Magnets and Ladders
Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
Editorial and Technical Staff
- Coordinating Editor: Mary-Jo Lord
- Fiction: Lisa Busch, Valerie Moreno, Marilyn Brandt Smith, Kate Chamberlin, and Abbie Johnson Taylor
- Nonfiction: Valerie Moreno, John W. Smith, Kate Chamberlin, Leonard Tuchyner, and Marilyn Brandt Smith
- Poetry: Lisa Busch, Alice Massa, Valerie Moreno, Abbie Johnson Taylor, 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
- Editors’ Welcome
- A Brief History of Behind Our Eyes, Inc.
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
- Part I. From Another Realm
- Part II. Friends, Family and Unforgettable Moments
- The Cultural Canyon, nonfiction
by Michael M. Tickenoff
- Kathleen in 1927, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal
- To Mary Christine, On your Birthday, poetry
by Valerie Moreno
- Mother’s Secret, nonfiction
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
- Great Balls of Fire, memoir
by Rhonda T. Spear
- The Old Milking Stool, nonfiction
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
- Half an Ark, personal essay
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
- Round Table Gratitude, poetry
by Bonnie Rennie
- Before You Go, poetry
by Annie Chiappetta
- My Child is Gone, poetry
by Gunjan Shakya
- The Unwelcome Visitor, memoir
by James R. Campbell
- Kaibab, memoir
by Greg Pruitt
- Mimi’s Dilemma: The Thing About Patriotism and Faith, nonfiction
by Kate Chamberlin
- Spider in the Morning, memoir
by Kate Chamberlin
- The Cultural Canyon, nonfiction
- Part III. The Writers’ Climb
- Partners in Rhyme, poetry
by D. P. Lyons and Alice Jane-Marie Massa
- Metamorphosing a Poem, nonfiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
- How to Deal with Rejection, poetry
by Annie Chiappetta
- He Called Her “Queen”, nonfiction
by Nancy Scott
- Contest Alert
- An Eight Prompt, nonfiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
- The Clandestine Tea Party, book excerpt from Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind School, nonfiction
by Bruce Atchison
- How to Write a Zip Ode For the Fourth of July (with Seven Samples), nonfiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
- Partners in Rhyme, poetry
- Part IV. Not What I Expected
- Part V. Setbacks and acceptance
- I’m Not Back Yet, nonfiction
by Leonard Tuchyner
- Waiting For a Heart to Heal, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner
- The Habit of Hands, poetry
by Nancy Scott
- The Last Spring, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal
- My Hands, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal
- Blind Faith, poetry
by Burns Taylor
- The Balloon Flight, fiction
by Ernest Jones
- My Last Car, memoir
by Andrea Kelton
- I’m Not Back Yet, nonfiction
- Part VI. A Breath of Spring and Summer
- Part VII. Art and History
- Part VIII. Let’s Enjoy the Music
- On John Coltrane’s “My favorite Things”, nonfiction
by Brad Corallo
- Live Whipping Post, poetry
by Brad Corallo
- Solid Walls of Sound, nonfiction
by D P Lyons
- This fish enjoyed the music, nonfiction
by Ernest Jones
- Musings on “E”, Abecedarian
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
- When Sammy Sings the Blues, poetry
by Mary-Jo Lord
- The Voice of the Earth, Pi poem
by Mary-Jo Lord
- On John Coltrane’s “My favorite Things”, nonfiction
Hello. After a two week teaser and another visit from winter, spring is finally here to stay. This issue is packed with family memories, stories with unexpected outcomes, and a tribute that you won’t want to miss. Our “Setbacks and Acceptance” section shows how contributors have faced challenges with courage and grace. “The Writers’ Climb” has exercises to spark some summer writing, and “Let’s enjoy the Music” shows how music influences and enriches our lives. Although we don’t have sections specifically about hands or mothers, see how many poems or stories you can find that feature hands, mothers or motherhood in some way.
This year marks the ten-year anniversary of Behind Our Eyes, and there are exciting things going on in the group to celebrate and remember the events and amazing people that have helped make Behind our Eyes the organization that it is today. Immediately following the “Editors’ Welcome” section of this edition of Magnets and Ladders, we are featuring “A Brief History of Behind Our Eyes Inc.” We awarded a Grand Prize of $50 to the top submission for this edition of Magnets and Ladders, and for the Fall/Winter edition, we will have a special, one time only contest. This is a theme contest. The theme is Anniversary. Any work of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry about an anniversary will be entered into this contest for a chance to win a grand prize of $50. See “The Writers’ Climb” for information about the anniversary contest along with our other contests.
I would like to give a big thanks to all of the committee members and to Marilyn Brandt Smith, Jason Smith and John Weidlich for your hard work and support throughout the production process.
We had contests with cash prizes in fiction, nonfiction and poetry, along with our Grand Prize. We had 87 submissions, so thank you to everyone who submitted. Choosing contest winners and entries to publish was a rewarding and challenging task for our editorial staff. Below are the names of our contest winners.
“Pink,” fiction by Susan Muhlenbeck
- First Place: “Oops!” by Ellen Fritz
- Second Place: “The Helpers” by Elizabeth Fiorite
- Honorable Mention: “The Plot” by Paul D. Ellner
- Honorable Mention: “Dream Closet” by Abbie Johnson Taylor
- First Place: “The Cultural Canyon” by Michael M. Tickenoff
- Second Place: “I’m Not Back Yet” by Leonard Tuchyner
- Honorable Mention: “He Called Her ‘Queen’” by Nancy Scott
- Honorable Mention: “Brutality and Pleasure in the Heart of the Empire” by Christine Malec
- First Place: “Partners in Rhyme” by D. P. Lyons and Alice Jane-Marie Massa
- Second Place: “Kathleen in 1927″ by Sally Rosenthal
- Honorable Mention: “Summer: an acrostic poem” by Elizabeth Fiorite
- Honorable Mention: “The Habit of Hands” by Nancy Scott
Congratulations to all of the contest winners.
The Magnets and Ladders staff hopes that you have a great summer and we look forward to reading your submissions for the next edition.
A Brief History of Behind Our Eyes, Inc.
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
Sanford Rosenthal had a dream. In 2005, Sanford approached the National Writers Union. He proposed starting a writers’ workshop that would meet Sunday evenings by teleconference for writers with disabilities. Thus the Written Word Partyline came in to being.
Michael lived in Ireland, Bobbi in Maine and Diane in Las Vegas, Nevada. In March of 2006, they joined twenty-four others brought together by Sanford, who lived in Florida. At first glance, one might assume it was the fact that they shared the experience of living with disabilities that brought them together. The actual drawing card was that they all loved to write. They met by telephone conference calls and exchanged e-mail messages as members of The Written Word Partyline Workshop. Each Sunday night, they alternated between working critique Sessions and listening to presentations from writers, poets, journalists, teachers and people in the publishing industry.
One of these presenters, Susan Driscoll, made the group an unbelievable offer. She represented iUniverse, a print on demand publishing house. She offered to help them bring a book of their collective works to print at no cost to the group members.
The real scramble was on, as Marilyn Brandt Smith, chief editor and her team of fellow writers worked to winnow out the best of what the group had produced. The outpourings of group members ranged all over the map in style, subject matter and genre. Poetry, essays, short stories drawn from life experiences or pure imagination had to be organized in some semblance of order.
The book also needed a name. Sanford Rosenthal suggested Behind Our Eyes because “Behind the keyboard, many disabilities disappear.” He hoped this book would help the reader see behind the eyes of its contributing authors.
Over three dozen guests offered their expertise during the first eighteen months of the group’s existence. Seth Eisenberg and the National Writers Union helped define the group’s purpose and audience. Susan Driscoll and her staff from iUniverse provided the incentive to produce the first anthology. They assisted with the details of publication and marketing.
Michael Koretsky, media advisor at Florida Atlantic University and managing editor of Jazziz Magazine, was the copy editor. He helped the group rewrite and rethink, dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. He assisted with formatting issues and content evaluation. It would have taken much longer to produce the first anthology without his guidance and evaluation of submissions.
Poets and teachers Margo LaGattuta, Anastasia Clark and Alice Rogoff were the primary poetry critics. Brittney Wallman, a journalist with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel assisted with essay and prose evaluations.
Kayla Rigby helped with technical issues and a plan for the initial collection of material. Don Rosenthal and Jayson Smith also pitched in with technical help. Marilyn Brandt Smith, primary editor and her team of writers categorized, sorted and made suggestions, working directly with the writers.
Before Christmas of 2007, Behind Our Eyes became available for purchase on the iUniverse, Barnes and Noble and Amazon websites. Three versions were available:
- ISBN: 978-0-595-46493-7 (pbk)
- ISBN: 978-0-595-70303-6 (cloth)
- ISBN: 978-0-595-90791-5 (ebk)
Twenty-seven thrilled authors across the country received their author’s copies of a book of writings that is hard to categorize. If there is a single characteristic to be found in this book, it is diversity of voices. Poet, humorist or stark realist, the book introduced the reader to the world as it is experienced in the realm of the mind.
Erik Weihenmayer, author of Touch the Top of the World and The Adversity Advantage Said:
“I’m always impressed by pioneering efforts. This anthology represents a noteworthy beginning for this group of writers. From the triumphs over adversity dramatized in the first section, to the heartwarming and heartbreaking stories and poems of the final grouping, they show us sensitivity and inspire strength. They show us disability as it is lived honestly. Fables, fantasies, and tips about writing add something new, making this publication a unique contribution to disability literature.”
Former rehabilitation counselor and novelist Christopher Fahy said, “this book is a must read for anyone in the rehabilitation field.”
Arnold S. Goldstein provided legal assistance to form the corporation. Members chose to name it using the title of the book.
Recognizing the need for Bylaws to complete the incorporation process, a Bylaws committee was formed in the spring of 2008. Kate Chamberlin researched and submitted the draft from which she, Chairman John Wesley Smith, Nancy Scott, and Valerie Moreno worked. The committee members have changed over the years but the committee has remained ongoing and active. John Wesley Smith has taken up the challenge of insuring that the bylaws reflect the goals and needs of the group as it matures and grows.
In 2008, the group of writers completed the steps to incorporate and became a nonprofit, with royalties from their first book going toward supporting the future activities.
In 2010, Bobbi LaChance became the second President of Behind Our Eyes. The incorporation meant that a board of directors had to be elected and members of the group had to step up and take on responsibilities that had all previously fallen on Sanford’s shoulders. Bobbi had some big shoes to fill, but she handled them with grace and creativity. Under her guidance, an online magazine and second anthology were formed, and the group continued to flourish.
The first of these activities was the creation of an online magazine featuring the works of writers with disabilities. Marilyn Brandt Smith was the driving force in establishing this ongoing online opportunity for writers with disabilities to be published in a literary magazine. Again, the group needed to have a name for the online magazine. Two names were suggested by Lisa Bush, “magnet” because the magazine could be a magnet to draw in readers, and “ladder” because writers with disabilities are climbing up the ladder of successful writing. The group decided to put the two names together and the name became Magnets and Ladders. Marilyn Brandt Smith was the first Magnets and Ladders editor. Her son Jayson took on the role of technical assistant. Marilyn was the editor of the magazine from its inception in 2010 through 2013. Mary Jo Lord ably stepped up to continue the magazine production beginning as editor in 2014. Magnets and Ladders is an online semiannual magazine made available nationally by the Perkins Library, as well as Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement from Wisconsin, which submits it to NFB Newsline (a phone based service that permits the visually impaired to have access to newspapers and magazines). It is also available directly online at http://www.magnetsandladders.org.
Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look is the second literary anthology by writers with disabilities, edited by Kate Chamberlin and a committee of Behind Our Eyes writers:
This 2nd anthology was dedicated to Bobbi LaChance, the second President of Behind Our Eyes.
In the second book, the topics range from the ridiculously absurd to tragically abusive. Everything from Cats to rabbits, guide dogs to a guiding miniature horse, medical fiascos to survival tactics and pangs of deprivation to heights of success, all have their place. The vivid tapestry of life these writers wove with their stories, poems, and essays demonstrated what a diverse group of writers they are; yet this montage of creative writings showcases how similar they are to each other and to the world.
Behind Our Eyes, Inc., a 501C-3 nonprofit organization, brought out the second anthology in multiple formats. The book took a second look at the intriguing and insightful pieces of 65 writers.
The book was published by Patricia Gott, Publishing Services, and the impressive cover was designed by Laura Ashton, who printed the book, drawing from the 27 star theme of the first anthology’s cover. It featured a Royal Blue background with NASA’s photo of the Milky Way swirl of tiny, pastel, multi-colored stars.
The original edition was released in June of 2013 with a revised edition in October of 2013. The 368 page volume was a perfectly bound, 6X9-inch book. The organization of this book enabled the reader to read it from cover to cover, flip to a theme, pick a favorite author, or just read one selection each day.
On the back cover tribute, L. John Cieslinski, proprietor of Books, Etc., said, “Disability is not the center of the writing–it is the triumph that forms the beauty of this work.”
Donna Grahmann was the winner of a coupon, which she donated to Behind Our eyes. As a result, Nathan Hale of Ink In Motion developed and produced a professional book trailer for Behind Our Eyes: A second Look. Over 3390 viewers have watched the book trailer at http://youtu.be/hk0uIaQTr24.
in 2013, the Behind Our Eyes logo for the letterhead was designed by Virginia Small, a group member. It begins with a graphic depicting Three books sitting upright. The books are three different heights and widths. On the first book is the capital letter B. On the second book is the capital letter O. On the third book is the capital letter E. Directly beside the books on the right hand side is the text.
Both Behind Our Eyes anthologies are available from the National Library Service for the Blind in the United States in a digitally recorded audio book and a braille edition. Those writers with visual impairments were thrilled to be able to read a copy of their work in an accessible alternative format.
Ten years later, they still meet on Sunday evenings twice a month to listen to presenters and share their work. The E-list continues to thrive. Beginning and experienced writers with disabilities are welcome to join by visiting http://www.behindoureyes.org and completing a membership form.
Some of the original writers have moved on while others have joined the group.
The group has lost two of the original writers who have moved on to that word processor in the sky. Gertie Poole suffered a stroke and Brenda Dillon lost her battle with cancer. Margo LaGattuta has also left this world. Their contributions to the writers group existence are missed, but the drive to write among the merry band continues.
Magnets and Ladders,an online magazine to which anyone with a disability may submit work for possible publication, continues to be published semi-annually. The e-list is a place to share works in progress for gentle critiques. It also serves as a place to announce the individual triumphs of publication and articles about writing.
This history has been compiled to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Behind Our Eyes. The members of the group are also producing an audio rendition of some of the writers reading their own work. There will be a number of prizes awarded in all categories of material submitted to the magazine, as part of the celebration of ten years of sharing, learning and writing.
Part I. From Another Realm
by Susan Muhlenbeck
“Sorry, Pam, I can’t go out after work today,” Amy said at lunchtime on that last day of March. “I got a call from Molly’s school nurse. Molly is sick. I have to go pick her up from school. Maybe we can go out one day next week. Sorry, and happy birthday!”
“Okay, hope Molly feels better soon,” Pam sighed. Pam was disappointed she couldn’t go out with her friend on her birthday. They had planned to go to Twisters to grab something to eat and a glass of wine, but she understood that family came first.
On the way home from work, Pam considered going out by herself but decided against it. She never enjoyed going out by herself, and it would be especially bad on her birthday. Not for the first time, she wondered what it would feel like to go home to a house with a husband and children instead of her orange and white cat Tiny. Most of her friends were married and had children, which didn’t give them much time to hang out. “Your time will come,” her parents kept insisting, but she was starting to wonder. She was 33 now and not getting any younger.
She parked her car in front of her little white house, wondering how it would look with a bunch of kids’ toys scattered in the yard. She laughed aloud as she climbed the steps to the front porch. To her annoyance, several large bumblebees were buzzing around the front door. She had hated bees ever since she got stung on the face when she was a child of nine. She remembered how she had cried and cried when it happened. She didn’t want those critters getting into the house.
She walked around to the back door and walked into the kitchen. “I’m home, Tiny,” she called, expecting her cat to come running to rub against her legs. The first thing she noticed was the sound of the television coming from the living room. I must have forgotten to turn it off that morning, she thought absently. Funny, that never happened before.
She walked into the living room and stopped in her tracks. She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. There were three unfamiliar people sitting in her living room, which was full of unfamiliar furniture. A little boy of about seven sat on a gray couch, watching a Star Wars movie and eating a bag of potato chips. A toddler was sitting on the floor with a crayon in one hand and a lollipop in the other. A teenage girl was sitting in a rocking chair sending a text on her cell phone.
“Hi, Mom,” the little boy said casually, not taking his eyes off the TV. Pam didn’t answer. Her friends were playing a joke on her, she thought wildly. They thought it would be a funny thing to do on her birthday, but they had gone too far.
The girl seemed startled to see Pam. “Oh, hi, Mrs. Miller,” she said, shoving her cell phone into her over stuffed bag and getting to her feet. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“I used the back door,” Pam said, sizing the teenager up for any signs of mischief and not finding any. “The first bees of the season were buzzing around the front door.”
The teenager wasn’t listening. “Mr. Miller called and said he is going to be a little late getting home tonight.” She rose to her feet. “I’m out of here,” she said, heading for the front door. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” She was gone before Pam could ask any questions.
“Okay,” Pam said slowly after the door was firmly shut. She waited for somebody to jump out of the woodwork and yell, “Surprise!” There was no sound except from the TV.
She watched in horror as the toddler started scribbling on the wall with a pink crayon. Instinctively, Pam grabbed the crayon out of the child’s hand. She just tottered back to the box for another one. She ran then, up the stairs and into her bedroom, which was full of unfamiliar items. Her wicker dresser and desk and nightstand were replaced with a walnut bedroom set, and all her clothes were gone. Instead there were lots of unfamiliar dresses and sweaters, and several men’s suits in the closet. She put a hand over her heart, praying she would not have a heart attack.
It’s all right, she told herself. It was just a joke gone too far. But then, where were the pranksters, and who were those kids? They didn’t belong to anybody she knew. Where was her cat for that matter?
“Tiny!” she shouted, walking back into the kitchen.
The little boy was suddenly behind her. “When are we going to eat?” he demanded.
“Soon,” Pam said without thinking. It suddenly dawned on her that the kids would be hungry, and Mrs. Miller’s husband would be home soon. Maybe he would explain what was going on. She rummaged in the cupboards and brought out a couple cans of tuna fish. “I’ll make tuna fish sandwiches,” she said quickly. “It won’t take long.”
“But it’s pizza night,” the boy wailed.
“Oh, I forgot!” she cried. She opened the freezer and saw with relief that there was a sausage pizza among the pork chops and hot dogs. She nosed around in the cabinets for a pan and put the pizza in the oven.
Suddenly a door slammed, and Pam jumped. “Daddy!” the little girl cried from the living room.
“Hi, Cupcake,” an unfamiliar male voice said.
Pam walked into the living room to see a tall blond man holding the little girl in his arms. “Not Cupcake, Gumdrop,” the child laughed.
“Right, you’re Gumdrop now,” the man said, setting the girl down.
“What’s going on?” Pam asked, giving the man a stern look.
“The meeting ran a little late,” he shrugged. “Are you okay? You look a little upset.”
“I need to talk to you,” she said quietly. She wondered if she were losing her mind. She was no longer convinced that someone was playing a joke on her. These people seemed like they belonged in this house, and that she belonged in their family. If it’s not a joke, she must be hallucinating or having a nervous breakdown, she thought desperately. She heard of such things happening to people.
“Okay,” the man said, taking her by the elbow and leading her into the kitchen. “What did the doctor say?”
“The doctor?” she asked stupidly. “I’m not, I don’t-“
“Joan, what is going on?” Mr. Miller asked seriously, his face reflecting nothing but concern. “Did he give you bad news?”
“Look, Mommy!” the little girl, whose name Pam still didn’t know, cried, holding up a drawing of a field of giant pink flowers. “I colored it myself!”
“It’s beautiful,” Pam said, patting the child on her little head covered with blond curls. “Just don’t draw on the walls, okay?”
“Okay,” the little girl said, scurrying back into the living room with her picture.
“I need to get some fresh air,” Pam said before Mr. Miller could ask any more questions. She knew there was a little convenience store a couple blocks from the house. “We’re almost out of milk.” She hoped that was true. She hadn’t even looked in the refrigerator. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Wait a minute,” Mr. Miller said, grabbing her arm again. “I don’t think you should go out by yourself right now. You really don’t look well at all. Why don’t you sit down and tell me what happened?”
“I’m all right,” she snapped, snatching her purse off the kitchen table. “I just need a little fresh air. We’ll talk when I get back from the store. The pizza is almost done and the kids are hungry.” She pushed open the back door and ran outside before he could say anything else.
She ran to the end of the block, then fumbled in her purse for her cell phone. The contents of the purse were unfamiliar. Of course, she thought frantically. This was Joan Miller’s purse. The cell phone wasn’t even the same model as hers. But where was Joan Miller, and why was her family living in Pam’s house? More importantly, why did her family think Pam was her? With trembling fingers, Pam dialed her friend Amy’s number. An automated voice informed her that the number was not in service. She tried calling her parents next with the same result.
Pam was ready to cry. Where could she go to find answers? Spring was in the air, she thought incongruously, feeling the sultry breeze blowing on her face. She walked slowly to the convenience store, dreading going in but knowing she had to. The store seemed familiar enough except for the strange woman behind the counter. To her further irritation, the store was almost out of milk. She grabbed a quart from the back of the cooler and carried it to the counter.
“Hi, Joan, how are you doing?” the lady behind the counter said cheerfully.
“Good, thank you,” Pam said, trying to match the lady’s tone.
“Glad to hear it. Did your doctor’s appointment go well?”
“Yes,” Pam said, looking pointedly at her watch. “Sorry I can’t stop to chat. The kids are out of milk.”
“Glad you and the baby are all right,” the woman said as Pam walked toward the door. “I forgot when you said you were due.”
Pam was out the door by then and pretended she hadn’t heard. So that was it, she thought as she started walking home. Joan Miller was pregnant and maybe having complications. She supposedly went to the doctor to make sure everything was all right. Poor lady, Pam thought as her mind spun. She was out there somewhere, possibly very sick. And her poor husband! Pam knew she had to get back to the house and explain to him what happened to her. She had to convince him that she wasn’t his wife, and couldn’t understand how their lives converged, but it didn’t matter at this point. The only thing that mattered now was finding Joan Miller and making sure she was all right.
He’ll probably think I’m crazy, she thought as she came upon her block. He’ll probably say I’m having a nervous breakdown due to anxiety over the pregnancy. Then he’ll try to check me into a mental hospital. Maybe that was a good thing. The doctors would have to believe her when she said she wasn’t Joan Miller, wouldn’t they?
She noticed the bees that were buzzing around the front door earlier were gone. Thank God for small favors, she thought as she swung open the front door. She walked into the living room and got the next shock of the day. There was nobody there. The living room was just had she had left it that morning. All her old furniture was there, there were no kids’ toys, and the TV was off. “Hello!” she called out, expecting the kids and Mr. Miller to come running.
“Meow!” Something orange came darting out of the kitchen and rubbed against her legs.
“Tiny!” Pam shouted, scooping up the 13 pound feline and hugging her tight. “Don’t let her name fool you,” Pam told everybody who saw the cat. “She was tiny when I got her.”
“Oh, kitty, what happened to us?” The cat wriggled out of her arms and ran back into the kitchen.
Pam followed slowly, rubbing her throbbing head. I must be sick, she thought. That was the only explanation for what had just happened. I’m imagining things. Maybe I’m going crazy!
“Look what I got for you, Tiny,” she said, pouring a little milk into a saucer. She only gave the cat milk on special occasions. She mixed up some canned cat food with dry food, added a little water, and set the food and milk on the kitchen floor. “I just had a terrible dream,” she told the cat. Tiny was rolling something around on the kitchen floor and chasing after it. “I dreamed there was a strange family living here, and you were gone,” Pam said in wonder.
The cat ran around the kitchen, chasing her new toy.
“What are you playing with, kitty?” Pam chided. The cat pushed something towards her. It rolled across the floor and came to rest by Pam’s shoe. She knelt down to pick it up and almost fainted. It was a pink crayon.
Bio: Susan Muhlenbeck was born in Korea and spent her first 5 years there. She lost her sight at the age of two. She was raised in the Midwest and moved to Virginia as a teenager. She earned a bachelors’ degree in psychology and masters’ degree in rehabilitation counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her interests include reading, swimming, bargain shopping, and cats. Her books are available on Amazon.
by Susan Muhlenbeck
“I’m really enjoying this writing class,” Terry told her friend Kate as they sipped coffee after class that Friday in May. “I never thought I would enjoy writing this much.”
“I’m not enjoying it as much,” Kate sighed. “I think reading is more my thing. Speaking of reading, you know there is a library up on the ninth floor of this building?”
“No, I didn’t know that,” Terry said in surprise. “I haven’t been inside a library in years, not since I started reading books on line. I’ll have to check it out.”
“Let me know what you think,” Kate said as they left the little café on the ground floor of the Seaboard building where their writing class was held. Their assignment for the next class was to write about the most frightening experience of their life. I don’t have too many frightening experiences, Terry mused as she walked to the elevator. The most frightening thing she could think of was the time she was chased by a puppy when she was a child of six. Her 6-year-old mind was sure the little bugger would catch her and tear her to pieces. Fortunately, its owner appeared and scooped the harmless little dog into her arms.
Terry got on the empty elevator and pressed nine. She sensed something was amiss right from the start. The elevator was uncharacteristically slow. It usually took one second to ascend to the next floor, but today it took a full minute to get to each floor. She held onto the metal safety bar as they approached the 3rd floor. When they reached the fifth floor where the writing class was held, she had been on the elevator for a full 5 minutes. Stranger yet, the safety bar started to twist into a spiral under her hands. This is actually pretty neat, she thought wildly. An instant later the bar started feeling warm and tingly. She snatched her hands away only to discover that her hands too were starting to feel warm and tingly.
“Sixth floor,” the flat, automated female voice said a minute later. The bar was starting to glow, she thought desperately. Terry was starting to be afraid. The tingly sensation in her hands had spread to her arms and shoulders. There was also a strange humming sound coming from the elevator, or was it coming from inside her head?
“Seventh floor,” the automated voice intoned without feeling. Her face flushed, and she broke out in a cold sweat. This is more frightening than the puppy incident, she thought wildly. I should write about this. It took another full minute to get to the next floor.
“Eighth floor,” the voice said flatly, then, “radio active, do not touch bar.” The next minute was the longest 60 seconds of Terry’s life. The tingly sensation was all over her body now, and she was terrified. The humming sound was getting louder. She found she was having difficulty breathing, which she thought had nothing to do with her fear.
After what seemed like an eternity, the voice spoke again. “Ninth floor,” it said tonelessly as the doors slid mercifully open. “Death to those who touch the metal bar, very radioactive!”
The Plot, fiction
by Paul D. Ellner
At 5:20 on a spring afternoon in 1956, Doctor George Rosen pulled into the parking lot of the Piggly-Wiggly Market in Gainesville, Florida. He jumped out of his car and walked briskly into the market. He stole a quick glance at the checkout line. Yes, Laurie was there. Consulting the list Evelyn gave him, he grabbed a cart and started shopping. He soon finished and took his place in the checkout line.
As the line shortened, George started to unload his cart in preparation for checking out. His heart began to beat faster. He could not keep his eyes off Laurie. She was beautiful. When it was his turn, she recognized him with a ready smile.
“Hi, Dr. Rosen.”
He had to clear his throat before responding. “Hi, Laurie, how are you today?”
“I’m just fine,” she said. Then in a lower voice she added, “When will we take those pictures?”
“Soon, Laurie. In the next few days, I’ll let you know.”
Laurie was about 20, with large blue eyes, a pert nose and a wide mouth. Her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail secured with a rubber band. She wore black pedal pushers, tight enough to accentuate her round bottom and long legs. Her white blouse failed to conceal the cleavage of her young breasts.
George was an instructor in Pharmacology at the University of Florida, his first position since receiving his Ph.D. At 32, he was one of the youngest researchers there. He and Evelyn moved into a small house not far from the medical school and Priscilla, their three-year-old, started nursery school.
George and Evelyn were soon immersed in the town-gown social life. Most of their friends were other young faculty members. George played poker once a week with some colleagues. They called their group the “Committee for Redistribution of Faculty Salaries.”
For the past few weeks, George flirted with Laurie each time he went shopping. She stirred his loins like no girl ever had. He and Evelyn were married for five years and up till now he never strayed, but this girl was different. He could not help himself. He wanted her and plotted to seduce her.
George formulated a plan. He complimented Laurie on her looks and suggested she could be a model.
“That’s cool. Actually, I was a runner-up for the Miss Florida contest last year. I always wanted to be a model,” Laurie gushed. She went on to tell him that she had been a cheerleader at Gainesville High’s football games. Laurie knew George worked at the medical school. He was some sort of a doctor, so he must be okay.
“I can take some pictures of you which could be used for model agencies,” George told her.
Laurie was enthusiastic. “How much will it cost?” she asked.
“Nothing. I’d be glad to do it.”
George figured he would meet her after work, drive to a deserted place he knew out in the Palmettos and convince her to pose nude. Then, he would make love to her. At night, George fantasized a naked Laurie beneath him, gasping with passion, her long legs wrapped around his hips, as he…
On the day George had arranged to pick up Laurie, he was anxious.
“Are you okay, Dr. Rosen?” Grace, his technician asked. “You seem kind of jumpy.”
George assured her he was fine.
At 5:30 he met Laurie at the Piggly-Wiggly and drove out into the country. They walked a short distance into the Palmettos where he knew of a small natural pool surrounded by sand.
“This is a good spot,” he said.
He posed Laurie in sexy positions with the pool in the background and took a number of photos.
“Now we’ll take some as if you’re going to go skinny-dipping.” He directed her to face the pool and remove her blouse. “Take off your bra too, and hold your blouse over your head as if you were just removing it.” Laurie complied without hesitation. “That’s great,” he said, and took a few shots. At this point, George planned to tell her to turn around and face him so that he could feast his eyes on those luscious young breasts. Then he would…
Suddenly, a voice in his head warned. Whoa boy, what are you doing? You could be in deep shit! Evelyn could find out and divorce you. It would get out. You could lose your job, and that would be the end of your career. She’s not worth the risk.
“Okay,” he said huskily. “You can get dressed.”
Laurie seemed disappointed. “Is that all?” She seemed quite willing to share her charms and all the allure of young Southern pulchritude for him and his camera.
During the drive back, Laurie seemed confused. “Did you get all the pictures you wanted? Are you sure that’s enough?”
“I think they will be fine. I’ll have them for you in a few days.”
At the market, Laurie got out of the car. “Thanks, Dr. Rosen. See you.” George could not get away fast enough.
A week later two police officers appeared at George’s laboratory.
“Are you Dr. George Rosen?” one of them asked.
“Yes, that’s me. What can I do for you?”
“Could you please step outside for a minute?” the officer said.
George accompanied them into the hallway. “What’s the problem?” he asked.
“We’d like you to come down to the station with us,” the officer told him.
“Why? Is this a traffic thing? Has my license expired? What…”
“Do you know a Laurie McCauley?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Has anything happened to her?” George’s mouth was suddenly dry.
“When did you last see her?” the officer asked, ignoring George’s question.
“About a week ago, in the market. What are these questions about?”
“She claims that you raped her,” the officer said. “Let’s go.”
George became aware that Grace and some other people stared as he and the police officers walked away.
At the police station a detective questioned George.
“Am I under arrest?” George asked.
“We’re going to detain you for a while,” the detective said. He led George to a cell and locked him inside.
“You have the right to phone anyone,” he told George.
George tried to call Evelyn ,but she was not home. He had to wait several hours until he was able to reach her.
“What do you mean you’re in jail?” Evelyn asked. “What did you do?”
“Are you alone?” George asked.
“Just me and Prissy.”
“I’m accused of raping a girl.”
“What?” Evelyn screamed.
“I didn’t do it,” George said, “but I think I need a lawyer.”
The next day, a smartly dressed man was admitted to George’s cell. He handed a business card to George. “I’m Joe Morelli. Your lawyer.”
George took a minute to look him over. He was of average height, balding, with an almond colored complexion.
“Tell me about it,” Morelli said. “Did you do it?”
“What happened then?” Morelli asked.
“Nothing happened. I just took her out to take some pictures. I didn’t touch her.”
The lawyer looked unconvinced. “Why were you taking pictures of her?”
“She told me she wanted to be a model. I was trying to help her.”
“Is that the whole story? You didn’t—like hug her or anything?”
George bristled. “I told you I didn’t touch her.”
“Then why do you think she says you raped her?”
George shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“Okay, I’m going to try and get you out on bail,” Morelli told him as he left.
The following day George stood before a judge with Morelli at his side. “Your honor, the defendant is a faculty member at the Medical School and a family man. He’s not likely to flee.”
The judge looked at George. “Bail is set at $10,000.” The trial would take place in two weeks.
Morelli drove George home. “Don’t leave town,” he told George as he dropped him off in front of his house. George could see that some of the neighbors were watching.
George went back to work, but he was aware that his colleagues tried to avoid him. Even Grace was unusually silent. At home, Evelyn said nothing, but she slept in the guest room.
During the next two weeks, George endured the coldness of his colleagues and friends. In the faculty dining room, he was obliged to eat a solo lunch each day.
At 9:00 on a cloudy morning, George entered the courtroom with his lawyer. George told his lawyer he wanted the opportunity to take the stand and tell his side of the story, but Morelli disagreed. “It’ll be better if I do the talking,” Morelli told him.
The trial was brief. The assistant district attorney prosecuting the case started by describing Laurie as a sweet, innocent, hard-working young woman.
Laurie sat between her father and her brother. Mr. McCauley, a large man, who worked at the feed store in town, looked grim and her brother, a muscular man, glared at George.
The prosecutor went on to describe how George had enticed Laurie into the Palmettos, promising to take some photos and then attacked her. He went on to describe how she struggled. He produced a large photograph of George’s torso, which was entered into evidence. The picture showed four parallel scratch marks running diagonally across George’s chest. The prosecutor rested his case.
Morelli rose and called Laurie to take the stand. He asked her why she had not sought medical attention after the alleged incident. Laurie blushed and said that she had been too embarrassed. Morelli asked her if she ever had sexual relations before this, but the prosecutor raised an objection, which was sustained. There was little more Morelli could say.
The jury retired but was back in ten minutes.
“Have you reached a verdict?” the judge asked.
The Foreman nodded and handed the Bailiff a slip of paper.
“The Defendant will rise,” the judge ordered. George and Morelli stood. The judge opened the slip of paper. “The jury finds you guilty of rape.” George slumped forward. “I sentence you to be confined in the state penitentiary for three to five years.” He banged his gavel.
George rushed over to the bench. “It’s not true!” he yelled at the judge. “I’ll tell you the truth now. I really wanted to—have sex with her, but I chickened out. I never laid a finger on her.”
“Bailiff, remove the Defendant,” the judge called. Two deputies rushed forward, pinioned George’s arms, handcuffed him and dragged him from the courtroom.
“I didn’t touch her,” George screamed. “I didn’t touch…”
“You didn’t touch who?” Evelyn asked. “Wake up, George. You were dreaming.”
George opened his eyes. It was dark. He lay in bed with Evelyn next to him. He was covered with sweat. My God, it was all a dream—just a damn dream.
In the morning George dressed and went down for breakfast. He felt like a new man. “Good morning, Daddy,” Priscilla chirped as he bent to kiss her. Evelyn served him bacon, eggs and grits, poured his coffee and smiled as she sat down at the table.
At work everything was normal. Grace greeted him with a smile, and his friends joined him for lunch.
The prints of the photos he had taken of Laurie were delivered to his office. He could not bear to look at them. When he left work, George took the prints and drove to the Piggly-Wiggly. He did not shop but got into Laurie’s checkout line. When it was his turn, she greeted him with a cheery “Hi, Dr. Rosen. How are you today?”
“Here are the pictures,” George said as he handed the photos to her. His hands were shaking. He started to leave.
“Thanks a lot, Dr. Rosen”. he heard her call as he left. He would never shop at that market again.
That evening was a quiet one. At bedtime, Evelyn, already in bed, watched George as he pulled on his pajamas.
“George! What happened to your chest?”
George looked down, dismayed to see four parallel scratch marks that ran diagonally across his chest. They had already started to heal.
Bio: Dr. Ellner is 90 years old and served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He received a Ph.D. at the University of Maryland College of Medicine. He taught microbiology and infectious disease to medical students at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons as Professor of Microbiology and Pathology. He has published many articles and several medical books. Dr. Ellner became deaf twenty years ago and blind ten years later. He wrote a play, poetry, short stories and self-published three novels and a biography. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and guide dog.
Dream Closet, fiction
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
Monique let herself into David’s apartment with the key she still had, although they broke up the week before. She patted her stomach, as a wave of doubt hit her. Yes, she was doing the right thing, she told herself. David was the father of her child, but he was too down to earth. An accountant who made a lot of money, he would probably expect her to be a stay at home wife and mother.
On the other hand, Mike was cool, a singer/songwriter with a band who hoped to reach the top of the charts one day. If she married him, he wouldn’t care what she did as long as she made him happy in bed. If he recorded an album and went on tour, she could travel with him, and that would be fun for her and the baby. Now, all she needed to do was collect the picture David refused to return and leave the key, and she would be done with him.
The photo still sat on the mantle. It was taken several months earlier while David and Monique were on the beach. Monique gave her cell phone to a passing tourist who agreed to snap the shot. As a surprise for David’s birthday, she had it printed and framed.
She picked it up and studied it one last time, her in her purple bikini with long dark hair cascading in waves down her back, and him in his black swimming trunks, as they embraced on the sand. She was about to put it in her purse and replace it with the key when she was startled to hear David’s voice in the hall outside the apartment followed by a woman’s voice she thought she recognized. She set the photo back on the mantle, made a mad dash for the living room closet, and stepped inside, closing the door behind her just as the key turned in the lock on the apartment door.
Enveloped by coats in the closet’s dark interior, she heard the unmistakable voice of her best friend Lynne. “I can’t believe I’m doing this. All I wanted was to tell you the truth about Monique and the baby.”
Monique couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Lynne was supportive the week before when Monique told her what she planned to do. “Oh, that’s so hard for you,” Lynne said. That was what she always said when Monique was going through tough times.
“Don’t think about that now,” said David. “Sit down. Take a load off. I’ll fix you a drink. What would you like?”
“Oh, just a Scotch and soda is fine, and don’t mind if I do take off these shoes. My feet are killing me.”
Monique heard ice clinking in glasses and other sounds that told her David was making drinks in the kitchen. “You really ought to get rid of that picture,” said Lynne.
“You mean the one on the mantle of me and Monique? I think I’ll hold onto it for a while.”
“David, she lied to you about your child. I don’t know why I’ve been friends with her for so long. All she wants to do is have a good time. She has no sense of responsibility whatsoever.”
Monique strained in an attempt to see more through the keyhole and barely made out David coming into the living room with two glasses. “You’re right,” he said, as he set them on the coffee table. “Now, come here, you silly goofball.”
“Not with her smiling down on us from your mantle,” said Lynne. Monique heard a resounding crash.
“Oh well, I didn’t like that picture, anyway,” said David.
Tears filled Monique’s eyes, as she heard the sound of the frame’s pieces being swept into a dust pan. “How about some music?” he said a minute later.
“Great idea,” said Lynne.
The strains of “Only Time” by Enya soon filled the room. It was playing on the stereo the night David proposed to Monique a month earlier. David knew that and so did Lynne. She couldn’t see them through the keyhole and assumed they were snuggled on the couch with their drinks.
“So how did such a sensible woman like you end up being friends with a worldly girl like Monique?” asked David.
“I’m not that unworldly,” said Lynne with a laugh. “I like to go to clubs once in a while. Remember? Monique introduced us at The Jaybird where Mike Evans and his band were playing.”
“That’s right,” said David with a chuckle. “What was I thinking?”
“Monique and I have been friends since childhood. She’s changed over the years, and I didn’t see that until last week when she told me she wanted to marry Mike even though you’re her baby’s father. She says you’re too conservative, and Mike’s in the moment. I guess I can’t blame her. She had a rough childhood. Her dad left without a word when she was about five or six, and her mother’s an alcoholic.”
“Monique told me all that. You’d think she would want her kid to have a more stable family. What kind of life is this kid going to have with neither parent holding a steady job, waiting for that big recording contract that might never come?”
“I don’t know,” said Lynne with a sigh.
“Well, I’m not about to stand by and let that happen, especially if the kid is mine. I have an appointment with a lawyer tomorrow morning. I don’t know what I can do legally, but I’m sure as hell gonna find out.”
Monique gasped, then clamped a hand over her mouth, hoping she hadn’t been heard. ”There should be a way you can force her to have a blood test to determine if the baby is yours,” said Lynne. “Who knows? It could be Mike’s. Perish the thought.”
“Let’s not talk about it anymore,” said David. “Dance with me.”
The couple came into view through the keyhole. Monique gazed in fascination, as their bodies swayed to the music. Lynne said, “Oh David, I’ve always loved you since the night Monique introduced us. I didn’t want to steal you away from her until now.”
“I love you, too, but I’m probably on the rebound from Monique.”
“That doesn’t matter now. Ummmm!” Monique felt sick, as she heard David and Lynne kissing just inches from the closet door.
“Good morning,” said the radio announcer. “It’s thirty-one minutes after six on a sunny Monday, fifty-five degrees, and looking for a high near eighty.”
Monique leaped out of bed and dashed to the bathroom where she hung over the toilet and let it all out. “Damn this morning sickness.”
David was there, placing a cool hand on her forehead. “Hey babe, I’m sorry,” he said.
“I’ll be okay,” she said, leaning into him, feeling the reassuring warmth of his body and pressing her face against his. “I wish we didn’t have to go to work today.”
“You have a good reason to stay home,” he said, kissing her. “And I don’t have anything at the office that can’t wait till tomorrow.”
“You mean that?”
“Sure,” said David. “Come on, let’s go back to bed.”
Bio: Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of a novel and two poetry collections, and hopes to publish a memoir. Her work has appeared in Emerging Voices and Serendipity Poets Journal. She is visually impaired and lives in Sheridan Wyoming, where for six years, she cared for her late husband, who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. Please visit her Website at http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com.
Lost In Time, fiction
by Trish Hubschman
“Wait till you see this place! You’ll love it!” Dave twisted the key in the lock and gave the door a shove. It stuck.
Dave came across this old house by accident. He fell in love with it. It was huge, rustic and beautiful. There was a FOR SALE sign on the front lawn. Dave called the real estate agency listed on the sign. A land developer was trying to purchase the lot the house sat on. The local historical society was fighting it. The litigation was holding up the sale.
“How much is the developer offering?” Dave asked. He was quoted a very low price, which he topped. Now, after tidying it up, he was showing it to his wife. After another shove, the door squeaked open and Dave led the way inside. Laura, holding their two year old son, Ryan, followed. “Well, what do you think?” he asked, standing back and spreading his arms wide.
The ceiling was high. The floors were bare wood and shined to a crisp glow. The furniture showed signs of moth damage, but everything was free of dust and in pretty good shape. The windows were tall and polished.
“You can put pretty curtains on the windows and rugs on the floors, recover the sofa and chairs and toss some pillows here and there,” Dave suggested. He wasn’t put off by Laura’s silence. She was taking it all in. It was a lot to swallow. “Wait till you see the rest of the house. The kitchen’s a bit outdated, but we can get a handyman in to renovate it. It’ll be a great place to raise Ry and for us to grow old together.”
Finally, Laura released a heavy breath. She was overwhelmed. “It’s, I don’t know the right word for it,” she stammered. To Dave’s relief, there wasn’t a single note of distress in Laura’s voice. “It’s certainly spacious. You did a nice job cleaning it up,” she ended.
“So you like it?” he asked.
She nodded. “Yeah, I think I do. The place has charm. For the life of me though, I can’t see how we’ll be able to renovate this mausoleum.”
Less than two weeks later, they carted all their possessions from the apartment in the city to the house in the country. Most of their furniture was stacked in the garage. They decided to keep what was in the house for now and sort through it slowly. Ryan’s nursery was in the room next to theirs.
Ryan was asleep in his crib, Dave went into town, Laura was hanging clothes in the closet in the master bedroom.
“Madelaine?” queried an unfamiliar male voice from the doorway.
Startled, Laura swung around, the blouse she’d been about to hang up clutched close against her chest. Her gaze kept going to the telephone on the bedside table.
“Who are you?” she asked. He was older than she. He had gray hair and wore a black suit that seemed as antiquated as the furnishings in this room. “This is my house and you better leave before I call the police,” she demanded.
A slow smile drew to his face. “You remembered, Madelaine? This is indeed your home and you’ve finally come back. I’ve been waiting a long time for you to return, my dear.”
A chill ran up Laura’s back. She didn’t move nor did the man. “My name is not Madelaine. It’s Laura. My husband and I bought this house. It belongs to us. Please tell me who you are and how you got in here. The front door was locked.”
“Ah, forgive me, Laura.” He drew out her name. “You look so much like Madelaine. I am Charles Morrisay,” he announced. “I live here, as well,…up there.” He pointed to the ceiling.
“But,” she shot back quickly, “the realtor didn’t tell us we had a tenant living on the upper level.” She wasn’t sure what to make of it. She’d discuss it with Dave when he returned from town.
Charles shook his head. “Not upstairs, my dear. I live in the attic. It’s much more peaceful up there,” he sighed wearily. “Too much hustle and bustle these days.”
Laura stared at him wide-eyed. She and Dave had been in the attic a few times. There were boxes and trunks and a lot of dust, but no bed or bathroom or lodgings for a human being. A cold chill raced through her. She was unable to speak.
“May I ask, from curiosity, what that garment you’re holding is?” he asked. “It is indeed odd.”
So was this situation, Laura thought, looking down at the floral print blouse she held against her chest. She glanced back up at him. Her voice still stuck in her throat.
He waved his hand in her direction. Laura flinched. “Ah, never mind. I wish to get back up to my quarters and read a bit before it gets dark.” Before Laura could mutter a word, the older gentleman turned and departed from the doorway. She listened closely, but didn’t hear a foot fall on the bare floor, stairs or a door squeak. For the rest of the afternoon, until Dave returned, the house was in complete silence.
A few days later, Laura strapped Ryan into his car seat and drove into town, to the public library to do some research into the old house she moved into and on Charles Morrisay.
When she reached the one storey building, she pulled up in front and went inside, heading straight for the main desk. A woman in her late twenties, Tina, was arranging books on a cart. “I was wondering if you might help me,” Laura said, explaining her mission.
The woman glanced up at Laura with interest. “So you’re the new owner of the haunted house? My grandmother’s been telling me about that place for years, about the ghost walking around, waiting for his lady love to return home.”
Laura’s intrigue grew. “When was all this?”
Tina smiled and waved her hand. “Over a hundred years ago, even before my grandmother’s time. She’s only eighty-three.” Tina laughed at her own quip.
Laura jumped on that. “Is there any way I can talk to your grandmother?”
“Grams lives a few blocks from here and loves talking about the Morrisay legend. I’ll call and let her know you’re coming over.”
Ten minutes later, Laura pulled up in front of an old two-storey Colonial house. “Looks like we’re getting somewhere, Ryan,” she said to the toddler. She picked him up and put him into the stroller, pushing the carriage up the front path. Before she reached the door, it was opened by an old woman, who was small and thin, with white hair. Her eyes were dark. “You must be Laura, dear. I’m Christina’s grandmother, Olivia Kessler.” She led the way into the house. “I dug out the family albums. You look a great deal like Madelaine, you know?” the old woman said over her shoulder as they walked into the kitchen.
“That’s who Charles thought I was when we first met,” Laura whispered. “But who is she and who is he?”
The old woman waved a hand toward a chair at the table. “First let us get comfortable. Would you like some tea, dear?”
Laura nodded. “Tea would be nice,” she whispered. “I’m afraid my nerves are shaking. This whole situation has taken my breath away. Have I …met a ghost…in my home?”
Olivia laid a pot and two china cups on the table. “Yes, you have, my dear, and consider yourself lucky. Charles is a nice man, though quite saddened.”
Olivia pulled out the chair across from Laura. “Let me explain, dear. It all started out a beautiful love story between Charles and Madelaine. He took her as his bride and built her a mansion on the lake.”
There was no lake on Laura’s property and she was confused.
Olivia smiled. “That was over a hundred years ago. Even Charles’ tears of sadness couldn’t keep the lake from drying up,” Olivia explained.
“What happened to her?”
“Silly, misguided woman ran away with the groundskeeper, I’m afraid. Charles was certain she would come to her senses and return to him, but she never did.”
“Did she love him?” Laura asked.
“I’m sure she did, dear, but from what I’ve been told she perished a few months after leaving Charles…in child birth.”
Laura’s breath caught in her throat. “A baby? Was it Charles’s’?”
Olivia nodded. “A boy, but Charles never knew about it. The groundskeeper never revealed the secret and raised the child as his own. His name was Freemont.”
Laura was quick to respond. “My grandfather, my mother’s father was a Freemont.”
“I shouldn’t be surprised, dear. It holds to reason that you are a descendant of Charles. You’re the only one he’s come forth to in all the years.”
Laura was quiet for a moment, a sense of sadness coming over her. “Can we help his soul go to its resting place?” she asked softly.
“It’s possible. We can hold a séance, ask to speak with Madelaine, see if she’s been trying to reach Charles.”
Laura didn’t know what to say. “I must speak to my husband about this.”
“Does he know about Charles?”
Laura shook her head. She hadn’t said anything about this to him yet. She wanted to do some research first. “I’ll speak to him tonight. I’ll call you. I want to help Charles, but I have to make sure I’m not dreaming this.”
“You’re not, dear, but it is a lot to swallow.”
At dinner, she told Dave the whole story. Dave was silent through her entire spiel, listening intently. When she finished, Dave turned to his son in his high chair. “Have you seen any ghosts floating around here, Ry?” Dave asked. The little boy giggled and shook his head. Dave turned back to his wife. “Maybe you should go to your mother’s for a few days and rest, sweetheart. The moving’s probably been too much on you.”
“Dave?” Laura shrieked. “I’m not losing my mind.”
Dave smacked his hands down on the table. “What do you expect me to say, Laura? A ghost in the house? I know this place is old. I thought you’d like it for that reason. It squeaks and creaks and moans and groans, but I can’t believe the place is haunted.”
Holding her hands over her eyes, she peeked at him between two fingers. “He’s a good ghost, Dave. His soul is lost and needs to find its way. We have to help him.”
Dave rolled his eyes.
It was after midnight. Dave was fast asleep. Laura was wide awake, feeling something calling her. Quietly, she drew the cover aside and climbed out of bed. Creeping to the door, she picked up her robe from the chair and snuck into the hall, sliding the door closed. It was dark, but she didn’t turn on a light for fear of waking Dave. Carefully she walked down the carpetless hall to the stairs, climbing to the next level. Once on the landing she headed toward the back of the house to the attic door. Opening it slowly, she tiptoed up the stairs, gazing around the semi-darkened room with the low ceiling. The door below her was ajar and some moonlight from the window across from it wafted up. She sat down on a wooden crate.
“Charles?” she whispered. “It’s Laura. I don’t know if you’re here but I want to talk to you. This might sound strange…” What could be stranger than her sitting in a dark, creepy attic talking to herself? “I think I’m your great great granddaughter. My grandfather was your grandson. Madelaine bore your son shortly after she left here and…died in child birth.” A chill crept over her. She unraveled the tale Olivia Kessler told her.
“Is that why she never returned to me?” came Charles’s voice. Startled, Laura raised her hands to her heart. Charles stood on a far wall, still wearing the black suit he had on when she met him days earlier.
She nodded. “She loved you, Charles. She would have come back. You must go to her.”
Distraught, Charles sat down on a crate. He shook his head. “I can’t, Laura. I don’t know if she wants me. She has never come to find me.”
“You can’t roam around up here forever, Charles. You have the right to rest in peace.”
Putting his hands on his legs, Charles lowered his head and was lost in thought for a moment. “I can’t impose on Madelaine. I love her too much.”
“Laura, are you up there?” Dave called from the lower landing. “Is everything all right?”
Laura flung her head around. “Everything’s fine, Dave. I thought I left something up here earlier when we were moving stuff. I’ll be down in a minute.” She turned back, but Charles was gone. For a moment, she stared at the emptiness, a tear trickled down her face. “Good night, Charles,” she whispered, hustling to her feet and trotting down the stairs to her husband.
The next morning, Laura called Olivia Kessler and told her of the conversation she had with Charles. They agreed to hold a séance at Laura’s house that evening.
The dining room was dark, except for two candles flickering on the table. Olivia’s granddaughter Tina and Dave joined them. A dim lamp was on across the room by Ryan’s swing, so that the child wouldn’t become frightened by the darkness. He was fast asleep. The four adults joined hands. Olivia closed her eyes.
“Madelaine, are you there? We’re looking for you. Charles is looking for you.” There was complete silence in the room. When Olivia next spoke her voice was different. “Charles, oh darling, I’ve been looking for you for so long. I love you and want you with me. Please come to me, be with me.” Olivia opened her eyes, her own voice returning. “Did you hear Madelaine, Charles? You must go to her and be with her as you were meant to be.” Olivia looked at Laura. Charles stood behind Olivia, looking at Laura too. “Tell him to follow the light, Laura. He must do that.”
Tears clouded Laura’s eyes. She didn’t know if she could speak, but she managed to. “You must follow the light, Charles, and go to Madelaine.”
He walked toward the side wall. Suddenly he stopped and looked at Laura. “Thank you, Laura, and goodbye.”
The tears ran down her cheeks. “Goodbye, Charles,” she whispered. “Grandpa.” The candles flickered out and Charles was gone.
“Are we through with this cockamamie crap?” Dave sputtered dropping his wife’s hand. He looked at her, surprised when he saw her crying.
“Yes, Dave, it’s over,” Laura answered, smiling. “Charles is with Madelaine now.”
Bio: Trish is deaf/blind and has a walking/balance problem. She’s presently working on a mystery novel series, having created her own Long Island private eye, Tracy Gayle, teamed up with a rock and roll star. She takes time out to write short stories. It’s her way of relaxing. She loves dogs and has two of her own.
The Assassin, fiction
by Ellen Fritz
“Wow, look at this! The assassin who murdered that well known politician, he is a local boy! Born and bred right here in our town! He is gone though, missing in action, vanished into thin air.” Leslie tossed her iPhone from one hand to the other. “I wonder though,” she mused, “perhaps the politician was a mad scientist; maybe he found out something dangerous, like something that can end the world! I suppose they sent, what was his name again? Oh here, Bradley Forrester. They probably sent Forrester to kill said politician, or for that matter, mad scientist.”
While trying to find the correct exit off the freeway, Kim simply shook her head at her friend’s conspiracy theory. Driving in peak traffic in a light truck with a too heavy six-dog trailer in tow, required all her attention. Since Leon left her for the film industry and a blond, she had been running their security firm on her own. Her two assistants, Andy and Jake helped with the training of the guards, but the dogs were her responsibility.
Right now she was on her way to pick up a few suitable dog candidates for training. She winced as Leslie prattled on, “doesn’t Bradley sound more like the name of a football jock? He should have been called…“
“Les,” she interrupted her, “please help me look for Spruce Avenue.”
“Oh, right,” Leslie said. “There,” she pointed at a street sign, then returning to her iPhone she continued, “awesome, he is quite a handsome hunk, isn’t he?”
When Kim had parked in front of the animal shelter where she would be picking up the dogs, she looked at the screen of Leslie’s iPhone. She had to hand it to Leslie, Bradley Forrester was a very good looking guy. Broad of shoulder, athletic body, with white blond hair and blue eyes, he was a sight for sore eyes.
“Oh there you are! Kim honey, your dogs are waiting for you,” Janice Spindler called from the door of the shelter office. “I’ve got the two Rottweilers, the German shepherd, a Doberman and then I’ve got a fifth dog for you. You’ll like him, I think. He is a cross between a German Shepherd and a Husky, but so well behaved.”
“Let me see him,” Kim said. “I trust your judgment, Janice. If you think a dog is suitable, it usually is.”
When a kennel assistant brought the most beautiful white dog round to be loaded into the trailer, even Kim gasped. Not only was the dog huge and stunningly built, he had the most beautiful blue eyes.
“Where did you get that lovely beast?” Kim asked, astonished that such a well cared for dog would be in a dog shelter.
“A couple that run a kennel way out in the country invited me to come and see their place. They’re a bit weird, not very sociable, I think. Yet they have the most beautiful facilities on their property and a stunning collection of dogs. They brought this fellow out and asked me whether I could perhaps find a very special home for him. I immediately thought of you,” Janice replied.
“Look at those eyes,” Leslie said getting out of the truck to take a better look. “Blue?”
“Actually that is rather common with huskies or husky crosses,” Kim said.
“Good grief, he looks like a wolf,” Leslie continued melodramatically. “Won’t he go wild…turn on you?”
“He is a cross…”
“Yes, I heard, but what if they lied to Janice?”
Kim just shook her head. “I’ll take him, thank you Janice.”
“His name is Sass,” a beaming Janice told Kim.
Four days later Kim was astonished at the rapid progress the new dogs were making. All of them were truly suited to the training environment and some already showed promise as security dogs. Sass, however, was the most wonderfully gifted dog Kim had ever had the pleasure of training.
“It’s as though he already knows everything. Almost as though he understands what I say and can sense what I would want next,” she said to her assistant, Andy. “What concerns me though is he is bonding with me and he is supposed to bond with his handler.”
On a Saturday morning, two weeks later, Kim decided to start early with the morning kennel work. As she entered the kennel block, she noticed that all the dogs were quiet. That was truly strange, as usually, the dogs would be jumping around in their kennels in anticipation of food and attention.
She noticed that the first dog, one of her veterans, was standing at attention, gazing down the line of kennels. On closer inspection she saw that all the dogs, old and new, were looking towards the last kennel in the row, Sass’s kennel.
“What,” she whispered. In Sass’s kennel stood a man. He was naked, except for a dog blanket wrapped round his hips like a loin cloth.
“Thief, Intruder!” she shouted and prepared to open the gate of her best attack dog, Rufus.
The man, who was busy opening the latch of Sass’s kennel, turned towards her. She gasped. It was the handsome dude from the article. It was Bradley Forrester, wanted assassin, who stood in her kennels.
“oops, you caught me this time,” the intruder said almost flippantly. “I’m a shape shifter. I can change my form to that of a dog at will. It is important that a shape shifter take human form sometimes.” Then, before Kim could regain her speech he continued, “If you had just waited until your normal dog feeding time, you’d never have seen me.”
“Bradley Forrester. Yes I am, and what better way for a wanted man to hide than as a shape shifter in dog form?”
“Sass, Assassin, yeah that makes sense. Either my fantasy novels are coming to life or I’m going crazy, or, somebody was extremely clever to hire a… what did you call yourself, shape shifter, to hire a shape shifter as an assassin.
“Well, what to do with you?” she continued, still reeling with the shock of discovering what was, up to now, a myth in her kennels.
“Forget you ever saw me and treat me like the dog I am, please.”
Kim nodded and turned to go back to the house to seek sanity in a cup of coffee. She would feed the dogs a bit later.
Bio: Ellen Fritz is visually impaired and lives near Johannesburg, South Africa with her musician husband, two friends and several pets. She works as a book reviewer, trains her own dogs and is involved in several writing projects.
Part II. Friends, Family and Unforgettable Moments
The Cultural Canyon, nonfiction
by Michael M. Tickenoff
Harry and William, first cousins by blood and companions by agreement, covered the distance between Los Angeles and Glendale, Arizona in less than six fast hours, arriving at their uncle’s house late Friday night. They had been invited by relatives to participate in a large family gathering which would begin the next morning.
During the following day’s function, one of their many elderly relatives, Aunt Onya, a large stocky lady rugged in appearance but gentle and sweet in spirit, finally cornered the boys off to one side. She gave her warm greetings and made her general inquiries of family, relatives and friends back in the city. After their brief conversation, sweet Aunt Onya, in her broken English invited the two young men to come and have the customary social visit with her. They knew this was important to her but they explained with great respect that they had to get going, in order to make it home for work on Monday morning. She was somewhat disappointed and persuaded them to at least stop by on their way out of town. “Because I have extra good, very wonderful gift for yous and our family!”
Although the two young men were much more interested in visiting with the young ladies and being with their own youthful relatives, out of respect they casually agreed to stop by on their way out of town…but only for a minute. Then they went their way after the festivities ended and joined with the other youth in having a grand time.
The morning of their return arrived far too soon but remembering their promise, they drove to Aunt Onya’s small farm just off their route home. When they arrived, they quickly reminded her that they were only there for a few minutes to say their goodbyes. Even though she pressed them to have some tea and toast, they insisted that they were already late. The hardy but considerate woman finally relented and motioned them towards her old dilapidated barn. “Go there, I show yous.”
The gray-haired aunt, grandmother and great-great-grandmother to more children than they knew, followed them out to the barn, where she had hinted that her “wonderful something special” was ready to take home with them. The anxious boys looked at each other with some curiosity and went with her out to the barn. They came to a pile of straw, where a tarp lay spread open and there was a large bulge protruding upwards from out of the middle. What the heck, Harry wondered. Just as the two young respectful boys stepped up to the tarp, old good hearted Aunt Onya bent down and threw back the old canvas and there lay a huge cow’s head! Yes, a real cow’s head. Just like that, there it lay, just staring up at them. There is no real way of expressing the thoughts that instantly exploded in their minds; nothing could have prepared them for this culture-filled moment.
With great pride, Aunt Onya swished the flies away and pointed to the bloody black and white cow’s head. She seriously explained that this was the head from the cow that was butchered for the family feast. She had especially requested it, just in case there came the possibility of sending it back with someone, and the boys were an answer to her prayer.
Harry and William both stood there petrified in stunned SHOCK for what seemed to be a cow’s age. Together they desperately tried to catch their breath and possibly collect their wits but failed to even think, as the dawn of her plan rose silently in their minds.
While the two city slickers stood there speechless, trying to remember if they had ever even seen a dead cow’s head before, they finally heard their strange benefactor’s voice penetrating their fog of shock. Auntie Onya was waving at them to back their fancy car up through the barn door. At first they had a spark of hope that she wanted them to help her bury the bloody head, but after a few moments, they realized, without a doubt that this was the gift that she was sending home with them.
In stunned nervousness, Harry nearly backed his new car into the side of the barn. The two boys were so dumb struck, they were unable to utter a word of protest, before they had opened the trunk to make room for the prized head. They arranged their belongings in the trunk and then old Aunt Onya spread out the dirty tarp, right there on the new carpet. With joyful commands she then told them to, “Pick up the head and put it onto the tarp.” They looked at each other with distant hopes speaking in their eyes but still the words remained lost, as if in the fog of forever. They were expecting one another to hurry and come up with a brilliant solution to this dreadful dilemma, but no words were able to arise to save them from their fate of falling into the “Cultural Canyon”.
Before they knew it, the huge, bloody cow’s head was dangling in the air by its ears. Once again, it was staring up at them, then it was dropped into its place in the trunk. Somehow that thud in the trunk finalized their fate and sealed that memory for the rest of their lives. As some type of good last minute thought for the cow, Aunt Onya reached into the trunk and closed the eyelids of the cow, then dusted off her hands and declared, “Vetty good now, my prayers are answered, tank you boys, you best of all boys!”
The elderly aunt was extremely excited about her gift to the boys and her distant family, and explained how many nourishing dishes could be made with just this one cow’s head. “Back in the old country, nothing was ever wasted. Too bad America has ruined our culture,” she announced her complaint.
Her explanation of fried brains, tongue sandwiches and some type of old peasant soup took her thoughts back to the days of her youth and family but brought a croaking gag to William. In pained respect and to forgo any more possible delays, he held all things in place.
The old woman was very touched over the help that the boys were offering, in the delivery of this wonderful delight to their parents, who she knew, “would just love such a treat.” As the old Arizona relative hugged and blessed the two boys goodbye, she thanked them again, and prompted them to make sure that this very valuable part of the cow would find its way to their table, and that they would once again uphold their traditions and culture.
The boys looked at each other with sly smiles, thinking that they would dump this atrocious thing as soon as possible. But old Auntie, as if reading their thoughts, in her broken English and toothless smile reminded them both that this special delight has always been part of the family tradition, and the family was expecting the arrival of this treasure. Then and there, the idea of throwing that hunk of Fright into the nearest canal…vanished, and both of them found themselves nodding and assuring her that they would do their best to deliver it directly.
Time was wasting as the two attentive youths turned out of Aunt Onya’s driveway. The first few miles of this homeward trip was in total silence. This was brought on by “cow head shock,” until the first sharp turn brought a thump, from the trunk. Simultaneously, they knew that the head had rolled off the tarp, but neither made any suggestion to stop and look. For the next few hours, they pondered the power of this old woman and the possible trance they might have been put under.
The distant miles passed in trying to figure out how such a thing could have happened to them. At first there was denial that it even happened. Then there was an attempt to blame one another, for even accepting an old woman’s invitation. However and finally, a gradual acceptance came but not without great reflection.
Their young minds questioned and searched all their known traditions, heritage, customs and family rituals, but they concluded that not one cow’s head had ever come their way. They admitted to one another, they would most likely be the only humans in history, to ever haul a huge, bloody cow’s head from Arizona to LA, in the trunk of a car, in one hundred degree heat.
Within a few hours, their nice, shiny car approached the border crossing. Just about fifty feet away from the border check, the very same thought came to the both of them. What if the border guards looked in the trunk? “Impossible, what reason would they have, they never had done so before,” Harry questionably declared.
When they arrived at the border stop bumps, the tall officer leaned into the window and asked them a few questions. Maybe it was the glowing look of dreadful fear and utter dismay on their faces, or the absolute lack of color on them which aroused the border guard’s curiosity. This strange look made the guard cautiously consider, that these guys just might be smuggling 100 pounds of grass, or had a load of immigrant workers in the trunk, so thought to better ask them to maybe open the trunk for a look see. They never did know but speculated that maybe there was a smell.
The boy’s eyes shot looks of terror at one another, but Harry opened his door and slowly walked around to the back. By the time he came to the trunk, his hands were shaking so bad he nearly failed in putting the key into the lock. The shaking key finally turned and the lid snapped open with a foreboding jolt. Then the guard, who was standing there looking like a prison warden, removed his hands from his hips and cautiously lifted the lid up.
The bright light of late afternoon shined into the shadowy chamber. The guard just stood there for several moments, not saying anything. He was either letting his mind adjust to the strange object laying there in clear view, or maybe he was waiting for the rest of the cow to appear further down in the trunk. Whatever it was, he didn’t move. Sharp turns and Aunt Onya’s gravel road had repositioned the head. Those cow’s eyes, closed by Auntie, were now wide open and just staring up at the policeman.
Another few minutes passed and now Harry found himself just waiting patiently as if this was a common ordinary sight to behold. The officer’s look was as if in utter disbelief, as though this bloody head was something beyond his capacity to comprehend. It was as if Aunt Onya’s power was reaching him and telling him that this was all possible and it had to be delivered. And don’t think too hard about what regulation or laws are being broken here, don’t you know anything about traditions?
At that moment there seemed to be some type of communication between harry and the guard, a mysterious unspoken agreement to allow this aberration to pass. This sight was so horrendous that words seemed far beyond form, thus silence ruled the moment, and traditions and old world culture won the day.
By now William was sweating profusely but too afraid to get out of the car and see what had happened to his companion in smuggling cow’s heads over the border. William so wanted to get out and witness firsthand how the policeman was going to effectively make their arrest, but instead he managed to sit fixed in his seat and nervously expel great quantities of gas.
The officer continued to stare at the eyes of that cow, then finally turning to the overwhelmed Harry, fixed his gaze upon the mute and far away youth and slowly shook his head. The guard’s lips were quivering but no words ever came. The lawman slowly shut the trunk and for what seemed to be an eternity, just stood there staring into the bright sky. Harry took this as a good sign and made his way to the driver’s seat. He started up the engine and waited for a moment, thinking he would be motioned over to one side, but the patrolman only goggled into the distance. Harry figured that this was the go sign and that is what he did.
The drive home was without further incident. They traveled upon back roads for the next five hours, making sure that the state police did not get their greedy hands on Auntie Onya’s gift.
Late that night the cow’s head was delivered, and what happened to it from that point, will be another story. But we can rest assured, that Harry and William never again accepted strange gifts from sweet old relatives in faraway places. Yet we can be assured that single trip helped bridge the “Cultural Canyon” between two distant generations for sure.
Culture and Traditions are good and they do serve to preserve things from the past, but in this case, I can’t imagine too many arguments in favor of preserving this one. I would think that both Harry and William definitely gained a real new perspective on Traditions and on their Culture too.
BIO: Michael M. Tickenoff is an author of many serendipitous surprises. He has forged his blindness into a vision and with this tool he loves to feed the hungry mind. He’s a road scholar and knows how to share the long traveled trail. He has turned his world adventures and endless challenges into extraordinary stories full of insight for every reader. He tells his stories in bits and bytes, loving the challenge to write. He writes everything from sayings to sagas and on to tall tales, entangled with his own experiences. Time has taken his sight but given him opportunity to ponder and write. Visit his web site at: http://www.storynetadventures.com
Kathleen in 1927, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal
Coltishly long-legged with
Fine hair lifted gently by a summer breeze,
My eleven-year-old mother sits, half-child and half-woman,
Atop a split-rail fence on her grandparents’ farm.
Glancing shyly up at the camera,
Hands folded and with a half smile,
She leaves a sepia image of a
Budding English rose not yet
Come to full bloom in a long-ago Yorkshire meadow.
Bio: Born prematurely in 1952, Sally Rosenthal is a childhood stroke survivor who lost all her light perception at the age of fifty and fifty-percent of her hearing at sixty. A former college librarian and occupational therapist, she has published widely in both academic fields and now writes the book review column for Best Friends Magazine. Her essays have been included in the Angel Animals anthologies, while her poetry and essays are frequently published in LaJoie: The Journal Honoring All Creatures.
To Mary Christine, On your Birthday, poetry
by Valerie Moreno
In The Year 1980
Pac Man made the culture scene,
Mt. St. Helens erupted,
USA balked at Russian Olympics
there was a blanketing heat wave.
Gas was $1.19,
fax machines and Post-its came in to being…
In a sunlit corner delivery room
at 8:52 in the morning,
there was a girl baby
born to an awe-filled couple
who thrilled at her first cry.
“We know! We hear her!”
Laughing, a nurse placed you in my arms,
a miracle of innocence and love,
as Dad cried, praising God in Spanish.
That memory takes hold when
I hear “Hi, Mom!”
It’s 35 years later, Dad has transitioned
and your little boy’s voice is the
next note in this family song.
On that bright Tucson Friday,
side by side in recovery,
I wished a million dreams for you–
our windsong child in a little family of three.
Bio: Valerie Moreno, age 57, has been writing since she was twelve-years-old. Always inspired by music and fascinated by people around her, she’s written fiction, memoir, poetry and articles.
Mother’s Secret, nonfiction
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author’s Note: Some names have been changed to protect privacy.
Sister Earnest came into our lives, unexpectedly. We weren’t Catholic. In the fall of 1985, Mother was teaching English and communications at Sheridan College in Wyoming, and the nun was one of her students. She was part of a contemplative Benedictine monastery located about fifteen miles south of town near Big Horn where people could retreat to meditate and swim in their pool.
At Christmas that year, while I was home on break from the University of Montana in Billings, where I was doing graduate work in music therapy, Mother made a startling announcement. We were walking in the park on Christmas Day. Dad and my younger brother Andy were off somewhere so it was just the two of us. Because of my limited vision, I held her arm, as she guided me along the snowy road while the sun shone overhead. “I’m moving out,” she said.
“There’s a house I can rent about a mile from the monastery. It’s on the Walters Ranch property, and there’s a swimming pool which I could use. I’ll probably move there in January.”
Shocked but intrigued, I said, “Okay, it sounds like you’ll be settled there by the time I come home for summer vacation. I can’t wait to try out the pool.”
“Actually, there won’t be room for you and Andy. The house only has one bedroom. There’s a utility room, but it has a washer and dryer and not much space.”
My heart sank. Then I thought of something else. “What about Clancy and the cats?” Clancy was our Irish setter, or to be more precise, Dad’s dog.
“Andy can feed the animals, and I’ll show him how to run the washer and dryer and dishwasher so he can do all that.”
Stunned, I slipped on a patch of ice and nearly fell. After steadying me, Mother said, “I have a right to be selfish.” I didn’t know what to say.
We finished our walk in silence. After returning home, I rushed upstairs to my room and found Howard, our tiger-striped cat, stretched out on my bed. As I did many times when I was a child, I flopped down next to her, buried my face in her fur, and let the tears flow. She purred as if to say, “There, there, it’ll be all right.”
In January, I returned to school and tried not to think about my parents’ break-up and Mother moving out, leaving Dad, Andy, Clancy, and the cats to fend for themselves. It wasn’t too hard not to dwell on our dysfunctional family since my studies took a lot of my attention.
About a month later, Mother called. “Your dad is moving out. He found an apartment, and he’ll take Clancy.” I was relieved that Andy and the cats would be in good hands. I wasn’t as attached to Clancy but knew Dad would take good care of him.
Soon after that, Mother came to visit and brought Sister Earnest. I hadn’t met her before. Although I couldn’t put my finger on it, I thought she was weird. She said, “Why don’t I rub your feet? Massage is my specialty.”
I took her up on the offer, not knowing what else to say or do. It felt pretty good, but for some reason, I didn’t sleep well that night.
I compared notes with Dad later when he came with Clancy. He said, “Yeah, you’re right. There is something strange about her.”
During the following summer, Mother spent more and more time with Sister Earnest. She stayed overnight at the monastery once in a while, and I was often invited to play my guitar and sing for their religious programs and swim in their pool. I liked the other nuns, and the pool was great.
Mother seemed to be a different person around Sister Earnest. It was as if the nun brought out something in her that nobody else could, but I didn’t know what. I felt uncomfortable when I was around them both or when Mother talked to her on the phone for long periods of time.
“Her original name was Jackie,” Mother said. “She used to be a nurse.” That didn’t help.
Sister Earnest also spent nights at the house with Mother, sometimes when I was home on breaks. The following Christmas, she took over the decorating of the house and wouldn’t let me or Andy help Mother with the tree. She was overbearing and often patronizing, and I was nervous around her. When she ate Christmas dinner with me, Andy, Dad, Mother, and Grandma, she insisted on saying grace before the meal. This was something we never did, and I could tell everyone besides Mother was just as uncomfortable as I was.
One night, Mother and Sister Earnest had been in the study where the nun slept when she stayed with us. After they left to start dinner, I passed the study on my way downstairs and noticed the sofa bed already unfolded and the sheets in tangles. I felt sick to my stomach but told myself this couldn’t be. Nuns didn’t have sex with women or anyone else. She was just giving Mother a massage, right?
In the fall of 1987, I moved to Fargo, North Dakota, where I completed a six-month music therapy internship. As luck would have it, next door to the nursing home where I worked was a convent. Although they weren’t the same order as Sister Earnest’s, she contacted them, hoping I could perhaps live in a cottage on their premises. No such accommodations were available so I rented an apartment instead.
I was invited to eat Thanksgiving dinner at the convent. One nun brought me a care package containing pop, canned goods, and other non-perishable items sent by Sister Earnest and invited me to a Christmas concert. Another often asked me to play my guitar and sing for religious activities she conducted at the nursing home.
Sister Earnest was hoping I would stay in Fargo after my internship ended and get a job. Mother suggested as much. At first, I liked the idea, but by April of 1988, I’d had enough of that town, the brutal winter, my bank that wouldn’t cash a check from Mother because of limited funds, and my internship supervisor who, from January on, made my life miserable.
Despite the D grade I received in my internship, I was eventually able to become registered as a music therapist, but that didn’t make finding a job any easier since the profession was little known back then. For the next six months, I lived at home. Andy was in college by that time so it was just me, Mother, and often Sister Earnest. I had lunch with Dad and helped him with the business occasionally, but I spent most of my time sending out resumes and filing job applications with little success. Mother and Sister Earnest had their own plans, and I was often left to my own devices.
In January of 1989, Sister Earnest left the Benedictine order and moved to California. I half expected Mother to follow her, but she didn’t. Instead, she suggested I find an apartment since I had enough in savings, and I could get by for a while with the money I received from Social Security every month. I was only too happy to move out. At that time, I was offered a volunteer position at a nursing home in Sheridan. In March, I was hired as an activities assistant.
Although my parents separated and eventually divorced, they got along a lot better than they did when they were married, especially after Sister Earnest left. Mother traveled to California frequently to visit her, and the former nun came to Sheridan once in a while. A couple of years after I moved out, our family house was sold, and Mother moved first to a townhouse in Sheridan and then to a cabin in Story, a small town twenty miles away at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains. Andy was married by this time and living in Colorado.
One day while Dad and I were visiting Mother in Story, she said, “Earnest keeps asking me to return things she gave me, and now, she wants to come and live with me. I don’t think I can take any more of this.” I was relieved that Mother had finally come to her senses.
Years later, Mother was diagnosed with cancer. When she became weak as a result of chemotherapy and malnourishment, Dad moved to the little house in Story to care for her for six months before she passed away in December of 1999. In November of 2012, after my husband’s funeral, Dad, perhaps a little drunk, said, “Your mother wanted a divorce because she was in love with Sister Earnest.”
Great Balls of Fire, memoir
by Rhonda T. Spear
There is nothing more relaxing than the sight and sound of a fire crackling in a fireplace. A bright, cheerful blaze makes a room cozy. Feeling the warmth, while watching the flames dance on the hearth, can make a person want to snuggle in and stay for a while. It’s when a fire gets out of control that can cause a more serious situation. I remember one such incident from my childhood. The story is funny to tell now, but back then there was no amusement as events unfolded.
It was a Friday afternoon in January, shortly after the holiday season. We were home from school and Mom was finishing her usual Friday cleaning. The family room was the last room she had to do. Our family room is an addition Mom and Pops made to the house after moving in. It is just off the kitchen, with three steps leading down to it. The room is large and felt cozy during those times we gathered as a family. The two main features of the room are a brick fireplace and Pops’s twenty-five inch color TV just to the right. This was where you could find Pops relaxing, sitting in his favorite chair and watching the shows he liked on the TV.
Mom built a fire that afternoon, because the weather was cold. The time had come to take the decorations over the fireplace down, since Christmas was long gone. She removed the cedar she’d used on the mantelpiece. Not thinking too much about it, Mom added it in the fire to burn. She stepped outside to shake the dust mop and a roaring sound filled her ears. Looking up, Mom saw large balls of flame as they poured from our chimney. Not the panicking kind, Mom came in and told my oldest brother Jimmy, “Get the kids out of the house and take them across the street.” Meanwhile, she picked up the phone and began to dial. When we asked what was going on she said, “The damn chimney is on fire! Now go!”
I was scared and started to cry. Mom wasn’t coming with us and I didn’t understand why. I feared the fire was going to be so bad, she wouldn’t be able to escape, if she stayed behind. Mom explained to me the fire was outside and not inside and I was to leave. She told the operator what was happening while Jimmy took me and my other brother to the neighbor’s house. He returned back home, as he was much older and could stay out of the way.
Not long after Mom’s call, the fire truck arrived. Station 20 is only a few blocks from the house, so they were there in about five minutes. The crew included men from the neighborhood and friends of my parents who worked at this particular station. The captain was a councilwoman’s husband. The firemen hurried in the front door with the hose, to which my mother said, “Get that damn hose out of my house. I just cleaned!” The firemen responded, “Lady, don’t you have a fire? This hose is clean.” Mom answered, “Yes, but it’s in the back of the house and you don’t need to drag it in here this way.”
Once the firemen found the fire, they prepared to climb the roof and shoot the hose down the chimney. Again, Mom halted their plans. “Before you do anything, you’re going to move my husband’s TV,” she told them in no uncertain terms. The firemen looked at her in utter astonishment. Fire and soot rolled out of the chimney and she wanted them to move a floor model color TV? This was a console TV, one with tubes and wires inside and a solid wood cabinet. It was heavy and took at least three men to lift it. She expected the firemen to move it up three stairs into the kitchen before they even thought about putting out the fire.
Mom remained calm throughout the entire situation. Her interaction with the firemen was handled with her usual no nonsense manner. Anyone who knew Betty Jean Turner understood this was her personality. She was very outspoken. She occasionally used colorful language to express herself and get her point across. Mom always meant what she said. Telling these men to move furniture, during what others would consider a dire emergency, was nothing out of the ordinary for her. She didn’t want Pops’s TV ruined and to her way of thinking, it wasn’t going to be.
One of the other firemen, a lieutenant, attempted to diffuse the situation and offered an alternative solution. “Captain,” he said, “rather than shoot cold water down a hot chimney with all the fire, let’s see if we can shoot foam up the chimney and put it out.” A few minutes later, this suggestion proved to be the better plan. The fire was extinguished, Mom prevailed, and the TV was neither moved nor ruined. The firemen left still shaking their heads at how Mom could tell them to move furniture before the fire was attended.
Not long afterward, Pops came home from work and he heard quite a tale from Mom about the chimney fire. Throughout the years this has been one of our most talked about and favorite memories of Mom and now we laugh.
Bio: Rhonda T. Spear is a native of Richmond, Virginia where she currently resides with her cat, Downey. Her education came from being mainstreamed in both public and small Catholic schools. She works as a receptionist, and in her free time she enjoys listening to country music, singing, playing guitar, watching sports on TV and collecting trivia. Rhonda has been completely blind her entire life, but that has not stopped her from living independently and pursuing her true passion, writing. She writes with hopes of sharing her work with a broader audience.
The Old Milking Stool, nonfiction
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
I have a green milking stool that was given to me by an elderly friend of mine when she moved from her farm in to a senior residence. It had been made by a friend of hers as a wedding gift over sixty years earlier. Leaving her apple farm was a great wrench and she knew her two sons had no interest in all of the old things that meant so much to her.
The stool has resided in my garage, the play room and moved with us from Oregon to Colorado and now to Missouri. It was given to me when my thirty something daughters were a toddler and an infant. It now stands near the work island in our kitchen. My husband uses it to sit on as he prepares vegetables for a salad or cooks, as his legs are no longer strong enough to stand for long periods.
It is sturdy, homely and will never bring a high price at an antique sale, but for over eighty years it has given people a place to park their behinds while they worked or when they needed to sit down to cry, ponder, or dream. It stands firmly on its four legs, has no loose joints and doesn’t creak or wobble. It was made as a gift of friendship, passed along as a gift of love.
I will try to choose wisely the young friend I hand it on too someday. Not everyone will appreciate this hand crafted humble piece of furniture, created by hard working simple people.
My friend Fay also gave me her Perkins braillewriter that she used as a transcriber before her hands became too arthritic. It was made over forty-five years ago and has only needed to be sent to be cleaned twice. Some things are just made to last and meant to be useful and reliable. Their beauty lies in their functionality and durability. These are things too often missing in the goods produced in our current throwaway society.
Bio: DeAnna Quietwater Noriega lives on a small farm in Missouri with her husband Curtis, youngest daughter and four teenaged grandchildren. She says she writes as her own form of mental health therapy.
Half an Ark, personal essay
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
Now I have a place to let them romp and play and be safe from harm—all those fluffy, furry, and funny critters I’ve collected because I love animals, shapes, textures, colors, and songs. It’s a two-storey playpen meant for little people, but chosen for me this Christmas by my husband for all the little stuffed spirits with wings and wiggles, zippers and flippers he keeps finding in those awkward unexpected places.
There’s the blue smurf a house parent made for my son Jay. It has his name embroidered on it. I inherited it, of course, when he decided it was for little kids. Then there’s the velvet snake we received as a gag gift from relatives who wouldn’t come anywhere near our real boas and pythons. I have an armadillo and a longhorn from Texas, and a wicked wildcat from the University of Kentucky. My sea creatures escaped from a lagoon at Sea World, and my Pegasus joined our clan after the Kentucky Derby parade named in his honor. There’s a black widow spider with hairy arms and legs. My green Easter bunny plays “Little Bunny Foo Foo,” and my purple octopus named Bubbles contains a scent pack that smells like a cinnamon bun.
There are lots more on my wish list. One of each is quite enough, and you know what? When I called for that silly unicorn, he came running and jumped right in the middle.
Bio: Marilyn Brandt Smith worked as a teacher, licensed psychologist, and rehabilitation professional. She has edited magazines and newsletters since 1976, and was the first blind Peace Corps volunteer. She lives with her family and many animals in a hundred-year-old home in Kentucky. Her first book, Chasing the Green Sun, published in 2012, is available from Amazon and other bookstores and in audio form. She loves writing flash fiction stories, and was the primary editor for the first Behind Our Eyes anthology, as well as Magnets and Ladders from 2011 through 2014. Another of her interests is music–barbershop harmony, folk and Americana, and current hits. Visit her website at http://www.marilynspages.com.
Round Table Gratitude, poetry
by Bonnie Rennie
Longed-for Saturday morning liberation,
Tranquil time, reserved for restoration.
Captured by a small round table in a cozy kitchen corner.
Coffee to savor,
Book to imbibe,
Immersed in marvels of music.
Work woes and cares of the week sent packing,
Sustenance for the succeeding week.
Gentler rays of the late afternoon sun
Greet us as we gather
On the backyard patio.
Soft strains of classical music,
We grip the textured glass of the round table
As we lean forward to commiserate,
Craft, Share our creations,
Exchanging our laughter and our dreams.
Relishing our recent retirement
And the bounty it brings.
Another, simpler room,
By the kind inclusion of a round table.
For several to sit around, or near.
Background oldies fan our reminiscence
Or companionable reveries.
We engage in games,
Chimes of conversation,
Assisted Living isn’t so dreary
If we don’t do it alone.
Throughout life’s stages,
What transformative treasures await!
Anchored by a seat at
Our supportive sister Round Table.
Bio: Bonnie remembers her first writing attempt. At age twelve, she wrote A song parody, expressing her eagerness/angst about heading to junior high. During her clinical social work career in medical and mental health settings, she created client/consumer family education materials. Retirement finally allowed her to pursue the writing of poems, articles, and essays. She writes on a variety of topics: Christian/spiritual, music, thriving while blind, blossoming in retirement, life’s charms, challenges, choices, and quirks. Bonnie and her husband Bob live in Southern California. She is totally blind, from Retinopathy of Prematurity.
Before You Go, poetry
by Annie Chiappetta
Lifelines don’t tell
the origin of sun and shadow
displayed in each hand;
my palms have their own legends.
The left repaired once, the right twice.
lie hidden within folds.
which remain in the creases of the mind.
Each scar brings out the braggart, the historian,
a sense of relief.
I fear my hands
like tea leaves, Tarot cards, and tyranny.
Hands represent the imprints of destiny
or perhaps nothing at all.
If I look into your palm
what will it reveal
your distance and indecision?
Today I want to feel your warmth, compare our creases,
so tomorrow I can recall their radiance
the personal road map of your life.
Bio: ANN CHIAPPETTA M.S. lives in NewRochelle, New York. At one time, before blindness, Ann fed her muse with the visual arts. Now she fulfills her muse with creating words. Ann’s poetry has appeared in small press publications like Lucidity and Midwest Poetry Review, and her nonfiction pieces have been featured in The Matilda Ziegler online Magazine and Dialogue magazine. Legally blind since 1993, Ann lost most of her sight from retinal degeneration. After the diagnosis, she went on to obtain both an undergraduate and graduate degree. Currently Ann works as a readjustment therapist for the Veteran’s Administration. To read more writing, Visit her blog: http://www.thought-wheel.com.
My Child is Gone, poetry
by Gunjan Shakya
It’s a suffering to forget you
With a lump in my throat.
It’s tough to bid goodbye
And to wish you good luck.
The face I adored for ages
Is hidden somewhere below.
The palms held my fingers
Are resting without a flutter.
My lips thought to never miss kissing you
Are numb along the quiver.
When shall I see you next
Is the question but not the hope.
Beliefs are flying away
And the fears perching on my soul.
When would you see me again
So that I could lessen your pain.
Kissing you again,
My child my piece
Transfer me all your anguish,
But you rest in peace.
The apples you plucked,
My scolding and screams,
The cake you smeared,
Icing I licked from your cheeks.
Imprinted on my mind
The camera you flashed,
The grin I faked
Irritation peeped yet.
In the picture and your laughter,
All that locked in my heart
And the love for you
Multiplies in my soul.
Your report card, your dreams
Lay still beside my car’s steering wheel.
My signatures, my screams,
I can forget all but not thee.
The day you left for NASA
I swelled with pride.
The first E-mail you sent
I yearned to hug you and chime.
As days passed, I lamented.
Your memories all faded and began to run
With your present, your future.
And now I unlock
The memories and your room,
To peep into you again,
To not let you go farther the sky.
Then I swelled to see you fly,
But now I wish I could at least not cry,
For you and for your departure.
Bio: Gunjan Shakya is an Indian bilingual writer/poet, after acquiring her Post Graduation degree in British English literature, she presented papers on literature and published poetry in her name. She lost her eye sight suddenly when she was thirteen. Before losing her sight, her ambition was to be an Indian Air force pilot. Her works encompass the essence of human emotions and reflections of varied lives.
The Unwelcome Visitor, memoir
by James R. Campbell
It was another hot sultry day in 1964. Lunch had just been served, which consisted of fried pork chops, pea salad, fried potatoes, and biscuits. Dad was on the evening shift at the refinery that day; he hadn’t been up long. He was busy reading his paper, but stopped when lunch was ready.
He walked into the small linoleum dining room and sat down at the table. He ate his lunch in slow motion, taking time to savor every bite. My older sister Susie ate quickly. She was a large girl for her age, thus she consumed more than we did.
I hardly ate at all. My aunt was in Calera, Oklahoma recovering from major surgery. She was my rock and my safe space. I stayed with her and my grandmother when Dad worked nights at the refinery. Their house was two houses down and across the street from ours.
After lunch, I went to the bedroom where Dad and I slept. I had the radio on KOSA AM. This was my favorite station. They played many Beatles songs, since they were popular at the time. I found it hard to take a nap; I was too keyed up. The stress of the separation from my aunt was too great.
Susie spent her time in the sun on a sheet that she had stretched out in the back yard. She was well tanned when she came in. It rained later that afternoon; we really needed it. We were grateful for every drop we could get.
We had sandwiches and leftover pea salad for supper that night. I went outdoors for a while. I played with my dog and dug in the dirt.
Shortly before 8 in the evening, Mom called, “It’s time to come in. The bugs are out, and it’s getting dark.”
I came in and got in the bath tub. After a good bath, I got dressed in my pajamas. It was cool enough that we didn’t need the air conditioner on that night.
Bedtime rolled around. The court room drama, “The Defenders” had just gone off. It had been preceded by “Perry Mason.” We watched the news and weather. Another hot day was predicted. Mom was ready to put us to bed.
“Susie,” Mom said, ”get that sheet off of the floor and put it in the hamper. I will wash it tomorrow with the other clothes.”
Susie picked up the sheet. Suddenly, I heard this strange noise coming from the dining room. Susie must have turned white.
”Mother!” Susie cried. “Look at that huge bug on the floor!”
My curiosity got the best of me. I didn’t run from it; I ran toward it.
Time seemed to stop, as the large, hairy TARANTULA, now released from the sheet came to life.
“Susie,” Mom shouted in terror, “get on the dining table, and hurry!”
Susie was sitting on top of the table, obviously frightened. I did not have the same reaction. As fearless as ever, I made my request known. “I want to see it; I want to see it!” I shouted, almost in a state of bliss.
Mom was petrified, and yet she swung into swift, decisive action. “Boy, You drag your skinny behind to that bedroom and plant yourself across that bed and you stay there until I tell you to move!”
She got a broom and beat the hairy intruder vigorously until it was dead. I never knew how frightened she was; how could I?
The incident was the talk of the family for the next two or three days. It wasn’t funny at the time, but it’s laughable now.
The memory of this episode is just as fresh fifty-two years from the day it happened. My interest in insects and other invertebrates is as strong today as it was in 1964.
Note: In June of 2008, my friends found a dead tarantula on their property, and they let me see it. As I felt its hairy body, I drifted back to that time so long ago. My dream had been realized, at long last. It is an experience for which I am so thankful.
Bio: James R. Campbell is blind and lives in Texas. His hobbies are: writing poetry and essays, studying reptiles, reading health and science books, and playing the harmonica.
by Greg Pruitt
She asked, “Are you dead?”
I opened my eyes. I saw a young girl silhouetted against the blue Arizona sky. She was standing there, staring down at me. I was lying flat on my back, like a child’s discarded toy, covered in the red dust of the Grand Canyon’s Kaibab Trail. Sunburned, hungry and thirsty, I was uncertain as to how long I had been lying there. I must have fallen asleep, because it was now late afternoon, so I had been there for longer than planned. Five days earlier, I had been in Michigan, a far cry from this barren, dry country.
I was seventeen years old. I had graduated from high school earlier that month and a day later my friend Armin informed me that we were headed west. He had purchased a well-used late 1950’s red and white International Harvester Travelall, a type of cargo truck, without air conditioning, that was an early model of today’s suburban utility vehicle. His plan was for us to journey as far as California. We would sleep in the van, as well as rely on the hospitality of relatives for room and board. Of course because of my poor vision, he would do all of the driving and because he had bought the van, I would use my graduation money to pay for the cost of the gasoline and oil. Who would pay for any repairs was never discussed.
We planned to travel as much as possible, on the old Route 66, which crossed eight states from Illinois to California. Most of the early two lane road was in the process of being replaced by a modern highway system, but enough of the original blacktop remained to give us the feel of a bygone time, when traveling across America could be an adventure.
The trip westward was interesting, but uneventful. We spent our first night at a forested campground somewhere in Missouri, the next two nights along the side of the road in Texas and New Mexico, and reached Arizona on the fourth night. While passing through St. Louis, we had seen the nearly completed Gateway Arch, but I recall little more of the trip westward other than experiencing a terrible thunderstorm in Oklahoma, and the immense, cloudless sky and endless horizon of the Texas countryside.
Once in Arizona, we arrived at the canyon’s south rim’s visitor parking lot sometime after dark. The park ranger asked us for our plans while at the canyon. Armin told him that we were going to walk to the bottom of the canyon and back the next day. The ranger said that was dangerous to attempt and he strongly advised against trying that. Armin told him that we were in good physical condition and it wouldn’t be a problem.
Armin had run high school cross-country and track. I had wrestled. Armin’s last race had been three weeks before. My last match had been in February. He was in condition for the hike. I was not. Armin may have meant that if we were attacked by a mountain lion, I could wrestle the cat while he ran for help.
Some canyon hikers have died, and over 250 people are rescued from the canyon annually, mostly for dehydration, injury or fatigue. Stupidity is not listed as one of the reasons for rescue, but it should be. There are ten essentials that the National Parks Service lists that all hikers must have. Of those ten, we took two, some water and a positive attitude.
We spent that night in the van and at 6:00 AM, we were on the trail. It was June, and typical for that time of year, the day promised to be bright and sunny. I wore a t-shirt, shorts and tennis shoes, but neither hat nor sunglasses. Sun block was available, but we were working on our tans. We each took with us an orange and brought along a one-gallon jug of water, which we took turns carrying.
Taking less than 3-hours to complete, the 7.3-mile trek was a series of switchbacks that moved down the side of the canyon to the Colorado River. We enjoyed the scenery and developed an appreciation for the canyon’s size, while watching a helicopter flying past us, as it ferried tourists to a landing zone far below.
On the canyon floor, we made brief explorations along the river’s bank, took some pictures, ate our orange and prepared to return. We had traveled thousands of miles to reach that point, but fortunately wasted little of our precious time lounging near the river.
Since it was still mid-morning, the air in the canyon was mild. The June sun was only beginning its climb. We had consumed little of our water during the descent, but the water had been heavy, and so we foolishly decided that we would not need to refill our jug for the return.
Once again on the trail, we moved upward, although at a considerably slower pace. The path was wide enough for a single person to walk easily, with a wall to one side of the trail and a steep drop of perhaps 10 to 15 feet on the other. From time to time, we stepped aside when encountering other hikers. There was also the occasional mule train that forced us close to the trail wall, as they and their passengers, riding in relative comfort, passed by.
By noon, our water was gone, and the temperature had risen into the 90’s. It was obvious that the return trip was going to take several hours longer than the trip down. My back ached and I was falling further behind. Armin paused from time to time to wait for me, but at one point, he mentioned that he thought it would be better for him to go ahead. He said that he would return with water from above, or send help if I failed to reach the summit before dark.
He went on without me and I continued the assent alone. It was hot. I took frequent breaks, but I had no food or water and no idea how far I had to go to reach the rim. Finally, I stopped. I lay down and pressed myself against the trail wall, seeking shade and hoping to avoid being stepped on by mules. Closing my eyes, I pictured the classic Hollywood desert scene with the sun bleached cattle skull grinning sardonically back at me. Some time later, the little girl appeared.
I groaned, “No, I am not dead, at least not yet.”
Her mother and father, who appeared concerned by my condition, soon joined her. Fortunately, they had brought extra food and water and were willing to share. I ate one of their apples and drank some of their water. They told me that I was only two miles or so from the rim. I thanked them for their generosity and assured them that I could make it to the summit. They continued down, and I staggered upward.
Eventually I emerged from the canyon and reached the parking lot, finding the van just after sunset. I opened the van’s rear door and discovered Armin asleep. He awoke and mumbled that there were some potato chips in the bag and a cold Pepsi in the cooler. I asked why he hadn’t brought water or sent help. He told me that he knew I would make it. Puzzled by his logic, I simply shook my head and said nothing. I was exhausted from my nearly 15-mile, 16-hour ordeal. I finished my chips and drink and quickly fell asleep.
At some time during the night, I awoke. We were on the road again. We were headed south to Phoenix to spend a few days with my aunt, uncle and cousins. While there, we explored the desert, experienced water skiing in an irrigation canal, went trout fishing in the Tonto Mountains and made a day trip to Mexico.
From Phoenix, we would travel near Death Valley to Palm Springs where we stayed with Armin’s Uncle Walter, an elderly man who lived with his two German shepherds in his small one-storey, sand pitted home in the desert. We visited the homes of his friends with swimming pools and saw the estates of famous politicians, musicians and movie stars.
A week later, we drove north along the California coast, stopping at Disneyland, the beach where I had a quick surfing lesson and then inland to Bakersfield. Following a brief stay with still more relatives, we took the northern route home, pausing only one night in a remote cornfield to catch a couple hours of sleep.
Our journey of over five thousand miles had taken four weeks. The red truck, like an old friend, proved reliable and was always there when needed. My total cost for gasoline and oil was slightly over $90, more than a bargain for a priceless road trip that marked the end of one phase of my life and the beginning of the next.
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.
Mimi’s Dilemma: The Thing About Patriotism and Faith, nonfiction
by Kate Chamberlin
A huge lump formed in my throat. I stood paralyzed with tears streaming down my cheeks. I struggled to catch my breath. No sound escaped my lips. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry at the news I’d just received.
Once before, my faith in God had been challenged by an event in my life, but never before had my Patriotism been challenged, until now. My 17-year-old grandson, the new-born we brought home from the hospital, adopted, and raised for the first 13 years of his life, just phoned to tell me he’d signed up with the United States Marine Corps. I felt tremendous pride in his decision, yet fear welled up inside me, too.
As my eager fingers held the scissors, the doctor guided my hand toward the baby’s umbilical cord. The sharp surgical scissors sliced through the chord’s sinewy tissue. The nurse guided my hands onto the wet head of my first grandson.
The definition of Patriotism is, as found in “A Manual of Patriotism”, authorized by an Act of the New York State Legislature in 1900: “…Patriotism is more than a sentiment; it is a conviction based upon a comprehension of the duties of a citizen and a determination loyally to perform such duties. Patriotism is love of country, familiarity with its history, reverence for its institutions and faith in its possibilities, and is evidenced by obedience to its laws and respect for the flag…”
“Yours will be a blessed life,” I softly said to him as I stood near the warming table awaiting his APGAR. He turned his head as if to look at me and tightened his grip on my finger. ”I’m your Mimi. Your Mommy’s my daughter. My husband’s your granddad. We’re your family and we love you very much.”
Patriotic is an adjective used to describe members of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution and I don’t doubt that for a minute. I am one of them. The bonds that DAR members have, just by virtue of their ancestor fighting–and some of them dying–in the American Revolution, provide a strong impetus toward being patriotic. They have family members who felt strongly enough to lay down their lives for the ideal that is our daily life now.
I couldn’t help but wonder about my grandchild’s future. Would NATO, the UN and SEATO be able to stabilize the world? Would the AMA allow the HMO’s to get out of hand? Could the WHO and UNESCO possibly make a healthier planet for the survival of our species?
If we expect our children and grandchildren to be patriotic, we need to be role models of courage, strength of character and determination. There were many cool summer mornings at my grandmother’s Saltbox home in Connecticut, when we’d drag the heavy wooden kitchen step-stool out to put the sturdy standard bearing the large American flag into its bracket on the side of the house. When our flag was snuggly in its holder, we’d stand back and salute. Each evening we’d bring the flag in with just as much solemnity and ceremony. It was part of being at Nana’s. She was a dedicated member of the Eunice Denny Burr Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
I still give a salute when I put up or take down my flag. As a dedicated member of the Col. Wm. Prescott chapter in NY, I encourage my grandchildren and neighborhood children to respect our American flag as they assist me in presenting our colors.
“Little Love,” I whispered fighting back the tears of awe and joy, “grow strong; learn your ABC’s and how to count by 2′s and 3′s. Learn Latin, Spanish and French with just a little Chinese. For now, Little One, your life’s a bowl of cherries. We’ll leave the pits for later.”
Alas, those words spoken at his birth come back to haunt me. He is going to march off to some God-forsaken war.
When I lost my sight 30 years ago, I railed “My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me in this darkness?” However, time has shown me over and over again how He has carried me when I fell down. How my Guardian Angel worked over-time to nudge me away from danger. How He brought others into my life to walk with me. How He loves me in spite of my mood swings, rants, and doubts. Where is He now, when my grandson is going to march into harm’s way?
The realization seeps into my mind. My grandson is being patriotic and following my role model of courage, strength of character and determination. The lump in my throat has dissolved. My cheeks are dry. My heart swells within me. We’ve done a good and noble job with this grandson.
So, my young grandson, march off with my Blessings to new adventures to fulfill your dream of becoming a United States Marine. After basic training, your Mimi will be waiting here with milk and cookies for you. Okay. Okay, beer and pretzels!
“…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me…” Amen
NOTE: This essay earned 1st place on the NYState level of the 2016DAR Women’s Issues/Family essay writing contest and was forwarded to the next level of competition.
Bio: Kate Chamberlin, B.S., M.A, and her husband have raised 3 children plus 2 grandchildren. Her teaching career continues through her Study Buddy Tutoring Service, Feely Cans and Sniffy Jars Program, and as a popular lecturer. She is a published children’s author, Anglican educator, free-lance writer/editor, and proud grandmother.
Spider in the Morning, memoir
by Kate Chamberlin
My brother is three years older than I and, as children, he usually teased me to tears. One of his night-time torments was to hide under my bed when I was in the bathroom getting changed. As I came into my bedroom, I’d flip the wall switch to turn off my light. In the dark, I’d walk over to my bed. It was then that his hands would lash out and clamp onto my ankles.
I would scream in fright, which was exactly the reaction he was waiting for. I began to use a light next to my bed. I’d check under the bed, climb under the covers, and then turn out the light. Eventually, he lost interest in his little game, but it didn’t take him long to come up with a new idea.
One of the many homes we lived in was built all on one level with a full basement. He realized my dislike for the large, silent, black spiders that dwelled in the cracks and crevasses of the damp basement.
One morning before dawn, he quietly crept into my room as I slept. His hand reached up and placed something dark on the pillow near my face. Perhaps I was only half asleep and I heard the door click as he left the room. My sleepy eyes opened slowly to see if Mom had come into the room. Much to my horror, I realized I was face to face with one of those large, silent, black spiders.
My sobs and screams brought my mother at a dead run. She immediately saw the problem and picked up the rubber spider. My brother had a lot of explaining to do but the fear of spiders that he instilled in me has lasted a life-time.
I realize all creatures great and small have their purpose on this earth. As long as the spider lives outside and I live inside, we’ll do just fine.
Part III. The Writers’ Climb
Partners in Rhyme, poetry
by D. P. Lyons and Alice Jane-Marie Massa
Note: During ten days in August of 2015, we collaborated on the following poem for the September critique session of the writers’ group Behind Our Eyes. Alice penned the odd-numbered quatrains, and Deon crafted the even-numbered stanzas. Since we thoroughly enjoyed this collaborative effort, we challenge you to give poetic collaboration a try.
Part 1. The Plan
Dear poet of Maine–Can you spare a quatrain,
a dime, a nickel, or some polysyllabic time?
I will meet you on the metaphorical side of Poets’ Alley
and will surreptitiously ask: “Will you be my partner in rhyme?”
Oh, scripted traveler from just west of the lakes,
though my treasures consist not of pocketed coins to spare,
armed with mighty quill, I shall await your arrival ‘neath the lighted lamp
where we may take part in the thievery of midnight’s poetic fare.
You will know me when I arrive.
I will be carrying clandestine commas and dashes in my duffel.
Please do not worry: I will reveal my poetic license.
Will you divulge from your diverse portfolio your next metered trifle?
Oh, how I look forward to partaking in the oration of your syllabic slate
though I have hardly seen such a chorused medley for a submission or two!
Trifle? Perhaps, yet carefully assembled by the wisdoms of word,
my written journey has afforded me an incredibly tempoed view.
Part 2. Post-collaboration
Dear poet of Maine, I am safe on the plane.
Thanks for being an inspiring co-creator,
for detecting the quintessence of quatrains.
at Poet’s Alley, you are the best collaborator.
Oh, courteous conjurer from Wisconsin lands,
as I chase the dotted lines back home to the East,
I shall rejoice with pondering of your gifted verse
and be forever in debt for our quatrain feast.
Part 3. Post-prize
No, neither of us are poet laureates yet;
but did you receive what I received via e-mail today?
Our quatrain feast, like that perfect poetic pie, won a blue ribbon!
Oh, across the miles, let us toast our prize-winning wordplay!
Cheers to us, and here’s a slice phrased especially for you.
Memories shall overflow my goblet as my mind draws back upon our time.
The flow, the meaning, the union of poetry across faraway lands
would be nothing more than one lonely word without you, my partner in Rhyme.
Bio: Deon Lyons lives with his lovely wife of thirty-two years in Central Maine. Upon losing vision in 2010, Deon learned touch typing, and with the help of assistive technology, embarked on a lifetime passion for writing. His works revolve mostly around fiction, personal essays and poetry. With inspiration from family, friends and the blind community, he hopes to continue writing for many years to come. His books, Sully Street and Ready, Set, Poetry are available at Amazon.com.
Bio: After earning master’s degrees from Indiana State University and Western Michigan University, Alice Jane-Marie Massa, still a Hoosier at heart, taught for 25 years, including 14 years of teaching writing and public speaking at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Alice invites you to visit her blog: http://alice13wordwalk.wordpress.com, where she weekly posts her poetry, essays, memoirs, or short stories. Her writings on Wordwalk frequently focus on her Indiana hometown of Blanford, her three guide dogs, her Italian ancestors, and writing. Away from her desk, Alice enjoys reading, gardening, and the television program Jeopardy. She looks forward to meeting her fourth guide dog.
Metamorphosing a Poem, nonfiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
How often do you dip into your poetic archives and fish out a three-year-old poem, read it, and decide to revise it? In the afternoon of January 14, 2013, I wrote the first draft of a poem; then, in the wee hours of the morning on January 15, 2013, I slightly revised the poem as the following early version. Having thought of this poem from time to time, I finally in January of 2016, eliminated some of the repetition, embellished the verbs, and added three lines as you will read in the final version. I am trying to be brave enough to show you the first version so that you can enjoy the metamorphosis of the poem. Like many others, I ask you to realize that poetic words and lines are not drafted or crafted into cement: they have wiggle room.
If you cannot bear to revise a poem immediately or a few days later, take as long as necessary. Then, lift up the toddler of a poem and enjoy the game of wiggling the words. Eventually, you will know; and others will compliment you when the poem truly comes of age and is ready for framing on the wall.
Hiccup or Haiku?
You thought you had a hiccup, but I had only given you a Haiku.
You thought you had a smile, but I had only given you a simile.
You thought you had an alternative, but I had given you only alliteration.
You thought you had a metamorphosis, but I had given you a metaphor.
You thought you found a rambling lie, but I had given you a rhyming line.
You thought you had a train ticket, but I had only given you a quatrain.
You thought you had taken a stand, but I had only given you a stanza.
You thought you had a verdict, but I had only given you a verse.
You thought you had given me an edict, but I only had given you a good edit.
You thought you had an apple tree, but I had only given you poetry.
Hiccup or Haiku?
You thought you had a hiccup, but I had only given you a Haiku.
You thought you deserved a smile, but I only gave you a simile.
You thought you needed an alternative, but I answered you with alliteration.
You thought you received a metamorphosis, but I splashed you with a metaphor.
You thought you found a rambling lie, but I regaled you with a rhyming line.
You thought you had a train ticket, but I questioned you with a quatrain.
You thought you had taken a stand, but I squandered for you only a stanza.
You thought you commanded a verdict, but I handed you only a verse.
While you thought you had given me an edict, I only had given you a good edit.
You thought you planted an apple tree, but I presented you only with poetry:
poetry, poetry is all my artful soul can give.
Are you satisfied,
or are you tied in an old typewriter ribbon of regret?
How to Deal with Rejection, poetry
by Annie Chiappetta
Rereading the letter,
Tears at my fiber
Cramp my gut
The shock, disbelief,
Anger, and deal making
Obliterate the Hope of acceptance
And when ready,
Moments after receiving the news,
Fingers grasp the wickedly pointed D shaped pin,
And stick it resignedly into the tenderness within.
Pain is proof of progress.
He Called Her “Queen”, nonfiction
by Nancy Scott
I attended an amazing reading on a perfect June night. It combined an exhibition of visual art with an array of poems, essays, and even one novel excerpt featuring a woman in a sexy outfit who would seduce her man.
I was not the only long-term writer in that room. Susan Weaver, who ran a series of important writing workshops, read a Haibun about a bike ride and a giddy rain shower. Haibun combines prose and Haiku. Susan understood the call of the form. She read brilliantly, repeating each Haiku twice with different inflections for thought and emphasis.
White cane and braille in hand, I read three poems. Everyone respected the five-minute allotment. Even the guy who sang “Roomey” to his guitar accompaniment accomplished this.
I was not the only disabled or marginalized person in the room. Perhaps this is why I like the energy of artists. One man berated psychiatrists. One young woman wished, in verse, that someone would honor her choice of partners.
And then there was the young man who recited, from memory, his love poem to the woman he desperately wanted. “You are beautiful,” he repeated over and over, as if to convince her or himself. He said he knew her pain and would take it on. He called her “Queen” and wanted to be her “King.”
I might have branded this poetry as melodrama, but, in this voice and this place, I heard desire that I could only envy. And he shamelessly expressed this longing to around 40 people. Imagine wanting someone that much. Better yet, imagine being wanted like that.
I listened and suspected that my sixty-two-year self was finally past such seductions. But I suddenly didn’t want to be. Despite her “scars,” despite her “past,” he prayed for the “honor” and difficulty of loving her…
Good art is part practical creation, part intuition, part seduction and part luck. It is passion that calls out and back and passion that calls back and forward. It is the alphabet of wanting and wanted. Good art and good relationships require courage, hope, respect, vision.
That young man and I call upon imagination and discipline that weigh enough to anchor us. All writers want to change something and to be known in a particular way that we decide and shape. Sometimes we are broken; sometimes we are brave; sometimes we are right.
What are the moments after prayer full of? How many ways can calls be made and answered? How do life and art become a clear path? Is there a different energy when one is surrounded by art and artists?
Will the “Queen” ever read or hear what she has inspired? Does that matter? Will that inspiration change over time? Will that inspiration change someone else?
The young man will not leave my head, so I remember and edit the winter air. Will he ever hear this? Who is he writing about now?
Bio: Nancy Scott’s over 650 essays and poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, newspapers, and as audio commentaries. She has a new chapbook, The Almost Abecedarian (on Amazon), and she won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Her recent work appears in Breath and Shadow, Braille Forum, Disabilities Studies Quarterly, Philadelphia Stories, and Wordgathering.
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 one of our contests. Cash prizes of $30 and $20 will be awarded to the first and second place winners. Since we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of Behind Our Eyes, we will have an additional contest for the Fall/Winter 2016 edition of Magnets and Ladders only. This is a theme contest. The theme is Anniversary. Any work of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry about an anniversary will be entered into this contest for a chance to win a grand prize of $50. Remember, the deadline for submissions is August 15, so be sure to get your entries in on time.
An Eight Prompt, nonfiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
What is it about the number eight and music? There are eighty-eight keys on a piano. Think of the songs that reference only the number eight in their lyrics: “I’m Henry the Eighth” by Herman’s Hermits; “Pieces of Eight” by Stix; “Old 8×10″ by Randy Travis; “Eight More Miles to Louisville” by Grandpa Jones and others; “The Eighth of January,” an old fiddle tune; “Eight Days a Week” by the Beatles; “8th of November” by Big & Rich; “Eight Second Ride” by Jake Owen; the lyric, “On April the eighth, the year forty-nine” in a sad death song by Jimmy Osborn. From C to C or G to G is an “octave.” Okay, it’s not very significant to add Symphony/Sonata/Prelude No. 8 to this list, but…
This is my essay on eights. Think what you could do with thirteens. People who love numerology could definitely conjure up a good story. How about the equivalent of an abecedarian based on ordinal numbers (first, second, third) or based on the numbers themselves, one through ten or as high as you want to go. I’m going to show you a way to cheat which, by the way, may or may not be legal depending on the eyes/ears of the reader. Have fun.
One drop ran me back inside
To fetch my big yellow raincoat.
Three buttons were off the front.
Forethought would have prevented this problem.
Five minutes later, after a finger prick, I went back outside,
Six-pack in hand.
7-Eleven had the honey mustard Pringles I wanted.
Ate them all in our nice little neighborhood park.
Try this kind of brain teaser with any number on book or movie titles. Mental exercise is gr8. See you l8r!
The Clandestine Tea Party, book excerpt from Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind School, nonfiction
by Bruce Atchison
One aspect of human nature is that people gravitate towards the forbidden. An official in the Administration Building decided boys and girls should not drink coffee or tea. Mr. Robbie introduced those beverages to the Dining Hall a year previously. All of us students felt cheated when we heard the news.
One January evening, Geoffrey furtively announced, “I’ve got some tea and cream and sugar in my locker. You guys want some?”
We gratefully accepted his generous offer.
Since he had a weak bladder, and needed to be woken each midnight to relieve himself, he promised to wake us after the night nurse was gone and then we would have tea.
At midnight, the night nurse woke Geoffrey as usual. After she was gone, he roused us and we tiptoed to the bathroom with our cups in hand. We ran the taps until they were as hot as they would get and then we filled our cups. Geoffrey shared a tea bag between the four of us in the way we had seen prisoners of war do in movies. Then we crept back to our rooms with our illicit brew. After we savoured our contraband cups of tea, we went back to bed.
Night after night, we shared that harmless drink and giggled about the night nurse not even guessing at our clandestine activities. Our subterfuge was completely successful. Sometime later, and with no warning, tea and coffee were permitted in the Dining Hall. To this day, I have no idea why these beverages were first banned and then reinstated once more. As a result, we no longer needed to have our clandestine midnight tea parties.
Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind School Is available at:
Or on Bruce’s website at: http://www.bruceatchison.blogspot.com/p/bruce-atchisons-books.html
Bio: Bruce Atchison is a legally-blind freelance writer and author. His articles have appeared in various magazines and underground publications. He currently has written three published books and is working on a new one called You Think You’re Going to Heaven? Bruce lives in a tiny Alberta hamlet with his house rabbit companion, Deborah.
How to Write a Zip Ode For the Fourth of July (with Seven Samples), nonfiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
For Mary A. Massa, my mother–November 25, 1914-July 3, 2001
Were you expecting fireworks, sparklers, and patriotic music? Will a series of zip odes do? No, you did not just read a typographical error. A zip ode is a poetic form based on the writer’s hometown zip code. After first hearing about the zip ode from California writer and friend Bonnie Rennie, I decided that I should write a zip ode, especially since my mother was the postmaster of the Blanford (Indiana) Post Office for twenty-eight and a half years. When Mother became postmaster in 1955, the zip code had not yet been invented. With the implementation of zip codes in 1963, the Blanford zip code became and still is 47831.
To write a zip ode to honor your hometown on the Fourth of July, craft a five-line poem or stanza, wherein the number of syllables per poetic line corresponds with each consecutive numeral of the chosen zip code. Some writers choose to count words, rather than syllables, per poetic line. Whichever you decide to count, be consistent throughout the zip ode. The rhyme scheme or lack of rhyme scheme is your choice. The hometown represented by the zip code is to be the topic of the poem. Your zip ode may be simply a poem of five lines or as many stanzas as you like, as long as each stanza follows the pattern of your selected zip code. If your zip code contains a zero, I suggest that you create a corresponding line of ten syllables or ten words for each zero of your zip code.
For example, in each stanza below, I followed the zip code 47831 so that each first line has four syllables, each second line has seven syllables, each third line has eight syllables, each fourth line has three syllables, and each fifth line has just one syllable.
Thus, I share with you a series of seven zip odes about my hometown. Instead of counting words per line, I chose the option of counting syllables and found that I especially like the 4-7-8-3-1 form so well that I think it should be called the “Blanford Verse” so that other poets can use this form for poems on various topics, not just on the topic of my hometown of Blanford and not just for the Fourth of July. Additionally, although the centering may not transfer, each line is centered in my original document because the 4-7-8-3-1 form seems to call for centered lines.
Indiana Zip Ode 47831
dedicated to the 1955-1983 Blanford postmaster:
soon to mark two hundred years,
nurtured me with memoirs to write.
Home, state home:
Mom’s post office–
proudly stamped on each piece of mail–
flew the flag
Blue iron bridge,
over tree-lined Brouilletts Creek,
welcomed all to this hilly town’s
the gob pile, our mountain, gave
a panoramic view of home,
fields and town,
Our Blanford Park
was where the town reunion
took place every Fourth of July:
Those old dance halls,
above the grocery stores,
near Binole’s, Jacksonville School–
Dear hometown friends,
would you please choose me to be
poet laureate of Blanford?
Part IV. Not What I Expected
by Ellen Fritz
The speculation about the new manager, who was supposed to start today and who was already more than an hour late, stopped abruptly as the door opened. A man, obviously blind judging by his dark glasses and white cane, tap-tapped his way to the reception desk.
Maggie, who had been polishing her nails, hid the polish in a hurry and shoved her hands with the still wet nails under her desk. Ethan quickly closed his Facebook profile and opened a website on which he was supposed to be working. What Chris was doing, was anybody’s guess, as he hurriedly turned his entire laptop to face the wall. Cathy just rolled her eyes and whispered, “Hello, the man is blind. He can’t even see what you are doing.”
The office of Busy Bytes Web Design had gone so quiet, one could hear a pin drop as Sandra, the receptionist said, “Good morning. Can I help, Sir?”
“I am here to see your manager, Mister Stephens, in connection with the new website I need your firm to design for me,” he said.
“I’m afraid he isn’t in yet. Would you like to sit down and wait for him?”
“Do you have any idea when he’ll be in?” he asked.
“I’m sure he’ll be in soon,” Sandra replied hoping that the new manager would indeed show up in the next few minutes. She came round the desk to guide the man to a seat in the waiting area. “Would you like coffee or tea?” she offered.
“No thank you,” he replied as he sat down.
“So that is what the new manager is called, Stephens,” said Maggie as she rummaged in her bag for her hastily hidden nail care supplies.
The under-construction website forgotten again, Ethan had returned to Facebook and Chris was laughing naughtily at something on his laptop screen. Well, clearly the man is completely blind, Cathy thought and kicked off the shoes that were squeezing her already swollen feet. With a relieved sigh she leaned back and lifted her feet to place them on her desk.
“Um, you are going to flash us if you don’t watch that,” Chris, still with the naughty grin on his face, said pointing at Cathy’s dress that had hiked up dangerously high on her plump thighs. “But no worries, we certainly don’t mind, do we Ethan?”
Cathy flipped Chris off and produced a novel from her purse. Ethan gave a low whistle, and pointed at the cover of Cathy’s novel, which featured an almost naked couple in an intimate position. Cathy poked her tongue out at him, and returned her attention to the pages of her romance novel.
“I’ll meet you at twelve,” Sandra was saying into the phone, “that is if our new manager hasn’t arrived yet. We can have a nice long lunch…Yes, I’ll stay until two…Okay baby, looking forward to that. Love you.”
As a shadow fell across the spot of sunshine on Chris’s desk, he looked up. The blind man, now without his glasses or white cane, was staring at the image of naked women on Chris’s laptop screen.
“I sure hope you don’t have a wife or girlfriend,” he remarked dryly.
Startling at the sudden voice right next to her, Cathy dropped her book and jerked so violently that her dress climbed those fatal last few inches up her round thighs.
“And you are lucky to have so many Facebook friends,” the now obviously not blind man said to a rather pale Ethan.
Rebelliously lifting her blood red nails, Maggie looked as though she would like to be using them on the man.
“Mister Stephens?” she said in an icy voice.
“Quite so,” he replied, “and you would be Ms Blake, I presume?”
Then, without waiting for an affirmation, he turned to the reception desk where Sandra had quietly ended her most recent call and slipped her cell phone into her purse behind the desk.
“Ms Shaw, would you be so kind to return the dark glasses and the cane to my brother, please? He works on the seventh floor, the offices of Mason and Randall. He’ll probably need them soon.
Behind Stephens’s back, Cathy blew a soundless raspberry at him and Maggie flicked her red nails dangerously once more.
The Helpers, fiction
by Elizabeth Fiorite
The wind howled, as the rain fell relentlessly. A twig from a falling branch caught in one of the windshield wipers, rendering it useless and making a screeching noise as it scraped across the pane.
“It looks like there’s a gas station up ahead, on the right. Do you see it?” Marge asked.
“With our luck, it’s probably closed,” Jake said, slowing as he signaled and pulled to the Super Unleaded pump, grateful for the cover from the rain and an end to the noise.
“It’s open,” Marge said. “I’m going to check out the restroom. I’ll pay for the gas inside. Do you want anything?”
She was out the door before he could answer. He turned off the engine and breathed heavily as he eased himself out of the car. He pumped the tank full, replaced the cap, and turned his attention to the windshield wiper. He started to wrest the twig from the wiper, but he couldn’t get leverage on it, and he didn’t want to get wet and dirty leaning against the car.
“You need some help, mister?” The voice startled Jake, coming from a young man who appeared out of nowhere.
“This twig got tangled in my wiper” he said. “I’m trying not to twist the blade”.
The lanky stranger stood next to Jake and seemed not to worry about getting his jeans and tee shirt wet as he leaned against the car. After a few deft twists, he removed the twig and threw it to the side. “Let’s see how she works now,” he said, “Are the keys in the ignition?” Before Jake could answer, the boy swiveled into the driver’s seat and turned the key. The engine hummed and the wipers started flawlessly.
Jake panicked. This kid has my car and he could drive off and leave me and Marge stranded out here in the country. This could be straight out of a John Grisham novel.
The boy unfolded himself out to the ground. “This is one fine car you have, mister. I bet it can go pretty fast.”
“I don’t drive fast,” Jake said defensively. ”And it’s not new,” he added. He looked at the store, wondering why Marge was taking so long.
“Well, thank you very much,” he said, turning to the boy, who was blocking the open door of the car. “I surely appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome, mister,“ he said, but did not move away. Their eyes locked momentarily, as Jake thought of other twists this story could take. The boy looked older than he first appeared. He was thin, but his arms were muscular, with hands that looked over large for such a scrawny body.
“Mister, I was wondering if you could help me out a little? My baby girl got the croup and we had to use our gas money for her medicine.”
A likely story, thought Jake as he fumbled for his wallet, while the boy went on about not having that much further to go. He handed the boy twenty dollars.
Thank you, mister,” the boy said, stepping clear of the car.
Jake mumbled, ”Yeah, sure.” Feeling angry with himself for having fallen for such a blatant ruse.
Marge came out of the store with a bottle of juice in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. The boy had ambled to her side of the car and opened the door for her.
“Thank you,” Marge said. “You must be Billy. I hope you can get your baby girl to the doctor soon. She has a terrible cough.”
Don’t start a conversation with him, Jake thought. It’ll cost me another twenty.
Turning to Jake ,she said, “Want me to drive? The rain has let up some, hasn’t it?” But Jake was already settled in the driver’s seat.
Sucker, he thought to himself, feeling angry and foolish. He would not tell Marge about this, at least, not now.
“I got coffee for you,” she said, placing it in its holder between them. “Was that young man helping you?” she asked. “I was talking to his wife in there. He just lost his job and they’re on their way to her parents’ place. Their baby girl is terribly sick. I paid her grocery bill, diapers, milk, bread, small stuff. Don’t you wonder how kids like that can make it today?”
bio: Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P. is a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. She has been a principal and taught in Catholic elementary schools. She was a social services counselor for a Vision Rehab Center in Jacksonville, Florida for twenty years. She enjoys facilitating a Peer Support Group, a Talking Book Club, and participating in “Women of Vision”, who meet monthly to write and “do” art together. She has been legally blind due to retinitis pigmentosa and other complications since 1990. Her poems and articles have appeared in the Behind Our Eyes anthologies, The Braille Forum, Dialogue Magazine, and Magnets and Ladders.
Crossing The Canyon, poetry
by Donna Grahmann
Jagged structures jutted up from the canyon basin, while gleaming–golden gems intermingled among its brilliant white and pink rim.
Without the bridge, the canyon dweller would lose all means of survival. Fissures etched into its support structures, from decades of crossings and repetitive motion, caused the tragic collapse of the bridge.
Repeated, unanswered pleas for help echoed out over the canyon rim, thus, thoughts of a rescue decayed in the dweller’s hopes for relief. Specialized rescue personnel peered over the rim, down into the fractured depths of the canyon.
Glee and fear united in the canyon dweller’s attempts to traverse the broken crossing, as reconstruction equipment palpated and pierced the canyon basin. Like a bagpiper releasing its last drone, the Canyon dweller laid motionless as reconstruction began.
Excess cement oozed from the pylon sockets, as anchors were secured into the reshaped support columns. Strange flavors enveloped the dweller, as nerve endings tingled back to life. The spring released its flow of water, as the repair equipment was lifted out over the canyon rim.
The dweller glided over its repaired domain, while the water rose and met the bridge base. Diving down, the canyon dweller then, arched up from beneath the water’s surface and spat into the reclaiming bowl, as requested by the dentist.
Bio: Texas author, Donna Grahmann can be found in Magnolia, enjoying life with her husband, her guide dog, and their barn yard of assorted critters. With several contest wins under her keyboard, Donna’s latest win, alongside her co-author Kate Chamberlin, was for The ReImage Magazine’s fiction contest. Visit http://www.thereimage.net and search for “Shakespeare In The Buff,” scheduled for publication during the magazine’s 2016 launch. Donna’s other publications can be found in previous issues of Magnets and Ladders, as well as in Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look.
by Susan Muhlenbeck
“Just a minute, Susie,” Teresa called out as I was exiting The Galaxy Diner. “Jill told me to give you these,” she said, handing me a full mason jar.
“Thank you,” I said uncertainly, trying to place Jill in my mind.
“She grew them in her garden,” Teresa added. “I told her how much you like hot and spicy food, so she also marinated them in some special hot sauce she makes.”
Then I remembered. Jill was one of the servers at The Galaxy Diner. I had been to a party at her house out in the country some time back. I thought it was nice of her to give me some peppers considering I didn’t know her very well.
The peppers were a big hit. I had been eating hot and spicy food my whole life, maybe as a result of my Korean heritage. I am a big fan of Kim Chee, which all the females on my mother’s side of the family are experts at making. Kim Chee is vegetables fermented in a concoction of garlic, peppers, and spices, and then buried in earthenware jars for several months. The end product is wonderful, but the house always reeks of fresh garlic for days after my relatives make it. They make it so hot that one time my uncle had to be rushed to the hospital with bleeding ulcers from eating rice and Kim Chee first thing in the morning for several years. As much as I love Kim Chee, I could never bring myself to eat it first thing in the morning due to my uncle’s bad experience.
The peppers from Jill’s garden reminded me of Kim Chee. They were hot and spicy and highly addictive. They went well on a salad, on sandwiches and with meat, but my favorite method of consumption was to eat them straight out of the jar. They must have been marinaded for some time, I mused, as I chewed on them. They were kind of soft and mushy, not crunchy at all. They had been cut up, so it was hard to determine their original shape.
I returned to the Galaxy Diner the following Thursday with the empty jar. Jill had told Teresa to tell me to send it back so I could get more peppers later. “Is Jill here?” I asked when Teresa came to take my order. “I want to talk to her about the peppers, to see if she would give me the recipe for the special marinade.”
“She doesn’t usually work on Thursdays,” Teresa said, “but you can catch her Wednesday evenings. Glad you liked them.”
I returned the next Wednesday. “Sorry, you just missed her,” Teresa said regretfully. “She had to leave early today, but she left you this.” She handed me another jar of hot peppers.
The second jar was as delicious as the first. My friend Kim, who is also Korean, came over one day, and I offered her a pepper.
“Too hot for me!” she pronounced, gulping some cold water. “I can’t eat them.”
“What a shame,” I sighed. “They really are good.”
“I never tasted anything like them before,” she said, peering into the jar. “I wonder what’s in that marinade. I think the marinade turned the peppers a strange color too.”
“I don’t care,” I said, lifting out another pepper, then screwing the lid on the jar. “I’m hoping she’ll give me the recipe.”
I finally saw Jill the next Wednesday. “What can I get you?” she asked, preparing to take my order.
“Can I get a garden salad with no tomatoes and a lot of hot peppers and Ranch dressing?” I asked.
“Of course,” she said, “I’ll be right back.”
I sipped a glass of red wine as I waited for my salad.
“You don’t like tomatoes?” Jill asked as she set my salad in front of me.
“I hate tomatoes,” I said, making a face, “always have. I don’t even like ketchup. That’s why I put hot sauce on French fries and hot peppers on salad.”
“I see,” she said laughing.
“Your hot peppers were scrumptious,” I told her. “I never tasted anything quite like them. They kind of remind me of the Kim Chee my mother and grandmother and aunts make, except Kim Chee is usually made with cabbage or radishes or turnips or cucumbers or carrots. My favorite is cucumber Kim Chee. It’s very light and refreshing for the summer. I can try to get you some if you’d like.”
“Thank you, but I can’t handle hot and spicy food. I heard of Kim Chee,” she said slowly. “I just didn’t know what it tasted like. There was an episode on “Mash” about it once. Somebody dug up something buried in the backyard. Everybody thought it might have been a bomb, but it turned out to be a jar of Kim Chee.”
“That is funny,” I laughed. “But that’s what they do with Kim Chee in Korea, bury it in the backyard during the winter months before it’s ready to eat.”
“Enjoy your salad,” she said.
I finished my salad and wine and was preparing to leave.
“Wait a minute,” Jill called as I reached the front door. “I have to tell you something about those hot peppers.”
“Oh!” I cried, just remembering. “I was going to ask you if I could get the recipe for the marinade you used.”
“I’m afraid not,” she said quietly. “It’s a family secret, but I have a confession to make.”
“What?” I asked, thinking she was going to say somebody else had actually made the peppers.
She hesitated just a second. “Well,” she said cautiously, “those hot peppers I gave you were not really peppers at all. They were really tomatoes!”
One Cool Cat, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin
“When you bring your new kitten home,” said the animal shelter lady, “close him in the bathroom overnight. He’ll like the feel of a small space. It smoothes out the first-night jitters.”
That first night, our new kitten strutted around the apartment like a gangster. He stood up to our resident cat. He swatted my Seeing Eye dog on the nose. He ate more supper than I. He did everything but demand rent from us.
“I’m not seeing jitters here,” said my wife, plopping him on our bed. The kitten slept atop her pillow, purred as loud as a gravel truck and kept her awake all through David Letterman.
The next morning, I foraged the kitchen for breakfast. My favorite is Shredded Wheat with chocolate milk. As I opened the refrigerator door, I felt a nudge, a bump, an obstacle as the door swung open. Kitten, I thought, taking hard knocks for a sniff of leftover meatloaf.
The solitude I experienced while breakfasting suggested something was amiss. I left my cereal bowl and returned to the kitchen. I opened the refrigerator door and felt around. The kitten sat on the bottom shelf, next to the bowl of hard-boiled eggs. “Chilling?” I asked him.
I like to think I’m a responsible pet owner. I like to think my actions have not cost a cat any of its nine lives. I’m certain a kitten could live maybe a whole day in the refrigerator-they don’t use much oxygen, after all. And, forty degrees is pretty temperate for Chicago. Still, I don’t think I’ll report this incident to the cat adoption lady. First of all, she’d be cross that we did not close the cat in the bathroom its first night. And she’d sure second-guess my choice of the refrigerator as that “small space to calm kitty’s jitters.”
Bio: Jeff Flodin is the author of the blog, Jalapenos in the Oatmeal: Digesting Vision Loss http://jalapenosintheoatmeal.wordpress.com/ and a few other masterpieces that have either been published here and there or have been largely and tragically ignored. He received the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Access Fellowship in 2013. He is a Licensed Social Worker in the State of Illinois. He lives with his wife, his Seeing Eye dog and their two cats in Chicago.
Crashing Oprah’s Book club, fiction
by Jeff Flodin
I like to think I turn chaos into order. So when Oprah disrupted half the Chicago Loop by taking her show onto Michigan Avenue, I devised a strategy to navigate the mean streets. I am adaptable.
I like to think I turn resentment into opportunity. So when Oprah raised my ire by hogging the sidewalks, I devised a plan to turn disarray in my favor. I am opportunistic.
I like to think I’ve written a good book. Literary agents and publishers may disagree, but I think the title alone piques interest. It’s called Cats Don’t Like Fish (People Just Think They Do). I think my book deserves a life outside my computer hard drive. I am optimistic.
Oprah has a book club. If she chooses your book, you’re in Fat City. It’s like she hands you a five-dollar bill and sets you loose in the penny candy store. It’s that sweet. Only it’s a lot more than a five-dollar bill and it’s a lot sweeter. A promising writer like me wants to get his book chosen for Oprah’s Book Club, and first I’ve got to get my book into Oprah’s hands.
Now, to seize the day. My manuscript weighs a ton. But I carry my burden with hope, as I approach Oprah’s perimeter. With my Seeing Eye dog as guide and accomplice, I cruise up the alley only I know about. To disclose its location would be to forfeit my strategic advantage. This alley leads me to the heart of Oprahland.
I stumble, literally, into the midst of Oprah’s set. “Where am I?” I ask, innocent and guileless. Oprah becomes the gracious host. Like me, she creates order from chaos and opportunity from resentment. Plus, she loves dogs. Oprah invites me to the place of honor.
When I’m comfy in her guest chair, I tell Oprah, “I just happen to have my manuscript with me. Carrying it around keeps me fit. It’s called Cats Don’t Like Fish (People Just Think They Do). It’s a memoir and I think it’s good. It might need a little editing, but you know lots of editors, I’m sure. It took me years to write and, when it’s published, I’ll write another memoir about writing this one. Here, I’d like you to read it. The title’s pretty funny, don’t you think?”
You see how I had it all planned out? Some writers get their break by accident. Look at Marilyn Monroe. Yes, look at Marilyn Monroe. True, she was not a writer, but she helps to prove my point. You’ve got to say, “What the heck,” get out there, mix it up, make your move.”
So far, my carefully orchestrated plan is working. While Oprah is still wondering what to do with me, while the shocked silence on the set provides me an opening, I extend my manuscript in the direction of my gracious host.
“You’re gonna need both hands for this whopper,” I tell Oprah. “It’s pretty heavy stuff.”
Part V. Setbacks and acceptance
I’m Not Back Yet, nonfiction
by Leonard Tuchyner
I’d been waiting for open heart surgery for many moons. Just as Luna travels in earth’s shadows, undergoing mysterious changes, while hiding from human eyes, I too was dwelling in the phantoms of half denial. Because my heart was strong and resolute, as it pumped refreshed blood through a shriveling, distorted aortic valve, without complaint, nobody noticed a growing sallowness of complexion, the lines deepening on my face and dark bags under tired eyes.
I lived in fear of going under surgeon’s knives. But in the last several weeks, as my heart began to lose the war, my fright of surgical knives was replaced with concern that we had waited too long.
I had been on the operating table several times before, and considered the God Narcosis to be an ally. The doctors of health redemption would use essences from his gardens to subdue my anxieties and put me gently to sleep. I confidently expected that when I awoke, I would realize the procedures were completed successfully, just as had been the case in earlier battles. After a short time of inconvenient convalescence, I would be as good as new. My body would whip itself back into shape, and I would go on fulfilling my life’s passions.
I was to discover that open heart surgery is a different kettle of woes.
I had been hoping for an alternative procedure, in which a replacement stent-type valve would have been inserted through the femoral artery, thus eliminating the need to split my breast bone wide open. But statistics show that the open heart technique is safer and often more effective, in the long run. The stent procedure was invented for people who might not survive open-heart surgery. I was too able and hearty to qualify. Lucky me. So they stopped my heart on purpose, placed me on a heart-lung machine, and replaced my aortic valve with one fabricated from bovine tissue. After which, they warmed up the heart, until it started beating again. Then they wired my sternum back together and sewed me up.
I don’t remember exactly when I went under the sandman’s influence, but sure remember trying to get off the ventilator. In addition to the artificial breathing mechanism, which ran down the larynx, there was also a tube taking up temporary residence in my trachea, and ran all the way down to the bottom of my stomach, where it monitored the goings on at that critical location.
I remember being conscious and trying to breathe and talk, neither of which was possible. Giving up the habit of breathing, and trusting that you don’t need to, requires a bundle of trust. I can’t imagine how people tolerate that terrible feeling over long periods. The next time I gained consciousness, I became aware of one single man nearby. I asked him if it was over.
“Yes, quite a while ago.”
That first day, I wrestled with depression. Repetitious color patterns of sickly pink and green kept playing in my head. I tried desperately not to look, but these eye-closed hallucinations would not go away. Similar color patterns are part of my everyday life, as a partially sighted individual, but these post-op images just emphasized my sense of illness. There was no place to hide. My brain tortured me. The Oxycodone could defeat physical pain, but only in exchange for depression. I had never experienced serious depression in my life, and I never want to again.
Throughout the following day, I began to feel a little better. But at some time during the day or night, a team of surgeons came to see me. I cannot recall the exact conversation but it probably went something as follows.
“Mr. Tuchyner, we’ve detected blood coagulating on your heart. It’s in a place which is making it difficult for your heart to function. We are not sure where it is coming from. I’m afraid we need to go back in, wash away the thickening blood and fix what we find. We might have to put in a suture to stop the bleeding.”
“Oh no, I can’t go through that again. Won’t it straighten out itself?”
“It might, but you will get out of this place quicker if we can clean things up and help your heart to heal.”
“But there was nothing wrong with my heart. It was just the valve that needed replacement.”
“Your heart has been through a trauma. It needs all the help we can give it to recover. As I say, you will leave the hospital sooner if you allow us to do this.”
I was already in the throes of depression, and didn’t think I could go through it again.
“Mr. Tuchyner, this will not be like the original procedure. Of course, we have to open up your sternum again, but we’re not going to put your heart to sleep and use a heart-lung-bypass. The whole operation will only take half an hour.”
Somehow, I found myself agreeing to undergo the corrective procedure. Of course, Diane, my wife, was there looking out for me. But in retrospect, I believe my mind was not firing on all cylinders. She says the team had not made up their own minds immediately about whether to go back in. So I presume not to put me back on the operating table was a viable option.
Eventually, they came and got me. I remember holding someone’s hand as they rolled me into the surgery room. Others were also touching me supportively.
I distinctly remember the gas delivery mask being placed over my face. This was different than the first time when the primary anesthesia was delivered via the blood stream. I felt myself going under.
Now here is the strange part: those warm gentle touches turned into somewhat brutal hands as they re-opened my breast bone and splayed it out to allow access. I was not in significant pain during that time, but there was a part of my mind which remained at least partially aware. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they used the kind of anesthesia they did.
The next thing I knew, I was back in the recovery room. I could barely make out the shadowy figure of a man.
“Where am I?”
“You’re in the intensive care recovery room.”
“Am I undergoing surgery?”
“It’s already done.”
“Are you sure?”
I’d been existing in dark, nauseating rooms occasionally attended to by shadows. I was not convinced this shadow was real. Slipping away again, I was skeptical about what the phantom had told me. I slid several times back into that place where a shadowy figure told me everything had gone well. I couldn’t tell whether it was always the same entity or not. Each time I asked and received the same answer, I felt a little better about things in general. But that reprieve lasted only a few minutes. I was having difficulty telling the difference between my own inner world and the outer world. So I was unsure whether I ever talked to anyone real, or was only creating different imaginary worlds. Consequently, I thought I might still be in surgery. Or worse yet, that I was dead or dying. That was a hellish place to be, and I feared I would be stuck there for eternity. I was trapped in a dark corner of my own mind and could not find any light. I tried to stop my thinking, to no avail.
After what must have been many hours, a greater variety of outer stimuli made incursions into my senses. But still I was not convinced I was in a living world.
Days later, when I could choose to listen to the radio-transmitted news, I was sucked into everything bad with the world I was now inhabiting. My sense of empathy was ratcheted up to numbing proportions and tears would flow through my depression. Everything was hopeless. On the few occasions I tried to talk about what was going on, I broke into tears with little vocabulary to explain them. Over the next few days, frequency of these breakdowns diminished. But it took significant effort to keep my foggy brain from slipping into the depressing scenarios. It was a constant battle to maintain conviction that the operation was over.
At this point I was taking Oxicodone, which is a narcotic pain killer known to create hallucinations. Physical pain was not the primary stressor. Experiencing reality clearly and controlling depression was the major issue. At my request, the pain medication was changed to Tramadol. I think that helped a little, but I took less and less of anything except Tylenol.
Even though I was discharged from the hospital six days after the initial surgical procedure, I was still unable to listen to any news without slipping back into doubts of reality. Bad news, which is mostly what one hears on the networks, would throw me back into depression. It was not constant throughout the day, but it hovered over everything.
At home, I tried to watch The Hobbit, which was a movie I had been looking forward to seeing on Netflix. I only got through fifteen minutes of it before I was back into what I then recognized as traumatic stress disorder.
As a therapist, I am, or at least I thought I was, well informed about PTSD. But knowing something intellectually and knowing it on a personal level is hardly relatable. I now know that when someone like a soldier slips into an episode because of some random stimuli in his immediate environment, it is not that he is reminded of his trauma and thus overwhelmed by the emotions that go along with memories. Rather, it is that he or she is actually back in the traumatizing environment. For example, the backfiring of a car doesn’t remind him or her of gunfire. It actually is gunfire, and not to find cover would be unthinkable.
So those fifteen minutes of listening to The Hobbit put me right back in the operating room, trying to know if I was still undergoing heart surgery.
Now that I have over two weeks of being home under my belt, my flashbacks are far less. I do manage to maintain a perspective of the fact that I am not really ready to wake up in an intensive care ward. The bouts of depression are shorter and less intense. But my heart and health are miles away from normal, and every setback makes me realize that I cannot count on being away from that horrible recovery room, or even undergoing surgery. The use of the word “post” in PTSD is problematic to me. Post is something that has happened in the past. Unfortunately, it is not a trauma experienced in the past. It is one that is happening right now, or at least happening during the time of an episode.
Working through my pts requires hope. There has to be an expectation that time will heal. A belief that my health and my trust in it will return. That the reality of my new life will overwhelm the phantoms of that dark world. I do not feel that this is a guaranteed outcome. However, that is where I will put my money. There is really no acceptable alternative. However, being seventy-five years old, I know my health will eventually be defeated. I hope that somehow it will be a different kind of experience, without depression. When I feel my life has run its course, hopefully I’ll be ready to retire from this reality. I know there is a lot of letting go that I will have to do in the next fifteen to twenty years.
Bio: Leonard has had Stargardt’s disease, which was first noticed in his teenaged years. He is now seventy-five. He reads through the media of Braille, recordings, and electronic voices produced by Open Book and Zoom Text. He lives with his wife of thirty-seven 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 colon for Dialogue Magazine. He recently published a poetry book through Cedar Creek Publishing. His hobbies include Tai chi, and gardening.
Waiting For a Heart to Heal, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner
After my keel has been cleaved,
my heart taken off line,
eternity lived in death,
pieces need rejoining
with bailing wire and thread.
Thou shalt not strain thy wounds,
less thee re-crack thy sternum,
breaking its wire cage,
baring thy beating bird
who flutters faintly for life.
Protect the raw scarlet scar
that splits thy chest in two
and errant motions irritate.
Lie still as death entombed.
Let those white-clad gods arrange thee.
They are the Lords of motion
while I hide in dark torpor.
Cleave to thy help-call-button
that thou might beg for aid.
Ignore the gobs of sprouting tubes
that mushroom from arms and torso.
I must forever say these words,
“This too shall pass. This too shall pass,”
and doing so persuade myself
of the verity of these phrases.
Always every day I wait
for one remaining light in life,
my bearer of love and hope,
there for me unconditionally,
whose caring keeps me going,
striking my will to survive,
to whom I have naught to offer
except my will to get well.
The Habit of Hands, poetry
by Nancy Scott
Reluctant to kneel, they shape sand
in Wildwood’s low-tide July.
The boardwalk fortune-
teller she couldn’t pass by
said love would change their lives
which made her need to stop
walking weathered wood
to knead and command.
They smile at their towers and waterless moat.
“It won’t last,” he sighs.
But she trusts the habit of hands
that knows when to build,
knows when to open and let go.
The Last Spring, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal
We have grown old together, my guide dog and I.
Although, nearing ten, she is older in dog years
than I am at sixty-one. While my hair has long
been silver, her yellow fur has only
recently faded to the white of old age.
We have grown wise together, my guide dog and I.
We have stood steadfastly by the graves of loved ones and
have turned from the freshly-dug mounds of earth,
leaving our pink and lavender bouquets behind.
We have grown frail together, my guide dog and I.
We welcome the warm Spring sun on our aging bodies
and the soft breezes that follow us on this last part of our journey.
We will part as she retires, my guide dog and I.
She lies in a patch of sunlight, paws twitching
in pursuit of dream squirrels, living, as dogs do, in the moment.
Only I, in my human sadness, know this will be our last Spring.
My Hands, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal
At sixty-two, life appears surprisingly finite,
And I think of the things my hands have never done
Such as hold a baby of my own, write Ph.D. after my name, and,
Holding a walking stick, traverse the rugged Welsh landscape.
I consider the things my hands have done
Such as wear the wedding rings of two difficult marriages,
Shepherd both parents through hospice care, and
Welcome five stray cats and two guide dogs into my home and heart.
I marvel at the things my hands might yet do
Such as grasp the harness handle of my third guide dog,
Write a novel, and pray for compassion
Because life is finite.
Blind Faith, poetry
by Burns Taylor
I lift my blind eyes to the dry night sky,
assuming the stars are up there somewhere.
I send a silent prayer to the Milky Way,
hoping that I’m facing the proper direction.
Bio: Burns Taylor lives in el Paso Texas with his wife, Valora. They are both totally blind. Taylor has an MFA in Professional writing from USC. He published his most recent book, Hands Like Eyes, last year. In 1972, Taylor edited and published Passing Through: an Anthology of Contemporary Southwest Literature. The book was awarded a two-year adoption as a freshman reader by the El Paso Community College. Taylor’s works have appeared in Publishers Weekly, The Texas Observer, The Braille Forum AND Reading Lips and Other Ways to Overcome a Disability.
The Balloon Flight, fiction
by Ernest Jones
He was floating over a beautiful landscape, high enough up in the air, so the noises of the ground didn’t reach him. He was still low enough that he could see the activity below.
He could see for miles in every direction. There were mountains, hills, valleys, lakes and streams. Hardly a sign of man was in sight. Oh yes, there were a few roads twisting through the hills like slithering serpents or old cow trails. He spotted a few houses scattered throughout the trees, sitting like paper cups left behind by some careless camper. Overhead a white trail told him a high flying jet was passing by. Otherwise it was quiet, except for the breeze and the whoosh, whoosh of the burner shooting the hot air into the large balloon.
He floated softly, slightly bobbing up and down like a small raft on a lake with a gentle wind.
Far to his left, he saw several snowcapped peaks rising high above the mountain range. Directly below was a blue, crystal clear lake. He could just make out a couple small boats darting across the surface with some red, blue and yellow spots, evidently from the clothes the people in the boats were wearing. He reached for his binoculars but then set them down.
Overhead, slightly to his left flew a pair of eagles, their wings hardly moving as they glided silently.
Gliding over a meadow as he neared a forest, he saw a movement. Unable to visualize it well, he picked up his binoculars. “Ah, there is a magnificent bull elk carrying his huge set of antlers high like a king with his crown.” He could almost hear the elk bugle, as the beast slowly entered the clearing. Then a second and third elk came out of the woods and started to graze on the tender leaves growing on the low bushes. Through his binoculars, he watched this lovely scene and the beauty of it burned deep within him.
With a pang in his chest, he felt the wind change and knew his time was all but up.
Slowly, ever so slowly, he felt the giant balloon shift to the left and he began retracing his flight. With the turn, the balloon also began a slow descent to earth, as he reduced the flow of the burner. With a heavy heart, he watched his dream vanish in the distance, just like a fog covering up the sun. He wrapped his coat tighter around himself, as his body felt the chill of the unknown. The joy of moments ago was replaced with fear, the fear of what lay ahead of him.
Dropping slowly over a large plain, he turned his radio on and heard the excited voices of those with whom he was supposed to have kept close contact. But what did he care? He had paid dearly for this two hours of quiet and beauty. He had not only paid financially but also physically. Now he had to return and face the future. Well, no matter what others thought, he was glad he had ventured out; it was worth the cost.
“Hello,” he shouted into his phone.
“Where have you been? Are you crazy? We just called for help in tracking you. What did you think you were doing? Six hours of training lessons and you just take off! We were scared,” and the voice broke as relief filled the youthful speaker.
“Never mind, I am back. I am coming down. But just,” and for a moment his voice wavered, “please stop yelling at me. It was worth it, every bit of it. It was lovely,” and again a smile played across his weary face. In his heart he had settled it. Now he knew he could do it regardless of what others thought.
His giant balloon was settling on the ground. The sereneness and quiet of just moments ago was shattered. Welcome back to the living, he thought.
There was a slight bump. He felt several ropes being tied taunt, holding the straining balloon. He reduced the burner flow, leaving just enough heat to keep the balloon from collapsing, but low enough so it stopped fighting the ropes.
“Are you okay? Here, let me help you out.”
Remembering, he smiled. “I am fine, just fine.” Lightly he stepped out of the balloon. He would not show his weariness to them, not now. If the doctors were correct in their diagnoses, he knew hard times lay ahead of him but for today he would remember this wonderful flight. He may never again go up in a hot air balloon but no one could erase this experience from his mind. He was satisfied.
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 to a good life. His articles have appeared in the large print magazine Lifeglow, now Light magazines, Dialogue Magazine, Consumer Vision, and other publications. He has authored one book, Onesimus the Run Away Slave, available through Authorhouse publishers and as an E book through Amazon.
My Last Car, memoir
by Andrea Kelton
I had been sitting behind the wheel belting out “Against the Wind” along with Bob Seger, waiting for a break in the westbound traffic. When the traffic cleared, I turned my little lime green Datsun B210 left and plowed headlong into reality.
I crashed into a giant black mountain of asphalt. The city was resurfacing streets and the supply of blacktop was stored right there, in the middle of this dead end street.
But I hadn’t seen it.
It had been five years since I was diagnosed with uveitis, an auto immune disorder akin to arthritis. The disease would cause my inner eye to swell. Doctors would prescribe massive doses of steroids; the swelling would go down, as each flare up took away more vision.
But I kept on driving. Detroit, after all, is the Motor City. Without my car, my life would come to a screeching halt.
So here it was. I’d gently crashed into consciousness. I had to give up pretending that I knew what color the traffic light signaled. I had to give up ignoring blurry street signs. I had to give up the luxury of living in that delightful land of denial.
My 30 year old self had collided with the truth…my vision had deteriorated. Lucky for me it’d been blacktop and not a child. I wasn’t hurt. My cute little car was fine. But the situation shook me to the core. It was finally crystal clear. I had to give up driving.
bio: Andrea Kelton grew up in Detroit, Michigan. She has lived in Chicago since 1985, enjoying the independence public transportation provides. Andrea retired in January, 2016, after teaching for 37 years.
Part VI. A Breath of Spring and Summer
Spring Freedom, poetry
by Shawn Jacobson
Freedom is walking
with joy on city sidewalks
loosed from icy care.
I boldly walk confident
with my footing solid, sure.
I no more fear the ice,
which bid me cower from the sidewalk
onto the street, that dread domain of cars.
But now the spring is here my walk is sure,
the sidewalk, once more mine to claim.
Established in solid balance,
I travel without fear of falling.
My load lightened by buoyant warmth,
I stride with liberated joy, so free from fear.
Surely this joy will carry me through the day,
my tread established firmly on the solid ground.
Bio: Shawn Jacobson was born totally blind in Ames, Iowa. He attended the Iowa School for the Blind for twelve years. He attained partial eyesight through several eye operations. He writes in a variety of styles and genres. His work has been featured in Breath and Shadow, Slate and Style, Future Reflections, and Magnets and Ladders. Shawn lives with his wife Cheryl, his daughter Zebe and his son Stephen, as well as with three dogs Penny, Bruce and Appolo in Olney, MD.
Putting the Pieces Back Together, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner
When clammy winter’s frigid breath
drained the life from mind and body,
I sought shadowed shelter underground
and curled around a tiny spark,
in fear it might be gone from me.
Cruel, sucking frost still lurked outside,
pressing icy fingered fangs
into bare flesh and fragile bones
that dared not open its fetal pose.
But there comes a time to risk the sky
that blesses all with vital light.
I must reclaim my sun-warmed soil,
though at a cautious measured pace,
ready to beat a hasty retreat
to my protective quilts and covers.
It is not solely up to me
to venture back to fecund land.
Every hearty fellow gardener,
who visits and sits up with me,
warms and prepares my nurturing ground
and brings to me a springtime season,
where my limbs and broken heart grow strong.
As young sap flows through arteries and veins,
my branches and roots will bear fresh fruit.
So bring me your time and smiles.
I will help you grace them with laughter,
while the cold north breeze takes its leave.
Summer Heat, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
Warmth ushers in flowers’ fragrance,
new-mown grass, steak on a barbecue,
happy cries of children, thud of ball against pavement.
Oh, to sit on the back patio, hear a ball game on the radio
while a summer breeze caresses the back of your neck.
Summer: an acrostic poem
by Elizabeth Fiorite
Since early morn I’ve strolled the lonely beach
Under yet another cloudless, forgiving sky.
My soul is washed clean again,
My heart lifts as the gulls
Effortlessly, gracefully, swoop and dive,
Receiving, with all creation, the morning’s absolution.
The Rainbow After the Storm, memoir
by John Wesley Smith
My mother, my two sisters and I had left our dirt floor basement under the utility room to inspect the damage from what must surely have been a tornado. The scent of cedar still hung in the air, mixed with the freshness after a heavy rain. A cool 72 degree breeze blew in stark contrast to the close 95 degree air of the hour before. Birds sang oblivious to what had happened.
The cedar trees which had provided a windbreak for our old country house were lying on the ground in all directions. The one on the north side of the house painted the living room window with its dark green bows. I noticed our wide front porch on the west side let in more of the early June evening light than it should have. Shattered glass was everywhere. Bicycles and toys were held trapped by the tentacles of what seemed like half of the oak tree from the front yard. The gray, wooden tool shed near the southwest corner of the house escaped with nothing more than a hole punched through the roof.
We stepped out the back door on the east side of the house to survey the scene from there. My middle sister mourned the injury to the apricot tree whose top most branches sprawled across the clothes line to the south. It was only the year before that that tree yielded enough fruit for what must have been dozens of jars of preserves. The swing set was untouched. Thankfully, the trees near it hadn’t been damaged.
A cry from my youngest sister drew my attention to the eastern sky. In the midst of strangely shaped, burnt yellow clouds arched a brightly colored rainbow. I thought of our most recent Sunday school lesson in which the teacher said a rainbow was a sign of God’s promise to Noah that He wouldn’t destroy the earth with another great flood.
But that was long ago and far away. My 12-year-old mind didn’t grasp how much we had to be thankful for at that moment. It knew only that our yard would never be the same again and that we had branches to pick up and a porch to repair.
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.
Part VII. Art and History
Brutality and Pleasure in the Heart of the Empire, nonfiction
by Christine Malec
I’m hardly what you’d call a seasoned traveler, but I’m pretty sure I’m safe in saying there’s nothing quite like visiting Rome’s Colosseum as a tourist. Most historic sites that draw crowds do so because of great art or architecture, cultural significance, historic importance, their ability to inspire awe, or their meaning as a place where people exhibited heroism suffering and death. I can’t think of any other tourist attraction that blends all of these things in the way the Colosseum in Rome does.
As we walked around and inside it, it was almost impossible not to crack a joke or two about gladiators and spectacles. We talked about how time is what makes this so. One wouldn’t dream of making jokes about the holocaust in Berlin, and yet thousands suffered and died in numerous cruel, savage and inventive ways right where we were. And their deaths were sport and entertainment. I felt the profound, macabre disconnect between the place the Colosseum held in the public life of ancient Rome, and the savage ends that so many people and animals found on the floor of the arena. I’m sometimes thought by others to be a serious person, and I know I have a thin skin, but I experienced a deep disquiet when fellow tourists posed for photos, smiling in front of a ruined column or an old wall, which was built to showcase the torture and gruesome deaths of thousands. The three selfie-stick venders outside the gates added an incongruous layer to this that I don’t even know how to comment on. As my portable audio guide device described the various ways in which executions were carried out as a sort of half time show before the main event of the gladiator fights, (stabbing, mauling by animals, crucifixion, burning at the stake,) I felt quick tears for all the suffering. Suffering as entertainment for 60,000 spectators is even more difficult and painful to comprehend.
Fortunately, in the afternoon we went to the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, which was a balm to the spirit, as all baths are meant to be. The grounds of this enormous structure were wonderfully peaceful in contrast to the bustling and crowded stadium of death. There was a wonderful portable audio guide which, unlike the one in the Colosseum, was accessible for blind people, so we could operate it ourselves. As with the Colosseum, the political agenda of the architecture is clear. Thirty metre ceilings and vast arches are unambiguous statements of the power ancient Rome could command both in terms of raw labour, and the sophisticated science of large-scale design. Hot pools, cold pools, Olympic size swimming pools, saunas, libraries, gardens, restaurants, sports areas, they knew how to enjoy themselves. And refreshingly, it wasn’t just the wealthy. The baths were built by Emperors and aristocrats, but were open to all. You would have to pay for the massage or depilation services offered upstairs, but when hasn’t that been true?
Civilization is a complex concept. Why build an empire? So that you can offer your citizens the chance to watch defeated enemies die brutally as entertainment, or so you can develop the infrastructure necessary to build an aqueduct system capable of sustaining public baths? The baths we visited burned ten tons of wood per day in order to heat the pools and sauna: a triumph of infrastructure. The Colosseum was the sight of thousands and thousands of brutal deaths carried out for sport over centuries. The Colosseum was terrible and impenetrable to me, a place iconic of the absolute worst in human nature. The baths, which thankfully we visited last, suggested some of the best. I’m sure the slave labour involved in building and sustaining the baths was brutal too, but at least it wasn’t brutality for its own sake. There’s a satisfying symmetry for me that even after 2000 years, a visit to the baths is still a peaceful and restorative experience.
Bio: Christine Malec is a writer and massage therapist living in Toronto, Canada. Her literary passions are historical fiction and science fiction, and she’s currently working on a fan-fiction novella about the founding of Hogwarts. Although blindness occasionally informs her work, it doesn’t define it. She keeps a lively blog, and has published a historical fiction novel. Her persistent interest is in the exploration of what makes us human across time and distance. Samples of her work in text and audio, original music, audio journalism, as well as links to her novel can be found at http://www.beltanethebook.com.
Who Was Laura Bridgman? non fiction
by Elizabeth Fiorite
Laura Bridgman was the most famous woman of her day, second only to Queen Victoria, according to her teacher, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, Director of the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston. The reason for this renown? Laura was the first deaf and blind person to learn to communicate with others through language.
Laura was born in 1829 in the small farming community of Hanover, New Hampshire. When she was two years old, she became totally deaf and blind, and later, after a severe bout with scarlet fever, also lost her senses of taste and smell. She was seven years old when she entered the Perkins Institution, where Dr. Howe personally supervised her many years of education.
Dr. Howe, a famed educational reformer, philanthropist, and later, senator, carefully recorded Laura’s progress and published annual reports for the Board of Trustees for the Perkins School. These reports were widely circulated in educational journals and newspapers across the United States and Europe. Within a few years, people thronged to the school’s auditorium to see Laura read, write, and talk, using the manual alphabet, and to buy Laura’s autograph or samples of her sewing or knitting.
Dr. Howe set out to prove that human nature was intrinsically good, and became evil when outside influences corrupted it. He carefully monitored the information Laura received, believing that he could mold a person with a pure nature.
Dr. Howe did not condone physical punishment for any of his students, but Laura spent hours, even days, in isolation for such minor infractions as fighting with the other blind girls, spitting out her food, or having temper outbursts. To the girl who was so dependent on others for information which she insatiably sought, the denial of social contacts and emotional support seems exceptionally cruel. Laura, however, seemed remorseful, and often affirmed her trust and love for her teachers.
As Laura matured and made choices that conflicted with Dr. Howe’s principles, he began to have second thoughts about his ability to mold another’s personality and character. The educational techniques he pioneered and provided, had in fact, given Laura the opportunity to learn language and skills that enabled her to socialize and communicate with others, an opportunity previously denied to people who were deaf and blind. Half a century after Laura entered the Perkins Institution for the Blind, a teacher who trained there, Annie Sullivan, used the knowledge she acquired to teach her student, Helen Keller. In a matter of weeks, Helen learned what had taken Laura, through trial and error, months to master.
As a young girl, Helen met the older, reserved Miss Bridgman. In her youthful exuberance in attempting to kiss Laura, Helen stepped on her toes. Laura chided the child, an event Helen recounted in later years. Laura, living a regimented and sheltered life according to her own strict moral code, which placed a priority on cleanliness and order had little understanding of this lively child. The differences in the personalities of the reclusive Laura Bridgman and Helen Keller, who went out to the world and embraced causes not limited to blindness, could have given Dr. Howe another life time’s worth of research.
A case could be made that each woman had been exploited, for career or political gain, but the fact remains that their personal lives were enriched, regardless of the motives of their promoters, and without Laura Bridgman, there would not have been the Helen Keller we know today.
A detailed account of Dr. Howe’s career, Laura’s experiences at The Perkins Institution, and the social climate of the time can be found in The Education of Laura Bridgman by Ernest Freeberg, DB51875.
A fictionalized novel of this remarkable woman’s life, entitled What is Visible? by Kimberly Elkins is also available from the Talking Book Library, DB78666.
This article was first published in the October 2014 issue of the ACB Braille Forum.
Muddy Hands, prose poem
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me” or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding.”?
~ Isaiah 29:16
It was in autumn, late October when I suddenly lost most of my eye sight.
I did not know night from day.
I could not see a clock. Time vanished
I could not find a phone number or dial a phone.
“Normal” was now upside-down days and nights.
I could DREAM.
I could envision wonders.
I could try, I could try, again.
I could pick up a piece of wet clay.
Slowly, the muddy substance felt like a new possibility in my hands. The clay brought back memories.
My muddy hands began to do the work of remembering
Muddy hands found new confidence in me.
Muddy hands brought wholeness.
I took MUD and made “treasures.” The wet clay gave me. “Magic Spirit Treasure Boxes” for cherished objects; wall sculptures to honor the Earth, Nature, and the healing of my broken eyes when I use my Muddy Hands!
Note: “Muddy Hands” was placed in a frame in a gallery, posted beside a piece of Lynda’s ceramic wall sculpture.
Bio: Lynda McKinney Lambert is a freelance writer with over forty years of publishing accomplishments to her record since the early 1970s. She is now a retired fine arts and humanities professor from Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA. She resides in The Village of Wurtemburg, in western Pennsylvania with her husband, Bob, 4 cats and 2 dogs. Lynda is the author of Concerti: Psalms for the Pilgrimage, published by Kota Press. She writes articles on topics in the humanities, contemporary poetry and inspirational human interest stories. Her teaching career took her to Europe each summer where she taught drawing and writing to college students. She also taught a course and took students to Puerto Rico every spring semester for the college. Lynda loves to write, create fiber art, knit and travel.
Notes from the Baroque Museum, prose poem
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
The artist is Antonio Pellegrini (Italian, 1675-1741).
This picture is a square format with its corners painted brown. The brushwork leaves an undulating cross-shape in the center where the action of the painting
A rather narrow gold frame surrounds the canvas with the inside edges fluted like gentle waves. The nervous waves move all around the picture’s edges.
Suddenly, two furious white horses criss-cross in mid-air! They have no wings.
One flies over and behind the other. I watch, horrified, as
two other horses (one tan and one brown), fall towards the bottom left corner.
Oh No! It is only now I realize the four horses were pulling a chariot. There has been an accident!
The chariot is overturned and the charioteer falls toward the bottom right corner – his bent leg indicates he will not fall freely through the dangerous
sky; his body will be stopped as he is caught, forever, to hang on the chariot.
A being with wings hovers above the chaos – like a large gray goose. On the back of the goose rides a white bearded man. He holds his right arm high above
his head like a Roman orator who demands to speak. He leans toward the chariot wreck. The actions all take place in the heavens amid pink and tan clouds.
The billowing clouds float upwards in a diagonal slant from the bottom left to the top right. The sky is a heavy cobalt blue and it propels the painful
white horses forward towards me. I feel the silent scream.
There seems to be a fire in the sky, which sears the mane of the brown horse as he falls toward me and I stand here watching the sky on fire and the events
that are taking place before me, in the picture-framed stage.
I am helpless!
Part VIII. Let’s Enjoy the Music
On John Coltrane’s “My favorite Things”, nonfiction
by Brad Corallo
A long long time ago, when I was an impressionable young lad back in the 1960s, I first became aware of the negative impact of excessively over played music. My mom and my sister used to play the LP soundtrack of The Sound of Music about 3 to 4 times per day for months and months. I grew to hate this record with a passion except for one song. Yes, you guessed it! The song I just couldn’t hate, even after exhaustive playings was “My Favorite Things.”
For me, this song is one of Rogers and Hammerstein’s greatest accomplishments. Upon first aural glance it is an upbeat, lighthearted even possibly saccharin pop ditty. However when one looks closely at Hammerstein’s lyrics, we see a selection of carefully chosen images, which when all put together has at least one or more “gotttchas” for many varied tastes. His extremely effective use of alliteration, “raindrops on roses” and “bright copper kettles” is employed to create lyrical flow and vivid images for the mind’s eye.
Rogers’s delightfully bouncy melody carries the lyrics like a beautifully painted carousel horse with its sense of smooth rising and falling as it moves gracefully around.
Time passed and my discovery of The Beatles, Donovan, The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan quickly caused “My Favorite Things” to fade into some forgotten background niche in my musical memory, until one day.
My friend Don and I shared a love of music and almost no talent to play it well together. We began to develop an interest in and liking for Jazz. As we searched through vast bins of vinyl records being sold off by the going out of business of Corvette’s department store, we scored a copy of a record called The Best of John Coltrane. We had heard about the genius of Mr. Coltrane’s playing but had not as yet enjoyed the pleasure of hearing him. We went back to Don’s house. After he poured us snifters of five star Metaxa (wonderful Greek brandy) he put the disc on the turntable and dropped the needle onto the first track “My Favorite Things.” Immediately my memory of, and liking for the song rolled back over me like a wave. As McCoy Tyner played those familiar chords I felt the beginnings of a joyful excitement. And when Coltrane laid down that forgotten but so familiar melody I felt chills go up and down my spine. I had never heard the soprano saxophone before and sat as if in a trance.
Coltrane’s amazing improvising above, below and around the beloved melody, with wild trills and strange whistle-like notes gave me goose bumps. He was never more than a note or two from the melody but his excursion into his famed “sheets of sound” was to Don and I an iconic Jazz experience. I will never forget that first hearing and the many subsequent replays. We were avid young seekers looking for beauty, answers and heightened awareness in a world that we believed held endless possibilities for learning, growth and maybe even one day, enlightenment. Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” was like rocket fuel for our fire!
Like the original version, I will never tire Of John’s musical triumph. I have probably heard it close to a thousand times and each time I hear something new that I hadn’t previously noticed. I offer my most sincere thanks to Rogers & Hammerstein and the John Coltrane Quartet for showing me that creative expression through art is one of man’s most stirring, inspiring and important pursuits.
If you would like to listen to John Coltrane’s “My favorite Things” go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWG2dsXV5HI
Bio: Brad Corallo is a 58 year-old visually impaired writer in multiple genres. He is a Long Island native born and raised. His work has been published in Magnets & Ladders and in the William B. Joslin Outstanding Performance Awards Program Journal NYSID Preferred Source Solutions. Brad has been a life long student of fine wine, food, music, books, several professional sports and relationships of all kinds. He makes his living as a certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC) and mental health therapist.
Live Whipping Post, poetry
by Brad Corallo
When they play
rejoicing in their astounding gifts
improvising off each other
is so much more
than the sum of its parts.
Blues gritty intensity
captivating lilting solos
or silver liquid magic.
Synchronized drum cascades
weave effortlessly through the notes
the drive of organ riffs and solos
modulated and shaped by the whirling Leslie.
And a beautiful young man
wailing from his soul
“I’m tied to the whipping post
tied to the whipping post
tied to the whipping post
lord I feel like I’m dying.”
And then smoothly back
into the maze of sound
weaving new electrified textures
into unnumbered tapestries
only to be glimpsed fully
after timeless replays
part of life’s soundtrack
With each rediscovery
like slipping into
your favorite well worn pair of jeans
you hear it
like getting home
Thank you Brothers
though you don’t know me
you have given me treasure!
NOTE: quoted lines adapted from: “Whipping Post” from The Allman Brothers, “At Fillmore East” Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUvxRjYqjEQ to watch “Whipping Post” from The Allman Brothers, “At Fillmore East.”
Solid Walls of Sound, nonfiction
by D P Lyons
Do you remember these words from a famous song of the early seventies? I know I sure do. The first time I heard this song, I was hooked. I was loving the melody, the beat, the lyrics, or what I could make of the lyrics, and as I hummed along and pretended I knew the words to “Bennie and the Jets,” I couldn’t wait to tell my oldest sister. From hearing me try to sing her the words, she came to the conclusion that I didn’t know the lyrics, and a few days later gave them to me on a piece of paper. They didn’t seem to fit the song that I had been singing, but it wasn’t long before I had them memorized.
I’m smiling right now thinking about that day, because I went up to my room, turned the radio on and stayed up there until the station played the Elton John song.
And then, I sang.
“Hey kids, shake it loose together. The spotlight’s hitting something that’s been known to change the weather.”
I’m still smiling.
Music has always found a way inside me, striking the soaring highs and pounding out the booming lows. With chills running up and down my spine, I have found favorite song after song, melody after melody, wonderfully structured beats and harmonies that have lifted me up and placed me down somewhere else. Magic? Oh, you betcha, and coming through the radio absolutely free.
I carry a melody with me through all of the hours of the day. If I hear a song when I go to bed, I’m humming along to it at the next morning’s first light. This morning it was Little River Band’s “Reminiscing.” I put their “Greatest Hits” album on my iPod Touch a couple days ago, and when I shut it down last night, that was the song that was playing from the shuffle mode. I don’t know what I like about that song. Probably the complex chord changes and chorus structures. A little Jazz? Maybe. I guess that’s why I like Steely Dan so much.
Music has found a way to keep me company through the years, and it’s become a life long friend. Good friends are hard to find, and really good friends don’t come by too often.
As I grew older, I became more enamored with music. I remember my older brother playing his “Woodstock” tape on our reel to reel in his bedroom. He would turn up the music and try playing along with his electric guitar, and then my mother would start hollering to “turn that crap down!”
Crap? Didn’t she know? Didn’t she care? How could she call this phenomenal compilation of the greatest music event in the history of musical stuff crap?
It might have been the, “Give me an F! Give me a,” well, yup, that was probably it.
When he wasn’t home, I would sneak into his room, grab his guitar, sit on his bed, lay it down on my lap and carefully strum across those beautiful steel strings. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had the greatest time doing it. One day my mom snuck up and took a picture of me playing the guitar. I remember later looking at the picture and I’ll tell you, there was a young boy with concentration running through his soul. Head down, fingers working, enjoying every second of the experience.
How times change, or do they?
I always told myself in those early years that someday I would learn how to play the guitar. I didn’t know when, but I knew I would and then life happened. It came, it went, and as the decades rolled by, I drifted away from those earlier aspirations, until one day in 1997.
My wife bought an acoustic youth guitar about ten years prior, and there it sat, all alone in the closet, without a friend in the world.
One day as I rummaged around in the closet, my hands grabbed hold of the neck of that little guitar and something grabbed hold of me. I pulled it out of the closet and I couldn’t let go. I carried it to a nearby chair, sat down and started strumming the strings. As deathly out of tune as it was, I kept strumming my thumb across the strings. I didn’t know how to tune it. I didn’t know any chords. I didn’t have a clue about any of it but still I kept strumming. The sound of the strings slowly worked their way inside me, down through me and about an hour later, I sat it down in the corner of the room. Standing up and looking down at it, I thought I heard it talking to me in a way that guitars only can. It seemed to be trying to barter with me, and as a seasoned salesman would, it struck up a deal.
Over the next couple of months, I couldn’t get away from that little guitar. It called out my name and I came running every time. I learned how to tune a guitar and learned a few chords. Top fret chords only, but it was plenty enough.
I tried talking my wife into letting me buy an adult sized acoustic guitar. I begged and pleaded with her until the cows threatened to come home. She told me that if I learned how to play that little guitar, she would go with me to the Down Home Music Store in nearby Fairfield and I could get my guitar.
I don’t think I came out of that room other than to eat, work, go to the bathroom and sleep for the next month or so. I played and played until my fingertips felt like plastic.
One day she walked by the room where I was pounding away. She stopped, stuck her head in the door and said, “Let’s go get you a guitar.”
Like a puppy who loves to ride in a car with his head hanging out the window, I bound out of the house and quickly got in the passenger seat. I don’t know why I didn’t get in the driver’s seat, except that I probably figured I’d have a hard time driving as excited as I was.
My first Washburn acoustic came home with me that day and didn’t leave my arms much. I found a website that helped me learn how to read tabs, and away I went. I self-taught myself a few Eagles songs. Then my wife surprised me with a few guitar lessons, where I learned bar chords. This really taught me to work through hand and wrist cramping, and also helped me to find the ever elusive F chord that I couldn’t figure out on the top frets.
From here I talked my wife into letting me trade my Washburn for a higher model. I hated to give up my first Washburn, but after I held the new one in my arms that day in the store, I bid her farewell and welcomed home my new girl friend.
A few months later, everything changed.
One morning I walked into work and a co-worker named Steve was out back in the sales room strumming on an old Gibson Epiphone guitar. He had it plugged into a small amp and that’s about all I remember, except that he let me sit down and try her out. The first strum instantly drew me in and took my breath away. He asked me if I would like to take her home for the weekend, and all I remember was that I nodded yes and walked out to my truck with her and the amp in my arms.
I bought, and still have her along with my Washburn. I also bought a larger, used amp from the store, and spent the next couple weeks on my front porch with my old Koss Pro 4 Triple A headphones plugged into the amp. I’m happy my ears didn’t blow out that first week, because I couldn’t get enough of it.
I’ve added two more guitars to my collection since then. My wife bought me an Estoban electric acoustic, and I traded my roto tiller for a Fender electric 12 string acoustic that quickly became my favorite girl.
I had to learn how to play almost from scratch after I lost my vision in 2010, but with patience and determination, the music started filling my soul again. I can’t explain it, other than to say that the melody found a way into my heart as early as I can remember. It became a dear old friend that I will cherish to the end of my days.
“Candy and Ronnie have you seen them yet. Oo but they’re so spaced out.
B-B-B-B-Bennie and the Jetsssssssssss.”
Note: The lyrics to “Benny and the Jets” were written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. ©May, 1973.
This fish enjoyed the music, nonfiction
by Ernest Jones
I learned to play the old family pump organ as a child. While in the 2nd grade, a classmate who was taking piano lessons gave me two pages of beginner’s sheet music, which I soon mastered.
Later with my electric Thomas organ, I learned to read the notes on the music sheets; I taught myself many new songs. Usually after hearing a song a couple of times, I could sit at my organ and play the melody, not always in the same key. I tended to avoid playing songs with a lot of flats/sharps, preferring to play in the keys of G7, C and B flat. Playing the organ was relaxing, fun and a spiritual lift, especially on cold, dreary winter days or after a difficult day at work.
On the inner wall of the dining room, I built in a long work bench, with the top the same height as the lower kitchen cabinets. I butted one end of this long bench up to the wall of the living room, next to the wide archway I opened between the dining room and the front room. I cut a hole through the wall into the living room, directly at the end of the cabinet. The hole was the exact size for sliding one side of my 25 gallon aquarium into, leaving the glass smooth to the surface of the front room paneling. With trim placed around the hole in the wall on the front room side, it was like a framed in window, but with live fish instead of trees and sky.
I faced the aquarium while playing new and old time favorite songs, often singing along, as the music filled the house. I was especially blessed when my family joined me.
Living peacefully in this aquarium were several sword tail, guppies, platies and usually a couple mollies. I also had one Plecostomus. I understand this is a type of catfish, a peaceful member of this fish community. The Plecostomus was usually either in a corner of the tank or slowly sucking its way over the inside of the glass, cleaning the surface.
“Look at that Plecostomus,” my wife said one evening, as I sat playing the organ.
I saw the Plecostomus gliding gracefully around in the aquarium, like a softly floating cork. He had his fins spread out, almost like wings and was gently moving around in the tank, appearing to enjoy the music. As long as I played the organ, the Plecostomus would glide around in the tank. This didn’t appear to be a movement of a startled fish, nor of an agitated fish. It had the appearance of one greatly enjoying whatever vibrations he felt from my organ playing that reached him in the 25 gallon tank.
Watching this normally sluggish fish, now gliding gracefully, helped relax me even more while I played the organ keys. His movements were refreshing; they filled me with new strength. I have long known the balm that fills a person when listening to beautiful music but am still amazed that music even calms fish.
Musings on “E”, Abecedarian
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
A musical score that begins on the note of “E” is esoteric
Because this third note in C Major emits
Cryptic and enigmatic sounds
Don’t you see? I’d give everything to take the
Forego the electric currents of exuberant poetry -
Get down and dirty, Girls! Eliminate the end rhymes
Heave away the elegance of each syllable
I just want a poem that expels an egg or
Joins every elongated line with a loud
Klink or a curve for my envious eyes.
Link up the endangered nouns to a
Myriad of enlarged verbal sounds.
No more economics of musical composition-
Or exquisite conjunctions! My ears
Pause between the 18th and 19th-century of
Quarter note rests and evocative scales
Related to the Ancient Greek theory of music
Stir up the “E” sounds of the lyre and harp
Tug them taught like elastic bands
Until those elusive “E” notes
Venture beyond the elemental lexicon.
Walk towards East Street where letters “E” or
“X”are symbols that elucidate something evasive
Yank these empty letters from the English alphabet!
“Z”will represent every elemental consonant in the Garden of Eden.
The original was Published in Concerti: Psalms for the Pilgrimage, 2002, by Kota Press.
This version was revised January 11, 2016.
When Sammy Sings the Blues, poetry
by Mary-Jo Lord
When Sammy sings the blues,
in the summer with all the windows open,
he sings loud and proud so all the neighbors can hear.
His off key notes ride on the breeze,
down the streets, through yards til they
silence birds and make squirrels run for the woods.
When Sammy sings the blues,
in the winter, with all the doors and windows closed,
our home is his Carnegie Hall.
The furniture, cat and we are his reluctant audience.
Legs spread wide, chin high, centered under the chandelier,
he demands full attention.
When Sammy sings the blues,
he begins with a piercing falsetto, that drops to a deep moan.
He pauses, yawns, belches.
Relaxed, relieved and ready,
he demonstrates the full power and range of his pipes and chops.
When Sammy sings the blues,
though the song is always the same, its message varies,
punctuated with piercing yelping staccatos, mournful moans and
deep, raucous Golden Retriever woofs.
His songs of:
genuine joy and heart-wrenching fear,
hunger and the knowledge that cheese is out of reach in the kitchen,
other dogs, kids on bikes and the fights between neighbors,
the removal of trash, delivery of mail and the sorrow of being left alone every day,
carry through the streets or rattle the windows and walls,
when Sammy sings the blues.
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. Mary-Jo is the current Coordinating Editor of this magazine. She has a masters’ degree in counseling from Oakland University, and has worked at Oakland Community College for Twenty-four years. Mary-Jo lives with her husband and son in Rochester, Michigan. She has been blind since birth.
The Voice of the Earth, Pi poem
by Mary-Jo Lord
deep humming that sends
shivers down my spine. An ancient raw,
A primal buzzing,
that sounds electric, alive, from
outer space or the center of the
earth. Enveloping, peaceful,
energizing, smooth, meditative
of Aboriginal history
and the secrets
of the bush. Bursting
earth to my soul. If rocks
could speak, and
trees and the
sea could chant.
If the earth could sing with just one strong,
voice of an ethereal
choir. It would be the Zen voice of
If you would like to expirience the sound of the didgeridoo, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHSRv4Hsxn0