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Fall/Winter 2013/2014 Edition of Magnets and Ladders

Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
Fall/Winter 2013/2014

Editorial and Technical Staff

  • Coordinating Editor: Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • Fiction: Lisa Busch, Donna Grahmann, Valerie Moreno, Marilyn Brandt Smith, and Abbie Johnson Taylor
  • Nonfiction: Valerie Moreno, Nancy Scott, John W. Smith, and Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • Poetry: Lisa Busch, Alice Massa, Valerie Moreno, Nancy Scott, and Abbie Johnson Taylor
  • Technical Assistants: Jayson Smith and John Weidlich
  • Internet Specialist: Julie Posey

Submission Guidelines

Disabled writers 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.

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.

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.

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. For the conference phone number and PIN, join our mailing list by contacting Donna Grahmann at

Table of Contents

Editor’s Welcome

Hello, cool weather,

We’re ready for you, and we bring lots of news.

Fiction takes the stage–twenty-four entries, three cash prize winners! It was a daunting task for the editors. Many fine pieces appear in this issue; others will appear in future publications. “The Knowing” by Manny Colver takes first place. His story, along with “Someone Getting Married Today?” by Deon Lions, are the first featured pieces in this magazine. “Blue Christmas” by Shawn Jacobson, our third place winner, appears, where else? in the seasonal section. Close contenders are fourth and fifth place, “Survivor’s Guilt” by Ann Chiappetta and “Storm Born” by Ellen Fritz. See “The Writers’ Climb” for news about cash awards for top picks in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue. Winners, your checks are in the mail, that’s a promise; everyone, keep submitting, and keep reading.

Our second anthology, “Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look,” contains over 300 pages of our best work collected during the past two years. It’s available in paperback from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, on Kindle, and soon on Bookshare. Heartwarming memoirs, scary characters from fiction, and thought-provoking poetry are all present for the reader’s pleasure. A few examples are featured in this magazine.

Two Behind Our Eyes members join the editorial staff: Donna Grahmann, fiction, and Alice Massa, poetry. Look for Alice’s regular column on the mechanics of writing.

There’s a new way to direct our readers’ attention to services helpful to writers and Internet users. Take us up on this opportunity. Look for the details in the writers’ section.

As you begin reading, here are three enticing questions to consider:

  1. Who is the silent witness and narrator in “Ruby’s Gift of Prayer,” featured in the first section of the magazine?

  2. Who, among the five remembered guests in our poetry spotlight, would you most like to engage in a conversation?

  3. Would you have made the same decision made by the author of “Surreality,” featured in the first section?


The Knowing, fiction
by Manny Colver

Fran had carried around that awful thing inside her for months. That’s how she thought of it anyway–as a thing, a ponderous weight that was always with her no matter where she went or what she did. Though not of flesh or any sort of material substance, it felt as though it were… Something. Yes, something with mass and form, something one might very well reach inside oneself and touch if a body had the nerve to feel the contours of its ugliness.

Fran shivered. She often did that these days, winced or shivered at the mere thought of…of it. Oh, yes. That’s what it felt like all right–a thing, an it. Oh, to be shed of it, to be free of its terrible grip. And yet…so strange…so very strange. All it really was was knowing, simply knowing what had happened, what she and Frank had done to that poor girl.

“Oh, that poor girl,” she muttered.

“Just forget it,” Frank had said. Whenever she tried to share her burden with him he would have none of it. “What’s done is done,” he’d insist. “No use tearing ourselves apart over something we’ll never be able to change. It happened and now it’s over. For the sake of us both, you best forget it. We have a life to live here, Fran. Forget it.”

At times his words sounded to Fran like a threat. Yes, he was her husband of twenty years, give or take, and she couldn’t say he had changed a great deal from what she’d known at the start of their life together; nevertheless, he was different somehow. Different, yes, but still the same. It was as if he’d become more of what he’d been to begin with, so that now he appeared to her as an exaggeration of the take-charge, self-assured man she’d married. He had always had a strong sense of what he expected from life. And that was still there. But it was there now without limits as was his unshakable sense of superiority. Maybe that was how he managed to forget it.

But forget it? She couldn’t–no way. There was no forgetting for her, that was certain. The knowing was always there, nested in the pit of her stomach, a gnawing, quivering mass of knowing, which she feared might never leave her in peace–ever. Terrible dreams shattered her sleep at night, and by day her musings seemed to run in circles. No matter what she set to thinking about, she would always end up in a dingy, dimly-lit room filled with groans of shameful passion and those heart-rending pleas for mercy that rose, then died away.

She thought with some small measure of comfort that things at least could not possibly get worse. The worst had already happened. The worst was known. But then one day things did get worse, far worse.

“Are you all right?” Frank asked from the doorway to their bedroom.

He’d just gotten home from the office, late as usual, for it was already dark when he awakened her with his question, his darkened silhouette standing there in the doorway against the lights from the hall.

She lifted herself from the pillow, looked at him curiously, then shook her head. “No,” she said simply.

“You been to work?”

“I came home sick.”

“What’s the matter,” he said, and as he said this, she knew he didn’t want to hear her answer. He thought he knew already what was wrong. She smiled to herself at the irony of that. So sure of himself there in the doorway. So sure of himself in so many ways.

“What’s wrong?”

“I saw her, Frank. In the park during lunch downtown.” Fran wished she could see his face, but she couldn’t. He was just a dark, cardboard cutout propped up in a lamp-lit doorway.

He said nothing.

“It was her, Frank. She sat down on the bench directly across from mine and looked right at me. Or maybe through me.”

“Stop it, Fran. Just stop it.”

“She just sat there and looked right at me.”

“The girl is dead, Fran. She’s been dead for more than six months.”

“I knew right away it was her.”

“Nonsense. It was probably just someone who looked a bit like her, and your mind just took off and ran with that.”

Fran shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

“Don’t come apart on me, Fran,” he said through gritted teeth. “You’ve got to stop beating us up about this. It’s over. It was an accident. We didn’t mean to…to hurt her. Things just got carried away.”

Fran sat up in bed and her voice rose to full volume. “But I was thinking, Frank. Maybe she was still breathing, still breathing when we…”

“Did you talk to her? Did you talk to this person you saw, sitting right there with you in the park?”

“I tried, but I couldn’t.”

“Well, there you are,” he concluded. “It can’t be her. Think of what you’re saying. Did she fly thousands of miles from Macronasia, hire a private detective, and find us here? Is that what you think?”

“She said she had people here in the states, didn’t she?”

He snorted derisively. “Ah, yes, people here in the states. Nothing more than a third-world version of your local cabbie who goes on and on about some imaginary son pulling down top grades up there at Harvard. Pure invention, Fran. Same as all that nonsense about Macronasian voodoo or black magic or whatever she was prattling on about. It’s ridiculous. She was dirt poor, Fran, and more than happy to take the money had she…”

“Had she what, Frank. Survived the night?”

“It was an accident!” he insisted. “I got carried away with the…”

“Oh, yes, carried away,” Fran blurted back. “I’ve heard it all. The drugs, the drugs, the drugs. You hardly knew what you were doing. Didn’t know your own strength. You say that, yet you’re sure she was dead.”

“Of course she was dead.”

“But what if she wasn’t?”

He didn’t say anything for a time. Then his voice grew as dark as his silhouette. “Get a grip on yourself, Fran. I’m not going to let you destroy us. We’ve got too much to lose.”

Frank left the doorway shaking his head. He cursed under his breath as he thundered down the stairs and into the great room where he fixed himself a drink, drank it down in a few gulps and fixed another. After a fourth, he slipped into a fitful slumber and spent the night stretched out on the couch.

Fran was still in bed when he left to catch the early train into the city the next morning. He suspected she’d been awake as he showered and dressed, but was grateful for her silence. He’d heard enough of it and would listen to no more of such talk.

He bought a morning paper at the station and boarded the train with the others, taking a seat by himself. He was taking the early train for a good reason. The group he normally rode in with each morning always took the later train. Frank wanted no small talk this morning, nor did he want any company. He had to think. He was troubled by Fran’s collapse, and found himself in a quandary as to what he should do about it.

“What to do, what to do…” he muttered as he leaned his head against the seat rest and closed his eyes. How does one keep another from falling apart, he wondered. And is such a thing even possible? As he pondered this, he soon dozed off only to be awakened shortly thereafter not by a sound, not by a sudden lurch of the train or the voices of the other passengers, but by a most distinctive scent.

Frank’s eyes snapped open and his nostrils flared. He sniffed…that fragrance? He sniffed again…that strange, distinctive fragrance. Where had he come across that before? The image of steep, jagged cliffs plunging toward the sea soon came to mind. Macronasia…yes, Macronasia. It reminded him of Macronasia and that lovely young tour guide with her alluring perfume. Then, for the first time in months, he seriously wondered about her.

A sudden panic seized him, but before he could move a muscle, he found himself crying out in pain as something stung the side of his neck.

“Mercy!” he cried as he slapped one hand against his neck and whirled in his seat.

“Good morning, sir,” said the young woman seated directly behind him. She spoke in a softly accented voice that was unmistakably Macronasian. “You are in some distress?” she noted with a smile.

Frank’s eyes narrowed as he drew back. My God, it was her, he thought. It was her, just as Fran had said. But, no. No, it couldn’t be.

“Who are you?” he managed. He drew his hand away from his neck to check for blood, but none was there.

She smiled gently. “Ah, you think you’ve seen a ghost then. Fear not, sir. I am Linai’s sister. A strong resemblance, you see.”

Frank rubbed at his neck, then looked down at his hand again.

“What have you done to me?”

“There will be no blood, sir,” she said. “Hardly a mark at all.” She held up a small object that resembled a thorn with an inch-long, needle-thin projection. “Found only in the jungles of Macronasia. Very potent, sir. Very potent.”

“What have you done to me?” Frank insisted. He felt strange all of a sudden, as if a fog were creeping inside his head. Thoughts seemed to come loose somehow, then float away, muddled and indistinct. He shook his head. “What’s…what’s…happen…ing?”

The train had come to a stop, but Frank didn’t notice. He felt as though he were still moving, gliding along, gliding through space toward…something.

“Ah, and here is my stop, sir,” said the young woman. “So nice to catch up with you at last. You must give my regards to your lovely wife.”

Frank shook his head again, but there was no clearing his mind. Something had settled inside. Not a fog as he first had felt, but something more substantial. It seemed to have form and weight and a gnawing, quivering presence.

He winced. Then he groaned in misery, for try as he might, he could conjure but a single thought, which came again and again and again with ever increasing ferocity until each iteration seemed to rack his entire body and pound with the force of a hammer against the inside of his head.

He shrieked in terror as his mind let go, plunging him deep inside himself and into a virtual prison where the only thing he knew and would henceforth remember was the awful thing he’d done.

Bio: Manny Colver was born with a rare eye condition that left him with 10% of normal vision, an extreme sensitivity to light, and a view of the world devoid of color. He holds an undergraduate degree in communications, and a master’s degree in business finance. He is author of an unproduced screenplay, an unpublished novel, and a darkly comic novella, also unpublished. He lives with his wife in Florida, where he reads and bowls as much as possible.

Someone Getting Married Today? fiction
by Deon Lyons

“I know, I know! You don’t have to keep telling me, ok?” I could feel the blood in my veins starting to pump faster by the second as my best friend Eddie stared down at me.

“You know what he is as well as I do. Everybody knows what your brother is, Pete, and I hate to tell you this, but I don’t think he’s ever going to change. I mean for crying out loud!” Eddie kept beating down on me with his charcoal gray eyes as I untied my bow tie to give it one more shot.

“Listen man, I told my folks. I promised them that I’d give him a chance, ok? I mean, what the hell am I supposed to do? He’s my little brother man, you know?” Losing my concentration on my tie skills, I pulled the bow tie all the way through, and threw it on the floor. “What the hell am I supposed to do!” I looked up at Eddie as he folded his arms and shook his head.

“The fact that he ain’t here should be proof enough man. I mean seriously.” He looked at his watch, “It’s twenty minutes before the ceremony for God’s sake.” He shook his head again as he turned and walked across the room, pausing as he reached one of the chairs. Turning again to face me, he plopped down into the chair and leaned back, interlacing his fingers behind his head.

The door opened suddenly, startling the life out of me. It was my father, and he looked as preoccupied as I had ever seen him. Closing the door behind him, he walked over and sat on the edge of the chair beside me.

“No one’s seen Trev, at least not since last night.”

“Who saw him last night?” My mind started racing at the news.

“Bobby Verrill told me that he saw him at the Dusty Dollar around closing time.” My dad looked down at the floor, tracing the intricate carpet patterns with his eyes, “He told me that your brother was in his usual wrecked state. Falling over everyone and everything else that he usually gets into.” He shook his head and looked from the floor, to the ceiling, to me, and back to the floor. “I’m sorry about this, Petey.” He looked at me again, “This is my fault. I should have known what would happen with all this.”

“It’s not your fault, dad. It’s no one’s fault but Trevor’s. It’s never been anyone else’s fault for what he does. He’s a frigging alcoholic, ok?” I stared at my father as I could see the emotions swell up inside his head and heart. “This is the third time he’s been through rehab. That don’t mean that the third time’s a charm. I mean, for Christ’s sake dad, how many times has our family had this same discussion about him? Too damn many times, that’s how many!” I got up from my chair and walked to the middle of the room, where I bent down and picked up my bow tie.

“Mr. Collins, I’m sorry about all this sir.” Eddie sat up in his chair and like my father, stared down at the floor. He looked at his watch again, “It’s quarter of. What do you guys wanna do?”

My father got up and walked over to me, holding out his hand. “Give me the tie, Pete. I’ll do it up for ya.” He put a hand on my shoulder as I handed him the black velvet length. He grabbed it and started working it through the neck of my shirt. “The wedding goes on. If your brother doesn’t show up, your best man is right here in the room.” He looked at Eddie, “That is, if he wants to be.”

“Best man for life sir, and yes, I would be honored.” He looked at me and smiled as I took a deep breath. “If we don’t get this lame ass married right here and now, He’ll probably grow old and gray, sitting in his two-room apartment, all alone in his underwear with a bag of cheese curls, watching Little House on the Prairie with a universal remote that has a dead battery in it.”

“You frigging moron!” I looked at Eddie and started laughing. My father joined in as we stood together in the middle of the room.

“Where’s your ring for Anna?” My father continued to work on my tie as I swallowed and remembered. I sat speechless as he tugged and tied.

“Hello? Where is Anna’s ring?”

My voice cracked as I finally figured out how to swallow, “Umm, I gave it to Trev yesterday afternoon to hold for me.”

“You did what?” My father let go of the tie as the knot quickly came undone, “You’re kidding, right?”

“Afraid not, Pop.” I tried swallowing again, but the nervous lump in my throat wouldn’t let me. “It’s ok. He told me that he would put it in the night stand in his room when I left your house yesterday.”

Eddie stood there with his mouth hanging, wide open. I knew what he wanted to say, but I don’t think he knew how to correctly say it.

The door to the room opened with a sudden burst, slamming against the door stop on the wall.

“Well lookie here! If it ain’t the happy frigging groom!” My brother Trevor staggered into the room. He walked over towards the three of us, barefoot, with his shirt tail hanging out of his unzipped pants. His cumber bun and coat were nowhere on him, nor was his bow tie. He walked up to Eddie and threw his arm around him. The smell of alcohol made it to us before he did, as his half open, blood shot eyes tried focusing on us.

“How ya doin’, Eddie, old boy, you big hunk of penguin? If you ain’t a sight for sore eyes, man.” He reeked of a night full of drunken mayhem.

My father just looked at him, shaking his head. Eddie quickly stepped away from him in disgust, causing Trevor to stagger and sway, almost falling over. He hiccupped and burped and wiped a line of drool from his chin on his tuxedo’s shirt sleeve. He mumbled something, reached into his pants pocket, and pulled out a pint of whiskey.

“Oh no you don’t!” My father snatched the pint from his hands and backed away from him in disgust. “The most important day of your brother’s life, and this is how you show your respect–coming in here like this?” He shook his head as he looked from my brother, to me, then back to my brother, “How the hell are you supposed to stand up for him in this shape? How are you supposed to be his best man? What the hell is the matter with you man?” He turned and sat on the edge of one of the chairs, staring down at the carpet once again. “God Almighty, Trevor, I can’t believe this is happening.”

“Well you better believe it, Pops, cuz my big brother’s getting frigging married today!” He let out a war whoop cry that vibrated the light fixtures of the church room. He looked at me with a drunken, cross eyed smile, “My big old brother is getting married. Ain’t that something.” He reached into his pants pocket, trying to find the pint that my father had taken from him, “Hmm. What the? I know I put it right…” He stuck out his tongue and drove his hand deep into his pocket, fishing for what wasn’t there. Totally confused, he looked at my father. “Hey, I know you, don’t I? You look wicked familiar to me. Hmm. Ain’t you the one that took my whiskey?” He started swaying over toward my father.

Dad got up quickly and put his hand out, stopping Trevor dead in his tracks. “You stop right there and get hold of yourself, ok?” My dad was just about at his snapping point. His voice trembled as he fought back his emotions. “There’s no more whiskey here for you today, so move on, alright?”

“You bastard! You stole my whiskey, you son of a…” Trevor staggered to the right and swayed to the left. “well I tell you what mister!”

“Trevor, shut the hell up, ok?” I lost my composure, wanting to reach out and shake the life back into him, “What are we supposed to do with you showing up like this? What’s everyone gonna say when you stand up there for me looking like this?” I looked at Eddie, who was staring at the floor, still shaking his head.

My dad walked over to my side as Trevor tripped over to a chair and stumbled into it, nearly tipping it over.

Standing beside me, my dad looked at Trevor, “You got Anna’s ring?”

Trevor just sat in the chair, affixed on something else that wasn’t anywhere in the room.

My dad folded his arms, “Trevor? Trevor! Do you have Anna’s ring?”

My brother smirked as he looked up with his eyes half closed, smiling at my father. “Ring? Me?” He looked around the room and then swayed his eyes back on my father, “I told him it wasn’t enough money, and he just stood there, smiling like a frigging idiot.”

“What are you talking about?” I stared down at my drunk excuse for a brother.

Trevor reached into his pocket again. Coming out empty, he looked up at us in a complete fog, “Are you talking to me? Are you guys talking to me? Who’s got my bottle? Where’d it go?” He took a deep breath and smiled again. “He told me the ring was a dandy. He really liked it, and I think I got a good price for it, I mean, holy crap, I never knew whiskey tasted so good.” He licked his lips as he spun his eyes back and forth, “Does Anna know how nice that ring was?”

“Where’s the ring, Trevor!” My father hollered out, echoing through the room. “Did you pawn the ring or something?”

Trevor staggered out of the chair and took a couple steps towards my father, “Yes, my dear old father in daddy doo. I pawned the stupid thing.” He looked at me as he swayed back a step, “It’s a good thing they make new ones every day, wouldn’t you say there, brother of mine who’s getting married?”

Staggering back a couple steps, he fell backwards into the chair. “Boy, that sure was a nice ring, weren’t it?” His eyes rolled around inside his sockets, “Oh man, I think I’m gonna be…” He heaved twice, and threw up all over the chair, the floor, and himself. The smell instantly swept through the room as he leaned back in his chair, unable to talk or move.

“Oh my God!” My father ran out of the room.

I froze in my tracks, not knowing what to do or say. Eddie did the same, as we both stood there, staring in disbelief at the sight. The ring was apparently gone, my best man and little brother all rolled into one was drunk, my best friend was just as shocked as I was, and I was almost late for my wedding. I started to well up inside as the door opened again and my father came racing in with a roll of paper towels. He quickly made it to my brother and started cleaning him up. The mess was virtually uncleanable, as it ran down his face, his chest, into his lap, onto his chair, and down onto the thick carpet. He was mumbling as my father wiped his face and started down his chest, replenishing the paper towels as he went along. Trevor’s head slumped down as he apparently passed out in a drunken stupor.

My dad looked up at me as he kept on cleaning. He looked at Eddie, “Go out and tell Petey’s Uncle Richard to get in here, and quick.”

Eddie raced out of the room as my dad kept on sopping up the mess. He looked up at me again, “We’re ok. Everything’s gonna be ok, alright?”

I looked down at him and nodded, still frozen in my shoes.

“We’re gonna get you married today. Don’t you worry about it. This is still gonna be one of your best days ever, alright?” He looked up at me as I stood there, open mouthed, “Alright?”

“Yes sir, I understand.” I stepped back, trying to catch my breath as the door opened and Eddie rushed in with my Uncle Richard right behind him.

“Holy crap! What’s going on?” He walked over beside me and stared at my drunken, puke-filled brother, passed out in the chair. “He did it again?”

I nodded as he put his hand on my shoulder, “What can I do?”

My dad piled up the sopping paper towel on top of the other dirty ones on the carpet. He stood up as he grabbed a clean one and wiped his hands, “Go tell my Susan that we need her ring for the ceremony. Make sure to tell her to let Anna know what’s going on, so she won’t be too surprised when the rings come out during the ceremony. Then I need you to get Trevor home and get him cleaned up.” He shook his head again as my uncle stared at my brother in a heap in the chair. “I’ll get him to the hospital after the wedding if you can stay with him until then.”

“Not a problem, brother. I’ll take care of him until you get there.” He looked at my father, “You want me to get him to the hospital for ya?”

“Nope, I’ll do that myself after the ceremony. I’ll skip out and get to the house so you can get to the reception. I’ll join you guys after I get him taken care of.” He shook his head, “I’m getting familiar with this process, so it shouldn’t take too long.”

“Ok then, I’ll go get Susan’s ring for ya. Be right back.”

In a dash he was gone out the door as my dad took off his suit coat and started in with a clean towel on my wasted little brother.

“Eddie, do me a favor and get the groom looking like a groom, if you could?”

“Sure thing sir.” My new best man came up to me, stared into my eyes, took a deep breath, and started in on my bow tie. The room started swirling as I started sweating profusely. “I gotta sit down for a second, man, ok?” I turned and slid into one of the chairs as he maneuvered behind me and grabbed at my tie.

“What’s the matter, man? You nervous? I mean, you’re acting like you’re getting married or something today?” I chuckled as he pulled tightly on the tie.

“Piece of cake, man, piece of crumb cake.” I nervously fumbled with my fingers as my father chuckled under his breath.

The door opened and my uncle came in with my mom’s ring in his hand. “Here you go.” He held it out as Eddie stared at it.

“I’ll take that if you don’t mind?” He snatched it from my uncle’s hand as my dad finished up with the cleaning, or as close as he could get.

“Ok Richard. I’ll help you get him out to the car.” The two lifted Trevor out of the chair as he murmured and mumbled. They basically carried him out of the room, down the hall, and out into the parking lot to my uncle’s car.

I stood in the room, fully dress, half prepared, and three quarters scared out of my skin. It was my wedding day, and with all of the turmoil unfolding, it was still spinning through my head that I indeed was getting married to the love of my life. Knowing that I had a whole lifetime with her ahead of me seemed to make things calm down a bit. Eddie finished up on my tie and ran around me to make sure that I was all intact.

Eddie put his hand on my shoulder. “Take a look around and make sure I’m all put together the right way, would ya, kiddo?”

“Nah,” I said, “you look frigging awesome, man, I mean, for a loser’s best man anyways.” We both laughed and sat back down.

“This is it, man. I mean, this is like, really it, ok?”

I looked over at him as he sat, smiling at me. “I’m sorry I didn’t just let you be my best man right from the start, Eddie. Please forgive me?”

“Hey bro, it’s ok, and no, I’ll never forgive you!”

“You frigging moron!”

We stood up, looked at each other, smiled, and then hugged the life out of one another as the door opened and my father came back into the room.

He walked over, grabbed his suit coat, and slid it on. Looking at Eddie and me, he made his way over to us. Putting a hand on each of our shoulders, he smiled, “Someone getting married today?”

“Yes sir, I am.”

“Well then, how’s about we go to a wedding then?”

He stepped up to me and gave me a bear hug which almost started me crying. With a huge smile, he backed away from me and walked over and opened the door as Eddie and I walked through.

He took a deep breath and followed us out of the room, closing the door behind him.

Bio: Deon Lyons lives in the central Maine town of Clinton along with his wife of thirty years. Deon worked for the past twenty five years as a Regional Sales Rep, until June of 2010 when he suddenly lost his vision due to lingering complications from cancer as an infant. Deon is currently involved in a vocational rehabilitation program, and is also learning many forms of assistive technology in hopes of re-entering the workforce. Along with a lifelong passion for writing, Deon has many hobbies, but they all play second fiddle to family.

Constant Routine, memoir
by Susan Muhlenbeck

I had always taken sleep for granted until I participated in a sleep study in 1996. The purpose of the study was to determine whether people with no light perception could sense light through other sense organs, such as the skin, and respond to light the same way a person with light perception would. During the first phase of the study, which lasted eight days, I was confined to an eight-by-ten-foot room and had no perception of time. I was not allowed to have any contact with the outside world except with the staff members–no timepieces, radios, televisions, phones, or computers. Every day I was told when to get up, when to eat (the same meals each day), and when to go to sleep. During the first five days, I could move around the confines of the room and do what I wanted as long as I did not find out what time it was. An IV line was inserted into my arm so that blood could be drawn every day, and my core body temperature was monitored at all times. I also had to wear a wrist monitor on my nondominant hand in order to detect all movement in that arm. During those first five days, I listened to several audio books, crocheted a few afghans, read some Braille magazines, played games with the staff, and did a lot of pacing. Things were dull but manageable.

The last three days of the study were a different story. When I was told to get up on the sixth day, I was advised that my “constant routine” was about to start. This involved lying on my back in the hospital bed at a 45-degree angle for an undisclosed length of time. I had to stay awake the whole time. I could not get out of bed to go to the bathroom, but had to use a bedpan. No audio books were allowed because people tend to fall asleep while listening to books on tape if they are tired or the book is boring. There was always a staff member in the room with me in case I started to drift off. Every once in a while somebody handed me a quarter of a turkey sandwich and a squirt of water or grapefruit juice, and told me that I had to eat and drink right then whether I was hungry or not.

Everything went all right for a while, but then I started feeling restless. I longed to turn onto my side or stomach but was not allowed to move. Was I going to get bed sores from lying in one position for so long? I wanted to get up and walk around because my legs were feeling stiff. Kicking the bed helped me get some circulation back in my legs. I could not even sit up straight to play cards with the staff members.

I started crocheting a scarf, but had to abandon the project because my fingers stopped cooperating. The staff members talked to me for hours on end. At first we made small talk about work, family and friends, and our interests. Pretty soon nothing I said seemed to make any sense.

“Why is the phone ringing if we are not allowed to have a phone in our room?” I asked.

“The phone is not ringing. It’s just your imagination.”

“I hear a dog barking.” Of course there was no dog in the room. “That coffee smells so good. Can I get a cup?”

“No, I’m afraid not, and there is no coffee.”

“But I smell it. I need some to stay…to stay…Help!”

“Just take it easy,” one of the staff said, patting my hand. “It will be all over soon.” She made it sound like I was about to be executed.

“How long have I been awake?” I asked.

“I can’t tell you.”

“How much longer do I have to go?”

“Can’t tell you that either. Just hang in there, okay?”

I couldn’t answer. The next thing I remember was hearing, “Hey, stay awake! Don’t fall asleep!” Then I felt like I was in the middle of an earthquake, but it was only the staff member shaking the bed really hard.

“Stop! Leave me alone, can’t you? You’re terrible!”

“I know. Just stay awake, okay?”

I don’t know how much longer this madness continued. I desperately wanted to rip out the IV and run out of the room and out of the clinic screaming. I know I started crying at one point but can’t remember what I said while I was crying. I vaguely remember hearing a staff member saying, “I’m sorry. I know it’s rough,” or something like that.

Just when I thought I could not stay alive another minute, the doctor in charge of the study walked in. I heard her say that it was all over, everything went well, and I had been awake for 56 hours.

“Well, everything did not go well at all,” I said belligerently. “I feel terrible. I have a splitting headache. I’m dizzy. I want to go home.” Then the bed was lowered into its normal position, and I heard the most beautiful words in the world.

“You can go to sleep now,” the doctor said kindly. She didn’t have to tell me twice. I was out before she could say anything else. I remained in a deep, dreamless sleep for the next ten hours.

The results of the study proved that people with no light perception did respond to light in a similar manner as people who do have light perception. I went to the clinic three more times, but I was never kept up that long again. All the other times I was there, my “constant routines” were only 40 hours instead of 56. I wonder how much easier it would have been to stay awake for so long if I’d been allowed to drink plenty of coffee and move around instead of staying in the same uncomfortable position the whole time.

I will never forget my experience participating in the sleep study, and I will never, ever take sleep for granted again!

Bio: Susan Muhlenbeck was born in Seoul, Korea, and spent her first five years there. She was raised in the midwest, and moved to Virginia in 1985. She received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her interests include reading, swimming, and cats. Her books are available on Amazon.

Ruby’s Gift of Prayer, fiction
by Elisa Busch

Editor’s Note: This story appeared in our new anthology.

I stand beside Norman, so close I can smell his dusty breath, see perspiration trickle down his face onto the porch floor. His left hand wipes away drops from his forehead and cheeks in a frantic rhythm to stop the sweat from overwhelming him. He is so tired, his eyes are withered grapes. All day he blacktopped roads, mixing tar and silt, layering, hot sun beating down on him; then yanked stubborn weeds out of the ground, stood by Elsie and Molly, his cows, while they dripped milk. And though now it is late evening, the heat hasn’t let up. It swarms around like angry wasps. I want to take his hand and lead him into the house so he can settle down in his feather bed and sleep. He has moved beyond fatigue into that crazy time of exhaustion when emotions are raw hot pokers.

Norman’s body writhes in fury. His right hand trembles, holding a thick and thorny razor strap. It waits by his side for his daughter who now approaches the porch. I know the slap, crack thwack of such a weapon; and I will know it again when it strikes her flesh. I feel his thoughts claw at my heart.

“My legs hurt like blazes and I still have to stand here waiting for Hannah to come home? What’s wrong with that daughter of mine? She knows better than to be gallivanting about after nine o’clock. I don’t understand it. I dig my hands into the rough roads for her, plant corn, rhubarb, potatoes, plow, slaughter pigs and chickens, milk cows. And she can’t even obey a simple ‘be in this house at nine o’clock’ rule? Now it’s twenty after. She’s sixteen years old and should know better. How did I fail her? God, please help me teach her to obey. She’s going out into the world. What will become of her?”

She will have an amazing life. But Norman doesn’t really want to hear a positive answer to his question. Hannah, a thin girl, five foot four-and-a-half inches tall, with brown hair and blue eyes, takes her time walking toward us. Her face flushes with anger and remembrance of Murry’s good-night kiss. Her brother Phil moves beside her, his head bowed, arms taut with knowledge of Hannah’s fate. I want to freeze this moment in time so Norman can think clearly about what he is about to say and do. I want to hold them all in my arms, rock their pain away, but they aren’t looking at me.

“Dad!” she mumbles, walking up the stairs.

“Where have you been?” Norman’s words halt her progress, but she stands in front of him, facing the door.

“She was with Murry, dad. That’s all.” Phil passes Norman too as if to protect his sister.

“It’s none of your business boy. Both of you stay right there.” Hannah’s arm is half inside the screen, half out. “Shut that door before you let mosquitoes in.” The door slams.

“Everything okay out there?” Norman’s wife Ruby asks from the kitchen. I am with her too as she shivers beside the stove.

“I’m taking care of it,” he shouts back. “Now you two turn around and look at me.” They maneuver their bodies to the right once, then twice as slowly as water trickles from a broken faucet. “Hannah, I called you three times and you didn’t listen.” Hannah’s eyes spark brighter as she spies the razor strap in his hand. She knows what’s going to happen next. Norman’s mind grasps on to a familiar hymn: “Trust and obey, For there’s no other way, To be happy in Jesus But to trust and obey.” Bats zoom past the hedge toward his barn, their powerful wings beating the night.

“I can’t believe you haven’t learned yet. This time I’ll teach you good.” He reaches out to grab her shoulders but Hannah has one of those slippery dresses on and whirls around, banging the door behind her. “You run and you’ll be sorry.” He pushes Phil aside and races up the stairs behind her. With no lock on her bedroom door, where can she hide?

I brace myself for the first hit. I will feel every nuance: his fear and anger, her rage and humiliation, Phil’s helplessness and anxiety, Ruby’s love for us all. Her thoughts soothe me as she waits and listens from downstairs.

“If only Norman could know the gentleness of Jesus. If only Hannah could come in on time?” Ruby’s head falls into her hands as she prays. “O Lord, please help my girl forgive her dad. Please let him not hurt her too much.”

By the time the news is broadcast the next evening, father and daughter will be reunited, but Ruby doesn’t know this now. No sooner are the words out of her mouth when Phil cries, “Hannah, you better apologize or he’ll kill…” Ruby’s body sags like a sack of buckwheat. She can hardly stand.

Phil will be hit next, and indeed, she hears first quick light footsteps on the stairs and then heavy work boots, another slam of the door. “I look to the hills from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord,” she repeats the Bible verse over and over as she pours hot elderberry jelly into a jar. Ouch! That’s the second burned finger this week. She sucks vigorously on the sore. Her doctor book says saliva does wonders. Still it feels like fire.

Hannah will need the Pain King first. Ruby rummages through the medicine cabinet: Lydia Pinkham pills, cough syrup, Band-Aids. Where is it? What else could she use? The doctor book would tell her. She goes to the pantry shelf to retrieve it and then remembers: her sister-in-law Ruth and husband Clym borrowed the book. Chances are good that they’re in bed by now. It’s nine-forty. Farmers get up at five and need their sleep. Why today Ruby baked bread, did four loads of laundry, made sausage and pancakes, went to the store, plucked a chicken for supper… She can’t even remember everything she did and for Clym and Ruth, life is the same. She can’t wake them up. There’s four more jars of jelly to do.

“Phil,” Ruby calls as he flies through the back door. No answer. He runs upstairs. Ruby closes her eyes and slowly starts to pour again.

Norman walks in and plops a bag of corn onto the table. “You can husk it tomorrow,” he says, “I’m bushed and you look exhausted too. Let’s go to bed.” Ruby points to the three empty jars on the counter.

Great wrenching sobs erupt from him. “You know I had to whip them,” he gulps, “she disobeyed and he talked back. What else could I do? The good book says, ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child.'”

A rod keeps the sheep in line so none get lost but it is a comforting tool or at least, a calm reminder of who they belong to, but Norman learned about rods from his mother, not the Good Book. Ruby rinses her hands and dries them on a towel. She moves close to him.

“I’ll finish up here,” he says, “you go on upstairs.” She gasps, remembering his voice when it’s soft and tender, saying, “Ruby my girl, I love you. I love you.” Her eyes sting. She reaches out to him but he has already turned to the stove.

She climbs the steps like an old woman, one at a time, putting both feet on the same step before going to the next one. “Hannah, honey,” Ruby knocks at her door, “can I come in?”

“No. Go away.” Ruby stands still, so drained she doesn’t even know if she can make it to her own bedroom. Does Hannah think her mother could’ve stopped him? He’s stronger and bigger than Ruby. He works so hard too.

I imagine us kneeling on the bare floor in front of Hannah’s room to pray. All humans have blocked senses about my presence because of their sin and built-up pain from past hurts. I can’t embrace her as I would like, but instead, I carefully tune her mind to a memory.

Ruby’s son Miles was wounded in the war with the Nazis earlier this same year. As the doctor removed shrapnel from his right side, he screamed, “Mom, mom, help me. Please mom!” and the Holy Spirit made it possible for Ruby to hear him in Pennsylvania. She will never forget it, sitting bolt upright in bed at three a.m., the very moment he cried out to her in Germany. She found out later what had happened.

All she could do then was pray harder. She guesses that’s all she can do now too. God will contain her family at war. She must rest.

Bio: Elisa Busch writes fiction, poetry, children’s stories, memoir and songs. A CD of her original music, “Sing Me Awake,” is available at Amazon.

She won an online science fiction short story contest with her story, “Twelve Hours,” and has had a poem, “Common Dusk,” published in a magazine for disabled individuals called, “A Joyful Noise.” She is totally blind. Elisa has also published articles in church newsletters.

She published articles about the “Behind Our Eyes” group in “Our Special” magazine and “The Braille Forum” while she was the group’s secretary.

Surreality, fiction
by Norma A. Boge

I was waiting at the bus stop, just as I had done countless other mornings. But this morning was different. The unthinkable had happened…two airliners had crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

This is no accident, I thought. What else was to come? Should I forget my meeting and head back home? I didn’t really know what to do. It was just unbelievable. Maybe if I keep my schedule it won’t be real. That’s it, just carry on like normal.

As the bus approached, I debated on whether I should tell the passengers the news. They probably wouldn’t know. I stepped onto the bus to the driver’s “good morning.” Oh my God, if you only knew. Despite the driver’s greeting, I half expected someone on the bus to be talking about this attack on our country.

The bus, however, was quiet–not the quiet of having just heard shocking news, but the normal quiet of the morning commute. Again, I wondered if I should tell them. Would they believe me? Would they think I was crazy? I could see myself handing over my radio and headphones to a doubting passenger. “Here, it’s on the news…” But I didn’t say anything. I sat, silent, shocked, anxious, for what might have been the longest 20 minutes of my life.

Still a little dazed, I walked into the office. The TV was on, and the place was abuzz with the news.

I don’t even remember going home that day. I’m sure the bus passengers had plenty to talk about.

Bio: Norma A. Boge resides in Des Moines, Iowa, and has been blind since 1989. Her hobbies include music, reading, college sports, and enjoying her pets.


Roller Coaster to Darkness, memoir
by Adnana Saric

Editor’s Note: The dynamic cross-cultural nature of this memoir is best represented by the language in the original submission. The author uses pseudonyms for herself and her mother, and writes the main portion of this story in her mother’s voice.

I filled a coffee pot with water from the well and set it on the stove waiting for Danilo to come home from work. My mother-in-law sat on the sofa holding my nine month old daughter in her lap trying to feed her pieces of banana that Irena was eager to eat. My other daughter sat on the floor banging two pots together, which drove the family crazy.

“Sanya, does Irena have a cold?” my mother-in-law asked examining the baby’s face.

“No, why?” I asked as panic rose within me, always thinking of the worst.

“Her eye is swollen, kind of red.”

I dropped the towel onto the table and crossed the room to take a look at my daughter. Sure enough, my daughter’s right eye was swollen pretty badly. Money was scarce in our household, especially since the war had started in between the Bosnians and Serbs. With all this in mind, I wondered if Irena was ill, how much would I be able to do for my little girl? As hard as Danilo worked, seven adults lived in the small house and only two were employed so the money he made was barely enough to cover groceries.

After discussing the matter with Danilo, we took our daughter to a doctor in Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital, hoping for good news and were comforted when he told us that Irena had a cold and handed us a cream telling me that it would go away in a week or so. I wish that the information Dr. Huskic had been accurate, but Irena’s situation only got worse. Danilo was angry with the doctor and told me that we’d try Dr. Mujaric in Tuzla.

In Dr. Mujaric’s office, I held Irena in my lap as she smiled up at me with her beautiful hazel eyes. Danilo sat with hands in his pockets, something he did only when irritated, and I kept my eyes on the door waiting for the doctor to come back with the news.

“Mr. and Mrs. Avdic, Irena has Retinal Blastoma.”

“What, what is that?” I asked feeling dumb.

“A cancer.” he replied softly.

After I started bringing Irena in for treatments, I realized that our life was becoming a roller coaster. They attempted eye drops, creams, pills, and therapy, but Irena only became more fussy with everything that went on. It went on for a year with Irena spending most of her days in the hospital with me beside her in rooms that accommodated twelve patients. The halls were cluttered with soldiers who had been wounded and cries of pain echoed from all sides, and I only wished that I could give Irena the cure for her illness.

It was hard when Dr. Mujaric told us that the cancer couldn’t be cured and that he’d have to remove Irena’s right eye. My first thought was to say no, but I hoped it would help her and bring her long cries of pain to an end, but it didn’t. When they told Danilo and me that the cancer had spread to her left eye and that they couldn’t help her, I felt like screaming and destroying everything in my sight. They told us they’d send Irena and me away to seek better medical assistance.

On the last day at home, my mother-in-law held Irena close to her chest as I held Ilma in my arms while tears trickled down my cheeks. I was heading off into the world to cure one child while leaving another one behind. Ilma was in good hands, but nobody can give the love to a child that a mother could, and I only hoped that I’d once again lay eyes on my three year old and Danilo.

“This is it, Grandma and Grandpa, we won’t see each other again.” Irena said in her small, sweet voice as I turned to leave.

Tears stung the eyes of all the family members, but who would have known then that those innocent words coming from a two-year-old would be the truth? We went to Germany, Washington, and finally landed in Chicago. I had never heard of Chicago, and I didn’t understand English if it depended on my life.

Irena went through shots, medications, and spent weeks at a time in the hospital. Her cries of pain kept me up at night in a strange world with strange people who I had to trust to save my child. I thought something would occur for the better or worse, and when they told me that I had to make a choice that would change my child’s life I felt as though a bullet had struck my heart.

“Sanya, she’s suffering very much. They say either to try Chemo Therapy or to put her to sleep.” a translator said in a small room where I sat with him and a doctor.

“This can’t be.” I protested even though deep inside I knew that this was reality.

After making me aware of the side effects the therapy would have, they left me to make a decision giving me only three days with my daughter’s life being more in danger every second. I seek for advice, but nobody wanted to say anything except to put my child in the hands of god; they argued that therapy might not work and my child would only suffer longer. They were right, but I figured I’d rather live knowing that I gave my Irena the opportunity to survive than plunge her into darkness.

“I’ll take therapy.” I said confidently.

“She might not survive, do you understand that?” the doctor had asked.

I was aware of that and it was hard, but I made a promise to be at my daughter’s side and give her everything that a mother at the age of 22 could give. It was horrible, Irena was always upset and barely slept. She always threw up, but despite everything she remained on her feet and played with children, refusing to lie in bed. She was full of life and pretended to make calls to her father and sister who would be joining us in a couple of months, but her world changed on February 24, 1995 when the doctor gathered a few of us into a room for a meeting.

“Mrs. Avdic, I wish to inform you that we’ve done all we can; the cancer has cleared Irena’s body, but not her eye.”

“Where does it leave us?” I asked as tears filled my eyes and Irena looked up at me.

“It’s serious; we only have 24 hours.”

“For what?”

“It comes down to either we remove Irena’s other eye and she becomes blind, or god takes her into his hands in less than 24 hours.”

I began to cry, and Irena put her small hand on my cheek.

“What’s the matter, Mommy?” she asked.

I thought about her becoming blind and what they told me. They said she’d barely move, and I thought it was like being paralyzed or being plunged into complete darkness. How could I throw my baby into complete darkness, how could I make the decision for her never to see light again? It was darkness for Irena either way, only difference was she’d be in this world or the other world, and I wanted her here.

Irena became blind the next day, and the questions she imposed on me were heartbreaking. She asked why she couldn’t open her eyes the way she could after other surgeries, and she asked when she’d be able to see me again? She cried for days and became irritated, but I could only remember the words she said to her grandparents and father which had now become true. Danilo and Ilma joined us, but not in time to see Irena’s hazel eyes, or for Irena to see them again and remember the images of her family to carry at least in her mind, which I thought was the only place left where light did shine.


Years have gone by, and I proved them all wrong. I got back up on my feet and continued life only now as a girl without vision. I went to school and got emotional when they asked about what happened, and I always thought that my vision would come back and that this was temporary. Years passed, and it sank in that I would not see my mother again or refresh my memory of how my father looked. I remember colors, and what the house of my grandparents looks like, but I’ve learned to accept that I will never see it with my own two eyes the way that everyone else can. I thanked my mother for sticking by me and giving me the chance to live, and I thank god for giving me a mother like her, so when Ilma and I argue about things and she calls me attached, I remind myself that I’m on this earth because of my mother, and no matter what, I can never repay her or give a gift to her as great as what she has given to me.

Bio: Adnana Saric is a completely blind twenty-two-year-old who recently graduated from Loyola University, Chicago with a degree in sociology. She was originally born in Olovo, a small city in Bosnia, but moved to Chicago with her mother at the age of two. She was diagnosed with retinal Blastoma at the age of nine months, and came to Chicago hoping to find a cure for the cancer. Despite different medical procedures, Adnana had both eyes removed in order to stay alive, and became completely blind. She enjoys writing short stories and poems in her spare time.

Do My Eyes Take Batteries? memoir
by Mandy Louise Davis

I have three little girls, three blessings, three constant reasons to smile. Raising them has its challenges, but I wouldn’t trade the privilege for anything. They’re the source of all my joy. It’s just me and them right now, and we do pretty well for ourselves all things considered.

Harmony’s my oldest and is a sensitive soul like me. She pays attention to people’s moods and to the things around her. I think she’s known I was slightly different from other women for a long time on some level but didn’t start asking questions till she was about four. She then became curious about my blindness. She wanted to know why I was blind and if anything could be done about it. She wanted to know why other mama’s weren’t.

One day she came to me with a toy piano that had stopped working. When I changed the batteries the lights and music played again as loudly and obnoxiously as ever. She’d been crying at first because she thought her toy was broken and would have to be thrown away, so when she saw how easily it was fixed, she jumped up and down and clapped her hands with delight. She brought four more batteries and handed them to me.

“Is there another toy that won’t work, love?” I asked.

“No, Mama, these are for your eyes so they will work again,” she said.

She stood there looking at me. She was expecting me to put those batteries inside my head somehow. It was the darnedest thing.

“Sweetheart, it doesn’t work that way. My eyes don’t take batteries,” I gently explained, ruffling her soft hair.

“But I want you to be able to see me, Mama,” she said, her voice sounding dejected.

“Harmony, I can feel how soft your hair and skin are. I can feel your warm, sweet kisses. I can hear your sweet voice and your infectious giggle. Trust me, I see you well enough with my heart.”

She seemed satisfied enough with that answer. She went off to play with her piano and I resumed my housework. As I washed the dishes I thought about how children perceive the world, how easy it is for them to believe everything can be fixed by something as simple as a change of batteries and how important it is for them to hang onto that innocent confidence as long as possible.

Bio: Mandy Louise Davis is twenty-five, and lives in Michigan with her 3 daughters. Her hobbies are writing, reading, and singing. She has been blind all her life.

A Day of Wonder, abecedarian
by Mary-Jo Lord

At the end of the day I carry Matthew to bed. A little
boy who believes a request for some last minute
cuddling will buy him some more time before bed. It usually
does. He has two speeds, stop and go.
Energy level always on high. At
five the world is filled with mystery and adventure, and words like
gross and weird are cool. He spins around and around until he says the
house is spinning, slides his window open and closed as he plays McDonalds. There’s no limit to his
imagination. He fills the house with laughter and
joy. Always willing to give a hug or a
kiss, like magic he made the
leap from infant to child. I know in time he will
make another leap from boy to man and there is
nothing I can do to slow him down. I
often wonder if I could would I? Nothing could have
prepared me for his curiosity and never-ending
questions. “what does from mean?” “are worms friendly?” “why don’t you like bats?” “what do
rats eat?” He plays his guitar and drums and
sings popular songs, nursery rhymes, and made up songs. He even sings in the
tub and on the toilet!
Unabashed he is more than willing to
volunteer information about what he is doing
whether we want to know or not. I tell him I have
x-ray vision and don’t need to be told. We watch a movie and he
yawns as I carry him to bed in his
zebra striped pajamas.

Bio: Mary-Jo Lord has a master’s degree in counseling from Oakland University, and has worked at Oakland Community College for twenty-one years. She writes poetry, fiction, and memoirs. A section of her work is published in a Plain View Press anthology called Almost Touching. Her work can also be found in Behind Our Eyes, Behind Our Eyes a Second Look, and in past issues of Magnets and Ladders. She lives with her husband and son in Rochester, Michigan. She has been blind since birth. You can reach her at

Out of Reach, poetry
by Nancy Scott

In the back yard swing she listens
to the plane circle.
When she was seven,
she always waved to the people
who flew just above her head,
sure they could see her,
sure they would wave back,
sure she would see them
if she were just a little taller.

Today, she wants the plane
that keeps returning
to skywrite how to win
a slot in Heaven.
Sure her bones are shrinking;
she still isn’t tall enough to be seen.
But after the seventh circle,
she waves.

Bio: Nancy Scott, Easton PA, is an essayist and poet. Her over 550 bylines have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies and newspapers, and as audio commentaries. Recent work appears in Breath and Shadow, Contemporary Haibun Online, Thema, Whistling Fire, and Wordgathering. Her third chapbook, co-authored with artist Maryann Riker, is entitled “The Nature of Beyond.” Her essay “One Night at Godfrey’s” won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest.

Burs, memoir
by Janet Schmidt

Editor’s Note: This story appeared in our new anthology.

I have no idea when the war ended. I was about to wage my own personal war with a school system ill-prepared to deal with children who didn’t fit into the mold of the ordinary.

“Your child can’t see.”

“What do you mean?” Mom croaked.

“She can only see the first two lines of the eye chart.” We were at the compulsory prescreening for first-graders.

A local ophthalmologist was recommended. Mom and I followed this doctor into a long, narrow, dimly lighted room.

“Sit here.” I sat at one end. Mom and the doctor disappeared into the shadows at the other end. They spoke in hushed voices.

Gradually I became aware of the fact that my perceptions of the world differed from those around me. Not long after I learned to read I began to realize my sisters read things such as street signs, which I couldn’t even see. The severity of my poor vision became clearer. At school I sat in the front row and still couldn’t see what was written on the board.

As I progressed from grade to grade the print in texts became smaller. It took me much longer to read. I was unable to play games such as Jacks and jump rope. It was difficult –sometimes impossible — to participate in playground games involving teamwork.

In first grade, in order to use the bathroom, students had to write their initials in a specific place on the board. Not being able to muster the courage to do so, I waited too long. I wet my pants in front of the class. The incident increased my reticence about being center stage in any situation.

“Quiet, here comes Fat Legs Linderman,” one of the boys whispered. This was our nickname for the new first- and second-grade teacher whose legs were very big. I guess she didn’t like kids because she really scolded us a lot. She never smiled or laughed.

“How dare you try to trip Tommy?” Hands gripped my shoulders as I was yanked around in my chair. Mrs. Linderman’s eyes bulged in her ugly, red face–twisted in anger — as she screamed at me. My crime was sitting sideways in my seat. (I sat in the front to see the board, which I couldn’t see anyway). I was watching my first love, Tommy, pass out papers.

“Don’t hold the book so close to your face.”

“I can’t see it.”

“You’re wearing glasses, aren’t you?” she snarled. I was standing with the slowest reading group at the front of the room. My sister, Laraine, was in first grade. She could do everything better than I could. She was in the highest reading group. Fat Legs told Mom, “Laraine is doing very well, but Janet is slow.”

The school year ended. Summer stretched before us with its endless days of reading and make-believe. Home was a respite, a retreat from the world of education. Bedtime stories and good night kisses were in abundance. Money was scarce, but once or twice during the summer we could afford the admission to go swimming in the lake at Charlie Sweets.

Two or three times a summer we went to Beebe’s Dairy for ice cream. Patiently, Dad read the flavors to us. The counter person waited good-naturedly while we mulled over our choices. This was a treat. Decisions mustn’t be rushed. Often — when I eat ice cream — I picture us three sisters standing before the high counter at Beebe’s as Dad read the flavors to us. One thing has never changed–somebody still has to read the flavors to me.

When money wasn’t too tight, Mom and Dad returned from shopping with a Little Golden Book for each of us. “Did they get us one today?” I wondered. Once in a while a giant Hershey bar could be found in the depths of a large, brown, paper grocery bag. If we were real lucky it would contain almonds. After lunch it was divided among us for dessert. The rich, dark chocolate begged to be devoured. Tucking a piece against the roof of my mouth prolonged the pleasure of its smell and taste. I would save the almonds until last. After letting the chocolate fragments melt in my mouth, I carefully chewed each almond–savoring its taste.

One summer we discovered the fun of a hayloft. It was built on two levels–the highest over the bull’s pen. Starting from the back wall we would run as fast as we could before clearing the edge and landing in the loosely packed hay. The contest was to see who could land closest to the far side of the lower part of the loft.

Though I loved the beauty of autumn, I loathed seeing summer end–the unpleasantness of the classroom would return.

My new glasses didn’t do their job. I still couldn’t see the board. What I learned was mostly from listening and studying the texts. I retreated to the reading corner when my work was finished. With my nose nearly touching the printed page I lost myself in happy or exciting places far removed from the unpleasantness of the classroom.

“I can’t see any better with these eyeglasses than without them. I can’t see the blackboard from my seat.”

“Maybe you’re not cleaning them well enough.”

Every night Dad polished my glasses until they shone. In the morning I donned the sparkling, clean glasses. I still couldn’t see any better.

“I can’t see any better with these glasses,” I kept telling my parents. This resulted in a trip to another ophthalmologist.

His diagnosis, “She’s pretending. She just wants to wear glasses.”

I only wanted to see well. When I went to the board to see what was on it, other students complained, “Janet’s in the way.” I was incredibly slow at completing board work. Sometimes I was the last to finish. It was embarrassing. It also delayed my escape to the book corner.

My glasses didn’t work any better at home. My complaints about still not seeing well led my parents to consult a different ophthalmologist. A new pair of eyeglasses was prescribed. They didn’t help either. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I see through those glasses?

I began fourth grade still unable to see the board. Retreating to the reading corner, I hid out with my friends, joining them in adventures around the world– becoming whomever I read about; being transported to their place of existence–a simple step outside myself.

Misfits and books went together. Books offered an escape–a respite from an unfriendly world. The only place I wasn’t in the way or incompetent was the reading corner. I lost myself in literature. I could be anything I wanted to be at any time or place in the world. Another school year ended. The respite of summer had arrived.

I returned to school a confused, prepubescent, unhappy girl. I wished to be invisible. Mr. Pavey, the fifth-and sixth-grade teacher, shared his collection of books with us. It included Greek poetry and mythology as well as other wonderful reading material. He encouraged us to bring our books in for the reading corner.

Fifth and sixth grade were dreadful except for the reading corner. We had to copy things from the board. Timidly I told the teacher, “I can’t see the board.”

“Well, go up and look at it.”

“Mr. Pavey, Janet’s in the way.” And so it went year after school-year.

In spite of my visual disability, socially those years were not completely bleak. In the winter the farm was the hangout for skating parties and hymn sings. My sister, Laraine, played the piano very well. There was something energizing about group singing.

Several aunts and uncles and their children lived near us. We attended the same church and school. Some of us were in the same grades. During the summer my mother’s sister and her family spent many evenings at the farm. Our dads played baseball with us on the side lawn.

My aunt’s oldest daughter, Audrey, was the same age as my sister, Laraine. She was a mean kid. Audrey was a cheat, a sneak, and a tattletale. It was difficult to pin anything on her. As far as her parents were concerned, she could do no wrong. Most of the time, we weren’t quite certain how she managed to get us into trouble. If she didn’t get to go first at games, she made up stories to get us into trouble.

Audrey was also a word bully. She had the talent for finding a kid’s or adult’s weak spot and digging at it. Her remarks stung. She let others know how stupid or ugly they were. She often commented on the ugliness of a large birthmark on the left side of my chest and neck, and made certain there was an audience to hear her.

Finally I decided it was time to take action against her. On one occasion, our parents were visiting in the kitchen. Audrey was with them, sucking up tidbits from the grownups conversation. I suggested to the other kids we go play out by the horse barn. After we had grouped together I told them how tired I was of Audrey bossing us around, always having her own way, and getting us into trouble. I thought we should get even. They agreed to help me pick some burdocks to jam into her hair. It was a perfect ambush. These tiny thistles cling to almost anything. Hair is a real magnet. We hid behind the horse barn and called Audrey to come on out and play.

Our pretense of not knowing the consequence of attaching these magnets to her hair worked. The bright green globs of burdocks meshed with her stringy, dull-blond hair. Even the skimpy ponytail hanging on one side of her head was full of those little burrs plastering it to the rest of her hair. Screaming furiously she ran to the house wearing her unwanted lumpy thistle hat.

There is only one way to get rid of burdocks.

Bio: Janet Schmidt and her husband live in Utica, NY. Though visually impaired since birth, she earned several college degrees and pursued careers in education, rehabilitation, and psychology.
Janet has written a memoir, several essays, and is currently editing her memoir about serving as a blind, protestant- principal in a catholic school. Her articles and short stories have appeared in several newspapers. e-mail her at:

A Rock Feels No Pain, memoir
by Tara (Arlene) Innmon

Nicky struts toward us like a tough guy, his eyes on Molly, his voice cracks as he says, “Simon says, ‘Put your arms up over your head.'”

I’m standing next to Molly in their backyard. Billy and Kim are on the other side of Molly. Nicky is facing us and leans closer towards Molly, peering into the cleavage inside her strapless red with white flowers halter top. He is so cute with his thick curly helmet of hair and faint line of freckles across his cheeks. I grin because I know exactly what he is trying to do. So does Molly who looks right into his eyes like she’s daring him.

It’s the end of summer before eleventh grade for Molly and me. We are fifteen, and my brother Nicky is fourteen. Billy is twelve and Kim nine. A sprinkler shish shish in the front yard, while one lone cricket chirps behind the garage, near us.

It’s close to dusk, the coolest time to play in the summer. I’m looking at her halter top too. It’s so unfair that she grew breasts and can keep things like that up, and I can’t. “Simon says, ‘Jump up and down.'”

The top seems cemented to her breasts. A sheen of sweat glows on the rises above. That should make it slipperier.

Nicky leans even closer, his mouth hanging open when Molly’s mom suddenly appears from around the garage and says, “That’s enough! Nicky, Billy an Arlene, I want you kids to go home!”

Our arms fly down to our sides, Nicky steps backwards, his face as red as Molly’s. “And Molly, Go to your room.”

My brothers and I turn and scram–kicked out again. I wonder for how long this time? When we are safely in our baseball field I say, “Gee whiz, where did she come from?”

Nicky groans and says, “Oh God, I think I’m in trouble now.”

Ever since my brothers were old enough to go with me to the neighbor’s, we were not allowed in their house and they were not allowed in ours. Occasionally, maybe three or four times, the next door neighbor girls were not allowed in our yard for a few weeks. This was one of those times.

I remember the summer before when Molly had a purple and pink halter top with straps. Molly, her halter top, and I would walk along East River Road past a few houses, to Big Red’s gas station. We hung out there often. He was called Big Red because of his red beard. He was old in my mind, but now that I’m in my fifties I would guess he was in his mid thirties or early forties. We walked past the pumps and the smell of gas to the tiny building in the back. Inside we played with the gum ball machine while waiting for Red to finish with a customer. This was the time of full service, long before you pumped your own gas. I breathed in the familiar gas and dirty oil smell. A thick layer of oily dust covered the window along with a sprinkling of flies. When Red came in and walked behind his counter to jot a note, we put our elbows down on the tall counter to talk to him. I might as well have not been there based on how invisible I was. I was still an ugly duckling, too little and young looking to interest Red. All three of us chewed gum and Molly and Big Red grinned at each other.

“Hey, Molly, so how old are you?”

This was one of the ongoing conversations. Molly had made me promise not to tell. We were fourteen. Grinning and chomping away she said, “Old enough.”

“So what’s that supposed to mean?” He turned to me, his face wet with sweat and grease. “So Arlene, how old is she?”

I’d shrug my shoulders and look dumb, picking up a pencil from the counter and doodling on a scrap of paper.

“I’ve got something in the back room to show you, Molly. I bet you are too chicken to look.”

Molly swipes at her damp bangs and grins at him again, “No I’m not. I just don’t want to today.”

“I can’t show you anyway, because I bet you’re a minor.”

This sort of prattle went on for weeks. It was boring for me. I thought, “I wouldn’t want some man interested in me sexually anyway, yuck! I’m probably going to be doomed for the rest of my life to be left out, and that’s okay. I wish Molly would come over here by herself, but her parents won’t let her.”

Finally the day comes that Molly agrees to go back with him. She’s trying to act cool, but her face is tight. Next to the bubble gum machine is one that has little toys inside clear plastic containers. I feed a nickel into it. I want to get one of those plastic figures, like the cowboy or the dog. I get a plastic ring painted gold. I hate rings. I go over to the pad to doodle some more, even though Red told me to stop it because he needs it to keep records. Gee, she’s in there a long time. When Molly comes out her face is flushed, but I can’t tell by her expression what happened. “Let’s go,” she says.

When we are safely out of the station I say, “So what did he have back there?”

She tries to sound casual, but her voice is shaky, “Oh, you know, just a calendar on the wall with naked women in the men’s room and some pin ups of more naked women.”


“Yeah.” She sighs. “I don’t think we should go there anymore. It’s kind of boring, you know.”

I kick a pop can onto a yard. “Yeah, it sure is.”

That was Molly’s first experience with the power of her halter top. She must not have told her mother about Big Red, or her mother would never have agreed to let her buy the strapless one the next year.

Now their father won’t let his daughters play baseball in our field, and we aren’t allowed in their yard. We have a meeting place that their dad probably won’t see; it’s in the back near the barbed wire fence for the railroad tracks. It’s a boulder, the boundary mark between our two yards, so it is neutral ground. So as not to be seen by their parents, they have to walk through their garden, under their apple trees, slip behind the last of the evergreens separating our yards, and there it is. We have it a lot easier since our yard is open. We walk past the swing set, angle through the baseball field towards the rock, which is next to our rhubarb patch. We are partially hidden by Mommie’s corn stalks. The rock is big enough for three little kids to sit on it, or two big ones. I’ve always thought of it as more than a border marker; I imagine it was a table for the Indians’ peace talks, which I was sure happened here a long time ago.

I used to make Robin Hood hats and vests from the rhubarb leaves; the rock was where Robin Hood and his gang met to plan their attacks on the bad guys.

When I touch it I feel power coming from it through my arm, something magical. I’ve run back here many times when I was angry or hurt by something. I would sit on the rock, crying, and talk to it. It holds lots of hurt and that makes it so strong.

How it came to be that we were all there, I don’t remember. Molly and Kim sit on their side of the rock, the three of us on our side. Kim, in her usual pig tails, sits cross legged with an Etch a Sketch on her lap. I’ve got a box of colored chalk and draw a line to divide the rock in half. I take out some, leaving the box there for everybody to take a piece. I have the pink, and draw flowers on our side.

A couple days later I sit on the front step leaning over Mommy’s flower bed pulling out some of the straw flower petals for a collage. Nicky comes over and sits down on the other side of the steps and pulls out a blade of grass. He sighs as he looks down and rolls the grass between his fingers like he’s going to make it a whistle and blow through it. Instead he says, “Do you think Molly likes me?”

I turn to look at him slumped over on the step. “Yeah, she likes you,” I say, and it’s the truth, but I don’t tell him that she won’t have anything to do with him because he’s a year younger, short, and has no status in high school. Molly’s father only wanted the best for his girls. They had to get A’s, they had to participate in extracurricular activities, and Molly had to only go out with boys who were important. She hung out with a scrawny, pimply-face boy who got straight A’s and lived on the other side of East River Road, the side that I thought of as for richer people. Nicky was cute, fun, and the way Molly looked at him and flirted with him, I knew she liked him.

Nicky sat on the rock a week later. He wrote in red chalk on our side of the rock from Paul Simons lyrics, “I am a rock, and a rock feels no pain.”

The next day Nicky found this on the neighbor’s side of the rock, “I am an island, and an island never cries.”

He brought me over to see it and said, “Last winter when you were at that retreat Molly’s mom called us and asked if we wanted to come over and skate. So we went over there and we were skating when Molly fell on the ice. She didn’t look hurt or nothing, but she wouldn’t get up and she started crying, and she wouldn’t stop. Me and Billy pretended it wasn’t happening and kept skating on the other side. Kim went over to her sister and sat next to her and kept saying, ‘What’s the matter Molly? Please stop crying.’ But she didn’t stop, so we just went home.”

Nicky began spending a lot of time in bed. Sometimes he listened to his Beatles 45, “I Want to Hold your Hand.” He strummed the toy plastic guitar, singing softly along, his eyes moist. Mostly he just lay there. I didn’t think much about it, because I also spent a lot of time in bed, day dreaming.

Our parents took Nicky to the doctor, because they were worried that he was sick with something. The doctor didn’t find anything wrong with him.

Occasionally Nicky asked me if I really thought Molly liked him, and I reassured him that she did. She broke up with the kid across East River Road and the next year she dated a heavy set guy. I didn’t know what she saw in him but he must have had some reputation that I didn’t know about.

WE were all in the kitchen once, when through the window we watched him get out of his car to take her on a date. Nicky got up and went to his bedroom. Mommy turned to me and said, “It’s funny, when you and Molly were little you were so cute and she was so fat. I always thought you’d be the one getting boyfriends.”

I wasn’t interested in boys and they didn’t seem interested in me. I wanted to put off growing up for as long as I could. I even tried to help Molly out. In psychology class we had to write comments about our classmates on slips of paper. On Molly’s boyfriend’s I wrote that Molly is nice.

After school I told Mommy what I wrote. Nicky overheard so On my way to my bedroom Nicky, with his fists clenched, said, “You stupid slut. Are you crazy? How could you do that?”

The words hurt; I didn’t want to admit to myself that I deserved it. I almost started crying. I had never been in love, except for a little crush on a dark haired boy who sat in front of me in fifth grade. I didn’t realize how strong the feelings could be and I didn’t want to know. I had too many of my own troubles. I wasn’t noticing what Nicky was feeling until one day in the spring.

It is Easter Sunday and the snow is gone except for some ice chunks in the ditch. Wearing the navy blue coat that I got for Easter the year before, with a new yellow button that says, “Smile, Christ loves you,” I run out to see how warm it is. I’d been feeling terrible the last couple weeks thinking about Jesus having to suffer and die. Now he has risen! All that pain is over. I hop back up the steps to get my bible when Nicky comes through the door and hits me hard in the shoulder. I manage to stay upright as one leg lands on the next step down and I almost fall down the last step. My heart is pounding. What did I do? I look up at him and see he’s been crying, but now his face is tight with fury. “How could you lie to me?” He chokes, “You knew all along.”

“But she really does like you.”

“Like shit, she does.”

I force down my stupid nervous grin to look earnest, “No, really,” my voice low and serious, “she really does like you; she just can’t be your girlfriend.”

He runs down the steps and pushes me hard again, but this time I’m braced for him and stay upright. “You liar!”

Bio: As a young person Tara Arlene Innmon loved writing almost as much as she loved drawing. She kept an extensive diary. When she started going blind she asked herself, “What will I do when I can’t draw anymore?” The answer came down like a bolt of lightning. “You will write.” She could have guessed. In 2000 she was a finalist in the SASE Jerome Foundation Fellowship grant. She went to Hamline University, graduating with an MFA in Creative Writing in 2008. She published poetry and short prose pieces in numerous literary journals, including Verve, River Image, and Wordgathering. Many poems are inspired by dreams.


I Call on the Spirit of John Milton
by Ria Meade

This poem appeared in our new anthology.

I call on the spirit of John Milton
to sit on my porch and unravel the mysteries
of his poem “On His Blindness.”

My light has also been spent
“half my days in this dark world and wide.”

John, did I understand and do we share these questions:
Did you ever feel your worth?
Feel the light?
Lose your faith?

Your spirit, five centuries away, touched mine,
with familiar dark troubles.
Living within oneself, questioning,
I have found that spirits do travel and visit.

So, John, I thank you for your voice,
no matter the challenge to me of
phrasing, meter and era.

I wonder if the suspected difference between us
is you, John, feeling God is outside . . . judging.
I believe that He is within.
Same struggle, same darkness.
We are all able.
We are all worthy.
We are all powerful.

You have warmed the seat beside me
with this sonnet, John.

Bio: Ria Meade, 57, a Long Island poet, has been blind more than half her lifetime. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with the concentration in painting. Twenty-five years after losing her sight, she began to paint with words. Her poetry chronicles these life experiences, especially those with six guide dogs.

Ria says the sounds, smells, and touch of nature affect her differently now. A new appreciation was born.

Just in Case
For Margo
by Mary-Jo Lord

Editor’s Note: Margo LaGattuta, found for us by Mary-Jo Lord, was a mentor and workshop provider in the early years of our group’s existence. “We miss you, talented lady.”

Just in case the email with
Your name in the
from field was actually a
message gone astray,
lost for over a
year in cyber space until
finally it found it’s way to my
inbox like a message in a bottle, a
final poem, column or
exercise to spark my

My hand hovers over the delete key,
wants to believe for a second that
You are at your Mac,
twenty minutes away,
Sending out notices about workshops and conferences, not
gone forever.

I reluctantly delete,
sure that if you were going to contact me from
beyond it wouldn’t be via a link to a
.com site but in
my dreams or as
the muse that is
urging me to persevere, and not
give up on this year’s
poetry challenge. You would be the teacher that says just write and
revise later, the instinctive editor that
places line breaks where
pauses should be and
discourages the over use of words that end in
ing. You are the warning sign that
smacks me across the
forehead and lights a
fire under my ass,
You scream, “Make a life, don’t
wait until you are finished
making a living.”

You speak to me in all of these ways, but you
don’t send messages from
a misspelled yahoo account
from the United Kingdom with a
guarantee of instant weight loss for
just $100 a month.

Princess of Wales
by Edna Lee

Editor’s Note: This poem was written in September, 1997, shortly after the Princess’s death.

I miss you today, though you never knew
That I longed to be loved as much as did you;
I longed for protection, so happy to feel
Accepted for myself, accepted for real.
Though I’ll never know what true grief for you entails,
I miss you, Diana, dear Princess of Wales.

I need you today, though I’ve never before;
I wish you could walk to me straight through my door;
I pray that you’d know of the tears now I cry.
If you were here, I know you wouldn’t deny.
Wish I could be with you and never return
To the place where insecurity and sadness were learned.
You’d help me no matter how much I might fail,
I need you, Diana, dear Princess of Wales.

I love you, although we weren’t blessed to have met.
I know you were misunderstood; but then yet,
You were strong and you did what your heart felt was best–
Though longing to break, to sleep, get some rest.
I wish I’d been able to call you my friend,
Have your understanding on which love could depend;
I wish I could now your gentleness see.
Would you long to be near, close to someone like me?

For I feel I have smashed into wind knocking rails.
Wish I could explain to you all the details,
So your heart would speak and would tell you to stay;
Then, leave when you must and take me with you that day;
For I’m feeling unloved and I feel very frail.
I love you, Diana, dear Princess of Wales.

No number of words will allow me to tell
How I know of your gifts, they could make me feel well.
You’ve experienced a lot of what I have gone through.
I could not imagine one stronger than you.
Oh! Why did you have to be taken away?
Drowning in sorrows and smallness I lay.
Needing love badly, I wanted to cry out.
It’s too late now–you cannot hear me shout.
I wish it were different, wish I knew why,
Before we could say hello, I’m saying goodbye.
You’ve been the places from which sadness hails;
I miss, need, and love you, dear Princess of Wales.

Bio: In 1975, Edna Lee was born two months premature, which resulted in her total blindness and mild Cerebral Palsy. Edna began writing poetry at the age of 15. She has written three books of poetry, and countless other poems. Edna enjoys reading, and spending time with her animals and loved ones.

Stars In My Eyes
by Valerie Moreno

Editor’s Note: This poem appeared in our new anthology.

I was a young girl
kneeling at the abyss
trying not to give in
call it a day
a life

There you were, sweet, brilliant
stars in your eyes
making a difference
giving me hope

Because you hurt
I believed in the sound of
your voice
bringing both of us courage within
happy lines of a song

Your steady hand
reassuring smile made me a princess
amid towering fears-
stars in my eyes because of you

Now you are gone-
the secret, persistent fight is over…
you are somewhere bright
stars in your eyes-and mine-

(In loving memory of David Thomas Jones of The Monkees, with love to
Hazel Jones W. for all your kindness and friendship)

Bio: Valerie Moreno, age 56, 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.

Publishing credits include many articles, stories and poems in “The Troubadour,” newsletter/magazine of the Secular Franciscan Order, “The Answer,” newsletter of DIAL, “Dialogue,” “Matilda Ziegler,” and the “Dot-to-Dot” Magazine of The Michael Jackson Tribute Portrait. Several stories and poems appeared in “Behind Our Eyes,” an Anthology of twenty-seven writers with Disabilities, and a poem appeared in the e-book “Fans in the Mirror,” published by the Michael Jackson Tribute Portrait.

Merci Beaucoup (Louis Braille (4 January, 1809 — 6 January, 1852)
by Christine Faltz Grassman

My fingers were blessed
Each time they touched and caressed
The gift that you left;
My life so bereft…
If not for your light,
This wondrous delight
That the written words bring,
Help my mind sing.

You sent me Literacy’s touch,
I crave so often, so much;
Whenever I have choice
To forsake the voice,
More often than not,
I prefer the dot,
I have more control–
The words parts of my whole.

I could have no success;
I cannot express
What you have left behind
For my fingers to find,
For my heart to hold dear
As it helps my thoughts steer:
If you could only know
Where you permit me to go.

A Toddler’s tragic slip
Began a long, winding trip:
How I wish that you knew
Before your short life was through
What change you would bestow,
How much more we would know:
So very much is your due;
Louis, merci beaucoup.

Bio: Christine Faltz Grassman was born blind due to congenital microophthalmia on October 9. 1969. She attended parochial school through the fourth grade in Brooklyn, after which she attended public elementary, middle, and high schools in Nassau County, New York. Christine holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Princeton University, a Master’s in Science of Teaching from Pace University, and a J.D. from Hofstra University School of Law. Christine is a certified English Language Arts teacher and a licensed attorney, who currently teaches at-risk youth in an alternative program called GED Plus in New York City. Christine is married, has two children, and has published a short novel, The Sight Sickness, which is a satire in response to Jose Saramago’s Blindness.
Christine is the author of a no-holds-barred blog on, where she frequently indulges in both gentle and violent wordplay, and where she less frequently posts poetry.


Instead, I’ll Write This Poem
by Mary-Jo Lord

I could put it off until tomorrow since
it’s late and, being the master of procrastination,
I don’t have much to say about it.

I could fold the laundry, clean the kitchen for the
second time tonight and
post on Facebook that I’m too tired to write.

Instead, I’ll write this poem about procrastination,
because if I’m going to write a poem a day for a month
I shouldn’t skip out on the first day.

I could take the time to finally
learn the fine art of select, copy and paste on my iPhone,
email my friend in Australia where it is tomorrow and this poem is already
late, or read a book about writing.

Instead, I’ll write this poem about procrastination.
I’ll write this poem so I don’t have to add it to the list of things I haven’t done,
like update software licenses,
clean out my closet and
loose ten pounds.

I could play “give me back my panties” with the dog,
check the weather in St. Thomas, or
go to bed early and have nightmares about
work meetings gone horrifically awry,
lost luggage, and poems that
leave my mind before they arrive.

Instead, I’ll write this poem about procrastination and know
That it will be finished and Found
again and again on my hard drive with a few keystrokes.

The Noun Hound Is on a Scent
of Salutations and Nouns of Address, essay
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

For the past couple of years, the Noun Hound has been tracking a scent of improperly punctuated nouns of address. Thankfully, the Noun Hound does not receive a treat or biscuit for each time he tracks down an infraction. Perhaps, you remember the dog who wanted to take a “bite out of crime”; well, the Noun Hound wants to take a bit of time to improve grammar and punctuation.

Back at Jacksonville Grade School (yes, that rural grade school with 88 students and four teachers), I learned to use the following salutation for a friendly letter:

Dear Carole,

Since the word Dear is modifying the proper noun Carole, no punctuation is placed between the two words. Only the comma is necessary at the end of the salutation of a friendly letter.

Unfortunately, the Noun Hound has found that too many people are punctuating the salutation in the same manner when the line is:

Hi Mickey, (Bow! Wow! Wrong!)

The interjection Hi does not modify the proper noun Mickey. Thus, punctuation must be placed after the interjection. Each of the following is correct:

Hi! Chloe,

Hello, Chloe,

Hi, Chloe-

Hello! Chloe-

In each of the above four examples, Chloe is the noun of address-the person to whom one is directly speaking by means of verbal or written communication.

In a formal letter or business letter, a colon, rather than a comma or dash, should be placed at the end of the salutation. A semicolon should never end a salutation. In more recent textbooks from which I taught, Dear was acceptable for a business letter’s salutation; however, I would not use Dear in the salutation of a formal letter. Each of the following is correct for the salutation of a business or formal letter:

Mr. Vigo:

Ms. Whitlock:

In a sentence, the noun of address is set off from the rest of the sentence by one comma, two commas, or a comma and another appropriate mark of punctuation as the following examples will show:

Frances, will you autograph your children’s book for my niece?
In this first sample sentence, the noun of address is the first word of the sentence and is followed by a comma.

I hope that you will attend the concert, Betsy.
When the noun of address is the final word of the sentence, the comma precedes the noun of address Betsy.

“Runners, take your marks,” announced the official.
A noun of address may appear more frequently in a direct quotation. Runners is the noun of address and is followed by a comma.

“Please join us for lunch, Mrs. Busy,” said Olivia.
Mrs. Busy is the noun of address and is both preceded and followed by a comma. Olivia is the speaker; Mrs. Busy is the person to whom Olivia is directly speaking.

“If you are wondering, George, I already voted,” Isabella whispered.
George is the noun of address-the person to whom Isabella is speaking directly. Falling in the middle of the sentence, the noun of address is both preceded and followed by a comma.

The scout leader commanded, “Ted, take your group over the swinging bridge; Cody, take your group through the covered bridge.”
This compound sentence has two nouns of address. Each noun of address is preceded by the appropriate mark of punctuation and followed by a comma. The scout leader is speaking directly to Ted and then to Cody.

Happy writing!
Alice Jane-Marie Massa, along with Leader Dog Zoe’s buddy-the Noun Hound

Paw-script: Zoe wants you to know that the Noun Hound is a sweet, little Basset Hound.

Bio: After earning two master’s degrees and teaching for 25 years, Alice Jane-Marie Massa recently retired from teaching writing and public speaking at a technical college. Alice invites you to visit her blog:, where she weekly posts her poetry, essays, or memoirs. Her writings on Wordwalk frequently focus on her guide dogs, her rural hometown, as well as grammar and punctuation. Away from her desk, Alice most enjoys long walks with her third Leader Dog (Zoe), container gardening, and the television program Jeopardy.

A New Opportunity

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Here is our first announcement.

NFB Writers’ Division Critique Service

The NFB Writers’ Division has established a critique service. For $10, you will receive a written evaluation for any of the following:

  • Short story, max 3000 words
  • First chapter, or first 20 pages, of a novel
  • up to 3 poems, 39 lines or less per poem
  • Children’s story, max 3000 words
  • First chapter of a Memoir, or first 20 pages
  • Nonfiction article, 20 pages max

Submit as an email attachment using MS Word. Double space and email to:

Robert Leslie Newman, president, NFB Writers’ Division

Material may be submitted at any time. Critiques will be Emailed back within 30 days from receipt of reviewer.

Make checks out to NFB Writers’ Division, and send to:
Robert Leslie Newman
504 S 57th St.
Omaha, NE 68106

The Reasons of a Writer, essay
by Steve Mann

People usually ask writers, “Where do you get your ideas?”, but rarely are they ever asked, “What got you started writing?”. My start came at the age of 12. I’d gone to a camp for the blind four years before and ended up being everyone’s target. Most eight year olds would have wanted to run away and hide. I, on the other hand, being built to believe in weird stuff such as monsters beneath the bed, evil alien invaders from other planets and so forth, wanted something to happen to my tormenters–something bad. I wasn’t then, and am not now, the type to actually do anything to people who torment me, so the feelings remained inside me with no way to be expressed.

Finally, my Uncle Collin took me aside and told me that he knew a way I could safely express them. “Write a story,” he said, “put your experiences down on paper, fictionalize yourself and the surroundings and write out what you want to happen.” The result was an unfinished novel that was adapted into a script.

Since that time, I’ve not been able to get away from writing. Ideas come, stories take form and must be written. For a long time I had no way of sharing my work with anyone other than blind people, thanks to the limitations of Braille. With the introduction of screen reader-equipped computers and such programs as Microsoft word and the advent of fan fiction and other creative writing sites, I was suddenly able to transcend Braille and begin sharing my work with a much wider audience.

Some people who have read my work have asked me how I can be so spot on with visual descriptions when I’m totally blind. The answer to that question is simple. I started out with some vision in my left eye, but thanks to yet another incident involving a bully, ended up being thrown against a steel post at the age of 14. Thanks to that, the sight in my left eye has decreased to nothing over the last 29 years. The bully in question has ended up in my fiction a few times, usually coming to a bad end of some sort, as have others throughout my life.

As to why I write what I write, the genres I work in primarily express not only my feelings toward those who would bully me, but my view of the universe. Fantasy is a perfect vehicle to express the belief that there is more to the universe than meets the eye. A universe in which there is no bigger picture, no greater purpose is, to me, a universe that doesn’t exist. Whether it’s a universe that conforms to the views of organized religion is another matter altogether.

Am I going to say I believe what I write? Absolutely not. Am I going to say that I believe our world is destined to be overrun by the living dead in a few short years? Decidedly not. But the strange calls to me again and again, and to me, the strange involves the horrifying as well. I think that’s partially because I had my fair share of nightmares in my earlier life, both waking and otherwise. What better way to express my reaction to those nightmares than to write? It costs nothing; it involves no professionals wanting an enormous amount of money from me; and it involves no drugs. It also allows readers to experience other worlds, sometimes worlds in danger from evils from beyond time and space, sometimes worlds of magic and beauty.

Bio: Steve Mann is forty-three, and currently resides in Washington state. He is blind. He enjoys writing, online gaming, reading, and webcasting. He was born four months early, and had only partial sight in his left eye. At the age of fourteen, he suffered an injury which eventually caused the total loss of sight in his left eye. He began writing as a result of a bad summer camp experience at the age of eight. Thanks to his uncle Collin, he used writing as therapy for the bad feelings generated from that experience.

How to Boost Creativity, book review
by John Wesley Smith

I have the greatest admiration for those who are resourceful and creative. They have a cleverness I seem to lack. Somehow they see things in a different way than the rest of us. You know the type: the woman who instantly knows how to turn an old pair of blue jeans into a backpack; or the guy who takes scrap materials from all over to make an aquaponics unit.

So much of what we face in life calls for problem solving skills. You can spot problems easily enough. But how do you solve them when you don’t seem to have that creative instinct? Is there a way to gain much needed insights?

The bad news is that there are no magic formulas. And let’s admit it, not all of us can be geniuses. I’ve come across a book that lays out some helpful guidance for those of us who want and need to be more than ordinary. What you and I need is a shot of creativity. The book is “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” by Jonah Lehrer.

It would take too long to recap how Procter and Gamble, Bob Dylan, movie makers at Pixar and others have managed to make the most of creativity. But I can share a few notes and principles I gleaned from my reading of Lehrer’s book. And I hope we can each apply them to our benefit.

  • Trying to force an insight can actually prevent an insight. Creative insights come when we’re in a relaxed and positive mood, without being analytical.

  • Get the daily down time Gay Levy and George Ure talk about in their e-book, “11 Steps to Living a Strategic Life.”

  • While you and I might do well while concentrating hard and focusing on a particular problem, we may not have many creative insights. Sometimes it’s best to be distracted and stop looking for the answer.

  • Focusing can actually make us fixate on the wrong solution. The needed insight comes when we’ve stopped looking for it. Let the right hemisphere of your brain take over.

  • Don’t be afraid to make wild connections between things that seem unrelated. Many inventions and discoveries have come about this way. Putting this into practice is called conceptual blending.

  • Daydream. Your brain will be amazingly busy making connections.

  • Inhibiting impulses stifles creativity.

  • Ask plenty of questions. Don’t be afraid to be embarrassed. Don’t be afraid to leave the safety of your own expertise. It’s OK to display ignorance.

  • Get away from everything. Travel.

  • Become an outsider. Our thoughts are often shackled by the familiar. Forget yourself and what you think you know. See the project you’re working on through someone else’s eyes.

  • Network and collaborate with others.

  • Brainstorm with others. Engage in debate and constructive criticism. Pick apart ideas. Stimulate thinking to fix mistakes and find solutions to problems.

  • Hang around smart people. Don’t let your digital connections with people online override the contacts you have with real people in the flesh.

  • Don’t be discouraged by failure.

  • Get inspiration from the work of others.

  • Insights may come in a flash, but they may not come quickly. It takes time for the refining of thoughts and ideas.

  • Persevere. Don’t give up when you’ve got a problem to solve.

  • Let go. Be spontaneous. Don’t worry about perfection.

If you haven’t already figured it out, for most of us, we need a new mindset–a new way of thinking. This is true whether we’re dealing with everyday situations or are forced by circumstances into making a radical move.

There’s no way I can do justice to Jonah Lehrer’s book. So if you’re interested in reading it, I highly recommend you get a copy for yourself. If you’re visually impaired, borrow it from your state library for the blind or download it from the BARD site. The reference number is DB74396.

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

Writing from History and Life Reflections:
How a Journal Entry Leads to a Poem in “Salome’s Gardens,” essay and poem
by Lynda Lambert

Are you having trouble trying to get a poem started? Does it seem like you are looking at a blank wall and nothing comes into your imagination? Those are times when I begin to think in a different way. Instead of looking at the moment, I will metaphorically turn around and look backwards for my inspiration. This works magic for me, usually.

Many writers find poems and other literary pieces when they are looking back into history to find information on something that they think is interesting. Looking into something you are curious about, something you just want to know, can lead to some gems in your own writing. Why not give it a try!

Many of my pieces are inspired when I travel.

Here is an example of one of my journal reflections that gave me information I could use to write a poem.
I wrote a journal entry one day while sitting in the Mirabell Gardens, in Salzburg, Austria. I wrote down some notes about the place and its history. I was fascinated by the people who had built it and who played out a drama on life’s stage there at that palace.

You can do a little drawing if you are able to do that; take a photo to refresh your memory later, or take some descriptive notes in a journal. Later, when you have time to think it over, you can use those thoughts and images when you craft a poem.

Here as an example of steps to take in this kind of creative process:

1.) Consider the history of the place and the people who inhabited it.
Write down some Historical Notes. They can be made on location as you are visiting a place and that is the best way to begin.

An example from my journal:

Mirabell Palace, sits like a jewel in the heart of Salzburg, Austria. It was originally called Altenau, was built in 1606 by the Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau as a home for his mistress Salome’ Alt and their children. The famous Mirabell Gardens surround the palace. They were designed by Fischer von Erlach. On the grounds are stone sculptures that are perched on the pillars on each side of the gates as you enter the palace grounds. They are massive, much larger than life. They are depictions of mythological heroes. In other places you can find sculptures such as unicorns, a Pegasus fountain, gloriously blooming flowers spilling from large urns and a magical rose garden all enclosed by local wrought ironwork.

The stone urns sit atop the pilasters that surround the lush gardens. Each urn seems like it is literally spewing glorious flowers like a waterfall; they are bursting forth from the urns. I sat and made pencil sketches of the urns. Each one is different from the others; each has a different design. All are massive.
Wolfe spent the final six years of his life imprisoned in Hohensalzburg Fortress which overlooks the city of Salzburg. The fortress was his destiny as he was held prisoner until his death in 1612.

2.) Look over your notes and think about bringing something to life from this place and the people who lived there. What do you think they might have been like?

My Example:

When I walked through the mansion, and sat in its gardens, I thought of the love that a man had for a woman and the children they had together. Because Wolfe was an Archbishop, marriage was not permitted for them Yet, she was clearly his mistress. She bore 13 children to him. The Mirabell Palace was built for her and the children.

When Wolfe was imprisoned for the final six years of his life, I began to think of what might have been going through his mind in the prison dungeon as he thought of his beautiful mistress and their children. He would never be with them again.

I have imagined Wolfe may have smuggled love notes to Salome’ during those six years of imprisonment. The focus I would choose to write about would be the imaginary love notes he sent to her.

Example: The Poem developed, as I wrote a series of tiny “love notes” from Wolfe to Salome’–Here is what developed, in the poem “Salome’s Garden.”
I chose to write each note using the Haiku format; often used to express love. Salome’s Garden

(Haiku notes from Wolfe, smuggled from prison)

If we could have measured
The length of our time on earth
Before we began the journey
I would have hoped
for golden days
alone, in the garden
with you.


Pegasus can fly
When waxed begonias bloom in
Mirabell’s Garden.

Is our garden lush
Yellow marigolds touched by
Morning’s cool damp mist?

Do our marble stairs
Come to life during the night
When the putti dance?

The orangerie waits
Near the end of the garden
Hidden, out of view.

The scent of roses
Permeated my cell tonight
Just before twilight.

Salome and Wolfe
We danced down pink marble stairs
Hot candles flickered.

Lions guard our steps
To the secret garden path
Where the dwarfs carouse.

Raphael Donner
Created putti to frolic
On pink marble crests.

I miss your soft touch
Long to be near you at the
End of my journey

You are my crown jewel
In the snow that melts away
Everything I touch.

Bio: Lynda Lambert is a writer and studio artist who lives in the small village of Wurtemburg in western Pennsylvania. Her studio is surrounded by the woods along the Connoquenessing Creek.

Lynda has advanced degrees in English Literature, and Fine Arts. She is a former professor of Fine Arts and Humanities at Geneva College, in Pennsylvania.

Lynda Lambert is blind. She is the author of Concerti…Psalms for the Pilgrimage published by Kota’ Press.


Reflections, prose poem
by Shawn Jacobson

From the train I see
The sky reflected below
In urban towers.
Clouds that sail across the sky
Are echoed in glass below.

The train arises from the tunnel and I see the sky reflected in glass towers. Steel gray clouds traverse the sky as their shadows move upon the myriad windows, eyes shown to the world by towering buildings. The beauty of sky and ground are united; the works of God and man come together. I strive to remember more than facts, to hold this vision in my mind to pass it on.

Bio: Shawn Jacobson Attended the Iowa School for the blind then went to Iowa State University where he received a BA in Political Science and an MS in Statistics. Since 1984, he has worked for the Federal Government as a mathematical statistician for the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Shawn is currently treasurer of the Maryland affiliate of NFB and of the NFB Sligo Creek chapter. He is also a deacon at Church of the Atonement.

Mars, Haiku
by Nancy Scott

Launch past math and myth.
Reach beyond stones and feathers.
Breathe in weightless dreams.

Lavender Bicycle Blues, memoir
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Throughout the years that I worked with sight-loss support groups and worked as a teacher of blind rehabilitation, I frequently heard from students who were adventitiously blind that they most missed driving. While I could certainly empathize with these adult students, I never had pains of missing driving-I missed being able to ride my bicycle freely. Yes, I did ride my bicycle long past those early stages of legal blindness and a little past the times I was using my bike more like a bumper car. Of course, I later learned of special beeping devices which allow a blind or visually impaired person to continue bicycling. Certainly, I could take the back seat of a tandem bicycle. However, bicycling in these ways is not for me. I do enough back-seat driving in a car. I miss the free-spirit transportation of bicycling. Bicycling in the midst of a budding spring, bicycling on a hot summer morning or evening, and bicycling through the autumnal countryside were pleasures of my earlier life.

When I was six or seven years of age, I learned to ride a blue hand-me-down bike of my older sister; the glorious invention had two relatively fat tires and two training wheels. The bright red flag of growing up continued to proudly wave when I tried to ride the blue bike without the training wheels. Naturally, my dad was alongside to help me find a balancing point and to give me a boost for a good start in the rich green grass of our east lawn. I recall a time when my dad’s older brother, Uncle Charlie, was standing in the lawn and also offering words of encouragement, as well as clapping to applaud my feat.

Gradually, I progressed from riding the blue bicycle in the lawn to riding on our white-rock driveway and then to riding on the rural roads of my hometown of Blanford. Later, I even rode on Highway 163 and Highway 71 past the Black Diamond Coal Mine’s tipple, to the “Iron Bridge” (located between the small towns of Blanford and St. Bernice, Indiana). Nevertheless, my most memorable ride was on July 29, 1959, shortly after my ninth birthday. The pleasant summer evening was temporarily a Norman-Rockwell-painted scene with my older sister riding her bike a few yards in front of me and my parents walking several yards behind us. When we were very near our driveway, I suddenly lost control of my bicycle in a little gravel alongside the country road. Quickly, I was down: my eyeglasses were askew, and blood was flowing from a gash through my left eyebrow. Perhaps, I was in and out of consciousness for a couple of minutes because I next remember being in the back of our house. While my dad stayed outwardly calm, my mother became hysterical as she looked at my blood-covered face and swelling eye. Fortunately, my mother’s older sister, Aunt Zita, had been following us in her big,
black and white Buick. Next came the funniest moment of the incident: my aunt threw a pitcher of cold water onto my mother to help calm her down. Apparently, the cold-water trick worked because I next recall that we were in our car, on the way to the emergency room of the Vermillion County Hospital. At the time, I was wearing a favorite blouse and short set and distinctly remember being concerned about the blood on my favorite summer outfit. Many years later, my sister confessed to me that she prayed all the way to the hospital because she thought I was going to die.

Well, I did not die. I needed only ten stitches through my eyebrow, a new pair of glasses, and a night in the hospital for observation. However, I was not planning to stay even one night in the Vermillion County Hospital! Somehow, I, at age nine, began my
not-so-subtle art of persuasion: I convinced my parents and the doctor that I should be able to go home. Before my family and I left the hospital, Dr. Loving bestowed his calm and slowly-spoken words of advice. Then, with much love, my parents took me home, put me to bed, and watched me throughout that night. They continued to hover over me the following day and for days to come. July rolled into August, but I never went outside. My eye had swollen shut and required a salve of some sort. Relatives came to quietly visit. My Aunt Kathy even brought me a very special set of Sleeping Beauty
cut-out dolls. I continued to stay inside the protected confines of our home.

Finally, after too many days had passed, my mother expressed her concern about my not recuperating quickly enough to her older sister–the cold-water-pitching sister. Aunt Zita to the rescue again! Since her Italian restaurant was closed for a couple of vacation weeks in August at that time, Aunt Zita came to our house and emphatically informed my mother: “Janie just needs to get outside.” So, I put on a nice gray and red plaid dress and went outside and recuperated.

Soon after, much to my parents’ dismay, I returned to riding the slightly scratched blue bike. Just like falling off a horse, one has to ride again. After such a fall,
my re-dedicating to bicycling was a lesson which has served me extremely well from that first decade of life through the subsequent decades of my life. Pick up the pieces and try again. Cope and conquer.

A couple of years later, my dad presented me with a beautiful and unique lavender and white bicycle for my birthday. How I loved riding that lavender and white bicycle! I rode it until I was in my early thirties and would still like to ride it through a Hoosier breeze, alongside a peaceful country road.

Post-Script: Although my sister and I took on the sad task of going through all the possessions in our family home and then sold our Blanford house, the lavender and white bicycle lives on–thanks to cousins Carole and Tim who drove a U-Haul truck full of our family’s memorabilia to Colorado, where my bike has been parked in my sister and brother-in-law’s barn for more than a decade. Perhaps, one of my grandnieces (Emmilyn Alice or Lanie Ann) will ride my lavender and white bicycle someday.

Four-wheeling, memoir
by Ernest Jones

One day several years ago my family drove to one of our favorite places in the corner of northeast Washington. We walked gravel roads and took a short boat trip. Geese with their babies, ducks, great blue herons, and deer were abundant. On Friday afternoon, two four-wheelers were brought out for a fun ride in the pasture.

“Ernie, how about taking a ride on the four-wheeler?” my nephew, Loren, asked me that day.

“Sounds great to me,” I answered.

Within minutes Loren had the two four-wheelers out and was riding one of them; my daughter and a couple young friends were on the other one. Returning to where I stood, Loren said, “Okay, Ernie, here it is.”

Listening to the exclamations I heard, I knew most of my family didn’t agree, but their remarks made me want to ride the four-wheeler all the more.

Loren had the four-wheeler headed into the field when I climbed on. After some instructions on the workings of the monster I took off. I will admit that at first I was slow, hardly allowing the vehicle to move, but soon I was lost in an new exciting world. I drove round and round in the pasture, going farther as I grew braver. I had often been out in this field before my eyesight faded away, and in my mind I could still see this large pasture with trees on the far side, and to the left a sloping hill made for climbing.

When we started the four-wheelers there had been a half-dozen white-tailed deer on the far side of the field, but they fled after taking one look at me on that machine.

Loren said he would whistle if I was headed into trouble. Shortly I heard his shrill whistle, and I stopped the four-wheeler.

“Just checking to make sure you could hear me,” Loren said. “Now you can try the hill.”

Up the hill I went, going right over scattered tree limbs left from wood-gathering earlier. Turning the monster around, I headed back down the hill and increased the speed.

Hearing another shrill whistle, I stopped, only to have Loren jump on the back of the machine. Back up the hill I went. “Turn left,” I heard Loren say, but no matter how I tried to go left, we kept going straight ahead.

“Turn left,” Loren said again.

“I am turning left, but the front wheels are off the ground,” I replied. Slowing the four-wheeler to a crawl, I felt the front wheels lightly touch the surface of the pasture, but the slightest pressure on the throttle would bring those wheels back up. Slowly, I managed to make the turn and we headed back down the hill.

I stopped the machine, and this time Loren jumped on the hood in front of me. “Let’s go,” he said.

“Hey, I can’t see a thing ahead now; I can’t see through you,” I replied, laughing. But at least Loren held the front of the machine down on all four wheels. I drove up the hill again, and returning to near the gate I stopped, allowing Loren to jump off.

It’s strange how going around in circles can confuse a person if he can’t see or is wearing a blindfold. I would turn what I thought was a complete circle and head out, thinking I was headed for the hill, only to find I was really going the opposite direction. Fortunately, the river was on the other side of the house and yard, so at least for now I was safe. It was also strange how the land seemed to change; even the hill seemed to move out of place. I listened to hear the others talking, and found them on the wrong side of the pasture; somehow they had crossed the pasture and entered the woods. Well, not really–I just had to turn myself around.

Several times I would listen to find the other four-wheeler and then head right toward it, only to hear its riders give a shrill shriek as they sped off. Of course, I couldn’t catch them, but I had fun making them think I might really try.

It’s amazing how that four-wheeler could squeeze between tight places, or how the trees on the edge of the pasture seemed to move. Nothing appeared to stay still, and people, trees and even the hill kept moving out of place.

But all good things have to come to an end. At last everything stopped moving as I drove the machine out of the pasture, stopping near where the others stood.

I am thinking of another ride this summer. Why should being blind stop me? Life is for living, whether blind or fully sighted. Want to take a ride with me?

Bio: Ernest Jones, Sr. worked as a registered nurse until failing eyesight forced his early retirement. He has one published book, and his monthly newspaper column, Different Views, offers encouragement to other blind people. Ernie’s monthly church newsletter column delights the young. Hobbies include gardening, walking with his guide dog, and writing. E-mail him at:

Passenger’s seat, poetry
by Roselyn Perez

The bloody scream of my alarm jerks me from sleep;
its frantic flashing reminds me it is a bomb.
Go, go, go–it orders,
a scarlet siren shoving me towards the rocks.
So, I go; and here I wait,
Confronted by red lights.
I stand on the corner wondering what they’re keeping me from;
the answer comes lumbering towards me.
Settling down, I take it in…

A blind woman could see how filthy this bus is;
and even if she couldn’t, she could smell it.
My shoes stick to the floor;
my iPod can’t quite drown out the snoring man and squalling baby.
Achoo, achoo! Snot flies everywhere, some lands on me–
Jesus, I hope that lady isn’t contagious.
Red light.
My head collides with the rattling window…
Shit, there goes another thought.
Almost there,
a wino leans in close,
his body weaving
as the pendulum of his life
counts down to oblivion,
he asks me if I need
It’s funny,
I was about to ask him the same thing.
Great minds I suppose…
Red light.
Red light, red light, red light.
The desk is too small for me.
I hold onto it tightly, sure that it is shrinking.
Even so, I’m afraid I’ll end up holding thin air;
or maybe I’m the one disappearing.
I wish I were more, or even less substantial, just so I could be certain.
Where has the day gone?
Looking down, I consult my shadow;
but it only shrugs in puzzlement as do I.
And now, I’ve missed my bus.
I climb into your car; I wish you would turn the radio on.
Silence doesn’t bother me the way it does most people.
They see it as an intolerable emptiness that needs to be filled at any cost;
I see it as something that has the potential of turning into anything at all.
Still, I wish you’d turn on the radio
because I know it bothers you,
and I don’t want to make empty conver–
What? You were, right in the middle of making dinner?
Yes, there is quite a bit of traffic at this hour.
Well, the thing is my reality was collapsing right on top of me;
and now I think I’m fading
ectoplasmic–if you will.
Which explains how that rattletrap swept right by me without so much as slowing down.
No, I don’t believe I’ve lost my mind–
oddly enough, that’s the only part of me that seems static.
It’s the rest of me that’s unaccounted for.
Red light.
Blink, blink, blink–my curser mocks me.
The silence is overwhelmed with sound,
and I can’t hear myself–
Do you think you could please turn that TV down?
Can’t you kids go play outside for a little while?
No, you can show me your comic book later.
Right now, Auntie really needs to…
Jesus, you’re not contagious are you?

Bio: Roselyn Perez is the fifth of six children, all girls. She and two of her sisters have lived with retinitis pigmentosa all of their lives. She is 26 years old, resides in Southern California, and is studying creative writing at CSUN. Her poems have been featured in Eclipse, Literary Journal, Think Journal, and Magnets and Ladders.

Hawaii Five-O, memoir
by Brenda Dillon

Editor’s Note: Brenda contributed this travel memoir for our first anthology in 2007. Her recent death was a loss to all who knew her. She was active in blind advocacy movements. She and her husband really knew how to plan traveling, and she wrote about it with style and charm.

“I know what we could do to make it better,” Dan said. We were grilling steaks and soaking up the welcome winter sun on the deck in our cozy subdivision outside Nashville. My husband was referring to my insecurity about turning fifty. Should I celebrate or vegetate, I wondered. I loved my four grandchildren. That part of middle-age suited me fine. Early retirement allowed us to throw our hearts and souls, time and telephones, into community and church activities, and administrative responsibilities with the local and state chapters of the American Council of the Blind.

Was it time now to join AARP, collect those early senior discounts, and make appointments for regular physical exams?

“Anything to make it better sounds good to me. You know bold bouncy Brenda isn’t ready to go down without a fight,” I laughed.

“What about your dream?” Dan proposed.

“Which one?” I giggled. My wish list of things to do, clothes and dishes to buy, projects to support for our families and for various organizations, was endless.

He left the grill to sit beside me on the swing. “Let’s play Password backwards. If I said ‘Five-O’, what would you say came before it?”

It didn’t take me long. “Hawaii?” I whispered hopefully. He didn’t say anything. I reached for a hug. “Hawaii!” I squealed.

I anticipated the smile in his voice. “How about for your birthday next July?” he chuckled. “You think it would be too hot over there? I’ve got to see about those steaks.”

We enjoyed our steaks with all the trimmings, but it took a long time to get through dinner. With every bite I had another question, another thought, another something or other over there we wanted to: try, taste, touch, hear, or learn.

Dan and I knew the thrill of being able to go anywhere, any time we wanted to. With a little research ahead of time, and lots of planning, I knew I could make Hawaii come alive for us. After all, hadn’t we put independent travel to the test in Cancun? Our sombreros were definitely off to the hotel staff who treated us like royalty. I knew courtesy, a little extra tip money, and patience could work wonders. In Cancun, a staff person took us to the open market for local bargains. Sure, there were some language barriers, but nothing could detract from the enthusiasm we shared with our guide on the speedboat excursion. We did the swim-up bar and lounge, experienced casino night at the resort, and oh, the beach! Dan and I are nautical enthusiasts. We even planned our wedding with a backdrop of water. Planning Hawaii Five-O would be a welcome challenge, not a chore.

I made some contacts with blind friends of friends who lived in Hawaii, hoping to learn a little about their education and rehabilitation programs. Maybe because they were frequently contacted by American tourists, or maybe because their schedules were full, we were not able to make our way into the blind community, so we could visit facilities or private homes. Since we were only there for a week, we were probably expecting too much.

The Hilton Hawaiian Village was our final choice. It is a large resort, but I related well with the booking staff, and they promised us a good room and plenty of guide service. With almost a hundred boutiques, restaurants, and places to play on the property, I believed we would have an entertaining stay.

I have minimal vision beyond light perception, and my husband Dan is totally blind. Our first adventure on our own took us to Myrtle Beach. We enjoyed access to the beach, the pool, the lazy river, and restaurants and shops just outside our door. We vacationed with very little help from others.

I took my first serious plunge into travel research when we decided to visit Washington, D.C. for four days. Guides and docents were available for monuments and museums, but it was necessary to schedule ahead of time. We decided to make travel arrangements a part of the vacation, and booked a deluxe sleeper car on the train. There were movies and music in our efficiently organized, compact quarters, and the food was excellent.

Our congressman and senator welcomed us; naturally, we all smiled during the photo opportunity. We had a private hands-on and ears-on guide to the Capitol, with a visit to congress in session. I carefully examined the tactile map featuring streets and attractions. It helped me understand where we traveled when we moved from one monument to another, out to Arlington Cemetery, and to the Vietnam and Korean War memorials.

At the Smithsonian we gained valuable information from a docent who happened to be a pilot herself. Dan particularly enjoyed the wood-turning exhibit in another gallery, as he is a skilled wood craftsman.

There weren’t many hands-on opportunities at Mount Vernon, but the glimpse into George Washington’s life made the trip down the river well worth taking. Our guide there was a former secretary at the White House. Our questions and her comments about her experience there helped ease our disappointment about not being able to schedule a tour. The White House was still closed to visitors for security concerns after 9/11.

At the Kennedy center, personal narration was available for the comedy performance. Knowing what’s taking place on stage makes a production come alive. Since then we have opted for descriptive narration any time it is available.

At the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Braille signage, replicas, and, in particular, the thin statues representing the starving men and women in the breadlines during the depression, made lasting impressions. This unusually tactile exhibit gave new meaning to the word “accessible.”

As the date for Hawaii drew near our anticipation mounted. Could two blind people really do this alone? “Don’t miss the …” and “Could you bring me back a …” were familiar refrains from our friends who coached us with envy.

Would the Hilton care as much about our comfort level as the staff on the Grand Princess had? On our Caribbean cruise we took advantage of a self-contained floating holiday. The cabin steward assigned to us read our daily choices of activities, and helped us find guides when we needed to go to unfamiliar parts of the ship. On the Grand Princess, we participated in trivia games, Bingo with our Braille cards, Karaoke and talent show fun. Early scheduling of shore excursions guaranteed adequate assistance. And oh, the food. The variety, the quality, and the frequency defy explanation.

On all of our trips we have taken small tape recorders to keep track of directions or information people gave us. We knew how to plead our case if something didn’t go right–lost luggage, a guide who failed to show. In general, we have always found the tourism industry very accommodating.

The flight to Hawaii was long. We managed to move around every few hours, and to be prepared for our biological clocks to be a little out of sync after changing time zones. When we got to the Hilton, we unpacked in our delightful corner room with two balconies facing the ocean. We were oriented to the part of the property near our room, and were able to get to some destinations independently. We both carried folding canes which we used carefully in crowds, for the safety of other guests. When we traveled in open hallways or on the grounds, they served us well. Assistance was only a phone call away, and carts provided mobility for all guests to the various shops, restaurants and activities. After all, we would return with our arms full of packages, wouldn’t we?

We kept an audible locator in our beach bag. When we were ready for a dip or a chase with the waves, someone from the hotel took us to a spot where we could leave the bag and easily walk into the water. With assistance from our locator we could find our blanket again. Someone from the hotel returned in a couple of hours to help us make our way through the other sunbathers back to our room. We offered generous tips for this extra service.

Experiences on the island included: a luau, a speed sailing trip, and a visit to Paradise Cove where we sampled native cuisine and cocktails. Fresh seafood and pineapple were high on our list of favorites. Dan, an accomplished guitarist, tuned into the lectures and hands-on demonstrations with the ukulele.

He insisted on a visit to the USS Missouri. We touched guns, shells and bunks. How did they crowd so many men into such a small space? The Pearl Harbor story put us in touch with American history in a way books can’t equal.

We took in the Don Ho show, and tried our hand at lei-making. Fragrant garlands, steel guitars and rippling water are the traditional drawing cards taking tourists away from their scheduled lives on the continent to this sensual paradise of the Pacific. We tried to soak up every second of cultural awareness available to us. What would it be like to have the wonderful scent of the plumeria wafting through my backyard in Tennessee?

Of course, we ate too much, spent too much, and brought home more than we could carry. Turning fifty didn’t bother me at all. I was having the time of my life!

Blind people can tackle almost any travel project if they set their minds to it. Book everything ahead that you know you want to do; take credit cards or travelers’ checks and cash in small denominations; keep your expectations reasonable; and keep free time open for the things you can’t anticipate now. “Please” and “Thank you” still win friends and influence people. And remember, a smile is the same in any language.

Bio: Brenda Dillon of Hermitage, Tennessee, was a state and national leader in the American Council of the Blind. She taught visually impaired children and served as a foster parent. Brenda spoke and wrote about disability issues. She enjoyed traveling and performing music with her husband, Dan.

Her medical issues began in February 2013. She endured two surgeries, and suffered eventual organ failures which took her life on July 11, 2013. Her family was present, singing her to sleep with “Amazing Grace.”


Amateur Radio, Abecedarian
by Bruce Atchison

Amateur radio,
Boy that brings back memories.
Can you imagine my excitement,
Delight at speaking with far-away folks.
Everybody I spoke to,
Foreigners or local operators,
gave me a warm welcome.
Hams are what we are nicknamed,
Individually or in a group–
Joining together for coffee;
Keeping the fraternal spirit alive;
Logging and loving each precious contact.
More and more of us become silent keys,
Nevertheless we persist,
On the air or via the Internet–
Pounding the Morse code,
QSLing up a storm.
Rising early or staying up late,
Signals still intrigue us–
Transmitting them in various modes,
Using the ionosphere is our delight.
VLF to SHF and even lasers–
We make use of them all.
X class flares don’t upset us,
Yet we miss HF propagation.
Zapping sparks to digital transmissions is our legacy.

Bio: Bruce Atchison is a legally-blind Canadian freelance writer with articles published in a variety of magazines. He has also authored “When a Man Loves a Rabbit: Learning and Living with Bunnies,” a memoir. “Deliverance from Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School)” is his recollection of being sent five hundred miles from home. Contact him at or on Facebook or Twitter.

He posts portions of his published memoirs, along with his upcoming How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity memoir, on Atchison lives in a tiny Alberta hamlet with his two house rabbit companions, Mark and Deborah.

Wheels Stop, memoir
by Nancy Scott

[I’m still watching space happenings as the world defines its highest frontier, but here is one of my favorite memories from the Shuttle era.]

“Did I miss the landing?” Maurine’s cell phone voice asks.

“No,” I say. “Your intuition is good. They took the second landing opportunity. Too many clouds the first time.”

Since Space Shuttle Columbia was lost, Maurine and I often watch launches and landings together by phone. I can’t see the TV screen, so Maurine narrates visuals and I explain jargon. I listen to entire missions on NASA’s Public Channel provided by my cable company. Maurine generally shows up for beginnings and endings.

But this time Maurine is at Hershey Medical Center with her critically-ill son Michael. “I’m outside in my wheelchair for some air and so you can talk me through landing.”

We had both missed Columbia’s re-entry. I never missed mission-critical things, but I had my wheels to go to the grocery store. I expected to be home before “Wheels Stop” but Saturday morning check-out lines were long, and perhaps even I had been lulled into complacency. I had to hear about Columbia’s break-up on Terry’s car radio on the suddenly-tortured ride home.

But now it’s Discovery and forty minutes before landing. Maurine and I talk of Pennsylvania wind and the coming rain and the wind I hear through the Florida microphones. We listen to familiar calls for “Entry Interface” and lots of numbers–the speed they are flying as they slow, time to touchdown, range to Kennedy–all calmly relayed by NASA’s Houston Public Affairs Office TV announcer.

I hold my cordless phone close to the TV speaker. “Runway in sight,” calls down the Shuttle.

“On at the 180,” replies Houston Flight. Can two more people’s wills help get them home safely?

Nose gear and main gear touch down and then motor noises of a wheeled vehicle on ground. And then silence. And then the call, “Wheels Stop.”

“It feels so good to do this,” Maurine comments after landing. “It’s been a bad week with Michael’s congestive heart problems, but this feels normal and important at the same time. And Michael likes me here because of his trouble hearing.”

I haven’t missed anything Shuttle or Russian Soyuz mission-critical since Columbia. This means a lot of getting up in the middle of the night. It means that good friends know about space happenings and put up with my scheduling prohibitions. A few even learn some of the terms. During this mission one of my friends asked, “Now what time must you be back for docking?” She watches some, too, but she admits that it makes her too nervous.

Maurine hasn’t missed many launches and landings since Columbia. It’s the mystical part of spaceflight. There are rituals that define our faith. NASA and the Russian space agency have lots of them. We and they know that will and faith play a part in science.

“What’s next?” Maurine asks.

“A Soyuz coming back,” I reply.

“We’ll see,” Maurine says. Michael, she tells me then, is out of ICU and will probably come home early next week. “I know the kid’s thirty-eight and he’s dealt with the deafness thing forever, but he’s still my kid so I needed to be here. The hospital has been great with his hearing loss and my Lupus.”

“Good,” I say. “I like it better when you’re home watching the screen.”

The Pennsylvania rain arrives and Maurine hangs up to wheel herself inside. I turn to dialing into my telephone Spanish class–late, but they know why.

Letter To Visual Cortex: poetry
by Susan Glass

Perhaps you are not my subject of address;
but your reputation for flexibility precedes you,
as my fingertips and I well know.
We were there, you see,
when you captured the initially meaningless pebbles–
ticklish filigree lace on cardboard paper.
I still recall our first word: rain.
In contracted Braille, it arrived gently.
Cell 1: three dots left and one at mid-level right.
Cell two: one dot at top left.
Cell three: two subtler points, better mannered, less demanding,
nestling gently midrange, mid finger.
pad. On that afternoon of first differentiation,
it was, in fact, raining in the leaf-flecked garden.
Sycamore and oak muted the drops
so that they hissed like skillet garlic.
So too, those dots beneath my right-hand index finger
hissed into recognition.
(ten-fingered mastery came later for me.)
That first neural path, from fingertip to visual cortex,
completely bypassed my passive eyes and forgave their shyness.
With one word, rain,
the new wiring laid itself quietly into place.

Bio: For the past 30 years, Susan Claire Glass has taught English Composition, Creative Writing, Poetry, American Literature and Women’s Studies at West Valley Community College and San Jose State University. She has just retired from teaching, and now plans to devote her time to writing and singing. She lives with her husband John and her Labrador retriever guide dog Zeus in Saratoga, California. She is an active member of the Silicon Valley Council of the Blind, and is ardently devoted to promoting Braille literacy.

Gossip, poetry
by Adnana Saric

Gossip is a kiss shared by the whole world–
delivered by the lips, received by the ear.

Tempted to enjoy another’s misery?
Pass up that temptation;
reach one, teach one;
save someone from the ropes.

You know you could be next;
brought to your knees,
facing devastation.

We all have hearts fragile as glass;
don’t let this wisdom pass.

The Dark Side of Friendships, creative nonfiction
by Ann Chiappetta

Relationships are like fingerprints, no two are the same. For example, in the case of friendships, some flow naturally, lasting a lifetime. Others end hard and fast. Some transform from the platonic to the romantic. Others just seem to fade away.

Interestingly, there is another kind of human interaction that mimics a friendship but is not genuine. This is a pseudo-friendship. It chips away at the psyche with slow, imperceptible actions. It often takes the victim years to become trapped. Unfortunately, it takes even longer to recognize the danger and get free. By then, the damage is done.

I met Ruth for the first time on my way back from the pool. We made small talk and agreed to exchange phone numbers. She sought me out because a mutual acquaintance mentioned I was enrolled in the same college from which she’d already obtained a degree.

“A very kind person offered to be my mentor when I went back to school,” she explained. “He suggested I return the favor one day. I can be your mentor, if you want.”

Isn’t that nice, I thought, a neighbor offering help. I believed in random acts of kindness, appreciating those who contributed in selfless supportive roles. I saw Ruth as one of those folks and missed the dark snout peeking out from underneath her innocuous exterior.

My desire to trust Ruth, to honor what she called, ‘giving back, colored our budding friendship in rosy tints despite an occasional peek of her darker side. I ignored the warning signs for years, the first being Ruth’s obsession with money and entitlement. One of her favorite phrases was, “Well, since I did/gave/paid for you, now you can give/do/pay for me.” This often left me thinking she lived with a scorecard in her hand. I went along with her rules anyway; I knew I certainly didn’t see the world in dollar signs. I trusted that Ruth would do the right thing.

Gradually, however, Ruth’s obsession of pushing me into proving my worth in our friendship turned mercenary; if I asked for something, a week later she asked for something from me of equal value. It didn’t matter what it was, I owed her and she wasn’t going to let me gyp her out of it. I put up with it because I didn’t care about the little things. Once she asked me to return the bag she used for one of my gifts. Odd, but no biggie, I thought; I saved gift bags, too.

A second oddity arose a few months later. I discovered Ruth was taking the TV guide from my paper without asking and not telling us. My husband complained to the newspaper, not knowing she’d been purloining it.

“Listen,” I said, “we haven’t been able to save the TV guide for you because it’s been missing from our paper.”

“Oh, it’s not missing, I’ve been taking it. I hope you don’t mind.”

“What do you mean, you took it? It’s been missing from the Sunday paper for three weeks, are you sure?”

“Well, you never give it to me on time so I just thought it would be okay to take it.”

“No, it’s not okay to just take it. We called the paper and yelled at them for nothing.”

I swear I could hear her shrug it off over the fiber optics. I asked her not to do it again and hung up. I filled in my husband on what she said and he threw up his hands.

“Tell her to buy her own damn paper from now on.”

I stood there, feeling used and stupid.

“You’re right. ” I said, “I can’t do this anymore. She’s taking advantage of me, of us.” I knew I had to ease away and not give in but part of me felt guilty for using such a small discretion for a reason to end our friendship. It was just a misunderstanding, wasn’t it? My husband’s words, however, stayed with me and I thought about her quirks and how uncomfortable I felt about them. But, did Ruth’s thriftiness justify ending our friendship? After all, she did help me through college by editing my papers. My family didn’t think the friendship was worth its challenges, and it was clear that my husband’s patience was well past its expiration date. But I hesitated, wanting to make sure I wasn’t overreacting.

The final friendship buster happened only a few months after the newspaper debacle. By this time, Ruth and I had been friends for about eight years. She not only helped me through college but also witnessed my struggle with progressive vision loss. Whenever I confided to her about how hard it was to lose more sight, she would change the subject. I attributed this to her being uncomfortable because she felt bad for me. Fortunately, I had a lot of practice being disabled and within a few months I adjusted to the vision loss. Ruth’s indifference, however, still hurt. I went back to work and soon had less time to worry about misgivings regarding Ruth. When we did go out, though, Ruth acted strange, or more precisely, her demands on me became more taxing. I got the feeling she was using me for the perks, like asking me for my disabled parking permit.

The final manipulation came and I almost missed it. We were en route to meet a few of her friends in from Detroit. She was describing one of the folks we were meeting, “She’s about your age, but very petite, brown hair and eyes. But I guess those things aren’t important to you anymore because you can’t see.”

“That’s not true, I still want to know what she looks like.”

“Well, you say you’re blind.” Her voice sounded petulant.

“It’s a blanket term. Don’t assume that I don’t want to know about something just because I can’t see it anymore.”

What I wanted to say was, How long have you known me? Do you have a brain leak? The proverbial light bulb blinked on above my head. She brought me to make an impression on these folks with her BBF (Best Blind Friend) Annie. My trust evaporated. Ruth used me. It annoyed me, hurt me, and marginalized me.

By the time I returned home, I wanted nothing to do with her. This was it, I thought, the sheep’s clothing finally snagged, caught in the thorns of selfishness, and revealed the truth.

Although Ruth was the first friend to be inadvertently culled by my disability, I found it liberating rather than limiting. I finally found my way out of this nightmare.

I remembered, during one of her sobbing episodes, Ruth didn’t want my help.

“Well, what do you want?” I asked, waiting for her to blow her nose.

“I want warm fuzzies.” She said, “You know, someone to hug you and rock you like a mommy.”

I realized at that moment that this went beyond our relational boundaries. She wanted something I couldn’t give her.

Ruth needed someone to say, “Poor, poor baby, no one loves you but me. I’ll take care of you.” That is not what a friend does; it’s not my place to help along her desire to beat herself up until she’s gelatin.

She claims not recalling my sharing the scary events involving depression or that I live well in spite of it. She knows my history, how I tease the “black dog,” too. She’s even asked me how I chase it away but hasn’t made any effort to do it. I’ve offered to guide her along the difficult road to accepting help, but she remains mired in the tar pits of psychological Hell. She is still stepping down into the hole, where the black dog sits, panting, waiting for her tears and misery like meat scraps.

This is where I must step aside, say goodbye. I will not follow her; I will not enable her need to manipulate just to save a friendship. I’ve been waiting for the reason to take her off my caller ID, block her email address, and delete her cell number from my phone. It’s a good time to step away; write that last letter, placing the keys to her apartment in it; and lick the envelope closed, wiping the taste of cloying, bitter glue from my tongue.

Bio: At one time, before blindness, Ann Chiappetta fed the muse with the visual arts. Now, she fulfills the muse with creating words. A featured writer for the Matilda Ziegler Magazine, Ann’s poetry has appeared in small press publications like Lucidity and Midwest Poetry Review, and her non fiction pieces have been featured in 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, and lives in NewRochelle, New York. To read more writing, visit Ann’s blog:

Nightmare, creative nonfiction
by Lillian Way

I was so exhausted that I fell into a deep sleep. I dreamed I was being chased by the empty cabinet that housed my first computer. No matter how fast or far I ran, it always caught up to me, breathless and weary as I was. I raced up and down hills, my heart pounding. It chugged right behind me, huffing and puffing just like a human.

Finally I tried sneaking away from it by hiking in a nearby forest; hurrying along first one path, then another; winding and twisting my way through briars and brambles and other kinds of rough, scratchy underbrush.

When I finally stopped to rest in a clearing beside a small brook, there it was, waiting for me.

“All right, let’s have it out, right here and now. I can’t take any more of this exertion. I’m too old for this kind of nonsense.”

“Fine with me,” my computer retorted. “Why did you kill me?”

“I didn’t kill you. I took you apart. I had to.”

“How come? Wasn’t I good to you?” It sat on a log across from the stump I parked my butt on. It wobbled and shook as if it were crying. It even began sniffling.

“Sometimes you worked perfectly fine. Most of the time, you played mean tricks on me. You were forever freezing up on me. Half the time you refused to obey my commands. You ignored my requests on a regular daily basis.”

“I only got to live for eight years. I wanted to perform for you. You had other ideas. You just plain outgrew me. Why couldn’t you give me a new home?”

“I wanted to pass you on to someone who needed a computer but couldn’t afford one. Only, nobody wanted one with a tiny hard drive. I couldn’t just give you to someone else to use for parts and allow them to gain access to my personal information.”

We both stood up, stretched, and started pacing up and down in annoyance and frustration.

“So, you decided the only thing you could do was to break open my case and yank out all my internal organs, even every screw. Have you any idea how painful that was for me?” The cabinet groaned in agony, as if it were being fatally tortured.

“I’m sorry for doing that but, yes, it was necessary for me to do that. it was the only option I had to protect my privacy.”

“Now it’s my turn to make you suffer. I’m going to rip off all your limbs and then cut you open and pull out all your insides.”

It ambled toward me. I grabbed a handful of big, long, heavy branches and attacked it. I dented it and stomped on it. It screamed like a banshee. I dug a hole in the ground and buried it.

“I’m very sorry I couldn’t convince you that what I did was appropriate. I suppose you’ll never understand. I can only hope you can finally rest in peace, here. Please don’t rise from the dead. I can’t stand living in fear of you trying to capture and murder me. After all, I’m a person. you’re just an inanimate object,” I said to it, as if it were a living, breathing person whose life I’d cut short.

I covered up its grave with as many huge rocks as I could drag from a cave I found a short distance away. They must have been there for someone’s campfire. Oh, well, I hoped that person wouldn’t want them back. This cabinet needed to remain buried at least for the rest of my life.

I awoke from this terrible nightmare, sweating like I’d just run a marathon. I was relieved to find myself in my bed, safe and sound, and still sleepy. I got up, washed off, returned to bed, and slept uninterrupted until the alarm woke me a few hours later.

Bio: Lillian Way is visually impaired. She resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and enjoys writing, watching television, reading books, and listening to music. She also enjoys collectables, ranging from knick-knacks, dolls and
music boxes to books, which are predominantly reference in nature. She likes the trivia from talk shows as well as factual information gathered from the many news broadcasts she records for her personal use.


Wild Language of Deer, poetry
by Susan Glass

When the deer enters my suburban house,
I throw down every myth I’ve ever read:
great stags in the Danish King’s Forest,
northern stars flickering in their antlers.
This doe’s bones are harder than the maple piano.
Her hooves, puncturing the oak dining room floor,
cut jagged Braille courses to the kitchen’s rim.
Her knees dispose of chairs;
her head, thrusting musky scented into the breakfast nook,
is like any face emerging
from a dream that bewilders,
that asks, “What is this place?”.

She is a poem that will not domesticate;
She crashes the kitchen garbage pail,
drags forth chunks of cantaloupe and water melon rind.
Her molars crush;
the munching resonates in the high-beamed ceiling.
She is the dark space under basement stairs.
She is the story I imagine I’m telling,
That balks suddenly, mid-sentence, mid-word,
demanding her head.

Turning from her feast,
she backs me against cupboards,
flicks trembling Romaine lettuce from my outstretched palm,
lunges for my fingers
as if they were toothpick, party hors d’oeuvres,
won’t take “no” for her answer.

And I’m thinking,
as I narrowly wriggle past her
and wedge myself in the window above the kitchen sink,
how those park rangers were right after all,
about not hand-feeding animals.
Whose bright idea was this anyway,
this welcoming wild language
into my home?

Mourning Dove, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner

Oh, soft grey-feathered mourning dove:
spirit of this weeping morning,
singer of heartbreak longing,
from whence comes your sweet lament?
How does your song put my heart to rest,
in this somber hazy dawning,
thickly brushed with shadow dew?
In my gloomy room, I sit alone
and listen to it nearly rain,
as teardrops fall from sodden leaves
to bathe earth and rocks below.
Why does your soft sadness
enfold my sagging shoulders
like mother’s lilting lullabies
that soothe my lonely soul
and turn my eyes toward gladness?
Enshrouded in your music shawl,
I succumb to sacred solitude.

Bio: Leonard Tuchyner has Stargardt’s disease which was first noticed in his teenaged years. He is now seventy-two. He reads through the media of Braille, recordings, and electronic voices produced by Open Books and Zoom Text. He lives with his wife of thirty-three years and their two dogs. He is active in the local writing community, which includes attending a poetry critique group and a broad-genre critique group. He facilitates a Writing for Healing and Growth group at the Charlottesville Senior Center. His hobbies include Tai chi, and gardening. Leonard is semi-retired and still has a small counseling practice.

The Fall, poetry
by Roselyn Perez

I like the way the leaves scurry after me–
Little leprechaun feet, I think–
as they stay just a step behind,
hopping merrily as they whisper conspiratorially with the wind.
I wish I could tell you about them,
make you smile and shake your head at my nonsense.
Instead, I watch my sister’s cat stalk them.
He doesn’t tolerate invisible little people.

I like that the wind has a voice;
I listen to it, but there seems to be no reason for its shouts.
Still, some part of my mind must recognize its language.
How else could its words move me to tears?

I like that the chilled air mingles with the warmth of the sun,
As if winter and summer love fall as much as I do:
A beginning,
an end,
an in-between.
Autumn makes me feel on the cusp
Of something good or something to fear–I don’t know yet.

I like that I met you before winter came,
In a time that’s neither here nor there.
You’ve forgotten me,
But I trail after you on little leprechaun feet.
You step past me,
not even sparing a glance.
You don’t tolerate ghosts.

Valerie, Holding On
October, 2012, poetry
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

We huddle under cotton quilting,
Hiding from the raging wind outside;
Jj rubs his soft cold kitty nose
Against my warm welcoming bosom.

The building shakes, but no one says leave;
Eleven levels is too far up;
The fridge and furnace are soon silent;
Don’t let the howler out there break in.

Generators light up the hallways,
Jj and I don’t really need them;
His eyes, like mine, are used to the dark;
We listen to stories of damage.

I eat from cold cans and pantry goods;
Apartment friends who dare drive the streets
Bring in hot coffee and soup, which helps;
Jj’s menu doesn’t change at all.

Once I had a girlfriend named Sandy,
She was gentle, helpful, and funny.
Why couldn’t they name such a mean storm
Shame or Savage or Sayonara!

Why is this late-season madness here?
Will it leave us whole when it moves on?
We try not to cry, not to panic;
Soft music soothes Jj–I need more.

The telephone is my frail ribbon
To friends in places warm, dry, and still–
But my daughter and baby nearby?
Lines are down, we can only worry.

They find a crack in my bedroom wall;
The clean-up people don’t share my shock;
They must see it everywhere they go;
I hate to think… If I’d heard that crack?

How well I know it pays to prepare;
When rain pelts windows and the wind screams,
Jj and I shiver and snuggle,
Push against remembered fear, and pray.

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

They’re Out for Blood, fiction
by Shawn Jacobson

“Have you ever taken drugs or money for sex?” Anna asked.

“No,” I responded.

“Have you ever lived with someone who has taken drugs or money for sex?” Anna continued, going to the next question on the blood donation interview list. I’d always hated this part of the process even more than actually giving blood. It wasn’t that the questions were hard, in fact, the answer was almost always “no,” it was just that this part of the process was uncomfortable, kind of like a relaxing evening with the Spanish inquisition.

“Have you ever had sex with a prostitute?” Anna continued with the screening.

“I wish,” I replied, thinking of some of the empty places in my personal experience.

“What?” she asked with an obvious note of disapproval.

“No,” I replied, “sorry about that, just a joke.”

“I’ll have you know this is serious. The blood supply must be kept free from AIDS and other diseases,” Anna continued. “Giving someone diseased blood would be like feeding them poison.”

“I’m sorry,” I replied sheepishly. “I’m sure you’re right.” We continued slogging through the form with Anna asking questions meant for people whose lives were more fun, or at least more interesting, than mine.

Finally, the game of fifty questions ended and Anna gave me the collection kit. “Just go out and wait on one of the chairs,” she said with a smile. She seemed to be over my comment. “They’ll be with you soon,” she added.

I thought how awkward her smile looked, like she had more teeth than her mouth knew what to do with. Yes, I thought, an awkward, but cute smile, in a kooky sort of way–that’s what Anna had.

As I sat down, I mused over how I had come to be here. I had not been planning on giving, until I had received the call.

“Did you know that we are in special need for blood over the Halloween season?” this perky sounding lady asked. “We have even scheduled evening hours for your convenience.”

We set up an appointment for Saturday evening at seven; I had nothing else going on at the time, a typical Saturday night for me. She gave me her thanks in one of those overly cheerful bubbly voices that telephone sales people seem gifted with.

And so I was here to donate. I’d entered the building and walked through the silent lobby, the thick carpet sucking the sound from my feet. I found myself whistling to fill the sonic void. Then there was the ride up in an otherwise empty elevator. Arriving at the top floor, I was enfolded in the antiseptic aroma of medical facilities. I had arrived. The tinted windows had brought night early to this place; the day was over.

I recognized the receptionist who gave me my number and my “what you should know when giving blood” folder, but the rest of the folk working the place were different. They weren’t the African and Indian people I remembered from previous appointments. Instead, they all seemed Eastern European, from places that used to be in the old Soviet empire but now had names I couldn’t, for the life of me, keep straight.

“Oh, that’s the night shift,” the receptionist explained as if reading my mind. “They’re kind of a tight-knit group–kind of like a family–blood relations. I guess you’ve never donated at night before.”

“No,” I replied, “I usually come in the morning.”

“Make sure you eat well after donating,” Anna said, drawing me back to the present as she gave me a donation bag.

“I think I’ll go to this place I like and have a steak and some garlic mashed potatoes,” I replied with the nervousness that I always felt before donating.

“Yuck!” she exclaimed. “I can’t stand that stuff; it makes me ill! I can’t understand how anyone can eat it. Oh well,” she continued with one of her toothy smiles, “there’s no accounting for taste.”

Just then, a woman wearing jeans stood up, leaving one of the donation chairs vacant.

“Next?” said a tall skinny man from across the room. I stood and walked to the recently vacated seat.

“Hi,” the skinny man said as I sat down. “My name is Vladimir, but my friends call me Vlad.” He smiled and I jumped out of my skin as red tipped fangs protruded from his mouth.

“Don’t worry,” he said, pulling off the fake fangs. “I just like to wear these around this time of year. It’s kind of in keeping with the season.”

“We like jokes too,” explained Anna as she walked to the receptionist’s desk for the next donor. She was a wisp of a girl, skinny to the point of being gaunt. I noticed her skin, almost ghostly white, but then, none of the people working the night shift looked like they’d seen the light of day.

I leaned back in the chair, though relaxation eluded me. “His name is really Vlad,” said the man at the chair across from me.”

“Is he really a vampire?” I quipped in an attempt to stave off the case of the creeps I was getting.

“You’ll find out soon,” Vlad said. “Anna, can you get me some more needles? I think I’m out.”

“Let me see,” she replied, rummaging around in a nearby cabinet while the next victim waited to be taken to an interview room. “People who become vampires get that way by giving blood to another vampire. So if you find yourself up all night thirsting for blood, then you’ll know for sure, won’t you?”

“And if I don’t?” I asked as Anna pulled a baggy with a needle out of a pocket. “Then that means you’re not a vampire?”

“It could mean that, or it could mean that you didn’t make the cut,” Vlad replied. “The army of the night does not take just anyone.”

As we discussed vampirism, a middle aged woman got out of the chair across from me and walked shakily to the canteen. A balding man in a Grateful Dead t-shirt took her place.

“It’s kind of like the Marines,” said the man working across from me, “they only want the few, the proud…”

“The bloody-minded,” I interjected, getting the creeps again. I was really wishing Vlad sounded less like the guy in those old monster movies, the ones dad used to watch back when I was young and prone to nightmares. As I reminisced, the man across from us asked the deadhead if he was allergic to iodine.

I’ve never had a lot of use for the vampire myth. It always struck me as something for peasants from the dark ages and lonely women who wanted a lover who ruled the night, not my bit at all. Yet that creepy voice of Vlad’s was really getting to me.

“Precisely,” Vlad said, preparing to stick me. “Vampires need to be bloody minded; it’s kind of a survival trait. Just relax,” Vlad continued, “This will only sting a little.”

I flinched as the needle bit into my arm. Most times it didn’t hurt, not much anyway, but this needle didn’t look normal. It looked like something that belonged in some medieval torturer’s bag of tricks, something alien to the modern world.

“Now, squeeze your hand every five seconds, then relax,” soothed Vlad as the blood began to flow. “Squeeze and relax. Keep squeezing, you’re doing great,” he continued. “Nothing like a little excitement to get the old blood pumping, don’t you agree?”

“IF you say so,” I replied. Usually, I could almost fall asleep in the big comfortable medical chairs provided for blood donors. I wasn’t relaxed this time.

Then, in what seemed record time, I was finished, and left for the canteen. The place was patrolled by someone dressed up like a zombie, or was it a ghoul, I could never tell the difference. The zombie/ghoul/whatever came over and handed me a bag of what looked like popcorn with red food dye.

“Try some blood corn,” he said. Then with a wink, “vampires love it,” he added as we walked past the waiting area.

Anna chuckled and I gave a nervous giggle. “Yes,” she said, “and we like jokes too.” I munched my blood corn, wondering if indeed vampires laughed.

I thought about Anna again as I was finishing supper that night. She was not the most attractive woman I had ever seen, but there was, well, just something about her, just something I had a hard time putting into words or coherent thought. Maybe it was what folks called chemistry.

In fact, a lot of what was happening that evening was odd–like the urge I had to stay up late instead of going to bed at my usual time. I guessed I would feel like living death when I helped at church tomorrow, but right then I didn’t care. There was my urge to go the long way from the donation center to the restaurant to revel in the cool night air and feel its edgy chill as long as possible.

“Is there something wrong with the potatoes?” asked the waiter as he picked up my mostly empty plate. “You’ve barely touched them.”

“I guess the garlic isn’t agreeing with me tonight,” I replied. “That’s all right. Go ahead and take them away.”

That was strange, I usually liked garlic in potatoes, but maybe my tastes were changing. That happened every once in a while. The steak though, that had been a revelation. I’d ordered it rare for a change and had gulped down the bloody piece of meat like something wild, like my inner beast was coming out to play. Well, maybe my body was telling me that I needed protein.

“Just give me the check,” I told the waiter as I finished my drink. I felt a twinge in my jaw, like my teeth didn’t quite fit right. Oh well, I’d go see the dentist about it if it persisted.

I grabbed the check when the waiter brought it, and quickly glanced at the bill. “Looks good,” I said as I stuck some bills in the folder. “Keep the change.”

I rose, feeling my body stretch. It was time to find my destiny in the night.

Cellar, fiction
by Susan Muhlenbeck

“Trick or treat!” the twins said together for about the hundredth time that Halloween night. It was almost 9:00 PM, and Jesse and James, along with their mother, had been trick or treating for the past three hours. The 6-year-old twins showed no signs of growing tired, but Dorothy Tanner was ready to call it a night.

“This will be our last house,” she told the boys before they rang the bell of the little yellow house at 33 Spruce Street. Their bags were almost full anyway.

“Hello, my dears,” an elderly lady said a moment later. “Come on in and get some treats.” She was wearing a nurse’s uniform. “I’m a retired nurse,” she explained, ushering them into the living room. “I figured I can wear my old uniform on Halloween.
You boys look darling in those pirate costumes. I’m Mrs. Wicker by the way.”

“You have a nice house,” Jesse said politely.

“Thank you, sweetie,” the old lady said smiling. “I think you boys will be my last customers. I have a lot of candy left over. You can take it all home.”

Mrs. Tanner started to protest, thinking the boys did not need any more candy, but their cries of joy drowned out her words.

“I’ll be back in a moment,” Mrs. Wicker said as she disappeared down the hall.

The moment stretched into five, and then ten. “What’s taking her so long?” James asked anxiously.

“Maybe she forgot,” Jesse shrugged.

“We better get going,” their mother said, pulling the boys to their feet. “It’s past your bedtime, and you do have school tomorrow.”

Before the boys could reply, they heard a scratching on the screen door. Then there was a loud meowing.

“Her cat wants to get in,” Mrs. Tanner said as she led the boys back to the front door. She opened the screen door, and a big black cat darted past them and ran down the hall.

“That’s a cool cat,” James announced, chasing it down the hall.

“James, come back. We’re leaving,” his mother called after him.

“Wait, she wants to go through this door,” James called from down the hall. “Look!”

With a great sigh, Mrs. Tanner followed Jesse down the hall as he went to catch up with his brother.

The cat was scratching at a door in the kitchen. It threw itself against the wooden door, frantically hissing and yowling.

“What’s wrong with the cat?” Jesse asked nervously. “Why is she acting like that?”

“She wants something behind the door,” his mother said cautiously. “I wonder where Mrs. Wicker went. It’s been almost twenty minutes.”

Without further ado, James pulled open the wooden door and watched as the cat bounded down a set of cement steps. “Let’s go down,” he said, clambering down the stairs as fast as his little legs would carry him.

“No, James, come back!” Mrs. Tanner shouted.

“I want to go too,” Jesse said, running down the stairs.

“Boys, get back here right now,” Mrs. Tanner shouted. “I’m not going to tell you again.”

“Mom, come quick!” James shouted from the recesses of the cellar.

Anger turned to fear as Mrs. Tanner ran down the cellar stairs. What had the boys found down there? Thoughts of rotting corpses and drug labs invaded her mind as she crossed the floor. She let out a cry of anguish as she approached her frightened children. They were staring at an old lady bound and gagged to a wooden kitchen chair in the corner of the room by the furnace.

“It’s Mrs. Wicker,” Jesse shrieked in terror. “Is she-“

“Be quiet, Jesse,” Mrs. Tanner snapped as she knelt by the old lady. “She’ll be all right.”

“But how did she get here so fast?” Jesse demanded. “We just saw her.”

Ignoring their questions, Mrs. Tanner pulled out her cell phone and dialed 911. She told the dispatcher only that the owner of the house was bound and gagged in the cellar. She hung up without answering any questions.

“The police are on the way,” she told Mrs. Wicker as she untied the bandana that was used for a gag. For the first time she noticed what Mrs. Wicker was wearing. She stared in astonishment at the blue house dress instead of the nurse’s uniform the old lady had on. “Can you tell me what happened?” she asked softly. She pulled at the duct tape fastening Mrs. Wicker’s hands to the arms of the chair.

“This afternoon I was baking brownies for the Halloween party at my church,” Mrs. Wicker began tearfully.

“I want to help,” James said, picking at the end of the tape that fastened one of Mrs. Wicker’s ankles to the chair leg.

“Me too,” Jesse agreed, picking at the tape around her other ankle.

“I left the front door open and just had the screen door closed,” Mrs. Wicker continued. “Next thing I knew, two young men grabbed me and dragged me into the cellar. They tied me to the chair and left me here. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t found me. Those boys must have been disappointed. I have nothing in the house worth taking.”

“Can you walk upstairs if we help you?” Mrs. Tanner asked, pulling away the last of the tape.

“Yes, I think I can,” Mrs. Wicker said uncertainly.

The Tanners walked slowly, holding Mrs. Wicker tightly as they walked up the cellar stairs. They sat her on the couch they had occupied just a few minutes before.

“How did you find me?” Mrs. Wicker asked. “I don’t believe we met before.”

Mrs. Tanner searched for something to say. “We were trick or treating,” James began.

“You told us to come in and get some treats,” Jesse added. “You were wearing your nurse clothes.”

Mrs. Wicker looked startled. “That’s interesting. I was a nurse until I retired five years ago.”

“Your cat scratched the cellar door,” James continued. “Where did she go?” he asked looking around the living room.

“My cat?” Mrs. Wicker asked confused.

“A big black cat,” Jesse said, spreading his hands. “She’s really cool.”

Mrs. Wicker turned pale. “How interesting,” she said hoarsely. “I did have a big black cat called Tammica, but she died a couple years ago from liver cancer.”

“Maybe it was a neighbor’s cat,” James said dismissively.

“Or a stray,” Jesse chimed in. “She was scratching the screen door because she wanted to get in. We thought she was yours.”

“That’s enough, boys,” Mrs. Tanner said firmly. “Can I get you a glass of water?” she asked Mrs. Wicker to hide her own confusion.

“Please,” Mrs. Wicker whispered. “I’m afraid I don’t understand what just happened.”

Mrs. Tanner walked into the kitchen on shaking legs, trying to make sense of the situation. She noticed a pan of brownies on the stove and a bowl of batter on the table. Mrs. Wicker had been standing right here when the thugs had accosted her, and she had sat tied up in the cellar all afternoon and evening, wearing her blue house dress. Yet she had answered the door less than an hour ago in her old nurse’s uniform and invited them inside. Her black cat had died a couple years ago, but a black cat had insisted on coming into the house and down to the cellar, and then that cat had disappeared. How was that possible? She didn’t know. She rummaged in the cupboard for a glass and filled it with water and ice.

“Thank you, my dear,” Mrs. Wicker said, swiftly draining the glass.

“I don’t understand what happened either,” Mrs. Tanner said softly. “How could you have answered the door if you were in the cellar? And how did the cat know you were there?”

“I have been thinking about that,” Mrs. Wicker said slowly. “Don’t forget what day it is, dear. Some people think there is a very fine line between this world and the spirit world on Halloween. Maybe this is a case of the two worlds converging.”

Mrs. Tanner gaped. “I…I don’t believe it,” she whispered.

“I know that was my cat you saw,” Mrs. Wicker continued as if Mrs. Tanner hadn’t spoken. “I feel it in my bones. She came to save me.”

Mrs. Tanner decided to play along. She could not offer a better explanation. “What should we tell the police?” she asked nervously. “They should be here any time.”

Before Mrs. Wicker could reply, there was a loud knock on the screen door. “Police!” the twins shouted excitedly, running to open the door.

Two young policemen walked purposefully into the living room. “We got a report that an old lady was tied up in the cellar,” the tall, red-headed officer stated. “Can you tell us what happened here?”

“We were trick or treating,” James began.

His mother silenced him with a wave of her hand. “I took the boys trick or treating,” she said quickly. “A black cat was scratching at the screen door when we got here. “We opened the door to let her in. She ran to the cellar door and started scratching at it, and the boys opened the cellar door and followed her downstairs. They found Mrs. Wicker tied up downstairs.”

“I was baking brownies this afternoon when two young men snuck up behind me and dragged me into the cellar,” Mrs. Wicker added. “I couldn’t see their faces because they were wearing masks, and they had on gloves. The screen door was unlocked, and I had the front door open.”

The policemen exchanged looks. “That was mighty bold of the boys, breaking into somebody’s house in broad daylight,” one of them said.

“So your cat alerted them?” his partner asked.

“My cat died a couple years ago. It must have been somebody else’s cat, but she’s gone now.”

“Is anything missing?” the first policeman asked.

“I don’t know. I doubt it. I don’t own anything valuable.”

“Not much to go on,” the other officer murmured. “No forced entry, no fingerprints, and you can’t give a good description. I’ll write a report, but I’m afraid it will be difficult to catch them without more clues.”

“Keep your door locked from now on,” his partner ordered. “If you see them hanging around, or find anything missing, call the station.” He handed her his card. “Are you all right? Do you need to go to the hospital?”

“No, I just need to get some sleep and calm down.”

“Can we do anything else to help you?” Mrs. Tanner asked as everybody prepared to leave.

“No, thank you, dear. Well, take the brownies. It’s the least I can do.”

The boys ran into the kitchen to retrieve the pan of brownies from the top of the stove. Mrs. Tanner followed them, thinking that this whole incident must be a dream. We’ll all wake up in our beds soon, and none of this will have happened, she told herself as she covered the pan of brownies with aluminum foil. Her eyes settled on the cellar door. This was no dream, she thought with a shudder as she stared at the scratches in the wood. Those scratches were all the proof she needed that they had not been dreaming.

Her cell phone rang. “Is everything all right?” Jerry Tanner asked anxiously. “I thought you all would have been home by now. What’s up?”

“You’re not going to believe it, honey,” Mrs. Tanner said with a little laugh. “We’ll be home in a few minutes. We’ll put the kids to bed, and then I’ll tell you all about it, but you have to keep an open mind, okay?”

“No problem, open minds are my specialty,” Jerry Tanner said cheerfully. “Can’t wait to hear about this. See you in a few.”

Author’s Note: I really did have a black cat called Tammica, who died of liver cancer in 2010. I incorporated her into several stories, and wrote a special poem about her shortly after I got her on Halloween night of 1997. She visits me once in a while, to let me know that she is still around and has not forgotten about me.

The Explosion, memoir
by Ernest Jones

I was sitting in our front room enjoying a rerun of “I Love Lucy.” The weather was mild, so I had the door open and had allowed the fire in the heater to burn out. I was alone, the sole occupant in the old house with the whole day to myself. Actually, I had four days to myself since my dad, stepmother, and younger siblings had gone on a trip, leaving me home to do the twice-daily chores of feeding and milking the cow, feeding the chickens, and gathering the eggs. At age fourteen, I didn’t mind being alone, and at least I wasn’t getting in trouble with my stepmother. Though the main north/south highway between Canada and Mexico–then called the Old 99 Highway–went right past the front of our house, even it was silent while I relaxed and found comfort in the old black and white TV comedy.

BOOM! The blast shook me! I shot out of the house as if I’d been shot out of a cannon. I ran about 50 feet before stopping and looking back at the house, not sure what I was expecting to see. But once again, everything was silent except for a soft whisper through the fir trees beside our house and those bothersome Brewer Blackbirds. But even the Brewer Blackbirds didn’t bother me as I waited to see if anything else would erupt.

With silence reigning, I slowly crept back to the house, stopping every few feet to listen. Slowly I stepped up on the porch and poked my head through the front door–it was so quiet.

What was that aroma? It was a sweet rooty smell, sort of like something I should know but could not identify. Then I heard a little trickle as if water was running ,but how could water be running in the front room? I crept in, and the aroma increased, filling my nostrils with the delicious fragrance. Looking at the TV, I was glad to find it was still on. That was a big relief because I knew I’d be in big trouble with my stepmother if I broke that old set.

Walking slowly, I allowed my eyes to survey the whole room. There it was. I found the remains of a quart pop bottle lying partly on the floor and partly on the fireplace mantle, still dripping a dark liquid. Relief filled me as I moved forward. I knew I’d have to be very careful to avoid another explosion.

Carefully I began to move the remaining quart pop bottles as I tried to wipe up the mess, which covered several feet of the front room floor and the whole fireplace mantel top. One by one, I gingerly moved each bottle as I continued to clean. When I was sure I couldn’t clean any more, I replaced the remaining nineteen bottles, lying them on their sides just like my dad had left them.

Several days ago, my dad had made up five gallons of root beer, and placed the bottles on the mantel where the room’s warmth would help them ferment into the delicious root beer we loved. One of the bottles had exploded, the pressure growing too extreme, and the bottle evidently too weak. I kept an ear out for more explosions until the folks returned.

Tiny Turkey’s White House Thanksgiving, fiction
by Rhonda T. Spear

Editor’s Note: This story, for all the young at heart, would be a delightful addition to an illustrated holiday storybook.

Life as a turkey isn’t as easy as a person might think. Turkeys have it rough–we usually don’t live very long. Our main concern is ending up on someone’s dinner table at holiday meal time. Some turkeys think it’s a big honor to be a holiday turkey; they don’t mind being served up as a tasty feast.

If you’re a pet turkey, things are much different. You’re spoiled, and get whatever you want. I guess you’re wondering how I know all this. I’m a pet turkey–an important pet turkey. Let me tell you the story of how I came to be where I am.

In early spring a farmer came in the barn to check his setting hens and gather eggs. Some new baby turkeys were already hatched. The farmer noticed an egg not being kept warm because it had rolled out of the nest. He put it under a hen with some other eggs and waited to see what would happen.

The egg finally hatched, and out came the tiniest turkey anyone had ever seen. I barely fit in the palm of his hand. The farmer laughed. “This turkey won’t bring much to the dinner table when he grows up,” he thought.

None of the hens would take care of me. I didn’t get much to eat. The farm animals laughed and made fun of me.

One of the older hens finally took me under her wing. She didn’t lay eggs anymore, and she missed raising young babies. Mama Hen knew how to look after me. She made sure no one laughed at me.

Days went by with Mama Hen taking care of me, making sure I got enough to eat and pecking the other birds if they tried to keep me away from the food. I was taught everything it takes to be a turkey. I learned how to gobble, strut and spread my feathers in a fan–everything a Tom turkey needs to know.

Under Mama Hen’s care, I grew and got stronger, becoming a full-grown turkey even though I was half the size of turkeys my age. Most of the other birds were much heavier.

During the spring and summer, when the weather was warm, I ran and played in the yard with the other birds. They still laughed at me when Mama Hen wasn’t around, but of course they couldn’t run as fast as I could because they were heavier. Farm turkeys don’t fly like wild turkeys; they get their exercise by running and spreading their wings. We stayed in a fenced yard during the day, and went to the barn at night.

When autumn arrived, the farmer gave the turkeys more food. I wondered why he did that, and I soon found out. He wanted to make us fat so we would bring more money when we were sold at market. One of this farmer’s crops was his birds, and he made a good living. People want a plump bird for their holiday feast, so he began looking us over to see which ones would make good selections for Thanksgiving and Christmas. He wanted the fattest ones, the ones with the prettiest feathers–anything to appeal to the buyers.

Thanksgiving was drawing near. All the turkeys were excited because they knew what an honor it was to be chosen as a holiday bird. The farmer knew that this year his turkeys looked especially tempting, except for me. He knew I wouldn’t be sold at market. I had short legs, white feathers, and weighed only eight pounds. I was just three feet long from head to tail, and I didn’t have a broad chest like the other male turkeys.

Knowing what I know now, I’m not sure it’s such a great honor to be chosen as a holiday bird. I overheard some comments the farmer made about different ways of roasting and stuffing which didn’t sound good. I don’t think the other turkeys knew what lay ahead. They were fatter and prettier; they would be chosen, and I wouldn’t. That was all that mattered. They wouldn’t have believed me if I’d told them what I’d heard.

Tomorrow was the day of inspection. The turkeys wanted to look their best. They groomed their feathers, practiced gobbling, strutting and fanning their tail feathers, making sure everything was just right. I was sad because I knew I wouldn’t be chosen, and because the other turkeys laughed at me.

“You’re not big enough to be a holiday bird. There isn’t enough meat for people to have a good dinner. If anyone stuffed you, there’d be more stuffing than turkey,” they told me cruelly. That was disappointing news and hard to swallow. I wanted to be like the other turkeys. My less than plump size made that impossible. Who would want me? What could I do to be noticed?

The day of inspection finally came. The farmer gathered the turkeys in the barnyard. In the haste to gather the best birds, I was forgotten. I didn’t see any need to go. I knew no one would want me.

“Run along now,” said Mama Hen. “You should be in line with the rest.”

“Why should I go? I won’t be seen because they will be looking at the larger birds.”

“You’ll never know unless you go. Give me a kiss in case you’re chosen because you won’t have time to come back.” I hadn’t thought of that. Not see Mama Hen or the barn yard where I grew up again? It would be hard to leave that behind for a strange place. I hesitated, not sure what to do.

“Go!” Mama Hen said firmly. “This is what I raised you for. If you come back, fine. If you go, my work will be finished.”

I kissed her, and reluctantly went to stand at the end of the line with my head down. It was too late. The committee had already made their choices. I tried to slip away, but one of the committee members saw me.

“Hey! Look at that little turkey! He’s perfect, exactly what we need! We’ll take him too.” The farmer couldn’t believe it and neither could I. Did they mean me? What could they want with a turkey my size? The farmer asked why they wanted me.

“He’s perfect for the parade.”

“What parade?” the farmer asked.

“The parade every year up in Washington, D.C. The President has a big parade each year and grants a pardon to the National Turkey. This dainty sized Gobbler might be just what we need,” a committee member explained.

They packed me up in a cage. How exciting to be going to a parade and what fun it was going to be! I couldn’t believe the committee picked me. It was a good thing I wasn’t as big as the other turkeys; that’s why I got picked. Any other time I was overlooked because of my size. This time being small paid off!

The day of the parade was busy. Everyone hurried to complete preparations. I was excited and nervous–worried I’d be forgotten. It would be easy to miss me in this bustle. Finally, someone came and I was put in a basket which was given to a little girl. I didn’t know who she was, but later I found out this little girl is the President’s daughter. She would hold the basket with me in the parade. I looked around, loving what I saw as we rode on a big float. I saw balloons and other floats like the one we rode on. There were bands playing music, and a lot of people cheering when we rode along the streets of Washington, D.C. I stood up, feathers fanned, and gobbling loud enough for the people to hear. The President’s daughter petted me and smiled at the crowd. The parade was over all too soon. What would happen now I wondered?

“Oh, Daddy!” cried the President’s daughter. “Can I keep this turkey? He’s so cute, and he would make a neat pet.” The President couldn’t resist his daughter, and he knew I was a unique turkey.

“Of course you can keep him. He will make a good pet for you and it will be a different addition to the White House,” the President said looking at his daughter’s happy face, and me in the basket.

A large group of people went to the White House after the parade to watch the pardoning ceremony. Each year before Thanksgiving, the President pardons a turkey in the White House Rose Garden, making him the National Turkey. Once pardoned, the turkey goes to live on a petting farm. I ran around having lots of fun. Another bird was there looking at me, wondering why I was acting undignified.

The President made his speech. “We have two special turkeys this year,” he began, “one is to be given a presidential pardon so he can go to live on a petting farm and never worry about being eaten. The other is a National turkey as well. He will stay here at the White House and live with us. My daughter has decided to make him a pet.” Pointing at each of us, he said, “This turkey I pardon, and this one is a National Pet.” I was happy. Mama Hen had been right after all. If I’d stayed in the barn I would not have been chosen for this special day. How I wished she could see me. I know she’d be proud of me. Her chick, probably the last she’d ever raise, had gone off to be in a national parade, and now he was a national turkey. Somehow she’d known I would be something special. Now the world would know it too!

After the pardoning ceremony, the feasting began. The table was set for a large number of guests. Spirits were light and food plentiful. I sat in my basket, beside the President’s daughter during dinner. I looked around at all the people. This is a long way from the farm where I was born. I showed the other animals I was good for something, and my size didn’t matter after all. Nothing will happen to me as long as I am the First Pet.

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.

Storm Born, fiction
by Ellen Fritz

The African night blanketed the stable block in warm, brooding darkness. Wrapped in her world of discomfort, the heavily pregnant mare paced her stall restlessly. On the southwestern horizon lightning flashed in the darkness of an oncoming storm. In the stall adjoining the spacious foaling stall, Hazy, a roan mare, looked worriedly at her friend of five years.

“Do you think Moya will foal tonight?” She asked Patches, the Tortoiseshell cat sitting on the wall that divided the stalls. Patches stretched luxuriously and swiped her paw across her face in a pensive gesture.

“Definitely tonight,” Patches said, “and it’s no good calling the people. The old man believes that horses should be left to get on with it in peace and quiet and Francis simply doesn’t care.”

“So old fashioned and uncool,” murmured Zenith, a thoroughbred mare and most recent addition to the stable, from across the aisle.

“But, um, hello? Moya can’t be left to foal alone. She must have help, all of you know she has cancer and she’s weak, she must have help, must have, must have!” squawked a voice from under Hazy’s manger. Patches glared at the bantam hen as though she might be contemplating the possibility of chicken for Christmas dinner.

“I’m right here,” said the almost pure white mare looking at Hazy and Patches over the wall, “I’m going to foal tonight but I’ll be fine…like I’ve been with my previous two foals.”

“But-but-but…” clucked the hen, still safely under Hazy’s manger.

“I tell you I’ll be fine…or…at least my baby will be.” Silence descended as nobody knew what to say to that.

Then they heard the familiar sound of Cindy, the border collie, her nails clicking on the concrete of the center aisle. “All fine here?” asked the dog ever the dutiful guardian.

“Moya’s about to foal.” said Hazy and nodded at Patches who, taking her cue, jumped from the wall to the manger and into the aisle. She started off and Cindy followed.

“Everybody seems to think that Moya is too sick and weak to foal on her own. Will the people help?” Cindy sighed.

“I’m afraid not. Grandpa might have, but he’s had a minor stroke and has just been taken to the hospital. The others are trying to finish the barbecue before that big storm hits, then they’ll open Christmas presents and then they’ll go to bed and sleep until noon. Such a pity Maxie is overseas competing.”

“They should have aborted that foal the moment they realized Tabasco had jumped the fence or they should have euthanized Moya or something!” Patches raged.

Maxie would never take an innocent life…” A loud rumble of thunder cut Cindy off. A wild gust of wind blew into the barn door and whirled bits of straw into their faces.

“Got to do my rounds!” shouted Cindy over the roar of the wind and the next, louder rumble of thunder. Patches sauntered back to Hazy’s stall and settled on the manger.

With that unique ability that mares have to delay their own labor, Moya had held out until now. Now that the brood mare stable complex was silent and the approaching storm was a roaring menace in the west however, she, in her weakened state, could not hold out any longer. She circled her stall, lay down, got up, groaned and sweated while Hazy and Patches and the eyes of several other mares watched her in quiet concern.

Midnight was upon them when the storm hit. Lightning flashed, thunder cracked, rolled and boomed and the wind drove curtains of rain and hail before it.

The mares closest to the open barn door cringed to the back most corners of their stalls. On one severe gust of rain and wind driven hail, something small and white was tossed clear across the first stalls and into Moya’s manger, where it lay, stunned, while the mare panted and labored in a semi-sitting position. She crashed onto her side, heaving and straining, while the little ball of wet feathers in the manger stirred and tried to move its battered wings.

“Hmmm,” said Patches, licking her lips delicately, “look what the storm blew in!”

“Oh, leave it alone, Patches. It’s probably someone’s pet cage bird,” snapped Hazy, who was looking at Moya’s sweat-darkened, tortured body with large, worried eyes.

“Cage bird?” tweeted a miraculously recovered bird indignantly, “I’m a sparrow, an albino sparrow perhaps, but still a sparrow!”

“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father,” said Cindy, her fore paws on Moya’s stable door.

“Cindy quoting the Bible at us? Things must be dire indeed,” mumbled Patches. “The storm ripped a shed roof off, the hail is as big as bantam eggs, the power is out and it doesn’t look like either Moya or the foal will survive this. Can it get any worse?”

“But the very hairs of your head are all numbered,” chirped the sparrow, “Moya, your name is the Zulu word for storm. It would be wrong for you or your son to perish on this blessed, if rather stormy, night.”

Dumbfounded, the animals watched as the now dry white bird hopped off the manger and perched on Moya’s distended belly. The mare gave a groan, tried to rise, groaned again and then, with a mighty heave, something dark and glistening wet slid out onto the straw behind her. It wriggled, lifted its head and snorted wetly. The sparrow flitted to the foal’s head and touched it ever so gently with the side of its wing. Then it hopped back onto the manger and started pecking at the mare’s uneaten food.

In the house Francis Grant was about to tear his own hair out. The power was out, hail was flying uninhibited through broken windows. His fastidious city friends were thoroughly fed up with the weather, his Christmas eve party and their own discomfort. They waited impatiently by the light of a few candles for the storm to pass so they could drive back to their comfortable city homes. An hour ago he had gotten the idea that the collie was trying to alert him to something that was probably amiss outside but, as he had little interest or love for animals, he had ignored her. If something was wrong, well, it would serve his sister, Maxine, right for going off to compete in horse shows and spending Christmas with their parents in America.

“Come see! Come see, there’s a baby in the stable!” called a young girl from the kitchen door.

“Sorry, Frankie, Ashley always has her head in the clouds.” The girl’s embarrassed stepmother explained. “Living with her church-going grandmother in America, she’s used to white Christmases and the whole baby Jesus in the manger thing.”

“No need to be nasty, Sandra,” said the blond little girl who had joined them and overheard her stepmother’s unkind comment, “and, its like a real white Christmas anyway. Hello? Did you even see the hail outside? Oh, and there is this really cute little foal in the barn out back, and I think he has just been born. Come see if you don’t believe me!”

At that moment the tune of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” started to play and all the guests fell quiet while Ashley fished in her pocket for her cell phone.

“Hey, Gran! Guess what? There’s a baby in the stable here…no…a baby horse! Isn’t that so cool?”

Two months later, Maxie, her grandfather and the vet stood in the warm late summer sun watching the mare and foal in the pasture.

“That mare had terminal cancer,” the vet repeated in awe, “now she is clear, not a trace left, and we didn’t even treat her because of the pregnancy. It defies explanation.”

Once again Maxie blinked away tears. “Did you see the odd shape of the white spot on the foal’s forehead?” she asked.

“It looks a bit like a miniature of a half opened bird’s wing,” commented her grandfather with a smile.

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 freelance animal trainer, and does book reviews when she is not busy writing. Email:

Blue Christmas, fiction
by Shawn Jacobson

I looked out the window at the blue snow. It wasn’t royal blue or cornflower blue, but it was a light blue, baby blue or robin’s egg blue. It was just blue enough to be really strange.

“Wow!” exclaimed Timmy. “I’ve never seen that before.”

“So it worked. We were hoping it would,” proclaimed Uncle Bob. “We’ve been working at the lab for a long time on this new additive. Now, we can have snow even when it’s 50 degrees out. You know what they say, better living through chemistry.”

“ah! So we have doctor Bobinstein to thank for this. I should have known,” sneered Uncle Fred. “Did you test this in the lab first, or are we your helpless guinea pigs? But wait, don’t answer, the inexorable march of science is too important to be held up by anything as old fashioned as caution.”

“Yep, you’re the kind of guinea pigs who dig all the good things our lab comes up with but like to gripe about us all the time, or would you not like to have the heart meds that keep you from keeling over with a heart attack?” Bob asked. “I guess you forget, our lab did the original work on your heart pills. Maybe if you were as helpless as you whine about being, we would have cured cancer by now.”

“Hey, Joe,” Timmy asked, “can you take me around the block? I brought the ski attachments for my wheelchair.”

“You know what,” Mom said, “That would be a good thing. It would get you out some. You get Timmy out of the chair, and Dad and I will put the skis on. It’s a good thing your dad ordered your chair from a Swedish company; they still have winter up there.”

“Sure, Mom,” I said. “I can’t wait to see how this stuff feels.”

“Enjoy it, Joe,” Uncle Bob said jovially, “it’s the snow of the future.”

“Brought to you by the same people who brought you global warming, the ozone hole, and mutant corn rot,” snorted Uncle Fred.

Outside, the blue snow fell in big fluffy flakes. It felt a bit strange, a little too puffy, and it tasted funny when it melted on the tongue, but it was fun to play in, and it made awesome snowballs. “How do you like your ride, Teddy Bear?” I asked, and yes, I was teasing him.

“Don’t call me that,” yelled Timmy. “I don’t mooch rides from truckers like that brat in that dino country song your dad has. And I don’t act whiny like that kid either.”

“What the dickens do you want me to call you then, Tiny Tim?” I retorted. “It would be the right time of year for that.”

“Ah man,” sighed Timmy, “all I want to be is Timmy, your friend, not the little crippled boy who inspires people every time he goes to school or something, just a normal kid.” After a while, Timmy cooled down and said, “OK, the CB thing was about dodging cops so you could break the speed limit, so that’s cool in a way. But really, that song was just too Barney dino.”

I pushed the ski chair past the houses with the Christmas lights, past the elaborately decorated house of the old guy on the corner, past the house with the refugee family from New Orleans, past Mayor Kenneth’s house with the new holographic Christmas tree. Finally, we got back home. “Ugh!” I exclaimed.

Mom was almost ready with Christmas supper. In the living room, Dad was putting Timmy’s gifts under the tree. Meanwhile, Uncle Bob and Uncle Fred were going at it like two roosters in a chicken coop that was too small.

“That’s right, I remember your friend Bill. He was the one who said Obama was going to save the world from global warming. He sure was right, wasn’t he?” said Uncle Bob.

“Well, you said that Obama was a closet terrorist, so you weren’t that smart either,” rejoined Uncle Fred. “He would have been an excellent president if you right-wing loonies hadn’t fought him every step of the way.”

“That’s right,” Uncle Bob growled. “Right-wing loonies kept Obama….”

“Dinner’s on!” Mom shouted above the fray.

“What are we having?” asked Timmy.

“Probably that mutant squirrel variant that’s supposed to taste like turkey,” Fred groaned.

“If you eco freaks had let us treat the mutant bird flue instead of raising a big old stink about it, maybe the turkeys would not have died off,” said Uncle Bob with exasperation. “Of course, if you don’t want any you can go out in the yard and eat bark off the trees.”

“I survived the four years of dorm food,” snorted Uncle Fred. “I’m sure I can handle anything you mad scientist types can dish out.” Dinner would require lots of intestinal fortitude.

The squirrel was kind of strange, but it was good in its way, and the uncles declared a cease-fire in their argument.

“Gee!” exclaimed Mom, “it’s really coming down out there. Has anyone heard the weather forecast?”

Dad turned on the internet browser in his wristwatch. After a while he said, “We’re supposed to get two feet out of this storm, more cold air is moving down from Canada than was expected and the storm coming up from Oklahoma is stronger than forecast. Oh. And they’ve just closed the highway to Ames and told everyone to stay off the streets.”

“Better blizzards through chemistry,” jeered Uncle Fred.

“Ah! Wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t gotten a weather forecast from Al Gore,” replied Uncle Bob. “Maybe we aren’t that globally warm after all.”

We were just getting the dishes to the sink when Aunt Helen asked, “Has anyone seen Fred’s pills? He really can’t go more than twelve hours without his dose.” Everyone looked all over the house, but no one could find them.

Then Fred said, “I know, I left them at home. I was going to get them, but I forgot.”

“How are we going to get them back?” asked Aunt Helen frantically. “We just heard that all the roads are closed!”

Then Dad came up with an idea. “Timmy, does your wheelchair still have its skis on?”

“Sure!” said Timmy. “Do you want Joe here to push me to Uncle Fred’s house to get the pills?”

“Could you, son?” Dad asked.

“All right,” I heard myself say as I put on my coat. “I’ll do it.”

We went out the door into the deepening snow. Now it was coming down hard.

“Let’s go down F Street and through the park, it’s shorter that way,” I said.

“Sure, good buddy,” Timmy said, “that’s a big ten four.”

“You asking for it,” I said.

Then Timmy asked, “Who was Al Gore anyway?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “Just some dead guy.”

“Hey,” asked Timmy, “Why is it that when us kids argue and call each other names our parents spank us or send us to bed without our suppers, but when adults argue and call each other names everyone else just shrugs it off?”

“Well,” I said, “No one spanks you because you’re a cripple.”

“You know what I mean,” Timmy replied. “They say nasty things about each other and no one does anything about it.”

“I have absolutely no idea,” I replied with a shrug, “maybe it’s because no one is big enough to spank them.”

We continued through the playground. The merry-go-round was almost totally buried in snow. Swings, monkey bars, and a slide loomed as ghostly shapes in the bluish gloom. We almost stumbled over a set of obstacle course tires hidden by the drifting snow, but avoided them just in time. Then, as we were leaving the park, I bumped in to something.

“Ouch!” I yelped. “That hurt! What was that?”

I looked down at my hand and exclaimed, “That’s barbed wire.”

“Oh, now I remember,” said Timmy. “My dad was telling me the other day that some of the paint on the playground equipment would give us cancer if we ate it, so the town council voted to fence off the playground until it could be repainted. I guess they got the fencing half done before the snow fell. I guess getting your hands ripped up isn’t as bad as cancer. Go figure.”

I tried to lift his wheelchair over the fence, but it was no use. Besides, I wasn’t going to be able to get over the fence either.

“Oh nuts! I guess we’ll just have to go around,” Timmy said.

“What are you complaining about?” I asked. “All you have to do is sit there. I’m the one who has to slog through this stuff.”

Just then a big voice boomed, “Is there anything my robot can help you with?”

“Hey, Ben!” shouted Timmy. “Do you think you can lift us over the fence? We seem to be snagged.”

“I’m sure Herk here can handle that,” said Ben, lowering a large robotic hand over the fence. “Wheel her on in,” he said.

So I shoved his wheelchair onto the hand, and the giant robot lifted him over the fence. “It’s your turn, Joe, climb on board.”

I got on and rode over the fence. It wasn’t smooth, the robot (kind of a walking junk pile) jerked and stuttered as it moved. My stomach started to act squirrely as supper tried to escape, but I finally got to the other side of the fence and back onto the snow. Ben said, “I’d give you a ride, but I’m still teaching Herk to walk and carry at the same time.”

“That’s fine,” I said with relief. “We can make it from here.”

“Ben is the president of the Hawkeye alumni robotics club,” said Timmy. I guessed that explained the absurd black and yellow bird’s head on top of the contraption. “Ben doesn’t get that it’s cyclone country, otherwise he’s a really smart guy.”

After another block of trudging through the deepening snow, we got to Uncle Fred’s house. While opening the door, I turned on the pill finder. I’m told the new ones actually talk, but Fred’s older model merely beeped.

“I guess we’ll have to use the old hot or cold method,” I told Timmy. “You wait here while I go up the stairs to see if Fred left the pills in the bedroom.”

I climbed up, but after three steps, I could tell the pills were not upstairs. I came back down and we started looking through the living room, cold. We tried the den, cold. We tried the bathroom, stone cold. Finally, we tried the kitchen and the sound got louder. I got to one of the cabinets and the pill finder beeped so loud it hurt my ears.

“Hey Timmy,” I asked, “If I lifted you up, could you look in the cabinet here?”

“Sure!” replied Timmy. “Let’s go find some pills.”

I lifted him up. He rummaged through the cabinet. “How about this bottle,” he asked. “It looks like a pill bottle and it says ‘Xylophone’ or something on it.” He brought it down from the cabinet.

“Sounds right,” I affirmed as the pill finder went nuts. “Let’s get back home. I think Mom should have pie ready for us.”

So we headed back home, only this time we took the long way north to H street. I could pass on another robot ride. It was hard going and cold. I kept breaking through the crust and sinking up to my knees in the stuff.

About halfway home, I stopped and said, “I need a rest, this is just too hard.”

Timmy reached around to the back of the chair and pulled out two flat disks.

“What are these?” I asked.

“They’re racing wheels that came with the chair,” Timmy said. “You’re supposed to use them for wheelchair races, but mom is afraid I’ll get hurt, so I never get to use them. They may help us now.”

“How?” I asked.

“Snow shoes,” he said proudly. “We learned about them in a history class. Do you have anything you can use to tie them on your shoes?”

I dug through my coat pocket and found some cords I was going to use for something. We tied the wheels on to my feet, and I was able to stand on the snow reasonably well. Finally, cold, wet, and exhausted, we got back to the house.

Just as we came through the door, Dad put some of his really old music into the universal entertainment system. It was some sort of primitive rock or blues; I’m really not sure what.

“What is that!” asked Timmy. “Do you have any music that isn’t totally dino?”

“That,” said Dad, “is ‘Blue Christmas’ by Elvis. It’s a classic, and appropriate too, don’t you think? Thanks to Bob and his lab, it may be the one Elvis song people remember down through the ages.”

“I guess,” I replied. “This Christmas has been bluer than I would have wanted.”

“Come on,” said Timmy, “That was fun! We got to go in the snow, ride a giant robot, search an empty house for treasure, figure out how to make snow shoes in a blizzard–it was an adventure.” While he was talking, I realized this was probably the first adventure Timmy had been allowed to have. I guess I’ve always taken such things for granted.

“Who wants pumpkin pie?” mom asked as I realized I was hungry.

“Get it while it’s still real!” Uncle Fred shouted.

“So Timmy,” I said, “will you be ready to open presents after we’re done with the pie?”

“Thanks!” said Timmy. “That will be the perfect end to a perfect day.”

“It was a nice day,” I said, “but I hope next Christmas is white.”

New Year’s Night Owls, poetry
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

No, I’m not wearing pearls or mink;
Champaign partiers never think
Of cleaning crews, security hires
Who can’t start work ’til the crowd retires;
I have fifteen floors to sweep
And miles to mop before I sleep.

Engine purring, iPod wailing;
Across three states my semi’s sailing;
Home for cabbage, black-eyed peas.
No road closings if you please;
I have delivery times to keep
And miles to drive before I sleep.

We watched the ball at twelve o’clock,
The babysitter brought some real good rock;
They came home late laughing funny,
Dad called Mom his honey bunny;
I’m too excited to be counting sheep
But I’ve just got to get to sleep.

Winter: an Acrostic Poem
by Elizabeth Fiorite

Wisps of snow blown by a careless wind whirl from the roof
Into the air above my head.
Not even the careful pizza baker can
Twirl the dough so gracefully.
Except for the sound of my boots on the crusted snow, only the
Random cry of a distant bird disturbs the night.

Bio: Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P. is a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. She has a Master’s Degree in Education and has been a teacher and principal in Catholic elementary schools. Presently, she is a social services counselor at Independent Living for the Adult Blind in Jacksonville, Florida. Elizabeth has been legally blind since 1990 due to retinitis pigmentosa.

Survivor’s Guilt, fiction
by Ann Chiappetta

Joe didn’t come out here to live; he came out here to die. He would fall asleep and never wake up, his face poised in frosty rest, his hands clasped over his chest. He was ready; willing his body temperature to fall below normal, so he could finally rid himself of the shame of being the one left alive.

When he was a teenager, he was rescued from freezing to death at a winter jamboree and survived.

The four other campers with him didn’t make it. Nick, Terry, Chris, and Lee had succumbed–died.

The wind chill had dropped the temperature to ten below in the after midnight hours and when the fire went out, they didn’t wake up. The next thing he knew, he was in a chopper, burning all over, and the medical team telling him he was lucky to be alive. He remembered wanting to scream for them to stop, that he wanted to die. He wanted to tell them to leave him alone and help the other kids instead. He wanted nothing to do with coming back to life. There was no one and nothing to look forward to back then or even now.

This brittle night Joe was back where he wanted to be, just like the freezing night of the jamboree. He was four years older, four years wiser, but he felt cheated. No one waited for him at home; he had nothing left–not even someone to argue with him about it. His best friends died that frigid night and now he wanted to join them.

The moon was full and ice white against the depthless sky. The stars floated in cosmic patterns he knew but had lost since he began to freeze. The shaking had subsided. He smiled, thinking they were so pretty. He began singing, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” He giggled when he realized he had forgotten all the words. He hummed them instead.

Hot breath found his face and he turned from it, barely able to do so in the frosty air. He flailed and tried to move away from the warmth. But the warmth continued to take over. First one side began to burn as it warmed, and he imagined he was in Hell, lying on the coals of his sins. When the other side began to feel again, he tried to sit up but his arms were like cinderblocks and the best he managed was a hoarse croak. Something warm and damp caressed his face and tickled his nose.

He looked up at the moon, his eyes tearing with the effort. He didn’t want to cry, didn’t want to have any regrets, but for some reason, those soft, warm rubs made him ache for more.

His tears were taken away as soon as he shed them. His thawing flesh was being warmed as it came back from its hypothermic repose. His desire to die thawed, too. As the sky altered its depths from night to dawn, Joe tried once again to sit up. Soon he realized that he was already propped up against something. He reflexively grabbed at what was closest to his hand. His hand closed over something warm and soft. He grabbed again and his mind flared with recognition, but he was still groggy and he fell back into the warmth, almost against his will.

The next time he awoke, it was close to dawn. He began to understand. He saw that the ice white moon had begun its descent and the weak, pale sun was ascending in its place.

He felt alive, and it jerked him awake as if he were a pike snagged on a line in an ice-hole. What he saw made him freeze but not from hypothermia. Four grey animals lay against him, one behind his back, one at each side and one cradling his legs. All four sets of amber eyes gazed at him, and one of them whined and cocked its head, as if questioning him. He looked at his fingers–some were frostbitten but he didn’t care. He’d look at his feet later. He felt his face and wondered if he’d gotten any frostbite on his nose or cheeks. But it would have to wait until he got back to civilization. He was shaken but far from dying.

The wolves stood close by as he rose, watching him intently with those glowing amber eyes. He got up, pulled the hood around his face with numb fingers. His truck wasn’t far off, maybe a quarter of a mile away. He made sure he had his keys and turned to go. Then he turned back and felt disappointed when he saw the four canines had already loped off.

“Thanks, anyway.” He said, watching them.

The four companions trotted and bounced shoulders, great bushy tails swishing as they made their way up the path. Three loped on ahead, topping the rise, disappearing over it. But the biggest one, the one who he thought had probably licked his face, sat and raised its muzzle to the sky and howled. Tears ran along with the woeful sound, and when it ended, Joe turned and walked to the truck.

Dragonfly, poetry
by Lynda Lambert

Winter dreams
come to us in color:

Distant memories merge
with the ice
and the heat
of the cool
winter sun.

We drift along
in the stream,
awake and alive,
only to learn in spring
that we can fly.

We lived a life
below the water’s surface–
not knowing that
we would emerge
for a brief
before we die.

This literary magazine is produced by Behind Our Eyes, Inc, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization of writers with disabilities.