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Fall/Winter 2020-2021 edition of Magnets and Ladders

Magnets and Ladders
Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
Fall/Winter 2020-2021

Editorial and Technical Staff

  • Coordinating Editor: Mary-Jo Lord
  • Fiction: Valerie Moreno, Marilyn Brandt Smith, Kate Chamberlin, Abbie Johnson Taylor, and Bonnie Blose
  • Nonfiction: Valerie Moreno, John W. Smith, Kate Chamberlin, Bonnie Blose, and Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • Poetry: Valerie Moreno, Abbie Johnson Taylor, Leonard Tuchyner, Lynda McKinney Lambert, Brad Corallo and Sally Rosenthal
  • Technical Assistance: Jayson Smith

Submission Guidelines

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

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

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

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

Have You Published a book? If you would like to have an excerpt of your book published in an issue of Magnets and Ladders, please submit a chapter or section of your book to The word count for fiction and nonfiction book excerpt submissions should not exceed twenty-five hundred words. Poetry book excerpts should be limited to five poems. Please include information about where your book is available in an accessible format. We will publish up to one book excerpt per issue.

Authors under age 18: Please include a statement from a parent or guardian that indicates awareness of your submission of literary work to Magnets and Ladders.

Do you have a skill, service, or product valued by writers? For a minimum contribution of $25.00 we will announce it in the next two issues of “Magnets and Ladders”. All verifications of products or services provided are the responsibility of our readers. Book cover design? Copyediting? Critiques? Formatting for publication? Internet access or web design? Marketing assistance? Special equipment? Make your donation through PayPal (see or by check by March/September 1. 100-word promotional information is due by February/August 15. Not sure about something? Email All donations support Magnets and Ladders.

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

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

About Behind Our Eyes

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

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

Several members of our group meet by moderated teleconference twice monthly to hear speakers; share work for critique; or receive tips on accessibility, publication, and suggested areas of interest.

Our mailing list is a low-traffic congenial place to share work in progress; learn about submission requests; and to ask and answer writing questions. If you would like to join our group and receive access to our phone conferences and mailing list, please complete our quick and easy membership form at

If you would like to learn more about Behind Our Eyes, or if you would like to make a donation, please visit our website at

Table of Contents

Editor’s Welcome

Hello. With all that is happening in the world, the Magnets and Ladders staff hopes you are staying healthy and safe.

I’m happy to announce that the Perkins library has released the Fall/Winter 2019/20 edition of Magnets and Ladders, so if you have not received your cartridge, it will be arriving soon. The Magnets and Ladders staff would like to thank the staff at the Perkins library for their continued support and dedication during this challenging year.

This spring, the Behind Our Eyes community was saddened by the death of a member and Magnets and Ladders contributor, Bonnie Rennie. We will feature a previously published poem by Bonnie, following the Editor’s Welcome.

The Fall/Winter edition of Magnets and Ladders has articles, poems, and stories to provide you with reading enjoyment during these cooler months. Although we don’t have sections specifically about the coronavirus, or for stories and poems inspired by other works, we have several of both. See how many you can find.

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

We had contests with cash prizes in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. There were many great submissions. As a result, we had a tie for Honorable Mention in both the fiction and nonfiction categories. Below are the Magnets and Ladders Fall/Winter contest results.

  • Fiction:

  • First Place: “Getting Your Attention” by Leonard Tuchyner

  • Second Place: “Consequences” by Nicole Massey
  • Honorable Mention: “Drive” by Susan Muhlenbeck
  • Honorable Mention: “Sea Witch” by Brad Corallo
  • Honorable Mention: “Snow Ice Cream” by Jo Elizabeth Pinto

  • Nonfiction:

  • First Place: “Honey, I’m Home: Beyond the Rescue Door” by Bonnie Blose

  • Second Place: “My Guitar” by Marcia J. Wick, The Write Sisters
  • Honorable Mention: “Bodyguards in Barcelona” by Maribel Steele
  • Honorable Mention: “It’s All Relative” by Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • Honorable Mention: “Daddy Won’t Let Mom Drive the Car: True Tales of Parenting in the Dark,” book excerpt by Jo Elizabeth Pinto

  • Poetry:

  • First Place: “D-Day Vigil” by Sally Rosenthal

  • Second Place: “The Ekphrastic Scream” by Barbara Hammel
  • Honorable Mention: “Begin Again” by Brad Corallo
  • Honorable Mention: “First Sled Ride” by Leonard Tuchyner

Congratulations to the contest winners and thank you to the contributors.

The Magnets and Ladders staff wishes you a safe and happy holiday season.

Round Table Gratitude, poetry
by Bonnie Rennie

Longed-for Saturday morning liberation,
Tranquil time, reserved for restoration.
Captured by a small round table in a cozy kitchen corner.
Coffee to savor,
Inviting inspiration,
Book to imbibe,
Immersed in marvels of music.
Work woes and cares of the week sent packing,
Sustenance for the succeeding week.

Gentler rays of the late afternoon sun
Greet us as we gather
On the backyard patio.
Soft strains of classical music,
We grip the textured glass of the round table
As we lean forward to commiserate,
Craft, Share our creations,
Exchanging our laughter and our dreams.
Relishing our recent retirement
And the bounty it brings.

Another, simpler room,
Made comfortable
By the kind inclusion of a round table.
Large enough
For several to sit around, or near.
Background oldies fan our reminiscence
Or companionable reveries.
We engage in games,
Chimes of conversation,
Luxurious laughter.
Assisted Living isn’t so dreary
If we don’t do it alone.

Throughout life’s stages,
What transformative treasures await!
Anchored by a seat at
Our supportive sister Round Table.

“Round Table Gratitude” was published in the Spring/Summer 2016 edition of Magnets and Ladders.

Bio: Bonnie remembered her first writing attempt. At age twelve, she wrote A song parody, expressing her eagerness/angst about heading to junior high. During her clinical social work career in medical and mental health settings, she created client/consumer family education materials. Retirement finally allowed her to pursue the writing of poems, articles, and essays. She rote on a variety of topics: Christian/spiritual, music, thriving while blind, blossoming in retirement, life’s charms, challenges, choices, and quirks. Bonnie and her husband Bob lived in Southern California. She is totally blind, from Retinopathy of Prematurity.

Part I. Looking Back

Honey, I’m Home: Beyond the Rescue Door, memoir nonfiction First Place
by Bonnie Blose

Is it possible for any of us to know how much we need love or how much we have to give? Honey lived with me for 11 and a half years and taught me more about love than any person ever could.

We weren’t supposed to end up together. I was still heartbroken over the death of my cat Muff from Feline Leukemia. When my friend Marilyn Simmon called to ask if I would like to go “just see some cats” at a local rescue shelter, I said yes. One of the first lessons of loss of love is to show how much that loss means by giving love to someone or something else.

Jan James met us at the door of her rescue business with a smile. The room was filled with the happy activity of animals and people comfortable with one another.

We began discussing the type of kitten I was looking for. She had twin sisters in mind, but since my landlord would allow just one and she did not wish to separate them, I had to refuse.

Back then, I believed I could order my world. The cat I chose would be my choice.

I didn’t know her yet, but Honey, a beautiful tortoiseshell, had other ideas. Without uttering one meow, she changed my life forever.

I’ll always remember our first meeting. Honey, or, a cat, as I thought of her then, came in through the cat door and without hesitation, jumped up on my lap, turned in a circle or two, and settled down as if she had found home, as she certainly had. Oh, have I mentioned yet that animals are smarter than people? Honey was.

Is love found in a day? Will it last? Filled with promise and questions without answers, it begins with hope.

Like people, all animals have a history. Some are born under a lucky star. Needs are met, food plentiful. The homes they live in are warm and full of love.

My Honey had a story of a different kind. She could not tell me the circumstances of her early life. She could not share the pain from the attack of a pack of dogs when she was young. She couldn’t tell me about her fear of strangers or how long she lay alone and frightened before they found her. Honey couldn’t tell me about the operation she had to save her life. My sweet kitten was an animal with an old soul but a huge heart.

Jan told me what she could about Honey’s early life. My imagination filled the gaps with possibilities too terrible to contemplate.

As I sat holding her for the first time, I promised I would love her always and that she would have all she needed. She would be safe. No one would ever hurt her again. There was nothing she would ever have to fear.

As we began our life together, Honey wanted to stay on my lap or be near me and only me. A test revealed she did not have Feline Leukemia, so often fatal to cats.

For the next 11 years, we shared life in the old farmhouse I rented. She slept with me most nights. Cats are known for their curiosity. Honey couldn’t resist an open door, any open door. Whether it was the basement, old barn on the property, or a garage, if a door was open, she went through it. Looking back, I am not sure if it was curiosity or safety from danger Honey sought. Many times I called my landlord to ask him to open the barn or garage door to let her out. Each time I asked, he did.

As she grew older, she went out less and stayed home more. At night, I would lie on my side with Honey on top. Although I pleaded and begged, I learned to turn over with her right there.

One of the first utterances I heard from Honey was what sounded like the word I. I used to tell everyone she just might be the first English speaking cat. Often, I wished I could understand all the things she told me. I knew when she wanted food, to go in or out, and how much she loved to eat what I did, especially chicken. If I could, I would have made it for her a lot more, but we can’t turn back time or change what has already been done.

One day, a friend came to visit with his wife and small dog. In that moment, I learned the depth of Honey’s love and fear. When she saw George’s little dog, she held on to me with all her strength and heart. Suddenly, I knew what had frightened her so many years before. Small dogs had terrorized her. I understood what happened but it brought a terrible memory I wanted never to return for her.

For the last three years of her life, Honey changed. She began suffering from anxiety. Honey found safety in high places and wanted me to move her food from place to place including putting it on narrow windowsills which required my holding the bowl there until she had finished eating.

One day, she jumped on top of the piano and pushed an old keyboard which narrowly missed my head as it fell.

I thought about all the things which could hurt me if she knocked them from high shelves. Sometimes, we would both have a respite from her anxiety. I treasured those times. Friends told me she was lucky to have chosen me and said most people would not keep her.

In a marriage, we promise “until death do us part.” That was the vow I made to Honey in the life she and I built together. She could not tell me why she was terrified, but she knew she needed someone who cared for her and loved her. She trusted I would do both. I did. In many relationships, there are regrets, but my only one is that I didn’t have her long enough. Honey taught me love should always come first. She taught me the importance of finding patience when I didn’t understand why she behaved as she did. Honey talked constantly, so I know she believed in keeping lines of communication open. She taught me the importance of going through an open door and how important it is to live life to the fullest, giving and doing the best I can. As life unfolds, unexpected changes come. She stayed true to her love for me. I hope I gave her all the love she needed and then some.

Honey survived so much. Naively, I sometimes thought she would live for many years to come. In the summer of 2018, she started having difficulty keeping food down. At the time, I had recently broken my shoulder and feared she would not live long enough for me to give her the physical comfort we both needed so much. Is there anything worse than not saying something you wish you could or not being able to help when another is in pain? I cried. I pleaded and begged the universe for help. In tears, I prayed to God trying to find words to say how much I wanted her well again. There were not enough days or hours in the world for us. Death is like that. It comes but is not welcome taking what we love most.

For a few weeks, Honey seemed to be getting better. She was eating, but I knew our time together might still be short. Sometimes, God answers our prayers for a brief time, but it is an answered prayer nevertheless. I got to hold her again. For a few more nights, we slept together as we had so many times before. For just a few weeks, I could tell her how much I loved her and make the chicken she loved.

As September came the nights grew cooler and shorter. Honey’s illness returned. Faced with medical bills of my own and a limited income and concerned about the stress a visit for tests would cause her, I made the decision to allow Honey to stay at home with me until the end. For days that seemed like lifetimes, I watched her struggle to keep food down. I told her I loved her, but it wasn’t enough. Love demands so much. I began to understand it could be as difficult for her to leave me as it was for me to let her go. She no longer followed me upstairs but stayed close to me until the day before she died.

Newfound wisdom comes in painful moments. I know now I needed Honey as much as she needed me. I think my precious and dearest friend with that old soul knew how much I did.

If love is a bright light that shines inviting me home, I believe she is waiting to welcome me in to her heavenly world someday. It is what I live and long for. When that day comes and we are together again, I will want nothing more.

“Honey, I’m Home: Beyond The Rescue Door” was the First Place winner of the National Federation of the Blind Writers’ Division’s 2020 contest in the nonfiction category.

Bio: Bonnie Blose grew up in Slatedale, Pennsylvania with two fabulous storytellers. For 15 years, she cohosted Jordan Rich’s book show nights on WBz. From 2006 to 2013, she was the host of the show “Books and Beyond” on Her memoirs and fiction have been winners in the NFB Writers’Division contests. She enjoys reading, listening to music, podcasts, and has lived in Ohio since 1982. She is proud of being owned by her cat Almost. Her son Kevin lives in a nearby town.

My Guitar, memoir nonfiction Second Place
by Marcia J. Wick, The Write Sisters

Typical of many young girls in the 1960s, I dreamed of becoming a folk singer like Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, or Carole King. I envisioned myself playing songs on a guitar around a campfire, strumming along with a choir, or sitting alone in my bedroom composing songs.

My parents presented me with a starter guitar the Christmas I was 10. It was black, but it was new and sized for a child. I cradled it, I adjusted the woven strap. I practiced standing with it, hip jutted out, and sitting with it, legs crossed, imagining myself playing for a small group of friends. The trouble was, after receiving the instrument, I was left to learn to play it on my own. I’m sure I was given some song books, but I was never taught to read music. No lessons were offered. I attempted to work out the notes by ear, but there were no YouTube videos or tutorials back then to guide me. I don’t know what ever became of my first guitar.

A decade later, after I graduated college and accepted my first professional job, I rewarded myself with a new acoustic six-string. I still couldn’t read music but I was determined to learn. As a working adult, I could afford lessons, I reasoned. I told myself it wasn’t too late to start. I was motivated, committed, and eager to make my childhood dream come true.

I had moved to a small town in western New York which made it easy to find a music store- there was only one on Main Street. Displayed on the wall, I spotted a folk guitar with a shiny natural finish. The strike plate was decorated with a flowery design, very ladylike.

“That one,” I pointed.

I wrote a $300 check on my new bank account, a fortune to me at the time. I deserved it, I told myself. I had moved 2,000 miles away from my family, I was living alone in a strange town, and I was embarking on a new career. As I accepted my new instrument nestled inside a sturdy black case, I looked like a folk singer, even if I couldn’t actually play guitar. Before departing the store, I inquired about local music teachers. I was given the number of a young man in the next town, a college student trying to earn money on the side. Hmmm, guitar lessons and a potential date? I was on cloud 9, floating in my fantasy.

His apartment was at the top of a long narrow stairway in a century-old building. I entered a tiny room and struggled to find a seat in the dim light. I attended diligently to my lesson, wanting with all my will to learn to play. The teacher never asked me out, but he worked hard to teach me. I thought if I could coordinate my fingers on a typewriter keyboard that I could learn to finger a six-string guitar. I tried and I tried and I tried, but I couldn’t produce a recognizable melody.

After months of futility, I parked the instrument in a corner of my apartment, only occasionally to unpack it, hoping I had magically learned to play while it waited. Another year passed but I hadn’t given up on my dream. I found a new guitar teacher, a young woman who taught music at the local elementary school. She was round and short and jolly. She gave me the basic instruction I had never received as a child. In her living room on weekends, I strummed children’s songs, achieving some proficiency as a beginner…with a long way to go.

After several months of lessons, in an attempt to encourage me, my teacher asked me to accompany her third grade class for one song during their school concert. She gave me a simple tune to learn – I don’t remember the name, but I practice and practiced. I studiously memorized the chords; I picked the strings carefully, plucking my way along until I gained confidence.

“I can do this,” I assured myself. I could accompany a class of eight-year-olds singing a familiar holiday song, but what I hadn’t anticipated was stage fright.

The curtains opened. On cue, I advanced from the wing onto the small stage and took a seat on a folding chair next to a cohort of giggling students on risers. I couldn’t see much past the stage lights but the small auditorium was buzzing with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and teachers.

The music teacher cued her young singers and they took off. Like rockets, they launched into the first verse before I had found my first chord. I tried to catch up. I skipped ahead and fell behind. I couldn’t hear myself play. I stopped playing. The children and teacher forged ahead. I felt the color rise in my face and I sat paralyzed until the song concluded. After that humiliating experience, I never played my guitar, although it traveled with me over the next decade from western New York to northern California back to Colorado. During that time, I married and had two children.

Another decade passed. Unexpectedly, my stepdaughter came to live with us. At 16, she had dropped out of school and decided to move in with her dad instead of moving to Iowa with her mother. My husband wanted to be his older daughter’s best friend, which left me to be the wicked stepmother. With two toddlers in tow, I wasn’t thrilled to have a moody unemployed teen adding to my work load.

As a saving grace, my unwelcome house guest picked up my neglected instrument and, to my envy, began to play. Where or how she had learned, I couldn’t say. I relished the gentle notes produced by my cherished guitar; if I couldn’t play it myself, I was happy to hear it played by anyone, even my delinquent stepdaughter.

Ultimately, my stepchild became involved with a “young man,” to be generous, a “thief,” to be honest. They moved in together and she soon found herself pregnant and in trouble with the law. In order to buy a bus ticket home to her mother in Iowa, she pawned her belongings and left town late one night. My guitar was gone, forever gone. After two decades of holding onto a dream, I assumed the guitar had been pawned, never to be seen again.

Ahead another 10 years. I was divorced and my children were teenagers. One holiday season, I had an opportunity to travel outside of the country, but as a single parent, I had a dilemma. Who could I trust my adolescent girls with while I was so far away?

In Iowa, my stepdaughter had matured, married, and settled in a small town. She’d earned her GED, worked at a community college, and produced three more children. She’d blossomed into the “mommiest” mommy I had ever known. My daughters were closer in age to their nieces and nephews than to their half-sister, but they were all overjoyed with the prospect of spending two weeks in Iowa together. I packed up my girls and they flew off. I assumed they wouldn’t miss me much. All went well. Reunited at home, we shared stories of our adventures.

“Guess what,” my older daughter asked. “My sister still has your guitar! She’s sending it back.”

My daughter had heard the guitar story many times. I had hoped that she would want to play an instrument herself one day and fulfill my dream.

The following week, I received a delivery. My wayward guitar arrived home in a box big enough for a dining room chair. Upon opening the container, I did a time warp dance. When I hoisted the black case, I was transported back 40 years. I looked like a folk singer again, even if I still couldn’t play one note.

Later, I shivered when I saw my 16-year-old daughter cradle the instrument, bend her head down to examine the placement of her fingers on the frets, and begin to play a sweet song. The vivid memory of her half-sister strumming the same melody a decade earlier was replaying live in my living room.

Although I never learned to play, I was overjoyed to hear my guitar come alive in my daughter’s hands. Funny how some dreams do come true in time.

Bio: Marcia Wick enjoys retirement along with grandchildren, gray hair, and time to write. Her essays have appeared in Magnets and Ladders,, and Vision through Words. She reflects on parenting, caregiving, living with a disability, and adventures with her guide dog. Marcia’s career in communications, desktop publishing, and public education spanned 40 years. She now partners with her sister as The Write Sisters. She is legally blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa. Marcia also volunteers with Guide Dogs for the blind, advocates for public transit, and enjoys a variety of sports with her husband as her guide. Contact her at

D-Day Vigil, poetry First Place
by Sally Rosenthal

On tenterhooks in her parents’home
in the war-ravaged English Midlands,
she sat and watched as the sky darkened
with fog and clusters of aircraft,
great birds of prey now bent on
an unknown mission of salvation,
formed a relentless migration toward the coast.

With restless energy, she stirred a pot of lentil soup,
switched on the wireless, and put the kettle on the hob.
Sensing her American paratrooper beau
was involved in this frenzy, the young woman
who would become my mother prayed silently
amidst droning planes and simmering soup.

Bio: A former college librarian and occupational therapist, Sally Rosenthal is a frequent contributer to print and online publications. Having lost her sight twenty years ago, she lives in Philadelphia with her rescued cat Tamsin.

My Mom, The Pumpkin-Head, memoir
One in a series of vignettes about my mom
by Kate Chamberlin

After being graduated from college with my teaching degree, I lived at home and taught Third Grade for two years at the Gidney Avenume Memorial School, Newburgh, NY. My Mother, a high school graduate with six months of Secretarial School experience, and avid crossword aficionado, became my at home, unofficial aide.

She thrived on grading the various math papers, spelling tests and short essays. It freed up time for me to research new ways to teach more in-depth for the faster students, techniques to encourage those who needed more time to grasp concepts, and to write lesson plans. Mom would give me a complete run down on each student’s homework, to keep me up to speed on which student needed a little more assistance in which areas.

My third grade students were awesome. When it came time for us to present a program for the whole elementary school, we incorporated our usual studies of math, science, art, and much more into a space skit, written by the students. It had dialogue, science and humor and lots of stage lighting effects. They closed the program with a wonderful presentation of “Doe, A Deer”, complete with children popping up when they sang out their tone and scooching down until it was their turn again.

Mother, of course, attended the performance and I introduced her to them. One of the memorable comments I heard was, “Miss Holmberg has a Mother?”

Apparently, I appeared too old to still have a mother! Mother felt quite flattered.

When Halloween came around, my parents and I planned a mini-haunted house for our trick-or-treaters to experience in my home. I let the students and their parents know about the special event, so we expected a good turn out to our Balmville home.

Our modern home had been built on a small portion of a much larger estate. The family in the manor house had a male and a female Rhodesian Razorback hounds. A breed that was originally used to hunt lions. We’d had some run-ins with those two dogs ganging up on our friendly Golden Retriever, Nicky. We had no idea how the Rhodesian Razorbacks might re-act to ghosts, goblins, and hobos. We kept a sharp eye out for the dogs, but, fortunately, they must have been penned in for the night. It did manage to add some tension to the evening, though.

The weather was perfect for our many visitors. Mom would direct them to go around to the back of our home, where they’d enter via the laundry room door. Walk down a short hallway with creepy things and odd sounds to enter our family room. When I heard them turn right to go past the tent, under which I was hiding, I rattled chains and moaned a horrible sound.

That made them hurry toward the front exit door, however, they first had to go passed the closed door to the basement. When my colleague heard them near, he’d pound and scratch the door, begging to be let out. More than once, we heard someone say, “Ooh, I gotta pee!”

In the front vestibule, Mom would give them their candies as they went out the front door.

I should tell you that my Mom really threw herself into the Halloween project. She cut off the bottom of a large pumpkin, scooped out the innards, and carved a face into it. She put a folded towel on her head, then, lowered the pumpkin over her face. She wore a black turtle neck sweater, black slacks, and her signature three-inch spiked heels. Voila! Madam Pumpkin-head as your Halloween hostess.

Needless to say, the evening was a smashing success. All my students were talking about Miss Holmberg’s haunted house and the Pumpkin-Head Lady!

Thanks, Mom. You’re the best!

Bio: Kathryn (Kate) Chamberlin is a current member of the Wayne Writer’s Guild, Visionary support group, free-lance writer/editor, and Accessibility Ambassadress
to the Memorial Art Gallery (Rochester, NY).

Her pieces have appeared in Good Dog! Magazine, Paper Clips, Poetic Voices of America, Threads Magazine, Aromatica Poetica, and Magnets and Ladders; children’s books: The Night Search, Green Trillium, and Charles and David; coordinating Editor for the anthology Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look.

She and her husband are empty nest, great-grandparents and enjoy having lunch out, country walks during the good weather, and mall cruising or walking on their side-by-side treadmills during the inclement weather.

It’s All Relative, nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

If you look back in time, where were your genes two or three hundred years ago? Eight generations ago my great grandfather and his brother migrated to the United States from Campbell clan territory in the western highlands of Scotland. They began farming in Ohio, but moved to Texas about fifty years later where my paternal grandmother was born.

By 1767, John Dickinson was in the United States as a solicitor and politician in Pennsylvania. He joined the revolt against his English roots. He signed the Declaration of Independence. The frontier called his descendants after the Louisiana purchase. They found free land in Mississippi. My great grandfather fought at Vicksburg. He moved to Texas for a railroad job in the late 1880’s. His son, my maternal grandfather, also became a railroad man.

The Bird family settled in Round Mountain, Texas, in the early 1800’s when Texas belonged to Mexico. They served in the Texas Republic, and saw Texas join the union in 1845. William Bird’s oldest daughter, Eliza, had to drop out of school after fourth grade to help care for the younger children. Everyone thought she was a spinster, but at thirty-four she met and married that railroad man named Dickinson, and voila, in 1907 my mother was born.

Too many children for one house; too much work to do; and not enough to live for were the circumstances my great grandfather faced in Copenhagen, Denmark. At age ten, he hopped a freighter bound for he knew not where. He was given work as a useful stowaway, but was forced to leave the ship when it docked at Galveston, Texas. One of the mates knew a friend on land who gave him a hand. He learned farming, made his way across Texas, and purchased land on the Leon river in Comanche county. He married that lassie named Campbell, and voila, in 1909 my father was born.

My parents met at college, the one I later attended, and which also hosted Lyndon Johnson. How do I know all this background? My mother was always interested in genealogy, and interviewed as many older relatives as she could find. I have a cousin on each side of the family who has taken a special interest in tracing family roots. When I was working in Salt Lake City, my mother spent two days in the Mormon church archives doing more research.

Two years ago I asked and received for Christmas one of the 23andMe kits. I learned there is some German, some French, and some Sardinian genetic material there. I haven’t been able to trace that yet. The best thing to come out of the genetic test is my knowledge that I do not carry the breast cancer or Alzheimer’s genes. My primary care doctor assures me that is no guarantee, still it feels good to know it.

I’m proud of my heritage, and encourage anyone who has the opportunity to ask questions of older relatives before it’s too late. It’s fun to imagine the Scots and the Danes, their frolics and food, and to wonder if the Brits and the Irish enjoyed their literature as much as I do.

Bio: Marilyn Brandt Smith worked as a teacher, 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 in a 100-year-old home in Kentucky. Her first book, Chasing the Green Sun, published in 2012, is available from Amazon and other bookstores and in audio form. She loves writing flash fiction stories, and was the primary editor for the first Behind Our Eyes anthology, as well as Magnets and Ladders from 2011 through 2013. She enjoys college basketball, barbershop harmony, and adventure books. Visit her website:

Silent Sanctuary, poetry
by Wesley Sims

It seems a silent sanctuary,
quaint precinct of the dead,
wordless but sacred congregation,
a mausoleum of quiet bones
cocooned in metal or wood or dirt.
But strolling through it one
spring morning, I hear voices-
Father’s laughter, Mother’s advice,
Grandmother’s prayer, Sister’s
moan and death rattle.

As I browse among assorted
stone markers, shiny or pale,
some weathered and fading,
I can push buttons of memory,
replay words of many deceased
whose physical remains
reside here: parents,
grandparents, aunts, uncles,
neighbors and friends.

I can hear them speak once more,
familiar words I heard and stored
before their lives were stilled
by indifferent sentence of mortality,
their voices frozen in time,
sealed in shuttered recordings,
voices hushed forever
except in my recollection.

Bio: Wesley Sims has published three chapbooks of poetry: When Night Comes, 2013; Taste of Change, 2019; and A Pocketful of Little Poems, 2020.
His work has appeared in Artemis Journal, Connecticut Review, G.W. Review, Liquid Imagination, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, Plum Tree Tavern, Novelty Magazine, Poem, Poetry Quarterly, Time of Singing, Bewildering Stories, and others.

He lost hearing completely in one ear and has severe hearing loss in the other.

Sea Witch, fiction Honorable Mention
by Brad Corallo

The yarns of old men such as I, are often dismissed as exaggerated bits of daft nonsense or blatantly untrue. But by all that I hold as sacred, I swear the following story is as true as anything can be.

When I was a lad entering manhood, I proved my worth and skill as a fisherman here in the Orkney islands. I learned the ancient craft of boat building and with the help of my mate, Angus, we fashioned one of the bonniest and most seaworthy fishing boats in all the Orkneys.

Angus and I were a pair of strong, braw, devil may care young fellows who feared neither the wrath of the angry sea nor that of the Lord himself. We both charmed many fair lasses as we were fine singers and could dance a reel with the best of them.

As time passed we were also recognized as formidable fishermen with uncanny luck. Twuz a rare day when we didn’t bring home a bountiful catch which we shared freely with those of our village folk who had fallen on hard times. As we earned some good coin, we would sometimes buy fine Orkney whisky which we would heartily enjoy with our mates around smokey peat fires in their wee crofts.

So a couple score years ago, one brisk sunny morning, we boarded our sturdy vessel, which we had christened the Sea Witch, and set off upon the tide in search of a bountiful fishing ground. By the blessed hand of fortune, our efforts were rewarded and after we had netted our share, we shifted sale to head home to the warm welcome we imagined back on shore.

‘Twas then that a mighty wind did blow up out of nowhere and we had to battle with sale and ore to make fair headway. But ’twas not only wind that imperiled the Sea Witch. The waters became more and more unsettled and a hard, lashing rain began to pelt our wee craft like blows of the blacksmith’s hammer. Then came dark storm clouds which crowded out any blue left in the sky and hung over us like an oppressive shroud of impending death.

As I have told, Angus and I were men not easily affrighted. But I must confess, on this occasion an almost unnatural terror gripped both our hearts. With each minute that passed, it became more and more clear that we had little chance of making it back home. Let the ney- sayers say what they wish, but in such circumstances even the most Godless of men entreat the Lord for deliverance. We were no different!

With an unexpectedly violent heave of the sea, we nearly foundered and dear Angus was lost over side forever. We had been bonnie friends since we both learned to walk. At this point, all resolve left me.

Suddenly the sky cracked with blasts of thunder and lightning flashed. One bolt, like a bright finger of doom struck and the Sea Witch was dismasted. I just missed being struck by a spar or getting tangled in the shredded rigging. But the trusty barque was damaged beyond repair and began to slowly take on water. Twuz then I knew it was all finally over.

As I prepared myself for death, low and behold a large seal swam up and leapt into the Sea Witch. I knew then I had finally gone mad with fear. By some process I cannot explain, the creature began to shed its glistening pelt. So that ultimately a beautiful, dark haired, dark eyed maiden stood naked and unashamed before me. As this was happening, unrealized by me at first, the waters were beginning to settle and calm.

To my amazement she spoke thusly: “be unafraid my fair young mariner, I am Bruokenn, queen of the Selkie Folk and daughter to she who commands all the seas of Earth. I was deeply sorrowed by the death of your bonnie friend and have calmed my mother’s capricious temper. I would not have it that your life as well was needlessly sacrificed. I have laid an enchantment upon thy vessel and ’twill make it back to shore with no travails. I banish this storm of the Goddess’s making and your life is justly spared.”

And so saying, to my everlasting surprise, she embraced me, and I knew no more until I seemed to awaken from a dream. Still in my mind I heard her words strangely echoing: “dear fisherman, may your heart always be filled with the joy thou hadst ere the loss of dear Angus and may all your future endeavors flourish.”

There is not much more of my story to tell. With the help of her remaining ores I brought the Sea Witch home to her cove and gratefully went ashore. Though I had lost the heart for the fisherman’s life, I turned to the noble occupation of shipwright. My name and reputation as a maker of the finest sea going vessels became widely known in the Orkneys and even beyond. I made a fine living, was widely respected and had many dear friends. But whenever a storm blew up suddenly, I would make my way to the shore. And if ever I did behold a seal, my pulse would quicken and a precious warmth; like no other feeling I have ever known, would fill my heart with peace and gratitude.

Bio: Brad Corallo, a writer in multiple genres, is a Long Island native. His work has been published in eleven previous issues of Magnets & Ladders, in the William B. Joslin Outstanding Program Awards Journal NYSID Preferred Source Solutions and by The Red Wolf Coalition. He has been a life-long student of fine wine, food, music, books, space exploration, several professional sports and relationships of all kinds. He makes his living as a certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC) and mental health therapist. Due to LCA (a very rare genetic retinal condition) Brad has experienced impaired and worsening vision throughout his lifetime.

The Twilight Songs: Persephone and Hades, poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

Persephone’s Song

A solitary flower
pale, golden lavender
like Byzantine silk
paper-thin, a fine blossom-
I float like a whisper of chiffon
turn slightly
in pale heliotrope light.

my eyes scan the field
as we sing
pluck tender spring flowers
willow-green stems

The descent – unexpected.

Strange. This changing.

I shriek as the black horse
thrust from beneath the earth –
he grabs my wrist.

In his scarlet chamber
I search
for my bridal dress.


Hades Song

Imagine my delight
on our wedding day-
her slender shoulders-
she moves
knee-deep in the lush field
of greeny stems
moody Ashphodel
braided into her hair.

her dusky song-

“The Twilight Songs: Persephone and Hades” was published in: Proverse (Hong Kong) Poetry Prize for a Single Poem 2019 Anthology, Mingled Voices 4, Released April 2020.

Bio: Her name is Lynda Jeanne/ caring; self-motivated; inspired; smart/ Esther is her mother; Bill, her father/ Ida Matilda, her maternal grandma/ She likes crystals; poems; nature; crows/ She believes in Heaven, stars and timeless boundaries/ aubergine; der Hirsch; helix; woodlands/ She wants to stand in Charlemagne’s Palace Chapel again/ Virgo girl arrived on a Friday in August, Peridot Stone/ The Village of Wurtemburg is home/ Lynda McKinney became Lynda Lambert.

Two Beside Him, poetry
by Wesley Sims

They likely knew each other
but how could they know
they would both be companions
and worthy wives to this same
honorable husband? And
both lie down beside him
for their eternal rest.

The first died too young.
Too many children,
too much wartime weariness,
too much pain and illness.
A still healthy man with a farm
needed another wife, and
the second woman needed him.

Now his marker stands book-ended
by their white tombstones.
Silent testaments to human
needs, to pragmatism, to love
and peace. An amiable trio
resting now in the currents
of the endless river of time.

Reading with Corky, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal

Bathed in memory’s golden glow,
A sixty-year-old image makes me smile:

A shy, small girl carrying homemade cookies
And a tattered copy of Beautiful Joe
Settles on the top step of a back porch.
Despite October’s chill and the coming dusk,
She savors these hours between school and supper
When she can claim this time and space as her own.

Pressing close in hope of a cookie,
Her Boston terrier gets his wish.
Marshall Saunder’s much-loved novel
Of a dog’s triumph over abuse
Has made her vow always
To love animals as much as books.
As shrieks of neighborhood children
Playing football fall away,
She draws Corky nearer
And loses herself in printed words of kindness.

Chicken Coop Contemplation, poetry
by Winslow Parker

Ghosts of long-dead chickens haunt the deserted coop,
Abandoned relic of Depression and war.
Rain hammers the roof,
The overflow of cotton ball cloud drifting East,
Generated by Rocky Mountain peaks,
Water gathered from lake and stream,
Pushed out, Drifting, over Denver.

I knew it would happen.
Age nine, visiting, I discovered afternoon thunderstorms.
Lightning sparked,
Thunder cannonaded
Fear and awe balanced in my young mind.
Warm and dry, filled with the beauty of nature’s power,
Sitting in the dust of long-ago chicken poop,
I contemplated,
Thought deep thoughts,
Unremarked and unremembered,
But for the joy of thinking long nine-year-old thoughts.

Would that I could return to that shed,
Experience again the crackle of lightning, the crash of thunder,
Listen to rain on the tin roof
Thinking long serious thoughts.

Bio: Winslow E. Parker is a retired teacher of blindness adaptive technology. He began serious writing after retirement. He is the author of a collection of short stories, a book of speculative theology and a book of essays on the topic of going blind. He has recently, thanks to Behind Our Eyes, discovered the joy of writing poetry. He is married and lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife of 50 years. They have two children and three grandchildren.

Christmas Dinner, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

It was once a festive occasion
with everyone in place at the table
set with cloth, good china,
turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes,
a vegetable, dessert.
We were all together then.

Now, with mother, father,
husband, and grandparents gone,
brother in Florida,
uncles, aunts, cousins scattered across the country,

I, with nowhere else to go,
enjoy my holiday meal at the senior center:
roast beef, potatoes, vegetables, dessert,
all in good company.

Bio: Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of two novels, two poetry collections, and a memoir and is working on another novel. Besides Magnets and Ladders, her work has also appeared in Mingled Voices and The Weekly Avocet. She is visually impaired and lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, where for six years, she cared for her totally blind late husband, who was partially paralyzed by two strokes soon after they were married. Before that, she worked as a registered music therapist with nursing home residents and volunteered in other capacities, helping visually impaired children and adults. Please visit her website at

First Sled Ride, poetry honorable Mention
by Leonard Tuchyner

There’s a first time for everything.
The beginnings are often telling.
Will this be the last time you imbibe?
Or the start of a love affair?

I don’t recall how old I was.
Perhaps was just knapsack size,
lying on top of my father’s back,
who lay prone on top of the sled,
eager to slide down the steep curving slope
of Irvington’s snowy city park.

There were others who had hiked up the pike,
waiting their turn to slide down the steep.
But I was the single child my size,
the only one with Dad as pilot.

I held tight with all of my might,
afraid of falling off his shoulders,
while he palmed his way to judgment day.
Slight motion morphed to a roller coaster,
into a jet out of its blocks.
But my Dad had it all under control,
holding the sled to its intended course.

I was Hop-along Cassidy
on a bucking bronco running wild,
until we found a snow bank to stop us.
I tumbled off his back, asking for more.

From that distinctive day I was hooked.
I looked forward to bountiful snowfalls.
Slid until I could no longer slide,
when the slopes were too difficult to climb.
Today I just watch the snow and dream
of a day when it was my first time.

Bio: Leonard Tuchyner has Stargardt’s disease, which was first noticed during his teenaged years. He is now seventy-nine. He reads through the media of Braille, recordings, and electronic voices produced by Open Book and Zoom Text. He lives with his wife of forty years and their two dogs. He is active in the local writing community, which includes attending critique groups. He also facilitates a Writing for Healing and Growth group at the Charlottesville Senior Center and rote a column for Dialogue Magazine. He recently published a poetry book through Cedar Creak Publishing. His hobbies include Tai chi, and gardening. Leonard is retired from his psychotherapy private practice.

Part II. From a Different Perspective

Getting Your Attention, fiction First Place
by Leonard Tuchyner

Angela was flying to Cloud Number Five in the accompaniment of Charles. They were both on their way to harp lessons. Angela was huffing and puffing.

Angela said, “Oy vey, this is one heavy harp. I need to rest my wings. These clouds are never in one place. Each day it seems a little farther. And the wind is always blowing away. Let’s take a rest on that cloud over there. It looks so soft.”

Charles relented, and they both settled down on the next cloud they came to.

“I thought all this rushing around would stop once I got to this level of Heaven. Does it get any better when I get to the next level?”

“You’re asking me? It seems I’ve been at this place forever. Longer than you, even.”

They sat there for a while catching their breaths. Then Angela asked, “What do you think of the terrible mess down there?”

“You mean on Earth?”

“Yes, that’s the one I’m losing sleep over. You know that’s where I come from, I’m ashamed to admit.”

“I can see where you’d be bothered. But it isn’t your fault they’re such ninnies.”

“I am to blame. I gave birth to five of those ninnies. Who else should I blame? Why is He doing this to me? Didn’t I raise them right? Why doesn’t He do something about it?”

“I think He is doing something about it. I think that Corona virus is something.”

“That’s what He’s doing about it? He’s killing my children with the corona virus? Lucky me. He’s helping my children by killing them. What a wonderful God. Who gave him that idea? Couldn’t He give them a real good spanking instead?”

“Angela, what would you have Him do? If He isn’t harsh, they’ll kill themselves with over-indulgence. They’ll use up all their resources and pollute themselves.”

“You’re asking me? I gave birth to them. Something harsh, but not too harsh.

“I don’t know, Angela. Haven’t you seen the stock market plummet?”

“Yes, and I’ve seen it come right back again. That’s not harsh enough.”

“No matter what He does, it isn’t good enough. You can’t have it both ways. If it’s going to work, it has to have consequences. I believe they will go right back to squandering their resources until there is nothing left. Then it will be too late. It’s a little tricky. Angela, He has to change them, not just fix their problems, before they can do it themselves.”

“I don’t need to be told what I already know. You’re right. But one little plague isn’t going to work. If I were Him or Her…. What is it?… first it’s Him, then it’s Her, and now it’s both at the same time. The whole thing is too confusing. Anyway, if I were Him or whatever, I would throw more than a plague or two at them.”

“Be glad that you are not Him. It’s a major responsibility. Besides, She’s only getting started. There will be more plagues. He’s already given them record floods, fires, hurricanes and drought. What else can She do?”

“He doesn’t know my relatives. It isn’t working.”

“Have a little patience. He’ll continue to turn up the heat. He’ll just work with the same tools until it finally dawns on them.”

“But what happens, God forbid, if it doesn’t ever work? Honestly, Charles, what if it doesn’t work?”

“I have to admit, it might not. They might abuse their environment to the point of it not ever being able to come back. It’s a terrible thing to ponder.”

“Oy, that’s horrible. I’m a newcomer here, only one generation. Most of my grandchildren are still alive. When they get here, they’re not the same as when they were little ones. They’ll never be puppies again. If they have their own children, they may be the only ones left. It’s a shame. But oy vey iz mir, they participate in raping. Poor Mother Earth. He shouldn’t let it happen.”

“It wouldn’t come to that. It couldn’t. Human beings will learn, even if it’s right at the end.”

“It shouldn’t happen what could happen. If they let it go that far, it will take a long time to recover. It is not a life I would wish for them. Tell me that it won’t happen, Charles.”

Charles was silent.

Viva! Ten Years from Now, fiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

November 20, 2030

Blog update, finally! Did you think I blew off the map? No, I’m still here. We just made a big decision I want to brag about. I’ve kept you on pins and needles about this mystery. We’ve been here a year, so it’s time to fess up. Yes, we gave up our nearly 120-year-old home, and found a situation we really love.

Viva is the senior community my family and I joined in 2029 when my son turned fifty and I turned ninety. We occupy four large rooms with a central shower and storage area, and it’s all underground. Well-behaved pets are welcome, and we have two, a big yellow guide dog and a cute little pug. Now I just have to find a kitty who’s happy indoors.

Five hundred families share these living spaces on three levels. There are sixteen communities like ours. This is a test project, privately and publicly funded. We sacrificed many household items and some nostalgia keepsakes, but we are quite comfortable, with no great longing for the old days.

New times include the ability to cook and store food, but also to obtain meals from the food court with varying themes from day to day. We are allowed to host guests in accordance with program guidelines. In each apartment we hear thunder when it’s actually raining outside. My son says the glass screen is amazingly close to a window, because what he sees is open light space, not a wall or a TV screen. It heats a little, in accordance with the position of the sun. Theaters and sports areas vary with the season.

Aboveground walking, hiking, and pet exercise areas are available. Campouts and garden plots can be arranged. Elevators, ramps, and people movers allow for easy mobility inside and outside. Units with disability accommodation are available.

A physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner is on call 24/7. Appointments and medical diagnostic procedures are scheduled. There will soon be facilities for singles and couples. Technology is top level for communication, security, and automation of many household fixtures and chores. Club rooms for special gatherings or dining are available.

The residents decide and administer many of the contract agreements we are expected to follow. Residents may vacate if circumstances or preferences change. Deposits and lease agreements apply. We spend less money, and have more opportunities living here than we did in our single-family home. Residents are protected from violence and natural disasters. No weapons are allowed.

There’s not much of a dress code, but we are expected to be reasonable with our appearance and our behavior. I am active in a writers’ group, a medical discussion group, and am trying to find time for a crafters’ workshop. I can attend in person or virtually for any session. My husband is a monthly host for one of the community radio shows. He and my son work out with the other guys when I push them out the door. My son is on the “Help Needed” panel for technology questions brought by residents. We all participate in some local talent programs.

We live in Viva Louise. People who make significant donations can have a community named for a loved one. We live within fifty miles of an airport, so we travel to our country home three times a year for several weeks to visit with family. In fact, we’ll be down there this year from Thanksgiving through Christmas, and back here for New Year’s fun. Old friends and hobbies mean just as much as they ever did. I’m still with Behind Our Eyes, and write for Magnets and Ladders.

It’s time for lunch. Today’s best specials are at Bam Boom Barbecue. Catch you later.

Where Am I? creative nonfiction
by Marcia J. Wick, The Write Sisters

Author’s note: This is a slice of a day with my Dad, from his point of view. The events are real but I have supplied his thoughts or dialogue based on his actions and personality because he has dementia and no longer speaks.

Someone asks, “Are you hungry?” I open my eyes and don’t recognize the girl standing in front of me. Her name badge says “CNA.” Such a strange name.

I giggle at the sight of an assortment of brightly colored objects floating in a bowl in front of me. When I reach for a handful. The lady intercepts my arm and slips a spoon between my fingers. I look up, annoyed. What am I supposed to do now? She guides my hand and scoops some blue, red, and orange shapes onto the spoon and lifts it toward my mouth. I slurp the juicy fragments, swallow some and pocket some between my cheek and gum for later.

When the bowl is empty, the woman reappears and attempts to remove it from my tray. I’m not having any of her bossy ideas. I grab for the bowl but the girl, whatever her name is, whisks it away and wraps my fingers around the handle of a sippy cup instead.

“Drink some juice,” she instructs. “It will help you swallow your food,” she tips the cup for me. I swat at her hand with the spoon.

I can do it myself, can’t she see that? I close my eyes and make her go away. Somehow, the cup finds its way back to the bedside tray.

My idle hand begins to tap, tap, tap, and tap on my tummy. It’s a soothing motion. The rhythm helps me relax if I feel anxious when I don’t know where I am. The room and some of the people in this house seem familiar, but it sounds like they’re speaking another language. How is it that I’ve arrived in this strange place? I’ve been here for days, maybe longer, but I don’t remember how I got here. I want to go home – if only I could get out of this bed. I don’t have my car keys; I don’t even know where my car is parked. How will my wife know where to find me if I can’t tell her where I am?

The soothing sound of hiking boots trekking along a mountain trail catches my attention. I open my eyes and view a gurgling stream on the television. The staccato drumming of a woodpecker interrupts the tranquility. I wonder how long I’ve been hiking. I’m not feeling tired. I think I could go another five miles before setting up camp for the night. I snuggle into my sleeping bag and drift off, savoring the crisp mountain air. I feel the urge to pee and so I do. The smell of bacon wakes me.

I’m still here, but where am I? I’m looking out the window at a bird feeder. I flip through the pages of the morning paper and note the date and temperature. I’m familiar with the setting, but something is out of place. It’s not my wife bringing my breakfast, although it’s someone I think I should know.

Running Free, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal

A not uncommon practice,
Two souls amble along the water’s edge,
Leaving prints in cool wet sand
And relishing the time before them.

Warmed, not burned, by a rising sun,
These old friends enjoy the peace
Found in one another’s company
As seagulls shriek and dive.

Arching driftwood into salty air,
The man laughs as his dog takes chase.
Unencumbered by wheelchairs and service dog vests,
They race along eternity’s shore.

Do Age plus Experience Equal Wisdom? nonfiction
by Elizabeth Fiorite

I have a musty memory of a photograph of my almost four-year-old self with my arm around my almost two-year-old brother. I am looking straight at the photographer, bright eyed with a big smile on my face, and a headful of coiled dark curls. My brother, on the other hand, has that deer caught in the headlights look, and his hair is just a hint of the wavy dark mop it would become. It is not clear if the look of wide-eyed fear on my brother’s face is due to my arm over his shoulder or the presence of a photographer with a strange box that flashed a light.

I wish I had told him then, “Don’t be afraid, I will always protect you!” But I didn’t.

Some fifty years later, my brother died of a heart attack, leaving three children, ages 9, 12, and 14.

Now, more than eighty years have passed since that photograph was taken. My brother’s children are grown and have children of their own.

I have experienced hundreds of joyful, sorrowful, and glorious events in my long life but the combination of age and experience equaling wisdom has not proven to be as accurate as an algebraic equation. No doubt I should have nurtured the protective posture in my youthful photograph.

I do believe that most people are intrinsically good, that they will come to the aid of someone in distress, and that they will not intentionally hurt another human being unless drugs or alcohol or mental illness obscures their judgment. Granted, I know there are grifters and con artists out there, and some of them have made their way into politics and law and schools and churches. I choose to think that these people are the exception to the rule.

I believe that one lesson I have learned over time and through experience is that I must not only pray and be faithful to my beliefs but I must also, educate myself in order to participate in our democratic way of life. I need to assume a protective stance in favor of the elderly and the sick and disabled and the homeless. I need to know what goes on in our local community as well as in our state and nation. I need to speak up when I am aware that the injustice of misogyny and racism are fracturing our democracy. I have learned that it is possible for children to grow into strong and competent and loving adults without the loving guidance of their father.

I have learned that blindness is more of an inconvenience than a handicap.

Finally, I need to spend at least as much time praying as I do politicking. I need to accept the opinions of others who differ with me as legitimately holding a different view. I must remember to accept every person as loved into being by an extravagant God, who wills our wellbeing and happiness, not our punishment and suffering.

When I have accomplished all this, maybe, just maybe, I will have attained some measure of wisdom.

Bio: Elizabeth Fiorite has been a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, for over sixty years. Her first career was devoted to Catholic elementary education. After vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa, her second career began as a social services counselor for the adult blind in Jacksonville, Florida. Since retiring in 2013, she has enjoyed participating in church projects, Justice and Peace activities, facilitating peer support groups, and “Women of Vision.”. Her art work has been displayed in the Cummer Museum, and her articles have appeared in Behind Our Eyes, Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look, The Braille Forum, and in the National Catholic Reporter.

America, the Dream, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner

They tried to fabricate a dream,
a dream they never dared to live,
freedom for every citizen,
equality for everyone —
such an exceptional concept,
something not ready to be born.

It might be their future one day.
Perhaps one day, but not today.
They could not offer it to their slaves,
nor to their landless minions.
The women fought for generations
for their evasive equality.
They are still fighting today.

We could not abandon those words —
freedom and equality for all.
It seems to be what we all wanted,
but did not understand what that meant.

We tried so hard to realize.
Managed to rescind slavery,
but it was only a shadow
of what it had promised to be.
Negro peoples were still in bondage
by poverty, Jim Crow laws,
and the “separate but equal” words.

That never happened.
That could never happen.
But still the dream is a beautiful thing
worth maintaining and cherishing.

Our founders had a nice dream,
but we cannot look to them
to fulfill a dream that they could not.
Look to the ones who lack it the most.
Look to our peoples of color.
Look to the Jews who still remember.
Look to them to teach what it takes.
They will know when we are succeeding.

I pledge to the flag of freedom.
I pledge to the flag of equality.
I pledge to the flag of our dreams.

The Next Great Generation, nonfiction
by Winslow Parker

The US and Europe fought bloody battles over insignificant land. Turmoil and revolution wracked Russia. The effects of small depressions lingered.

Then came the Roaring Twenties, the flapper generation with short skirts and bobbed hair. The rich played, the poor borrowed to invest in a hot stock market whose top seemed infinite. It was a time of speakeasys, bathtub gin and the birth of organized crime.

Then October 24, 1929 dawned. Nothing was the same for over ten years. Stocks plummeted. Banks failed. Money devalued. Short skirts and bobbed hair were no longer the fashion. Rich playboys still played, but there were far fewer of them. The Fitzgerald era ended in a whimper. The Jazz Age was over.

War clouds loomed, lightning struck and the world was at war once again. This was not a war of trenches and artillery, but of grand naval battles, sneak attacks and rapid deployment of weapons. The US, once again, went to war.

Financial hardship, mechanized war, and home front rationing forged a generation of steel. These were our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. They were tough, resilient, resourceful, inventive. They shaped America into a world power, sent men to the moon on computers with less power than my watch, brought prosperity roaring back, rescued Europe from falling into third-world status, introduced technology into the home and gave us sitcoms. They called themselves “The Greatest Generation.” In many ways, they were. Fire-hardened, battle toughened, forced to do a lot with a little, they shaped the America in which we grew up.

We face something similar. We are engaged in unending war, muted though it be. We suffered through and survived the housing crisis of ’08. Now a wee beastie is pushing us to the brink of a cliff whose bottom is too distant for us to see. This nano-size, nonliving bit of protein terrorizes us, kills us, drains our resources, tests our mettle and ingenuity, our courage, our humanity. Only a prophet can predict its full ramifications. Perhaps we will emerge even stronger after a brief downturn. Perhaps not. Perhaps we will slide into depression. Perhaps anarchy will raise its ugly head. No one knows.

As in ’29, it was unforeseen and sudden. Few anticipated it. Now we huddle in isolation, finding contact through our electronic devices and in a new enforced family intimacy. All appears dark, foreboding, hopeless.

Casting our eyes back, though, 91 years, the trials, hardships, want and privation, the blood and gore of war formed a generation that changed the world. It was not in spite of, but because of, these hardships and tests of physical, mental and moral character that our immediate ancestors were thrust up from the plain into towering peaks.

Perhaps, should the worst happen, the outcome will be the same for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Perhaps this time of trauma will burn away the selfishness which we engendered, carve away the effects of the “Me” generation and forge the next generation.

The future is bleak, but not insurmountably so. Let us, the aged, do all in our power to support and nurture that which is yet unborn, a life still in the womb of the future. May it not be stillborn, but pushed forth from within the possible chaos and pain of present circumstances into a second Greatest Generation.

Stocker, poetry
by Elisa Busch

What do you do to save the world?
You lift boxes filled with green beans,
cream of mushroom soup, fruit cocktail
muscles straining never training for Olympics.
Of course you tire reaching high shelves
or bending to arrange each can in place.
Naturally your back, knees, heart aches
because up until now,
no one
thought of your importance at all.
Maybe you can’t read well,
you live in cramped quarters alone,
you walk miles just to keep this job
or you have a family savoring their breath-
reluctant to touch you when you arrive at home
fearing they might catch death by your hands.
What if’s scurry in your mind like rats
but you don’t have time or energy to dwell
nor do you stop to hear the not-enough toilet paper,
Clorox wipes, sanitizer complaints
thrown at you.

When this pandemic is over, we should have days of parades
for the doctors, nurses,
deliverers, restauranteurs,
police and firemen,
ambulance personnel
and you:
cheering louder than we did at sports arenas
for those who win battles fought for us.
You deserve higher pay?
What a ridiculous question.

Bio: Elisa Busch has contributed to Magnets and Ladders in the past and one of her stories and one of her poems was included in the anthology, Behind Our Eyes: a Second Look.

She has written for her church newsletter and composed a CD with her husband which is called “Sing Me Awake” and can be found through Amazon.

She is currently working on her creative nonfiction memoir called Close Calls and plans to publish a collection of her poetry sometime in the future.

Begin Again, poetry
by Brad Corallo

They come from all points of the compass.
Surreptitiously and unheralded each making their pilgrimage
to a bare, brown, isolated, winter field.
The chosen site is in a deep hollow.
They have no wish to be observed.
For time out of mind,
their rites have been maligned and misunderstood.

Several hours before midnight,
the great bonfire is lighted.
When the flames begin to kiss the dark night sky,
the drummers, softly at first
seek the proper rhythm.
Once found, the people begin to dance.
Round and round like the great wheel of the year.
For parts of the dance they join hands.
At other points, they dance together in small groups
and at times, singly.

They are banishing many unwanted and destructive things
that have been accreted during the past year.
As they feel their burdens lighten,
brimming wine skins are passed among them.
Thus cleansed, filled with joy and hope,
they welcome in a new year,
fully open to the possibility
of unimaginable promise.

Author’s note: “Begin Again” was inspired by Zoe Mulford’s magical song: “Welcome in Another Year”

Father Love, poetry
by Valerie Moreno

When I was five,
father love was sitting on your knee,
learning songs… “Baby Face”
“Let Me Call You Sweetheart”, “The Tree”.

At seven, there were
candy bars brought home each day after work, whispers you were ill–bleeding ulcers–surgery.
I sat on the back steps, crying.
Would my Daddy die?

You came home, gaunt and frail–
I was terrified at the change in you…
No more songs, just drops of criticism
that punctured my skin and heart.

I was ten when the drinking started…
First, Brandy added to after-dinner coffee spilling on the living room floor amid the drone of ignored TV.

Acid words and slaps with curses and belts convinced you had died on the inside– I feared you.

The liquor increased, so did my terror
as you became a raging volcano.
It was because of other people, you said.
Because of a thankless job, fights with family– mostly, though, it was me.
“You’re stupid!
Useless!” you told me. “You’ll never
amount to anything!”

I didn’t cry at your funeral.
I wondered if I was useless–
tears were buried under the tons
of hurt, anger and pain of never pleasing you.

Years later, when learning Alcoholism is a disease, I understood the madness and torment it caused.
Tears burned and poured until my
pillow and sheets were soaked through.

Much later, the stranger merged with
Daddy the one who’d sing and bring home candy.
I still hurt,
still cry on Father’s Day,
Father love silently comes amid
shadowy glimpses of you walking down our block.

It’s a tiny gem I hold in my heart.
I celebrate its sparkle in the deep night.

Bio: Valerie Moreno has been writing fiction and poems since age 12. Her inspiration is music, life experience and prayer. Her work has appeared in anthologies, magazines and fan fiction. She is totally blind.

The Spiritual Person, poetry
by Nancy Scott

knows deeds outlive people.
knows words outlive people.
knows the color Enchanted Land.
knows sprigs of honeysuckle behind one ear. knows birch trees and fur.
knows one singing robin at 5 a.m. knows the ritual of flying geese. knows broken toys.
knows wind chimes.
knows salt.
knows stealing.
knows how to curve memory. knows how to kill monsters.

Bio: Nancy Scott’s over 875 essays and poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, newspapers, and as audio commentaries. Her latest chapbook The Almost Abecedarian, appears on Amazon. She won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Her recent work appears in Black Fox Literary Magazine, Braille Forum, Chrysanthemum, Kaleidoscope, One Sentence Poems, Shark Reef, Wordgathering, and The Mighty, which regularly publishes to Yahoo News.

The Boat, poetry
by Ria Meade

I hope to find peace.
My fingertips make innocent ripples within larger currents
created by the welcoming craft I’ve made home.
Ask myself, why not leave by boat.
Determined to let currents take me
if all my achievements prove impossible to recapture.

Am I finally comfortable, even excited to leave everything behind?
Let the power of water lead this stern away
from the cloud of the invisible virus
clinging randomly – even to those prepared?
I simply cannot remain isolated from human touch
or wear masks forever, deprived of human expression.
It’s too much to ask.

I was afraid of boats. Afraid of drowning… from loneliness,
until now.
My calico is sick,
a new Labrador guide appears a pipedream.
The hearts of our world are beating in fear
and in fear of failing.

So, I take my new leg, in case we land ashore,
where walking “The Path” might hold chances for rebirth.
Place my other hand into the chilly bay waves to steady,
straighten, paddle if needed.
I sail alone, no motor, hands for oars, heart to trust
and know my prayers supply the rest.

Bio: A native Long Islander, Ria Meade crafts poems about her adult life as a blind woman. Painting since childhood, her passion culminated with a degree in fine arts. Twenty-five years after losing her sight, she began to paint again with words. Ria has recently completed her fifth self-published collection. She survives this vulnerable existence independently with her beloved guide dogs and many newly discovered senses.

Somewhere Down the Road, essay
by Kate Chamberlin

Somewhere down the road, our friend’s lake home dawns with a beautiful clear sky and morning sunrise. It’s a balmy 27° outside but nice and warm with the wood stoves running inside.

The lake is like a mirror reflecting the trees from the other shore. The loons are back and starting to lose their gray winter plumage. Our friends have seen a pair of Wood Ducks do their fly-bys of the camp in their synchronized flying style. Out in the water below, a pair of small ducks they can’t recognize, have been paddling up and down the shoreline. The geese have also found their way back. A few fisherman have made their way here too, a bass boat is flying past the camp in a rush to get somewhere to fish. So they guess except for the current temp, the winter has past, yet, we are still “socially distanced”.

Somewhere down the road in a grassy, open park, a family has gathered from the far corners of the county for their annual Memorial Day picnic. The families that quarantined together are grouped together. Each group is about six-feet from the other group, forming a large, loose circle, similar to an opalescent pearl necklace. They hoot and holler back and forth to each other through their unique, colorful home-made face masks. They want to hug each other and share the traditional, family picnic casseroles, as they used to. Each of the younger children has a pool noodle, because, ‘social distancing’is the mantra of the day.

Somewhere down the road, the homeowner is digging a victory garden in his back yard. The sod is fragrant as fresh dug dirt is and heavy from the recent spring down-pour. The tangled, matted grasses from last summer, make the sod difficult to remove. Visions of lush green vines heavy with pendulous zucchini; and nearby red, succulent tomatoes; orange baby carrots topped by their feathery fern-like leaves; blood red beets with deeply veined greens; and bright patches of companion marigolds dance in his head. To reduce the need to mow between the raised beds, the homeowner has place planks. The square-foot garden technique is easy to maintain and efficient, but, isn’t social distancing the plants taking it a bit too far?

Somewhere down the road, in our new reality, we’ll visit our friends on Butterfield Lake, host a feast made from the bounty of our garden, and hug our young and old family members, until our hearts are once again filled with tangible love and joy.

Historica Poetica, poetry
by Nancy Scott

Mark history’s calendar
clogged by not enough done.
Don’t write stanzas, enter intrigues,
cook casseroles or pick up the phone
’til after launch and the push uphill
and solar array deploy
on NASA’s high def channel.

Sit to watch
T-minus minutes
and the “holds”
that make you hold
your breath, knowing
this is no myth
though there are Dragons, swans and Starliners.

Feel the roar
of separation
from petrified stones
that can’t rise
to less anonymous light
and more anonymous dark.

Speaking Aspergian, poetry
by Sandra Streeter

Urgent words flow-ornamental spheres of glass-
Strung together-smooth-inviting just a whispered touch.
Cool, they move in small circumference-fast,
Perhaps they lack control-or have much

More than first surmised! Their dewy sense
Can swiftly sooth fever and delirium:
Partnered on the strand, each in suspense.
Who can guess their destination-even where they’re from?

Some question that I cannot pick a plainer bead.
The shiny ones enthrall: they have the power:
Seldom can I sing or even read
Aloud, what most can bring to fullest flower.

I hate that I am sometimes brought to tears,
Because my brain runs in a different gear!

Bio: Sandra Streeter, a blind graduate of the youth ministry program at Gordon College, and of Western Michigan University’s Blind Rehabilitation program, has had a lifelong passion for excellent communication of all kinds. Previously, she has dipped her toe in the “publication pool” through successful submissions to her high school literary magazine, Dialogue, and Our Special. A self-described “rabid fan of the progressive-rock band Rush,” she is currently embarking on the adventure of writing a chapbook about, and dedicated to, its late drummer/lyricist, Neil Peart.

The Ekphrastic Scream, poetry Second Place
by Barbara Hammel

Note: This poem is written for the painter, Edvard Munch and his painting, “The Scream” as well as for my son who has autism and is nonverbal.

When I first learned about you
I thought you were a crazy man
Standing alone
Head thrown back
Mouth wide open
Arms thrown out
I had no understanding of paint.

Then one day I met you
On a bigger piece of cardboard
Sewed in different textures
Standing alone
Hands over your ears
Mouth open wide
The world is too much
People are walking away
I know you now

I have held you in my arms
Rocked you
Swung with you
Heard you scream for endless hours
An ear-piercing shriek
Hands covering your ears
People walked away
The world is too much
Yes, I know you

Bio: Barbara Hammel lives in Urbandale, Iowa with her husband, twin sons and cat, Gandalf. Barbara has been writing poetry since she was sixteen. She contributed poems to a high school book and to her college dorm newspaper. She also has published a chapbook called Good-Bye Iowa Braille. She has also had a couple of articles published in Future Reflections. Barbara enjoys reading, writing, playing games and doing crossword puzzles. She was born blind.

Part III. Slices of Life

Bodyguards in Barcelona, memoir nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Maribel Steele

Dead with fatigue, we collapse onto our beds in the Hostal Cap d’Or. The aromas of freshly brewed coffee and ham omelettes wake us from our sleep. It is a small miracle to have found the seaside hotel last night in the dark, driving through cobbled streets hardly wide enough for two donkeys.

In the breakfast room, Harry, my husband, runs a hand through his matted hair. “I can’t believe it took nine hours to get here.” He picks up a coffee mug, cradling it thoughtfully.

Our teenage son, Mike, reaches across the table to grab two slices of toast. “It would help if we could read Spanish. The map didn’t make any sense.”

I wrestle a cloth napkin into place. “I did my best.”

Mike sips his orange juice and raises an eyebrow at me. “Mum, calling out from the back window to passing pedestrians was kind of embarrassing.”

My fingers lightly tap on my lap. Harry leans towards me, placing a hand on mine.

“Another coffee?”

“Please. With a shot of vermouth.”

My husband’s smile fortifies me, and I overlook the fact that our son is happily filling his plate for the second time with slices of cheese, black olives and Spanish ham.

“What’s the Plan?” Mike says, brushing away crumbs from the tablecloth.

Shifting my gaze from his plate to the window, I sigh. “Not sure.”

The grey skies and drizzling rain dripping on the street outside the beachfront resort thwarts Plan A – to swim in the blue waters of Tossa de Mar. Harry returns with a hot mug of coffee, and a plate of sweet treats. He eyeballs Mike. “There’s more over there, you can get your own plate.”

Harry and I exchange a glance. What to do now? He reaches into his coat pocket and looks at his phone. “Blast. I forgot I have no signal here.” He snaps it shut, and gently massages his forehead. “Would you like to visit the centre of Barcelona?”

The morning was moving along without us, and I was keen to explore something, anything we had marked on our “to-do” list while in northern Spain. “I’m game if you guys are”

During our trip through the Pyrenees, it surprised us how many tales the French had regaled about the dangers of sightseeing in Barcelona; pickpockets, car thieves and tricksters who could spring out of nowhere. We decide to take the train.

“Anything of value?” Harry glances at my shoulder bag while we line up for our tickets.

Being visually impaired, I sense my husband and son have appointed themselves as my bodyguards. “Let’s not panic, darling.” I clutch my bag tighter. “If we think we are a target, we will become one. I’m not putting that vibe out there.”

None of us speak as we rock and sway in the stale air of the train carriage. Harry sits drumming a monotonous rhythm on his camera bag. I pick a thread loose from my coat while staring out the window. Mike’s head droops and bounces against my shoulder. The journey takes an age, the country train crawling along the rickety coastal track.

My husband leans in, and mumbles into my ear. “We should have taken our chances and driven in.”

After one and a half hours, the train pulls into Barcelona. We stand on the street in the heart of this bustling city with millions of inhabitants, a sense of culture shock sweeping over us. The busyness of people and traffic rushing in every direction leaves us stunned, our feet glued to the cold cement. Harry points to a row of coaches pulling away from a kerb.

“Looks like it’s too late to do an afternoon bus tour. What do you want to do now?”

“I don’t know.” I shiver. A punishing gust of wind whips up and slaps my face, stinging my eyes. The greyness of the city clouds my thoughts as drizzle turns to rain. I am eager to find shelter. “Where are we? What can you see around here?”

Harry pulls up the collar of his coat, his eyes dart across the street. “Only a lot of shops.”

My touristy-nerves tingle. Mmm “What sort of shops?”

Still staring across the road, he says, “Er, El Corte Inglés over there.”

“El Corte Inglés?” I squeal, tugging Harry’s arm. “I can’t believe it. We’ve got to go in there.”

Mike throws a glance at Harry. “Not a good idea,” he says. “We could be here all day.”

I nudge my bodyguards, impatiently tapping my white cane on the wet pavement. “Come on, guys. We have to get out of the rain.” I move towards the kerb. “The store has everything. You’ll love it.”

My son catches hold of my hand and manoeuvres me across the road. “How do you know, Mum?”

We step closer to the store, and I give my son a smile. “I used to shop in El Corte Inglés when I visited Madrid as a kid. It’s the biggest department store in Spain.”

“What about the Gaudí architecture we came to see?” Harry says, staring up at the green and white shop logo.

“Sure, darling. We can do that after you help me find the perfume counter.” I coax them towards the electronic doors. He should have thought of that five minutes ago. El Corte Inglés had taken precedence over architecture, silly fellow.

We linger at several perfume counters, and after half an hour, with the purchase of a bottle of Arpege tucked away in my bag, I urge my husband to seek out the leather goods department.

“What are you looking for now?” whines Mike. “I thought you said you only wanted perfume?”

“We won’t be long,” I trill, the white cane tapping with a jolly rhythm. “We might as well look at handbags while we are here.”

My son drags behind, having lost interest as my bodyguard. Up a flight of escalators, we arrive in the field of leather goods.

“Handbags,” announces Harry. “What exactly are you looking for?”

The scent of European leather is intoxicating. I take a moment to reply and fold up my white cane in preparation for a tactile feast.

“A beautiful Spanish leather bag.”

“Are you crazy?” My son glares at me, “we are in a frigging shop full of handbags.”

In haste to curb the onset of a mother-son argument in public, Harry steps closer to our teenager and rests a calm hand upon his shoulder. Then he stands squarely to face me. “Now look, we don’t mind helping you,” he waves his hands with a flourish at the minefield of bags surrounding us, “but you have to tell us exactly what you are looking for or we could be here all day.”

I hold back the urge to say fine by me. “Maybe brown?” I hesitate. “No. Wait. Red would be better. I love the colour red.” I shake my head. “Wait. Black. black goes with everything.”

“Which is it? Brown, red or black?”

“I don’t know until I feel it.”

“How about this one?” Mike thrusts a brown bag into my hands.

“No. It’s not the right shape.”

His lips curl. “You said brown.”

“I don’t like that shape. It’s not me.”

Mike gives Harry a disbelieving look. “She said brown.”

“Or red – or black,” I shoot back, sensing busy shoppers milling around us, picking up bags and placing them down again. I can’t bear being parked to one side without being allowed to touch one single thing. With itchy fingers, I move towards a nearby shelf and plunge my hands into a collection of leather bags.


I have sent Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent bags tumbling unceremoniously to the floor. My son quickly gathers up the scattered debris, fuming under his breath. Harry grabs my wrist, a frown creasing his forehead.

“Darling,” he lowers his voice and speaks through gritted teeth. “Just explain what colour bag you prefer. How big you like it, what shape and texture. Please – let us help. It will make our lives easier.”

While my companions spend the next hour looking on my behalf for the “right” handbag, I discover the truth behind the saying, “men are from Mars, women are from Venus.”

A man wants to know all the engineering specifications up front: size, shape, colour, texture, width and diameter. Whereas a woman is open to the initial idea growing organically as choices expand – oddly misconstrued as changing her mind. A man is led by logical deduction; a woman likes to follow her heart.

“Sorry, no – no – and NO! Too small, too big, too stiff, too fake, too cheap, too expensive.”

When my repeated rejection of bags I am offered fail to meet the specifications, Harry and Mike are completely stumped.

“I give up,” says my husband.

“I’m starving,” glares my son.

I am over it too. My shopping frenzy has abated. To keep the peace, I agree to purchase a coin purse. We trundle out of the store and make a beeline for a cafe. Only a plate of food and strong coffee is going to restore harmony with my bodyguards.

Appetites satisfied, we walk several blocks to where the brilliance of Gaudi’s architecture, La Sagrada Familiastands. We linger to breathe in the scent of history, to shuffle along with other admirers under lofty stained-glass windows and touch a miniature model of the cathedral made for inquisitive fingers like mine.

Harry films everything, and while I tap my cane quietly within the sacred space, Mike is happy to be my tour guide. Eventually, Harry finds us sitting by a statue, our heads bent close in conversation.

“Ready to head back?”

Mike gets up from the wooden bench and reaches for my hand. “I’ll guide Mum.”

I squeeze his hand; my eyes shine back at him. How sweet.

“Yeah,” my son grins, “someone’s got to steer you clear of souvenirs.”

Once outside the cathedral, the sky is a deepening hue of grey. Our trio picks up pace, Harry leading the way towards the station. He glances over his shoulder, and for a fleeting moment, I sense my bodyguards relax, exchanging a wink and a smile.

“Bodyguards in Barcelona” will be published in SPARX, an anthology by The Society of Women Writers, Victoria, Australia. It will be available in print in November 2020

Bio: Maribel Steel is a freelance writer, an award-winning speaker and the author of Blindness for Beginners. She lives in Australia and is legally blind with RP. She contributes articles as a peer advisor for VisionAware and wrote for She has over 200 short stories and personal essays published online and in print journals. Maribel has appeared on national radio, podcasts, blogs and TV. During COVID-19, she is helping young writers to create chapter books for publication. Maribel has raised four children and enjoys exploring art and new places with her husband and guide dog.

Her work can be found on Amazon at: Visit her website at:

Interstate Towns, poetry
by Shawn Jacobson

We pass by interstate towns: Newton, Grinnell, Belle Plain.
The highway cuts ruler straight, matched sets of road,
across the rolling fieldscape, the Iowa scenery.
The sun rises before us. The sky brightens
as with the dawn, we journey sunward.
We drive past interstate towns: Bloomington, Champaign, Danville.
The distance is long, the land stretches through interminable miles.
We have attained Illinois, we aim to reach Ohio by dusk,
and fields, towns, states are left behind us as we progress.
We break for lunch, a chain restaurant in a concrete maze.
The waitress asks about my catfish; I say it’s fine.
This is the fare we’ve come for, the known’s familiar comfort.
We negotiate the cluttered giftshop then travel onward.
But, if I left this concrete labyrinth, what would I see?
A town from my childhood, with old houses, green yards,
with little family shops, a courthouse square?
But, I will never know, time calls us back to the road.
More interstate towns recede: Cumberland, Hancock, Hagerstown.
The prairie turned mountainous overnight through the magic of the miles.
Home is not far now, the land of work and normal life.
The journey fulfilled, until we venture out again.
We’ve often passed these interstate towns: Greenfield, Richmond, Dayton.
And all the versions of the voyage combine different yet the same.
Yet I wonder about the miles between, the unseen spaces,
the little things we pass by, the interstate towns.

Bio: Shawn Jacobson was born totally blind and obtained partial eyesight through dint of several eye operations. He attended the Iowa School for the Blind, Iowa Braille, for twelve years before graduating from Marshalltown High School. He received two degrees from Iowa State University. He then went to work for the US Government where he has worked for 36 years. Shawn now lives in Olney, MD with his wife Cheryl, son Stephen, and an ever-changing pack of dogs. His daughter Zebe lives up the road in Baltimore.

City Slideshow, poetry
by Brad Corallo

The 2-bit, counterfeit biker boy
with his Kawasaki and his vinyl jacket
brags about, he’s on the street
but his dad’s in a high tax bracket.

And scarred little Tommy-Suzie
tryin’to figure out what she is.

Wanna speculate in real estate?
Those nice gents in suits, scam masters, connected brutes.
Chances are you’ll buy a farm,
fast and without a trace.
Cops just shake their heads, not our business!
Absolutely, no alarm!

Wheelchair veteran, greasy matted hair
hangs on the corner with his flag and cup.
Aint getting much action today.
Zoned out people, shuffle by
no earthly reason to look up.

And 2 blocks down, an African guy in a turban
is preaching for Jesus and redemption.
Handin’ out soup kitchen chits and holy tracts.
But nobody pays attention!

In the park by the old war monument,
currency and product change hands.
Business school dropouts, black market sharps
offer Chemdog and MexStar, top name brands.

Screech of sirens as the cops
blow down 53rd chasin’
some unholy maniac in a djellaba,
wielding a loaded cross bow
screaming something about justice!

Air horns blow, air breaks grab.
Buses push ahead; cars backfire.
Are those gunshots?
Doesn’t matter, no one pays any mind.

Hordes of people hurry down broken sidewalks,
trying to get from here to there with minimal eye contact.

Wafting smells of Italian food cooking
mingle with scents of overflowing litter baskets.

Just another day in the city.
Where life is on the cheep
and uptown players look so pretty.

Down a filthy alley
spatter-dot painted with trash and broken glass-
behind a dumpster reeking from rotting restaurant scraps-
a gray, stray flea bitten tabby
tenderly suckles her new born kittens.

Note: Special Thanks to Peter Altschul for Title consultation.

Children on the Swings, poetry
by Jo Elizabeth Pinto

Children on the swings,
Motion to nowhere,
And now is all of
The future they need.

Children on the swings,
Fancies of flying,
Laughter springs forth at
Just being alive.

Children on the swings,
Higher and higher,
Ambition is born–
The race for the sun.

Bio: Jo Elizabeth Pinto was among the first blind students to integrate the public schools in the 1970’s. In 1992, she received a degree in Human Services from the University of Northern Colorado. While teaching students how to use adaptive technology, she earned a second degree in 2004 from the Metropolitan State College of Denver in Nonprofit Management. She freelances as an editor and a braille proofreader.

As an author, Pinto entertains her readers while giving them food for thought. In her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, she draws on personal experience to illustrate that hope is always an action away.

Pinto lives in Colorado with her husband, her preteen daughter, and their pets.

Paradise Island, memoir
by Maribel Steel

“Go, go, GO!” yelled the tour guide. “Get back in the car. Now, now, NOW!”

He clapped his hands with military vigour as we dived back into the 4-wheel-drive, eight of us crammed up like squished and confused sardines. Scrambling to find the seat belt, I raised an eyebrow at Harry. We should have known we were in for an interesting ride when the tour guide demanded cash up front.

“It’s for National Parks,” said our Aussie Rambo guide, “nothing to do with me.”

“What about a receipt?” my husband quizzed, handing the barefoot tour guide a wad of cash.

“Receipt? We haven’t got time for that.”

Trapped in a quiet car park in Noosa, the deal was done. Heading north for the next two hours, we tried to get comfortable and relax into conversation with the other tourists. We were going to the oldest sand dunes in the world.

One would have thought that eight people sitting on top of each other might strike up interesting conversation; instead, a silence enveloped us. We were in a state of shock. We were getting the strong impression that we were being absconded to a secret military base in the top end of Queensland, and not to the treasured Unesco World Heritage Site we had booked to see.

Our tour guide had decided only he should talk. “No interruptions, mate, and no talking to each other. You’re my guests, right?” His chin raised a notch. “So I reckon I should tell youse all about the island.” His monologue went on for the entire trip, and any comments offered were squashed under his alpha-male response. “Look, mate. We can’t both talk,” he snarled. “Youse have paid good money for this trip, right? So I reckon youse all deserve royal treatment. I wanna give you your money’s worth, can’t ask for more than that.”

The silent glances exchanged between us in the back seat conveyed a different opinion. Cooped up in the troop carrier, Harry and I held hands. It had been my idea to book this trip to Fraser Island with the bonus comfort of a guided tour option.

We normally preferred to organize our own sight-seeing, hire our own car and liked the freedom to roam where we pleased. But what lured us away from our usual style of travel had been the tour blurb: “You’ll be driven by an experienced driver who will show you all the best sights on the island.”

We sent silent signals offering camaraderie: be brave, we can do this, the drive will be over soon. Smile. We can survive his crap.

By now, we were zooming along the east coast of Queensland on a seventy-five-mile-long beach. Other 4-wheel-drives, cars and tour buses hummed along the shoreline. We were on a race against the tide, the sand ‘highway’changing with the ebb and flow of the ocean current, the drivers plotting a defiant course against Mother Nature to reach their destination.

Our Aussie guide glanced out his window, his eyes drawn towards the crashing ocean waves. “Man, it’s a great place to go surfing. Awesome surf out there, for sure.”

“Who cares? Just drive,” said one of the other tourists under his breath. He and his sister were as eager as we were to arrive at our accommodation. We couldn’t wait to be freed from the shoebox on wheels.

Rambo swerved the troop carrier to the left and pulled on the brake and announced in the middle of nowhere, “OK. Here we are. Wobby Lake. Four kilometres down that track. I’ll wait here in the car.”

“What?” A chorus of protest. We hadn’t bargained on having to trek in the blistering heat to see one of the island’s attractions on our own. Eight of us tumbled out of the car, stretching our legs and gathering up our backpacks.

“Why aren’t you coming?” asked Mickey from New Zealand, tackling the Commando who sat behind dark sunglasses.

He cocked his head, then gave our fellow traveller a condescending smile

“You’ll be right, mate. It’s only an hour’s walk. Just stay left of the track and you won’t get lost. I’ve got to do some paperwork and check that your accommodation is ready. Be back here in two and a half hours.”

We stood by the signboard with a map of the track with a red dot – You are HERE.

“It’s a 4.8-kilometre return walk,” Harry said, studying the directions. “We’ll be walking through eucalyptus and mangrove forests, wallum and peat swamps. Still interested?”

I applied sunscreen to my arms, the skin tingling under the rays of a midday sun, watching the others begin their trek. I considered our options. Was it worth trekking through burning sand dunes to paddle in the fresh water lake which only appeared as a mirage on the map – or should we simply enjoy a refreshing swim in the clear blue ocean a few meters away?

I knew from past experience that this walk through deep soft sand would be a tough one. My white cane would be impossible to use, forcing us to go at a snail’s pace. I imagined every step needing Harry’s guidance, physically and verbally. The odds were, by the time we made our way to the freshwater lake, it would be time to head back.

“Let’s give it a go,” I said, concealing my dread.

Harry swept me into a hug, and we set off on the narrow sandy path, as cheerful as Hansel and Gretel; hand in sweaty hand, ignoring the sun beating down. Half an hour later it was obvious, we were not going to make the full distance. The path dropped away into scratchy scrubland, making me trip over goatsfoot vine and beach spinifex. My feet sank into deep pockets of soft sand, sending me to the ground like a fallen eucalypt.

We came across wooden steps buried in the path, all of varying heights and with no warning. It took another hour in the heat of the day to retrace our steps back to the beach. With much cajoling to keep each other’s spirits high, we heard the sound of the ocean, pounding waves onto the shore, and ran into the sea – screaming.

Rambo beeped his horn. “Hurry up, you two. We are ready to go.”

The scene swam back into focus. In our bubble of enjoyment, we hadn’t noticed everyone had piled back into the troop carrier. Harry and I slunk back to the prison on wheels and padded across the wet sand as slowly as we dared.

Off we sped. Rambo showed off in top gear, dodging rocks littering the beach. A sharp turn left and the landscape changed.

“Hold on, this is the fun part,” said Rambo, jamming his foot down harder.

The beach was far behind us and we were hurtling down a bush track, barrelling past Scribbly Gums and Piccabeen Palms, Brush Box and Pandanus. Ruts in the sandy earth sent us flying in our seats, our heads hitting the roof of the car. But the squeals of horror only excited our driver even more.

“Love it, hey?”

“No! yelled Mickey’s sister, Her eyes, wide and terrified. “Why are you driving like a maniac?”

“Hey. Trust me, I’m skilled at this,” said Rambo. “You have to drive in the right gear. Would you rather get bogged in the sand?”

No one replied. We were too busy untangling our limbs from each other. Even with our seat belts on, we were being whirled about as if by a manic washing machine, landing on the person next to us.

“Come on, guys. Where’s your spirit of adventure?”he said, ignoring our requests to drive in low gear.

Forty-five minutes later, we arrived at our accommodation. With muscles aching, we toppled out of the troop carrier.

“I’m so looking forward to a swim in the pool,” Harry said as he collected his camera gear and handed me my battered bag. I beamed at him. What a delicious thought.

Another tour guide took over from Rambo. He herded the eight of us into the resort foyer and instructed us to wait. He had a more pressing job at hand, to attend to HIS “special guests” – who had to be shown to their rooms first.

“OK,” he said on his return twenty minutes later. “Back in the car.”

“Is this for real?” The eight of us protested. Harry eyed him with silent dislike.

“Back in the car,” he repeated, a curl on his bottom lip. “I’ve got to drive you to your shared accommodation. It’s two kilometres down the road – unless,” he added with a smirk, “you want to wait for the bus?”

“Talk about false advertising,” complained Harry. “What about access to the resort’s swimming pool?”

Their eyes locked.“ Mate, you can still use the pool,” he said. “But you booked the shared dormitory down the road. A two-kilometre walk won’t kill you, will it?”

At breakfast the following morning, Harry and I were deep in conversation. We sat in the resort buffet, contemplating whether we had the stamina to go through another day with the tour guide from hell. It seemed such a waste of money to forgo the pre-paid itinerary, but the opportunity to remain in the resort to dip in the pool or to take a leisurely stroll through the native rainforest were options we could handle.

Harry went over to the buffet to check out what was on offer. I sipped fresh coffee, thinking of our options. I caught the sound of an American accent on the next table and made an impulsive request to the guy talking to his friend.

“Excuse me,” I smiled. “If you had the choice to stay here and relax in the resort or go on a tour with a guide from hell, what would you do?”

The young Californian looked at me and fired his advice, as straight as an arrow. “Go with the challenge. You’re here now, you might as well embrace it.”

By the time Harry returned with bowls of fresh fruit salad, I announced, ”Let’s embrace doing the tour today.”

My husband fell into his seat, taking a minute to reply. “I’m up for it, if you are?”

After a second cup of coffee, I picked up my cane, and slipped my tote bag onto my shoulder. Hand in hand, we strolled out to meet Rambo who was sitting atop the troop carrier.

“G’day, mate. I’ve got a great day planned.”

Squeezing my hand, Harry returned the smile. No matter what Rambo may have planned, we set our minds to enjoy all the highlights of Paradise Island. Later that day, we swam in the cool waters of McKenzie Lake, watching from a distance, Mickey and his sister splashing around with our tour guide – in a “playful” attempt to drown him.

A version of “Paradise Island” was published in SPARX, a print journal of The Society of Women Writers, issue 3, 2018

A Finely Crafted Traveling Song for the New Year: From Georgia to Morgantown, found poem
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

Author’s note: Most of the words and phrases in this poem are traffic signs, billboards, and bumper stickers.

Hurling towards Charlotte
North on I-85
Around noon


Coca-Cola truck
Faded red signs
Clemson fans moving South
Towards the Peach Bowl
Tiger Paws
Black and Orange
Good Times in the Country

Along the way
Crossing Buffalo Creek
PEACHES – We grow our own
The Sweetest Around.

200 miles north of Atlanta
A Giant Peach
30 – 70% Savings
Gaffney Water Tower

An Eagle advertises gasoline prices

Increase your vocabulary
Say it with Flowers
Somebody’s baby girl
Clutches her ear and cries
In the back seat.


South Carolina Welcome’s You
Blue snow on red clay mounds
The sun warms
My shoulder
Night will bring
Through my window to the East
Before I reach Morgantown.

“A Finely Crafted Traveling Song for the New Year: From Georgia to Morgantown” was previously published in Concerti: Psalms for the Pilgrimage, Kota Press. 2002.

Shoes: A Rap, poetry
by Elizabeth Fiorite

Now I sit and muse planning which shoes to choose
For this dissertation.
I dismiss the heels, they lack appeal
And stop my circulation.
I choose not to choose the reds and blues
Those are for celebrations.
Sandals won’t be chosen my toes will be frozen
And the sand causes consternation.
Pumps aren’t cool and Oxfords are for school.
Here, there’s no consideration.
If I choose in haste it shows lack of taste,
And discrimination.
I’ll never choose the boots, they go with army suits
And I’m for demilitarization.
I think the shoes I’ll go for are my trusty old brown loafers,
And they need no explanation.
That’s the story of the shoes I chose this is but the least of those
I offer for your delectation!

Ray, memoir
by Paul D. Ellner

He is a creature with limits like me. He cannot vocalize words, read, write or obtain his own food, but he has some unique abilities. He understands a lot of English and has a distinct personality. He is playful, loves affection, but is serious when he is working. I clearly remember the first day, seven years ago, when he came into my life.

I was sitting in my room at the Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, NY, when the instructor entered accompanied by a large, black Lab on a leash. She carried a container of dog food which she placed on the table. “We think this is the best dog for you,” she said. When I did not respond she continued, “He is three, a little older than the others, but then,” she smiled,” so are you.” I was eighty-eight, deaf and blind for the past ten years. During those years, I had become almost completely dependent upon others. She disconnected the leash and dropped it on the floor. “Let us know how you make out. He has been fed already. His name is Ray.” She turned and left.

Ray walked over, slowly stopping in front of me. I reached over to pat his head tentatively. It had taken me almost a year to get here. Ray looked out of the window where other dogs and students were working together, turned to look at me full in the face. I was getting a message. I’ll take good care of you, if you want me. “Yes, I want you. I need you.” He thumped his tail repeatedly on the floor. For the rest of the day, he and I interacted, each growing more trusting.

In the days and weeks that followed, Ray and I worked with the instructor. She showed me how to put on his harness and pick up his poop. Ray seemed to know all of the commands and responses as if he had done this before. I was really the student. We worked on city streets, learning when to cross, on country roads, in department stores with escalators, and in restaurants. We rode in vehicles together. When graduation day finally came, my family proudly watched as Ray and I sat for a photo. At home, an instructor came for a week to familiarize Ray and me with our country streets without sidewalks and trails through the woods.

Ray and I worked together for about a year when we had an exciting experience. He and I walked to the West Lodge. He waited in the locker room while I changed my shoes for sneakers and then he lay patiently along side of the treadmill while I did my thirty-minute workout. Then Ray guided me towards home.

About halfway down the street, Ray suddenly stopped abruptly near one of the garbage bins.

“Why are you stopping?” I asked him. “Let’s go!”

Ray didn’t budge. It was as if he was anchored in place. He looked pointedly at the garbage bin, and then I saw it. A large black bear about five feet away from us.

“Forward,” I commanded, but instead, Ray made a right turn taking me to the yellow line and then down the street while constantly looking alternatively at the bear and then ahead. The bear remained on all fours, didn’t move, or utter a sound. Ray remained silent while continuing to take me away from the bear at a normal pace. I was too stunned to feel fear until later, when I considered that if Ray had growled or barked, the bear might have felt threatened and attacked us. I think the bear was probably confused, and I know that Ray was scared, but he kept his cool and continued to do his job taking me safely home.

Nevertheless, it is comforting to know that come hell or high water, Ray does his job guiding me safely.

Through the years Ray and I have grown closer than two humans. Although he has his own bed, he sleeps on the floor next to mine and wakes me gently in the morning with his nose against my neck. He greets everyone, friend or stranger, and would probably lead them to where we keep the silver. He loves when I massage him, rolling on his back with his legs in the air. He is not overly demonstrative, rarely giving my hand a single lick. I love him like I love my children, and he loves me. He has accompanied me into restaurants, doctor’s offices, ER’s and hospital rooms waiting for me to join him and leave. He has infinite patience. Labs generally live seven to twelve years, and I hope that he will survive me.

Bio: Dr. Ellner is 95-years-old and served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He received a Ph.D. at the University of Maryland College of Medicine. He taught microbiology and infectious disease to medical students at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons as Professor of Microbiology and Pathology.

He has published many articles and several medical books. Dr. Ellner became deaf twenty- five years ago and blind fifteen years later. He has written poetry and self-published four novels, a biography, and a collection of short stories. He has a blog “Visions of a Blind Writer.” He lives in Connecticut with his wife and guide dog.

Broken Glass and Rose petals, poetry
by Jessica Arnold

A little room
Inside myself
Gone unused
Like a dusty shelf
On the floor strewn
Broken glass
And rose petals

Sconces golden
Their candles gone dark
Shadowed and cold
As an empty hearth
Sometimes I come
And stand there amongst
The broken glass
And rose petals

And now and again
Tears try to mend
Broken glass
And rose petals

Bio: Jessica Arnold was born September 21, 1990, in Michigan, and is blind. She enjoyed rhyming assignments in Elementary school, but her love for words didn’t
blossom until later, when she discovered writing as one way to escape stress. Jessica participates in writing activities, predominantly on Twitter,
and is always open for expanding her outlets. She is the author of the blog “From My Heart to Your Ears”, and also a co-host on the “Genre Book Club Podcast”,
which can be found on Apple, iHeartRadio, and Spotify. Jessica’s interests include reading, crafts, health/fitness, music, and nature.

Love is Blind, fiction
by Robert Gardner

The two of us sat alone at my kitchen table. Then he rose, deciding it time to go to his own apartment. I continued to sit there, immobile. Finally, I spoke to him, my head still down. “You know, well, I feel sort of uncomfortable when you tell me that. How you feel about me. After all, I do have a husband.”

He let out a long sigh. “I know, and I’m sorry. I know it’s got to be awkward for you. It certainly hasn’t been a lot of fun at times for me either, feeling the way I do.

“I want to be sure I haven’t frightened you here tonight. I’m not some kind of crazy trying to get you to run away with me. I’m not proposing marriage to you, and I’m not trying to get you to have sex with me. I just have these feelings for you, and I can’t seem to help how I feel.”

Still standing there, he went on. “Like I said to you, I never wanted to have these kind of feelings. At the beginning, I was angry for having them. I had enough stress with the training without having to deal with them. But it is what it is.”

Then he added, “I understand when you say you don’t feel that way about me. That’s fine. That’s what it is, also.”

I raised my head, hopefully looking into his face. “So what happens now?”

“I don’t know.”

I followed him as he headed for the door of my apartment. To where his long white cane stood in a corner. Next to mine. “Thanks for supper,” I said to his back. “I always enjoy going there. It’s a nice place.”

“I’m glad you had a good time,” he said. We stood facing each other in what might be called a foyer, the little space in front of my door. He chuckled. “At least you’re willing to go get something to eat with me.”

“I’m sure some of the other students think I’m leading you on.”

“Leading me on to get a free meal?”


He chuckled again. “I think I’m old enough to know when someone’s leading me on. And if sometimes you are, it’s okay. Doing that I get to be with you, and that’s all I care about. I know money’s a problem for you, and it isn’t for me.”

There we were, in Minneapolis, at a training center for the blind. Both of us far from home, both of us committed to nine months of training. Training in skills like travel mobility, Braille, cooking, computers, and a variety of other things. Skills to make us more independent, skills to make us more competitive in a sighted world. Training that pushed us out of our comfort zone every day. Having us live in our own units in a regular apartment house some distance from the training center had proven to be a learning experience in itself.

And he and I were married. Just not to each other. To do what we were doing, he’d left his wife behind for all those months, and I had similarly left my husband behind. Then once we were here, something happened between us. Something that added an additional layer of anxiety to our new lives in Minneapolis, a layer of anxiety atop the ever present one of the training itself.

“I remember back,” he’d told me earlier in the evening. “By accident we were sitting next to each other at one of our regular seminars for us students. That was maybe our third week here.

“Already by the week before, our second week here, you were pinging on my radar screen. When I heard your voice in the hallways, or when I was around you in a class, it was like a tuning fork went off inside me. I knew then, already then, something was going on with me when it came to you.”

“Okay,” I’d mumbled. Inside me, a flame flared involuntarily from what he was saying. And I’d been embarrassed, even ashamed, at that flame.

He’d gone on with his recollections. “When we got up to leave at the end of the seminar, one of us asked the other something, and somehow I found myself holding your hand. I remember how warm it was, almost hot. And how I didn’t want to let it go. Then I knew. I had to admit, at least to myself, how I felt about you. Do you remember that meeting?”

“I don’t think so,” I’d said, lying. “That was over a month ago. We’ve had lots of seminars since then.”

But yes, I thought, standing now at my door next to him, I had remembered that seminar. And if my hand had been warm back then, the rest of me, my entire body, had kept getting warmer, warmer, warmer.

He retrieved his cane, then turned back to face me. “I’m sorry, but tonight I just had to tell you. I didn’t ask to feel this way, but I do, and I thought I’d explode if I didn’t tell you.”

I stood there, mute, trying to form some kind of appropriate words to end the night.

Then he spoke. “I guess I better get up to my place.”

My voice came out soft. “Okay.”

“I guess I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”

“Yes.” Since there were only a dozen of us students, there was no doubt of that.

Then his arms were around me. I couldn’t help myself; mine went around him also.

He whispered down into my hair. “I told you, I’m not interested in getting out of my marriage. And I want to be faithful to that marriage, if you know what I mean. So these feelings I have can be rough for me at times. But how I feel about you is my problem. I don’t want it to be a problem for you.”

I laid my head against his chest and said nothing. Outside of a brief hug soon after we first met, that no more than one of comradeship, we’d never held each other like this before. He felt so big, so strong, so… right.

He kissed me on top of my head, then released me. “I guess I better get going,” he said. “Remember, this is all my problem, not yours. See you tomorrow at school.”

I could only whisper as the door closed behind him. “Bye.”

When he was gone and the door completely shut, I pressed my forehead against that cold, inside metal surface, my eyes tearing. “No,” I whispered again, “it’s not just your problem.”

Bio: Robert Gardner worked his entire life as an engineer after receiving degrees from Purdue University and Stanford University. He grew up sighted, then lost his eyesight as an adult. He is now totally blind. He lives with his wife on the banks of the Mississippi River in the northwest Illinois town of Hampton. He has had short stories and articles accepted in publications associated with the National Federation of the Blind.

The One, poetry
by Selina Boone

You are drawn to me magnetically
Feeling an irresistible pull.
I am enticing and alluring.
Mysterious and enigmatic.
You are hypnotized and mesmerized.
You are filled with awe and wonder.
Doubt begins to creep in, and you ask yourself if I have cast a spell.
Where is the one who will stand beside me within my sacred circle?
Protector and protected.

You crave and yearn to touch me.
You feel challenged to thaw that icy chill.
Melting me down drop by drop.
Leaving a puddle into which you can safely dip your toes.
Obliviously unaware that there is so much more, hidden and waiting beneath the glassy surface.
How long must I search for the one who will bravely take my hand?
Boldly diving in head first with me
Swimming through the swirling, churning currents.
Devoid of fear and panic.
Ceaselessly plunging ever down into the unknown depths.

You are intrigued and captivated.
Fascinated and a bit fixated.
You feel an urgent need to warm yourself beside the radiant heat of my fire.
Where is the one who will dance naked with me around the raging flames?
Arms and face raised to the starry sky.
Unabashedly howling at the full moon, unashamed.

You long to taste my kiss.
Inhale the scent of my skin and hair.
Filled with an overwhelming desire to feel me wrapped around you.
Clinging tightly, snugly.
My fierce passion enveloping you entirely.
Swallowing you whole.
I am endlessly searching for the one who will wear my passion as a mantle of courage.

My voice is healing music.
A balm which soothes your aching, weary soul.
It whispers and calls to you when you’re awake.
It haunts your dreams in the night.
I seek the one who will sit with me long.
Weaving words into rich and detailed tapestries.
Our combined strains creating harmonies which float and drift through the air.
Like gossamer threads of spider silk.

Bio: Selina is a 47-year-old visually impaired woman, who resides in Southern California. She is a Certified Massage Therapist, Musician, and Eclectic Wiccan. She is an avid reader, creative writer, and some of her interests include, but are certainly not limited to: riding motorcycles, camping, hiking, swimming,
and many other outdoor activities. She also thoroughly enjoys working with essential oils.

Sharing Gifts, poetry
by Carol Farnsworth

So little time, so much to do.
Rising bread and brittle to make
I sip some coffee and take a break.
A missing ingredient eludes.
Some peace, love and kindness too.
They are the reasons for what we do.
I put down my cup and grab the phone.
I call my daughter to invite her home.
Together we knead the bread and spread warm brittle, too.
We laughed and talked till our work was through.
Packed it up complete with a bow.
We made our deliveries through the snow

Bio: Carol Farnsworth has degrees in Special Education and a Masters’ in Speech Pathology with a minor in Child Drama. She was born with Glaucoma and is now totally blind. Carol lives on the west side of lower Michigan. In addition to writing and giving talks to support groups, her time is filled with knitting, gardening and riding a tandem bike with her husband, John.

Snow Ice Cream, fiction Honorable Mention
by Jo Elizabeth Pinto

As soon as the door closed behind the social worker, silence fell over the room, broken only by the soft crackling sounds of a log settling in the fireplace. The teenager stood beside the door where he’d been standing since his arrival, a rolled-up blanket tucked under one arm.

“You hungry, Ben?” the middle-aged man at the table asked, busy mending a pair of jeans. “There’s chili in the fridge.”

“No thanks.”

“Suit yourself. You’ll have to put down that bedroll sooner or later, though. Why not drop it on the couch for now?”

Ben hesitated, then shuffled across the hardwood floor and laid his blanket on the couch. His gaze darted around the room, coming to rest on a framed picture over the fireplace. He froze, staring at the smiling couple in the photo. The sullen scowl on his face hardened into an angry glare.

He strode to the fireplace in three quick steps, snatched the framed photograph off the wall, and flung it face down on the floor. “How could you? I don’t wanna look at ‘em!”

“Fair enough.” The man calmly crossed the room and picked up the photo. He glanced at it, then slid it into a desk drawer. “I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about seeing your folks up there. My question just got answered.”

“Yeah, it did,” Ben snapped.

“Look, Ben …” The man trailed off, then tried again. “The Iraq thing sucks. You lost a dad; I lost a brother. We need to make this work while your mom pulls herself together. We can fight each other or be a team, but either way, it’s you and me.”

Ben stared at his tennis shoes.

His uncle glanced out the window by the table. “It’s snowing again.”

Ben shrugged.

“Your dad loved the snow. Winter was always his glory season.”

Ben nodded slightly.

His uncle pressed on. “His old racing sled is still in the barn somewhere. He was legendary-the fastest thing on runners around here. He set records on the hill behind the church that haven’t been touched in thirty years.”

A hint of a smile creased Ben’s mouth for a second. Then the boy bit his lip and went back to glowering at his Reeboks®.

“We could drag out that sled tomorrow when there’s more daylight.”

Ben shrugged again.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing the old girl again myself, maybe giving her a fresh coat of paint.” The man picked up the torn jeans from the table and found his needle. “Ever had snow ice cream?”

“Snow what?”

“Your dad and I used to … I’m surprised he never …” It was the uncle’s turn to look down at his shoes. He swallowed hard. “Grab two spoons and two big mugs from the dish drainer.”

Ben obeyed, eyebrows raised.

“Go outside and put a nice clean snowball in each mug, about twice the size of your fist.”

While Ben carried the mugs outside, his uncle took a jug of cream from the refrigerator. He whistled absently as he reached for a glass bottle on a high cupboard shelf.

“What’s that?” Ben asked as he re-entered the kitchen on a blast of icy wind.

“Maple syrup.”

“How come it’s so dark?”

“It’s real syrup from tree sap, not fake junk made of corn. Tastes like heaven.”

The man splashed some cream over the fresh snow in each mug, then drizzled syrup generously on top. He handed his nephew a spoon and began stirring his own concoction.

“Mix it up good,” he said as he took his first bite. “A treat fit for God Almighty.”

He watched as Ben stirred up his ice cream and then put the spoon to his lips. A smile spread slowly over the boy’s face, starting at the corners of his mouth and making it all the way to his eyes.

Part IV. The Writers’ Climb

Word Portraits, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

In library galleries,
word portraits–
framed in leather,
hardback, or paper–
decorate geometric metal and wooden shelves,
not graceful easels.

Word portraits
are lacquered onto pages,
bound together tightly:
with a multiple fan feature,
movement glides from left to write,
then, a turn from right to left.
Ah-ha! The Literary Butterfly
floats under a right-hand page
and lifts the page to the left.
Two new word portraits appear.

In this fictional or nonfictional fashion,
I continue through the word portraits
of each chaptered room of this gallery.

With butterfly grace,
reading powerfully uplifts
the most artful,
imaginative, enriching
flight of the mind.

Bio: The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the holiday Season is the first book by Alice Jane-Marie Massa. To read more about this collection of holiday memoirs, short stories, and poetry (available from Amazon, BARD, etc.), visit Alice’s author page:

Additionally, Alice invites you to visit her Wordwalk blog: where, since 2013, she has posted her poetry, essays, memoirs, or short stories concerning her four guide dogs and other topics.

With master’s degrees from Indiana State University and Western Michigan University, Alice taught full-time for 25 years, including 14 years of teaching writing at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

A Work in Progress, personal essay
by Emmet Kelly

“Limited Sight, Unlimited Opportunities.”

This “live long and prosper”-style shibboleth is the working slogan of the Daytona Beach, Forida-based Center for the Visually Impaired – also known by its initials, CVI – at which I was employed for three years (2006 to 2009), my most gainful job experience mentally, emotionally, professionally, socially, and even spiritually. This was especially so since I was legally blind and recipient of Social Security disability benefits. And it was a great opportunity to resume my vocation of professional writing, after decades of unemployment.

The Center for the Visually Impaired is an independent nonprofit agency whose clientele are beset with varying degrees of visual challenges, from functional blindness to low vision, and seeking reentry to society. Through skills training and emotional support, students learn loss of vision does not have to create insurmountable hurdles to success in education, employment, personal enrichment, professional development or and enjoyment of retirement.

During my employment at CVI, I was impressed with the dedication and professionalism of all of the staff. Their determination and optimistic attitudes impacted me greatly.

But the person who had the most direct impact on me, personally and professionally, was one of my mentee/clients in CVI’s Teen Transition program, Ms. Maggie Meade.

Maggie Meade wished, hoped, and dreamed of being a writer – and a Multi-genre writer at that. At age 16 she was a child prodigy with a prolific amount of writing with a versatile touch. These included everything from daily journaling and poetry writing, to writing stories and articles for her high school monthly newsletter; to winning prizes and awards for her fantasy and fairy tales in high school writing contests in the exceptional children’s program. She even entered area writing contests, winning Third Place and $5 in the local Penwoman’s League writing contest and Honorable Mention in the local newspaper’s essay contest.

But that was where her writing horizons ended; her hopes for a career in the vocation of writing – be it news reporter, essayist, fiction writer, feature writer, children’s fantasist, and most of all, magazine contributor – were dimmed as a result of a congenital eye disorder which she felt “kept her out of the running” for the mainstream journalistic and literary realms.

As mentor as well as instructor, I used the CVI synergy approach of having Ms. Meade think of ourselves as a team working in tandem to resolve a mutual goal – in this case, getting published in magazines, which was a reasonable, doable proposition for this gifted, ambitious youngster. I thus convinced Ms. Meade to think of ourselves as equal partners, with the mutual goal of getting writings published.

I decided the best teaching approach would be to treat the writing process as a steppingstone process, just as I was taught in school. First, a story, article, or essay idea on a particular subject; then an outline of the story, article or essay; then a fleshing out of the outline into a synopsis; then a rough draft of the essay before the finished product, the actual essay itself.

Since Ms. Meade demonstrated in her work that essay writing was a definite forte of hers, I suggested that she write a personal essay on any topic that was “close to the heart.” In three days she handed in her carefully computer-dictated assignment. It was a 1,500- word memoir-essay about her childhood days living in a suburban neighborhood in Middle America that had a forest with a stream adjoining it. Ms. Meade depicted some of the free-spirited, frolicsome games and recreational antics she and the other neighborhood kids engaged in, in the forest – picnics, hide and seek, kick the can, chasing and playing tricks on one another during Halloween, building tree houses, and so forth. The essay was symbolically, titled “The Shining Light in the Glen.” This was surely a publishable piece – but where?

I was sitting in the dentist’s office one day sifting through the small stack of magazines, trade journals, newspapers listlessly. I picked up one glossy out of the stack and glanced at it. The masthead read VOLUSIA/FLAGLER FAMILY Magazine, and I leafed through it. (Note: Volusia is the home county of Daytona Beach, while Flagler is the home county of neighboring Palm Coast, which was where Ms. Meade resided.)

Then an outburst of revelation started swirling in my brain. I had a eureka moment. Get Ms. Meade’s “Shining Light in the Glen” into VOLUSIA/FLAGLER FAMILY Magazine, which was a locally published, very classy glossy periodical having a statewide circulation – in such places as libraries and doctors’offices – with a mix of subject matter. Most relevant of all, human interest stories for readers of all ages: Thus, the perfect venue for “Shining Light in the Glen.”

I notified the editor – an on-the-go 30-something fellow who had been a children’s books editor for a small publishing house back east before going South to launch a publishing venture of his own – namely, VOLUSIA/FLAGLER FAMILY Magazine. As a brand new publication just putting together its third issue, and was hungry for fresh material to fill its pages, he read “Shining Light in the Glen,” found it to be just the kind of children’s story that filled the bill for his readership, and promptly sent it to the printing outfit as it was printing the final galleys of the magazine.

The Easter-themed April-May 2008 issue of VOLUSIA/FLAGLER FAMILY Magazine, with Ms. Meade’s “Shining Light in the Glen” as the lead entry in the Children’s Section, with a touching photo of Ms. Meade typing her laptop keyboard, accompanied by a sketch of a forest. To say Ms. Meade’s story – and a sidebar relating Ms. Meade’s own life story – warmed the hearts of hundreds of readers in the two brand-name counties and around the state, would be an understatement. Additionally, Ms. Meade’s pocketbook was warmed by a $100 check, the standard fee for Magazine contributions. Needless to say, it was a long jump from the $5 Penwoman’s fee and limited readership of high school days to a $100 fee and readers of all ages in the main in the two aforesaid counties and around the state.

For Ms. Meade, her well-printed, well-received publication was a distant dream come true. In a brochure put out by CVI about its students, it said of its top writing student: “Maggie Meade of Palm Coast, a CVI Transition student and aspiring writer states in an article in THE VOLUSIA/FLAGLER FAMILY Magazine, ‘The encouragement of the wonderful staff and the thrill of achieving something I once believed impossible, have inspired me to continue pursuing my dream of a versatile writing career. Many of my peers and I plan to return next summer to continue bringing our dreams closer.’”

As the years pass since my CVI experience, and how the agency and I grokked to our mutual benefit, and of benefit to the community as a whole, I have many pleasant, fulfilling memories, of the place whose slogan “Limited Sight, Unlimited Opportunities” continues to live long and prosper.

Bio: Emmet Kelly has been a newspaper reporter/correspondent with Daytona Beach area newspapers, most notably with the Daytona Beach News-Journal. He has a B.A. degree from Stetson University, DeLand, Florida. He has also done freelance writing for various magazines. He has received disability benefits since the 1980s for bipolar disorder, and is legally blind. He has contributed to such disability oriented publications as Dialogue Magazine, Accent on Living, Paraplegic News, Golden Years of Florida, among various others.)

Daddy Won’t Let Mom Drive the Car: True Tales of Parenting in the Dark, book excerpt
by Jo Elizabeth Pinto

“So Sarah?” the teacher asked, in a question I had rehearsed with her, “What’s it like to have a blind mom?”

“Well,” my little girl said, in an unrehearsed answer, “It’s like a regular mom, except Daddy won’t let her drive his car.”

With that nonchalant reply in front of her second grade class, Sarah summed up the way my blindness has fit into the fabric of our family. It isn’t a problem; it isn’t even a novelty; it’s just part of how we roll. My blindness has changed a few practical logistics. But in the end, kids are kids and moms are moms, and the dents and delights of parenthood are universal.

As I told my daughter when she was very small, putting an only slightly different spin on the words my mom had said to me 30 years before, “The eyes in my face are broken, but the ones in the back of my head work just fine.”

Daddy Won’t Let Mom Drive the Car: True Tales of Parenting in the Dark is a book of short vignettes – most of them lighthearted, a few more serious – about my life as the blind mother of a sighted daughter. Welcome to my journey!

Street Walker

“Mommy, what’s a street walker?”

The question took me by surprise. I paused at the corner a block away from the school, ready to cross the street, with my guide dog’s harness in one hand and my second grader holding tightly to the other. The wind sent the dry autumn leaves scuttling around our feet.

“Well …” I thought fast. “A street walker is someone who …. Someone who goes around looking for trouble. Where did you hear that word? Anlyn, forward.”

My daughter Sarah trotted to keep up as we crossed the busy street. “A mean boy in my class called me a street walker because I have to walk places with you and Anlyn all the time instead of riding in a car. Everybody laughed at me. I wish you could drive like other moms.”

I bit back a chuckle, but the guilt was right on its heels, followed closely by doubts and misgivings. How would having a blind mom affect a child socially? All blind parents worry about it. All blind parents dread the day their child comes home with it for the first time-the teasing, the discomfort. But street walker? Seriously? Still, at least neither kid had known what the word meant. I mentally pushed my worries aside and dragged myself back to the moment at hand.

“Hmmm.” I said aloud as we turned left toward home. “If I drove like other moms, what would we miss?”

Sarah wasn’t sure at first, but before we made it to our house, we stopped to blow the seeds off some big white dandelions for good luck. We paused to sniff some pretty pink flowers growing by the sidewalk. Sarah picked up three interesting rocks, a handful of acorns, and a perfectly round pine cone for me to tuck into my jacket pocket.

“We’d miss our nature adventures,” she decided.

“Exactly,” I agreed. “Besides, you know your way around this half of the city better than any of your friends. They get in their parents’cars and don’t pay attention to where they go. You’re my little navigator, aren’t you? Now, I’m going to call your teacher.”

“Mom, don’t! I’m not a tattletale!”

“Don’t worry. I was a kid once, too-a long time ago. I won’t ruin your reputation.”

Two mornings later, I went with my daughter to school. While the kids sat on the sharing rug, my guide dog lay sedately on the floor in front of them. For fifteen minutes or so, I told the class about service dogs and how they work for blind people-helping them navigate traffic, guiding them in and out of stores and restaurants, etc, and how they’re allowed to go anywhere the public can go.

“Wow, Sarah’s lucky!” one classmate breathed as the kids took turns petting Anlyn’s soft tan coat. “Her mom gets to take her dog everywhere!”

“So Sarah?” the teacher asked, in a question I had rehearsed a bit with her, “What’s it like to have a blind mom?”

“Well,” my little girl said, in an unrehearsed answer, “it’s like a regular mom, except Daddy won’t let her drive his car.”

Daddy Won’t Let Mom Drive the Car: True Tales of Parenting in the Dark is available from and is available in print and Kindle format from


We will be holding contests in the areas of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for the Spring/Summer edition of Magnets and Ladders. All submissions will be entered into the contest. Cash prizes of $30 and $20 will be awarded to the first and second place winners.

Please note: Funds for contest prizes are provided by Behind Our Eyes. Checks for prize winning entries not cashed within 6 months of the issue date are void and considered a donation back to Behind Our Eyes. No additional payments will be made to replace the uncashed check. If you intend your prize winnings to be a donation, please let us know upon winning so we can send you a donation receipt letter.

Remember, the deadline for submissions is February 15, so be sure to get your entries in on time.

An Author Tells Us How to Get it Done, book review
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Courtney Maum bases her guide to getting a book ready for publication, promotion, etc. on her experience and success with two books of her own. Before and after the book deal: a writer’s guide to finishing, publishing, promoting and surviving your first book by Courtney Maum details the steps involved in preparing your book for the publishing goal. Her book is available as a commercial audio book from major sellers including Audible, on Amazon Kindle and paperback, and is also available through the National Library Service Braille and Recorded Digital Book Service (BARD) as DB99022. Topics include developing your craft; sifting through criticism while forging ahead; creating income from other writing while working on your book; measuring results vs. your expectations when the book is reviewed; promoting your book and yourself as a writer; then moving on to the next project.

“Who is your audience,” she asks. That is critical information for your potential publisher to have in hand. Ms. Maum has written the book she wishes had been at her fingertips when she had her “eyes on the prize.” She is amazed at the competitive spirit among authors who publish at the same time.

Writers still perfecting their craft will benefit from her analysis of critique and workshop opportunities. She explains what information to take away, what to ignore, and how to get the help you need.

Maum examines what works if there is a need or a desire to make a meaningful change in genre, style, or format. Maybe you’re tired of the same-old-same-old you’ve been writing. Who will be your new audience, and how will you woo them? She helps navigate that slippery slope so you can change focus for a while without losing your loyal readers.

Maum presents a reality check about financing writing goals. An MFA; an agent; an international social network platform are all components which are potentially helpful. She cautions they are not guarantees for unlocking doors.

Once you’ve had a successful book reception I.E. found your book on important lists for recommendation, she suggests you must then go back to the writer in you who made all this happen. There’s no resting on laurels, you must dig in and start the process to do it all again. In her last chapter she quotes many well-known authors about how to keep going, how to stay motivated, and how to exercise your skill so you can savor and continue to appreciate the joy in good writing.

Ms. Maum’s other books also available from the same sources include Costalegre (DB96172) and Touch (DB88152).

Haunted Acrostic Castle, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Mysterious fog drifts around the haunted Acrostic Castle.
Alabaster ghosts take their places in the gray, tricky turrets.
Spirits of poets, past, run in reverse through the castle’s corridors.
Queen of the Acrostic Realm warmly welcomes all guests and ghosts.
Uniquely costumed humans bow and curtsey to the Queen,
eagerly parade over the drawbridge, enter the open gate.
Radiantly, but royally, Queen Acrostic commands:
“Alas! Alas! Hear my poetic proclamation!
Dare ye enter my bountiful, BOO-tiful banquet hall:
Eat, drink, and be merry–only if you give my jester a scary acrostic poem!”

Note: By reading the first letter of each line of this acrostic poem, you will find a Halloween word hiding near the recesses of the left margin.

The Writer’s Magical Wand, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Walking through the Forest of Poe-trees,
I found a writer’s wand–
undoubtedly, left there by the Poetry Witch.
I waved the wand around and around
and found myself in Poetry Town.

Oh, you, too, would enjoy the journey To Poetry Town.
Where is it located?
Well, of course, it is in the state of Imagination,
in the County of Creativity,
right along the Rhyme River.

On the Town Square, make your first stop
at the County Courthouse’s Poetic License Branch
because each citizen or visitor of Poetry Town
must always carry a poetic license.

Next, stop by the Ideas Fountain.
If you throw a coin into the fountain,
you are guaranteed a writing idea for the day.

Are you having trouble with revising a poem?
simply drop into the Butcher Shop
where the butcher–editor– will carefully trim unnecessary fat and gristle
from your favored poem.

Do you need a little more Flowery language in your poem?
The Poetry Town Florists Have bouquets of word choices for you.

Would you like some food for thought?
I heartily recommend the Poet’s Salad at the RHYME-aurant.
For dessert, I suggest metaphor pie or a simile sundae.

Each Friday, shop around the variety of stanzas at the Farmers’Market
for farm-fresh inspiration.

Every morning, on the north side of the town square,
enter the Poetry Town Bookstore
to hear a poet’s marketing his or her new poetry book.

Each evening, stroll into the Poetry Town Public Library
to join a stimulating, rhythmical discussion
of chapbooks and other poetry books.

Just in case your writer’s wand is not working quite right,
do not hesitate joining the line into Mr. and Ms. Fix-it Shop,
right next door to the wonderful Readers’Workshop.

If you need to re-acquaint yourself with your Poetic Muses,
confidently drift into the Poetry Town Museum at any hour of the day.

At each corner of the square,
you will find a critique cottage.
Join the kindly critique cottage
that best supports your authorial spirit.

Finally, pause by the post office
so that your poems will be posted all around
the whimsical, magical Poetry Town.

Part V. Nature’s Facets

Chasing Storm, poetry
by Sandra Streeter

Nature, arrhythmic, with no subdivision
To structure finite pattern…
Just the pounding of rain on rooftop…
Thunderheads, with light
Intrusively cutting through clouded evening sky,
Jolting consciousness.

So, what does this flow carve into rock?
Unreadable inscriptions, tonight.
Heart-flash-flood full,
To overflow-and unafraid to shift
From forward solitary course.
A new trajectory,
As time and faces change-
(Some speaking life and welcome).

River recedes, unveiling one graven thought,
With long-awaited dawn:
“Take up your treasure now:
The promise is resounding ‘yes.’”

When the Gales of November Come Early, poetry
by Carol Farnsworth

On the shore of Lake Superior,
The land reaches north, to Canada on the horizon five miles away.
Birds migrate north and south on the air current highway.
The point splits the waves to blast the beach in two directions.
Smooth pebbles and stones litter the beach all with rounded edges from past storms fury.
But this October day the Lake is disguised with gentle waves, but this lady can turn to show her fangs.
Many ships with all hands lost are hidden in her depths.
I walk to the end of the untamed point and look out at her cold expanse.
Summer bird nesting gives way to the start of migration.
They head south to safer and warmer waters.
Man too must heed the warnings to sail south before the storms begin.
I feel the wind rise and the sun hide her warmth behind the gathering clouds.
I quickly return to my bike to find shelter from the coming storm.
For the gales of November are coming early.

Note: the title of this poem was inspired by the song, “Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot.

Brooks and Streams, memoir
by Kate Chamberlin

The billabong efflux originated on the Fairfield University Campus, ducked under Wakeman Road, sluiced through the culvert, and gushed into the brook traversing Nana’s Fairfield, CT backyard. She dubbed us the Eager Beavers, because, we had re-arranged the stones from the bottom and sides of the
brook to dam up the stream. The resulting mini-pond riffled with little frogs.

I sprawled on my belly in the verdant, green grass under the lush grape vine. Slender blades of Red Fescue tickled my nose, but My eight-year-old brother told me I had to stay stock still or he wouldn’t let me play the game with him. So, I dared not sneeze or squirm; not an easy feat for a 5-year old.

Behind me, the lawn stretched to the steep rise to the chunky granite steps up to my Grandmother’s back porch. My brother hunkered down on my right, beside the wheel barrow Pappy had left near the grape vines. The little black dog, Cindy, on my left, was poised to pounce and intently stared at the quarry. Could we catch it?

after waiting still and silent like statues for ages, my brother and the dog lunged at the same time. My brother grabbed at a frog. Cindy charged in front of him to snatch the snake that had been hiding in the grass with us.

Our Game of Frogs lost its appeal. We returned the stones to the banks, allowing Nana’s brook to babble on to become the neighbor’s plashing stream.

In God’s Garden, poetry
by Shawn Jacobson

Camels kiss above,
as we wander the garden
looking to the heights.

We stand among the garden’s towering rocks.
They burn strawberry red, bright orange, and white
as the sun arises, pouring heat into the day
warming the chilly morning’s sky of Colorado blue.

One must watch your step when walking here
though the splendor on high might lift your gaze.
The paths are slick with unseen icy patches, and
the trails hide secret steps in dappled shadow.

Shaded from the sun by stony heights,
I climb the easy steps to a safe lookout.
Westward lies the great peak topped in white,
clothed in tree green, rocky red and bluing haze.

Later I walk a more distant path with broader views
great reddish spires against the greater peaks.
These sculpted columns carved through immense time
stand proud beneath the cloudless sky from God.

Here, in God’s garden
where red ramparts kiss the sky
beauty walks with us.

Epoch, poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

While resting in the warmth of the epoch
I glance to my right this morning
only to see that God has laid back his head
and is having a roaring-good laugh.

From the beginning of this contagious year
I wrote no resolutions and set no goals to reach.
My journal remains blank – its bare pages
have never been touched by my fingers or pen.

I find it hard to get moving today
as my fingers hesitate and pause
searching for the right words to say.
I continued to search beyond the window to my right.

Fir branches swayed slightly and moved in circles
there was not a bird in view on the sunlight boughs
but I have returned here again
as I have invariably done.

Within this tranquil dimness
I tilt my head forward to listen
to sounds of laughter.

Here, in the tree
where God sits.

Part VI. Not What I Expected

Consequences, fiction Second Place
by Nicole Massey

Everyone at General Systems Engineering liked George Blair. He was friendly, open, personable, and detail-focused; the programmers didn’t bother to send him anything until at least two team members went over it. His boss, Mike Newsome, held him in high regard, too, which is why the memo from upper management with “RE: George Blair” made him nervous until he got down to the body. Mike exhaled as he read. The company wanted to recognize George for catching a miniscule code problem that would cost the client about a billion dollars across four quarters. Mike dialed George’s desk and said, “Hey, when you’ve got a minute, come into my office.”

The CEO, CTO, and Mike were there for George’s celebration lunch. George was offered the opportunity to invite his wife, Rose, so she took off work to attend. Mike smiled as she came in – she looked radiant, that thing pregnant women have, and for a moment he was a bit jealous of George. But she was perfect for George, and his own wife, Laura, was always happy to see Rose at company functions. If Mike wanted to find Laura at those events, all he had to do was look for Rose and the women clustered around her.

Everything went well until the CEO, Mr. Danforth, pulled out the mug. “George, in recognition of your careful work, we’d like to give you this token of our esteem.”

George had the aplomb to smile. “Thank you, sir.”

He waited, but Mr. Davenport was finished, and Mike couldn’t help it; he winced. No bonus? No salary increase? The man saved a billion dollars. One with nine zeros. And they gave him a coffee cup?

After the lunch, as George was walking Rose to the car and Mr. Davenport was in his limo on the way back to headquarters, Mike found himself standing at the valet stand by the CTO, Tony Middleford, as they waited for their cars.

“Michael, you look bothered.”

“I probably shouldn’t say anything.”

“No, go ahead. You know I’ve got an open door to everyone on my team.”

“Well, okay. George won’t say anything, but he saved the client a lot of money. His wife is going to have to take time off from work when the baby’s born, and I’m not sure why all you gave him was a coffee cup. He doesn’t even drink coffee.”

“I thought that might be it, Michael, and I agree with you. But the board didn’t authorize a raise. Money’s tight right now. Our stock isn’t performing like we expected. But rest assured we’ll try to find a way to do something. And have you seen the Bledsoe contract yet?”

“No, it hasn’t gotten to me.”

“They’re impressed. Damned impressed. Their contract is conditional on George’s involvement. And that’s golden, because job security’s rare right now.”

“Well that’s something. Still…”

“Yes. Keep this under your hat. The board’s not getting any bonuses this year. And there may be layoffs, so freshen your resume. I’m doing that with mine. Ah, here’s my car. See you back at the office. Anytime you’ve got something you want to talk about, my door’s always open.”

On the way back to the office, Mike tried to relax. George was safe. But he wasn’t sure anyone else at GSE was.

Tony Middleford was lucky. A month later he got a tidy offer from Spaceborne Technical. Mike shopped his resume around. The writing was on the wall for everyone except George. When Tony Middleford called, Mike jumped on the opportunity. He squeaked past the hiring freeze because a key position came up empty. He was glad to be out of GSE where every day you came to work you wondered if it was your last.

George looked up from the code test he was running to see Melanie Jarvis from Human Resources standing by his desk. What was the woman nicknamed “The Axe” doing here?

“Mr. Blair, Mr. Danforth wants to see you.”

George stopped the test and got up. “Sure.” She followed him, and that made him nervous. Mike told him the company’s biggest client required him to be on staff as part of their contract. What could this be about?

Mr. Danforth called out, “Come in,” when George knocked on his closed door. Mr. Danforth was working on his putting game as George came in.

“Mr. Blair, I wanted to talk with you personally. You know we appreciate all you’ve done for General Systems, so this’ll be harder.”

“Yes sir?”

“You know we’ve had to tighten our belts around here. The board has decided to activate the layoff lottery. I wanted to be the one to tell you myself. I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to let you go.”

“Sir?” George’s voice went up half an octave. Rose was scheduled to go on maternity leave at the end of the week.

“Sorry, my boy, really am. We have to be as unbiased as we can. That’s why we have a lottery.”

“But sir, the Bledsoe contract…”

“Now, son, don’t worry about that. We’ll make sure it gets all the attention we can give it. And of course, we’ll keep your medical going for six months. Two month’s severance too. It’s a shame, we don’t want to lose you, but you know, the lottery. Close the door on your way out.”

George pulled the door closed, shocked. There was no worse time for this. None. He packed his stuff into the banker’s box “The Axe” handed him, not allowed to touch his computer. He topped his pictures of Rose, his certifications, and that damned coffee cup with the severance paperwork Ms. Jarvis handed him, closed the lid, and walked with her to security; they took his employee badge and parking card.

George sat in his living room, trying to focus, but none of it made any sense. Mike said he was guaranteed a job with the Bledsoe contract. How could the board convince the client to stay with GSE now that they’d laid him off? He couldn’t keep his mind on finding a new position. And what would this do to Rose? He needed guidance; he called Mike.

“George, how’s it going? I heard General Systems was doing lay-offs. How many have they let go?”

“I have absolutely no idea. My number came up.”

“What? That’s impossible.”

“Obviously not. Know anyone looking for a QC code jockey?”

“Are they crazy? Bledsoe is going to come unglued when he hears.”

“If he hears. I don’t think the board is thinking much about that.”

“Well, damn. I’ll put the word out, make some phone calls. I can float you a contract for some automation work. How’s Rose taking this?”

“She doesn’t know yet. She’ll be home in a couple of hours. She’s doing a lot of training so she can hand off her work by Friday.”

“Well, damn.”

“You already said that.”

“It’s a double-damn day. They’ve got to be clean off their nut.”

“You’d think so. It somehow makes sense to them.”

“Let me go talk to Tony Middleford. He always liked your work. We’ll get you some contracting if nothing else. We’re sort of in a hiring freeze right now; I was lucky to sneak in right before that hit. But there’s always room for someone with your skills.”

“Thanks, Mike. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Hey, that’s what friends are all about. Relax and I’ll get back with you. We’ll work this out.”

Maxwell “Mack” Bledsoe couldn’t believe his ears. “They what?!”

Tony Middleford repeated himself. “They laid off George Blair, the QC guy who saved everyone’s bacon…”

“I know who he is. Why did they do something so stupid?”

“They lay off by lottery. George Blair’s name came up in their percentage.”

“That’s about the single stupidest thing I’ve heard. Are there any other numbskull things they do that I should know about?”

“Not sure. I didn’t know about this until I heard about it from Michael Newsome.”

“Has Blair got anywhere to land?”

“I’ll find a way to get him on here at STII; without approval the best I can do is consulting.”

“Do that. Let me make some calls.”

Victor Davenport couldn’t believe his ears either. He was on the phone to Ken Terrelli, head of GSE Legal. “Can you repeat that?”

“Bledsoe is filing a breach of contract notice with termination at the end of next month.”

“Why? What are they saying we did?”

“The mandatory employment clause.”

“Refresh my memory. I don’t remember that part of the contract.”

“It’s simple and straightforward. After the near loss back in the first quarter of last year they amended the contract to require that George Blair handle some aspect of their business with us. Since he was laid off in last month’s lottery, they’re well within their rights to end their contract with us.”

“Who signed a contract with such a foolish clause in it?”

“You did, sir.”

“Get him back then. Without the Bledsoe contract we’re sunk.”

“HR is trying to reach him right now.”

“Okay, keep me informed.”

“Yes sir.”

Tony Middleford knocked on the door of the Spaceborne Technical Industries International executive suite. A strong faced older woman, Mrs. Pickens, looked up from her computer screen and said, “Mr. Middleford. Mr. Anderson is on a conference call. One moment.”

She looked at her screen. “How formal is this visit?”

Tony Middleford always felt like a school kid in the principal’s office when dealing with Mrs. Pickens. “Not formal, but I’ll need some of his time. It’s about new business.”

“Okay, he’s got a tee time at Nine Pines this afternoon. Can you talk about it then?”

“Okay. I’ll be bringing a guest.”

“I’ll put it on his calendar and let Nine Pines know.”

Mack Bledsoe got out of his truck. “Tony, I don’t much care for golf. I’m more a basketball and bowling sort myself.”

“I understand, Mack, but this was the earliest time we could meet with Sidney Anderson, and he’s a golf nut.”

The two men made their way around the country club’s main building. Mr. Anderson was walking out of the pro shop. “Ah, Tony, there you are. Hello, I’m Sidney Anderson. Call me Sid.”

“Maxwell Bledsoe. Everyone calls me Mack.”

Nice to meet you. Are you the Mack Bledsoe of Bledsoe Inc.?”

“The one and the same.”

“Then I’m very glad to meet you. What’s your handicap?”

“A passion for ethical behavior. If you’re asking about my golf handicap I’ve played twice in my life. My goal is not measured in strokes, it’s measured in balls and tees. If I leave with all I brought, I won.”

Sid Anderson laughed. “I wonder how many times I’ve won using your rules. Here’s our cart.”

The bomb dropped on the sixth hole. Mack set his ball, swung, watched his ball disappear into a copse of trees, then said, “Sid, we’re terminating with GSE.”

Sid shanked the ball and it disappeared into the other copse to their left. “Mack, did you say what I thought you said? Why are you jumping ship?”

“Breach of contract.”

“What’d they do?”

Mack looked at Tony, who’d remained silent through the holes.

Tony said, “It came down to one man.” He told the story of George Blair’s magnificent save, the meager compensation he got, and how he was added to the contract.

Sid listened. “Mack, if I understand you correctly, where this George Blair goes, your business follows?”


“Tony, do you know where he is? Has he found another position?”

“I’ve got him consulting on QC automation.”

“Give him a job.”

“Sir, we’re under a hiring freeze.”

“I don’t care. Give him a job. Give him an office. Hell, give him a team.”

“Yes sir. Manager level?” He knew this was risky, but he was forming a structure for a new QC team.

“That sounds about right. If he’s as good as you say he is we may make him a director in a year. Mack, would that satisfy your contract needs?”

“Yeah. I’ll get our legal teams talking when I get back to the office.”

“Here, use my cell. We can get them talking right now. Tony, get on your phone… One moment. YES, YOU CAN PLAY THROUGH! Tony, go ahead and get things moving.”

“I’ll have to hire his team, some of them.”

“Of course. Mack, he caught an error. How big was it?”

“A billion.”

“That much. Tony, start him off with a two-week vacation. He’s married, right? They can use my place in Colorado, Vegas, or New Orleans.”

“Sir, his wife shouldn’t travel. She’s nine months pregnant.”

“Okay, then start his paid family leave. He can start his new position after that’s over.”

It was all better than Tony hoped. Sid Anderson was far more compassionate than Mr. Davenport.

Back at the office Tony rapped on the wall of George’s cubicle. “Hey, George, is this a good stopping point? I need to show you something.”

“I can pause. What’s up?”

“Follow me.”

A facilities team member was working on the office door. Tony said, “I’m glad we had this one spare.”

George looked around at the empty cubicles and the doored office. “What’s this?”

“This was our in-house customer support team. We moved that business unit to Houston to get it all under one set of managers, so it’s been vacant until now.”

“I don’t understand.”

Tony pointed to the door. “Look.”

George read out loud. “Manager of Computer Quality Control. George Bl… Tony, is this for real?”

“Yes. Bledsoe came through. We’ll rearrange the cubicles so your team members will have more room, but if you’ll accept the offer, we’re willing to make you a manager. And you’ll have autonomy to set standards for your team’s work and training. We want more of your type of approach and attention to detail.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Say yes, and then go pack up your cubicle, move it to your office and go home.”

“Go home?”

“Yes. Rose is due when?”

“The baby could come any time now.”

“You’re on paternity leave. Paid of course, at your new salary. We’ll see you back fourteen weeks after the baby’s born.”

“Tony, thank you.”

“You’re welcome, though you’ll also want to thank Mr. Anderson and Mack Bledsoe.”

“Davenport is going to be pissed.”

“Davenport is going to be out of a job when word of this hits the streets. Hope you don’t have any of their stock.”

“No. Dumped it when they let me go.”

“Wise. Now, go.”

Tony Middleford watched as George headed down the hall in a daze. He wanted to let Michael know the good news. He looked into George’s new office and noticed something he’d missed before. On the desk sat a coffee mug with the SPII logo on it. And overflowing the cup were gold coins. Krugerrands. Yeah, Sid was a great guy. George would be much happier here.

Bio: Nicole Massey is a writer, composer, and songwriter living in Dallas, Texas. She writes in multiple genres, including mainstream fiction, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and romance. She also writes for role-playing game fan magazines. She lost her sight in 2003 and if you find it, she’d like to have it back. She can be reached at nyyki at gypsyheir dot com.

Mirror, poetry
by Susan Muhlenbeck

She awoke to the darkness that had enveloped her for years,
Didn’t know whether to be ecstatic, or dissolve into tears.
Fighting the anesthesia, she lifted one hand,
The one not attached to the I.V., to see if all went according to plan.
She felt layers of gauze covering her eyes,
Take them off, she thought, I don’t want a surprise.

Back in her room the doctor calmly said,
“The first thing you’re going to see is red.”
He carefully removed all the gauze,
Then she opened her eyes, and there was a pause.
She looked to the right, she knew the doctor stood there,
And found herself looking at a black bear.
“What do you see?” her husband asked. “Is everything cool?”
She looked in his direction, and saw a gray mule.

From the door the nurse asked, “Are you feeling all right now?”
She looked straight into the face of a cow.

“Something is wrong,” she said, trying not to show her fear.
“Would it be possible to hand me a mirror?”
She gazed in the mirror and wanted to shout.
It was her own reflection, she had no doubt.
Long red hair, green eyes, small nose,
What went wrong, she mused, and probably nobody knows.

“I see myself fine,” she said, “but as for the rest of you,
I feel like I’m on a visit to the zoo.”

They all laughed. “What do you mean?” her husband asked, perplexed.
The nurse at the door looked positively vexed.

“No matter,” the doctor said with a shrug.
“We’ll just have to work out that bug.”

Back on the chopping block she went,
This time she woke up, absolutely spent.
The gauze was removed, and to her relief she found,
The people looked like people, all the way around.
Before she went to sleep that night, she picked up the mirror and stared,
A cat was grinning back at her,
She thought, this time they really erred.

Author’s Note: “Mirror” was inspired by “The Blue Lenses” by Daphne Du Maurier.”

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

A Play of Deception, fiction
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

“Deception! Deception! Deception!” cried Linda, as she marched into her mother’s room at the assisted living facility.

Startled, Dorothy looked up from the newspaper she was trying to read. With her failing eyesight, she could only make out the headlines, and some of them were too small. She looked forward to the end of the day when Linda came and read her the evening paper. As Dorothy looked at her daughter, she could tell Linda was angry at her about something.

She said with a smile, “Hello, dear, I was just looking at the headlines. It’s funny you should walk in here like that because I heard the theater guild is holding auditions for The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, and I think you’d make the perfect Amanda. Remember when we were in that play years ago. I played Amanda, and you played Laura.”

Linda snatched the newspaper and flung it aside. “Why did you do that?” asked Dorothy.

Linda sank into a nearby chair and sighed. “I went to Day Break today to tell them you’re recovering from pneumonia and you’ll probably be returning in a few weeks.”


“Imagine my shock when Diane told me you hadn’t been there in a month. I can’t believe you’d deceive me like Laura did to her mother in The Glass Menagerie. If you’d thrown up all over the floor in front of everybody like Laura did at the business school, I would have understood, but Diane didn’t say you did anything like that. It’s not in your nature to be shy and deceptive. Why did you pretend you were going to Day Break all this time?”

Dorothy sighed. “Linda, you’ve been under a lot of stress, and I didn’t want you to worry about me. I don’t like being around those old people. I went once just to see what it was like, and all they did was watch TV, play cards, and eat, and I can do those things here.”

“But you don’t do anything here except sit in your room all day and listen to those recorded books the library lady brings you. Even before you got pneumonia, you only left your room to go to the dining room for meals.”

“That’s because they only deliver meals to your room if you’re sick. I don’t like being around old people.”

“You’re just as old as they are.”

“You may think so, but I don’t. I have nothing against these people. They’re all very nice, but they’re just not my crowd. Now, let’s talk about you. I think you should go to those auditions for The Glass Menagerie. You’re old enough to play Amanda, and you’ve demonstrated that you’d be perfect for the part.”

“Mother,” said Linda with an exasperated sigh, “real estate is a twenty-four hour business. I just don’t have time for the theater anymore. You know that.”

“Honey, I really appreciate you coming here every day to read me the paper. So, I’ll make you a deal. If you try out for The Glass Menagerie, I’ll start going downstairs to the lobby where somebody reads the paper aloud, so you won’t have to come every day and do that. If you get a part, I’ll be there opening night.”

“How will you get there? It would be hard for me to drive you if I’m in the play.”

“I know that, silly. I’ll call Gladys and ask her to drive me. You remember Gladys, don’t you? For years, we taught at the college together.”

“Of course, I remember Gladys. Are you serious about going to this play?”

“Yes, I want you to take some time and do things you enjoy and you want me to get out more. It’s a perfect deal, don’t you think?”

Linda sighed. “Okay, Mother, you win, but the doctor says you shouldn’t be out and about too much for the next few weeks.” She rose and picked up the paper. “Let’s see. It says here that the auditions are next Tuesday. Rehearsals will start the following week and the play will run at the end of next month. To be on the safe side, why don’t you wait to hold up your end of the deal until after opening night? Now is probably not the time to overdo it.”

“Fair enough,” said Dorothy, breathing a sigh of relief.

“Mother, I worry about you,” said Linda, taking Dorothy’s hand. “Once you’re recovered from this pneumonia, I wish you’d get out more. I know you can’t play golf or tennis anymore, and it would probably be hard for you to play bridge and be involved in the American Association of University Women or the Arts Council, but the YMCA has an excellent water exercise program, and there are some nice things that go on at the senior center.”

“I’ll try,” said Dorothy with a sigh of resignation.

The day after the audition was supposed to be held, Linda rushed into her mother’s room and said, “I did it! I tried out last night and got the part right on the spot. The director says I have natural acting abilities. I don’t think any director has ever said that before.”

“Didn’t it say in the paper that the director is retired and used to produce plays on Broadway?”

“That’s right.”

“Maybe you should have tried Broadway first before going into real estate.”

“Maybe, but I still use my acting skills in the line of work I do now. You have to convince customers that this is the house they want to buy. You can’t let them see that you’re tired and stressed out.”

“That’s true. In any case, congratulations! Come here and let me give you a hug.”

Over the next month, when Linda came to visit Dorothy, she talked about the rehearsals. She gave her mother all the details, including who the other actors were, the blocking, the set, and the costumes. Dorothy enjoyed hearing Linda talk about the rehearsals because it brought back many pleasant memories of her involvement in the community theater when she was younger. Since they agreed that she wouldn’t participate in any activities until after opening night, she was content to remain in her room, listening to audiobooks and visiting with Linda and Gladys when they came.

A few days before opening night, there was a rave review of the performance in the local newspaper. The article spoke highly of Linda’s portrayal of Amanda. “Even though this actress has never lived in the South, you can tell by her authentic Southern accent that she’s a born southerner,” wrote the reporter.

“Honey, that’s wonderful,” said Dorothy when Linda read her the review. “I can’t wait to see the play.”

It was true. For the first time in a long while, Dorothy looked forward to going out, despite failing vision and difficulty walking. Gladys agreed to accompany her, and on opening night, they set off in her car.

The theater was crowded, but since Dorothy and Gladys arrived early, they found seats in the front row. Dorothy didn’t think she would be able to see everything that went on, but at least she would be able to hear the voices of the actors. Since she knew the play by heart, she knew what would take place. Her heart pounded with excitement, as the lights dimmed, and the curtain opened on the first act.

But as Amanda spoke, Dorothy realized something was wrong. It wasn’t Linda’s voice portraying her. The actress spoke like a true southerner, but Dorothy knew in her heart it wasn’t Linda. Although she couldn’t see the actress very well, she knew she didn’t have to look at her to know it wasn’t Linda.

They’d apparently called in an understudy, but why? Where was Linda? Had she been in an accident? Dorothy pictured her daughter lying in a hospital bed, seriously injured or possibly dead. At intermission, she fought to remain calm.

“It doesn’t even give Linda’s name in the program,” said Gladys. “It says that Amanda is played by Pamela Warner. I noticed that in the paper, too, but since you said it was Linda, I assumed it was a mistake. I think Pamela Warner is very good, but what do you suppose happened to Linda?”

“I don’t know,” said Dorothy, close to tears.

She felt a light touch on her shoulder. “Hello, Mother,” said Linda from the row behind them. “Are you enjoying the play?”

Relief that Linda was unharmed was replaced by anger as Dorothy realized what had been going on in the past month. She turned and glared at her daughter. In a soft but icy voice, she said, “Deception! Deception! Deception!”

“A PLAY OF DECEPTION” was previously published in Disability Studies Quarterly in 2005.

Love of a Human, fiction
by Robert D. Sollars

Robert’s hand extended palm up with a nugget of something. A tiny pink nose sniffed with interest and then daintily grabbed the tasty morsel with her teeth and sat down. She did deserve it after all, it was just unfair that she only got them twice a day, she squeaked in a soft quiet meow.

“Good girl Jasmine. You are such a good little squeakers for me. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to live here all alone.” The sixtyish balding man said to his constant companion. “I love you little girl. Now you go protect the house while I get some sleep.” He smiled and stroked her long lustrous fur as she luxuriated in the long even strokes of his hand, closing her yellow eyes, and arching her back and tail, then he lightly rubbed her face. At that, he snuggled under the down comforter and flannel sheets.

Jasmine leapt off of the bed and began her nightly routine. She walked slowly and patiently throughout the house, sniffing at the doors and windows for anything untoward. She sat expressionless, staring at the falling snow outside the warm comfort of the house. Finally, she was satisfied the house was safe. Jasmine sat in front of the Christmas tree, mesmerized by the tiny twinkling lights. She batted at an ornament and a light but quickly tired of the game.

She decided it was time to get Robert’s gift. She carefully extracted the thing she had cornered and killed that morning in the dining room. She placed it carefully next to the two brightly wrapped gifts marked with a single name… Jasmine. She again sniffed excitedly at them but could smell nothing but tape gum and paper.

A few hours later the 10-pound ball of gray tortoise shell fur walked gently onto Robert’s body and began to soften her new bed. She turned around and kneaded several more times before settling down and flicking her tail across his head. His deep rhythmic breathing and heartbeat giving her a sense of comfort and security.

He barely noticed her climbing on him. He snorted lightly in his sleep and soon was again sleeping soundly, oblivious to everything around him except for the erotic dream that was causing… a reaction.

Jasmine’s ears twitched ever so slightly as she tuned in to the noises going on outside in an ever-present cat sleep. Dogs whining and barking, cats creeping to catch treats. People arguing and others laughing.

A noise she didn’t recognize right outside brought her to nearly full alert. Her ears moved forward, and her nose twitched. Again, the noise, but still she was unconcerned. The noise came to her ears again and now it was time for action.

Robert was still blissfully unaware of anything lurking in the blackness of the below zero North Dakota winter night. Jasmine reached full awareness with her eyes opening wide, her golden eyes turning nearly coal black as she watched the blackness for anything.

She leapt towards the door as glass shattered. She raced down the hall to see a hand reaching in to unlock the door. She felt the bite of the wintry wind blowing through the door as it opened. Robert also heard the glass shatter and then felt the blast of cold air entering the bedroom, awakening him.

He threw on his robe and went to investigate, shuffling slowly. As he approached his office, he heard voices and was startled by a man appearing in front of him. “What the hell are you doing here?” Robert queried.

“We’re taking your stuff you useless old man!” the voice said with a chilling finality. Missing and decayed teeth showed as he opened his mouth and said “Where is the money you broken down slug? We want it and we want it all!” he whispered in a voice that was desperate.

“I have no money here.” Robert somehow found inner strength and flung himself at the younger, bigger man. He began flailing his fists at him striking him in the face drawing flecks of blood.

The younger man thrust upward with a long-bladed hunting knife deep into Robert’s belly ripping the jagged blade up until it hit bone, twisted, and tried to find the heart. A surprised gasp erupted from Robert and he fell off of the man onto his back. Crimson streams of blood spurted and pooled on his pale white skin and then puddled on the tiled floor as he gasped and writhed in pain.

The young man stood up and inspected the job the knife had done. He then heard a low growl coming from …where. It seemed to be all around him, sending shivers up his spine. “Come on Jackson we gotta get out of here. Somethings wrong. I just heard a lion… tiger… or something.” The look on his face had gone from confident to frighten, turning white as the virgin snow outside.

His companion walked out of the home office and said “There is nothing in this house, man. Just a bunch of crap and an ancient computer that wouldn’t bring even a couple of Washingtons! He ain’t got no drugs or money. Hell there ain’t nothing of value in this place. I agree, let’s get the hell out of here.” He said disgustedly.

Jackson started walking down the hall and gave the dying man a slight glance “Will he be dead soon? Don’t want no damned witnesses. If he ain’t yet, make him de…” his body froze and his heart stopped as he heard the growling of a large cat. His eyes flew open spinning around looking for it.

The younger man looked ready to cry as he heard it again as well. “Man, I ain’t gonna wait for nothin, I’m gettin outa here and screw him recognizing us. There ain’t no damned big cats up here! It’s eerie as hell!” he said in a voice that cracked.

Jackson pushed the younger man out of the way as they got closer to the door. They heard the growl again, louder, closer, and angrier. As Jackson reached for the handle a large paw with razor sharp claws grabbed his hand and fangs tore at it.

He turned around and saw his young accomplice staring at his feet while they screamed. Jackson looked down and saw gold eyes glaring at them. Those eyes shown as if illuminated by an inner light, and a low Menacing growl emanated from its throat, fangs in full view.

The large bobcat sized tortoise shell colored wildcat, with an unusually long bushy tail, ripped Jackson’s clothes into strips of red cloth from his ski cap to his snow boots. A final swipe in the face and Jackson went down heavily onto the tiled floor, blood spilling out of his wounds.

The younger man,still wailing, tried to make it to the front door. The cat leapt onto his back digging its claws and fangs deeply into him refusing to let go, treating him like dinner. Gouges appeared in his head, neck, back, and legs. Blood began to gush through the wounds like a flooding river in spring. But the agonizing screams soon fell silent.

“911. What is your emergency?” the soft, and sleepy, feminine voice answered. “911. What is your emergency?” she repeated but only agonized wheezes came to her. She looked at the house number on her screen. Another attempt and then another. Still nothing. Her fingers flew over the keyboard and entered the address. The message box to the deputy said succinctly “phone line is open and nothing but breathing heard.”

The deputy arrived and knocked. “Hello, this is the Ward County Sheriff’s office is anyone there?” His flashlight moved around the front of the house and saw nothing unusual. He again knocked but still nothing. he listened intently and heard something that he couldn’t immediately identify.

He walked around to the back and saw the shattered door glass and a man lying in a pool of blood. He drew his weapon and entered. He was startled to full combat alertness when he heard a large mountain type cat growling. He quickly scanned the immediate area of the room with his flashlight but saw nothing. The menacing growl quickly faded into another puzzling noise… the faint squeaking meow of a house cat. “I have to be jumpy about something here.” He whispered to himself.

He pulled out his radio and thumbed the button. “County! This is Rogers. I have an emergency at 710 West Sacajawea Rd, a half mile west of highway 83, mile marker 110. I need an ambulance and more units. I need them now! One injured with severe trauma to his entire body.”

He checked the man and found him still breathing with the bleeding slowing to a trickle. Rogers stood up and then saw the young man. He checked his pulse and found nothing. “From the looks of it, you bled out. Wonder what did this?” he said whispering to himself as he examined the long slashes occasionally interrupted by massive bites.

He again stood up and continued down the hall when he spotted Robert lying in a drying puddle of blood. A stab wound appeared quite deep but wasn’t bleeding. He knelt down and found him breathing regularly and his pulse was strong and not pounding like he would have expected with this kind of vicious knife attack and amount of splattered blood.

He felt like he was being watched, looking up to see a pair of golden eyes staring intently at him, with curiosity and vigilance, from just inches away. Jasmine’s paws were on Robert’s shoulder staring at the deputy intently.

“Hello kitty. Are you okay? Is this your human?” he reached out and gently brushed her head as she meowed quietly and demurely. Her eyes closed as her nose, ears, and tail twitched in contentment.

“It looks like he’s going to be okay. Not like those two out there. Which reminds me I have to go look after them, well one at least. Your human should be fine. Just stay and watch out for him until the ambulance gets here. I’ll take you to a shelter until he gets back home.” He stood up and went back to the front as sirens stopped.

The ambulance team loaded Robert and Jackson and sped away, sirens wailing in the clear crisp air. The coroner’s meat wagon took the body of the accomplice away slowly. Rogers then thought about the cat and began a hunt for her but couldn’t find her in the house.

Fearing for the safety of the beautiful house cat he searched the frigid snowy yard but found nothing but large cat paw prints and a dead rabbit on the freshly fallen snow. “No small paws just those of a large mountain cat?” He said as he locked up the house, pondering the inconsistency of the inexplicable house cat and large paw prints.

“Love of a Human” was the First Place winner of the 2017 National Federation of the Blind fiction contest.

Bio: Robert has been blind since 2003. He has a passion for helping other writers get published. He founded an online group for blind writers called Writing in the Dark. A new person in his life encouraged him to begin writing poetry again. He has been writing since 1978: fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Most of his writing has been focused on security & customer service. He lives in Tempe, AZ with his wife Eileen, best friend Angela, and a dutiful guardian kitty Major General Jasmine, Chief of CatFleet Security.

A Measure of Mercy, fiction
by Ellen Fritz

The white pillow encircled the boy’s head like a halo. Bernice hoped that this wasn’t a precognative observation on her part. Was the belief that children, becoming angels when they died, just a myth, something to make the parents and, especially the siblings and friends, feel better? She had read the boy’s file over and over and still she found it hard to process the fact that, unlikely as it may seem in a country of millions of people, she had stumbled upon the one child in whose background she actually had a very special part. A child who was now, depending on the decision of his doctors, at death’s door.

Six year old Bradley Robinson had retinoblastoma. His file indicated that he had been adopted at birth in Denver, Colorado. Apart from the heads-up she had received from a friend who was attending the same conference as she was, Bernice just knew that this was the very kid for whom she had help make adoption arrangements before his birth.

Sleepily, painfully, half aware only, the heavily sedated boy opened his eyes for a moment. He was squinting, clearly in discomfort. The eyes, that must have been blue, so like that of his mother’s, were unfocussed, the irises pink as though some night hag had dropped her evil ink into them. His mouth quivered on the verge of tears before he returned to the blissful oblivian of sleep. Bernice stroked the dark curls from his sweaty forehead. She knew in her gut that it was him. Even the facial structure was so similar to that of his mother. The snowy New York night seemed to grip her heart in its icy fingers and squeeze its chill into her very being.

Memories propelled her back into the past.

She was in the warm kitchen of the farm house in South Africa, almost seven years ago. Outside an unusually chilly late August rain was sifting down. Her best friend, Angelica, was sitting at the scarred old kitchen table, huddled into herself, her arms hugging her body as though she needed to keep from disintegrating into a million pieces.

“What is wrong, Angel?” Bernice asked.

“I’m pregnant,” Angelica replied. Her lower lip was trembling as though she wanted to cry. That, in itself, shocked Bernice. She had perhaps seen Angelica cry once in her life, and that when a foal had died.

“I didn’t even know you had a boyfriend,” Bernice said, trying to lighten the atmosphere a little. “I know you have the hots for handsome Jerry O’Briann, but somehow I don’t think this is his work, is it?”

“No.” Angelica swallowed a few times and continued, “It started with him. I wanted to get him, um, kind of laid.”

Bernice snorted a laugh, “You’ve been wanting to do that since forever, at least for the last three holidays you spent here in South Africa. Continue.”

“So I went to a friend of mine, a girl who is learning to be a sangoma. She gave me this powder, horrid stuff, all black and smells like wood ash and some kind of herb. I was supposed to put it in my bath water and then make little cuts on my legs, like high up, you know and put this powder in the cuts. The first man I would sleep with would then be faithful to me like forever.”

“Apart from the blood poisoning risk, I’d say that was a dangerous thing to do.” Bernice shook her head.

“She, my friend, saidthat the first man to have, um, make love to me would love me forever. He would find me wherever I went and he would kill to be with me. Kind of what I thought I wanted with Jerry.”

“So you did that and?”

“I put on some very sexy tight fitting clothes and took that little dirt track that runs directly to the O’Brian farm to go and tempt Jerry into, you know?. There is a part where one walks through a copse of trees, what they call a wood here, but by American standards just a stand of trees. It is very isolated though.

“That Moretti boy, Lorenzo, and his friends found me on that stretch of road. They were high on whatever substance they had been abusing that night. They dragged me into the bushes and wanted to rape me, but as soon as Lorenzo had, like done his thing, he wouldn’t let the others near me. I suppose that was the sangoma’s powder working,” she finished lamely.

Bernice only knew Lorenzo Moretti from one encounter. A typical Italian, he had wild black curls and smoldering very dark brown eyes. He was also, if she remembered correctly, a student and known to be kind of wild. “Girl, you’re up to your neck in it this time, aren’t you,” Bernice sighed. “So when was this? I mean, how far along are you?”

“That was early in my holiday, end of June? So I must be about 9 weeks now. I have all the symptoms, bad morning sickness and all. I got a pregnancy test from the pharmacy and, yes, it is positive. I’m leaving for home tomorrow. I don’t know what to tell dad. Maybe I should just shut up till I get back to the States, but oh Bernice, I have my senior year coming up and mom will go batshit crazy if she finds out.” Angelica tried to suppress a sob. “I’m seventeen, so one can’t even get Lorenzo for molesting an under age girl. I told him I was going to tell his parents. I told him to take his nasty family and crawl back to whatever European back street they had crawled out of. I don’t want him to come find me one day, Bernie, I don’t want that wop’s undying devotion!”

“Why the hell didn’t you go to the police? Infact, why don’t you contact the police right now?”

“No, I’m not going to the police. It was rape, but I won’t really be able to prove it nine weeks after it happened. Besides, Lorenzo is a final year medical student. Something like this will blow his future to hell.”

“And you care about that piece of filth’s future, why?”

“It won’t change this, will it?” She jabbed an angry finger at her stomach.

“So, you’ll just leave him to destroy your life and maybe that of some other…”

“Mom will take it up with dad and his parents, be sure of that. Oh Bernie, what am I going to do? They won’t make me marry that greasy bully, will they?”

Angelica had the baby in March of the next year. Bernice, like the good friend she was, made arrangements to visit her own family in America at the time and using some contacts she had, helped arrange the adoption.

On the Moretti side things did not go that well. Lorenzo’s mother, on hearing the scandalous news, committed suicide. His broken and embittered father had sent him away to some relations in Europe or America.

Bernice pulled herself out of her recollection with a shiver as the specialist entered the room. She glanced at his name tag and started slightly. She did notice that name among the list of ophthalmologists and oncologists on Bradley’s file. Still, it was a shock, or was it serendipity?

“Are you a relation?” the doctor asked.

“No, I was involved with his adoption and one of my colleagues of way back let me know that he was in here.”

“So would you happen to know the medical history of his birth parents?” the doctor asked. “It would really help to know whether retinoblastoma runs in his biological parents’ families.”

“It won’t make much of a difference at this point.” Then catching herself, she continued, “I’m not really at liberty to discuss this,” she said. “Only if the adoptive parents and the biological mother give their concent can I investigate.”

“The adoptive parents picked this up a bit late. Bradley is also a bit older than the normal age for retinoblastoma to occur,” the specialist said. “If they had knowledge of any such condition in Bradley’s biological family, they might have known to watch out for this. You are not from America. Your accent?”

“South African, kind of, after ten years in the country,” Bernice said. “I was born and raised here, studied here and then went to South Africa.”

“I am from South Africa, too. That was many years ago, though. I believe Bradley’s mother is from South Africa?” the doctor said as he approached the bed to examine the boy.

“Her father is. Her parents divorced when she was about thirteen and her mother brought her back to the family ranch in Colorado,” Bernice confirmed. “What is the prognosis for this boy?”

“We can try to save his eyes, but if you have any knowledge of the disease…”

“I have,” she said. “I am now an occupational therapist as well as a social worker. From Bradley’s file I can see that it would be safer to remove his eyes and to give him prosthetic eyes. Blindness is hardly the worst disability out there,” she said.

“But there are so many people who will need to give their concent,” he said. “It is not a decision to be made lightly, you realize that?”

“Of course I do,” she replied, “all I am implying is that blindness is not exactly the worst disability to have. Blind people have jobs, they travel, speech software makes phones and computers accessable to them and they are generally contented people with quality lives. Tell me, if this was your little boy, doctor Moretti, what would you do?”

“Subject to a consultation with his adoptive parents and the oncologist, of course, but yes, if he was mine, I would remove his eyes,” the harrassed man said without hesitation.

“We be of one blood, ye and I,” Bernice remembered Mowgli’s words from The Jungle book.

“Well, there is your answer then,” Bernice said. She gathered up her purse and leaving the room, she added, “Lorenzo,” under her breath.

Bio: Ellen Fritz is visually impaired and lives near Johannesburg, South Africa with two visually impared friends and her dog. She works as a book reviewer, does freelance writing and administrative work and is involved in several personal writing projects.

Lost in Words, flash fiction
by Ellen Fritz


Kate looked at the word on the scrabble board. “Is that definitely a word in the English language?” she asked.

“Of course it is,” Mary replied. “It is what you’ll be in if you don’t leave Sean O’Malley alone.”

“But Sean is just a character in the stories we used to make up when we were young girls, isn’t he?” Kate looked down at the dappled sunlight that was falling across her legs through the huge window. The pattern of sun and shadow on her lap was becoming a camel caravan in the desert. Then, as it was morphing to game on an African plain, Mary broke into her world.

“Sean is real all right. Remember, that blond woman got him in the end. Both of us missed the boat there, didn’t we?”

“Real? Sean was real?” Kate was trying to remember past the visions of glorious, far away places in the sun patterns on her lap and across the carpet.

“Oh, me dear, sure he was that,” Mary replied in a good imitation of an Irish accent. She built the word, “PAY,” below Kate’s “JEOPARDY.” “That’s what you’ll be doing if you don’t forget about Sean. He is mine, always has been, always will be!”

On the opposite side of the lounge area of the retirement facility, the old man wiped a tear from his eye and tried to focus on the card game he was playing with his friend.

“Are those two at it again?” his friend asked. “I find it tragic that two best friends, who both became successful novelists, are now playing scrabble and arguing about God knows what. Literary legends, now so lost in… you know?”

“Alzheimer’s,” the old man finished for him. He looked at Kate with her cap of white hair which was once a rich golden blond. The soft hair looked like an angel’s halo; his Katy, his angel.

“I’m sorry,” his friend said.

Sean O’Malley shrugged. “By tonight Kate will have remembered that I am her husband. That I have been that for the past fifty years and she will have forgotten old Mary’s cruel jibes.”

Drive, fiction Honorable Mention
by Susan Muhlenbeck

“You’re awake!” Josh Smith cried, giving his wife’s limp hand a squeeze.

Sienna Smith opened her eyes slowly, dimly conscious of rising to the surface of a deep ocean. It took all her concentration to breathe in and out. She heard somebody talking along with other meaningless sounds and smells but paid no attention to anything. She didn’t know how long she lay there just breathing before she was able to form one clear thought. Where was she? She felt as if she had been raised to the surface of an ocean after lying on its floor, unable to breathe or think or even feel, but that no longer seemed feasible. The surface beneath her back was firm and dry instead of soft and wet. She looked around cautiously but didn’t see anything familiar.

“Sienna, can you hear me?” somebody was asking. “Squeeze my hand if you can hear.” There was a pressure on her right hand, she thought absurdly. Yes, I can hear you, she thought but didn’t say out loud. She moved her fingers in an attempt to make the speaker aware that she could hear.

“Do you remember what happened?” Josh, yes it was Josh, asked anxiously. She thought hard about his question. She clutched at the fragments of memories trying to take shape in her befuddled mind.

It had been their 5-year anniversary, she thought, so it had been October 1,. What day was it now? How long had she been in the hospital? Josh had surprised her with a special gift. “It’s a car without a driver!” he had exclaimed. “All you have to do is sit down, tell it where to go, and it will take you there. You don’t have to do anything. Isn’t that cool?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she had said uncertainly. “It sounds kind of creepy, you know, not being in control. What if it makes a mistake or something?”

“It won’t,” he had said confidently. “It’s programmed to be perfect. Just type in the address of the place you want to go, and it will take you there without any problem.”

They had taken the state-of-the-art car out for a few spins that day. As Josh had said, it took them exactly where they wanted to go without any problems. It knew when to stop at the stop signs, how to avoid accidents, even how to dodge traffic jams. At the end of the day, Sienna was convinced that there was nothing to worry about.

“You have to check out my new car!” Sienna had told her friend Saskia the next day. “We should all get a car like this. I can send texts, paint my fingernails, read a book and eat while I’m driving.”

After one trip in the driverless car Saskia was hooked. “I want a car just like it,” she said, reluctantly handing over the keys.

The next weekend Josh had suggested that Sienna take the car and meet him at their cabin up north. “I have to go up that way Friday for a business meeting,” he had said, “so why don’t you come up early Saturday morning, and we’ll spend the weekend up there.”

“Sounds fantastic,” she had said.

“I took the car up to the cabin,” she now said thickly. Her voice sounded strange to her own ears. “Only I never made it.”

“Oh, it was awful!” cried a voice from the door. Sienna turned her head and saw Saskia standing in the doorway. She wondered how long she had been standing there. “Something went terribly wrong,” Saskia said, her voice catching and tears spilling down her face, smearing her mascara. Somehow the car went off the road and crashed into a tree.”

“Yeah,” Sienna said slowly, remembering the horrifying incident. “Don’t know why it made a wrong turn, remember hitting something, then nothing.”

“There must have been a glitch in the system,” Josh said, squeezing her hand again.

The patient is awake!” a nurse shouted, running into the room. “Why didn’t you come and get me?” she asked Josh accusingly.

“Didn’t think about it,” he said sheepishly, hanging his head. “Guess I was too caught up in the moment.”

“I’m getting the doctor,” the nurse said, hurrying out of the room. “Don’t upset her or you all will have to leave,” she added as she walked quickly down the hall.

Sienna stared at the imposing tubes and machines surrounding her. So many tubes, she shuddered. She must really be in bad shape. “What day is it?” she demanded. “How long have I been in here?”

“Sshhh,” Saskia soothed, patting the hand that Josh wasn’t holding. “We’ll talk about all that later. How are you feeling?”

“Don’t know yet,” Sienna said truthfully. “I must be all doped up. Don’t feel much of anything.”

Before Josh or Saskia could reply, the nurse returned with the doctor. “Step away so the doctor can examine her,” the nurse ordered.

“I’m Dr. Parker,” said an old man in a black coat. “Do you know where you are and why you’re here?”

“There was an accident,” she said cautiously, not wishing to admit that she didn’t know much more than that.

“That’s right,” the doctor nodded. “You have been in a coma for a few weeks, but there shouldn’t be any lasting damage. Both Josh and Saskia breathed sighs of relief. “Considering the circumstances, I would say you ended up pretty well. You’ll have to stay here for a few days, but there is no reason you can’t go home in a few days and make a full recovery.”

“Good to hear,” she said, trying to sit up.

“Don’t try to move yet,” the doctor said sternly, pushing her back gently but firmly. “First we have to do a few tests.”

The next few days passed in a blur. Josh and Saskia and Sienna’s parents were at her side most of the time. The doctor said all the tests indicated that there was no permanent damage, and that she could go home and slowly start living a normal life. She was able to start eating a little at a time, and she took a lot of walks around the hospital. The doctor also recommended that she talk to a therapist to deal with the psychological trauma she was enduring from the accident.

Sienna did not tell anybody about the nightmares that plagued her during her recovery, afraid that the doctors would insist that she stay in the hospital longer. In all the nightmares she relived the crash and always woke up just before the impact. She always woke up in a cold sweat.

“I honestly don’t understand what went wrong,” Josh said the day before she left the hospital. “Those cars were designed not to make mistakes like that, and there will definitely be a settlement for you. The car was totaled, but so what? You’re all right, and that’s all that matters.”

“We were all so worried about you,” Saskia said, still sounding worried. “We weren’t sure if you would ever come out of the coma.”

“I just wish I understood what went wrong,” Sienna said, wringing her hands. “I think I could put the whole thing behind me if I could just find out what the problem was.”

“Don’t count on that,” her dad said gently, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Chances are that we’ll never know for sure. You’re very fortunate to have survived, and we are all grateful for that.”

Josh wanted her to come home after leaving the hospital, but her parents insisted that she go stay with them for a few days. “We’ll be able to be with her the whole time,” her mother explained. “You have to go to work during the day, Josh, but one of us will be with her at all times just in case.” Both of her parents were retired and had plenty of time on their hands.

Sienna’s time spent at her parents’house seemed surreal. They were both very solicitous, catering to her every need, treating her like a delicate object that would break unless handled with extreme care. Her mother cooked all her favorite food every day, and her father bought her all kinds of little presents, including a silk scarf, a bottle of exotic perfume, a box of gourmet chocolate, and a beautiful clutch purse. She never felt so spoiled and pampered in her life.

“I shouldn’t get too accustomed to this,” she told her parents at dinner when she had been with them about a week. “I really need to think about going home and getting back to work.”

“Are you sure you’re ready for that?” her mother asked anxiously. “You don’t want to rush things.”

“I think I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” Sienna said with conviction. “I feel like my normal self,” except for the dreams, she added silently. Maybe she should start seeing the psychologist, she thought before she went to sleep that night.

She went home a few days later and returned to work the next week. Christmas was in the air, and the office was buzzing with holiday cheer. She tried to throw herself into the holiday spirit but could not shake off the disturbing dreams. She still had them almost every night.

“I think I’m going to see the therapist Dr. Parker recommended,” she told Josh the first week in December. “I need to stop having these awful nightmares before I go insane.”

“Okay,” Josh agreed, putting an arm around her shoulders, “whatever you think will help.”

She made an appointment for the following Monday. Dr. Katherine Kramer startled Sienna by being a woman in her mid-twenties. She looks like she’s fresh out of school, Sienna thought as she sat in her chair. I don’t know if I can tell her my problems.

“How can I help you?” Dr. Kramer asked in a no-nonsense voice.

Here goes nothing, Sienna thought. She opened her mouth and poured out the whole story.

“And you say these recurring dreams are exactly the same every time?” Dr. Kramer asked, appearing to be very intrigued.

“Yes, I think so,” Sienna affirmed, “from what I remember.”

“That’s pretty unusual,” Dr. Kramer mused, “that there’s never any variations. Maybe there are and you are simply not aware of it. It may be a good idea to keep a pad and pen by your bed and write down exactly what happens in the dream as soon as you wake up, before you have a chance to forget.”

“I should have thought of that myself,” Sienna told Saskia that night. They were having a glass of wine at Saskia’s house. “I’m supposed to see her next week, but I may not need to if I can figure things out by then.”

“I hope you can,” Saskia said, draining her glass of wine. “The sooner the better.”

Sienna took Dr. Kramer’s advice and wrote down what she could remember of her dreams as soon as she woke up every night. She wrote the same thing almost word for word every night. “I am riding in the driverless car to our cabin. Then the car took a wrong turn. It started driving really fast and was getting ready to crash into a tree. Then I woke up.”

“It’s hopeless,” she told Josh after the third night. “I’ll never get to the bottom of it.”

“Maybe you’re not supposed to,” he said cautiously. “Maybe it’s time to let it go.”

The fourth night when Sienna woke up from the dream, she knew something was different. She grabbed the pad and pen and started writing furiously. “When the car took a wrong turn, I tried to take control of the wheel to get the car back on track,” she wrote quickly, “but it wouldn’t change direction.”

“What could that mean?” she demanded, showing Josh the pad. “Why would the car not follow my lead?”

Josh hesitated. “I don’t know,” he said honestly. “There was something wrong with the car. That’s why you’re getting this settlement, but it shouldn’t have happened, and there is nothing we can do about it now. The car was wrecked beyond repair, and you are a medical miracle.”

“Now I’m afraid to go to sleep,” she confided. “I wasn’t scared before because I knew that I would have the same nightmare every time, but now I don’t know what to expect.”

“Hhmmm,” Josh mused. “You know, maybe you should try taking a sleeping pill.”

“Oh no!” she cried in horror. “I hate that idea.” She had always had a fear of taking a sleeping pill and not waking up.

“Not the kind you get with a prescription,” Josh said, putting a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “We still have some low-dose, over-the-counter kind in the medicine cabinet. Trust me, they will not mess you up.”

Sienna considered. “Okay,” she finally agreed. “Maybe you’re right. In fact, I think I’ll take one now and try to go to sleep.”

Despite the sleeping pill, sleep alluded her. She lay awake for an indeterminant length of time, and then she heard, or thought she heard, loud voices on the edge of her consciousness.

“She took a sleeping pill. What the hell are you doing here?” Was that Josh talking? She wondered groggily.

“Did she tell you she’s writing down her dreams?” another voice that sounded suspiciously like her friend Saskia demanded.

“Yeah, last night she dreamed that she tried to take control of the car before the crash,” Josh hissed. “Next she’ll remember that I took the car out for a long spin a couple nights before the crash.”

“Yeah, so what?” Saskia asked innocently. “That doesn’t look suspicious. She wouldn’t have any reason to suspect that you programmed it to make that turn.”

She was having another dream, Sienna thought wildly, feeling her heart race and her head pound. This was the worst dream yet. It wasn’t a dream, she thought more calmly. The pill was making her hallucinate.

“So now what?” Saskia was asking.

“Now we have to wait a while,” Josh snapped.

“Well don’t wait too long,” Saskia shouted. “I’m getting very impatient with you, Josh.”

Oh my God! Sienna whispered. Make the voices stop. What she was hearing was a lot worse than the nightmares. “This spring we are going to take a trip to the Grand Canyon,” Josh said matter-of-factly. “She said she always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon, and nobody can survive a fall from that height.”

This literary magazine is produced by Behind Our Eyes, Inc, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization of writers with disabilities.