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Fall/Winter 2016 Edition of Magnets and Ladders


Magnets and Ladders
Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
Fall/Winter 2016/2017

Editorial and Technical Staff

  • Coordinating Editor: Mary-Jo Lord
  • Fiction: Lisa Busch, Valerie Moreno, Marilyn Brandt Smith, Kate Chamberlin, and Abbie Johnson Taylor
  • Nonfiction: Valerie Moreno, John W. Smith, Kate Chamberlin, Leonard Tuchyner, and Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • Poetry: Lisa Busch, Valerie Moreno, Abbie Johnson Taylor, and Lynda McKinney Lambert
  • Anniversary: Terri Winaught, Ann Chiappetta, Bonnie Blose, and Alice Massa
  • Technical Assistants: Jayson Smith and John Weidlich
  • Internet Specialist: Julie Posey

Submission Guidelines

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

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

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

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

Have You Published a book? If you would like to have an excerpt of your book published in an issue of Magnets and Ladders, please submit a chapter or section of your book to 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 or by check by March/September 1. 100-word promotional information is due by February/August 15. Not sure about something? Email All donations support Magnets and Ladders.

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

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

About Behind Our Eyes

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

Behind Our Eyes, a Second Look is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers, and in E-book format on Amazon Kindle. It is also available in recorded format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. See our book trailer on Youtube at

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

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


Editors’ Welcome

Hello. I hope you had a fun filled summer and are enjoying the cooler days of fall. We have another packed edition loaded with great stories, articles, and poems.

See how some of our contributors appreciate the cooler seasons or celebrate the holidays in our “Celebrating the Seasons” section. Read about some amazing people who have impacted contributor’s lives in “Their Lives Made a Difference,” and see how some real people and fictional characters overcame obstacles in “Facing Challenges and Words of Wisdom.” “I Remember” and “The Melting Pot” are filled with great stories and poems. “The Animal Kingdom” is back and articles in “The Writers’ Climb” will make you think about marketing and who and what influences your writing. Pieces featured in “From a Different Prospective” may cause you to pause and think differently for a moment or forever. We had a special anniversary theme contest for this edition, and although we don’t have a specific anniversary section, stories and poems about anniversaries are featured throughout the magazine. See how many you can find.

This has been a busy and exciting year for the Behind Our Eyes group, as we celebrate our 10 year anniversary. In the Spring/Summer edition of Magnets and Ladders we featured “A Brief History of Behind Our Eyes, Inc.” A version of that article was published in the Summer 2016 edition of Dialogue Magazine. In this edition of Magnets and Ladders, we are featuring an article about our audio project commemorating our 10 year anniversary. We have enjoyed sharing our readings and revisiting the audio clips that have shaped our history and helped make our group what it is today. Be sure to read the article immediately following the “Editors’ Welcome” for all of the exciting news about the audio project.

I would like to give a big thanks to all of the committee members and to Marilyn Brandt Smith, Jason Smith and John Weidlich for your hard work and support throughout the production process.

We had contests with cash prizes in fiction, nonfiction and poetry, along with our anniversary Grand Prize. We had 91 submissions, so thank you to everyone who submitted. Choosing contest winners and entries to publish was a rewarding and challenging task for our editorial staff. Below are the names and authors of the Magnets and Ladders Fall/Winter contest winners.

Anniversary Contest Grand Prize:

“Goodbye, Brother Sunshine” by Valerie Moreno


  • First Place: “Kelsey’s Kids” by Trish Hubschman
  • Second Place: “Bumpykin the Jack O’ Lantern” by Rhonda T. Spear
  • Honorable Mention: “Baseball Back When” by Bill Fullerton
  • Honorable Mention: “Baby Sitting Fish” by Sly Duck


  • First Place: “Mr. Miller” by Greg Pruitt
  • Second Place: “My Favorite Mentor: Workshop Wisdom from Margo LaGattuta” by Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • Honorable Mention: “In Which I Find Color in Late Winter” by Lynda McKinney Lambert
  • Honorable Mention: “Perspective” by Andrea Kelton


  • First Place: “For Karen” by Jessica Goody
  • Second Place: “Christmas Scentiments” by Lynda McKinney Lambert
  • Honorable Mention: “First Fruit” by Ann Chiappetta
  • Honorable Mention: “Epaulets of Grudge” by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

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

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

Special Announcement!

Who wants a piece of birthday cake? Behind Our Eyes, Inc. is ten years old. We’ve been working hard all year to prepare an audio experience for our Magnets and Ladders and anthology readers and for our members and friends. You can visit our website at and download the finished product at no cost.

First, twenty-seven of us read our choices from stories, memoir, articles, and poems we’ve written. Next, we present a narrated history with sound bites from important meetings and a radio interview. You’ll meet the leaders who’ve moved us forward since 2006.

Take a peek at Australia. Hear what can happen on a Greyhound. What’s a dream circle? A Mississippi flood isn’t the hardest thing facing a Minnesota teen. How did a fledgling writers’ group turn a dream into two anthologies worthy of inclusion in the Library of Congress NLS program?

We offer a CD version of our anniversary audio project for a donation of $7.00. Information is available on the website. You will not be charged for shipping unless there are special circumstances.

Stop and say hi to our kitty while you’re visiting our website. She gets her own special piece of cake because she mans the “Feed the Kitty” fundraising campaign. If our options for contributing don’t work for you, you may call 773-572-7744 for special arrangements.

Thank you for joining our audio journey and helping guarantee our continued success as an organization. Now, where did we put those napkins?

Audio Anniversary Committee:

  • Mary-Jo Lord
  • Alice Massa
  • Valerie Moreno
  • DeAnna (Quietwater) Noriega
  • John W. Smith
  • Marilyn Brandt Smith, Chairman

Part I. Their Lives Made a Difference

Goodbye, Brother Sunshine, memoir
by Valerie Moreno

It was October when Arnie told me he loved me. How could I have known it would be October when he died.

We met by chance in 1978 by Cassette letter when I was taking instruction in the Secular Franciscan Order in the Catholic Church. The SFO was one of three Orders founded by St. Francis of Assisi. We ran into difficulty when the local Fraternity wasn’t sure if the required books were in an accessible format for visually impaired students.

I was told about Arnie Moreno, a totally blind man in Tucson, Arizona, who was a Professed member of the SFO. Off went a letter on tape from me in New Jersey, asking for assistance.

He’s so nice, I kept thinking as I listened to his soft-spoken reply. Something about his voice reached deep inside me. Finding we had much in common, we began corresponding regularly. By September, six 90-minute tapes were crossing the country, our daily lives recorded in detail along with prayers. He was on my mind and in my heart continually. Deep down I was hoping against hope he felt the same way.

My mom was having surgery the day his tape letter came that would change everything. “I love you, Valerie,” I heard as I sat on my bed late that night, listening to Arnie’s voice confirming what I felt too. “Somehow, God seems to be bringing us together.”

“What are ya, crazy?” My mom chided me in her Brooklyn-Italian sarcasm. “He’s probably a gigolo! How can ya love a person you’ve never met?”

I didn’t know, but it was as real as her outrage. Arnie’s family felt the same. We knew we’d have to meet to find out if what we felt would jell. I was working full-time as a Dictaphone Secretary at a Church in Newark. Arnie had a vending stand in Tucson. In 1979, I decided to use ten days of my vacation to fly to Arizona. Mom came too, convinced we were both out of our minds.

We left on May 21. Strangely, on May 2nd, we learned the Archbishop had decided to close the Church I worked for due to failing attendance. My last day was May 4th.

Meeting Arnie was wonderful! Any doubts we’d had vanished when we hugged each other at the airport. “Hello, Brother Sunshine,” I said. I called him that after St. Francis’s example when he referred to all living things as “brother” and “sister.”

“Hello, Sister Comfort,” he replied.

I didn’t return to Jersey. Relatives in Tucson offered me a place to stay and my mom, who adored Arnie, gave us her blessing. I was able to work with Arnie at his stand. We spent every day together, talking, working and laughing. The road ahead held many challenges. Our backgrounds were similar, but there were difficulties blending my Italian-American family with Arnie’s Mexican-American culture. After marrying in November of 1979, we tackled our new life together with excitement and determination.

Our daughter, Mary was born in November, 1980. We loved being parents and having a sweet, precocious child brought new joys and experiences.

Years passed with ups and downs, changes and sorrows. In 1987, we moved to New Jersey to care for my mom whose health was slowly declining. Arnie was by my side through my mom’s illness and my deep battle with ongoing depression.

He landed a job with an organization for the blind in 1989 and commuted to work by train in all weather. Mary was soon in Middle school and the teen rebellion began. Through it all, we held on, praying, discussing, arguing and loving.

On my birthday in 2006, we took Arnie to the emergency room due to flu-like symptoms that had worsened. It was found that he was bleeding internally and he was rushed to the intensive care unit. Test after test was done. It was discovered that Arnie had liver disease caused by hepatitis C, which he’d gotten after a blood transfusion in the early ’80’s, before there was mandatory testing. A flare up, combined with Diabetes had done significant damage to his liver. Over the next two years, Arnie made monthly trips to Mt. Sinai Liver Center in New York. More testing was done and he held his own, doing everything he was advised.

When Mary and her fiancé Jack had a baby boy in October, 2009, Arnie and I were beaming grandparents.

In 2010, the bottom fell out; on his 57th birthday, Arnie was again in the intensive care unit. Through the winter, new procedures were tried to place a shunt near the liver with no success. As time went on, the liver disease advanced, with complications popping up out of nowhere.

My heart and spirit felt ripped apart by cycling waves of grief, pain and sorrow. One day in August, we were sitting quietly when Arnie spoke.

“I’m tired,” he said slowly. “I can’t do this anymore.”

His words sent terror rushing through me like bright fire. “I know,” I said. I’d known for a long time. I laid my cheek on his thin hand and prayed for strength for us both.

Hospice was our best alternative. There was a beautiful place near Mary’s house where Arnie could have quiet. By October, he was bedridden. The hardest part was his being unable to talk.

We were all with him on October 9th, 2010 as Arnie slept, opening his eyes for a few seconds. We all said “Hi” and his eyes closed again.

His breathing changed later that night and the nurse came at our request.

“He’s in the dying process,” she said.

The silence in the room seemed alive. Here it was, the event of death that would take away the person I loved most.

Jack left to take the baby home and Mary and I stood on either side of the bed, holding his chilled, thin hands. He was in a coma, but we were encouraged to talk to him.

“He can hear you,” the nurse reassured.

“Mom, please pray with me,” Mary said.

We said the Chaplet Of Divine Mercy, Our Father, Hail Mary. Memories of our life together flowed in my mind like a tape going backwards. All we’d shared was rewinding in my spirit, taking away the dark places until there was light all around, even in the room.

“Sing, mom,” Mary said.

It took all the strength I had to sing “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” the title song from our best loved movie about St. Francis.

“Mom, he’s gone.”

We fell on Arnie, crying. Gently, I smoothed his hair. “Goodbye, Brother Sunshine,” I whispered.

Later, Mary told me she’d heard many voices singing with me and that a tiny cat had perched on the windowsill outside, a half dozen others stood on the picnic table. A thin mist hovered over the bed and the corners of the ceiling.

“Peace is ablaze in here!” The nurse turned to Mary and me, where we stood with our arms around each other.

“He’s home now,” I said, knowing all it meant.

Author’s note: October 9th of this year will mark the sixth anniversary of Arnie’s return home.

Bio: Valerie Moreno, age 62, lives in New Jersey. Since age 12 she has been writing fiction, poetry, Memoir and articles. Her interests include books, music, movies and helping others.

Mr. Miller, nonfiction
by Greg Pruitt

As a boy growing up in the years following the Second World War, I failed to realize that heroes were everywhere around me. They were uncles and teachers, neighbors and the fathers of friends. They were everyday people with ordinary lives, but for a brief time, they had been exceptional. They had flown planes, driven tanks, served on submarine killers, or survived the greatest battles of Europe and the Pacific. These men never spoke of their exploits in front of us children. Their stories and memories were shared only with the closest of loved ones or with their former comrades in arms. Only later in obituaries or browsing salvaged newspaper clippings I learned of their valor, but by then, it would be too late to ask questions or express my appreciation. They would not have considered themselves heroes. There was a job to do, and they did what their families, friends, and nation expected of them.

We were the Baby Boomers. Few of us could understand the true sacrifice of war. None of my friends or classmates could have had a father killed in action, but there were those who had lost family members. The war for most of us had only been experienced through movies and television. The personal horrors and consequences of war awaited my generation in the jungles of Vietnam.

Other than a neighbor who had been wounded and walked with a slight limp, I knew no one who had been injured in combat. That would change when I began seventh grade.

As part of current events in my social studies class, we would discuss the capture of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann and the Castro takeover of Cuba, along with the study of Latin America. Certainly, few of my classmates recall much of the subject matter taught that year, but we all should remember our teacher.

His name was Mr. Miller, a 27 or 28-year old man, who had been given the task of educating what was then the city’s middle class in the years before the move to the suburbs. He was handsome with his dark hair slicked back, always wearing a white shirt and tie, black or navy blue slacks, and spit shined shoes. However, he had one distinguishing physical feature. He was missing his right arm. Where is hand should have been there was a hook with a lever that could be used as a pincer.

The loss of an arm should not have been an overwhelming disability to a teacher, but Mr. Miller always appeared to be very defensive and sensitive to criticism. Although I never heard anyone mock or ridicule him, he seemed to have a need to prove himself physically.

We knew he had been a successful Golden Gloves boxer in his days following high school, and as boys will sometimes do, we foolishly wondered how tough he was and how good a boxer he might have been. One day, a student challenged Mr. Miller to a sort of boxing contest. He said he would hit the teacher on the shoulder as hard as he could, and the teacher could then return the blow. Mr. Miller agreed and took the kid’s best punch, showing only a tight smile in reaction. Mr. Miller then offered up a sharp left jab that caused his young opponent to stagger back a step or two. The boy obviously felt the pain, but to his credit didn’t cry. He then took his seat, and we had any questions concerning the instructor’s fortitude answered.

I have a clear memory of him playing in a student-faculty basketball game. The limitations of someone with his condition was obvious, but that did not deter him. He may have played harder than anyone to prove he was still a man. He was a competitor and always would be.

One day Mr. Miller came to class dressed much the same as always, but that day there was something different. In place of his hook was a flesh colored prosthetic hand. The hand was less practical than the hook, but it must have been more important to the man to appear normal, rather than maintain any advantage the hook provided.

The addition of the new hand may have been unremarkable to adults, but it was fascinating to a class of twelve-year-olds.

A girl in the back of the class just had to ask, “Mr. Miller, where did you get that hand?”

The classroom became instantly quiet. Mr. Miller looked at the student and explained that he had received his new hand in the veterans’ hospital.

That should have been the end of the discussion, but the girl had another question.

She asked, “What happened to your hand anyways?”

Mr. Miller Responded, “I was wounded in the Korean War.

The student then asked, “The Korean War? What was that?”

The teacher’s face turned bright red as he glared at the insensitive child. Then, his anger exploded. He began raging about shedding his blood and the friends he had lost for nothing if stupid kids like us had no understanding of their sacrifice. He first threw chalk, then the erasers, and finally one book after another was hurled toward the offending corner of the classroom, where the girl, along with nearby students cowered in fear or took shelter beneath their desks.

Mr. Miller shouted and stared menacingly at the class prepared for another attack, but suddenly ended his assault. As he regained his composure, we became uncomfortably silent. I glanced back and forth from Mr. Miller to the girl, waiting for what would come next, but the drama had ended. He brushed back his hair, straightened his tie, as she, with tears in her eyes, laid her head on her desk. Other students moved uneasily about, as they picked up debris and returned things to their proper place, and we all pretended as though nothing had happened.

When class was dismissed, the story of the teacher’s outburst spread quickly throughout the school. We had something exciting to discuss, and I wondered what to expect the next day. Apparently the administration had taken no disciplinary action, because there was Mr. Miller in his class, and all was as it had been. The incident was never mentioned or repeated.

What should Mr. Miller have expected from boys whose idea of war had been shaped by Davy Crockett and girls who cried over Elvis being drafted? We were ignorant children. We knew nothing of the far away battles and land that had changed his life. The memory of the events that cost him his arm must have been as fresh in his mind as incidents that had occurred yesterday, but to us, it was part of the ancient past.

Following that year, Mr. Miller remained in his classroom, but I spoke to him infrequently, only when passing classes. After that he may have continued to teach elsewhere, but he was no longer in that building when I began ninth grade.

While his message was unintended, Mr. Miller taught me an unforgettable lesson that day, and although I have only vague memories of the remainder of the year, that episode left upon me an understanding of how the wounds of war last long after the battles have ended. He was among thousands who had been scarred both physically and emotionally in our nation’s service, and only someone who had suffered a similar trauma could begin to appreciate what combat was like, but even then each individual’s experience must be unique. I hope Mr. Miller’s anger and frustration diminished over time, and he eventually found peace in his life, but it is difficult to understand how anyone who has suffered and lost so much comes to accept his fate. Sadly, he probably never realized that he was a hero and an inspiration to many of us, whether or not we fully understood that at our young age.

Bio: Greg Pruitt is a retired teacher living in Fenton, Michigan. He is a graduate of the Michigan School For The Blind and Central Michigan University. He has been legally blind since the age of nine as the result of an undetermined retinal disease.

Willowbrook: For Gary Schwartz, poetry
by Jessica Goody

You were my great-uncle, or would have been,
if such familial labels applied to one long-dead
and never met. After you were born, you were
placed in an asylum for crippled rag dolls.

In this snake-pit penal colony, the inmates lie
ignored on unwashed sheets, naked and shivering.
They line the halls, their diapers damp and sagging,
hugging their knees, staring at nothing, smudged

with their own waste What could you have become
had you been born in another generation? You could
have had a family, freedom, a life, gained knowledge,
developed your mind. Instead, you lay unused

amidst the chaos of Bedlam, carelessly tended
by overworked nurses in state institutions,
with no stimulation or thoughts of your own,
a wordless vegetable, knowing nothing but

your own name. I have walked where you walked.
It could so easily have been me: mute and drooling,
incontinent, an eternally helpless child, my body
twisted, and my mind untouched.

bio: Jessica Goody writes for SunSations Magazine, The Bluffton Sun, and The Bluffton Today. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including: Reader’s Digest, The Seventh Wave, Really System, Event Horizon, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and The Maine Review. Her poem “Stockings” was awarded second place in the 2015 Reader’s Digest Poetry Competition. She has cerebral palsy.

If only, poetry
by Bianca Johnson

Dear grandmother,

If only I could’ve met you
Would my life have been different?
If only you had raised me
Would I have experienced a mother’s love?
Grandmother if only

If only I could’ve heard your joyous laughter
Would it have brought joy to my heart?
If only you could’ve taught me about womanhood
Would it have made me a stronger woman?
Grandmother if only

If only you were there when I cried
Would it have prepared me for future tears?
If only I could’ve seen your beautiful smile
Would it have been like mine?
Grandmother if only

If only you didn’t leave this earth so soon
Would you have been proud of me?
If only you were there when I entered the world
Would you have seen what I could grow up to be?
Grandmother if only

If only I could’ve heard your words of wisdom
Would it have made me an even wiser woman?
If only I could’ve felt your gentle kiss or hug
Would it have made me love you endlessly?
Grandmother if only

If only you had taught me the meaning of life
Would my life experiences have been different?
If only I could talk to you
What would I say?
Grandmother if only


Your granddaughter

Bio: Bianca Johnson is a26 year old full time warehouse worker from Greensboro, North Carolina. She loves to write in her spare time. She became totally blind when she was 15 due to a fight with her brother which resulted in a detached retina. Life experiences influence her writing. She also enjoys reading, music, shopping and spending time with friends and loved ones. Her dream is to become the first blind licensed cosmetologist and to own her own salon and spa. She manages a Facebook page where she posts her poetry for other’s enjoyment or inspiration. It can be found at

Uncle Sam, memoir
by Leonard Tuchyner

The green plastic radio sat on its narrow shelf overlooking my cousins’ breakfast table. As was usual, the Archie show was playing. The over-characterized voices of Archie, Jughead, Veronica and Betty graced our young ears while we ate our way through the early morning meal.

For many years, I had spent so much time at my Aunt Tilly’s apartment, where my two cousins lived, that it was as much home to me as my parents’ abode. I don’t know what my mother did during many of those times. She might have simply dropped me off at her sister’s place, where I spent a day or two. The two sisters were extremely close. Like many siblings all over the world, they were in constant debate, or I might say constantly fussing at each other. They had the kind of loving annoyance typical of siblings in close- knit families. Hardly a week went by that our clan was not doing something together. Vacations, visits to Grandpa in Coney Island, birthdays, Jewish holidays and trips to Rockaway, zoos, and other places of interest were all family affairs.

I recall one debate my mother and I had with Barry and his mother, Aunt Tilley. My Mom and I sat on one side of the living room, while Aunt Tilley and Barry sat on the other. We were two teams facing off.

“Barry thinks fish have to breathe air, that’s stupid,” I derided.

“Of course they have to breathe air,” My aunt said, holding her six-year-old son protectively close to her.

“Toby. You can’t be serious. Everybody knows fish breathe water. They get their air out of the water.” My mother’s voice was incredulous and condescending. I was feeling the same way. It was like these strange people thought the world was flat.

“Rose, they would drown if they tried to breathe water. How could you even think that?”

Somehow the argument lapsed into whose kid was the brightest. We reached a compromise in agreeing that Barry was better at math and I was better at language skills, or something like that. And so it has been ever since. He became an accountant and I went into counseling and writing.

My images of that lower-middle-class neighborhood in East Orange, New Jersey, have a crystal-clear sharpness that seems to be my anchor to a very real and important part of my formative upbringing.

Barry was six months younger than me. Myrna was four years older. They are indelibly etched in my mind, perhaps Barry more so than Myrna, owing to our age differences. I have no sharp memories of having direct conversations with my Aunt, but there was always so much byplay between her and my mother, that it was almost like I was involved in those constant back and forths. Of course, a lot of the talk had to do with their children, so I was really a part of those conversations, in a way. It is interesting how some parents talk about their kids as though they were not blessed, or perhaps cursed, with ears.

But where was my Uncle Sam? That’s right; I had my own Uncle Sam who was not a symbol of the United States government. Why don’t I have a clarity of image concerning him, comparable to the other figures in our families? I’ve thought about it long and hard, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that I had very few eye-to-eye conversations with him.

Why was this the case? Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that, like most men of that period, around the forties and fifties, he was never home in the daytime. Even so, he would have been there most evenings; wouldn’t he? Maybe not. He ran his own small grocery store, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he always had to work late. Whatever the reason, I don’t remember interacting with him.

On the other hand, I have distinct memories of my Uncle Moe, who lived with us for a while during his college years. He had breakfast with us and he often engaged me in conversation. So it must have been the lack of direct engagement with Sam that accounts for the sense of vagueness in my brain.

I was surprised, almost shocked, to realize that signs of Sam’s presence in their apartment and other places in my life were ubiquitous. His existence was like a smell that is omnipresent to the point that you do not notice it.

For example, there was a penny arcade horse racing machine that sat atop Barry’s dresser. It consisted of a carousel of tiny wooden horses that would race around a miniature track until its spinning ran down, as in a roulette wheel. Three horses would finish as a winner, second or third place. I recently discovered that Sam and his brother, both immigrants from Hungary, used to work with race horses. I only became aware of that when I had a discussion just the other day with my cousin Myrna, who is now seventy-nine.

Another example of Sam’s presence was a huge set of Lionel electric trains. They were much larger than the common garden variety. The tracks were laid out from one room to another, so that most of the house was the site of a miniature train landscape.

“You’re not allowed to run these trains unless I’m watching,” Barry told me.

I didn’t have much to say in rebuttal. After all, they were his trains, and I was a little intimidated by them anyway. But Barry couldn’t be hovering over me all the time. So when he wasn’t there, I became an engineer.

Trains of that caliber were not very common in a lower middle class family such as was the case with our families.

It was Uncle Sam and his brother Herbie who took us out on float fishing boats at Sheep’s Head Bay. Those two who could be seen frolicking in the water at White Meadow Lake, while the rest of the combined families just sat in the sun. But I never had a conversation with either of them. At least I don’t remember having one.

It may be that the fault lies only with me. I did tend toward shyness back then. Maybe it was I who failed to engage.

On the Jewish festival of Passover, it was at my cousins’ house that we had the Seder, which is the Passover traditional meal. It was Sam’s father who dressed up in religious vestments and led the proceedings. Ten of us would sit around a grand table in their spacious hallway. I heard the grownups talking, bickering, and having a good conversational time, but none of it involved us kids. We had better things to do. Again, opportunities to know Uncle Sam in the way of eye-to-eye speech were missed.

Sam was a tall, impressive-looking man. His brother was built like a wrestler, and I can certainly picture them wrangling horses. The only tall person in the Kressel family (my mother’s family) was Aunt Tilley. So she was tall enough to fit Sam. Myrna, Barry and the rest of their family (the Schreibers) were tall. My side of the kinfolk are not tall. Well, maybe a little on the short side.

As I mentioned, Sam went into the grocery business. He was successful, owning his own small mom-and-pop grocery store until the chain supermarkets put his kind of operation out of business. He bought another one in a poorer area of Newark, New Jersey, where the chain stores did not go. But after being accosted several times in that dangerous neck of the woods, he had to leave. I found out later that he took a job with a butcher whom he had known for a long time. When the butcher relocated to Florida, Sam and his wife followed. They retired there in the Tampa Bay area.

I do recall one lengthy conversation I had with Sam and Herbie when I was fourteen years old. At that time, so close to my bar mitzva, I had become Orthodox in my thinking and behavior. I remember walking to Barry’s house on the Sabbath of his bar mitzvah rather than taking the bus, which was prohibited from an orthodox point of view. Of course, the distance one was allowed to walk was also defined, and the several hours it took for me to complete that pedestrian journey was well over the top for distance violation.

Somehow, I found myself in a debate with Uncle Sam and Herbie.

“If you are going to follow the rules, you follow the rules. You don’t get to pick and choose which ones you’re going to follow,” Sam said while Herbie did all the body signs to show that he totally agreed with Sam.

“The only way I was going to get here was to walk or take the bus,” I argued. “I think it is more in keeping with the intention of Shabbat to honor it by walking,” I argued.

“You don’t think it was more labor to walk than to take a bus? The Sabbath is about not working,” Herbie said.

“But if I took the bus, I would be paying to have an entire bus line engaging in labor.”

“That doesn’t matter. They would be working anyway. If you just drove here with your father, there would have been a minimum of labor,” Sam said.

At the time, I simply thought that these two old men, by a fourteen-year-old’s standards, were born in the old country and set in their ways. But being an old man myself now, I realize they were right. I was full of myself and my piety, and they saw right through me. Of course, it is true that they were kind of rigid in their approach to observance.

Most of the few conversations I had with Uncle Sam were confrontational in nature, and they all happened when I was a rebellious, surly teenager. I’ll take whatever communication was offered. Just in the exercise of writing this piece, I’ve discovered some things about myself and Uncle Sam that are enlightening and enriching.

I’ve sometimes felt self-absorbed and self-centered in all the writing I’ve done that revolves around me and my interests. But as I look at what was lost by Sam and others in my family who did not talk about themselves, I’m confident that in the telling of my stories, I’m giving a potentially wonderful legacy to my progeny. It is true that they may never have any interest in them, but then again, there most likely will be those who will be very grateful for them. In fact, I know that will be true.

When we tell our stories, we are also teaching about our children’s heritage. How can that not be a treasure.? I’m grateful that Myrna and Barry are still around to help me fill in the blank spots.

Bio: Leonard has had Stargardt’s disease which was first noticed during his teenaged years. He is now seventy-five. He reads through the media of Braille, recordings, and electronic voices produced by Open Book and Zoom Text. He lives with his wife of thirty-five years and their two dogs. He is active in the local writing community, where he attends a poetry critique group and facilitates a Writing for Healing and Growth group at the Charlottesville Senior Center. He has recently joined Behind Our Eyes. His hobbies include Tai Chi and gardening. Leonard is semi-retired and still has a small counseling practice.

Part II. Facing challenges and Words of Wisdom

For Karen, poetry
by Jessica Goody

I was born asleep at six months old, like you.
They said you would not survive. They said
the same to me. Had I been born a mere three
years before, the advances which kept me alive

would not have existed. I have no memory of
the white box in which I existed, to ensure the
steadiness of pulsing organs and could have
just as easily been the box they put me in to die,

my shoebox-coffin buried in the backyard.
You knew the unwilling, unrepentant clench
of muscles, the tenseness of tendons, the agony
of being forced to sleep in unnatural positions,

splinted and exhausted from the strain of rigidity
and the lack of rest, and the years when physical
therapy was your only extracurricular. You are
more familiar with hospitals, their rhythms and

protocol than anyone without a medical degree
should be. How many meals have you eaten off
metal trays in rooms of bilge green, bruised and
infected mauve, and industrial beige? How many

years have you spent isolated, infirm, invalid
amidst glass thermometers and sterilizing ovens,
rubber tubes and white nurses’ caps? The thick,
vicious needles, bitter medicines, the trespass of

strange hands giving you sponge baths, your body
left clammy and violated? You waited every year
for your life to begin, believing that every surgery,
every expanse of time spent bed-ridden and immobile

would bring a miracle: that you would stand straight,
you would Walk, you would be able to keep time with
the rest of the world, instead of sweating, straining to
pull on a sleeve, turn a key in a lock, dial a telephone.

Kelsey’s Kids, fiction
by Trish Hubschman

“The kids and I are hanging out here awhile.”

Surprised, Kelsey turned from the porch rail to peer at Marco. “But we’ve been here six weeks already,” she pointed out. She was homesick. They had come to Tabu, a small town in Argentina, Marco’s native land. It was the summer school break and they were visiting his family.

“I have to get back for teachers’ conferences. School starts in two weeks,” she added, trying to be understanding. “I know you miss your family, Marco, but we can come back again next summer.”

He shook his head. “We don’t have to rush to get back. It’s nicer here.”

Tabu was exotic and a great place to vacation, but their trip was over. She was a Social Studies teacher at the junior high school; Marco was a carpenter. He had come to America ten years before and started a business. Work was slow and it bothered him, so did her being the family’s primary financial support.

“I wouldn’t call a month and a half in Tabu a rushed vacation,” she did her best to smile. “The kids want to get home and spend time with their friends, and I’ve been nervous leaving the house for so long.”

His expression soured, his tone was stern. “I said we’ll be staying for another week or so. You can stay with us if you’d like or go home.”

Ice flooded her veins. She stared at him dumbfounded. She was annoyed that he’d gone ahead and made plans without discussing it with her first. Just as quickly, she chided herself. This was ridiculous! This was his homeland, his family was here, his friends, and he felt more at ease here. She sighed. “Okay, I’ll go home, open the house, settle in, you and the kids can come back next week.”

He smiled. Slowly, he rose and moved toward her, resting his hand on her elbow. “Good, that’s settled. Now, let’s get you packed and off.”

She called Marco as soon as she stepped off the plane in Indiana, no answer. She tried again when she got to the house, but still nothing. She left a voicemail. He was probably out with the kids and didn’t want to be interrupted.

The house looked the same as when they left. Her parents had kept an eye on it. Kelsey went to the post office and retrieved a month and a half’s worth of mail. She stopped at her parents’ house afterwards to pick up their dog. Ginger was thrilled to see her.

“I missed you too, girl,” Kelsey knelt on the floor, Ginger licking her face. “Timmy and Denise will be home soon,” She assured Ginger.

The week went by and Marco didn’t bring the children home, nor did he call. Three days into the second week, she was certain something was wrong. By the end of that week, when she was about ready to hop on a plane back to Tabu, Marco called.

“Where have you been?” she shouted into the phone. She was putting away groceries. “I’ve been worried sick that something happened to you.”

His voice was frigid. “We’re not coming back,” he said bluntly.

Kelsey was dumbfounded. “What? Why?” she stammered. Bile was rising in her throat.

“It’s much nicer here, safer, better. I’m happier and the children will be too.”

She shook her head frantically. Timmy and Denise were American children. They belonged here. “This is their home,” she fought back desperately.

“Not anymore,” he replied easily. “You can come back and join us if you want,” his tone was anything but warm. “But if you don’t, you don’t. I can forget you; they can too.”

Tears dripped down her face. This couldn’t be happening. He was taking her children away from her, he already had. That’s why he sent her home so brusquely. “I don’t speak a word of Spanish,” she spat.

“You can learn. Timmy and Denise are,” he said.

She didn’t want to. She wanted her children home with her. This was kidnapping! Her marriage had fallen apart and she hadn’t seen it. She felt defeated. “You can’t do this, Marco,” she said through gritted teeth. “Come back and we’ll discuss it.”

He laughed. “You come here and we’ll discuss it, but you’re not taking the children back.” The phone went dead.

Kelsey sank to the floor, clutching the phone and weeping.

“Do you think we should call the police?” Kelsey’s mother, Mandy, asked. They were in Kelsey’s living room. Ginger was curled up at Kelsey’s feet.

Her father, Dan, shook his head. “They wouldn’t be of much help in this,” He reasoned. “Marco didn’t take the children to a different state. He took them out of the country.”

“So what do we do, Dad?” Kelsey practically shrieked. “Call in the FBI?”

They were all silent, thinking. Finally, Dan made a suggestion. “Maybe we should just go in there and take the kids back.”

Kelsey stared at him, her eyes wide. “It can’t be that easy,” she shot back.

Dan shrugged. “Maybe it is. I’d say it’s worth a try,” he raised an eyebrow. “Besides, what other choice do we have?”

Nobody could debate that. “Marco has their passports,” Kelsey sighed.

Again, the three were silent. Mandy was the one who spoke, slowly and carefully. “I remember going to Canada when you were a little girl, Kelsey. It seemed too much trouble to get you a passport, but they accepted your birth certificate instead.”

“Brilliant idea!” he told his wife, then turned to his daughter. “Do you have Timmy and Denise’s birth certificates?”

It took a few seconds to sink in. “Of course, I do,” Kelsey replied.

Dan slapped his knees triumphantly. “Okay, then, that’s step one. Now, let’s put our heads together and figure out step two.”

The next day, Kelsey called Marco. She had to force herself to sound friendly. “I took some extra time off from school,” she volunteered. “I’d like to come down and see the children.”

His reply was hesitant and suspicious. “How did you manage that so early in the term? Did you blow up the school?”

She chuckled. “Nothing that radical,” she replied. “I called the Principal and explained that I wouldn’t be able to start on schedule because of personal reasons.”

“Mmm, should I wonder if that has anything to do with me?”” he teased. She gritted her teeth and was glad he couldn’t see it. “You said you wanted to see the kids, sure, over here, not there,” he didn’t wait for her to answer. “I’m going away for a few days, with a friend. You can stay at my mother’s, but no funny business, Kel. My mom might look meek and old, but I assure you, she’s got a quick mind and black-belt in karate,” he cackled wickedly.

What could she say to that? If she read this right, he had a girlfriend. “That’s fine, Marco,” she said coldly. “I just want to make sure Timmy and Denise are well and happy. I want them to start school on schedule,” she closed her eyes as she listened to him cackle.

“School hasn’t started yet, but don’t worry, Kel, my friend, Louise will take care of everything. Denise will start kindergarten, as she’s been looking forward to, and Timmy, second grade. I promise. Everything will go according to plan.”

Kelsey sincerely hoped so, but her father’s plan, not Marco’s.

Kelsey and her father flew to Buenos Aires. At the airport, they rented separate cars. Dan went to the hotel, to wait for Kelsey to call with the coast clear signal. Kelsey headed to Marco’s mother’s house. It took an hour to get there, driving over bumpy dirt roads.

Denise and Timmy were on the front porch playing. Kelsey smiled.

“Mommy,” Denise squealed when Kelsey stepped out of the Ford Focus. The little girl raced off the porch and into her mother’s arms. Timmy followed close behind.

The front door squeaked open and Marco’s sour-faced mother, Marissa, stepped out. “You’re here,” the older woman snapped. “Marco said you’d be coming. What do you want?”

Kelsey didn’t ease her hold on the children. She forced a warm smile. “Marco told me I was welcome to come to see the children. I missed my babies.”

Marissa glanced at the closed door behind her, then back at Kelsey. “Marco and Louise went on a trip. He told me to keep an eye on you.” She glanced over Kelsey’s shoulder at the rental car, then to Kelsey. She held out her hand. “Give me your car keys. You’re under house arrest.”

Kelsey didn’t flinch. She had figured as much, which was why she and Dan rented separate cars. Reaching into her pants pocket, she pulled out the keys and dropped them into her mother-in-law’s hand. “I hope Marco’s not away too long,” she said genially. “I’m paying twenty-five American dollars a day for the Focus.”

Marissa ignored that. “Do you have a cell phone?”

Kelsey shook her head. “It doesn’t work over here,” she lied. “Marco knows how much that frustrates me, but I don’t have International calling.” She shrugged. “So, I left my phone home, easier than trying to pass it through Customs.” She waited to see if Marissa pushed the issue or gave her a pat-down.

Marissa stared at her for a long time, then nodded. “Do you want to come inside? I can put fresh coffee on.”

Kelsey was relieved that Marissa decided she was harmless and was being amiable. It made things easier. Kelsey accepted Marissa’s offer of coffee and followed her into the house. Marissa handed her a mug of thick, black brew. Kelsey sat down at the kitchen table and wrapped her hands around it.

“Are the children happy here?” she asked.

“We don’t have to start school yet, Mom,” Timmy announced brightly. She smiled to her sandy-haired son.

“How long are you staying?” Marissa asked. “Beyond the time Marco returns?”

Kelsey shrugged. “If it works out, a while, I guess. I’ve taken a leave of absence from my job.”

Marco’s mother looked stricken. “But what about Louise?”

The knife sliced Kelsey’s heart. Louise, her husband’s mistress was obviously well-liked in this house. “I’m sure I won’t get in the way,” she replied. They chatted for another twenty minutes, then she excused herself and took the children outside for a walk. Marissa didn’t interrupt. Taking both their hands, Kelsey led them along a path and down to the stream.

“Are we waiting for someone, mommy?” Denise asked.

Kelsey came up with a start. She shook her head. “No, I’m just happy to be with you and enjoying the peace and quiet.” Ten minutes later, they walked back to the house. “Go wash up for dinner. I’ll help Nana in the kitchen.”

Later, after putting Timmy and Denise to bed, Kelsey went outside to get one last breath of fresh air. She turned the corner of the house and walked a safe distance away from it and into the trees. Kelsey reached into her pocket and took out a small cell phone. “This place is like a prison,” She told her father.

Dan understood. “Is that the coast-clear signal?” he teased. “Is Marissa asleep?”

“Yes, Marissa went up to bed after dinner, said she wasn’t feeling well. I’ve seemed to have earned her trust.”

Dan smiled. “Then our timing is perfect,” he said. “I’m about ten minutes from there. If everything keeps going as clockwork, your mother will see us home tomorrow.” Kelsey hoped so. She waited for more instructions. “Now, go upstairs and take Timmy and Denise and meet me out front, then we’ll be on our way.”

Her mouth dropped open. She still couldn’t believe it was that simple. They weren’t taking the children’s belongings or her overnight bag. Dan had the birth certificates and passports, and had made reservations at a different airport than the one where they’d arrived. Marco wouldn’t be able to track them, if he learned of their disappearance. Her father had been a wonderful help in this and it still wasn’t over.

Now, it was time to do her part. Snapping the phone shut, she made her way back to the house. She snuck in, tiptoed up the stairs and slipped into the bedroom her two children shared. She held her finger to her lips to hush them, helped them out of bed, put on their bathrobes and slippers and led them to the closed bedroom door. Holding her breath, she pressed her ear against it and listened. There was no sound in the hall.

“Let’s go and be very quiet,” she whispered.

Denise opened her mouth. Timmy put his finger to his sister’s lips. A warm glow passed over her. She could count on her son, he understood. With heart pounding, Kelsey gingerly opened the door. The hall was dark. Pushing the children ahead of her, the three tiptoed down the stairs. As promised, Dan was waiting at the front door. He swung Denise up in his arms, Kelsey took Timmy’s hand, and they went to the car. Dan slid into the front seat behind the wheel. Kelsey sat in back with the children, Denise on her lap, Timmy beside her. “Let’s hit the airport,” Dan said confidently. To Kelsey’s surprise, the escape went smoothly.

When they were on the plane, the children fast asleep, she put her head on his shoulder. “Thanks, Daddy. I don’t know how I could have done this without you,” she said. “I’m sure we still have a lot ahead, but this was the first and most important step, to get the kids back, next is to make sure we keep them.”

He smiled. “Here, here, sweetheart. We did it as a family, all of us,” he waved his hand. “Your mother too.”

“And Ginger too, Grandpa. Don’t forget her,” Denise suddenly piped up.

Dan feigned astonishment. “I would never do such a thing, Princess,” he assured his granddaughter, reaching across the seat and pulling her onto his lap. Denise giggled.

Timmy opened one eye and glared at his sister. “Can’t you see that some people are trying to sleep? It’s been a long, hard summer, you know?” Yes, they all knew that and agreed. The adults burst into laughter.

Bio: Trish is deaf-blind and has a walking/balance problem. She loves writing short stories of all kinds. She also has two books published with America Star Books, a short story collection THROUGH TIME, time travel/romances and THE FIRE, first in her own Tracy Gayle mystery series.

Oh, That Teacher! memoir

“Oh, no Avis, not Miss Anderson’s class. You’ll be sorry.” This is the response I’d received from fellow students or professors when I told them I was taking English with Miss Helen Anderson. There are three ways of doing English: the right way, the wrong way, and Miss Anderson’s way. Once I discovered the way Miss Anderson wanted things done, I would be okay.

In 1962, Vallejo Junior College was small. The main building housed the offices and most of the classrooms. There was a gym and a bookstore. Other classes were housed in two portable buildings.

On Monday, February 5, the first day of the spring semester the hall was crowded with students and professors scurrying to their classes. Some students were thinking of ways to improve their grades. Others were looking forward to their graduation in June. Professors were concerned with ways to improve their lectures.

I was wheeling myself in my wheelchair down the hall on my way to English 1A. I was dressed in a light gray plaid dress with gray socks and shoes. My reddish-blonde hair was cut in a pixie style. Mr. MacDonald, the president of the college approached me and said, “Hello Avis, would you like me to push you to your English class?”

“Yes, please.”

As we traveled down the hall, he asked, “Would you like to change your English class?”

“No, I need it for graduation.” I was determined not to have any special treatment because of my disability.

“I know you need it for graduation, but give me a few days and let me see if I can work something out with Miss Anderson.”

“I’ll be okay. May I continue to do my written work and take my exams at home under supervision?”

“Of course you may. I’ll talk to Miss Anderson myself.”

Miss Anderson stood about five feet, six inches tall. She wore her snow-white hair in an upsweep. Sharp blue eyes peered out from her glasses. She gave a wicked little grin to any student who gave an incorrect answer. She had an odd shape and walked like a duck! Her uniform, as I recall, consisted of a khaki skirt, black shoes, and a white, three-quarter length sleeve blouse slightly opened at the neck. When visitors came to the college, she wore a navy blue, short sleeved dress but she always wore black shoes.

Miss Anderson had been with the Vallejo Unified School District since year one, and she thought she was the Vallejo Unified School District. If there was a rule she disagreed with, and there were many, she ignored it and made up a rule to suit herself, making everyone MAD! The college needed someone to teach freshman English and she had the necessary requirements. Although a word or phrase had been considered Standard English, Miss Anderson wanted people to use the English that she used. For example, she didn’t like the phrase, “I don’t think so.” She wanted us to say, “I think not.” I thought, If the President of the United States and everyone in the news says “I don’t think so,” why can’t I?

Miss Anderson would not correct any of my work or allow me to participate in class, even though I did the assignments. If I made certain that the outline, bibliography, and the footnotes of my term paper were correct, she would not look at it.

One morning, we were reading an article about Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Miss Anderson asked her class, “How do you spell Khrushchev?”

Four students raised their hands, including me. She pointed at a male student. He stood from his seat and spelled, “C-r-u-s-h- . . .”

“That is incorrect.”

The student sat down. Three hands rose up, including mine. Miss Anderson grinned and pointed to the female student behind me. The young woman stood and spelled, “K-r-u-s-h- . . .”

“You are wrong,”

The young woman sat down. Two hands rose up, including mine. Miss Anderson grinned and pointed to the remaining male student who sat about three rows in back of me. He stood and spelled, “K-h-r-u-s-h-c-h-e-f.”

“You are incorrect.”

The student sat down. My hand rose up. Miss Anderson looked at me as though she did not believe I could spell it. She asked, “Do you know?”

Unable to stand from my wheelchair, I spelled, “K-h-r-u-s-h-c-h-e-v.”

Miss Anderson was flabbergasted. When she recovered, she exclaimed, “THAT’S RIGHT!”

I was positive the ice had been broken, but the next time we had class it was still the same situation of her ignoring my hand. I found this extremely discouraging.

One time, Miss Anderson asked a young man with a bad speech problem to read an article in class. She kept correcting him, causing him to become nervous. Had she waited until he finished, he would have been okay. I wanted to say, “Please let him finish before you correct him.”

It wasn’t just her disabled students she picked on. It was everyone she worked with. Countless times professors said, “I’m married with children and teenage grandchildren, but Miss Anderson talks to me as though I were a five-year-old child.” There was undoubtedly a good reason for her behavior, but no one knew what caused her to behave that way.

Toward the end of the semester, I asked Miss. Anderson, “How do you want me to take my final exam?”

She smiled her wicked little grin and informed me, “You shall not be taking a final exam, because you are just observing my class. Next semester you may do the same thing.”

I said, “Okay,” but I thought, Next semester, I’m taking a class where my work will be corrected and I’ll receive a grade.

Instead, I dropped out. In 1962, there wasn’t anyone at the colleges to help disabled students take notes in class or push their wheelchairs around campus. Going to college taught me to focus on the professor’s lectures, because I was unable to write anything down. I had to keep everything in my head until I got home and typed my notes. I had to prove to everyone, including myself, I could compete with able-bodied people. If I had been able to continue, a few years later, they started making colleges accessible for the disabled.

Mother and I moved to Berkeley where I continued my education by taking correspondence courses. Three years later, I had to stop because of my health. It was heartbreaking to give up college. In a few years, I decided to take a correspondence writing course. I enjoy writing short stories about experiences I have had and what they have taught me.

Bio: S. Avis Gray was born in Yuma, Arizona in 1938. Diagnosed with athetoid cerebral palsy, Gray attends Ability Now Bay Area in Oakland, California, where she runs an Amazon business. She self-published three books: About Avis in 2006, Tales of Uncle Burt in 2006, and The First Woman President in 2007, which she is compiling in a collection. Her first short story “El Dorado Days” was published in The December 2013 issue of Wordgathering where she was also interviewed. Gray also wrote an educational pamphlet titled “Talk to Me!” for people who work with the disabled. This pamphlet is used in training, seminars, and workshops.

September 3, 1983, nonfiction
by Marcia J. Wick, The Write Sisters

After more than 30 years, in a good year, the date slithers past without notice. Just as well, as the anniversary is not one this old lady is eager to recall.

September 3 was a Saturday in 1983 when an attacker tried to take her life. The significance of the Labor Day weekend was skewed ever after. Every year, calendars, newspapers, radios and talking devices proclaim the holiday reminding her not to forget.

She hates the memory. When the anniversary sneaks by without notice, the woman is grateful. Still, traces find her at other unlikely times. Flashbacks happen randomly. She might be enjoying a lovely bicycle ride in June then find herself transported abruptly back to that fateful fall morning, fighting for her life at the top of a stairwell. Or, she could be standing in line at the bank when the approach of a security officer causes her to stiffen reflexively and blink back images of a knife flitting in front of her face.

It had taken her eight years to shake the worst of it. PTSD, they called it, when the woman sought treatment after almost a decade of struggling to stop the episode’s persistent echo. The disturbing memories were relentless, haunting her during quiet times. Most evenings, standing at the kitchen sink mechanically scrubbing the dishes, the survivor’s idle mind would allow the episode to rerun. With a strange kind of fascination and amazement, she would watch the events unfold from beginning to end, never changing. Every movement and word echoed as scripted.

The opening scene reveals a mousy security guard admitting a diligent female employee into a cavernous facility, deserted on a holiday weekend. Hours later, the heroine escapes bursting naked but alive back into the sunshine. From beginning to end, every move in between seems choreographed as if for the movies.

The suspense builds slowly. Once the hapless employee reaches her office on the third floor, she settles down to work. Endeavoring to quickly accomplish her goals for the day, she tolerates occasional interruptions from the guard as he repeats his rounds. He attempts to engage her in conversation so she concentrates more intently on her tasks in an attempt to discourage his distractions.

When the young woman eventually decides to call it quits for the morning, she politely informs the guard so he may secure the office after her exit. He walks a step behind, presumably escorting her out. Just as she reaches the third-floor exit to the stairway, the guard flashes a knife in front of her face with his right hand while pulling her back from the door with his left arm.

Too real for comfort, the woman’s mind manages to separate from her body so she can observe the scene unfold out of harm’s way, as if safely watching a television drama. She witnesses as the guard leads the trapped woman back into the office with a drawn pocket knife at her throat. He talks with delight about “doing it” there while planning another future rendezvous with her, in his delusional mind. Once he divests his prey of her clothes, he attempts to satisfy himself to no avail. His prisoner instinctively senses that the preoccupation of her assailant’s mind with other matters might allow her to launch a desperate escape.

Convinced that if she does not get away at that moment that she will not get away at all, the young doe bolts from the hunter. Sprinting back down the hallway, she charges for the exit she had entered earlier and explodes through the door at the top of the stairwell. Although she had a head start, he still proves stronger and faster, catching her at the threshold, slamming her military-style to the landing.

The alarmed woman’s mind snapped back into her body upon the impact. Her anger and desire to survive shifted into hyper drive. They were both sprawled and struggling from the floor. He kicked his booted foot at her head and tried to close his hand around her throat, but she was also kicking and pushing back with a strength she had never tested before.

Terrorized by the hand-to-hand combat, she felt so alone. No one in the world knew that she had decided to go to work that morning. A friend might wonder about her not showing up for the afternoon bike ride but would probably shrug off her absence. If the guard killed her at her workplace that Saturday morning, she lamented, no one would miss her for three days. Her colleagues wouldn’t discover the body until they returned to work that following Tuesday.

Alone. She was single. She lived alone. Her family lived 2,000 miles away. How would her parents react when they learned how she was found? In a timeless manner, all of these thoughts convulsed in her brain as she processed her life’s abrupt end. Had her 28 years of mindless living come to this violent close?

With desperation and fear cresting, she felt the slow uncontrollable release of her bowels. At the same time, her captor smelled her fear, and it offended him. Out of disgust, he released her. He quit the fight but continued yelling at her back as she ran, “I will kill you, I will kill you!”

Three flights up. The terrified woman knew she had been three flights up, but magically she flew without touching one step to the bottom landing where she pounced on the door’s push bar, sending her spiraling into the parking lot. The lot was deserted except for the sanctuary of her silver hatchback left there innocently hours before. Incredibly, her car keys had remained gripped tightly in her fist throughout the ordeal. She had been clutching the keys when she first prepared to leave the office before her departure was violently interrupted. Unaware that she still held onto this lifeline, the liberated driver rediscovered the keys as she sprinted for the car.

Unwittingly, she held the key to her escape the whole time. Years later, she would reflect that it had never occurred to her to use the keys as a weapon against her assailant. Afterwards, she also mused that a hysterical woman driving naked through the tiny town must have been alarming to other drivers venturing out on that otherwise quiet morning. Lady Godiva, she liked to think looking back from the future.

But that day, she sped away gripping the steering wheel attempting to cover herself. Her mouth formed a silent scream as she drove to the police barracks at the outskirts of town. Pounding on the door, she discovered the office locked as all the officers were out on patrol. Her cries and hammering ultimately alerted a neighbor who ran out with a bathrobe, leading her gently into the home next door.

While the neighbor called 9-1-1, uncontrollable shivering overcame the rescued woman’s body, as her adrenaline adjusted to her flight’s end. She was alive. More alive than she had been when she first woke up that morning, planning to go to work for a short while before enjoying a bicycle ride with friends later that day. That day, September 3, is the anniversary of when she discovered her true inner strength, ultimately changing her outlook on life forever.

The memory still finds her 30 years later, but less frequently now that her life is full with a loving husband, children and her first grandson. With help, she has learned to push the “stop” button when the playback begins. She also has discovered the power to edit the story, to envision a toy knife made out of pliable pink rubber or to morph herself into a butterfly and float away.

Living through a life and death drama helps her find the strength to tackle life’s challenges. Although her reclaimed future came with divorce, job loss, single motherhood and early blindness, nothing phases her. She lives. Life or death? She knows the difference. She accepts that some tough challenges are guaranteed to come along with living.

Bio: Marcia Wick is enjoying retirement with her first guide dog, Viviane, a 60-pound yellow lab from Guide Dogs for the Blind. Marcia is legally blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa. Her career included newspaper reporting, public relations, communications and publishing. With two daughters now grown and a grandson, Marcia is returning to her writing roots in partnership with her sister, Jennifer Walford, as The Write Sisters. She currently serves on the GDB Alumni Association Board of Directors, and advocates for public transit and visually impaired skiers. Marcia lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and Viviane, her guide dog.

The Age of Contrarius, nonfiction
by John Wesley Smith

In 1969 the Fifth Dimension sang, “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” That brings astrological symbols to mind. If I could, I’d
change the song’s words to, “This is the dawning of the Age of Contrarius.” My symbol would be a bull. More on why later.

I’ve been called a contrarian and a rebel. I’ve also been told I’m too negative. But I prefer to think I wisely anticipate problems before others do. And that leads to finding solutions sooner, doesn’t it?

My contrarian ways quickly come to the surface when someone tells me what I should or shouldn’t do. My first reflex is to dig in my heels and stall for time.

I don’t know if my first spoken word as a child was “No,” but I hear the word in my mind often. I want to say No to a lot more things than I actually do. Is this a weakness? Is it a strength? Does it have anything to do with being blind? Is there a scientific explanation for it? Or is it just me being me?

I have my thoughts on the answers to each of those questions, but now’s not the time to delve into that.

There are times when being a contrarian has its rewards. Perhaps you can relate to a few examples.

Years ago I wanted to get back into being a radio announcer after trying my hand at another profession. One of the announcers at a local Christian station came to our church to play a musical special on his trumpet. I caught up with him later and asked him about opportunities where he worked.

He mounted his high horse and said I’d be better off working within my limitations. He suggested I audition records in Bonaire for Trans World Radio, a Christian missions organization.

Well, who was he to tell me what my limitations were, especially after I’d already been in radio? Besides, raising money to go to the mission field would have been a real headache. And as I discovered later, Trans World Radio was one of the least blind friendly missions. No, that wasn’t meant to be.

Within a few months I found my way back into radio at a Christian station, thanks in part to a Bible college classmate who ironically had served at Trans World Radio in Bonaire.

Then there was the time I met Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe at a banquet in the mid 1980’s. Part of his presentation was about Christian shortwave station HCJB in Ecuador. When I spoke with him that evening about my interest in shortwave radio, he discouraged me from getting a shortwave receiver, saying I’d be disappointed at how little there was to listen to in English.

Guess who got a shortwave radio within a few months? And I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The shortwave scene is much different today though.

Or how about the time in the mid ’90’s when an oncologist told me my low blood cell counts might indicate I had myelodysplastic syndrome. If I did indeed have it, it could lead to full blown leukemia, and I might die within five years. But he told me not to worry. After all, the information about it was too technical for me.

Could there have been a brighter green light to prod me forward? Immediately I started making phone calls and sending postcards to do research in that pre-Internet era. You’ve no doubt noticed I’m still alive to tell about it.

I could share more examples, but you get my point.

Oh, yes, about that symbol of the bull. I’ve been compared to a bull in a China shop more than once. But, you know, that bull has to go on the rampage now and then and break a few plates if he’s to be a stellar representative of the Age of Contrarius.

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

Epaulets of Grudge, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Your epaulets are grudges:
I do not understand why.
They are so unbecoming.
Why do you wear them every day?

The epaulets of grudges
pull on your vocal cords
and make you sound different–
strained, unnecessarily strained, and strange–
a stranger to me.

Yes, my shoulders are unattractively rounded;
but the grudges slip right off.
I am glad, ever so glad
because I could not move on with such weights
upon my shoulders.

When my younger nephew ran in the Bataan March Marathon,
he ran with a backpack on his shoulders,
a backpack of more than forty pounds
plus two of the weights
his grandpa (my father)
used in his golden years.
My nephew ran with the beloved memory
of his grampy
and honored his World War II service
at the Battle of the Bulge.

At the finish line of the marathon,
as my nephew shook the hands
of five survivors of the Bataan March,
none wore epaulets of grudge.

Of some men,
monuments are made of the world’s finest marble,
cut from the caves of Marini di Massa,
in Northern Italy.

Some women are memorialized in Wisconsin rose granite.
Other statues are
carved from Indiana limestone.
Some celebrities
are molded into life-size
statues of wax.

Are you molded from a block of butter?
Are you carved into a block of ice?
Are you melting, melting–
like the Wicked Witch of the West?

Some famous people are cast in bronze.
You, my dear friend,
will be cast in grudge–
unless you choose to change
your monocular ways.

I offer you a gift:
epaulets of feathers.

Bio: After earning two master’s degrees and teaching for 25 years, Alice Jane-Marie Massa retired from teaching writing and public speaking at a technical college. Alice invites you to visit her blog:, where she posts her poetry, essays, short stories, recipes, or memoirs each Wednesday. Her writings on Wordwalk frequently focus on her guide dogs, her rural hometown, her Italian family heritage, and holidays. Dialogue, Indiana Voice Journal, and Newsreel have also published some of Alice’s creative work. Away from her desk, Alice most enjoys long walks with her fourth Leader Dog (Willow), container gardening, and the television program Jeopardy.

Instrument of Peace, poetry
by Crystal L. Howe

Even in the silence,
Your instrument is sounding,
Sending out a message
To everyone around you.

What is it you’re saying?
Is harmony the essence,
Or dissonance unsettled
Within your very presence?

The peace and joy within you
Is what you truly are.
So let it be the message
You spread both near and far.

Your instrument is sounding;
You vibrate all the time.
So practice peace and vibrate love
For centered heart and mind.

This poem was originally published on Crystal ‘s website at

Bio: Crystal is an ordained minister with a Doctorate in Metaphysical Science. Her poetry, songwriting, weaving, and other creative pursuits celebrate the many ways we share our lives and spirit. Crystal is totally blind. Find her music on CD Baby and other work on

The Choice, fiction
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.

Levi hurried on his way home, his sandals providing scant protection from the sand and stones of the road, his robes too confining. Soon the desert air would turn cool, a welcome relief from the stifling heat of the day.

Esther would be waiting for him, with a basin of cool water for his feet and his meal prepared. Most of all, however, Levi looked forward to sharing today’s story with her. He depended on her opinions. He knew that she was wiser than most of the women who gathered at the well and gossiped. He knew that she was proud of his position in the community, a prosperous merchant who fulfilled his priestly duties in his turn.

Esther greeted him at the gate. Once the gate had been barred, and they were inside, she kissed him gently.

“I have much to tell you, Esther,” Levi began, as he toweled his feet dry.

“Eat first, and drink some wine. Then you can tell me about your day.”

Esther knew that it was uncommon that the head of the house would ask his wife’s opinion on any matter other than her duties as housekeeper, but over the years she had proved to be a source of understanding and solace to him.

After Levi had said the blessing, but before he had taken his first bite of bread, he began.

“On my way to the temple this morning, I noticed something unusual in the road, near the turn just before the temple. When I drew closer, I could see that it was a man who had been beaten and probably robbed. He was bloody and unconscious.”

Esther’s eyes widened.

“I knew I could not contaminate myself with his blood. I could not perform my duties at the temple in an impure state,” He paused, waiting for Esther’s response.

“You left him there?” Her voice was almost a whisper.

“Yes, what could I do? I could not enter the temple and perform my duties contaminated with blood. The Law is very specific on this. There was no trace of him when I came home. Someone must have taken care of him.”

Esther waited a moment before answering. “Levi,” she said, “you have always lived by the Law. We have strictly observed the Law, and we have raised our children to do likewise.” She was looking directly into his eyes now, and her voice grew stronger. “If you believe that you made the right choice in following the precepts of the Law then you have done the right thing.”

Levi, having received the hoped for approval, breathed more easily.

As he lay sleepless that night, and for many nights thereafter, he mulled over Esther’s words. If I believe I did the right thing, it had to be the right thing. Why, then, does the memory of that man lying in his blood still haunt me?

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

Life’s Little Wrinkles, memoir
by Kate Chamberlin

From time to time, wrinkles will occur in your life. We are no exception.

In 1985, I swiped the fog from the bathroom mirror and touched the place where my face should have been. The little hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I could not see my own face.

A silent scream slammed through me. Oh, my God. My God, Why have you led me into this dark wilderness?

Would I never see my 4-year-old daughter as a grown woman, nor my 11 and 9-year-old sons star on their high school volleyball teams, nor if there were new wrinkles on my husband’s face? We’ve only been married 15 years, would the passion die and he leave me, because I am now blind?

We’ve had many wrinkles in our life since our wedding in 1970, but going blind was the biggest of all.

In learning to fit into different roles, my husband has emerged as quite the chef. A Christmas dinner he prepared was scrumptious: turkey with all the trimmings, pumpkin and pecan pies. He’d washed the dishes (even the pots and pans) and carved the left-over turkey into family freezer packs.

He became the “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer,” “Head of Transportation,” not to mention so many other jobs around the house. I remained the “Director of Child-care” and “Laundress.” He led me to understand that I didn’t have to be a super mom or Mrs. House-wife. I need only be his super wife. A role I enthusiastically accepted.

Life is very different now, but not impossible. Each time I hug my grown children I know how beautiful and loving my daughter is and that my sons are men of confidence, compassion and intelligence. When I hear “Hey, Mimi!” and feel my guide dog wiggle and waggle all over, I brace myself as I know one of my nine grandchildren is about to jump into my arms for hugs and kisses or my first great-grandchild will be put in my arms with his baby skin so supple and wrinkle-free.

While I was pondering about the wrinkles in my life, my husband walked in. I wondered if he had any new wrinkles. I reached up to feel the top of his head. I knew he’d been balding for decades, and now I felt the distinguished silver fringe go from ear to ear on the back of his head. His loving eyes have faint laugh wrinkles, as do the corners of his expressive mouth. I felt his cheeks suddenly pop up, deepening his wrinkles, as he began to chuckle. Then, he started to trace my wrinkles, too. Well, one thing led to another, and we, er, ah (blush) wrinkled my freshly ironed sheets!

Happy 46th Anniversary to my best friend and lover. Our passion grows stronger with each year of marriage, in spite of the wrinkles.
“…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me…”

Bio: Kate Chamberlin, B.S., M.A, and her husband have raised 3 children plus 2 grandchildren. Her teaching career continues through her Study Buddy Tutoring Service, Feely Cans and Sniffy Jars Program, and as a popular lecturer. She is a published children’s author, Anglican educator, free-lance writer/editor, and proud great-grandmother.

Part III. Celebrating the Seasons

One Fall Day, poetry
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.

The air seemed more brisk,
Some maple leaves previewed a hint of changing color.
The market beckoned.

Row upon row
Of gold-orange pumpkins, yellow butternut squash,
sea green zucchini, purple eggplants
lay basking in the warm sunlight.

The gourds, resplendent in their superior beauty,
their slender curved necks and full bodies,
Like swan among common geese,
look with slight disdain
On their fat pumpkin cousins, the dusty zucchini, the haughty eggplant.

They accept, exult in the beauty of their diversity,
Their smooth variegated colored skin, The waxy, warty shells.

The sun enveloped me, too, with her gentle warmth
I smelled the damp and musky earth in which this fruit had nestled.
I will never again see this display of sunlight,
This array of harvest bounty.

I have seen it once
And it is enough.

First Fruit, poetry
by Ann Chiappetta

The self-medicating stroll
Through the loamy groves and orchards
Pacing among gnarled limbs
Fruit dangling, unharvested thoughts
Pass over the mealy, McIntosh
Consider and reject the romes and grannys

Find the row of fujis, sweet-tart and crunchy
It satisfies the tongue like a vivid recollection
The organic globe
Stirs temptation
invites the evil within.

Bio: Ann Chiappetta M.S. is a writer, blindness advocate and family therapist. Ann is a member of the American Council of the Blind and the Lions Club. Her new book, UPWELLING: POEMS, is available in both e book and print formats. To purchase her book or read an excerpt, go to .To read Ann’s blog, go to
Ann lives in New Rochelle, NewYork, with her husband and pets.

Bumpykin The Jack-O’-Lantern, fiction
by Rhonda T. Spear

It was a damp Saturday in mid-October. Dark clouds covered the sky and a light rain fell from time to time. It was not the best day for visiting a pumpkin patch. It had rained all morning. The ground would be muddy and the pumpkins wet and dirty. Though it was damp, the air was warm, rather unusual for mid-October when it should have been cooler. The family was excited to go to the pumpkin patch and they weren’t going to let a few rain drops spoil their afternoon. They had planned this trip for a while, and they set off for a day of fun.

They arrived at the farm and though it was crowded, they didn’t wait long to board the tractor that would take them into a field full of pumpkins just waiting to be picked. They quickly climbed aboard the hay filled wagon and away they went. No rain fell as they rode along, passing scraggly pine trees and empty fields with scattered cornstalks. A few forgotten ears of corn remained as if someone had neglected to pick them. Despite the rain, the hay was not wet and it was soft as they sat on it.

The tractor stopped and everyone got off. As far as the eye could see, there were rows of pumpkins. Some still clung to the vine, while others lay scattered about where they had been left after being picked and abandoned. The laughter and excitement of children could be heard as they ran through the pumpkin patch with their parents following them. There were different varieties of pumpkins, some of various colors, shapes and sizes. People wandered up and down the rows heedless of the muddy uneven ground. The pumpkins were covered with dirt and water which made it hard to pick them up.

As the family walked deeper into the patch, they saw an odd kind of pumpkin. It was a reddish orange color with a rough bumpy texture. The pumpkin was definitely different than all the other pumpkins. Surely nobody would want such a strange looking pumpkin. It would be difficult to carve or paint a face on it because of the bumps that covered the surface.

For about an hour the family leisurely walked through the pumpkin patch examining the different pumpkins. Each person knew what they wanted and kept looking until they found just the right one. They had chosen several to take home, but they continued to search as they explored the pumpkin patch.

It was time to leave. As they gathered the pumpkins they selected, they spotted the odd reddish pumpkin again. It looked so unique they decided to bring it home with them too.

Halloween week arrived and the family gathered to carve their pumpkins. They wanted their porch and yard to look the most festive in the neighborhood. One by one, each pumpkin was transformed into a Halloween creation, some sinister and some silly. They placed the bumpy pumpkin on the table. They couldn’t draw a face on it because of the texture, but they began the process of carving the top off and cleaning out the inside.

The pumpkin felt a sharp jab when the knife blade stabbed him as his top was cut off, but then he felt a tickling sensation as they scooped out the insides. It tickled so much he began to wiggle and wobble making them laugh as they worked. Now it was time to make the jack-o’-lantern. First came the eyes, triangular in shape, then his nose and mouth. They gave him a couple of teeth that were kind of jagged, a gap at the top and bottom. He had the usual jack-o’-lantern grin.

The freshly carved bumpy jack-o’-lantern was put in a special place on the porch. The air was beginning to get chilly and he shivered in the late autumn nights. Several nights, a dusting of frost fell on the other pumpkins in the yard, covering them in a soft blanket of white. Since the porch was slightly protected, the bumpy jack-o’-lantern didn’t get frosted, but he still got cold.

On Halloween morning, a curious black kitten with bright green eyes came up to the unusual jack-o’-lantern. She walked all around him, rubbing up against him. The kitten’s fur and whiskers tickled the pumpkin, and the jack-o’-lantern’s rough bumpy texture caused her to purr, which puzzled the inquisitive kitten.

“You’re a strange looking pumpkin,” said the kitten. “Why don’t you look like the other pumpkins?” she asked twitching her nose and swishing her tail.

“I am a pumpkin just like the others. I’m round and I’ve got a scary face like they do. I’m not the different pumpkin, you are. You aren’t even round. You have a pretty face though, and you tickled me when you rubbed against me,” said the jack-o’-lantern.

The kitten meowed in amusement. “I’m not a pumpkin silly, I’m a black kitten.”

“Well, I’m a special kind of pumpkin, a Red Eye pumpkin,” said the jack-o’-lantern, a bit proud of himself.

“Ok,” said the kitten, “my name is Spook. I’ll call you Bumpykin. That’s a mix of bumpy and pumpkin.” The jack-o’-lantern liked that and they settled down together.

Spook told Bumpykin all about Halloween which was a special day for pumpkins and black cats. Lots of kids would come to the house dressed up in costumes to trick or treat for candy.

Just before dark, the parents came out and lit candles inside the jack-o’-lanterns. The yard glowed strangely and the faces of the jack-o’-lanterns could be seen from the road. Bumpykin felt warm inside from the glow of his candle. Children came by in a parade of costumes and rang the doorbell. They cried in excited voices, “trick or treat!” The yard and porch full of smiling jack-o’-lanterns welcomed the visitors. Spook stayed next to Bumpykin, licking her paws and curiously watched the children come and go. They saw princesses, fairies, witches, ghosts and even someone that was supposed to look like a black cat.

As it grew late, the younger children were coming less often but a few older children still came to the door. When there was no more candy, the porch light was turned off to let visitors know the candy was gone. Some big boys headed up the walkway and saw the light go off just before they got to the porch.

“Hey,” one of them said, “let’s take that ugly bumpy looking pumpkin and toss it in the street since they turned the light off and wouldn’t give us any candy.” They walked up on the porch and, as they reached for Bumpykin, they heard a strange noise behind them that stopped them in their tracks. A scratching, hissing and yowling sound shattered the still night and it seemed to be close to them.

“I’m watching you,” a deep voice intoned. “Don’t touch me!” The boys looked at one another.

“Who said that?” one of them nervously asked.

“I don’t know,” one of the others answered. They reached for Bumpykin again.

“Ow!” one of the boys exclaimed. “That ugly thing bit me!”

“Don’t be stupid. A pumpkin can’t bite you. Just grab it and come on before someone sees us here!” one of the others said more than a bit uneasy. Another boy tried to grab Bumpykin and he felt a sharp scratch as something wrapped around his hands.

“I’m watching you. Don’t touch me!” the deep voice said once more. Behind them they heard a loud, rhythmic thud that echoed in the quiet night. The light from the jack-o’-lantern mysteriously flickered off and on as it began to roll, making sure to stay just out of reach. Just then one of the boys felt something clutch at his leg.

“Let’s get out of here!” they all shouted as they fled the porch and ran down the street.

Spook meowed merrily as she watched the boys running off in the distance, the sounds of their footsteps fading into the silent night.

“That was a great idea you had Spook. Your growls and tale thumping scared them. Your paw rolling me around made my light flicker,” said a grateful Bumpykin.

“Meow,” purred Spook, “you telling them not to touch you was purr-fect. They couldn’t see me because it was so dark. It was fun darting in and out of their legs, scratching them with my claws and biting them when they tried to get you. What fun it was to scare them! Happy Halloween, Bumpykin!” said Spook.

“You too,” said Bumpykin, his light glowing warmly as he smiled at his new friend.

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

Grandpa’s Halloween Ghost, fiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

The Milwaukee airport was fogged in, so Gwendolyn’s flight was diverted to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, on Halloween of all days. Not just any Halloween, this Halloween was to be a command appearance by all children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, younger siblings, cousins, and other living relatives of 94-year-old inventor, entrepreneur, and architect G. W. LaPorte. How could Gwendolyn miss her grandfather’s annual Halloween extravaganza? Her grandfather was her boss and mentor; she was his chief spokesperson. For the evening’s special occasion, Gwendolyn had a bright orange ball gown with matching slippers awaiting her at her Easttown apartment; she wanted to be the favored granddaughter and have the first dance with her grandfather, who was still winning dance contests, senior swimming competitions, and his granddaughter’s heart. Having ridden many buses throughout her young life, she jumped at the chance to take a 90-minute bus ride from Chicago to Milwaukee.

With only a few minutes to spare, Gwendolyn, with Heather in the lead, entered the Gold Room on the top story of Juneau Hotel.

“Oh! Gwen, thank goodness, you and Heather arrived before the doors were closed. You know how your grandfather is about any late arrivals. Not even you, his favorite granddaughter, would have been allowed entrance after seven o’clock,” Gwendolyn’s mother whispered to her daughter who took her seat at the U-shaped table.

At the opening of the U-shaped table was a small table with a podium and microphone, as well as place settings for two. To the left of this smaller table was a five-piece band, including Gwendolyn’s father, his two brothers and two sisters, who were playing “Autumn Leaves,” one of their dad’s favorite tunes. In the opening midst the tables was the empty dance floor.

“What do you think Grampy has up his sleeve on this Halloween?” Grant, Gwen’s brother, asked.

“Since Heather and I have been in Boston all week, I have not a clue.”

The lights blinked on and off, the cymbals clashed, and all watched for Grandpa’s grand appearance. He danced into the ballroom and sang “Be Our Guest” (from Beauty and the Beast) until he tapped Gwendolyn on her shoulder. As the music continued, Grandpa, in a white tuxedo with a bright orange bowtie and vest, asked his granddaughter, “May I have this dance?”

Gwendolyn stood, kissed him on the cheek, and whispered, “Yes, Happy Halloween!” Both dancers smiled broadly and put on a fine show for the family gathering.

After a fanciful twirl at the end of the musical number, G. W. escorted his granddaughter back to her seat and patted Heather. As he made his way to the head table and podium, he thanked his band, his five children, all of whom were still wondering what surprise awaited the guests.

“to my beloved children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, my sisters, my brother, and all of my family and special guests, good evening and Happy Halloween!”

“Happy Halloween, Grandpa!” was the snappy reply.

“Thank you, and thank you all for being here on time for this special gathering. Would my assistants of the evening please pass out the gift-wrapped favors? When each of you has this special favor, I will ask you to open the gifts at the same time.”

One of the teen-aged cousins placed in front of Gwendolyn a gift wrapped in pumpkin-colored paper and a black, gold, and white bow. Of course, the surprise had to be a book. After a drumroll, Grandfather announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, please open your gifts!”

The guests untied the fancy ribbons and ripped the paper to reveal the book. Gwendolyn’s gift was the only larger one because hers was two braille volumes. As usual, Grandpa had thought of everything. Within a few seconds, the entire crowd gave Grandpa a standing ovation and joyous applause. Stepping a foot away from the podium, G. W. bowed to his audience. “Thank you, thank you. Yes, I finally completed my book, my autobiography, except for the chapters I have yet to live.” When the laughter ceased, Grandpa continued, “Inside the front cover, you will find that I have already personally autographed the book to you. Chapter 25 will be a surprise to all of you, but you can read that later. Now, I would like you all to turn to the dedication page. ‘This book of my very blessed life of 94 years is dedicated to my entire family who have helped me to happily fill all the pages of this autobiography, and this book is also dedicated to my favorite ghost, ghost writer, that is, who helped me write all of these pages with the proper grammar and punctuation and who has agreed to be my bride on this Halloween of 2015.'”

The startled audience dropped to their chairs in disbelief. When the band did not immediately begin their next number at their father’s cue, G. W. commanded, “Music, please!” The five adult children somehow played “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.” G. W. continued by donning his white top hat, “Dear family members, I present to you my precious ghost . . . ghost writer, that is my dance partner and soon-to-be bride Geraldine will now appear.”

In a long-sleeved, white formal gown with gold and light orange accents, the ghost writer Geraldine did appear. She glided into the room as only a former professional dancer and dance instructor could. The couple grasped hands; then, G. W. kissed her hand and embraced his bride-to-be. With one arm around her, G. W. lowered the microphone for Geraldine. “Welcome to our wedding! I do not know if your father will ever top this Halloween party! Your father, grandfather, brother, friend tells me he has the seven-year itch. He likes to say that I am 21 plus six decades and that he is promising me at least seven wonderful years of marriage. We will have several more chapters to write together, and we are delighted that all of you have appeared to share in our Halloween wedding. In just a few minutes, my son, Judge Everett Karavellas, will be officiating. My grandson Evan will please come forward to be best man. G. W.’s granddaughter Gwendolyn will please step up to be my maid of honor, along with her yellow lab Heather who will be Leader Dog of honor. With the judge, a harpist entered the room to provide the wedding and reception dinner music.

After the exchanging of vows and rings, applause echoed in the large room while the attractive married couple moved gracefully to the dance floor. To the tune of “Autumn in New York,” G. W. and former New Yorker Geraldine danced the most memorable waltz of their lives. With a nod to Evan, Grandpa beckoned the best man and maid of honor to take the dance floor together. A couple of minutes later, Geraldine’s husband bellowed, “You have to dance for your supper! Everyone, please come join us on the dance floor or my ghost will grab you!”

A Sign of Peace at Cocoa with the Clauses: A Wreatha Natale Holiday Story, fiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

In one red-gloved and moderately arthritic hand, Wreatha held her guide dog’s harness handle and leash. Her right arm wrapped around a doubled grocery bag in which she had carefully placed several items in doubled plastic bags. No snow, no ice to navigate, just a heavy mist off the lake to help designate this December 12 the warmest on record for Milwaukee. As Wreatha and her guide dog Wiggles walked closer to Cathedral Square Park, she could hear the usual Christmas music, but also the sound of many voices, mostly those of excited children. Cocoa with the Clauses, she thought. She wondered if Santa were going to ruin her plans: she certainly hoped not.

When an event was in progress at the park, the homeless people usually left or were politely encouraged to leave the park. Wreatha said a quick prayer that Coco would be somewhere around the park so that she could give him the bag of goodies and her advice. Then, she and Wiggles could return home to their dry and warm abode. Mentally checking off this task from her “to do” list was her big goal of the gray day.

As Wiggles guided her handler across the boulevard, Wreatha heard the clippity-clop and soft whinny of a police horse; undoubtedly, the mounted police officer was riding the perimeter of the park. Starting around the west side, the sparsely populated side of the park, Wreatha realized that the horse was still a distance away; so, her concentration turned to listening for a distinctive and terrible cough, one that had been worrying her for too long. “Wiggles, do you see him? Do you see Coco?” Wiggles kept on her path straight ahead for a few yards and then stopped. Hearing a muted cough, Wreatha told her black lab-golden retriever, “Good dog!” The coughing continued and drew nearer. “Coco, is that you? I have something for you today.”

“Have you come for Cocoa with the Clauses?” his deep, raspy voice uttered.

“No, I was concerned that you wouldn’t be here today because of Cocoa with the Clauses.”

“I’m on my way to 12:15 mass. The park is for the kids today, not people, like me.”

“I . . . I want to give you this.” Wreatha handed the bag to the homeless veteran. “Christmas gifts for you, a little early. Wool scarf and hat, gloves, socks, some food, cough drops, Kleenexes, and bus tickets. I want you to use the bus tickets to go to the Free Clinic or to . . . well, you know where . . . the V . . .”

Coco interrupted, “Thank you. I know you would not like to be hugged, but I thank you.”

Wreatha Natale could hear his smile; she was relieved because she was uncertain that he would accept any of the gifts. “At church, I will shake your hand for the sign of peace.”

“Yes, I know you will, not everybody does. Thanks, Ms. Wreatha. You are a kind and generous person. God bless you. I would like to give you something.”

“Just a promise, a promise that you will go to the Free Clinic or somewhere and get some medicine for your cough.” Suddenly, she realized that the police horse was directly to her right, alongside the curb.

“Happy Holidays, Ms. Natale,” the officer said.

Walking past Wreatha and her guide dog, Coco remarked, “Thanks, again. I am going to mass now. Take care. Merry Christmas to you and your dog, you, too, Officer Rudy.”

“Have a peaceful Christmas, Coco. Maybe, I’ll see you tomorrow morning at mass.” The coughing diminished in the distance.

Officer Rudy Bonariva commented: “I never saw him smile before, and I have known him for years. Thank you, Ms. Natale, your gift made him smile for once.”

“I told him that I wanted him to use the bus tickets to go to the Free Clinic or VA Hospital to get his cough checked out. I hope he will.”

“I know exactly what he will do with those bus tickets; he will ride the Jingle Bell Bus to see the Christmas lights each night, as long as he can. You are retired now, aren’t you?” Wreatha nodded affirmatively. “I suggest that you try another type of volunteer work.”

Paying no attention to the officer’s suggestion, Wreatha mentioned, “Maybe, you can try to talk Coco into using one of the bus tickets for . . .”

“You know they try to get him to go somewhere. He will only go to a shelter when the temperature is below freezing. I’ll try to encourage him to go to a shelter. The people there will take him to the Free Clinic. Don’t worry.”

“Officer, worrying is my avocation: I am very good at it. Coco’s cough did sound a little better today.”

“Someone had just given him a cup of cocoa before you arrived at the park. You know that most of the homeless people who favor this park go to both the Cathedral and Old Saint Mary’s for masses. They attend mass and are in a warm place for an hour or so.”

Yes, I know. They need a peaceful place sometimes, too.”

“A universal need. Are you staying for cocoa with the Clauses?”


Twelve Days Later

Late, as usual, with completing her decorating efforts, Wreatha was placing a few more Christmas ornaments on her small artificial tree when the phone rang. She answered the call with a mildly enthusiastic “Merry Christmas.”

The businesslike voice replied: “Thank you, Ms. Natale. This is Rudy Bonariva. I am parked outside your townhouse. May I come in? I have some news for you: I would prefer to tell you in person. Do you have company for this Christmas Eve?”

“No, just Wiggles and I are here. Please come to the door.”

Within a few minutes, she was sitting beside the Christmas tree with Wiggles lying at her feet; Officer Bonariva sat across from her. Apologetically, he began: “I know it is Christmas Eve, but I thought you would want to know. I just came from the VA Hospital. Coco has been there, but the news is not good. Coco passed away several hours ago. All we know is that his real name is Colebert. His younger siblings could not pronounce his name, so they called him Coco. The name stuck, even through his military service, even through his deployment to Viet Nam. His mother’s maiden name was Colebert.”

As Wreatha’s eyes filled with tears, she managed to ask, “What was his last name?”

“Donner, like the reindeer. We are not aware of his having any relatives in Wisconsin. I was with him at . . . at the end. He told me that he had only one thing of value, a family heirloom; he wanted me to give it to you as a Christmas and thank-you gift. He did appreciate your kindness to him. I appreciated your kindness to him.”

Officer Bonariva moved to sit beside Wreatha on the sofa and pulled something from his jacket’s pocket. Handing her a little gold box tied with a red velvet bow, he explained: “Sam, at Rohr’s Jewelers, cleaned the brooch a bit and put it in this box for you. Coco wanted you to have this brooch. It is shaped like a wreath and is made of emeralds and rubies. Sam estimated the brooch’s value at . . .”

Wreatha interrupted: “No, I do not want to hear its monetary value. No, please do not tell me. I could not possibly accept such an expensive piece of jewelry.”

“Yes, you can and should. A nurse at the VA witnessed what Coco told me and gave me. Coco was always so hurt when people at church would not shake his hand during the sign of peace. You always did share the sign of peace with him. That meant a lot to him. You must grant him his final wish.”

Slowly and carefully, Wreatha untied the soft bow and removed the lid of the gold box. Hesitatingly, she touched the beautiful brooch and whispered, “I will keep it just until you find a relative of Coco’s. I will keep it for just a little while out of respect for Coco’s last wish.”

“Good, thank you; I doubt we will ever find a relative who is as deserving of this brooch as you are. I am usher at midnight mass,the mass that is at ten o’clock at Old Saint Mary’s. I am going to light a candle for Coco and say a prayer for him. I think that will be his only kind of service because he wanted his body to be donated to the Medical College. Would you like to come with me to midnight mass? Would you like to join me in a prayer for Colebert Donner?

A Christmas I’ll Never Forget, memoir
by John Justice

Many years ago, I traveled with a show band. Unlike most groups, our manager kept us working for most of the year. We had a booking on Christmas Eve. I tried everything I could think of to get out of it but nothing worked.

So there we were, traveling on Route Seventeen, near Sutfin New York. The weather had turned bad suddenly, as it often does in the Hudson valley and we were riding through a curtain of driving snow. There were about twenty-three of us on the bus counting the musicians, girls and performers. Our equipment was already far ahead in a large truck. All we had with us was personal luggage, but there was a lot of it. The girls had at least three pieces each and that didn’t count the dressing cabinets, large wooden cases on rollers that held their performing outfits. Those cases were strapped in the back of the bus. The driver was good. We never expected what happened next.

Suddenly, we felt the bus turning and changing speed. It didn’t just slow down, it started to slide. We learned later that a truck had spun out in front of us and Kyle was trying to avoid hitting the trailer. The bus turned into a giant bobsled and skated right off of the road. We ended up with two wheels and most of the vehicle in a ditch. Oh don’t worry! No one was hurt at all. In fact, it was a riot. Rita, who had been sitting next to me, ended up in my lap. One of the dressing cabinets popped its restraints and came waltzing down the center aisle, as if it were going to get off at this stop. Two of us grabbed it and we re-attached the big Bungie cords.

Kyle turned off the engine and just sat there for a minute. Then he said, “Is everyone all right?” We all assured him that no one was hurt. He stood up and looked around. That truck was out of sight. We were alone on Route Seventeen North in the middle of nowhere. Outside, the storm was growing in intensity, and it felt like a blizzard. The bus shook with every blast of snow and incredibly cold wind. “Well, if we don’t get this thing out of here soon, we never will,” said Kyle, our driver.

“Shouldn’t we wait for help?” asked Milo the bandleader.

“Oh, we can wait all right but who’s to say when that will be,” responded Kyle.

“I have an idea,” said Mike our drummer. “Why don’t we get some of this weight off of the bus and then try to get it back on the road? At the same time, someone should go for help.”

“We can try,” said Kyle.

At that moment, we heard a sound. It was very low at first but grew much louder. Then one of the girls spotted the source of the noise. It was the biggest snowplow anyone had ever seen. Kyle was out of that door and up on the road faster than a jackrabbit on a date. The huge machine ground to a halt and the two men were talking for a moment. Then Kyle returned.

“This guy will take one of us to the inn about five miles back,” he said.

“I’ll go,” I suggested. As a blind man, I wasn’t going to do much good unloading luggage in a strange ditch.

“Okay Jack,” said Milo. “You have all of the numbers don’t you?” he asked.

“Yep, I’ve got them on my little recorder,” I said. I kept a little Norelco reel to reel with me all of the time. I used it to record things like my room number or the times of our shows. Everyone laughed at it and called it a toy. I suppose it was actually meant as a toy but for me, it was a big help.

I grabbed the carrying case and slung it over my shoulder. “Bring us some pictures,” said Rita, laughing. I did look like a cameraman with that leather case strapped across my body. I went out into the storm and Kyle guided me to the big Caterpillar.

“There’s a ladder up to the cab,” said Kyle.

I climbed up and the driver helped me inside. “Why did you send a blind guy?” he called to Kyle down below.

“He was the only one who volunteered,” responded Kyle.

We chugged off along the highway. It was nice in that cab. The driver had music playing and it was warm in the roomy interior. He kept on plowing as we went so it took about an hour to reach the inn. The operator raised his plow and drove into the front area. He had to stop about thirty feet away because that big blade would have torn up the fancy front entrance. He and I climbed down. He grabbed my shoulder and steered me like a forklift but I didn’t mind.

As soon as we came through the big glass doors, I could feel the heat from a roaring fire. The lobby smelled like cedar smoke and there were people everywhere. I felt like I’d walked into a set from a Christmas movie. The manager came rushing up to us. Later, the driver told me he kept looking at my closed eyes as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. A line from a Christmas story kept running through my head. Sam the snowman asks his audience, “What’s the matter? Haven’t you ever seen a talking snowman before?”

The manager took me to his office and I made the calls. First, I called the concert hall to tell them we’d be late. The man proceeded to inform me that the concert had been canceled due to the snow. I didn’t say anything but I was really hot. To think we could have all been home in our beds for Christmas Eve. Next I called the band manager and he confirmed what the concert agent had said. I told him what happened and for once, he was nice. He asked to speak to the manager of the hotel.

“Hello,” said the manager. “Yes, I understand that the bus is off of the road. Yes, I think we still have enough room but we’re filling up fast. Yes sir, of course I know your agency. Naturally we’ll give you the commercial rate. Yes, our dining facilities are open and operating. How many did you say there are? Certainly, we can put two in each room or more if you’d like. Well, as for the driver, he can stay at no charge.” Arrangements were made and the manager hung up.

He turned to me and said, “You have more guts than I do Jack. I’m not sure I would ride in one of those plows for any reason.”

The driver of the big Caterpillar hit his marks about a mile further down the highway. I’d better explain what that means. The plow drivers are assigned certain areas to work. They patrol back and forth and try to keep that section clean of snow. He turned the big machine and we started back along the other side of Route Seventeen. Now, we were moving north toward the location of the bus. Some idiots insisted on passing us, even though the visibility was practically zero feet. Soon, we came to the site of the accident. The boys and Kyle had managed to get the bus back upright. That must have been quite a struggle. As we pulled up, everyone, even the girls were re-loading the luggage. The snowplow driver put on his hazard lights and put flares out across the highway. Kyle got the bus turned around and we went back toward the inn. I started to tell Milo what had happened but he stopped me.

“Jack, why don’t you just announce it to everyone at the same time.” Milo and I went to the front of the bus and Kyle handed me a microphone. “Just push to talk,” he said. I grinned. He had no idea that any one of us could have taken that thing apart and put it back together blind folded, especially me.

I announced that the concert had been canceled. I waited for the growls and complaints to stop and then I told everyone that we were going to be guests at the inn. That brought cheers and exclamations of relief. We all made it back to the beautiful old place and soon, we were settled into our rooms. I shared a double with Mike the drummer which was fine with me. The two of us were always working together anyway, fixing broken equipment or wrapping cords before the roadies put things away. We had a nice dinner and Rita sat with me again. She seemed very quiet. This wasn’t the Rita I knew. Usually, she was the happy cheerful one who made everybody laugh, stealing and wearing my Stetson hat, sneaking up and tickling Mike when he was bent over trying to adjust his drums. She slid very close to me on the bench and stayed that way. As we were finishing dinner, the boys from our equipment truck arrived. They had made it all the way to the concert hall before being turned around. The inn manager just shook his head and grinned.

Milo had an idea. “Jack, we’ve got everything here. Why don’t we put on a little show for these people?”

By this time, the inn was filled to capacity. We went to the manager and he was very pleased with the idea. In a flash, he had opened a banquet room and turned on the lights. In no time, his people had set up chairs and our crew had done wonders with the sound and lights. That night, we put on the same show we were going to do at the concert hall. The volume was much lower of course but everything else went off perfectly.

When it was Rita’s turn to sing, she brought her microphone over to where I was sitting at the keyboards. “This man took a chance today and probably saved all of our lives,” she said. “As you can tell, he’s blind. But in spite of all that, he climbed into a snowplow and went for help. No one else volunteered. He made the calls that put us here tonight. Who knows what might have happened to us if he hadn’t done that.” I started to protest but she quieted me with a finger across my lips. “We all feel that way Jack,” she said. Then, in front of several hundred people, she kissed my cheek. Naturally, I turned fifty shades of red and everyone on and off the stage laughed. Then someone started the applause. I really wanted to hide then!

When we finished the show, I went back to the room but Mike wasn’t there. In a moment, I heard a knock on the door. I opened it to find Rita in the corridor. She slipped inside, then closed and locked the door behind her.

“Jack, I need you to hold me,” she said. “I was so scared out there! We all could have been killed!”

I had always felt something special for Rita. At the age of twenty, I am ashamed to say I hadn’t had much experience with girls. I was so afraid of saying the wrong thing and being rejected. I have a rowdy exterior but inside, I’m very emotional. That night, Rita gave me the greatest Christmas gift I have ever received. She needed me. I thought I was in love. That usually happens when it’s your first time. Rita was so patient and understanding with me.

The next day, we all piled into the bus. When it came time for Milo to sign the check, the inn manager made a ceremony of tearing the bill into tiny little pieces.

“Your people gave us the best entertainment we have ever had,” he said. “You didn’t break anything or make a mess. Not only were you perfect guests, but you made everyone’s stay a really great experience.” Milo shook hands and the inn man turned to me. “Jack, I’m glad to have met you,” he said. “I felt a little funny meeting someone blind for the first time but last night I watched you on the stage. I noticed how well you fit into the show and that impressed me. I have to confess, I’ve always been a little apprehensive of guests who are blind.”

“We’re not all alike Sir,” I said. “But thank you for helping us out.”

That was the last stop on our tour that year. Rita and I stayed together for a while but then she went back to Iowa. I never heard from her again.

That was many years ago. But when Christmas time comes, I remember Rita and her special gift. There’s one thing I still don’t understand though. Why did everyone think what I did was such a big deal? I had fun riding that big plow. My dad was a truck driver so climbing up the side of big rigs was nothing new to me. The only thing I can think of is that the entire time, I wasn’t afraid. Even when the bus slid off of the road, I didn’t panic. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t see what was coming. Now that I’m older I think about what could have happened. Suppose we didn’t miss that truck? Suppose the ditch was deeper? I guess that old saying is true. “Fear not what might be. Care only for the things that must be!”

Bio: John Justice was born in 1945 with Congenital Glaucoma. He was blind by age three but that condition has never slowed him down or curtailed his curiosity. He is a published author with two books in print and has submitted hundreds of articles, stories and comedy pieces. His latest book, The Paddy Stories: Book One is available at

Dear Santa, poetry
by D. P. Lyons

Dear Santa,

Can you hear me?
Am I talking loud enough?
Can you hear me from your home up north?
Through all the trees and stuff?

I’d really like for you to know
How good I’ve been this year.
If you could see how good I’ve been,
I’m sure that you would cheer.

When Mom asks me to clean my room,
I sweep and clean all day.
I usually pick up all my toys
And put my clothes away.

When I watch my little brother
And play outside with him
We smile and laugh and hug a lot
Until Mom says, “Come in”.

I always try to tell the truth
But some times it’s really rough.
Mom and Dad, they always know
And that makes it really tough.

I’ve always tried to brush my teeth,
Each day for all these years.
I scrub my face, and wash my hands
And clean behind my ears.

I seem to do pretty well at school.
I read and write ok.
I get along with all the kids
At recess when we play.

And then, of course there’s supper time,
I always clean my plate,
Except when we have squash and stuff
That I really, really hate.

I hug and kiss my mom and dad
At the end of every day.
I bless the kids, and thank the Lord
When mamma helps me pray.

There’s one more thing that you should know.
I’m sorry, but it’s true.
I love my family most of all,
Even more than I love you.

I really truly love you though
And hope you understand,
As you steer your reindeer through the night
And fly throughout the land.

So Santa, if you should make it
To my house, I hope you’ll see
The cookies and the glass of milk
On the table, by the tree.

I love you Santa

Bio: Deon Lyons lives with his lovely wife of thirty-two years in Central Maine. Upon losing vision in 2010, Deon learned touch typing, and with the help of assistive technology, embarked on a lifetime passion for writing. His works revolve mostly around fiction, personal essays and poetry. With inspiration from family, friends and the blind community, he hopes to continue writing for many years to come. His books, Sully Street and Ready, Set, Poetry are available

Christmas Scentiments, ABECEDARIAN
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

All I want for Christmas is aroma therapy
beneath my fragrant Christmas tree.
“Chanel #5” casts a festive spell. I want it!
Did I mention I’d like some kick-ass shoes, too?
expensive Italian shoes suit me best. I want them!
forget about those Elvin gifts and
get me Ferragamo, size 8 in soft brown leather.
handbags from Italy? Yes, I want Sharif.
I admit I am a handbag snob – I WANT gifts from Paris, too.
just give me what I want and nothing less.
keep shopping till you drop, Dear Santa!
let me give you additional tips for what I want
Marilyn Miglin’s “M” perfume, Versace “Crystal
Noir” (with never ending desires)
or perhaps “Opium” to send me into a “Euphoria.”
“Pheromone” is an exotic fragrance – I want.
QVC is the best place to shop for scentiments – I can’t
resist ordering an extra bottle or two!
“send me the most expensive bottles” I say!
these days, even Santa’s reindeer shop on-line
up on the housetop the team takes a break
Vixen and Prancer order bottles of toilette
water for sweet-smelling girls like me!
“X – O – X – O -X” Kisses and hugs for you! Oh, remember
Yves Saint Laurant makes delightful scents but, I almost forgot- I want
“Zen White Heat” and “Zibeline De Weil,” the best Christmas Scentiments of all!

Signed: With never ending desires, I’m your girl. Lynda

Bio: Lynda McKinney Lambert is a freelance writer with over forty years of publishing accomplishments to her record since the early 1970s. She is now a retired fine arts and humanities professor from Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA. She resides in The Village of Wurtemburg, in western Pennsylvania with her husband, Bob, 4 cats and 2 dogs. Lynda is the author of Concerti: Psalms for the Pilgrimage, published by Kota Press. She writes articles on topics in the humanities, contemporary poetry and inspirational human interest stories. Her teaching career took her to Europe each summer where she taught drawingand writing to college students. She also taught a course and took students to Puerto Rico every spring semester for the college. Lynda loves to write, create fiber art, knit and travel.

In Which I Find Color in Late Winter, nonfiction
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

My husband, Bob, was still in bed this morning when I walked over to the window and opened the blinds. I told him, “Get up! Come over to have a look at the glorious new day.”

We saw that the expansive winter landscape and the sky appeared to have a bright blue hue washed all over it. The scene appeared as though a watercolor painter mixed up a very thin wash of transparent blue hues and brushed the thin liquid paints all over a blank canvas. This surprising brilliant landscape consisted of shades of turquoise, cerulean, azure, sapphire and cobalt- Every imaginable shade of blue was overlaid on the picture we viewed from our window. We felt delighted with the delicate colors this particular morning gave us; it was an unexpected surprise of brilliant morning light.

I know, in late February people begin to complain and lament the weather and dread the daily forecasts of storms and low temperatures. Some days, we seem to be in a deep freeze with winter snow storms and squalls moving over the land like waves on an angry, stormy ocean. The official designation of February is labeled, “Late Winter.” That’s because it will be awhile before spring is actually here.

We know spring will arrive on March 21st – but during the first months of the New Year we often feel like the Spring Equinox is a long way off. But, when we really take the time to look closely into what the days are like in February, we will discover that winter days are colorful and each new day holds a special beauty we cannot find in any other month.

Because we think about “black ice,” “black branches,” “white snow,” “dark clouds” and “whiteouts” we choose to think that February is a month that has only black and white shades. February is not a black and white month at all. No, look closer and find the subtle tints and effects in what appeared to be a stark landscape. Every imaginable shape, form and tinge of color in the spectrum is still present during winter but you have to be looking for them.

Let’s do an experiment together this year. All we need is a camera and a little bit of time to take some pictures of just one spot of landscape near where you live. This is the perfect month to begin your own “PHOTO ESSAY” of the COLORS in your particular part of the world.

Select one piece of landscape you like. Take a few photos of this place. Now, in the seasons that will be coming along during the year, return to this exact spot, and capture additional photos. Use the first snapshots you acquired to determine your exact location. Maybe a tree or bush, or some sort of landmark will be your focus. This will help you create a cohesive view in all of the photos you will be taking during the year. I chose to photograph our unique Zen Meditation Garden for this experiment. Bob created this extraordinary Japanese garden a few years ago and I love gazing at this peaceful garden in any season.
After you select your location – be sure to note where you stood to take the shots. You want your photos to be as similar as possible for this experiment.

From now, through the end of December – pay attention to the changing landscape in your photos. I think you will be so amazed at what you will see in the progression of seasons in the lighting, shadows, shifts and changes. If you are visually impaired, you may want to ask a friend or family member help you take the photos. Later, the two of you can sit together and talk about what your friend sees in the photos. Ask for lots of details. Ask about colors, shapes, textures, shadows, or anything else you want to know about your photos.
Look for the relationship between the color changes in your landscape photos. Be aware that we all have some preferences in colors we are particularly fond of as you look at your pictures. We think of specific colors for each season and we even call the colors “spring colors” a “fall palette” and “sunny summer colors.” Our minds are pre-set to expect particular colors for each different season. Let’s change our thoughts about the seasons and keep an open mind – have a willingness to find some surprises. Also, keep in mind that what we see will affect how we feel because humans are greatly influenced by our surroundings and light changes.

We associate colors when we say many words. For example, if I say “drab” you most likely think of a dirty gray or an olive green. If I mention, “the Caribbean” you may think – bright, blue, orange, hot pink, etc.

The same is true for each season – Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall evoke a particular palette in our minds. Adjectives can evoke emotions, bring to mind sensations and suggest powerful color preferences in our thoughts. There have been numerous scientific studies in which preferences and emotions are determined by the colors we see around us as well as the spoken words. Because the colors of winter remind us of the cold season, we might feel a shiver run through our body as we look at those photos, or if our friend describes the scene to us.

But, I say, “Give winter a chance! Look for the myriad of hues that are there in the landscape and you will find them. At first glance the winter landscape seems to be barren, cold, and stark. But those are the emotions we are feeling and not the facts. Lay any negative or preconceived emotions aside for a moment, if you will, and look deeper into nature to find beauty in the rich colors of winter.” If you are a writer, you might want to add a written comment to go with each of your photos. Later, you can develop the information you captured in the photos, with the writing you did, and create a poem or story from your photo shoot. Try it!

Part IV. The Writers’ Climb

My Favorite Mentor, nonfiction
Workshop Wisdom from Margo LaGattuta
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

She’s just home from teaching her college class. Chinese young people are learning to make creative writing part of their linguistic switch to self-expression in English. Margo’s dreaming of her upcoming weekend “up north,” as Michiganders say, hours up the road from Detroit, up close and personal with the woods and the water.

She kicks back, feet up, two cat companions scramble for space—her lap, her shoulder, her keyboard, papers on the desk, and of course, on the phone she’s using to call the conference line. Every other week she met with nine disabled people from the Behind Our Eyes writers with disabilities group in 2008.

We first met Margo through Mary-Jo Lord, who’d attended her workshops and been published in one of her anthologies. Mary-Jo knew we needed a speaker and evaluator for poetry, essays, and memoirs submitted to be part of our group’s first literary anthology published in 2007.

In our Summer workshop, Margo’s prompts and critiques led us away from humdrum patterns and presentations toward imaginative, “outside the box” possibilities:

  1. The Fine Art of…your choice.
  2. Personification of a clothing tag; cooking instructions on a box or bag; an unrelated list of nouns I.E., city, continent, song, food, clothing, pet, etc.

We quizzed her on some of the puzzles we as writers face:

“How can I turn a plot in a book I love into a narrative poem without getting sued for plagiarism?”
“How many flashbacks can I use in a memoir without confusing the reader?”
“For quotes within quotes, should I use apostrophes? Can I put quotes around talking/thinking to myself?”
“In memoir, how can I protect the good guys associated with the bad guys in my story?”

Most of her answers began with, “It depends,” followed by scenarios from her experience or imagination. She was helpful without being dictatorial.

Some of us took notes with Braille devices, some in large print writing, but many replayed the recorded call, soaking up more information from the second hearing. Most of us had at least two pieces published which originated from that conference workshop by phone.

I listened to those calls again recently to choose a few nuggets for presentation in our group’s tenth anniversary celebration of writing together. I laughed and teared-up time and time again. The cats disconnected her phone and she had to call back. Her basement flooded, she was waiting for the plumbers, and had to reschedule for the next week.

Margo told us she always introduced herself as a writer, although her awards—and often her major focus—came from poetry. She said claiming to be a poet sometimes put people off. She couldn’t interact as easily, but as a writer, somehow she was seen as quite normal. We kept in touch from time to time after the workshop. She visited our Sunday night group conference when we were planning our online magazine, Magnets and Ladders. We tried not to miss her regular column in a local newspaper, “A Word in Edgewise.”

In august of 2011, Mary-Jo brought me the terrible news. “We’ve lost Margo. I didn’t get to see her before she died.” Most of us didn’t know there was anything wrong. Two months before, I’d invited her to speak to another group of writers who are blind. How much of her time would I have tried to steal had I known?

The book will never be closed on her influence on my writing. I listen to the recordings of those six workshop sessions and want to say, “But Margo, now I have a new issue! Come back and walk me through your take on it.” I think sometimes she does.

She can’t know I published a book in 2012, and that Mary-Jo now edits the online magazine I was editing when I knew Margo. I know she’s smiling. Here’s the take-home message. If you have a mentor whose ideas work for you—she gets what you’re trying to do, you share easily together—don’t take that for granted. Be a sponge. Put yourself in her audience every chance you get. Margo was only sixty-nine. I was older, but she’d done so much more with her talent. I wanted to be her shadow. I still try to echo her ideas when I write and when I help others write.

Margo introduced us to the dream circle. Here’s how it works. Tell your writing or critique group to have a dream, or bring a dream, old or new, to the next meeting. She says it’s a self-fulfilling wish if you’re looking for new material. Next, have the participants tell their dreams one at a time. Go around the room, not analyzing. Use the key phrase, “If this were my dream, here’s what it would mean for me.” When you finish, you’ll come up with lots of new ideas for yourself, and you’ll grab new trails to follow from the dreams of others. We let her guide us through that process that Summer, and had lots of fun.

Margo had some helpful suggestions for critique groups. When you hear your work critiqued and you don’t believe the reviewer was on target, instead of being defensive, let it lie for a while. When you’ve almost forgotten your anger or disagreement, look at the review again with a new perspective. You may still feel like throwing it in the trash, but every now and then with more open eyes you’ll think, “Oh dear! She was right. It would be stronger if I would…. Yes, that last paragraph is not necessary. It’s really too long. The reader can’t stay focused. Take it out.” You don’t have to accept everything that’s offered at a workshop, you only have to hear it then. You may do well to process it later. Some ideas seem outside your understanding or acceptance because of the way they’re presented. If your reviewers don’t get what you’re about, what you’re trying to do; if they’re not on the same page with you, they can’t help you with their suggestions. Look for someone who wants your way to work, and is not just there to prove how many negatives can be lined up.

Margo believed in the power of creativity, and in its gradual disappearance because of the way media and classroom strategies fly through the highlights without looking between the lines for subtle nuances and veiled nuggets.

When I was putting my book, Chasing the Green Sun, together in 2012, I faced lots of choices about how to intermingle my fiction, poetry, and memoir pieces, “What would Margo do?” I dreamed some solutions one night, and guess who was helping me? I’d like to take that dream to one of her dream circles. Better yet, I wish it could come true.

Margo was a faculty member at the University of Michigan, Oakland Community College, and other schools. During her career she won the Midwest Poetry award and in 2005, the Mark Twain award. She wrote various newspaper columns, hosted a radio show on writing, and conducted countless workshops and seminars. I never had access to her four books and the many anthologies she edited featuring the work of her students and other fellow writers. The Behind Our Eyes group of writers with disabilities continues to honor her contributions as an important part of our successful journey.

Bio: Marilyn Brandt Smith worked as a teacher, licensed psychologist, and rehabilitation professional. She has edited magazines and newsletters since 1976, and was the first blind Peace Corps volunteer. She lives with her family and many animals in a hundred-year-old home in Kentucky. Her first book, Chasing the Green Sun, published in 2012, is available from Amazon and other bookstores and in audio form. She loves writing flash fiction stories, and was the primary editor for the first Behind Our Eyes anthology, as well as Magnets and Ladders from 2011 through 2014. Another of her interests
is music–barbershop harmony, folk and Americana, and current hits. Visit her website at

Moving Around, nonfiction
by Nancy Scott

As I write this, I have just reached 700 career bylines. Eight hundred is unknowable years away (five or six if things go really well). Seven hundred published pieces over 33 years could be my last hundred multiple.

I have weathered many big changes and have kept writing. In September 2002, I had 287 bylines. A new neighbor, a good friend, and an outside bench helped me get past one big life change to remind me of who I was and could be. And as you read this, I will have begun my fifteenth year living in this apartment.


I have just moved into this apartment complex. I needed a quieter place. Maybe, after 26 years, I needed to know that plush carpeting and change were possible.

Since I can’t see, I’ve spent the first five days of my new life walking into my old furniture in new places. But I began to have an even bigger concern. I spent almost twenty years writing in that former apartment. I began to wonder, on about day three, if my new apartment would be too quiet. No energy of the audible world to write against. Even my third-floor balcony seemed too high for serious listening.

But the writing gods provide. A friend described several benches outside the building. She mentioned grass and a few trees, too. Grass and trees are sometimes necessary for writing. I knew that because my former apartment had a yard.

After fortification of Tastykakes and diet Pepsi, I decide to try adventuring. Taking my cane and my talking word processor, I head outside. I remember the directions and find a bench, first try: past the three bushes, follow the weird metal fence, and after the turn, go about ten steps and hang a right. Sounds like a treasure map.

I, of course, don’t yet know if there are rules about “my bench.” I sit and turn on my Braille device. Will it annoy or interest anyone?

So far, there’s only traffic on the street below me down a grassy bank. The only birds I hear are crows. Birds are another aid to writing, but robins are better than crows. I won’t know if there are robins until next spring.

I start with a letter to a friend to prime the writing pump. Then, I edit an article draft and think about writing something new which might turn out to be this piece. The robotic computer voice still hasn’t attracted attention. I hate headphones. They are not an aid to curiosity let alone creativity.

Late afternoon sun hits “my bench.” No one has yelled. If I’m writing, I will look industrious rather than nosy. It’s perfect.

The only person that I’ve met here so far that might guess my motives is my neighbor across the hall. When she first saw me, she said, “I know you. I’ve read all your newspaper columns so I know all your bad habits.” She recognized me from the headshot published with each of my articles in the local paper. I was impressed and delighted that she thought of me as “blind writer” rather than something like “dangerous blind woman.”

Someone is leaving the upper parking lot in a car. No footsteps, so the person must be wearing sneakers. It’s just a single slamming door and a pause, and an engine’s decisive revving.

No one claims “my bench.” Of course, they don’t know yet that it’s mine. There is machinery off to my right making weird sounds. Sometimes, it sounds like a large fan with a bad squeak. Sometimes, it sounds like a waterfall. It must be the building’s air conditioner. It’s not a continuous sound like the F-sharp I hear in the apartment. There are wind chimes, too, although none are tuned to a musical scale.

“My bench” has no spider webs. My swing at the old apartment always had spider webs. Maybe someone is tending or using “my bench.” I wonder who. I would write nice things about whoever it is, if they don’t mind sharing the space.

“My bench” is getting uncomfortable after an hour and a half, just like my swing used to. It keeps me awake.

I will like it here. I can write here. I have “my waterfall,” “my traffic,” “my occasional bells on the breeze,” and “my bench.” There may be people watching me and not making noise so I might have “my audience.” Perhaps, “my future fans?”


I have written about many of my neighbors and this never-boring building often appears in my work. My across-the-hall-neighbor is still here, though she uses a wheelchair now. The lower benches are gone, but I can hear a lot from my balcony. The bushes have been replaced by tall, weedy things. The robins did appear the following spring and thereafter. The F-sharp, which turned out to be the water pump, disappeared a year or so ago but after a lengthy repair, it’s back. And, most summers, there are wind chimes, sometimes tuned to a musical scale.

Bio: Nancy Scott’s over 700 essays and poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, newspapers, and as audio commentaries. She has a new chapbook, The Almost Abecedarian available on Amazon and won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Her recent work appears in The Braille Forum, Disabilities Studies Quarterly, Philadelphia Stories, Pentimento and Wordgathering*.

Peddle Your Books for Free or almost free! nonfiction
by Bruce Atchison

Since none of us have the wealth and fame of a Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, here are some ways we can get publicity for free regarding our books. These aren’t guaranteed to be successful but they won’t cost anything except your time and effort.

The most obvious method is via social media. It costs nothing to join Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, and other networks. Log onto the mobile link versions to make navigating the sites easier. For example, gets you on the blind-friendly mobile page. Twitter, and I assume other networks, have similar addresses.

But here’s a word of warning: don’t be blatant about promoting your book or people won’t want to hear from you. Just mention it like you would to a friend. People are easily turned off by hard sell pitches. And don’t post too often about it either. There’s a fine line between mentioning and nagging.

Blogging, though not as popular as it once was, is an excellent avenue for book promotion. In my case, I write about topics which my books cover. Then I put a link at the bottom leading to where my paperbacks are on sale. People can click on that if they’re at all interested.

Another possibility is to be a guest blogger on somebody’s site. Often times, that person will want to post a guest article on your blog in exchange. This opens up the way for their blog readers to find out about your work and vice versa. In my case, I donate a post once a month to the InScribe Christian Writers Group.

Additionally, make a book trailer and put it on YouTube for free. In a minute and a half, tell just enough about your book to whet the appetites of potential readers. Make sure to look your best as well.

Social network groups are another free outlet for your work. These groups are free and cover all sorts of topics. So if your book is about canning fresh food for the winter, you can do a Google search for groups covering that subject.

In the same way, e-mail lists can be your ticket to book sales. IO Groups, Yahoo, and Google Groups are just three examples of sites where you can find folks who might be likely to buy your book.

One tip I’ve found effective is to put a link in the signature file of my e-mail program to my book’s site. For example, you can copy the link from the Amazon page where your book is sold and paste it into the e-mail program’s signature file. Or you could put the link to your blog there. Whenever you write somebody, that link will always appear at the bottom of your message.

Then there’s the local news outlets which might be interested in interviewing you. Community newspapers and small town publications are always looking for local success stories. Write a short letter to the editor, after you find out who she or he is, and describe why your paperback would be of interest to the readers.

If you have access to a fax machine or a friend with one, prepare a single-page press release telling about your book, why it’s important, and give a very short bio at the end. Make it like a news story with a catchy title such as “LOCAL MUSHROOM AFICIONADO CAPS OFF SUMMER WITH RECIPE BOOK.”

The same is true of club bulletins. If you’re a member, you might even be able to give a talk or a reading of your book. People also admire authors and will want to speak with you afterwards.

If your book is religious in nature, you can go to pastors, priests, rabbis, etcetera and ask if you can speak about your book’s topic and sell a few copies at their place of worship. The worst that can happen is they’ll refuse.

Believe it or not, craft sales are a nice venue to sell your wares. After paying for your table, which is usually a measly ten or fifteen dollars, all the profits are yours. Once a couple of copies have sold, you’re in the black, financially speaking. And if the table rental cost is a bit too expensive for you, or you only have one book to sell, share a table with another writer. Splitting the cost makes it cheaper for you and your partner as well as making the table look less barren.

Book signings are a good way to sell copies but doing them at book shops isn’t wise. They take from forty to sixty percent of the book price. Libraries, on the other hand, will let you keep your profits. People don’t often come to those places to buy books but they might if you get the word out in advance about when your signing will take place. I’ve found that people like it when an author autographs their copy, hence the term “book signing.”

You can also post a notice of your new book on post office bulletin boards. Make sure to ask permission first. Having a picture of your book cover on the notice is also a good plan since it gives people an idea of what it looks like. We’re told not to judge a book by its cover but people do so anyway.

Furthermore, QR (Quick Response) codes aid folks with smart phones to go directly to your book page and read about it. A free QR code generator is at Download and print out the image on your advertisements as an added inducement for customers to visit your book page.

I’ve found that having copies of my paperbacks with me to show my friends often generates sales. People tend to buy something if they can hold it in their hands. They’ll look at the cover, read the blurb on the back, and then open it to see what’s inside.

If you can find an obliging store owner who will stock your books on consignment, do so. It’ll help generate local sales. Shoppers will see the book and might decide to purchase it. Many folks are impulse buyers who go to a store for milk and come back with a cart loaded with things.

Note: never assume that the person at the counter is the owner of the shop. When I worked in the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s smoke stands, zealous sales people often assumed that I ran the kiosk. Always ask the teller what the name of the owner is before making your pitch.

This should give you enough incentive to try all these avenues of free advertising. Remember to ask a sighted friend for help if you get into difficulties. That person might become a customer if she or he likes your book and is impressed that you wrote one.

This article was published in the September edition of Consumer vision Magazine.

Bio: Bruce Atchison is a legally-blind freelance writer and the author of three memoirs. During the past twenty years, his articles have been published in everything from glossy magazines to underground newsletters. He lives in a tiny Canadian prairie hamlet with his rabbit, Deborah.

Contest Alert

We will be holding contests in the areas of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for the Spring/Summer issue of Magnets and Ladders. All submissions will be
entered into the contest. Cash prizes of $30 and $20 will be awarded to the first and second place winners. Remember, the deadline for submissions is February
15, so be sure to get your entries in on time.

Anatomy of an Anthology, nonfiction
by Kate Chamberlin

As readers of Magnets and Ladders, you know we are Behind Our Eyes, Inc., a 501C-3 nonprofit organization that offers accessible opportunities for writers with disabilities to share and discuss our work with fellow members, guest authors, and professionals in the publishing field via our e-mail list and teleconferences.

I’m sure you are aware that Magnets and Ladders is our online literary magazine and that we have, to date, published two anthologies: Behind Our Eyes and Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look.

All of the members working on organizing teleconferences, finding and inviting guest speakers, facilitators of our large and small critique groups, Board Members and editors are all volunteers. Behind Our Eyes provides writers with disabilities the chance to try new ideas and gain practical experience within a compassionate paradigm.

Even though I’ve retired from teaching, I’m always looking for those “shining moments”: the opportunities to learn from others, as well as, to impart my knowledge and expertise. I’d had several trade books and numerous magazine articles published, and had 15 years experience as a weekly newspaper columnist, but I’d never edited more than my church’s cookbook. Behind Our Eyes provided the opportunity for me to edit a major book containing the pieces from 65 contributors.

As the coordinating editor, it was my job to: be the contact person for the publisher, organize the submissions sent by the Submissions Chairman, and keep the committee up-to-date on each step. It was also my responsibility to write and distribute rough drafts of the Introduction, Table of Contents (TOC), advertising blurbs, media releases, etc. We found that documents created in either a Rich Text Format (rtf) or Microsoft Word (docx) worked best with our screen readers. I also: initiated dialogue with the publisher to add or delete pieces to stay within the number of pages she/he recommended to enable the anthology to be all in the font size of 14pt, which enabled free matter for the blind mailing to be used; Sent edited pieces to contributors for their approval or to make their own revisions or withdraw the piece; submitted the complete manuscript to the publisher in the agreed upon format, font, size, and page dimensions.

The Committee’s members Duties were to assign a Submissions Secretary to receive the e-mail submissions, and request missing information such as an author’s full contact information or bio. They were also responsible for being sure that pieces submitted were within the word count and in the correct format.

The pieces would then be sent out to the critique staff, who would respond via e-mail with constructive suggestions as to copy edit, size/length and appropriateness for this anthology.

The committee needed to decide if submissions would be garnered from an existing source, e.g. already printed in Magnets and Ladders, or open submissions to other organizations; Decide which genres if not all stories, poems, memoirs, and essays; assign two or three members to monitor the e-book and print book sales and royalty deposits.

The committee also discussed set-up specs for the product: font Type, Font size, paper color and ink, number of pages double sided, page size, binding (soft cover spine, spiral, plastic comb), paper stock for pages/cover/section dividers, Page set-up (Margins, Footer, Front cover information; Title, Editor, attractive design; Back cover Review. They asked notable people to read a pre-release copy and recommend the book.

The publisher kept the editor’s contact information handy; she let the editor know exactly how much or how little she would be doing copy editing, internal layout, cover design, and distribution venues. She needed to be very clear how many pages she would allow for the entire book including front matter, TOC, contents, and bios. She made sure that the editor and committee members could access the format used to send proofs, e.g. We found .rtf is best; sent a word description with any image attachments; detailed her ordering protocol and time-line for book release; allowed the organization/editor time to pre-release information to build buzz for ordering.

We’re all aware of the Contributor’s Duties, but, here is a review of what we used: submission guidelines for a literary anthology should be Indent paragraphs, no blank lines, enclose dialogue in quotes; spell check piece before submitting; stay within the recommended word count; include full name, land address, land and/or cell phone, e-mail address, short bio within recommended word count; spell check every thing again before submitting. It is really important to let the editor know if you change anything in your contact information or you may not get the opportunity to preview your edited piece before publishing.

To preview our book, here is the link to our book trailer:

If you’d like to see how our anthology turned out, copies of Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look, edited by Kate Chamberlin, ISBN 978-1490304472 are available through for $16.96 per soft cover book, Kindle, Nook, and from BOE members.

Now that you know that although publishing an anthology requires Team work, attention to detail, and a lot of decision making, it can be done. When you have successfully published your anthology, I hope you’ll share it with all of us at Behind Our Eyes, Inc.

Trespasser: Book excerpt, fiction
by Shelley Alongi

Chapter 2

It was already a hot day as we pulled out of our second to last stop for the morning on the first Tuesday in July. I sat back, concentrating on my work, relishing the comfortable, controlled climate provided by the air conditioner. I sighed inwardly, knowing the trip home would be unbearable if I didn’t have working air conditioning. As real a possibility as that could be, in today’s stifling heat I hoped that would not be the case.

As we picked up speed out of the station I saw something on the tracks. Instinctively, I pushed forward on the brake handle, hearing the familiar whooshing as the brakes began to apply. As we got closer, my mind comprehended what I was seeing.

“Damn!” I spat the word out with feeling.

I jammed the brake handle all the way forward and pulled the horn valve as hard as I could. The sound of the emergency brake valves going off is terrifying, imitating a gunshot as they almost instantly depressurize the air braking system. I knew John would already be aware that something was wrong.

As the train lurched to a hard stop, under me the object on the tracks quickly disappeared beneath the nose of the engine, followed by the worse sound of all: 800 tons of steel striking 200 pounds of human.

“emergency! Emergency! Emergency!” the dreaded call everyone hopes to never hear or say on their shift escaped my lips and was immediately answered by the dispatcher. I gritted my teeth as I gave our train number, and mile post location, and informed him that we had just struck a person. As I made my report, I steeled myself against the first nausea and horrible awareness of what had just happened. Twenty years of running freight and passenger trains never quite disbanded that initial realization that we had just killed someone. The anger and the annoyance came almost immediately, but there was nothing I could do now. The calm acceptance one had to manifest with this job would come later. John was busy walking our train to be sure no one had been injured inside or outside the cars.

An hour and a half passed before he was able to come up to the cab. He flopped down across from me, sighing heavily.

“Are you okay, Jeff? You’re not hurt.”

I grunted. “You okay?”

He shrugged. “I should already be asleep in the hotel by now,” he said after a short, thoughtful silence.

“I know.” We both looked at each other with resignation. If we were going to express anything other than professionalism this would be the time. There was no one here to see our reaction to some person deciding to end their life on railroad tracks.

“I don’t see anyone,” I told John, as I looked out the engineer side of the cab. We should be expecting the relief crew or police to take our statements.”

“The relief crew is almost here. The bus is on its way for the rest of the passengers. Go ahead and go down if you’d like. I’ll hold down the fort. The police are at the end of the train. They want your statement anyway.”

I climbed down the ladder and stepped over the gap between the tracks and the street. The heat struck me like a wave and I breathed in, letting my breath out in agitation. I walked toward the cab car, spotting an official holding a clipboard. I approached him, ready to perform my all-too-familiar duty.

“I’m the engineer,” I said, probably unnecessarily.

“Hello, sir. Well, tell me what happened.” It was comforting now engaging in routine, though the incident was unwelcome for both of us.

“I saw the man sitting on the tracks,” I told him. “He was cross-legged and he sat straight up with his back to me and his head high. He was deliberately there.”

“I’m sorry,” the investigator said. “We’ll list official cause as suicide. If we have any other questions we’ll look you up.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said, turning away from him.

As I walked away from the train, I felt slightly sick and tried not to look at the mess. I had seen things like this three other times in my railroad career and I knew it was best for my own sake not to do that. I don’t know how long it was but eventually a van showed up to drop off the new crew and take us forward to the station. I saw someone from management waiting for us. I went to him and repeated the story, John standing with me.

“We’re waiting for another van to take us home,” John told me. “I’ll go take care of paperwork if you want to be by yourself. I’ll come get you when they’re here.”

I walked alone through the tunnels and concrete pathways to the planter by the tracks where I usually arrived on a routine day. I sat down on the low brick wall, and placed my black railroad bag at my feet. I put my hand over my eyes, rubbed them and sighed. A breeze comforted my tired eyes; the sun mercifully hadn’t reached this side of the station and I was glad for the temporary respite from the heat that had already marked the beginning of the day. A few moments passed as my mind settled and I calmed.

I felt, rather than saw, someone sit down next to me.

“Jeff,” Judy’s voice soft, and low, immediately eased my weariness.

I turned to her, relieved that it wasn’t some official wanting to ask another question.

“Judy! You’re still here.” It was the only thing I could think of to say.

“Yes. I got on the bus that picked us up from the accident.”

I looked at my watch, noticing it was almost noon.

“You’re going to be really late.”

“I told the boss I’d stay later. I can do that with my job. Besides, I wanted to see you. And, I wanted to say I was sorry. I didn’t know when I’d get that chance so I thought I’d just come and find you if I could.”

“Thanks, Judy,” I said, genuinely touched. “That’s nice. I appreciate that.”

Her kind words made me feel better.

“It happens sometimes. They’re not easy.”

“This isn’t your first one?”

I shook my head.

“Four fatalities,” I told her in a matter-of-fact tone. “They’re all different.”

“How long have you been working for the railroad?”

“Twenty years.”

She looked at me and then away, remaining silent. She turned sympathetic eyes to me, holding my gaze for a moment. I didn’t look away.

“Jeff, can I hug you?”

I nodded. She turned and put her arms about me. I pulled her toward me and momentarily heavy-hearted, I dropped my head on her shoulder and just sat there, breathing. This woman I had gotten to know as a casual acquaintance over coffee in a railroad cafe during the last six months offered comfort. I sat here taking strength from another life, happy for more positive contact. And, yet, I shied away. I separated myself and sat looking across the tracks.

“You are done for the day?” she asked softly.

“The next three. Time off.”

“Oh. That’s good, I suppose.”


I breathed in deeply and sighed, my shoulders relaxing.

“Do you want to tell me what happened?” she asked kindly. “Did you see him?”

“I saw him.” My face collapsed as if I were a child about to cry. I turned pale and tensed as if I would be sick.

“Are you okay?” Judy asked me.

“I’m all right,” I finally spoke, once again gaining my composure. “Forgive me.”

She looked at me sympathetically. “I understand. I shouldn’t ask you these things.”

“You just care,” I said. “The man wanted to die, Judy. But it’s still a bit of a shock when someone gets in front of the train. It always just kind of hurts no matter what we say. Thank you for asking.”

“Sure. I’m just a mom, I guess, sometimes.”

“Do you have any kids?”

“No,” she answered. “No. I have pets.”

“I have two dogs,” I volunteered. “Collies. Do you have dogs?”

“Cats. I had dogs as a child. But I like cats.”

“I see.”

Somehow, exchanging information about our animals helped focus my mind somewhere else rather than the events of the morning.

“Glitter and Sparkles are their names,” she continued. “And your dogs’ names?”

“Vincent and Magnet. We’re going to get a third dog here, soon.” Judy turned a questioning gaze to me. “I have a friend who raises puppies,” I explained. “I’m on a waiting list to get one. She breeds them and it’s where I got the dogs I have now.”

This time, Judy smiled.

“I saw you pass me this morning at the first station. You always look like you’re in a hurry.”

“I am usually in a hurry,” she admitted. “Sometimes I think that bus just makes it and you guys don’t wait very long.”

“No, we don’t. You always make it, though.”

“Can’t miss this one, Mr. Train Engineer.”

I smiled, she had never addressed me like that. It made me feel good knowing she admired what I did for a living. I was used to some degree of admiration; it was common with kids and people who watched trains. But, today, her acknowledgement lifted my spirits.

“Cool,” I said, feeling a little better. “Tell me something about you, Judy.”

“What do you want to know?” she asked, maybe a little bit confused by my question.

“Anything,” I encouraged. “Anything at all.”

She twisted the strap of her red shoulder bag, her mouth grew thoughtful. “I like spaghetti with Italian hot sausage.”

That made me genuinely laugh, it was so far from the morning accident that it just seemed to lighten the mood.

“Ok. That makes me hungry,” I smiled.

“Come to my house some time,” she invited. “I’ll make some.”

My face darkened with hesitation.

“I have parties on New Year’s Day; not New Year’s Eve,” she explained. “I’ll invite you to my next one. Bring your family.”

“Don’t have one,” I answered reluctantly.

“Come on your own,” she invited. “I’ll let you know more details when the time gets closer.”

We both looked up as a figure approached from our right. It was John. He waved to me. I knew what that meant.

“It’s here,” I told Judy, “the van to take us home.”

She got up and stood beside me. She caught my eye for a moment.

“Have a good weekend,” she said gently. “See you Monday.”

I returned her friendly look.

“Thanks for coming out of your way to see me, Judy. Have a good weekend, yourself.”

I hoisted my bag to my shoulder as she walked away. John gave me a knowing glance as I came closer.

“She didn’t come see me,” he said, inserting his own brand of humor into the moment.

I tried not to smile.

If you have enjoyed this chapter of Trespasser, the book can be purchased at or downloaded and read at

Bio: Shelley Alongi has been blind since the age of two. She served as editor of Slate and Style, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind Writer’s Division from 2007 through 2009. She has served as editors for several newsletters with subjects as varied as Jewish culture, and aviation. You can read her short stories and essays for free under the author’s page on Trespasser, published in 2015 is Shelly’s first full length novel. It is a light romance with the railroad as a backdrop. It can be purchased at or downloaded and read at

Thirteen Ways of Looking: Exercise and Poem
by Mary-Jo Lord

I had the privilege of attending several summer writing workshops at our public library presented by Margo LaGattuta. Margo’s prompts and exercises always included samples of writing to help spark our creativity.

One of these exercises was to write a poem that began with the title, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at.” She, of course gave us several examples including the famous poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens. This was accompanied by poems from other workshops including:
“Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Moon,”
“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Ship” and
“Thirteen Ways of Looking at My Dog.”

We were then invited, as you are now invited to write a poem titled “Thirteen Ways of Looking at,” anything that you choose.

I chose to write “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Glass.” Here is my revised poem.


Thirteen Ways Of Looking At Glass

Most people don’t look at glass.
They look through it.

Large plate-glass doors separate frigid, blustery sidewalks from
warm, welcoming interiors.

Glass enclosed displays show a world of goods
to the wandering eye, and
shut me out.

When you see your image in glass,
you see what is really there,
or not there.

Glass enclosed metal frames
preserve photos of loved ones for years.

Products packaged in glass
Say class.

If I enter a store that displays glass on decorative shelves,
I feel like a spinning top, out of control.

The child in me wants to put my
fingerprints all over clean shiny glass.
It’s my way of saying “I was here.”

A glass sculpture or dish can feel shiny, textured
polished so smooth it feels glossy or
so clean I can hear it squeak
as I run my nails over its surface.

Some plastic looks like glass,
But only glass
feels like glass.

Some things taste best out of glass.
Like ice, cold water;
Root beer in a frosty mug; or
tea in a china cup.

Glass is scary.
It can shatter without notice,
like dreams.

When you look at a dirty window you can see
caked on mud, bird droppings,
a dog’s nose prints, or
a child’s breath.

Author’s note:
Here is a link to “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens

bio: Mary-Jo Lord writes poetry, fiction, and memoirs. A section of her work is published in a Plain View Press anthology called Almost Touching. Her work can also be found in Behind Our Eyes, Behind Our Eyes: a Second Look and in past Issues of Magnets and Ladders. She was recently published on the blog, Walking by Inner Vision and Dialogue Magazine*. Mary-Jo is the current Coordinating Editor of this magazine. She has a masters’ degree in counseling from Oakland University, and has worked at Oakland Community College for Twenty-four years. Mary-Jo lives with her family in Rochester, Michigan. She has been blind since birth.

Part V. From a Different Perspective

Perspective, nonfiction
by Andrea Kelton

Friday, November 22, 1963 dragged on. I couldn’t wait for the school day to end. So I could hurry home to get all prettied up for my first high school dance.

Around 2:45 that afternoon, the loudspeaker crackled and squawked. Sister Lenore’s tearful voice gently announced that classes were over for the day. We were to go immediately to church. President Kennedy was dead and we had to pray.

My 14 year old brain strained to make sense of the situation. Assassination was the stuff of history books, not my life. My 14 year old desires collided with sorrow. The world was falling apart and all I wanted to do was go to the dance.

Our student population had never been as solemn and silent as we were filing into the church pews. Father Crowley led us in prayer for the president and his family. We prayed for the country. We prayed for peace. We were dismissed into a world populated by zombies drifting through life in shock.

While I waited to hear the dance’s fate, Jacquelyn Kennedy flew back to Washington, D.C., accompanying her dead husband’s coffin. As I primped my hair and chose an outfit, Mrs. Kennedy planned a state funeral. Later, as I danced and hung out with friends, Jackie wrote dozens of personal notes and organized her family’s move out of the White House.

On Friday, November 22, 1963, a collective American dream died. That night, I attended my first high school dance. I have vivid memories of each excited anticipatory moment. The burning need to attend that dance. Today, fifty plus years later, I can’t remember one single moment of that dance. However, I still feel the loss of a dream.

Bio: Andrea Kelton was diagnosed with uveitis at 24. She has lived in Chicago since 1985 enjoying the independence public transportation provides. Andrea retired in January, 2016, after teaching for 37 years. She attends a weekly memoir writing class led by author Beth Finke.

My Morning Commute, nonfiction
by Andrea Kelton

Tote bags slung over my shoulder and white cane in hand, I was the first person on the southbound Red Line platform at Belmont. By the time the train pulled in, young, well dressed professionals packed the platform. Every one of them pushed by me, leaving me to squeeze in at the end.

Most days I laugh off these rude, self-absorbed young ones, but not this morning. I held on tightly to the train railing as the train lurched and jerked towards Fullerton, and my mind composed a book on manners for the new millennium.

At the Fullerton stop, a young woman offered me her seat. My book shrank to an article focused on the rude behavior of men. Women’s liberation did not free young men to act in a rude, crude, indifferent manner. How about just being polite and considerate to people?

As the train pulled into the Grand Avenue stop, I’d refined my article to a letter to the Tribune’s editor. I’d blast these guys into consciousness!

By the time I rode the “Up” escalator at the State and Lake stop, I had changed the world. I stepped off the moving stairs and was approached from the right. “Do you need any assistance, ma’am?” a middle-aged male fellow commuter inquired.

“Oh! No. I’m fine. Thank you for asking. I appreciate it.” My mouth responded as my mind whirled. Was he on the train with me? Had he read my mind? Did my facial expressions give me away? Or was he an angel?

I chose angel. This early morning traveler had startled me back to today’s meditation topic . . . forgiveness. I start each day reading inspirational passages. Most mornings I use my commuter time to review my morning lesson. However, this morning I allowed myself to sink into anger and judgment. But the Universe only allowed me a brief fall from grace. Then She sent a reminder. Dressed in a gray trench coat, this earth-angel offered a bit of kindness and redeemed his fellow man.

On Judgment, nonfiction
by Bonnie Blose

Philando Castille. Diamond Reynolds. They were not famous and were not looking for their 15 minutes of fame when life for Philando ended with gunshots on what should have been an ordinary day. They were out doing the kinds of errands millions do every day. Castile was shot by a policeman. His fiancé, Diamond Reynolds, recorded the audio and video of the tragedy and in doing so made us all think and feel more about the fragility of life and how quickly it can come to an end.

Since that day, many have criticized Reynolds for the choice she made. When the shots that ended the life of her boyfriend seated beside her were fired, Diamond was ordered not to move. If she had, she might have been injured or killed. She had a four year old daughter to think of and consider. She had the phone in her hand and didn’t have to move to use it to make a video of what was taking place.

If we are guilty of anything that breaks my heart, it is the amount of judging we rush to do without all the facts. Even if we had them all, and they were totally accurate, we wouldn’t have access to her mind or what she was thinking or feeling. There are times when terrible things happen and people respond and seem uncaring or removed. In a sense, because of the heartbreak of the situation, they may be, but it may be a separation that protects them and a means of surviving a terror the mind cannot fully comprehend. Just because she couldn’t touch him and was ordered not to move doesn’t mean she didn’t care. She knew she was losing the man she had been planning to spend her life with. Love for him was never in doubt. She was making the only record she could of his last moments on earth and making sure he mattered. It was all she could do as her love and her future died.

I think of what it might have been like for her to wake up the next morning knowing her life, hopes, dreams, and security were forever shattered. Each day she will wake up experiencing the necessity of beginning again with very little heart for it. From somewhere, she will have to find purpose and strength while reliving the nightmare of those terrible moments and the tragedy of her loss. Over and over, the shots will reverberate in her head. As a mother, she will hear her four-year-old daughter say, “I am with you.” She will wonder what her child remembers and worry about the repercussions of those memories for her daughter as she grows older. She may worry about what will happen to her as she goes off to school and wonder what else she will lose. She will experience bitterness of life so cruelly taken and never have an answer that satisfies or justifies, for there is no way an act of this magnitude can ever b explained or understood.

Diamond will never have the illusion of safety again, in a relationship, at a job, walking or driving down the street, in a store, playing with her child, or when she may be stopped herself by the police.

I hurt for her. I have not suffered as she has, but I have lived in a frozen moment for different reasons. Many of us have. We have no right to judge her. She did the best she could and could not do what she was ordered not to. I would think the burden of her desperation would weigh heavily enough for those who, without living in her situation, feel they can judge her. That is part of the problem. Will we ever heal if we make judgments without knowing the facts? Her experience is hers alone as is our own. I say Not in a million lifetimes.

When I think of her, I want to hug her and tell her how sorry I was about what she is losing and that I will be with her in spirit on nights when that tragic day starts repeating itself again in her mind. It will, without choice on her part. Tragedy knows nothing about boundaries. There will be no lock or barrier to keep them away ensuring her security and safety. Dark memories don’t play fair. They have no time limit. During the day, in a conversation with a friend, while she is watching TV, making dinner, playing with her child, they will steal upon her and will own her mind. She will be willing to do almost anything to end the pain, but she has responsibilities. If Diamond is lucky, a strange word to use, she will laugh again, love life again, but not quite the same as before. Emptiness, loss, bitter loneliness, and loss of innocence will walk with her as unwanted companions do. No, I will never judge. In those first moments, she may seem hard to some, removed or unloving to others, but in the recording of that day which will haunt her forever, she showed her love in the only way she could.
I hope when she starts weaving the new tapestry of her life she will speak for her race and for all those who have been hurt in the way she has. If she says she doesn’t want to do that, I will understand. We need her strength. Diamond Reynolds knows and understands the need for change more than most of us ever will. Experience is a harsh teacher. I don’t know her, but I love her strength, tenacity, and most of all for finding her voice at a time when most would not. Pictures in life or in death speak louder than any words. They were the last and only things she could make so the world in chaos would remember the man she loved and that his life mattered.
Bio: Bonnie grew up in Slatedale, Pennsylvania with two fabulous storytellers. She cohosted Jordan Rich’s book show nights on WBz For 15 years. From 2006 to 2013, Bonnie was the host of the show Books and Beyond on Her memoir, “The Art of Dying,” was a winner in the nonfiction category of the NFB Writers’ Division eventually appearing in Magnets and Ladders. She enjoys reading, listening to music, podcasts, and has lived in Ohio since 1982. She is proud of being owned by two cats, Honey and Almost. Her son Kevin lives in a nearby town.

Two Controversy Tales, nonfiction
by Peter Altschul, MS

Those of us who live alone while totally blind must find and encourage people to assist us with tasks that involve reading print or driving.

Since January, my guide dog and I have been living together in an apartment, and Carol has been buying me groceries, writing the occasional check, sifting through my mostly junk mail, and performing other quirky tasks. We got to know each other as she drove me to and from choir rehearsals during the past couple of years, so it seemed natural for her to assist me in other ways.

Over the years, we have learned quite a bit about each other. While she was raised on a farm with eight brothers and sisters in rural Missouri, I was raised with a younger sister in a village an hour north of New York City. She was once a land-lord; I spent much of my adult life paying rent. She liked Judge Judy; I liked sports. She liked to cook; I liked to eat. She was still trying to make sense of the death of her only son, and we were both trying to recover from messy relationships. And we both liked to sing.

One Thursday evening in mid-February, while driving to a choir rehearsal, Carol stated that she couldn’t understand why University of Missouri administrators had bowed to the demands of unruly African American students.

“And why didn’t they remove the scholarships from the football players who refused to practice?” she demanded.

I gulped. “For one thing,” I pointed out, “removing the scholarships from football players would make it more difficult to recruit future African American football players.”

“I suppose,” she growled.

“And I think the Mizzou students are getting too much credit,” I continued, “as most faculty members seem to have contempt for both people who were shown the door. The students gave those in power the backbone to do what they should have done a while ago.”

A semi-frosty silence lay between us as we walked together from the parking lot to the rehearsal.

On a Tuesday morning about two months later, Carol drove me to an interview for a job involving conducting workshops to strengthen relationship-building skills of people living in poverty. As she was driving me home, she began telling me about one of her former tenants who lived below the poverty line. This tenant received a monthly government check due to its determination that she had a disability.

“But she didn’t seem disabled to me,” Carol told me.

The government also paid part of the tenant’s rent. She either couldn’t or wouldn’t force her abusive ex-husband to pay child support or look for a job. All she did, Carol told me, was to sit around and smoke cigarettes.

I told her that I had heard similar stories while in social work school and working on a project addressing teenage pregnancy, and that it was hard to know who should take responsibility for what. I told her about a friend who had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury who was still jumping through hoops four months after applying for benefits.

“But they won’t work,” Carol insisted.

I pointed out that most people living in poverty had jobs whose salaries kept them dependent on government benefits, and that I couldn’t understand why the government allowed corporations like Walmart to get away with this.

“And you know how hard it is for people with disabilities to get jobs,” I said.

“But they don’t pay taxes.”

“I’m one of those people,” I told her, “because my family’s extraordinarily high medical expenses brings our taxable income to zero.”

As I dispensed with my dark suit in my apartment with my guide dog sniffing about, I thought about how shared stories, attentive listening, and a more relaxed vibe had allowed us to unwind the poverty controversy much more effectively than our discussion of the University of Missouri controversy. While I’m certain our basic take on poverty hadn’t changed, I believe that our relationship became more solid because we had created a better understanding of the basis for our beliefs.

A week later, Carol died suddenly. I’ll miss her compassionate efficiency, her dry sense of humor, and her willingness to learn from the experiences of others. Farewell, Carol; rest in peace.

Bio: Peter Altschul assists groups and organizations to become better at motivating people, resolving conflicts, managing diversity, and planning for the future. A published author and composer, he lives with his guide dog, Heath in Columbia, Missouri. Please visit for additional information about his work.

Locket, fiction
by Susan Muhlenbeck

Sherry Hill slowly closed the front door behind her estranged husband Charlie and their son Richard. It was Halloween, and Charlie had come by to take Richard out to do some trick or treating. Sherry didn’t have to worry about any trick or treaters coming to her house. She and Richard had moved into a high rise building after her and Charlie’s separation.

Today was their ten year anniversary as well as Halloween, Sherry thought ironically as she walked into the bedroom. She was planning to file for divorce the next day. What a shame, she mused as she sadly slipped her wedding ring off her finger and laid it carefully in her jewelry box. What a shame she was filing for divorce the day after their anniversary. What a shame she had to file for divorce at all.

It was his fault, she told herself for the thousandth time since she had walked out six months ago. He had betrayed her. She could never trust him again.

She poked around in her jewelry box, admiring some of the pieces she hadn’t seen in a while. She hadn’t had any reason to wear much jewelry lately. There was the strand of cultured pearls her parents had given her for her graduation present, the ruby ring Charlie had given her on their first anniversary just because it was her birth stone, a silver bracelet her best friend from high school had given her when Sherry had moved out of state.

And there was something else. Sherry lifted the blue velvet case and slowly raised the lid. A gold locket lay within, gleaming brightly as Sherry plucked it from its nest. The locket had belonged to Charlie’s mother. He had given it to Sherry when his mother died five years ago. She opened the locket and saw Charlie’s infant face staring up at her. He looked so much like Richard as a baby that Sherry had to laugh out loud. They could have been twins with their big green eyes and frizzy brown hair. She should probably give the locket back, she thought ruefully. Charlie would want to give it to his next wife or girlfriend.

She held the locket by its chain, watching it swing back and forth like a pendulum. She became dimly aware that she was no longer alone. She looked around in alarm, half expecting to see a burglar. Instead she saw a little boy, and she was no longer standing in her bedroom, but in an unfamiliar park.

Sherry shook her head to clear it. She was suddenly feeling dizzy, and she felt a headache coming on. She must be daydreaming, she thought absently. Maybe that wasn’t the right word. But something weird was going on, she told herself. She rubbed her forehead, taking in the strange scene. She was standing near a sand box. There were swings and a slide and a merry-go-round. There were a few children using the equipment, none of which she recognized. A little boy of about ten was walking towards her.

“Are you okay?” he asked by way of greeting. “You look sick or something.”

Sherry was taken aback. She never had a child inquire after her welfare. “Oh, I’m all right,” she said, trying to stay calm. “Just kind of hot.” It was kind of warm for the end of October, she thought. It felt more like the middle of May. Or maybe this was normal October weather in this part of the country, wherever this part of the country was.

The little boy unzipped his red backpack he had strapped to his back. He pulled out a thermos with the name Charlie written on it with black labeling tape. “Have some cold water,” he offered.

“Thank you,” Sherry said, opening the thermos and pouring the refreshing water down her grateful throat.

“Are you new in town?” the boy asked. “I don’t think I ever saw you before.”

“Well,” Sherry hedged, “I’m just visiting. Needed to get away to think about my problems.” She bit her tongue. Why had she said that?

“Want to talk about it?” the boy called Charlie asked, looking as concerned as a child that age could.

“It’s nothing,” Sherry said quickly, wondering why this strange child had taken such an interest in her. “I’m filing for divorce tomorrow is all.”

“Why?” the boy asked, suddenly looking worried.

“Well,” Sherry began, determined not to laugh at the absurdity of the situation she had gotten herself into, “my husband lost a hundred dollars at the race tracks and didn’t tell me. I found out by accident when one of his pals let it slip at a party. I don’t know which is worse,” she continued, her voice rising, “his losing the money or his not telling me. Anyway, he said that it was just a one time thing. He swore he would never make another bet in his life, but I don’t believe it. He should have told me about it too, but he said he didn’t want to upset me. Oh, his name is Charlie, by the way,” she laughed.

The boy seemed to consider. “Then he can’t be all bad,” he said seriously. “Haven’t you ever done something once that you would never do again?”

It was Sherry’s turn to consider. “Smoking,” she said grudgingly, “but that was a little different.”

“Why? Because it was you and not somebody else?” Charlie asked. Sherry searched for something to say. “Well, I better get home,” Charlie said, looking at his watch. “I had to stop by the jewelry store and pick up a locket my mom had to get the clasp fixed on, but I should have been home by now.”

Sherry looked down at her empty hands. “I have a locket with my husband’s baby picture in it,” she said conversationally. “I should probably give it back to him. It had belonged to his mother, and she’s dead. Can I see your mom’s locket?”

The boy hesitated. “Okay,” he agreed, reaching into the backpack. “I really shouldn’t be talking to you. My parents said not to talk to strangers. You seem okay though. You kind of remind me of my mother, except maybe not quite as forgiving. My dad sold her wedding ring without telling her so we wouldn’t lose our house. You should have heard her yell,” he laughed, “but she got over it. I guess that’s why the locket is so important to her. My dad got her the locket later on, when times weren’t so tight.” He handed her a blue velvet box.

Sherry lifted the lid and looked down at a locket that was too similar to hers for comfort. She opened it with trembling fingers and found herself gazing at the portrait of her husband she had so recently seen. “Charlie!” she whispered, putting a hand over her heart to try to control its pounding. But the boy was gone. She held only the locket, still swinging back and forth on its thin gold chain. She looked around and was not surprised to find herself back in her familiar bedroom.

Sherry fastened the locket around her neck as she thought about what she had to do. She hoped it wasn’t too late to make amends. Charlie had pleaded with her several times to give their marriage another shot, even offered to go to counseling, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She hoped he hadn’t had a change of heart. She picked up the phone and called her parents.

“Can Richard spend the night at your house tonight?” she asked her mother anxiously.

“Of course, but why?” her mother asked in surprise.

“It’s my anniversary,” Sherry almost shouted.

“Oh!” her mother exclaimed. “Oh, I see,” she said knowingly.

She called Charlie next.

“What’s up, Sherry?” he asked curiously.

“Richard is spending the night with my parents,” she said without preamble. “Can you come over after trick or treating?”

There was a pause, and then, “What’s this about?” Charlie asked cautiously.

“I can’t tell you over the phone,” Sherry said quickly, “but I have to see you tonight, unless you have plans,” she added nervously.

“Actually, I did have plans,” Charlie said without feeling, “but I can change that. I’ll see you in a couple hours.”

Sherry raced to the supermarket and scooped up lamb chops, rice, asparagus, and a red velvet cake. Might as well try something different, she thought, forgoing the steak, potatoes, green beans and chocolate cake she would have bought under normal circumstances. Things had to be different from now on. Should she grab a bottle of wine and break out the candles and play some romantic music? No. Best not to get too carried away yet. They would have to move slowly for things to work out. She grabbed the most unromantic card she could find. It had a picture of a cat on the front. “It’s Your Anniversary,” the card proclaimed. On the inside it said, “Have a few cold ones” and had a picture of a few bottles of cold milk.

She made it home in record time and started cooking. While the lamb chops were in the oven, she turned the radio on to the classical station. They never listened to classical music. She changed into a casual blue dress and put her wedding ring back on. She contemplated dabbing on some strong perfume and red lipstick but determined that would be going overboard. She only wanted to have a talk this evening and see where that led.

The doorbell rang a few minutes later. “So what’s up?” Charlie asked as he walked into the kitchen. “Something smells good.”

“I hope I didn’t mess up your plans too bad,” Sherry said, playing with the locket around her neck.

“It’s all right,” Charlie said reassuringly. “Julie understands.”

“Julie?” Sherry demanded. “Is that your new girlfriend?” she asked, suddenly wishing she had gone ahead and got the wine and candles, was playing romantic music, got a romantic card, and dabbed on the sweet perfume and bright lipstick.
“Has Richard met her?”

Charlie stared at his wife in astonishment, trying to determine what had come over her within the last few hours. His gaze came to rest in the middle of her chest. “You’re wearing my mom’s locket,” he cried in surprise.

Sherry clapped her hand over her chest. “Oh, I was just trying it on,” she said quickly, feeling her face flush. “Tell me about this Julie!”

“It’s nothing serious,” Charlie shrugged, “at least not yet. Richard is not going to meet her unless we get serious. Richard is worn out by the way.”

“I’ll call and check on him in a little while. He looked so cute in his pirate costume,” she laughed.

“Yeah, I got pictures,” Charlie said, indicating his cell phone. “So why did you invite me over here? I was not expecting this.”

Things will never be serious between you and Julie if I have anything to say about it, Sherry thought furiously. “Hope you like lamb chops,” she laughed.

“Lamb chops?” Charlie repeated uncertainly. “I had them once when I was a kid. They were good. When did you get into classical music?”

Sherry handed him the card. “Happy Anniversary!” she said with a flourish, ignoring his question.

He looked at the card, then burst out laughing. “That is priceless,” he said, waving the card in front of her. “But what brought all this on? I thought we were through. You only told me that about 99 times.”

“I’ll try not to make it a hundred,” she said under her breath. Before he could respond, she grabbed his arm. “I think the lamb chops are done,” she said, steering him into the dining room. “Let me get everything together, and then I’ll tell you what happened to me!”

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

Hammer, fiction
by Susan Muhlenbeck

“Does anybody know what today is?” Pastor Schmidt asked the children during church on October 31.

“Halloween!” about 20 little voices shouted.

“That’s right, it’s All Hallows Eve,” the minister agreed laughing. “Does anybody know what else today is?”

“Reformation Day,” a few of the older children said.

“Exactly!” the pastor smiled. “You’ve been learning about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in your confirmation classes. Today after church, we are having a special lunch to celebrate the reformation. We’re going to have authentic German cuisine like Sauer kraut and hasenpfeffer and Black Forest cake. And the adults can sample some German beer.” The congregation laughed. “Before lunch,” the pastor continued, “the children are going to play a special game.”

The children stood around outside while the game was being set up. Some of the elders were putting the food out. The tantalizing smells made everybody’s mouth water.

“This is how the game works,” Elder James told the anxious children. “We have a special door,” he said, pointing to a wooden board propped against a tree. “Each child is going to take this hammer and run to the door as fast as he or she can. Then they’re going to take this hammer and nail this plaque to the door. A prize goes to the child who can run to the door and nail the plaque the fastest. Got it?”

Paul stood in line, impatiently waiting his turn to play the game. He watched his pals run lickity split to the door, then heard the hammer blows as they pounded the plaque into the door. The adults shouted encouragement as each child took his turn.

At last his turn came. He clutched the hammer in his hand and waited for the signal. “Ready, set, go!” Elder James shouted. Paul flew across the grass towards the makeshift door. He was still a few feet from it when he sensed something was amiss.

He heard pounding before he reached the door. He stared in astonishment as a man nailed something to the door, but it wasn’t the door from the game. Paul looked around curiously. Then he clapped a hand over his mouth to stifle a scream. He saw a church all right, but it wasn’t Trinity Lutheran church which he attended. Instead he saw a huge gothic church with a very tall steeple. He didn’t see anybody he knew. There was nobody around except the man hammering the board to the door of the church.
The board had some strange writing on it that he didn’t recognize.

Paul waited until the man finished, then asked, “What are you doing?”

The man almost dropped his hammer. He stared at Paul, sizing him up. Then he shouted several words in a strange language.

“I don’t understand,” Paul said nervously. “Do you speak English?”

“Nein!” the man said, shaking his head. The man scratched his blond head, contemplating what to do next. Sighing, he drew a crude house in the air, then gave Paul a questioning look.

“I don’t know,” Paul said truthfully. “Where are we?”

The man said something in the strange language again. Paul recognized the word Wittenberg.

“Wittenberg!” Paul cried, smacking his forehead. “Martin Luther!”

The man appeared startled on hearing his name. “Ja, Ja!” he exclaimed, thumping his chest.

“I’m Paul Kramer,” Paul said lamely. He thought absurdly of the book Time Machine that he was reading for a book report. He had read several books and seen several movies about time travel, but he knew they were just science fiction. He wondered if he was losing his mind.

Sensing the child’s discomfort, the man spoke more gently. “Kommen sie hier,” he said quietly, taking Paul by the hand. Paul hesitated, then allowed himself to be led away. They started walking down a paved road. Paul saw several people walking, but they ignored them. “Can I see your hammer?” Paul asked suddenly, holding out his free hand.

The man handed over his hammer. Paul examined it carefully. It wasn’t too much different from the modern hammers, he thought.

“Paul, stop!” came a shout behind him. He stopped in his tracks. It was his dad’s voice. “Why did you run away like that?” his dad asked as he caught up to him. “We saw you approach the door. Then you dropped the hammer and kept running.”

Paul gaped at his dad. He looked around at the familiar surroundings. The church was a ways in the distance. “I guess I wasn’t thinking,” he mumbled. “Sorry if I worried you.”

“Well, come on,” his dad said, taking his hand. “Where did you get the hammer?” he asked as they neared the church.

Paul gasped in surprise. He looked down at the hammer, awed. “A man gave it to me,” he said cautiously.

“Who? Why would a man give you his hammer?” his dad asked, puzzled.

“I asked if I could see it, then he disappeared,” Paul said, trying to stay calm.

“Are you okay?” his dad asked, concern etching his brow. “Maybe you need to get some rest.”

“I think I just zoned out for a minute,” Paul said quickly. “I’m fine now.”

“And the winner of the contest is “John Keller,” Pastor Schmidt shouted.

“Congratulations, John,” one of the elders said, handing the grinning child a new Bible as the congregation applauded.

Paul clutched his new hammer to his chest. Meeting Martin Luther and getting his hammer on Reformation Day was the real prize, he thought gleefully as he joined the line to get some authentic German cuisine.

Schrodinger’s Shaggy Dog, fiction
by Shawn Jacobson

You meet the most interesting people at conventionss. But sometimes you have to define the term loosely. “Loosely?” I’m sure you’re asking. Well, if the bartender will bring over another beer, I’ll explain by telling you about what happened to me and my dog the first time I went to one of these conventions.

I had just been at this session on quantum mechanics and I was waiting for the Mrs. to take my son and me home. We lived close by and we didn’t have the money to spare for a hotel room. There’s a joke one of the panelists tells about how the difference between a science fiction writer and a pizza is that a pizza can feed a family of four. Anyway, one of the quantum mechanics panelists came up to me and asked me to say hi to the dog for him. This struck me as odd, given that I had said nothing about owning a dog.

I continued to ponder this strangeness. Just as I concluded that this was the sort of high weirdness you would expect with cons, my wife drove up in the family minivan. As I climbed in, I heard the familiar yipping sound that I had grown to love; the Mrs. Had brought Powerball to get him out of the house.

I never figured out what breed of dog Powerball was. The lady at the shelter had claimed he was a “sid.” When asked to explain, she told us that “sid” stood for “small interesting dog.” That’s all we know. His one distinctive feature was fur that bushed out all around, making him look twice the size he really was. The fur ball appearance was the origin of his name, and our mutual wish for luck with the lottery. The pot was big when we took Powerball home.

We headed for the highway.

“Are you hungry?” my wife asked. “Should we hit the drive through and get grease in a bag?”

“Sure,” we replied in unison. We had eaten snacks provided in the fan suite, but had avoided the hotel restaurant and its ruinous prices. Remember what I said about science fiction writers and pizzas.

This turned out to be a mistake. Once we got our meals, Powerball jumped on my lap insisting on sharing my burger and fries. The nondescript chicken thingies my son had ordered didn’t interest the crazy mutt at all. So I ended up holding my sandwich two inches from the roof, blocking the furry bundle of joy in my lap whenever I brought my burger down for a bite.

“Try to get him to calm down,” my wife advised as I wrestled the beast for my food. “Maybe if you try petting him he’ll settle down for you.”

I continued my meal as before lacking the third hand required for the suggested calming exercise; maybe the Mrs. Could be on a panel discussing the proper use of extra appendages I thought to myself. Eventually, my meal done, I tried to calm the mutt down. But Powerball seemed more excited than ever. He scrabbled around on my lap yipping to beat all. It was a relief when the dog settled down. Beyond that, I just didn’t think anything about it.

“Is something wrong with Powerball?” my wife asked as we pulled into the drive. “It is just not like him to be this quiet.”

I felt the dog, just nothing, still, no heartbeat. No heartbeat!

“Oh my God,” I said, “I think he’s dead!”

“Let me see him,” the Mrs. Said as I handed the ball of fur to her. “Did you give him his heart medicine?” she asked. “You know,” she continued like I was permanently dumb, “the medicine for his heart!”

Well, I said thinking to myself there was the flooding from the coffee pot, the smoke alarm that had gone off because of the toaster, almost forgetting my billfold and remembering as I went out the door, a frantic search for car keys, “No,” I replied meekly.

I got no sleep that night. I don’t know whether it was my wife blaming me for the death or me thinking she should blame me for it, but I just felt uncomfortable in bed. I remembered Powerball, chasing him around the yard to protect the local rabbits. I remembered walking him as he tried to get away to hunt, to be a dog, and I remembered the bouts of yipping which made me secretly wish for anything, anything at all, to make him shut up. That now came back with a rolling tide of shame. How bad of a dog owner I’d been all along.

The next day, I stood there with a spade waiting to dig out Powerball’s final resting place. My daughter was in hysterics. “Daddy, you let him die!” she sobbed with wails of torment.

“These things happen,” the Mrs. Replied giving me what I suspected was a stony look.

“Remember when he ran off and we had to bribe him with steak to get him back?” I asked. It seemed good to give the mutt a proper sendoff before shoveling.

“Yah,” my wife said “I remember eating cold meat sandwiches that night. But it was worth it to get him back.”

“And do you remember how he used to yip every time door-to-door salesmen came by?” my son asked. “We didn’t hear from the Mormons for two years.”

I was about to break the ground when my wife asked, “do you see the dog?”

I looked down and saw nothing. “He was right here,” I said, “but I don’t see him.”

“How do you lose a dead dog?” She snapped.

I wished I was at the panel on intergalactic empires that was just starting. Then suddenly . . .

“Powerball,” my daughter screamed, “he’s alive!”

We all looked up at this report of doggy resurrection.

“He’s a little worse for wear,” my son said. He looked like he had the mange and he was definitely limping.

“Be careful,” I heard a voice say, “he’s not going to be as friendly as you expect.”

I looked toward the voice. The thing coming around the corner looked like a supersized version of the something that would send my daughter into hysterics with a couple of tentacle thingies thrown in just for fun. I expected my daughter to pitch a screaming fit, but she was so into the new, freshly alive Powerball, that she didn’t care.

“But how?” my son asked. Like a true starship trooper he was more interested in the alien than in the dog. My wife looked on in shock as I tried to comprehend the scene.

“Have you heard of Schroedinger’s cat?” the thing asked.

“Isn’t that the cat that has a one-half chance of dying, but you don’t know until you open the cage?” I asked. I thought I remembered the experiment, but my physics class was a long time ago, buried in the mists of time.

“Kind of,” the creature responded, “before you open the cage, there are two possible realities, in the one the cat dies and in the other he lives. The dog you call Powerball, the one your daughter is getting to know is from a different reality, one in which you did not adopt him out of the shelter. In this other, alternate universe Powerball never had a home and ran wild. What I did was switch the dogs between alternate worlds. I guess you would say I opened a doggy door between universes.”

“Whatever you did I’m grateful,” I said. I may not have always loved the dog, but I know I would have missed him.

“If you take him to the vet, tell her that he got into a fight chasing a deer. She won’t question the shape he’s in. Now, since you don’t have to bury a living dog, you can come to the convention. I would hate for you to have to miss my talk on the history of alternate universe fiction.”

And it was then that I recognized the voice. He had been the panelist I had not recognized from the night before, the one who had asked about my dog. “Great!” I said.

“In fact,” he said, “if you give me a chance to change, I’ll give you a ride over. I’m sorry for freaking you out but there are some things that I just can’t do in my human suit. If you had caught my talk on the proper use of extra appendages last year you would understand.”

“Great!” my son said with overflowing excitement, “a ride in a flying saucer!”

“Sorry,” the secret panelist said, “just a regular automobile. There are a lot of problems with flying cars that the greats of science fiction never really thought about.”

“So much we can learn from him,” my son said, a dreamy expression on his face; my wife just rolled her eyes.

“Hey,” I said, “Thanks for the ride.”

And the weekend was saved.

Now, my kids are grown and my wife has me on a longer leash then when I first started coming to these cons. I have time to sit, have a beer or two, and tell these old war stories. My son is keeping the spirit alive; he’s going to be a speaker in the panel on the place of dogs in science fiction. I would say that if that interests you, then you should come early to get a good seat. I’m told this talk will be popular. And besides, some people in the audience won’t be who you think they are.

Bio: Shawn Jacobson was born totally blind. He attended the Iowa school for the blind until his senior year of high school. He graduated from Marshalltown Senior high. He then received two degrees from Iowa State University, a BA in Political Science and an MS in Statistics. He has worked for the U.S. Government for 32 years. Shawn currently lives in Olney MD with his wife Cheryl. They have two children, Zebe and Stephen; Stephen still lives with them while attending college. They also have a pack of three dogs, Penny, Bruce and Apollo.

Slices of Pittsburgh Sounds, prose poem
by Terri Winaught

As I stand outside on an April morning abounding in spring warmth, I hear a bus engine grumbling like an impatient parent.
Another bus farther down the street releases its airbrakes which sigh disgustedly at the mounting, slowing traffic.
Still waiting for my ride, I enjoy the friendly chatter of people standing in front of the 7-Eleven, a welcome reprieve from
the blaring and swearing of “gangster” rap.
Birds compete for the right to sing “hello” to the morning as they clamor to be called the best choir.
Finally, my ride arrives, and whisks me off to work. Work starts out as a quiet place; a place to relax in the moment with a serenity prayer; a place where mindfulness makes its home, and a place that’s a harbor of hope and healing.
Soon and very soon, my quiet place disappears into a river reeling with activity. Waters warmed by trust start flowing; streams of self-esteem spring up, and another day of work begins.

Bio: Blind since birth, Terri Winaught grew up in Philadelphia, PA and moved to Pittsburgh, where she still lives. Terri loves going out with friends for meals and snacks; enjoys sporting events with her husband, Jim; loves using her sense of humor to make people laugh, and can’t get enough of 1960s soul.

Part VI. The Animal Kingdom

Baby Sitting Fish, fiction
by Sly Duck

Justin dumped the pail of minnows into the tank. They swirled and scattered as the bigger fish snapped them up. Stupid fish, he thought.

Then he felt a light touch on his shoulder and turned his head to see a black, wooly spider. “Iaah!” he yelled.

He brushed his shoulder, and as he jumped about, he slipped and fell into the pool. He felt the slimy bodies of the fish as they flipped and scurried to get out of his way.

“Fraidy cat, fraidy cat,” Audrey taunted.

Justin stood up. Fishy water and minnows poured from his clothes. The rubber spider lay lifeless on the floor.

“You, you . . . I’ll get you for that,” he yelled, as he struggled to get out of the pool.

Wayne, Justin’s step-father came running in at that moment. “What happened?” Then he saw Justin and a smile lit up his face. “What are you doing in there?” he asked, grabbing Justin by the arm and pulling him out. “I said I wanted you and Audrey to learn about the business, but I didn’t mean for you to throw yourself into it.”

“I don’t want to know about any stupid old fish. You can keep them,” wailed Justin angrily, as he picked a minnow out of his sleeve cuff and threw it back into the pool. “I hate fish.”

Justin instantly regretted his words. He knew that Wayne was proud of his fish hatchery and hoped that Justin, his step-son and Audrey, his daughter, would one day take over the business. Justin had promised he would at least try, but he couldn’t help it. He didn’t even like to eat fish.

“You better change out of those wet clothes, then wait for me in the office. You too, Audrey,” Wayne added as he put the rubber spider in his pocket.

Audrey was sitting on a stool next to a tank labeled Betta with Bubblenest when Justin walked into the office. He gave her a dirty look and sat down behind the desk where he could keep an eye on her.

After a while, Justin began to watch the brightly colored fish in the tank. It seemed to be playing with a curious pile of bubbles floating on the surface near a clump of vegetation.

Suddenly there was a quick flurry of the brightly colored fins as the fish made a dash for the surface of the water and created a sharp popping sound.

“Whoa!” said Justin in surprise. He moved closer to the tank and continued to watch. From time to time, little wiggly things like worms with big heads would fall out of the pile of bubbles. Each time, the fish caught them in his mouth, chewed on them for a while, and then went up and nuzzled the pile of bubbles.

As Justin watched, he noticed that some of the wiggly things seemed to have fins. Then he saw that the big fish was not eating them, but making little bubbles around them and blowing them into the pile of bubbles. Suddenly Justin understood.

“It’s been doing that for about a week,” said Audrey. “I wonder what it’s doing.”

“I think it’s a mama,” said Justin.

Wayne walked in. “I see you found my papa Betta,” he said.

“You mean Mama Betta, don’t you?” said Justin.

“No, the male Betta cares for the young by keeping them in the Bubblenest. If they fall to the bottom, they will die. He will watch over them day and night until they are big enough to swim on their own and take care of themselves.”

“Wow,” said Justin. “Doesn’t he get tired?”

“I suppose, but he just keeps on doing it just the same.”

“We better get going. Mama probably has dinner ready by now.”

Justin and Audrey visited the tank each day when they came to feed the fish. In a few days, the little wiggly worms had become little fish and were swimming around on their own. The papa Betta was trying to catch them and put them back in the nest.

“The babies are swimming on their own,” said Audrey.

Wayne took a cup and scooped the papa Betta out of the tank. “The babies can take care of themselves now,” he said.

“He was a good father,” said Justin.

“Yes,” said Wayne. “Especially since the babies weren’t even his. The real father died, so I put this Betta in to take care of the nest.”

“I thought fish always left their babies to grow up on their own,” said Justin.

“No, some fish are very good parents,” said Wayne.

“There’s more to fish than I thought,” said Justin. “Maybe they’re not so stupid after all.”

Wayne ruffledJustin’s hair a little. “Think so?” he asked.

“I’m just saying maybe,” said Justin, grinning as he looked up fondly at his step-father. “I’m not making any promises.”

Bio: Cleora Boyd sometimes uses the pen name, Sly Duck. She has Retinitis Pigmentosa. She first pursued a career in Accounting. After receiving a B.S. degree in Math from Texas Tech University, she obtained employment with a major pharmaceutical corporation in Fort Worth, Texas where she still lives. At that time her writing appeared in a company journal. This gave her the incentive to continue writing seriously. Cleora moved on to write a number of stories and enrolled in several writing courses to improve and build her writing skills. In her retirement, she has joined a writing group, and enjoys reading and taking adult education courses.

Cat Chronicles: No More Cats! Memoir
by Kate Chamberlin

During our 45 years of marriage, we’ve survived living with cats of various ilk and personalities, but they’ve all been neutered males and named Gato with an alphabet letter.

As I nestled with my little eight-toed, mitten kitten, Gato-A on my mattress, which rested on the floor of my first studio apartment, his purring lulled me to sleep, as well as woke me the next morning, or maybe it was the troop of fleas he shared with me from the shelter and the itching that ensued. Gato-A did not like the men I dated, but one of them became my husband. They faced each other like two alley cats about to brawl. However, throughout the years, they came to an understanding; they were both here with me for the long haul. Gato-A ruled our household for about 15 years before he died. Fortunately, my husband isn’t dead yet.

Shortly after Gato-A’s demise, my friend phoned to say someone had dropped off a cuddly, tuxedo kitten in her front yard. Did I want him? My children and I went over to check him out and thought he was the spitting image of Gato-A, even though we knew Gato-A couldn’t have sired any progeny. Gato-B accepted my husband and children as litter-mates. The children loved the cat and even my husband got caught giving him a little pat on the head from time to time. He still professed to not really like cats and grumbled that we’d not get another one when Gato-B died.

At the loss of our sweet, Gato-B, of course, we wanted another cat, but my husband stuck to his refusal to get another one. One day after he’d gone to work and the children had hopped on the school bus, I was working in my “command center”, when I heard a little mew. Was I hearing things? I followed the sound to our 12 year-old daughter’s room.

Apparently, while waiting for the bus, her girlfriend had brought up a kitten, complete with litterbox and food. They’d smuggled it into her room, fed it, and assumed it would sleep all day until they returned from school. Our daughter intended to tell us a tale we couldn’t refuse! She was right.

Gato-C had a leg that had been damaged during birth or gestation, so no one else wanted him. How could we turn out a gimpy gato? Officially, his name was Milo, but we all called him Gimpy Gato.

Unfortunately, he met his demise as the dinner for one of the roving coyotes. My husband was adamant about no more cats. I quietly started to kid around about getting three little kittens. As an elementary teacher, I wanted to name them Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod. It was Christmas time, so our son and his friend said we should name them Egg, Nog, and Rum. My husband said they’d be named, No, No, and No!

Gato-D came to us via our college age son. He and his intended bride were moving to an apartment that wouldn’t take pets. The previous year, they’d found an abandoned little kitten, nursed its infected eye back to health, cleaned his coat until it was shiny and thick, and fed him. They fed him so well that his girth made his head look very tiny.

Being used to an apartment, he moseyed right into his new surroundings of our game room. He soon adopted the entire house, the yard, and eventually, commanded the neighborhood. As his territory enlarged, his girth decreased.

Gato-D became a mighty hunter, leaving his trophies on the patio and our front door step. One day I opened the door to let him in and he went directly under the dining room table, instead of rubbing my ankles. Although I’m totally blind, I could tell that he had a mouthful by the sound of his hello meow. Then, I heard him scramble as his prey fluttered up to the underside of the table. His sparrow wasn’t dead! The cat caught the bird, I caught the cat, and they both went right back outside. My husband just shook his head and snickered something about, dumb cat.

Gato-D’s demise was untimely, even though he’d reached a ripe old age. One day, when I let him in, he went directly down stairs and didn’t come back up all day. Usually, he’d come sit with me as I read or wrote my newspaper column. Mid-afternoon, I went to look for him.

As I reached to pet him, my hand felt the wet and sticky feel of his head. He didn’t move, but cried out in distress, as if he wanted to be left alone. Without a word, we rushed him to the vet’s, thinking he’d been attacked by a coyote.

The vet cleansed the three puncture wounds on his head and said that a coyote would never let dinner go. Gato-D had been chased, captured, and shaken by a large dog!

Our neighbor had a big Shepherd, so he was suspected of the dastardly deed, but we never confronted the neighbors. We tried to spare our two young children by letting them think that the coyote did it.

It was quite a traumatic end and, as predicted, my husband said: Never again. No More cats!

Now, we are empty nesters. My husband is retired. Our three children of our A-Team are all grown-up and married with children of their own. Even the two grandsons we raised, our B-Team, have flown the coop. Our daughter has carried our tradition of having a family pet to new heights. She has one husband, two dogs, three sons, four cats, a Leopard Gecko, tanks of fish and she thinks we need at least one cat to go along with my retired guide dog and my working guide dog. My husband says, No way; however the other evening, I caught him googling our local Humane Society. That night I dreamt of Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod.

Our daughter insisted her 8-year old cat could train my young guide dog that cats are family, not dinner. She swore the cat actually thought he was a dog anyway, because he’d been raised by a Great Dane and a Pit Bull Terrier.

The dog training center had signed off re-training Tulip Grace, saying that dogs are descended from wolves and it is second nature for them to hunt small prey for their dinner.

I thought that living with a cat might help Tulip realize cats are our friends, not dinner. My husband smirked, “A cat training a dog? I don’t think so.” However, we accepted Gato-E into our family.

He was a bit over-weight, very loveable with a loud, rattling purr and wrinkled whiskers. His almost curly, marmalade and white fur rejected any of my attempts for sleekness, yet, he loved to be brushed and groomed.

On their first meeting, Gato-E raced backwards in panic as Tulip lunged forward to snarl and growl her greetings. From then on, Gato-E avoided going into any room where he detected Tulip. Apparently, the dog had trained the cat, instead of the dog learning cats are our friends. My husband quipped, “So much for cats rule and Dogs drool.”

Sternly saying “Leave it”, became my mantra whenever the dog and cat came near each other. Eventually, my guide dog associated the reprimand with leaving the cat alone. She doesn’t re-act when Gato-E darts between her legs or butts his head in greeting or jumps onto my lap. Next week, I’ll start taking her for a walk around our neighborhood to see if she recognizes other cats as family or dinner.

For now, we have harmony within our family. As a matter of fact, yesterday, I found my husband snoring in his heated lounge chair with an orange marmalade ball of fur snoring on his stomach. No more cats? Indeed!

A Break-out, memoir
by Frances D. Strong

I can still remember that day even though it happened thirty years ago.

Someone called to tell me that the pasture fence was down and the horses were gone. I immediately stopped to check out this situation. Seeing the broken down wire, I looked around for the horses, but saw nothing. At age 45, my Retinitis Pigmentosa was not a problem except for my limited peripheral vision.

My senior horse, Fella, and Sir and Prince, my daughter’s horses, had fled the scene. Since the children were in school and no men were at the farm, I quickly found a bridle and halter with a lead rope at the tack house. Even though there were dirt roads around the farm, hoof tracks were not easily followed because the girls and I had just ridden our mounts the day before.

Knowing I was responsible for my horses, I set out on the best hunch I could come up with for the moment. Wearing jeans, tennis shoes and a short-sleeved shirt, I started walking down the road from the pasture with Duchess, our German Shepherd. Seeing the pear trees along the way, I picked up two pears to fill my pockets.

There were several places that the horses could have fled, but I decided to follow my instincts of where the horses would find tempting greens unavailable to them by our farm. Also, recently my brother had purchased a second horse. He lived about two miles away and we had just ridden there yesterday. Fella and the girl’s horses seemed to have enjoyed meeting the new bay mare. So my best bet was to go there and hopefully find my rebels.

It was a hot autumn day, with the grasses turning brown and corn fields already harvested. I was pretty healthy and fit, but this late morning I had not taken time to get a drink of water before starting out. The hot sun’s rays beat down on me relentlessly. After half an hour or so, the sweat was trickling down my face and back. I switched the now heavy gear to my left shoulder with its leather straps and clanging metal bit and rings from the halter and bridle. Bending down, I pulled up the hem of my shirt to wipe my brow. My heart began a rapid beat. I sat on the dry grass alongside the sandy road to rest. Duchess licked my face and faithfully waited for me to revive.

When my heartbeat slowed down and seemed normal again, I took a deep breath and continued on in the open road. I crossed a paved road which did not have many travelers at that time. I walked onward through a wooded area, glad to have shade and a light breeze. I passed a small fish pond and detoured around my brother’s house and spied his horses grazing in their pasture. Lady and Mary merely raised their heads in momentary interest of my dog and me.

Sure enough, in a field nearby, there were the escapees, calmly munching away on the recently planted lush green wheat. It was a pretty sight, but I was thinking only of how to round up these mavericks on foot and head for home. Thankfully, I had brought the pears which I hoped would trick at least one of the horses to come to me.

Sir, the palomino, lifted his head and stared at me. As I walked towards him, I held out the pear and called his name. The glutton that he was for treats, he walked to me and grabbed for the pear. I let him have a big bite and at the same time threw the reins over his neck. He did not know what happened, but he was caught. I slipped the bit into his mouth and the bridle over his ears. He finished his pear, slobbering and drooling for more. Prince, no doubt heard and smelled the fruit, and curiously came over. That was it, a held out pear was too tempting. He too only had his eyes on the treat and I was able to throw the lead rope around his neck. Holding both ends of the rope, I pulled him closer. Then I fastened the halter onto his head. He was caught too.

Fella, my old horse of thirty years was still the skeptical one who would not let me catch him. I knew this and decided to let him just follow. Horses are herd animals and want to stay in the pack.

Now the next hurdle was to try to jump on Sir. Prince was too skittish for me and Sir was my only hope. Holding Sir’s reins tight and the lead rope of Prince, I managed to jump with all my strength and throw my leg over his back. I was upright and ready to go. Tired, hot and a little nervous about the ordeal, I was determined to make it home in one piece and with all three horses. Lady and Mary neighed to us as we passed by.

As we walked on, Prince wanted to go faster than Sir, so I had to keep pulling him back and shouting, “Whoa, Prince!”

As we drew near the paved road, I said a prayer that no cars would be in the way as we approached it. A car passed and kept going. Thankfully, Fella did not run ahead as he would have done in his younger days. My sister and I used to race home and Fella usually won. Today, he was being a good old boy and slowly followed the others.

I sighed a deep sound of relief as we clip-clopped over the pavement. Then it was straight for home. Prince’s tugging at my arm made my shoulder and knuckles ache.

Faithful Duchess was right there as we turned into the lot next to the barn. I jumped off Sir and first took off Prince’s halter and then Sir’s bridle. Fella obediently walked in too. We all went to the watering trough for a drink. I let the cool water run into my hands and splashed some on my face.
Fella let me touch him on his shoulder and I said, “Tomorrow, you’ll get the first pear.”

Poppa had the fence repaired and all was well.

Bio: Frances Strong, due to Retinitis Pigmentosa, stop teaching about 20 years ago. However, the JAWS program has allowed her to write and publish several children’s books. Frances enjoys singing in her church choir and helping her retired husband with cooking and gardening.

Knowing, poetry
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

“You’ll know when it’s time.”
That’s what they always tell us.
“She’ll need extra corrections;
“The vet will see signs;
“Her diet may have to change.”

But she still wags her tail
When I pick up the harness.
I don’t think she’d know how
To say, “No, I hurt too much.”
She’d still give it her best.

I pick up the phone;
They can take her today.
Regret, release, recovery;
Mercy, memories, misery,
These pieces find places in many hearts.

You’ve given so much,
Sweet lady at my side,
You deserve peace,
Comfort and dignity.
It’s time.

Home is Where the Slobber is, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner

There is something about dogs
that brings my heart to hearth.
These warm-bodied, hot-breath’d,
champion shedders of hair
have two smells my puny nose
can discern extremely well.

Essence of canine shelter is one,
which is friendly as a hearty fart,
or a satisfied gurgly burp.
The other is a nutty aroma
that urges me to burry my snout
deeply into a furry soft ruff.

In human terms, of early morning,
I slip downstairs for morning fare,
exchange cordial greetings with Chloe,
who lies on high “her” alleged divan,
resting from early day ablutions
performed outdoors in dewy dawn.

We touch noses.
Mine short, light and dry.
Hers, long, black and damp.
We gaze eye to eye,
as she checks me out
for ill winded odors.
Nothing amiss, I’m dismissed.

I find a chair still warm from Barney,
who’s making a final sentry snoop
in his backyard, duty dog domain.
I hear the swish of his special door,
his stampeding paws speeding up stairs.

He presses his head beside my thigh,
his brown eyes hidden like a shy child’s
seeking comfort in his father’s lap.
I scratch his thick scruffy tawny mane.
He looks up with puppy soft liquid orbs.
I buss his muzzle affectionately.
He answers with a lightening quick slurp,
deftly catching my formerly dry nose.
I won’t wipe that wet softness of his kiss.

Tammica, poetry
by Susan Muhlenbeck

Blacker than a raven’s wing,
Sweeter than the gentle breeze,
Feet of soft crushed velvet,
On which she struts about with ease.

Sweeter than a drop of nectar,
Faster than the speed of sound,
Tail as long as a country mile,
For which she is renowned.

Prettier than the reddest rose,
Smarter than an ape for sure,
Noisier than a freight train engine,
When she begins to purr.

A creature of both day and night,
As stealthy as she is wise,
My affection for this wild critter,
Is one thing that never dies.

Part VII. The Melting Pot

A Million Dollars, fiction
by Linn Martinussen

Everybody has a price. If someone tells you otherwise, they’re lying. Ok, maybe not intentionally, because not many people know their price, let alone that they have one, until they’re in the right or wrong situation.

The day I learned that my price was a million dollars, I was sitting in a bar drinking a chocolate martini. It was Friday, early evening in the middle of October and I had just been turned down for a features writer job I really wanted. I had been turned down for numerous jobs since I graduated from college with a major in journalism 16 months previously. It seems that journalists today have to be photographers and video editors too. And being as blind as a bat, those are not tasks any publication will hand over to me. I had reached the point where I was willing to do almost anything just so that I could say, “I made that money.” As it was, I was staying with my parents because I couldn’t afford rent. I was receiving a minor welfare payment that lately, had been spent on going to expensive bars.

I had started this practice of dressing up and going to expensive bars when I was turned down for a job a little bit by coincidence. I had been at a job interview for a newspaper. The office building was located across from a posh hotel. I decided to take a break there after an interview I felt had gone badly. I’d been treated like a star by the staff and it had temporarily made me feel better. So I did that after the next job I was turned down for, reporter for a TV station. Ok, I did think they had camera people, otherwise I’d never have applied. And I’d just continued. The more I wanted the job, the nicer the bar. Now I was sitting in Roxie’s, which despite the name was very classy. I was wearing my red killer dress with short sleeves and a split starting from my left thigh and matching kitten heels, drinking a chocolate martini. It tasted kind of sickly and sweet, but one of the rules I’d made for my outings was that I had to try a new drink each time.

The bar was starting to fill up, but this wasn’t a place that got very noisy. Sipping my martini, I took in the voices around me and the sound of the piano; somebody was playing live.

“Excuse me, may I sit here?” a woman asked. I assumed she meant the bar stool next to me, so I nodded and said “Sure,” so that I was certain she’d gotten the message. She climbed up on the bar stool and I noticed how close she was. I could smell her perfume, heavy and a little musky mixed with a faded smell of cigarette smoke.

“May I buy you a drink?” she asked. Her voice was ordinary. The kind I would take ages to recognize were we to become friends. Was this woman hitting on me, or did my face display my unglamorous state of mind?

“As long as it’s not a chocolate martini,” I replied and gave her a smile. I didn’t care about her intentions. Alcohol was alcohol and I had after all just been turned down for a job I’d wanted so badly.

“Gin and tonic ok?” she asked.

“Yes, that’s fine.”

“So what do you do?” Ah, the dreaded question I hated being asked by strangers, family and friends alike.

“I’m a journalist,” I said, the hesitation in my own voice evident even to me.

“Working for someone, or a freelancer?” she asked.

Oh couldn’t this annoying woman just shut up? “I suppose freelance would be a more favourable thing to call it,” I said.

“Unemployed then?”

“Excuse me, but why do you care?” I asked hoping I hadn’t sounded too snappy. The bartender came over and put my drink in front of me.

“I was just wondering if you’d be interested in making some extra money,” she replied.

“That depends,” I said, although to tell the truth, I was already feeling pretty up for it whatever it was.

She leaned closer and whispered in my ear. “My husband. He is sitting in a booth at the other side of this bar. He spotted you and finds you very, very attractive. So he asked me what I’d do if he had a little one night stand with you. I said I’d go and ask. I said it was ok as long as I could be present to watch. But here’s the thing. I will give you a million dollars if you kill him.”

“What?” I turned to her in astonishment. I don’t know what I’d expected, but this was not it.

“It’s very complicated. And the less you know, the safer you will be after you’ve done this. But let’s just say my husband got in the way of my father in a business matter. And my loyalty ultimately lies within my own family. It’s a matter of my husband or my father dying and the world needs a man like my father more than a man like my husband.”

“But why use me?” I asked. I had the distinct feeling that I’d been flung right in the middle of some kind of mob disagreement.

“My husband helped me make the choice by falling in lust with you . . . But I also know a desperate person when I see one. You’re blind, but there’s nothing else wrong with you, so you don’t qualify for a lot of support and you’re not getting jobs because everybody thinks you can do nothing.”

“How did you?” I started.

“Oh, my brother,” she replied. “Although being from the kind of family we are he needn’t have had those problems. But he turned his back on us. And chose his own path with all the sorrows that brought him. Now, are you in or not?”

Jen, that’s what the woman called herself, and I got up and walked over to her husband Phil. Those were probably not their real names, but it was probably for the best that I didn’t know them. Phil was tall and smelled of citrusy cologne. Without saying much, we walked out into the crisp October air for about five minutes till we reached a hotel. I could tell it was a classy place.

“Why don’t you and I go and sit down over here while Jen checks us in?” Phil asked in a suggestive, not unattractive voice.

“No Phil, you have to deal with this,” Jen said. “I left my credit card at home.”

Phil sighed and turned to the reception desk while Jen took my arm and started leading me towards what I guessed must be the ladies room.

“Here,” she said and handed me a cylinder shaped object. “Hide this under the pillow and when you are on the bed, make sure he’s lying down and you lie on top of him. Pry the lid off under the pillow, but take great care not to sting yourself on the needle. This cyanide poison kills within seconds. Try sticking this on the side of his neck, though it doesn’t really matter where you sting . . . Just make sure he doesn’t see this, or you’ll be dead, quite literally.”

I had been feeling crazy for even going along with this plan from the beginning, but now, for the first time, I was wondering whether this was a trap to get me framed in place of Jen, or her father perhaps. But it was too late to pull out now. I didn’t know who Phil and Jen were, but they must be some kind of criminals and though I couldn’t describe them to the police, letting me go was probably not a risk they would take. Besides, what had I really to lose? Yes, my parents and two best friends loved me. Even my little brother did if it came down to it. But they would get over it if I died. I had nobody who cared apart from them and at this point, it wasn’t enough. And what if Jen was going to get me to end up in prison? I really hoped I wouldn’t end up there, but at least I wouldn’t have to worry about getting a job. Perhaps I’d have a fairer chance of a job in prison. I pocketed the poison and we went back into the reception area where Phil stood waiting.

We had been sitting in the hotel suite for about half an hour, just talking and drinking wine. Phil asked me what I did and I said I was a journalist. He told me all about his computer hardware business. Jen didn’t say much, leaving her husband and me to get to know each other. I was almost feeling at ease and I thought Phil seemed like a nice enough guy, not like someone who deserved to die. But how was I gonna get us started? I wanted to be out of here.

It was as if he had read my mind, because just as I was starting to wonder how to make the first move, Phil came over and perched on the arm rest on my chair. “You are looking exquisite,” he said and put an arm around my shoulder.

“I’m glad to hear I’m to the taste of a handsome man like you,” I said in my most alluring voice and leaned my head on his arm to appear eager.

He started kissing the top of my head before the kisses moved slowly down my face. Had I not been about to kill this man and therefore had nerves, I might have enjoyed it. When his lips finally met mine, I stood up to better match his height.

“Forgive me,” he said huskily, when we broke apart. “But do you mind if we move over to the bed?” I nodded. “If you will just excuse me one moment,” he said and walked into the bathroom.

Quick as lightning, Jen and I got up and ran into the bedroom where I slid the cylinder underneath the pillows.

Killing him was quick and much easier than I could have imagined. But isn’t that what killers in crime fiction say? I had done as Jen advised me. Stung him in the neck while I was lying on top of him and he was busy exploring me. At the sting he startled and interrupted trying to kiss his way into my bra. He looked up and although I can’t see, I felt his surprise before understanding kicked in. “No,” was the last thing he’d managed to croak before falling back against the pillows.

“Well done,” Jen said as I got up on trembling legs. She handed me a glass of wine and made me sit down in the sitting room. “My father, the rest of our family and I are now in deep gratitude to you. But you’ve got to be careful. Lay low and you will be fine. Start talking and you will suffer a similar fate to my husband.”

Two weeks later, I was enjoying the sea breeze and the sound of a live Soca band in an open air hotel bar in Aruba. I was drinking a virgin pinacolada. I wanted to be fully sober and alert on my second job, which had come my way a few days ago. In fact, I received the assignment on the very same day my bank account had been deposited with a million dollars. And on the day after the evening news announcement that the business man, Filippo Di Giovanni had been found dead in a hotel suite. Cause of death was currently being investigated, but there was some speculation as to whether this could be as a result of his mob connection through his marriage to one of the daughters of Francesco Giudice, the head of the most feared crime family in the area.

A man called me, to say that Jen sends her regards and asked if I needed another freelance job. I was told to get to the airport, where I would be met by someone who was going to give me a fake passport and ticket to Aruba. He quickly informed me of my temporary name and career and airport assistance got me to where I needed to be. Nobody batted an eyelid over the passport and the trip had been smooth. I was met by a driver, who handed me an envelope containing among other things, what I knew to be a cyanide syringe. He drove me to a hotel called The blue Mermaid. When I checked into my room, I also found a small voice recorder in the envelope. When I pressed it, I heard a deep man’s voice talk about soccer, probably on the phone, judging from how he spoke. I guessed before Jen’s voice took over to explain, that this was the voice profile of my target. She gave me his name, Jeff and described him in general terms, tall and blond with a tan and in the US army. He Stayed at the Blue Mermaid on his own for a couple of days and loved Soca band music. Young pretty women were his weakness and all I had to do was sit alone and look bored. The Blue Mermaid was a small hotel and I was likely to be his only object of interest. Nothing was left entirely to coincidence of course and the guest list had been checked out by whoever had ordered the hit. If he failed to come over, I was just to ask a member of the hotel staff to find “My friend Jeff”.

“May I sit here?”

Luck, I thought. I was wearing a turquoise number, not unlike the red dress, although this one was silk and strapless. My curls were tumbling down my back and I was tanned from having spent the day by the pool. I knew I looked amazing. “Sure,” I smiled.

“Jeff,” he held out his hand as he noisily pulled his chair back. My smile broadened. I had been pretty sure he might be my man from his voice, but the extra assurance was always good. “Do you know you look a million dollars in that dress?” He asked.

I laughed and tossed my head in what I hoped was a flirty fashion. I replied quietly in my head, and thanks to you, I’ll soon look a million dollars more.

Bio: Linn Martinussen is a former BBC journalist, an award winning professional singer and a freelance journalist. She divides her time between Norway, Nigeria, England and the USA. Her stage name is Lioness Oyinbo and her music can be bought in all digital stores. She has been nominated multiple times for her music and is hoping to win her category at this years Nigerian Entertainment awards taking place in NYC in September. She’s currently working on her first novel. Linn is blind due to a detached optic nerve.

Flakes, fiction
by Nicole Massey

Rose noticed two things as she entered the party: one she liked and another she didn’t. The good thing was the handsome dark-haired man standing near the bar. She did a quick check, and smiled at the absence of a ring or even a mark where one should be. But her sister, the oh-so-perfect Lorilee, was as always her stunning, well put together self. Rose tried to push away any thoughts of the handsome man, because Lora was here and she’d get to him first. After all, she always did, even if she never kept them for long. She was perfect enough she didn’t have to. Oh well, best to get the unpleasantness over with.

Rose walked toward her sister, who smiled at her. “Rosalee, I can see you decided to be fashionably late.”

Bitch. “Not my choice this time, Sis. My boss decided we needed to get that report to management tonight so they’d have time to go over it before the big meeting tomorrow evening.”

Lora nodded. “Yeah, that sounds like Stan.” Another of her sister’s ex-lovers – Lora had so many.

Rose sat down and looked around. Lora put a hand on her arm, then whispered, “See any you like?”

Rose couldn’t keep her eyes from settling on the handsome guy at the bar. Lora nodded. “Yeah, I saw him too. Well, no time like the present.”

As Lora got up and sauntered over to the guy, Rose seethed. She knew Lora did this as a game, finding out who her sister liked, then snatching the guy away. Rose couldn’t bring herself to test this theory by picking a woman sometime, just to see what Lora would do.

Lora chatted with the man for a moment, then excused herself and came back to the table.

Rose sipped her martini for as long as she could, then she had to ask, “Well?”

Lora brushed her hands together in a motion designed to show off her perfect manicure. “Not worth it.” Then she brushed her own shoulder with a sweeping motion. “Dandruff.”

Rose fought back a sigh, but then she thought about it. Of course Lora wouldn’t go out with a man who showed any imperfection, but she didn’t have to set the bar so high. He looked like he was having a good time, and the guy next to him was laughing at something the handsome guy said.

Rose slammed the rest of her drink, got up, and said, “Be right back. Or maybe not.”

She walked over to the man, making a specific effort to move without that slink Lora always affected, and smiled at the guy. He smiled back.

“Hi, I’m Rose.”

“Enchanted. I’m George.”

The old routine popped into her head. “The name that never ends.”

He chuckled. “Ah, a comedy fan. Well, then, did you hear the one about the polar bear, the alligator, and the mouse?”

Okay, the joke was funny, and not too racy for a first meeting. And yes, he had a few flakes on his jacket. But you know, this guy didn’t need to be a paragon of personal grooming. Rose liked him.

“So, George, do you dance?”

“I’m told I do it quite well, in fact. And yes, I’d love to dance with you.”

On the dance floor Rose followed his lead and had a great time. At one point she brushed her hand against his jacket.

George stopped dancing. “Something wrong, Rose?”

“No, not at all. You had a bit of something on your jacket, and I figured I’d brush it off for you.”

George looked into her eyes, serious. “Do a few flakes bother you, Rose?”

“No, of course not, but I figured you wouldn’t want them there.”

His face turned sly. “Why not? I put them there.”

Rose couldn’t help being confused. “You did?”

“Do you know how hard it is to find laundry soap in flake form these days? Everyone wants to use those little pods, but they wouldn’t work for my purpose.”

“Which was?”

“To weed out the kind of woman who lets such minor things get in the way.”

And then Rose saw him look in Lora’s direction. Rose glanced too, and saw Lora still checking out the men at the party.

“George, you’re a crafty fellow. I’m going to have to keep an eye on you.”

“Keep both of them on me, if you don’t mind.”

“Good idea. She’s my sister, you know.”

“Her?” His chin indicated Lorilee.


“Not my type. Too caught up in appearances.”

Rose smiled. “Right you are, George. And it’s a relief to find a man who can see that in her. Now dance with me. I’m very glad I met you.”
Rose kept smiling as he smiled and said, “Ditto, Rose. I predict a good evening ahead.” And she couldn’t disagree with him on that point.

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

Baseball Back When, flash fiction
by Bill Fullerton

The following meditation on the deterioration of modern baseball was sparked by a recent trip to one of those swanky, new, air-conditioned major league ballparks.

Now don’t get me wrong, those ritzy new state-of-the-art stadiums are nice, I suppose but playing baseball in the boondocks has a special ambiance all its own. Back during one of my inglorious days at old Knotty Pine High School, the baseball team, everybody called us “The Knot Head Nine,” traveled even further than usual to another isolated, rural outpost on the educational high-road. This one was remarkable only for being even smaller and more run down than ours. There were for instance, no lights, no bleachers or dugouts. Dust devils made frequent appearances across the pitted, grassless in field. Center field sloped down so steeply the fielder had to position himself carefully to avoid the pitcher’s mound blocking his view of the batter.

Over in the comparatively high ground of right field, my late-inning meditation on the unattainable charms of Francis Lynn Henderson was interrupted by the terrifying sound of a bat making sharp contact with a baseball. My initial fear that the ball might actually be coming my way was quickly eased however by the comforting sight of it twisting away toward a weed-choked field behind our first baseman.

That swift-footed, strong-armed worthy who was dating Francis Lynn, turned and went chasing after baseball glory and the game ending out. With his eyes on the prize, and his brain, no doubt focused on getting home early for his date with you-know-who, he appeared to snag the ball just as his foot hit the grass shrouded concrete border to an abandoned cattle dipping vat. Moments later, the only sign of life in that vicinity were moans and groans coming from somewhere below ground level.

The good news is the vat was half-full of weeds and junk. The bad news, according to the player’s vehement testimony on the long ride home was that none of it cushioned his landing one little bit. Our coach trotted over to check out his best hitter’s condition, studied the mess in the vat, and yelled, “Damn it boy, you dropped the ball!”

Given a second-chance, the batter singled in the game tying run. We played extra innings until the game was called on account of darkness.

By the time we finally got home it was after nine. Francis Lynn, fed up with baseball-induced date cancellations, not only called off that night’s date but any future ones with our bruised and abused first baseman.

Now that my friends, was a baseball game.

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

Play Ball, poetry
by DP Lyons

A nip in the early spring evening air bites down hard
Steel cleats line the top steps of both dugouts
The pitcher wipes his brow onto his uniform sleeve and stares in at his catcher
The radio announcer clutches his microphone and slowly rises to his feet

The popcorn vendor stands still on the stairs of lower section G
A low rumble of a jet plane echoes through the ballpark
Standing in his seat, a young boy clutches tightly to his father’s arm
A breeze blowing in from right field slowly subsides

The batter taps the dirt from his cleats and slowly steps up to the plate
The umpire lowers his raised fist and points out towards the pitcher
The first base coach methodically runs through the signs
Runners on second and third look left, then right, then slowly take their lead

The pitcher takes a deep breath and shakes off a sign
The catcher adjusts his mask as he peers towards the dugout
Tapping his left inside thigh twice, he flutters four fingers down towards the dirt
The pitcher nods his head and slowly comes to a set

The capacity crowd collectively comes to a hush
The young boy nervously leans in towards his father
The radio announcer swallows hard as he hugs the microphone
The pitcher sets in motion and delivers the pitch

The ball speeds straight at the batter, then quickly drops down over the plate
The batter steps back and looks at the umpire
The catcher holds his breath as he waits for the call
The umpire’s booming voice hollers out, “Strike Three!”

The boy screams out as his father hugs and raises him high into the evening air
The announcer rises up onto his toes as he yells into the microphone
The popcorn vendor raises both arms and screams out at the top of his lungs
The catcher runs out and pounds the game winning baseball into his pitcher’s glove

The first game of the 2016 Major League Baseball Season is in the books

Blessings, poetry
by Laura minning

May your love blossom
with the ever present
passing of time.

May you always
know happiness
and sunshine.

May you never
know sorrow
or rain.

And may your hearts
be liberated
from hardship and pain.

May God smile
upon you both
and bless you
on this special day…

and always.

Bio: Laura Minning is an award winning published poet and author. She’s had one hundred and seven poems, six articles, two books and a one-act play published in hard copy and on-line. Her work has been featured in publications like: Literature Today, Amulet Magazine and Slate & Style. Laura’s artistic accomplishments are equally impressive. She’s had eighty-five original pieces exhibited and eleven published. In February 2016, an exhibit at Barcode featured thirty-six pieces of Laura’s artwork. She donates proceeds from her sales to the National Federation of the Blind and the VCU Massey Cancer Center. Additional information about Her work can be found at

Anniversaries, acrostic poem
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.

A New Year’s calendar holds dear memories,
Nuanced by time, but precious still.
Never will these dusty reveries
In musty brain cells be confined.
Varied are the people, the places that cause
Each feeling of joy, or sometimes sorrow,
Reminders again, that our” now” is fleeting,
Since we know our past, but not our tomorrows.
Accepting the present as a precious gift,
Rendering thanks for every occasion,
Is not now the time for celebration,
Embracing loved ones, and “Congratulations”?
Surely, anniversaries must be a blessing on our reverie!

They bring songs to the house, poetry
by Ernie Jones

They bring songs to the house.
They bring laughter to the home.
They spread joy and confusion
But don’t leave them alone.

They fill the quiet house
With activity and sound.
They leave toys and objects
Scattered all around.

They increase the excitement level
To an extreme high.
With their screams and bellows
To get their way, they cry.

As bedtime comes,
Peace in the house returns.
Why children come to young people
This for sure, I’ve learned.

The house is again quiet,
As at last I lie in bed.
My body aches from exhaustion.
“I’m so very tired,” I said.

It wasn’t this way when I was young.
Then it was from hard work
But today this activity
Makes me tired, this is no lark.

But when those little arms
Wrap around my legs,
And those large bright eyes
Look up at me and beg,

Will you agree This life is the best
That grandparents have it all

Bio: Ernie worked as a hospital orderly before working for Washington State in the computer field. After earning his Registered Nursing degree, he worked in a rural hospital until he retired due to eyesight loss. For the past twelve years, He has had a monthly newspaper column in which he encourages those losing their eyesight, while teaching the sighted that blindness is not the end of a good life. His articles have appeared in Dialogue Magazine, Consumer Vision, Christian Record Services and other publications. He has authored one book, Onesimus the Run Away Slave, available
through Authorhouse publishers and as an E book through Amazon.

of Light, poetry
by Brad Corallo

Moving through stages
seeking the pure light
at the center of all things.
We play the hands we’re dealt.
Counting sorrows and gifts
as if life was no more than an accountant’s ledger.

I have alighted;
and been welcomed.
My new home.
Even with the battles to find,
woo and win her
she bathes me in her gentle light.
I walk among her unique spaces
comfortable and safe.

As I stand down
from the frenetically finely orchestrated move.
Performing unpacking adjustments without haste or uncertainty.
Time is suspended as we build our symbiosis.

She showers me with her fountains of light
natural and engineered
with beautifully crafted
carefully selected control systems.
I feel her textures,
buffed Wood, new glass and granite
and am soothed.

Challenges remain
her sloping folded terrain.
Together, we will fine tune
with judicious use of paving stones
all her dips and swells will be explored,
shared and joyfully yielded up.
As I sit in the calm
shaping words, I thankfully realize.
This weary pilgrim has arrived at last!

Bio: Brad Corallo is a 59 year-old visually impaired writer in multiple genres. He is a Long Island native born and raised. His work has been published in four previous issues of Magnets and Ladders, in the William B. Joslin Outstanding Performance Awards Program Journal “NYSID Preferred Source Solutions” and on the Facebook page of The Red Wolf Coalition. Brad has been a life long student of fine wine, food, music, books, several professional sports and relationships of all kinds. He makes his living as a certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC) and mental health therapist.

The trials of St. Brendan, poetry
by Brad Corallo

ancient amorphous vessel
Creeps through mist unseen
Slips from harbor’s snug embrace.

In the prow stands the saint
Resolute in his faith
Bound and determined
To sail to that fabled light
Forever burning in the Iles of the West.

His loyal companions
four trusty Kerry men and the feathered sky being, Weather Watcher.

If Jesus silent bore his cross
St. Brendan had his albatross.
Loadstone of his destiny
The heart of the spirit compass that bound him.

A fair wind blew
And many wondrous Landfalls made
By some tales, the first upon
the shores of beautiful Paumanok where
they replenished their supplies
And gave formal thanks for their bounty and good fortune.

After revittling and rest
They proceeded on their appointed way
Coming soon upon uncalm restless seas
Winds and waves raging
Tossing their bark about,
God’s last afterthought flung on troubled waters.

In the midst of the conflagration
It arose from the waves
A thing from before the first days
Rearing an enormous serpent’s head
With fire flashing
Between its spike-like fangs
It screamed and the hearts of all
Were shaken!

But St. Brendan and Weather Watcher stood fast!
Weather Watcher shrieked and the Saint put forth a callused hand
Be gone foul spawn of Hell
You will not come between us
And the light!

in an instant world- scape changes
morning’s flame ignites!
The beast is gone.
sea is calm again.

As the Saint gazes intently into the West
Before him spreads
A vista of golden radiance
Spanning all tomorrow’s possible horizons.

Sail on he thunders, forward!
The true lost home we sought
Opens her arms to us!


I have always been fascinated by Celtic mythology and particularly with the legends surrounding St. Brendan. There is an excellent book about his exploits called Brendan by Frederick Buechner. There is also Christy Moore’s wonderful song “St. Brendan’s voyage” which can be Googled and played as a youtube link. I highly recommend it. For me this is not a “religious” piece. But relevant to the ideas of Joseph Campbell particularly as discussed in his brilliant work The hero with a thousand faces. It is an archetypal story of the hero and the quest partially cloaked in magic or the mysteries of Divine power. The reference to “Paumanok” (Long Island) my beloved home was suggested by the above mentioned song.

Digger, memoir
by Robert Kingett

Jackson has my full attention for two reasons. The first reason is his declarations about comics from The New Yorker. Since he reads comics from The New Yorker, something he didn’t tell me when we were emailing each other on the dating site, I am transfixed. He’s cultured, and he has a sense of humor about him. The other reason I am staring at him has to deal with his left index finger and where it’s currently digging. As I talk about a great essay I’ve read in the magazine a week before, I become aware of the floating finger. It drifts towards his face and rockets up his left nostril.

The restaurant we are in has enough light to illuminate multiple caves. I wish I didn’t have any sight. Our food has arrived some time ago and he seemed to be doing fine. Where did this new talent spring from? Most importantly, why couldn’t he have picked a place with less light? His finger looks like it’s exploring the inside of a straw.

Jackson has eaten a little bit of his food. I wish he would pay more attention to what’s in front of him as opposed to where his finger is currently digging. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he were an expert at scavenger hunting. His mouth contorts as his finger wedges deeper into the crevices of his nostril. At least his determined identifier on his profile was accurate.

Jackson messaged me with words that immediately piqued my interest. He likes to go to museums and he loves a hearty game of poker on a Friday night. His profile doesn’t say anything unique, however. It states all about his willingness to try new things and his willingness to have an open mind. He’s a very determined person though. He’s a person who loves a challenge. This is why he likes to play poker and an assortment of other games. He didn’t say that his worst adversary, amidst all of the financial and cultural adversities he has overcome, was a human body part. I am amazed that someone who earned a master’s degree in engineering can’t outsmart a booger.

Perhaps I am way too nice for my own good. Perhaps I am willing to put up with obscure happenings because the guy is just so great underneath. Perhaps I am really desperate. I am sure all of these play a hand in my attempting to ignore his wiggling finger. The plate of pasta before him has been forgotten in favor of a new life altering quest.

“So,” I say to his contorting face. “Where do you plan to vacation? I am huge into travel so I am always interested in where people are going and what they will see.”

“Huh?” he asks, completely fixated on whatever he’s searching for in the dark recesses of his nostril. “What you say? I was distracted.”

At this moment I have a surge of sympathy for the Booger. It has a stubborn graduate student after it. I try to draw his attention back to the food and the conversation we were having.

“This soup is fantastic! Did you ever figure out what spice was in yours? What’s your favorite New Yorker comic?” I pick up my spoon and pretend to lick something off of it, hoping he’d see the reflection and realize what he’s doing. At that precise moment, the waiter approaches us to see if there’s anything he can do to make our dinner more enjoyable. I try to mentally will him to bring some tweezers but that doesn’t work. Jackson still digs. I feel like I should do something but I have no idea what to do. The waiter is perplexed that mucus could be more interesting than flavorful food.

“Excuse me, sir, would you like to try another dish? Is this one not to your liking?” Jackson faces him and the finger almost pops out. At least it stops twitching and twirling so he can quickly say he doesn’t need anything else. The waiter asks me if I am taken care of. When I say that I am, he says he will dig up the checks. When he leaves, Jackson’s finger starts wiggling again.

I am at a loss as to what to do so I pick up a clean spoon and ask Jackson if he wants to see a trick. When I finally get him to say yes, I balance the spoon on my nose. I pray he is looking at the back of it to see his reflection. When he continues his relentless hunt, I decide that it’s time to come right out and ask him about it before he turns himself inside out.

“Jackson? Would you like to come with me to the bathroom? Maybe you’d do better with a mirror. I have a spare napkin here if you need it too.”

“I almost got it!” he says, and the crowd goes wild. I should have placed my bet early on if I’d known that this Olympic sport was going to take place right in front of me. I try again.

“Your food is going to get cold. Are you sure you don’t need a napkin?”

“I’m almost there! I almost got it! I don’t need any help.”

Just as I begin to reply he lets out this gigantic sneeze. Snot flies all over the napkin on his side of the table. He looks at it with a sense of wonderment.

“Well, what do you know? Nothing was in there!”

As I am waiting outside for the bus to take me back home, I brandish some napkins and admire their clean surfaces. Jackson asks me if I feel like meeting again, the next day. I can’t be mean to him. I really did enjoy his company before his finger ruined everything. Taking a deep breath, I turn to him and say, “Not tomorrow. I’m going to go to the store. I’m running out of Kleenex!”

Bio: Robert Kingett is a blind journalist in Chicago who writes for numerous Chicago publications, The Huffington Post and small papers. His investigative reporting has been nominated for awards. His work has appeared in several magazines, anthologies, and on radio stations. He’s the creator of the Accessible Netflix Project. He is the author of Off the Grid which is available as an ebook at: It is also available from, itunes, and is available on Bookshare and from The National Library Service for the Blind.

Part VIII. I Remember

Forty Five Years Later, poetry
by Nancy Scott

The first man to walk on you oh mantra moon
has left this earthly plain
and the second man with footprints
among your rocks and craters
sounds old.

I was three days shy of 16
when “one small step”
went from science to magic.
I’m now hurtling toward 61.

I thought I would write myself safe.
I thought I would change the world.
I thought I would always have passion.

What is too much to pray for?
One more poem wants my pen.

Ah moon. Amen.

Just as the Ocean Does, poetry
by Sharon Tewksbury

The ocean rolled,
The boat swaying with its perpetual rhythm.
We stood on the deck,
The night was unsullied.
I remember
you looking out to sea,
And I, listening to the sounds of the ferry’s motor
And the ocean,
Slapping against the sides of the boat.

Did the moon dance on the water?
I don’t remember,
But I felt you beside me,
And you described,
lights coming from all directions.
And you loved the dolphins, Playing by the ship.

We listened to the gulls,
Circling overhead,
Hoping we had one last crumb of food they could eat.
I still remember the ferry’s horn, deep and loud,
The salty air hitting my nostrils,
We laughing at the spray hitting our faces,
I remember my sighs of gratitude,
because the pleasure of that trip,
Was so simple.
And we didn’t care,
That the Galveston water was dirty.
And now it seems like a lifetime ago,
And things have changed,
Babies will soon be born,
Loved ones have been taken away,
But your memory will always live on,
Just as the ocean does.

This poem first appeared in Vision Through Words.

Bio: Sharon Tewksbury lives in the Houston, Texas area. She has been blind since birth, and believes if she can’t do something, she will eventually find a way. She is a lyricist and loves to write poetry. She also writes music for her songs, plays several musical instruments, and has made two CDS. She co-produced the last one where she played keyboard. Some of her music is on YouTube. She is presently trying to get a novel published, and has started working on its sequel.

Dad, Fats, and Me, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

As the piano’s bass notes
imitate baby elephant patter,
I stomp my six-year-old feet in time,
while sitting on the couch across from Dad,
sprawled in his easy chair, his nose in a book.
He looks up, chuckles.

As Fats Waller sings no praises
to a woman’s over-sized feet,
I stand, stomp around the den.
Dad sings along–I giggle.

As the song crescendos
with blaring saxophone and trumpet,
I lift my feet,
bring them to the floor with purpose
while Dad sings along with Fats.
The record has other songs:
“The Joint is Jumpin’,” “Seafood, Mama,”
but my little feet always stomp in time
whenever I hear Fats say, “Your Feet’s Too Big.”

Bio: Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of a romance novel, two poetry collections, and a memoir. Along with Magnets and Ladders, her work has appeared in Labyrinth, Serendipity Poets Journal, and other periodicals and anthologies. She is visually impaired and lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, where for six years, she cared for her late husband, who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. Please visit her Website at

The Bomb Drops, memoir
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

“Dear Abbie, I’m writing to ask for your hand in marriage,” the letter stated.

“Oh, no,” I said, as the index finger of my right hand scanned the Braille words on the page.

It was a Saturday evening in January 2005. This was all a bad dream, I thought, as I sat in the living room of my apartment. Any minute, my alarm clock would ring. I would wake up, and everything would be as it was before. Instead, the talking clock in the bedroom announced that it was 8:30.

I read the rest of the letter that explained how we could live together and tossed it into the wastebasket in shock. With the help of my closed-circuit television magnification system, I finished reading the mail and perused the evening paper, all the while thinking about the letter.

How could I marry Bill? I had only met him twice after corresponding with him for two years by email and phone. We had met through Newsreel, a cassette magazine that encouraged its blind and visually impaired subscribers to share ideas and contact information. I was forty-four, and he was nineteen years my senior.

Born and raised in Fowler, Colorado, Bill lost some of his vision at an early age due to rheumatoid arthritis, which also affected his legs. Through surgery as a child, he was able to walk, but he lost the rest of his vision twenty years later. After graduating from the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, he was educated at Adams State College and Colorado State University, where he received a degree in business administration. He lived in California for twenty years, where he worked for Swimquip and JBL, before returning to his hometown. I was inspired by the fact that, despite being totally blind, he could own his own house, as well as several others he rented out, and that he could maintain these properties and make repairs.

I knew he was an expert at computers, since he owned a computer store in Fowler for another twenty years after returning from California. He and I shared some of the same music preferences. He downloaded more than two thousand songs onto his computer from various sources on the Internet and sent me tapes of these songs. His mother lived in a nursing home, and he was drawn to me because I was a registered music therapist, working at a nursing home in Sheridan, Wyoming, which I’d been doing for fifteen years.

I received degrees in music from Sheridan College and Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, before going into music therapy. After two more years of study at Montana State University, which included nine hours of practicum, I completed a six-month internship at a nursing home in Fargo, North Dakota before returning to my hometown of Sheridan, Wyoming.

I wrote my first novel, We Shall Overcome, with Bill’s support. He encouraged me in my other writing endeavors and listened when I told him about problems at work. He was a good friend, but how could I leave Sheridan and live with him in Fowler, Colorado, more than 500 miles away?

According to Bill, the little farming community had none of the amenities I enjoyed in Sheridan: no public transportation, YMCA, Walmart, or theater. In Sheridan, I sang in a women’s barbershop group and attended monthly writers’ group meetings, but there was none of that in Fowler. Pueblo, Colorado, a town thirty-six miles away, had all this, but how was I to get there?

I thought back to the time we first met in person. Dad and I were driving to visit my brother, Andy, and his family in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Since Fowler wasn’t too far out of our way, we arranged to visit Bill at his home.

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in April 2004. I didn’t know what to expect as Dad and I climbed the two narrow steps that led to the front porch of Bill’s white house. I wasn’t sure we had the right address, since there were no signs of life, but when the door opened and a tall figure sporting a cane and sunglasses appeared, said hello, and extended his hand, I was put at ease. “Hi, are you Bill Taylor?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered, “and you must be Abbie Johnson.”

We shook hands.

After a tour of his house, we sat at the dining room table. Dad left to get gas and look around the town. Bill asked, “Do you like Dr. Pepper?”

“I love Dr. Pepper!” I said, amazed that he had my favorite beverage in the house.

I also discovered we both liked country music and oldies. He’d never heard of National Public Radio and didn’t care for classical music, jazz, or opera. He liked to read Western novels and mysteries, which I could have done without, but that didn’t matter. I thought we could still be friends.

During the drive to New Mexico, Dad said, “I think he wants to marry you.”

“Oh, come on,” I said, and didn’t give it another thought.

The following December, Dad and I again visited Bill on our way to New Mexico. His home was decorated for the holidays, and while Dad was in the bathroom, Bill said, “Let’s kiss under the mistletoe.” I thought he was joking, so I laughed.

Now I decided to try not to think about Bill or the marriage proposal and go to bed. Needless to say, although I was tired after a long day of work, I didn’t sleep well that night. I lay awake at four o’clock in the morning while newly fallen snow was being cleared from the sidewalk outside.

I composed a Braille letter in my head. “Dear Bill, although I like you and have valued our friendship over the past couple of years, I don’t see myself marrying you at this time. I hope we can still be friends.” I was tempted to get up, write the letter, and mail it, but decided to try to sleep some more, since I had another long day ahead of me.

I dozed fitfully for the next couple of hours until my talking clock played a joyful tune and the synthetic male voice announced it was seven o’clock. My mind was in a fog as I showered, dressed, and heated instant oatmeal in the microwave. I listened to National Public Radio, but not even the news of the day and other human interest stories took my mind completely off Bill’s proposal.

I finally took the elevator to the ground floor of my apartment building and waited in the entry for the Minibus, the local Paratransit service I used to get to and from work and other places not within walking distance. Since it was Sunday, the Minibus would quit running at one o’clock. I worked until five-thirty, so Dad would pick me up. I somehow managed to get through the day, despite the life-changing decision weighing me down.

After work, we drove to Grandma’s house for Sunday dinner. It wasn’t much of a family meal, just Dad, Grandma and me, but it was something we tried to do every Sunday. Dad and I picked up sandwiches and chips at a Subway shop and took them to Grandma’s house.

As we sat down to the meal, I could hold back no longer. “Dad, Grandma, Bill Taylor wants to marry me.”

To my astonishment, Dad said, “Well, I’ll be damned. You should think about this, honey. He’s a fine fellow.”

“I’ve only met him twice,” I said.

“Grandma and I aren’t going to be around much longer. Who’s going to take care of you?”

“I can take care of myself. I’ve been living on my own and holding down a job for years. I can always take a taxi home from work when the Minibus isn’t running.”

“She shouldn’t marry him if she’s not sure,” said Grandma.

“Why don’t you at least go down to Fowler and spend some time with him before you make a decision?” Dad said.

Maybe he was right. I composed another Braille letter in my head, suggesting I visit Bill’s hometown to see if I would like living there with him.

After I returned home, before I had a chance to write the letter, Bill called me. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Oh, just working on the computer and thinking about a marriage proposal I got in the mail.”

He laughed. I laughed. He said, “What do you think?”

“I was planning to write you a letter. I’d like to come down to Fowler this summer to see if I’d like living with you there.”

After a long pause, he said, “Actually, I’m thinking of moving to Sheridan.”

“Oh, but your letter said . . .”

“I’m tired of living in a little town where there isn’t much to do.”

“You want to live here?”

“Yes. We’ll have to get a bigger place. My stuff along with your stuff wouldn’t all fit in your one-bedroom apartment, would it?”

“No, of course not,” I said, my mind reeling. Marrying him wouldn’t be so bad if I could stay in my hometown, I thought.

“Maybe I could come to Sheridan for a week or so in a couple of months.”

I panicked. I needed more time to get used to the idea. “Wouldn’t you rather wait until June? You wouldn’t have to worry about bad roads.”

“I think the roads should be okay by the middle of March.”

It was obvious he didn’t want to wait. Maybe in two months I could get myself in a better frame of mind about this. My thoughts were in a whirlwind. One minute, I liked the idea of being married to Bill. The next, I wondered if I was getting in over my head.

As a result of the shock and stress, I came down with a bad cold that lasted three weeks. When I told Bill, he said he wished he were there to take care of me, but this didn’t make me feel any better. I wanted my mother to take care of me and advise me, but she had died several years earlier. I had never felt so alone or confused.

Author’s Note: The above is an excerpt from my new memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds, now available from Smashwords, Amazon, Createspace, and other sources. For more information and to purchase a copy, visit

The Italian Bus Ride, memoir
by Michael M. Tickenoff

A bus ride, sounds simple, hah! Well, I’ve been on a few of them and I would guess that there are only three, maybe four that were memorable enough for me to actually write about. Out of those three or four, this was or shall be considered the third down the list from the greatest; it’s the one with the most feeling attached to it.

It was in Molano, Italy. To tell you the truth, I myself being an American from a suburban town in California was never found to be in need of regular bus transportation; so I found myself like a lamb to the slaughter in this experience.

Having already traveled in Europe for a month, i always chose trains. But here in this city, it became necessary for me and my traveling buddy, Theo to get around by bus and so this story begins.

Tired and hungry, returning back from a long day’s tour at some forsaken mountain fortress in the distant hills, we found ourselves waiting at a common ordinary citizen’s bus stop. We patiently waited for the next ride to come on by and pick us up. As far as I knew, it was normal for the bus to come to a gradual stop, open its doors, calmly dispersing some passengers at the front and patiently loading others in at the back.

Sure enough, the bus came into view down the traffic jammed road and right then the masses on the sidewalk began to congeal and merge into some organized form of what seemed to be a football play. We were roughly shoved off and out of our places and by the time I turned to see what the heck was going on, Bus #77 was pulling up alongside the curb. The crowd seemed to make some kind of mental calculation and like a team on the go, they began to run alongside the bus and left us standing in the diesel fumes and swirling dust.

Yikes! The bus didn’t even completely stop. When the doors were flung open, I saw a small group of men, women and children pop out of the front door like popcorn overflowing its popper. This was strange but what was really odd was the on rushing throng trying to claw, push and climb over one another to get into the ever moving back door. It reminded me of that scene in the Super Bowl game where 22 men are piled like a pyramid, all reaching for the game winning fumble. The bus never stopped, but the entire crowd seemed to be pulled and sucked into the bus by an invisible force. In nothing less than 5 seconds, they were gone, completely swallowed up and we were left sucking exhaust fumes.

“Hey, that was rather a dirty play wouldn’t you say,” sputtered Theo.
“Yeah, guess they ain’t interested in perpetuating their tourist image to well,” I retorted.

“Ok, let’s get ready for the next one, since we know the game plan,” Theo clapped as he got into a quarterback stance while staring up the street in wait of the next approaching bus.

Sure enough, within a short time another crowd formed and as soon as the bus showed, the multitude began to attempt to shove us off, but no way, not this time. We were ready. We dug in, blocked, threw elbows and made great yardage and barely made it up to the scrimmage line but we held our places. Just as Bus 99 came close enough, we along with everyone else began our trot alongside the rolling bus. When the doors were flung open, squeeze, slam, squash and puusshh! We disappeared into the back doors and found ourselves being packed in from behind by the still pushing crowd. At least 30 more people piled in and made it onto the bus. The bus was already packed to over flowing, and I mean packed, standing room only.

You think it’s tough, being sort of cozy on an elevator with a few strangers? Try having a 300 pound Italian woman’s wrestler breasts hanging over your shoulders, while the local garlic and onion champion tester is breathing into your face from 3 inches away. At the same time, you can feel at least five pairs of hands going through your pockets and you can’t even reach down to stop them watso-thatso.

Theo disappeared in and among the sardines. Weren’t sardines invented in Italy? I could hear him gasping for air. I remembered that he was sort of claustrophobic, well perhaps more than a little. I heard him desperately screaming out for my help. I climbed up on someone’s bag and stuck my head out of the mass throng. I looked over the sea of faces and I spotted Theo a few bodies back. I thought it better to reach for him rather than go backwards against the tides. I got hold of one of his ears and began to pull. He screamed, and must have begun to kick because the sea of flesh that had him held tight began surging in a circle around him and he was slowly moved and nudged towards me.

It was the end of the day party. Everyone was jabbering in Italian, breathing out their days rations of potent fumes of garlic, fish and onions. As we surged with the turns and sways of the bus, everyone simultaneously lifted their arms up grabbing for the overhead rail, thereby smothering our faces into a sea of hairy and very stinky armpits. Without any discretion, this throng openly expelled with what seemed to be serious pleasure great quantities of gas. They gaily laughed at us, as we were engulfed into the higher knowledge of the bus riders code of ethics in Italy.

Then struck dumb with horror, I realized that Bus #99 wasn’t even the bus we wanted. Too late!

“Hey, a guy could have a lot of fun under these conditions on these bus rides,” Theo gasped out.

“Sure thing, if you love sweat and garlic and only if you got the right person close to you,” I murmured. Just then a hand grabbed a pinch full of my rear-end. I turned to see an old toothless woman smiling her gums at me and I turned my face away in revulsion. But I soon reconsidered this judgment call; better her than that giant lumbering hulk of a man smiling at me just out of reach.

We were about half way back in the aisle when I realized that I had no idea where the heck we were and on what street we were going to stop. I couldn’t see a thing through this throng. Then I pondered the fix we were in; even if we did know where we were, we couldn’t get to the front door. I began to panic a little and wonder how the heck this bus driver brought his passengers to the door. Then, this question was answered when the driver Alfonzo, slammed on the brakes and guttso-crunch!

In an instant, the 200 passengers were jammed even tighter into the front quarter of the bus and if we thought it was packed a second ago, we were very, very wrong. The passengers sort of merged into one happy family, and I knew for sure that this is where women became mothers and young men like myself became unexpected fathers. Yes it was tight and extremely close.

I then realized that the bus was once again cruising along another bus stop, scooping up another football team, while disgorging a crushed throng through the front door. Wow, what a job I thought. This guy is slick. Passengers get on with a day’s shopping and leave with five minutes of purchase, the rest is probably stuffed tight into the seats and walls. After work the bus driver goes around prying loose all the left-overs and sells it back to the stores for a handsome price. No wonder most rich Italians are all bus drivers.

By the third slam, Theo and I were forced near the front, and all without our own efforts. By the fourth forward packing, I thought I knew what it felt like to bee digested food in an intestine. It was sort of a natural progression, maybe like evolution. Hey, maybe this is where that guy (Darnet) really got the idea, brain storm on an Italian bus ride.

Ok, ok enough I thought, can’t take the pressure, and I mean pressure. Let me tell you one thing, never, and I mean never get onto an Italian bus without first having gone potty. I mean this, and I mean a complete and full emptying, or this football brigade of anxious “want to get home” Italians are gonna do it for you.

At the next slam brake crush, we found ourselves directly behind the happy singing bus driver, Alfonzo, for he knew he had a fortune hanging around the floor today. I thought this would be a great racket. Just carry along your own company of pick pockets and split the take at the end of the day.

I was wondering why we were smashed up against a steel screen, sort of like a jail cage. Then I realized that is exactly what it was, Alfonzo was encased in steel mesh. That is why he was able to escape the crushing hoards being piled up at the front each time he slammed them forward in an expert packing job. My face actually had grooves impressed onto it for at least three days after this ride.

I seemed to have joined some special unnamed club for I also saw others with the same marks and they would give me a special smile and sort of want to nudge up to me a little. I realized that they too had been touched by Bus 99 and the cage experience.

Finally, there was one last desperate push, with a tremendous slam on the brakes. I am sure Alfonzo did this for our benefit. For he saw that Theo was near death and no longer able to stand on his own. He was being supported by at least twenty happy Italian grandmothers, five pick pockets and a few far reaching grabbers. Bus #99 screeched to a jamming halt for an instant. Then Alfonzo immediately punched it, throwing everyone backwards. He hollered out something to a few Italian garlic wrestlers. With 40 pairs of hands on us, we were expelled in a gut wrenching shove, catapulted out onto the sidewalk where we both fell in a sprawl.

Theo lay gasping for air. I crawled around looking for our stuff. Just as I figured, most of it was gone. I looked up in time to see the bus being chased by another team of experienced Italians, jostling and pushing for position to catch that door when it would fling open for only a second and admit them into the Italian chamber of “squeesh thepish and fleece the fools.”

No matter, we were alive. We got up, dusted ourselves off and tried to figure out where the heck we were.

“Oh sheee-etskees, we are on the other side of the river,” I blurted out.

“Should we try and catch the next bus?” Theo asked as he clamored to his feet.

I smiled and said, “Sure, let’s go, maybe we can get back some of our stuff this time; you get to be the pick pocket and I’ll be the guy that reaches out and touches things.”

However after serious contemplation, we decided to walk the three miles back INSTEAD.

Bio: Michael M. Tickenoff, is a partially sighted man with many experiences. Michael is a story teller, a researcher, a self-published author, an artist, a public speaker and an adventurer. He has Traveled to over 40 countries; he has acquired more than enough exciting experiences and has much to say. He enjoys writing Poems, Proverbs and Short Stories. Michael has published his extraordinary, Luke Mitchner Series, a six book collection of Adventure, Mystery, Romance and insights to life itself. He is an old time on the road investigator, with a thousand strange tales to be told.

Anniversary Notes, creative nonfiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Terry and Estelle Brandt, my grandparents, were humble, church going, cotton and peanut raising country people living simple lives. When a little pressure was exerted, they agreed it would be nice to have family and a few friends in to help celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary on January 4, 1954. The small gathering grew beyond all expectations since each of the four boys had their own ideas about who should come. Comanche county, Texas, was a rural area, and the Brandts knew church, business, and farming people from all over.

Aunt Jo had the lace tablecloth made. Ribbons and bells hung to the floor from each corner, and satin ruffles in a heart-shaped pattern were placed in the center of the table to complement the tiered wedding cake a local bakery was hired to make for the celebration. My mom found the recipe for hot tea with spices and juices, and much to my amazement, she volunteered me to sing before the cake was cut.

I suggested a peppy little popular song from two years before which I knew I could sing with confidence, “I Love You, a Bushel and a Peck.” Aunt Eloise was having none of that. It had to be the traditional anniversary Waltz.

I was taking voice at the school for the blind, so I asked about the song.

“There are actually two,” Mrs. Campion told me. “Bing Crosby sang one in a movie, and that’s actually called the Anniversary Waltz. But the one most people think of is based on an old Romanian melody called Waves of the Danube. It starts out in a minor key, and is much faster than the other love song.”

She played and sang both, and I eventually agreed to learn them both. I didn’t think either fit my grandparents. They heard Bill Monroe bluegrass on the radio at breakfast, and the Light Crust Doughboys with the livestock report, weather, and news when the hired hands came in for “dinner,” that’s what they called lunch in the country.

Carl, the brothers’ cousin, was supposed to play for me. Aunt Eloise said she’d get the sheet music. He was the son of my granddad’s brother, and there was bad blood between the brothers over property inheritance. The families never visited, but Carl and his sister were good school friends with my dad and his brothers. Everyone knew Carl’s attendance was iffy, and I didn’t know what I’d do if he didn’t show up. Part of me hoped he wouldn’t, because I didn’t like those songs. I had sung and played with Carl and his sister over the years with the piano and pump organ. Carl would need to bring his pump organ up to the house for the celebration. We knew his dad wouldn’t like it.

I was fourteen years old, so when the big day finally arrived, I was dressed up in a green taffeta dress I loved. I had a new perm and make-up, and was seated at the reception book and gift table. My cousins gathered cups and napkins while we waited. The tea seemed to be sending a long line to the bathroom somehow, but everything was going according to schedule. As the gifts were opened, we marveled at each one: Salt and pepper shakers shaped like bells; ice tea pitcher and goblets with gold squiggles on the sides; a decorative pillow with the number fifty in gold lamé lettering on it.

“Where’s Carl?” my aunts began whispering. “It’s time to cut the cake.”

One of my uncles, dressed fit to kill of course, drove across the connecting road and convinced Carl they really could hoist that pump organ into the back of the pickup.

I slipped into those three-inch heels I’d been dreading, and clipped on those painful gold ear rings I was supposed to wear and made my way to the front porch. The cake had been moved to a special serving table there. All the guests and family were in the yard because there wasn’t room for us all in one room in the small farm house. Thank goodness it was a warm January.

“What are you going to sing?” Carl asked as he showed me where to stand so the film they were running would catch me in full view. He didn’t want to be in the picture because he’d slipped away to do this deed against his dad’s wishes.

“They had me learn the Anniversary Waltz, and I learned both versions. Which one do you think I should sing?”

“I don’t know that song,” he said, “What else could you sing instead?”

There wasn’t time to worry about why he didn’t get the sheet music, so I just had to wing it. “A bushel and a peck?” I suggested.

“I don’t know that either,” he laughed. “You know I like classical and Latin music, and I play hymns at church.”

That was true. When I’d sung with them before, it was Christmas carols, kids’ songs, or special music for church.

“Do you know Cielito Lindo?” he asked.
I was stunned. I’d taken Spanish and lived in south Texas. Mexican music was popular, and so of course I did know the song. It was a happy song, but I wasn’t sure how a foreign language song would go over. Carl didn’t give me much time to think about it, he started playing.

“Just tell them I said I was picking the music today,” he offered.

I decided to have fun with it. We did one verse, he played a bridge and told me to start clapping. Everyone else followed suit. I was on a roll by then, “Everyone sing along on this one!” I hollered as I launched into “Happy anniversary to you!” Carl, of course, played along on the organ.

Later, when the crowd finally went home and the dishes were being put away, my granddad cornered me. “What was that song about? Was that Mexican?” I told him about the trick Carl and I played. He called my grandmother over. “Essie,” he said, “That was a song about beautiful skies, and it’s a happy kind of a sweetheart song. It says we should all sing and not cry to make our hearts glad. At least that’s what our granddaughter tells me.”

Grandmother smiled. “Good,” she whispered, “I knew you didn’t like that other song, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t either.”

Aunt Jo and Aunt Eloise gave my parents a little grief, but everyone said the smile on Carl’s face when he livened up a party he wasn’t supposed to attend was a very special gift of love for my grandparents on their golden wedding anniversary.

Memories with Dad, nonfiction
by Marcia J. Wick, The Write Sisters

Honoring my Dear Old Dad, Edward T. Walford, Lt. Col. Ret., who will turn 92 Oct. 17, 2016

My earnest dad asks, “Please remind me, what are the names of your children?” I glance up to look into the worried face of my 91-year-old father. I realize he is addressing me quietly so as not to call the attention of others to his troubling memory loss.

“I have two daughters, Julie and Maddy,” I prompt him gently. “Julie teaches kindergarten and Maddy still works up in Cripple Creek, remember?” He hangs his head, struggling to make a connection. I ramble on. “You are always confusing Maddy with Jenny for some reason,” There is some special kind of genetic connection between my sister and daughter, I muse, knowing my dad is no longer following the thought chain.

The mention of Jenny’s name, however, prompts him to look up. “Where is Jenny? I need Jenny,” he says anxiously jerking his bald head around.

Jenny, the youngest of six children in our family, has assumed the role of full-time caregiver for our parents, fortunately for the rest of us. Although resistant to accepting help from their other children, Mom and Dad demand constant attention from Jenny.

“What is it you need, Dad?” I ask. “Jenny is helping with the food right now but I am here to help.” He requests tea, then becomes distracted by another of my sisters, asking Vicky to remind him of the names of her children.

Those of us listening nearby go silent. We wait not knowing how Dad will react when Vicky recalls that one of her two sons has passed. We all grieve again and want to spare dad from this particular memory.

At the mention of John’s name, my father’s face suddenly lights up. “I want to be buried with John, but they won’t let me,” he exclaims. Our gentle laughter releases the tension. This is a story we have heard many times before.

Our nephew, John, rests in a columbarium at a lovely pastoral setting often visited by deer on the grounds of my parents’ Catholic Church. But full burial there is only available to the shrinking population of aging nuns. “You could join John if you want to be cremated,” we all offer, knowing that Dad’s preference is for a traditional burial because he believes he will need his body to find his parents in heaven.

The ghostly look of a frightened child flickers across my father’s face as he worries aloud, “Do you think I will be able to find my parents in heaven?” We instantly assure that he will. Recollecting his own father, Dad suddenly returns to remembering that it is Father’s Day. He summons all the fathers, commanding they stop tending the grills and line up for a group photo. He boasts about his sons and sons-in-law while handing them each a cash card. His sons may now be handling his finances, but dad stubbornly holds onto his own wallet.

As we chat about our road trip to visit my sister, Jill, in Laramie the weekend before, Dad doesn’t remember the recent visit. At the mention of Jill’s name, however, he does recall taking his last downhill ski run with her six months earlier. Dad willingly retired his skis when he was too exhausted to take a second run at age 91, but he laments being forced by his doctor to give up driving at that age. His children had conspired with the doctor to force Dad to stop driving, but no one in the family dared demand that he give up skiing. Fortunately, Dad willingly retired his skis, but he is still looking for the keys to the car.

Dad grew up in a blue collar family with low income in a Midwestern city. Now, when he grumbles loudly about the price of a beer or being pressed to leave a $10 tip, we recognize it as a throwback to his family’s tough depression era days.

Our family honors the stories of how Dad outgrew the confines of poverty. He set out as a young soldier to help support his loving family back home, and to learn how to build a better future for his own.

Dad pursued higher education. He showed us the value of books, travel and the great outdoors. Despite his military background, he taught us to deplore war as the last possible path to peace.

At times now, Dad may seem stingy but his checkbook still opens at the first hint of one of his children or grandchildren needing help. He reminds us proudly, and repeatedly, that he covers the cost of college textbooks for his grandchildren, and for decades he has quietly slipped child support checks to my sister and me to make up for any budget shortfalls.

When Dad finally leaves us to look for his parents, he will be buried on the beautiful grounds of the United States Air Force Academy. He taught chemistry to cadets there for many years when the state-of-art campus was newly built. More recently, he returned to the military college as a distinguished visiting professor following his retirement from a second civilian teaching career.

He no longer quotes the periodic table, and he can’t remember what my brothers are cooking on the grill this Father’s Day, but he abruptly calls us to attention proclaiming, “Does everyone know my 380th bomb group reunion will be in Albuquerque this October?”

“Why, yes!” we exclaim with mock surprise, as if we are being reminded of this for the first time that day.

This Father’s Day, we time travel with Dad, coaxing to help him recall the names of our grown children in the present, fighting the war with our father as an 18-year-old navigator, stretching back further to comfort him as a six-year-old grieving the death of his father, jumping to this Father’s Day to help Dad find Jenny and his tea, next taking a quick trip to heaven where memories of Dad’s mom transport Dad back to the war.

As Dad slips back into old memories, we know our Dear Old Dad may soon embark on life’s next great adventure. Although memories with Dad become hazy, the legacy of Dad’s lifetime of service to country, community and family appears crystal clear.

Spring/Summer 2016 Edition of Magnets and Ladders


Magnets and Ladders
Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
Spring/Summer 2016

Editorial and Technical Staff

  • Coordinating Editor: Mary-Jo Lord
  • Fiction: Lisa Busch, Valerie Moreno, Marilyn Brandt Smith, Kate Chamberlin, and Abbie Johnson Taylor
  • Nonfiction: Valerie Moreno, John W. Smith, Kate Chamberlin, 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

Submission Guidelines

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

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

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

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

Have You Published a book? If you would like to have an excerpt of your book published in an issue of Magnets and Ladders, please submit a chapter or section of your book to 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 or by check by March/September 1. 100-word promotional information is due by February/August 15. Not sure about something? Email All donations support Magnets and Ladders.

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

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

About Behind Our Eyes

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

Behind Our Eyes, a Second Look is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers, and in E-book format on Amazon Kindle. It is also available in recorded format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. See our book trailer on Youtube at

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

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


Editors’ Welcome

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.

Grand Prize:

“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

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:
(ISBN 978-1490304472).

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

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 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

Pink, fiction
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.

Ouch, fiction
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

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.”

“But why?”

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.”

“But you’re…”

“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:

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.

“She’s beautiful!”

“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

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,
Inviting inspiration,
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,
Made comfortable
By the kind inclusion of a round table.
Large enough
For several to sit around, or near.
Background oldies fan our reminiscence
Or companionable reveries.
We engage in games,
Chimes of conversation,
Luxurious laughter.
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.
Sutured reminders
lie hidden within folds.
Like words
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:

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.

Kaibab, memoir
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

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:, 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.


First Draft

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.


Final Version

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
Puncture resolve.

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,
(For Disappointment)
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.

Contest Alert

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:

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–
her four-seven-eight-three-one
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
Black Diamond



Decades ago,
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:
food, baseball,



Those old dance halls,
above the grocery stores,
near Binole’s, Jacksonville School–
now silent,



Dear hometown friends,
would you please choose me to be
poet laureate of Blanford?
Poem, sweet

Part IV. Not What I Expected

Oops! fiction
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 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.

Hot! nonfiction
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 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
For Greta
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

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

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
takes place.

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

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
A tribute
by Brad Corallo

When they play
rejoicing in their astounding gifts
trading licks
improvising off each other
the whole
is so much more
than the sum of its parts.

Blues gritty intensity
captivating lilting solos
like Jazz
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
ultimately becoming
part of life’s soundtrack

With each rediscovery
like slipping into
your favorite well worn pair of jeans
you hear it
feel 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 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.”

Thanks Elton.

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
Easy Pass!
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

A haunting
Other worldly,
deep humming that sends
shivers down my spine. An ancient raw,
organic, guttural,
and mystic.
A primal buzzing,
that sounds electric, alive, from
outer space or the center of the
earth. Enveloping, peaceful,
energizing, smooth, meditative
and calming.
The beauty
of Aboriginal history
and the secrets
of the bush. Bursting
from the
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
the didgeridoo.

If you would like to expirience the sound of the didgeridoo, go to

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