Summer, poetry
by Nancy Scott
- Butterfly, poetry
by Trish Hubschman
- Water Balloons, memoir
by Andrea Kelton
- Windsong, fiction
by Susan Muhlenbeck
- Unwelcome Sunshine, flash fiction
by John Wesley Smith
- A Suit Jacket and a Flower, fiction
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
- My Late Husband in Summer, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
- A Sommelier of Summer, poetry
- Part VII. The Melting Pot
- Part VIII. Roadblocks and Journeys
- The Long Fading, poetry HonorableMention
by Leonard Tuchyner
- “To Take Out or Not to Take Out, That Is the Question”, memoir, nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Janet Di Nola Parmerter
- Life is to be lived, creative nonfiction
by Ernie Jones
- Then I’ll Say Goodbye, nonfiction
by Amy L. Bovaird
- Amber’s Alert, fiction
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
- Music Man with Gray Eyes, poetry
by Monique Harris
- Beautiful Lady, poetry
by Monique Harris
- Senses, poetry
by Jessica Goody
- Roosevelt’s Braces, poetry
by Jessica Goody
- Mastectomy, poetry
by Jessica Goody
- The Long Fading, poetry HonorableMention
Hello. As I work on this edition of Magnets and Ladders, a fresh breeze blows through open windows. Birds of all varieties try to out sing each other and Jade, my orange Tabby answers with a throaty, chatter that cats use when bird watching from indoors. These are all good signs that spring is here to stay.
In early February, members of Behind Our Eyes were saddened by the passing of Bobbi LaChance Bubier, former Behind Our Eyes President and charter member. As a tribute to Bobbi, we will share one of her amazing stories and information about her contributions to our organization immediately following the Editor’s Welcome.
This edition has stories, poems, and articles for you to enjoy through the spring and summer. Are you ready for warmer weather? If for some reason you aren’t quite there, “A Breath of Spring and Summer” will put you in the mood. “Not What I Expected,” “A Different Perspective,” and “The Melting Pot” have pieces that will surprise you, make you think differently, or put a smile on your face. The stories, poems, and memoirs in “Looking Back and “A Special Place and Time” may stir up some of your own memories. Read about some amazing people and their challenges in “Roadblocks and Journeys.” As always, “The Writers’ Climb” has poems and articles that will inspire your writing.
I would like to give a big thanks to all of the committee members and to Marilyn Brandt Smith, Jason Smith and John Weidlich for your hard work and support throughout the production process.
We had contests with cash prizes in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. We had 89 submissions, so thank you to everyone who submitted. Choosing contest winners and entries to publish was a rewarding and challenging task for our editorial staff. We had a surprise when all of the contest results were counted. We had a tie for second place in our nonfiction category. Below are the names and authors of the Magnets and Ladders
Spring/Summer contest winners.
- First Place: “An Old Man Sneezed on Me” by Leonard Tuchyner
- Second Place: “A Moment out of Time” by John Justice
- Honorable Mention: “Quantum Reset” by Brad Corallo
- Honorable Mention: “A Very Special Dinner” by Elizabeth Fiorite
- First Place: “The Bus Is Coming! The Bus Is Coming!” by Jeff Flodin
- Second Place: “26/Mt. Fuji: Move High the Stones,” book excerpt by Amy Bovaird
- Second Place: “Where There’s Smoke” by Marilyn Brandt Smith
- Honorable Mention: “Tonka” by: John Justice
- Honorable Mention: “To Take Out or Not to Take Out, That Is the Question” by Janet di Nola Parmerter
- First Place: “Summer’s Last Ride” by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
- Second Place: “What a Feeling!” by Andrea Kelton
- Honorable Mention: “The Long Fading” by Leonard Tuchyner
- Honorable Mention: “The Lagoon’s Secret” by Elizabeth Fiorite
Congratulations to the winning authors. All of our prize winning stories and poems can be found throughout this issue. See “The Writers’ Climb” for details about our next contest, again with cash prizes.
The Magnets and Ladders editorial staff wishes you a safe and fun filled summer.
In Memory of Bobbi LaChance Bubier
In Early February, Bobbi LaChance Bubier passed away after a long battle with cancer. Bobbi was a charter member of Behind our Eyes and was the second president. Bobbi filled the office of President during a challenging time for the organization. She handled the transition with strong leadership skills and grace and the organization grew immensely during her presidency. Her marketing and fundraising skills have made publication and many other organization activities possible. Bobbi had big dreams and a big heart.
During the weeks following her death, Behind Our Eyes members posted messages to the mailing list and presented at a phone conference memorial about Bobbi’s impact on their lives and their writing. Most members mentioned her generous nature, sense of humor, and positive attitude. She always offered support and encouragement to new writers or members that were stepping out into new territories. She offered empathy and guidance to many members, even while she was battling cancer and other significant health issues. Bobbi will be remembered and missed by the Behind Our Eyes community.
Here is a story of Bobbi’s that is a favorite among Behind Our Eyes members. It was published in Behind Our Eyes and was in the first edition of magnets and Ladders.
Beyond the Call of Duty
by Bobbi LaChance
It was a hot summer night in Portland, Maine-well over 100 degrees. We left the windows open when we went to bed, hoping for a breeze. Half awake and half asleep, I heard footsteps in the kitchen. One of the children must be sneaking a cookie. I thought I heard the familiar clink of the glass lid on the jar, but I didn’t want to wake up.
On the edge of drifting into a deeper sleep I heard footsteps tiptoe into my bedroom, then tiptoe out-squeaky floorboards. From the kitchen, I heard a strange noise, then all was quiet. With sudden awareness, I bolted upright in bed listening. I heard another movement in the kitchen. Oh My God, I thought, there’s someone in the house. Are my children all right? Ever so slowly, as my feet touched the floor, reaching down, I unhooked my guide dog, Wicket, and crept softly toward the bedroom door. Wicket stayed right at my side. Just as I reached the threshold of the doorway, I slipped my hand around the door molding and flicked the kitchen light on.
Suddenly, I heard a scream as my five-year-old daughter, Lisa, barreled into me yelling, “There is a man in the kitchen!” I felt Wickets fur go by my leg, and then all hell broke loose.
My seven-year-old son, Christopher, appeared to the left of me in the hallway. “Mama, I’ve got my baseball bat, I’ll get him.”
I heard a menacing growl, and teeth clicking as if to bite. For an instant, the room seemed still, then a voice screeched, “Call off that dog! Call off that dog!”
Christopher started toward the intruder. I grabbed him by the collar of his pajamas and pulled him close to me. Sure that the bat was our defense, he was not letting go of it. “Where is he?” I cried. There was a roaring in my ears, and I could hear my heart beating.
“Wicket has him pinned between the refrigerator and the cabinet,” Christopher told me. “Every time he tries to move, Wicket acts like he’s going to bite him.”
Once again, Christopher stepped forward with his bat raised. I pulled him in again.
“Call off that damn dog!” squealed the man.
I held my two children tight against me. The roar in my ears wouldn’t stop. I could neither think nor react. I felt my daughter quivering against my left side, and noticed warm liquid on my toes as my daughter lost control of her bladder. As I reached behind me and dialed zero on the phone, the growling and cursing continued.
“Operator,” said a voice.
“Police!” I yelled into the phone.
In a matter of seconds, a male voice responded, “Portland Police Department.”
In one breath I said, “There is a man in my kitchen-my guide dog won’t stop growling-my daughter just peed on the floor because she is scared.”
“Where do you live, ma’am?” asked the officer.
“I don’t know,” I hysterically answered.
Again the shrill voice of the man cut through our conversation, “Get rid of this dog! Get rid of this dog!”
“He’s in the kitchen,” I stammered, “the children and I are here alone-I am blind.”
“Ma’am,” said the officer very patiently, “can you tell me your address?”
“Address,” I repeated. “Let me think-what’s my address?” Today they could find me instantly, but our trouble that night preceded 911.
“I need your address, ma’am,” the officer said again very patiently.
“I don’t know,” I repeated, agitated by these questions. I stood holding the phone away from me as if it were some strange object. Nothing made sense.
Christopher grabbed the phone out of my hand and began talking to the officer, telling him, “Her name is Mommy, but her real name is Jenny Gilmore, and we live at 12 Myrtle Street, second floor, in Portland. I have a baseball bat, and he is not going to hurt my mom or my sister.”
Relieved that Christopher had answered the officer’s questions, I took back the telephone. “There is a man in my kitchen and my dog is holding him at bay and I have two very frightened children,” I told the officer with a great deal more composure. The dog’s growls seemed to get deeper, and I could hear the snapping of his teeth.
“Don’t you try to move,” threatened Christopher holding up the bat.
Tightening my arms around him, “Down, hero,” I said.
“Mrs. Gilmore, someone is on the way,” the police officer said in a reassuring voice, “I will keep this line open until the officers arrive. Can you tell me-does the intruder have a weapon or is he armed with anything?”
“Christopher,” I pleaded, “Can you see from here? Does he have any type of weapon?”
Christopher responded, “No, Mama, I don’t think so. He’s standing between the cabinet and the refrigerator. He’s sweating like crazy, and he’s got his hands over his ears. Mama, he looks scared Wicket is going to bite him.” I repeated what Christopher told me.
“I will continue to keep this line open,” repeated the officer.
We felt a moment of relief, knowing the police were on their way. “Mama,” Christopher whispered, “He’s starting to move. I bet he wants to get away.”
Wicket, seeing this movement, suddenly lunged forward, giving three ferocious barks. I could hear the sound of his snapping teeth. “Get him away! Get him away! He’s gonna kill me!” he screamed.
Suddenly, whether from anticipation or fear, silence prevailed. I could hear the ticking of my kitchen clock, as well as traffic in the street below. The refrigerator motor kicked on. Every muscle in Christopher’s back tightened. I hugged him closer to me as he raised the bat in his hand, whispering, “I’ll protect you and Lisa, Mama.”
In the distance, I could hear sirens wailing, then I heard the sound of car doors, slamming, heavy footsteps in the stairwell, and a loud banging at my front door. Christopher bolted out of my arms and ran to answer it. Doing as he had been taught, he asked, “Who is it?”
“Portland Police Department,” boomed a voice from the other side.
Christopher opened the door wide to let the officers in. There seemed to be mass confusion as two police officers entered the kitchen.
My daughter Lisa, squeezing my waist tight, burying her face in my nightgown, in a muffled voice asked, “Mama, They’ve got guns. Are they going to shoot us?”
I couldn’t find my voice, but I patted her shoulder reassuringly. Finally, I leaned down and whispered, “No, sweetheart. They’re here to help us.”
The roar in my ears became louder. My legs felt like rubber.
One of the police officers sized up the situation very quickly. “Ma’am, take a seat there at the kitchen table.” Gently, he placed his hand on my shoulder, guiding me to the chair. My daughter dragged her feet as I pulled her along with me.
Christopher came to stand at my side, bat still held tightly in hand. Evidently the man tried to move from his position, teeth snapped and the growls sounded like they came from a wolf instead of my gentle guide dog. The officer pulled out a chair.
“Check out the rest of the apartment.” He ordered his junior partner.
“Call off this dog,” pleaded the intruder. The senior officer didn’t respond. Leaving the situation alone, he began filling out his paperwork. The intruder begged again, “Please get this dog away from me!”
The officer replied, “Your troubles have just started, pal, never mind the dog.” When his partner returned, explaining that the rest of the apartment was secure, the senior officer told him, “Cuff him.”
His partner asked, “What about the dog?”
The senior officer very quietly said to me, “Ma’am, call off your dog.”
“Wicket,” I said, “come.” Wicket obediently came around the corner of the table, sat down, and put his head in my lap. I rubbed his shoulders and ruffled his ears to let him know that everything was all right. “Good boy,” I whispered.
After the man was removed from the apartment, the senior officer shut and locked the window through which the intruder had entered. “Better have your landlord check this window tomorrow,” he suggested. “If you need further assistance, just call.”
As soon as the police left, Christopher, Lisa and I pushed the refrigerator in front of the window. I bathed Lisa, and found her a clean nightgown. We decided to leave the kitchen light on for the rest of the night. Crawling into bed, I began to shake from head to toe. If this was a nightmare, I just wanted to wake up.
“Mama, can I sleep with you?” came a small voice from the bedroom door.
“Sure,” I said,” lifting the cover, “Come on in.”
“Christopher’s coming, too.”
I heard small bare feet on the kitchen floor, then Christopher came through the doorway. “Can I sleep here, too?” he asked, “That way I could protect you.”
Feeling warm tears in my eyes, I threw back the other side of the covers. He crawled in, baseball bat and all! The three of us snuggled together.
All of a sudden I felt the weight of two paws on the foot of the bed. I reached down, “Just this once,” I said. As a smile crossed my face, I felt the dog’s weight settle across my feet. “You deserve this, Wicket. You went way beyond the call of duty.”
Part I. Not What I Expected
The Bus Is Coming! The Bus Is Coming! memoir, nonfiction First Place
by Jeff Flodin
With the arrival of each season, baseball, football, hockey and Christmas, I mosey over to my neighborhood barber shop for a haircut. It’s a short walk and, with Randy the dog guiding the way, my mind is free to wander like a free range chicken. But I tune in the traffic pattern as we near the corner of Ashland and Foster. As I calculate the red light/green light sequence, I feel a tug on my sleeve.
“You get on the bus here,” says the little old lady, pulling me like a truant child toward what must be the bus stop.
“Not today, ma’am,” I reply. “Today I’m just crossing the street to the barber shop.”
“No, this is where you get on the bus,” she says, raspy and urgent.
“No I don’t,” I say. “You get on the bus. I cross the street.” I fake left and run right. But she grabs my sleeve again and swings me around.
“I know you want to be helpful and I appreciate that,” I say. “But I’m really not interested in getting on the bus. I’m interested in crossing Foster.” I take one step and then realize that, in the sleeve-tugging and swinging around, I’ve lost my bearings. She senses my confusion and leads me toward the bus stop again, all the while shouting, “The bus is coming! The bus is coming!”
I hear the bus stop and the door open-whoosh! and the old lady yelling, “That man needs help!” to the bus driver, who now stands next to me asking, “You need help?”
“Yes, get me away from her for starters,” I tell him. “Then point me due south so I can cross Foster.” He does this without question or comment.
Thus, having regained my sense of place in the universe, I progress toward my goal, wondering where I’d be if not for the kindness of strangers.
Bio: Jeff Flodin is the author of the blog, “Jalapenos in the Oatmeal: Digesting Vision Loss” (http://jalapenosintheoatmeal.wordpress.com/). He is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Access Fellowship. His work has appeared in several publications. He is a Licensed Social Worker in the State of Illinois. He has been living with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) for three decades. He lives in Chicago with his wife, his Seeing Eye dog and two cats whom, along with his sense of humor, he credits for maintaining his sanity.
Where There’s Smoke, nonfiction Second Place
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
Boaters have a bag, or at least they’re supposed to, called the “Go” bag. It’s what you grab when you have to jump because you’re going to capsize, explode, or sink. It’s the thing you use to get help, and to survive until you get that help. You get the picture?
Most homeowners don’t have a “Go” bag, but we’ve all seen the ads. “Your danger is here, and you are here. Plan A, Plan B, then we all meet at the curb, or we meet in the alley.”
My husband, my son, and I were sleeping, reading, radioing, whatever, on a Thursday morning in June. There was a gentle thunderstorm brewing, and it got a little nearer and a little louder. My son Jay was about to get on the computer and proofread one of my writing projects.
Suddenly, gunshots! Rifles through our heads—then the thunder. “What in the world?”
I was upstairs in the bedroom reading. I grabbed my Victor Stream and got the hell out of Dodge. The electrical smoke smell was devastating. “What did it hit?” I called to my husband Roger as I met him at the top of the stairs.
“Us. We’d better go check this out,” he said. Jay was waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs. He had heard louder “gunshots” than we had. We thought it was in the basement. He ran to the door.
“There’s something going on down here. I see light. I hear something, fire or water.”
“Can’t be water,” I said, “Call 9-1-1!”
Roger grabbed his cell, I was still in my robe, Jay never put on a shirt. “Grab the Braille Pluses,” I suggested. They were close at hand. I grabbed my purse, Roger grabbed his wallet, we’d need those credit cards if we had to stay in a motel, get food. The floor wasn’t getting hot, and there were no smoke detectors going off. Little did we know the circuit board in the security system was fried. We already had the dog and the cat. What should we do about our pet snakes?
We were by the exits. I had thought about the safety deposit box, one of those that’s supposed to be fireproof. Nevertheless, I had it in my hands, ready to run. We heard the sirens. The fire department was only four or five blocks away. Roger had his hands on the hard drive that contained all our music. “What else? What else?” We were trying to think. If we had to leave, we didn’t know when we’d be able to return, and we didn’t dare go back upstairs or down stairs.
We showed the fire department how to get to the different floors, the basement, the attic, the crawl spaces. They wanted to be sure before they left. There was no fire, but we smelled electrical smoke on all the floors for days.
What we thought was fire was actually water in the basement. Two pipes arced together when the crash came. One of them broke a coupling and we had a water leak. A light had been left on. That was the light Jay saw in the basement.
The lightning burned up the cable for our house and two neighbors beside us–not the modems, actual cable. It smashed a couple of storm windows. There wasn’t a strong wind, it was just the jar from the hit. Did it come in on our ham tower? Will we ever know? The doorbell, the phone system, all of the Internet was gone.
There were eight people floating around in our house on Friday, making and estimating repairs and replacements. We had good insurance so we were all right financially. Two computers were in intensive care for a while, one amplifier was gone. What else?
It took us weeks to discover all the damage. Six talking Caller-ID units never said another word. Strange things happened–battery equipment, not tied to electricity in any way, reset itself. A battery weather thermometer with a probe outside, fried.
The ham tower had to come down. The top of it was severely scorched. The texture of the wire was completely different. A driver on our street actually saw the bolt of lightning strike it. He lost the GPS and fuse box in his car.
They said what saved us from a major fire was the fact that we’d rewired the house nine years ago. It was built in 1911, and had some 1929 wiring. We also put surge protectors on the breaker box. It threw almost every breaker in the house. But believe this if you can, we did not lose power.
Are you ready mentally for something like that? We certainly weren’t, but I’m awfully glad we’re here to tell the story. It’s one of the scariest half hours of my life. What would you grab if it were your turn, or would you grab anything at all? Now, where is that “Go” bag?
Bio: Marilyn Brandt Smith worked as a teacher, licensed psychologist, and rehabilitation professional. She has edited magazines and newsletters since 1976, and was the first blind Peace Corps volunteer. She lives with her family and many animals in a hundred-year-old home in Kentucky. Her first book, Chasing the Green Sun, published in 2012, is available from Amazon and other bookstores and in audio form. She loves writing flash fiction stories, and was the primary editor for the first Behind Our Eyes anthology, as well as Magnets and Ladders from 2011 through 2013. Another of her interests is music–barbershop harmony, folk and Americana, and current hits. Visit her website at: http://www.marilynspages.com.
Sarah: Siren of the Shopping Cart, nonfiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
Sarah doesn’t charge anything for shopping assistance, and she has a way of launching whirlwind discoveries. I found Mountain House camping and survival food while doing an online search for Mountain Heart, a high-energy bluegrass band. A search for a Bluetooth device brought me Mortimer the moose. I think it was because, as a baby and toddler toy, he wore blue jeans and had wiggly teeth to enhance manual dexterity. Of course we had a niece with a baby on the way, so Mortimer and Mountain House, along with a bluegrass album, found their way to the shopping cart. Everything was as good as the Amazon reviewers promised.
So who is Sarah, and what does she have to do with moose and music? She’s my shopping companion. If I’m browsing for bookends to decorate my friend’s collection of literature, I might be offered the Simon and Garfunkel album by that name; a Macintosh software package for managing bibliographies and other reference material; or lions, flowers, and sailboats made of wrought iron, weighted wood, or ceramic. I’ll probably pick wrought iron sailboats, but I’ll definitely throw the S&G album into the cart. My old vinyl isn’t sounding so good these days.
When you choose to browse sales or fly through catalogs, that’s on you. But when you discover something you like that you weren’t looking for, that’s Sarah—short for Serendipity. Columbus and many other explorers owe her a thumbs-up. Too bad she doesn’t get credit in our geography books.
Sarah’s also at the grocery store. Be sure to thank her when you try and buy one of those samples at Sam’s Club. You came for the peppers, onions, and celery to make that Cajun dish, then voila! There are the Pattypan squash your mother mashed with butter and a little nip of nutmeg. Into the cart they go.
Sure, you could refine your choices online and weed out some snarls and time wasters, but you’d also miss the surprises. You could send someone, maybe a robot? who would only buy items on your grocery list at the store. Not me. I love many of Sarah’s suggestions. Some earn a laugh or a link to a friend (I know it has her name on it). Sarah makes me smile and spend money.
An Old Man Sneezed on Me, fiction First Place
by Leonard Tuchyner
When I was five-years-old, my grandfather held me in his lap. He was a very nice man, and he treated me very well. He made me feel especially special. Of course, when you’re only five, a lot of people make you feel special. It’s confusing, though. Sometimes people acted like I was bothering them. I suspected that because they would say things like, “Get away, Kid, you’re bothering me.” Or, “Why don’t you go outside and play. It’s such a nice day.” Or, “If you don’t stop following me, I’m going to throw you down a sewer pipe, and Mom and Dad won’t ever find you.” But Grandpa always made me feel wanted.
But there were things about Grandpa that made me wonder. I asked my mom once, “Why does Grandpa have skin all wrinkly-up like a prune? Why are his hands full of those brown spots? Why is there no hair at the very top of his head? Why is the rest of his hair white? Why does he take his teeth out at night, and how does he do that? Why is his nose getting so long? Why ….”
“All right, all right, already,” she said. “That’s just what happens to people when they get old.”
Now, I thought that was really exciting. I knew getting older was good, because whenever I asked why my brother was allowed to do things I wasn’t, the answer was always, “Because he’s older. When you’re older, you’ll be able to do those things, too.”
“Is Grandpa older than me?” I asked once.
Mom laughed and said, “Of course, Silly.”
“When I get as old as Grandpa, will I be able to take out my teeth and put them in a glass of water?”
“Not if you brush your teeth and see the dentist regularly,” she answered.
So I tried to stop brushing my teeth and made a big fuss whenever it was time to see the dentist. But my Mom and Dad still made me do those things. I couldn’t understand why they wanted to keep me from having removable teeth.
One day, while I was sitting on Grandpa’s lap, he started to take deep breaths, the kind you take when you are about to sneeze. So I knew what was coming. I looked very closely into his mouth, because I didn’t want to miss any of it. It was interesting the way he looked like he was going to yawn, and how his eyes almost closed in that funny way. I wanted to see the water coming out of his mouth, so I got my eyes as close to it as I could. When it came, it was a whopper. I was drenched in his spray. I heard Mom make a kind of scream from across the room. Grandpa was doing that kind of breathing that told me he was rearing back to make another go at it. I wondered whether it was going to be another lollapalooza like the first one. Grandpa could make the house shake with his sneezes. I hoped I’d be able to do that when I got bigger. But before he could get off another shot, my Mom grabbed me off his lap and rushed me into the bathroom, where she started to wash my face with that terrible washrag. She was very upset. I heard Grandpa make two more sneezes. They were humdingers. I was angry at Mom for making me miss them.
“Don’t you ever, ever, ever let somebody sneeze on you. Do you understand me?” she yelled at me.
“Yes Ma’am.” I said. But I only said that because I knew that if I said I didn’t understand, I would be sorry. She would give me a lecture about it, and I would have to sit quietly and listen. But my ploy didn’t work. She told me anyway.
“People carry germs and you don’t want those germs spread all over you. If they’re sick, they’ll make you sick too. You’ll get whatever they have. You could die from some of the things people carry around in them.”
Now, this was more interesting, “What kind of things?”
“Like polio, or a cold, or pneumonia, or leprosy.”
“Does Grandpa have lep – ro- see, Mom?”
“No, no, that was just an example.”
“What does he have that he could give me?”
“Oh, never mind. He’s just an old man who doesn’t know enough to cover his mouth when he sneezes. When you know you are going to sneeze, you must always cover your mouth. Promise me.”
I shook my head up and down once. She took a deep breath and made a sound that I found out was a sigh. Then she shook her head slowly like she was saying, “No.” that was confusing.
Anyway, I found out she was telling me the truth, because when I was six, a girl in the first grade had cooties, and she kissed me when I wasn’t looking. A kiss is a little like a sneeze. At least it was the way she did it. And, sure enough, I got the cooties. At least everyone said I did. Another time, a boy sneezed on me, and I got the measles. He got the measles, too. I figure he had them before me and gave them to me before they had shown themselves. So I know it’s true. If someone sneezes on you, you get what they have, and it usually isn’t something you want.
One day I came home from school, and Grandpa wasn’t there to greet me. Mom wasn’t there either. Dad was still at work. My brother hadn’t come home yet, but my aunt was there to greet me.
“Where is everybody?” I asked.
“You’re grandfather isn’t feeling well. Everyone has gone to the hospital to take care of him.”
“When will he be back? I need to talk to him about David.”
“Who is David?”
“The person I need to talk to Grandpa about. When will he be home?”
“I don’t know, Honey.”
There was that word, “Honey”. My aunt only used that word when there was bad news, like when my cat died. I’d come home from school, just like now. Mom and Dad were at the vet’s, getting him frozen or something.
“When are Mom and Dad coming home?”
“That depends on how Grandpa is doing. You wouldn’t want them to just leave him there, would you?”
That’s when I ran up to my room. This didn’t feel right, and I didn’t want to think about it any more. When my brother came home from school, I overheard him talking to Auntie.
“He’s gonna die, isn’t he?” my brother said.
“Now we don’t know that, Tommy.”
“Yes, he is. He’s old. Old people die.” Then I heard the door slam. I looked out the window and saw Tommy running down the street with his baseball glove.
So I knew Grandpa was dying, and I knew that it was because he was old. The thing he had was oldness. I never knew it could kill you. Then I knew why Mom was so upset when Grandpa sneezed on me. What he had was oldness, and now I was going to get old too, just like when I caught the measles. I was mad at Grandpa, because he should have covered his mouth.
Don’t you dare tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. You see, I did get old. And I know it’s a terminal condition. Of course, I don’t blame Grandpa anymore. I would have caught old age eventually, even if he hadn’t sneezed on me. Some other person who was growing old would have done it sooner or later. Or maybe I would have just picked it up from swimming in the wrong swimming pool, or eating an old fish. There’s just no helping it. Everybody I know has it. It’s not so bad at first. In fact, getting older is a good thing. For instance, I can take my teeth out now. Besides, they say it has a happy ending. Maybe I’ll even get to sit on Grandpa’s knee again.
Bio: Leonard has Stargardt’s disease which was first noticed during his teenaged years. He is now seventy-six. He reads through the media of Braille, recordings, and electronic voices produced by Open Book and Zoom Text. He lives with his wife of thirty-eight years and their two dogs. He is active in the local writing community, which includes attending critique groups. He also facilitates a Writing for Healing and Growth group at the Charlottesville Senior Center and writes a column for Dialogue Magazine. He recently published a poetry book through Cedar Creak Publishing. His hobbies include Tai chi, and gardening.
Carrot Juice, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner
Robert fell down a rabbit hole,
thinking he’d found his drunken way home,
after spending his night in a bar
swigging his way through carrot juice schnapps.
At ninety proof, it packed a wham,
enough to turn his brown eyes red.
There he spied a cute little bunny
under a cap of green carrot tops.
Her flirting eyes said, “Come here, Honey.”
Her fluffy white tail was drop-dead foxy.
Even through his bleary, blood-shot peepers,
Robert knew she was a real gone keeper,
by the way she flicked her long perky ears,
not so subtly, toward his bearing.
They rented a room behind the bar
of the “Jumpin’ Thumpin’ Cottontail Lounge”
and did what rabbits are supposed to do,
with an ample supply of carrot juice
to lighten hare responsibilities.
By the time he split the Cottontail bar,
he was springing slightly off his sync.
Every jump forward went five points east,
blown in the way of five sheets to the wind,
toxically, totally incapable
of discerning one hole from another.
So when he fell into the burrow,
he had no notion of whose home it was.
When morning light came filterering down,
his two hung-over heads clanged like a bell,
and the warren had a funky smell.
With eyes tightly closed against the bright,
Robert sunk his offended nose tight
into his wife’s soft bunny hide.
But the aroma only got stronger,
and her fur was not soft and silky –
rather rough as a ratty long-haired sweater.
He forced himself to open one eye.
A bigger one stared back adoringly.
Granny Groundhog pulled him close to her
and vowed to never ever let him go.
Robert swore that, if he ever got away,
he’d never again imbibe in carrot juice,
come what may.
Jump! flash fiction
by Valerie Moreno
Lacy stood on the silent sunlit hill, her face punched by the wind. Her white blonde hair caught the late afternoon rays as it fanned around her arms and back, hiding her face. Her blouse was in tatters and there were bite marks on one breast, bruising on the other. She’d managed to fight him off in the car by jamming her thumbs in his eyes and ran like the wind away from the cries and curses that seemed to swallow her.
How stupid could she be, thinking he’d actually brought her on a picnic to celebrate her 17th birthday! She should have seen through his stares and strawberry wine instead of believing it was all love and romance.
Now, alone at the climax of shame and humiliation, it felt as if everything in her life had led her here.
Stepping closer to the drop off, Lacy gazed at the jagged rocks below, foamy blue-green waves crashing over them. “Jump!” A voice somewhere inside her whispered, “It would be so easy…Down, down, let the cool, clean water wash it all away.”
One more step and her breathing had thinned. Another step, her heart banged against her chest, but she wasn’t crying. She looked at the sky, then at her feet, then leaped, arms extended.
Bio: Valerie Moreno, age 62, lives in New Jersey. She has been writing fiction, poetry, Memoir and articles since the age of twelve. Her interests include books, music, movies and helping others.
Part II. Looking Back
Summer’s Last Ride, poetry First Place
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
My pony’s pricked ears, alert and eager,
Coaxing, “Let’s run, let’s run! And never stop!”
The wind tugging back my too heavy hair,
Taunting, “Chase me, chase me! And never stop!”
The primitive tattoo of flying hooves,
Drumming, “Faster, faster! Don’t ever stop!”
My heart soaring up, like an uncaged bird,
Singing, “Higher, higher! Don’t ever stop!”
A little voice demanding to be heard,
urging, “hurry, hurry! Soon you must stop.”
A sage strewn land, drinking the sun’s spilled gold,
Tempting, “Farther, farther! Soon you must stop.”
The hands on my watch, race faster than I,
They tick, “It’s now, it’s now! Now you must stop.”
Bio: DeAnna Quietwater Noriega is half Apache and a quarter Chippewa. She has been a writer and story teller since childhood. She became totally blind at age eight. She currently has three short story collections and an autobiographical book residing on her computer. She has been published in four anthologies and several magazines. Sometimes it is only an overheard word, a stray thought that can set her mind spinning out a new story, poem or essay. She says that the world provides so many options and opportunities, that no one need ever be bored or live a wasted life unless they choose to do so. She lives with her husband, youngest daughter, three grandchildren, guide dog, three other dogs, three cats, three horses, three ponies and assorted fish, reptiles and rodents, in Fulton Missouri.
What a Feeling! poetry Second Place
by Andrea Kelton
Holds a painting
Featuring a free-form tree
Under an explosive yellow sun.
Brush in hand
Admiring her masterpiece.
Glee gushes and rushes
Through her four-year-old body.
Andrea glows with wonder
At this treasure she’s created.
As she discovers
This poem appeared on the Vision Through Words blog and Beth’s Class blog.
Bio: Andrea Kelton was diagnosed with uveitis at 24. Her artistic endeavors have included photography, fiber art and pottery. Andrea retired in January, 2016 after teaching for 37 years. She lives in Chicago where she attends a weekly memoir writing class led by author Beth Finke.
The Lagoon’s Secret, poetry Honorable Mention
by Elizabeth Fiorite
racing our bikes to the park,
the summer heat,
my hair tangling,
sticking to my face.
my legs aching, heavy as timbers,
the silent knot of people at the water’s edge,
the heavy, sultry quiet,
the crackling of the police car radio.
the men in slimy waders,
the body clothed in shiny seaweed tendrils,
a glistening winding sheet of languid lily pads.
the sudden dryness in my throat,
the unspoken questions in my mind,
the feeling of knowing but not knowing.
I still remember.
Bio: Elizabeth Fiorite has enjoyed a career as an educator in Catholic elementary schools, as well as asocial services counselor in a rehabilitation center for people with vision loss. She keeps active by facilitating a peer support group, a Talking Book Club, and Women of Vision, a group of women with vision loss who meet to write and “do” art.
She has been a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin for 62years and lives in community with two other Sisters in Jacksonville, Florida. She is blind due to retinitis pigmentosa.
Tonka, memoir, nonfiction Honorable Mention
by John Justice
I grew up in Southern New Jersey, on a farm where we used to raise chickens. My family kept the farm after the poultry was long gone. This part of New Jersey is a rural area filled with vegetable farms, country roads and miles of unexplored forests. Now there are whole sections that have been cleared and houses are selling at alarming prices.
I was always sent away to school because I’m blind and the local system didn’t have the kind of training which could support a visually impaired student. From Kindergarten to the eighth grade, I went off to boarding schools like most blind children of the fifties and sixties.
One Christmas, my younger sister pestered my parents until they bought her a horse. She named him Tonka but as soon as she realized that keeping a horse was a lot of work, she lost interest. So I inherited Tonka. I didn’t mind feeding him or cleaning his stall. We became good friends and he would follow me around if allowed to do so. I learned to saddle and bridle him, and we took many trips together. Tonka wasn’t anything special as horses go but he was intelligent. He seemed to know, in his own horse way, that I was blind. When I came to feed him, he’d nay quietly and then put his head on my shoulder as soon as I opened the door. He would move aside when I was cleaning and wait for me to finish. When I came home on the bus, Tonka would whinny as soon as he heard me in the driveway. When I called out his name, he would settle down and wait for me. I wore a straw hat to keep from getting burned by the sun. Tonka would sneak up behind me and steal the hat. He never damaged it but I think he found that really funny. Mom found a horse hat for him, which had holes for his ears. He never tried to shake that hat off when I put it on him.
I rode him up through Goshen, our small village and toward the main highway where I planned to walk him along the shoulder. He went so far and then stopped dead. There was no way he was going to get any closer to all that bustle and noise. If I climbed down and led him by the reins, he would come along quite easily but Tonka would not carry me onto that highway.
In the deep of winter, I hitched Tonka to a set of sleds and pulled my sister and a couple of neighbor kids along our farm roads. At one point, one of the sleds became unattached from the other. I didn’t hear a thing but Tonka stopped in his tracks. Then I heard the little girl yelling way behind us. We went back and brought her sled up to where Tonka was standing quietly. He wasn’t going to leave that girl out there all alone.
In our explorations, we went through a battered little community called Swainton. They should have called it “dog town,” because that would have been a more realistic name for it. There we were, moving along the soft shoulder of Goshen Swainton Road when suddenly, we were surrounded by what must have been twenty dogs. Most of them just ran around and barked. But one mongrel decided he wanted a piece of Tonka. I stayed in the saddle because I wasn’t sure what the dogs might do if I dismounted. Tonka waited until the dog got close enough and then raised one massive iron shod hoof. One whack was all it took. That nasty dog was bowled over and rolled right across the street. A man who was standing on the side of the road nearly choked from laughing. “Old Butch looked so surprised when your horse taught him a lesson,” said the man. We went that way once more but this time, not one dog got close enough to Tonka’s hooves.
I went off to college and left Tonka behind. Somehow, I couldn’t picture having a horse with me at Villa Nova University. Dad promised that someone would care for him. I was sad but what could I do? While I was away, during my first semester, Tonka broke out of his stall and went wandering. He went to a nearby field where feed corn was growing and ate his fill. Tonka loved to chew the kernels off of a corncob and then drop the remainder on the floor of his stall. The farmer had a fit and presented my parents with a bill for Tonka’s feast.
A couple of weeks later, just before I came home for Christmas, Tonka escaped again. There was no way to know what he got into but Mom says he swelled up like a balloon and then died a few hours later. We have no idea, to this day, what killed him. They never even had time to wait for the veterinarian to arrive. The only thing my dad ever talked about was the cost of having him carted away. That made me angry at the time. Tonka had been my friend.
My mother had a statue of Tonka made for me. She worked with the ceramic artist until the colors were perfect. Mom brought the artist a picture of me riding the horse up our driveway. She said I had a look of happiness and confidence on my face that the photograph captured very well. Tonka was wearing his straw hat and his head was up. He too looked happy. During a fire some years later, that statue was lost.
But I still have the memories of a horse, a companion, a fond friend of my youth.
Bio: John Justice is a totally blind author and entertainer. He lives with his wife near Philadelphia. John has two published books which are available on line. More information can be found at his web site, http://www.dvorkin.com/johnjustice.
Requiem Remembrances, nonfiction
by Peter Altschul, MS
While growing up, my mother made sure that I was exposed to all kinds of music: Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven, Gershwin, and Menotti; cast recordings of “Oliver,” “The Music Man,” and “West Side Story”; and songs of Pete Seeger, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles, and the Doors.
While taking part in a recent rehearsal of Mozart’s “Requiem,” it occurred to me that this composition was one of Mom’s favorite pieces of music, yet I didn’t remember her including this music on her “play list.” I did remember, though, that she and her two sisters would sing an impromptu version of the first several phrases of the “Rex Tremendae” movement after drinking several glasses of wine.
I sent Mom an e-mail asking about her memories about the connection between Mozart’s “Requiem” and my growing-up years. She responded, in part:
“I must have played the Mozart for you. I just don’t remember doing it…But one thing I know for sure, it was not wine, it was whiskey that we drank, lots of it.”
But I have no memory of hearing a recording of the “Requiem” in our house until one dreary late winter afternoon of my sophomore year in high school. I was in my room upstairs pretending to do homework, when I heard the “Domine Jesu” that starts the second half of the work. I recognized the piece because I had overheard my organ teacher telling someone else that the background music he was playing while driving us home from a field trip was a recording of him conducting the “requiem.”
In my room, I sat spellbound drinking in the fugue-like passages and the double fugue that serves both as the second and last movements of the work, the unusual harmonies for music of that period, and the weird “false cadences.” The concluding neither-major-or-minor chord was the final hook.
Last October, my then sixteen-year-old stepson started talking about how bored he was with the melody-chord progression techniques he was learning in his advanced placement music theory class.
“Isn’t there more to music than that?” he asked.
“Of course,” I told him, “there’s counterpoint.”
I explained that a good deal of music focused on how melodies that individual voices play or sing come together to suggest a chord progression instead of ramming the progression down the listener’s throat.
“Do you have an example?” he asked.
I said the first thing that came to mind. “The second movement of the Mozart Requiem.”
“The what?” he asked.
“I have it on CD downstairs. I’ll let you know when I find it.”
“Don’t worry,” he told me as I headed to the stairs, “I can find it on my iPad.”
“Is this it?” my stepson called a couple of minutes later.
“Yes!” I said, astounded, that he had found the piece so quickly.
Although the version he had found on his iPad sounded like it had been performed by a herd of stomping elephants, I could tell that my stepson, like me, had been mesmerized. Shortly afterwards, he began composing pieces more linearly than chordally, much to my delight and his teacher’s consternation.
Bio: Peter Altschul assists groups and organizations to become better at motivating people, resolving conflicts, managing diversity, and planning for the future. A published author and composer, he lives with his guide dog, Heath in Columbia, Missouri. Please visit http://www.peteraltschul.com
for additional information about his work.
No Longer Eleven, Memoir
by Mary-Jo Lord
As I climbed out of bed on the morning of my twelfth birthday, I was overcome with the exciting realization that I was no longer eleven! For me, eleven was the great no man’s land of childhood and adolescence. Eleven was the invisible age. Signs for tickets and admission to events everywhere seemed to say “Children ten and under” or “12 and over.” Even menus seemed to be divided. For a whole year, I was repeatedly faced with the humiliation of being handed a “children’s menu.” All of that would change, I was sure, now that I was twelve. I was finally free of what I had perceived as society’s deliberate attempt to alienate eleven-year-olds.
My strange mixture of little girl and teenaged interests made me feel awkward and confused. I still liked to play with dolls, but didn’t want anybody at school to know. I would play dolls in the basement or in my room, where nobody could see and when my parents were busy or not at home. This kind of sneaking around to play with dolls made me feel both like a little girl and older in a funny way I couldn’t quite explain. I was sure that I was some kind of social freak.
When I wasn’t secretly playing with dolls, I was attempting to apply makeup and nail polish. I had an ever growing stash of lip-gloss, eyeshadow, blush and nail polish. My attempts at application of all of these, other than lip-gloss had been unsuccessful so far. I’d end up with eyeshadow on the side of my nose, cheeks that were way too red, and nail polish all over my hands and the table. I felt clumsy and uncoordinated. I’d think I had the makeup right and then my mother would say, “You look like a clown.”
Now that I had turned twelve, I was sure that my world would be transformed. I would be ready to say goodbye to Barbie and her friends and Debby, my favorite baby doll. My shaky makeup and nail polish applying hands would magically become steady. After all, I was twelve, and on my way to becoming a woman.
Now somehow, I had to convince my body of this great revelation. As I saw it, all of the girls in my sixth grade class were either nearly developed or not developed at all. At 5-foot weighing 70-pounds, I fell into the second category.
Each morning, I would push all of the skin and muscle from my rib cage and chest into my training bra, hoping that it would look as if my breasts were developing. I hoped that somehow through some kind of magic, the skin and tissue forced into such confinement would miraculously be molded into breasts by the end of the day.
Some of my classmates had even started their periods. They acted like they were in a secret club, with privileges the rest of us couldn’t earn based on hard work or good grades. Even those girls that were always in trouble got special bathroom pass privileges,
didn’t have to participate in gym, and got to go rest in the office, just because they had their period.
One day Linda, one of my classmates pulled me aside. She whispered secretively, “do you wear a bra?” Without thinking, I answered proudly, that of course I wore a bra. In an embarrassed whisper, Linda confided that her mother still made her ware t-shirts. It was then that I realized that Linda had asked me because we were equally flat chested.
Despite my size and shape, my body was undergoing some other changes. For the past six months, I actually had to use the electric shaver I received for Christmas, and wearing deodorant had become a necessity. I felt as if I had been stuck with all of the nasty aspects of puberty, without any of the perceived benefits.
I had been sure that all of this would somehow change on my twelfth birthday. I was disappointed to notice that I wasn’t any taller and everything else was the same too.
I got Debby and my barbies out of the closet, ready to ask Dad to pack them away. I Couldn’t do it. I told myself that I could just have them in the closet, so I could look at them. Looking wasn’t playing and if they were stored in the loft in the garage, I couldn’t look at them. I tried applying eyeshadow, felt the applicator touch the side of my nose and wanted to cry. I gave Debby a hug, went into the bathroom and washed the side of my nose with a washcloth. For once, mom didn’t tell me I look like a clown.
Since my birthday was on a Saturday, we had my party on my actual day. I wore my favorite shirt with three raised hearts that overlapped. Aunt Emma noticed that I was wearing eyeshadow, and Grandpa said, “You look taller.”
After we had chocolate cake, my favorite, and ice cream, it was time to open gifts. Mom gave me a stack of packages tied together with a ribbon. I decided to open the big one first, jeans and a shirt. Everyone said that the shirt was pretty and that the red would go nice with my hair. Then I opened one of the smaller boxes. I lifted up the lid, pushed away the tissue paper, and lifted up a hanger. Then I wanted to die! I put it back in the box and realized there was another one laying there uncovered. I slammed the lid on the box and wanted to hide. Training bras with padding! I had just opened training bras in front of everyone, including: Dad, Grandpa and Uncle Al. Everyone acted like nothing happened. Uncle Al said something to Grandpa about the Tigers and Dad asked Grandma if she needed another drink. I knew they saw them though. I could feel my face getting hot.
Aunt Emma handed me a package and said, “Why don’t you open this one next. “It was lip-gloss and bubble bath from Avon, my favorites!
I received a lot of other nice gifts: some clothes, perfume, more lip-gloss, and a Mexican doll from my aunt in California.
As I tried to fall asleep that night, I was confused by too many feelings. I was happy with all of my nice gifts and disappointed that I hadn’t transformed from a short, clumsy child into a shapely, coordinated young woman. Mostly though, I was relieved that I was no longer eleven. Next year, I’d be thirteen, and I’d be sure to open packages withthe the gift side of the box facing me!
bio: Mary-Jo Lord writes poetry, fiction, and memoirs. A section of her work is published in a Plain View Press anthology called Almost Touching. Her work can also be found in Behind Our Eyes, Behind Our Eyes: a Second Look and in past Issues of Magnets and Ladders. She was recently published on the blog, Walking by Inner Vision and Dialogue Magazine. Mary-Jo is the current Coordinating Editor of this magazine. She has a masters’ degree in counseling from Oakland University, and has worked at Oakland Community College for Twenty-five years. Mary-Jo lives with her family in Rochester, Michigan. She has been blind since birth.
Friendship and Fantasy, poetry
by Terri Winaught
When I was 10 years old,
girlfriends half admired, half envied
my thick chestnut brown hair which cascaded like Victoria Falls.
When I was 12 years old,
boys, whose hormones were pushing them toward puberty,
were enthralled by my sultry voice.
When I was 16 years old,
I was a butterfly unable to emerge from a cocoon of rejection.
I dreamed of forests where pheasants and frogs were my friends.
When I was 28 years old,
an unrecognized illness plagued me with paralyzing phobias;
had its way with me physically,
and emptied me emotionally.
Now WELL PAST twenty-eight years old,
I’ve known the sorrow of loss, the joy of reunion,
and the touch of soul.
Once I was 10 years old.
Bio: Anytime something is important to Terri, she shows it by being passionate. Terri likes to joke that she was so passionate about being born that she arrived three months early. This 63-year-old blind woman is passionate about racial justice, equality for persons with disabilities, and doing what she can to help others. Terri lives in Pittsburgh, PA where she has been married for over 11 years, and is the proud mother of two grown children. Mrs. Winaught loves singing in her Church choir, attending sporting events with the world’s best husband, and listening to oldies.
Remembering Tai and Randy, poetry
by Brad Corallo
As children, they were brought together,
fluid figures on frozen liquid.
Shapes, swirls, spins and loops
synchronized grace in constant motion:
glide and dance, translucent ice.
Taking gold in 79,
double bronze in years before.
Youthful champions, America’s darlings!
Olympics in 80 shattered dreams.
Though both beheld their chances burn
one half of the magic pair
began her slide; there was no net!
A mere nine years beyond their triumph-
far too young and unprepared.
Spirit eroding, passing years,
finally nowhere else to go.
Her life no longer, choice was made.
Did I weep that day?
I did for certain!
Though her champion’s will was not extinguished,
She strove and rallied
Her light returning.
She fought somehow, and made it back!
While revelations of his true identity,
finally cleared, the image focused.
Glass broken in a thousand pieces,
His shaping flame, reconstituting himself,
Annealed, cooled and stronger than ever.
And though the crowds no longer roar
and the world’s ice rinks no longer beckon,
Still, their bond continues strong!
And they say it will, perhaps forever.
NOTE: Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner were an American figure skating pair, who won the gold medal at the 1979 world figure skating championship competition in Vienna. They also took bronze medals in previous competitions. They seemed forever young and beautiful and they possessed that indefinable spark! However unlike the prince and princess in the fairy tale alas, they did not live happily ever after! In order to put this piece together, a good deal of research had to be done to supplement my treasured memories.
Here is The link to their 1979 gold medal triumph: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63cmIfO-u6k
Bio: Brad Corallo is a 59-year-old writer in multiple genres. He is a Long Island native born and raised. His work has been published in five previous issues of Magnets & Ladders, in The William B. Joslin Outstanding Performance Awards Program Journal “NYSID Preferred Source Solutions” and on the Facebook page of The Red Wolf Coalition. Brad has been a life long student of fine wine, food, music, books, several professional sports and relationships of all kinds. He makes his living as a certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC) and mental health therapist. Due to LCA (a very rare genetic retinal condition) Brad has had impaired and worsening vision throughout his lifetime.
A Mother’s Mirror, poetry
by MarciaJ. Wick, The Write Sisters
Watching Mom across the table,
I see her mother in her face.
With her white and wispy hair,
Mom is seated in her place.
Mother, now a great-grandmother,
coming up on 90 years,
brings forth images of Grandma
in her precious later years.
In myself, now I see Mother.
I hear the echo of her voice.
I hold my hands as she holds hers,
as if I don’t have any choice.
In the mirror, my own daughter,
as I looked one younger year.
A young woman turning pages,
feelings of both hope and fear.
My sweet daughter, now emerging,
herself a mother soon-to-be.
When her babe looks in the mirror,
will we see her, Mom or me?
Author’s note: This poem was originally written for my mother and daughter for Mother’s Day in 2011.
Bio: Marcia Wick is enjoying retirement with her first guide dog, Viviane, a 60-pound yellow lab from Guide Dogs for the Blind. Marcia is legally blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa. Her career included newspaper reporting, public relations, communications and publishing. With two daughters now grown and a grandson, Marcia is returning to her writing roots in partnership with her sister, Jennifer Walford, as The Write Sisters. She currently serves on the GDB Alumni Association Board of Directors, and advocates for public transit and visually impaired skiers. Marcia lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and Viviane, her guide dog.
As Time Passes, poetry
by Valerie Moreno
I find myself thinking of you–
memories bright, often blue
when you stirred hidden feelings
I barely understood.
The sound of your voice,
turbulent, fiery, gentle,
gave me permission to scream or cry–
my heart meeting yours on a meandering road.
Through years of life and change,
you are still in my heart–
you never left and I never let go.
Love ebbs and flows as time passes,
waves embrace waiting sand
as your music soothed and challenged
all my thinking.
Children of the same moon,
seekers on a woven path–
I cherish you, standing in rays of setting sun from your God-guided heart.
Part III. A Special Place and Time
A Moment out of Time, fiction Second Place
by John Justice
Albert looked around as he and his friends walked through their familiar neighborhood. In some ways, things were unchanged although London was bombed almost every night in 1942. The streets were still recognizable in their usual pattern but here and there, piles of rubble remained where once there had been buildings. Here was a place where the local pub once stood. Across the side street and down a bit, was a tangle of wood, brick and broken masonry. It took him a moment but then, Albert remembered the old Victorian home that had once stood there. At this point, they had to step into the street since the front wall had fallen right across the sidewalk. Ralph stayed close to Marie, making sure that she didn’t stumble over any debris.
Albert thought about his family, now many miles away and out of danger, he hoped. Lorraine and his children had taken a train out into the country this morning. The decision hadn’t been an easy one. Finally, after a long and painful discussion, albert expressed his innermost feelings. “I don’t want to come home and find nothing but a memory. I’d rather be parted from you and the children now in hopes that some day, we can all be together again. It’s not safe here, Love! You know that.” His heart ached when he saw them enter the coach. His daughter Camille kept waving at him until the train was out of sight. Albert turned away sadly.
He and his friends worked at the telephone exchange. They had all volunteered to take the night shift, from eleven to seven. These days, the phone service had a difficult time keeping track of which lines still functioned. In fact, that situation changed almost daily. Albert respected the linemen who went out every day and tried to restore the system where it had been damaged. It was a thankless, never ending job.
London was much quieter now than it had once been. Many people had given up on their vehicles and walked from place to place as Albert and his friends were doing now. Petrol was in short supply. Anyone who was issued vouchers would have to have a very good reason for needing the vehicle. Many decided to park their cars and use other modes of transportation. As they moved across a wide thoroughfare, Big Ben announced the half hour. Ralph glanced at his watch. “He’s two minutes slow again.” Marie laughed. “Are you surprised, Ralph? It’s a wonder he still chimes at all with the nightly visits from the Hun.”
Albert thought of the many ways in which his city had changed. There were lines at the local shops and everyone had to manage with rationed supplies. Public transportation was extremely limited. The sound of the city had changed. But most of all, he thought of the smell. Albert breathed it in, now. There was the scent of fire, brick dust and occasionally, the acrid aroma that was cordite from exploding bombs. He thought of it as the smell of London dying. None of them made a point of discussing it directly but they all had reached the same conclusion. If the bombing didn’t stop soon, there would be very little left of London. That made Albert miserable. He loved this city. It was where he had been born and lived for his entire life. It was awful to see things ripped apart night after night.
They were almost to the phone exchange when the sirens started. A Bobby came racing out of a side street and led them to a building which had the cross-hatched sign indicating an underground air raid shelter. Everyone, regardless of their final destinations, would find the nearest shelter when the alarms sounded. Albert heard an anti-aircraft emplacement begin its rapid-fire defense. They descended a wide set of steps and entered a large basement. Although the alarms had just started, there were already hundreds of people in the shelter. A uniformed warden was handing out the small emergency kits. They contained a small battery powered torch, dried food concentrate and salt tablets. Albert had wondered about the tablets until one of the other emergency representatives explained. The tablets were an effort to maintain a good electrolyte balance in an emergency situation.
As he and his friends stood near a wall, the ground shook as a nearby detonation made everyone pause in their conversations. Albert smiled. Ralph asked him why. He explained that his family was out of danger and his friend nodded.
In the next moment, there was a bright flash of light, a horrific explosion and then nothing. Albert didn’t have time to understand what had happened. He and his friends, along with three hundred other people in that shelter, were killed instantly by a vicious device known as a “bunker buster.” This terrible projectile was designed specifically to drive itself deep into a structure before exploding. Normally, bombs like that were used on military sites, not on innocent people. The aircraft which had loosed this device was, according to local records, destroyed by an English fighter plane.
Lorraine Casterbridge didn’t learn of her husband’s death for quite some time. A representative from the telephone exchange called her to explain that Albert had never made it to work on the same night that she had left London with her children. There were times, during the grieving period, when she wondered if it might not have been better for all of them to be together, even if their home had been destroyed. When the war finally ended, she had accepted Albert’s death. As she watched her eleven-year-old daughter running with some friends, she knew that albert had indeed made the right decision for all of them.
Years later, Camille’s twenty-year-old son expressed his intention to join the military. He was surprised by the response of his mother and grandmother. He couldn’t understand their combined effort to discourage him. But then, he hadn’t lived in a world where things might end in the next minute. Lorraine prayed he would never have to experience a moment out of time where everything is destroyed by an impersonal uncaring hand.
I Think I Belong Here…Kentucky, nonfiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
Not a native of the Bluegrass, I resisted transplantation for decades. Texas was inscribed in bold print on my blue bonnet heart for forty-four years. Sure, there had been work experiences north, south, east, and west of there; but home was beef brisket, “Austin City Limits” music, Southwest Conference football, the gulf beaches, and the ranch with my mom and dad. Being an only child would have been lonely for me, but my sisters at the Texas School for the Blind filled–and perhaps created–the part of me that knows how much we need to share our lives with each other.
Roger, my husband, is the youngest of seven kids from a hard-working family who sold milk to the Pet milk company; took home-grown tobacco to auction just before Christmas; but usually had to work town jobs to make ends meet. It was easy to love them all, the parents, grandparents, and church and neighbor kids they grew up with.
Roger moved to Texas with me when we started our lives together. He was teaching in Lubbock when we decided our kids needed some school for the blind experience. Kentucky seemed to be the better choice. I was already hooked on Kentucky basketball, green tomato ketchup, and bluegrass music from the summers in a trailer on the Smith family farm, and winters holding the radio up to the water pipes to bring in the signal from 840 WHAS in Louisville for the Kentucky Wildcats games. It wasn’t much of a stretch to fall for the snowy winters and cooler summers. My daughter had the chance to blossom in music, track, social equality, and romance while my son had access to lessons from a top-notch computer programmer from the American Printing House for the Blind.
After a few years, Roger’s teaching career took us to Appalachia in southeastern Kentucky where they really do say “yuens.” Then we had to move back to Texas to help my parents through their last two years of life. Roger was teaching on the gulf coast when we were trying to figure out where we should land. One morning while the kids were eating breakfast, I decided–because of the excellent radio reception on the coast–to reach for a memory. 840 WHAS came in at about 7:00 in the morning, which is unbelievable enough to make me know it was meant to be. The weather guy, the news guy, and the morning drive show hosts were still there. I was homesick. Did we dare? Could we, should we?
Twenty-eight years later, we live in our 106-year-old home in Louisville, just a whoop and a holler from Indiana. Roger’s family is 125 miles south, near the Tennessee line. Family Christmases and July fourth get-togethers along with contact on Facebook and by phone keep us close. Basketball is to die for, and the Kentucky Derby festival fills two weeks, celebrating the magic of waiting for that bugler’s “Call to the Post” and the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home.” We sometimes hear the calliope on the Bell of Louisville as she steams the tourists down the Ohio River. We wait for the news to tell us who stole that missing Pappy Van Winkle whisky.
Yes, beef barbecue is okay here, they’re learning; but good Tex-Mex cooking is still a slow work in progress. From the Internet, the hill country and the south planes of Texas are as close as a keystroke. I think I’ll stay planted where the grass is…well…as blue as Bill Monroe painted it in his music.
Visit Beautiful Washington State, nonfiction
by Ernie Jones
Washington State was admitted to the Union on November 11, 1889, and is the 42nd state. It ranks 13th in population of the 50 states, and is the 18th in size, making it the second most populous state in the Western United States, following California. Washington state stretches 360 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the state of Idaho and 240 miles from British Columbia south to the state of Oregon.
The Columbia River starts in Canada, almost dividing the eastern side of the state, as it flows south before it makes a sharp turn to the right. This river then forms the border between Washington and Oregon for nearly 250 miles before reaching the Pacific Ocean.
Hood Canal starts at the Pacific Ocean and separates Washington from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and becomes Puget sound as it curves north. The beautiful Olympic Mountains rise majestically on the south side of Hood Canal, with the Pacific Ocean fronting their west side. The Olympic mountains comprise some of the most beautiful scenic lands, abundant with streams, small hidden lakes, and water falls. Deer, bear, Mountain Goats, coyotes, and cougars roam in these rugged hills forested with evergreen trees, as well as stands of beautiful wild rhododendron.
The Puget Sound area is home to the majority of Washingtonians, with several large cities hugging the land between Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains rising on the east. It feels as if there is one continuous city from Everett, Seattle, and Tacoma to Olympia. There are a couple dozen smaller cities and towns interspersed between these large communities, along with the large military base at Fort Lewis. Crowded between Tacoma and Seattle are the large SeaTac International airport and Boeing airline company. Bremerton is home to a large ship building base. Olympia, the state capitol is nestled at the southern tip of Puget Sound. South of Puget sound resembles a rolling valley. It’s made up of several rivers meandering from the Cascade mountains to the Columbia River.
The Term “The Evergreen State” comes from the west side of the state. With abundant rain most of the year, the valleys are green and the hills and mountains forested with large evergreen trees. Along the many streams and rivers grow cedar, maple, alder and more. Wild Hazelnut Bushes crowd in with the Red Huckleberry, my favorite, while the Blue huckleberry thrives in the lower mountains.
Washington is a leading lumber producer. Its rugged surface is rich in stands of Douglas fir, hemlock, ponderosa pine, white pine, spruce, larch, and cedar. The state is the biggest producer of apples, hops, pears, red raspberries, spearmint oil, and sweet cherries. It ranks high in the production of apricots, asparagus, dry edible peas, grapes, lentils, peppermint oil, peaches, strawberries, and potatoes. Livestock and its products make important contributions to total farm revenue. The commercial fishing of salmon, halibut, and bottom fish makes a significant contribution to the economy.
In the Cascade Mountain range are five snowcapped volcanoes: Mt. Baker, Mt. Shuksan to the north, Mt Rainier almost east of Seattle, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St. Helens who blew her top in May, 1980. Mt. Rainier is the tallest, rising 14,411 feet, a beautiful sight from the west on clear days.
Another volcano, Mt. Hood rises right across the Columbia River, east of Portland, Oregon looking like a large ice cream cone for travelers driving west on I-84 on clear days.
Washington state is actually divided into 3 different climate zones. The west side of the Cascades is normally milder and wetter with heavy rain much of the year but for a couple dryer summer months. The winters, though they can have temperatures well into deep freezing and some years receive heavy snow, still are as a rule mild. One can find ski lifts in both the Cascades and the Olympic Mountains.
The Cascade Mountain Range divides the state, as it also does Oregon, from north to south, nearly splitting the state. Many people think all of eastern Washington is barren with only sage brush and desolate regions but this is not true.
Driving east from Seattle over I-90, one does pass through a desolate area, after crossing the Columbia River but this changes about 40 miles west of Spokane. North of Spokane, there is a large section north of I-90, east of the Cascades and into Idaho and Canada with rolling and rugged hills. They are covered with Pine, Larch, and Douglas Fir. Streams flow through these hills into small lakes as they make it to the Columbia River. This is a beautiful area most of the year but it can be very cold with deep snow in the winter. In the middle of October, the hillsides burst into a glorious blaze of gold, orange and reds, as the Western Larch, also called Tamarack, burst into color before shedding their needles to stand naked, like giant dead trees. Spring will again revive life and turn them into a light green, and change into a dark green by early summer. Spring through autumn is a beautiful time in this part of the state with no factories belching out smog to mar the airways.
The South East section used to be a desolate land with only sagebrush and a few trees growing along rivers. Then irrigation came and now this section blooms like a garden with huge lands of alfalfa, winter wheat, and barley interspersed with large apple orchards in several areas. The growing season is the longest here and peaches and other fruit thrive. This section is usually hotter in the summer than the other parts of the state. It is milder in the winter than the north east but often cooler than the west side.
With so many varied climates and regions, Washington State has something to offer everyone.
Bio: Ernie worked as a hospital orderly before working for Washington State in the computer field. After earning his Registered Nursing degree, he worked in a rural hospital until he retired due to eyesight loss. For the past twelve years, he has had a monthly newspaper column in which he encourages those losing their eyesight, while teaching the sighted that blindness is not the end of a good life. His articles have appeared in Dialogue Magazine, Consumer Vision, Christian Record Services and other publications. He has authored one book, Onesimus the Run Away Slave, available through Authorhouse publishers and as an E book through Amazon.
“Head of a Catalan Peasant”, poetry
Homage to Joan Miro
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
In the National Gallery
just beyond the Motherwell
is the yellow painting by Miro
“The Head of a Catalan Peasant.”
Black and red circles
cover her outstretched hands
a blue star sits above her left shoulder
her face is red
and her brown skirt dances.
A lady with yellow hair
wears a yellow dress.
They watch each other
from across the pale gold room.
This poem has been previously publishedin the following:
Concerti: Psalms for the Pilgrimage, Kota Press, 2002.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2002112554
Nine Postcards from Prague – a collection of poems Kudzu Monthly, an ezine with a distinctively southern perspective. May 16, 2004.
Bio: Lynda McKinney Lambert writes creative non-fiction & poetry. She has a BFA & MFA degree in Fine arts and am MA in English. Lambert’s work appears in a variety of literary publications including: Magnets & Ladders, Indiana Voice Journal, Spirit Fire Review, Wordgathering, Breath & Shadow, and others. Her concern is with seeking form for the ineffable and a longing to be captivated by a spiritual force. Her latest book is Walking by Inner Vision: Stories of Light and Dreams published in 2017.
Wet and Black, alternative Sestina form poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
The T-shirt clung to her body, wet and black.
obviously, a look of self-defense,
carrying a plastic bag and an antique picture
wading in a fountain. She watched a child play.
I sat on the pink sofa and listened to rock music, I’m waiting.
She passed by the window. I watched from inside.
The female voices faded out as a dog barked inside.
She looked at her reflected image. The glass was black.
I’m spending time in New York, that’s my defense,
Rapping and singing as you take my picture.
I danced as you adjusted your rhythm. We play.
Love at first sight, standing and waiting.
The cars and trucks move to the right. Waiting.
The love of a lifetime begins. I remain inside.
My dress is covered with red roses on black
chintz – tucked away in the pink room. In my defense
I looked towards a brighter picture.
while you load up the car to leave for some beach play.
The melody blends – the drums slowly play
from the past where I’m forever waiting.
Can we return to the 60′s with a lifetime inside?
What will happen when the screen turns black?
Woodstock was overflowing. In your defense
the movie captured the picture.
Drugs, laughter, mud & crying in this picture.
of grown children who longed to play
fans held back, bands were waiting.
Hot summer rain poured down. No one inside
as the mood fades to black.
A shift. A new defense.
Always, a soggy-wet mud-soaked defense.
Fragments of a larger picture
sliding in rain-soaked oozing-mud-play.
Miles of traffic waiting.
We were hungry people with tickets. Inside.
Traveling across the USA, We were wet and black.
In my own defense, I created a detailed picture
of my own life inside, where we play
games of black magic and secret waiting.
This poem was previously published in YAWP, Winter 2000.
Editor’s note: to read about the Sestina, you can visit: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/glossary-terms/detail/sestina or https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/sestina-poetic-form
Peak View, Pantoum, poetry
by Shawn Jacobson
At altitude, the sky shows jewel blue,
above the lowland’s murky air.
Across this sacred sky,
clouds sail on sharp edged, distinct.
Above the lowland’s murky air,
I turn my gaze westward.
Clouds sail on sharp edged distinct
above majestic mountains.
I turn my gaze westward
to where Pike’s Peak stands tall,
Above majestic mountains
where my soul would fly.
To where Pike’s Peak stands tall,
far from my lowland exile,
to where my soul would fly.
I would seek mountain mysteries.
Far from my lowland exile
across this sacred sky,
I would seek mountain mysteries.
At altitude, the sky shows jewel blue
Bio: Shawn Jacobson was born totally blind and attained some eyesight through several eye operations. He currently works at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and lives in Olney MD with his wife Cheryl, son Stephen, and three dogs. His daughter Zebe has flown the coop.
Wendover Interlude, poetry
by Shawn Jacobson
In this place so isolated from time,
where midnight is like noon,
if in the chaos of jackpot sounds,
we should walk through psychedelic lights
in search of illusive gold,
then we would surely lose our way
and aimlessly wander.
So we sit tethered to our machines
by player’s cards corded in strange symbiosis,
as the band plays “Free Bird” at our bidding,
and drinks are served at our request.
My temporary friend bids me sing along.
She rises to dance.
I follow disregarding the cord
that tethers me to my machine.
Thus chained to our devices we tangle ourselves.
We give up the dance, for dancing thus leashed
complicates the night. We gamble again.
Oh temporary friend how nice to share
this pleasure with you till we are dispersed
by morning light that bids time roll along,
till only recollection remains
of this night and this place
where we came together for a while.
The day must come inexorably on,
even here where midnight is as noon
and bid us leave this gaming place returning
to the mundane stations of our lives
and only recollect and fondly smile
when remembering this precious stolen time.
For in such moments
removed from life’s common time
lives our secret selves.
Moonlight in Luxor, poetry
by Amy L. Bovaird
Body scorched by Aman-ra, Egypt’s Sun God
Hair limp, sand-tousled, skin dust-worn,
Lips cracked, wasteland in my throat; camel-breath sigh
Shoulders slumped over, dangling camera
Fists still clenching torn sacks
Molten lead-iron feet refuse to move
Small glasses cool hibiscus tea
Rejuvenated, “Let’s go!” I cry, “On to Karnak!”
Aman-ra vibrates amidst silent Karnak ruins
Riveted, gazes lock on his ancient stone statue
Bathed in light, he speaks to Isis, Moon-Goddess
Clear strong female voice rings out
Floodlights solemnly pass between
Lost in their emotion, we can only listen, mesmerized
Voices carry us through Karnak temple
Feet obediently follow vibrant god utterances
Karnak’s ageless moon lights nature’s dark ceiling
Hearts, hands and spirits find each other
Caught up in a collective breath of wonder,
Under Karnak’s moonlit sky,
We witness the breath of Egyptian royalty
Past and present merge into one.
Bio: As an international traveler and teacher, Amy Bovaird was diagnosed several years ago with a dual disability, progressive vision and hearing loss due to Usher Syndrome. She continues to enjoy running, hiking and traveling. Amy is an accomplished public speaker on a variety of topics based on her life experiences and she also volunteers with local and national animal rescue organizations. Amy blogs about the challenges she faces as she loses more vision and hearing, shares the lessons God reveals to her through her difficulties and manages to find humor around almost every corner.
Part IV. The Writers’ Climb
Keepsake Poetry, nonfiction
by Ann Chiappetta
While perusing a back issue of The Writer, I found an article about using keepsakes and sentimental items for inspiring the writing Muse. What a great idea, I thought. I then thought of a few of my own pieces using this premise. My keepsake poems include one piece about a cooking pot used as a symbol of our marital fidelity and another poem based on my experiences cleaning out a relative’s attic. These poems were good but there was at least one more ready to be written. I felt the need to reach even farther back into time and distance.
As it happened, I was cleaning under the bed and putting away some other keepsakes when I came upon my parents’ wedding album and knew this was the object I was supposed to find for the next keepsake poem. I felt that lending the item a voice from the past while also remaining in the present was an important and unique element in this kind of poem. Here’s the finished piece.
I scanned the faces
Looked for any trace of unhappiness.
I found the photo of Nanny and Pop-Pop
Taken on your wedding day.
A psychic once told me
Nanny’s spirit protects me.
I touched her photo and whispered,
As if my question opened the door from her realm to mine,
I felt her trying to answer.
But all I could feel was sorrow.
Tears fell from my eyes and I knew
They weren’t mine.
I closed the book and went to do the dishes.
As I stood washing, the tears began again;
I felt as if someone else was crying.
It was then that I turned and looked behind me.
In the veil of what lies between
I knew they were there,
Finally, able to express their pain and regret.
I knew then that the tears falling from my eyes
Were those of a lost generation.
The pictures needed a way to express the emotion resulting from my mother and father’s divorce which occurred fifteen years after getting married. I did assume that the predominant emotion Nanny and Pop-Pop would probably feel was sadness, as it seemed general but fitting with what the poem implied. I hope this example encourages at least one of you to write a keepsake poem.
Bio: Ann Chiappetta M.S. is a writer, blindness advocate and family therapist. Ann is a member of the American Council of the Blind and the Lions Club. Her new book, Upwelling: Poems, is available in both e book and print formats. To
purchase her book or read an excerpt, go to: http://www.dvorkin.com/annchiappetta/
To read Ann’s blog, go to http://www.thought-wheel.com
Ann lives in New Rochelle, NewYork, with her husband and pets.
Wordwalk with Leader Dog Willow on a Velvet Night
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
When I was ready to initiate my blog in January of 2013, I pondered many names for my blog. “Alice in Wordland” was already taken by another writer. After checking out more names for my blog than I could now count, I chose Wordwalk. This moniker for my blog seemed appropriate because on my many walks with my third Leader Dog, Zoe, I often thought of ideas for my poems, essays, and short stories. Besides thinking of ideas for writing pieces, I composed lines of poetry or revised a line or sentence while I was walking with my Zoe in the lead. Of course, I only did the “writing in my head” during long blocks (stretches of sidewalk), between intersections–never while listening for the onset of parallel traffic at a down-curb nor while crossing a street. Since Zoe was such a faithful and practically perfect guide dog, the long and quite numerous blocks that we walked were frequently fruitful for my writing goals. My path contained positive “Writer’s blocks”–the opposite meaning from most writers’ definition of this phrase.
Since the passing of my Zoe on March 16, 2016, so much changed and so much was missed. Then, on June 7 of last year, I happily stepped into “Willowland.” Although Willow was a wonderful Leader Dog while we were training at Leader Dog School in June and had been an impressive Leader Dog as we together learned routes in my neighborhood, I had concentrated so much on Willow as we were walking together that I had not given another thought to the art of Wordwalk–until the evening of July 12, 2016.
Yes, a creative walk happened on that July 12 as we were strolling down a double block. I must have felt comfortable enough with Willow’s guiding–I must have trusted her sufficiently so that my mind could drift to that creative space to craft some of the lines of the following poem. I smile at the thought of being “Alice in Willowland.” What a wonderful feeling to return to the art of Wordwalk–now with my fourth Leader Dog!
Velvet Nights of Summer
Oh, the velvet nights of summer!
I happily embrace
nights when the velvet air of July
cushions my face
from the memories of the past winter,
nights when the velvet clouds
pad the poetic path
on which I walk and write,
nights when velvet winds
stretch from the succumbing sun to the dusk
which unfolds into a natural desk
on which I can creatively write
as my guide dog Willow leads the way.
On this velvet evening,
a double block drifts into a “Writer’s Block,”
then a span of back to total concentration on work with Willow.
At the next double block,
I hear the mourning dove–
also for the first time
since returning home
with my new Leader Dog.
On the day after the anniversary of my Dad’s 103rd birthday,
is he nodding his approval
of my Wordwalks with Willow,
of my Willow?
My fourth Leader Dog and I walk
toward the distant cooing
of the uncommon mourning dove–
more typical in the trees around my Hoosier home.
What a gift is this velvet night
on the 12th of July,
when I come to the crossroads
where the mourning dove, my writing, and my willow
The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the holiday Season, published in 2016, is the first book by Alice Jane-Marie Massa. To read more about this collection of holiday memoirs, short stories, and poetry, please visit Alice’s author page:
Additionally, Alice invites you to visit her Wordwalk blog: <http://alice13wordwalk.wordpress.com, where, since 2013, she has posted weekly her poetry, essays, memoirs, or short stories concerning her four guide dogs and other topics. After earning masters’ degrees from Indiana State University and Western Michigan University, Alice taught for 25 years, including 14 years of teaching writing at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
What Makes You Think You’re a Poet? poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
What makes you think you’re a poet?
I wiggle into words each time I arise.
I grew up limericking lollipops,
and I hopscotched with haikus.
In high school, I won the forty-metaphor dash.
As a charter member of our Quill and Scroll Society,
I chatted fluently in figurative language.
On summer breaks, I swam with similes
and sunbathed under sonnets.
As I became older,
I relished words even more.
I served them on a dish to a party of one
(to myself just for fun),
to a group for hearty feedback,
or to voracious editors for the pages of a book.
My first job was trimming po-e-trees.
At festivals, I sold verses at a stanza.
Now, I like to work in smaller spaces
by setting sail the rhyming quips from little ships,
over oceans of dictionaries.
Like the captain aboard ship,
I marry the sweet-sounding words with cherished memories.
Under a vine of fragrant fragments,
lettered petals bedeck the deck
where I stand before the happy couplet.
During my middle-aged acrostic,
I am not off track:
I am onomatopoeia-
on my way to being published.
Okay, okay, I am not yet a published poet:
I am a poet-in-waiting.
Alright, alright, I am a teacher of poetry;
and I paternally smile
when poetry by one of my students is published.
I teach rhyme.
We will be holding contests in the areas of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for the Fall/Winter issue of Magnets and Ladders. All submissions will be entered into the contest. Cash prizes of $30 and $20 will be awarded to the first and second place winners. Remember, the deadline for submissions is August
15, so be sure to get your entries in on time.
26/MT. Fuji: Move High the Stones, book excerpt, nonfiction Second Place
by Amy L. Bovaird
As spring turned to summer, the talk among my Japanese students at the American Navy base revolved around climbing Mount Fuji in July and August. They assumed all their teachers would jump-rather, climb-at the opportunity.
Suzuki-san said, “We have special saying: ‘A wise man climb Fuji-san once; a fool climb twice.’”
That piqued my curiosity. “Why is he a fool to climb it twice?”
“Ve-ly high.” He gestured with his hands. “Take too much time.”
Students then hashed over how high, a spirited conversation that shot back to Japanese. Someone looked it up. “It’s 3,776 meters,” he reported.
“So what is that in feet?” I asked.
Again, a flurry of words-in broken English and Japanese. Yoshida-san, my quietest student, took out his calculator and ended the discussion. “Miss Amy, 12,388 feet.”
I couldn’t miss out on this challenge! My supervisor, Frank, and his wife, Pat, were planning a night climb in mid-August, during the height of the climbing season. No other teachers seemed interested. My heart sank. A night climb for someone with night blindness and poor peripheral vision didn’t seem wise, even once.
I asked questions, researched and schemed ways to adapt to the task. Finally, I decided to go with Frank and Pat. Mount Fuji was divided into ten stations. They planned to drive to the base of the mountain, park the van and walk to the fifth station, which was the starting point. We would take the Gotemba Trail, the lowest of four trails, to the tenth station-the summit.
The students egged me on in my pursuit to climb.
“You can to buy a climbing sticky. It help you move high the stones. Many sellers burn for memory.” For a small fee, climbers could have the stick they bought engraved with the number of each station in Kanji as a souvenir. That sounded like my kind of adventure. I definitely wanted an engraved sticky.
“You can go far, teacher?” one student asked. “I think you must to prepare.”
I heeded the advice. To prepare myself, I trekked up the steep winding pathways to Shinto shrines-the highest elevations in any Japanese city. Even then, after several attempts I couldn’t make it up to the shrine without slowing to a very slow pace. But after four or five tries, I began to develop some muscles and that gave me confidence.
On the night of the big climb I put on two pairs of blue jeans, socks, sturdy sneakers, a T-shirt, sweatshirt, jacket and warm hat even though it was August. The wind speed at that height could blow up to fifty miles per hour. I also found a mining light to wear on my head for extra lighting. I couldn’t forget food, some yen to buy soba-buckwheat noodles climbers traditionally slurp up before the climb-and the walking stick to aid me in my journey.
Soon we left for Hakone prefecture, where my adventure began. At 6:30 in the evening, we arrived at the fifth station. My heart beat erratically as I faced the challenge before me. I can do this!
In the beginning, the climb seemed too easy. I didn’t even need my stick. Bright lights shone on the pathway. Hordes of people milled around. Laughter abounded. Friends chatted. Old people jogged past. My companions and I chatted as we wound our way around the broad slope together.
But not for long.
It became more challenging. Gradually, Frank moved ahead. Concerned for me, Pat adjusted herself to my slower pace. Since I had to watch the ground so carefully, I urged her ahead. “I’ve got my light. Don’t worry.” I waved her away, downplaying my vision challenges. “Go catch up with Frank. I’ll be fine.”
The more intense concentration tired me out as the climb grew steeper. Finally, I rested.
I’m so slow and clumsy. Everyone is passing me up. If I could only see better, I’d be like everyone else. But I can do this. I can!
About midnight, I became less certain.
The pathway narrowed. Volcanic rock stood out like boulders, looming ahead. My light served little use. With one hand, I grasped onto volcanic sediment and bare roots, pulling myself up. With my other hand, I clutched my walking stick.
With so much necessary strong concentration, I didn’t see the ooji-san, a little old Japanese man with a white goatee, pass me. “Gambatte kudasai!” he called out, “Do your best!” He waved his baseball cap before striding off full of bounce.
That hour several older Japanese climbers swung past me, joking and laughing. “Gambatte kudasai,” they all encouraged. I smiled, buoyed by their support.
As I continued my solitary ascent, Mount Fuji’s picture-perfect, snow-capped image faded. Up close it looked ugly-barren volcanic rubble littered with rubbish.
In the wee hours of the morning, something scary happened. Someone pushed me and I fell down between two boulders. I lay there a few minutes before attempting to move. No one even noticed I’d fallen. Shocked, tears welled up in my eyes. I threw up a quick prayer. As I wiggled free from the two rocks, an older Japanese climber-a woman-reached out a hand and gently tugged me to my feet before going on her way.
Right around the curve, the path narrowed and a number of climbers bottlenecked. Craning my neck, I tried to see what the hold-up was. Surprisingly, I found myself stuck in the middle of a traffic jam on the mountain in the early morning shadows. We all inched forward in unison like ants on a stick. It dawned on me that, by being tightly sandwiched between climbers, the danger of my falling had decreased dramatically.
I continued pacing myself. The altitude made me light-headed and I stopped briefly, fearing another fall if I got too dizzy. My breath came in ragged gasps in the higher atmosphere. Just keep going. Put one foot in front of the other.
By that time, I had passed the sixth, seventh and eighth stations. At each station, I stood in line to get my climbing stick engraved. At the eighth, I purchased some steaming udon and sank to the ground, slurping it up from the Styrofoam bowl with the cheap, wooden chopsticks. Then I downed the leftover broth. Like the gentle tide coming in from the sea, a wave of warmth coursed through me. My nose constantly dripped from the colder temperatures, and I used my last napkin to wipe it before tossing that too into the Styrofoam bowl and then both into a steel-woven trash bin.
I rested on my haunches like my Japanese counterparts, taking swigs of bottled water and rubbing my thinly-gloved hands together to generate warmth. Thank God for the gloves that came with my climbing stick. I’d forgotten to bring my own.
I reluctantly stood up to continue the trek to the ninth station. The wind blew through me and I pulled my cap down to cover my ears.
This calls for a cup of green tea before I start again. One look at the line changed my mind. No way I’m waiting for that line. I have a sunrise to meet!
The ninth station came into view at around five-thirty. Almost to the top. Almost. Keep going. Come on, lift up those legs! Move it! Go-temba! Go, Amy! As I climbed the trail, I cheered my body on, wondering whether Frank and Pat had already made it and were waiting to see the sunrise.
The high altitude made me nauseous again and slowed me down. Thank goodness I had climbed up the pathways to the Shinto shrines. That preparation gave me some stamina so I could keep moving. I expelled a breath of air and rubbed the temples of my head. Someone offered me a few slices of lemon. I called out to the retreating figure, “Domo! Domo!” A slight bow. Then I popped a slice into my mouth and grimaced at the sour taste. “Wa-wa-wa!” Licking my chapped lips, I chewed on the skin before spitting it out. Grabbing a few crackers, I rested for a moment. Let’s go! Come on! Get back on the trail!
By that point, I didn’t care if I saw the once-in-a-lifetime Fuji-san sunrise. In fact, I didn’t care if I took another step. Could I make it to the top? I lifted myself up with the stick, and let out a long breath. I only need one more engraving to make this sticky complete. I can do it. I blew a kiss to my stick and leaned on it to help me up.
The majestic peak of Mount Fuji finally emerged from cloudy vapor. I crumpled my flag into a ball, touching the ground with the fiery red circle of Japan’s emblem and then pressing it to my heart before tying it back on the walking stick. It seemed fitting. I had reached the tenth station! At 12,388 feet, the wind nearly blew me down.
As the sun rose higher, I shed my mining light and layers of extra clothing. Daylight brought new confidence to my steps. But it also made me aware of how badly I needed a bathroom break. To top it off, I had no idea where my companions were.
“Ohayo-gozaimasu!” called a male climber who looked to be about twenty-five.
“I can see you have trouble going down. I help. Make your legs like this,” he instructed, bowing the bottoms of his legs inward. “It make you strong grip. So you can’t to fall on rocks.”
“Do-mo,” I said, elongating the ‘o’ as I thanked him.
Finding a captive audience, he continued talking as he fell into step with me.
“You vely tired. You no folget put the legs like this,” he reminded, as I lurched amid an avalanche of small rubble.
My ankles were starting to weaken, refusing to adequately support my feet.
“When I no feer happy, I sing. You know Loberta Frack?” He launched into one of her songs-in excellent English. Both his l’s and r’s came out properly.
After adopting me, my guardian kept up the constant banter and singing, which made me feel cross, in light of my current struggles.
“I really need a toilet!” I moaned. “Where can I go?”
“Oh, I see. Toiret big ploblem now.” He scanned the area before giving me his rendition of the current hit, “YMCA,” with hand gestures.
I wanted to strangle him.
When it seemed that I couldn’t wait a moment longer, my friend pointed out a tiny shack. Exhausted, I crossed over to it, stumbling into other climbers-mostly Japanese-who, with surprisingly good grace, caught me before I toppled us over. As my energy decreased, so did my vision. My ankles trembled. In the shack, I finally, finally, found relief after hours of waiting.
With that problem behind me, I smiled at my companion and we continued on our way.
At ten o’clock that morning, we reached our starting point, the fifth station. “Big shame. I go my home now.” He didn’t seem to want to leave me until I met my friends. “You wait me. No move.” He returned a few minutes later. “Come now,” he pulled my arm. “We find Amy-san’s boss.”
He took me to a tag board covered with messages. I despaired of finding one for me. But I did. “Amy-san! Don’t move from this spot!” Frank had signed it. My friend cheered. “You find rettel!”
Retell? Oh, letter. Yes, I had found the letter I needed.
Frank and Pat found me chatting in Japanese with my escort. I waved my walking stick with the Japanese flag and gloves tied to it. What a cool souvenir with the wood stamps! It represented all the adventure of the climb in six neat engravings.
Half an hour later, I steeped in the steaming, muddied ofuro, massaging my bruised and tender muscles in Hakone, an area famous for its hot springs. I recalled my laughter, fears, frustrations and the encouraging locals I met along the way.
Equipped with a lone mining light, shining far enough ahead for me to see where to place my feet, I had somehow found my way up Fuji-san through the mostly-dark climb. Who would have ever believed a woman with night blindness could climb the highest mountain in Japan? It was faith and the climbing sticky that helped me continue. That piece of wood with its brown Kanji engravings symbolized the adventure of the experience for me.
Years later, I see that uniquely-engraved walking stick as a crude forerunner to my cane. When I was walking the broad path at the bottom of the Gotemba Trail leading up Fuji-san, using the walking stick seemed unnecessary. But as I got to the huge volcanic boulders higher up, I started to depend on my walking stick.
The journey with my mobility cane parallels that of my walking stick. At first I didn’t want it-certainly didn’t need it. Unlike the Fuji-san walking stick, there was no adventure in having a cane. When my trainer first handed it to me, it came with a mental stamp emblazoned on it: BLIND. But that was short-lived. I needed to view my cane in the same perspective as I did my walking stick, embracing the adventure of where it took me, along with its usefulness. Each dent engraved on the cane reminds me I’m still moving forward. I haven’t given up.
I did climb Fuji-san twice, so I could be viewed as a fool according to the Japanese proverb. The first time was to see if I could do it. The second time was to savor the experience.
Now, as a vision-impaired person, I conquer new mountains every day and cheer myself on, “Gambatte kudasai!”
My memoir is called Cane Confessions: The Lighter Side to Mobility and is the second in a series on mobility. It features 27 humorous anecdotes on life before and after learning to use a mobility cane. Cane Confessions is available in regular and large print paperback, e-book (kindle) and audio on Amazon.com. The audio format is also available on Audible.com and iTunes. Although there is not much demand for it in Braille, I have made it available privately through a Braille printer I know.
The Disappearance of a Poem
by Mary-Jo Lord
As I sleep, a poem
writes itself in my subconscious mind.
Hour after hour,
lines and stanzas take form
with Christel clarity in my dreamy head.
The alarm clock announces, “It’s six O’clock a.m.”
with all the charm of a screen reader.
No time in my morning rituals to Write down dreams.
Somewhere in the typical happenings of an ordinary day,
my poem is lost.
Stanzas go out with the morning mail, are
folded neatly in a secret pocket of my son’s backpack, and
slip out the car window as I head west on Hamlin Road.
Lines slide down the drain with the
breakfast dishwater, attach themselves to
email messages, and walk out the door with my
10 and 11 o’clock appointments.
Words are accidentally
deleted, swallowed unspoken along with a
cafeteria cheese burger and fries, and
return home to dictionary.com.
Letters change present tense to
past and future and leave
nothing for today. And finally,
that crucial, poignant line break, the one that I
tossed and turned over for hours,
until I was sure it was In the right place,
skipped off merrily to the land of the forever lost,
snug and secure in the toe of a missing sock.
This leaves one solitary exclamation point
to capture the true essence and
drive the meaning home.
Part V. A Different Perspective
Quantum Reset, fiction Honorable Mention
by Brad Corallo
Jack Heyward sat in the dark, heavily air conditioned bar, sipping 25 year old Glen Farclas (his favorite single malt Scotch) and thought about recent events in his life. He was celebrating the receipt of his divorce papers after three painful and destructive years. During this time his discovery that his wife and his department supervisor were having a full-blown lesbian dalliance was quite a shock. Add in his huge wins at the track (approximately $40,000 over a four week period) and you have a situation which the term bitter-sweet doesn’t begin to describe. As a result, his determination to write, recover and relax began to germinate.
Even so, he only learned about the availability of his bandmate’s place on Hydra last week. Actually he had never heard of the place before he read “I’m your Man: the life of Leonard Cohen” a year ago. The karmic coincidence of his being offered an opportunity to live there for six months was not anything he would have believed possible prior to a couple of weeks ago. He sat back and smiled. He was already packed and was taking off tomorrow for a new phase of his life, or so he thought. For a moment the question is this too good to be true flashed through his mind but he ascribed this to a touch of leftover paranoia from the divorce wars.
The next day began with a beautiful sunrise, which Jack enjoyed as he packed his three suitcases into his vintage Nissan. It was time to head for the airport and the “friendly skies.”
Consequently, as Jack drove his metallic grey Maxima along the Santa Anna Freeway, he was not fully engaged. He was sunk in a reverie about his upcoming vacation to Greece and the island of Hydra. He planned to follow in the footsteps of his hero, Leonard Cohen. He was going to get high frequently, get laid and complete his Sci-Fi new age novel about humanity rediscovering its potential to build heaven on Earth. He even had a working title, “Quantum reset.”
So it was quite understandable, that he was shocked back into awareness by the sudden appearance of the old, white SUV that seemed to materialize out of nowhere in his lane about 10 feet in front of him. He hit his brakes and tried to swerve onto the grass median strip but was too late. His head smacked the steering wheel and his world went black.
As consciousness slowly returned, Jack was nonplussed. His last memory was of a van cutting in front of him on the freeway. Why was he sitting on a bench on a lovely late spring day in a beautifully manicured park-like setting? He got to his feet and found to his great relief that he was unhurt. After some experimental steps and turns, he set off in the direction of a path which appeared to be a couple of hundred feet in the distance. He felt a curious lightness of heart. Even though he couldn’t explain why he was in this park when he could only remember the car accident, he was only minimally disturbed by this. Even this disturbance faded quickly.
After a few minutes, he came to the path and followed it toward a gate, which was little more than a wide open place in the hedge that seemed to surround the park or whatever it was. Upon passing through he saw a blacktop two-lane road with wide grass verges on either side. He stepped out on the verge on his side of the road and began walking in the direction to his left. He just did this. There was no thought involved. After several minutes he heard a sound in the distance. It took him only a moment to recognize the bell-like tones of a carillon. He stood entranced. The music was so beautiful. Again that lightness of heart feeling intensified and he was perfectly content to be standing there listening without any urgency about why he was there.
As the music slowly faded into a comfortable silence, he began walking again. After about twenty minutes, he heard what sounded like a large dog barking happily. The dog then appeared walking beside his master, though Jack couldn’t see any leash. The dog was a golden retriever with very intelligent warm brown eyes and a coat that seemed to glisten in the sun. What a magnificent animal, he thought. The dog’s companion was no less striking. He was of medium height and was clad in a form fitting blue outfit rather like a very elegant workout suit. His perfectly barbered long blond hair and beard matched well with the coat of his canine companion. The man spoke, “greetings my friend, isn’t it wonderful? It has finally come!”
“Well hello, but I don’t know what you mean. What has come?” Jack asked.
“It is the change that was so badly needed. As a result everything is the way it is supposed to be,” he responded.
Jack shook his head. “I still don’t understand.”
“That terrible feeling of slippage, as if we all felt deep down that humanity was irrevocably headed down the wrong path with no return left, is completely gone! My friend, just look around and look inside yourself. Do you notice any difference?”
“Everything looks bright and clean, even the air. I also am not worried about anything including the strange circumstances by which I found myself here,” said Jack with growing wonderment.
“Very good,” said the bearded gentleman. “By the way, my name is Arlyn and my furry friend here is Mack. He extended his hand to Jack. When Jack responded, Arlyn took his hand warmly in both of his and said “It won’t take long before it is all clear to you. It is really very simple; everything is finally the way it was always meant to be. All of us understand this and feel this and can only respond accordingly,” Arlyn explained.
“But where is everybody?”
“There is a town that is about a 15 minute walk from here in your direction. Many are there,” Arlyn replied. “If you go there you will see more of the presence of the change. You will be welcomed and warmly received. You will be offered food, a place to sleep and friendship without any initial suspicion. It is the change. All of us can finally truly see each other. There is now cooperation and sharing of the bounty of our beautiful planet,” Arlyn explained.
“But how did this happen?”
“I’m not sure,” Arlyn said, “but I think of it as if there was a quantum reset. All particles and possible events are now perfectly aligned. Some say that far away on an island somewhere there is a story teller who can explain everything. If you ever meet him,” Arlyn laughed “ask him and then come and tell me.”
For a moment or two, Jack stood spellbound. As he reached to scratch Mack’s ears, he said “no, I don’t need to ask any story teller, I will just embrace it and live in it.”
“Good plan,” said Arlyn.
Then Jack bid Mack and Arlyn farewell and headed toward the town and a future filled with promise and hope for the first time in his life! For the quantum reset had come and just being, now was enough.
A Very Special Dinner, fiction Honorable Mention
by Elizabeth Fiorite
“Millie!” I holler into the phone, “You’ll never believe what just happened. Come over to the restaurant right away!”
“Catch your breath, Sally,” my best ever friend said. “What’s goin’ on?”
“You won’t believe it, Millie. Not ten minutes ago, this college type kid, you know, short hair, glasses, dressed like one of those church type kids that came through last summer with their Bibles, black suits like he was goin’ to church…”
“So, what about him?” Millie says.
“Well, he comes into the restaurant and asks for the owner. Only me and Dolly was in the front, wipin’ off tables and getting ready for the supper crowd…”
“Oh, get to the point, Sally. You ain’t seen no crowd in there since three Fourth of Julys ago,” says Millie.
“Well, this here college type tells me that the President and First Lady will be here in fifteen minutes and they will want dinner served.”
“Yeah, sure, and I suppose the Queen of England will be with them,” Millie says.
“No, listen to me, girlfriend. College boy says that the President and the First Lady were on the road and their limo sprung a gasket or something. They had to pull off the road and managed to get it to Frank’s Fix It Fast Garage.”
“Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!” Says Millie. “Say, ain’t the President’s wife his third one? Don’t that make her the Third Lady?”
“Girl, you got a point there. Got to rustle up dinner. Just get over here, if you want to see them.” I say and hang up.
My niece Dolly and sometimes her husband Earl help me in the restaurant when they can get a sitter for their three kids. Earl ain’t my favorite marble in the bag but he’s good to Dolly. So far, he hasn’t been able to hold a job other than pumpin’ gas or pickin’ up what he can, doin’ odd jobs here and there. Seems to me like he’s got his head in the air. Dolly insists that he is real smart, and one day he’ll prove it.
I look around the dining room to see if I need to make any last-minute adjustments. It ain’t the classiest dining room; we got three booths across from the bar, and two booths towards the back. The American flag stands in the corner for when the VFW meets on third Wednesdays, and a picture of President Kennedy hangs below the “God Bless America” sign on the mirror behind the bar. Gus Halversen has fallen asleep at one of them back booths, his head tilted back and his mouth open. His almost empty mug of beer has tipped over and our old black and gray cat, Tom Boy, is investigating the puddle of beer that has dripped on the floor. Maybe they won’t be too noticeable; I don’t think there’s time for Earl to hustle Gus out. A few of the guys have started to come in the back to play pool. I think Dolly and Earl and me can handle everything.
The bell on the front door jangles and two college types come in and look around. Then comes Mr. President and his Third Lady. Two more college types follow them, and they go to check out the kitchen and bathroom.
“Welcome to Sally’s Place!” I say, a little louder than I think the occasion calls for. “Here’s a special booth for you,” I say, motioning to the middle booth. The only thing that makes it special is that it had less tape patching them split parts of the leatherette seats than any of the others.
“You other boys can sit wherever you like,” I say, hospitable like. Two sit in the booth on one side of the special booth, and two sit on the other.
“Is there a menu?” Mr. President says as he sits down and points to the place opposite him for Mrs. Third Lady to sit.
“No, sir,” I say. “We serve one special every day.”
I motion to Dolly to bring the mugs of water. “This here’s water piped in straight from Flint, and it’s the best tasting water around, no matter what people say.” I do not mention that we serve our water in mugs so that the small pieces of sentiment wouldn’t be so noticeable, especially if they didn’t drink all the way to the bottom.
“For our appetizers, we got a special treat for you. Earl’s nephew, Jimmy Lee, makes a special run to Apalachicola every other week to pick up shrimp and oysters. These here oysters may not be as mature as them that come later, so they might not be as tasty as some other times.”
Nobody said nothin. They just looked at the oysters, and then to each other.
“Try ketchup on them, you’ll like them,” I say.
The bell jangles and Millie steps in. Her eyes grow big as golf balls as she looks at all of us. The college type looked at her and then at each other, shruggin’ their shoulders. Millie makes for the bathroom, probably to re-do her lipstick.
“Our soup du jour today is a real treat. Earl, there, behind the bar, went squirrel hunting the other day, and he, his self, dressed and made this squirrel stew.”
Then Dolly served it proudly, splashing just a little bit on Mrs. Third Lady’s white angora sweater.
“You might find a little shot in it,” I say, “but you can’t go huntin’ for squirrel with an A K 47.”
I notice the college types stiffen up and look at each other, and I wonder what was it I said wrong. Since this group wasn’t too much into palaverin’, I start givin’ some historical information.
“My grandpa started this establishment over seventy-five years ago,” I say, “when Pitchfork Falls wasn’t more than a one-horse town.” I see that two of them college types are sniggerin’ at this, but I choose to continue. “Grandpa called it ‘Sam’s Saloon’, though his name was Hiram. I suppose he just thought it sounded better.”
I signaled Dolly to start fixin’ the dinner plates.
“My Pa expanded the place, with the pool room out back, and serving food, mostly chili. That’s how come it was called Sam’s Chili Shack”. Now here I come along, and I want to attract a higher-class clientele, so’s I name it Sally’s Palace, and I put in the inside toilet, and replace the wooden benches with them leatherette ones.”
I give the nod to Dolly, and she starts serving dinner.
“You may have noticed that the sign outside says ‘Sally’s Place’, not ‘Palace, and that’s because that tornado that come through here a few years back tore that “A” right off the sign. We never found that letter or the rain gutters or the railing for the first steps, or a bunch of other stuff.”
I notice everyone is now lookin’ at their plates.
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, you have before you our specialty of the day. This here’s pork liver steak, which ain’t always available, smothered with onions. You also have Sauer kraut and mashed potatoes with our own homemade pork gravy.”
I was fixin’ to tell them about dessert, but Mr. President stands up sudden like, and heads for the bathroom. The sign on the bathroom plainly says, “one size Fits All” and I ain’t seen Millie come out. Mr. President starts bangin’ on the door, and one of the college types steps in front of him and pulls a pistol from under his jacket.
Millie opens the door and says, “What’s all the ruckus? A gal can’t even …” and then she notices the gun and Mr. President and fain’ts right then and there.
The bell jangles again and Frank Jr. from Frank’s Fix It Fast garage steps in and announces, “Pa says the car is all fixed.”
Everybody jumps up at the same time. Mrs. Third Lady drops her plate on the floor. Old Gus Halversen wakes up with a holler and kicks TomBoy, who gives out a screech. Quicker than you can say, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers”, the place emptied out.
I go to Millie, who is coming to, and get her steadied on a bar stool. Earl pours her a mug of “Uncle Alonzo’s Home Made Home Brew”, guaranteed to cure everything from gout to gall stones.
“If this ain’t the cat’s pajamas,” I say. “This is the most important thing that ever happen in Pitchfork Falls, and we ain’t even got any record of it! Who will ever believe it happened?”
“Everybody who sees this,” says Earl, holding up his newfangled I Phone. “I even got Millie fain’ting in the bathroom.”
I look from Earl to Dolly, who is gazing google eyed at Earl, and then at me, as if to say, “I told you so.”
We all hustle to clean up before the supper crowd starts showin’ up. It don’t really matter to me about the food, or even not gettin’ paid. I guess we ain’t the only ones gettin’ stiffed by Mr. President and Mrs. Third Lady.
The Ambassador, fiction
by Greg Pruitt
She stood in the shadows cast by the late autumn moon outside of what had once been her neighborhood bar, and glanced up and down the nearly deserted street. At the nearby intersection, the traffic light cycled from yellow to red where a lone car that had just rumbled up paused momentarily before running the light. Stopping for long in this part of town was an invitation to trouble.
The city had been in a steady decline for the last 40 years. First the factories had closed, then the businesses, and finally the schools. Only the poor and the elderly remained. What had once been quiet streets were now dangerous in the town once known as America’s murder capital.
It had been right there, where a punk with a gun had tried to steal her purse. She had told him to go to hell, and the kid had looked at her in wide-eyed amazement before turning and running away. The cop had said that she was crazy, and she had laughed and said that the barrel of the gun had been no bigger than the end of her little finger, and probably couldn’t hurt anyone.
Although the windows and door to the old, one-story, red brick building were boarded and locked, she stepped easily through the barrier. Inside, the abandoned, shotgun style room greeted her in silence. The bar to her right that stretched for half the length of the building was covered in dust, as were the empty shelves that lined the wall. A small, antique neon sign advertising Blue Ribbon somehow still emitted a ghostly glow providing the hall’s only illumination. At the far end of the bar stood a lone stool. It was hers, still in her spot, forever reserved for her.
Taking her seat, and turning her back to the bar, she gazed slowly around the room. There were the empty places where the piano and pool table had once been, and the shuffleboard still remained against the far wall. Apparently no one had wanted it, or if they had, they hadn’t come for it yet. A few broken down tables and chairs were scattered haphazardly throughout the space, and that old television was, as always, perched high on the shelf in the corner. There had once been so much activity here, and now, all of the motions and sounds of life had slowly, but steadily, faded away.
The ambassador had been the first joint to open in the city following prohibition, and she had been a regular there since she was of legal age, and for 70 of the bar’s 80 year existence. The place wasn’t home, but it had been close to that for many.
During most of those eight decades, it had been the watering hole where generations had spent their mornings, afternoons, and evenings surrounded by family and friends. There had been the early years during the depression when things had been tough, but despite the hardships, in the winter, the old coal-burning stove had kept the patrons warm, and in the summer, the beer had been cold.
She had come there first as a young woman and later as a new bride, in the time before the war. Those seemingly endless war years had been filled with sorrow and worry. Her husband and four brothers had been shipped overseas, along with friends who would never come through the bar’s door again. During those dark days, she had occupied her time, like so many other women, with work on the line, manufacturing the weapons that were essential to victory.
By the fall of 45, the war had ended, and the young men in her family had returned safely, and times once again had been good. Two years later, she had become a mother with the first of her 3 sons, and her hours had been consumed with the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood.
In those post war days, the company’s factories had been booming. America had wanted new cars and the people of the city had been eager to produce them. When the factory shifts would end, a new group of regulars would file into the bar. Punching a time clock was unnecessary. Those men and women had always reported as though scheduled. There had seldom been an empty seat no matter the hour of day. The clientele had included, along with the shop rats, cops, politicians, college students, and the men and women of the neighborhood. There had been so many characters, and all of them gone now.
She stood and crossed the grimy tile floor to the shuffleboard. As she walked to the table’s far end, she brushed away debris from what had once been a highly polished surface. Picking up one of the remaining blue and silver disks, she caressed its old, worn edges, as the feel of it brought back even more memories. She blinked away a tear and stared down the table, while sliding the puck slowly back and forth. Then, with a well-practiced move, her left hand sent the weight racing smoothly down the board. It came to rest near the end of the narrow zone marked 3, a familiar outcome for one of the bar’s old hustlers. She grinned and remembered a happier time when a shot like that drew the applause of onlookers and perhaps won her a cold one.
Returning to the bar, she smiled when she saw a mug of beer waiting for her along with an opened pack of cigarettes and lighter. She sipped the cold, sweet brew as she looked upward and sighed, “Thanks, John, or whoever is working tonight,” but heard perhaps what was only a whispering echo in reply.
Firing up her cigarette, she wondered how many she had smoked in her lifetime. It must have been over two hundred thousand. There must have been billions smoked in the place, and millions of beers drained over the years.
There had been parties, so many parties. Birthdays, retirements, Christmas, New Year’s, and St. Patrick’s Day, her favorite, had brought in the crowds. She and most of her friends had prepared food to pass. Her specialty had been deviled eggs. Although the health department had tried to put an end to that, she had defied the authorities and had brought her eggs for all occasions, and people had continued to enjoy them.
Somehow the bartenders and waitresses had known all of the regulars’ birthdays. She must have celebrated at least fifty of her own in this very place. She recalled the day when she had looked forward to the evening of her 48th, but that sad November day the young President had been killed, and the night had been cold and rainy. No one had been in the mood to party.
For so long, they had shared in one another’s joys and sadness. Weddings and wakes had been common occurrences. They had been family. They had laughed and cried together.
An informal celebration of her life had been held the evening following her funeral. Her husband and most of her close friends had been gone long before her, but that night there had been a few of the younger ones who had a funny story or two to tell about the old lady they called Spitfire, the woman with the white hair, bright blue eyes and infectious smile, who had always sat at the end of the bar.
She sipped her beer and remembered the singing. She had usually been one of the first to raise her voice, and certainly one of the more enthusiastic.
There had been occasionally someone who could be coaxed to pound out a tune on the ancient piano, and she had often joined in by playing a set of spoons that she had sometimes carried in her purse. She smiled when remembering the good times.
Of course there had been a jukebox that had filled the silence when the evening became too quiet. On some of those nights, if feeling a bit blue, she would play the sad songs. Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” had been her favorite in the lonely years following her husband’s death.
She crushed out her smoke and finished her drink, as she began to hum and then sing the familiar refrain, while moving toward the exit.
“I’m crazy for trying, and crazy for crying, and I’m crazy for loving you.”
Then, passing once more through the door, she silently vanished into the night.
Bio: Greg Pruitt is a retired teacher living in Fenton, Michigan. He is a graduate of the Michigan School For The Blind and Central Michigan University. He has been legally blind since the age of nine as the result of an undetermined retinal disease.
Tomorrow’s Blossoms, fiction
by Shawn Jacobson
Blind gardeners never use gloves, so I am glad that the infernal things I am pulling do not have thorns. I am sure they will evolve them or something that’s equally nasty before long.
“Uh!” Patrick grunted as he tugged at a stubborn weed. “This must be one of the new flowers, the kind that you can’t pull.”
“Cut it off at the ground; hit it with herbicide. That should kill the roots,” I replied. As I said, these things evolve new wrinkles all the time, like spikes that hold the roots in the ground.
“Bonnie was telling me that she could hear the flowers scream when she pulled them,” Pat said, ripping another plant from the ground.
“Nuts!” I said. “The lady hears things, always has, angels, faeries, ghosts, you name it, she hears it.”
“She was a jazz singer,” Pat replied. “I’m told they hear things the rest of us can’t.”
“That would be Bonnie,” I said, hoping to bury the subject. “She hears all sorts of things we can’t hear, because they aren’t freaking real!”
The whole concept of screaming flowers was stone crazy of course, but these were crazy times. After all, taking folks from the Iowa National Guard and training them to weed blindfolded was stone crazy too, but it was the only way to save them from becoming mesmerized into oblivion from staring at the deadly blooms. There weren’t enough blind folks to rescue all the cornfields from the evil beauties that were the kin of the weeds we were pulling tonight.
My wife would tell me all about the blossoms so I could share their beauty. There were Blue Angels, azure flecked with gold, and Blood of Christ, startling the eye with ruby and white petals. There were Royal Cardinals, resplendent in red and gold, but her favorites were Heaven’s Sunrises. She could not believe that there were that many shades between orange and yellow. I never quite got into the beauty of it all, something for which I’m glad. I don’t want to be awed, transfixed, by things I must kill.
As my sweaty hands sought purchase on a glossy stem, I remembered the trip out to the mansion. The folks who lived there, rich enough to hire personalized service, had wanted their garden back. I was sure that part of the reason they’d wanted a rush job had to do with the farmers in the area who had more to lose than prize tomato plants. These glorious flowers were damned good at getting rid of the competition.
We had arrived at dusk; no one wants to see us at work. Dan, one of the children, had drawn the unenviable task of taking us out to what had been the vegetable garden. Now it was a jungle of overabundant blooms so beautiful that none who beheld them could bear to see them destroyed.
“You have cans for this stuff?” I asked. “It gets real bulky.”
“We have a dumpster, with wheels,” the kid replied and he went to fetch it more quickly than decorum would call for.
“Did you just hear a plant scream?” I squeaked startled from my reverie by a noise I couldn’t identify.
“Don’t think so,” Pat said. “I heard it too and it wasn’t a scream, more like, like a dog whining. Damned if it hasn’t been a while since I heard a dog. You do remember dogs?” Pat continued. He was a fount of unhappy conversation. “It wasn’t that long ago, was it,” he continued, and I could swear I heard a plain’tive note in his voice.
“Yah,” I said, “my wife shot ours for getting into the flowers; this was back before, well back when it was practical to keep a dog.”
It had been the shooting of our dog that started my weeding career. It wasn’t so much her shooting the animal as it was the cold way she killed it, as if the flowers had cast a spell on her making the ten years we owned Rumball meaningless that had freaked me out. My wife would spend entire afternoons just gazing at the plants, so I learned to cook just to make sure we got fed.
Anyway, that night I pulled everything, the Blue Angels, the Blood of Christ, the Royal Cardinals, the Heaven’s Sunrises, and a bunch of others, Astral nights, Viking Crowns, Sacred Lions, and all the rest. “Die devils die!” I howled as I tore the monstrous things out of the ground. Then came the morning after, and let’s just say it was a damned good thing that I’d learned to cook.
“I reckon that was an act of mercy,” Pat replied. “My neighbor’s dog got into some of these flowers. It took him two days to die. The poor thing just kept vomiting all the time till the end, vomiting and whimpering. It was a downright awful way to go.”
“Damn them things anyway,” I said. “If anything deserves to burn it’s those Hellish weeds.”
“They’re not evil,” Pat said calmly, “they’re just good at surviving, like sharks. No one would say a shark was evil, or came from Hell.”
“A shark is an honest predator. You see a shark, well, it’s dangerous and you know it can kill you. These flowers are just as deadly, but they look harmless, so nice, soft, inviting, and so beautiful, not honest at all.”
“Lots of survival strategies are nasty,” Pat said. “For all the smoke some people blow about mother nature and Gaia, and such, when it comes down to it, survival is a brutal game and the only rule is the loser dies. Life is about not being the loser.”
“Nice,” I said, throwing more blooms into the dumpster, “I hope there’s enough room in here. They sure grew a bumper crop.”
“Here’s the shield,” Pat said “you’re tall enough to reach over and push them down.”
I agreed and reluctantly leaned over the edge and used the plastic sheet to press the blossoms down. The blooms felt soft and thick, like a child’s plush toy, a giant teddy bear with an embrace that could choke the world.
Up close, I could smell their floral reek, a thick cloying scent, as if God had taken a bath in cheap perfume. I didn’t know if I smelled a hint of deep corruption or whether that was just my personal opinion of the things. I was glad when the pushing was done; I’d gained us a foot, maybe eighteen inches for the weeds we had yet to pick. I stood and wiped the sweat from my face; the muggy air just seemed to wring it out of you.
“And these things came so quickly,” I said as I panted from the exertion. “It’s hard to believe that we didn’t have any of this until five, six years ago and now they’re everywhere.”
“From what I’ve read,” Pat replied as I yanked a particularly recalcitrant weed from the earth, “they’ve been around more than five or six years. One scientist thinks they first appeared after the meteor shower of ’26. Real strange thing, it wasn’t one of the regular showers that astronomers track. It took everyone by surprise.”
“Can’t rightly say I remember it,” I replied, “but I’ll take your word for it.” Pat had always wanted to be an astronomer, but he had believed that a blind guy couldn’t be one. He still kept his interest in space though.
“No reason you should remember,” Pat said, “with everything that has happened since…Anyway, after the meteor showers, there were a lot of reports of strange, mutant-looking plants. Folks blamed everything from herbicides to genetic modifications. It was quite a source of hysteria, though nothing compared to now. Then, suddenly, the blossoms showed up. Sighted folks went around marveling at their beauty and at all the new varieties; it seemed a new one popped up every day. Then the crop failures started.”
I dropped the plant I had pulled yelping from the hooked barbs that anchored the roots to the ground. I would probably get boils from the poison the plants poured into the ground. As I said, these plants are nasty, good at getting rid of the competition.
“So, what you’re saying,” I said after my yelp, “is that these flowers came from space, like something out of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’.” There had been a film revival last week and they’d shown the old movie.
“Or like ‘Day of the Triffids’, an even older story of space vegetables.”
“Never heard of it,” I said.
“The idea,” Pat explained, “was that there was a meteor shower and everyone who watched it went blind. Then these plants that could walk and kill people showed up.”
“Kind of like what we have now,” I said, “except now we could use all the blind guys we could get.” There were parts of the world where ancient ways of making blind guys were being resurrected and used on the poor and the luckless.
“Or maybe we could use robots like they’re trying in Japan,” Pat said, he kept up on such things.
“Heard they’ve had mixed results,” I said, “I guess it’s harder to program the whole stoop and weed procedure than it is to just do it.”
“Reckon,” Pat said. “It’s amazing how hard it is to program something like that; you’d think it would be simple.”
About then, something rubbed against my right leg; barking noises cut through the pre-dawn silence.
“Sounds like you’ve got a friend,” Pat said.
“I’ve missed having a dog,” I said. This would have shocked my wife. She had been the one pushing us to get a dog; I’d resisted, not sure I could handle the responsibility.
“Lots of folks miss having dogs,” Pat said, “or that’s what I’m told.”
“Maybe I can call him Ribsy.” The dog didn’t feel like he had much extra meat on him.
“You name him, you keep him.” Pat said. What went unsaid was that if you keep him you feed him. There was a reason we didn’t see many pets anymore; there weren’t food rations for animals. “Besides,” Pat continued, “the name’s taken.”
We resumed weeding as the dog hung around; every once in a while I heard barking. Finally, as night gave way to morning, we got the last damned weed out of the garden.
“Better hit it with some herbicide, just to keep these things from coming back,” I said.
We trudged back towards the mansion, pulling the dumpster; I had used the shield to push the plush mass down to where it would not spill out on the ground, if we were careful. Meanwhile our new dog friend wagged and Barked, running ahead, giving us a welcome sense of direction.
“I wouldn’t plant anything for a couple of days. Let the herbicide work, if I were you,” I told the homeowner as he came downstairs. He yawned loudly. “If you see any stems, pull them fast before they bloom.” Then I asked, “Is that your dog?”
“Buster!” a boy’s voice rang out with all the love for a dog you never heard anymore.
“We can’t keep him, son,” the home owner replied. His tone told a novel of regret and the pain of crushed joy. “Would either of you want to keep him?”
Pat said no right off but I thought about it. Then I politely declined. The few people I knew who still kept pets fed them out of their food allotment buying companionship with hunger. I found that I’d worked through that decision. I was not ready to make that sacrifice. We pulled the dumpster out to the curb just as the incinerator truck pulled up.
“Now these plants can be truly infernal,” I muttered as we waited for the truck that would take us home.
As I waited, I heard my wife accusing me of being selfish, the way I’d been before we got our dog; I plead guilty accompanied by the dog’s forsaken whine. I acknowledged that my wife was merciful to Rumball whether it was meant to be or not; I wouldn’t have wanted our dog to go through Buster’s abandonment. I’m not sure I forgave her at this point, but that possibility now seemed open in a way it had never been before.
As we left on the truck, I thought I could still hear Buster whining, or maybe it was the death screams of the flowers. At that point, I couldn’t tell.
There is a lot I don’t know, but one thing is certain, the old bard had it wrong. The truth is often ugly as homemade sin, and beauty can lie through her teeth. It will take knowledge and persistence, not sentimentality, to get to a future worth having.
And of this too I am certain, that tomorrow there will be blossoms as deadly as they are beautiful, blossoms of a spellbinding beauty to bewitch those who look upon them and with the deadly poison to kill the life we need. Then I and my blind friends will be called upon to save us from their suffocating splendor.
I will be out there because I have a purpose. I may not bring peace to the world, but maybe, just maybe, through dogged determination, I can help bring about a world with enough food for all of us where Earth’s bounty will not need to be rationed out in miserly increments, a world where we can have our fill.
As weariness settles upon me, weariness so profound that only hunger tethers me to wakefulness, I realized another reason to be out there. I owe it to Buster.
Video Game Parenting, nonfiction
by Peter Altschul, MS
Since moving to Columbia, Missouri in the fall of 2006, video game sounds have wafted through the house. Explosions. Rapid machine gun fire. Weird noises suggesting alien invasions. Bucolic barnyard sounds. Large sports stadium crowd noise, including play-by-play calls. Loud, foreboding music and edgy, erie music. Constant video game background noise was a constant soundtrack as I did kitchen and laundry duty; wrote a book; composed and recorded music; looked after my guide dog and a pack of bouncy standard poodles; did some consulting work; and hung out with my wife, Lisa, while staying clear of Monty, our pet python.
Communicating with my two stepsons over the racket could be challenging. It was sometimes hard to get them to go to bed or do their homework or come to the dinner table. Or even get their attention at all.
Being totally blind, it was hard to talk with my stepsons about the games they were playing because of all the visuals. But over time, I learned something about guns, military strategy, and zombie culture while discussing sports-related strategies. And my snarky comments about the music resulted in conversations about classical music and World War II-era American songs.
My most successful parental intervention took place one night while my older stepson and a friend were playing some sort of competitive shoot-’em-up game. They were both in eighth grade, and like me during that time, engaged in increasingly loud and vulgar trash talk. In the past, I had allowed this chatter to wash over me, but, for whatever reason, I’d had enough.
“Suck my cock!” my stepson bellowed.
“Can I watch?” I called from the bedroom.
His friend howled with laughter and told me I was cool.
And the trash talk ended within the walls of our house, not just for that night, but as far as I can remember, forever.
I’m sure my stepson, who now plays college football, trash-talks with the best of them, but while he sometimes curses around us when he’s frustrated or angry, he doesn’t trash talk in our presence.
I suspect that my three-word intervention was effective because, prior to that time, I kept my cursing to a minimum, had a great relationship with my stepson’s mom, and had a good-enough relationship with both boys.
A few months later, my stepson spent what seemed like several minutes attributing his loss in another video game skirmish to poor lighting.
“Get a dog!” I called from the bedroom.
“Did he just tell you to get a dog?” his friend asked, trying hard not to laugh.
“Yes,” my stepson said sheepishly.
And those lame excuses were extinguished.
Being a stepdad requires tricky navigation through and around emotional mine fields without those noisy video game weapons. But I do know that modeling effective behavior most of the time, having a quality relationship with their mother, a good-enough relationship with the stepkids, and humor can be effective weapons. Certainly more effective than the all-too-commonly used weapon of rat-a-tat preaching.
A Lesson in Empathy, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin
“I used to pride myself on my independence, now I am afraid to go on walks in the evening, to attend social events… where I should be comfortable. It is embarrassing how feeble I feel, how timidly I move through life, always guarded, ready to defend myself, ready to be angry.”
I am blind-a blind social worker working with people who are blind. I read the above passage assuming a perspective of shared vulnerability, for I hear these words, or words like these, from people struggling with vision loss. I empathize, not only as a social worker, but as one who lost connection and forfeited the belief that I was entitled to a full life. Blindness is trauma and its expression of anxious apartness is as universal as sight is individual. But the above passage was spoken, not by a young blind woman, but by a college-aged victim of date rape.
I hear her and know I can draw parallels with blindness but I prefer to relate through our mutual loss of the inherent right to a future without fear of living through a lens that sees us as deficient. I am her when she says she’s afraid, angry, embarrassed, guarded. And knowing the source of her trauma, my initial response joins with her outrage. I am ashamed of my perpetrator gender. I condemn the judicial system which endorses a double standard that blames victims and compounds their trauma by insinuating that they were “asking for it.” I decry the moral judgment of retribution, wherein the victim becomes the accused, a concept that rivals the idiocy of the archaic belief that blindness is punishment for sin. I shudder for this fragile stranger as friends guess at how to behave and what to make of this “poor girl,” this brave victim of a sexual predator.
The truth is, trauma is a universal experience. It arrives with a gentle tug on your sleeve or between the lines of a diagnosis. Yet how often we lose our ability to speak of it, to deal with it openly. “I didn’t want to be known as the girl who was raped,” says Claire Underwood in “House of Cards”, reinforcing the tragic tendency toward secrecy, suppression and shame. There are days I wish blindness could be hidden, where I might get a breather from dealing with the glaring, visible vulnerability. I have to go on faith that, because physical injury, emotional trauma and social stigma are universally shared, experiencing these multiple effects of trauma brings unity, empathy and understanding to the common struggle. This thought gives me courage.
[The quotation leading this story was taken from an article in The Chicago Tribune, 6/9/2016, "What my sons will learn from Turner's Stanford rape case" by Rex W. Huppke]
[Claire Underwood's quote comes from "House of Cards", season 2, episode 4 (Cumulative Episode 17)]
I Don’t Think of You as Blind, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin
When I define who I am, blindness is pretty far down the list. First come husband, son, brother, writer, reader, music lover and social worker. In these roles, I try to be loving and kind, thoughtful and thorough, patient and tolerant.
But among significant life events, losing my eyesight has had the most profound impact. I lost, then, after retraining, regained my career. I haven’t driven a car in twenty-five years. I live in a large city and depend on public transit. I am less adventuresome, preferring familiar environs. I feel the loss of visual things which used to give me pleasure, like taking photos and watching ball games.
At times, blindness becomes my most obvious and dramatic characteristic. If I try without success to find someone to read me a handwritten letter or I begin to cross Ashland Avenue against the light, blindness becomes vexing or downright dangerous. I can proceed no further nor reach safety until I find a workaround. But even as blindness inserts obstacles, I identify and internalize how blindness has enhanced my patience, ingenuity and problem-solving.
My wife has had two episodes with cancer. Yet I do not think of her primarily as a cancer victim or a cancer survivor as defined by a pink T-shirt manifesto. Cancer is part of her just as are curly hair and a soothing voice. Blindness is part of me just as are male-pattern baldness and a singing voice tending toward flats. Cancer and blindness are but two brush strokes in our portrait; they are not our portrait. They are one frame of reference through which we think, feel and make decisions. Where a stranger says, “Funny, you don’t look blind,” a friend says, “I don’t think of you as blind.” The closer we come, the more we see, in ourselves and in one another.
Part VI. A Breath of Spring and Summer
A Sommelier of Summer, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
I am a sommelier of summer–
not of summer wines, just of the season
about which I sometimes whine.
Summarizing, I wish I could somehow return
to the somersault summers of my childhood years
when I so awaited and relished
the hottest days of the sizzling season,
when swimming was the sparkle of life.
I could even summon up sweat-free and unmelted moments
in my young adult life
when I did not need to summon up courage
to face or frolic in the summer sun.
Like a shadow, this season of growth
is behind me:
now I summit
the autumn of life’s falling stages
and am uncomfortable in the sunshine season.
I have been too winterized
by decades of Wisconsin winters.
Should I admit?
On one of the recent high heat-indexed days,
I was dreaming of a blizzard!
(I do not mean a Blizzard of the DQ variety.)
I mentioned to a fellow Wisconsinite
the cool thought of a real blizzard.
Such thoughts were even more soothing
than my currently beloved air conditioning.
What a sumptuous treat
after a long walk with my Willow!
Sometime in January,
When only Willow warms my heart,
someone will remind me
of this summertime poem;
and in the midst of a real blizzard,
I will have to eat my snowflakes
and re-boot to appreciate
a sommelier of summer.
Summer, Mount Sinai Harbor, poetry
by Brad Corallo
Scent of hot asphalt
caressing Gentle breeze.
Happy shrieks of playing children,
joyous barks of bounding canines.
Basket balls beat pavement rhythms,
rim shots, backboard booms!
Fiery cratered rocky sand
treacherous to barefoot souls.
Dock tackle, Intermittent clanking
revving boat motors, spew foul exhaust.
Long gliding sound of fishing line
sliding through metallic eyes.
The plop as sinker hits water
ratcheting sounds, eager cranking.
Car engine noise
approaches and moves away.
Ten second peal of music
rises and fades.
Lilting strains of Summer Breeze by Seals and Crofts;
hang in air loosing cascades of emotion.
Poignant pang of memory
long forgotten face of smiling girl.
White foam strokes the shore.
Light reflects off undulating water.
Clear blue sky, white puffy clouds,
bright warm sun breath bathes all.
Perfumed skin, bronzed sun worshipers,
transient whiffs, pineapple coconut.
Ball games blare from radios,
parking lot Ice cream truck circles, piping familiar melodies.
Spreading my Op Art towel, I lie down.
Finally Warm all over, so totally here, gratitude ascending!
Slices of Summer, poetry
by Nancy Scott
Every season sends perfect days
to remind us to love land and sky.
Be grateful to step out to insightful air.
Test fit in less clothes.
Sit in slanted morning sun
and late-afternoon creative shade.
Tomorrow, mind thunder.
Tomorrow, crave things not in the house.
Tomorrow, try not to forget today.
and have the servant
or the genie
or the devil
A month for pretending:
- that school will stay out forever,
- that potato salad is good for us,
- that our old journals matter,
- that we will chase the ice cream truck,
- that snow will be wonderful.
Bio: Nancy Scott’s over 700 essays and poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, newspapers, and as audio commentaries. She has a new chapbook, The Almost Abecedarian available on Amazon, and she won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Her recent work appears in Braille Forum, Disabilities Studies Quarterly, Philadelphia Stories, Pentimento and Wordgathering.
by Trish Hubschman
She spreads her wings, stretching, stretching
As her outer shell melts away
Bringing her into the second phase of life
First a pillar crawling on a leaf,
Hiding, Safe, but constricted
Now, she is free, or soon will be.
She has to be brave and fly away
She will, but first she must breathe it in
The air is warm, sun bright, the world there before her
Oh, how beautiful it all is!
She’s seeing it through different eyes
Or maybe not, same eyes, new appreciation
She takes a step forward, she’s ready,
Or maybe not, she hesitates.
She’s scared! Who wouldn’t be?
She needs time to absorb it
Her new form, new life, freedom.
She could do this, she wants to,
Not that there’s a choice
She can’t crawl back into her cocoon
Oh, that one makes her smile!
But no, this is Nature’s plan, she must fulfill it
One, two, three, wings spread wide, fluttering, fluttering
She’s sailing, she’s off the branch, she’s entered the world
And it feels good!
Bio: Trish is deaf-blind and has a walking/balance problem. She loves writing short stories of all kinds. She also has two books published with America Star Books, a short story collection Through Time, time travel/romances and The Fire, first in her own Tracy Gayle mystery series.
Water Balloons, memoir
by Andrea Kelton
All the kids were out playing. My little brother, Michael and me. Dottie Moore and her little brother. Tom and Greg Halleck from next door. The kids from the farm house down the street. And the boy from the house with the old weeping willow in front. This sunny summer day was the perfect play day on Lincoln Avenue.
Lincoln Avenue was part of a neighborhood developers had carved out of old farmland. Our ranch house was one of many built amidst the longstanding older two story wooden and stone houses wrapped in wide porches. Lincoln was paved. But the side street next to my ranch house was still a ditch-lined dirt road. Empty fields offered secret hiding places and swampy water teaming with tadpoles. Many adventures waited to unfold.
But today, we were all about games. First, statues where we tossed each other and froze in position. Next we chased each other in tag. “You’re it!” We calmed down a bit with hide and seek. “Ready or not, here I come!” Someone brought a red rubber ball. We formed kickball teams. Tom and I were the captains. We chose teams from all the younger kids. In September, I’d be in the fourth grade and he’d be in the third. We played hard until it was time for lunch.
The afternoon heated up, but not hot enough for the sprinkler or bathing suits. After lunch, Tom and Greg came out with a bag of balloons. Tom thought it’d be fun to fill the balloons with water and throw them at the other kids. But he and Greg were the only ones with balloons. Tom stood there like he was the king and picked who would be favored with a balloon to fill. He didn’t pick me or Michael.
I got hit by a couple of balloons. No fair. Then I remembered. My daddy had balloons in his underwear drawer. I’d seen them when I’d helped mommy put away the laundry. Way in the back. Wrapped in little silver packages. I snuck back into the house, quietly opened daddy’s drawer and took some for me and Michael.
I bit open the yucky tasting foil. Put the end of the balloon on the spigot. Water filled the banana shaped tube. I tied a knot in the end and handed it off to Michael. I’d just finished filling mine when my daddy burst out the front screen door. He didn’t say a word. Just snatched our balloons and ran back into the house.
The other kids got tired of playing water balloons. Everybody liked hitting somebody. Nobody liked getting hit. Pretty soon all the kids drifted home for a snack and some inside play. Maybe tomorrow we’d ride bikes.
by Susan Muhlenbeck
Dawn drove cautiously up the Blue Ridge Mountains. She was headed to a Bed and Breakfast in a small town in Rural Virginia. She had received an e-mail from her boyfriend Max that morning telling her to meet him there this afternoon. She had been so excited about the prospect of spending some quality time with him that she threw caution to the wind. It was a clear, crisp day in early spring, and everything seemed to be calm except her racing thoughts.
“Don’t go!” her friend Tish had insisted earlier that day. “You’re just setting yourself up for heartache again.” Dawn knew on an intellectual level that Tish could very well be right. Her boyfriend Max had flown in and out of her life several times within the last couple years. He would hang around for a few weeks or months then disappear without a trace. Then he would reappear some time later with apologies and lame excuses about how he needed time to regroup. She had always taken him back, thinking that things would be different this time. This e-mail she had received was the first time she had heard from him in almost two months.
“I’ll tell you everything that happened to me when I see you,” he had written. “I’m here to stay this time, I promise. Don’t give up on me yet. We came too far to turn back. Can’t wait to see you.” She wouldn’t allow her misgivings to invade her mind. She concentrated on the clean, crisp mountain air, so different from the carbon monoxide fumes in the city. She could feel the pure air filling her lungs and cleansing her soul. There was hardly any traffic this afternoon. She should arrive within the hour.
She arrived at the big stone house, which had been converted into Cherry Stone Lodge, around 3:30. The Bed and Breakfast was owned by a retired couple who were expecting her. Max had made the reservations on line. “He’s not here yet,” Mrs. Clark said, ushering Dawn into the spacious living room, “but let me show you your room.”
Dawn followed Mrs. Clark up the long, winding staircase. She examined the landscape paintings on the walls with some interest. “This house was built around 1850,” Mrs. Clark explained as she unlocked the door to one of the rooms at the top of the steps. “There is an old Indian burial ground near here.”
“I like this antique furniture,” Dawn said, putting her hand on the carved headboard. “It reminds me of Colonial times.” She admired the matching dresser and rocking chair.
“The bathroom is just down the hall,” Mrs. Clark said casually. “Just get yourself settled. Do you have plans for dinner?”
“No, I don’t,” Dawn said, feeling her face flush. “I thought-”
“Everything closes around here at 5:00,” Mrs. Clark said, putting a hand on her arm. “You and your friend are more than welcome to have dinner with us if you don’t have any plans. The nearest restaurant open after 5:00 is about ten miles away.”
“Thank you,” Dawn said, suddenly feeling very awkward. Where was Max and when would he be here? “I think I’ll walk around for a little while, get a look at the town.”
“There’s really not much to see,” Mrs. Clark said as they walked downstairs. “We eat around 6:00 if you’re interested.”
Dawn walked around the little town, considerably less light-hearted than she had felt when she had arrived. As Mrs. Clark had said, there was not much to see. The main street had a grocery store, a post office, a little church, a laundromat, a souvenir shop, and a gas station. She stopped in the souvenir shop and spent a few minutes examining the trinkets. She finally chose a small wooden owl as a present for Max. “A wise choice,” the clerk said as she wrapped the gift in newspaper.
“Let’s hope so,” Dawn conceded as she left the shop. She wasn’t speaking so much of the gift as she was about her decision to come on this trip. Maybe her friend Tish was right. Maybe she shouldn’t have bothered. Max should have been here when she arrived, or at least called and let her know what was going on and when he would arrive. Maybe he would be at Cherry Stone Lodge with a good explanation when she got back.
But he wasn’t. Dawn tried to hide her disappointment and embarrassment as she walked into the empty parlor. “I hope the poor guy didn’t get lost,” Mr. Clark said anxiously. “This isn’t exactly an easy place to find.”
“You don’t suppose he got into an accident, do you?” Mrs. Clark asked, walking out of the kitchen. “Maybe there was a traffic jam,” she added quickly.
“I don’t know,” Dawn said uncertainly. “He’s not answering the phone.” That wasn’t exactly a lie. His phone number had been “unavailable” for some time. That was one of the things she had planned to discuss with him tonight.
“Dinner will be ready in a few minutes,” Mrs. Clark said cheerfully. “We’re having meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and corn, and apple pie for dessert. Hope you’ll join us.”
“Thank you,” Dawn said, trying to sound grateful. She wasn’t a big meatloaf fan, but she couldn’t refuse their kind invitation. She sat in the parlor and stared at the fireplace. Tish was right, she thought angrily. She should have never come. Max didn’t get lost or have an accident. She had been stood up. It was as simple and awful as that.
She noticed an unfinished patchwork quilt on the ornate couch. It was made of hundreds of scraps of material of all different colors. “I love your patchwork quilt,” she told the Clarks over dinner.
“Oh, that’s a visiting quilt,” Mrs. Clark laughed. “We invite all the guests to bring a piece of material from a discarded article of clothing to sew into it. It’s made up of a lot of garments from countless guests. We have a picture of it on our website.”
After dinner the Clarks invited Dawn to hang out in the parlor. “We’re just going to watch some old movies tonight. There’s usually something good on the classic movie channel.”
“Thank you, but I think I’ll sit outside on the porch for a while,” Dawn said, trying to suppress a yawn.
“All right. There are some books in the library if you would care to read.”
She chose a book of selected poems by some famous British poets from the 19th century. She listened to the sounds of nature as she tried reading some poetry. The wind blew gently as the crickets sang and frogs croaked. The leaves stirred softly in the breeze, which had a fresh, clean smell. She sat there for what seemed to be a long time before she felt herself starting to drift into unconsciousness. She closed the book and went upstairs.
Dawn’s head no sooner touched the pillow than she found herself climbing an endless flight of steep stairs. She climbed higher and higher, unaware of the place the steps led. Her legs ached, and her heart and lungs felt like they would burst, and she still climbed. After what seemed like hours, she reached the top. I must be on the 900 and 99th floor, she thought insanely. She found herself in a small, square room lit only by a candle. She walked forward cautiously and heard and felt the wooden floor boards creak under her feet. There was a table with several scrolls and small objects lying on it. At the table sat an old man, who was writing on one of the scrolls. His hair was snow white, and his face looked like it was made out of a piece of worn leather. He rose and stepped towards her as she took in the scene around her.
“I have been waiting for you, my dear,” he said in an incongruously strong voice. She shook his hand, which felt like rough tree bark.
“Who are you?” she asked, confused.
“You cannot say my name in your language,” he said firmly. “I am a keeper of the faith.”
“Are you God?” she asked suspiciously, peering at the objects on the table. One of the objects looked much like the wooden owl she bought at the souvenir shop earlier that day.
“I am not God nor one of his archangels,” the old man said mysteriously. “Do you know why you are here?”
“I came to meet my boyfriend, but he stood me up,” Dawn said, looking down at the floor. “I’m done with him.”
“You won’t be done with him until you learn to do one thing,” the old man said solemnly. As he spoke, they heard the wind outside blowing very hard. The building began to sway and rock. Dawn was sure they would go crashing to the ground ten thousand feet below.
The old man seemed unfazed by the motion. “You, my dear, have to learn how to hate suffering,” he said evenly.
“What do you mean?” Dawn demanded indignantly. “Everybody hates suffering.”
“You embrace it like an old friend,” the man said as if she hadn’t spoken. “You had so many chances to cast it aside, yet you can’t seem to give it up.”
Dawn considered his words. “It’s not just Max,” she said softly. “I feel like I have been suffering my whole life. I was abandoned on the doorstep of a monastery at birth. The monks who found me called me Dawn because that was the time of day they found me. I don’t know where I came from, only that I was deserted.”
“So you attract other people who will abandon you also,” the old man nodded, “and continue to suffer. Old habits die hard.”
“What should I do?” she asked, near tears.
“As soon as you learn to hate suffering, life will be more rewarding,” he said gravely. “Learn to hate suffering,” he said loudly, making her jump.
She opened her mouth to say, “I sure will,” but the building shook even harder than before, and she woke up with a start. She put a hand over her pounding heart. Outside the wind was still blowing. She concentrated on the sound. It was almost as if the wind were trying to tell her something, she thought as sleep claimed her again. This time she didn’t have any dreams, at least not that she could remember.
She woke up the next morning feeling surprisingly refreshed and revitalized. She smiled pleasantly at the Clarks over a hearty breakfast, complete with fresh squeezed orange juice. “May I stitch something into the patchwork quilt?” she asked after breakfast.
“Of course,” Mrs. Clark said, handing her a needle and thread. Dawn cut a large square from a beautiful embroider silk blouse Max had given her for her birthday the year before. She sewed it into place next to a colorful neck tie and under a piece of a pink cotton dress. “Hope you had a good time,” the Clarks said, not mentioning Max’s absence.
“I love this place,” Dawn said truthfully as she prepared to depart. “Maybe I’ll come back sometime.”
She took her time driving home, enjoying the mountain air and rural setting as long as possible. Her apartment was just as she had left it. She put the wooden owl in a prominent place on her dresser. “In case I forget to hate suffering,” she said out loud. She threw away the rest of the blouse Max had given her and then checked her e-mail messages.
There was a message from Max saying, “Sorry I couldn’t make it this weekend. I’ll be in touch.”
She sent a reply reading, “I had a fantastic time. Don’t ever contact me again, you worthless pig.” Then she took the steps necessary to block any further messages from him.
She met her friend Tish for a glass of wine that evening. They sat out on the porch of the neighborhood tavern. “How did it go?” Tish asked anxiously.
“He stood me up,” Dawn laughed, “but I met an interesting dude.”
“Really? Is he cute?” Tish asked excitedly.
She told Tish about the old man in her dream and what he said. “So Max is dead as far as I’m concerned,” she finished.
“Great!” Tish said as the wind started picking up speed. “Must be a storm brewing,” she said.
Dawn thought about the building in her dream as it shook from the strong wind. “Let’s finish our wine and go,” she suggested as the wind blew harder. “Wow! That wind is really whipping tonight.”
Bio: Susan Muhlenbeck was born in Seoul, Korea and spent her first 5 years there. She was raised in the Midwest and moved to Virginia as a teenager. She received a bachelors’ degree in psychology and masters’ degree in rehabilitation counseling from Virginia University. Her interests include reading, swimming, bargain shopping, and cats. Her books are available on Amazon.
Unwelcome Sunshine, flash fiction
by John Wesley Smith
Mark sat in the lawn chair, hoping the fresh air would clear his head. He’d lost track of time. It was cloudy when he came outdoors after lunch. Now he had to squint his eyes against the sun.
Jenny was all he could think about. She had been happiest on sunny days. But even on the cloudy days she had a way of making everything seem brighter.
But she was gone now.
He stood to go back indoors. His hand lay paralyzed on the screen door handle. Entering the empty house was too much to bear.
How could it be? Jenny was gone. She’d run off with a garbage collector.
A garbage collector! He shook his head at the thought.
Blake was filling in for the regular guy who was recovering from heart bypass surgery. He came around two weekends last month to pick up the contents from the dumpsters they’d rented. Cleaning out Mark’s dad’s house after he died was more of a project than he and Jenny had bargained for. Who knew Dad had become such a hoarder?
Mark didn’t expect to miss the old man as much as he did. But when he needed Jenny’s comfort and support most, she gave that comfort and support to someone else.
Blake. What a stupid name, Mark thought. It rhymes with flake. How did people pick out names for their kids anyway?
“Oh, but he had such a brain,” Jenny said. “He was studying to be a lawyer. The garbage collecting gig was only to help him earn money to get the college degree he didn’t finish two years ago.”
“For God’s sake, Babe,” he’d said. “The Guy’s a friggin’ con artist. I mean, think about it. Just how many garbage collector lawyers have you met in your 23 years anyway?”
That didn’t stop her. When Blake came back that second Saturday morning, she gladly took him up on his invitation to lunch. She told Mark she could do a little conning of her own and wheedle some legal advice to help them settle his dad’s affairs.
Then came the note Mark found on the kitchen table when he came home from work three nights ago.
Jenny could do a little conning all right, he thought.
As he was ready to spew a string of profanities, he heard his dad’s voice in his head, repeating a quote which supposedly came from the Sermon on the Mount. “The sun and the rain fall on the just and the unjust alike, Boy.”
Mark turned to glance down his street. “Good Lord, It’s true,” he said aloud. The sun shone on everything. It shone on the Pemberton home with its overflowing flower beds. It shone on the Jenkins’ house, rowdy kids and all. It shone on the brick house where greedy Old Man Springmeyer used to live.
The sun shone on the frugal shoppers at the Dollar General store two blocks away. It shone on the gamblers throwing their money away at the riverboat casino across town. It shone on the Motel 6 where Jenny would be letting Blake do things to her Mark cringed to think about. And the sun shone on the Methodist church where Blake claimed to be a member in good standing.
The sun had no discernment at all.
Mark couldn’t take it anymore. He yanked open the screendoor and hurried into the house. He escaped the unwelcome sunshine, only to be enveloped by foreboding darkness.
Bio: John Wesley Smith is a blind writer and podcaster from central Missouri. Most of his creative endeavors go into his blog site at: http://www.destinysurvival.com.
A Suit Jacket and a Flower, fiction
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
“Britney, what’s this I hear about you not going to the prom with Marty?” I asked, as I hurried into the kitchen with an armload of groceries. I set the bags on the counter and turned to glare at my daughter. She sat at the kitchen table with her best friend Samantha, a bag of potato chips between them. Raucous music blared from Bluetooth speakers. I reached over and switched them off. “Samantha, I need to have a talk with Britney now. Would you please go home?”
“Mom, we were going to look at magazines to find a hairstyle for me for Saturday,” said Britney.
“Saturday is just what we need to talk about,” I said.
Samantha, looking embarrassed, rose and hurried out the back door, calling, “See you later.”
“Mom, what’s going on?” asked Britney, turning to face me, a look of hatred in her eyes.
“I should ask you the same question. Imagine my surprise when Diane cornered me, as I was getting the groceries out of the car, and told me you’d just turned Marty down as a prom date after you’d already promised you’d go with him. How could you do such a thing? Marty’s deeply hurt.”
“So what,” said Britney, retrieving a potato chip from the bag and popping it into her mouth. After crunching for a few seconds, she said, “I changed my mind. I found another boy I like better. There are plenty of girls who don’t have dates yet. With three days until the prom, Marty will find someone else.”
“Who is this other boy? Is it some punk who wears a nose ring and greased hair and rides a motorcycle?”
“T.J. is not a punk. Yes, he wears a nose ring and rides a motorcycle, but he’s one of the coolest kids in school. It’s an honor to be asked out by him. I couldn’t pass it up.”
“Honey, you’ve been friends with Marty since you were in first grade. How long have you known T.J.?”
“Oh, about a couple of months,” Britney answered, grabbing another chip.
“You’ve known him for a couple of months. Why haven’t you invited him over?”
“You wouldn’t like him. He lives with his brother who owns Jake’s Burger Joint, and he doesn’t want to go to college. He can’t afford to go, anyway.”
“Jake’s Burger Joint, that sleazy diner on Fifteenth Street?”
“It’s not a sleazy diner. A lot of kids hang out there after school. Jake serves burgers, fries, and shakes. Oh, I meant to tell you. I’ve decided not to go to college.”
“After graduation, T.J. is going to work with his brother at the restaurant. I thought I’d stay home and find a job. Maybe Samantha and I will get an apartment.”
“Wait a minute. You’ve only known Samantha a couple of months, and you’re talking about moving in together. I thought she had a good head on her shoulders.”
“She does. She lives with her sister who runs The Hair Factory. That’s where I’m getting my hair done. She gave us some magazines to look at so we could choose what styles we want.”
“The Hair Factory. What kind of a name is that for a beauty shop? What happened to Alicia and Claire? Why don’t they come around anymore? They’re nice girls.”
“Nice girls who plan to go to college and get good jobs.” My daughter’s mocking tone made me want to slap her. “Look, I don’t want to argue with you right now,” she said, getting to her feet and picking up a nearby pile of magazines. “I’m going upstairs to look through these myself and find a hairstyle for Saturday.” She hurried out of the room, and a minute later, I heard her bedroom door slam.
I collapsed into a nearby chair and buried my head in my hands. Since I’d been promoted to junior partner in my law firm, I’d been too busy to notice any changes in Britney except for the fact that she no longer hung out with Marty, Alicia, or Claire. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw her report card. Had her grades suffered, hampering her chances of winning a scholarship to the university for the following year? Had she already been denied?
I didn’t know how, but things were going to change. For starters, Britney would go to the prom with Marty. I formulated a plan in my mind, as I marched to the phone to call Diane. When she answered, I told her everything I’d heard from Britney, including her unwillingness to go to college.
“I’m not surprised, Carol. Marty says he’s seen her hanging out with a bunch of kids he doesn’t recognize down by the creek after school. Maybe I should have said something sooner.”
“No, it’s my fault. I’ve been working too many hours and not paying enough attention to Britney, but that’s going to change. I’m going to figure out a way to cut back my hours. If I have to, I’ll quit the firm and open my own practice. In the meantime, I think I can fix it so Britney will go to the prom with Marty. He hasn’t asked another girl, has he?”
“I doubt it. Britney just gave him the bad news today. He’s still pretty depressed.”
After I got off the phone and put the groceries away, I sat at the kitchen table with paper and pencil. My daughter’s handwriting was easy to imitate. “Dear Marty, I’ve changed my mind again. The guy who asked me to the prom isn’t really my type. I didn’t realize this until after he’d asked me and I said yes to him and no to you. I hope you’ll forgive me. I’d really like to go with you to the prom. If you’re still free, you don’t need to reply. Just pick me up at eight. I’ll be waiting. Yours truly, Britney.”
I put the letter in an envelope, sealed it, and addressed it to Marty. As I walked next door in the gathering dusk, I saw lights on in the living room. Hoping no one could see me, I crouched, inching towards the mailbox at the bottom of the front steps. After the deed was done, I slunk home.
The next evening when I arrived home after another long day at the office, Britney and Samantha were in the living room watching television. They sat on the couch, the bag of chips between them and magazines scattered everywhere. “Britney, what time is this boy picking you up Saturday?” I asked.
“Mom, his name is T.J.,” said Britney, as Samantha giggled. “He’s picking me up at seven.”
“I thought the prom didn’t start until eight,” I said.
“It doesn’t,” said Britney. “We’re going to a party at his friend’s house first.”
“Oh,” I said.
“I suppose you’re going to ask me if his parents are going to be there. Get real, Mom. I’m almost eighteen. I can take care of myself.”
“You’re right,” I said. “If you want to ruin your life, that’s up to you.” It was my turn to exit.
When I reached my room upstairs, I flopped onto the bed and breathed a sigh of relief. When Diane answered the phone, I said, “The other boy is planning to pick up Britney at seven. In the note, I told Marty to pick her up at eight. If I can keep her in her room until Marty arrives, this should work.”
“When Marty found your letter today, he was thrilled. I don’t think I’ve seen him this happy in weeks.”
Saturday dawned bright and clear. I was pleasantly surprised when Britney returned from the beauty shop. Her long blonde hair was arranged in simple curls. “It looks very nice, honey,” I said.
Britney was sulking. “I wanted purple hair. Samantha came to school yesterday with purple hair. She said Doreen did it. Purple is T.J.’s favorite color, but Doreen said it wouldn’t be fashionable for me.”
“She’s Samantha’s sister who runs The Hair Factory. What could I say?” I was relieved that Marty wouldn’t have to be embarrassed at the prospect of taking a girl with purple hair to the prom.
At a quarter of seven that evening, I knocked on Britney’s door. “Come in,” she said with a note of disgust in her voice.
She wore the long white dress with a high neck and long sleeves I bought her a couple of weeks earlier. She wanted something strapless, but since I was paying for it, what could she say? “Honey, you look beautiful,” I said, tears brimming in my eyes.
“Whatever,” said Britney, jamming her feet into the white sandals I also bought her.
“Here’s a flower to pin on your dress,” I said, producing it from my pocket. Realizing I’d forgotten to order her corsage, I’d called the florist and requested one purple violet. It wouldn’t match the pink carnation Marty would wear, but maybe it would cheer her up. She’d been gloomy ever since her return from The Hair Factory.
Britney’s eyes opened wide in astonishment, as she gazed at the violet. “It’s purple! You brought me a purple flower! Mom, I love you!” She flung her arms around my neck for the first time in weeks. I held her, as we laughed and cried. “I didn’t think you liked T.J.”
“I haven’t met him yet. Maybe he’s not as bad as I thought. I may have over-reacted the other day. If you stay in your room until I call you, I’ll have a chance to get to know him.”
Britney wrinkled her nose. “You won’t like him.”
“Maybe I will. It’s hard to formulate an opinion without meeting him. Besides, this will give you an opportunity to make an entrance.”
“Make an entrance?” she said, giving me a look of incredulity.
“Remember last year when you wanted to be Miss Teen-aged America after seeing the pageant on TV? Pretend you’re in the competition. Walk as gracefully as you can down the stairs and into the living room, as if you were walking on stage at the pageant, and T.J. were one of the judges. Boys like to see girls make entrances. He’ll be awestruck when he sees you in your white prom gown with your purple flower and your white sandals.”
“If he were the judge, he’d pick me, wouldn’t he?” said Britney with a dreamy look in her eye.
“Yes, he would,” I said, as I pinned the flower to her dress and hugged her.
At ten minutes after seven, the doorbell rang, and I was there to answer it. I wasn’t surprised to see the young man who wore a blue blazer over a white t-shirt and black slacks. What stunned me was the sight of Samantha standing next to him. She wore a purple sleeveless dress that showed too much cleavage, purple sandals, purple earrings, and yes, her hair was purple. She said, “Hi, T.J. and I came by to pick up Britney for the prom.”
“Samantha, where’s your date?” I asked, thinking this couldn’t be real.
“He’s right here, silly,” she answered with a giggle, as she put an arm around the boy’s waist. He did likewise.
“Mom, is that T.J.?” called Britney from the top of the stairs.
I turned and said, “Yes, I think you’d better come down.”
Not bothering with a graceful entrance, Britney bounded down the stairs and stopped short. Her eyes widened, and her face grew pale, as she gaped at the couple in the front hall. “What’s going on?” she asked in a quavering voice. “I thought T.J. was taking me to the prom.”
“Not anymore,” said Samantha with a grin. “He asked me yesterday.”
“That’s why Doreen wouldn’t give me purple hair,” said Britney. “She said it wasn’t fashionable.”
“No, it’s not for you,” said Samantha. “But it sure looks good on me, doesn’t it?”
“No dear,” I said. “It makes you look like trash.”
Samantha gasped, and Britney said, “Mom’s right. You’re a slut. I thought you were my best friend.”
“I am,” said Samantha, looking abashed. “T.J. was all for standing you up, but I told him the least we could do was offer you a ride.”
“Well, you can take your ride and shove it,” said Britney. “and you can take this, too.” She ripped the purple violet from her dress and flung it at T.J. It hit him in the nose before landing on the floor at his feet. “Get out of my house.” She gestured towards the open door.
As they turned to leave, Samantha said, “Who needs you, anyway? You’re nothing but a snob.”
I closed and locked the door behind them, turned, and took my weeping daughter into my arms. “You’re right,” she said through her tears. “T.J.’s a punk, and Samantha is trash. I’ll be the laughing stock of the whole school, and I’m not going to this stupid prom.”
“Oh yes you are. You’re going with Marty.”
“Honey, let’s sit down.”
Forty-five minutes later, the doorbell rang. “Hello Marty,” I said to the young man standing on the threshold. “Don’t you look handsome, and you brought Britney a corsage.”
“Yes,” said Marty, sporting a grin from ear to ear. “Mom wasn’t sure if Britney had one, so I brought this over.”
“How sweet. Come on in. She’ll be down in a minute.” Marty followed me into the living room, as Britney made her entrance. Smiling, she approached Marty and extended her hand. Marty took it and said, “Hi Britney. I’m glad you changed your mind again. I’m really looking forward to tonight, aren’t you?”
Author’s Note: To hear the song that inspired this story, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zD8MnvyAi6I
Bio: Abbie Johnson Taylor is visually impaired and lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, where for six years she cared for her late husband, who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. She’s the author of a romance novel, two poetry collections, and a memoir. Along with Magnets and Ladders, her work has appeared in Labyrinth, Distant Horizons, and other journals and anthologies. Please visit her website at http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com
My Late Husband in Summer, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
He sits outside in the sun
at the picnic table in his wheelchair.
Sometimes he wears a hat-
often he does not.
With headphones, he listens
either to a recorded book or ball game.
His favorite books are westerns, mysteries.
The more blood and guts the better,
as far as he’s concerned.
His favorite baseball team, the Colorado Rockies,
don’t often play well.
Nevertheless, he’s ever faithful to the end.
He asks me to bring watermelon in a bowl,
already sliced, the seeds gone,
so all he has to do is enjoy their taste.
Like a little boy with a sweet tooth,
he asks for cookies, candy
with Pepsi, Mountain Dew, or Propel.
In the late afternoon or early evening,
with more shade at the picnic table, I join him,
check email on my lap top,
listen to an audiobook of my own.
With the two of us side by side,
I feel a sense of peace
despite the work involved
in getting us here.
Part VII. The Melting Pot
The Fence, fiction
by Ellen Fritz
Vera was still tucking her worn t-shirt into her too big jeans as she left the ablution block. That is, if you could indeed call a shower, a toilet and two sinks, in an unpainted building with a leaking roof an ablution block, but in a white squatter camp with more than three hundred inhabitants, that is what it was called.
In the deep twilight before sunrise, weaving through shacks and rusted old caravans, she took care where she placed her bare feet. The hard packed soil was littered with broken glass, empty cans and pieces of unidentifiable plastic. A cut by any of that would mean a medical emergency, something she most certainly couldn’t afford.
At the wooden shack she shared with her fifteen year old brother, Louis, she paused to hang the towel over the half open door and to hide the small piece of soap in a little niche behind her bed. Fortunately he was still sound asleep. She didn’t want him following her to the one and only bit of enjoyment she had in the day, going to the high security fence that separated the camp from the race horse farm next door.
There she would watch as the riders galloped their beautiful thoroughbreds on the exercise track. If she was very lucky, Rudolph, the trainer’s son would be there to oversee the gallops. Some mornings she just sat in an unobtrusive spot behind a low bush, but other mornings she climbed the huge tree next to the fence. Several of the branches were long and strong enough to stretch over the fence. She would shimmy along one of these to get a better view.
One morning, about two months before, Rudolph had seen her on the branch and had ridden up on his bay cob to talk to her. Since that morning, they had become friends of a sort. He never invited her to get down from the tree and she never asked whether she might.
“You’re late,” he called to her as she appeared on her branch.
“Sorry, there were people at the shower before me,” she replied with an embarrassed laugh. “One shower in a camp of three hundred people is kind of constantly occupied.”
The smile on Rudolph’s face froze for a moment. Then it was back as though he heard about showers being shared by three hundred people every day. Did he have any idea of the misery that reigned on the other side of the fence, she often wondered. Did he know what it was like having to fight for the use of a toilet, the shower, the outside faucet and often for scraps of food? He probably did not. She certainly did not while she, her brother and her mother still lived with her seemingly rich uncle. An uncle who also trained race horses, hence her love of horses and watching them every morning.
That was long ago. Three years before, her uncle had died in an accident. It soon became clear that he was in debt and left all his family with no inheritance and heaps of bills to be paid off.
Their mother, a qualified nurse, couldn’t find work. Their father had left when she was seven and Louis only a small baby. A year ago they had finally found a spot in this camp which was still better than living on the street.
Although Rudolph tried hard not to be moved by this pretty, no actually beautiful, girl from the squatter camp, he found his eyes drawn to the tree or the fence every morning. He knew about her uncle’s death and the consequent liquidation of his estate. Truly a girl fallen on hard times. He also knew about her mother’s death six months ago. Alfreda, the owner of the land on which the camp was, had told him their story.
He was deep in thought when he arrived back at the stables. His father was waiting for him.
“I would like you to come and look at the yearlings,” his father said.
Rudolph knew his father was waiting for him to make a decision about three colts that he could either keep to train for racing or send to the yearling sales that happened in the fall. The previous evening his dad had shown him several video clips of his colts’ dams and sires winning races. Today he would have to give his answer.
“Have you decided about the colts yet?” his father was asking now.
“I want to sell the chestnut,” he said.
“Why?” his father asked with his eyebrows lifted angrily. “It’s the best colt we’ve bred in years. Why not train it and then use it as stud stallion afterwards?”
“Because,” Rudolph started, “I want to use the money from the sale to build proper ablution facilities for those poor people in the camp.”
“You what?” his father snapped. “Are you thinking of marrying Alfreda then? She is an old spinster, much older than you, but she’s got all that land. That’s something at least, if you’re serious.”
“No dad, I want to build the facilities: an ablution block, proper kitchens and a medical facility on our farm, where it borders on Alfreda’s land. I am not at all interested in Alfreda, not at all.”
“Because there are some lovely people that have to live there, in those horrible conditions. People that deserve better,” he said calmly.
“Those people are there because they are lazy drunkards,” his father lashed out.
“Oh you know that is not true, father,” Rudolph said, also losing his temper. “You are just disappointed that I want to sell the chestnut. You know there is simply no work to be had in this country.”
Though no more was said about the sale of the chestnut, a strained silence reigned between Rudolph and his father.
Two days later, the early morning gallops were well under way, while Rudolph supervised from the back of a nervous grey horse and Vera kept her usual vigil in the tree. Suddenly she saw movement on the ground next to the exercise track. It was a snake, a nasty Cape Cobra. It had emerged from a hole and was gliding along right next to where the racers would pass, but even more worrying, right where Rudolph’s horse would be stepping in a few seconds. The racers were flashing by before she could make the alarm, but her shout of, “LOOK OUT!”, brought Rudolph up short.
His father, who had arrived in time to witness the whole episode, leapt forward to kill the snake with his walking stick.
“Leave it!” Vera yelled from her tree. The older horse farmer hesitated, giving the snake time to vanish into the long grass.
“So that’s the reason for your sudden passion for the camp,” he said quietly to Rudolph. “That girl just saved your life, or at least, that of your horse. Hmmmm, and she is pretty too.”
“Dad, it is not…”
“Son, don’t worry. Tonight I’ll tell you how I met your mom, not so different from this. In the meantime, that’s old Joseph McKenzie’s niece. I knew she lived in a camp of some kind, just didn’t know it was this one. He did me a good turn once. She knows her horses, most likely. I’ll give her a job, what do you say? I’ll even give her and her brother a cottage, and…”
“Dad, it’s not just her, they’re all suffering.”
“Yes, yes, I’m getting to that,” his father said, lighting his pipe. “Don’t sell that horse, I’ll build the facilities. And, young lady, you can come down from there. You have a job now.”
As the warm South African summer sun poked its head through the light covering of early morning clouds, Vera gripped the branch in both hands and jumped down. Shyly she approached, going straight to stroke Rudolph’s beautiful grey horse, the horse that so nearly got bitten by a lethally poisonous snake. To Rudolph and his father her smile was brighter than the morning sun.
Bio: Ellen Fritz, blind since birth, lives on a small holding near Benoni, South Africa with her husband, two house mates and three dogs. She is a book reviewer, house wife and is working on several writing projects.
What Are Old Friends For? fiction
by Bill Fullerton
She blew in like an aggravated F5 tornado, shouted, “Don’t you dare say a thing,” slammed the door, and slung her purse across the room. It ricocheted away from my butt-weary couch, cleared off the end table, then teetered at the edge before following the displaced debris onto the floor. Only the reading lamp survived, leaning drunkenly against the wall, shade tilted at a precarious angle, light flickering as if wondering what the hell just happened.
Jennifer Lee Cummings, my life-long friend and sometime lover, saw none of this. By then her t-shirt was half off, covering her head. When her face emerged, she glared at me with tear-swollen, bloodshot eyes, yelled, “If you say ‘I told you so,’ I swear to God I’ll kick you in the nuts,” and threw the shirt in my direction.
Words being unasked for and possibly even dangerous, I leaned away from the flying object and nodded. Besides, I already knew the story. We’d talked for hours the night before. In between crying jags, she told me all about how her marriage, which I’d warned her against, had fallen apart.
So I settled for enjoying the view. Now topless, her struggle to unbutton tight, recalcitrant jeans had set her gravity-defying breasts jiggling in an attention grabbing manner. I’d seen those marvelous melons many times in the past, but not since our “final and forever” last time together a year ago.
That had been a few days before her wedding. A night filled with epic sex tinged with mixed emotions. We were achingly horny for one another. Nothing new about that. The difference was, while Jenny was almost giddy with romantic love, I worried her future husband, a shy, low-energy brainy nerd just wasn’t the right man for her.
That time, she’d come in calmly, closed the front door, and as usual, hung her purse on the door knob so she wouldn’t forget it when leaving. By the time we met in the middle of the room, the silky blouse we both loved to feel was thrown open, revealing those delicious breasts and once again I found myself kissing the first lips I’d ever kissed.
That kiss marked the beginning and end of foreplay. Sometime later, we lay together amid my rumpled sheets, wordlessly savoring the afterglow from our love making.
When our breathing began calming down, she looked into my eyes. “Tell me the truth. Do you ever wish we’d been able to fall in love?”
“Yep. It’d be nice having your best friend and lover as your spouse. But maybe, I guess knowing each other so long and so very, very personally, that wasn’t in the cards. Besides, you always wanted a brainy, cuddly non-jock, and that just ain’t me babe.”
She nodded. “And you always lusted for the short, skinny cheerleader-types.”
“Guilty as charged. I’m just glad we’re still friends, even if the lovers part is ending.”
“Me too. But I really do love Ricky. He’s just so sweet. Besides, why get married if you’re already planning to cheat?”
“Beats me. I’m just glad Ricky wants to wait until after the wedding to consummate the deal. Though like I’ve said before, how any guy not dead or gay can pass on getting you into the sack is beyond me. And to be honest, it still worries me that the two of you might not have the same sex drives. Face it gal, when it comes to sex, you can be a bit overwhelming.”
A grunt of triumph snapped me back to the present. I watched as she shoved both jeans and panties to the floor, then angrily kicked them and her sandals aside. The tall, full-figured, toned, and very nude body now standing defiantly before me, hands on hips exuded an earthy, almost primal sexuality that alpha males found irresistible and Betas terrifying.
Jenny wasn’t beautiful, not really. Her face, framed by a crown of dark-blonde hair, was saved from being plain by large blue eyes and a mouth that could break into a warm, soul-stirring smile, but could also purse into a scowl no one ever forgot or wanted to face again.
Without warning, that proud, erect body sagged and her expression melted from belligerent anger to one of overwhelming sadness. In a resigned, indifferent voice she asked, “So how do I look?”
“Better than ever,” was my honest reply.
“Bullshit. I’ve gained weight.”.
“It all must have gone to your boobs. I swear they’re finer than ever.”
“No such luck. It all went to my butt,” she said, reaching around and slapping at the ample object of her displeasure.
She pointed toward the drink in my hand. “Is that for me?”
“As ordered. A double ‘Gorilla Killer. The cheapest 151 proof rum available along with a splash of Diet Coke and some ice.”
“Good.” She stepped closer, took the glass and drained half.
After shuddering and catching her breath, she gave me a quick kiss, finished off the glass and handed it back.
“Thanks. I’ll need a lot more of those, of course. But now let me check on the other thing I need from you. After that, all I want is to get drunk and screwed into forgetfulness.”
“Glad to help,” I said. “After all, what are old friends for?”
We were standing in the doorway to the kitchen. By the time I set the glass down and turned back, Jenny had begun tugging on the only thing I’d been wearing, my gym shorts, while talking to its stiff occupant.
“Oh, Rowdy, at least you’re happy to see me,” she crooned in a low, little girl voice. “Just please make Jenny happy like you used to and I’m all yours.”
Rowdy, the name she’d given a much smaller version of him way back when, made no objections so I leaned back against the counter and spread my legs. Before she and Rowdy could continue getting reacquainted, I pulled her closer for one more kiss.
“Just for the record, we’ve both missed you.”
She smiled and leaned against me. The moment our lips touched, the flickering lightbulb in the living room flared brightly and, with a sizzling pop, went out.
It distracted Jenny enough to make her pause, glance toward the now dark lamp, and then look at me with a quizzical expression, as if asking what the hell just happened.
Maybe it was our long separation, or having her back in my arms, or maybe I’d finally seen the real light, I’ll never know. But for whatever reason, I’d just realized how much I’d missed my best friend and that, with all the certainty I could muster, I never wanted her to leave me again.
Before she could continue the reunion with Rowdy, I pulled her back to me, wrapped her in my arms and kissed her for a long, long time.
When our lips parted, she gave her head a small shake, smiled at me and said, “Wow. I’d forgotten how good a kisser you can be when you put your mind to it.”
“The pleasure was all mine,” I said, but without returning her smile. “The last time you were here, when you walked out the door, I felt empty, alone and like, well, like I’d just lost my best friend. And do you know when I stopped feeling like that?”
She bit her lower lip. “No.”
“It was just now, when you charged in, destroying property and yelling threats.”
“Sorry about that.”
“No problem. The thing is, I don’t want you ever leaving again. At least, not without me. ‘Cause, you see, strange as this may sound, I’ve just fallen in love with my best friend.”
For what seemed like hours, she silently gazed into my eyes. Then she smiled, nodded, whispered, “Me, to,” and pulled my face down to hers for a kiss that, in many ways, has never stopped.
Bio: Once upon a time, Bill Fullerton was a more-or-less semi-reputable sports columnist and government paper-pusher in Louisiana. The retired, beat-up Vietnam vet now lives in Arizona, where he has sunk to being a short story writer and author of unpublished novels. His wife, kids, and perpetually shedding dogs try to ignore this fall from grace.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at Chocolate, poetry
by Susan Muhlenbeck
Chocolate stimulates my taste buds
With its explosive sweetness.
Nothing compares to the mind and body rush I get from its decadence.
Chocolate is bad for the figure.
I can’t even think about chocolate without gaining a pound or two.
Dark chocolate in moderation
Promotes heart health.
Chocolate is bad for the complexion.
Whenever I indulge my face breaks out.
Chocolate enhances so many other flavors such as
Mint, nuts, marshmallows, crispy rice, coffee beans, toffee, milk, fruit, and even chili.
Chocolate rots the teeth.
Chocolate temporarily cures depression.
Gourmet chocolate is outrageously expensive.
Chocolate gives me much needed quick energy.
Chocolate is highly addictive.
You can’t eat just one.
Chocolate makes a great gift.
Chocolate spoils the appetite.
Chocolate is a universal treat!
Author’s Note: Add a few pieces of dark chocolate to a pot of 5-alarm chili. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the contrast in flavors.
Wild Wind, poetry
by Crystal L. Howe
Wind howls through my mind,
tearing a treacherous path,
driving, destroying, demolishing…
The calm, cultivated landscape
erodes before me.
What can this mean?
A breeze speaks whisperingly
of a land too close to see.
And through the howling wind,
Bio: Crystal is an ordained minister with a Doctorate in Metaphysical Science. Her poetry, songwriting, weaving, and other creative pursuits celebrate the many ways we share our lives and spirit. Crystal is totally blind. Find her music on CD Baby and other work on mysticalstrings.com.
Silver Cloud Dancers, Acrostic poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
Silver clouds swirl & spin in circles
Inflated silence above her golden head. She
Levitates above the floor, reaches for
Variable visions of mesmerizing cloud-pillows.
Eternally drifting in uncertain lifecycles
Round & square. Touch the floating orbs.
Cloud dancer stretches her slender hands
Longevity is unpredictable, uncertain
Out-of-the-box survival fluctuates
Determined by chemistry & chaos.
Dance your memories in silver clouds
Air and pure helium lift in rhythm
No one can calculate your journeys
Choreography of individual flights
Every Friday morning new clouds arrive
Repeat the process of new expectations
Some silver clouds last for a week. Some less.
This poem will appear in 2 upcoming books by Lynda Lambert: Appalachian Alchemy, scheduled for late 2017 and Eclipse: Hands Folded in Prayer, scheduled for late 2018.
Part VIII. Roadblocks and Journeys
The Long Fading, poetry HonorableMention
by Leonard Tuchyner
Worry came as icy shards,
pricking their piercing ways
through her numbed denying mind
and cringing, fluttering heart.
Her husband was losing his edge –
little stealthy slippings away
of pieces of his razor brain.
Once master of minutiae,
frigid winds of self-doubt sliced.
The soul-stealing disease was suspected.
Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s,
A serpent, lurking in the silent weeds,
threatened to swallow his failing mind.
She vowed to be there till death did them part.
He saw his world sneak away –
grasping at shards left behind –
a thought, a memory, a face,
until there was so little left
he could not be left alone.
Even though seeking death,
at times before demise,
he fought frantically for life,
upon the brink of abyss –
striking out in frenzied fright,
’til restrained by drugs and cuffs.
She watched, with stomach in knots,
her grief screaming to explode –
having no such luxury
to lose her critical control.
At Peace Pastures Memory Care,
he started his transformation,
adjusting to his smaller self,
happy as a new-born puppy
residing in a caring home.
He smiled to see his wife and daughter,
as he did for mostly everyone
who were somehow diffusely familiar.
They were such friendly safe, sweet strangers.
She sees him every day,
until death do them part.
“To Take Out or Not to Take Out, That Is the Question”, memoir, nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Janet Di Nola Parmerter
When Tyler, our five-and-a-half-year-old grandson, arrived at our home, he shocked us with an extraordinary announcement, “My name is not Tyler, it’s REALLY Chris!” That day, his scheduled visit was to be a fun filled day at grandma and pop-pop’s house, which would also include visiting with his 89 year old great, great Auntie Rena, 82 year old great grandma Nonna Alice, his 84 year old great grandfather Papa John, his very patient grandfather Pop-pop Keith, and me, his “Let’s play hide and seek” grandma Janet.
For lunch, we planned to take out the whole gang to the Loganville I HOP. But could taking out three octogenarians and a feisty five year old really be a relaxing afternoon? Well, we hoped it could be, and thought we could actually make it happen. The first step was to get Tyler, now Also Known As Chris, and our three seniors: Auntie Rena with her dementia and epilepsy; my father with his back problems, heart disease, and neuropathy; and my mother with her lung ailments, diabetes, blood clots, and numerous other problems; into the restaurant.
As we entered I HOP, Keith and I tried to hold onto the tribe, while simultaneously opening the heavy glass double doors. Unfortunately, my Dad, who always wanted to be first, barreled past everyone, knocked Mom into Auntie Rena, and Auntie Rena knocked into my white cane and me. At different times the doors closed on each and every one of us, causing us to bounce into and off each other like rubber balls. Foolishly looking like some Charlie Chaplin comedy skit, we finally all made it through the double doors.
Feeding Auntie Rena has always been a chore, because she has a phobia about eating. Because of the combination of her tiny 110 pound body, and the fact that all her family members were overweight, she is incessantly obsessed about not becoming fat. Compounding the “fat issue”, she watches every single penny. Thus before being seated, I quietly informed the hostess not to give Auntie Rena a menu, because if she read it, she would not eat a crumb. The problem is, poor Auntie Rena with her dementia still thinks it is somewhere around 1940, and if food cost more than a dollar, she refuses to order anything except water. Auntie Rena is literally shocked when seeing menu prices, and ALWAYS complains, “Oh my, how can they charge that much for a hot dog?”
For a while she ordered off the children’s menu, but then one time she saw the comment about the menu being for those ten-years-old and under, and she refused to eat anything off that menu. Fortunately, after a clever waitress remarked, “Oh that also means ten years under 100-years-old,” once again, she began eating off the children’s menu. The fight to feed her became easier, especially since those prices didn’t give her a heart attack.
Immediately after the hostess seated us, dad called the waitress to the table and ordered his lunch. As mom read the menu, dad said, “Alice, the waitress wants your order.” Mom never took her eyes off the menu and with an irritable response said, “John, I just got the menu.” The server replied, “No problem, I’ll come back.”
However, always running the show, dad put his hand up and said, “No, wait,” as he complained, “Alice, it’s the same thing all the time. You know what’s on the menu, just order.”
Mom, who loves to read everything replied, “I like to read it anyway, I’m not ready.” Uncomfortably, the server looked down not knowing whether to leave or stay. Quickly I added, “Excuse me, we’re not ready either, so could you please come back in a few minutes.” Gratefully, she rushed off as Dad shook his head side to side and let out a huge outward sigh of dismay.
With everyone being so distracted, no one saw Auntie Rena grab the regular menu until we heard her muttering to herself, “Forget this, who would pay that for this stuff?” We all looked over, just in time to see her throw the menu on the table. Making the quick switch, I handed her the children’s menu and whispered, “Here, Auntie Rena, this one has cheaper prices,” and slid the other one off the table. In a second, she pushed away the paper placemat shaped menu with the games and coloring pictures then angrily said, “This says for one to twelve-years-old!” Remembering the line from the other waitress, I confidently added, “Oh, this menu is also good for someone one to twelve-years under 100-years-old.” With her dementia, once again that worked and she ordered French toast.
After the confusion of ordering our food, I played giant tic-tac-toe with Tyler as my mother called the server back numerous times. First it was, “Excuse me, may I have another napkin?” Then, “Excuse me, do you have another type of syrup?” Then, Excuse me, could I have this, and could you please change this spoon?” Finally, Dad said, “Alice, you are going to drive the lady nuts”, and unconcerned Mom replied with her standard comment, “WHATEVER!”
Oblivious to the strained conversations, Keith and Tyler colored pictures on the paper place mat, as I perused our disconnected group and asked, “Is everyone having fun yet?”
Consequently, with the fiasco of getting everyone into the restaurant, ordering, eating, and paying for the meal, Keith and I were a tad stressed. Nonetheless, since we all live together we now had to get the octogenarians and our little man back home. Much to my dismay, as soon as our feet stepped outside the doors of the restaurant, the floodgates of heaven burst open and it poured. I held on tight to rambunctious Tyler. We trailed behind 110 pound, five foot two inch, white haired Auntie Rena, who with her dementia, seemed entirely baffled by the raindrops. She stared at the sky and gasped as if bowling balls were falling from the clouds. Half under her breath she mumbled, “Oh my, oh my, look at this I’m getting wet!” In her state of misperception, she swayed back and forth as she tried to avoid the raindrops by vigorously swirling her arms around, trying to push them away. At this point, she was stumbling over her own feet and with a quick glance, she could easily have been mistaken for “a mid-afternoon drunk”.
Meanwhile, my bent over father with his sturdy, “hold me up cane” and heart problems, speedily raced past Auntie Rena so he could be first at the still locked car. Now quite annoyed that he had to wait, in his jogging suit, sneakers and baseball cap, he impatiently leaned against the car until we all caught up.
Still paying the check, my ever snail paced husband Keith, who constantly brags, “I only have two speeds, SLOW and STOP,” unsuccessfully tried to catch up to Dad. When Keith finally reached the vehicle, he could not get the door open fast enough for my impatient father who stared at Keith shaking his head from left to right.
As dad struggled to step off what seemed to be a Mount Everest size curb, he held onto the mirror which folded in toward the car and almost made him fall. Regaining his balance, he huffed and puffed while complaining about the still locked door.
Pulling up the rear was my 82 year old mother and her wheelie walker, oh no…I’m sorry, that day I forgot the walker and she only had the extra cane and my left arm. However, the hand of my shared arm also firmly held Tyler, who desperately tried to escape the infamous grandma grip. Unfortunately, I could not use the other hand to grasp Tyler since I use my right hand to hold my white, red-tipped cane for the blind. What a sight! Mom’s walking cane verses my extended white cane, seeming to battle for the “number one lead cane” spot. I slowly shuffled Tyler, mom, and our two canes toward the handicapped parking which seemed a million miles away. At last, we arrived at the van. After doing a quick Mom hand off to Keith, I ran around the van with Tyler, helped Dad climb into the middle row behind the driver, and never let go of Tyler’s slippery hand.
Oblivious to everything around her, Auntie Rena pulled herself onto the middle row of the van, stared out the window, and did this pretend whistling thing she does prior to having a seizure. After a second, she pushed the button to open the door, and jumped out and into the van three or four hundred times. At some point, Keith told her to stop that and stay inside the van. Never quite understanding the automatic door, as she tried to climb in she pulled the handle and of course, the door began to close onto her frail little body. Frantically, I sprang over dad, pushed the button, and reopened the door as senile Auntie Rena yelled at the door, “Hey, now you just stop that!”
Amidst all the commotion, as my double plus size mother partially climbed onto the front seat, she feverishly wheezed and gasped for breath as if she just ran a four-minute mile. Keith, with his feet solidly planted, gave a heave ho and hoisted my Mom into the front seat. With half her body still hanging out of the car, he lifted up her other leg, squished her bottom onto the seat and slammed the door.
Doing a quick, grandma to Grandpa Tyler handoff, Keith carried him to the back of the van. Since Tyler could not pass these three exhausted, immovable, elderly obstacles to get a seat, the only entry for our little man was through the back hatch. So, Keith lifted the hatch and prepared to slide Tyler and his car seat in from the rear.
In the meantime, as Keith plopped the car seat onto the back third row, and bent down to lift Tyler into the van, dazed and confused auntie Rena, who is always intimidated by dad, decided to move as far away from him as possible. In a flash, she crawled to the third back row alongside the car seat and proceeded to fasten her seat belt. At the same time, of course, she sat on the belt Keith needed to lock in Tyler’s car seat. With Tyler in his arms, from behind the van, Keith struggled as he stretched over the trunk space and back seat to unfasten Auntie Rena’s belt and free the other car seat belt. Finally, finding the other strap, he clicked in the car seat, placed Tyler in his chair, locked his belt, and slammed the hatch. He dropped into the driver’s seat, sat back without moving a muscle, and with a frustrated, unamused look, just stared ahead through the windshield as the wipers rapidly flapped back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
During this strange moment of silence, with only the constant slapping sound of the windshield wipers, not a word was spoken. Finally, everyone was settled and ready for takeoff, yet inside the car it remained unusually quiet and still. In silence, we all waited for Keith to drive away, but he remained motionless leaning against the headrest. Surprisingly, even Tyler did not utter a single word; he sat silent, looking from one to another inside the van, and scrutinized the past thirty minutes.
In conclusion, with our fatigued family securely strapped in, Keith drove onto the highway and chauffeured his tired family home from their big day out.
Still abnormally quiet, Tyler looked around at this elderly entourage, and with a smile finally announced his brilliant deduction. “Grandma, do you know why it’s REALLY good to be five or even six-years-old?” Curiously, I responded, “No little man, I don’t! Tell me why.” Looking down at his legs, he firmly patted his thighs with both hands and proudly answered, “Because my legs are good and I can walk!” Thus the moral of this story is, the next time we do take out, it will be the traditional way! Pick up the food, take the FOOD out, and bring it home to the family.
This story has been previously published in the NFB Writer’s Division magazine, Slate n Style and in Zoomed In, the Ai Squared Blog.
Bio: When Janet was young, Stargardt’s slowly diminished her sight. Undaunted, she has been a runway model, travel agent, international tour leader, and a Bible teacher. Leading the tour group may surprise some clients, but they soon laugh at bizarre situations which inevitably occur in her professional and personal life. Her passengers urged Janet to chronicle these hilarious happenings, so at her expense, please enjoy one of these experiences. Yes, life can be challenging, so to remain positive Janet strives to find a touch of humor in each situation, proving the accuracy of her motto, “Life is often funnier than fiction!”
Life is to be lived, creative nonfiction
by Ernie Jones
“Arthur,” the optometrist said after completing the eye exam, “how about trying contact lenses? If we can get you a more perfect lens, I think we may slow down your retina deterioration.”
“But,” Arthur replied, “you had me try a contact in my eye several years ago when dad brought me in. I don’t think I want to bother with them, they need fluid in them several times a day. They are so large and uncomfortable.”
“We have better contacts now. These you don’t need to fill with fluid to insert in the eye. They are smaller and just slip right over the blue of your eye. I think you will really like them.”
Thus it was right after his 21st birthday, that Arthur returned to start the process of learning how to wear contacts and his whole world was changed.
The contacts greatly improved his eyesight and they slowed down the retinal deterioration. They also raised his self-esteem by freeing him from those thick, ugly glasses he had worn since before he started 1st grade.
But first he had to get used to the contacts. Morning after morning, Arthur drove to the clinic with much optimism. Day after day he left with his hopes dashed because the contacts hurt so badly. Yet even though disheartened, he held on to a sliver of hope.
In the late 1950s, contacts were not like those people wear today. In Arthur’s case, the lenses were thick and made of a hard plastic material. Although smaller than his earliest set, these contacts were still larger than modern day lenses.
“Arthur,” the optometrist said, “I want you to walk around in town for an hour. This will give both you and me a good idea how the contacts are fitting, both for comfort and for how clearly you are seeing with them.”
This was the first day Arthur’s eyes had tolerated the contacts in for more than a few minutes. At last, Arthur faced the world without those heavy, ugly glasses. He strolled down the sidewalk, along Franklin Street, enjoying the clarity of what he saw, reveling in the freedom of not wearing glasses.
Pausing outside the Olympia State Bank, Arthur glanced down at his feet, and what he saw brought him to a complete standstill. With shock, he looked at what to him appeared to be two giant feet. How could he get back to the eye clinic without anyone he knew seeing him? What had happened to his feet? Then he heard common sense speak. “These are the same feet you had this morning, the same feet you had at work at the hospital yesterday, and the same feet that carried you into your church the other day. Your feet have not changed, but your eyesight has improved.” Arthur Straightened up his shoulders and walked on.
He had to leave his contacts in the clinicthat afternoon, so they could be polished a little more, but the next day he was allowed to wear them home. This was the first time he drove his car without glasses and he felt a thrill flow through him.
Arthur worked the evening shift at the hospital. For several weeks, he would wear his glasses at home, then slip in his contacts to go to work. Some evenings, he could only wear the contacts for a couple of hours before he needed to take them out and wear his glasses. As his eyes adjusted and with more polishing of the lenses, Arthur was able to wear them all day. He ignored his old glasses, which were buried in the bottom of a dresser drawer.
Over the next 20 years, most people never knew he had once wore thick, ugly glasses. Though his eye doctor had hinted that Arthur might go blind, he saw no reason to be concerned for he could see so clearly. Thus he blocked all thought of blindness out of his mind.
He entered college at age 37 and graduated with his Registered Nursing degree. After his graduation, he immediately started working at Mt. Carmel Hospital in Colville, WA. He was the first male nurse to be hired, breaking the way for more male nurses to follow as the years passed.
After moving to Colville, he had yearly eye exams at a major ophthalmologist clinic in Spokane. Each year, the doctor had him read the chart. He would shine the bright light into Arthur’s eyes and say, “everything is the same. Come back in another year.”
One day, when Arthur was in a hurry, he walked into another nurse as she came out of a patient’s room. Both apologized, each blaming him/herself for not paying attention.
“Arthur,” said his wife, Ellen, one day, “there is an eye doctor from Spokane coming to Colville two days a month. He is seeing patients in the optometrist’s office on Main street. Why don’t you visit him?”
Worried something was really wrong with his eyes, Arthur made an appointment to see Dr. Edgar.
The doctor ran a few simple tests. “My suggestion to you is to stop driving. If an accident happens, even if it is not your fault, once it is known that you have eye problems, the blame could still be placed on you. You are to come to my office in Spokane next Monday morning where I can do a thorough eye exam.”
It was a lovely mid-October day as they drove to Spokane. The trees were just coming into their glorious colors before the drab of winter. The tamarack were especially beautiful in their many shades of yellow and gold before winter stripped them naked. But Arthur gave little thought to the beauty as he brooded – he should be driving, not Ellen.
Dr. Edgar ran a barrage of tests on Arthur’s eyes. “Arthur, your days of working as a nurse are over. NO more driving. You can’t operate any equipment like your garden tiller or mower.”
“But Doctor”, Arthur asked, “How do I provide for my family? I enjoy working at the hospital. What am I to do?”
“You are to sign up for Social Security today. I am sorry, but you have no other choice. To be legally blind your peripheral vision has to be down to 15 percent; yours is at 5 percent.”
“But Doctor, I can see great. I know I am safe at work. I can see the lines on the syringe plainly; I can draw the exact dosage. I am the one often called to read doctor’s difficult hand writing. I know I am safe; nursing is my life.”
“Arthur, I know you enjoy nursing, and I know you are a great nurse. But why did you run into that nurse you told me about? It was because your straight ahead eyesight is sharp, but you don’t see to the right or left of what you are looking at.” Showing empathy, Dr. Edgar laid his hand on Arthur’s shoulder saying, “I wish I could offer you better news but I can’t.”
The next day, after telling Ellen he was going for a walk, Arthur headed up the lonely gravel road. Pushing himself, he strode up the hills, finally releasing his pent-up emotions. He cried to the heavens above, knowing he was alone; nobody would hear him. “God, why? I have tried so hard to be the best nurse and I felt I was. People respected me and I know my co-workers liked me and now You slap me hard. Why?” and the sobs rolled out.
Finally, when he was near exhaustion, he sat on a large rock beside the narrow gravel road. Resting his elbows on his knees, he leaned his forehead into his hands while his tears washed his face.
Slowly he relaxed; once again he could hear the stream as it gurgled down the gully below him. He heard the birds in the trees overhead, then he felt a brush across his head as a reviving breeze comforted him.
“Okay Lord, if You are still with me, I’ll go forward. But I need you. I can’t make it alone. I feel like giving up.”
Rising, he began the walk down the rough road and to his home. Though physically tired, his heart was at peace.
He repeated this walk often in the weeks following his appointment with Dr. Edgar. It was this or he feared he would explode.
Arthur ignored most of the doctor’s orders. He could not drive the car, but he continued to run the garden tiller and to mow the lawn for 12 more years. “I need to do all I can if I am to survive,” he would say to those who questioned him. He continued to do chores many thought impossible for a blind person. He shoveled snow, worked in the garden when it was warm out, and gathered in the wood for the winter. He determined that life would still be wonderful, blind or not.
He stopped mowing the lawn when his work looked more like a patchwork quilt, causing one friend to comment, “well I know who mowed the lawn this time.”
He used his rear-tine tiller for tilling up the garden soil for a few years longer. He would find a long white board and after laying this across the soil, he would make a couple tilling strips around it. Then he would move this board more, continuing this until the garden was ready for planting.
Today Arthur can not see at all. He still has a large garden which he plants, weeds, waters, and harvests. He even at times uses his skill saw and a chain saw, despite what others might think. “I’d rather keep busy, rather than have a pity party,” he tells those who question him. “Life is for living and I intend to live.”
Then I’ll Say Goodbye, nonfiction
by Amy L. Bovaird
Buddy had been with me since my days in the Middle East. A black Lab with short legs, he had a way of winning everyone’s heart from first time visitors to the staff at the vet clinic. Even with white eyebrows and whiskers, people treated him like a puppy. It was the short legs, no doubt, and his calm demeanor that earned him so many “Good-boy” comments.
Now at fifteen, he had congestive heart failure, a fatty tumor the size of a soccer ball on his chest and another smaller one growing on top of the first one. Besides that, he had severe arthritis, which made him run off kilter. But I loved to watch him run-gallop, more like it! I may have seen his odd gait but in my eyes, he was a Palomino, so free and happy. It turned my heart inside out. In the middle of the run, he’d always turn around and steal a look at me, his tongue lolling happily to one side, with a bright grin as if to say, “Look at me! Hey, look at me!”
I knew it wouldn’t be cut–and–dried but I felt I could say good-bye to my good boy. I could if I had to.
Maybe he would ease out of this life dreaming of running in the baseball field below my house. Maybe as he gently fell asleep, he would dream he was back on the sofa, burying his nose in the soft corner fabric. He always slept on the sofa, snoring late into the night as I pecked away at the computer. His snores sounded better than any musical score. He let out big doggy sighs as if he knew our time together was limited.
Each sigh tore into my heart.
I made the appointment. Then, hung up, real quick.
I called back the next day to get prices: so much if you leave your pet, more if you stay while they carry out the procedure, nothing extra if you leave, much more if you decide to cremate.
I was ready. It was best all around. I ticked the reasons why on my right hand. He’d be out of pain. No more struggling to stand up. No more coughing up water. No more waiting for someone to carry him down the stairs to go to the bathroom. No more tripping over him as he lay right in front of the refrigerator.
But it felt all wrong. Buddy still had a good appetite. The roads were too icy. The appointment was scheduled too late in the day. It was too dark out. Buddy was a morning dog and loved the daylight.
Every morning, he lay by my French door and announced in excited barks the instant any neighbor entered or left his house. He turned to see if I had noticed, and he waited for the snack he had trained me to give him for being so vigilant.
No, we would just have to wait for daylight. I could not take him at night. He hated the darkness.
Before Buddy became mine, the vet surmised his previous owner had shut him in a dark room to turn him into a tough watchdog. But that didn’t work. Labs cannot be tough. It isn’t in their genes.
For the first two months that he lived with me, he never barked but hid under the bushes as soon as darkness descended. The vet told me I had a deaf watchdog. We all had a good laugh, one of my typical misadventures; a girl going blind would have a deaf watchdog. Everyone teased me because I needed a watchdog. I quickly made up my mind. Well, I can’t see in the dark, and Buddy doesn’t want to see in the dark. I think we’ll get along just fine in the light.
It turned out Buddy wasn’t deaf. He had only been frightened. One day his bark loosened and his love tightened.
Buddy gradually settled in at the house where he was the only dog in the middle of nearly eighteen outdoor stray cats. I guess Buddy thought he was a cat, too, and jumped on my lap one day. Startled, I threw my arms around him so he wouldn’t fall off. He leaned back and laid his head on my chest, just like the cats. Then he opened an eye. Do dogs wink? I swear he did, and smiled his big wide-gapped toothy grin. I shifted his weight and let him sit until it nearly crushed me. He jumped down as if he knew the moment I couldn’t hold onto him anymore.
Buddy had only one fault, a penchant for picking up odd “memorabilia”. Once on a walk around our Emirati neighborhood, he found the carcass of a goat’s head. He refused to release it. In Pennsylvania, he discovered a rotting fish in a cold-water stream. I couldn’t wrestle the fish from between his clenched teeth. On the hill near our house, he found soiled pigs ears other dogs had discarded on their walks. Those too became a tug of war I usually lost. I didn’t really mind his stubborn streak because it revealed his personality.
After I lost the babies I carried, and later, after my divorce, I used to say God knew how I wanted to be a mother and answered my prayers. He sent me the cats, Buddy, and via my taxi driver, a litter of six puppies. Each year after that, I gained more “children,” and Buddy was no longer an only child. He was one of five dogs. That was a happy, exuberant time for him. He got into mischief, and he followed the bad examples of those in the new crowd. But his eyes danced and his tail spun around like a high-powered helicopter blade, constantly in motion. The dogs raided a couple dozen peanut butter cookies left to cool on the counter, and shared the spoils between them. They raced around the grass and dug up the sprinkler system in the front yard. They even made their escape onto the street and chased a stray cat under a car. And yes, Buddy, a cat lover at heart, joined in on the run!
Their escapades found an entrance into my writing. In those days, I wrote children’s adventure stories. Of course, Buddy served as the hero of the pack, which included dogs, cats and the neighborhood menagerie. But with so many characters, my readers couldn’t keep them straight. I laughed every day at Buddy’s antics and kept writing more stories, more chapters.
Life was so good for us. The gardener started taking Buddy and a few of his “brothers” on neighborhood walks. Nothing compared to the rides though. My dog certainly knew what “go for a ride” meant and his tail would go into a high-powered wag. Sunil, my self-appointed Indian driver, was fined for taking Buddy on rides through town in his taxi. A local resident reported him to the authorities because dogs were considered “unclean” by some and certainly not permitted to take joyrides on public transport. But Sunil had his own stubborn streak and continued to stop by the house and take Buddy out on quiet Friday mornings when he had no fares. Buddy had that effect on people.
In the United States, my brother took over the driving, and off Buddy went with a toss of his head, sometimes without me. His eyes gleamed as if he had been singled out for this privilege. Still the gentle brown eyes would ask, “Is it all right?” And I made a big fuss over his going to let him know it was. Buddy rode a bit differently than most dogs. He rarely sat up and looked out the window. Instead, he curled up in a ball and fell asleep, lulled by the sound of the motor and the motion of the vehicle.
Sometimes my brother let Buddy down, like when he drove Mom’s car instead. That meant no ride for Buddy. “Sorry Buddy,” I’d say, “No ride today.” His tail slowed down, then stopped. He lay down on the floor, his head stretched out between his paws. Then the doggy sighs started.
When his arthritis made it too difficult to get in and out of the car, he took the change in good grace. He simply lost interest. It was my throat that filled with tears.
People say Buddy lived a good long life. But all I can think is … When is the right time to say goodbye to your ailing pet?
When I told my sister-in-law my dilemma, she said, with a catch in her voice, “Even as sick as he is, Buddy seeks you out. When he sees you, his eyes light up. He tries harder to walk.”
Too choked up to respond, I thought, No, it’s not the right time. Maybe one more day. Or just get past the weekend. I can be brave next week. I’ll say goodbye then.
And now it’s next week, with the same choice ahead of me. I still don’t know the answer. Except deep down,
I just don’t like it.
Amber’s Alert, fiction
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
My stomach growled, and my mouth watered, as I looked in the café window. It had been a long time since I’d eaten anything but breakfast cereal, instant noodles, crackers with peanut butter, and canned soup. I wished I’d looked in Mom’s purse to see if there was any cash before I left the house.
On a nearby table was a newspaper. I couldn’t read the print because the paper lay upside down, but I recognized my school picture. I walked into the café and to the table and picked up the newspaper. The headline jumped out. “$50,000 Reward Offered for Return of Missing Girl” That was me.
I sat at the table and read the article. It was all about how I’d been kidnapped by my mother a month ago. Dad was out of town, and Mrs. Miller, the housekeeper, thought I was spending the night with my best friend and didn’t report me missing until the next day when I didn’t come home.
When Mom left last year, she didn’t even say goodbye to me or Dad. She just took off in the night, leaving a note on the refrigerator for Mrs. Miller to find the next morning. Mom was an artist, and she told me she was forced to marry Dad because he got her pregnant with me.
I spent a lot of time in her studio, watching her paint. For my twelfth birthday, Mom gave me an easel and paints and a few lessons. After that, we worked side by side at our own easels. The day I turned thirteen, Mom was gone.
I kept painting. It made me feel closer to Mom, being in her studio. She didn’t take much when she left, so I had a feeling that someday, she would come back, and everything would be okay.
Dad was away most of the time. He worked in a bank just like the father in Mary Poppins. A few weeks after Mom left, he said she was probably dead and gave all her clothes to charity and sold her jewelry. I begged him to leave the studio alone. He did, but when I asked if we could sell Mom’s paintings, he said, “That rubbish isn’t worth the canvas it’s painted on.”
I didn’t dare offer to show him my paintings, and he didn’t ask to see them. I signed up for an art class at school, and my paintings were displayed on the classroom walls during open house. Dad never went to open house.
A year later, Mom showed up at school in a maroon Cadillac. She wore a pink linen suit and a lot of make-up. Her hair was dyed a dark brown. “Amber darling, there you are,” she said, as if it were the end of another ordinary school day.
“Mom, is that really you?”
“Of course, it is, silly. Who else would it be? Come on. Get in the car. Let’s go.”
I thought this was weird but told my best friend Susan I couldn’t spend the night and got in the car. “Mom, I’m glad you’re back,” I said, as she drove away. “I’ve missed you so much.”
“I know, honey. I’ve missed you, too. You were the best thing that ever happened to me. Now, we’ll always be together.”
“Where are we going?” I asked a few minutes later when it didn’t look like we were driving home.
“We’re going to take a little trip,” said Mom, patting my knee. This was strange, but I would have gone anywhere with her, even to the moon.
She pulled into a McDonald’s outside of town, and my mouth watered at the thought of some fries or a shake, but instead of going to the drive-through window, she drove to the front door. A man in blue jeans, a white tee-shirt, and a black blazer came out. He didn’t look happy and climbed into the back passenger seat saying, “You sure took your sweet time, didn’t you?”
“Chuck, this is my daughter Amber,” said Mom. “Amber, this is Chuck. Are we ready?” Chuck grunted.
This wasn’t right, I thought, as we drove out of the McDonald’s parking lot, but what could I say? We drove for miles and miles and miles. Chuck said nothing while Mom and I talked. When I asked Mom why she left and where she went, she ruffled my hair and said, “Don’t worry your pretty head about that, sweetie. The important thing is we’re together, and I won’t leave you again.”
I told her about the art class I signed up for at school, about how the teacher put some of my paintings on the classroom wall for all the parents to see during open house. “Someday, you’ll have to show me those paintings,” she said. I wondered what she meant by “someday.” Weren’t we ever going home? It didn’t look like it.
When we finally stopped to eat at some sleazy diner, Chuck kept giving me weird looks across the table. He also kept putting his arm around Mom’s shoulders. I didn’t like this. If anybody should have been doing that, it was Dad. Mom didn’t seem to mind. In fact, I think she liked it.
When we got back in the car, Mom told me to sit in the back seat so Chuck could drive, and she could sit up front with him. I didn’t like the look of his back, either. He kept taking one hand off the wheel and putting an arm around Mom’s shoulders. It made me want to throw up. I finally fell asleep and woke up hours later in front of a run-down house in a strange town.
“This is our new home,” said Mom. I got out of the car and walked with her to the house. Chuck drove off before we even got in the door, which was fine with me.
The house had a small kitchen dining area combination, a large living room, and two small bedrooms: one for Mom and one for me. Mom’s easel was in the living room next to a window. There was no other furniture in the room.
Mom had several outfits of clothing for me. They weren’t as nice as the clothes I usually wore, but she said, “Someday when I have more money, I’ll buy you better clothes, and we can move to a bigger house in a better neighborhood where I can have a studio.”
When I asked about school, she said, “I didn’t get past the eighth grade, and look where it got me.” She pointed at one of her paintings on the living room wall. “Besides, it’s April. The term’s nearly over. Maybe by next fall, I’ll have enough money to send you to an art school.” I was relieved not to have to start school right away in a strange town where I didn’t know anyone.
Mom told me not to leave the house, even during the day. “There are creeps in this neighborhood. Don’t open the door to anyone. If someone comes to the door, go to your room and stay there until you’re sure they’re gone. You just never know what could happen to you, honey,” she said, hugging me.
We never went out to eat. There was no telephone, computer, television, not even a radio. Unlike Dad, Mom never read newspapers. She promised we could have this stuff when her ship came in, but when that would be, she didn’t say.
Chuck helped her put an old bookshelf containing used books in my room, and they were even able to squeeze in a beat-up old armchair and lamp. Mom painted in the living room. She said she didn’t want me to watch her anymore because it distracted her. In fact, she wouldn’t let me come out into the living room until after dark when the blinds were pulled.
I liked to read. Although the chair was uncomfortable, I didn’t mind sitting there for hours reading the Judy Bloom books Mom gave me. I missed Susan and my other friends and even Dad, although he was away a lot and didn’t talk to me very much when he was home. I also missed painting and wondered why Mom didn’t get my easel and paints before we left home.
The only person who came to the door was Chuck, and I was glad to stay in my room while he was there. I didn’t like the way he kept looking at me. Luckily, my bedroom door had a lock that worked. Mom and Chuck drank. He often spent the night, and I heard sounds that I never heard from my folks’ bedroom at home. I buried my face in the torn covers of the old bed and tried to tune them out.
One sunny day in May, I couldn’t stand being in the house any longer. While Mom was in her room with a hangover, I quietly closed the front door and started walking. Now here I was, sitting in a café downtown, reading a newspaper article about me.
I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see a waitress smiling and holding a menu. She looked old enough to be my grandmother. I smiled and pointed at my picture and said, “How would you like fifty thousand dollars?”
The waitress stared at the photo, then at me, and her mouth opened wide. The café door opened, and in walked, of all people, Chuck. I shrank in my seat, hoping he didn’t see me, but he rushed to the table. “Amber, what the hell are you doing here?”
The waitress turned to the old man behind the counter grilling burgers. “Mel, call 911. That gal who went missing with the fifty thousand dollar reward is here, and the guy who kidnapped her is about to grab her again. Hurry!”
Chuck took off, as others sitting at nearby tables and the counter turned and stared. I felt weak. The waitress put her arm around me and said, “Don’t worry, honey. We won’t let him get you again. You’re safe now.”
Mel hollered from the grill. “Sally, tell that gal to order anything she wants. It’s on the house, and if that jerk comes back, I’ll butcher him, fry him extra crispy, and serve him with coleslaw.” He held up a knife. Other people laughed, and I couldn’t help giggling.
I didn’t even look at the menu. I ordered a hamburger, fries, and a shake. It was the best meal I had in a long time. When it was all gone, Sally talked me into eating a piece of chocolate pie.
Other customers went to the counter and offered to pay for my meal, but Mel waved them away with his knife. I could tell they knew him, and he knew them, so it was okay.
When the cops showed up, I told them what Chuck’s car looked like and how to get to Mom’s house. They found Mom right away and soon caught up with Chuck who was heading out of town. Mom and Chuck were wanted for other crimes, so they ended up doing a lot of jail time.
I flew home and was surprised when Dad, instead of Mrs. Miller, picked me up at the airport. He hugged me hard and said, “Oh Amber, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I didn’t think I’d ever see you again, princess.” He hadn’t called me princess or anything else in a long time.
When we got home, I found out he’d taken everything out of Mom’s studio. Even my easel and paints were gone, but frankly, I didn’t care. “This is your studio now, honey,” he said.
I picked out new wallpaper and carpeting, and he hired professionals to put it in. He bought me a couch, an entertainment center with a television and stereo and big speakers, a corner desk, and a computer with everything I needed. He even got me my own phone with a private line plus a cell phone. My friends said I was lucky to have the best dad in the world, and they were right.
Dad was usually home by supper time, and I ate with him in the dining room instead of in the kitchen with Mrs. Miller. On weekends, he took me out to fancy restaurants. When the weather was warm, he often played golf at the club, and I went with him and swam in the pool and hung out with my friends. Before school started, he took me to an expensive clothing store and asked a sales lady to pick outfits she thought were appropriate.
Six months later, I was looking at this story I wrote for a creative writing class I elected to take instead of art, wondering how it could end. I thought of Mel and Sally at the cafe. Mel would have gotten the reward since he was the one who called the cops. Of course he would have split it with Sally. They were probably already married. They could have done a lot with fifty thousand dollars.
Music Man with Gray Eyes, poetry
by Monique Harris
On the bus for people
with limps and lopes,
with wheelchairs and walkers,
with canes and crutches,
I saw a young man
whose gray eyes glittered
to a beat on the radio.
He pumps his fist in the air.
Music Man with gray eyes.
I wanted to talk to the Music Man,
but he lacked a language I understood.
Music Man, I wonder how I can communicate with you.
So, I watch you
and you watch me,
One day we stared at each other.
Your black curtain eyelashes raised and lowered
on the gray stage of your eyes
as you blinked and blinked
a Morse code
that began our first communication.
for months and months we communicated
through music and eyes
until one day I shared my name with you
and every day we rode the bus together.
to my amazement, you called my name.
I felt like a mother whose child called her “Mama”
for the first time,
Music Man with gray eyes.
This poem has been accepted for publication in the disability anthology Seeing Beyond the Surface II. which will be published in June 2017.
Bio: Monique R. Harris is an African American woman born in Philadelphia with cerebral palsy. Her poetry, stories, and artwork have been published in Wordgathering, Dryland, Pentimento Magazine, and Seeing Beyond the Surface. She lives in Emeryville, California with a developmentally disabled adult child.
Beautiful Lady, poetry
by Monique Harris
You comb chocolate fingers
through salt and pepper curls,
and then stretch
your hand from your wheelchair
to catch my attention
your eyes twinkle
a galaxy of dreams
where Saturn’s rings
adorn every finger
sparkle each ear.
your group home
dresses you in sweat pants
and tennis shoes.
They slip plastic jewelry
around your fingers
you rest your chin on your hand
your sweat pants
exchanged for satin and silk
and your costume jewelry
transformed to diamonds and pearls.
This poem has been accepted for publication in the disability anthology Seeing Beyond the Surface II. which will be published in June 2017.
by Jessica Goody
“…the tender flesh stretched over
tendon and vein: a whole world
thrumming just below. Fingers
love motion the way the flesh
loves the deep electrical twitch
of the body involuntary…”
-Joseph Campagna, A Shirt Loves A Body
My hands are old before their time. They resemble
a sage’s fingers, gnarled and ancient. My sunken
joints and wrinkled knuckles possess an odd elegance.
Flickering tendons meet the green cobwebs of my veins,
my fingertips provoking the rhythmic chatter of the keys.
My hand flops flounder-like at the end of a narrow wrist,
hanging limply, curving in the spastic arc of the lame, its
bitten nails like broken seashells. The twitches and ticks
of sudden spasm demand fierce concentration in order
to cross treacherous parking lots, avoid cold puddles and
broken concrete, loose steps and stairs without railings,
to divine the clearest route across a room, and sense the
texture of grass underfoot, divots hidden among the green.
My thick, heavy foot and flailing synapses rely on my sense of
touch in order to make my way in the world, stumbling between
crowds and along rough terrain, seeking handholds for security,
testing the air the way a snake does, sightlessly, with a flicker of
its tongue, scenting shapes and hidden objects unseen in the dark.
This poem was published in Defense Mechanisms published by Phosphene Publishing and available through Amazon.
Bio: Jessica Goody was born and raised on Long Island. She currently lives in South Carolina, where she writes for SunSations Magazine. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Reader’s Digest, The Seventh Wave, Event Horizon, Really System, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and The Maine Review. Her poem “Stockings” was awarded second place in the 2015 Reader’s Digest Poetry Competition. Her poetry collection Defense Mechanisms* is available on Amazon.
Roosevelt’s Braces, poetry
by Jessica Goody
Trembling beneath woolen blankets,
you cannot get warm as you shiver from
the aftershock of ague among the sickroom
paraphernalia of basins and mustard
plasters, and the scent of warm wool.
The mercury stretches, rising in the feverish glass.
Released from the bathyscape of the iron lung,
your legs are foreign objects, heavy and strange, as
rigid as a cadavers’; dead weights, flaccid as flour sacks.
Nerves like a disconnected telephone switchboard
struggle to speak, with no response, no dial tone.
Aching limbs are encased in humid plaster,
pristinely white; twin casts are cracked like
lobster shells and pried from withered limbs.
Leather straps taut as tourniquets tighten on
fragile flesh as the iron exoskeleton of orthotics
are locked into place. The slow strain of trembling
muscles, weighted down by the clanking armor of
shackles and scaffolding, sweating with the effort
of dragging limbs like sandbags or paperweights
in the clumsy waltz of left-right, scrape and drag,
knuckles white from the struggle to remain upright.
Every painful step requires the concentration of a
fakir treading hot coals as easily as cobblestones.
This poem was published in Defense Mechanisms published by Phosphene Publishing and available through Amazon.
by Jessica Goody
The scar was violently red, curving in the exact shape
of the breast that was no longer there. I could not stop
staring, could not decide what was more obscene, more
shocking: the nudity of an authority figure, or the vivid
cruelty of deformity and scar tissue. She did not hear
my knock. Her eyes were hard with pride. Did she trace
the trail of the scar at night, fingering a shadow of flesh?
Was it warm to the touch, redly inflamed and new? Does
she mourn? How long will it take for the memory to fade,
of a once-healthy, perfectly-proportioned body rendered
lopsided and blank? Did she miss the familiar image of
herself, smooth and whole? Or did she feel lighter with
the missing flesh carved away, the heavy bosom no longer
hefted and strapped into place with a brassiere sculpted
of metal and lace? She was far too modest to consider the
mercenary uses of breasts, the women who employ their
figures like weapons with which to seduce and manipulate.
Left infertile by the time-release process of menopause, her
skirts and sheets no longer stained red-black with clots of
blood, did she feel relief at the thought of her crone-hood,
her status transfigured from work-horse and pack-mule into
wise elder? Without the messiness of the monthly bloodletting,
the biological imperative of reproduction, did she feel a weight
lifted or did she feel lost, adrift, remembering the infant in her
arms, the nourishment of one body flowing into another.
This poem was published in Defense Mechanisms published by Phosphene Publishing and available through Amazon.